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Thursday, October 28, 2010

To Teach Others Gently

My father, now 74 and again living in Japan since his return in 1994, gave Zenas his middle name: Satoshi.

In order to fully explain the significance of the name, a much simplified and likely inadequate language lesson is necessary. One of the difficulties of the Japanese language is the complexity of learning kanji. One character may have several meanings. Each character has several formal pronunciations, depending on context and use. Every stroke has a correct order and placement that must be followed. The pronunciation and or meaning can shift depending on its placement within a compound word. And Japanese names, though phonetically the same, may be constructed by completely different kanji; and in these cases, the pronunciation and exact meaning of the kanji does not always follow the grammatical rules, but rather fall under poetic license.

The kanji for our Satoshi is a single character that translates directly as "instruction." It is a compound derivative of two discrete but simple kanji which fall into the category of pictograms, which were the earliest written words drawn as illustrations to impart the meaning of the words themselves. The several lines above a square on the left side 言 illustrates sounds exiting a mouth, to mean "words" or "to say." The right side image 川 suggests three flowing lines in a steam to mean "river." Together, they suggest the flow of words. My father's unusual choice in the usage of this kanji for the name Satoshi is his poetic touch. He wanted Zenas to have a middle name that meant "to teach others gently."

I asked my father send us an image of the kanji, so I could learn the "spelling" of the name as such is the case in Japanese. Instead of a piece of calligraphy as I'd expected, he sent us a letter handwritten on floral stationary. Though his diction was somewhat rusty, his penmanship remained elegant. He wrote the following (pretty much) regarding the name:

Your baby is named after my youngest brother who died at the age of 28, unmarried and working as an engineer. Quiet, he was the smartest among our five brothers.

After the news of his death, I used to keep a small picture of him in my wallet. I couldn't stop my tears while driving because the car was where I could cry. I hated to show tears in my eyes to anyone.

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