Understanding a few Japanese characters (kanji) can make your visit to Japan a lot more fun and enlightening.
Let's start with a few of the characters that you will see on the streets and menus in restaurants.
The above character is sake or shu with the general meaning of alcohol. You will see this sign at liquor stores or convenience stores that sell booze. Notice the radical for water or liquid on the left. Some compounds with this kanji include 日本酒 (nihonshu; Japanese sake), 酒屋 (sakeya; liquor shop), 酒精 (shusei; alcohol).
Another frequent character is onna or jo (女) meaning woman, girl, female. This character is useful for getting the right toilet, public bath or onsen or even the right train carriage, as some of Japan's trains have carriages reserved exclusively for women, due to the prevalence of chikan or gropers. Some common kanji compounds with this character are josei (女性) meaning woman or feminine gender as seen in the sign below, onnayu (女湯), woman's bath and joyu (女優) actress.
Wine, women and er, song. That's it. Now for song you are more likely going to encounter the katakana word カラオケ (karaoke), where you can blast out your favorite tunes in a sound-proofed box in the company of your Japanese girl friends and female co-workers while enjoying a glass of your choice.
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