Screenshot (2) Ancient Writings for Joyo Kanji Second Half


screenshot2-bkanjiWhen I started this blog in December in 2013, it was the time when I had just completed making hand-copied ancient writings for the 1100 kanji in The Key to Kanji (Williams 2010), which was the first half of the 2136 Joyo kanji.

The goal of the 2010 book was to show a beginning through pre-advanced-level kanji learner that kanji study did not have to be dry rote memorization of a meaningless complex shape of lines. In my over thirty years of Japanese teaching in university programs in the U. S., I saw that beginning and intermediate-level standard textbooks lacked such information.

The Key to Kanji was designed to use as supplementary reference. Since the publication, I have received kind comments from many readers that the illustration of original meaning was “an icebreaker” in overcoming their weariness of learning new kanji. I am very grateful to Ayako and Hiromi, who had put in countless hours of hard work in creating line-drawn images based on often conflicting interpretations in references. Without their help, the book would not have existed.

Earlier in 2013, I decided to prepare for a new kanji study guide for mature advanced learners that included the second half of the Joyo kanji. For this, I decided to use ancient writings directly. I thought that by seeing historical images beside a brief English explanation a reader could make his or her own judgment that would help kanji study. A process of hand-copying ancient writings in references, largely from the Akai (1985 and 2010) books, began then.

There were a couple of important reasons why I chose hand-copying rather than using photo-copying. One is to avoid any possible misuse of copyrighted materials. Another is that hand-copying gives me a chance to re-experience the thought and logic that might have gone into in creating a new writing system — Why did the creators of Chinese ancient writings choose this particular shape to represent this particular meaning? How did they add another item to expand its meaning? How clever of them to do this and that! This must be how ancient society was like, and so on. I have enjoyed so many different experiences last few years.

Some years ago I read an interview in which Shirakawa mentioned the benefit of similar experiences. Another account reported by someone else says that Shirakawa made 10,000 hand-copies of oracle bone style writings.  I appreciate Shirakawa’s gigantic lifework even more.

So, for this week’s post, I am showing a screenshot from my desktop folder for the newly finished hand-copied ancient writing for the second half of the Joyo kanji. I expect to add more as my work progresses.  [April 24, 2016]

The Kanji 氷凍冷冬終疑凝寒塞—“icy cold”


Water freezes making ice. We are going to look at kanji that contain ice in this post.

  1. The kanji 氷 “ice”

History of Kanji 氷For the kanji 氷, in bronze ware style, (a) in green, the left side was “water.” On the right side the two dots signified ice. How do we know? The ten style writing, (b) in red, gives us a clearer picture – In (b) the lines on the left side were white streaks or cracks that appeared in ice. Water that was frozen meant “ice.” In kanji when ice became a component on the left side it became a bushu /nisui/ “ice; icy cold” as seen in kanji (c) 冰, in purple. The name nisui “two-stroke water” came from a familiar bushu sanzui “three-stroke water.” However, the kanji (c) 冰 is not used in Japanese (I believe it is used in Chinese.) In Japanese “ice” became just one stroke on the top left corner above 水. The kanji 氷 means “ice.”

The kun-yomi 氷 /koori/ means “ice.” Another kun-yomi /hi/ is in 氷室 (“icehouse” /hi’muro/). The on-yomi /hyo’o/ is in 氷河 (“iceberg” /hyo’oga/) and 氷点下 (“below freezing; below frost” /hyoote’nka/). The phrase 氷山の一角 (“small part of a larger problem” /hyo’ozan-no ikkaku’/) means “the tip of the iceberg.”

  1. The kanji 凍 “to freeze”

History of Kanji 凍In the kanji 氷 it was water that was frozen. When stuff other than water froze there was another kanji, 凍, which has the kanji 東 on the right side. Our readers may recall from an earlier post that the kanji 東 “east” was a borrowed kanji (meaning, the use of shape and sound was not related to its origin). The original shape of 東 was “stuff tied around.” We discussed that the shape 重 in the kanji such as 動働重童, all of which had pertained to moving something heavy, came from 東 “stuff tied around.” [The Kanji 東動働重童力-“power” (3) on January 6, 2015] In the kanji 凍, the component 東 was also used in its original meaning “stuff.” Together with the “ice” on the left, they created the writing that meant “(stuff) freezes.” We have seen consistently that a recurring component of kanji retained the original meaning even when used by itself it meant totally different.

