Click on the photo to see the characters on this packaging more clearly. How many of the seven words that I’ve transcribed below the photo can you read or understand?
Hover your mouse over them with the rikaichan popup dictionary or use your favorite reference tool if you need help.
This package appealed to me because of its clean, no frills design and the number of useful kanji that it includes in a compact message.
These lightly sweetened muffins are made by Yamazaki, one of Japan’s largest baked goods companies and an iconic brand here. The link will take you to their English site, which has a short, interesting summary of their history.
From there, if you click on the Japanese site link, you can get some fun, quick reading practice by trying to pick up words on the revolving header that features lots of color and photos of their products and a limited amount of script, so it won’t overload you. Interesting too to get a sense of what the general public’s taste buds are responding to these days.
You can also click on their CM情報 link to see their latest commercials, for some authentic listening practice. Commercials are referred to as ‘CM’ in Japanese.
The entire site’s dynamic and well done and is worth a quick look even if you don’t read Japanese, just to get a feel for how large companies like this market themselves here. If you study Japanese and are building your reading skills, rikaichan or another popup dictionary can help you to pick out some content here and on other sites and enjoy it without getting bogged down.
Oh, and the 甘食 were good, too. My resolve to wait until after I wrote this to eat them obviously wasn’t very strong!
If you’re learning katakana, try reading this sign that I saw in Kyoto and you’ll discover what kind product they sell. Sort of. I honestly can’t quite picture their merchandise, as far as what makes it distinct from my own setup. I wonder what I’m missing out on?
I took this picture in part because the company’s van quite considerately has the name written on its side in the roman alphabet, so that you can check your reading skills by slowly scrolling down to the next picture, after you give this sign a whirl.
If you’re learning hiragana, give this Kyoto restaurant sign a look. It caught my eye because of the elegant, stylized script that might make this otherwise easy to read word a bit of a challenge, if not for the context of the photo.
You might also already be used to sight reading the word in its often seen kanji incarnation that I’ve written just below the photo.
These particular kanji are most often associated with this word and are seen in other forms much less frequently, so learning them as a set is common.
Use the rikaichan popup dictionary or your favorite reference tool on the text I’ve transcribed just below the photo if you need help reading this sign.
Even if you’re learning katakana and aren’t very familiar with kanji yet, you might be able to sight read these words based on the context of this photo, or recognize individual characters or often seen elements within them.
The katakana word will also give you a clue about what the others might mean, and about what products and services this shop offers.
If you’re learning katakana, try reading this sign.It caught my eye because of the colors and graphics, which might help you to decipher the meaning. Then again, the more I look at the two figures above the words, it looks like a barroom brawl or a shootout! So it might be best to focus on the pair on the bottom………
Use the rikaichan popup dictionary or your favorite reference tool on the text I’ve transcribed just below the photo if you need help. Rikaichan won’t help with most personal names, but this one, which serves as the name of the business, is also written in the Roman alphabet on the sign.
If you’re learning katakana, try reading this shop sign that I saw in Kyoto and you’ll discover what kind of store it is. Kyoto is written in Kanji at the bottom along with the name of this branch, taken from the name of the street that it’s on.
Use the rikaichan popup dictionary or your favorite reference tool on the text I’ve transcribed just below the photo if you need help.
夜間工事 ２３時３０分〜翌５時３０分 車線変更
Use the rikaichan popup dictionary on the text I’ve transcribed just below the photo if you need help reading this sign.
I took this at night in Kyoto in an area where there’s been a lot of road work at night, which involves diverting traffic.
I’d only just learned the reading of 夜間yesterday when I transcribed them in my post about this traffic safety poster, which you might want to check for more reinforcement after reading this post, if you haven’t read it yet.
工事（こうじ）is a common compound meaning construction or road work.
I was happy to see やかん again so soon after writing my last post and to have the chance to test my recall. This sign makes them hard to miss!
