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att. Culture - Calendar - 携帯 vs ケータイ 4
att. Culture - 携帯 vs ケータイ 4
att.JAPAN Issue 21, March 2005

携帯 vs ケータイ 4


The Role of Kanji in Mobile E-mails.

I've so far been writing about how the Japanese have coped with using all sorts of orthographic symbols. The other day, I read an article that elementary school children are recently declining in their capacity to correctly read and write kanji. I won't go into details in this limited space I am given, but one example was "園足"(ensoku - garden foot), which should be written "遠足"(ensoku - field trip). As you know, there are many kanjis with the same sound. Ensoku means a little outing from school where children visit zoos or climb low hills, and picnic. So it's hard to blame those youngsters not to have a feel for wanting to write "園足," because basically that's what they are looking forward to. Although this is fundamentally an issue that should be dealt with the Ministry of Education, but such mistakes aren't limited to children only. Adult Japanese often make mistakes with kanji, which they inevitably blame it on a blur on the part of their PCs.
On the other hand, when I found in an Australian website about Japanese orthography a comment wondering how the Japanese cope with so many ways of writing, I discreetly and proudly felt that the Japanese indeed have developed a certain neurological evolvement incomparable to other ethnic groups.
A single Japanese sentence may contain kanji, hiragana, katakana, romaji, and Arabic numerals. At one glance, it may seem impossible to master this linguistic maze. How the Japanese do it must be the subject for neuropsychology, so I've decided to take a look at a more familiar phenomenon.
It's been almost three years since I started sending mobile e-mails, and being forty-something, my messages had sadly been limited to "who, what, where, when." In an attempt to rejuvenate myself at least in this realm, I've decided to use "kakko-moji," which means "parenthesis kanji." The origin of this is comic books probably, but the young are astonishingly well at it.

(笑)(laughter): put after a joke, or when the sender wants the receiver to laugh
(爆)derived from(爆笑)(explosive laughter): put after something that is outrageously funny
(汗)(sweat): when expressing something stupid the sender did
(涙): when expressing something slightly sad
(泣): when expressing something pretty sad

Even for those who have lived in Japan for a long time, this keitai (mobile phone) culture among the young Japanese must be a mystery. The "kakko-moji" is an epitome of the Japanese' ability to visualize language. (By the way, if those kakko-mojis were to be written in hiragana, the whole meaning would be lost entirely. They have to be in kanji, which is the essence of the whole issue.) Adults use them sometimes, too. But I advise you not to use them for business mails. Not only your business ability but your entire credibility will be put to risk. Never, please, never write something like: "I displeased my boss (泣)."
The Japanese Ministry of Education keeps shrilling about the decline of children's kanji knowledge level, but the children themselves are actually in pretty good touch with kanjis. Sometimes they even point out their friends' wrong usage of kanjis in mobile e-mails, so what's the point in worrying so much? As for me, though, after so many years since the grinding days of learning kanjis, I can remember to write only a few now, thanks in great part to PCs that churn out whatever hiragana I input into appropriate characters. How embarrassing (滝汗、涙)(waterfall sweat, tears).

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