Kanji Clinic #63 The Japan Times, November 25, 2004
gDevelop intimacy with the kanji on your keitaih


The English translation "cell phone" does not do justice to the technological marvel known in Japanese as keitai denwa (or keitai for short). This is evidenced by the fact that foreign residents of Japan generally favor keitai over "cell phone" when speaking English (e.g., "Call me later on my keitai and we can decide where to meet").

Users of this remarkable communication tool can: send and receive text messages and photos, as well as video and music clips; view keitai-compatible Web pages; organize their lives with voice memos, appointment calendars, and alarms; play downloadable games; access navigation systems; confirm or assuage suspicions that a lover/spouse is being unfaithful (by peeking at their call history); extricate themselves from linguistic quagmires with Japanese-English dictionaries and translation software (available at www.tangotown.jp); and-- oh, yes-- make phone calls.

The kanji compound g (keitai) means gportable.h g (KEI,carry) is comprised of a ghand h on the left side toting a gplump birdh on the right ( is a radical meaning gbirdh). (TAI, to carry on one's person), с@can also be read obi (look for the gclothh component, , at the bottom). Long before Japanese people began stuffing their portable necessities in Louis Vuitton handbags and jeans pockets, they attached items like weapons and rations to their obis, and the word remains unchanged today.

To activate your magical keitai, you will need to be familiar with the kanji compound word d (electricity-source, dengen). d iDEN, originally meant glightening,h which is why you can see the component for grain Jh at the top and a lightening bolt coming out of the gfield ch at the bottom. (GEN, originally represented a water source, so look for the radical for gwater h on the left cascading down a gcliff .h


To clear your keitai screen, push the button marked (modo-ru, return). You can remember the shape of this kanji by imagining yourself returning to some large door . When you hear the sound of an incoming call, the word M (chakushin, arrive-message) will appear on your screen. Kenneth G. Henshall, in gA Guide to Remembering Japanese Charactersh (Tuttle), gives the following mnemonic for (CHAKU, arrive): gA esheep rf arrives wearing a eline mf above its eeye ځf: sheep eyeliner!h The second character in M, M (SHIN, message), is a gperson h conveying gwords .h

If you want to enter numbers into your directory, find the word db (denwachou). db (denwa, telephone) is literally gelectric-talk,h with b (talk) comprised of gwords h on the left and a gtongue h on the right. (CHOU) represents ga registerh: Before paper scrolls became common, records in ancient China were likely kept on glong h rolls of gcloth .h

To listen to your messages, locate the word ` (dengon). For remembering the shape of ` (DEN), which means gconvey,h Henshall suggests picturing gpeople ,h gtwo h of them, nose to gnose h conveying something. The second character of @` is the familiar kanji gwords .h A gmessageh is thus gconveyed words.h

Should you indicate to your keitai that youfd like to temporarily disengage it, it will ask if you really, truly want to take such a drastic measure: gI܂ (Shuuryou shimasu ka, Do you want to end this?)h The first character of I (shuuryou, end), I (SHUU,, finish), is comprised of gthread h and gwinter ~h (gall the weaving must be finished before the cold winter sets inh). The second character, (RYOU, complete), is a bit of an etymological enigma: It pictures a gchild qh without garms ,h who in ancient times would have likely been considered gincomplete.h Anyway, just push g͂(hai, yes)h to assure your keitai that you do in fact want to shut it off.

Many Japanese keitai are bilingual English/Japanese models, but once you have figured out how to use your new friend in English, why not set it back to display Japanese? Using keitai like the natives do provides an excellent opportunity to get hands-on practice in manipulating the kanji you learn in textbooks, bringing you one step closer to Japanese literacy.

Finally, until they develop a keitai that senses the environment and shuts off automatically in places like classrooms, movie theaters, trains, and funeral halls, it is well worth knowing how to read the button marked with the katakana word g}i[ (manaa, manner).h This function will substitute the gBad, Bad Leroy Brownh tune youfve programmed in with a gentle buzz vibration. Trust me; we'll all be very grateful.

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