I was curious about other common collocations and found 夜間授業（やかんじゅぎょう） in one of the example sentences given by the Denshi Jisho online Japanese dictionary, meaning ‘night classes.’
Once my attention was focused on this sign, it gave me some other
useful examples of familiar characters that I’d understood but couldn’t read with confidence.
The character 翌 looked familiar and the context gave me the meaning, ‘the following’ or ‘next.’ The sign abbreviates the compound 翌日（よくじつ）, which is the form that I’ve seen this character take in the past. I also realized that without a clear context like this, I might confuse it with 習おう, to learn.
Thanks to this sign I’ll steer clear of that mistake!
If you’d like some reading practice, for starters click on this photo of a Kyoto city summer safe cycling campaign poster to see an enlarged version that will let you see the text more clearly. Then, use the rikaichan popup dictionary or your favorite reference tool on the text I’ve transcribed just below the photo if you need some help with it.
This poster caught my eye because of its visual impact and the number of common kanji compounds featured here in the context of a very topical issue in Japan that police and lawmakers are struggling to address.
Not needing a car is one of the biggest benefits of living in Kyoto, but with the number of inattentive cyclists and pedestrians increasing, the chances of an accident are also more likely. As well as no lights at night and common distractions like cellular phones and headphones, the racing bikes without brakes fad is also addressed in the text with katakana, along with a couple other English words that are often used in Japanese.
Use the rikaichan popup dictionary on the text I’ve transcribed just below the photo if you need help reading the sticker on this vending machine.
I took this shot because I’m interested in the ways that vending machines are promoting their latest energy saving features in this era of reduced power generating capacity, when 節電（せつでん), electricity conservation, is suddenly closer to an imperative than a lifestyle choice.
When I uploaded it I was surprised to see a familiar word used in a way I hadn’t seen before! 消費税（しょうひぜい), consumption tax, is a word that’s everywhere these days, with the proposed increase in the consumption (sales) tax from 5% to 10% a very hot political potato. 消費者（しょうひしゃ）is a consumer.
When I read this sticker, I understood that it refers to power consumption, and was happy to discover a new usage. I was also a bit intrigued by the order that the kanji are in, with 消費 coming before電力(でんりょく),the opposite of what I would’ve expected. I can imagine using the phrase ‘消費電力が少ない to talk about energy related issues, or maybe when I go to an appliance shop to buy something.
The Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association has a spiffy, recently overhauled website that greets you with a bit of animation that depicts an idyllic countryside scene with rolling hills, frolicking kiddies with butterfly nets, smiling adults and yes, vending machines, that makes it worth at least quick visit to get a sense of how far public opinion and buying habits still allow them to go.
If you like to get a little authentic reading practice in now and then, you might enjoy exploring the site a bit more with a popup dictionary like rikaichan to help keep your flow going.
My interest in language aside, I can’t help but marvel at how the makers of these machines have managed to position themselves as part of an environmentally friendly vanguard in Japan, selling the notion of ‘eco’ or environmentally friendly vending machines, a term which to my ears at least, is an oxymoron. The JVMMA website was revamped with this focus in mind, it seems.
It’s one thing to tout energy efficiency for an appliance that has some reasonable level of utility. But when vending machines are as ubiquitous as they are here(Japan has the most vending machines per capita in the world according to their website) and often are just a stone’s throw from a just as common convenience store, I have to wonder why more people don’t see them as simply unnecessary and a waste of resources in this new era of tough choices and decide to stop feeding them, to stop voting for them with their coin shaped ballots.
Some folks promote carrying your own thermos, etc. as a way to reduce the use of cans and plastic bottles as well as conserve electricity, and the number of people who do that is likely growing. But for the vast number of people who don’t, convenience stores and other markets would seem like a convenient enough option in most cases, even if it means passing up a vending machine and waiting an extra two minutes or so until you come upon one.
