A Few Notes On Kanji Bushu (部首)


1. Bushu 部首 as section headers in kanji compilation

Setsumon Kaiji Sample Page (許慎, 徐鉉)

In 100 AD, Kyoshin (許慎 Xu Shen in Chinese) compiled 9353 kanji and 1163 variant forms in Setsumon kaiji (説文解字 Shuowen Jiezi in Chinese) by putting all kanji in seal-style forms that had the same common partial shapes into 540 sections (部). Each section had a header (首); thus, the method of this classification is called 部首 bushu (bushou in Chinese) “section header; section index.” The photo on the right shows two pages from the version by Xú Xuàn (徐鉉, 916–991) (Online database link at Waseda University Library at the bottom). On the right page, the third line gives bushu ukanmuri with its explanation. The entry kanji starts in line 5 in seal-style. We see some kanji that became Joyo kanji in Japanese, such as 家宅室宣向, and on the left page, we see 奥宛宇院. By analogy with western (or Romance) language analysis in which a word is treated as comprising a constant component as a root (radical) and a variable component as inflection, bushu are termed “kanji radical” in English. The present-day kanji dictionaries in Japanese usually use slightly over 200 bushu, depending on the dictionaries

2. Top twenty most-used bushu

The distribution of approximately a little over two hundred bushu seen in many kanji dictionaries is extremely lopsided, ranging from 118 entry kanji to 1 entry kanji per a bushu. The top ten most frequently appearing bushu covers 776 kanji, which amounts to 36% of the Joyo kanji. They are: (1) 氵(水) bushu sanzui  “flowing water,”appearing in 118 kanji; (2) イ(人) bushu ninben “an act that a person does,” 99 kanji; (3) 扌(手) bushu tehen “an act done by hand,”95 kanji; (4) 木 bushu kihen “tree, wood; wooden,” 85 kanji; (5) three variations of “heart, mind,” 心 bushu kokoro,忄 risshinben, and 㣺 shitagokoro, 76 kanji; (6) 口 bushu kuchi/kuchihen “mouth, a box of prayers,” 70 kanji; (7) 言 bushu gonben “word, language; to say,” 69 kanji; (8) 糸 bushu ito/itohen, 64 kanji; (9) 辵 (辶) bushu shinnyuu/shinnyoo, 51 kanji; and (10) 土 bushu tsuchi/tsuchihen, 49 kanji.

If we include the next top ten appearing bushu, altogether, the top 20 bushu cover more than half (53%) of Joyo kanji. The next 10 most appearing bush are: (11) 艹 bushu kusakanmuri “plants, grass,” 47 kanji; (12) 月(肉) bushu nikuzuki “part of the body,” 44 kanji; (13) 貝 bushu kai/kaihen “cowrie, money, valuable,” 38 kanji; (14) 宀 bushu ukanmuri “house,” 37 kanji; (15) 日 bushu hi/hihen “the sun, bright,” 37 kanji; (16) 女 bushu onna/onnahen “woman, female, feminine,” 36 kanji; (17) 金 bushu kane/kanehen “metal,” 33 kanji; (18) 刀刂 bushu katana/rittoo “sword, knife,” 32 kanji; (19) bushu kozatohen “tall hills, mountains, boundary, ladder,” 31 kanji; and (20) 火灬 bushu hihen, rekka “fire,” 25 kanji.

Twenty bushu covering a little over half of all Joyo kanji is encouraging to us in the sense that we only need to learn a small number of bushu. On the other hand, when a single frequently appearing bushu has so many kanji entries, it loses the use of discriminating many kanji. Knowledge of some bushu is helpful at the beginning level of kanji study, but beyond that, we have to look for other ways to strengthen our recognition and analytical skills. I will come back to this later.

3. Bushu names are in Japanese

Names of bushu are just nicknames given historically by educators and scholars for the ease of identifying a particular kanji in Japanese. For instance, (1) Hen (偏) means “a part on the left side,” such as ninben, gyooninben “corssroads,” nogihen “rice crop,” shimesuhen “religious matter, tehen, kemonohen “animal,” kozatohen, risshinben, koromohen “clothes, collar.” (2) Kanmuri (冠) means “a crown,” such as ukanmuri, kusakanmuri, hatsugashira “ready to start,” and 耂 oigashira “old person.” (3) Tare (垂れ) means “dangling, hanging” such as yamaidare “sick,” gandare “cliff,” 广 madare “eaves, canopy” and shikabane “dead body, roof, a slumped person, buttock.” (4) Nyoo (繞) means “clinging around,” such as ennyoo “to extend,” shinnyuu/shinnyoo, and ninnyoo “person.” (5) Tsukuri (旁) means the component “on the right side,” such as/ bokuzukuri/nobun “to cause an action,” hokozukuri/rumata “to hit,” rittoo, and oozato “town.”

Do we need to know the name of the bushu? I would say that knowing some names can be helpful when identifying a particular kanji in communication with other people, but beyond that, it is not that important. The important thing is to recognize the shape and its meaning.

4. Bushu are based on kyuji

Using the traditional kanji dictionary, you may encounter some kanji listed in an unexpected bushu. This is due to the fact that bushu classification is based on kyuji 旧字 (used before 当用漢字 in 1946, precedents of Joyo kanji in 1981.) Some kanji that you are likely to encounter are: Bushu 耳 for the kanji 声 from the kyuji 聲; bushu 至 for the kanji 台 from the kyuji 臺; bushu 黒 for 党 from the kyuji 黨; bushu 黑 for the kanji 点 from 點; bushu 曰 for the kanji 会 from the kyuji 會; bushu 虎 for the kanji 号 from the kyuji 號; bushu 臼 for the kanji 旧 from the kyuji 舊; bushu 貝 for the kanji 売 from the kyuji 賣, etc. There are kanji dictionaries that use new shapes as bushu based on shinji. Also for the order of kanji entry, some kanji dictionaries use bushu, and some use on-reading.

I used to encourage my former students to learn bushu with supplementary study materials because their textbooks did not teach bushu at all. I said bushu told us general semantic background information, and it was very useful. But as we have seen in (2) in this posting, when a particular bushu appears in so many kanji, it can lose its effectiveness, and for more advanced learners we need to look further. In the upcoming study guide for Joyo kanji (tentatively entitled The Key to All Joyo Kanji), 433 common shapes are discussed with their kanji entries. Approximately 3 out of 10 kanji used traditional bushu as the common shapes. The rest is discussed with the components from other recurring components. The manuscripts are in the final proofreading stage. When it is all done, I hope to be able to share with our readers the sample of the list of the common shapes. I appreciate your patience. Thank you very much for your reading. -Noriko (April 24, 2022)

The photo of Setsumon Kaiji: 許慎, 徐鉉「説文解字」 Place and year of publication: unknown https://archive.wul.waseda.ac.jp/kosho/ho04/ho04_00023/ho04_00023_0003/ho04_00023_0003.pdf

 Page 26 Waseda University Library

Kanji with Indicative Marker 2 (指事の要素を含む漢字 2)


In the last posting, we looked at the ten kanji (一二三八十末本上下百) that are classified as Indicative kanji 指事文字/shijimoji/ in Shirakara (discussed as Reference ①). The numerals such as 一二三八十百 were represented by the number of lines, and the locational notions such as “end, base, above, below” (末本上下) were shown by placing a line on another existing shape that is used as a referent. A line does not carry its own meaning, but is used to point out a particular spot within a set space. In our exploration, we call this line “an indicative marker.” We also looked at ten more kanji (四半分刀刃世朱未白) that were closely related to those indicative kanji and saw what started as a simple indicative marker created multiple kanji by combining other shapes. Different views on formation type classification found in two other references are also mentioned: References ②-the Kanjigen dictionary and ③-the Kangorin dictionary (shown in [①, ②, ③]).

In this posting, I would like to continue with more kanji that contain an indicative marking stroke. We will see that among some kanji that are typically classified as Pictographic kanji (象形文字), Semantic composite kanji (会意文字), Semantic-phonetic composite kanji (形声文字) and Borrowing kanji (仮借文字), an indicative marking is also used.

1. A line above a person (大天夫元)

The kanji 天 and 夫 derived from the kanji 大 “large, grand,” which depicted a standing person facing front (a pictographic kanji). For the kanji 天 “the sky, heaven, the top; by nature,” Reference ① explains that it was the top of a person’s head or above that, i. e., the sky. (a pictographic kanji). On the other hand, References ② and ③ take the line above a person (大) as an indicative marker that points out the space above the person (an indicative kanji). The kanji 夫 had a line through one’s head, which is explained as a hair accessory of a bridegroom by Reference ① (and ②). In this view, the line is an integral part of the bridegroom, inseparable from him; thus, the whole shape is a pictographic kanji. Reference ③, on the other hand, takes the line as something that added to a person (an indicative kanji). The kanji 元 “head, origin, source, former” originated from a sideways view of a standing person. His head is separated from the body for emphasis, but it is still part of a person’s body; thus, all three References take it as pictographic kanji.

The definition of a pictographic formation and an indicative formation is not that self-evident, but here we see that in a pictographic formation, the whole picture is treated as one entity representing a meaning, whereas an indicative formation comprises two separate entities, one of which is a marker indicating a location in relation to another shape.

2. A line under a person “the ground on which a person stands” (立位並普替)

This group has 立位並普替. Placing a line under “a person” makes the kanji 立 “to stand, rise up, become, found, build.” The line under the person represented the ground on which the person was standing. References ① and ② view the line to be a separate semantic feature. Taken with “person” together, they formed a semantic-composite kanji. Reference ③, however, views the bottom line as an indicative mark, pointing out the location where the person was standing; thus, an Indicative kanji.

Adding another shape to 立 created many kanji, including 位並普替. The earlier forms (1 and 2) for the kanji “rank, social standing, approximate amount” were identical to those of 立. It suggests that the original character was inclusive of the present-day meanings of 立 and 位. In 3, a bushu ninben “an act that one does” (イ), and the place a person standing together signified “rank, social standing.” All three References view 位 as comprising two semantic features; thus, a semantic composite kanji. When placing two (or many) standing people side by side on the same ground, it lent the kanji “to stand in line, match; equal, ordinary.” The two standing persons were recognizable through the kyuji 竝, before it was simplified in the shinji (a semantic-composite kanji). When the sun (日) shines over many people standing side by side, it lent the kanji “universal, ordinary, not special.” References ① and ② view it as semantic composites of 並 and 日, whereas Reference ③ takes 並 to be a phonetic feature hu/ho having the meaning of “to spread sideways” and classifies it as a semantic-phonetic kanji.

The last kanji in this group “to replace, substitute; stand-in” comprised “two persons standing” and 曰 “to say” (The non-Joyo kanji 曰 is read as いわく “to say” in literary style.) Two people standing in perspective in 1 showed a new person replacing the earlier person, thus “to replace.” (Reference ① explains that  two people standing in the court, taking turns arguing.)

3. A person’s shin marked “straight” (望呈程聖・廷庭)

Adding an indicative mark on a person’s shin, which is straight, created the form with the meaning “straight.” (It has a short diagonal stroke above 土.) The kanji 望 “to hope, look far, wish” has a complex history, as discussed earlier. (Please refer to The Kanji 望期夢朗湖間—月 and 夕 “moon” (2) posted in March 2016.) It originated from a person with a watchful eye standing on a mound of soil to see a distance. The forms 4 through 7 had an indicative mark over the straight shin, signifying “straight,” which became 王 in shinji. The meanings of 月 “something in the distance” and “a person standing straight looking afar,” and the phonetic feature boo from 亡 altogether gave the meaning “to hope, look far, wish”; thus a semantic-phonetic composite kanji. The kanji 呈 comprised “a mouth or a box of prayers” at the top, and “person with the shin marked standing straight on the ground,” used for the sound tee; thus, a semantic-phonetic kanji. The kanji 程 comprises 禾, the bushu nogihen “rice plant,” and 呈 “to present, turn in straightforwardly,” used for the sound tee. The rice crop was offered in neat piles, giving the meaning “certain length or size, extent, amount”; thus, a semantic-phonetic kanji. The kanji 聖 “sage, saint, sacred,” a standing person’s shin marked with a short line signifying he was on his toes to listen to the words of a faraway deity. Reference ① views the formation to be a semantic-composite kanji, whereas References ② and ③ view it as semantic-phonetic kanji. The three references agree that all of the four kanji had 王 used for the meaning “straight” or for the sound tee.

A straight shin that is marked is also seen in the shape 壬 in the kanji 廷 and 庭. For the kanji 廷 “royal court, courtyard,” 1 and 2 had a standing person with a pile of dirt. 3 had two short strokes for “sprinkling spirits to sanctify the ground.” 4 had a standing person used for the sound tee. The long bent line was a wall around a court, which later became the bushu ennyoo 廴 “to extend.” The kanji 廷 is a semantic-phonetic composite kanji. The kanji 庭 comprised the bushu madare “eves of a house” and 廷 used as the sound; thus, a semantic-phonetic composite. The court area outside the house was a “garden.”

4. A line at the bottom (氏底低邸)

The kanji 底低 and 邸have a line under 氏. depicted a small knife to carve meat for a clan feast, and it meant “clan.” (Another view holds that it was “a flat spoon or ladle.”) With a line added underneath, 氐 depicted a knife shaving the bottom, signifying “low; bottom.” (The shape 氐 is not Joyo kanji.) The kanji 底 comprised 广, bushu madare “eaves of a house,” and 氐 used for the sound tee to mean “a flat area”; thus a semantic-phonetic kanji. The kanji低 “low, short (in height)” comprised イ “a person” and 氐, used for the sound tee to mean “low,” together signifying “a person whose statue is short”; thus,  a semantic-phonetic composite. The kanji 邸 comprised 氐 “a flat area” used for tee and 邑 (阝, bushu oozato “a town”). Two components, one for meaning and the other for the sound tee, together signified “a large house in the capital, where a local lord and his entourage stayed”; thus, a semantic-phonetic kanji.

5. An order indicated by a diagonal mark -ノ (弟第姉)

A short, diagonal stroke can also be an indicative mark. The kanji 弟 “younger brother” is derived from a wooden stake with a leather strap wrapped around and the bottom. The short bottom line in 1 through 3 signified “a low in the order.” The shape was used to mean someone lower in the order of male sibling, that is, a younger brother. References ① and ③ both view this as a single image; thus, a pictographic kanji, whereas Reference ② views the diagonal line as an indicative mark; thus, an indicative kanji. The kanji 第 comprised 竹, bushu takekanmuri “bamboo,” and 弟 used for the sound tee, together signified “bamboo writing tablets tied in a sequence, in good order.” It is a semantic-phonetic kanji. A similar device was also used for 姊 for 姉. Even though the shinji 姉 came from a different origin, the orthographic kanji 姊 had an indicative mark at the top, signifying a woman at the top of the order among sisters is “an older sister.”

In this posting, we have seen how an indicative mark is also employed as an important device in various types of kanji formation. Even though 指事文字 is quite a small number, the similar mechanism is in working in many kanji. I believe it is helpful to us to be aware of this device in understanding kanji.

