The Kanji 京景影就涼鯨高稿亭停

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In this post we are going to focus on three shapes, 京高亭, and other kanji that contain those shapes — 景影就涼鯨稿停. All of these kanji, whose meanings differ, show a common shape at the top, a bushu nabebuta “top; cover” and 口 “mouth; opening.” Does this mean anything? The best way to find out is to look at ancient writing. So, let us begin.

  1. The kanji 京 “capital; large”

History of Kanji 京The origin of the kanji 京 was explained by Setsumon two thousand years ago as a very tall hill where people lived. Following that many references explain that the bottom was a tall hill and the top was a town. Ancient people chose a bright tall hill to live where they could avoid floods or humidity, and such an area of concentration became the capital, thus 京 meant “capital.” I took this view in the Key to Kanji. On the other hand, from the earlier writings (oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style, in green) Shirakawa viewed the bottom as a tall arch gate, rather than a hill, and the top as a watchtower. A tall arch gate with a watchtower was built at the entrance of a military quarter or a castle town. From that it came to mean “capital.” A capital was a large town; thus it also meant “large.”

The capital of Japan, where the emperor resided, was in 京都 (“Kyoto” /kyo’oto/) for over a thousand years from 810 (Heian period) through 1868 (Tokugawa/Edo period). With the return of political power to the Emperor by the last Tokugawa shogun, the Emperor moved into the Edo castle in 江戸 /edo/, which was renamed 東京 /tookyoo/ “eastern capital.” The other meaning of the kanji 京 “large” is read as /ke’e/ in go-on. It is used for the number that is ten thousand times 兆 (“trillion” /cho’o/). I have no idea for any practical use of that big a number, except as the name 京 /ke’e/ for the super computer that Fujitsu and Riken created.

There are several kanji that contain 京. Let us look at the kanji 景影就涼鯨. None of them has writing samples that predated ten style.

  1. The kanji 景 “fine view”

History of Kanji 景In the ten style writing, in red, of the kanji 景, the top 日 was the sun, and the bottom 京 was used phonetically for /ke’e/, and meant “bright light.” In a high place where the sun is bright, the view is good and clear. The kanji 景 meant a “fine view; good scene.” It is also used to mean good economic condition.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ke’e/ is in 光景 (“spectacle; scene” /kookee/), 背景 (“background” /haikee/), 景気 (“economy; business cycle” /keeki/), 不景気 (“recession; economic slump” /huke’eki/). Another on-yomi /ke/ is in 景色 (“scenery” /ke’shiki/) and 景色ばむ (“to become angry; start to show anger” /keshikiba’mu/).

  1. The kanji 影 “shadow”

There is no ancient writing for the kanji 影. The left side 景 was “bright light,” and the right side was a shape that generally showed that something was a “pretty design or shape.” Bright sun shine creates a clear silhouette which casts a shadow. From that 影 meant “shadow.” Looking at the two kanji 景 “bright scene” and 影 “shadow” together always makes me think that light, shape and shadow are, elusive as it may be, really one thing. My wondering thought on those two kanji always takes me to a couple of old Japanese master filmmakers, Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, who tried to capture images in their memorable and powerful monochromic films. The word 撮影 (“filming; photography” /satsuee/) means capturing by hand (撮, the right side 取 used phonetically) silhouettes or shadows made by the sun (影). The kun-yomi /ka’ge/ means “shadow,” and is in 人影のない所 (“empty place” /hitokagenona’itokoro/). The on-yomi /e’e/ is in 影響 (“effect; influence” /eekyoo/).

  1. The kanji 就 “to take up a job/position”

History of Kanji 就The origin of the kanji 就 remains a mystery. The left side of the ten style sample was 京 “capital,” but what about the right side? Different interpretations include that it was a dog or animal, a hand, or just a phonetic use for /shu’u/ with no particular meaning. Whatever the origin of the shape, phonetically /shu’u/ had the meaning “people gathering.” So let us leave it as meaning “people coming to the capital to take up a job.” The kanji 就 meant “to take up a job; to be engaged in work.”

The kun-yomi 就く /tsu’ku/ means “to take up a position or job.” The on-yomi /shu’u/ is in 就職する (“to find employment” /shuushoku-suru/) and 就任する (to assume a position” /shuunin–suru/).

  1. The kanji 涼 “cool”

History of Kanji 涼The ten style of the kanji 涼 consisted of a bushu sanzui “water” on the left and 京 used purely phonetically to mean “cold.” Together they meant “cool.”

The kun-yomi 涼しい /suzushi’i/ means “cool,” and is in 夕涼みする (“to enjoy the cool of evening” /yuusu’zumi-suru/). The on-yomi /ryo’o/ is in 清涼飲料水 (“carbonated drink; soda” /seeryooinryo’osui/). A simple word soda is a mouthful ten-mora word in Japanese.

