Japanese Word of the Week: 約束

Every Thursday, we’ll be looking at a Japanese word, including its kanji and examples of use.

Reading

Kanji: 約束
Hiragana: やくそく
Roman letters: YAKUSOKU

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English Meaning

Promise, appointment

Kanji Used

  • 約 (promise, approximate) [N3]
  • 束 (bundle, manage) [N3]

Example Sentences

  • すみません、約束がありますのでパーティーへ行けません。 / Sorry, I have an appointment so I can’t go to the party.
  • 彼はお約束を破った。/ He broke his word.
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Ōfuna Kannon-ji Temple, a Less Crowded Alternative to Daibutsu

Daibutsu, the giant Buddha statue in Kamakura, is a great tourist attraction. Last time I went there, though, the effect was ruined a bit because there were so many tourists. Since I was a tourist too, we couldn’t really complain, but the gift shop and wandering foreigners sort of cheapened the experience of seeing the lovely old statue and shrine garden.

Today, though, one of my students introduced me to a giant statue in Ōfuna, which is right near Kamakura, just four minutes on the Yokosuka line from Kita-Kamakura Station. Kannon-ji had no people at all except the staff, and one other person showed up as we were leaving. It’s a real hidden gem.

By Japan’s standards, this temple is fairly new. It was completed in 1960 after generous donations from local people. Entry is 300 yen and you have to walk a little slope and some steps to reach it.

You can actually see the statue’s head from Ōfuna Station, so it isn’t hard to find at all. There isn’t much else around to see or do in this area, however, which might be a reason why people don’t really visit.

As with many of Japan’s temples, shrines, and holy places, it was beautifully taken care of. There were many flowers and little statues on the way up.

There was a really local vibe to the place. There was a little community centre nearby and the quiet feel of the countryside all around. That being said, you know you were still close to the city because of the slightly muffled sounds of the train station.

You could see the statue, which represents the white-robed Guanyin Bodhisattva, peeking to say hello before the final stairs.

We’d made it!

There was a place to offer incense sticks and a handwashing area. Inside, there was art done by local children, a small shrine, and hundreds of little wooden statues made by visitors. You can also make your own for 1,200 yen. They were really good!

If you’d like to experience Ōfuna Kannon-ji Temple and avoid the crowds, head to Ōfuna Station and cross the bridge. You can see the statue’s head on your way and you’ll find a slope flanked by red flags leading up.

I don’t know if the temple is usually busier and we happened to arrive on a quiet day, but it’s definitely worth a visit either way!

Japanese Word of the Week: 褒美

Reading

Kanji: 褒美
Hiragana: ほうび
Roman letters: HOUBI

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English Meaning

Reward, prize

Kanji Used

  • 褒 (praise, admire) [N1]
  • 美 (beauty) [N3]

Example Sentences

  • テストの成績が良かったらご褒美に、ゲームを買ってあげる / If you get good exam results, I’ll buy you a new game.
  • 犬が新しい芸を覚えたから、ご褒美をやったんだよ / The dog learned a new trick so I gave him a reward.

Japanese Word of the Week: 発音

Reading

Kanji: 発音
Hiragana: はつおん
Roman letters: HATSUON

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English Meaning

Pronunciation

Kanji Used

  • 発 (departure, discharge) [N4]
  • 音 (sound) [N4]

Example Sentences

  • 英語を上手に話したい場合は、発音記号を勉強した方がいいと思います。 / If you want to be able to speak English well, it is recommended that you study phonetics.
  • 私の発音は決して完全ではない。 / My pronunciation is far from perfect.

Japanese Word of the Week: 総理大臣

Reading

Kanji: 総理大臣
Hiragana: そうりだいじん
Roman letters: SOURI DAIJIN

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English Meaning

Prime minister

Kanji Used

  • 総 (whole, total) [N2]
  • 理 (logic, arrangement, justice) [N4]
  • 大 (large, big) [N5]
  • 臣 (subject, retainer) [N2]

Example Sentences

  • 総理大臣が辞任しました。 / The prime minister has resigned.
  • 日本の総理大臣は安倍晋三です。 / The prime minister of Japan is Shinzou Abe.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Misery” by Stephen King

I love Stephen King, and Misery was the next on my list. It was very similar to Gerald’s Game, which I loved.

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“Paul Sheldon is a bestselling novelist who has finally met his number one fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes, and she is more than a rabid reader—she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident.

But she is also furious that the author has killed off her favorite character in his latest book. Annie becomes his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.”

