Japan, when it comes to “weird,” you manage to outdo yourself on an daily basis. In fact, your superiority in that category only meets its match with your prime export of “cute,” but today’s blog post will focus more on the former.
A book?! Well, it’s a Japanese dictionary - the Sanseido Kokugo Jiten- revised every few years and noted for including the most contemporary words and phrases. Someone in Okayama gave it to me as a gift. It really came in handy for those long trans-Pacific flights…
A brief backgrounder– the Japanese language uses three styles of writing, two alphabets – hiragana and katakana- and kanji, characters either borrowed from or influenced by China. Hiragana and katakana are both derived from kanji.
When I finally decided to open the book (I should really quiz security staff at Japanese airports with it) , the first page I randomly turned to had already started to mock me:
This image is known as へのへのもへじ, or henohenomoheji. Schoolchildren throughout Japan use this as a mnemonic device when they are starting to learn hiragana. It is one of many hiragana faces to aid in the study of that alphabet.
That’s the definition suitable for all audiences.
In fact, henohenomoheji also appears on scarecrows throughout rural Japan as well as on paper ghosts hung upside-down by kids in order to postpone rain for another day. In other words, if you’re a young student on a farm, this is a Catch-22.
Is your language as bizarre as Japanese?