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Kanji Clinic #47, The Japan Times, December 11, 2003
gKanji power puts electrical appliances in motionh

Upon my arrival in Japan nearly two decades ago, some professors at the university where I was to be employed accompanied me to my new, fully-furnished faculty apartment, where I encountered an unfamiliar kitchen appliance made of pink plastic. One of my new colleagues laughingly explained, gOh, thatfs a rice cooker. You couldnft possibly live in Japan without one!h

I was intrigued by this kitchen wonder: No more gummy rice cooked on the stove? Leftover rice kept fluffy and warm for up to several days? Sounded great, but there was one problem: Being kanji clueless, I was unable to make my new electrical assistant swing into culinary action.

My spanking new kanji-to-English dictionary provided meanings of the words that appeared on the rice cooker and on the apartmentfs other appliances. I painstakingly taped English translations, on tiny pieces of paper, to the appliances.

d gelectricityh is the first character in the compound d (dengen, electricity-source, i.e.: gpowerh), which often appears on Japanese electrical appliances. (d originally meant glightning,h which helps explain why d includes J grainh). To cause power to genterh appliances, you push the button marked (i-reru, genterh-- this kanji is also found on doors at supermarkets and office buildings where people genterh). To turn the power off, locate (ki-ru, gcuth--look for a gswordh ).

To steam the rice, after adding the correct amount of water, depress the (suihan, cook-rice) button; the gcooking firehcomponent, , in will point you in the right direction. To keep cooked rice warm, press ۉ (houon, protect-heat--the second character here is composed of water in a plate M being heated by the sun ). To enjoy hot, fresh rice on your return home, simply push the\ (yoyaku, advance-promise, gtimerh) button before leaving for work and set your desired dinner time. (To locate , look for gthreadsh , which indicate that a gpromiseh is gbindingh).

Central heating has yet to catch on in most parts of Japan. Portable gas heaters are one solution, but residents of Japanese-style apartments and houses often go the electrical route, laying out a small fortune for a combination air conditioning-heating wall unit. The numerous tiny kanji printed on the remote control for this multi-functional appliance have surely exasperated many a newcomer to Japan.

To set the unit in motion, push ^] (unten, move-turn, goperateh--look for groadh in ^ and gwheelh in ]). To stop it, tap ~ (teishi, halt-stop-- ~ can be seen on stop signs throughout Japan). The [ (reibou, chill-room) button will make cold air come out of the unit; the warm air version is g[ (danbou, warm-room--note the warm sun on the left side of the first character). To regulate room temperature, look for the グ (a-geru, move up) and (sa-geru, move down) buttons which appear under the word x (ondo, heat-degree, gtemperatureh--we met earlier on the rice cooker). If you want the unit to operate as a fan, locate the (soufuu, send-wind) button; gdehumidifierh is (joshitsu, remove-dampness).

With winter now approaching, another Japanese electrical gadget worth learning how to operate is the popular bidet-type toilet unit, which features a heavenly warm seat. To utilize the bidet, push the rf (bide, in katakana) button on the panel attached to the commode. You can adjust the force of the bidet water by pushing the (yowa-i, weak) and (tsuyo-i, strong) buttons located beneath the compound word (suisei, water-force--look for gpowerh at the bottom of ). The bidet will not turn off automatically; be sure to press ~ (to-meru, stop) before you stand up, or you and the room may well become soaked. Courteous users will remember to activate the EL (dasshuu, remove-stink) function and then push (naga-su, drain, i.e.: hflushh) before ending their world-class toilet adventure. (To locate that all-important kanji , look for water on the left and, at the bottom, a component which resembles gstreamh ).

Virtually all electrical appliances to be found in Japan have operating instructions written in Japanese. By becoming familiar with a handful of characters, you can get these conveniences working for you at full efficiency, instead of allowing them to become stress-inducing ginconveniencesh you might as well throw out on sodai gomi (bulky garbage) day.

To see photos of kanji on electrical appliances, visit "A Door to the World of Kanji."