The Kanji 行街術衛 – ゆきがまえ


In this and next posts, we are going to look at kanji that contain a bushu yukigamae (行) and bushu gyooninben (). The two bushu come from an image of crossroad.

1. 行 “to go; carry out; line”

History of Kanji 行For the kanji 行, in oracle bone style, bronze ware style and ten style, it was a crossroad. The vertical direction was thicker and suggested rather than turning to the right or left, one went ahead straight. From that it meant “to go; way” and also meant “to carry out” and “to conduct oneself,” when that principle was applied to a person. A straight line also was used to mean “line” in writing.

There are a couple of things I need to mention here. The word 行く “to go” has two pronunciations いく /iku/ and ゆく /yuku/ and have been used interchangeably way back in history. Another example that /i/ and yu/ are used interchangeably is the word 言う (“to say” いう /iu/ and ゆう /yuu/).

Another thing is that the kanji 行 has three different on-yomi with its own history. Yes, three on-yomi. This is on top of another kun-yomi /okona/ in 行う (“to carry out” /okonau/). As you know, the Japanese language adopted the Chinese writing over a long stretch of centuries. Even among the people in China kanji was pronounced differently depending on the regional dialects from which the ruling dynasy came from.  What Japanese had learned as the correct Chinese pronunciation became outdated or came to be viewed as “country-style” when the new power came in in China. So during the Tang (唐) dynasty, to bring the on-yomi up to date the Japanese Heian court officially changed the on-yomi in line with the contemporary Chinese pronunciation. That was called kan-on  (“sounds of the Han people”). A large portion of on-yomi words that we use now is kan-on based. At the same time the pronunciation prior to that, called go-on, remained in words that were deeply rooted in Buddhism and people’s daily life. The sounds that were brought in after that were called too-on (“Chinese sound”). They are small groups of words.

So, the kanji 行 ended up with five different pronunciations in Japanese. /i/ い or /yu/ ゆ is in 東京行き(Tokyo-bound /tookyooiki; tookyooyuki/). Even though kun-yomi /i/ or /yu/ is interchangeably used, words such as 行方知らず (“whereabouts unknown” /yukueshi’razu/), 行く末 (“one’s future” /yukusue/) are pronounced as /yu/. Another kun-yomi 行う /okonau/ means “to carry out; conduct,” and is in 行い (“conduct; behavior; deed” /okonai/).

Among the on-yomi, the kan-on /ko’o/ is in 行為 (“action; behavior; deed” /ko’oi/), 銀行 (“bank” /ginkoo/), 旅行 (“travel; trip” /ryokoo/); the go-on /gyo’o/ is in 行列 (“queue; file; procession” /gyooretsu/), 行 (“religious training” /gyoo/), 行 (“line” /gyo’o/) and 行儀 (“manners; deportment; etiquette” /gyoogi/); and the too-on /a’n/ is in 行脚 (“pilgrimage; tour” /a’ngya/), 行灯 (“paper-shade lamp stand” /andon/).

2. 街 “town; street”

History of Kanji 街For the kanji 街, in ten style, the outside was a full shape of a crossroad. The inside was two mounds of dirt stacked up neatly, signifying an area that people built. Together they meant a town with many major streets running through.

The kun-yomi 街 /machi’/ means “town; street,” and 街角 “on the street” /machikado/. The on-yomi /ga’i/ is in 街灯 (“street light” /gaitoo/) and 街路樹 (“tree lining a street” /gairo’ju/)

3. 術 “skill; art”

History of Kanji 術Many different views exist for this kanji. We look at a couple of them. The first one is that in the center was millets sticking to the stalk, signifying “to follow” and the outside a crossroad, signifying “way” to go. From the ways people would adhere to carry out things it meant “means; skills; art.” Another account is by Shirakara that in the center was an animal spell curse and the outside was a crossroad, where an evil spirit was exorcised. An art of casting out spells came to mean “means; skills; art.” It meant “method; means; art.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ju’tsu/ is in 芸術 (“fine arts” /geejutsu/), 手術 (“surgical operation /shu’jutsu/) and 技術 (“technology” /gi’jutsu/)

4. 衛 “to protect”

History of Kanji 衛The kanji 衛 was discussed in the post dated July 13, 2014. (One Foot at a Time (2) 韋衛圍(囲)違偉) with a focus on the middle component 韋. 韋 came from two feet walking in opposite directions around an area, and signified soldiers patrolling the city wall. In Akai (2010), we can see many samples of ancient style for the kanji 衛, several of which are shown above. The oracle bone style samples (a) and (b) had a plough in the middle and the bronze ware style (c) had something else. Even though there may be a more complicated story than two feet walking in opposite directions patrolling, we leave it as it is. There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /e’i/ is in 衛生 (“hygiene; cleanliness” /eesee/), 防衛 (“defense” /booee/).

In the next post, we will look at kanji that have a bushu gyooninben, which is the left side of a crossroad. (October, 18, 2015)

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