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A Learner's Notes on Reading Shikona Kanji

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I had no university lessons in Japanese, I prepared for my stay in Japan with full-day crash courses, 3 of 2 weeks each within one year and then one 4 weeks half-days course in Tokyo. We got introduced to the Halpern method to Remember the Kanji, and I adapted it for my purposes (without reading the book) to learn kanji by myself while in Japan.

I first only concentrated on recognizing the different sub-parts in kanji, usually individual kanji by themselves, then on being able to recognize whole kanji - this means to be able to tell that one kanji is different from another, without knowing the meaning or how to read it. Then I tried to remember the meaning, still without knowing the reading. Then the Japanese reading, which is usually a whole Japanese word - by then I was quite fluent in spoken Japanese, but required the furigana fine print at each kanji to read texts. I looked for books for kids in my fields of interest as a kid and found nice ones about dinosaurs and insects, but especially read the manga for kids.

Only after that I tried to learn the Chinese-Japanese readings, which have nearly no connections to everyday simple language. In proper Japanese fortunately the reading of a word is nearly always either all Japanese or all Chinese - but not so in names: there you often have it mixed, like in Tsurugishou. Having to find out the proper reading for names is still what I hate most - I have to search the net to find some place which lists the reading. Fortunately for a really new shikona the papers usually give the readings.

I built me a Hypercard stack to play around with the whole set of kanji in the Mac OS, and later I put the simple part of it (without search functions and words integrated) on my site, with kanji connected by parts and by similarity, but it's German with English mixed http://www.achimp.de/kun/kunix.htm

Edited by Akinomaki
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What was a pain for me is many shikona use  archaic Chinese pronunciations that are not included in modern kanji books. More a pain for if you are trying to make sense of the meanings of shikona. Some do render neat translations, like "Great Sandstorm," "Eternal circle," "White Raptor," "Big Easy," etc. Some don't, like "Chestnut's Spirit," but shikoma aren't really meant to always have meaning. In Japan, sometimes a name is just a name.

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1 hour ago, Churaumi said:

but shikoma aren't really meant to always have meaning. In Japan, sometimes a name is just a name.

I dare to disagree. Shikona always have a meaning! It's just not always a one to one dictionary translation word meaning.

Usually shikona are chosen with a lot of consideration. 大砂嵐 (Ōsunaarashi) is a good example for such untranslatable meanings. Prima facie it translates to 'big sandstorm', but there is more behind it. The 大 is a stable Kanji. that links him to 大嶽部屋 (Ōtake-beya) and the late Yokozuna 大鵬 (Taihō). 千代 (Chiyo) links a rikishi to Kokonoe-beya and 琴 (Koto) to Sadogatake. This link in tradition IS a meaning!

If you read 'sunaarashi' with its chinese reading you get 'sharan'. It's no coincedence that Osunaarashi's real family name is Sharan. ;-) For other rikishi a Kanji can be taken from their home town, home prefecture or the like. Maybe that's where your 'chestnut' comes from? With such personal links a shikona conveyes a well thought of meaning. Alas, a meaning that is not always translateable to a single word; but meaning is always there!

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I guess a better way to put it is some shikona are capable of being translated into English neatly as one concept, some aren't for various reasons. Some are puns, some are strings of words that don't translate cleanly, and some, especially ones who don't adopt shikona, aren't capable of being translated at all.

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On 6/3/2017 at 11:38, Asojima said:

This is an excellent reference for looking up Kanji for pronunciation and meaning.  I have an earlier 1974 edition that I have beat to hell.

This looks like an updated version of the old standard.  I can't vouch for it, but I have ordered one.

These books only list the characters that are in common use.  Some of the more esoteric characters used in some shikona are missing. Usually, only the 2 most common pronunciations for the character are given.

Received the updated version.  It is very similar to the original version.  It has an upgraded introduction with more information about the Kanji system in general.  The book has detailed information on each of the 2136 general-use characters including a very good radical lookup section. I highly recommend it as a starting reference for those learning the Kanji system. It also has a very good rundown on the Katakana and Hiragana phonetic characters.

Edited by Asojima
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