Archive for the ‘Animal’ Category

Am I learning Japanese or Biology?

2007 March 25

One essential aspect of learning a language is learning its vocabulary. In my Japanese study, this tranlates into learning kanji which are the building block of many words.

Most kanji are for things I am familiar with. Some examples are 人 (hito, person), 玉 (tama, ball), and 火 (hi, fire). Many are for common animals like 虫 (mushi, insect), 亀 (kame, turtle), and 猫 (neko, cat). Unexpectedly, I quite oftenly encounter kanji for an animal or plant that I have no knowledge about.

An example is 藤 (fuji, tou) which is the kanji for the plant genus Wisteria. It is found on many people’s name, such as 藤本美貴 (Fujimoto Miki), 後藤真希 (Gotou Maki), and 工藤新一 (Kudou Shin’ichi).

Using KANJIDIC or EDICT, I only get a brief description like “wisteria”. That is useless for someone with a shallow knowledge such as me, but enough as a pointer to get more information elsewhere. If I’m not online, my next stop is Stardict, which gives more detail such as “a climbing plant with purple or white flowers”. At least I could know that “Wisteria” is a plant, not something else like “hysteria”. My final stop is of course Wikipedia, which gives detailed descriptions and more importantly, images!

I’ll share some of the new living things I’ve discovered… Do you know them?

Wisteria

Wisteria

In Japanese, it is フジ (藤, fuji). And no, Mount Fuji is written differently. It is native to Japan and other countries including eastern US. It can climb by twisting itself along any available support. As I have written above, it is used on many people’s name. Anyone knows its Indonesian name?


Cicada

Cicada

In Japanese, it is セミ (蝉, semi). I found it on Berryz Koubou‘s song titled “Semi”. It is a family of insect that makes a lot of noise (but it’s different from Cricket). According to Wikipedia Indonesia, the Indonesian name is Tonggeret (never heard it before).


Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum

In Japanese, it is キク (菊, kiku). I found it on an author’s name (菊池, Kikuchi) at the digital library Aozora Bunko. In Japan, this plant is a symbol of death and are only used for funerals (which means, don’t give it to your Japanese girlfriend). 菊花紋章 (kikukamonshou) is the name given to the position of Japanese emperor. By the way, I recently went to Moro department store and found a Chrysanthemum product. It is a Chinese product and how happy I was to see the character 菊 written on the box :). The Indonesian name is Seruni (never heard it before too).


Manchurian Violet

Manchurian Violet, Viola mandshurica

In Japanese, it is スミレ (菫, sumire). I also found it on a writer’s name (薄田泣菫, Sasakida Kyuukin, and please don’t ask me what “sasaki” means). Is it also “Violet” in Indonesia?


Japanese Royal Fern

Japanese Royal Fern, Osmunda japonica

In Japanese, it is ゼンマイ (薇, zenmai). I knew what a fern is, but I was curious whether this fern has a striking difference (nothing striking to a layman like me). Strangely, it is the kanji used in Rose (薔薇, bara), which is where I found it. In Indonesia, ferns are called paku or pakis.


If you want to be able to read people’s name, you’ll be sure to encounter lots of these exotic kanji. It’s almost like they’re forcing us to be a botanist or zoologist. You’ll also find these kanji in songs and literatures (e.g., novels), because writers want to look cool by using obscure characters.

As a closing, note that I use katakana to write the name of the plants and animal above. This is a modern practice, which originates from the scientific community. Even in the Japanese Wikipedia, the article for dog is titled イヌ (inu) despite its kanji 犬 being taught in grade 1 elementary school. It is probably a sensible decision, considering that there are countless living things on Earth.