Still Learning Kanji

I have been studying Japanese for the past few months and in particular remembering Kanji, which are one kind of Japanese characters, has slowly changed from an initially painfully slow task to a much more pleasant exercise and challenge. I think many people, even or maybe especially those not using any writing system similar to that of Japanese, see beauty in those characters. It may be one of the reasons why I see quite a few people with Kanji tattoos in America or there are framed pictures with calligraphy of Kanji sold in various stores such as Bed, Bath and Beyond.

As an aside, I often wonder how many of them actually know Japanese or at least what their tattoos are saying. Kanji as tattoos have lost their appeal for me about since when I was a teenager and they seem more like imitation and lack of creativity to me now, because they seem so overused, but they are in that regard still one step up from tattoos with tribal patterns. I also wonder if their appeal comes in large part from them seeming foreign to those who cannot read Japanese and get such tattoos. I can relate to getting a Kanji tattoo because it represents a special, personal meaning to me, such as a visit to Japan or the name of a loved one from Japan. If they simple express a term that may just as well had been written in English or whatever your native language may be (with the exception of German, since you would probably have to have a very tiny tattoo or be a very big guy to express anything meaningful in German :P) then I think it only displays a fascination for the foreign that is rooted in ignorance – your own or that of your onlookers. If you actually were fluent in Japanese, would these Kanji still be so special?

Regardless of the fascination with Kanji that other people may have, I have been trying to study Japanese for some time now and have – this time quite like many other – always found remembering Kanji one of the most challenging aspects in all of this. I may still change my opinion about the most challenging aspect to being Japanese grammar in the future, but the few and basic concepts I have learnt in that regard I think I have comprehended with relative ease. Kanji were hard for me remember at first, because they seemed more or less like random strokes to me. As mentioned above, I think there is a great inherent beauty in them, and now I do see that there is a great deal of structure to them, but when learning the first bunch of Kanji I felt that I might as well have tried to remember random lines. The simpler Kanji may be easy to remember, even for a beginner, because there are plenty of associations that can serve as mnemonics and they have few lines. An example of such a Kanji is the one for “day” or “sun”:

 It was easy for me to remember it, because it does not seem to hard for most people to overlay this Kanji with a mental image of the sun and thus retain its meaning. I don’t think it is my lack of imagination, but from the few hundred Kanji I have learnt so far, the Kanji that graphically so clearly represent their meanings is in a very small minority.

A Popular Mnemonic?

Other purely visual mnemonics, such as the occasionally repeated myth that Kanji with a “box” or “square” around them always represent objects that “can be found underneath something”, such as a rock, fail as well. I have only heard this rule from some friends or acquaintances, none of them proficient in Japanese as far as I know, so I do no have any references to cite. The test for this is very easy: think of 10 things that would typically be “found underneath something”, which I’m not even quite sure what it means, look up their Kanji and see how many of them have a any rectangular shapes in them. Check if the reverse applies: pick out 10 Kanji that do contain a square shape and see what concepts they represent.

Here is a sample for the first. I realized how much trouble I had even thinking of things that are “found underneath something” so that already appears to indicate the lack of usefulness of that rule. Please apologize if you disagree with the words I picked. Feel free to do this exercise with words you picked yourself.

  • Rock: 岩
  • Desk: 机
  • Chair: 椅子
  • Carpet: 絨毯
  • Pillow: 枕
  • Basement: 地下室
  • Shoe: 靴
  • Napkin: 口拭き
  • Plate: 皿 
  • Earth: 地

I am still learning Japanese, so some of these translations may not have been the most suitable or commonly used. Please correct me if any of these translations are poor. In case these translations are accurate, I think we can see that only two or three of them contain any rectangular shapes, namely those for “rock”, “napkin”, and “plate”. Even in those cases, though, this rule (even if it is just a rule of thumb) does not seem all that helpful, because there there is still enough other complexity in those Kanji that needs to be remembered.

