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September 09, 2009


Would you use either, both, or neither of the following word to describe a person who frequently trips and drops things?


  1. 不調法な
  2. 不器用な
  3. both A and B
  4. neither A nor B



Answer: One definition of不調法な(ぶちょうほう な) is indeed clumsy/awkward. Therefore, this adjective would indeed apply to the sort of person who is always tripping and dropping things.

A few useful derivatives of this word: 不調法者(ぶちょうほうもの)a clumsy fellow and 不調法をする to commit a blunder

不器用な(ぶきよう な) has more or less the same meaning: awkward; clumsy; poorly skilled.  Therefore the correct answer would be C, both A and B





September 08, 2009


Examine the following list of words: 









To which part of the body do these words relate?


  1. brain
  2. blood
  3. skin
  4. eyes


Answer: These are highly specialized medical words. Unless you have studied medical Japanese, you probably don’t know any of them. However, you still be able to answer the question—even if you can’t translate the above vocabulary items.

            The kanji appears in two more common words (which I deliberately omitted because they might be giveaways):


血液 (けつえき) blood

血圧 (けつあつ) blood pressure


The kanji means blood, and this gives you the answer to the question, B.


You might not ever need the words in the above list, but let’s look at their English definitions anyway, just for fun. You’ll be ready for your next trip to the doctor in Japan:



血色素 (けっしきそ) hemoglobin 

血漿 (けっしょう) plasma

血腫 (けっしゅ) hematoma

血塞 (けっそく)thrombosis

血友病 (けつゆうびょう) hemophilia

血尿 (けつにょう) hematuria




September 07, 2009


The adjective 可燃性のwould describe which of the following?




Answer: The first step to figuring this one out is to decipher the meaning of可燃性の. This word is actually an adjective derived from a noun. Without the particle , you have the noun 可燃性.

            Let’s suppose that you haven’t encountered可燃性in the past.  So you decide to break it down into its constituent parts. You have probably seen the first kanji in the following words:


可能な(かのう な) possible

可決 (かけつ) approval (of a proposed law)


As you may have gathered from the above examples, means “possible, approval”).


Now for the next kanji. Perhaps you’re familiar with some of these examples:


燃える(もえる) to burn (intransitive)

燃やす(もやす) to burn (transitive)

燃料 (ねんりょう) fuel

内燃機関 (ないねん きかん) internal combustion engine


The dominant theme in these examples is burning/combustion.


The final element is = gender/nature of


酸性 (さんせい) acidity

本性 (ほんせい) true character

性質(せいしつ) nature; disposition; temperament


When you add these elements together you get possible + burn + nature = 可燃性 (かねんせい)combustibility. The addition of the makes this an adjective, combustible.


The next step is to define options A through D. These are fairly basic Japanese words, so they shouldn’t present many problems for you.


水 (みず) water

雪 (ゆき) snow

紙 (かみ) paper

氷 (こおり)ice


Paper is the only one of these substances that is combustible. The answer, therefore, is C.




September 05, 2009


Choose the option which is closest in meaning to “a fair but empty phrase”


  1. 方言
  2. 挨拶
  3. 空念仏
  4. 尊敬語
  5. 謙譲語


Answer: We’ll begin by defining the incorrect answers. If you’ve ever been outside the Tokyo area of Japan, then you’ve almost certainly encountered 方言(ほうげん), or dialect. 挨拶(あいさつ)is a very basic Japanese word that means greeting. This knowledge allows us to eliminate answers A and B.

The last two choices, D and E, are 尊敬語(そんけいご)honorific language and 謙譲語(けんじょうご)humble language. These are the two major components of 敬語(げいご)or polite speech. 

That leaves us with C, the correct answer. This word is rather interesting. It is compound term comprised of two parts. 念仏(ねんぶつ)refers to a Buddhist invocation, or a prayer to Buddha. 空(から)= empty, so a literal translation of 空念仏(からねんぶつ)would be “empty Buddhist prayer.”

