One Kanji a DayTokyo, Spring 2013

If you’re going to Japan this spring, you, like me, may be wondering what to do with all your copious free time between now and the end of March. It may not be much, but I’d like to relate a little story from my recent past to help give you some ideas.

On the last day of classes before Winter Break, I went to visit one of my favorite professors to check in and say hi. He teaches East Asian religion courses, has been to Japan like six times, and is basically one of the chillest dudes I know. He asked me — as he often does, considering I’m a Japanese major and he knows it — when I was heading to Japan. When I told him I was going this spring, his face lit up in that calm, zen way of his.

“No way!” was his response.

“Yep,” I said.

“That’s so exciting.”

We had a brief conversation about what I plan to do there (shop a lot, visit shrines, take pictures, go with the flow) and what my housing situation looks like (I have no idea) before he asked me something like the following question:

“And you’re going to keep practicing Japanese between then and now, right?”

In my head I thought “of course!” but then I remembered I hadn’t… really thought about how I was going to do that. I mean sure, I could keep going in the textbook from this year, learning grammar points and doing worksheets on my own, but it was all pretty much moot without the near-daily classroom practice.

“Yeah…” was my response, though it was half-hearted and uncertain.

“I think you should learn one new kanji a day,” he said.

“Huh? Y-yeah, that’d be good.”

“One kanji a day.”

I felt like a zen monk in training, receiving a deceptively difficult koan from the master.

One kanji a day. That’s easy enough, right? Between mid-December and late March, I could add a hundred new kanji to my vocabulary while spending only five minutes a day. At the same time, one kanji a day? Where am I going to find all those kanji? We chatted some more before I said goodbye, still ruminating on his task of one kanji a day.

Fast forward to today, just about a month later. I’ve had a good vacation and done a whole lot of nothing (well, I suppose I’ve been productive on the creative front, but…). I’m lying in bed, wondering what to do with myself today, when suddenly the professor’s words come trickling back. One kanji a day. First I mentally reprimand myself; I had one job to do and I haven’t started it! I’m a full 30 kanji behind where I should be! I dash to my workbook from last semester and throw it open to the kanji practice pages–then I realize that I’m having my textbook shipped to me from Portland (where I’d spent the latter half of December) and have no way of figuring out what these kanji mean.

Until that textbook gets here, there’s gotta be a better way to do this.

To the internet!

I put “one kanji a day” into the search bar, just for starters–there’s a whole load of sites that have a one kanji a day system, though some of them need to be signed up for (which smells fishy to me). Then I find the twitter @1day1kanji, which not only gives you the reading and meaning of each kanji, it also has little “kanji stories” to help you remember them. That’s great! Since I am also a twitterer, this seems to be the solution for me. I’ll get my daily kanji delivered right to my twitter feed! Then I can copy it into word, blow it up big, and practice away!

Well, almost.

I check the date on it.

The most recent tweet was in 2009.

So close.

I find a similar tumblr, and get excited about that for a second–the last post was in August. Well, it’s a better format than twitter, anyway. I bookmark it just in case.

There’s an amazon link for a kanji practice pad, complete with stroke order, readings, and meanings. I add it to my wish list for future reference. That might be better than the dinky practice section in the back of my workbook, which does not include meanings, and come to think of it I don’t think the textbook explicitly gives us any of the meanings either.

So much for that idea.

OH! Here’s a tumblr that has the kanji hand-written out, with stroke order, last updated 17 hours ago. Finally, someone who’s actually staying true to the 1 kanji per day promise! You can find their tumblr here at http://kanji-a-day.tumblr.com. How helpful! Now I can get my daily dose of kanji directly on my tumblr dashboard–which is great, because I seem to spend a lot of my time there as it is.

One kanji a day. I start wondering to myself: what if I got ambitious? What if I did two kanji a day? What if I miss a day and did two the next to make up for it? No, I remind myself, I must be diligent, and spread out my work so that I don’t grow tired of it quickly. No one reaches enlightenment in a day; the ocean chips away at a cliff only a sand grain at a time.

Wow that was pretty zen just now.

Anyway.

My challenge to you, fellow IES travelers headed to Japan, is to learn one kanji a day. That’s it. No complex bowing, no tea-ceremony memorizing, none of the hard stuff. Just the one kanji. It doesn’t matter what you’re going to Japan for, you’re gonna be out to sea without a paddle if you don’t have enough kanji in your head. This is something everyone can, and should, do.

My kanji for today is boat (船). What’s yours?

As I am a photo blogger, I figure it’s not fair to leave you without a photo. So here’s a few pictures of my travel buddy.

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