The root of this problem lies in the fact that these textbooks try to teach you Japanese with English. They want to teach you on the first page how to say, "Hi, my name is Smith," but they don't tell you about all the arbitrary decisions that were made behind your back. [...] In fact, the most common way to say something like "My name is Smith" in Japanese is to say "am Smith". [...] But does the textbook explain the way things work in Japanese fundamentally? No, because they're too busy trying to push you out the door with "useful" phrases right off the bat.
Compare these numbers: China only has about 500 surnames. Korea only has 249. Japan has about 120,000. [...]
Yes, in the Heian period and after, it was common to use "Kuso" in names, which means just what you think it means. The famous poet "Kinotsurayuki," who wrote the Tosa Diaries, is a notable example. His birth name was "Ako Kuso," which means "my child...shit."
Interesting comments at languagehat.
RikaiXUL is a plugin version of the Japanese Reading function of rikai.com. In runs in (and requires) the Firefox browser.
That is, mouseover kanji to get English and hiragana translations, plus radicals. It's too cool.