The kun-yomi /kooru/ means “to freeze.” Another kun-yomi /kogoeru/ is used for a person, and means “to be numb with cold; be chilled to the bone.” The on-yomi /to’o/ is in 冷凍庫 (“freezer” /reeto’oko/), 凍傷 (“frostbite” /tooshoo/) and 凍結する (“to freeze (asset, road)” /tooketsu-suru/).

  1. The kanji 冷 “to chill; cool down; cold (to touch)”

History of Kanji 冷For the kanji 冷, in ten style the left side was “ice,” and the right side 令 was used phonetically for /re’e/ and meant “listening to a god’s order reverently without emotion.” Together they meant “to chill; cool down; cold (to touch).” In kanji, the left side became a bushu nisui “icy; very cold.”

There are three kun-yomi for the kanji 冷. /Tsume/ is in 冷たい (“cold (to touch)” /tsumetai/.) /Hi/ is in 冷やす (“to chill” /hiya’su/), as in ビールを冷やす (“to chill beer” /bi’iru-o hiya’su/), 冷ややかな (“chilly; distant” in one’s demeanor /hiya’yakana/) and 冷や汗をかく (“to break into a cold sweat” /hiyaa’se-o ka’ku/). /Sa/ is in 冷ます (“to cool something down” /sama’su/), as in お湯を冷ます (“to let hot water cool down” /oyu-o sama’su/). The on-yomi /re’e/ is in 冷静な (“cool headed; serene; calm” /reesee-na/) and 冷淡な (“coldhearted; lukewarm” /reeta’n-na/.)

  1. The kanji 疑 “to doubt”

Before we look at the kanji 凝 that contains a bushu nisui, let us look at the right side, the kanji 疑. The story of the kanji 疑 is somewhat problematic because the shapes went through so many changes over the years. But the original meaning “standstill; not being able to move” was kept in both 疑 and 凝.

History of Kanji 疑For the kanji 疑, we have two oracle bone style writing samples, (a) and (b) on the left. In (a) a person was turning his head with a long stick behind him. In (b), a person was facing toward the left with a crossroad behind him. He was not sure which way to go at a crossroad and was standing still. From that it meant “to doubt.” It sounds straightforward so far. However later on different elements were added to this, and I find it very difficult to follow the story. For instance the bronze ware style writing sample (c) in Akai (2010) appears to have had a “cow” on the top left side. I cannot figure out why so. The ten style writing, (d), could be dissected to ヒ and an arrow on the left and a child and a footprint on the right. Again what all those elements contributed to the meaning is not clear. In school we learned this kanji as ヒ矢マ疋. Other teachers seem to have come up with different mnemonics.

The kun-yomi 疑う /utagau/ means “to doubt,” and is in 疑い (“suspicion; doubt” /utagai/). The on-yomi /gi/ is in 疑問 (“question to ask” /gimon/), 疑念 (“a feeling of doubt; misgivings” /ginen/), 懐疑 (“skepticism; unbelief” /ka’igi/) and 半信半疑 (“uncertain as to the veracity of someone’s story” /hanshinha’ngi/.)

  1. The kanji 凝 “to become solid or stiff; totally engrossed; elaborate”

History of Kanji 凝Now we look at the kanji 凝. The left side was “ice,” and the right side 疑 was used phonetically for /gi/ to mean “to stand still.” Together “staying fixedly like water becoming ice” meant “to become solid or stiff; standstill.” When one gets totally engrossed in doing something one stays still as if frozen. From that it also meant “to become obsessed,” and also what he makes may become “elaborate; ornate.”

