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Aso's reading blunders spark study spree

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Well, the literacy rates in Japan are still WAY higher than in other countries, but I still found this interesting. I personally think that if Japanese don't want the language to change too much more dramatically in the near future, this study trend is a good thing, and they should also drop the loan words. It's hard to believe, but Japanese has more than 20,000 words imported from the English language, and most of those have been in the past 10 years. Oh, and that's more words than your average native English speakers knows, by the way (which isn't to say Japanese KNOW all these words, that's just approximately how man loan words from English exist).

Anyway, Aso IS a laughing stock, and while it was off topic during a meeting, I think it was pretty clever of Ishii to make Aso look like a total dufus through his Kanji pop-quiz.

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Just thought I'd say, as he's reading he should know that the next word is not stench... it's called ability to predict the next word.

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Aso is the best comedian ever. We enjoy him everyday.

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"The Japanese leader bungled the word for "frequent," calling Japan-China exchanges "cumbersome" instead."

But Japan-China exchanges ARE cumbersome. What is the problem?

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He read the third character incorrectly, saying “mee-zoh-you” instead of “mee-zoh“—such a basic mistake that it would turn a high school kid’s face red.

That's the problem with Aso - making basic mistakes, not the fact that he can't read difficult words. The type of mistakes he makes would normally not be made by the average well-educated Japanese.

Just reading the newspaper requires knowledge of about 2,000 characters. Another 50,000 are less common but useful to recognize.

I don't know who wrote this article but I say BS! How on earth would anyone find 50,000 useful? I would say, on top of the 2000 joyo kanji, another 1 or 2,000 would be useful, but not vital. Something wrong with the article.

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"Another time he misread the word "toshu" ( follow ) saying "fushu" - or stench - and sounded as if he were saying government policy "stinks."

But government policy DOES stink. What is the problem?

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you have to be aware of what your trying to say to begin with. I don't think there's a book for that. Oddly his English is fine, so it's not linguistics, just the skill of public speaking.

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The bright side for non-Japanese living in Japan is, 'Well, if the PM can't read kanji you can cut us a little slack, right?'

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... and, I say the solution is to put yomigana over all kanji except river mouth or mountain : )

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"except river mouth or mountain"

Hey, I need the yomigana over those too!

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Back when Yamamoto was a military attache in Washington he played poker with a lot of the military guys. He was very good at it and he was asked why. He said, "I remember about 56,000 characters of Japanese so remembering 56 cards is easy."

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A simple solution for his speech reading would be to put the hiragana or romaji above/below the Chinese characters.

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The rate of literacy in Japan is frequently said to be over 99%, which just can't be possible - more than 1% of any population must have learning difficulties to some degree. So it's just propaganda....

Whilst the Japanese writing system is fascinating, it's a real pain to study, causes all sorts of stress for kids, which perhaps suggests it is flawed as a mode of communication..

Just use hiragana and leave spaces between the words... that would work...

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I think, once again, there are JT posters here who want the Japanese language simplified for their own benefits, regardless of the fact that well-educated Japanese have few problems. A bigger problem is that not everyone in Japan is well-educated.

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Just use hiragana and leave spaces between the words... that would work...

japanese has far too many homonyms for this to work, it seems.

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the problem is not primarily with the Japanese language, the problem is with Aso being an idiot

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japanese has far too many homonyms for this to work, it seems

'Nother bloody homonymphobe!

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Pukey: "I don't know who wrote this article but I say BS! How on earth would anyone find 50,000 useful? I would say, on top of the 2000 joyo kanji, another 1 or 2,000 would be useful, but not vital. Something wrong with the article."

I don't think the article suggests anywhere that knowing 52,000 kanji would be useful; it says that beyond the 2000 or so standard there are another 50,000 that are useful to know -- as in, among them if you know some it is not a bad thing. There is no way a person is going to know them all, regardless of how skilled they are, but you're going to wind up with people like insect specialists knowing 400 or so kanji that others don't know, or people in Kabuki knowing words that are never used outside the theatre, etc. Knowing more than the standard kanji used is never a bad thing, and VERY good if it has something to do with your field -- or even for visiting China (where you can still see all the kanji for fruit and vegetables, which Japanese hardly use -- the kanji that is -- these days). Think about it... most things like strawberry, mushroom, onion, leek, shallot, watermelon, cheese, and other day to day products never use the kanji except occasionally on labels (most can identify the former, but they rarely write them). Knowing these are very helpful.

