The Kanji 雨雲曇雪霜霧露—あめかんむり(1)


In this and next posts, we are going to look at kanji that have a bushu amekanmuri (雨). It means “rain” and also pertains to atmospheric phenomena.

  1. The kanji 雨 “rain; rainfall”

History of Kanji 雨For the kanji 雨, the oracle bone style writing, (a) in brown, consisted of two parts– The top was “cloud” or “sky,” and the bottom was “rain drops.” Together water droplets coming down from the clouds or sky meant “rain.” In bronze ware style (b) and (c), in green, two water droplets were placed inside each of the two halves with a vertical line in the center. The ten style writing, (e) in red, took the bronze ware style, which became the kanji 雨 (f). Setsumon also gave (d) as its earlier style, which does not have a dividing vertical line in the middle.

The kun-yomi 雨 /a’me/ means “rain,” and /ama-/ is in 雨具 (“raingear” /ama’gu/), 雨水 (“rainwater” /ama’mizu/) and 雨垂れ (“raindrops” /amadare/). The on-yomi /u/ is in 雨天 (“rainy weather” /u’ten/) and 降雨量 (“amount of rainfall” /koou’ryoo/). There are a few traditional usages that are neither kun-yomi nor on-yomi — 春雨 (“fine rain in spring” /harusame/), 時雨 (“late-autumn or early winter shower; occasional shower” / shigure/), 五月雨 (“early summer rain” /samidare/) and 梅雨 (“rainy season rain” /ba’iu/ or /tsuyu/).

  1. The kanji 雲 “cloud”

History of Kanji 雲For cloud, originally it only had the bottom 云, which was “cloud.” Shirakawa explained that a dragon, an imaginary powerful animal, was believed to be inside clouds and that the oracle bone style writing (a) had a dragon in the cloud with its tail curled up. Setsumon gave (b) and (c) as earlier writings. The ten style writings got 雨 /ameka’nmuri/ on the top together with (b) for (d), and (c) for (f). The kanji 雲 means “cloud.”

The kun-yomi 雲 /ku’mo/ means “cloud,” and is in 雲行き (“the movement of the clouds; the turn of events” /kumoyuki/). /-Gumo/ is in 入道雲 (“thunderhead” /nyuudoogu’mo/). The on-yomi /u’n/ is in the phrase 雲泥の差 (“a big difference; world of difference” /undee-no-sa/) – 泥 means “mud.”

The kanji 曇 “cloudy”

When the sun 日 is placed on top of 雲, it makes up another Joyo kanji 曇. The sun blocked by clouds means “cloudy.” The kun-yomi 曇り /kumori’/ means “cloudy; cloudy sky,” and is in 曇る (“to become cloudy; become dim” /kumo’ru/), 曇りがち (“tending to be cloudy; broken clouds” /kumorigachi/). The on-yomi /do’n/ is in 曇天 (“cloudy sky” /donten/).

  1. The kanji 雪 “snow”

History of Kanji 雪For the kanji 雪, the oracle bone style writings (a) and (b) had a cloud at the top and the bottom showed lightly falling flakes coming down from the sky, which meant “snowfall; snow.” The ten style writing (c) had different components. The top was the same, something that falls from the sky. The middle had two brushes or brooms, and the bottom had a hand — together they signified a hand holding a broom to sweep or clean. Snowfall blankets the earth as if cleansing everything on the ground. It meant “snow.”

The kun-yomi 雪 /yuki’/ means “snow,” and is in 大雪 (“blizzard; big snowfall” /ooyuki/), and 雪かき (“snow shoveling; snow removal” /yukika’ki/). The on-yomi /se’tsu/ is in 新雪 (“new snow” /shinsetsu/) and 残雪 (“lingering snow on the ground” /zansetsu/).

The kanji 霰 and 雹– Other kanji regarding something that falls from the sky include 霰 (“small-sized hail” /arare/) and 雹 (“hail” /hyo’o/). Technically hail under 5 mm is 霰, but who is measuring? /Arare/ falling is something we can enjoy looking at, but if it is /hyo’o/ we probably start to worry about possible damage. Neither kanji is a joyo kanji, but you do see them used, possibly with phonetic katakana accompanying them.

The bushu amekanmuri pertains not only to something that falls from the sky but also to something atmospheric. Moisture in the air creates all kinds of phenomena. Among other Joyo kanji, in 霧, 霜 and 露 the bottom components are all used phonetically.  We look at those kanji now.

