Friday, December 30, 2011

A Happy 2012 to You and Yours!

The Year of the Dragon is almost here! I hope all of you, my readers, have a happy, healthy, and successful 2012. :)

In Japanese, there are two ways to say "Happy New Year!" One is said leading up to the 1st and figuratively means "I hope you have a good year." Literally it's "Please welcome a good year."

"Yoi otoshi wo (omukae kudasai)."
yoh ee oh toh shee oh oh moo kai koo dah sigh

As soon as the clock changes to midnight, the greeting becomes:

"Shinnen akemashite omedetou (gozaimasu)!"
Shee nen ah kay mash tay oh meh day toh go zai mahs

...which is literally "Congratulations on the opening of the new year!" but is the equivalent of "Happy New Year!"

If the person you're talking or writing to is a coworker, teacher, or someone you work with, etc. you can also add:

"Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu."
koh toh shee moh yoh rosh koo oh neh guy shee mahs

This means "Let's do our best together this year as well," implying a continuing working relationship between the two of you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Getting Started With Japanese Calligraphy

"The Four Treasures" (文房四宝 bunbou-shihou) is a nickname for the tools of traditional Japanese calligraphy: the brush, the inkstone, ink and paper. I find doing calligraphy very soothing and relaxing, because it's simple and straightforward and allows me to focus wholly on the writing in front of me and leave behind whatever stress or worries I've got at the moment.

If you've ever wanted to try this fun and challenging art for yourself, called shodou 書道 in Japanese, check out this video I found for a simple, short introduction.

She's simplified her set-up for beginners, which is nice, and has skipped the traditional paper in favor of thicker, more forgiving printer paper. If you don't have any tools at all, you can still try shodou out. Here's what you need and what you can substitute until you can get ahold of the real deals, if you decide to pursue shodou further. :)

1. Calligraphy brush - Any painting brush with a pointed tip
2. Japanese calligraphy paper - Printer paper or newspaper.
3. Sumi ink - India ink, black watercolor paint mixed with just enough water to become liquid. (Normally you grind an inkstick onto an inkstone to make your ink, but that's a skill in itself so many students use pre-bottled ink for practice.)

For practice, here are a few characters animated to show you how to write them:

Easy: Heart - Kokoro (koh-koh-roh)

Medium: Beauty - Bi (bee)

Hard: Love - Ai (eye)

Beyond the tools needed, the biggest tip I would give is to be sure you're following the correct stroke order when you write each character. Kanji, the Chinese characters imported into the Japanese language, have a correct way they are written.

If you follow the correct stroke order, your character will look much better than trying to wing it on your own. If you're learning the Japanese language, calligraphy can be a great way to reinforce your handwriting skills in general by practicing stroke order every time you write a character.

Most kanji dictionaries will tell you stroke order, and several sites online can help as well. The one I used above is Yamasa Online Kanji Dictionary, a site that gives animated stroke order examples for basic kanji.

Jim Breen's "Kanji Lookup" is more thorough. Choose from the dropdown menu how you want to find the kanji, enter your info, then click on the calligraphy brush symbol on the far right of the definition to get an animation that shows where to begin in red.

Feel free to ask if you have any questions, and I'll help if I can. Good luck! :)