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]

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