Shogatsu Decorations


あけましておめでとうございます  A Happy New Year!

Another batch of photos from my collaborator in Tokyo has just arrived. They were photos of the end-of-the-year scene in Tokyo in preparation for the New Year’s days (正月 /shoogatsu/). In this post I would like to show you two kinds of decorations — 門松 “New Year’s decoration of pine and bamboo” and しめ飾り “Hanging New Year sacred festoon.” Both are to welcome the arrival of the god of the year (年神 /toshiga’mi/) at the entrance of a house or building.

門松 Kadomatsu


Photo 1 Kadomatsu

Kadomatsu is a pair of decorations to mark the entrance so that the god of the new year would find your home quickly. Shinto is a multi-god religion. In the word 門松 /kado’matsu/, 門 /ka’do/ means “gate; house” and 松 /ma’tsu/ means “pine tree.” A pine tree, being evergreen, symbolizes constant prosperity. Typically each has three fresh bamboo stalks of different length whose tops are cut diagonally, pine branches and the straw wrapping around the base. Photo 1 was taken in front of a residential building in Tokyo. This pair has a decoration of tied straws added.


Photo 2 Kadomatsu

Photo 2 is also a pine branch decoration with the traditional backside of ferns showing (I will come back to this in a moment.) This unassuming pair was placed outside the window of a sushi restaurant in the Kagurazaka (神楽坂) area in Tokyo.


Photo 3 Kadomatsu

In Photo 3 you almost have to look for a pine branch. It was stuck on the pillar of a building outside a book café. It is a humble one but the proprietor showed the spirit of welcoming a new year.


Shimekazari is a decoration that is placed above the front door of a house or building or in a small Shinto family altar (神棚 /kamidana/). しめ (注連 /shime/) is usually a rope to mark a sacred area in Shintoism, and 飾り /kazari/ means decoration.


4 Shimekazari

The shimekazari decoration in Photo 4 was hung above the entrance of a business building in the Yarai (矢来) area near Shinjuku (新宿). As I look at each item on this shimekazari, it strikes me how much of the decoration relies on a word play in Japanese and on symbolism. Let us look at what each item attached to this decoration symbolizes in three categories – (a) from a shape, (2) word play or pun in Japanese and (3) Shinto practices and historical craft.

(a) Symbolism from a Shape

 1 OPEN FAN – A hand-held fan opens out like a pie shape. The end (末 /sue/) widens (広がる “to widen” /hirogaru/). So an open fan matches the meaning of the word 末広がり (“increasing prosperity as the time goes on” /suehirogari/).

2 PRAWN –A prawn’s back is bent like an old man’s back. A prawn symbolizes longevity. Sometimes エビ /ebi/ (蝦) is written as 海老 “an old creature in the sea,” which is an arbitrary substitute kanji.

(b) Word Play 語呂合わせ

In the word  語呂合わせ /goroa’wase/ “word play; pun,” 語呂 /goro/ means “sound fitting; combined sounds” and 合わせる means /awase’ru/ “to fit; match; put together.” We say 語呂のいい (“sounds fit well; good-sounding; catchy” /goronoi’i/) or 語呂が悪い (“it sounds unpleasant/unlucky” /goro-ga-waru’i/).  I see four items of goroawase in here.

3 FERNS – The fern leaves are placed with the wrong side out, and it is called 裏白 /urajiro/ “white back.” The wrong side of a fern leaf is whiter. Less light, thus less chlorophyll, I suppose. It suggests you are not hiding anything from behind. It symbolizes your purity and innocence.

4 YUZURIHA LEAVES –The leaves are taken from a tree called ユズリハ /yuzuriha/ (translated as “false daphne” in my dictionary.) The word 譲る /yuzuru/ means “to pass on; give way,” and 葉 /ha/ means “leaf.”  Passing on something ensures generations to come. It symbolizes long lineage.

5 KELP – The Japanese word for kelp is 昆布 /ko’nbu/. Kombu and Katsuobushi (鰹節 “dry bonito”) are essential to make good dashi (出汁 “stock”) in Japanese cooking.  But in this case, it is not used for a culinary reason, but for a word play — /Ko’nbu/ is close to /yoroko’bu/ (喜ぶ “to rejoice; be delighted”).  So kelp represents a joyous time people share with others. The new year’s special dish called osechi-ryoori (お節料理) always includes knotted kelp.