"I think, once again, there are JT posters here who want the Japanese language simplified for their own benefits, regardless of the fact that well-educated Japanese have few problems."

I disagree with the Japanese having few problems, but I agree that foreigners wanting the language made simpler is a bad thing. In fact, I think they should stop using loan words and start going back to writing kanji. I'm not suggesting replacing anything with writing kanji, but I want the language to go closer to what it was 50 years ago or so.

Robusta: "Just use hiragana and leave spaces between the words... that would work..."

I still have the odd person I meet for the first time write down their names and/or what have you in all hiragana/katakana in case I can't read kanji. It's no big deal when it's just a name, and of course they are just trying to be nice, but have you ever seen an entire letter, story, or even a page of something written only in hiragana? It is extremely hard to read, and completely devoid of meaning; it's ugly and slows you down incredibly. Adding spaces would make a page look so full of white no one would EVER print the newspapers for the cost, and reading them would give you a migraine.

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It boggles the mine that some commenters are so ignorant of the real situation in Japan regarding kanji. It takes Japanese children 4 more years to reach the same level of reading as a child in countries where romance languages are spoken because they have to remember so many characters. Also, I have never met a Japanese person who could read a newspaper and understand every word. In fact, everyone I meet says they either guess or skip over characters they don't understand. I rarely meet foreigners who can't understand every word in a paper.

The kanji system is cumbersome for the Japanese and it's absurd to suggest simplifying it is for the benefit of foreigners who study Japanese.

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The kanji system is cumbersome for the Japanese and it's absurd to suggest simplifying it is for the benefit of foreigners who study Japanese.

I don't hear the Chinese complaining, and they've got to know more characters than the Japanese. Maybe it's the people I know, but my Jp friends can read newspapers will little problem. I'm not saying they know every single kanji, though. I think some posters here really do need to meet more Japanese. Don't judge all people by those you see on TV or pick up on the streets.

I rarely meet foreigners who can't understand every word in a paper. Should I be surprised?

Smithinjapan: Well, yes, knowing more kanjis is never a disadvantage, but nowadays, animals, plants, etc are written in katakana. Even level 1 of the kanji test only goes up to about 6,000, I believe, so I still stand by what I said, ie the figure quoted, 50,000, is pure BS. So yes, knowing the kanji for mushrooms, strawberries is useful, as you say, but these and other useful kanjis will never add up to anywhere near 50,000.

have you ever seen an entire letter, story, or even a page of something written only in hiragana? It is extremely hard to read, and completely devoid of meaning; it's ugly and slows you down incredibly.

Yes, and it ends up looking like an elementary school grade 1 textbook ;p

shouganaika:

the problem is not primarily with the Japanese language, the problem is with Aso being an idiot

so desu ne.

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Pukey: You kind of jump back and forth between posters before throwing me in there. Makes it seem like you are talking to me after you quote Orchid64!

"So yes, knowing the kanji for mushrooms, strawberries is useful, as you say, but these and other useful kanjis will never add up to anywhere near 50,000."

Well, to be frank, I have no idea the total number of kanji, but my guess is there COULD be that many. Regardless, there's a major difference between something being useful to know, and it being generally useful.

"Well, yes, knowing more kanjis is never a disadvantage, but nowadays, animals, plants, etc are written in katakana."

To the detriment of the language, in my opinion, and hence you have so many problems. Mix loan words in there, in Katakana, and it's sometimes hard to make heads or tails of what's what. Worse than that though are loan words written in hiragana! (but that's another story).

Orchid: "It boggles the mine that some commenters are so ignorant of the real situation in Japan regarding kanji. It takes Japanese children 4 more years to reach the same level of reading as a child in countries where romance languages are spoken because they have to remember so many characters."

As was posted in a comment above, but for another part of the same post, this doesn't seem to limit the Chinese. So, are you saying the Japanese are not at part with the intellect of the Chinese? We both know that's not the case. At any rate you're not at all making any kind of defense on the part of the Japanese, but really all you're coming across as saying is that kanji is difficult and archaic, as well as being impractical. I don't believe so, but that could just be me.

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Japanese being only semi-literate in writing Chinese does not make them to be bona fide idiots. It just makes them permanently confused.

Perhaps if the Japanese simply invented their own language some 500 years ago, rather than copying the language of a dominant culture, they wouldn't find themselves in the bind that they are in today.

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Perhaps if the Japanese simply invented their own language some 500 years ago, rather than copying the language of a dominant culture, they wouldn't find themselves in the bind that they are in today.