The actual meaning, however, is somewhat figurative: a fair but empty phrase or a platitude.




August 28, 2009



Which of the following words means cause of death?


  1. 死因

  2. 死体解剖

  3. 死刑

  4. 死海



Answer:  All of the potential answers share one kanji in common: . This is the kanji used in the word 死ぬ(しぬ) to die, and it does in fact mean death.


The definitions for answers B through D are as follows:


死体解剖 (したい かいぼう)autopsy

死刑 (しけい)capital punishment

死海 (しかい) Dead sea


While none of these is the correct answer, you can see that each of them does have a connection with death.


As it turns out, the correct answer is A.                                                     


死因 (しいん)   cause of death


How could you have figured this out? If you knew the kanji , it was a dead giveaway (no pun intended). This kanji means cause, and it is employed in a number of words that have a related meaning:


要因 (よういん) important factor; chief cause

主因 (しゅいん) main cause

因果関係(いんが かんけい) cause and effect relationship






August 23, 2009


What is the best definition for 圧勝?


  1. compression
  2. oppression
  3. squeezing to death
  4. an overwhelming victory


Answer: The first kanji used in圧勝(あっしょう)is , which means pressure/force. You recognize this kanji from the following words:


気圧 (きあつ) atmospheric pressure 

血圧 (けつあつ) blood pressure

圧倒する (あっとう する) to overwhelm; to overpower


The second kanji employed here is . This is the kanji used in:


勝つ (かつ) to win

勝利 (しょうり) victory


Based on the above breakdown, it is not difficult to figure out that the correct answer is D. 圧勝 can be combined with する to mean to win an overwhelming victory.


There are also words that mean A, B, and C. These are given below.


圧縮 (あっしゅく) compression

圧制 (あっせい) oppression; tyranny

圧死 (あっし) squeezing to death





August 18, 2009



What does 吃音mean? 

  1. charity
  2. stammering
  3. knowledge
  4. theft


Answer: 吃音 is a fairly low-frequency word. It would be recognizable by educated Japanese; but you are unlikely to encounter it an undergraduate-level course in Japanese.


To make matters worse, is not one of the 1,945 常用漢字(standard-use kanji).


Nevertheless, you can solve this one by a relatively straightforward process of elimination. You are probably familiar with , as in 母音(ぼいん)vowel ;音量(おんりょう) volume (of sound); 録音(ろくおん)recording.  Clearly, generally appears in words related to sound.


And what about ? No one expects you to know this kanji as a beginning student; but you might be able to guess that it has some connection with speaking and vocalization. Note the presence of the radical . Most kanji that contain this radical do in fact relate to actions performed with the mouth, as illustrated by the following list of words: 


吠える (ほえる) to bark

呻く (うめく) to groan; to moan

喘ぐ (あえぐ) to pant; to gasp for breath


This low-frequency kanji ( ) does in fact mean “stammer;” and this is the meaning of 吃音(きつおん). If you combine it with it becomes a verb, 吃音する. The answer, therefore, is B.




August 15, 2009


Which of the following words means “secret room”?


  1. 密書
  2. 密室
  3. 密使
  4. 密着



Answer: The kanji is used in all these words. This kanji means close, secret.


One common usage of  is 秘密(ひみつ)secret. Other examples include 密輸(みつゆ)smuggling and 密度(みつど)density.


The next step is to look for a kanji that means room. You might recognize from these examples:


和室(わしつ)Japanese-style room

寝室 (しんしつ) bedroom

教室 (きょうしつ) classroom


See the pattern here? The kanji = room. That makes it easy to determine that the correct answer is B; 密室 (みっしつ)= secret room.


The definitions of the remaining answers are:


密書 (みっしょ)secret letter; secret document

密使 (みっし) secret messenger

密着 (みっちゃく) close adherence; interlocking