6 DAIDAI ORANGE (daidai  bitter orange) – 橙 /daida’i/ is a type of bitter orange, and is only used for the new year’s day decoration for Shimekazari and 鏡餅 (“stacked up round rice cakes for the new year’s days” /kagami’mochi/) because it tastes terrible. Frankly I have never attempted to bite into it. No one does. When left on a tree, a daidai orange stays orange and does not drop from the branch for a couple of years.  The name daidai was synonymous with  代々 /da’idai/ “generations to succeed,” so it suits well long lineage. The color of daidai is orange, and is called 橙色 /daidaiiro/. Younger people may say オレンジ色 /orenjiiro/ instead.

(c) Shinto Practices and Cultural Traditions

The boundary between religious practices in Shinto (神道 /shi’ntoo/) and customs in Japanese culture is very blurry.

7 PAPER CHAIN – Paper chains are made from a piece of white paper cut in a certain way and folded to make a chain. It is usually hung on a 注連縄 or しめ縄 /shimenawa/, a rope made with straws or hemp fibers to ward off evil and mark a sacred area.  In this decoration, a sheet of red paper was added. The combination of red and white means “auspicious” in Japan.

8 PAPER STRINGS–水引き/mizuhiki/ is a bundle of a few twisted rice paper strings to tie a gift. If it is for an auspicious occasion, such as new years day, wedding, special anniversary, it is red and white, and if for mourning, it is black/gray and white.

9 STRAWS – Dry straws symbolize wishing for an abundant harvest in the fall.

A New Year decoration is adorned with things that had intended symbolism from a shape, word play and historical practices. It is all about people wishing long life, prosperity, and continued lineage of the family.

Japanese language seems to have a lot of word play. In olden days if you do not want to take the trouble of 餅つき (“rice cake pounding” /mochitsu’ki/) at the end of December, you would have a neighborhood store make fresh ones for your family. I remember my mother and grandmother discussing that they could not get the rice cake on the 29th because 餅つき could not be done on the 29th /ni’juu ku’nichi/ (二十九日). 二十 /ni’juu-/ sounds similar to 二重 (“double; duplicate” /nijuu/), and 九 /ku/ to 苦 (“pain; trouble” /ku’/). As a child I thought it was silly. But, who is to laugh?  No one wants to be blamed for bringing bad luck.  Superstition or not, it is a part of people’s life.


5 Modern Shimekazari

By the way it is not just Japanese culture where people avoid any possible misfortune. When I visited an apartment building in Southern California last fall, I noticed that the building elevator did not have a button 13 on the floor number panel. Instead it was marked with a letter A in a circle.

People move on to adjust to their new life, keeping a part of their traditions. The new, more creative, type of shimekazari is seen around this time, such as Photo 5, with the writing 謹賀新年 /kingashi’nnen/ in the middle, whose literal translation would be “Reverently celebrating a new year.”

I wish that the year of 2017 will bring a lot of happiness, good luck and good health to you and your family.


Christmas Photos from Tokyo


1. A show window in Shinjuku

日本のクリスマス— A photo of a show window of a store in Shinjuku (新宿)  readsメリークリスマス 日本のクリスマス (/meriikurisu’masu nihon-no-kurisu’masu/) [photo 1]  The grammatical particle /no/ can mean a location or characteristics. So it can mean either “Christmas in Japan” or “Japanese Christmas.” A collaborator of mine in Tokyo has sent me many photos that were taken on the streets of Tokyo this week, some in early hours of morning. I am going to share some of them in this post.

2 Hachiko Statue

2 Hachiko Statue

Hachiko in Shibuya [Photo 2]: This is the statue of Hachiko, the paragon of a loyal faithful dog, outside the Shibuya Station (渋谷駅) in Tokyo. ハチ公前 (“in front of Hachi statue” /hachikoo-ma’e/) is a spot that many people use when meeting up with someone in Shibuya. He is now adorned with a green Santa Clause hat and scarf. (Someone also added a warm scarf.) During this season, it is lit up at night.

