The kanji 寺 – 持待侍特時詩等 – “to hold; sustain”


The kanji 寺 “temple” appears in many frequently-used kanji as a tsukuri (旁 “the right side of a kanji”), but their meanings do not appear to be related to anything like a temple. In this post, we examine how the component 寺 came to be used in those kanji.

(1) The kanji 寺 “temple”

History of Kanji 寺The top of the kanji 寺 looks like the kanji 土 /do/ “soil; ground,” but in bronze ware style, in green, it was a footprint that would become 止 “to halt” or 之 ”to go.” Both kanji 止 and 之 came from the same image of a footstep, and the oracle bone style share the same shapes.  History of Kanji 之The development of the kanji 之 is shown on the right. (We have discussed the kanji 止 in the posts of December 28, 3013, and July 5, 2014.) Even though the kanji 之 is used in a male name, such as /yuki/, and is a frequently used kanji in any kanbun style writing, surprisingly it is not included in the revised Joyo kanji. Both 止 and 之 have the sound /shi or ji/ and played a phonetic role in many of the kanji that contain 寺.

Now, the meaning of 寺. In bronze ware style, it had a footstep and 寸, “hand” (please refer to the June 22, 2014 post.) The footstep gave the sound and probably the meaning of halting one’s step or staying in one place. The hand gave the meaning “to hold in hand.” Together the kanji 寺originally meant “to have in hand; keep; sustain.” Then in the Han dynasty it came to mean “government office; court office.” People who serve in imperial court and government offices worked using their hands. The government office that handled guests and diplomatic delegates from foreign countries was called 鴻臚寺 /kooroji/. Later on this guest house became a place for visiting Buddhist monks from the west to stay. From that the kanji 寺 came to mean a “temple.” So, the original meaning of 寺 “holding in hand; staying in one place; to sustain” changed to “government office” and further to “temple.”

The kun-yomi is 寺 /tera/ and means “temple.” The on-yomi /ji/ is in 寺院 (“temple” /ji’in/) and 東大寺 (“Todaiji temple” /to’odaiji/).

(2) The kanji 持 “to have; hold”

History of Kanji 持Now we are going to look at kanji that use 寺 as a tsukuri. Generally speaking, tsukuri indicated sound, and it was often the case that component used phonetically also kept its original meaning.

For the kanji 持, In bronze ware style, it had a footstep and a hand, which was the same as the kanji 寺, and it meant “to hold in hand.” In ten style, the left side had five fingers, which became a bushu tehen, ”hand; an act one does using a hand.” (Please refer to the June 7, 2013, post.) The right side 寺 was used phonetically and to mean “to hold in hand.” Together they meant “to hold or keep something in hand; sustain; possess.”

The kun-yomi 持つ “own; have; to hold in hand” is in 持っている (“to own; have; hold in hand” /mot’teiru), 持ってくる (“to bring” /motteku’ru/), 持ち物 (“belonging; property” /mochi’mono/). The on-yomi is in 持続する (“to last long time” /jizoku-suru/), 持参する (“to bring” [humble style] /jisan-suru/).

(3) The kanji 待 “to wait”

History of Kanji 待For the kanji 待, In bronze ware style, the left side was the left half of a crossroad, which became a bushu gyoninben “to go; conduct.” The right side had a footprint and a hand, and was used phonetically to mean “to sustain”. Holding back to crossing a crossroad meant “to wait.”

The kun-yomi 待つ /ma’tsu/ “to wait” is in 待ち合わせる”to meet up,” キャンセル待ち (“on a wait-list” /kyanserumachi/).  The on-yomi /ta’i/ is in 招待する (“to invite” /sho’otai-suru/), 待遇がいい (“to be treated well” /taiguu ga i’i/.)

(4) The kanji 侍 “vassal; attendant; retainer”

History of Kanji 侍In the ten style of the kanji 侍, the left side was a person, a bushu ninben. The right side 寺 was used phonetically for /ji/ and meant “government office; court office.” Together a person who serves someone in a high position closely meant “vassal; attendant; retainer.” Later on in Japan it was used for /samurai/ “military retainer (who serves a daimyo).”

The kun-yomi are 侍 /samurai/ (“samurai warrior”) and 侍る /habe’ru/ (“to wait upon.”)  The on-yomi /ji/ is in 侍従 (“chamberlain” /jijuu/) and 侍医 (“court physician” /ji’i/.)

(5) The kanji 特 “special; to stand out”

History of Kanji 特For the kanji 特, in ten style, the left side was a bushu ushihen “cow; bull.” The right side 寺 was used phonetically for /to’ku/ and meant “to stay in one place.” Together they meant a big mature stallion that stayed in a place and stood out in the herd. From that it meant “to stand out.” There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /to’ku/ is in 特に (“especially” /to’kuni/), 特別な (“special” /tokubetsuna/) and 特売 (“special sale” /tokubai/.)

(6) The kanji 時 “time; o’clock”

History of Kanji 時For the kanji 時, in oracle bone style, it was a footprint to signify “to sustain” at the top, and the sun at the bottom. In bronze ware style and ten style, the sun moves to the left. The right side took the shape of the kanji 寺 that had meant “to keep,” and had the sound /ji/. From “to sustain movement of the sun,” it meant “time.”

The kun-yomi /toki/ is その時 (“at that time; then” /sonoto’ki/), 時々 (“sometimes’ /tokidoki/), その時々によって (depending on the occasion /sono-toki’doki ni yotte/), 潮時 (“good timing” /shiodoki/). The on-yomi /ji/ is in 時間 (“time; duration of time” /jikan/), 何時 (“what time” /na’nji/), and 時代 (“era; period” /jidai/.)

(7) The Kanji 詩 “poetry”

History of Kanji 詩In the ten style writing of the kanji 詩, the left side was a bushu gonben, “words; language,” and the right was used phonetically for the sound /shi/ to mean “one’s own wish” (志.) The kanji 志 “aspiration” comes from “one goes (from “a footprint”) as his heart (from “a heart”) desires.” Words that express one’s own thought or idea are “poetry” and the kanji 詩 means “poetry.” There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /shi/ is in 詩 (“poetry” /shi/), 詩的な (“poetic” /shitekina/), and 詩人 (“poet” /shijin/).

 (8) The kanji 等 “equal; such things as; etc.”

History of Kanji 等For the kanji 等, in ten style the top was a bushu takekanmuri “bamboo” and the bottom 寺 was used phonetically only. Bamboo or wooden tablets were cut to an equal length to be bound to make a rolled book. It meant “equal; equivalent of.”

The kun-yomi 等しい /hitoshi’i/ means “equal.” It is also used as a plural suffix 等 /na’do or /to’o/ “such things as; etc.” and ら, as in 我等 (“we all” /wa’rera/). The on-yomi /to’o or do’o/ is in 平等 (“equality” /byoodoo/), 等分する (“to divide equaly” /toobun-suru/), 高等な (“advanced” /kootoo-na/).

We have seen eight kanji that contain 寺 in this post. The component 寺 is not a traditional bushu, but we have seen that the original meaning of “to hold; sustain” permeates the meanings of those kanji. We should remember that the meaning “temple” was added to 寺 much later well after kanji were established. That is why other kanji have no connection with the meaning “temple.”  [January 24, 2015]

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