No new post until October


Dear readers:

Thank you very much for your visit to this blog and continued interest.

I will be gone away from my desk and research materials. I hope to be able to resume my post from Tokyo in early fall.

Noriko   [August 21, 2015]

The Kanji 才材財在存-才


In this post we are going to look at five kanji that share the same origin of 才 – 才材財在存.

  1. The kanji 才 “talent; age”

History of Kanji 才For the kanji 才 in oracle bone style (a), in brown, and bronze ware style (b), (c) and (d), in green, and ten style (e), in red, the cross shape was a weir that was blocking water flow, and came to be used mean “materials” in general. This view from the Kadokawa dictionary was based on the Setsumon’s account. Another interpretation (Shirakawa) is that it was a marker for sanctified area for the god and it meant “what was given by the god,” which is “talent.” In ten style what was blocking or a marker became a slightly slanted line, which in kanji became a katakana ノ /no/ shape that crossed a vertical line. (It is different from a katakana オ.) Customarily it is also used in casual writing of the kanji 歳 “one’s age” (but not as “year”).  The kanji 才 means “ability; talent; one’s age.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /sa’i/ is in 才能 (“talent; ability” /sainoo/), 天才 (“genius” /tensai/), 才覚 (“ability; wit” /saikaku/), 異才 (“genius; prodigy” /isai/), and 三十才 (“thirty years old” /sanji’ssai/).

  1. The kanji 材 “materials”

History of Kanji 材For the kanji 材 in ten style on the left was a kihen, “wood; tree,” and the right side was 才 “natural materials.” From “raw materials that came from a tree” it meant “timber.” From timbers it also meant “materials” in general.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /za’i/ is in 材木 (“lumber; timber” /zaimoku/), 木材 (“wooden materials” /moku’zai/), 材料 (“materials” /zairyo’o/), 教材 (“study materials” /kyoozai/), 食材 (“ingredients; food to cook” /shokuzai/), and 人材 (“personnel; talent” /jinzai/).

  1. The kanji 財 “finance; fortune”

History of Kanji 財For the kanji 財 in ten style the left side was a bushu kaihen or kai 貝 “cowry,” which signified “money.” The right side 才 meant “materials” from what was accumulated around a weir. Together money that accumulated meant “fortune” and “finance.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /za’i/ is in 財政 (“national finance” /zaisee/), 財産 (“assets; estate; property” /za’isan/), 財を成す (“to build one’s fortune” /za’i-o nasu/), 私財を投じる(“to expend one’s own fortune on” /shi’zai-o toojiru/) and 財テク (“money investment/management aimed at high yielding” /zaiteku/). Another on-yomi /sa’i/ is in 財布 (“wallet” /saihu/).

Coining a word from a foreign word: The word 財テク is said to have come from 財務テクノロジー.  The word 財務 /za’imu/ means “department of finance” in a company. テクノロジー /tekuno’rojii/ is, of course, “technology.” It described a way for company finance management people to seek for a high yield investment opportunity. The word tekunorojii implied an engineered or constructed scheme in managing a fund that was unconventionally creative. It is used for an individual investor too.

Japanese coins a word from foreign words by taking two initial syllables of each word. So, usually a new word consists of four syllables. The popular children’s anime figure ポケモン (“Pokemon” /pokemon/) is a good example. It took two first syllables of the English words, pocket (ポケット /poke’tto/) and monster (モンスター /mo’nsutaa/). Sometimes it ends up in a three-syllable word if it includes a long vowel or double consonant syllable. More recently when I hear words such as スタバ /sutaba/ (from スターバックス “Starbucks” /sutaa’bakkusu/) and ミスド /misudo/ (from ミスタードーナッツ “Mister Donuts” /mi’sutaa do’onattsu/) in young people’s lively conversation, I sense that it is a sign of approval and acceptance by these young people as a Japanese word.