The dog named Hachi was an Akita-ken (秋田犬 /akitaken/), a large Japanese breed. The story is that when Hachi was a year old his owner died. But even after that Hachi would continue to come to the Shibuya station to wait for his master’s return from work every day. A few years later someone wrote a newspaper article about this faithful dog and that made him famous. People affectionately called him ハチ公 /hachiko’o/. A statue was made while he was still alive in 1934 with the plaque 忠犬ハチ公 (“Loyal dog Hachiko” /chuuken hachiko’o/).  The kanji 忠 means “loyalty; faithfulness.” The kanji 公 is a title of a noble, but it was also used as a term of endearment for a male animal, and an adult male buddy in olden days. That sort of suffix is similar to 坊 /bo’o/ for a young boy, callingトシ坊 (“Little Toshi” /toshibo’o/). The story of being ever-loyal to his master suited the time of drummed-up patriotism to serve the country in the era of military expansion. Because of the lack of metal during the war, the original statue was melted down to help make a locomotive engine. After the war ended a new statue was made. That is what we see now. There was an American movie called “Hachi – A Dog’s Tale,” made more recently in the U. S.


3. Nengahagaki sale

2017 benga hawaii

3b 2017 Nenga hagaki

Nengajo Writing Season [Photos 3 & 3b]   Christmas season coincides with the time to write new-year’s day greeting cards 年賀状 /nenga’joo/. Outside a post office, next to a small lighted Christmas-like tree with a little star at the top, is a banner for 年賀はがき (“New year’s day greeting postcards” /nenga-ha’gaki/). An official New year’s day’s greeting postcard, Photo 3b, has a small lottery that goes with the purchase of the card at the bottom. Between December 15 and 25 you drop off your nengajoo in a bundle at a post office or mail box on a street. A homemade postcard, such as a postcard made from a photograph, needs to be marked as “年賀” in red and “Postcard” at the top. The post office will hold collected nengajo until the morning delivery of the 元旦 (“day of the first sun rise of a year” /gantan/.) If it is an official nengahagaki, they will not put a postmark on it so that it will be delivered in a pristine appearance.


4.Robot Pepper

A Robot by Softbank [Photo 4]– “Imagine my horror, walking 5:30 am when it’s still quiet and dark out, and this pops into sight,” wrote my collaborator. This is a consumer robot named ペッパー /pe’ppaa/ by Softbank that came out in 2015. It was standing at the entrance of a building. The company claims that it “recognizes human emotions.” My guess is that this particular robot is used as an interactive directory of tenants or some sort of customer service. On the company site there are a few videos that show how it is used. (  Other Japanese consumer robots that I can think of are アシモ /a’shimo/ by Honda, which walks on two legs, and アイボ /a’ibo/ by Sony, a dog like pet robot.


6. Ginza 4-chome


5. Ginza main street at night

Ginza Streets [Photos 5 & 6] — Ginza (銀座) remains the most fashionable and sophisticated shopping areas in Japan, lined with foreign brand names and high-end traditional stores. Ginza is always lively but this time of the year it adds to the festive mood with red and green lights and a Christmas tree in front of every store along the main street.


7. Marunouchi Kitte

Kitte building in Marunouchi [Photo 7] –Where the old main postal building stood, across the street from the Tokyo station in the Marunouchi (丸の内) area, now stands a new commercial building named Kitte. How do we pronounce this name?  It sounds foreign. I wondered when I first went there. Is it an unaccented word /kitte/, as in a postal stamp 切手, an accented word /ki’tte/, as in 切って “please cut it,” or kit as in English? According to their web site it is the first one. A bit strange naming to me. The foyer has a lighting show in the evening, and visitors in the foyer and restaurant goers upstairs congregate to view and take a photo or movie from every floor when the show starts.


8. “Christmas chicken” sale sign

“Christmas chicken” [Photo 8] –On the way home, young people may stop by a コンビニ (“convenience store” /konbini/). Above this konbini store in Ebisu (恵比寿), it reads おうち たのしいクリスマス “At home – enjoyable Christmas,” and クリスマスチキンセール “Christmas chicken sale” on the right. Just as a big roasted Turkey is expected for the Christmas Day dinner in the U. S., a family that want to have something “Christmassy” in Japan may have a roasted whole chicken on the table. A turkey is too big for an oven in a Japanese kitchen, and it is not available in a regular Japanese store. So a roasted whole chicken is the closest thing to a Christmas Turkey. (I may add that the chicken at this store does not look like a whole chicken, and I expect that the KFC fried chicken business does very well on this day.)

It is said that Christians comprise only 1 % of the population in Japan. The number sounds too low to me, and I expect that there may be different statistics. We notice that in all the decorations on the streets in Tokyo not a single one has a religious content – They are all lights of red, green and gold, and a lot of lighted trees with a star, not an angel, on top.


