language

Sky Tree rises above Tokyo skyline

「東京スカイツリー」は日本語英語です。ネイティブにはこの名前はちょっと変です。もう遠くにスカイツリーが見える。ところで、この写真の中で、本当の木はどこですか?

Tokyo Sky Tree is rising on the eastern side of Tokyo. As the new digital television tower, it replaces Tokyo Tower as a symbol of “new” Tokyo. It’s scheduled for completion at the end of this year, and is already visible across Tokyo. In this picture, you can see Nakano Sakaue on the right and Sky Tree in the center.

The Japanese name for Sky Tree sounds funny in English, with two syllables becoming five unrecognizable ones. It’s スカイツリー, or Su-ka-i Tsu-rii. Japanese English is truly its own language. It’s also funny that they chose to use “tree” as a metaphor for this giant tower. In this view from here to there, across Tokyo, there are very few if any trees, green walls or roofs.

10,000 Blog Page Views

10,000 Blog Page Views

Over this past weekend, the Tokyo Green Space blog surpassed 10,000 page views. Begun in August of 2008, blog traffic has been exponential in the past months, with this current month reaching 3,500 views.

It is a great pleasure that the blog’s themes– the remarkable green spaces of Tokyo and the value of urban ecology– have resonated so widely. The international audience includes ordinary gardeners, researchers, professors, students, urban planners, landscape designers, environmentalists, government and corporate leaders.

I welcome all comments in all languages, including Japanese. ありがとうございます。

Weed in Kanji: The language of nature

Weed in Kanji: the Language of Plants

Kanji, the Japanese characters that borrows from Chinese, are not only ideographic but also modular. The secret to memorizing hundreds and thousands of kanji is to focus on their elements for meaning and sound. As an adult learner, I am struck by how many of these core kanji elements represent nature, such as water, tree, mountain, fire, stone, sun, valley, soil, tree, and so on.

As an example, the word zassou (雑草) or weed is composed of two characters– zatsu (雑) or miscellaneous and kusa (草) or grass– and a total of five elements, including three characters that represent life forms: tree, bird, and plant. That zatsu character’s use of the number “nine” is perhaps arbitrary, but there is also a meaning that can be inferred by the combination of nine, tree and bird. Many Japanese words and personal names have at least one character or element that represents nature.

I must clarify that the above image and explanations come from Daiki Kusuya’s wonderful Kanji Starter 2 (IBC Publishing, 5th edition, 2008). The book does a great job of presenting simple to complex kanji, offering memorable explanations, and cross-referencing by number. Still, the author warns that he created his explanations to help second-language learners, and that they should not be taken as true etymology. I like how the author privileges memory and imagination over historical accuracy.

“The pictographs or ideas explaining kanji characters in this book may not necessarily be based on their historical development. They may be alterations or even my own creations. Again, the purpose of this book is to know the meanings of kanji characters, not to study how they were derived.”

I am simultaneously studying Japanese language and why urban Japanese, like many global counterparts, want a greater connection with nature. To an outsider, it is curious how nature is so pervasive in Japanese language. Perhaps many Japanese do not reflect on this aspect of their language, much like no one considers it remarkable that so many Tokyoites tend  flowers outside their homes and shops. As an anthropologist, I view this lack of discourse, this invisibility of the everyday, as evidence that it is a key aspect of the culture.