I am afraid that I have probably squeezed too much stuff in one posting. I appreciate your reading this far.  – Noriko (February 10, 2022)

Indicative Type of Kanji (指事文字) 1


Of the four formation types of Chinese characters by rikusho (六書), indicative formation type (指事文字 shijimoji) is the oldest type along with pictographic type (象形文字 shokeimoji). While a pictographic character depicted a tangible object and other matter, an indicative character used a line (or a bulge in ancient form) to show an abstract notion such as numeral and spatial concept in relation to a reference point. The number of indicative characters is very small. But an indicative marker also appears in semantic-composite characters (会意文字 kaiimoji) and semantic-phonetic composite characters (形声文字 keiseimoji). In this posting, I would like to examine ten kanji (一二三八十上下末本百) that Shirakawa (2004) classify as indicatives, along with some closely related kanji that are pictographic, semantic composite, or semantic-phonetic kanji.

In this and next posting, three reference sources were compared:  ① Kaitei Jito by Shirakawa (2004), ② the Kanjigen kanji dictionary by Todo, et al.(1988, 2012), and ③ the Shin-Kangorin dictionary by Kamata, et al.(2004, 2012). The three views are shown in a square bracket [ ] in the order of ①, ②, ③, with the kanji type classifications such as Pct (Pictographic), Ind (Indicative), Sm (Semantic composite), Sm-ph (Semantic-phonetic composite), and Br (Borrowing). The ancient form lineage shown is primarily from Akai (1985, 2010) and Shirakawa (2004).

1. 一二三 [四] – Indicative markers forming a numeral

In the kanji , , and , the number of horizontal bars indicated the numerals one, two, and three. The three references in [①, ②, ③] classify 一二 and 三 to be Indicatives. The same idea of showing the number “four” by four horizontal bars is seen in oracle-bone and bronzeware styles. Later it was replaced by in seal style, which comprised “an enclosure” and 八, an indicative marker, to mean “to divide into two.” For the kanji 四, the three references take different views – ① Borrowing, based on seal style form; ② Semantic composite of two meanings “a square” and “to split into two”; and ③ Indicative, from the four bars as indicative markers.

2. 八 [半分刀刃] and the position of a blade to split

The ancient forms for the kanji “eight, many” signified splitting something into two. References ① and ② take this as Indicative, while Reference ③ takes it as Pictographic. Repeatedly dividing something makes “many.” Placing “a motion of splitting something in two” over “a cow” depicted a (sacrificial) cow (牛) cut in half (八), and meant the kanji . Reference ① takes a cow and the motion as one, thus Pictographic, whereas  ② and  ③ take it as a composite kanji. 八 also appears in the kanji “to divide, portion.” To split something, one needs a knife (刀). The kanji “word, knife” is Pictographic. The question of how the knife is positioned for the kanji 刀 is unclear. Previously I had thought that the knife was placed with the blade down. This view did not conflict with the location of a short stroke on the blade of the kanji 刃 in seal style and kanji. Ochiai (2014: 202-203) suggests otherwise. On reflection, I now think that, in creating a new kanji to mean “to divide,” an ancient creator was likely to put a knife blade, rather than a handle, between the two split shapes. In the oracle-bone style forms for 刃, the short-stroke was placed in the upper portion, either as flashing of the sharp blade (in Reference ①) or as an indicative marker (in Reference ② and ③). (An older form reflects the original meaning by a creator.) As for the formation type of 刃, Reference ① treats it as Pictographic and ② and ③as Indicatives.

3. 十 [世] and a bundle of “tens”

For the kanji “ten, full,” the oracle-bone style form was a single vertical bar, and a bulge in the middle in bronze-ware style was added to indicate a bundle of ten, which became a horizontal line. This shape meant “ten.” References ① and ② view the bulge as an indicative marker; thus, the kanji 十 to be Indicative, whereas Reference ③ views the kanji as Pictographic. A vertical line with a bulge or a short line in the middle also showed up in the bronzeware style and seal style forms for the kanji “generation, world.” Three of them made up the meaning “thirty.” Thirty years was “a generation,” and where generations mingle was “the world.” Reference ① takes this as a single image; thus, Pictographic, while References ② and ③ take it as a composite of three semantic features of “tens”; thus, Semantic-composite.

4. The kanji 末本[朱未] -and an indicative marker on a tree on different positions

The four kanji 末本朱未 demonstrate how an indicative marker on different positions on the same pictographic character changes its meaning. On a tree (木), different parts of a tree such as a root, trunk, limbs, the tip of the tree pointed out by a line, or a bulge. For the kanji “end; last,” a short line was placed at the top part of the main limb in the bronzeware style forms, signifying “end, last.” The three references take it as Indicative. For the kanji “origin, base, book; true,”  the bottom of a tree trunk was marked by a bulge or a line, signifying “root, origin.” The three references all agree that it is Indicative. For the kanji “red, vermillion,” the middle of the tree trunk is marked by a bulge or a line, which signified the color of the inside of the trunk or a freshly cut tree trunk, that is, “red.” References ② and ③ take the middle line as an indicative marker; thus, Indicative. References ① notes that the character was solely used to mean “red” and should be viewed as pertaining to a method of obtaining the color red. The color red used in lacquerware came from vermillion. From that, I conjecture that the connection of this character is from the fact that tree sap taken from the trunk and powdered vermillion mixed to make lacquer color red. References ① views 朱 to be Pictographic while References ② and ③ take the middle line as an indicative mark; thus, Indicative. In the kanji 朱, a short-stroke appears at the top left, and again I conjecture that it might have emphasized differentiating it from the next kanji 未.(I would like to discuss this short stroke on the top left of kanji in the next posting.) For the kanji “not yet, still,” in the oracle bone style forms, the two limbs were outgrowing the center, signifying “rigorous growth, still growing.” In bronzeware style, it was used for the temporal sense of “still” and “not yet completed.” References ① takes this as a single image of meaning; thus, Pictographic, whereas Reference ② and ③ take it as Indicative.

5. 上下 – An indicative marker with a spatial reference line

The following two kanji also used a sidebar as a spatial reference point. Adding a line above the spatial reference line meant “top; above; to come up; superior; upper.” A vertical line above the reference line was added in the bronzeware form. The short line next to the vertical line was kept for an emphasis in the kanji “top, above, superior, upper; to come up.” What these ancient forms for the kanji 上 “top, above, superior, upper; to come up” got flipped was the for the kanji “bottom, below, lower, inferior; to go down.” 上 and 下 were vertical mirror images of each other. It is also used for the direction of one’s motion and polite verbs.

6. 百 [千] – Use of an indicative marker as a numeral

The kanji “hundred” and 白 “white” had the same sound /hyaku, haku/. was Pictographic, but what it depicted is unclear. The ancient forms for 百 had a horizontal line (一) at the top, which signified “one.” When there were three lines, it meant “three hundred.” (This character did not survive.) The horizontal line was viewed as an indicative marker in References ①, whereas References ② and ③ take it as a semantic feature signifying a numeral.

Using a horizontal line 一 to signify a numeral is also seen in the kanji “thousand.” The two oracle bone style forms comprised “a standing person” (人 or イ) and a short line (一) across the shin. There was also a form that meant “three thousand” in oracle bone style, which had three short lines placed at the shin. So two kanji, 百 and 千, had a numeral marker. References ① take the kanji 千 to be a semantic-phonetic composite of 一 “one” and the sound /jin, sen/ (人). References ② views this as Borrowing, and Reference ③ takes it as Semantic composite.

In this posting, we compared some kanji from the viewpoint of indicative type of kanji formation in the 6 sub-groups. They are: 一二三 and 四 as the examples of an indicative marker as numeral; and its related kanji 半分刀刃, with a discussion of the position of a blade; and 世 with a bundle of “tens”; 末本朱未 with an indicative marker on a tree on different positions; 上下 with an indicative marker with a spatial reference line; and and 千 an indicative marker as a numeral. In examining those, we have also seen that the classification of formation type varies among the three reference sources. The boundary between an indicative marker, pictograph, a semantic feature appears blurred. Until last month, after a long break from my postings, I had consciously avoided mentioning a rikusho classification for each kanji. Now I feel there may be something that we can learn from knowing a few mechanisms of kanji formation. The use of an indicative marker is certainly one of them. It not only creates a character on its own but also is used in a composite formation. Asking a question such as why it is treated as indicative instead of pictographic, why semantic composite instead of indicative, why a semantic-phonetic instead of indicative, and so on, helps us learn to analyze new kanji. There are more kanji that I would like to discuss in relation to indicative kanji, but this posting is already too long, so I have to do it in the next posting.

どうぞよいお年をお迎えくださいませ。 Thank you very much for your reading – Noriko [December 30, 2021]

The Order of the 50-on Kana Syllabary (五十音順)


A 50-on kana syllabary table now?

I am sure that many of our readers do not need this reminder because you probably use a Japanese electronic dictionary that takes you to the right spot in a single input in romaji. I am used to the convenience of an electronic dictionary, too. In Japan, however, a large pool of items is likely to be laid out according to the 50-on kana order, such as a membership directory, governmental case files, printed dictionaries, and books on library shelves, to name a few. When you deal with raw materials in Japanese at work, and for research or reference, it is essential to know the general rule of the 50-on kana syllabary order. I have put the ordering number on each mora in red on the chart. I have also written out some rules that I would follow as below (The table can be downloaded:

The General Rules of Ordering in the 50-in kana syllabary

(1) Akasatana-hamayarawa: At a minimum, you need to be able to recall the column (or row in the traditional table of vertical writing) of あかさたな-はまやらわ quickly.

(2-1) A voiceless and voiced kana pair: A voiceless-consonant hiragana immediately follows its voiced counterpart (with two small dots, called 濁点 dakuten): かが-きぎ (and a palatalized set – We will come back to this in (3)), くぐ-けげ-こご, さざ-しじ (palatalization) すず-せぜ-そぞ, and ただ-ちぢ (palatalization) つづ-てで-とど. 

(2-2) はばぱ:  It is not accurate to say a voiced- and voiceless-pair in the columns and rows of はばぱ-ひびぴ (palatalization) ふぶぷ-へべぺ-ほぼぽ. The small circle on the top right (such as on ぱ) is called 半濁点 handakuten, if we translate the kanji 濁 literary, it would be “semi-voicing.” But this traditional term does not fit with phonetics, however. Phonetically, ぱ /pa/ with a small circle has a voiceless consonant /p/, and its voiced counterpart /b/ is ば /ba/ with two small short strokes. /P/ in ぱ and /b/ in ば are “bilabial stops or plosives” pronounced by completely blocking an air passage at the closed lips. On the other hand, /h/ in は is a” voiceless fricative,” which you let air pass through a narrow passage at the back of your mouth (はへほ), at the palatal area (ひ), or between the lips without closing (ふ).  

[Incidentally, the Hepburn system romanization (ヘボン式ローマ字) uses /fu/ for ふ using /f/ (a labial-dental fricative), but in Japanese, the sound /f/ does not exist, and /hu/ is closer. The romanization such as /shi/, instead of /si/, for し, /chi/, instead of /ti/, for ち, /tsu/, instead of /tu/, for つ, or /ji/, instead of /zi or di/, for じ is according to the Hepburn system. We use another system (訓令式 kunreishiki) in this English blog, except for /sh-, j-, ts-, ch-/.] 

(3) Cya-Cyu-Cyo: All the consonants except the /y-/ row have a set of palatalized consonants after a Ci-column kana (C stands for a consonant) before a Cu-the voiced counterpart rule. きゃぎゃ-きゅぎゅ-きょぎょ, しゃじゃ-しゅじゅ-しょじょ, ちゃ-ちゅ-ちょ (ぢゃ-ぢゅ-ぢょ is rarely used), にゃ-にゅ-にょ, ひゃびゃぴゃ-ひゅびゅぴゅ-ひょびょぴょ, みゃ-みゅ-みょ, りゃ-りゅ-りょ. A palatalized kana counts as a single mora.

(4) By hiragana, rather than pronunciation: Where pronunciation differs from hiragana, hiragana determines the order.

(4-1) A small っ: A small っ (which duplicates an immediately following consonant) is treated the same as the regular-sized つ, and counts as a single mora. For instance, 決して (けっして) pronounced as kesshite, is け-つ-し-て in the 50-on kana order. Similarly, 勝手に (かってに) pronounced as katteni is か-つ-て-に.

(4-2) A long vowel mark (―): A long vowel mark (―) in a katakana word (which duplicates a preceding vowel) is treated as the same vowel as before and counts as a single mora. For instance, The word パーク is a three-mora word paaku パ-ア-ク and comes before the words such as 杯 hai (は-い) and 拍 haku (は-く). 

(4-3) Ceい and Coう: In a kanji compound word (漢語 kango, which is in on-yomi), if the second mora of a two-mora kanji in Cee (written as Ceい) and Coo (written as Coう), い or う is as written in hiragana. For instance 高校 kookoo is こ-う-こ-う, and 提携 teekee is て-い-け-い.

So, everything about the 50-on kana syllabary order (ごじゅうおんじゅん) goes back to the very first day of your Japanese study, when you were first introduced to Japanese sounds. When I recall the order of a-ka-sa-ta-na-ha-ma-ya-ra-wa, I find myself singing in my head a tune such as the one on the right, just like in my kindergarten time. I am sure you do a similar thing in alphabetical order. 

Thank you very much for your reading. – Noriko (December 17, 2021)

Formation Types of Educational and Joyo Kanji


What is the difference in the formation types between the two groups of Joyo kanji, the Educational kanji and the latter half of Joyo kanji? The first group, the 1,026 Educational kanji (学習漢字 or 教育漢字), are the list of kanji officially called 学年別漢字配当表 (“Kanji distribution by grade”) that are designated by grade in Japanese-speaking elementary school. The second group, the latter half of Joyo kanji, has 1,110 kanji and is introduced in junior high school. For the latter half of Joyo kanji, during the last three years of their compulsory education, students are to learn to read 300 to 400 new kanji (7th grade), 350 to 450 kanji (8th grade), and the remaining new kanji (9th), while firming up their writing skills on all Educational kanji. The latter half of Joyo kanji is more complex and is used in kanji compound words. The kanji study guideline the Japanese government sets for native-speaking youth is not very relevant to us, other than that writing of the latter half of Joyo kanji is expected to firm up on the senior high school level. Nonetheless, if there is a notable difference between the two groups, we may find it useful.

(1) Educational Kanji (First half of Joyo kanji)

The distribution of the different types of kanji formation among 1,026 Educational kanji is shown in Chart 1. Viewing from the top, clockwise, they are indicative kanji (dark blue) 1%; pictographic kanji (light green) 18%; semantic composite kanji (blue) 31%, semantic-phonetic composite kanji (yellow) 49%; and finally borrowed kanji (dark green) 1%. The three categories on the right side of the chart (indicative, pictographic, and semantic-composite kanji) are those whose shapes originally depicted or reflected the image of their meaning(s). In life, a visual image helps us to grasp what something means instantaneously and intuitively, and what was conceived visually remains strong in our minds. It is reasonable to assume that the same can be said about visual images in kanji study. Tracing back the “lineage” of ancient characters that I have done on this blog (and my ongoing project of a Joyo kanji study guide) is conducted on such a premise. The relationship between the shape and the meaning may not be self-evident in kanji, but by tracing the precursors back to the oldest available shape we can see the connection. The initial understanding and memory of the association of kanji’s shape and its meaning at its origin will dissipate when a learner no longer needs to recall the connection. But in the initial stage of learning new kanji, having a visual connection helps. In this chart, I find it encouraging that half of the first 1,026 kanji that kanji-learners learn to have a strong connection between shape and meaning. Over a thousand kanji are, by any means, not easy to reach. Frankly speaking, in my more than three decades of teaching Japanese in liberal arts colleges in the U. S., I rarely got to teach beyond 600 kanji.

