Another thing to keep in mind as we make resolutions and head into the new year.
(Ichinichi ichiji wo manabeba sanbyakurokujuuji;
“If you learn one character a day, three hundred sixty characters”)
If you study just a little bit each day, the learning accumulates and eventually one has a substantial body of knowledge or skill built up. If you learn just one new kanji every day, you’ll acquire 360 in a year. If you decide to do a thing, persistence is the most important part of success.
This one is not a sentence, so we’ll approach it left-to-right.
We begin with a number plus noun, 一日 (ichinichi), “one day.” This is followed by another number and noun, 一字 (ichiji), “one [written] character.” The character is marked as the object of a verb by the particle を (wo). The verb is 学ぶ (manabu), “to study” or “to learn,” in conditional form; this gives us “If you learn one character per day.” And everything that follows is another number-noun combination: 三百 (sanbyaku) is “three hundred,” 六十 (rokujuu) is “six ten” (i.e. sixty), and as above 字 (ji) is a written character. Just to be safe, let me clarify: in this context, a “character” is a single written mark. An English letter is a character; a numeral like “9” is a character; and Japanese kana and kanji (e.g. あ, ア, and 阿) are characters.
Apparently this saying comes from a Kamakura-era study-book for young children (ages 7-15) called 『童子教』 (doujikyou). The text seems to have originally been written in kanbun, an adapted and annotated writing style based on Chinese, which could explain the relatively terse grammatical structure.
It may seem a little strange that a year would be characterized as 360 rather than 365.2425 days, but keep in mind that in the old days, Japan used a lunisolar calendar that was calculated by special government offices. The actual number of days in a given year must have varied.
(“Akirametai to omou toki koso, ippo dake de mo ganbatte mae e susumu beki da yo. Ichinichi ichiji wo manabeba sanbyakurokujuujitte iu shi.”)
[“It’s exactly when you feel like giving up that you have to make yourself take even just one step forward. As they say in Japan, if you learn one character each day, you’ll learn 360 in a year.”]