I never cease to be amazed at the Internet, which enables a small company like J-List bring so many interesting and wacky products to Japanophiles in every corner of the world, along with our “postcard from Japan” emails. I regularly hop between Japan and San Diego, but now I’ve gone even further, to Maryland to visit family before attending Otakon this weekend. Right now I’m sitting on a balcony watching the waterbugs zip over the Severn River that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay, while the full moon looks down at me. If you’ll be at Otakon, we’ll see you there! (For info on the show, see this page.)
One Japanese word I like a lot is kokoro, which can be a little difficult to translate into English. Basically, kokoro means the heart, but the philosophical and metaphysical aspects of it — it’s often translated into English as as soul, spirit and mind. Kokoro is your inner self, similar to your soul, although there’s a more complex word for that particular idea (tamashii). The kokoro is thought to reside in the chest, in contrast to most Westerners, who would probably put the mind’s physical location as being inside the head. The concept of reading one’s mind is expressed in Japanese as kokoro o yomu (to read one’s heart), and if something really hurt you you might say kokoro ga itamu (my heart hurts). There are other words in Japanese that correspond to other meanings of the English word heart, such as shinzo (the heart that’s beating in your chest right now) and haato (the English word rendered with a Japanese accent, which describes the classic heart shape). Learning a language is fun because it makes you realize that complex ideas can’t be simply brought over on a 1-to-1 basis all the time, which makes you reflect more on what language is all about.
A strange aspect of written Japanese is that many people cannot read their own language. While the vast majority of Japanese can read the 1900+ joyo kanji (the so-called “general use” characters that all Japanese must learn by the time they graduate from high school), there are many very difficult characters that fall outside of the “official” lists, and thus, people aren’t sure how to pronounce them. I was reminded of this fact when we told my daughter to write a postcard to her Japanese teacher, but my wife didn’t know how to read her teacher’s name — names of people are some of the hardest kanji to read, since there are so many ways to write them, just as there are many alternate spellings for names in the West. Place names are also difficult, unless you happened to grow up in that area. All the place names in Northern Japan, which was inhabited by the indigenous Ainu people for thousands of years, have odd names can’t be written with standard characters — and as a result, most Japanese often can’t read the names.
Remember that Halloween is coming soon. J-List offers many fun items that can make for a unique costume, from the amazing high school uniforms from Matsukameya to great cosplay reference books like Layers and Cosmode. Plan your Halloween surprise and order early at J-List — we’re ready for your order!