四半期 (しはんき) is a common word in news reports, and it becomes much more common every January when the media analyzes various data from the previous year.
But there is something strange about this word. 半期 means "half year", and I've previously discussed how it's used in the terms 上半期 and 下半期. So when we see it used with a prefixed 四, we experience a slight mind-bend. Is it "four halves"? That doesn't make any sense.
One of the things that never fail to amaze me about Japanese is how, in practically every text I read, I come across new words that I have never seen before. When this keeps happening to you after more than ten years of extensive exposure to a language, you know you're dealing with something so vast and rich that any attempt to "master" it can only end with the would-be master himself getting mastered, owned, and thoroughly humbled.
Falling below the mark: １００万人割れ
With Japan being one of the most prominent birthically-challenged countries in the world, the local media has long ago made reporting on annual birth statistics an enduring year-end tradition.
One of the difficult things about reading Japanese literature is that common words are often written in uncommon ways. While every learner expects verbs, adjectives, and nouns to do their worst with kanji, there are other parts of speech that are normally written in hiragana but suddenly reconnect with their dark kanji side in more advanced texts.
Many new readers and subscribers have joined Reajer, and you all came just in time for the shiny new corner here on the blog: Japanese News Vocabulary.
These posts will pick up and look into key words in high-profile news stories in the Japanese media, with the aim of giving you practical insight into how current affairs — both in Japan and the rest of the world — are perceived and described in Japanese.
So without further ado, let's start learning our first four news vocab items, which appear in stories on events that range from Japan all the way to the Wild West.
Reading Troubleshooter: The Tool that Explains the Tricky Grammar and Vocab in Famous Japanese Texts
Many classic works of Japanese literature are easy enough to find both in the original and in translation, including freely accessible online versions. When it comes to such texts, you already have two of the basic ingredients for bilingual reading — so the texts do not require their own full-scale Reajer bilingual version.
But what about the third important ingredient — language notes? So far there have been almost no available resources that provide in-depth annotation to help you read those Japanese texts successfully, and the lack of learner-oriented explanations makes it difficult to cross the gap between casual reading and serious study.
How come so many Japanese words can be written with alternative kanji that all have the same kun-yomi reading? Does it really make any difference whether we write, for example, うまれる as 生まれる or as 産まれる? Yes, it does — and learning the subtle differences between such kanji synonyms is part of the ongoing process of developing real Japanese proficiency.
About a hundred years before China's factories brought us the first iPhone, Japan's authors started experimenting with the I-Novel — a realistic, confessional genre written in the first-person and based on the writer's real-life experience. The word "I" then became a favorite in Japanese fiction literature as a whole, bringing narrators into the plot in a way that was both a novelty and a perfect fit to the local tradition of storytelling.
But the simple act of saying "I" is, well, anything but simple in Japanese. This makes the I-Novel far less straightforward that it seems, because the first thing the author needs to decide is: which "I" should it be?
Get help with any short Japanese text you're reading - use the online tutoring service!
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