On the other hand, almost the entire half of the left side is semantic-phonetic composite kanji. How do we approach these kanji? The good thing is that, in a semantic-phonetic composite kanji, one component is a semantic feature, so we can find some connection between the shape and the meaning. For a phonetic feature, since we do not know ancient Chinese pronunciation, we cannot resort to our previous knowledge, and we have to learn one by one. (Or, do we really? We will get back to this point in (2), next.) The strategy I suggest is to develop a keen eye to analyze a complex kanji into components.

(2) Latter Half of Joyo Kanji

When we look at the latter half of the Joyo kanji, the story changes. Chart 2 shows the distribution of the 1,110 latter Joyo kanji. There are no indicative kanji. Pictographic kanji became 8%, a 10% reduction. Semantic-phonetic composite kanji also decreased to 20%, an 11% reduction. Together those kanji that had a connection between shape and meaning have become 28%, a reduction of 22%. On the other hand, semantic-phonetic composite kanji increased by 23%, and now occupy 72% of the second group. Composite kanji are by nature complex because they are made up of previously existing components. Most semantic-phonetic kanji are of later origins. In creating new kanji, the creator did not have to have an extraordinary imagination and artistic skill and adopted a shape that had the same sound as the existing component. Among the latter half of Joyo kanji, it is likely that we can find components that we have already learned. For instance, for the newly-encountered kanji 購, as in 購読 “subscription,” we recognize the left side 貝 to have the meaning “cowrie; monetary value” from the previously learned kanji such as 買, 貴, 負, 貨, 貯. The right side 冓 is a component already familiar in 講 and 構, having the sound /koo/. Combining the semantic feature component 貝 and the sound 冓 /koo/gives us a jump start to learn the new kanji. So even though the latter half of Joyo kanji provides us less information in its shape, consciously training our eyes to analyze simpler kanji into components from an early stage of kanji study will prove to be fruitful.

(3) Joyo kanji

Chart 3 shows the distribution of the 2,136 kanji. Here, Indicative and borrowed kanji combined, 1%; pictographic kanji, 13%; semantic-composite kanji 25%; and semantic-phonetic composite kanji, 61%.

The classification I have used here is based on Shirakawa (2004). Ochiai (2014: 189-190) notes that Shirakawa, whose research focused on ancient shapes, tended to classify semantic-phonetic kanji as semantic-composite kanji, while Kato (1972), whose research focused on sound development, tended to treat semantic composite kanji as semantic-phonetic kanji, and Todo (1988) tended to treat a phonetic feature as having both semantic and phonetic aspects. These are scholarly works. Our interest is finding a way to help us to reach the goal of remembering as many kanji as possible for actual use. With all due respect and sincere gratitude to these scholars and others, I still believe that it is our prerogative as kanji-learners to pick-‘n-choose the ones that are most suited to facilitate our study.

Thank you very much for your reading.  -Noriko [November 19, 2021]

Composite Formation of Kanji (会意文字 and 形声文字) 


This blogsite has been on hiatus for quite some time. Many people have been visiting in my absence, and I would like to thank all the readers who showed an interest in the approach to kanji study that I am trying to develop. The manuscript draft of a study guide/reference book for a mature kanji learner covering all the 2,136 Joyo kanji was finished a couple of years ago, but fine-tuning additional information and re-writing the English account took me a long time. My manuscripts are finally in the hands of able editors. Because of the complexity of the project, I am afraid that it will be a while to make it available to the public. In the meantime, there are a few topics that I have not touched on this blog site, and I would like to bring these up. The first topic is kanji formation types, especially composite kanji.

1. Four types of kanji formation

Many of the revised Joyo kanji (2,136 kanji) are composite kanji, which were created by putting two or more existing components together. In Setsumon-kaiji (説文解字Shuowen-jiezi) in AD 100, the first comprehensive analytical kanji dictionary, the author, Kyoshin (許慎 Xu Shen), classified kanji in six types, called Rikusho (六書 Liushu). Most kanji analyses still use this classification, with a modification in some studies. Four types concerned how ancient character/kanji were formed. Even though many kanji originated as ancient characters and were transformed to kanji (the writing of the Han) during the Qin and Han dynasties, their resilient internal constructions remained largely unchanged. For simplicity of discussion, I am going to analyze kanji here.

The oldest formation type is 象形文字 shookee-moji (or shokei-moji in Hepburn transcription), “pictographic,” in which a shape depicted a single meaning in a single image. Another type that has one shape per one meaning was 指事文字 shiji-moji, “indicative,” in which abstract notions, such as numerals and location, are indicated by a line or lines relative to another reference point.

2. Two types of composite kanji formation

The third type of formation is 会意文字kaii-moji, “semantic composite kanji.” 会 means “to consolidate, merge” and 意 means “meaning,” so 会意文字 means a character in which meanings are consolidated to form a new meaning. In this type, two or more semantic features (called 意符 ihu) are used, and the pronunciations of the contributing characters/components are not transferred. The fourth type is the second composite type called 形声文字 “semantic-phonetic composite kanji,” keesee-moji (or keisei-moji). The literal translation of 形 is “shape” and 声 means “sound,” so the word does not translate to the label we use, “semantic-phonetic,” directly. However, I suspect that Kyoshin must have used the term 形声 in the context that a character shape was a direct depiction of meaning in pictographs in ancient times; thus “shape” equated with “meaning.” In creating semantic-phonetic composite kanji, one component is used as a semantic feature and another as a phonetic feature (音符 onpu) discarding its original meaning. Semantic-phonetic composite characters existed even in oracle bone style (which attests that there was character style that preceded oracle bone style). In later times, when it became necessary to express more complex words, the elimination of the need to create entirely new shapes became a powerful tool, and semantic-phonetic composite kanji proliferated. During this process of creating new semantic-phonetic composite kanji, we can also imagine that, among many synonymous components, in many cases, one that also had a similar meaning to the word they were trying to create was chosen. Such a component would have dual features/functions as phonetic cum semantic. The examinations of ancient characters in this blog have supported this view repeatedly. Some kanji dictionaries, such as Kanjigen (藤堂 et. al. 2011), call this type of formation as 会意兼形声文字, (semantic-complex composite kanji).

3. Semantic composite – 25 % of Joyo kanji; and Semantic-phonetic composite – 61% of Joyo kanji

In classifying each kanji’s formation type scholars do not necessarily agree. Since my goal is to explain kanji shapes to kanji students outside Japan from a historical perspective, the analysis in Shirakawa (2004), in which all the Joyo kanji are explained with ancient characters, is most useful. Based on his classification, my calculation is that, of the 2,136 Joyo kanji, 25 % are semantic composite kanji (including kokuji, kanji that were created in Japan), and 61 % are semantic-phonetic composite kanji. Some readers may find these numbers surprising because we often read or hear something like, “Nine out of ten kanji are “keisei-moji. Trying to understand a large number of kanji through etymology is a vain effort.” This comment neglects the important fact that a ratio depends on the subset of kanji. We are not studying all the kanji that ever existed. Eight out of ten present-day Japanese kanji are semantic-phonetic kanji (no subsets are explicitly stated) (Ochiai 2014). In contrast, among the 1,026* Educational kanji (学習漢字 or 教育漢字), the ratio shifts to 31 % semantic composite kanji and 49 % semantic-phonetic composite kanji. I would like to discuss the implication of these numbers in a future posting.

4. Samples of composite kanji that are inter-related

Now I would like to discuss a few groups of kanji that are made up as composites, sharing a common shape. Because the histories of kanji with ancient character lineage have been already discussed in the previous posts (Previous Posts and Search), I will skip them in this posting.

(1). The Kanji with 監艦鑑  

(a) The kanji 監 “to watch attentively, supervise, monitor”/[kan] comprised 臣 “loyal subject, government minister”/[shin] [pictographic], 人 “person” [pictographic] and 皿 “vessel” with 一 “water reflecting inside.” [pictographic] Taken together, the person was examining his own reflection. In this kanji the three components all contributed to the new meaning. [semantic composite] (b and c) In the kanji 艦 “warship”/[kan] and 鑑 “paragon, to heed”/[kan], 監 was used for the sound kan, while 舟 “ship” and 金 “metal” were used for the meaning. [semantic-phonetic composites] Additionally in 艦, a warship is a ship that “supervises and monitors” a military operation, overlapping the meaning of 監, and 艦 “paragon” was a metal mirror against which one “reflected one’s own deeds” against the model, also overlapping the meaning of 監. So in those two kanji, 監 had dual features, the sound kan, and the meaning. The Kanjigen dictionary treats such cases as 会意兼形声文字, semantic-complex composite kanji, while many other references take only the phonetic feature. [semantic-phonetic composite]

(2). The Kanji with 安案  

(a) The kanji 安 “secure, peaceful, inexpensive, cheap”/[an] comprises two semantic features, 宀 “house” [pictographic], bushu ukanmuri, and 女 “a woman” [pictographic], together signifying “tranquility.” An inexpensive thing is less strenuous to obtain; thus, it also meant “inexpensive, cheap.” [semantic composite] (b) The kanji 案 “plan, proposal”/[an] comprises 安, used for the sound an, and 木, used for the meaning “wood” for a desk. One thinks sitting at a desk about a matter in order to make a proposal. [semantic composite]

(3). The Kanji with 近質新  

(a) The kanji 近 “near, close by”/[kin] comprises the shape 斤, which by itself means “hand axe” [pictographic] but is used here for the sound kin to mean “near,” and a bushu shinnyuu “to move forward.” [semantic-phonetic composite] (b) The kanji 質 “quality”/[shitsu] had two 斤 “hand axes” that were used to weigh things and 貝 “cowries, valuable,” together signifying equal quality of two things. [semantic composite] The pronunciation [shitsu] did not come from either components because they were used semantically. (c) The kanji 祈 “to pray”/[ki] comprises ネ a bushu shimesuhen [示 pictographic] “religious matter” and 斤 used for the sound ki from kin to mean “to wish.” [semantic-phonetic composite]

(4). The Kanji with 末抹  

(a) The kanji 末 “end, tip”/[matsu] comprises 木 “tree” [pictographic] and a line at the top indicating the location of the tree being talked about. [Indicative] (b) The kanji 抹 “to erase”/[matsu] comprises 扌 , bushu tehen “an act done by hands,” [pictographic] and 末, used for the sound matsu to mean “to erase.” [semantic-phonetic composite]

(5). The Kanji with 景影憬就蹴  

The kanji 京 “capital”/[kyoo; kee] depicted a scene in which a building stood on a high land. [pictographic] Bright tall hills were better suited to reside and attracted people. An area of concentration became the capital. (a) The kanji 景 “bright light”/[kee] comprises 日 “the sun” and 京 used for the sound kee, and together they meant “bright sunny place.” [semantic-phonetic composite] (b) The kanji 影 “shadow”/[ee] comprises 景 “bright light” and 彡 “(pretty) shape.” Bright sunshine creates a clear silhouette, which casts a shadow. [semantic composite] (c) In the kanji 憬 “to long for, yearn”/[kee], 景 “good view” was used for the sound kee and 忄a bushu risshinben “heart” was used as a semantic feature. 景 and “a heart” together signified one’s heart looking up to or desiring something in the distance with a bright thought [semantic-phonetic composite]. (d) In the kanji 就 “to begin, become employed”/[shuu], 京 was used for the meaning “capital” and 尤 was used for the sound shuu to mean “to gather,” together signifying that people congregated to the capital to get employed and began to live there [semantic-phonetic composite]. (e) In the kanji 蹴 “to kick, turn down”/[shuu], 足 “leg” was used for the meaning and 就 was for the sound shuu to mean “to step on.” [semantic-phonetic composite]

There seems to have been no set principle on whether a component would be used as a semantic feature or a phonetic feature. For instance, in the samples at (5), above, with the common shape 京, the pictograph 京 was used as a phonetic feature in 景憬 and as a semantic feature in 影就. On the other hand, in 影, 京 was a part of a semantic component 景; and in 蹴, 京 was a part of a phonetic component 就 for shuu.

Thank you very much for your reading. – Noriko [October 24, 2021]

* In 2020, on the Educational kanji「学年別漢字配当表」(the list of kanji to be introduced by grade level) by the Japanese government, 20 more kanji were added, resulting in 1,026 kanji in total. The new kanji are used in prefectural names. Some kanji such as 岐 and 阜 for 岐阜 /Gihu/, 埼 for 埼玉 /Saitama/ and 茨 for 茨城 /Ibaraki/ are not used elsewhere. [November 19, 2021]

The Kanji 代貸袋


This short post is in respose to a reader’s request to discuss the kanji 代.

  1. The kanji 代 “to change; instead; time; generation; substitute”

There is no writing earlier than seal style in any of the three kanji that contain 弋. What it originated from is not clear, but it was used phonetically for /tai/ or /dai/ to mean “to change.” For the kanji 代, the seal style writing comprisedイ“an act that one does” and 弋 phonetically for tai or dai to mean “change,” together changing people meant “generations; to change.” The kanji 代 also meant “the duration of time; one’s lifetime; a substitute.” The kanji 代 means “to change; instead; time; generation; substitute.”

The kun-yomi /yo/ is in 君が代 “Kimigayo; Japanese national anthem” /kimigayo/. Another kun-yomi /shiro/ is in 飲み代 “drinking money” /nomishiro/. The on-yomi /dai/ is in 初代 “the first generation; the founder” /sho’dai/, 一世一代 “once in a lifetime” /i’sse ichi’dai/ and 代理 “representation; a proxy; surrogate” /dairi/, 近代化 “modernization” /kindaika/ and 世代 “generation” /se’dai/. Another on-yomi /tai/ is in 交代”change; replacement; substitute” /kootai/.  [Composition of the kanji 代:  イ and 弋]

  1. The kanji 貸 “to lend”

For the kanji 貸 the seal style writing comprised イ“an act that a person does” on the left and 弋 on the top right, forming 代 “to change” phonetically for tai. The bottom center was 貝“a cowrie; something valuable.” Together something valuable changing hands meant “to lend something to another person (and get it back).” The kanji 貸 means “to lend.”

The kun-yomi /ka/ is in 貸す”to lend” /kasu/, 貸し出し “lending; circulation; rental” /kashidashi/, 貸家 “rented house” /shakuya/, 貸し間 “room for rent; room to let” /kashima/ and 金貸し”moneylending business” /kanekashi/. The on-yomi /tai/ is in 貸与”lending; loan” /ta’iyo/ and 賃貸 “lease; letting; renting out” /chintai/.  [Composition of the kanji 貸: 代 and 貝]

  1. The kanji 袋 “bag”

The top of the seal style writing was 代used phonetically for tai. The bottom was  巾“cloth.” Together they signified “cloth bag.” In kanji 巾was replaced by 衣“clothes.” The kanji 袋means “bag.”

The kun-yomi /hukuro/ is in 袋 “bag; sack; pouch” /hukuro/ and 袋小路 “cul-de-sac; blind alley” /hukuroko’oji/,  /-Bukuro/ is in 胃袋 “the stomach” /ibu’kuro/, 手袋 “gloves” /tebu’kuro/ and 天袋 “a built-in storage cupboard above oshiire” /tenbu’kuro/. 袋 also makes up the word 足袋”Japanese split-toe socks” /ta’bi/. [Composition of the kanji 袋: 代 and 衣]

Note: The shape 弋 is not to be confused with the kanji 伐 “to cut down; attack” (discussed in the post The Kanji 戈戒械成城誠伐閥我-戈“halberd” (1) on December 16, 2017) or the kanji 式”ceremony” (discussed in The Kanji 式試拭任妊作昨酢詐搾巨拒距規- Tool (1) on December 9, 2017).  Thank you very much for your reading. – Noriko  [October 21, 2018]

The Kanji 牛物利件牧牲半判伴畔   


I have written last week that I was going to take a break from writing for a while. I am posting a new one so soon. This post was prompted by a comment from a reader last week about the origin of the kanji 物, which involves the discussion of the bushu ushihen “ox; cow.”  First we look at kanji with a bushu ushihen– 牛物件牧牲 with revisiting 利. Then we look at the kanji with 半-半判伴畔.