9. Japanese Christmas cake

クリスマスケーキ— Christians in Japan are more likely to observe the Christmas eve and Christmas day in a more austere and sober way and privately. Regardless of your faith, on the eve of Christmas day in Japan a family dinner, particularly a family with children, is likely to have a “Christmas cake.” [Photo 9; from the site of Kikakushitsu Kikyoya] Yes, there is such a thing called クリスマスケーキ /kurisumasuke’eki/. It is a round sponge cake with vanilla icing decorated with a little plastic Santa Claus, holly leaves, ribbons, and strawberries or something red. Oddly kurisumasu in Japan ends on the eve of the Christmas day.

December is a busy time in Japan. It is one of the two times yearly when bonuses are paid, so people have more spendable money. It is also the end-of-the-year gift giving time called お歳暮 /oseebo/. Oseibo is a gift that one gives to thank someone for his/her good guidance and care. It is also the time of 忘年会 (“a party to forget the passing year” /boone’nkai/). So, to retailers and restaurants, it is an important time to make profits. Then after Christmas, people hurry to get ready for New Year’s day, 正月 /shoogatsu/. The time is called 暮れ/年の暮れ (“the year-end” /kure; toshi-no-kure/) , 年末 (“the year-end” /nenmatsu/) or 年の瀬 (“last days of the year” /toshinose/). Because people have a week off from work from December 29th it is also the time for homecoming. The highways will be jammed with family cars heading for their grandparents’ home. Around on January 3, the word Uターン (“a return trip” /yuuta’an/) appears in a newspaper headline with a photo of a long snail of cars on a highway. Many people go abroad. Most companies resume work on January 4. 松の内 “the New Year Week” /matsuno’uchi/ is over on January 7, and after that everything, including school, goes back to normal.

読者のみなさま  どうぞよいお年をお迎えください   憲子

The Kanji 戈戒械成城誠伐閥我-戈 “halberd” (1)


Last several posts, we have been exploring kanji that originated from a sharp-edged object. We have looked at kanji that have 刀刂王士斤刃 and 召.  In this and next few posts we are going to look at kanji that originated from戈 “halberd.” The shape 戈 appears as a component in a surprisingly large number of kanji. In this post we are going to look at the kanji 戈戒械成城誠伐閥我.

Seal Style for Ten Style;  From this post on I am going to use the term “seal style” for “ten style 篆文,” I have stayed away from the term seal style because using it as a seal engraving was not its original use. But I have decided to go along with the custom in English.

  1.  The kanji 戈 “halberd”


戈-Shirakawa (2004)

history-of-kanji-%e6%88%88The kanji 戈 is not Joyo kanji, but it has a long important history in the history of kanji.  戈 is read as /ho’ko/ (and its on-yomi is /ka/), which is translated as “halberd” in English. A halberd is a weapon that has two functions, thrusting and cutting. In the history of oracle bone style, (a) and (b) in brown, we see a long vertical line with a short line crossing near the top. According to Shirakawa Setsumon explained that the short line was a flat blade that was shown sideways. The picture of 戈 on the right is taken from Shirakawa (2004). (I am writing with some trepidation because having been raised and educated in an extremely pacifist atmosphere of Post-war Japan, knowledge of weapons never came to me.)  My simple understanding from this is that 戈 came from a spear which had a flat-blade axe attached to it on the side.

Another point is that (a), (b) and (c) had a stand to place a halberd upward, which suggests that it was in a ceremony. (c) in bronze ware style had an ornament hanging down from the top. We can imagine that the more a soldier achieved in battle the more decorated his halberd became. In (d) in bronze ware style, in green, and (e) in seal style, in red, the long line became bent and a short intersecting diagonal line was added. I am imagining that these halberds were placed tilted forward at a ceremony, and the short line was a support for that. The kanji reflected the seal style writing. These ancient writings give us a lot to think about regarding the kanji 戈.

As a component, 戈 comes on the right side and is called /hokozu’kuri/ (ほこづくり). It  appears in many kanji contributing meanings such as “under threat of a weapon,” “to cut” and others, as we will see, as well as a phonetic role as /ka; kai; ki/.