  1. The kanji 霜 “frost”

History of Kanji 霜When moisture becomes frozen on the surface or in the ground, it becomes frost. The ten style of the kanji 霜 had a bushu amekanmuri “atmospheric phenomenon” and the bottom 相 was used phonetically for /so’o/. It meant “frost.” The Kadokawa dictionary and Kanjigen explained that 相 “to face each other” gave the meaning of moisture in the ground forming columns, as in 霜柱 (“frost column” /shimoba’shira/).

The kun-yomi 霜 /shimo/ means “frost,” and is in 霜降り肉 (“marbled meat” /shimohuri’niku/), 霜取り (“defrosting in freezer” /shimotori/). The on-yomi /so’o/ is in 星霜 (“years” /seesoo/), which is only used in literary phrases, such as 十年の星霜を経て (“after long ten years”).

  1. The kanji 霧 “haze; fog; mist”

History of Kanji 霧When the moisture is suspended in the air as tiny water droplets it becomes fog. The ten style of the kanji 霧 consisted of 雨 “atmospheric phenomenon” and 務, used phonetically for /mu/ to mean “something unclear.” An atmospheric phenomenon that hampered visibility due to tiny water droplets in the air was “fog.” The writing in blue is in Large ten style 大篆 /daiten/, which preceded Small ten style 小篆 /shooten/ (what we are using as ten style in this blog.)

The kun-yomi 霧 /kiri/ means “fog; mist,” and is in 霧吹き (”spray; sprayer” /kirihu’ki/). /-Gi’ri/ is in 夜霧 (“night fog” /yo’giri/). The on-yomi /mu/ is in an expression 五里霧中 (“to be lost in a fog; be at sea” /go’ri muchuu/).

  1. The kanji 露 “dew: to expose”

History of Kanji 露When moisture in the air becomes water droplets on the ground, it is dew. The ten style of the kanji 露 consisted of 雨 “atmospheric phenomenon” and 路, used phonetically for /ro/. The dew covers everything outside. From that 露 also meant “to cover; expose.”

The kun-yomi 露 (“dew” /tsu’yu/) is in 夜露 (“night dew” /yo’tsuyu/) and 雨露 (“rain and dew; outside weather” /a’metsuyu/), which is used in phrases such as 雨露にさらされる (“to be exposed to the elements; to be open to the wet” /ametsuyu-ni sarasareru/). The on-yomi /ro/ is in 露見する (“to come to light” /roken-suru/), 露出 (“exposure” /roshutsu/) and 暴露する (“to reveal or expose a secret intentionally” /ba’kuro-suru/).

In the next post we continue with more kanji that have a bushu amekanmuri and a few related kanji.   [March 27, 201]

The Kanji 望期夢朗湖間—月 and 夕 “moon” (2)


This is the second post on kanji that originated from a “moon.”

  1. The kanji 望 “to look far; wish; hope; desire”

History of Kanji 望rFor the kanji 望, there were two different streams of origins. The alphabets below ancient writings are shown in two tiers –A with 臣; and B with 亡. We begin with A.

The oracle bone style writings, (a) and (b), in brown, had a standing person with a big watchful eye viewed from the side. The emphasis was also on his feet on the ground– he was tiptoeing trying to look far. The watchful eye became a component 臣 in many kanji, as we discussed earlier [Eyes Wide Open (3) 臣臨覧緊蔵臓 on March 31, 2014]. The posture of stretching one’s body with watchful eyes meant “to look at a distance.” When one wishes or longs for something, it is also like looking at the distance, so it also meant “to wish for; long for.” The bronze ware writing, (c) in green, had the same components. In (d), a moon was added on the upper right, giving a scene of someone gazing at a moon in a distance. (d) became the ten style writing (f), in red ,– (f) had 臣 and a slanted 月 at the top, and at the bottom a person with his feet emphasized with a short stroke. This tiptoeing person shape became 壬. We have seen the shape 壬 in the kanji 廷 and 庭. The kanji shape from (f) is not available to us.

The second stream [B亡] began in bronze ware style, as shown in (e). In (e) the upper left side亡 was used phonetically to mean “to look far.” The standing person was extremely simplified in (e), but in ten style (g), it got revived to a more descriptive shape, with the hands elongated and the ankles with an emphasis. (g) became the kanji (h). In kanji (h) the moon is slightly tilted and the bottom 壬 changed to 王, which means “king” but has no relation to it. In terms of formation, stream A was a semantic composite writing (会意文字), whereas stream B created a semantic-phonetic composite writing (形声文字). The moon is a distant thing to gaze at. So it aptly signifies one’s long-cherished wish. The kanji 望 means “hope; wish; to look far.”

