The kanji 凡帆汎鳳風嵐 –“wind”


We are discussing kanji that originated from nature. There is one more important kanji that is related to metrological phenomenon — 風 “wind.” The kanji 風 was closely related to the kanji 凡and 鳳 in its origins. The shape 凡 is also in other Joyo kanji including 帆 and 汎. We first look at the three kanji 凡帆汎, then 鳳 before 風嵐.

  1. The kanji 凡 “all; common; spreading”

History of Kanji 凡In the history of the kanji 凡, shown on the left, the writings in oracle bone style, (a) in brown, and in bronze ware style, (b) and (c) in green, were explained as “a large piece of cloth or board.” The two vertical lines were the masts and the two short horizontal lines were the outline of a sail. Covering a large area meant “all; nearly all; approximation.” The shape is also viewed as the same as 盤 /ba’n/. 盤 is a type of a shallow bowl or a boat having the function of transporting stuff to another place. From that it also meant “to extend; spread.” The kanji 凡 meant “all; common; spreading.”

The kun-yomi 凡そ /oyoso/ means “roughly all; approximately.” Another kun-yomi凡て /su’bete/ means “all.” The on-yomi /bo’n/ is in 平凡な (“mediocre; commonplace” /heebon-na/), 凡人 (“ordinary person” /bonjin/), 非凡な (“extraordinary; unique” /hibon-na/), 平々凡々な暮らし (“ordinary life; living uneventfully” /heeheebonbon-na-kurashi/). Another on-yomi /ha‘n/ is in 凡例 (“legend (on a map); guide (to a dictionary) /hanree/).

  1. The kanji 帆 “sail of a boat”

For the original meaning of “sail of a boat,” a new kanji 帆 was created by adding a piece of cloth 巾on the left. There is no ancient writing for 帆. The kun-yomi 帆 /ho/ means “sail of a boat,” and is in 帆掛け船 “a sail boat.” The kun-yomi /pa’n/ is in 出帆する “to set sail.”

  1. The kanji 汎 “all; covering all; pan-”

History of Kanji 汎When “water” was attached to 凡, it created the kanji 汎. Together from “water spreading to a wide area” it meant “all; covering all; pan-.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /han/ is in 汎用する (“to overuse” /han-yoo-suru/), 汎用性 (“universal use; versatility“ /han-yoosee/), 汎アジア主義 (“pan-Asianism” /ha’n-ajiashu’gi/) and 汎太平洋 (“pan-pacific” /ha’n-taihe’eyoo/).

  1. The kanji 鳳 “mythological sacred bird”

History of Kanji 鳳For the kanji 鳳, we have two oracle bone style writings here, (a) and (b). (a) was a mythological bird which was believed to create wind, called 鳳凰 /hooo’o/ or おおとり /ootori/. (b) was the same as the oracle bone style writing for 風, which we look at next in 5, and had a sail of a boat on the right. In ten style the sail was placed on top of this bird. In kanji the sail became a three-way enclosure, and the bird had the kanji 鳥 “bird” with an extra stroke at the top. The word 鳳凰 is said to be a pair of birds – a male (鳳) and a female (凰).

The kun-yomi /ootori/ means same as the on-yomi word 鳳凰 /hooo’o/ and mean “mythical sacred bird.”

  1. The kanji 風 “wind; breeze; style; manner”

History of Kanji 風When we look at the oracle bone style writings 風, (a) and (b), and the ten style writing 風, (c), shown on the left, the two styles do not look alike. We now know from 1. 凡 and 2. 鳳 that (a) and (b) consisted of a mythical bid and a sail. The mythical bird had a large crown on the head, which signified being divine, big wings with long feathers and a long trailing tail. When this large bird flapped its large wings, it brought forth wind. This bird was considered to be “the god of wind.” The god of wind and a sail to catch wind together meant “wind.”

