JOK Notebook

Everything Is Illuminated—Sometimes!

Sometimes everything comes together. Take, for example, some text I came across recently. While writing essay 1214 on 剣 (sword; double-edged sword), I consulted Yahoo's Japanese-Japanese dictionary about 剣幕 (けんまく) and found this definition:


An angry, excited appearance. A violently angry attitude and expression. Examples: "To storm in yelling with a really threatening attitude." "To display a violent and threatening attitude."

興奮 (こうふん: excitement); ようす (様子: appearance, look); いきり立つ (いきりたつ: to get angry); 荒々しい (あらあらしい: violent); 態度 (たいど: attitude, manner, behavior); 顔つき (顔付, かおつき: face, expression); 激しい (はげしい: violent, intense, furious); 見せる (みせる: to show)

Where you see dashes in the sample sentences, you're supposed to insert the keyword, 剣幕.

As for the parts I've marked in red, I was thrilled to come across them because they both appear in essay 1639 on  (anger), which is available as of today:

怒る (おこる: to get angry)

どなり込む (怒鳴り込む, どなりこむ: to storm in with a yell)

And that's not all. Because of some Kanji Curiosity blogs I wrote years ago about  and , I was able to recognize 荒々しい and 激し (marked above in blue).

Is it possible that I'm learning something?! If it weren't for all these pieces that I happen to have written, the definition would have been way beyond me. But effort does pay off, and small bits become illuminated, almost like someone has pointed a flashlight at all the colored words until a whole meaning emerges!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

I must admit that I don't always have this sense of excitement and optimism. Just yesterday I met a Joy o' Kanji volunteer at a cafe for tea. It was our first time meeting, even though we began working together several months ago. (She lives in San Francisco, across the bay from me in Berkeley. It's not all that big a body of water, but somehow it's significant enough to impede get-togethers.) Anyway, she has studied Japanese about as long as I have, and we even took Japanese classes at the same San Francisco school without ever crossing paths. At the cafe we compared notes on our progress, our goals, and our frustrations in terms of conversational fluency, and as much as I enjoyed her company, I felt surprisingly depressed afterward.

As I realized, it's as if we are trying to swim across the Pacific, and after 10 years or so, we're now all of 100 yards from the shore. I look at how far my Japanese proofreaders have "swum" toward the American shore (metaphorically speaking), and I can easily fall into despair. If it hasn't happened for me and for my volunteer by now, despite all our determination, will it ever happen? It seems so unlikely ...

But here I'm referring to our progress with conversational skills. In terms of reading and writing, I have to recognize that we've definitely made inroads. When I found her at the cafe, she was reading a thick Harry Potter book in Japanese! It had no annotations, only furigana here and there. That's no small undertaking, and she had already made her way through 140 pages!

As for me, I work with kanji every day, thanks to Joy o' Kanji, and little by little I believe I'm getting somewhere! The progress isn't always apparent, and it definitely isn't linear. And then sometimes, suddenly, out of nowhere, a sentence lights up with meaning, and a light goes on inside me, as well! This is what it's all about! I live for those kanji aha moments! And as long as I have those from time to time, it's enough.

I've just posted two new essays—not only essay 1639 on 怒 but also essay 1607 on 塚 (mound, hillock). You can see sneak previews here. I hope the essays afford many aha moments to illuminate your life!


Add comment

Log in or register to post comments