The kun-yomi 望む /nozomu/ means “to look in the distance; hope for; wish,” and is in 望み (“hope” /nozomi’/) and 待ち望む (“to anticipate; look for” /machinozomu/). The on-yomi /bo’o/ is in 希望 (“hope” /kiboo/), 失望 (“disappointment” /shitsuboo/), 望遠レンズ (“telephoto lens” /booenre’nzu/), 展望 (“outlook; prospect” /tenboo/), and 望郷の念 (“homesickness” /bookyoo-no-ne’n/).

  1. The kanji 期 “term; specific time”

History of Kanji 期For the kanji 期 in bronze ware style the top was the sun, the middle was an apparatus to winnow, and the bottom was a table. To winnow means to force air through grain in order to remove the chaff. The whole shape 其 was used phonetically for /ki/. In ten style a moon was added to the right side. A moon has a phase or a cycle of waning and waxing. Together they meant “a specific time or period.” The kanji 期 means “specific time; period of time.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi/ki/ is in 期待する (“to expect” /kitai-suru/), 期限 (“time limit; deadline” /ki’gen/), 学期 (“school term” /gakki/), 画期的な (“epoch-making; breakthrough” /kakkiteki-na/) and 万全を期す (“to make absolutely sure” /banzen-o-ki’su).

  1. The kanji夢 “dream”

History of Kanji 夢The kanji for a dream began with a bed to sleep on. The two oracle bone style writings, (a) and ( b), shown on the left had a bed with legs, vertically placed. What was the figure next to the bed? Many references take the view that the kanji 夢 originally consisted of two writings – one phonetically for /bo’o/ for “not being able to see” and another 夕 “night.” Something you see at night when you cannot see is a dream. Another explanation involves a medium – a medium conjured up spirits for a nightmare (Shirakawa). Could the figure next to a bed be a medium at work? I have not been able find explanations that include those oracle bone style writing samples. The ten style writing, (c), had “eye” and “moon; night” 夕. The top above an eye may be something that prevented one from seeing.

The kun-yomi 夢 /yume/ means “dream,”and is in 夢見る (“to ream” /yume’miru/). The on-yomi /mu/ is in 夢中になる (“to become preoccupied;” /muchuunina’ru/), 悪夢 (“nightmare” /a’kumu/), 夢物語 (“fantastic story; empty story” /yumemonoga’tari/).

  1. The kanji 朗 “cheerful; bright”

History of Kanji 朗For the kanji 朗 the left side of the ten style writing was a moon. The right side was used phonetically for /ro’o/ to mean “clear and bright.” (Brightness with moonlight coming in meant “cheerful; lively.”

The kun-yomi /hogaraka/ means “cheerful.” The on-yomi /ro’o/ is in 朗読する (“to read aloud (clearly)” /roodoku-suru/), 明朗な (“clear and transparent” /meeroo-na/), 朗報(“good news” /roohoo/).

  1. The kanji 湖 “lake”

History of Kanji 湖For the kanji 湖 in bronze ware style the left side was running water, and the right side was used phonetically for /ko/ to mean “large.” Together they meant “lake.” In ten style 胡 was used to mean “large.”  This canji has nothing to do with a moon. The kanji 湖 means “lake.”

The kun-yomi /mizuu’mi/ means “lake.” The on-yomi /ko/ is 湖水 (“lake water” /kosui/), and is used for the name of a lake such as 琵琶湖 (“Lake Biwa” /biwako/) and 湖畔 (“lakeside” /kohan/).

  1. The kanji 間 “duration; gap”

History of Kanji 間 (frame)The kanji that originally had a moon but lost it is 間. We have discussed this in an earlier post [The Kanji 戸所門問間開閉関閣 –もんがまえ on August 1, 2015]. Just to refresh our memory, the history of ancient writings and kyujitai is shown on the right. We see a moon through the kyujitai time. A moon coming through a gap between two closed doors meant “gap; in-between; duration; room; timing.” The kanji with 日 inside a bushu mongamae had been used as a 俗字 (“non-standard character” /zokuji/), but during the Post-WWII language reform it was designated as the standard kanji.