To be fair, the Japanese only copied the Chinese writing system (and, as a result, had an influx of Chinese words).

smithinjapan:

Pukey: You kind of jump back and forth between posters before throwing me in there. Makes it seem like you are talking to me after you quote Orchid64!

Sorry!

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What would be the difficulty of going all Kana? The Koreans seemed to have ditched Chinese characters quite successfully, why couldn't the Japanese do the same?

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The number 50,000 would include new characters created after the publication of the K'ang-Hsi dictionary back in the 17th century, which had about 47,000. But these include archaic words and variants. Including historical and geographical names, I would suppose that a university graduate in Japan could probably recognize about 7,500 or so kanji. Most of these are combinations composed of radicals that indicate their meanings (animal, plant, bird, tree, wheels, fire, illness, etc.) and a clue to the sound. What makes the system so capricious in Japanese is multiple readings for the same character, a situation Chinese don't have to contend with. Nevertheless kanji manage to convey abstract terms very well. Words like "in-nai kansen" (院内感染)are much more readily understandable than is "nosocomial infection" in English, for example. Illiteracy may very well exist in Japan, but that is not necessarily the same thing as schools that turn out illiterates.

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Correction, excuse me. K'ang-Hsi became emperor in the 17th century but the eponymous dictionary didn't appear until around 1716.

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He's doing Gakushuin proud.

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smithinjapan -- you make excellent points. But, if nearly 50% of Japanese state that they still need to master the 2,000 characters needed just for daily life, how "practical" a language can it be? This is a country with a: shrinking/aging population; shrinking economy; and, likely shrinking world importance due to the above. Why waste time teaching kids thousands of characters which do not increase Japan's competitiveness one bit? Sure, from a cultural standpoint, great. But, strategically, it isn't. Everything has to get translated into a foreign language to do business outside of Japan, so all the nuances of Japanese you praise are lost anyway.

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A bigger problem is that not everyone in Japan is well-educated.

I would say that Aso Taro is well-educated, but also 67 years old and has probably forgotten more than I've ever learned.

Kanji is still a crappy language system. Also, the Japanese numbering system is stupid. One ten thousand, two ten thousands, three ten thousands....

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jonnyboy: "japanese has far too many homonyms for this to work, it seems"

Point taken, but homonyms are usually comprehensible through context, don't you think? Although I agree that Japanese does have rather more than, say English.

Perhaps any ambiguity could be tackled by even more loan words ;)

herefornow - I concur - any written system should surely be evaluated in terms of its practicality. Japanese takes so long to learn, whether you're a native or not, that it is impractical. That the system is both interesting and subtle is not in doubt, but the impracticality will always preclude the language from being an 'international' one. I wonder how long it will be before it dies out entirely, taking a unique culture with it.

We are privileged to see 'Japan' as it is now - in 100 years, my guess is that it won't be here.

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I do not think Japanese is difficult. I've seen few accomplished foreigners who speak the language and write kanjis. having said that I also know many foreigners whose been in Japan for ages and are still not capable of conversing in basic japanese. So I guess it depends on the will of each individual.

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herefornow: "This is a country with a: shrinking/aging population; shrinking economy; and, likely shrinking world importance due to the above. Why waste time teaching kids thousands of characters which do not increase Japan's competitiveness one bit?"

Well, I agree and disagree. I mean what's the alternative? Switching everything to kana would not at all be an easy process, and you would have to rewrite all documents in existence to this date, excluding books designed for 2 year olds. What's more, while I agree to an extent that learning kanji can be a waste of time, cultural understanding aside, one could argue the exact opposite of your point: that kanji would make them MORE competitive. This isn't only because of the hypothetical switch to an all-kana system, but also because if they master more kanji than others they would be able to get by in countries that use Chinese a lot better... in terms of comprehension of the writing, and writing themselves. I'm just throwing out a possible opposite to what you said, just for fun.

hellokitty: Taro was exposed to a good education, and got into the finest establishments, but he is not a well-educated man because no one dared challenge him when he was wrong. He STILL thinks that's the case, and tells reporters who ask him tough questions, "I am the PM of Japan! Don't you have better things to do than talk to the PM in this fashion?"

