[Japanese] 勉強

Incense is intense

If I must be honest, I never really trusted my father’s story about the differences between the Japanese word for ‘study’ and whatever meaning the characters had in Chinese, but it seems, at least on the surface, that what I have heard was absolutely correct.

As I know well, the Japanese word for study is べんきょう(benkyou) or『勉強』in kanji, as often in talking to Japanese people I have mentioned that I need to study the language more before I can properly converse to them in Japanese, trying to give an excuse for my extremely poor grammar. To be fair, the Japanese people I have talked with have been extremely gracious, taking pains to assure me that my Japanese is very good — you’re all way too kind.

But I digress, apart from simply ‘study’ the word 『勉強』 is additionally used in the sense of diligent; studious; hardworking; and interestingly discount and reduction, although I’m not too certain what context this would need — perhaps one of my friends studying Japanese for real would like to chip in here.

‘勉強’ also exists in Chinese though, and upon searching I discovered it is a word I am familiar with. In Chinese, this word is pronounced min5 koeng5 (jyutping) or mian3 qiang3 (pinyin) and means strenuously; reluctantly; barely manage; to force. The meaning I am more familiar with though, is where it suggests poor quality or little effort… kind of like my language skills.

Although the first meaning seems to match the Japanese one to an extent (depending on what context you use it in English), you can see the extreme difference in the rest of the meanings between the languages. When so many hanzi and kanji are quite similar — to the extent that some Chinese people can understand a lot even just by reading all the kanji they see — an instance of this is pretty interesting.

Inspecting the hanzi/kanji, it seems the individual meaning of the characters themselves are fairly similar between the languages, however put together it seems to have generated completely different meanings that are almost on opposite ends of the spectrum.