  1. The kanji  牛 “bull; ox”

For the kanji 牛 in oracle bone style, in brown, bronze ware style, in green, and seal style, in red, the top was an ox head with its two horns growing upwards, and the bottom was its body. It meant “an ox; a cow.” In kanji a short-slanted stroke was added on the top left for an emphasis on the horns. The kanji 牛 means “cow; ox; cow.” [Composition of the kanji 牛: a short ノ, 二 and丨]

The kun-yomi 牛 /ushi/ means “cow; bull; ox; cattle.” The on-yomi /gyuu/ is in 乳牛 “dairy cow; dairy cattle” /nyuugyuu/, 牛乳 “milk” /gyuunyuu/, 牛肉 “beef” /gyuuniku/, 牛車 “ox-drawn carriage used by nobility in the Heian period” /gi’ssha/ and 水牛 “buffalo” /suigyuu/.

  1. The kanji 物 “stuff; thing; various; to select”

For the kanji 物 there was an old view that the right side was streamers of different colors. Oxen had different coloration and signified “various or assorted.” From various things it meant “thing; stuff.” Another view (seen in Shirakawa) seems to explain the ancient writings here better. (a) was “a plough or hoe spattering the soil,” which was phonetically /butsu/. This eventually became the shape 勿 in kanji. In (b) and (c) “an ox,” a large animal, signifying all animals, was added. (d) had “a plough with spattering soil” only. (e) comprised “an ox” and “a plough.” Cows or oxen that pulled a plough for tilling the fields had different coloration, thus it meant “various or assorted.” Choosing from various things also signified “to select; make one’s choice.” The kanji 物 means “stuff; thing; various; to select.” [Composition of the kanji 物: 牛 and 勿]

The kun-yomi 物 /mono’/ means “thing; matter; article; goods,” and is in 安物 “cheap article; inferior article” /yasumono/, 買い物 “shopping” /kaimono/, 生き物 “living creature” /iki’mono/ and 物々しい “showy; stately” /monomonoshi’i/. The on-yomi /butsu/ is in 物品 “goods; an article” /buppin/, 物理学 “physical science” /butsuri’gaku/, 物色する “look for; select” /busshoku-suru/ and 見物する “to go sight-seeing” /kenbutsu-suru/. Another on-yomi /motsu/ is in 禁物 “tabooed thing; forbidden thing” /kinmotsu/.

[The interpretation of the shape in (a), (b) and (c) as “a plough or hoe spattering the soil” is also relevant to the kanji 利. So, let us look at the kanji 利 here. It is a revision of my earlier writing a year ago.]

The kanji 利 “sharp;  useful; advantageous”

For the kanji 利 (a) comprised “a knife” or “a plough or hoe” and “a rice plant with crop.” (b), (c) and (d) comprised of “a rice plant” and “a plough or hoe spattering the soil.” A sharp pointed plough or hoe could dig up the soil effectively and be useful. It meant “useful; advantageous; sharp.” In (e) the plough or hoe became replaced by “a knife,” preserving the sense of a tool that was sharp. (On the other hand in 物 it became 勿.) In kanji it was replaced by 刂 a bushu rittoo “knife.” The kanji comprises 禾, a bushu nogihen, and刂 a bushu rittoo “knife.” The kanji 利 means “sharp;  useful; advantageous.”

  1. The kanji 件 “case; matter”

The seal style writing of the kanji 件 had イ “an act that a person does” and 牛 “an ox.” Together they signified “a person counting oxen in a herd” or “counting cases.” The kanji 件 means “case; matter.” [Composition of the kanji 件: イ  and 牛]

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /ken/ is in 事件 “incidence; case” /ji’ken/, 条件付き “conditional” /jookentsuki/, 件名 “case name” /kenmee/, 別件 “separate charge; different case” /bekken/, 用件 “business; things to be done” /yooke’n/ and 人件費 “personnel expenses” /jinke’nhi/.

  1. The kanji 牧 “to herd cattle; a place where cattle graze; pasture”

For the kanji 牧 at the top left (a) had “sheep” while (b), (c), (d) and (e) all had “ox.” (The direction of the horns differentiated the two animals.) The bottom in all was “a hand holding a stick to herd sheep or oxen” (攴攵, a bushu bokunyuu “to cause.”) Where animals grazed was “pasture.” The kanji 牧 means “to herd cattle; a place where cattle graze; pasture.” [Composition of the kanji 牧: 牛 and 攵]

The kun-yomi /maki/ is in 牧場 “pasture; meadow” /makiba’/. The on-yomi /boku/ is in 放牧 “pasturage; grazing” /hooboku/, 牧師 “pastor; minister; cleric” /bo’kushi/, 遊牧 “nomadism” /yuuboku/, 牧場 “stock farm; ranch” /bokujoo/ and 牧歌的な “pastoral; idyllic” /bokkateki-na/.

  1. The kanji 牲 “sacrifice; sacrificial animal”

For the kanji 牲 the oracle bone style writing comprised “a sheep” and “a new emerging plant” used phonetically for /see/ to mean “life.” Together they signified “live sheep that was offered to a god as a sacrificial animal.” From bronze ware style on, however “an ox” was used. An ox is a big animal, and a sacrificial ox was more valuable than a smaller animal. The kanji 牲 means “sacrifice; sacrificial animal.” [Composition of the kanji 牲: 牛 and 生]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /see/ is in 犠牲になる“to sacrifice oneself” /gisee-ni na’ru/ and 犠牲者 “victim; prey” /gise’esha/.

The next four kanji 半判伴畔 contain 半, which came from a half of an axe.

6. The kanji 半 “a half”

For the kanj 半 the top of bronze ware style and seal style writings was ハ “to divide something in half” used phonetically for /han/. The bottom was “an ox.” Together they signified an ox that was cut in half.  In kanji ハ flipped upside down forming a sort of a truncated katakana ソ. The kanji 半 means “a half.”  [Composition of the kanji 半: a truncated ソ,二 and丨]

The kun-yomi 半ば /nakaba’/ means “the middle,” and is in 月半ば “middle of the month” /tsuki nakaba’/. The on-yomi /han/ is in 過半数 “majority; more than half” /kaha’nsuu/, 上半身 “the upper body” /jooha’nshin/, 生半可な “shallow; superficial” /namahanka-na/, 半可通 “superficial knowledge; smatterer” /hanka’tsuu/, 折半する “to cut into halves; split in half” /se’ppan-suru/ and 半べそをかく “be on the verge of crying” /hanbeso-o ka’ku/.

  1. The kanji 判 “a seal; to judge; discern”

For the kanji 判 the seal style writing comprised 半 “half” used phonetically for /han/ and “a knife” adding the meaning dividing something in half. After signing a contract both parties took one half of the contract as proof. In a dispute of a contract, a judge decided which party was right. In kanji the knife became 刂, a bushu rittoo. The kanji 判means “a seal; to judge; discern.” [Composition of the kanji 判: 半 and 刂]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /han/ is in 判子 “hanko seal” /hanko/, 判決 “judicial decision; ruling” /hanketsu/, 公判 “public trial” /koohan/, 小判 “koban; Japanese gold coin of the Edo period” /ko’ban/, 判定勝ち “winning on point” /hanteegachi/, 判読する “to decipher; make out” /handoku-suru/, 談判 “negotiation; bargaining” /da’npan/ and 判事 “judge” /ha’nji/.

  1. The kanji 伴 “to accompany someone; companion”

The seal style writing of the kanji 伴 comprised “an act that a person does,” which became イ, a bushu ninben in kanji, and 半 “half” used phonetically for /han/. They signified two people, each being a half of each other’s accompaniment. The kanji 伴 means “to accompany someone; companion.” [Composition of the kanji 伴: イ and 半]

The kun-yomi 伴う /tomona’u/ means “to accompany; bring in its train.” The on-yomi /han/ is in 同伴者 “one’s companion” /dooha’nsha/, お相伴する “to join for a meal” /oshooban-suru/, 伴走する “to pace set; run alongside” /bansoo-suru/ and 伴奏 “accompaniment in music” /bansoo/.

  1. The kanji 畔 “a side; a ridge”

For the kanji 畔 the seal style writing comprised 田 “rice paddies” and 半 used phonetically for /han/ tomean “the side.” They meant the side or ridge of rice paddies, which was used for a walk path. It also meant “side.” The kanji 畔 means “a side; a ridge.” [Composition of the kanji 畔: 田 and 半]

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /han/ is in 湖畔”lakeside” /kohan/ and 河畔”riverside” /kahan/.

Now I return to my break. Thank you very much for your reading. –Noriko [June 24, 2018]

The Kanji 一二三四五六七八九十上下


Finally, this is the last post on which we explore the origin of individual kanji using ancient writing. By my rough estimate we have touched upon over 1400 kanji last four years. This last post is about the kanji for the numbers 1 through 10 – 一二三四五六七八九十, and “top of” 上 and “bottom of”下.

  1. The kanji 一 “one; single; only; first”

History of Kanji 一For the kanji 一a single bar was used to mean “one; single; only; first.” The kun-yomi /hito/ is in 一つ /hito’tsu/, 一人 “one person” /hito’ri/, 一人っ子 “only child” /hitori’kko/, 一人暮らし “living alone” /hitorigu’rashi/, 一息つく “to take a break” /hitoiki tsu’ku/. The on-yomi /ichi/ is in 一番 “first” /ichi’ban/ and “most” /ichiban/ and 一度 “once” /ichido/. Another on-yomi /itsu/ is in 均一 “uniform; even” /kin-itsu/, 統一する “to unify” /tooitsu-suru/, 同一 “the same; identical” /dooitsu/ and 一般的な “general; popular; common” /ippanteki-na/.

  1. The kanji 二 “two; double; second”

History of Kanji 二For the kanji 二, two bars placed side by side horizontally meant “two; double; second.“

The kun-yomi /huta/ is in 二つ “two” /hutatsu/, 二人 “two person” /hutari/, and /hutsu/ is in 二日 “two days; second day of the month” /hutsuka/. The word /hatsuka/ “20th day” is written as 二十日. The on-yomi /ni/ is in 二分する “to divide into two” and 二人三脚 “three-legged race” /ninin-sa’nkyaku/.

  1. The kanji 三 “three”

History of Kanji 三For the kanji 三, three bars placed horizontally meant “three; third.”

The kun-yomi /mi/ is in 三つ “three” /mittsu/ and /mi/ is in 三日月  “crescent” /mikazuki/. The on-yomi /san/ is in 三角形 “triangle” /sanka’kkee/, 再三 “repeatedly” /saisan/ and 二、三  “two or three; a few” /ni’san/.

  1. The kanji 四 “four”

History of Kanji 四For the kanji 四 four bars stacked up horizontally meant “four; all (directions).” Later on the shape 四was borrowed to mean “four.”

The kun-yomi 四 /yo’n/ means ‘four.”  /-Yo/ is in 四人 “four people” /yoni’n/, and /yotsu/ is in 四角 “intersection; four corners” /yotsukado/,  The on-yomi /shi/ is in 四角い “square” /shikakui/, 四方 “four directions; everywhere” /shiho’o/ and 四季 “four seasons” /shi’ki/.

  1. The kanji 五 “five; half”

History of Kanji 五For the kanji 五the shape in which two sticks crossing with a bar at the top and the bottom was borrowed to mean “five.” Five divides ten equally so it also meant “equal.”

The kun-yomi /itsu/ is in 五つ. The on-yomi /go/ is in 五分五分 “on even terms; evenly matched” /gobugobu/, 五感“five senses” /gokan/.

  1. The kanji 六 “six”

History of Kanji 六For the kanji 六the oracle bone style shape was the shape of a tent, but it is believed that the writing was never used for that meaning. Instead it was borrowed to mean “six.”

The kun-yomi /mu/ is in 六つ “six” /muttsu/ and 六日 “six days; sixth day of the month” /muika/. The on-yomi /roku/ is in  六月 “June” /rokugatsu/ and 四六時中 “around the clock; day and night” /shirokujichuu/, and /ro-/ is in 六法全書 “Compendium of Laws” /roppooze’nsho/.

  1. The kanji 七 “seven”

History of Kanji 七For the kanji 七, in oracle bone style, bronze ware style and seal style it was a bone being cut. But it was borrowed phonetically for /shichi/ to mean “seven.”

The kun-yomi /na’na/ means “seven,” and is in 七つ “seven; seven-years old” /nana’tsu/. The on-yomi 七/shichi‘/ is in 七分目 “three-quarter filled; not full” /shichibunme/, 七分袖 “three-quarter sleeves” /shichibu’sode/ and 七面倒臭い “extremely tiresome” /shichimendookusa’i/.

  1. The kanji 八 “eight”

History of Kanji 八For the kanji 八it was the motion of splitting something into two. Eight is the multiples of two. It means “eight.”

The kun-yomi /ya/ is in 八つ “eight; eight years old” /yattu/, 八つ当たり “random venting; of one’s anger” /yatsuatari/, 八百屋”green grocer” /yaoya/ and 八百長 “race fixing; match rigging” /yaochoo/. The eighth day /yooka/ is written as 八日. The on-yomi 八 /hachi’/ is in 八人 “eight people” /hachi’nin/ and 四苦八苦する “to suffer terribly; be in dire distress” /shikuha’kku-suru/.

  1. The kanji 九 “nine”

History of Kanji 九For the kanji 九 it was a bent elbow with fingers. One tried to thrust a hand into a hold to reach something but fell short of it. A number almost full but short of full is “nine.”

The kun-yomi 九つ /koko’notsu/ means “nine” and is in 九日 “nineth day of the mondy; nine days” /kokonoka/. The on-yomi 九  /kyuu/ is “nine” and is in 九十 “ninety” /kyu’ujuu/.  Another on-yomi /ku/ also means “nine” and is in 九月 “September” /ku’gatsu/.

  1. The kanji 十 “ten”

History of Kanji 十For the kanji 十it was just a vertical line that had a thickness changing or a small dot added, signifying a bundle of ten. In seal style, the dot became a line. It meant “ten; full.”

The kun-yomi 十/to’o/ means “ten,” and is in 十日 “ten days; tenth day” /tooka/. The on-yomi 十 /ju’u/ means ‘ten” and is in 十分な “sufficient” /juubu’n-na/. /Jitsu/ is in 十分 /ji’ppun/ “ten minutes.”

  1. The kanji 上 “top; above; to come up; superior; upper”

History of Kanji 上For the kanji 上 a spatial position above a line signified “above.” The kanji 上 means “top; above; to come up; superior; upper.”

The kun-yomi 上 /ue/ means “above; top” and is in 身の上 “one’s circumstances; one’s upbringing”  /minoue/. /Uwa/ is in 上書き “overwriting” /uwagaki/, 上着 “upper garment; coat” /uwagi/. 上がる /agaru/ means “to rise up” and 上げる /ageru/ means “to raise; give.” /Kami/ is 川上 “upper stream of a river” /kawakami/. The on-yomi /joo/ is in 上品な “stylish; elegant; refined” /joohi’n-na/, 三月上旬 “the first ten days of March” /sa’ngatsu joojun/.