  1. The kanji 戒 “to admonish”

history-of-kanji-%e6%88%92The oracle bone style writing for the kanji 戒 had a halberd standing straight up in the center and a hand on each side. They meant raising a halberd with both hands “to guard against; keep a look out for.” In the bronze ware writing, in green, a halberd was raised by two hands and pushed to the right. In seal style, in red, the halberd was placed on top of the two hands. In kanji two hands holding up the halberd became the shape  廾. The kanji 戒 meant “to admonish; guard against.”

The kun-yomi 戒める /imashime’ru/ means “to admonish,” and is in 戒めを守る (“to follow stern advise/lesson” /imashime-o mamo’ru/). The on-reading /ka’i/ is in 僧侶の戒律 (“religious precepts of priests,” /so’oryo-no kairitsu/), 十戒 (“the Ten Commandments” /jikkai/), 懲戒処分 (“disciplinary punishment” /chookai-sho’bun/) and 警戒する (“to look out; guard” /keekai-suru/).  Having the threat of a halberd in their origins, words that use 戒 have a strong sense of a warning to adhere to what one is instructed to do.

3. The kanji 械 “machine; gadget”

history-of-kanji-%e6%a2%b0The seal style writing had 木 “tree; wood” on the left side. The top of the right side 戒 was used phonetically for /ka’i/, and meant “to admonish.” Together they meant a wooden gadget that shackled a criminal’s hands. The meaning of handcuffs dropped, and it was used to mean something mechanical. The kanji 械 meant “gadget; machine” in general.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ka’i/ is in 機械 “machine” and 器械 “instrument,” both of which have the same pronunciation /kika’i/.

  1. The kanji 成 “to accomplish; complete”

history-of-kanji-%e6%88%90 For the kanji 成 in oracle bone style and bronze ware style it had an axe attached to a halberd. The short line below that was a decoration to mark the completion of making a new halberd. Thus, it meant “to complete.” In seal style the inside was the shape of a nail, which may have signified “pounding,” and in kanji it became a hooked shape.The kanji 成 meant “to complete; accomplish; comprise.”

The kun-yomi 成る /na’ru/ means “to complete; accomplish; become,” and is in 成し遂げる (“to carry out successfully” /nashitoge’ru/).  漢字の成り立ち /kanji-no-naritachi/  means “how kanji came to be what it is now” and it is what we are exploring in this blog. The on-yomi /se’e/ is in 成功する (“to succeed” /seekoo-suru/), 成果 (“result; accomplishment” /se’eka/) and 成長 (“one’s growth” /seechoo/). Another on-yomi /jo’o/ is a go-on and thus in Buddhist words such as 成仏する (“entering Nirvana; to die in peace” /jo’obutsu-suru/).

  1. The kanji 城 “caste; fortress”

history-of-kanji-%e5%9f%8eFor the kanji 城, we have two very different bronze ware style writings. The left one had a tall tower on the left and a halberd on the right. The second one had the soil (土) underneath a halberd. A tall structure or fortress on the ground that had weapons to protect it meant “castle; fortress.” In seal style, the soil moved to the left and became a bushu tsuchihen “soil; ground.” The right side had a halberd and something to pound (丁). The kanji 城 “castle” is comprised of a bushu tsuchihen and the kanji 成.

  1. The kanji 誠 “sincerity; loyalty”

history-of-kanji-%e8%aa%a0The seal style writing for 誠 had 言, a bushu gonben “word; language,” on the left. The right side 成 gave the sound /se’e/ to mean “to complete; become.” From the meaning of “one’s words becomes one’s deeds,” the kanji 誠 meant “sincerity, loyalty.”

The kun-yomi /makoto/ means “sincerity; loyalty,” and is in a phrase 誠にありがとうございました (“We sincerely thank you” /makotoni ari’gatoogozaimashita/).  The on-yomi /see/ is in 誠実な (“trustworthy; faithful” /seejitsu-na/), 忠誠心 (“loyalty” /chuuse’eshin/) and 誠意を込める (“to put good faith” /se’ei-o kome’ru/).

  1. The kanji 伐 “to cut down; attack”

history-of-kanji-%e4%bc%90When I first realized that the writings in oracle bone style and bronze ware style for the kanji 伐 were all a scene in which a halberd was crossing a person’s neck, I felt a little uneasy. This was no longer just a threat, but cutting someone’s head off!  Fortunately, the gruesome meaning was dropped, and in seal style a person (イ) was detached from a halberd. The kanji 伐 meant “to cut down; attack.”

