Kanji Crossword Puzzles, Kanji Quiz Books, and Kanji Primers

Reviewed by Gary Harper
harper@ii-okinawa.ne.jp

Kanji Crossword Puzzles
When I first started studying Japanese, there were no (or very few) Japanese crossword puzzles. Now, the bookstores are full of them, but with a difference. The puzzles seem to be for children of the primary grades - I assume this since the covers of most magazines feature bunnies, doggies, and kitties dressed in various costumes. Also, the kanji in the puzzles are almost always ‹ณˆ็ŠฟŽš(kyouiku kanji, the 1,000 characters taught in Japanese elementary schools), although the instructions often use general use kanji, I suppose indicating the parents or elder siblings are expected to help. However, the advertisements seem aimed at the teen-age market. Anyway, there are a lot of different types of puzzles, just like in the U.S. and the U.K. Ordinary crosswords are filled out in kana and use hints that seem more than a bit obtuse (to this foreigner, at least.) Many other types are also filled out in kana, but, there are some which are strictly for kanji.

For the kanji student, I think the ŠฟŽšƒiƒ“ƒNƒprovides the best learning experience. In this type of puzzle, the user is presented with a crossword type puzzle, with some kanji already inserted and each unfilled square containing a number. However, the same number may occur in several different squares. The idea is to determine a kanji that belongs in a blank, numbered square; then all squares with that same number will receive that same kanji. A table is provided so the user can keep track of the kanji numbers. What good is this with regard to kanji learning? Well, mostly, nŒ๊. Obviously those with a good knowledge of nŒ๊ will solve such puzzles quickly and conversely.

Now, these puzzles are probably not for everyone. If you like solving crosswords, you may well like these puzzles. Like crosswords, a certain amount of practice in using answers is essential. And, like crosswords, a certain amount of frustration is to be expected, especially at first. But, also like crossword puzzle users, your vocabulary is bound to increase as you become proficient. A hint on solving - start with the four kanji or longer nŒ๊@first - there aren't many four character nŒ๊, which makes for a good start. BUT, sometimes, the longer nŒ๊ may be ‘Œ๛ (tongue-twister) or perhaps a well known quotation from the Chinese - obvious to even a fifth grader in Japan, but not so obvious to a foreigner. For example, I am looking at a puzzle now, rated "simple", which starts with uถ”žถ•ฤถ—‘vAwhich is a well-known tongue twister.

There seem to be two formats, one about magazine size, most of which carry answers for last month's or the month before last's puzzle. One, ŠฟŽšƒ‰ƒ“ƒhDX7 by ƒRƒXƒ~ƒbƒNƒCƒ“ƒ^[ ƒiƒVƒ‡ƒiƒ‹, does have the answers for the issue in the back. The other format, digest sized, seems to always have the answers for that particular issue in the back. For some reason, the digest-sized formats seem harder to find.

For the larger format, some common titles are@ŠฟŽšƒ‰ƒ“ƒhAŠฟŽšƒƒ“ƒ_ƒ‰ƒ“ƒhAŠฟŽšƒƒCƒg and ŠฟŽš“นGfor the smaller format I have purchased ‘SŠฟŽšƒiƒ“ƒNƒƒvƒ`AŠฟŽšƒpƒUƒ‹ (by “๚ –{•ถŒ|Žะ),ŠฟŽšƒpƒYƒ‹ by (ƒ€ƒbƒN‚ฬ–{), and BEST ŠฟŽšƒpƒYƒ‹ by Cosmic Mook. The large format books run between 300 and 500 yen and the smaller format about 500 (the smaller format has more pages, hence more puzzles); but I found a couple of the small format books in a 100 yen store.

Kanji Quiz Books
(1) ŠฟŽš@‚T•ชŠิƒgƒŒ[ƒjƒ“ƒO@
Published by ‹ณŠwŒค‹†Žา. These incredibly handy little books come by primary school grade and are split by ใ‰บ@within a grade. A typical lesson is two pages - one with a table of seven or so kanji, some of which may be only introducing an new pronounciation, and eight sentences with n Œ๊@to be read. Flip the page, and the same eight sentences again appear, this time with the nŒ๊ in kana, waiting for the kanji to be inserted. Then, there are seven additional sentences all with kana to be transformed - some kana will be for kanji covered in previous lessons, just to keep the student on his/her toes. Each lesson, meant to be a review of previously learned material, should take about five minutes, hence the title. The books are too large for a pocket, although you can allow them to protude. 380 yen each.

(2) ŠฟŽš—๛K@’†Šw‘Œ๊@‚T•ชŠิƒgƒŒ[ƒjƒ“ƒO@
Published by ‹ณŠwŒค‹†Žะ. These books come in volumes I through V, and, since they are for Junior High students, include not only more difficult kanji but more difficult questions. If you already know your ŠwKŠฟŽš, these are just the thing for review of the new kanji you need to learn. I have found the five minute training idea a little optimistic for these books, but that obviously depends on your learning. Same size as the primary school variety; same price.


Kanji Primers
(1) ŠฟŽš‚P‚O‚O‚U
This is a small book containing all the ŠwKŠฟŽš, by grade. Each kanji is supported by diagrams showing the correct stroke order, and by four or so nŒ๊ with furigana (but no English, of course.) Along the bottom, simple explanations are provided for the difference in easily confused kanji. Appendices include irregular readings, important words with the same on readings and the same kun readings, as well as the usual stroke count and character reading indices. The book comes in several sizes, but I prefer the smallest which slips nicely into a pocket or purse, for browsing while waiting or traveling. Published by ŠwŒคAsmallest size 600 yen.

(2) ŠฟŽš‚ฬ–{
Published by ƒ|ƒvƒ‰Žะ. A set of six books, one for each grade, each containing all kanji to be taught in that grade. One kanji per page, a mnemonic for the character; stroke order, on and kun readings, three or four sample sentences using very common nŒ๊ or verb or adjectival forms of the kanji, definitions followed by nŒ๊ illustrating the appropriate definition. These books are a bit large for the pocket but all characters are large and clear - 800 yen.

(3) ŠฟŽš‚ฬ–{
Published by ˜๑ฌŽะ. A set of six books, one for each grade, each containing all kanji to be taught in that grade. One kanji per page, a mnemonic for the character; stroke order, on and kun readings, three or four sample sentences using very common nŒ๊ or verb or adjectival forms of the kanji, definitions followed by nŒ๊ illustrating the appropriate definition; but nŒ๊@and especially furigana sometimes a bit small to read. Pocket sized - 600 yen.



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