  1. The kanji 在 “to exist”

History of Kanji 在There are a number of writing samples for the kanji 在 “to exist.” It must have been an important kanji in ancient times. The oracle bone style samples, (a) and (b), and the bronze ware style samples, (c), (d), the left side of (e) and the right side of (f) were the same as 才. Just as the interpretations of 才 differ, the interpretations of the right side of (f) differ. The Kadokawa dictionary views that it was “dirt” 土. Dirt and weir together signified that the dirt accumulated around the weir. From “dirt or something is there,” it meant “to exist.” Another view, by Shirakawa, is that it was a “warrior’s axe” 士, which meant “man; warrior.” (A more ornamental large axe became the kanji 王 “king.”) Together with a marking of a divine place (才), an axe, a symbol of a ruler, protected a place. It signified that the location was a sacred spot of the god’s presence. It meant “to exist.” Which view do we take?

Well, the key point seems to be how we view the right side of the sample (e) and (f).  So I went back to Akai (2010) and compared the ancient writings for 土 and 士. The difficulty I have was that some of the bronze ware style writings of 土 and 士 looked very similar. In general, however, the kanji 土 had emphasis on the top because that was a mound of soil on the ground, signifying the god of earth. On the other hand the kanji 士 had an emphasis on the bottom because that was the blade of a weapon, a warrior’s axe. The sample (e) and (f) do look like the emphasis was on the bottom. So are we to treat this as 士?  Of course this has to be interpreted in the larger picture of related kanji. When writing became ten style (g), it was 土. My thinking is that it is reasonable to think that historically two interpretations existed. In kanji, the shape 才 changed to the current shape with the second stroke the more prominent slanted stroke. The transition is not clear.

The kun-yomi 在る /a’ru/ means “to exist.” The on-yomi /za’i/ is 現在 (“at present” /ge’nzai/), 在庫 (“stock; inventory” /zaiko/), 不在 (“absence” /huzai/), 実在する (“to actually exist” /jitsuzai-suru/), 在学中 (“in school” /zaigakuchuu/), 自由自在に (“complete freedom; with complete mastery” /jiyu’u jizai/), 在宅ケア (”home care” /zaitakuke’a/), 在留外国人 (“foreign resident” /zairyuugaikoku’jin/).

 5. The kanji 存 “to sustain; live long; think”

History of Kanji 存For the kanji 存, in ten style the left side was a weir and the right side was a child. The sound of the right side also meant “to accumulate.” From soil accumulating around the weir over time, it meant “to sustain; live long.” In Japanese it is also used to mean “to think; know” in humble style.

The on-yomi /zo’n/ is in 実存する (“to exist in reality” /jitsuzon-suru/), 生存者 (“survivor” /seezo’nsha/), 存じている (“to know” [humble-style] /zo’njiteiru/), ご存知ですか (“Do you know?” [honorific-style] /gozo’njidesuka?/). Another on-yomi /so’n/ is in 存在する (“to exist” /sonzai-suru/).

才 in a traditional kanji dictionary — One curious thing about 才 is that in a traditional kanji dictionary it is listed among 手 in a four stroke bushu section. A bushu tehen, which has three strokes, is listed in this four-stroke section of 手. The kanji shape 才 does look similar to a tehen, doesn’t it, even though 才 and a tehen had no relationship at all. The Kangxi dictionary classified kanji by shapes. As a child I hated the kanji dictionary. Who would not have?  There was no clue that I should look up 才 in the four stroke section. Nowadays there are many indexes to look up kanji. But if you need to dig up old information, you have to use an old dictionary and your patience will be tested.

In the traditional dictionary, other kanji that came from 才 that we looked at in this post were all listed in different bushu sections — 材 in 木 /kihen/ “tree; wooden,” 財 in 貝 /ka’i/ “cowry,” 在 in 土 /tsuchi’/ “soil dirt” and 存 in 子 /ko/ “child.”

We will continue to look at the shapes that were related to human habitats, perhaps “building.” [August 15, 2015]

P. S. for an iPad user

I have learned this evening something about the importance of language setting for Japanese on iPad. If your iPad shows the kanji 才“talent” exactly the same way as the katakana オ in this post, you need to add the Japanese language. I would suggest doing the following; Tap (1) Setting (2) General (3) Language & Region (4) iPad Language – leave English (or your own language) as it is; Click Add Language (5) Tap 日本語 (6) Done (7) Click Keep English. You should be able to get correct Japanese kanji.

