Sunday, October 12, 2008

Reading is hard

The Japanese language is written using the Chinese character system which, in Japan, is called kanji. In order to read a Japanese newspaper, you need to have memorized at least 2,000 different Chinese characters. Some people have a hard time doing this. Apparently, Taro Aso is one of these people. On October 12, 2008, Taro Aso gave a speech at Gakushuin University. It did not go well. Aso mispronounced several words during the speech.

Instead of saying, “It is unprecedented that Japanese and Chinese leaders have visited each other so frequently,” Taro Aso said, “It is unprecedented that Japanese and Chinese leaders have visited each other in a ‘cumbersome’ manner like this.”

Once again, the media pilloried Aso.

“Prime Minister Taro Aso may want to set aside his comic books and cut down on the bar-hopping in exchange for some kanji tutoring,” said the Japan Times.

“The phrase ‘kanji test’ should scare Prime Minister Taro Aso,” said the Yomiuri Shimbun.

People started referring to Aso as KY. In the past, the initials KY stood for kuki yomenai, which literally means “can’t read the air” and is used to describe someone who doesn’t understand what is going on around them. But now, after kanji-gate, people started using the initials KY to represent kanji yomenai – can’t read kanji – and they slapped that label on Taro Aso.

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