Cool Kanji – 齋

This kanji is relatively obscure. It’s used mostly in names, such as 齋藤 (さいとう). I chose this one for today because I had to write it about a dozen times when I was making name tags for the new first year students in junior high. Nearly all of them used this kanji, but one or two had a simplified version – 斎. It looks like there may be an even simpler version – 斉.

But today we’re talking about the difficult one. You can check out the stroke order here.

So that’s how they get that "Y"-loooking bit in the middle. Looking it up on Jim Breen gives a meaning
ものいみ(物忌み) means “fasting,” and a quick search on ALC (for the simplified version; no results for the complex version) reveals that the kanji is used in the translation for lots of religious stuff. Hooray?

I mainly wanted to get a closer look at the kanji this week. You’ll see it in a lot of names, and if you can write it, you will impress.

Friday Puzzle – It’s Bridge, I Promise

Here is the phrase for this week’s puzzle:


Your mission, should you choose to accept it:

– explain the meaning of this phrase
– attempt to guess the context in which it was said

The prize if you win? One can of 100% barley malt beer – e.g. Ebisu, Suntory Malts, Asahi Premium.

Please do not post your answer in the comments. Send it to me via email or facebook. My email address is るぱんさんせい (romanized) at-mark gmail dot com.

One note: I realized I’ve been giving away beer at a phenomenal rate while exhausting all my cool little phrases, so the puzzle will now be every other week. You have two weeks to investigate this week’s phrase. 

Friday Puzzle – Chinese Sign Answer

I saw this sign twice in China. It reads: 向前一小歩 文明一大歩.

Literally, “direction forward one small step, civilization one big step.” Neil Armstrong was a big hint that you could put this into something like, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 文明 means civilization, so you could plug that or something like “society” in for mankind.

The location was the best part of the sign. It was above the urinals in a men’s room, making that one small but literal step forward. Here’s a picture of the whole sign:

I think the translation provided on the sign is great. It avoids putzing around in the lingo and manages to be quick and crisp like the original.

Four people got the translation for this correct. Three got the location right but claimed to have seen it or heard of it before, so I drew randomly from all four. The winner this week is Bilbo…on the Fukushima JETs Forum. Congrats, Billy.

What Time-Space Moment Did You Occupy?

This is a short follow-up to last week’s puzzle answer. I explained that 〜ところです is used to describe what you are about to do, currently doing, or just did.

〜ところ is also a very useful way to begin telling a story to someone, except that when you tell someone a story it’s all in past tense, so instead of です, use でした.

So now we have:

食べるところでした。        I was just about to eat.
食べているところでした。    I was eating.
食べたところでした。        I had just finished eating.

Now, try and figure out this super-short story of mine:


I bet you can figure out the meaning on your own. As I was writing I realized that ところ is often followed by the particle で. So a more natural way to say the above is:


I’m not 100% sure, but I think that usage of で is very similar to usage in this sentence:


At that specific ところ was when/where the ichinensei crept up and poked you in the butt.

I vaguely remember that you can also use the particles へ and に with ところ, but I can’t remember any specific usages. Just keep that in mind.

Cool Kanji – 響

This week’s kanji is used in the verb ひびく – to reverberate or ring. The bottom half is easy to  remember. It’s the character for sound, 音. The top is, I believe, only there for pronunciation purposes. 郷 means hometown, but is pronounced きょう(or maybe ぎょう), the same 音読み as 響.

Might as well take a moment and sort out one quick thing for newbies. Everyone grumbles about how kanji can have so many different pronunciations. Really there are two main pronunciations: 音読み (onyomi, the Chinese-based pronunciation) and 訓読み (kunyomi, the Japanese pronunciation). The kun reading is used in verbs and adjectives, for the most part, and the on reading is used in compounds.