It seems that the default setting on iPad gives you simplified Chinese characters. After I got my iOS reinstalled at an Apple store while ago (it had become corrupted), I did not bother to set up the language myself, unlike two years ago when a very able Japanese-speaking staff at the store set it up for me. Since the new iOS I have been seeing a square between kanji when my original input was a nakaguro (・) (particularly on the Previous Posts page) and some truncated shapes. Now the mystery is solved. Because the correct shapes matters in our exploration together, I wanted to share my experience with you.   – Noriko  [August 16, 2015]

The Kanji 至室屋到致台(臺)-至


In this post we are going to look at kanji that contain 至 “an arrow reaching the ground.” They are the kanji 至室屋到致台(臺).

  1. The kanji 至 “an end; to reach an end”

History of Kanji 至For the kanji 至 in oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style, in green, it was an arrow coming downward, and the line at the bottom was the ground. When an arrow hits the ground that is as far as it can go. So, it meant “an end; to reach an end.” In ten style, in red, the arrowhead was stretched, and became a part of the component 土 in kanji. The kun-yomi 至る /ita’ru/ means ”to reach an end.” It is in the phrase 至れり尽くせり (“boundless hearty hospitality” /itare’ri tsukuse’ri/) and 至る所 (“throughout; everywhere” /ita’rutokoro/). The on-yomi /shi/ is in 至急 (“without delay” /shikyuu/) and 必至の (“inevitable; sure” /hisshi-no/).

2 The kanji 室 “room”

History of Kanji 室For the kanji 室, in all three ancient writing styles, the outside was a house. The oracle bone style sample did not have a short dot at the top whereas the bronze ware style and ten style samples had it. Inside was an arrow hitting the ground, whose development was virtually the same as 至. When an arrow was shot inside a house, it would hit the wall of a room. It meant “room.” In kanji a house became a bushu ukanmuri “house.” The kun-yomi 室 /muro’/ means “cellar; greenhouse,” and is in 氷室 (“icehouse” /hi’muro/). The on-yomi /shi’tsu/ is in 洋室 (“western-style room” /yooshitsu/), 室内 (“inside a room” /shitsu’nai/), 研究室 (“research room; professor’s office” /kenkyu’ushitsu/) and 暗室 (“darkroom” /anshitsu/.)

  1. The kanji 屋 “house”

History of Kanji 屋For the kanji 屋 in ten style the bottom was an arrow reaching the ground, as seen above. The upper left shape尸, however, is a problematic shape for us if we look for a one-on-one correspondence between a shape and the meaning. As a bushu in kanji it is called shikabane. It appeared in a number of kanji, and there are a few different interpretations, including “deceased person,” “roof” and “buttock.”

History of Kanji 尸(frame)The shape 尸 shikabane: The shape 尸 is not a currently used kanji, but its history was well-documented, as shown on the right. It was a person in a sitting position – a person in a sluggish posture or a deceased person. The name shikabane means a dead body. There is a non-Joyo kanji 屍, which consists of a bushu shikabane and the kanji 死 “death.”

The Setsumon account of the kanji 屋 mentions two meanings, “a deceased person” and “a house.” How are the two meanings related? Shirakawa’e explanation is that 屋 was a mortuary where a deceased person was temporarily enshrined. The component 至 added the meaning that the location was indicated by the god with an arrow. The Kadokawa dictionary’s explanation is more appealing to us in modern life even though it lacks the explanation of where it came from. It says that 尸 was a draped cloth and 至 signified a place deep in the back of a house, that is a sleeping chamber in the back. From that it came to be used to mean “house.”

The kun-yomi /ya/ is not used by itself but it is in 屋根 (“roof” /ya’ne/), 本屋 (“bookstore” /ho’nya/). The on-yomi /o’ku/ is in 家屋 (“house” /ka’oku/), 屋上 (“rooftop” /okujoo/).