The kun-yomi 凝る /ko’ru/ means “to get stiff; totally engrossed; develop passion for,” and is in 肩こり /kota’kori/ from 肩が凝る (“to get stiff solders” /ka’ta-ga-koru/), 凝った (“elaborate; ornate” /ko’tta/) and 凝り性 (“a tendency to become totally immersed in something” /kori’shoo/). The on-yomi /gyo’o/ is in 凝固 (“solidification; condensation; clotting” /gyo’oko/) and 凝視する (“to stay fixedly at; watch something intently” /gyo’oshi-suru/).

The three kanji 凍冷凝 that we have seen so far had “ice” on the left side, which was a bushu nisui. When ice appeared at the bottom, it became two slanted short lines. We are going to look at three examples of those – 冬終寒.

  1. The kanji 冬 “winter”

History of Kanji 冬For the kanji 冬, the oracle bone style writing and bronze ware style writing were a bent rope with a knot or loop on both ends. It meant “end.” In ten style a piece of ice was added underneath. It came to mean the end of four seasons, which is winter. Another interpretation (in Kanjigen) is that the loops at the bottom in oracle bone style writing and the bulges in bronze ware style writing were food hanging down for winter use. With “ice” added at the bottom the kanji 冬 meant “winter.”

The kun-yomi 冬 /huyu’/ means “winter,” and is in 冬服 (“winter clothes” /huyuhuku/) and 冬ごもり (“winter confinement; wintering in” /huyugomori/). The on-yomi /to’o/ is in 立冬 (“first day of winter” /rittoo/), 冬至 (“winter solstice” /tooji/) and 冬眠 (“hibernation” /toomin/).

  1. The kanji 終 “to end”

History of Kanji 終The kanji 終 had the same oracle bone and bronze ware style writing as 冬 in 6, which suggests that it was inclusive of the meaning of 冬 and 終. The two knots at the ends of a long rope meant “to end; finish; complete.” In ten style, 糸 “thread; continuous” was added to emphasize something long and continuous.

The kun-yomi 終る /owaru/ means “to end; finish.” The on-yomi /shu’u/ is in 終了 (“end; close; conclusion” /shuuryoo/), 終日 (“all day long” /shuujitsu/), 最終日 (“last day; final day” /saishu’ubi/), バスの終点 (“last bus stop; end of the bus line” /ba’su-no shuuten/) and 始終 (“all the time; always” /shi’juu/).

  1. The kanji 寒 “cold”

History of Kanji 寒For the kanji 寒 in bronze ware style writings (a) and (b) a person, in the center, was trying to get warm in a house where dry grasses were piled up. (a) had floor mats underneath. It meant “cold.” In ten style, (c) had two hands over ice, as if he was blocking the cold air coming in. The sample (d) was taken from a seal from the Qin-Han era. In it, the grass was replaced by four 工. 工 could be 土 “dirt” or processed dirt such as dirt brick. The ice is gone but the floor rug returned. Together, (d) signified a house with walls of dirt bricks and floor mat keeping one from getting cold. In kanji (e), the ice became the two short slanted strokes. The shape in (e) reflects more of (d) at the top but (c) at the bottom. The kanji 寒い means “cold (to feel).”

The kun-yomi /samu’i/ means “cold.” and is in 寒がる (“to complain of the cold” /samuga’ru/) and 寒気がする (“to feel chill” due to illness /samuke’gasuru). /Zamu/ is in 肌寒い (“chilly” /hadazamu‘i/). The on-yomi /ka’n/ is in 寒気 (“cold air” /ka’nki/), 寒波 (“cold wave” /ka’npa/).

  1. The kanji 塞 “to seal off; stop up; obstruct”

History of Kanji 塞The kanji 塞 is not related to ice, but since the only difference between the kanji 寒 and 塞 is 土 at the bottom, it may give us a different perspective on the kanji 寒. For the kanji 塞 in ten style the top was walls of dirt bricks inside the house, and the bottom was two hands sealing off a hole to stop dirt from coming in. Together the kanji 塞 meant “to seal off; stop up; obstruct.”

