Welcome to Thematic Explorations, where you'll find brief and FREE essays on a variety of topics. The texts here may serve as auxiliaries to essays about individual kanji or may cover topics relevant to several characters. Thematic Explorations are meant to be light and playful, stimulating further thought.

Fun with Inversions

Learn to turn Japanese words and sentences inside out, and find out why you would want to do so. This Thematic Exploration is a spinoff of essay 1643 (倒: to topple).

Gendered Kanji

Find out which kanji to use when you want to make gender distinctions. The answers may make you rethink what it is to be male or female!

Indivisible Characters

Learn to type concisely in Japanese! Also find out why you can't pry the parentheses off Japanese characters such as ㈱.

Oddball Additions to the Joyo Set

Find out about crazy decisions made when the Joyo set expanded in 2010. These choices involve a handful of kanji that some electronic systems don't even support. 

Sticky Stroke Counts

Counting the strokes in a character can be tough under ordinary circumstances. It's even more confusing when the kanji is a moving target. Learn about three radicals (牙, 舛, and 无) that shift their shapes and stroke counts under certain conditions.

The Relationship Between "M" and "B"

Do you read 寂しい (lonely) as さびしい or さみしい? It’s kind of a toMAYto/toMAHto issue, and it partly depends on personal preference, but the さびしい/さみしい readings also fit into a larger pattern involving b and m.

Yomi Confusion

Some words such as 怒る and 辛い don't give you enough of a clue about which kun-yomi you should use. We'll consider several examples.


Have you ever wondered how the Japanese use ぢ and づ, when じ and ず should suffice? This Thematic Exploration examines situations in which you need ぢ and づ to represent voiced sounds in compounds.