日曜日, 1月 30, 2005

Bad Luck!

    Looks like I failed the kanken and lost my mobile phone on the same day.
    If you mailed my mobile phone today, please send it again to my regular e-mail. I lost it somewhere between my apartment building bicycle parking lot and my nearest train station's Starbucks, a fairly short distance, between 11 and 12 this morning, as I was on my way to the test site. I checked at the Starbucks, some nearby stores, and the police box near my apartment, and nobody's turned it in.
    I knew this morning - and yesterday - that I wouldn't pass the test, but I tried anyway, and was actually surprised at how close I came. The first time I totaled my score (after we finished the test, they gave us an answer sheet) I got exactly 140, which is passing (70% of 200). However, when I looked at it later, I noticed another small mistake. So I probably missed passing by a mere 1 or 2 points. I would have passed if I hadn't had second thoughts about a couple of answers and changed them- making them wrong. Annoying. But I was pleased that I was able to answer so many of the writing questions, yojijukugo, and taigigo/ruigo questions.
    I'll definitely take the kanken again in June. It's a good experience. I think I got stared at a bit by the other test-takers. More so than at the Chinese test. The group taking 3-kyuu was all ages, but there were probably more middle schoolers than anything, one very young child, and a sprinkling of older adults.
    The test question I'm kicking myself for the most is シャソウ. I knew it was some kind of window from the context. If only I'd just thought "(train) car window" and written it that way! The answer is 車窓. I've never heard that word before, but I should have been able to figure it out from the sentence, and I should have remembered that the onyomi of 窓 is そう。

月曜日, 1月 24, 2005

24-Hour Writing Contest

    Yesterday I entered the writersweekly 24-Hour Short Story Contest. You have to register in advance (it costs US $5) and the entrants are limited to 500 people. At the designated time, they e-mail you a topic and the maximum word count. You have to write a story using their topic and e-mail it back within 24 hours. If you're entering from Japan, you'll need to keep in mind the time difference: the contest starts and ends at 3:00 a.m. here. However, it doesn't really matter that much; no one says you actually have to start writing at 3:00 a.m.
    Yesterday's topic was:

She screamed, "No! Did you hear me?! I said no!!"

She slapped him hard but he had already catapulted out of

    The word count was 1000 words (the website says they usually range from 500 to 2000 words).
    When I read the topic, I thought it was quite easy. 1000 words is also really short. I wrote my story in about 6 hours. Reading it over though, I was embarrassed by my theme and the unavoidable cheesiness of it. To get to a scene that dramatic, I had to throw in some emotional elements I might have otherwise avoided. So I wasn't really satisfied with my story, and I'm not going to post it here. I don't think I'll win anything this time.
    I signed up for the contest because I want to work on my creative writing this year. I'm uncertain about my future, but I think that writing is at least as important as studying languages. If I can't express myself well, it doesn't matter how many kanji I know. There's no immortality in learning kanji, but your writing can have power long after you die. I've neglected creative writing for a long time, but I want to start to remedy that; if I write anything I'm proud of, I'll post it here. Anyway, I encourage all of you to enter the 24-hour short story contest next time. It really is a cool idea. I like the winning story of the autumn contest...here is a link.

木曜日, 1月 20, 2005

Misfortune & Frusteration

    The misfortune is, I hope, a small one: the gums on the left lower side of my mouth seem to be infected. The swelling started yesterday, but I didn't have time to go to the dentist. Today, it's so swollen I can't close my teeth together. I called the dentist, and 3:00 is the only time they could see me today, so I need to take an hour of nenkyuu and miss an important ESS club meeting that I should really be there for. At first I was going to postpone the dentist visit till tomorrow, but the pain makes it difficult to concentrate on anything, so I probably wouldn't be much good at the ESS meeting anyway. So I called the dentist's office back to say I would go today.
    I like my dentist - I think going to the dentist in Japan is rather calming, not at all the stressful and frightening experience it was with the incompetent dentists I had back home. I even find myself looking forward to seeing the dentist again. Weird.
    The frusteration is due to studying for the kanken. I wish I had more time. I don't think I'll be ready.