Let’s try it the other way around now. Let’s pick a few Kanji with square shapes in them and let’s look at what they mean. Do they have anything to do with being situated beneath another object? For this I have used the site, which I find is amazing and excellent! It allows you to look up Kanji given a certain “radical”. According to Wikipedia, a radical is “is a graphical component of a Chinese character under which the character is traditionally listed in a Chinese dictionary”. So I have used the radical 口 (ku-chi, くち) to pick out a few:

  • 囚: Prisoner
  • 悃: Sincerity
  • 回: Counter for occurrences
  • 図: Plan
  • 国: Country
  • 四: Four (the number)
  • 囗: Mouth, Opening
  • 園: Garden, Park
  • 同: Same, Equal
  • 圓: Yen, Circle, Round

Looking at these meanings, the mnemonic of each representing a concept of something being beneath something seems to hold in none of them. Even if one would want to come up with a better rule of thumb, these Kanji seem to have little to do with each other in meaning. It may be a consolation, though, that at least two of them, mouth and prisoner, have meanings that do seem graphically quite intuitively represented. In the case of the prisoner it might be helpful for many people, though, to know the character for “person” 人 (jin, じん), because it may not be apparent to everyone that just those two strokes, in the absence of anything resembling arms, represents a human. Once you do know the character for human, though, it is even easier for you to remember that the very first character in the list above represents a prisoner, because it is even easier to see then that it looks like a caged person.

A Different Way to Remember Kanji

And this bring us to both where I feel the usefulness of graphical analogies as mnemonics for kanji unfortunately ends and where my newly found, improved substitute for such crutches begins. In the beginning of this post I said that early on in my effort to learn Japanese many kanji seemed a bit like arbitrary strokes or shapes at various angles. With kanji like 艤 even a native Japanese speaker might be able to relate to this. However, as illustrated with the character for “prisoner” above, once one has done the effort to learn a few characters and has a decent repertoire of maybe not even a hundred kanji, one will increasingly see kanji that are already familiar repeated in other kanji. For example, the kanji for “bright” 明 consists of the characters for “month” or “moon” 月 and the one for “sun” or “day” 日. Thus, instead of trying to graphically remember each stroke in the more complex character, one could simply remember that bright consists of “day” and “moon”. Semantically it may still not make much sense that these two concepts yield the third, but as for writing or recognizing that character I feel it is tremendously helpful to have already had firmly committed the constituent characters to memory. There are many other kanji for which this works and it is certainly no secret for anyone having spent any significant amount of time studying kanji, but I think it is encouraging to know for beginning students of Japanese and maybe even a useful technique to more consciously employ for intermediate students.

Another Technique

The problem with many other kanji is that they are complex or unfamiliar enough that simply remembering all components one has seen from other kanji is not enough to fully remember the kanji – at least that is my experience. Even if I remembered all the components, the kanji has so many strokes that knowing the radical and all other components does not make it obvious how these are arranged. There seems to be no way around simply committing this particular arrangement of strokes of that one kanji to memory through raw studying. As for doing so there is a very helpful phenomenon that is well-known in learning psychology, has been proven in various studies, and I have found tremendously useful for learning in general. I am referring to the “Test Effect“. The idea is that memory retention is far higher if a given subject material is repeatedly recalled from memory, instead of just repeatedly reviewed. For example, instead of reading a text five times, reading it twice and taking a test in by answering questions about that text three times on average yields a higher memory retention.

I am a software engineer, so I find analogies from computer science most illustrative: it is like the read-paths in our brain are separate from the write-paths. A write-path wires the information into the brain, or writes it onto a hard disk. However, the memory is ephemeral so the information dissipates over time. The read-path, on the other hand, reads the information back, which corresponds from trying to recall it or being tested on it. It is as if reading from your hard disk commits the information more firmly into your memory by exercise the exact neurological pathways that will be exercised in the future when you are trying to recall that information – and possibly fail, because you had only exercised the write-paths of your brain.

Back to kanji, I have employed the above principle with great success. I cannot make you amazing promises like the ads elsewhere on the Internet, claiming you would learn Japanese in just two weeks, or ridiculous things like that, but the kanji I am learning this way are more quickly and more firmly committed to my memory than any other way I have been learning them. I can learn a kanji, never look at it a second time, and still recall it weeks afterwards without having to refresh on it.