  1. The kanji 鯨 “whale”

History of Kanji 鯨The left side of the kanji 鯨 in ten style was “fish.” The bottom was not a fire but a tailfin. The right side 京 was used phonetically for /ke’e; ge’e/ to mean “big.” Together a large fish meant “whale.” (A whale is not a fish but mammal, but that is irrelevant here.) The kun-yomi /kujira/ means “whale.” The on-yomi /ge’e/ is in 捕鯨船 (“whale catching vessel” /hogeesen/).

捕鯨 (“catching a whale” /hogee/) is a touchy phrase nowadays. Japan seems to be standing almost alone on this matter. It is ironic to think about what happened in Japanese history. We all know very well that what forced opening of Japan in the mid-nineteenth century, which lead to the change of the power, the Meiji Restoration, was the arrival of U. S. Commodore Matthew C. Perry. His mission was to find ports in Japan that allow U. S. whaling vessels in the Pacific to replenish provisions. It was important to the whaling industry in the industrialization of the U. S. economy at that time. Commodore Perry succeeded to get Japan to open two ports (Hakodate in Hokkaido and Shimoda south of Edo) for that purpose in 1854. A video clip of kanji history that I made a few years ago touched on that bit of history. If you have a chance to go on the iTune U site, I invite you to view the Part One (Bakumatsu) of the four part series entitled as “Discover Kanji Precursors in Modern Japan” on American University iTunes U.

  1. The kanji 高 “high; tall; expensive”

History of Kanji 高Now we are going to move to the kanji 高. In the samples of ancient writings for the kanji 高 on the left, we see what we saw in 京 – a tall arch gate with a watch tower at the top. At the bottom there was 口, which appeared in almost all the ancient writing samples of 高. And yet the explanations in many reference do not touch upon 口. So I go back to Shirakawa. Shirakawa treated all the 口 shapes as “a box that contained prayers,” rather than a mouth. He explained the kanji 高 as a tall arch gate of a powerful clan where a prayer or pledging was conducted. From the powerful clan it meant “high; tall.” The kyujitai 髙, in blue, reflected bronze ware style better than ten style, which is reflected in shinjitai. It means “tall; high.”

The kun-yomi 高い /taka’i/ means “high; tall; expensive,” and is in the verbs such as 高まる (”to heighten” /takama’ru/) and 高める (“to raise” /takame’ru/). /Da’ka/ is in 割高な (“comparatively more expensive” /waridaka-na/) and 円高 (“strong yen” /endaka/). The on-yomi /ko’o/ is in 高校生 (“high school student” /kooko’osee/), 高血圧 (“high blood pressure” /kooke’tsuatsu/).

  1. The kanji 稿 “manuscripts”

History of Kanji 稿The kanji 稿 consists of two components side by side, a bushu nogihen (禾) “rice plant” and 高, used phonetically for /ko’o/ for “dry.” On the other hand the ten style sample had a rice plant inside 高. We see this kind of dislocation of different elements in oracle bone style and bronze ware style all the time, but it is very unusual at this late stage of kanji formation. In the Kangxi dictionary, the orthodox kanji for 稿 had 高 at the top and 禾 at the bottom (not inside 高). “Rice plants” and “dry” together originally meant “straw.” Straw scattered is similar to scattered scribbles or notes for manuscripts. From that it means “manuscripts; draft.” (The current kanji for “straw” is 藁, consisting of a bushu kusakanmuri, 高 and 木, vertically placed).

  1. The kanji 亭 “pavilion; house”

History of Kanji 亭The third writing that shares an origin with 京 and 高 is the kanji 亭. It does not have an oracle bone style or bronze ware style sample. Inside a tall arch gate with a watchtower was 丁 “straight up,” used phonetically for /te’e/. Together they originally meant a house that stood alone or “pavilion; arbor.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /te’e/ is in 料亭 (“Japanese-style expensive restaurant” /ryootee/). The word 亭主 (“master of a house” /te’eshu/) is also used to mean “husband,” often referring one’s own husband in a humble way.

  1. The kanji 停 “to stop”

History of Kanji 停The kanji 停 consisted of a bushu ninben “person” and 亭 “house that stands alone; station,” which was also used phonetically for /te’e/. Together a place to stop meant “to stop; stay.”

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The kun-yomi /te’e/ is in 停車駅 (“station at which a train stops” /teesha’eki/), 停戦 (“cease fire” /teesen/), 停電 (“power outage” /teeden/) and バス停 (“bus stop” /basutee/).

In this post we have seen that three kanji –京 高 and 亭 — that have totally different meanings in fact came from the same origin of a tall structure with a watchtower. Knowing the ancient writings, we can see now that the shape that is common in the top not accidental but came from the same source, “watchtower.” [February 6, 2016]

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