In the two posts, we have seen that a moon became 月 and 夕. The shape 月 is also used for other meanings, such as a tray or bowl, as in 服 and 勝, and a part of a body, such as 胃腸. We will take up those topics later. [March 19, 2016]

The Kanji 夕月外夜液明盟血-月and 夕 “moon” (1)


In the last three posts we looked at kanji that came from the sun. In this post we move to the moon. There are two shapes that originated in a crescent moon — 夕and 月.

  1. The kanji 夕 “evening; early evening”

History of Kanji 夕In order to discuss the kanji 夕, we also need to look at the kanji 月 because in the early times in oracle bone style, (a) and (b) in brown, they shared the same shapes – a crescent moon with or without a short line inside. The history of the kanji 夕 is shown on the left and the history of the kanji 月 is shown in 2 below. In bronze ware style, (c)s and (d)s in green in both kanji, 夕 did not have a short line inside whereas 月 did. This short line was added to differentiate the two meanings, one for “evening” (夕) and one for “moon” (月). In ten style, (e)s in red, the inner outline of a crescent became a short stroke in both 夕 and 月, for the kanji 月 resulting in having two short strokes inside. The kanji 夕 meant “evening; early evening,” and the kanji 月 meant “moon.”

The kun-yomi /yu’u/ is in 夕方 (“early evening” /yuugata/), 夕べ (“last night; evening” /yuube/), 夕焼け (“red glow of sunset” /yuuyake/) and 夕暮れ (“dusk” /yuugure/). The on-yomi /se’ki/ is in 一朝一夕に (“in a short space of time” /iccho’o isseki-ni/), usually used with a negative ending to mean “for a long time.”

  1. The kanji 月 “moon; month”

History of Kanji 月We have already discussed the history of kanji 月 in 1.   The kun-yomi 月 /tsuki’/ means “moon; month,” and is in お月様 (“moon” /otsuki’sama/ in child’s speaking), 三日月 (“crescent” /mikazuki/), 月毎に (“each month; every month” /tsukigo’to-ni/) and 月見・お月見 (“moon viewing” /tsukimi; otsukimi/). The on-yomi /ge’tsu/ was a kan-on, and is in 一ヶ月 (“for a month” /ikka’getsu/), 月謝 (“monthly tuition” /gessha/), 月曜日 (“Monday” /getsuyo’obi/), 年月をかける (“to put in many years” /ne’ngetsu-o kake’ru/), 月給 (“monthly salary; salary” /gekkyuu/). Another on-yomi /ga’tsu/ was a go-on, and is in 正月 (“New years days; January” /shoogatsu/), and also in the names of the twelve months, such as 一月 (“January” /ichigatsu/), 四月 (“april” /shigatsu/), 七月 (“July” /shichigatsu/), 九月 (“September” /ku’gatsu/). The pronunciations /sho’o/ for 正 in  正月 and /ku/ for 九 in 九月 were go-on. So it makes sense to pronounce 月 as /gatsu/ in go-on.

The characteristics of a moon in the sky were used to make various kanji. Those include: (1) its waxing and waning creating a phase or cycle; (2) being the object that one can look at in the farthest place; (3) providing a light at night, etc. Let us look at some kanji that contained a moon.

  1. The kanji 外 “outside”

History of Kanji 外In the oracle bone style writing for 外 shown on the left, the right side was a baked oracle bone with cracks that were read as “oracle; fortune telling.” For the left, which looked like 工, I have not come across any reference other than a photo in Akai (2010). So I leave it as it is. In bronze ware style and ten style the left side was a moon, signifying “evening.” There are different interpretations of what 夕 “moon; evening” and ト“oracle” together signified — (1) An oracle was done at sunrise. An oracle in the evening would be a deviation from the norm; thus it meant “outside; not right.” (Setsumon); (2) The cracks in an oracle bone appeared on the surface of the bone, so it meant “outside; exterior”; and (3) A crescent was used phonetically to mean “to chip” as in 缺 (欠) /ketsu/. Oracle was done by observing a moon passing through a phase from a full moon to a new moon. A crescent was the outer line of a moon, and the kanji 外 meant “outside; exterior.”