 4. The kanji 到 “to arrive”

History of Kanji 到For the kanji 至, in the two bronze ware style samples on the left both had an arrow that reached the end, and a standing person on the side. Together they signified a person reaching the end or goal. So far it makes sense, doesn’t it. But then, something happened in ten style — the right side became a knife or sword. In ancient writing the shape for a person and the shape for a sword looked very similar. The Setsumon’s account of 到 took the right side as a phonetic component for /to’o/ from 刀 “knife.” Looking at the bronze ware style sample, it appears more likely that it was miscopied as a sword. That makes the formation of this kanji to be a semantic composite writing, rather than a semantic-phonetic composite writing. In kanji, the right side further changed to a bushu ritto /rittoo/, “vertical sword.” It means “to reach an end; arrive.” The difference between these two kanji 至 and 到 could be that 至 is the end itself whereas 到 concerns a person reaching the end, meaning “to reach; arrive.” The kun-yomi 到る /ita’ru/ means “to arrive; reach; arrive.” The on-yomi /to’o/ is in 到着 (“arrival” /toochaku/), 到底できない (“cannot possibly” /tootee deki’nai/) and 殺到する (“to rush out” /sattoo-suru/.)

  1. The kanji 致 “to do; make; cause”

History of Kanji 致For the kanji 致 in ten style the left side was now familiar shape to us. The right side was “footprint” signifying “walking.” Together they originally meant “to go to the destination on foot.” The meaning changed to “to do; make; cause.” The “correct” kanji shape, in light blue, originally had a bushu suinyo 夂 (/suinyoo/) on the right. It was not a kyujitai, however. The current kanji uses a bushu bokuzukuri, which means “to act upon.” A bushu bokuzukuri originated from “a hand holding a stick.” It is interesting to think that the old kanji had a footprint whereas the shinjitai came from a hand. The kanji 致 means “to do; make; cause.” The kun-yomi 致す /ita’su/ is a humble verb of する to mean “to do,” as in 私が致します (“I will do it.” /watakushi-ga itashima’su/.) The on-yomi /chi/ is in 致命的な (“fatal” /chimeeteki-na/) and 一致する (“to correspond with; fall in line with” /itchi-suru/).

  1. The Kanji 台 (臺) “stand; raised level”

History of Kanji 台 (臺)There is one more kanji that I would like to put in among kanji that contain 至 even though the shinjitai does not. In bronze ware style and ten style on the left the top was a tall tower to watch enemy. It shared the same origin with the kanji 高 “tall.” The bottom showed a house where an arrow ended and stayed. Together they meant “stand; tower; raised level.” The kyujitai, in blue, consisted of the kanji 吉 and 室. In shinjitai, it was replaced by the shape 台. The history of the shape 台 is shown on the right.

History of Kanji 台(frame)The kanji : The top was a haw and the bottom was a mouth or words. Together they meant “to begin communal fieldwork.” It was the original shape of the kanji 始 “to begin.” So the shape 台 had no relationship with the meaning “stand; platform.” I would think that people were using this shape as a simplified writing for a very complex kanji such as 臺.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi 台 /da’i/ means “stand; platform,” and is in 台所 (“kitchen” /daidokoro/.)  /tai/ is in the country name Taiwan, which is written both in 台湾 in shinjitai and 臺灣 in kyujitai. On this blog I am afraid that the text font size is too small to make out the kyujitai.

I think we have covered a house enough for now. Next we will go back to outside the house to look for other origins. [August 8, 2015]

The Kanji 戸所門問間開閉関閣 – もんがまえ


In this post we are going to look at kanji that came from a door (戸) and closed two doors (門).

  1. The kanji 戸 “door; family”

History of Kanji 戸For the kanji 戸, in oracle bone style, in brown on the left, it was a single door  that swung open. It meant a “door.” The front door to a house also signified the people inside, thus “family.” In ten style, in red, the top right, which was a hinge to lock, got separated, and it became a separate stroke in kanji. The kanji 戸 meant “door; family.”