The kun-yomi 伐る /ki’ru/ is used for cutting a tree. The on-yomi /ba’tsu/ is in (木を) 伐採する  (“to cut down a tree” /bassai-suru/) and 乱伐 (“reckless deforestation” /ranbatsu-suru/).

  1. The kanji 閥 “clique; faction”

history-of-kanji-%e9%96%a5The seal style of 閥 had 門 “two closed doors” and 伐 inside, which was used phonetically for /ba’tsu/ to mean “commendation; honoring.” Together they signified a house or family which received commendation, and from that it meant a group of people who band together exclusively. The kanji 閥 meant “clique; faction.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ba’tsu/ is in 軍閥 (“military faction; warlord clique” /gunbatsu/), 財閥 (“industrial/financial conglomerate” /zaibatsu/) and 学閥 (“academic clique” /gakubatsu/).

9. The kanji 我 “I; me”

history-of-kanji-%e6%88%91Here is another type of halberd. For the kanji 我, in bronze ware style the left side of a halberd had a three prong-like shape. It has been explained as a saw-like blade attached to a halberd or a saw. The origin of the kanji 義, which contains 我 at the bottom, was given as proof that a saw that was used to cut a sacrificial sheep [Shirakawa]. It was borrowed to mean “I, me; oneself” in oracle bone style time, and has no relevance to the origin being a halberd.

We will continue with this topic. Next Sunday being Christmas Day, I am going to take the day off from writing an article on kanji history. Thank you very much. –Noriko [December 18, 2016; revised on January 6, 2017]

The Kanji 召招紹詔昭照沼−召


katanahitoobsIn searching for clues about what kanji originated from, the oldest style, oracle bone style, is most important. Carving lines on a small piece of bone could create some ambiguous shapes. The shape for “person” (人) and “knife; sword” (刀) is in that category. To show you how difficult it is to interpret the two-stroke shapes for 人 and 刀, I scanned the pages in Akai (2010), as shown on the right. When it was used as a component in some kanji a longer line became shortened, and became even more ambiguous. Later style writing also has a similar problem. For instance, for the top of the two kanji 色 “color; amorous” and 絶 “to cease to exist; extreme” some scholars say that it is “person” and others say “knife.” The kanji 到 “to reach” had “person” on the right instead of “knife” in bronze ware style.

  1. The kanji 召 “to call for; summon; send for”

history-of-kanji-%e5%8f%acThere are two different views on how the top of 召 in oracle bone style came about. One view takes the top of 召as a knife, and explains that 刀 /to’o/ was used phonetically for /sho’o/ to mean “to call for.” With the bottom 口 “mouth” signifying “to speak” together they meant “to call; summon; send for.” Another view takes it as a “person,” and explains it as “a person (top) speaking (口) to send for someone.” Shirakawa (2004) took the latter view further. In his view the bottom was not a “mouth,” which is a prevalent view among kanji scholars, but a prayer vessel. So in this case, the top of oracle bone style writing signified a divine spirit descending in answer to a prayer. From calling for a divine spirit in prayer, it originally meant “to call for; summon.”

Whether we take Shirakawa’s heavily shamanic view or not, the kanji 召 is used for a superior sending for his servant, and therefore it has an authoritative connotation.

The kun-yomi 召す  /me’su/  is usually used in an honorific word. お召しになる /omeshi-ni-na’ru/ means “to send for; to wear clothes” [honorific style]; 召し上がる /meshiagaru/ means “to eat; drink,” [honorific style] and お召し列車 /omeshire’ssha/ means “royal train.” The on-yomi /shoo/ is in 国会の召集 (“call for Diet session” /kokkai no shooshuu/), 召集令 “draft notice; call of a military service” /shooshu’uree/).

  1. The kanji 招 “to invite”

history-of-kanji-%e6%8b%9bIn ten style the left side was 扌, a bushu tehen “an act that uses a hand.” The right side 召 was used phonetically for /shoo/. A tehen added a beckoning hand. Beckoning someone by hand meant “to invite.”

The kun-yomi /mane’ku/ means “to invite,” and is in 手招きする /tema’neki-suru/ means “to beckon.” The on-yomi /shoo/ is in 招待する (“to invite” /sho’otai-suru/).

