JOK Notebook

KitKat Kanji

Long time no blog! At least it feels that way to me! And where have I been? Sitting around eating bonbons? Not exactly, but almost—at least for about three seconds. 

My husband's colleague traveled here from Japan on business and felt compelled to bring a gift but had none at hand. At the last minute he bought a tiny KitKat bar and presented it to my husband, who passed it along to me for kanji analysis. 

I've never understood the whole KitKat craze, but I sensed my call to duty, and I ate the candy bar so as to free up the wrapper for scanning. My first hit was "Chocolate!" and then I reverted to my usual reaction: "Meh! What is it people like so much about these things?" 

I then dug into the wrapper, which was (as I said) tiny, so the kanji was even smaller. Thank goodness for scanning, which enlarged the writing beautifully:

Ah, now I can see every last thing, even the faint furigana on the lower right. (Did they seriously expect people to read that without magnification?)

Here's what it all says:


I kept looking at the bookends of the first line, seeing two place names: Tokyo (東京, とうきょう) and the first half of Nara (奈良, なら). Why would it say that? And what was with the hiragana—or for that matter the furigana な? 

Oh! Are we to read ばな奈 as ばなな (banana), which would explain the yellow wrapper color? Did I eat banana-flavored chocolate and not notice?!

Yes, all of that is correct! Googling the matter took me to a site that told me about this microscopic snack, including the following factoid: "The two wafer sticks are joined together at the end, like a pair of bananas, and the top is decorated in a special Tokyo Banana theme." Did someone think I was going to hold chocolate in my hands and inspect it closely for its decorations and thematic content, rather than devouring it? Clearly they don't know me at all! 

And thanks to the third image there, I now realize that the chocolate was engraved with kanji! It again said 東京ばな奈, as I can see better at another site

Gulp—I swallowed kanji! I feel a little guilty, as if I ate a beloved pet!

At the same time, I'm ebullient. This is one of the few times I've ever figured out kanji wordplay! All the same, I didn't understand everything, so I turned to my proofreader and learned this:

• The 奈 conveys no particular meaning. It just provides the な sound.

• The hiragana な was created from the kanji 奈. (Yes, I see that on page 49 of my book Crazy for Kanji!)

• The 見ぃつけたっ means "I found it!" This elongated version of 見つけた is a phrase used in Tokyo Banana ads and product names.

• Tokyo Banana isn't a company (as I assumed) but a product from the confectionary company Grapestone. They started selling Tokyo Banana in 1991. Grapestone and Nestle Japan collaborated to release the Tokyo Banana KitKat.

A Quiz

Aside from eating a whisper of bananaed-up chocolate, I've been writing kanji essays. In the process, I've come across some fascinating words. I'll share them with you in the form of a quiz. Match the following terms and definitions, navigating around the false options:

1. 手を打つ (てをうつ)     hand + to hit

2. 土砂降り (どしゃぶり)     earth + sand + descending

3. 雨足 (あまあし)     rain + leg, foot

a. to take measures (in the face of anticipated events)
b. landslide
c. boots
d. condom
e. passing shower; streaks of pouring rain 
f. downpour; pouring rain; cloudburst; pelting rain; heavy rain

I'll block the answers with a preview of the newest essay:

1.a. 手を打つ (てをうつ: hand + to hit) means "to take measures (in the face of anticipated events)." This term appears in a sample sentence in the new essay 1449 on 甚 (extremely).

Most likely, 手を打つ originally meant “to have a move in go or shogi." My proofreader bases that idea on a similar expression from the games go and shogi. That other expression is 先手を打つ (せんてをうつ: to have the first move in a game), which figuratively means “to get ahead of somebody; take the initiative."

2.f. 土砂降り (どしゃぶり: earth + sand + rainfall) means "downpour; pouring rain; cloudburst; pelting rain; heavy rain." I've changed the breakdown because although 降り can mean "descending," I think "rainfall" is more accurate here. 

English speakers might say, "It's raining cats and dogs." Given that absurdity, I suppose it's easier to imagine that earth and sand are falling from the sky—but not much easier!

Shin Meikai Kokugo Jiten offers an etymology, which is that the どしゃ of どしゃぶり comes from the same source as the どさ in どさくさ (chaos). That is, どしゃぶり really means “chaotic rain,” so the 土砂 is ateji. 

The term 土砂降り is in the forthcoming essay 2040 on 凄 (amazing; frightening; to a great extent).

3.e. 雨脚 or 雨足 (あまあし or あめあし: rain + leg, foot) means "passing shower; streaks of pouring rain."

Kojien says that the idea behind this term is that rain goes straight down to the ground, just as people's legs do. Thus, rain is like legs! 

This term also has a connection to essay 2040, as 雨足 appeared in the Kanjigen etymology of 凄, which I've presented in its translated form. That is, you won't find 雨足 in that essay any more than you'll find chocolate in my hand for more than three seconds!

Catch you back here next time!


Did you like this post? Express your love by supporting Joy o' Kanji on Patreon:


Add comment

Log in or register to post comments