I’m sorry I left you hanging so long. I didn’t mean for it to be like one of those ads that entice you to click on them by promising you unknown riches and having you sit through a fifteen minute flash animation just to sell you some product on the final slide (yes, in this case it would probably have been that “Pimsleur” method you see all over when looking for language training on the Internet, although it seems it does try to monetize a similar idea).

So, without further delay, here is what I do to remember a new kanji, particularly complicated, unfamiliar ones:

  1. Take your time to look at the Kanji. Pay attention to every stroke. It doesn’t hurt at this stage if there are some mnemonics you can employ after all, such as a familiar shape.
  2. Now close your eyes and visualize the kanji. At this point I still have a bit of an after glow of the kanji in front of my mental eye. In case of a particularly complex kanji, I may not even be able to fully see the kanji in front of me, even if I have just looked at it. That’s okay. Open and close your eyes until you can at least fully retain the mental image of the kanji.
  3. Now let the mental image of the kanji go. Forget what you just saw, which should not be too hard, because it is the undesired consequence of attempting to learn a complex kanji you are not yet familiar with. Either wait for the image to disappear or go on to the next kanji. For me, it usually just takes a few seconds of looking away until the mental afterglow of the kanji, which I think corresponds to the image I have retained in my short term memory, has faded.
  4. Close your eyes again and try to recall the kanji. Do not just recall the general shape of the kanji, but imagine you are writing the kanji stroke by stroke, i.e. recall each stroke one by one. This is where the test effect I mentioned above comes in: by recalling the exact information you want to retain you train the “read paths” of your brain. The first attempt may very well be a failure. You are not quite sure about a particular stroke or may have forgotten or misplaced another. That is okay and probably to be expected. Simply give yourself a little bit of time and when you are certain that you cannot recall, go back to step one and repeat this.

Do the above until you can fully visualize the kanji and remember all strokes in step 4. If you simply want to be able to be able to recognize the character and not even shoot for being able to write it, it is okay to not remember the stroke order in step 4. Simply make sure that you can mentally place all strokes (although eventually being able to remember the stroke order would be certainly be your goal if you wanted to be able to write Japanese). It usually only takes me a few iterations of the above steps until I can confidently place all strokes in my mind, even of complex kanji with relatively many strokes. Even if I’d have to do it a dozen times, the good thing about this technique is that I can repeat it in relatively short succession. If I simply keep looking at the character over and over again, without trying to recall it inbetween, I can repeat that process just as many times and do not appear to have half the memory retention. Even if both ways of learning took just as much time, I am almost completely certain that I remember kanji far better now than any other way I have tried.

Other Thoughts

I have been trying to learn Japanese off and on for about a year now. Only in the last few months have I intensified my studies and it has been a very rewarding experience. The number one reason for my newly found eagerness I attribute to the lack of pressure with which I am learning. Despite often used methods in our education system to cram knowledge into student’s heads and hang Damocles swords over their heads through exams, I have found that I have never been more motivated to study as I have been now as I feel left to my own devices with absolute freedom. I am the driver of my success and there is no one to prove anything to, no one to impress, and no one to judge. There is only a personal eagerness to pry into a previously unexplored culture, which can only ever fully be done through the native language, a means of communication that both requires and conveys a way of thinking so particular to the culture as could never fully or succinctly be expressed in any other way.

Kanji are so numerous and some receive so little use that even well-educated, native speakers of Japanese do not know all of them. To many students of Japanese this thought appears daunting, but I strangely derive motivation from it. There is not a fixed goal or a set of kanji I have to learn. There may be guidelines, such as the joyo kanji, as to which kanji should be learned by what grade for a typical education of a Japanese student, but even many native Japanese being unfamiliar with a number of kanji shows that there is always more to learn. There not being a fixed goal, something to attain to be “done”, makes learning kanji feel like an ongoing exercise to me. It is a pleasant exercise to me now and I vaguely equate it with how I imagine other people collecting stamps. I take my time with each and every kanji, until it is fully committed to memory and it has started feeling like collecting little pieces of art, one by one. It is not a laborious task anymore, but an almost spiritual exercise I currently feel like I would not mind following for all my life.