In the spirit of saving energy, namely our own as language learners, I’ve included the picture below. Can you think of two ways, standard and abbreviated, to say ‘vending machine’ in Japanese? This weather worn Kyoto shop sign has the compact, energy saving version of the word written on it. Give it a go and meet me under the photo!
We all have memories of certain words that give us fits when we’re first learning Japanese, and even after we get some study time under our belts. I remember ‘vending machine,’ 自動販売機 (じどうはんばいき), was a real mouthful for me to say at first, especially before I understood what the components meant, what the kanji stood for. At some point I picked up the shortened version that’s in the sign above, じはんき。At this ‘vending machine corner’ you’ll find a cigarette machine, among others, according to the vertical sign below it.
And here’s an old sign I saw attached to a beautiful old wooden building in Kyoto with the longer version…….
What words that seemed hard to remember and use because of their length and unfamiliar sounds stand out in your mind from the early days of your studies? Do you know any other energy saving abbreviated forms of words?
In early July, just before the end of the rainy season, I went to Biwako (Lake Biwa), the largest fresh water lake in Japan, and was struck by some cloud formations on that hot, humid afternoon. My friend Mr. Ikeda told me that the cloud I was admiring has a name, 入道雲.
It’s a towering type of cloud formation associated with summer, imposing in the way a bodybuilder might be, muscle bound and commanding attention. Even with these attributes, I probably only noticed the にゅうどうぐも and pointed them out because I was at a lakeside BBQ party and was taking the time to just relax and chat and breath in new surroundings.
Mr. Ikeda taught me the word’s kanji as we gazed at the sky, which, as is so often the case, really helped me to set the word in my mind. And after I got home, my dictionary informed me that 入道 can refer to a bald-headed monster. This is not a cloud that’s used to being ignored!
Then, just a couple days later, as I strolled by a gallery exhibition on my way to do some shopping, I noticed a painting through the glass and there was ‘my’ cloud!
I walked in and admired various scenes of small town life. Mr. Aikawa, the man behind the paintings, happened to be there and I told him about my new friend the 入道雲, and how we were introduced just days before and here, by chance, I’d just noticed those columns of clouds again his warm, nostalgic work.
If I hadn’t taken the time to see the clouds and comment on them at Biwako, I wouldn’t have even suspected they had a name other than their scientific term. And in turn, if I hadn’t known that name, I wouldn’t have taken the time to take that refreshing detour and enter the world of Mr. Aikawa’s work and be afforded a glimpse of what his childhood in the castle town of Hikone outside of Kyoto must have been like.
This was my second introduction to a cloud. Late last year a yoga lesson mate spontaneously pointed to the sky out the window as we stretched and chatted before class and told me that we were looking at an 鰯雲, a sardine cloud. If the 入道雲 is the musclebound, imposing type, the いわしぐも might be his skinny kid brother. Named for their resemblance to a fish’s scales, they’re fixtures in the fall sky.
Japanese people seem surprised when I tell them that I don’t know what to call various cloud formations in English. There are scientific names, of course, and I came across the term ‘thunder cloud’ when I looked this topic up in writing this post, but I’d never heard it myself. Japanese people seem to take for granted the widely known, richly descriptive language they’ve inherited that’s attached to so many natural phenomena.
As so often happens when I learn a new Japanese word, my eyes are opened to something that was there all the time, that I didn’t notice or know what to call in either Japanese or English in many cases. Living in Japan gives me ample chances to use the language that I learn, and time spent studying has obvious practical payoffs. Beyond that though, instances like this remind me of what a wonderful lens to see the world through my studies have become.
And while I’ve got my head in the clouds, I’m reminded of a thought provoking, engaging article written by William Reed that uses the sky to pose some interesting questions that you can find here. It includes thoughts on the kanji character 空（くう) and its various levels of meaning in relation to Buddhist thought and Japanese culture. Mr. Reed’s columns are a great resource for those who have an interest in Japan, whether you’re studying the language or not.
I’m curious about what other words there are to describe clouds in English and Japanese. Do you know of any?