JOK Notebook


We've gathered here today to talk about kanji, and yet I want to focus for a bit on two words typically written in hiragana: ある and いる. As it turns out, the discussion has an important kanji connection. That is, knowing the kanji helps to clear up confusion.

I felt that confusion when I saw this sentence from essay 1425 on 醸 (to brew, distill; cause):

During the World Cup, a certain player’s performance caused a big controversy.

ワールドカップ (World Cup); 選手 (せんしゅ: player); 物議を醸す (ぶつぎをかもす: to cause a controversy)

Regarding the red word, I felt puzzled about why one would use ある here and not いる. If someone said 選手 ... ある, it would mean the player was dead. In that context, you have to use いる as the verb "to be." Why, when you're talking about the word preceding 選手, do the rules seem to change?

As I learned, that distinction applies to ある (有る) and いる (居る), which both mean “to be; exist; have." By contrast, the reddened ある in the sentence corresponds to another kanji:

ある (或る: certain)

That kanji is non-Joyo. With this adjective, the distinction does not apply. 

How about that! I could have heard that explanation 10 times, but if it were presented only with hiragana, nothing would have stuck in my brain. Seeing the various kanji makes me grasp that 有る and 或る are different entities altogether.

Another bit of いる/ある confusion arose for me with this sentence from essay 1583 on 沖 (offshore):

They reported the ship as being 10 kilometers from shore.

彼ら (かれら: they); 船 (ふね: ship); 海岸 (かいがん: coast); 沖合 (おきあい: offshore); 報告 (ほうこく: report)

I wondered, shouldn't the red part be ある? After all, a ship is inanimate.

I found out that when talking about vehicles (or ships), the Japanese use 居る if there's a person at the wheel, someone who can make the vehicle move. That is, both of the following sentences mean "There's a car there," but they differ in one important way:

(The speaker sees a driver in the car.)

車* (くるま: car)

(The speaker sees no driver in the car.)

Let's return to the ship theme, as I have two things to tell you about ships.

One is that I really like Ulrike's mnemonic for 船, which she wrote this week:

The other is, I wonder if you can guess what the following dish might look like:

軍艦巻 or 軍艦巻き (ぐんかんまき: battleship roll sushi)     battleship (1st 2 kanji) + roll

The first word, 軍艦, breaks down further as battle + warship.

Here's what 軍艦巻 is not:

That concoction isn't even served at sushi places. It’s considered creative cuisine.

Here, by contrast, is a good example of 軍艦巻:

The part rolled with nori (seaweed) represents the body of a battleship. The seaweed is wrapped around vinegared rice referred to as 寿司飯 (すしめし). The ingredient on top looks like the bridge and cannons. Seriously?! 

Japanese Wikipedia says this kind of sushi was invented in 1941 and wasn’t very popular then. It's more so now. 

The photo is of いくら軍艦巻, in which いくら means "salted salmon roe." Other types of 軍艦巻 are topped with とびこ (flying fish roe), ネギトロ (tuna minced with Welsh onion leaves), コーン (corn!), and the following kind, which took me by surprise:

the body of the crab, plus crab miso

蟹* (かに: crab); 身 (み: body)

Crab miso? I grew up in crab country, and we referred to that smelly yellow-green gunk inside as mustard, promptly discarding it. The Japanese perceive it as having the texture of miso paste, and they eat it! (Okay, I've just read that this paste is considered a delicacy even where I grew up and is officially known as tomalley. However, this substance can contain toxins, so it's not a bad idea to avoid it. Also, it's disgusting!)

Sorry, I got off track. But I'm happy to have introduced all this information to you. That sounds a bit awkward in English, right? It's completely natural in Japanese to talk about introducing information. Find out all about that in the newest essay. Here's a sneak preview:

Have a great weekend!


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


Add comment

Log in or register to post comments