What I have said at the beginning of this article about some people seemingly having an infatuation with kanji borne out of ignorance may have seemed condescending ‎(in which case I apologize), but in some ways I think I have to admit to the same fascination with the foreign. Japanese and, the writing system in particular, are still a largely unexplored realm to me. While I do not claim to nearly know everything there is to know about western culture, I feel it follows certain themes and patterns that are quite familiar to me now, and Japanese as a culture entices with a body of literature, culture, and art I have not yet explored to nearly the same degree. So, I may be guilty of the same fascination with the foreign, but I do hope that it is not borne out of ignorance but out of an eagerness to learn and a hunger for knowledge.


Can Men be Feminists?

Yes, and they should be.

I could leave it at that and ask you to research, then validate or falsify, this statement yourself. It would be a good exercise at overcoming what I call “intellectual laziness” that runs rampant in the so-called developed world. I do encourage you at this point to bookmark this article, if you want to continue reading it at all, stop reading, forget what you think feminism is, take an objective look at what it _actually_ is, and then continue reading this article.

There are different views on feminism and different definitions. In this article, I want it to carry the narrower definition of “A belief that women should be equal to men and a pursuit to combat the structural obstacles that exist for women in today’s society.” If you are a man, or belong to a far smaller group of “conservative” women, who construes a threat to men or even society at large from this, I ask you to examine your thoughts, in particular the reasoning you applied that brought you to that conclusion – if there was reasoning at all.

I do not simply mean the latter apposition as a snarky remark. There are in fact a large group of people who view feminism, according to this definition, as a threat for so-called ideological reasons. This kind of thinking, or rather the lack of thinking, is a dangerous one, because simply picking a standpoint without a critical analysis is somewhat like leaving a social issue that has the potential to impact many, many people, for good or bad, to chance. But these things are simply too important to be left to chance, so I ask you to consider these points.

That brings us, or me in case I’ve lost you, to the reasons why they are so important. It is a sad reality that many women are still mistreated, are socially and economically worse off than men, and do not share the outlook for a happy life that their male counterparts have. We hear about rapes so often that it has almost become a normality for media. It is not a normality and should never be. We hear about violence against women that was committed for no other reason than the victims being women. In my lifetime, which has not been that long, yet, I have seen and heard many horrible things happen to friends and loved ones. Things that have filled me with extreme anger, despair, and sadness. Why have these things happened to those human beings? Simply because of their bodies. Because they are female. Maybe it is a general propensity for people to take advantage of those physically weaker than them, or in a disadvantaged position, which I am not saying all women are, but overwhelmingly are in those cases in which violence is perpetrated against them.

Now, we need to remind ourselves that about half of the world’s population is female. That alone should be enough incentive to treat that portion of human beings fairly, but there are far more reasons. Does not everyone – every man – have some woman they deeply love or respect? Considering the staggering social injustice and the violence against women, how can you, not as a man but as a human being, not feel a deep sense of anger and sadness when imagining violence and injustice done to those women you love?

For many of you, I think I know what you are thinking now: “But it’s not happening to the ones I love!” It is not, or has not happened to anyone really close to you, perhaps. “Maybe it was not out of sexism at least? It has not happened … yet.” So, how long will it take until the sexist society we created does hurt someone you love or realize that it already has? Many women do not talk about rapes, out of fear for the reaction of their community, society at large, out of fear of being dismissed, as many are. There are stacks and stacks of rape kits that never even get tested, left on shelves to collect dusts. There are many and many women’s careers, resting on more metaphorical, but no less dusty shelves, that were destroyed, because these human beings happened to have the wrong body parts.

Another thought may be: “But I am not doing anything that hurts the ones I love! Yeah, I kind of talk down on women or treat them unkindly sometimes, but those are other women. I treat ‘my’ women with respect!” If you perpetuate any of these patterns then you, willing or not, perpetuate the same problem that has become so ingrained into society that some people need to be figuratively hit over the head before they see it.

You send it out there, and eventually it will come back. It will come back to hurt the ones you love. If you are a father, it will come back to hurt your daughter. If you are a husband, it will come back to hurt your wife. If you are a son, it will come back to hurt your mother. Considering the potential for so much harm to the ones dear to you, can you really afford to be in denial, for ideological reasons or whatever else you may come up with? Do you not owe it to these humans to at least make an attempt at an honest and critical analysis of these matters?