I like this kanji because of the way it looks, because it is used in the cool compound 影響 (えいきょう, which means influence or effect), and because it is the name of one of my cutest ichinensei. Her name is Hibiki. I always thought that was a great name. (On a somewhat related side note, I also have a student named Kyo using the kanji 郷. )

Friday Puzzle – Chinese Sign

Sorry for the Chinese diversion this week. I meant to have all this done and out of the way with by the time I returned, but the internets did not agree. The puzzle this week also comes from China. I saw a cool sign while I was there and I took a picture of it:


The puzzle this week is to provide me with two things: 1) a guess as to where the sign was located and 2) a translation that approximates the meaning. Bonus points for anyone who can incorporate communist fervor into their translation. Super bonus points for anyone who can combine that fervor with the legendary poetics of Neil Armstrong.

The prize if you win? One can of 100% barley malt beer – e.g. Ebisu, Suntory Malts, Asahi Premium.

Please do not post your answer in the comments. Send it to me via email or facebook. My email address is るぱんさんせい (romanized) at-mark gmail dot com.

Friday Puzzle – Momentarily HUH? Answer

Apologies for the lack of puzzle the last two weeks. Here’s the answer to the previous puzzle, which you can find here

When all the teachers gave their self-introductions at the welcome party, they gave all the basic information – where they’re from, what school they were teaching at previously – along with some other interesting tidbit. One of my JTEs added that she had three boys and would be taking a lot of time off – finally, a realistic teacher – and the other boasted that he had never once been ill.

Another of the new teachers joked that he got called names because he is heavy; then he added that he is trying to diet and that he “nearly weighs 0.1 kilograms” – yup, he’s nearly made the scale go one full circle.

Here is last week’s sentence, that teacher’s interesting tidbit, written normally: 「まもなく0.1キロになるところです。」

The key part of the phrase this week is the ending – 〜ところです。This phrase is incredibly useful to help explain to someone what you are doing, going to do, or just did. ところ is often translated as “place” or “location,” but in this case it also has a definite time aspect to it. My professor used to refer to it as a “moment of space-time.”

There are three different ways to use ところです.


Let’s use a specific verb so that it’s clearer:

食べるところです。         I am about to eat.
食べているところです。    I am eating.
食べたところです。         I just ate.

So ところ is used to describe the space-time moment that you currently occupy. Depending on the conjugation of the verb in front of it, you are about to do something, currently doing something, or just having done something.

This is an especially useful way to communicate the fact that you are currently occupied with something.

今運転しているところですが。        I’m driving at the moment…
今料理を作っているところですが。    I’m cooking at the moment…
今寝るところですが。                   I’m about to go to sleep…

(In Japanese people often add ですが onto the end of a sentence to soften the blow of whatever they just said. It only sort of means “but,” so I translated it as the ellipsis on the end of those sentences. It’s implied that you are currently doing whatever you are doing and therefore unable to do whatever is requested of you.)

This teacher? He said, “I am very shortly going to weigh 0.1 kilograms.”

まもなく is a time-based adverb that means “soon” or “shortly.” You’ll hear it a lot while waiting on train platforms. I translated it in the above sentence as “very shortly.”

れいてんいち in Japanese is the way that they say 0.1. It’s the same as in English: zero (れい) point (てん) one (いち).

The Japanese literally means, “become 0.1 kilograms,” but I put it into the more natural “weigh” in English.

So, while this guy hasn’t gone full circle just yet, he’s off in Okinawa for the school trip, probably snacking it up with the other teachers. When he’s back, I’m sure he will be able to say, 「0.1キロになったところです。」 – “I just hit 0.1 kilograms.”

Robin was so close with a few of his guesses, but his official answer ("One of the party games involved attaching a radio transmitter to a tanuki and placing bets on how far it would go. The teacher was informing everyone that it was about to hit the 0.1 kilometer mark") is disqualified for implied mistreatment of tanuki. So no winner this week.

Mommy, What Does This Kanji Mean?

Thanks to Matt over at No-Sword, I learned the kanji for くそ today – 糞. Thought it was so cool I had to blow that shit up:


Hmm…now that I look at it close up, it’s not so complicated. When it was tiny, I thought it looked like a complicated version of 釜. It’s just 米 with 異なる underneath it. The appropriate mnemonic is clearly, "That shit ain’t rice!"