What is interesting to me in comparing the ten style writings of 寒 and 塞 is that the shared shape in kanji was not the same in ten style — One (寒) with “grass” is trying to pile up dry grasses to keep warm, and the other (塞) with dirt bricks is to pile up dirt bricks to seal. And yet, the seal sample (d) in 寒 in 8 took the shape in ten style writing of 塞. Two different components that were evident in ten style merged to become a single kanji component shape in kanji, that is 寒 and 塞 without “ice” or “dirt” at the bottom.

The kun-yomi 塞ぐ /husagu/ means “to seal off; stop up; obstruct,” and is also used for emotion, as in 気が塞ぐ (“to feel depressed” /ki-ga-husagu/). The on-yomi /sa’i/ is in 要塞 (“fort” /yoosai).

Following our last post in which we looked at kanji that came from river (from “water running”), we looked at the shape that would happen when water froze. “Ice” created two shapes — a bushu nisui, when used on the left side, and two slanted short strokes, when used at the bottom. Both carried the meaning “cold; icy.” [April 17, 2016]

The Kanji 水川順訓巡州永詠泳派脈 – “river”


In this post we are going to look at kanji that came from a river, starting from water running down a river, which is the kanji 水.

  1. The kanji 水 “water”

History of Kanji 水For the kanji 水, in oracle bone style, in brown, bronze ware style, in green, and ten style, in red, it was a stream of water running through the center and two short strokes on both sides, possibly for splashes. It meant “water.” In kanji 水, the two separate strokes on the left side became a single stroke but those on the right side remained as two separate strokes. So the kanji 水 is a four-stroke kanji.

The kun-yomi 水 /mizu/ means “water,” and is in 飲み水 (“drinking water” /nomi’mizu/). The on-yomi /su’i/ is in 水道 (“water work; water supply” /suidoo/), 水道水 (“tap water” /suido’osui/), 地下水 (“groundwater” /chika’sui/) and 海水 (“seawater; brine” /kaisui/).

A bushu sanzui ()– There are many kanji that contain “water” as a component on the left side. It is called a bushu sanzui “three-stroke water.” Previously we have touched on several kanji when we discussed the right side component of kanji, including 浮 “to float,” 洗 “to wash,” 海 “sea; ocean,” 湧 “to well up; spring out” and 港 “port.” It is only in kanji that the drastically reduced shape of a sanzui appeared.

  1. The kanji 川 “river”

History of Kanji 川There is another kanji that also originated from a stream of water – 川. For the kanji 川, in oracle bone style levees on both sides were in solid contoure lines whereas a river stream was a broken line in the center. It meant “river.” In bronze ware style and ten style, the stream also became a solid contour line. Could the slightly bent first stroke in kanji be hinting at a winding river levee?  I wonder.

The kun-yomi 川 /kawa’/ means ”river,” and is in 川原 (“dry river bed” /kawara/) and 川下 (“downstream” /kawashimo/), and /gawa/ is in 小川 (“brook” /ogawa/). The on-yomi /se’n/ is in 河川 (“river” /ka’sen/).

  1. The kanji 順 “order; obedient”

History of Kanji 順rFor the kanji 順, the bronze ware style writing (a) had a river on the left side and a person with a big eye observing the flow of river water. A river flows only in one direction. From someone watching how water flowed in a river, it meant “order; to follow in an orderly manner.” Another bronze ware style writing (b) also had a river and a person watching. But for “person,” a head, instead of an enlarged eye, was used. He also had something in front of his head, which was reflected at the top of the ten style writing. In ten style the right side 頁 (a bushu oogai) came from a high ranking official with a formal hat, and it meant “head.” [Kanji Radical 頁 おおがい-順顔頭願 on November 15, 2014]  Someone who observed and followed the old ways in an orderly manner also meant “obedient; meek.” The kanji 順 means “order; turn; obedient.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ju’n/ is in 順序 (“oder; turn” /ju’njo/), 順番 (“turn” /junban/), 手順 (“steps; process” /te’jun/), 席順 (“seating order” /sekijun/) and 従順な (“obedient; meek” /juujun-na/).

