JOK Notebook

Meeting Up with Old Friends

Because kanjiphilia is an international phenomenon (dare I say "epidemic"?) and because my writing has brought me into contact with kanji lovers around the world, I sometimes meet up with e-acquaintances when I travel abroad. With my recent trip to Taiwan and Thailand, that actually wasn't the case. Nevertheless, the trip felt very much like a reunion with old friends. I say that because I was thrilled to spot character after character that I'd written about in essays. It may sound crazy, but I do tend to think of these kanji as old friends, and seeing them out in the world always excites me.

I present to you some of my favorite encounters, along with links to the relevant essays. You can treat this photographic survey as a quiz of sorts. Do you know what the kanji means and how to read it in Japanese? Of course, the answers will be immediately available in my discussion below each photo, so as quizzes go, this one isn't very hard!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

This Taipei sign is for 三越 (みつこし), a department store chain from Japan. It thrilled me to see these characters because I initially included something about the store in essay 1021 on 越 (to cross over; exceed, surpass; move; Vietnam). I later removed it because there was already so much else going on in that piece, and a proper name didn't seem to merit taking up valuable space. But suddenly there it was, looming on the horizon! By the way, Wikipedia explains the 新光 at the beginning of the name.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

I wrote about 虹 (rainbow) exactly a year ago in essay 2090. Great to see that character again! It must be rainbow time right about now!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Oh! That second character really stumped me, as well as three very experienced proofreaders, when I wrote essay 1792 on 邦 (country; Japanese, Japan). We went round and round and round about when the Japanese use this kanji and when they don't. The rules turn out to be quite finicky. But there it was in a sign, so clearly people use it in Chinese writing.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Ah, these sights make me so happy! First, the wood in both pictures has lots of character, particularly the piece of driftwood (?) shaped like an angel's wings. And a barrel! I love barrels! Second, this is supposed to be Japanese, judging from the little の on the barrel. And third, this restaurant makes use of a concept that I explored in essay 1041 on 乙 (second (in order or quality); strange; stylish). I'm talking about this phrase:

乙な味 (おつなあじ: inventive taste; interesting taste; deep, original flavors)

I wrote about it without truly believing that Japanese people use this expression in this way. It's all so abstract on the page, but here it is in bold writing!

However ... this exact phrase doesn't appear on the wood, as the な is missing. And then things fall apart further when it turns out that 味の店 (restaurant of taste) doesn’t make much sense. My proofreader (who knows Chinese) says, "As far as I know, in Taiwan and Hong Kong they sometimes write company or shop names partially in hiragana, especially making use of の, so that it looks like Japanese, which they think is cool."

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Another source of joy! I've written essays about the first two characters—namely, 鶴 (crane) and 浦 (seaside; inlet bay). Also my friend's surname starts with 鶴, and that's what his friends call him, so he always signs his emails to me with つる. I wish he used kanji there, but at least they did in the sign! And look—there's a crane at the bottom, pecking at the old-style characters!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

A restaurant called 麻! I wrote all about 麻 (hemp, flax; to become numb) in essay 1829. But why name a restaurant that? I associate this kanji with hemp or marijuana and with numbness or even paralysis! Anyway, I love seeing that shape here, including in the bold, blue-and-white artistic rendering at the upper right.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Oh, and here's 麻 again in a cool rusted-out sign! I wish I had captured all the 麻 shapes in the same image, but that area of Taipei was so crowded that I was practically floating along on a sea of people!

Ah, I've learned that in Chinese 麻醉 means “anesthesia" (just as 麻酔, ますい, does in Japanese). The romanized Chinese reading of 麻醉 is mazui (ignoring tones), which is pretty funny in this context, since that means "bad-tasting" in Japanese!

And now two Chinese friends have told me that 麻 in Chinese means "Sichuan peppercorn" or "numbing pepper," as well as "sesame flavor." Meanwhile, 醉 means "to get drunk." As a whole, 麻醉 means "numbing." So a few possibilities emerge about 麻醉:

1. It could mean "a place to drink till you get numb or drunk."
2. It could translate as "a place to take in tasty (and spicy) food and good wines."
3. It could mean that the food and atmosphere fill you with such a euphoria that it's as if you're intoxicated without drinking anything.

Even 坊 isn't straightforward. It could mean "mill" or "lane," but my friend senses that it means "public gathering place."

Well, all that is a big improvement over "anesthesia" as the interpretation!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Beautiful dream (美夢)! I devoted essay 1844 to 夢 (dream). Actually, the whole Chinese phrase means "Beautiful dreams become true." As it happens, 美夢成真 is the Chinese name of a Japanese band! The sign, however, shows the name of a fitness club and spa in Taipei. According to their websiteThe company name in English is Dreams Come True.

I've been so caught up in the rapture that I nearly forgot to introduce this week's essay. It's essay 1183 on 駆 (to run (race); rush; ride a horse; drive (a machine); gallop; drive (something) off), a kanji about being in such a hurry that you can't possibly stop to sniff the kanji roses, so to speak! Here's a preview:

Have a great weekend!


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