The kun-yomi 戸 /to/ means “door,” and is in 網戸 (“screen door; window screen” installed in summer /ami’do/), 戸棚 (“cupboard; cabinet” /todana/), 戸締まりをする (“to lock the doors” /toji’mari-o-suru/). The on-yomi /ko/ is in 一戸建ち (“single-family house” /ikkodachi/), 戸外 (“outdoor” /ko’gai/), 戸別訪問 (“door-to-door canvasing” /kobetsuho’omon/) and 戸籍 (“family registry” /koseki/). Koseki information includes the record of birth, marriage, divorce, family members, adoption and death. It is the ultimate ID document as a Japanese national.

  1. The kanji 所 “place”

History of Kanji 所For the kanji 所, in bronze ware style and ten styles the left side was a single swing door. The right side was an axe. The explanation of these two components making up the meaning “place” is obscure. Setsumon said that it was “the sound of cutting a tree.” Another view is that they meant a place where an axe was.

The kun-yomi 所 /tokoro’/ means “place,” and is in 台所 (“kitchen” /daidokoro/), 居所 (“whereabouts” /idokoro/). The adverb ところどころ “here and there; patches of” is sometimes written in kanji 所々. The on-yomi /sho/ is in 住所 (“address of residence” /ju’usho/), 所在地 (“address” /shoza’ichi/), 所定の (“prescribed” /shotee-no/).

  1. The kanji 門 “gate”

History of Kanji 門For the kanji 門, in both oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style two types of shapes existed — one had two swinging doors with a hinge at the top of each door to ensure closure, and another was just two swinging doors. Closed double doors protected or hid what was inside. The hinge to lock the door indicated that purpose. In ten style, the side bar at the top disappeared and the two poles became long, just as they did in 戸. When used as a kanji 門 meant a “gate.” When used as a component, it became a bushu mongamae, which signified “to hide and protect what is behind,” as we are going to see in the next six kanji.

The kun-yomi /ka’do/ is in 門出 (“departure; setting out” /kadode/), お門違いな (“barking at the wrong tree” /okadochi’gai-na/). The on-yomi /mo’n/ is in 門 (“gate” /mo’n/), 門外不出 (“much-treasured heirloom; treasure that never allowed to be taken out” /mo’ngai hushutsu/), 門下生 (“student; disciple” /monka’see/), 一門 (“clan” /ichi’mon/) and 入門書 (“introductory book” /nyuumonsho/).

  1. The kanji 問 “question; to inquire”

History of Kanji 問For the kanji 問, in oracle bone style and ten style, a mouth was added to two closed doors. One asked what was hidden behind the doors that were closed. It meant “to inquire; question.” I like this kanji — 門 is not something we can easily walk through but something that blocks our going in. It is closed and locked. What is behind remains a mystery and unknown to us. We want to know. So, standing on this side of the doors shut, we ask (by using words) what is on the other side. Curiously the kanji 問 is not classified as a mongamae (門) kanji but as a kuchi or kuchihen (口) kanji in a traditional kanji dictionary.

The kun-yomi /to/ is in 問い合わせる (“to inquire” /toiawase’ru/), 問いと答 (“question and answer” /toi-to-koto’e/), 問いかける (“to cast a question” /toikake’ru/).  問屋 “wholesale store dealer” has two readings /toiya; tonya/. The on-yomi /mo’n/ is in 問題 (“problem; issue; question” /mondai/), 押し問答する (“to haggle; argue” /oshimo’ndoo-suru/).

  1. The kanji 間 “duration; gap”

History of Kanji 間For the kanji 間, the left sample in bronze ware style had an early moon and a knife or person under the closed doors. The right sample had a moon above two closed doors. It meant a moonlight coming in through the opening of the two doors for a period of time. The ten style writing and the kyujitai, in blue, had a moon 月 inside 門.  In fact among many samples available to us none of the ancient writings had the sun 日, as the shinjitai does. To think about it, a moon at night makes more sense than the sun in a broad daylight because it described the gap between two doors from which one saw a moon moving across, and that happened in a certain duration of time. From that it meant “gap; in-between” and “duration.” It is used for spatial and temporal sense.