木曜日, 1月 13, 2005

Inkan & Debate Updates

    So there are 2 kinds of inkan (also called hanko): 実印 (jitsuin) and 認印 (mitomein). The larger one that I had made in Taiwan is suitable for a jitsuin. This is the official inkan that you can register at the yakusho (city hall) and use subsequently to prove you are who you say you are. It may be required for very official documents, for example when you buy a house. The jitsuin is NOT for everyday use, however, so you need a smaller one, a mitomein, for more mundane things like receiving packages in the mail or stamping your attendance book. I haven't seen enough of other people's inkan to verify this, but I'm guessing that the jitsuin has your full name, and the mitomein is an "abbrieviated" version for which any part of your name is okay. Correct me if I'm wrong about this. I was surprised when the woman in the shop in Taiwan asked me if I wanted my FULL name on the inkan, because if I chose kanji for my last name too it would be really long and it wouldn't fit on a regular hanko. Now I kind of wish I had made a full-name version, although any kanji I picked for my last name would be utterly fanciful ateji . There are a few choices I like for my last name, but I've never ventured to proclaim them publicly because they just seem a bit silly.
    In Japan they don't seem to mind if you have totally different kanji on your jitsuin and mitomein. It doesn't matter. On the other hand, if you're a foreigner with a middle name, you'd better make sure your middle name is printed exactly the same way on all your paperwork or on none of it, or you'll have hell to pay. Likewise if you're a foreigner with a mistake on your original passport, you need to go with the passport version on all your paperwork. They aren't flexible when it comes to the naming options of other countries, but they're surprisingly flexible with their own. Another instance of this is the fact that although the kanji you can choose for your newborn child are limited by law, you can still choose to have those kanji pronounced any way you want. It's interesting that flexibility with how-many-ways-can-you-write-your-name differs from country to country.
    Debate is going well. The students and teachers seem into it. The ESS club also decided (independantly of me) they want to do debates this year.
   Here is a sampling of topics proposed by students in my class this morning- these are the ones I selected, so next week they have to vote and narrow it down to one topic per class-

(First half of the class - 20 students - proposed these topics)

1) Do we need P.E.?
2) Should this high school have us come by 8:30?
3) Should all high school students wear uniforms?
4) Should we get married?
5) Should we run laps? (Note: my school is particularly strict about only one thing, and that is 周回走, running laps around the school grounds. It's not optional and it's required regardless of the weather. The students hate it.)
6) Should we have homework during summer vacation?
7) Do we need Luminarie?
8) Should we use mobile phones?
9) Should we do club activities on the holidays?

(Second half of the class)

1) Nattto is delicious. Agree or disagree?
2) English is necessary. Agree or disagree?
3) Music is better than art, yes or no.
4) Do we need weather reports?
5) Do we need TV?
6) Should we make children believe in Santa Claus?
7) Should we eat fish or meat?
8) Does Nobita need Doraemon?
9) Is Ultraman a hero or not?
10) Should we eat bread or rice for breakfast?

The bread or rice debate is really tired and I wonder it hasn't been beaten to death by now, but some of the other things they talked about I didn't realize were such hot topics. The subject of whether I am very cute or not is apparently under debate -at least, one student wrote that down as a suggested topic. But no way will I let them choose that one. Then there is Ultraman. One student was asking (in Japanese, but I was listening) does Ultraman have a good sense of justice, because sometimes don't you feel sorry for his enemies?

