JOK Notebook

Difficult to Read

Happy New Year! Hope your holidays were great.

I'm just back from a wonderful trip to the Canary Islands (via Zurich). Over nine days I logged in 35 hours of flying time, so I had lots of time to read. For seven straight hours I read a Mishima story in Japanese that came with bountiful English annotations, as well as a translation. I started reading that "short" story in 2009, if not 2008, but for some reason I only ever returned to it on international flights. Not surprisingly, it took me donkey's years to finish. I was determined to do so before we landed, and I actually managed to meet my goal. My eyes ached and kept tearing up, but I felt utterly triumphant. 

I also savored the idea that I was now "in great shape" with kanji, having immersed myself for such a long stretch. I figured I would stay that way for some time to come. What a surprise I had just one day later.

Plagued by insomnia, I sat at my keyboard at 4 a.m., reading people's posts on Facebook, many of them in Japanese. As I stared at the simplest kanji compounds, such as 午後 (ごご: afternoon), nothing registered. Okay, thinking about it now, I realize that both the jet lag and the insomnia must have done a number on my brain. Still, how astonishing it is to see the mind expand and contract in such an extreme way when it comes to kanji. 

By the way, here's a handy word for a singleton or compound that's hard even for Japanese people to read:

難読 (なんどく: difficult to read (e.g., obscure kanji))

There's a whole web page about words that fit that description. That is, they're tough to read even when you're not bleary-eyed at 4 a.m.!


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