Putting women on equal ground with men does not lead to the destruction of society, but making them any less harms that half of the entire world’s population that all of us hold so dear.

Hoping that you have read and understood this, I ask you again: how can you be a man, a human being, and not be a feminist? Caring about your loved ones, you must understand that both the systemic oppression and the “othering” of women, and in fact femininity in general, will unavoidably come back to hurt them.

I have left the following for very last, because I want to appeal to your compassion first, and your personal interests second. Sexism against women does not just hurt women; it hurts men, too. We diminish the degree to which we utilize half of the intellectual capacity of this planet, although that brilliant capacity has forced itself through various outlets since the beginnings of history. Throughout history, many brilliant works of art and science, with female authorship, have been passed off as that of men – sometimes willingly by women, in order to be taken seriously, and sometimes unwillingly. Still, this brilliance cannot fully unfold itself until we let it and actually encourage it to do so.

We hurt ourselves with wars and strive, much of which I think would be greatly reduced if there was not just a greater balance between men and women in our society, but more generally between male and female principles. I do not mean to attribute certain character traits exclusively to men or women. To do so, I think, would only further the separation between genders and strengthen sexism. We often treat femininity with suspicion and applaud stereotypically male character traits, such as aggressiveness. That subject alone can be expanded on in many paragraphs, but I want to spend more time reflecting on it and leave it for another post.

Mixing up Transgender Identity and Sexuality

The following comes up frequently in media, at least in the US. There appears to be a confusion about the concepts of gender identity and sexuality. The first means what gender you see yourself as. The second refers to your sexual preferences. 

Often times, people appear to assume that transgender people are attracted to the gender opposite of the one they identify as. Transgender people who were born with some or all masculine body characteristics and identify as female are assumed to be attracted to males, and those identifying male attracted to females.

 This may not be necessarily malicious, but the inability or refusal to wrap your mind around these simple concepts to me shows a great deal of intellectual laziness or lack of mental capacity. We have increasingly come to accept that cis-gendered people, i.e. those being in congruence with the gender they were assigned, can be homosexual and heterosexual – or any of the other forms, such as being asexual, which the general public has not been able to grasp, yet. Why is it so hard to repeat the same logic and realize that the sexuality of transgender people can express itself in the same manner? 

Again, gender identity and sexuality are two separate things. Not so hard, is it?

Dating in America

The following was meant as a general reflection on gender roles and was, to a small part, prompted by me reading articles such as the one here: I do not mean to criticize the author and thank her for writing this article. I think that more honest communication will result in a greater understanding between people and bring humanity closer together.

I do not know for sure if dating is very much more dysfunctional or the gender gap wider in America than it is in other countries. When I moved to the US about six years ago, though, I quickly noticed a pattern that seemed much weirder to me than to any of my American friends: women appear extremely passive in dating and men overly, annoyingly aggressive. I used to hang out with my friends downtown from time to time and all of my female friends would regularly have men come up to them and attempt to initiate what I construed as an attempt at conversation with lines such as “Hey, babe! What’s up?!” Or, “Can I show you how to do this right?” in the context of her playing a game at an arcade, for example. Guys, why on earth would you want to initiate a conversation with an absolute stranger by criticizing them?! How about an honest compliment? I have come to think that dating advice from books such as “The Game” is probably to blame. I totally get that this kind of “self-confidence” is supposedly attractive, but it is not self-confidence if you make yourself into a total nuisance – to avoid a similar term staring with the letter “D”. You can be polite and still be self-confident! I see so many American men with crew cut, baseball cap, an arrogant look on their face, and seeming as if they constantly chewed some piece of gum. It is the epitome of arrogance that I see in them, not self-confidence. As for the virtual space, a total disregard for grammar and one-line sentences on online dating sites does not make you seem more masculine – it does make you seem either lazy or illiterate, though.

It is predominantly white men that I see doing this. Most of the afro-american men I have met in this country were extremely friendly, down to earth, jovial, and fun to be around. It is a generalization, and as such has its exceptions, but I cannot help but think that a certain sense of entitlement and arrogance drives many white men to such behavior.

