Japan Life: New Year, New Kanji Name


 Today marks the end of the school year in Japan, and saying goodbye to all of my students  this past week has been tough. So many notes, gifts, and hugs from students, aged 2-60+. Businessmen, housewives, travelers, toddlers: I’m quite sure they’ve taught me more than I could ever teach them.

One of my students from my adult media class gave me an extra special gift. A few weeks ago, I was lamenting my lack of Japanese skill, especially when it comes to kanji. Even expats here who can speak Japanese fluently still have trouble with the over 2000 characters, derived from the Chinese alphabet.

English is so tough for Japanese speakers because the language has over 3000 sounds, Japanese has only about 800. BUT, Japanese uses three alphabets, the traditional Japanese alphabet (hiragana) the alphabet for foreign words (katakana) and kanji. So for us foreigners, speaking isn’t usually the trouble. It’s reading. For Japanese people, it’s usually the reverse.

Back to my story: I was chatting with class about kanji, and how I understood that many foreigners are given kanji names… it’s a token thing, like a nickname, but an interesting part of the culture and something I wanted to learn more about. One of my students offered to name me!

Here’s what he came up with, and why. name-in-kanji

Cool right? I was so touched by his interpretation of my personality. Such a thoughtful gesture. I showed the letter to my friend (who speaks fluent Japanese) and she said OH NO HE LOVES YOU. Haha. Maybe like a daughter. He even declared himself my “Godfather.” Sweet.

Then, if that wasn’t enough, the last day of class, he gifted me with this beautiful custom-made hanko with my new name!


Hankos are official stamps used in lieu of a signature.They’re used for everything: signing receipts, contracts, and almost any kind of application. I had one made with my Katakana name (シンシア) but made the mistake of having my first name carved instead of my last. In Japan, everyone goes by their family name first (i.e. Tanaka-san). Because I’m not local, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter, but still. Rookie.


Anyway, I love it. It’s one of the cool Luddite-like aspects of the pen-and-paper culture here. And it means so much to me that a student would be moved to do this for me. Even though teaching is only a part of my life here, it’s proven to be so rewarding. I am a lucky girl indeed.

Now I just need to learn how to write it!


(a.k.a. 真紫茜 )


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