The kun-yomi 間 /aida/ means “duration; interval; gap,” and is in 間柄 (“relationship” /aidagara/). Another kun-yomi /ma/ is in 知らない間に (“while one did not know; before one realizes” /shiranaimani/), 間抜けな (“foolish; stupid” /manukena/) and 間もなく (“shortly; soon” /mamo’naku/). The on-yomi /ka’n/ is inその間 (“during that time’ /sonoka’n/ in writing, also /sonoaida/ in speaking), 中間 (“middle; medium” /chuukan/), 間一髪 (“by a hairbreadth; to have a narrow escape from” /ka’n ippatsu), 空間 (“room; space” /kuukan/). Another on-yomi /ke’n/ is a go-on, and it is in 世間 (“world of people” /se’ken/).

  1. The kanji 開 “to open”

History of Kanji 開In the earlier style of the kanji 開 given by Setsumon, in gray, the outside was two closed doors and inside was two hands trying to open the bolt above. It meant “to open; begin.”

The kun-yomi 開ける /akeru/ is a transitive verb and means “to open.” Its intransitive counterpart is 開く(”to open” /aku/).  開く also has another kun-yomi /hira’ku/ and means the same, “to open.” The on-yomi /ka’i/ is in 開会 (“opening a meeting” /kaikai/), 開口一番 (“to begin his speech with ~” /kaikooichi’ban/) and 開発する (“to develop” /kaihatsu-suru/.)

  1. The kanji 閉 “to close”

History of Kanji 閉In the bronze ware style of the kanji 閉, inside the two closed doors it was a weir that blocked the flow of water. Together blocking something or someone coming in meant “to close.”  (We are going to look at the shape inside (才) in the next post.) The kun-yomi 閉じる /toji’ru/ means “to close,” and also is in 閉じ込める (“to shut in” /tojikome’ru/). Another kun-yomi 閉める /shime’ru/ and its intransitive verb counterpart 閉まる /shima’ru/ mean “to close.” The on-yomi /he’e/ is in 開閉 (“opening and closing” /kaihee/), and 閉店時間 (“store closing time” /heetenji’kan/).

  1. The kanji 関 “checkpoint; to relate”

History of Kanji 関In the bronze ware style of the kanji 関, it had two bolts inside the closed two doors. From putting the bolts down, it became a “checkpoint.” In ten style and kyujitai the inside became two skeins of threads with a tied end, which signified “to close securely.” Together they meant “checkpoint.” Threads also connected things, thus it meant “to relate.” In shinjitai, the inside was simplified to the shape that was the same as the top of the kanji 送 or 咲. The kun-yomi /se’ki/ is in 関所 (“checkpoint” /sekisho/).  Another kun-yomi 関わる /kakawa’ru/ means “to touch on; affect.” The on-yomi /ka’n/ is in 関係 (“relationship” /kankee/), 通関 (“clearing the customs” /tsuukan/), Xに関して (“concerning X” /X ni ka’nshite/), 玄関 (“front door; front hall” /ge’nkan/) and 関心がある (“to be interested in” /kanshin-ga a’ru/.)

  1. The kanji 閣 “large important building; cabinet body”

History of Kanji 閣The ten style writing of the kanji 閣 had two closed doors outside, and the inside was the kanji 各, which was used phonetically for /ka’ku/. From an important structure that had a bolt on the gate doors, it meant a “large important building; pavilion.” It also meant a “cabinet body.” The on-yomi /ka’ku/ is in 内閣 (“cabinet” /na’ikaku/), 閣議 (“cabinet meeting” /ka’kugi/) and 金閣寺 (Kinkakuji Temple /ki’nkakuji/.)

Of the seven kanji that has 門 that we looked at here, the first six kanji were all semantic composite writing (会意文字), and only one 閣 was a semantic-phonetic composite writing (形声文字). The explanation of these kanji is straightforward and easy to digest. Kanji study by a bushu, or a common component in a broader sense, generally allows us to focus on what is different from other kanji that share the same bushu shape. In semantic composite writings such as mongamae kanji that advantage is more evident.  [August 1, 2015]