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Kanji Clinic #48, The Japan Times, January 8, 2004
gSemantically similar kanji team up in compoundsh

Visitors to the southeastern United States taking in seemingly endless vistas of kudzu growing along its highways may assume gthe vine that ate the Southh to be a native plant. In fact, kudzu (pronounced gku-zuh in Japanese) was a gift to the U.S. from the Japanese government at the exposition celebrating Americafs centennial in 1876. Overzealously planted throughout the southeast as a means of controlling erosion, kudzufs growth seems unstoppable.

Being a native of the southeast myself, one of my favorite kanji compound words is , which is comprised of the characters representing gkudzuh and gwisteriah. (kattou) paints a vivid picture of intricately entangled vines, and means gcomplication.h

Countless Japanese words are compounds (jukugo) comprised of two or more kanji. Guessing their meanings can be challenging for foreign aspirants to literacy in Japanese, but patterns that govern how individual kanji are conjoined in jukugo can be discerned. is a good example of two kanji with similar or related meanings forming a compound word with a broader meaning.

Jukugo exhibiting this pattern can be comprised of two noun-kanji. For example, (house) joined with (yard) yields ƒ (household, katei). Other noun-kanji examples are (tender passion) + (love) = (romantic love, renfai) and K (good fortune) + (good fortune) = K (happiness, koufuku).

Adjective-kanji with related meanings also may be conjoined to create jukugo. For example, (obstinate) forms an alliance with (firm) to create the mule-of-a-jukugo (stubborn, ganko). L (spacious) tacked on to (big) results in L (immense, koudai). Add i (permanent) to v (a long time) and you get iv (forever, eikyuu). Permanent teeth in Japanese are iv (gforever teeth,h eikyuushi).

Examples of verb-kanji combos exhibiting this jukugo pattern are i (to advance) + s (to go) = is (progress, shinkou) and o (to go out) + (to begin forward movement) = o (departure, shuppatsu).

Everyday life in Japan presents a number of jukugo that follow the gkanji-with-similar-meaningsh pattern. On birthday cards, a (to be born) + (to be born) + (day) means gbirthdayh (tanjoubi); on road signs, (way) + H (route) means groadh (douro); on park signs, X (thick woods) + (small woods) means gforesth (shinrin); and on the sides of trucks, ^ (to carry) + (to send) means gtransporth (unsou).@@

Familiarity with this jukugo pattern--along with an additional half a dozen or so others--will help you take an educated guess at the meaning of unfamiliar compounds. Give it a shot with the quiz below.

By the way, kudzu enjoys a respectable reputation in East Asia. In China it's been ingested since ancient times as an herbal medicine, and here in Japan it's used to make sweets. Anyone for sticky kudzu cakes (kuzu mochi)?

QUIZ
Make compounds by filling in the blanks with kanji from gBh that have meanings related to those in gA.h What is the meaning of the compound? Answers are below.

A. Meanings of comprising kanji
1. __ (calm+harmony)
2. __@ (manufacture + make)
3. __ (change +change into)
4. __ (interchange+pass through)
5. __ (sense+emotion)
6. __ (war+struggle)

B.
a.
b.
c.
d.
e.
f. a

Answers:
1.f a peace heiwa 2.d produce seisaku 3.e ω transformation henka 4.c traffic koutsuu5.b feelings kanjou 6.a푈 war sensou

To get a grip on other jukugo patterns, read columns #14 and #35.