Setsumon explained (c) as “when winds in all eight directions blow, 蟲 are brought forth.” Some scholars think that 蟲, which is the kyujitai for 虫, was not just a “worm” but was more inclusive of all creatures. Shirakawa treated it as a dragon 龍 (/ryu’u/), another mythical creature. Wind gave breathing air for creatures large and small. A dragon rose up the sky riding on wind, thus the kanji 風 meant “wind.” (Our reader may recall that Setsumon’s explanation of the ten style 雲 was that a dragon was also in the clouds. The Kanji 雨雲曇雪霜霧露—あめかんむり(1) [March 27, 2016])

So the kanji 風 had two different origins. One was a sail of a boat that catches wind and a mythical divine bird 鳳 and the other was a sail and a dragon 龍. Ancient people used a mythical creature to describe an invisible entity that they could only see when they saw things moving and their skin feeling sensation. Wind, being movement of air, never staying the same, also described trend, style and manner. The kanji 風 meant “wind; breeze; style; manner.”

The kun-yomi 風 /kaze/ means “wind; breeze,” and is in 春風 (“spring breeze” /harukaze/), 風邪を引く (“to catch a cold” /kaze-o-hiku/). Another kun-yomi /kaza-/ is in 風上 (“the windward” /kazakami/) and in the expression 風上に置けない (“intolerable; insufferable” /kazakami-ni-okenai/). The on-yomi /hu’u/ is in 台風 (“typhoon” /taihu’u/), 風景 (“scenery” /hu’ukee/), 風俗 (“customs; conventions; sex-oriented business” /hu’uzoku/), 和風 (“Japanese style” /wahuu/) and 風化する (“to weather; fade with the passage of time” /huuka-suru/).

Mythical Animals

Mythical birds on the rooftop in Byodoin Temple
Ten-en coin

Throughout history a divine mythical bird 鳳 was considered to be auspicious, and it appeared in many types of art work to signify a heaven, a wish for eternal prosperity and a blissful life. The recent restoration work on the Heian era villa called Byoodooin Temple/Villa 平等院 /byoodo’oin/ (びょうどういん) outside Kyoto city, has a building called 鳳凰堂 /hoooodoo/ (ほうおうどう). The building had a pair of hoooo birds on the rooftop. The picture on the left is a golden replica of a standing figure of hoooo—it had long colorful crowns, sharp eyes, and a long feathered tail, and the body was gilded. (Photo: Asahi Shinbun) The building was built in 1053, at the time when, after many natural disasters, thoughts of doomsday were prevalent. People of the Heian era must have looked at a pair of hoooo birds as a symbol of a Buddhist promise of heaven and afterlife. The 鳳凰堂 building itself is particularly familiar to all Japanese people because it is on a ten-yen coin, as shown on the right.


Incidentally another imaginary mythical animal that we are familiar with is kirin 麒麟 /kirin/, sometimes called a Chinese unicorn. The legend is that a kirin had the head of a dragon with a single horn, and the body of a deer with golden scales on the body. Sighting a kirin was considered to be lucky because a sage or great ruler would appear soon.
The famous Japanese beer called Kirin Beer uses an image of a kirin as its company logo.  (P.S. While walking along the Aoyama-dori street in Tokyo yesterday, we came across a giant Kirin’s beer can in front of a beer garden, as shown on the right.June 15, 2016)

  1. The kanji 嵐 “storm”

There is no ancient writing for the kanji 嵐. In kanji the top is 山 “mountain” and the bottom is 風 “wind.” Together they meant “fresh wind that comes down from a mountain.” In Japanese it meant “storm; stormy wind.”

The kun-yomi 嵐 /a‘rashi/ means “stormy wind; storm,” and is in the expression 嵐の前の静けさ (“lull before a storm” /a’rashi-no-mae-no shizuke’sa/). There is no on-yomi in Joyo kanji.

Next time when you have a glass of Kirin beer on your outside porch chair, as you feel a pleasant breeze, you might have a sighting of a 鳳凰 (ほうおう) crossing the sky or a 龍 (りゅう) climbing through the clouds. [June 12, 2016 Japan time]

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