In this and next posts, we are going to explore kanji that contain 禾. 禾 is not used as a kanji in Japanese but it is useful for us to start this topic. In oracle bone style, (a) and (b) in brown, and bronze ware style, (c) and (d) in green, it was a rice plant in which the top was bent downward because its crop was full and heavy. It meant “rice plant.” After a stylized ten style writing, (e) in red, the drooped crop became a short slant in kanji. When it is used on the left side it is called a bushu nogihen.
We start with three kanji 季委年 that, in their origin, was made up of a human (child, woman and man) and a rice plant.
The kanji 季 “season; quarter”
For the kanji 季 in all the three ancient styles, the top was rice plant with drooping crops, and the bottom was a child. A child signified “small.” It was also used to mean “youngest child.” In the current use, 季 is used mostly to mean “season; quarterly.”
There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ki/ is in 季節 (“season” /ki’setsu/), 四季 (“four seasons” /shi’ki/) and 季語 (“season word in haiku poem” /ki’go/).
The kanji 委 “pliant; to entrust”
For the kanji 委, the oracle bone style writing had a rice plant on the left and a woman on the right. A woman was in a pliant kneeling position, which gave the meaning of something pliant, flexible or “to comply easily.” From that, it also meant “to entrust.”
The kun-yomi 委ねる /yudane’ru/ means “to entrust.” The on-yomi /i/ is in 委任する (“to charge someone with a matter; authorize” /inin-suru/), 委任状 (“proxy” /ininjoo/), 委員会 (“committee” /ii’nkai/), 委託する (“to leave something in trust with someone; entrust” /itaku-suru/) and 委細 (“details” /i’sai/).
The kanji 年 “year; annual”
It is not eady to see 禾 in the kanji 年, or even a “person“ in it. But the ancient writing samples in all three styles tell us the same story on the origin. In oracle bone style (a) and (b) had a person standing with his hand in front, which was the same as the origin of the kanji 人 “person.” The top was a rice plant with a drooping top. The same composition was seen in bronze ware style (c) and (d) and in ten style (e). The cycle of harvesting rice crops was yearly. From that the kanji 年 meant “year; annual; age.”
If you wonder why in these three writings, a child, a woman and a man had a rice plant on the head, Shirakawa offers his explanation – In these three kanji 禾 was a headdress that a woman, child or man wore in a votive dance in a harvest ritual.
The kun-yomi /toshi’/ is in 年 “year,” 今年 (“this year” /kotoshi/), 年寄り (“old person” /toshiyo’ri/), and 年頃の (“marriageable age” /toshigoro-no/). The on-yomi /ne’n/ is in 去年 (“last year” /kyo’nen/), 来年 (“next year” /rainen/), 年代 (“era; decade”/nendai/) and 年末 (“end of year” /nenmatsu/).
The kanji 租 “tax”
In ten style of the kanji 祖, the right side (且) signified “to stack up.” A pile of rice plants got assessed for taxation. The kanji 祖 meant “tax; levy.”
There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /so/ is in 租税 (“taxes” /so’zee/) and 租借地 (“leased territory; leasehold” /sosha’kuchi/).
The kanji 税 “tax”
For the kanji 税 in ten style the right side was the same as the kanji 脱, which meant “something leaving; to come off.” With the left side a bushu nogihen “rice plants,” they meant “a part of one’s harvest leaving or taking away”-that was “tax; levy.”
There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ze’e/ is in 税金 (“tax” /zeekin/), 所得税 (“income tax” /shotoku’zee/), 納税 (“payment of tax” /noozee/), 関税 (“tariff” /kanzee/), 税務署 (“taxation office” /zeemusho/) and 税率 (“rate of taxation” /zeeritsu/).
The kanji 秋 “autumn; fall”
For the kanji 秋, in oracle bone style (a) was a bug that ate rice. (b) had a fire at the bottom of the bug. I cannot figure out what the right bottom shape in (c) was. The fire signified heat to dry crops, or burning bugs that ate grains. In ten style, the left side was a “fire” and the right side was “rice plant with crop.” The season of harvesting crops is autumn. It meant “autumn; fall.” In kanji, the positions of the two components switched.
The kun-yomi /a’ki/ means “autumn; fall.” The on-yomi /shu’u/ is in 立秋 (“the first day of autumn by the lunar calendar” /risshuu/), 秋分の日 (“Automnal Equinox Day – September 22 or 23” /shuubun-no-hi/). It is a national holiday. The expression 春秋に富む /shunjuu-ni-to’mu/ means “many years to live; young.” Another common expression 一日千秋の思い /ichinichi senshuu-no-omo’i/ means “waiting impatiently for.”
The kanji 愁 “grief; sadness”
For the kanji 愁 in ten style the top was same as 秋, and was used phonetically for /shu’u/. The bottom was a heart. Together they meant “to grieve; be distressed.”
The kun-yomi 愁い /ure’i/ means “grief; distress; concern” and is in 愁い顔 (“worried sad look” /ureigao/). The on-yomi /shu’u/ is in 旅愁 (“loneliness on a journey” /ryoshuu/). The commonly used expression to say someone whose family member died is ご愁傷様です /goshuushoo-sam-desu/ (“I am sorry for your loss; Please accept my sincere sympathy”).
The kanji 秀 “excellence”
For the kanji 秀 in ten style the top was a rice plant and the bottom was a rice plant grown long. It was the time before grain was taken out and was the best time. From that it meant “excellent.” In kanji the bottom became 乃.
The on-yomi /hiide’ru/ means “to excel; excellent.” The on-yomi /shu’u/ is in 秀才 (“genius” /shuusai” and 優秀な (“superior; excellent” /yuushuu-na/).
The kanji 禿 ”baldness” — The kanji 禿 is not a Joyo kanji, but it is worthwhile to note the similarity and dissimilarity between the kanji 秀 and 禿. In ten style the bottom signified an empty hull after grain was taken out. Later on the meaning of “not having” was extended to mean “not having hair, baldness.” The kun-yomi /ha’ge/ means “baldness,” and is in 禿げ山 (“treeless mountain” /hageyama/). [The explanation of 秀 and 禿 is based on Shirakawa, and there are other views.]
The kanji 殻 “hull; husk; shell”
The next kanji 殻 was also related to “hull” after grain was taken out of rice plants. In each of the two oracle bone style writings shown on the left, the left side was a hand holding a tool that was used to pound rice plants. The right side was an “empty hull.” Together they meant a rice plant after it was pounded to remove the grain, “hull.” The positions were reversed in ten style, which was reflected in the kanji. The kanji 殻 meant “shell; hull; shell.”
The kun-yomi 殻 /kara’/ means “hull; husk: shell” and is in 卵の殻 (“egg shell” /tama’go-no kara/). /-Gara/ is in 貝殻 (“shell” /kaiga’ra/) and 煙草の吸い殻 (“cigarette butts” /tabako-no-suigara/). The on-yomi /ka’ku/ is in 地殻 (“the crust of the earth” /chikaku/), as in 地殻変動 (“crustal activity” /chikakuhe’ndoo/).
The kanji 穀 “grain”
When we compare the two kanji 殻 and 穀 in ten style, we notice that they are identical except that 穀 had 禾 at the bottom left. One threshed grain by pounding down by hand using a tool. The kanji 穀 means “grains.”
There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /kaku/ is in 穀物 (“grain; cereal” /koku’motsu/), 脱穀機 (“threshing mashine” /dakkoku’ki/) and 穀倉地帯 (“granary; farm belt” /kokusoochi’tai/).
We will continue our exploration of kanji that contain a bushu nogihen in the next post. [August 28, 2016]