There are three different kun-yomi for 外 — 外 /so’to/ means “outside,” and is in 外側 (“outside; exterior” /sotogawa/). The second kun-yomi 外す /hazusu/ means “to remove; to take off.” The third kun-yomi 外 /hoka/ means “other.” There are two on-yomi for 外 — /Ga’i/ is in 外国 (“foreign country” /gaikoku/), 以外 (“other than” /i’gai/) and 外交 (“diplomacy” /gaikoo/). Another on-yomi /ge/ was a goon, and is in 外科 (“surgery” /geka/) and 外道 (“religion other than Buddhism; way of thinking contrary to the truth” /gedoo/).

  1. The kanji 夜 “night”

History of Kanji 夜The bronze ware style and ten style writings of the kanji 夜 shown on the left had a standing person with his arms and legs spread (大) in the middle, a moon on the right side under his arm, and a short slanted line on the left. This short slanted line is open to different interpretations. One is that it was a person lying at rest; altogether they signified the time when a person rested, that is “night.” Another interpretation is that the short stroke was something that signified repeated occurrence. A moon appears at night and that repeats, thus it meant “night.” In kanji the top portion of a person became a house or roof at the top; a person became a ninben on the left; and the moon on the right. The kanji 夜 means “night.”

The kun-yomi 夜 /yo’ru/ means “night,” and is also read as /yo/ in words, such as 夜中 (“midnight” /yonaka’/), 真夜中に (“in the deep of night” /mayo’naka-ni/), and 夜更かしする (“to stay up late at night” /yohu’kashi-suru/). The on-yomi /ya/ is in 今夜 (“tonight” /kon’ya/) and 夜行バス (“night bus” /yakooba’su/).

  1. The kanji 液 “liquid”

In bronze ware style of the kanji 液 the left side History of Kanji 液was running water. The right side was used phonetically for /e’ki/ to mean the sound of dripping repeatedly or “continuous.” Liquid drips repeatedly. It meant “liquid; fluid; solution.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi 液 /e’ki/ means “solution,” and is in 液体 (“liquid” /ekitai/), 溶液 (“solution” /yo’oeki/), 血液 (“blood” /ketsu’eki/) and 乳液 (“milky lotion; milky liquid” /nyuueki/).

  1. The kanji 明 “bright; next”

History of Kanji 明In oracle bone style, (b), and bronze ware style, (c) and (d), next to the moon was a window. The writing depicted moonlight coming through a window that made inside bright. Giving something a light makes it more visible and clearer. The kanji 明 meant “bright; clear.” The ten style writing (f) was a stylized shape that had a window and a moon.

Setsumon also gave the writing (e), in purple, with the sun on the left as old style writing. In fact if we go back to (a) in oracle bone style, the right side looked like the sun. In kanji (g) the left side became 日 “sun.” Some references take the view that the sun signified “bright.” I wondered about this. An often-told mnemonic story that the sun and the moon together are even brighter does not hold well because the sun and the moon do not appear together in reality (except for a short period of time). On the other hand it is true that, as we have seen in the post before last, the shape 日 in the kanji 星 and 晶 was not the sun but something glistening or bright. So if we take 日 as something bright, together with a moon, they could make up the meaning “bright.” Nonetheless that interpretation is hard to use to explain a majority of the old writing that had a window shape. So I tend to go back to the view that the origin of the kanji 明 was moonlight through a window giving the meaning of “bright.”

The kun-yomi /aka/ is in 明るい (“bright; knowledgeable” /akarui/.) /A/ in 夜が明ける (“a new day starts” /yo’-ga akeru/). /Aki/ is in 明らか (“evident” /aki’raka/). The on-yomi /me’i/ came from a kan-on, and is in 明快な (“obvious; evident” /meehakuna/), 解明する (“to make clear; get to the bottom of a problem” /kaimee-suru/), 明白な (“clear; lucid; clear-cut” /meehakuna/), 明言する (“to say definitely; assert” /meegen-suru/). Another on-yomi /myo’o/ was a go-on, and is in 明日 (“tomorrow” /myo’onichi/) and 光明 (“light; hope; prospects” /koomyoo /).

  1. The kanji 盟 “pledge; alliance” and 血 “blood”

The kanji 盟 contains 明 and 皿. In ancient writing what became 皿 in kanji was originally 血. So let us look at the history of 血 first.

The kanji 血 “blood”

History of Kanji 血In the two oracle bone style writings for the kanji 血, it had a deep dish. The circle in the first one and the short line at the top of the second writing were added to signify blood. The blood was from the sacrificial animal for a religious rite. From that 血 meant “blood.” Without blood inside it signified “dish,” which became the kanji 皿. Who would have thought that the two kanji for “blood” and “dish; plate” shared the exactly same origin!