Another habit men appear to have is to see all women as potential mating partners. As soon as my current partner started dating me, all her male friends would suddenly have no more time to hang out with her. I do not know if this is out of a misplaced sense of respect for me or her relationship, but I did not buy my partner when I started dating her! She is not my property, but if all your intention for hanging out with her was for the possibility of eventual copulation then it might be better that those “friendships” have found an untimely demise.

As for the dating-life of my male friends in the US, I rarely ever see a woman come up to and talk to them. I have never had so few girls talk to me when I was in my home country, neither. The female gender in the US seems extremely passive to me, overall. I can understand that men feel like they need to be overly aggressive if all they are ever taught in the media and from social conditioning is that they need to be the initiators, out to “penetrate the world”, in order to be proper male agents of the human race … If women in turn are overly passive in their dating than it is no wonder that the relationship between men and women, particularly when it comes to dating, is so dysfunctional and perpetuates a kind of masculinity that I wish would eliminate itself from the gene pool. Women that do respond to these kinds of immature attempts at mating ritual are totally in their own right to do so, but do so at the expense of the remaining population, as it validates this behavior and eventually turns against women who want nothing to do with it. This is for women who have read “The Rules” and think following it is a good idea: please leave normal people alone. If at all possible, do not procreate. You can manipulate some poor idiot all you want, but do not try to pass yourself off as a human being, and do not talk to me.

A response I frequently get from American women is the “sour look”: I try to be courteous, friendly, and polite, make nothing but quite uncontroversial and neutral statements, but I am treated as if I was “yet another man” coming on to them. Girls: I do not want anything from you! I have a partner and I would not want to jeopardize my relationship, which is far better in all likelihood than it could ever be with you, mind you,  in exchange for coming on to a sour, bitter human as yourself. We are not married, yet, but maybe I should just start wearing a wedding ring or a t-shirt saying “Not coming on to you!” Again, it is mostly white women that I get these reactions from. If I ask a girl, in a polite manner, at the pool, if I can share her lane, the response I get, although usually affirmative, often times carries a certain disapproving undertone.  If I ask a guy, they are usually quite friendly, and congenial in sharing.

The message I feel I receive from many women I understand plain and simple: You do not like men. If you are straight, you maybe want to find one you can halfway stand, spend a few years with him, and then have as little to do with the remaining male population as you possibly can. Many men are pricks, I get it. They sexualize you, demean you, talk down on you, are arrogant, unreliable, and all those other things – no, honestly, I agree that many are. But I do not want anything to do with it! I feel like, especially after coming to the US, that I stumbled into some kind of battlefield of the sexes and somehow got caught in the crossfire. Please, leave me alone, continue your battle without me. I am all set – thank you! I will be polite to you and stay out of your way, you be polite to me – that’s really all I want.

But there are not just strange behaviors that are attributable to just either gender. Again, I do not know to what degree the following is a phenomenon in other countries, but it appears to me more prevalent in the US. Many people appear to sexualize their relationships to an extreme degree and put a lot of emphasis on non-personal attributes of their partners. On several occasions I have overheard conversations discussing some friend’s new date and invariably questions about his job and income would come up, or, in more private settings, how good he or she is in bed. People appear to have sex very early on, even before they really know the other person.

One particular conversation at a coffee shop stuck in my head. An older couple, maybe in their fifties, sat at a table and shared some coffee during, what appeared to me, a first date. They smiled a lot, were very engaged, but I could hear that certain tone of nervousness in their voice and a bit of an eagerness to sell their life’s accomplishments to each other. At one point, the woman said “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid my voice isn’t as sexy today. I have a bit of a sore throat.” Not just this, but this whole date left me with such a sense of weird discomfort as I would never have expected from two people that I thought would have more life experience than to revert to a kind of awkwardness that I had otherwise only known from teenage couples. Not to be overly judgmental – first dates are hard. I never seemed to have an issue with that, though, because I have always picked my partners based on common interests and we were way too busy talking about exciting subjects than feel the need for such awkward conversation fillers.