  1. The kanji 訓 “lesson; Japanese reading of kanji”

History of Kanji 訓For the kanji 訓, in the bronze ware style writing the left side had “river” at the top and “word (言),” originally from a tattoo needle over a mouth, at the bottom. The right side was a person with a tattoo needle over his head—another reference to “word.” Together they signified that a person followed what was written in words. From that it meant “lesson; teaching; explanation.” In ten style, the left side became 言, and 川 “river” moved to the right side. In Japan, from “kanji text being explained in Japanese” it also meant “Japanese pronunciation of kanji,” i.e., 訓読み /kun-yomi/.

There is no kun-yomi in the Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /kun/ is in 訓読 (“Japanese pronunciation of kanji” /kundoku/), 音訓 (“Chinese and Japanese pronunciations of kanji” /onkun/), 教訓 (“lesson” /kyookun/) and 訓練 (“training” /ku’nren/).

  1. The kanji 巡 “to move around”

History of Kanji 巡For the kanji 巡, the left side of the ten style writing had a crossroad and a footprint — a precursor of a bushu shinnyoo “to move forward.” The right side was used phonetically to mean “to see; inspect.” Together from “to go around for inspection,” it meant “to patrol for inspection; move around.” In kanji the right side became three bent lines 巛. In the traditional kanji dictionary, 川 and 巛 were in the same heading, i.e., bushu.

The kun-yomi 巡る /meguru/ means “to move around” and is in 巡り合わせ (“fate; chance” /meguriawase/) and  巡り巡って (“after bouncing around from one place to the next” /megurimegutte/) The on-yomi /ju’n/ is in 巡査 (“constable; policeman” /junsa/) and 巡回 (“circuit” /junkai/).

  1. The kanji 州 “sandbank; state”

History of Kanji 州When the writing for “river” had a loop in the center, it signified a small patch of land inside a river – a sandbank or sandbar. The oracle bone style and bronze ware style writings had a sandbar in the center of a river flow between the two levees. In ten style sandbars increased to three, signifying a larger area. In kanji the sandbar became short strokes. The kanji is also used to mean a large area within a country, such as in “state” in the United States.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /shu’u/ means “state,” as in カリフォルニア州 (“the state of California” /kariforunia’shuu/), 九州 (“Kyushu” /kyu’ushuu/). Another on-yomi /su/ is in 砂州 (“sandbar; sandbank” /sasu/), 三角州 (“delta” /sankaku’su/), and 中州 (“sandbar” /nakasu/).

  1. The kanji 永 “long time”

A river is dynamic and changes its shape over time. Small tributaries converge to form a wider stronger main stream, which in time may branch out to small tributaries again. The contrast created by opposite forces of nature was captured in two different writings- 永 and the right side of 派. We are going to look at those now.

History of Kanji 永For the kanji 永, the writings in all three ancient writing styles showed tributaries feeding into a main stream of a river. With an increased volume of water from tributaries, a main river stretches long in distance and time. From that the kanji 永 means “long time.”

The kun-yomi 永い /naga’i/ means “long time.” The on-yomi /e’e/ is in 永久に (“eternally” /eekyuuni), 永遠 (“eternity” /eeen/) and 永住者 (“permanent resident” /eeju’usha/).

  1. The kanji 詠 “recitation; singing”

History of Kanji 詠For the kanji 詠, the top of the bronze ware style writing (a) was 永 “long,” as we just saw in 7. The bottom was 口 “mouth.” Ten style (b), given as an alternative writing in Setsumon, also had 口 and 永 side by side, whereas in (c) the left side became 言 “word.” The kanji (d) reflected (c). Words that were read aloud for a long time meant “recitation” and “singing poems.”

The kanji 詠 is in the Joyo kanji, but its use is limited. There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /e’e/ is in 詠嘆する (“to burst out with an exclamation of admiration” /eetan-suru/).