火曜日, 1月 11, 2005


    Inkan are the name stamps used on formal documents instead of a signature in East Asia. Because each is custom-made and unique, it has a legal status similar to (but not quite as serious as) a signature in Western countries. I didn't need one when I was an exchange student in Japan in college, but now that I work in Japan I need one for the attendance book, which I have to stamp every day, and to signify receipt of my paycheck. My inkan is also registered with the bank. Most people also register theirs at the post office, but the post office will also accept a signature.
    When I arrived, my school ordered the very cheapest kind of inkan for me, made of wood. I was not very happy with their selection of kanji for my name, but I didn't say anything because I'd just gotten there and I didn't want to cause a fuss. I chose my own kanji for my name long ago, and the ones the school gave me were different. Although my kanji name is different in Japanese and Chinese, I like the fact that I can use one of the same characters in each--it gives me a certain feeling of continuity of identity, I guess, even though the character's meaning has nothing to do with the actual meaning of my name, if there is one. Anyway, the meaning of the kanji the school gave me were unrelated to anything. So I've always wanted a better inkan.
    When I went to China last summer, I had one made by a street vendor using my Chinese name. It was also cheap, and when I got it home I didn't like it because the imprint was so faint. It is made of stone, not wood, and has my Chinese zodiac animal carved on the top. I didn't do anything with it.
    When I went to Taiwan, I had a really nice inkan made. The stone is fossilized coral and very pretty. I gave them my desired kanji name. It would have been very expensive in Japan, but in Taiwan the price was much more affordable. The woman in the shop didn't make it in front of me like the Chinese street vendor, but sent it to me in Japan afterwards. I received it last week.
    Initially, I was disappointed because the imprint also seems rather faint. However, pretty-sunshine told me I just need to get the right shuniku for it. Shuniku is the red inkpad used with inkan. (The word means "vermilion flesh," and is one of my favorite Japanese words). I was also disappointed that at first glance, the characters weren't recongizable to me as my own name. They could almost have been anything. They were carved in the ancient semi-hieroglyphic style which I can't read. My other inkan have characters in the modern style, so I was unprepared for this. However, with close scrutiny I could eventually pick out which character was which (my first name is spelled with three kanji in Japanese; in Chinese, I use one character for my last name followed by two for my first). Now that I'm used to looking at it, I have no complaints with the design.
    I proudly took my new inkan to my school office and asked if I could start using it from now on. Unfortunately, I encountered yet another setback: the office staff pointed out that the new inkan is too big! It takes up the whole square of the date in the attendance book, covering the date number. To make me feel better, she told me that I could use the new one once a month when I get my paycheck.
    Having this pretty new inkan, of course I want to use it; although it doesn't make any difference to anything, some part of me rebels at using the cheap little wooden inkan every day with characters I didn't choose myself. At least I can register the new one with the bank and the post office, and get some high-grade shuniku to go with it. Hopefully if I get another job in Japan after JET, I can use the good inkan from the beginning.
    Here is something I wonder about inkan. I can't imagine ever throwing one away. If it were my family, and my parents and grandparents had inkan when they died, I would keep the inkan forever. So do people keep all of their dead relatives' inkan? In which case do inkan keep accumulating infinitely from generation to generation? Or do people throw them away after someone dies?

