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A Great Little Book of Yojijukugo
(Four-Letter Japanese Idioms)

Kanji de Manga: YojijukugoManga University's "Kanji De Manga: Yojijukugo" isn't a manga, isn't published by a real university, and (if you're confused like I was) doesn't really even tell you what it is. But it's a great way to pick up yojijukugo, or idioms. It's a thin little book, full of manga art, but also full of useful Japanese idioms (and even a few more obscure but equally fun ones).

What Yojijukugo Are

Yojijukugo literally means "four-letter [character] idiom." They are terms or expressions made up of four kanji. You'd use a yojijukugo if you'd want to say the Japanese equivalents of phrases like "Survival of the fittest," "Time is money," "Kill two birds with one stone," and many others. Most of us know the term isshoukenmei, which means "with all one's might," or someone's best effort to do something. Yep, that's a yojijukugo.

The expressions are cool, but for reasons I'm not sure of, the fact that they are four characters long is especially significant. One thing is for sure, though: yojijukugo go way back. They are intimately related with Chinese, much the way the entire Japanese language used to be (though, of course, it still is). The book even explains the phrase you'd use to say "Surrounded by enemies," which Confucius apparently coined himself.

Why I Like It

This book serves a very practical purpose. When you see the English translation of the yojijukugo and then see the individual kanji, the expressions generally make good sense. But especially if you can't actually see the kanji--like if you heard someone speak the yojijukugo--you wouldn't necessarily be able to piece together the meaning. With this book, you won't be in the dark when you encounter these everyday phrases.

But the book doesn't merely list the yojijukugo. Each page contains the phrase, the kanji (written large), and a picture from a manga that explains the idiom visually. You also get an explanation of what each kanji means, what they mean together, and, when applicable, the origin of the term. There are also mnemonics, which help make the yojijukugo a bit easier to remember and make sense of.

Obviously, yojijukugo are handy in everyday speech and writing. A little less obvious is how handy this book is when you're learning kanji intensively. Every expression contains four kanji, so chances are good you'll recognize some of them. You'll be able to infer the meanings of many of the ones you don't know. So it's a great way to practice the kanji you know and also pick up new ones.


The only small downside of the book is that it doesn't give you a whole lot of guidelines as to usage. Something along the lines of a "Do's and Don'ts" list for each expression would be handy, or maybe a list of common mistakes people make when using yojijukugo. The book certainly gives you all you need to get started, and makes it fun and easy all the while, but a little more information from the "inside track" never hurts.

My Humble Overall Opinion

"Kanji de Manga: Yojijukugo" is handy, well-done, and enjoyable. It will help your kanji ability painlessly and sheds some light on phrases that may once have left you scratching your head. I'd give it 9.5/10.

Book Info:  Kanji de Manga: Yojijukugo. Glenn Kardy and Chihiro Hattori. Manga University, 2008. ISBN-10: 4921205221.

Did you know...
Most Japanese insist on not eating fruit with the peels left on.

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