  1. The kanji 泳 “to swim”

History of Kanji 泳The kanji 泳 has a bushu sanzui. The ten style writing consisted of “water” and tributaries converging into the main stream signifying “for a long time.” One staying in water for a long time meant “to swim.”

The kun-yomi 泳ぐ /oyo’gu/ means “to swim,” and is in 泳ぎがうまい (“to swim well” /oyogi’-ga uma’i/). The on-yomi /e’e/ is in 水泳 (“swimming” /suiee/),

  1. The kanji 派 “faction; school; derivative”

History of Kanji 派Now we look at the shape of a main stream river splitting into smaller tributaries – the right side of 派. When we compare the two ten style writings of 泳 in 9 and 派 in 10, in addition to “water” shared by the two, we see a clear contrast on the right side—they were a flipped image of each other. That means the meanings were also the reverse of each other. 派 comes from a river splitting into narrower streams but still belonging to its main stream. They could be “factions” of a main body, “schools of” artwork, “derivatives” of something. It is also used to mean “to stand out.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ha/ is in 派手な (“showy” /hade’na/), 流派 (“school of art” /ryu’uha/), 派閥 (“party fractions” /habatsu/) and 派生する (“to stem from; be derived from” /hasee-suru/). /Pa/ is in 立派な (“impressive; splendid” /rippa-na/).

  1. The kanji 脈 “artery; pulse”

History of Kanji  脈For the kanji 脈, of the two ten style writings shown on the left, (a) had a bushu nikuzuki “flesh; a part of a body.” What runs through one’s body in narrow passages is blood in artery and veins. The kanji 脈 meant “artery; pulse.” Setsumon gave the writing (b) as an alternative writing that had 血 “blood” on the right side, instead of 月 “a part of a body.” We have looked at 血 three weeks ago. [The Kanji 夕月外夜液明盟血 -月 and 夕 “moon” (1) on March14, 2016].

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /myaku/ is in 脈を取る (“to take one’s pulse” /myaku’-o to’ru/), 動脈 (“artery” /doomyaku/), 静脈 (“vein” /joomyaku/), 山脈 (“mountain range” /sanmyaku/).

By just looking at kanji shapes, it is very hard to imagine that 永 and the right side of 派 had the origins that were so closely related. Only when we look at the ancient writings of those kanji are we are persuaded of that fact. [April 10, 2016]

The Kanji 申神電雷霊零需漏 – あめかんむり(2)


This is the second post on kanji that contain 雨. We will look at the kanji 申神電雷 (with 伸紳) and 霊零需漏.

  1. The kanji 申 “to say; state”

History of Kanji 申In order to understand the kanji 電 and 雷, we need to look at the origin of the bottom component first, which also became the kanji 申 shown on the left. In the two oracle bone style writings, (a) and (b) in brown, and bronze ware style writing (d), in green, a zigzag line in the center had a hooked line on both ends. The two halves are a 180-degree turn of each other. It signified lightning in the sky. People took lightening as the god appearing, and it originally meant “god; god speaking.” The other bronze ware style writing, (c), had a prayer box 口 on each side. As the shape of lightning came to be used to clear other writings the meaning of “god” was dropped, as we will see in the next kanji. 申 meant “to say; state.” In ten style, (e) in red, the lines became straight. In kanji (f), it became 申. Having “god speaking” in its origin, the kanji 申 “to say” is used in official or formal use. In Japanese it is used as a humble form of “to say; state.” In traditional kanji disctionaries, 申 is listed in the 田 section header.

The kun-yomi /mo’osu/ means “to say (in humble-style),” as in 私、〜と申します (“My name is ~” /watakushi ~ to mooshima’su/) in introducing yourself. The on-yomi /shi’n/ is in 申告する (“to declare” in an official document /shinkoku-suru/) and 答申 (“response report” by a government council /tooshin/).

