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This past year I had to take 「日文史學名著選讀」(Selected Readings in Japanese Works on History), which has had us reading current and past works by Japanese scholars on a variety of historical topics, mostly in relation to China and colonial Taiwan. This has been a slightly intimidating class for me, as the three years of Japanese I had taken is now already an event that occurred seven years ago. (my god)

However, homework is homework, so I had to find a way to muddle through it despite the desperately low levels of Japanese.

One of the beautiful things about starting out with Chinese then moving (back) into Japanese is the amount of crossover that exists between the two. Because Kanji/Chinese characters retain so much meaning, I would almost argue it is more important than the grammar-y bits that follow them. (this is probably deeply influenced by my utter lack of knowledge with Japanese grammar)

Anyway, it is just because of my ability in Chinese that reading these Japanese articles seem a heck of a lot less impossible.

This calls to mind a really interesting post over at Mandarin Segments, Reading Chinese (In Japan!). Two important observations he made are:

  • In spite of the above points, I was still able to follow much of the Kanji which I read in signs, menus, posters, etc.
  • Even when signs were a mixture of Kanji and Hiragana (the one phonetic alphabet of Japanese), I sometimes found that the core meaning came from the Kanji.

Thus, even when going through an article like this one doesn’t seem nearly as intimidating:

Though this was still super intimidating.

Or, at the very least, my dog can help me study.

In conclusion: If anyone else tells you that Kanji is completely useless/unnecessary, they obviously don’t want to really read Japanese.

4 thoughts on “Japanese via Chinese”

  1. Greg, thanks for the reference.
    Regards, Greg

    Seriously, respect to you. If I compare my dozen-character signs with your dozen-characters per square inch text, I’m lost before I even begin. Impressive!

    1. Oh, please trust me, I’m even as lost as you are. It’s like a sea of sadness. Went over it with my Japanese classmate today–seems I have a lot more work to do with my Japanese!

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