Kanji Clinic #64 The Japan Times December 16, 2004
"Let's nail the kanji names of Japan's prefectures"


The other night, as I listened to my fourth-grade son intone the names of Japanfs prefectures ("Aichi, Aomori, Akita..." ), I was reminded of my childhood efforts to memorize the names of the 50 U.S. states ("Alabama, Alaska, Arizona..."). The kanji in many Japanese place names have quirky, non-government-approved pronunciations, but Japan's prefectures are a happy exception: The majority of them have names that are relatively easy to master, even for Japanese fourth-graders and foreign adult kanji learners.

Japan has 47 sub-national jurisdictions, known collectively as s{ (to-dou-fu-ken). There is one gmetropolish (s, to), being the capital city, Tokyo; one gcircuith (, dou), Hokkaido; two urban prefectures ({, fu), Osaka and Kyoto; and 43 other prefectures (, ken). The kanji for gprefecture,h now greatly simplified, originally represented the decapitated head of a criminal hung upside down in public by regional authorities. Thankfully, this gruesome ritual is no longer practiced in the prefectures today.

To kick off todayfs kanji geography lesson, letfs begin with some easy prefecture names. All of the following have regular pronunciations and are composed entirely of kanji learned by Japanese first- and second-graders. Try to give the pronunciation for each. Answers are at the end of the column. (One English keyword is provided for each kanji). 1. R (mountain-gate) 2. X (blue-forest) 3. a̎R (harmony-sing-mountain) 4. Hc (autumn-rice field) 5. R` (mountain-shape) 6. ΐ (rock-river) 7. (long-field) 8. (crag-hand) 9. m (high- knowledge)


Herefs another group thatfs relatively easy to master. The characters comprising these, with the exception of (oka, hillock) and (saka, slope), are kyouiku kanji (the 1,000 characters elementary-school children learn), and all have regular pronunciations: 10. t (thousand-leaves) 11. É (quiet-hillock) 12. m (love-knowledge) 13. (military-storehouse) 14. R (hillock-mountain) 15. (fragrant-river) 16. (open sea-rope) 17. Qn (herd-horses).

And here are a couple with regular pronunciations that include non-general-use kanji: 18. R (mountain-pear) 19. F{ (bear-source).

Unsurprisingly, some prefecture names in this archipelago nation feature the kanji for gislandh (, shima) and gcapeh ( saki). The following have regular pronunciations: 20. (island-root) 21. (virtue-island) 22. L (wide-island) 23. { (Shinto shrine-cape) 24. (long-cape).

Other prefecture names exude positivism with kanji representing ggood luckh (, fuku), gwealthh (x, tomu), and gcongratulationsh (, ga). Except for , all these have regular pronunciations, too: 25. (good luck-island) 26. (good luck-well) 27. (good luck-hillock) 28.xR(wealth-mountain) 29. (multiply-congratulations)30. (help-congratulations).

To correctly pronounce 31. (bird-seize) and 32. _ސ (god-na phonetic-river) remove one syllable from their regular pronunciations.

The few remaining prefecture names are admittedly challenging. You may even risk being told you've "lived in Japan too long" if you can pronounce these, but go ahead and nail them anyway: 33. { (Shinto shrine-castle) 34. (thorn-castle) 35. Ȗ (horse chestnut-tree) 36. V (new-lagoon) 37. (forked road-mound) 38. Od (three-heavy, or gthreefoldh) 39. (cape-jewel) 40. ޗ (na phonetic-good) 41. (deer-child-island) 42. 啪 (big-part) 43. Q (love-princess).

For me, a non-native speaker of Japanese, translating prefecture names into English injects them with added charm, but my native-speaker son doesnft see the point. Determined to ace last Fridayfs test on prefectures, he ignored my kanji chatter: "Isn't it cool that we live in 'Love Knowledge Prefecture'? And doesn't 'Thorn Castle Prefecture' sound exotic?"

Soon Sean will face another geographical memory task: That's right, mastering the names of all 50 states in the United States, his second home country.

ANSWERS:
1.Yamaguchi 2.Aomori 3.Wakayama 4.Akita 5.Yamagata 6.Ishikawa 7.Nagano 8.Iwate 9.Kochi 10.Chiba 11.Shizuoka 12.Aichi 13.Hyogo 14.Okayama 15.Kagawa 16.Okinawa 17.Gunma 18.Yamanashi 19.Kumamoto 20.Shimane 21.Tokushima 22.Hiroshima 23.Miyazaki 24.Nagasaki 25.Fukushima 26.Fukui 27.Fukuoka 28.Toyama 29.Shiga 30.Saga 31.Tottori(tori-tori) 32.Kanagawa(kami-na-gawa) 33.Miyagi 34.Ibaraki 35.Tochigi 36.Niigata 37.Gifu 38.Mie 39.Saitama 40.Nara 41.Kagoshima 42.Oita 43.Ehime

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