  1. The kanji 下 “bottom; below; to go down; lower; inferior”

History of Kanji 下For the kanji 下a spatial position below a line signified “below.” The kanji 下means “bottom; below; to go down; lower; inferior.”

There are a number of kun-yomi and on-yomi. The kun-yomi 下/shita/ means “below.” /Shimo/ is in 川下”downstream of a river” /kawashimo/, /Moto/ is in 足下 “at one’s feet; steps” /ashimo’to/. 下げる /sage’ru/ means “to lower.” 下る/kudaru/ is in 下さる “a superior gives to me” /kudasa’ru/ and 下り電車 “down train; trains going away from the capital” /kudaride‘nsha/. The on-yomi /ka/ is in 廊下 “passage way; middle corridor” /rooka/. Another on-yomi /ge/ is in 上下 “top and bottom” /jo‘oge/ and 下車 “getting off a vehicle” /ge‘sha/.

Now that we have covered all the categories of kanji origins, it is the time to reflect on this approach to kanji learning that we have been exploring last four and a half years. I would like to take a break here for a few weeks to sit back and think about what we have learned through this rather lengthy exploration. I shall be back in a few week time, hopefully refreshed a little, with more thoughts. Thank you very much for your interest.  – Noriko [June 17, 2018]

The Kanji 均句拘旬匂勾掲葛喝渇褐謁 – (3)


On this post we are going to explore two shapes 勹 “a hook shape; (a body) bending down” in the kanji 均句拘旬匂勾, and 曷 used phonetically for /katsu/ in the kanji 掲葛喝渇褐謁.

  1. The kanji 均 “even; average”

History of Kanji 均For the kanji 均 the bronze ware style writing, in green, had “a long arm with a hand at the top wrapping around two short lines of even length.” Inside was 土 “soil.” They signified that a person was trying “to make the ground even with his hand.” In the seal style writing, in red, the soil was moved out to the left. From “leveling the ground,” the kanji 均means “even; average.” [The composition of the kanji 均: 土へん, 勹 and 冫]

The kun-yomi 均しい /hitoshi’i/ means “equivalent of; identical; exactly alike.” The on-yomi /kin/ is in 均一 “uniformity; equality” /kin-itsu/, 均等に “equally; evenly” /kintoo-ni/, 平均 “average” /heekin/, 不均衡 “imbalance; disproportion” /huki’nkoo/ and 百均ショップ “100-yen shop” /hyakkin-sho’ppu/.

  1. The kanji 句 “phrase”

History of Kanji 句For the kanji 句 in (a) in oracle bone style, in brown, inside two hooks there was 口 “mouth.” They meant “speech that was enclosed.” In (b), (c) and (d) “speaking; words” was taken out of the two interlocking hooks. The kanji 句means “phrase.”  [The composition of the kanji 句: 勹 and 口]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ku/ is in 禁句 “forbidden word; tabooed phrase” /kinku/, 慣用句 “idiom; common phrase” /kan-yo’oku/, 句読点 “punctuation mark” /kuto’oten/, 句切る “to punctuate; mark off with a comma; cut off” /kugi’ru/, 節句 “seasonal festival” /sekku/ and 一字一句 “every word and every phrase” /ichiji-i’kku/.

  1. The kanji 拘 “to seize; is particular about; adhere to”

History of Kanji 拘The seal style writing of the kanji 拘 comprised “an act that one does using a hand” and 句 “something bent; crooked” used phonetically for /koo/. They signified “to seize (by hand); bind.” It also means the way in which one is particular about a certain thing. The kanji 拘 means “to seize; is particular about; adhere to.”  [The composition of the kanji 拘:扌, 勹 and 口]

The kun-yomi 拘る /kodawa’ru/ means “to be obsessive; have a fixation; be a perfectionist” /kodawa’ru/, 拘束する”to restrict; shacke” /koosoku-suru/, 拘泥する “to worry too much about; be overpaticular about” /koodee-suru/, 拘置所 “prison; detention house” /koochisho/ and 拘留 “detention pending trial; custody” /kooryuu/.

  1. The kanji 旬 “ten days; in the season”

History of Kanji 旬For the kanji 旬 the oracle bone style writing was a coiling shape with a short line crossing at the end, perhaps signifying “a cycle with its end marked.” The bronze ware style writing had “the sun” added inside a semi-circle that was similar to 勻. During the Yin (Shang) dynasty the calendar used then had a cycle of ten days. A rounded shape suggested “a cycle of ten days.” In seal style the two short lines inside 勻 dropped. The kanji 旬 means “ten days,” which is one third of a month. In Japan it is also used to mean produce and fish that is “in the season”- the best time to eat. [The composition of the kanji 旬: 勹 and 日]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi 旬 /shun/ means “in the season.”  /-Jun/ is in 上旬 “the first ten days of a moth” /joojun/, 中旬 “the second ten days of a month” /chuujun/ and 下旬 “the last ten days of a month” /gejun/.

  1. The kanji 匂 “fragrant; scent; aroma; beautiful; to hint”

The kanji 匂 was created in Japan and there is no ancient writing. 匂う meant “to shine beautifully,” as in the classical phrase (花が) 朝日に匂う”flowers shining beautifully in the morning sun,” but it is no longer seen in ordinary writing. The kanji 匂 means “fragrant; scent; aroma; beautiful; to hint.” (The kanji 匂う /nio’u/ is generally, but not always, used for a pleasant smell while 臭い /kusa’i/ is for an unpleasant smell.)  [The composition of the kanji 匂: 勹 and ヒ]

The kun-yomi 匂う /nio’u/ means “to smell,” and in 匂わせる “to suggest; hint; insinuate” /niowase’ru/ and 匂い “smell; fragrance” /nio’i/. There is no on-yomi.

  1. The kanji 勾 “hook; to enclose”

History of Kanji 勾The bronze ware style writing looked incomprehensively complex. I cannot make out what this writing originally signified and there is no account in reference. The kanji 勾comprises 勹 “a hooked shape” or “a body bending down” and ム used phonetically for /koo/ to mean “to bend.” The kanji 勾 means “hook; to catch; hitch.”  [The composition of the kanji 勾: 勹 and ム]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /koo/ is in 勾配 “slope; incline; pitch; gradient” /koobai/, 勾引 “bench warrant” /kooin/ and 勾留 “detention; custody” /kooryuu/. (勾 is a newly added Joyo kanji, and some words overlap with the kanji 拘.)

The next shape, 曷, was seen in the kanji 葛 and in the kyuji of the kanji 掲喝渇褐謁. The origin of 曷 remains mystery, but here is what has been said in reference.  History of Kanji 曷曷: The top was something coming out of a mouth, 曰 /etsu/, which meant “to say.” The bottom had a “person” (人) and a frame inside an semi enclosure 勹. The interpretations of this shape vary – (1) With “a box of prayers” on the top and “bones of a dead person” on the bottom together meant “praying so that the dead would grant a prayer’s wish” and 曷 was a voice of prayer (Shirakawa); (2) 曷 was “showing contempt and confining someone by a hand (勹)” (Kanjigen); and (3) it was used phonetically to meant “sound of scolding voice.”

Two things about the shape 曷: It was used phonetically in all kanji; 人 with “a screen” (?) in seal style remained in kyuji, but changed to ヒ, another shape to mean “person” in shinji in all kanji except 葛.

  1. The kanji 掲 “to display; hoist”

History of Kanji 掲For the kanji 掲 the seal style writing comprised 扌 “an act that one does using a hand” and 曷 used phonetically for /kee/ to mean “to hoist.” Together a hand hoising something up means “to display; put up.” The kanji 掲 means “to display; hoist.”  [The composition of the kanji 掲: 扌, 日and 匂]

The kun-yomi 掲げる /kakageru/ means “to put up; hoist; herald,” as in 主義主張を掲げる “to advocate principles and opinions” /shu’gishuchoo-o kakageru/. The on-yomi /kee/ is in 掲示する “to post; put up a notice” /keejiban/, 掲載 “to print; put in; run an article” /keesai-suru/ and 電光掲示板 “electric bulletin board” /denkoo-keejiban/.

  1. The kanji 葛 “kuzuvine; kuzuroot starch”

History of Kanji 葛The seal style writing of the kanji 葛 comprised 艸 “plants” and 曷used phonetically for /katsu/. Together they meant “kuzuvine.” The fibers in the vine were used for weaving. Its root provides good starch for cooking. The kanji 葛 means “kuzu vine; kuzu root starch.” The kanji 葛 is the only Joyo kanji that retained the kyuji shape 曷, even though the kanji with 匂 at the bottom is seen as a popular informal shape.  [The composition of the kanji 葛: 艹 and 曷]

The kun-yomi 葛 /ku’zu/ means “kuzu root starch,” and is in 葛粉 “kuzu starch” /kuzuko’/, 葛切り “slices of kuzu jelly with syrup (as sweets)” /kuzukiri/ and 葛桜 “cherry-leaf-covered kuzu filled with sweet azuki bean” /kuzuza’kura/. The on-yomi /katsu/ is in 葛藤 “an entanglement; embroilment” /kattoo/. (Both 葛 and 藤 “Japanese wisteria” /huji/ are vines.)

  1. The kanji 喝 “to shout; scold”

History of Kanji 喝For the kani 喝 the seal style writing comprised 口 “mouth; to speak” and 曷 used phonetically for /katsu/ to mean “to scold in a loud voice.” The kanji 喝 meant “to shout; scold.” [The composition of the kanji 喝: 口, 日 and 匂]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /katsu/ is in 喝采する “to applaud; cheer loudly” /kassai-suru/, 拍手喝采 “clapping and sheering; enthusiastic applause” /ha’kushu kassai/, 恐喝する “to blackmail; extort” /kyookatsu-suru/ and 喝を入れる “to give a pep talk” /ka’tsu-o iresu/.

  1. The kanji 渇 “to thirst for; dry out”

History of Kanji 渇For the kanji 渇 the bronze ware style writing had “running water” on the left, and the right side was used phonetically for /katsu/ to mean “lack of.” The seal style writing had “a mouth open” (曰) and “a person disappearing” (亡) in 勹, but what those components meant is not clear. The kanji 渇 means “to be thirst; dry out; thirsty.” [The composition of the kanji 渇:氵, 日 and 匂]

The kun-yomi 渇く/kawa’ku/ means “to crave; thirst for,” as in 喉が渇く”to become thirsty” /no’do-ga kawa’ku/.  The on-yomi /katsu/ is in 渇する “to dry up; suffer from thirst” /kassuru/, 渇望 “craving for; longing for” /katsuboo/, 枯渇する “to dry up; be drained” /kokatsu-suru/ and 渇水時 “period of drought” /kassu’iji/.

  1. The kanji 褐 “brown; humble clohtes”

History of Kanji 褐For the kanji 褐 the seal style writing comprised 衣 “clothes” and 曷 used phonetically for /katsu/ to mean “kuzu vine.” Clothes or footware made by weaving vines signified “humble simple clothes.” It also meant “brown” from the color of humble clothes dyed in dull color from vines and other plants. The kanji 褐 means “brown; (humble clothes).”  [The composition of the kanji 褐: 衤, 日 and 匂]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /katsu/ is in 褐色 “brown” /kasshoku/ and 茶褐色 “dark reddish brown” /chaka’sshoku/.

  1. The kanji 謁 “to be received in loyal audience”

History of Kanji 謁For the kanji 謁 the seal style writing comprised 言 “word; language; to say” and 曷 used phonetically for /etsu/. To say something to a ruler became the meaning “to be received in loyal audience.” [The composition of the kanji 謁: 言, 日 and 匂]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /etsu/ is in 謁見 “imperial audience” /ekken/, 拝謁する “to be received in audience by His (or Her) Majesty” /haietsu-suru/.

Thank you very much for your reading. – Noriko [June 10, 2018]

The Kanji 凶胸凸凹区殴欧枢匹医匠- (2)


As the last category of kanji origin, we are exploring kanji that originated from a shape. In this post we are going to look at 凵 “a receptacle; container” in the kanji 凶胸凸凹 and 匸 “a hiding place” in the kanji 区殴欧枢匹医匠.

  1. The kanji 凶 “misfortune; disaster; bad luck”

History of Kanji 区For the kanji 凶 one view is that in the seal style writing, in red,the bottom凵was “a container that was empty.” Having no rice in the container signified “famine.” From that it meant “disaster; famine.” Another view is that the bottom (凵) was a chest. The inside shape was a tattooing on the deceased chest to prevent an evil to come near. It meant “misfortune; bad luck.”The kanji 凶 means “misfortune; disaster; bad luck.” [The composition of the kanji: メ and 凵]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi 凶 /kyoo/ means “disaster,” and is in 凶器(“dangerous weapon; the weapon used in an assault” /kyo’oki/), 凶作 (“a very poor harvest; a crop failure” /kyoosaku/), 凶暴な (“atrocious; barbarious” /kyooboo-na/, 凶悪な (“extremely wicked; heinous” /kyooaku-na/), 吉凶 (“good or bad luck; fortune” /kikkyoo/) and 吉凶を占う (“to tell someone’s fortunre” /kikkyoo o urana’u/).

  1. The kanji 胸”chest; bosom; mind”

History of Kanji 胸For the kanji 胸 the bronze ware style writing, in green, comprised “chest” (凶) used phonetically for kyooand “flesh; part of the body” (月), together signifying “a chest.” In seal style, 凶 was placed inside the shape 勹 “something that surrounds” or “a body bending over” without 月. In kanji 月returned to the left as the bushu nikuzuki. The kanji 胸 means “chest; bosom; mind.”

The kun-yomi 胸 /mune’/ means “chest; breast; heart; lung,” and is in 胸元 “the pit of the stomach; the bosom,” 胸を張る (“to be puffed up with pride” /mune’-o haru/), 胸が塞がる (“full of deep emotion” /mune’-ga husagaru/) and 胸算用 (“expectation; anticipation” /munazanyoo/). The on-yomi /kyoo/ is in 胸囲 (“one’s chest measurement” /kyo’oi/), 度胸 (“boldness; daring” /do’kyoo/ and 胸筋を開く (“to be frank; have a hear-to-heart talk” /kyookin-o hira’ku/).

  1. The kanji 凸 “protruding; convex”

There is no ancient writing for the kanji 凸. It signifies something that had protrusion in the middle. It is used in a pair with the kanji 凹. The kanji 凸 means “protruding; convex.”

There is no kun-yomi, but the word /dekoboko/ “unevenness; bumpiness” is often written as 凸凹. The on-yomi /totsu/ is in 凸レンズ (“a convex lens” /totsure’nzu/) and 両凸レンズ (“double-convex lens” /ryoototsu-re’nzu/).

  1. The kanji 凹 “hollow; conclave”

There is no ancient writing for the kanji 凹. It signifies something that had a conclave in the middle. The kanji 凹 means “hollow; conclave.”

The kun-yomi 凹む /hekomu/ means “to give; collapse; be beaten; become disheartened.” The on-yomi /oo/ is in 凹凸 (“unevenness; irregularity” /oototsu/), 凹面(“concave side; hollow side” /oomen/), 凹レンズ (“a concave lens” /oore’nzu/) and 凹凸レンズ (“a concavo-convex lens” /outotsu-re’nzu/).

