.Best Kanji Crash Course

Crazy for Kanji by Eve Kushner

Impassioned otaku eager to devour their beloved manga in
the original Nihongo have a friend in Eve Kushner. Although the
Berkeley Japanophile adores every last downstroke and dot, she warns
that studying these magnificent characters “can also bring one close to
insanity.” She should know. Published this year by Berkeley’s Stone
Bridge Press, her latest book, Crazy for Kanji, is funny as well
as educational, offering hundreds of games, lessons, and
believe-it-or-nots, such as a chart decoding the characters that create
famous brand names. For example, the two kanji making up the word
“Mitsubishi” mean “three” and “rhombus.” (The car company’s logo
features three rhombi.) Kushner explains her attraction to the topic:
“The child in us longs to decode. … Teasing out the tangles in kanji
provides endless entertainment, as well as thrilling epiphanies.” Her
book brilliantly merges the contemporary — sure to please not
just otaku but J-Pop fans and Hello Kittenites — with the
antique. Kanji are, after all, pictographs. “Studying kanji brings you
into contact with Old Japan — with a pure form of the culture and
the Japanese mind,” Kushner writes. “Dating back about fifteen hundred
years in Japan (and much longer in China), kanji provides a time
capsule, giving us insight into the way people once made sense of the
world.”

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