As to the number system of Japanese, it's not stupid if you take into consideration the fact that it use to deal with larger numbers in units of fours, instead of threes like most Western countries. For example, long ago "10,000" would be written "1,0000", and hence, 'ichi-man'. 'Juu-man' would be 10,0000, and so on (of course, written in kanji). Taking on the system of units of threes while keeping the way the numbers of said the same was the only stupid part about it. Regardless, it's only "one ten thousand" if you choose literally translate the 'one' and then apply the rest in Japanese to the English system of counting. Are you telling me when you talk to your friends you actually say, "I have two ten thousand yen"?

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Get rid of kanji and you essentially throw away a thousand years of literature. It's not worth it.

As for why Aso can't read too well even though he was exposed to a good education; maybe he's just thick? Silk purse / pig's ear kinda thing. Listening to him talk in the Diet and his chats with the reporters, he doesn't sound like the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer. Plus he was probably never expected to actually study, like as if he was ever going to have to work for a living like the plebs.

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yeah, if the japanese got rid of kanji i think that would be a mess too. i hate reading japanese with no kanji it's possibly harder that reading with kanji. as for the chinese having no problem... they only have one reading for each character, where as japan has made it so you can read a character at LEAST 2 different ways.

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I do not think Japanese is difficult. I've seen few accomplished foreigners who speak the language and write kanjis. having said that I also know many foreigners whose been in Japan for ages and are still not capable of conversing in basic japanese. So I guess it depends on the will of each individual.

I know one individual who mastered it. He had greasy hair that clung to his forehead and kept his laundry in the kitchen cupboard. When I went to get a cup, some dirty socks fell on the floor in front of me.

No, it's not difficult if you are willing to give up the pleasures of life.

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There are a lot of kanji that are redundant and therefore useless, as well as just confusing. I could believe the 50,000 kanji seeing as the same word, with the same pronounciation and meaning can have multiple kanji. For example, いれる-to enter, has 3 possible non-archaic kanji. First is 入れる, which I'm sure most of you have seen, but how many of you have seen 函れる or 容れる. They all mean exactly the same thing and are pronounced in the same way. Then what about the words that have kanji, but are so often rendered in hiragana that the kanji are forgotten? ありがとう for example, is often seen in the hiragana rendering, and none of my Japanese friends could read 有り難う-the kanji rendering. I realise my small sample of friends is in no way scientific, but it does raise questions. If they won't get rid of kanji, at the very least, they should develop an effective way to look up new kanji. In romance languages, I can instantly look up new words with a dictionary. New kanji isn't so simple.

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If you can't tell from a kanji if you are shagging Tomoko or Yuko, that's really quite ridiculous.

Or maybe you could spend a coupla minutes in polite conversation first? That would give you a chance to find out if it's Tomoko or Yuko. Though writing letters is quite cultural too, I must admit. :-)

Actually an initially unreadable name can be an advantage; if people have to ask how to pronounce it, they're more likely to remember it than if it's just another Ichiro or Taro. Both Mr cleo and cleoson have moderately unreadable names.

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I'm illustrating a point with all the italics - see explanation at the end.

First let me admit that I live in the USA and I know very little Japanese, and most of what I do know I've gotten from watching anime... but anyway, I understand the desire to simplify a difficult writing system. English writing is similarly difficult, because even though it's based on an alphabet, almost nothing is spelled as it is pronounced, and literacy depends on memorizing the letter combination for each individual word, much like memorizing radical combinations for Kanji. It would be beneficial to simplify such a difficult system. But there's also the argument that Kanji shouldn't be eliminated because of all the tradition and history tied in with their use. Perhaps more frequent use of furigana would be a good idea.

Now an important question: Why are people suggesting the removal of loan words from Japanese? Loan words are just as much a part of any language as are native words. Take English for instance - more than half of the words in the language are of foreign origin, and if you removed all loan words from the language, you would not be able to express yourself at all. Loan words from my message here are all marked with italics to demonstrate just how important they are! Now if English can have so many loan words and yet still be English, why complain about a similar situation with Japanese?

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I don't think you fully understand the differences between Japanese and English. I stated before, in romance languages new words can be instantly found by spelling. English has spelling rules that help you pronounce new words upon seeing them written and then write them later. There are loan words in English that don't follow English pronunciation protocols, but again just use a dictionary. Without furigana even native speakers of Japanese would be lost faced with a kanji they aren't familiar with. This makes learning kanji inefficient at best.

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Watarigarasu- Wonder if you notice that the kanji rendering of your screename is a case in point? 渡り鳥 Wataridori and 渡り烏 look the same, but tori has one more stroke than karasu. People commonly make the mistake of adding the stroke on karasu. There are more examples of commonly misused kanji, but I thought it interesting to mention.

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