It is just an example of a symptomatic phenomenon that appears particularly widespread in the US, and other capitalist countries: people place a large degree of emphasis on non-personal attributes and forget what a relationship is about. A relationship – the word could not show it more plainly – is about _relating_. We want to be with people that we can relate to, maybe have a few things in common with (but meeting people that are quite different from you can be very exciting, too). Smart people, funny people, energetic people, loving people. All many seem to care about is how soon they can stick their genitalia together and how comfortable economically their lives would be, if they were to marry, or how soon they can start producing offspring.

I deeply love my partner. She is the most brilliant, intelligent person I have ever met. We have gone through quite tough times, as she was battling an usually terminal disease during the first year of us dating. She told me that she would have expected most American men to head for the road if they had found out about the state of her health that soon into a relationship. My reaction was the complete opposite. I wanted to be there for her, because I love her. It was not money that kept us together, it was not how large my penis is, it was not the shape of her behind, or the size of her mammaries. Oh, I do find her immensely attractive, but it could have never turned into a relationship without us _relating_.

As for me, I have been curious about these social phenomena for a long time, and maybe the man in the article asked the questions he asked, in part, out of intellectual curiosity as well. Those questions may have been better addressed to a close friend of the opposite gender, and not a total stranger, though, so I can relate somewhat to the reaction the author of the article portraits. I have made my peace with these dynamics, as it comes to dating, a long time ago. If you want to be a passive princess and expect me to be some kind of media-indoctrinated, brainwashed distortion of a man, out there to sweep you off your feet, you are not for me anyway. Why bother? I have a tremendous partner, I love her more than anything, and I could not care less about dating the rest of the American populace.

In particular, I have developed an extreme dislike for two types of people that I find most illustrative of what is wrong with both genders in America: bro-dudes and valley girls. Bro-dudes try to act overly confident, typically seem to have a lack of interest in any intellectual pursuits and talk in ways that make me cringe. Valley girls … actually, they do pretty much the same. Valley girls are the bro-dudes of the female gender. They are examples of what is wrong with gender and dating. I have a deep wish for all bro-dudes and all valley girls on this planet: please temporarily overcome your inability for logical thought, in that frame of mind build a space ship, and fly to some uninhabited planet so the rest of the world is rid of you. The human gene pool will thank you.

In conclusion, it’s all rather simple: Why do women act so weird? Because of men. Why do men act so weird? Because of women. Anything that furthers the separation between men and women (and actually people in general, but this is another subject) will contribute to dysfunction with which men and women interact. Women have their little chatter groups about why men are so bad, while men have their bro-ish locker room grunts about their supposedly psychotic dates. There is never a critical analysis of the underlying dysfunction and it is simply the other gender that is to blame.

I do not know with which intention the author wrote this article. I assume that there were honest and good intentions. To me, many articles on this subject on the Internet seem to be self-righteous tirades about the supposed failings of the other gender, of the kind that continues to reinforce the gap between men and women in this country. Those kind do get read more frequently, though, than an honest analysis of gender roles, because someone writing about an emotional subject that you agree with gets you more readers and sells better. Often people do not read these articles because they want to engage in analytical thought or out of self-reflection, but to have other people validate their premade opinions. This way, however, I do not think you are changing the state of gender disparity in this country.

From a wider, social and economic perspective, women are clearly at a disadvantage in the US. The average woman earns about 70% of that what a man earns for an equivalent job. If you are a man: stop what you are thinking! No, it is not because you are somehow better or being more “aggressive” is just the way you have to be to make it in the tough business world. If that is what you were thinking, I despise you. You are part of what is wrong with this planet, why so many work places are hostile and exactly why women are not making the same money as men, as they should. Those who thought otherwise, please carry on. I respect you and you are less filled with crap than most people.

When it comes to dating, I do not know for sure what relative share men and women take in perpetuating the weirdness that exists between genders. I seldomly see men or women in America question the distorted image that we spread for both genders. There are some groups extremely dedicated to this cause, but despite these efforts the general population seems to continue following along these established paths with little questioning. Men have to be over-confident, self-deluding pricks and women have to be pretty princesses and dress in outfits that leave little to the imagination or show off certain body parts. Why, for example, does even business clothing leave the legs bare for women, but never for men? Why do women’s jeans always have to be skin tight? Ever questioned any of that?