The kun-yomi 血 /chi/ means “blood,” and is in 血筋 (“lineage; descent of” /chisuji/), 血まみれになる (“to be covered in blood” /chimamire-ni-na’ru/), 血みどろな (“bloody” /chimidorona/). /Ji/ is in 鼻血 (“nose bleeding” /hanaji/ はなぢ). The on-yomi /ke’tsu/ is in 血液 (“blood” /ketsu’eki/). /Ke/ with a small /tsu/ is in 血管 (“blood vessel” /kekkan/), 血相を変える (“to become extremely alarmed” /kesso’o-o kaeru/) and 血色のいい (“of good healthy complexion” /kesshoku-no-i’i/).

History of Kanji 盟Back to the kanji 盟. In bronze ware style, (a) and (b), the top had a window on the left and a moon on the right, together signifying “bright light.” The bottom of (a) had the short line above the tall dish, which signified that what was inside the dish was something important, sacrificial animal blood. And the slanted line on the dish could be an emphasis that it had something inside.  It has been explained that in making a pledge, members of an alliance sipped this blood by the window where the clear light of a moon came through. Together they meant “to make a pledge; alliance.” In ten style, (c) lost the moon, and (d) retained the moon. Just as the case with the kanji 明, (d) became (e). Why in kanji 盟 the kanji 皿, instead of 血, was used is not clear.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /me’e/ is in 同盟 (“alliance; confederation” /doomee/) and 連盟 (“league” /renmee/).

We have a few kanji left in discussing the kanji that came from “moon.” We will continue with those in the next post. [March 14, 2016]

The Kanji 時昔借春昨 – 日ひへん (3)


We have been discussing kanji that contain a bushu hihen (日). This is the third post on this topic.

  1. The kanji 時 “time; hour; o’clock”

History of Kanji 時We have looked at the kanji 時 in connection with 寸 “hand” in the earlier post. [寺持待侍特時詩等- “temple; to sustain” on January 24, 2015]  We saw that as a common component 寺 meant “to sustain; hold,” and that it was used mostly phonetically. The history of the kanji 時 is shown on the left with some additional writings.

The three oracle bone style writings, (a), (b) and (c) in brown, had “footprint” at the top and “the sun” at the bottom. By itself, a footprint became the kanji 之 “to go” and 止 ”to halt one’s step.” The sun never stays in one place. The sun moving on and footprint walking forward together meant “passage of time; time.” We do not have bronze ware style writings but the next two (d) and (e) were before ten style was formalized. (e) came from a sekkobun 石鼓文, writing that was chiseled on a stone. In (e) the sun moved to the left side and the right side became 寺 (“footprint” and “hand”) that was used phonetically for /ji/. The three components in (e) appeared in the ten style writing, (f), and the kanji, (g), except one point. In kanji (g), the right top 之 from a footprint, “to go,” became 土 “soil; ground,” not the same meaning. This disjunction of the two shapes (from “footprint” to “soil; ground”) is also seen in the kanji 売 (賣) in which footprint became 士 at the top, as we have seen in another post earlier [Hands and Legs – Ninnyoo 儿 (4) 売読続出買 on October 3, 2014]. The change occurred in standardization process to reduce a number of shapes. The kanji 時 also means “hour; o’clock.” For sample words, please refer to the previous post.

Note: The oracle bone style writings (a), (b) and (c) are taken from Akai (2010). Shirakawa stated that there was no oracle bone or bronze ware style writing for 時. Instead he gave (d) and (e) as its earlier writings.

  1. The kanji 昔 “bygone days; ancient times”

History of Kanji 昔For the kanji 昔, the two oracle bone style writings and the bronze ware style writing, in green, had two or three wavy lines at the top and the sun at the bottom. What were these wavy lines? The interpretations among reference vary; (1) layers of floor covering (Kadokawa); and (2) an abstract symbol for “accumulation” (Kanjigen). With the sun added to the meaning layers, accumulation or repeat, the kanji 昔 meant “bygone days; ancient times.” Another interpretation (3) is that top was thin pieces of meat dried under the sun, i.e. a jerky (Shirakawa from Setsumon). Then it was borrowed to mean “bygone days; ancient times.”

