In this post we are going to look at five kanji that share the same origin of 才 – 才材財在存.
The kanji 才 “talent; age”
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/).
The kanji 材 “materials”
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/).
The kanji 財 “finance; fortune”
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.
The kanji 在 “to exist”
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”
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]