Related to this shape is the origin of the kanji 脳悩思細 that pertained “brains.” They were discussed twice on the earlier posts (February 21, 2015 and July 25, 2015.) Thrice would be a little overdone, so we are not going to look at them here. In the earlier posts you can see that the ancient writings all had the shape 囟. The brain was represented by メshape inside the skull. The shape 囟has also been interpreted as a baby’s fontanel, a soft spot between the bones on a new baby’s head signifying “brain.”

The next group is 匸 “a hiding place.”

  1. The kanji 区 “to separate; divide; section; ward”

History of Kanji 区For the kanji 区 the oracle bone style writing, in light brown, had “three boxes (口) stashed away behind a screen.” A screen separated them from others or make smaller sections. It meant “to separate; divide; section.” In bronze ware style the boxes were linked together. In seal style and kyuji (區) three boxes remained, but in shinji they were replaced by a simplifying shape. In Japan in a larger city this is used in an address as  /ku/ “ward.” The kanji 区means “to separate; divide; section; ward.” [The composition of the kanji:  凵 and メ]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ku/ is in 区画 (“subdivision; panel” /kukaku/), 区分 (“division” /ku’bun/), 区域 (“area; segment; zone” /ku’iki/), 学区(“school district” /ga’kku/) and 港区 (“Minato-ward” in Tokyo /minato’-ku/).

  1. The kanji 枢 “pivot; center; essence; coffin”

History of Kanji 枢For the kanji 枢 the seal style writing comprised 木 “tree; wood” and 區, which meant “something concealed.” A pivot to a wooden door” is not visible and yet it is  important for the use of a door and it signified “essence; very important.” The kyuji 樞 reflected seal style, which was simplified to 枢 in the shinji. The kanji 枢 meant “pivot; center; essence.” A wooden box to cover the deceased is “coffin.” [The composition of the kanji: 木 and 区]

The kun-yomi枢/hitsugi/ means “coffin.” The on-yomi /suu/ is in 枢機 (“most important affair” /su’uki/), 中枢 (“center; centrum” /chuusuu/) and 運動中枢 (“motor center” /undo-chu’usuu/).

  1. The kanji 殴 “to strike; assault; beat”

History of Kanji 殴For the kanji 殴 the left side of the bronze ware style writing was used phonetically for /oo/, and the right side was “a hand holding a stick,” which would have become 攴 “to act; cause.” They meant “to hit.” In seal style a stick was replaced by weapon, forming 殳, a bushu hokozukuri“to strike.” The kyuji 毆 was replaced by the shinji 殴. The kanji 殴 means “to strike; assault; beat.” [The composition of the kanji:  匸,メ and 殳]

The kun-yomi 殴る /nagu’ru/ means “to strike,” and is in 殴り書き (“scribble; scrabble” /nagurigaki/), 殴り合い (“fisticuffs” /naguriai/) and 殴り込む (“to raid; laugh an attack” /naguriko’mu/). The on-yomi /oo/ is in 殴打 (“strike; blow” /o’oda/).

  1. The kaji 欧 “Europe; European”

History of Kanji 欧For the kanji 欧in seal style 區was used phonetically for /oo/ to mean “to groan; howl,” and the right side was “a person singing with his mouth open large.” Together they originally meant “to groan; howl.” It was used only phonetically to mean “Europe.” The kyuji 歐 reflected the seal style writing. The kanji 欧means “Europe; European.” [The composition of the kanji:  匸, メ and 欠]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /oo/ is in 欧州 (“Europe” /o’oshuu/), 北欧(“Scandinavian countries” /hokuhoo) and 欧米 (“the west; Europe and America” /oobee/).

  1. The kanji 匹 “a counter of animals”

History of Kanji 匹For the kanji 匹the origin is not clear. (a)(b) and (c) in bronze ware style all had the shape 厂 with a couple of curved lines underneath. Different accounts include “two pieces of cloth hanging down,” giving the meaning “to match,” and “horses bellies lining up.” The kanji 匹 is a counter of animal.[The composition of the kanji:  一, 儿 and an angle]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /hiki/ was used as a counter of animal as in 二匹(/nihiki/ “two small animals”).  /Hit-/ is in 匹敵する”equal; comparable” /hitteki-suru/,  匹夫の勇”rash courage; foolhardiness” /hippu-no-yuu/.

  1. The kanji 医 “medical”

History of Kanji 医For the kanji 医, the two seal style writings, (b) and (c), were originally not related. (b) had its oracle bone style precursor (a), which had an arrow in a box that signified “to hide an arrow.” The other seal style writing (c) was more complex: It had 医 “a box of arrow,” 殳 “a hand holding a weapon or tool” together signifying “an injury caused by an arrow in battle.”  The bottom 酉 was “a spirit jar” that signified “medicinal spirit.” Altogether “treating an injured person with medical spirit” meant “medicine.” The kyujitai (d) 醫 reflected (c). The shinjitai has retained “an arrow hidden in a box” only. The kanji 医 meant “medicine.” [The composition of the kanji:  凵 and 矢]  (from the post on February 26, 2017)

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi 医 meant “medicine; medical,” and is in 医者 (“medical doctor” /isha/), 医学 (“medical science” /i’gaku/), 内科医 (“doctor of internal medicine; physician” /naika’i/) and 医療費 (“fee for medical treatment; doctor’s bill” /iryo’ohi).

  1. The kanji 匠 “design; craftsman; master”

History of Kanji 匠For the kanji 匠, 斤  “an axe” was inside a box or container 匚. Together they meant “to make a craft work using an axe” or a person who made craft work using an axe. It also included someone who excelled in his art. [The composition of the kanji: 斤 and 凵] (from the post on November 27, 2016)

The kun-yomi /takumi/ means “artisan; master craftsman.” The on-yomi /shoso/ is in 意匠 (“design; idea” /i’shoo/), 巨匠 (“great master” /kyoshoo/) and 師匠 (“teacher; master” in traditional art /shi’shoo/).

We shall continue with our exploration on kanji that originated from a shape next time. Thank you very much for your reading. – Noriko [June 2, 2018]

The Kanji 参杉診珍惨乙乱札孔乳- Shapes (1)


For the last category of kanji origin in our exploration, we are going to look at components that originated from a shape. In this post, we are going to see 彡 which signified “pretty shape; needle shapeslining up neatly” in the kanji 参杉診珍惨. The second shape is 乚, which signified “an act of flattening or straightening”– the kanji 乙乱札孔乳.

  1. The kanji 参 “to mingle; come; come/go in humble style”

History of Kanji 参For the kanji 参 in bronze ware style, in green, (a) was “a kneeling woman with three shining hair-accessories while (b) had three lines which signified “bright reflections of light mingled each other” added. The mingling shines gave the meaning “to mingle; come.” The top of (c) in seal style, in red, had “three bright things” (日), and 彡 used phonetically for /san/. (d) in the kyuji 參, in blue,the three 日 became three ム shapes, which was further reduced to one ム in shinji. In Japan it is used for a humble style verb in 参 “to come; go,” and for a visit to a shrine, temple or cemetery. The kanji 参 means “to mingle; come; come/go in humble style.” [The composition of the kanji 参: ム, 一, 𠆢 and 彡]

The kun-yomi /ma’iru/ means “to come (in a humble style); pay a visit”and is in 墓参り(“visit to a grave” /hakama’iri/). The on-yomi /san/ was in 参加する (“to participate in” /sanka-suru/), 参考書 (“reference book” /sankoosho/), 参詣 (“a visit to a temple; worship” /sankee/), 参列する (“to attend a ceremony” /sanretsu-suru/) and 持参する (“to bring something with oneself; bear; carry” /jisan-suru/). /-Zan/ is in 新参者 (“a newcomer; novice” /shinzanmono/) and 人参 (“carrot” /ninjin/).

  1. The kanji 杉 “cedar”

There is no ancient writing for the kanji 杉. The kanji 杉 comprises 木 “tree; wood” and 彡used phonetically for /san/ to mean “needle-likethin shapes lining up neatly.” The needle leaves of a cedar tree neatly lined up and were beautiful. The kanji 杉 means “cedar.” [The composition of the kanji 杉: 木 and 彡]

The kun-yomi 杉 /sugi/ means “cedar” and is in 秋田杉 (“Akita cedar” /akita’sugi/) and 杉綾(“herringbone pattern” /sugiaya/). There is no on-yomi in Joyo kanji.

  1. The kanji 診 “medical diagnose; examine”

History of Kanji 診The seal style writing of the kanji 診 had 言 “word; language” on the left. The right side had “a person” with 彡 “rash” used phonetically for /shin/ to mean “to check thoroughly.” The kanji 診 means “medical diagnose; examine.” [The composition of the kanji:言, 𠆢 and 彡]

The kun-yomi 診る /mi’ru/ means “to examine medically.” The on-yomi /shin/ is in 診察(“medical examination” /shinsatsu/), 往診 (“visit to a patient; house call” /ooshin/), 診療所 (“clinic” /shinryoojo/) and 検診 (“health screening” /kenshin/).

  1. The kanji 珍 “rare; uncommon”

History of Kanji 珍The seal style writing of the kanji 珍 comprised 王 “jewel” and “a person encircling something beautiful (彡)” used phonetically for /chin/. Together they meant “beautiful things such as jewels not being common.” The kanji 珍measn “rare; uncommon.”  [The composition of the kanji : 王, 𠆢 and 彡]

The kun-yomi 珍しい /mezurashi’i/ means “rare; uncommon” and is in 物珍しい (“curious; novel” /monomezurashi’i/). The on-yomi /chin/ is in 珍品 (“rarity; curiosity” /chinpin/), 珍味 (“a delicacy” /chi’nmi/) and 珍事件 (“rare event; funny case” /chinji’ken/).

  1. The kanji 惨 “to feel miserable; cruel”

History of Kanji 惨For the kanji 惨 the seal style writing had “a heart,” which became a bushu risshinbenin (忄) in the kyuji 慘. On the right side the shine 參 was used phonetically for /san/ to mean “to be impressed in one’s heart deeply.” Together they meant “one experiencing a deeply-felt emotion such as misery and cruelty.” The kanji 惨 means “to feel miserable; cruel.” [The composition of the kanji : 忄and 参]

The kun-yomi 惨めな /mi’jime-na/ means “miserable.” The on-yomi /san/ is in 悲惨な (“cruel” /hisan-na/), 惨事 (“terrible disaster; tragedy” /sa’nji/), 陰惨な (“grisly; gloomy” /insan-na/) and 凄惨な (“ghastly; gruesome” /seisan-na/).

There are several more kanji that contain the shape 彡, including 影形彩修彰彫.

The second shape 乚 means “an act of flattening or straightening,” and appears in the kanji 乱札孔乳礼 on this post. (For the kanji 礼, we discussed a year ago in connection with a bushu shimesuhen).

  1. The kanji 乙 “second; not the first”

History of Kanji 乙For the kanji 乙 the writings in three anceint style were a bent shape on both ends. The shape was borrowed to mean “second; not the first” in combination of the kanji 甲 /ko’o/, which means “the first; good” and 丙 /he’e/ “third-rate: not good; poor.”  [The composition of the kanji: a single stroke of 乙]

The kun-yomi /oto/ is in 乙女 (“maiden” /oto’me//), a phonetical substitute. The on-yomi 乙  /otsu/ is in 甲乙を付ける (“to mark grades” /ko’ootsu-o tsuke’ru/) and 甲乙付け難い (“there is little difference between the two” /ko’ootsu tsukegata’i/).

  1. The kanji 乱 “to be out of order; rebellion; battle”

History of Kanji 乱For the kanji 乱 (a) and (b) in bronze ware style may be better explained by the left side of (c) in seal style. It was a hand at the top and another hand at the bottom was straightening tangles threads on a spool in the middle. The right side was a bent shape that signified “to straighten.” Together they meant “hands trying to untangle threads to make them into a good order.” The kyuji 亂, (d), was replaced by drastically simpler 舌 in the shinji 乱. The kanji 乱 means “to be out of order; rebellion; battle.”  [The composition of the kanji: 千, 口 and 乚]

The kun-yomi 乱れる /midare’ru/ means “to be out of order,” and is in 入り乱れる (“to be mixed and confused” /irimidare’u/) and 取り乱す (“to go to pieces; become upset” /torimida’su/). The on-yomi /ran/ is in 乱 (“battle” /ran/), 混乱 (“chaos; confusion” /ko’nran/), 乱雑な (“random” /ranzatsu-na/), 散乱する (“to be scattered about” /sanran-suru/), 内乱 (“civil war” /nairan/), 乱世 (“troubled time” /ra’nse/) and 一心不乱 (“absorbed; engrossed” /isshi’nhuran/).

  1. The kanji 札 “a tag; name place; paper money”

History of Kanji 札The seal style writing of the kanji 札 comprised 木 “wood” and 乚 “a bent shape that signified an act of flattening or straightening.” The writing meant “a thin flat piece of wood” such as a tag, a posted announcement and also paper money. The kanji 札means “a tag; name place; bank note.” [The composition of the kanji 札: 木 and 乚]

The kun-yomi 札 /huda/ means “tag; name place” and is in 荷札 (“luggage tag” /nihuda/) and 切り札 (“a trump card” /kiri’huda/), The on-yomi /satsu/ is in お札 (“bill; note” /osatsu/), 札束 (“wad of bills” /satsuta’ba/), 改札口 (“wicket” /kaisatsu’guchi/), 一万円札 (“ten thousand yen note” /ichimanen’satsu/) and 入札制 (“bidding system” /nyuusatsusee/).

  1. 孔 “a hole; cavity”

History of Kanji 孔For the kanji 孔 (a) and (b) had “a child” on the left side. What the right side attached to the child’s head signified is clear, but many scholars view that it signified some sort of a hole. The kanji 孔 means “a hole; cavity.” [The composition of the kanji 孔: 子 and 乚]

The kun-yomi 孔 /ana’/ means “opening; perforation; hole.” The on-yomi /koo/ is in 換気孔(“ventilation hole” /kankikoo/), 鼻孔 (”nostril” /bikoo/) and 孔子 (“Confucius” /kooshi/).

  1. 乳 “milk; milking; breast”

History of Kanji 乳For the kanji 乳 in oracle bone style a woman on her knees was nursing or holding a child in her arms. It meant “to nurse; breast; milk.” In seal style it had “a hand from above” and “a child” on the left. For the right side (乚) there are different interpretations, including “a hand to care for a baby,” “a swallow,” which was believed to bring a baby, like a stork in Western folk tales, and “supporting an infant.” The kanji 乳 means “milk; milking; breast.” [The composition of the kanji 乳: 孚 and 乚]

The kun-yomi /chi’chi/ 乳 means “milk; breast,” and is in 乳飲み子 (“infant” /chinomi’go/). The on-yomi /nyuu/ is in 牛乳 (“cow’s milk“ /gyuunyuu/), 母乳 (“mother’s milk” /bonyuu/), 乳歯 (“baby tooth” /nyu’ushi/ and 豆乳 (“soy bean milk” /toonyuu/).

I expect that we shall have three more posts before we wrap up our long exploration.  Thank you very much for your interest.  – Noriko [May 27, 2018]

The Kanji 費払仏沸者着諸緒著暑煮 -(6)


We have been exploring kanji that originated from a shape that something was tied up or a bundle of things. This is the sixth and last post in this group. The shapes we are going to look at on this post are: 弗 “to disperse” from a bunch of bent twigs that were bundled together by a rope but would not stay together – the kanji 費払仏沸; and 者 phonetically used for /sha/ from “a bundle of wooden sticks gathered in a stove being burned” –  the kanji 者着諸緒著暑煮.

