We’ve been watching the extra-cold winter dumping lots of snow on the U.S. this year and feeling more than a little guilty, what with Japan experiencing the warmest winter its had in decades and all. The previous 1960 record for the latest snowfall in the Tokyo area has already been smashed, and with the bizarre T-shirt weather continuing, there’s talk that this might be the first snowless winter since they started keeping records back in 1876. One of the most enjoyable times to be in Japan is sakura season, when the cherry blossoms bloom with exploding fireworks of beauty, but it’s been so warm this year that everyone is sure the sakura will bloom at least a full month earlier. There’s also a lot of concern that with such mild weather this year, there’ll be less snow in snowpacks in the mountains, leading to water shortages in the summer.
Sometimes part of the fun of studying a language like Japanese is “surfing” the linguistic elements that are totally different from anything found in one’s native language. One of the most common kanji characters is ki (気）, a rather all-purpose concept for expressing abstract ideas (read chi in Chinese). Although it can be translated as spirit, soul, nature, heart, mood, feeling, or atmosphere, it mainly deals with (spiritual) energy and a person’s awareness. The character is found in some elementary words that students of the language encounter right away, such as genki (happy, energetic), tenki (weather) or kuki (air). The word can express intention (seppuku suru ki = the intention to commit ritual suicide, wish I could think of a better example ^_^), and feelings or emotion (kimochi ii = that feels good). In anime series like Dragonball Z, when a character gets so filled with energy that he literally glows with fire, the word for that fire would be ki. The concept is also used in martial arts and yoga, which seek to focus the mind’s ki in beneficial ways — it also pops up in words like kiai, the verbal yell you release when focusing your strength on a task. The word can be found in several Japanese idioms that are used quite often, such as ki wo tsukete (be careful; literally “fix your body’s energy and attention on the task at hand”), or ki wo tsukau (to be considerate of; literally “to use your ki on behalf of another person”).
One of the most popular “talents” (an all-purpose word meaning singer/actor/ comedian/whatever) in Japan is Takuya Kimura, a member of the popular group SMAP, the male idol band that dominates much of Japan’s music scene. Takuya, who plays the voice of Howl in Howl’s Moving Castle, has been called both the “sexiest man in Japan” as well as the domestic version of Brad Pitt, mainly because Levi’s hired “Kim-Taku” for their jeans commercials to counter Edwin’s successful line of commercials featuring “Bra-Pii.” Although they started out as a Backstreet Boys-like group, SMAP has utterly woven itself into the fabric of Japan’s pop culture, and you really can’t turn the TV on without seeing one or more members of the group hosting a variety show or doing their gourmet cooking competition thing or pulling some gag on the air, like when George Lucas came to Japan and they presented him with a beautiful Japanese sword, which turned out to be a cheap plastic light saber. Recently there’s a rumor going around that Takuya and his wife, former singer Shizuka Kudo, are going to put their daughter in my son’s special English elementary school this April, which has set the hearts of the school mothers all aflutter with thoughts of Japan’s sexiest man attending parents’ day with them.
J-List sells a unique line of original T-shirts, hoodies and embroidered hats featuring funny and wacky kanji messages, and today we’ve gotten in a cool new design for you. Every once in a while you hear of a Japanese man who wasn’t able to resist his own particular urges, and who got in trouble peeking at pretty girls. Our new wacky T-shirt warns people who see it to beware of nozoki — peeping toms, who like to watch women secretly — with a hilarious new design. Check it out on the site, now!