Now how does this all apply to dating? It is the old advice that is often repeated, but seldomly understood: be yourself. If women ignoring you or being passive annoys you that much, then this type of person is not for you in the first place. Why bother? Of course this will severely shrink your dating pool, but the people this leaves for you are the ones you can relate to, so what is the loss? I am not a pick-up artist and have very little respect for those type of people. If your objective is to simply go out, copulate and pick the people you date by their looks, while disregarding their personality, then I think you will have to put up with people most likely causing you headaches and emotional trauma.

Closely related to being yourself is also clearly communicating your values. Be clear about how you want to engage in dating. Then, like-minded people can choose to mingle with you and those that disagree with your values stay away. But do not do manipulative nonsense and state that you are out to find your soul mate to spend life with until old age if all you want is a string of one-night stands for the weekends! That is a recipe for disaster, failed relationships, and ultimately will result in more articles of the kind this comment is in response to being written. It takes some soul-searching to know what is really important to you, so do not buy into dating advice that is trying to sell you a formula for copulation success, if that is not what you after.

Remembering Kanji

I have recently started reading the first of the book series “Remembering the Kanji” by James Heisig. So far, what I like best about this book is the way the Kanji are organized. Previously, I have found most resources for the jouyou kanji (常用漢字) order them by school grade during which they are taught in Japanese schools, as decided by the Japanese Ministry of Education. The advantage of ordering them by grade is that the characters generally gradually increase in complexity. The downside is that characters that are quite similar and contain components that are familiar may be spread out much further than in the order the above book uses. It has helped me tremendously to learn a component, or called a “primitive” in the book, and then learn a bunch of useful kanji that primitive appears in. I would say that it is logical that the more about a character is already familiar to you, the more easily you will be able to remember them. The downside is that you will not necessarily learn the kanji that are most frequently used first, but if your goal is to learn all of the jouyou kanji anyway (as is my goal) then I think the best order to learn them is the order in which you will be able to remember them most easily.

Yet Another Memory Technique

Another, probably much more important, aspect of the book is the stories for each kanji. Each story uses the meaning of each of the kanji’s primitives to construct a story incorporating the meaning of the kanji. In most cases, I have found this tremendously helpful for learning kanji and a much faster way of learning than trying to remember kanji any other way I know of so far.

The problem I have had is that some of these stories seem quite arbitrary and have been for me to remember. One example is the following kanji:




The components in this kanji are (from left to right and top to bottom) “rock”, “nine”, and “ten”. The kanji’s meaning is “(to) smash”. The story the book gives to remember this kanji is the following:

We begin with the two elements on the right, baseball and needle. Since they will be coming together from time to time, let us give the two of them the sense of a game of cricket in which a needle is laid … Then imagine using a rock for a ball. A smash hit would probably splinter the bat in all directions, and a smashing pitch would do the same with the needle wicket.

For some reason, this story is not memorable to me at all and others are probably in the same boat, maybe especially if you know next to nothing about cricket as I do. By the way, this is not a critique of the book. I think it can be highly personal which stories are memorable to a person and the book does encourage you to come up with your own stories, to make them more memorable, so there is no disagreement from my side with the book – on the contrary, I totally agree.

Now, how do you come up with a good, memorable story, though? The book has done a very good job at this as you will see when you are struggling to come up with your own story for a kanji when the story given for it just won’t stick with you.

Here is the idea I had: to come up with something more realistic, why not just plug the primitives and the kanji’s translation into a Google search and see what comes up? Let’s do this for the kanji above! The primitives “rock”, “nine”, and “ten”, and the translation “smash” yield the following search result from Wikipedia, among others:

The destruction of musical instruments is an act performed by a few pop, rock and other … guitarist Pete Townshend of The Who was the first guitar-smashing rock artist. … ten on their list of the twenty Greatest Rock and Roll Moments on Television. … Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails was known to destroy both guitars and …

Rock artists of Nine Inch Nails smashing their guitars and loading their drums with explosives, making it on place ten of Greatest Rock and Roll Moments. I don’t know about you, but that is quite a lot more memorable to me than a game of cricket! 🙂

So, again for the particularly thin-skinned out there: this is not a critique of this excellent book, simply a suggestion from me to make some of the stories more memorable. It is a most human endeavour to try to improve things.