Boy, was I in for a ride. We’re catapulted straight into the confusion and deliriousness that was Paul Sheldon’s accident, the mad pain of his shattered legs, and the feeling of utter entrapment as the crazy Annie Wilkes gushes over Paul’s writing, rages over his murder of her favourite fictional character, and punishes his ‘bad’ behaviour. This isn’t a slowly-but-surely, maybe she’ll let me go soon before realising something is wrong; no, this is a full-on, immediate, she’s crazy and I’m never getting out of here scenario.

I adored this book, which had me by the throat for the few days it took me to finish. Stephen King’s poetic delivery of mad ramblings, clever metaphors, and references to memories and private jokes are just a step above other writers. I usually detest things that are too popular (I didn’t watch Game of Thrones until 2019) but I’m definitely a King fan (maybe not his number one fan, though…)

Some hilarious quotes that had me chuckling:

“Her temper had apparently gone on vacation. But… it could arrive back unexpectedly at any moment, bags in hand: Couldn’t stand to stay away! How ya doin’?

“No phone call to the ambulance service: ‘This is Annie… I’ve got a fellow here, looks a bit like King Kong used him for a trampoline.’”

“And what then? A kamikaze dive out onto the back porch? A great idea. Maybe he could break his back, and that would take his mind off his legs for a while.”

Annie was a truly terrifying character. She wasn’t just insane, but unpredictable, remorseless, yet still human; an excellent recipe for a King villain. I can’t say much more without having to add a spoiler warning, but her acts and Paul’s reactions and trauma were flawlessly written. I think this might be my favourite King story so far.

Five stars for Misery!

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Get Misery on Amazon US
Get Misery on Amazon UK

Book Review: “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami is a Japanese author who, so I’ve heard, is one of the most famous and well-loved writers in the country. At writers’ club, my friend Jennifer handed me a copy of Murakami’s first novel, Norwegian Wood (“Norway no Mori” in Japanese), and said, “give it a try” with a smile.

81lnnTBF8dL“Toru, a serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. As Naoko retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman. 

A magnificent coming-of-age story steeped in nostalgia, Norwegian Wood blends the music, the mood, and the ethos that were the sixties with a young man’s hopeless and heroic first love.”

The story follows Toru Watanabe, a young college student who reconnects with an old friend from school, Naoko, with whom he shares a sad past: his best friend and Naoko’s boyfriend, Kizuki, committed suicide at seventeen. They’re both desperately trying to move on, moving from Kobe to Tokyo to move somewhere they know nobody.

I loved the writing style in this book. It read very much like an autobiography, sometimes with Stephen King-like digression, with minute details that were somehow pointless yet fascinating at the same time. What did it matter what he was wearing that day or the fact that the drink he chose from the vending machine was a Pepsi? Yet it gave the story much more depth, like Toru was really talking to me about the sad events of his college days.

Toru himself was nothing really special. He was quiet, often not articulating how he felt, was average-looking, had a simple schedule. And yet I felt inexplicably drawn to this unremarkable man and his unremarkable life.

Though at times I found the plot slow and sex was mentioned far, far too much in painfully unnecessary detail, the story touched me very deeply. A black cloud seemed to hang over the whole thing – Toru’s dorm, the apartments and bars he visited, the characters we met. Almost everyone was messed up mentally some way or another, no one more so than Naoko, who sometimes got so bad she heard voices and couldn’t put pen to paper to write to Toru.

I’m glad I’ve lived in Japan long enough to understand many of the subtle cultural differences. The way people speak to each other, their behaviors, and even a mistake someone made (buying cucumbers instead of kiwi fruit; in English, it doesn’t make much sense, but in Japanese, cucumber (kyuri) and kiwi fruit (kiwi) sound very similar, thus potentially explaining the mistake). That gave it a more realistic edge that I’m glad I could experience.

I finished the book feeling depressed and a little frustrated. I personally disliked the final scene, seeing it as a bit strange that after everything, two characters found that cause of action to be best. Many other readers, such as on Goodreads, also mentioned that they disliked it. Usually, I’d give a book three stars for the reasons listed above, but I know in my heart I’m not going to be able to forget this book easily. Not the descriptions, not Toru’s melancholy nor the poignant memories, nor the quiet romance of Naoko.

I give Norwegian Wood four stars out of five, but now I feel I have to watch a comedy to feel better after such a heavy tale.

4stars

Get Norwegian Wood on Amazon US
Get Norwegian Wood on Amazon UK

Japanese Word of the Week: 温度

Reading

Kanji: 温度
Hiragana: おんど
Roman letters: ONDO

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English Meaning

Temperature

Kanji Used

  • 温 (warm) [N2]
  • 度 (degrees, time) [N4]

Example Sentences

  • お風呂の温度は40度くらいが一番気持ちいいと思います。 / I think the best temperature for a bath is about 40 degrees.
  • 温度計は温度を測る器具です。 / A thermometer is an instrument for recording temperature.