Over the past nine months and 120 strips we’ve covered the core fundamentals of Japanese. And while there’s still a lot to learn I need to take a break for a while so I can focus on some other projects that I’ve been neglecting. So for now it’s up to you to take the basics you’ve learned and chart your own study course until I get back! (Current rough estimate: Sometime in November).
Unless you’re reading this in the future in which case you can just skip straight to strip 121 and pretend nothing happened at all.
さよなら = goodbye
明日 = あした = tomorrow
Never Say Goodbye
Yellow: Today went by fast. さよなら
Blue: Actually, さよなら is usually save for people you don’t expect to see again for a really long time.
Blue: For a more casual goodbye you can use また明日.
Yellow: “Again tomorrow”?
Blue: It’s short for “We’ll meet again tomorrow”.
Yellow: What if I might not see them tomorrow?
Blue: There’s also the very casual またね for “Until next time”.
Blue: Of course, you may not want to be quite this casual in a business environment.
Blue: For business situations it might be better to use…
If associating stories and pictures with the kanji works for you you might want to take a look at Remembering the Kanji. It won’t teach you how to pronounce the kanji or what words they appear in but if you just want some help remembering the basic meaning of the 2000+ most common kanji and radicals it might be just what you need.
The book starts off with solid example stories and mental images for a few hundred of the most basic kanji. The rest of the book then just gives you the hints and suggestions to need to make up your own personal memory images for the rest.
Blue: When memorizing complicated kanji you might want to try making up a little story that ties all of its parts together.
Blue: The story doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to help you remember.
Blue: The kanji for “bomb” or “explosion” includes the kanji for “fire”, “sun”, “well” and a variation of “water”.
Blue: So I think of a “fiery” explosion brighter than the “sun”.
Blue: And then everyone runs to the “well” to get “water”.
Yellow: Let me try: It was a dark and stormy night and someone had just been murdered.
Blue: What does that have to do with the kanji?
Yellow: I’ll get to that part in chapter three.
Sometimes the meaning of a kanji is very closely tied to the parts that make it up. But sometimes it isn’t. So don’t be too surprised when you find a kanji with something like a “sun” radical in it but no actual solar meaning.
Mix And Match
Blue: Most kanji are made up of multiple smaller pieces.
Blue: If you remember the pieces remembering the whole kanji is much easier.
Blue: For instance, the kanji for “forest” is just three “tree” kanji grouped together.
Blue: And the kanji for “sing” is made up of the kanji for “mouth” and “yawn”.
Blue: Easy to think of singing as people opening their mouths like a yawn.
Yellow: Isn’t that amazing? Now order your starter pack of kanji and start combining today!
Blue: Who exactly are you talking to?
Obviously a lot of kanji are based on oriental cultural ideas. Chinese architecture, eastern mythology, rice fields and bamboo, etc…
While this undoubtedly helped the original inventors of the kanji remember what each symbol meant it isn’t nearly as helpful to those of us who grew up in the modern West.
Which is why sometimes it’s best to ignore the real history of a kanji and come up with your own interpretation of what it looks like instead. After all, as long as you accurately remember WHAT the kanji means it doesn’t really matter HOW you remember it.
Blue: Some kanji represent abstract ideas instead of physical objects.
Blue: Working with these requires a little more imagination.
Blue: One popular way to remember the kanji for “early” is to think of it as a flower that blooms early in the day to soak up the sun.
Blue: And for this “old” kanji I like to think of an old fashioned church with a giant cross on the roof.
Yellow: Looks more like a sword in a stone to me.
Blue: As long as you remember “old” it doesn’t matter if you imagine an old church or an old sword or something else entirely.
Yellow: EXCALIBUR COME FORTH!
If you look at the history of the kanji most of them started out looking a lot like drawings of real world things. But then over time details were removed and curves were replaced with straight lines until we finally wound up with the angular kanji we have today. For instance, the “sun” kanji used to be an actual circle instead of the rectangular 日 we have today.
Overall this was probably a good thing. Jotting down a handful of predictable straight lines is a lot faster and easier than having to actually draw a little picture. Especially for those of us that can’t even manage to draw a half-decent circle…
Everyone’s A Critic
Blue: With practice you can recognize kanji as quickly and easily as you do English words.
Blue: But until then there are a few tricks to help you remember them.
Blue: Many kanji were designed to look like the word they represent.
Blue: And it’s easy to see the tree kanji as a trunk with branches.
