A Bonfire for “Prosperity” – 栄 and 営


In our life a fire (火) has many faces that are reflected in many different kanji. It can provide us warmth (熱) by burning (燃). It cooks food (焼・煮). One could send a signal to someone near or far in darkness of night by light (灯) or in day light by smoke (煙). Fire leaves soot (点・黒) and charcoal (炭). It could create a calamity (災) by burning everything down to ashes (灰). Or its flame (炎) lights up an area at night (灯・照) to make night life safe. In this post I am going to talk about the flames of a bonfire.

Kanji栄historyBrisk, intense flames of a bonfire (篝火 /kagaribi/ in Japanese) illuminating property suggests “flourishing and prospering.” A property with lots of trees guarded by such bonfires around the property line must be a prosperous house. The kanji 榮 means “prosperous; flourishing.”

The bronze ware style writing for 栄 (its kyujitai 榮), (1), had two intersecting sticks holding a bonfire. The ten-style writing, (2), added two fires around the boundary of the property tree(s). The kyujitai style, (3), had two fires on top. Japanese language reform simplified this to 栄. The kanji 栄 means ”prosperity” and is used in words such as 光栄 /kooei/ “honor,” 栄える /sakae’ru/ “to prosper,” and 栄えある日 /hae’aruhi/ “a day of glory.” We no longer use fires to signify the prosperity.

Kanji 営 HistoryBy replacing a tree with two conjoined rooms or buildings (呂), we get the kanji 営. This kanji too started with two fires −−as in (5) in ten-style and (6) in kyujitai style. 営 originally meant military barracks that had multiple buildings, and important activities were busily conducted there. Now it means “to conduct business; manage.” It is used in words such as 営業中/eegyoochuu/ “Open (for business),” 経営 /keeee/ “management” and (店を)営む /itona’mu/ “to run a store.”

Even though the tops of these kanji got simplified into the same shape as the tops of the kanji 学 “to learn” and 覚 “to memorize,” the two pairs (栄営 and 学覚) have nothing in common. The kyujitai for 学 is 學 and that for 覚 is 覺. I will discuss these kanji at a later date.     [3/6/2014]

PS.  I would like to invite our readers to visit this Tumblr site to see an artistic interpretation of the kanji 栄 (榮) by Yutaka Houlette.  [3-7-2014]

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