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Saturday, January 09, 2010

kan 間 or "space"

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the phrase 手間 tema. Today we're going to look at the second of the kanji that form the word tema.

The character 間 is an essential one in everyday Japanese and with a wide variety of meanings.

Its Chinese-style reading (onyomi) is usually kan (but can, for certain meanings, be pronounced ken), and its Japanese-style reading (kunyomi) is aida or ma.

The fundamental meaning of 間 is "space between," "gap," "interval," "distance." However, it refers not only to space, but to time as well, meaning, also, "time between," "pause," "break."

Today we'll look at three very common uses of the character in Japanese.

1. 間も無く This is the ma pronunciation of 間, and the phrase here is pronounced ma mo naku meaning, literally, "without a gap/space." Its meaning in everyday Japanese, however, is "quite/very soon." You will always hear it at a Japanese railway station in the announcement Mamonaku densha ga mairimasu (word for word: "Soon train come", or, more idiomatically, "The train is about to arrive."

2. この間 This is the aida pronunciation of 間, and the phrase here is pronounced kono aida, meaning, literally, "this space."
Its meaning in everyday Japanese, however, is "last time," "the other day," or "recently." You will often hear, for example, Kono aida, domo or "Thanks for everything last time."

3. The kan pronunciation is probably the most common usage of this character, but always in tandem with the period of time being referred to. "2 weeks" is ni shuu kan, ni being "2," shuu being "week" and kan being "space (of)." Likewise, "12 days" is juu ni nichi kan, "5 years," go nen kan, and so on. Read more about the intricacies of Japanese counting.

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