Japanese jyukugo fascinate me, because each one tells a story. Sometimes the story is boring, but sometimes they offer an unwitting insight into the mind of a culture.
I was reminded of this when I learned the jyukugo 電池. The two kanji together mean “electricity” and “pond”. But if you put them together, it means “battery”. It’s a very poetic word, and not really intentionally, I think. The Japanese people needed to think of a word for electrical storage, and well, why not?
I’ve often been curious as to how these words arise. The word for “wife”, for example, is “kanai”, or 家内. The two kanji mean “inside” and “house”. One could say that this isn’t a very forward thinking jyukugo, but then, the Japanese culture is thousands of years old, of course it’s not. Sometimes you just have to take a word at face value. That’s the word. Trying to demand that an entire country change their language because it offends you is… well… what seems to happen these days. But it’s not reasonable.
Jyukugo are one thing about Japanese culture that I’m willing to accept for what they are. Some are poetic. Some are not. Some are disturbing. And some are beautiful, in their own way. We don’t have these same kinds of constructions in English for the most part, and in some ways, I kind of wish we did. It would make my language much more interesting.
In my opinion, Japanese is difficult, incomprehensible, inscrutable, and a whole bunch of other words that start with “in”. But it’s beautiful. English is all of those things, and ugly, too. I guess that’s one reason I like Japanese – for the same reason I collect porcelain dolls. I like beautiful things in my life.