The kun-yomi /mukashi/ means “bygone days; ancient times,” and is in 昔々 (“once upon a time” /mukashimukashi/), 大昔 (“a long time ago” /oomu’kashi/), 昔話 (“folklore; reminiscences” /mukashiba’nashi/) and 昔なじみの人 (“old familiar face” /mukashina’jimi-no-hito/). The kun-yomi /se’ki/ is only in writing such as 昔日 (“old days” /sekijitu/). Another on-yomi /shaku; ja’ku/ is a go-on, and is even more limited to 今昔 /konjaku/, as in 今昔物語 (“Konjaku Stories” from the Heian period /konjakumonoga’tari/). But this on-yomi /shaku/ is used phonetically in the kanji 借, which is our next kanji.

  1. The Kanji 借 “to borrow”

History of Kanji 借The ten style writing of the kanji 借 had a standing person on the left and the shape from the kanji昔 on the right side, which was used phonetically to mean “to borrow temporarily.“ It meant “to borrow.”

The kun-yomi 借りる /kariru/ means “to borrow,” and is in 借り手 (“borrower” /karite/) and 貸し借り (“lending and borrowing” /kashi’kari/). The on-yomi /sha’ku/ is in 借金 (“borrowing money” /shakki’n/), 借家 (“rented house” /shakuya/) and 拝借する (“to borrow” in a humble style /haishaku-suru/).

  1. The kanji 春 “spring”

History of Kanji 春The history of the kanji 春 is shown on the left. In oracle bone style (a) the left side had a tree and the sun, and the right side also was a tree. I am unable to figure out what the center signified. (No interpretation is available on this shape.) The bronze ware style writing (b) had grass or plants at the top, a plant trying to sprout up in the middle and the sun at the bottom. Together they meant the season when plants are pushing upward under the brighter sun — that is, “spring.” The ten style writing (c) was a stylized version of (b). But as we know, the kanji 春 (e) consists of three horizontal lines三, the kanji 人, and 日. I always find it somewhat difficult to see the flow from ten style to kanji in 春. So this time I went back to writing samples between the two styles, including inscriptions on a stone stele and brush writings on silk cloth. The photo (d) is a sample of brush writing on silk cloth in the 2nd century B.C. taken directly from a reference, not my reproduction by hand. I think that in (d) we can recognize how the lines in (c) were simplified to the kanji shape (e).

The kun-yomi /ha’ru/ means “spring,” and is in the expression 我が世の春 (“one’s peak of prosperity; heyday” /wa’gayono ha’ru) and 春学期 (“spring school term” /haruga’kki/). The on-yomi /shu’n/ is in 春分の日 (“Vernal Equinox Day,” around March 21 /shunbun-no-hi/), 思春期 (“(early) adolescence” /shishu’nki/) and 春秋に富む (“to be young” /shunjuu-ni-to’mu/).

  1. The kanji 昨 “past; last”

History of Kanji 昨The kanji 作 is a phonetic-semantic composite形声文字– 日, a bushu hihen, “the sun,” and 乍for the sound /sa’ku/. So, let us take a look at the fuller history of the right side 乍 shown on the right. History of Kanji 乍There are two different views on the origin of 乍 — (1) a craft tool for chipping off pieces of wood; and (2) bending vines in a craft such as a basket-making. 乍 meant “to make; create.” Later on 乍 began to be used phonetically in other kanji, so an additional component was added to differentiate the meanings. For the original meaning ”to make; create” a person was added (作). With the sun 日 added, the kanji 昨 was created to mean “last; previous.” With a sake cask 酉 added, the kanji for “vinegar; sour” was created (酢).

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /sa’ku/ is in 昨年 (“last year” /sakunen/), 一昨年 (“the before last” /issakunen/) and 昨日 (“yesterday” /saku’jitu/), all of which have a slightly more formal tone than 去年 /kyo’nen/ for “last year,” おととし /oto’toshi/ for “the year before last” and きのう /kinoo/ for “yesterday.”

A few more kanji that contain 日 have been discussed earlier. For the kanji 映, please read the post entitled The Kanji 大太天夫央英映笑-Posture (1) on March 14, 2015, and for the kanji 普 and 譜, the post entitled The Kanji 立位泣粒並普譜 – Posture (2) on March 25, 2015. Other kanji such as 曜 “day of the week” and 暖 “warm” came into existence relatively recently and do not have ten style writings. We will probably look at 曜 later on when we take up the topics on animals (曜 has 羽 “wing; feather” and 隹 “bird” on the right side).

In the next post I would like to start discussing the shapes that came from a moon – 月 and 夕 [March 5, 2016]