  1. The kanji 神 “god; divine”

History of Kanji 神rAs the writing 申 expanded its use in other kanji, a new kanji for the original meaning of “god“ was created by adding an altar table. The two bronze ware style samples, (a) and (b), show the change. A god appearing at an altar table meant “god; divine.” The kyujitai, (d) in blue, with an altar table 示 was changed to ネ a bushu shimesuhen “religious matter” in shinjitai.

The kun-yomi 神 /ka’mi/ means “god,” and is in 神業 (“divine work; superhuman feat” /kamiwaza/) and 神がかり (“divine possession; fanaticism” /kamiga’kari/). Customarily 神 is also used in words such as お神酒 (“sake offered to a god” /omiki/) and 神々しい (“divine; awe-inspiring” /koogooshi’i/). The on-yomi /shi’n/ is in 神道 (“Shintoizm” /shi’ntoo/), 神妙に (“obediently; humbly” /shinmyoo-ni/), 神妙になる (“to become serious” /shinmyoo-ni-na’ru/) and 精神 (“mind; the spirit; ethos” /se’eshin/).  /Ji’n/ is in 神社 (“Shinto shrine” /ji’nja/).

The kanji 伸 and 紳 — Among the Joyo kanji, a couple of more kanji, 伸 and 紳, contain 申. In both kanji 申 was used phonetically for /shi’n/ to mean “pulled to straighten.” In the kanji 伸, the right side signified zigzag shapes bstraightening, and it meant “to straighten; pulled to straighten.” The kanji 紳 consists of 糸 “threads; cloth” and 申 “to pull to straighten,” and they meant a belt or waistband. From formal attire with a big waistband that a gentleman wore it meant “gentleman.”

  1. The kanji 電 “electric; extremely fast”

History of Kanji 電The bronze ware style writing of 電 shown on the left consisted of 雨 “rain; atmospheric phenomenon” at the top, and “lightning” at the bottom. In ten style the center line at the bottom still retained a bent shape, which is reflected in kanji in the last stroke as a line that bends and goes up. The kanji 電 means “extremely fast” like lightning travels. It also means “electricity.”

The kanji 電 is usually introduced in an elementary level class of Japanese in the context of 電気 (“electricity” /de’nki/), 電話 (“telephone” /denwa/) and 電車 (“train” /densha/). One day a student in our class said to me, “Electricity didn’t exist until modern time. Is this a new kanji?” All the words that flashed through my mind were indeed modern things, except 電撃的 (“blitz like; extremely fast” /dengeki-teki/). I knew that 電 was not a modern creation but I was not sure if the word 電撃  was a modern word or not. This time I have found the following in Shirakawa: The word 電撃 was a military strategy term, and 電光石火 (“like a flash of lightning; quick as lightning” /denkoose’kka/) was a Buddhist term. So, my answer to his question should have been, “The kanji 電 originally meant extremely fast like lightning. That meaning also came to be used for “electricity; electric” in modern times.”

There is no kun-yomi. Other words in on-yomi /de’n/ include 発電 (“generation of electric power” /hatsuden/), 電力 (“electricity; power” /de’nryoku/) and 停電 (“power outage” /teeden/).

  1. The kanji 雷 “thunder”

History of Kanji 雷Lightning accompanies thunder. The history of the kanji for “thunder; lightening” is shown on the left. The two oracle bone style writings, (a) and (b), consisted of what was used for lightning in the oracle bone styles of 申, as discussed in 1, and two prayer boxes 口 inside the whirl on each side. Together they signified a god speaking forcibly by sending lightning and thunder, and it meant “thunder.” In the three bronze ware style writings here, (c), (d) and (e), showed different ways of forming many 田. Lightning bolts never appear the same. In those writing 田 represented sounds. Setsumon gave (f) and (g) as earlier writings. The ten style writing (h) had three 田. In kanji (i) the bottom became a single 田.

The kun-yomi 雷 /kamina’ri/ means “thunder; lightning,” and is in 雷親父 (“stern father who is quick to shout at his child; snaring old man” /kaminario’yaji/), The on-yomi /ra’i/ is in 雷光 (“streak of lightning” /raikoo/), 雷雨 (“thunderstorm; thundershower” /ra’iu/), 落雷 (“the falling of a thunderbolt” /rakurai/) and 雷電 (“thunder and lightening” /raiden/).