Yellow: That tree kanji kind of just looks like a bad stick figure.
Blue: The kanji represent thousands of years of culture and are beautiful in their simple minimalism.
Yellow: If I had a thousand years I bet I could draw a better tree than that.
Sometimes it makes a lot of sense when a word has double meaning. “Hayai” as both early and fast is easy to remember since they are related concepts.
On the other hand some aren’t so obvious. Why is “takai” both tall and expensive? No clue. But hopefully the thought of an expensive and tall mountain will help you remember.
一番 = いちばん = first
二番 = にばん = second
三番 = さんばん = third
高い = たかい = tall, high
山 = やま = mountain
We’re Number One
Blue: Adding 番(ばん） to the end of a number let’s you create words like “first”, “second”, “third” and so on.
Yellow: 一番, 二番, 三番
Blue: 一番 can also mean “the best” or “the most”.
Blue: You could say that Mt. Everest is the 一番高い山
Yellow: I thought 高い meant expensive?
Blue: It can also mean tall.
Yellow: I wonder what the 一番 expensive mountain is?
Blue: You mean the most expensive to visit?
Yellow: I mean the most expensive to buy and use as a doom fortress.
“Sugoi” has a kanji form but it doesn’t seem to get used nearly as often as just writing the word out in hiragana.
すごい = amazing
静か = しずか = quiet
物 = もの = thing
Blue: Adverbs can also be used to describe adjectives and other adverbs.
Yellow: The incredibly quick fox.
Blue: A useful adverb for describing adjectives is “すごく”. It means “very”, “extremely” or “incredibly”.
Blue: But try not to overuse it in business situations.
Blue: Here’s an example: 図書館はすごく静かです
Yellow: The library is very quiet?
Blue: That’s right. Now it’s your turn.
Yellow: すごく すごい物 は すごいです.
Blue: You could try adding a little variety to your sentence.
Yellow: We’re studying grammar, not vocab.
You might have noticed that the word for “fast” sounds the same as the word for “early” even though they use different kanji (both are pronounced hayai). This is easy to remember because “If you’re always going fast you’ll get everywhere early”.
速い = はやい = fast
帰る = かえる = to return / to go home
The Red One’s Are Even Quicker
Blue: You use adjectives to describe nouns.
Yellow: The quick fox.
Blue: And you use adverbs to describe verbs.
Yellow: The fox runs quickly.
Blue: In English many adverbs are just modified adjectives.
Yellow: Quickly is just the adverb form of the adjective “quick”.
Blue: In 日本語 you can change an い adjective into an adverb by changing the い to く.
Blue: If it’s a な adjective replace the な with a に.
Blue: So 速い would become 速く.
Yellow: As in 速く 帰りましょう because there’s a new episode of my favorite TV show coming on in fifteen minutes.
As usual we’ve just hit the basics here. There are actually a lot of other subtle differences between “sumimasen” and “gomennasai” that you’ll start to notice the more you study. You will also probably run into their super casual forms: “suman” and “gomen”.
And run into them you will! Thanks to Japanese politeness today’s vocabulary should be pretty easy to find in your favorite Japanese media.
すみません = excuse me / I’m sorry
ごめんあさい = I’m sorry
Social Escape Routes
Blue: すみません means “excuse me”.
Blue: It’s useful for getting the attention of a stranger or when you bump into someone in a crowd.
Blue: すみません can also be used to mean “I’m sorry”.
Blue: If you want an extra polite “I’m Sorry” you can use すみませんでした.
Blue: ごめんなさい also means “I’m sorry” and is usually used to apologize for doing something wrong.
Blue: You could use すみません when asking to borrow someone’s phone, but if you lost their phone you would use ごめんなさい.
Blue: Memorizing these phrases is very important.
Yellow: Because we foreigners make lots of mistakes?
Blue: Well… yes. But also because you’re just you.
This comic uses “te” in both it’s ongoing verb form and its make a request form. If you can’t tell which is which you should probably reread the last half-dozen strips. After all, repetition is how we learn.
雨 = あめ = rain
降る = ふる = to precipitate/fall
傘 = かさ = umbrella
返す かえす = to loan
断る = ことわる = to refuse
Good Bad Luck
Yellow: What!? Why?!
Blue: The last 六 umbrellas I lent you all mysteriously disappeared.
Yellow: Lose one more to me and it’ll be Lucky Sevens!
Blue: I don’t think a lucky amount of bad luck is worth much.