Third Term Starts

    I have 360 students in 9 homeroom classes, all first-year high school students. That sounds like a lot of work for me, but actually it's not; I only teach them in groups of twenty, once a week for 25 minutes each. Each 50-minute period is divided in half and each homeroom class of 40 is divided in half, because my school believes that a 40-student class is too big for a conversation class.
    Planning 25-minute, once-a-week classes that have any meaning or educational value at all is my sole challenge.
    Last year, because the third term is the last and the shortest, I didn't do much with them except play quiz-show style games and have them read the tongue-twisters in Dr. Seuss' Fox in Socks for pronunciation practice. In the first and second terms (last year and this year) they had speaking evaluations, but not the third because it's too short. Anyway awhile back I got the crazy idea I wanted to do a debate in the third term this year.
    Making Japanese students do a debate in English is kind of a pet project of many ALTs, and I've heard the topic covered many times in my teacher training seminars for JET. My ALT senpais seemed to believe that if you could just get students to debate in English, you will have succeeded on some fundamental level. The students are, as a rule, so shy in class, apathetic, non-opinionated, and non-forthcoming with their ideas, that I can understand why many ALTs seek debate as their holy grail. Debate is actually pretty alien to the Japanese educational system, but at my school the first-year students do debate in Japanese in their social studies class.
    For the hundredth time, I regret not taking debate in high school. I had to look on Wikipedia to find out what the rules of debate actually are. I've never seen a real high school debate, much less participated in one, so I'm hardly qualified to teach my students how to do it. But then I'm a bad public speaker too, and ever since I came to this school I've been forced into the role of expert on making speeches in English. I'm used to that, and maybe it's even made me a better public speaker. So now I'm learning about debate in order to teach it.
    The most memorable of my Chinese classes in college was the one where we had a class debate in Chinese. It was only one hour-long class, and we didn't get to pick the topic; it was the pros and cons of the "One Child Per Family" policy in China. Although initially unmotivated by the topic, I found myself becoming enthusiastic about it as the class progressed, activating my limited Chinese vocabulary in the process. With this good memory of debating in a foreign language in mind, I'm cautiously optimistic about the chances of success with my students.
    I simplified the rules of the "world schools style" debate listed on Wikipedia for my class - each side will have three speakers, but I don't think we need the final "reply speaker". The last speaker can summarize and give the "final appeal." I'm thinking of assigning three judges for each class, one student from each side and one teacher (me or the JTE). The other teacher will be in charge of making sure the debate proceeds in a timely manner.
    The debate lesson plans I just completed this morning will take 3 25-minute lessons. In the first class the students themselves can think of ideas for what they want to debate. I want each of the 18 classes of 20 to debate a different mini-issue, so that at the end we'll have an interesting little list of what they debated and which side won to publish in one of the school newsletters or something.

火曜日, 1月 04, 2005

More Yojijukugo

...than you can shake a stick at.

A romantic one:


比翼 refers to a legendary bird that has one wing shared between the male and the female.

連理 refers to two trees that grow together to become one.

Put these two words together, and it means a couple that are extremely close.

Another romantic one:


One day, three autumns

Every day I don't meet you is like three years to me.

Some more of my favorites:



A situation where many suspicious individuals are secretly engaged in shady dealings.



To become enraptured with a novel amusement and lose your sense of purpose. This is a way of life for us Internet addicts, I'm afraid.



Like playing a harp for a cow, in other words a wasted effort.



"Fast asleep, without knowing what's going on."

This one is unusual because it originated in Japan, not China; therefore, the kanji are read with the Japanese readings. It apparently came from a joke about a farmer who went to the capital, Kyoto. When asked if he remembered "Shirakawa," the farmer thinks it's a river and answers "oh, we crossed that river by boat at night so I didn't see it clearly." Since it's not actually a river, his answer displays his ignorance.



When the rules keep changing and you can't trust them from one day to the next.


Fine day-till-rain-read

When the weather is good, you work in the fields; when the weather is bad, you read a book. A description of a quiet, pleasant life.


Skillful, handy-poor

Jack of all trades, master of none

I like the English expression better, actually.



A Buddhist phrase. Not distinguishing between yourself and others, a desirable state of mind.



Not paying any heed to other people's advice or warnings. It's like the east wind blowing in the ear of a horse.


My own-rice field-pull-water

Watering your own field--only doing what's best for you without caring about other people.

The following three all mean basically the same thing.



A very strong defence.


The same - this time the moat is hot water.


Hard to attack, will not fall

Defensible terrain, or a well-defended position. I misunderstood this one at first to mean something like "an uphill battle" as we would say in English, but that expression is from the point of view of the attacker- this one actually has a positive meaning.

月曜日, 1月 03, 2005


Taiwanese bean soup
Originally uploaded by moglet.

Bowl of spiky vegetables

Bowl of spiky vegetables
Originally uploaded by moglet.

Spiky vegetable whole
Originally uploaded by moglet.

Spiky vegetable broken
Originally uploaded by moglet.

water chestnuts
Originally uploaded by moglet.