  1. The kanji 霊 “spirit”

History of Kanji 霊For the kanji 霊 the bronze ware style writing (a) consisted of “rain” and three prayer boxes. Together they signified a “rainmaking rite” or praying for spirits to come down. It meant “spirit; soul.” Of the two ten styles given in Setsumon, (c) had two shamans at the bottom who conducted a rainmaking rite. We can still see two 人 in kyujitai (d). In shinjitai (e) the bottom was simplified in the same manner as the top of the shinjitai 普, which originally had two standing peoples.

There is no kun-yomi in the Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /re’e/ is in 幽霊 (“ghost” /yu’uree/), 亡霊 (“departed spirit; ghost” /booree/) and 霊長類 (“primates” /reecho’orui/).

  1. The kanji 零 “to fall low; zero; naught”

History of Kanji 零The ten style of the kanji 零, (a), consisted of 雨 and 令. We have looked at the origin of 令 earlier as coming from a “person kneeling listening to an order of a ruler or a god’s words.” [The Kanji 令命印即節迎仰昂抑- Posture (6) ふしづくり on  April 18, 2015]  In 零, 令 was used phonetically for /re’e/. Together 零 meant “rain droplets.” Rain falling also gave the meaning of leaves falling or a person falling low having hard times. It was also used phonetically for /re’e/ to mean “zero; naught; nothing.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /re’e/ is in 零 (“naught; nothing; zero” /re’e/), 零細企業 (“small business” /reesaiki’gyoo/), 零落する (“to fall hard times” /re’eraku-suru/) and 零時 (“twelve o’clock midnight” /re’eji/).

  1. The kanji 需 “to request; seek”

History of Kanji 需The ten style of the kanji 需 consisted of 雨 at the top and 而 at the bottom. The kanji 而 is not among the Joyo kanji but we have writings from the earlier time, so let us look at the bottom 而, shown on the right side first.

History of Kanji 而The kanji 而   We see this kanji in expressions that were taken from classical kanbun texts. Some writers also use this as 而も (“and yet; also” /shika’mo/). The on-yomi is /ji/. A couple of bronze ware writings on the right were a “person whose hair was flat, not having a chignon.” Shirakawa says that a person without a chignon in this kanji was a psychic/medium. Later on it was borrowed as a pronoun/indicative that meant “that,” then 而 became a connective to mean “even though; in addition to.”

For the kanji 需, 雨 and 而 together signified a psychic/medium in a rainmaking ritual (Shirakawa). From that it meant “to seek.” There are other explanations that drastically differ from this, but no ancient writings were provided with explanations.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ju/ is in 需要 (“demand” /juyoo/) is used in a pair with 供給 (“supply” /kyookyuu/) in the phrase 需要と供給 (“supply and demand” /juyoo-to-kyookyuu/), 必需品 (“necessities” /hitsujuhin/) and 軍需産業 (“military industry” /gunjusa’ngyoo/).

  1. 漏 “to leak”

History of Kanji 漏In the ten style writing of the kanji 漏, the right side consisted of 尸 “house” and 雨 “rain,” together signifying “rain leaks.” The left side “water” added the meaning of “water.” From “rain water leaking from the roof,” it meant “to leak.”

The kun-yomi 漏れる (“to leak” /more’ru/) is in 雨漏り (“leak in roof” /ama’mori/). The on-yomi /ro’o/ is in 漏電 (“electric leakage; short circuit” /rooden/).

Note: The kanji 震 “to tremble; quiver” was discussed in an earlier post. [The Kanji Radical 辰 (1) To Shake on February 26, 2014]

This post has gotten a little too long.  The reason is because I tried to include all the Joyo kanji that contain 雨 beyond the 1,100 kanji, the first half to the Joyo kanji. I hope to be able to include the kanji that are not found in The Key to Kanji more often.  [April 2, 2016]