History of Kanji 弗For the shape 弗 the history shown on the right in three different styles of ancient writing all had two bent lines and a rope around them. They signified that bent or crooked sticks were roped together in order to straighten, but the force of curling back was stronger and they would not stay straight and came apart. It meant “disperse” and it is used phonetically for /hutsu/ in kanji.

  1. The kanji 費 “to spend (money or time); cost; waste”

History of Kanji 費Forthe kanji 費 the bronze ware style writing, in green, comprised 弗 “to disperse” used phonetically for /hi/, 刂 “a knife” and 貝 “cowrie; money,” together signifying “to spend money.” In seal style, in red, the knife was dropped. It is also used for time, such as “spending time; wasting time.” Together they meant “cost; to spend money; require (time).” [Relating to this kanji, the top 弗 looks similar to the dollar sign $. So by itself it is customarily used to mean “dollar” in Japanese. [The composition of the kanji 費: 弗 and 貝]

The kun-yomi 費やす /tsuiya’su/ means “to spend (money; time),” as in 時間を費やす(“to spend time” /jikan-o tsuiya’su/). The on-yomi /hi/ is in費用 (“expenses” /hiyoo/), 私費 (“private expense” /shi’hi/), 浪費 (“waste” /roohi/). /-Pi/ is in 実費 (“actual expense; costs” /jippi/).

  1. The kanji払“to pay money; pay attention; brush off”

History of Kanji 払For the kanji 払t he seal style writing  had “a hand; an act that one does using a hand” and 弗 “to come apart” used phonetically for /hutsu/. Together “a hand pushing something away” meant “to brush off.” It also meant “to pay money or attention.” The right side of the kyuji 拂, in blue, was simplified with ム, a segment often used for simplification in other kanji as well. The kanji 払 means “to pay money; pay attention; brush off.”  [The composition of the kanji 払: 扌and ム]

The kun-yomi 払う /hara’u/ is used in お金を払う (“to pay money” /okane-o har’u/), 埃を払う (“brush off dust” /hokori-o hara’u/) and 注意を払う( “to pay attention” /chu’ui-o hara’u/), 支払い (“payment”/shiharai/) and 月払い (“monthly payment” /tsukiba’rai/). The on-yomi /hutsu/ is in 払拭する (“to wipe off” /husshoku-suru/)/.

  1. The kanji 仏 “Buddha; Buddhism; France”

History of Kanji 仏For the kanji 仏 the left side of the seal style writing was “a person; an act one does” and the right side (弗) was used phonetically for hutsu. When the Buddhism came to China from India, the Sanskrit word Buddha was written phonetically as 佛陀 Budda. The right side of the kyuji 佛 was replaced byム. Phonetically it is also used for 仏蘭西 “France” for having the first syllable /hu/. The kanji 仏 means “Buddha; Buddhism; France.” [The composition of the kanji 仏: イ and ム]

The kun-yomi 仏 /hotoke/ and 仏様 /hotoke-sa’ma/ mean “buddha.” The on-yomi /hutsu/ is 旧仏領 (old French colony” /kyu’u hutsuryoo/.) /-Butsu/ is in 大仏 (“big Buddha statue” /daibutsu/).

  1. The kanji 沸“to boil water; gush”

History of Kanji 沸The seal style writing of the kanji 沸 comprised “water” and 弗 used phonetically for hutsuto mean “to boil.” (/Hutsu/ was the onomatopoeia of water boiling.) Together they meant water gushing out in a spring. Boiling water looks similar to a spring. It was used to mean “to boil.” The kanji 沸 means “to boil water; bubble up.” [The composition of the kanji 沸: 氵and 弗]

The kun-yomi /waku/  and its transitive counterpart /wakasu/ means “to boil.” The on-yomi /hutsu/ is in 沸騰する (“to boil” /huttoo-suru/), 沸点 (“boiling point” /hutten/), 煮沸消毒 (“boiling sterilization” /shahutsu-sho’odoku/).

For the kanji 者 the history is shown in 5 the kanji 者 as used by itself. As a component it appears in the kanji 諸煮暑緒著着.

  1. The kanji 者“person”

History of Kanji 者For the kanji 者 in (a), (b) and (c) twigs in a container or stove were being burned with sparkles of fire. From early times it was borrowed to mean “this; person.” The kyuji 者 (d) kept a dot in the middle as the remnant of sparkles of fire, but it was deleted in shinji. The kanji 者means “person.”  (In modern use “this” as a demonstrative word is not used.” [The composition of the kanji 者: 耂 and 曰]

The kun-yomi 者 /mono’/ means “person,” and is in 悪者 (“bad guy; villain” /warumono/), 回し者 (“spy” /mawashimono/). The on-yomi /sha/ is in 医者 (“medical doctor” /isha/), 記者 (“reporter; journalist” /ki’sha/), 希望者 (“applicant” /kibo’osha/), 加入者 (“new member” /kanyu’usha/).

  1. The kanji 着”to attach; to put clothes on; wear; arrive (at a place)”

History of Kanji 着There is no ancient writing for the kanji 着. (a) was an inscription on a stone stele and (b) was the Correct style writing 著.  The kanji 着 was a variant of 著. In Japanese the two kanji have different use: 著 means “to author; stand out” whereas 着means “to attach; to put clothes on; wear; arrive (at a place).” [The composition of the kanji 着: 羊 without the vertical line going through, ノand 目]

The kun-yomi 着る /kiru/ means “to wear,” and is in 着物 (“kimono; traditional Japanese attire” /kimono/). Another kun-yomi着く /tsu’ku/ means “to arrive.” The on-yomi /chaku/ is in一着 (“one piece of clothes” /icchaku/), 着服 (“embezzlement” /chakuhuku-suru/), 到着時間 (“arrival time” /toochaku-ji’kan/), 着手する (“to start up” /cha’kushu-suru/) and 接着剤 (“glue; adhesive” /secchakuzai/).

  1. The kanji 諸“various; many; all”

History of Kanji 諸For the kanji 諸the bronze ware style writing was the same as 者. It was used phonetically for /sho/ to mean “many.” In 2 言 “word; language” was added. Together they meant “many words,” and also meant “many; various; all” in general. The kanji 諸 means “various; many; all.” [The composition of the kanji 諸: 言 and 者]

The kun-yomi /moro/ is in 諸々の (“various; many all” /moromoro-no/). The on-yomi /sho/ is in 諸事情 (“various reasons” /shoji’joo/), 諸君 (“Gentlemen!” /sho’kun/), 学生諸君 (“All our students” /gakusee-sho’kun/) and 読者諸氏 (“All readers” /dokushasho’shi/).

  1. The kanji 緒 “beginning; rope; string; together”

History of Kanji 緒For the kanji 緒 the seal style writing comprised 糸 “a skein of threads” and 者 used phonetically for /sho/ to mean “beginning,” as in 初. Together they signified “the beginning of a long continuous thing, such as a string or rope.” A rope put things together and signified “together.” The kyuji 緖, 2, lost the dot in the middle in shinji. The kanji 緒 means “beginning; rope; string.” [The composition of the kanji 緒: 糸 and 者]

The kun-yomi 緒 /o/ means “string,” as in 兜の緒 (“strings on kabuto armor” /kabuto-no-o’/) and 鼻緒 (“a strap on geta or zoori footwear” /hanao/). The on-yomi /sho/ is in 一緒 (“together” /issho/), 内緒 (“secrecy; privacy” /naisho/, 由緒 (“history; origin” /yu’isho/). Another on-yomi /cho/ is in 情緒 (“emotion; atmosphere” /jo’ocho/).

  1. The kanji 著“to write a book; conspicuous; to stand out”

History of Kanji 着For the kanji 著 the seal style writing comprised 竹“bamboo” and 者 used phonetically for /sho; cho/. Bamboo stalks were versatile, and among them was the material for making a writing brush. It meant “to write a book.” In kyuji 著, 2, however, the bamboo top was replaced by 艹, a bushu kusakanmuri “plants.” It was also used to mean “to make meaning clear; to standout; conspicuous.” The kanji 著 means “to write a book; conspicuous; to stand out.” [The composition of the kanji 著: 艹 and 者]

The kun-yomi 著す /arawa’su/ means “to write a book.” Another kun-yomi 著しい /ichijirushi’i/ means “to stand out.” The on-yomi /cho/ is in 著者 (“author” /cho’sha/), 名著 (“famous book” /me’echo/) and 顕著な (“remarkable” /ke’ncho-na/).

  1. The kanji 暑“(to feel) hot in atmospheric temperature”

History of Kanji 暑For the kanji 暑 in seal style “the sun” (日) was added to 者 “a bundle of wood sticks gathered in a stove to burn”used phonetically for /sho/. “The sun” and “burning fire” together made the kyuji 暑, 2, that meant “hot in atmospheric temperature.” The kanji 暑 means “(to feel) hot in atmospheric temperature.”  [The composition of the kanji 暑: 日and 者]

The kun-yomi /atsu‘i/ means “hot,” and is in 蒸し暑い (“hot and humid” /mushiatsu’i/). The on-yomi /sho/ is in 暑気当たり (“heatstroke” /shokia’tari/), 暑中見舞い (“summer greeting card” /shochuumi’mai/) and 残暑 (“lingering summer heat” /za’nsho/).

  1. The kanji 煮“to cook over a fire; simmer; boil”

History of Kanji 者The history of the kanji 煮 intertwined with another kanji 庶. In (a) and (b) it had “a kitchen stove with a pot,” and was /sha/ phonetically. It would become the kanji 庶. It meant “to cook over a fire.” On the other hand the seal style writing (c) comprised “a stove with burning sticks” containing 者 at the top and “a storage tripod pot” at the bottom. Another seal style (d) would become 遮. The kyuji 煮 (e) comprised 者, with a dot, and 灬, a bushu rekka/renga “fire.” The kanji 煮 means “to cook over a fire; simmer; boil.” [The composition of the kanji 煮: 者 and 灬]

The kun-yomi 煮 /niru/ means “to boil; simmer; seethe,” and is in 煮物 (“simmered food; cooked food” /nimono/), 生煮え (“undercooked; raw” /namanie/), 味噌煮(“simmered in misopaste” /misoni/). The on-yomi /sha/ is in 煮沸する (“to boil” /shahutsu-suru/).

We end our exploration on a group of tied objects here. I believe I have a few more posts to write before we end our exploration. Thank you very much for your reading.  -Noriko [May 19, 2018]

The Kanji 束速整頼瀬疎勅必密秘蜜泌-(5)


On this post we are going to explore two shapes that originated from a bundle of stuff. The first shape is 束, which was “a bundle of firewood tied around,” and the six Jojo kanji that contain are 束速整頼瀬疎勅. The second shape is 必, which was”something bound so tightly that it would not  allow any move” — the shape 必in the five kanji 必密秘蜜泌. Let us begin with 束.

  1. The kanji 束 “a bundle; to bind; a brief time”

History of Kanji 束For the kanji 束in (a) in oracle bone style, in brown, (b) and (c) in bronze ware style, in green, and (d) in seal style, in red, it was “a bundle of firewood tied around.” It meant “a bundle” or “things that were bound together.” In Japanese it also applies on time and means “a brief time.” The kanji 束 means “a bundle; to bind; a brief time.”  [The composition of the kanji 束: 一, 口、丨 and two strokes like 八]

The kun-yomi 束 /ta’ba/ means “bundle,” and is in 花束 (“bouquet of flowers” /hana’taba/) and 束ねる (“to bundle” /tabane’ru/). The on-yomi /soku/ is in 束縛する (“to restrain” /sokubaku-suru/), 結束する (“to band together; become united” /kessoku-suru/), and /-zoku/ is in 装束 (“costume; attire” /shoozoku/).

  1. The kanji 速 “fast; swift”

History of Kanji 速For the kanji 速 the bronze ware style writing had “stuff tied with a rope in the middle and at both ends” (after the last four posts we are now familiar with this shape as 東, aren’t we?) used phonetically for sokuto mean “quick; to rush.” The bottom had “a crossroad” and “a footprint,” which became 辵 in seal style, and further to 辶, a bushu shinnyoo “to go forward” in kanji. In seal style the tied stuff with strings around it was 束. Together they meant “fast.” The history of the kanji 速 having 東 and 束 suggests that it was likely that they were variations of things tied around. The kanji 速 means “fast; swift.” [The composition of the kanji 速: 束 and 辶]

The kun-yomi 速い /haya’i/ means “fast.” The on-yomi /soku/ is in 速度 (“speed” /so’kudo/), 秒速 (“speed per second” /byoosoku/), 迅速に (“swiftly” /jinsoku-ni/), 速達(“express mail” /sokutatsu/) and 快速電車 (“limited express train” /kaisoku-de’nsha/).

  1. The kanji 整 “to put in good order”

History of Kanji 整For the kanji 整 the left side of the bronze ware style writing had 束 “a bundle” and 正 “correct; just.” The right side had “a hand with a tool,” signifying “to cause something.” Together they signified “sorting things in bundles in good order.” In the seal style writing a hand holding a tool (攴) was shortened and became 敕 in the kanji. The kanji 整 means “to put in good order.”  [The composition of the kanji 整: 束, 攵 and 正]

The kun-yomi 整える /totonoe’ru/ means “to put in good order.” The on-yomi /see/ is in 整理する (“to put in good order” /se’eri-suru/), 調整 (“adjustment” /choosee/), 整然とした (“orderly” /seezentoshita/) and 交通整理 (“traffic control” /kootsuu-se’eri/).

  1. The kanji 頼 “dependable; to rely; request”

History of Kanji 頼For the kanji 頼 the seal style writing comprised 束“a bundle” and 刀“a knife” and 貝 “a cowry; money” used phonetically for /rai; ra/ to mean “profit.” Together “a part of a bundle of valuable things was carved out with a knife” gave the meaning “extra profit.” Having extra fortune make one that others might “rely on.” The kyuji 賴, in blue, reflected the seal style writing. In the shinji 頼 the simplification of the right side resulted in an unrelated component 頁. The kanji 頼 means “dependable; to rely; request.”   [The composition of the kanji 頼: 束and 頁]

The kun-yomi 頼む /tano’mu/ means “to request,” and /-dano/ is in 神頼み (/kamida’nomi/ “to turn to God for help”) and 頼りになる (“dependable” /ta’yori-ni-naru/). The on-yomi /rai/ is in 依頼する (“to request” /irai-suru/) and 信頼 (“trust” /shinrai/).

  1. The kanji 瀬 “rapids; one’s narrow ground”

History of Kanji 瀬For the kanji 瀬 the seal style writing comprised “water” and 賴 used phonetically for rai. It was considered to be the sound of rapids in a river. Together they meant “rapids.” Rapids were in the shallows where banks made the water flow narrow. It also meant “one’s predicament; one’s narrow ground.” As in the case of 頼, the simplification of the right side brought in 頁. The kanji 瀬 means “rapids; one’s narrow ground.” [The composition of the kanji 瀬: 氵,束and頁]

The kun-yomi /se/ is in 立つ瀬がない (“to be in a bind; in a tight corner” /ta’tsuse-ga-nai/), 瀬戸際 (“critical moment” /setogiwa/) and 瀬戸物 (“crockery; dishware” from pottery made in Seto /setomono/).

