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]

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