Kanji Festival Celebrates Characters


To launch her passionate and fact-packed new book, Crazy fror Kanji: A Student's Guide to the Wonderful World of Japanese Characters, Berkeley author Eve Kushner hosted a Kanji Festival at Albany's Kasuga Restaurant on Saturday night.

Sections of the restaurant were transformed into a gourmet tea-tasting room (courtesy of Far Leaves tea shop in Oakland), a shogi-playing room, and a music room where, at one point, young koto players performed the classic Mexican tune "Cielito Lindo."

Kushner describes herself as happily obsessed with characters, recounting hours spent pursuing the perfect downstroke or dot. "I should note that kanji can also bring one close to insanity," she writes in the book, which is out this month from Berkeley's Stone Bridge Press and details not only the addictive art of writing kanji but also the marvel of ancient pictographs transformed into modern language. "The child in us longs to decode. ... Teasing out the tangles in kanji provides endless entertainment, as well as thrilling epiphanies. ... Studying kanji brings you into contact with Old Japan -- with a pure form of the culture and the Japanese mind," Kushner writes. "Dating back about fifteen hundred years in Japan (and much longer in China), kanji provides a time capsule, giving us insight into the way people once made sense of the world."

Among hundreds of games, lessons, and believe-it-or-nots in the book is a chart revealing the meanings of the characters comprising famous brand names. The two characters making up the word "Mitsubishi" mean "three" and "rhombus." (The company's logo features three rhombi.)

Festivalgoers sampled green-tea-flavored cupcakes, their frosting inscribed with kanji.