  1. The kanji 疎 “coarse; not close”

History of Kanji 疎For the kanji 疎 the seal style writing (䟽) comprised “a leg” and “a fine-toothed comb,” as in 梳 “to comb; to untangle by separating hair.” In 疏, 2 in kyuji, the left side 疋 “leg” was used phonetically for sho. Together they meant “to go through between gaps” and meant “coarse; not close.” Not being close also gave the meaning “distant; to alienate“In kanji the right side was replaced by 束 “a bundle.” The kanji 疎 means “coarse; not close; distant; to alienate.”[The composition of the kanji 疎: a variation of 正 and 束]

The kun-yomi 疎い /uto’i/ means “unacquainted with; distant.” The on-yomi /so/ is in 疎外感 (“feeling of being estranged” /sogai’kan/) and 意思の疎通 (“communication of one’s t’oughts; mutual understanding” /i’shi-no-sotsuu/).

  1. The kanji 勅 “imperial edict”

History of Kanji 勅For the kanji 勅 the seal style writing had “a bundle” (束) and “a plough” (力) or “a hand.” Together they originally meant “to bundle things in good order.” The kyuji 敕 came to be used to mean “imperial edict.” Its informal kanji 勅 became the shinji. The kanji 勅 means “imperial edict.” [The composition of the kanji 勅: 束 and 力]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /choku/ is in 勅語 (“an imperial eidict; a speech from the Throne” /cho’kugo/).

  1. The kanji 辣 “cruel; blistering; caustic”

There is no ancient writing and the kanji 辣 was created much later. It comprised 辛 “pungent; hard; tough” and 束used phonetically for /ratsu/. (束 was an abbreviated form of the kanji 剌 /ratsu/ “to sting.”) 辛 and 束 together gave the meaning “spicy; cruel. The kanji 辣 means “cruel; blistering; caustic.”[The composition of the kanji 辣: 辛 and 束]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ra/ is in悪辣な(“villainous” ‘akuratsu-na/) and 辛辣な(“biting” /shinratsu-na/).

The next shape 必appear in the five Joyo kanji- 必密秘蜜泌.

  1. The kanji 必 “without fail; inevitable; (with negative) not necessarily”

FHistory of Kanji 必or the kanji 必 in (a) and (b) in bronze ware style and (c) in seal style it was “a tool for straightening an arrow by tightening flush.” Something being tightly bound did not allow any move. From that it meant “without fail.” Having no other option also meant “inevitable,” and with a negative it means “not necessarily; not entirely.” The kanji 必 means “without fail; inevitable; (with negative) not necessarily.”

The kun-yomi 必ず /kanara-zu/ means “without fail.” The on-yomi /hitsu/ is in 必要な(“necessary” /hitsuyoo-na/), 必然的な (“inevitable” /hitsuzenteki-na/) and 必死になって(“run for one’s life; desperately” /hisshi-ni-na’tte/).

  1. The kanji 密 “secret; dense; close”

History of Kanji 密For the kanji 密 in (a) and (b) the top was “a tightly wrapped halberd inside a house or shrine,” and the bottom was a “fire.” A fire had a cleansing power in religious rite. From a rite that was conducted hidden inside meant “secret.” In (c) in seal style the bottom became a mountain, most likely miscopied from the original “a fire.” The kanji 密 means “secret; dense.”  [The composition of the kanji 密: 宀, 必 and 山]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /mitsu/ is in 秘密 (“secret” /himitsu/), 機密書類(“confidential documents” /kimitsu-sho’rui/) and 精密機器 (“precision instrument” /seemitsu-ki’kai/), 密会 (“secrete meeting; clandestine meeting” /mikkai/) and 密着する (“stick fast to; adhere closely” /micchaku-suru/).

  1. The kanji 秘 “secret; to hide”

History of Kanji 秘For the kanji 秘the seal style and the kyuji 祕comprised 示“an altar table with offering” and 必used phonetically for hito mean “secret.” Together they signified “a religious rite secretly performed” or “secret.” In the shinji 秘, 示was replaced by 禾, a bushu nogihen“rice plant” for a reason that was unclear. The kanji 秘means “secret; to hide.” [The composition of the kanji 秘:禾and 必]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /hi/ is in 秘密(“secret” /himitsu/) and 極秘(“strictly confidential; top secrecy” /gokuhi/).

  1. The kanji蜜 “honey; nector”

History of Kanji 蜜In seal style of the kanji 蜜 the top of (a) had “a tripod inside a house” and “two worms” signifying “bees.” Bees produced “honey,” which was kept in a pot. In (b) 貝was replaced by 必for /mitsu/. The kanji 蜜 means “honey; nector.” [The composition of the kanji 蜜: 宀, 必 and 虫]

The kun-yomi 蜜 /mitsu/ means “honey” and is in 蜂蜜 (“bee honey” /hachimitsu/) and 花の蜜 (“flower nector” /hana-no-mi’tsu/).

  1. The kanji 泌 “to seep; ooze; run”

History of Kanji 泌The seal style writing of the kanji 泌comprised “water” and 必used phonetically for hitsu. In the origin of 必things such as an arrow was bound tightly, leainvg little space in between. Together they meant “water running through a narrow path.” The sound was onomatopic. In Japan the kanji 泌is used to mean “to seep; ooze; run.” [The composition of the kanji 泌: 氵and 必]

The kun-yomi is 沁みる /shimiru/ “to seep; ooze.” The on-yomi /pi/ is in 分泌(“secretion; discharge” /bunpi/).

We shall have one more post on the shapes that originated from a tied object. I find it very surprising to find so many shapes in this group.  Thank you very much for your reading.  –Noriko [May 12, 2018]

The Kanji 補捕浦舗哺博敷薄簿縛- (4)


The kanji 専, which we looked at in the last post, and the right side of 博 differ only in a tiny dot at the top right. It is the results of simplification that ended up with the two shapes resembling to each other almost identical. We have seen that the kyuji of 専, 專, came from a hand holding a spindle with a whorl at the bottom. In the shinji the little whorl was deleted. On the other hand if you look at the kyuji shape of the right side of the 博, 尃, very closely, the top was 甫 (The development is shown between the kanji 5 哺 and 6 博 below).  In the shinji the bottom was “shaved off” for simplicity. Through standardization of shapes the original meanings were lost. Having going over the development of all Joyo kanji now I am quite amazed at the fact that origins were preserved in the majority of Joyo kanji, if we look for them. But this is not one of them. Let us look at the kanji that were related to 甫 on this post – the kanji 補捕浦舗哺・博敷薄簿縛.

History of Kanji 甫The shape 甫 “to protect” — It was a young plant whose roots were wrapped for protection in a net. Another view is that it was nursery of rice plant seedlings, giving the meaning “to spread.” It was used phonetically for /ho/. 甫 by itself is not used as kanji but it is a component of the kanji 補捕浦舗哺.

  1. The kanji 補 “to fill a gap; supplement; compensate”

History of Kanji 補For the kanji 補 the seal style writing comprised 衣 “clothes” and 甫 “a young plant whose roots were wrapped around” or “rice plant nursery” used phonetically for /ho/, together signifying “mending a hole in clothes.” The meaning was extended for more general use. In kanji “clothes” (衣) became 衤, a bushu koromohen“clothes.” The kanji 補 means “to fill a gap; supplement; compensate.” [The composition of the kanji 補: 衤 and 甫]

The kun-yomi 補う /ogina’u/ means “to compensate for; supplement.” The on-yomi /ho/ is in 補修工事 (“repair work maintenance work” /hoshuuko’oji/), 補助 (“assistance; support” /ho’jo/), 候補 (“candidate; the just the person for the job” /ko’oho/) and 補償する (“to indemnify; make up for” /hoshoo-suru/).

  1. The kanji 捕 “to catch; seize”

History of Kanji 捕For the kanji 捕 the seal style writing comprised “hand; an act one does using a hand” (扌, a bushu tehen in kanji) and “roots of a young plant wrapped well” (甫) used phonetically for /ho/ to mean “to grab.” Together they signified “grabbing something by hand firmly.” The kanji 捕 means “to catch; seize.” [The composition of the kanji 捕: 扌 and 甫]

The kun-yomi 捕まえる /tsukamaeru/ means “to capture; seize.” Another kun-yomi 捕る /to‘ru/ means “to catch,” and /-doru/ is in 分捕る (“to plunder; loot” /bundo’ru/) and 生け捕る (“to capture alive” /ikedo’ru/). The on-yomi /ho/ is in 捕鯨 (“whaling” /hogee/), 捕獲枠 (“fishing or hunting quota” /hokaku’waku/) and 逮捕する (“to arrest; apprehend” /ta’iho-suru/).

  1. The kanji 浦 “creek; inlet; bay; seashore”

History of Kanji 浦The seal style writing of the kanji 浦 comprised “water” (氵) and 甫 “to spread” used phonetically for /ho/, together signifying “a wide area along water.” The kanji 浦 means “creek; inlet; bay; seashore.” [The composition of the kanji 浦: 氵 and 甫]

The kun-yomi 浦 /ura/ is in 津々浦々 (“from coast to coast; all over the country” /tsu’tsu ura’ura/). The on-yomi /ho/ is used in rarely used words.

  1. The kanji 舗 “shop”

History of Kanji 舗For the kanji 舗 the seal writing comprised 金 “metal” and 甫 used phonetically for /ho/, together signifying “a metal piece that was used on a door lock or handle.” Later it meant “shop,” and 金changed to 舍 “house.” The kyuji 舖, in blue,  The component 舍changed to 舎 in the shinji, as was the case with other kanji that contained it. The kanji 舗 means “shop.” [The composition of the kanji 舗: 舎 and 甫]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ho/ is in 舗装道路 (“paved street” /hosoodo’oro/), and /-po/ is in 店舗 (“shop” /te’npo/). It is also used for the Japanese word /shinise/ 老舗 “a long-established store.”

  1. The kanji 哺 “to take in one’s mouth”

History of Kanji 哺The seal style writing of the kanji comprised 口 “mouth,” and 甫 used phonetically for /ho/ to mean “to catch,” together meaning a parent bird giving food to its chick’s mouth” and “to chew in the mouth.” The kanji 哺 means “to take in one’s mouth.” [The composition of the kanji 哺: 口 and 甫]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ho/ is in 哺乳類 (“Mammalia” /honyu’urui/) and 哺乳瓶 (“a baby’s nursing bottle” /honyu’ubin/).

History of Kanji 尃By adding a hand below 甫, the shape 尃 in the kyuji style, signified “a hand planting seedlings” or “nursery.” It meant “to spread” and further “wide.” The kanji are 博敷薄簿縛.

  1. The kanji 博 “spreading; wide; broad”

History of Kanji 博For the kanji 博 the bronze ware style writings comprised 尃 “young plant with its roots protected by a hand” used phonetically for /hu; haku/ and 十 “gathering many things into one,” together signifying “planting young seedlings in a wide area” or more generally “spreading; wide.” Later the kanji 博 came to mean “breadth of knowledge.” The right side of the seal style writing still retained the image of the original meaning. The kanji 博 means “spreading; wide.” [The composition of the kanji 博: 十 and 一,曰,丨, a dot and 寸]

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /haku/ is in 博覧会 (“exhibition exposition” /hakura’nkai/), 博学 (“extensive learning; encyclopedic knowledge” /hakugaku/), 博士号 (“doctorate” /hakushi’goo/), 博士 (“expert, an expert” /ha’kase/). /-Baku/ is in 賭博 (“gambling” /tobaku/). /-Paku/ is in 万博 ( “a world fair” /banpaku/).

  1. The kanji 敷 “to spread out; stretch”

History of Kanji 敷For the kanji 敷 the bronze ware style writing was “a young seedling (甫) with its roots protected” that was held by “a hand” (寸), and was used phonetically for /hu/. In seal style “a hand holding a stick” (攴, a bushu bokunyuu) was added to signify “an action.” Together they signified “to plant a seedling in the ground and level the ground” or “to lay spread.” In kanji the bottom left became 方 “four directions.” The kanji 敷 means “to spread out; stretch.” [The composition of the kanji 敷: 一, 曰, 丨, a dot, 方 and 攵]

The kun-yomi 敷く /shiku/ means “to spread; pave; lay out,” and also is in 風呂敷 (“a wrapping cloth” /huro’shiki/), 屋敷 (“residential site; the premises” /yashiki’/), 座敷 (“Japanese-style tatami room; drawing room” /zashiki’/), 敷き布団 (“sleeping mat” /shikibu’ton/) and 敷居 (“threshold; sill of an entrance” /shikii/). The on-yomi /hu/ is in 敷設する (“to construct; build” /husetsu-suru/).

  1. The kanji 薄 “thin; weak; watery”

History of Kanji 薄The seal style of the kanji 薄 comprised“plants” (艸), “water” (氵) and  “wide; to spread flat” used phonetically for /haku/. Water or plants spread in a wide area made it thin. The kanji 薄 meant “thin; weak; watery.” [The composition of the kanji 薄: 艹, 氵and the right side of 博]

The kun-yomi 薄い /usui/ means “thin; weak; watery; pale,” and is in 薄める (“to dilute; weaken” /usumeru/), 手薄な (“thinly staffed” /teusu-na/) and 薄暗い (“gloomy; dusky; dim” /usugurai/). The on-yomi /haku/ is in 軽薄な (“indiscreet; frivolous” /keehaku-na/) and 薄情な (“heartless; coldhearted” /hakujoo-na/).

  1. The kanji 簿 “register; bookkeeping record”

There is no ancient writing for the kanji 簿. The kanji had 竹, a bushu takekammuri “bamboo,” and the same bottom as 薄 “thin” used phonetically for /bo/. Thin wood or bamboo pieces were used for bookkeeping and were bound together. The kanji 簿 means “register; bookkeeping record.” [The composition of the kanji 簿: 竹かんむり, 氵 and the right side of 博]

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /bo/ is in 名簿 (“roll; name list” /meebo/), 帳簿 (“an account book; ledger” /choobo/), 簿記 (“register” /bo’ki/), 戸籍簿 (“a record of koseki – official family register”/koseki’bo/) and 家計簿 (“a housekeeping accounts book” /kake’ebo/).

  1. The kanji 縛 “to restrain; bind”

History of Kanji 縛The seal style writing of the kanji 縛 comprised 糸 “skein of threads” and “a young seedling held in a hand” used phonetically for /baku/. Something constrained in one’s hand and bound in threads gave the meaning “to bind.” The kanji 縛 means “to restrain; bind.” [The composition of the kanji 縛: 糸 and the right side of 博]

The kun-yomi 縛る /shiba’ru/ means “to bind.” The on-yomi /baku/ is in 束縛 (“restraint; shackles” /sokubaku/) and 呪縛 (“spell” /jubaku/).

In our four posts we explored kanji that appeared to share the same original shape (Please refer to the comparison of 東重童専甫 table on our last post). The first two posts were related to stuff that was wrapped around and tied at the two openings and in the middle, signifying “stuff; weight.” The third post was about a spindle being turned by a hand, signifying “to rotate; roll.” And this post was about a seedling whose roots were wrapped for protection, signifying “to protect,” and a hand added to it, signifying “to spread; broad.” On the table we see that the original shapes of all four shapes existed in oracle bone style, the oldest style (all in brown in our color). We also see how creators differentiated meanings using simple shapes available. They would have been astonished to know how complex their simple shapes had become. In the next post we move onto the topic of things that were bundled. Thank you very much for your reading. — Noriko [May 5, 2018]