Cool Kanji – 独

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Gerund series briefly interrupted to deliver this breaking news: today is the last Friday in October, and therefore you have two days left to get your Oktoberfest on. Recommended locations: Baden Baden, Zum BIERHOF (where they do the “Prost” song/dance every 30 minutes or so, kind of like an Epcot exhibit in the middle of Shinjuku), and Frigo.

In honor of the end of October, the cool kanji today is 独. It means “alone” or “single” and also Germany because it’s used in the ateji for Germany (独逸). Newspapers and news programs use it often to refer to the Deutschland, especially when it makes abbreviation easy – e.g. 日独関係 (Japanese-German relations).

Every country has kanji (here is an awesome list), but not all of them get used. The third column in the chart on Wikipedia has the abbreviated version (略称), and it looks to me like those are the ones you see most frequently. Knowing these will be useful when you make that appearance on a Japanese quiz show as the token foreigner someday.

I think Russia (露) and France (仏) ended up with the coolest kanji. The Soviet Union (蘇) had a cool one, too. Another link if you’d like more detailed explanation of each kanji in English.

6 thoughts on “Cool Kanji – 独

  1. I like 越南 because when I saw it I realized that “Vietnam” was a Sinitic word with an etymology I could totally understand. That idea had never even occurred to me before.

    I also think Rome’s kanji name is badass but the meaning is not very exciting.

  2. There’s also Okayama’s microbrew 独歩.

    It never occurred to me before that that is a pun . . .

  3. Matt: Very cool stuff with Vietnam. I think those countries should get their own separate list. Much cooler than 米国.

    Nick: I was thinking of that beer as I wrote the post. Actually came across their dark beer in Meguro the other day – it’s marketed as the beer to enjoy with unagi. They make some nice German beers. Wish they were more available. (Ha, and on another personal note, one of the words in the recaptcha anti-spam thing is “chicory”.)

  4. I always found it amusing that the word for “dictator” — 独裁者 — includes the kanji used for Germany. Coincidence?

  5. Hi Julian,
    are you a citizen of the Rice-Country, or of the Brilliant-Country? I think I need not explain to you the phonetic origin of the country characters. The year you wrote your remark about the “coincidence” you spotted Germany had lived an unprecedented 60-year era of peace and democracy and is continuing on this path now we’re almost 2012. Did you know that?

  6. Yeah, Mike is right Julian (and apologies for the delayed reply). They are all phonetic ateji for the country names. The word for dictator uses the literal meaning of the character which is “alone.” So literally, “Sole ruling person” or something like that.

    And I’m a big fan of Germany. I was scheduled to visit last year but wasn’t able to make it. Looking forward to a visit in the near future.