Mystery solved - the spiky vegetable is a water chestnut, which you can buy canned at any grocery store in the United States. Amazing.


Originally uploaded by moglet.

This fruit tastes like a cross between an apple and a watermelon.

Taiwanese Kakikori

Taiwanese Kakikori
Originally uploaded by moglet.

This is kakikori (shaved ice), but it has bits of candied fruit and mochi in it.

Frog egg stand

Frog egg stand
Originally uploaded by moglet.
Not real frog eggs, but a gelatinous beverage (if beverage is the right word?) popular in Taiwan. I wasn't too crazy about it actually.

Tarokko Gorge

土曜日, 1月 01, 2005

Fun with 四字熟語

    F. and I went to 初詣 in Kyoto last night. I was surprised to learn that you can do hatsumode (first shrine visit of the year) at night. Actually, so many people were doing it that we had to wait an hour and a half at the gates to Yasaka Jinja as they let people in one group at a time. It was worth it though. It started to snow around midnight. From Yasaka Jinja we walked to Kiyomizudera, and in the snow it really looked amazing. Like an enchanted fairyland, with snowy wooded mountains and a pagoda in the distance. Kyoto in the snow on New Year's is a magical sight.

    Today I want to post some ways to make studying yojijukugo fun, because I've been studying them lately and I'm a feeling little frusterated with all the ones I don't know.

Ways to have fun with yojijukugo:

1) 創作四字熟語. This means making up your own original "yojijukugo". Here are a couple that F. and I made up during our 初詣 trip to Kyoto last night:


Every week, a different umbrella

This refers to a person who has a different umbrella every time you see them, because they are constantly losing them.

Beautiful scenery, no camera

I wanted to say 絶景無...camera, but damn it, there is no one kanji that means "camera". So we settled on 不写 to mean "can't take pictures".

The view at Kiyomizudera last night was definitely "絶景". I had a camera, but my batteries had run out.

2) Yojijukugo games:

There is one for Gameboy, but I don't have it & don't know how good it is.
Here is the best web game I've found so far for yojijukugo:


Once you download it, use the arrow keys on your keyboard to play it. (Press the up arrow first to select the normal course). It will show you four kanji in random order. Rearrange it to make a yojijukugo - for example, if the bottom kanji is the first one, press the down arrow; if the right one is next, press right. At the end it will show you your score and the right answers. You can play it many times and get lots of new ones each time. I still have so many to learn...

3) Kanji tattoos are popular in many Western countries. A lot of yojijukugo would make undesirable and downright embarrassing tattoos. Imagine if you will, and this is just a mental exercise, the absurdity of going through life with something like
有名無実 (undeserved fame) tattooed on your arm. Which prompts me to ask these questions:
a) If you *had* to get a yojijukugo tattoo, which one would you choose?
b) Which one would be most embarrassing to have as a tattoo?
If at least 3 people post their answers I'll post mine.


Update: Well, for some reason the view comments function on this post is broken; I sent an e-mail to blogger about it. In the meantime I'll keep my promise, since more than 3 people posted their best and worst yojijukugo tattoos.

    I would get a small tattoo of 知者不言 ちしゃふげん "Those who know don't tell" - because I think it would seem rather mysterious. For sheer aesthetic coolness, nothing can beat 魑魅魍魎 ちみもうりょう, but the meaning isn't that good for a tattoo unless you think of yourself as four different kinds of monster.

    Most embarrassing: I thought of several. For example, 完全無欠 (かんぜんむけつ) would be pretty embarrassing because it means perfect and without flaw, and you'd have to be pretty arrogant to claim that. The worst tattoo though in my opinion would be


A wasted life, that you dream away in a perpetual state of drunkenness, and when you die you realize you haven't really lived.

My pocket yojijukugo jiten mistakenly prints this as:


You go through life drunk - and you never die! That would be something. But that must be a mistake, because two other dictionaries I looked in have the "dream-death" version.