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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Signed, sealed, delivered - 印鑑

Did you know that it's very rare for people in Japan to put a signature on things? Instead, they "stamp" their 印 (いん - in - mark) using what's called an 印鑑 (いんかん - inkan - "seal" or "stamp"), also conversationally called a 判子 (はんこ - hanko). Every business, individual and often even family in Japan has one... including me. Want to see it?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Welcome to the new 一年生 (いちねんせい - ichinensei - 1st years)!

As I mentioned a while ago, 春 (はる - haru - spring) is a time of new beginnings in Japan - April is the start of the new school year. Many public highschools here have strict entrance requirements which means that prospective students have to sit an exam and wait for the results to see if they got in. On the day, big posterboards are put up that list the numbers of the students who made the cut. For the ones who passed, this marks the beginning of a string of ceremonies and events to congratulate and welcome them to the school. It's been a very busy few weeks!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Japaneats その3 - 丼 (どんぶり - Donburi)

, which basically refers to "a bowl of rice with stuff on top" is probably the last thing that springs to mind when most people think of Japanese food - it's hearty, inexpensive stodge that's a far cry from the delicate sophistication of 寿司 (すし - sushi). As I haphazardly introduce all the national staples to you through Japaneats though, you'll hopefully see both sides of the coin. Japan (and its food) reminds me of a scene in Titanic a little bit - quiet culture and refinement on one level and a whole bunch of boisterous singing, dancing and revelry downstairs.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Places to visit in Hyogo 2: 姫路 (ひめじ - Himeji)

A trip to 兵庫県 (ひょうごけん - hyogo ken - Hyogo Prefecture) wouldn't be complete without visiting 姫路, about 45 minutes by train from 神戸 (こうべ - Kobe). 姫路 is a relaxed, pleasant city with a population of about half a million - big enough to keep you amused without being as rush-rush as a big city. It's best known for the gorgeous 姫路城 (ひめじじょう - himejijou - Himeji Castle) which one of the top 3 castles in Japan, a majestic white beast nicknamed the "White Heron Castle". Don't let the gentle name fool you though, this lady was built to kill.

開? 閉? Everything that opens and shuts

Another little rule of thumb to help those as scatterbrained with 漢字 (かんじ - kanji) as I am.

開ける (あける - akeru - open) and 閉める (しめる - shimeru - close) are easy enough to remember if you have the ひらがな (hiragana) clues, but a lot of the time they'll only be written as and . I often forget which is which, so I came up with a trick a while ago.

I reckon the bit in the middle of "" looks a bit like a capital A - A for "akeru". Remember this, and never accidentally slam an elevator door in someone's face again!

Have your own rules and rhymes for remembering things? Comment away - I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

奈良 (なら - Nara)

In keeping with the theme of 春 (はる - haru - spring) and 桜 (さくら - sakura - cherry blossoms), today's pictures and words take us to 奈良, one of the ancient capitals of Japan. 奈良 is about 45 minutes out of 大阪 (おおさか - Osaka) by train and after spending a day there, I would have to say it's worth one trip at the very least. Within a very short time you'll have made dozens of hairy new friends and taken a lot of very interesting photos.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

日本の四つの季節その1:春 (にほんのよつのきせつそのいち:はる) - The Four Seasons of Japan 1: Spring

One of the first questions I was asked when I came to Japan was "how many seasons are there in Australia?". You would be surprised how often this comes up. A lot of people seemed shocked or sceptical when I replied that we have four as well. I think the word their question is missing is "distinct" - we have names for each season, but how different are they in real terms? Once you spend a decent amount of time in Japan and compare it to Australia, you do have to admit that the difference between each season is much starker here. Or you could just read this series and I'll do my best to illustrate it for you.

On a language note, "the four seasons" can be formally written as 春夏秋冬 (しゅんかしゅうとう - shunkashuutou). It's just the kanji for spring, summer, autumn and winter stuck together which I think is very sensible. One of the teachers who sits next to me says that if you can use this when speaking to a Japanese person, they'll think you're "very cool".