  1. The kanji 紹 “to introduce”

history-of-kanji-%e7%b4%b9The bronze ware style writing, in green, is hard to make out. Setsumon explained that 紹 meant “to connect.” It also said it was to twist strings or ropes together. With that explanation in mind, I wonder if the middle of the bronze ware style writing was a skein of threads with the ends of three threads or ropes sticking out at the bottom. In ten style, the left side 糸 “thread” (with three loose ends of a skein at the bottom) was placed on the left, and the right side was the kanji 召 for /sho’o/. Together they meant “to connect people; introduce.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /shoo/ is in 紹介する “to introduce,” 紹介状 (“letter of introduction” /shookaijoo/) and 自己紹介 (“self-introduction” /jikosho’okai/).

  1. The kanji 詔 “imperial edict”

The bronze writing had 言 “word; language; speak” on the left. The right side had 刀 and 口, which made召 and was used phonetically for /shoo/ “to call for; summon.” From “word that was spoken by a superior.” The kanji 詔 meant “imperial edict.”

The kun-yomi /mikotonori/ means “imperial edict.” The on-yomi /shoo/ is in 詔書 “imperial edict.”

  1. The kanji 昭 “bright”

history-of-kanji-%e6%98%adrIn bronze ware style 召 was used phonetically for /shoo/ to mean “bright” on the left, and on the right was 卩“person.” In ten style 日 “sun” replaced a “person.” The kanji 昭 meant “bright.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /shoo/ is used for the Showa era, 昭和 /sho’owa; shoowa/.

6. The kanji 照 “to shine”

history-of-kanji-%e7%85%a7In ten style, the left side had 日 “sun” and 火 “fire,” both signifying “bright light.” The right side 召 was used phonetically for /sho’o/. Together they meant “to shine brightly.”  In kanji, 火 was moved to the bottom and became another shape for “fire” that was used at the bottom , a bushu renga. The kanji 照 meant “to shine; illuminate.”

The kun-yomi /terasu/ means “to shine,” and is in 照らし合わす “to cross-check” /terashiawa’su/), 日照り (“dry weather; draught” /hideri/). The on-yomi /shoo/ is in 照明 (“illumination” /shoomee/) and 照会状 (“letter of reference” /shookaijoo/).

7. The kanji 沼 “marsh”

history-of-kanji-%e6%b2%bcIn ten style, the left side was a stream of water, which will become a bushu sanzui “water.” The right side 召 was used only phonetically for 少 “little.”  Together from “a little water pool” the kanji 沼 meant “marsh.”

The kun-yomi /numa’/ means “marsh.” The on-yomi /shoo/ is in rarely used word 湖沼 (“lakes and marches; inland waters” /koshoo/).

From the next post, I would like to start discussing 戈 “halberd.” Surprisingly a great many kanji contain 戈. Thank you very much for your reading.  – Noriko  [December 11, 2016]

The kanji 近新祈斬暫断斥訴刃忍認-斤(2) 刃


This is the second post on kanji that contains 斤 “axe; adze.” The kanji are  近新祈斬暫断斥訴. We are also going to look at a few kanji that were closely related to 刀 knife; sword” – 刃忍認 with 刃 blade.”

  1. The kanji 近 “near; recent; close”

history-of-kanji-%e8%bf%91For the kanji 近 in ten style, in red, the left side had a crossroad above a footprint, which together almost always formed a bushu shinnyoo “to go forward” in kanji. The right side, 斤, was used phonetically and meant “little.” Going a small distance signified “close; near.” The kanji 近 meant “near; close; recent.”

The kun-yomi 近い /chika’i/ means “near; close,” and is in 近々 (“before long; shortly” /chika’jika/), 間近に (“approaching, impending” /majika-ni/), and 身近 (“familiar; at one’s side” /mijika/), in みぢか in hiragana.  The on-yomi /ki’n/ is 近所 (“neighborhood” /ki’njo/), 最近 (“recently” /saikin.), 遠近感 (“depth of vision” /enki’nkan/) and 近代 (“modern” /ki’ndai/). Another on-yomi /ko’n; kono/ is in 昨今 (“these days” /sa’kkon/) and in 近衛兵 (“royal guard; household troops” /konoe’hee/).

  1. The kanji 新 “new; fresh”

history-of-kanji-%e6%96%b0For the kanji 新, (a) and (b) in oracle bone style, in brown, had a tatooing needle with a handle (辛), and an axe (斤) that was used phonetically for /shi’n/. The blade was at a right angle to the handle. In bronze ware style, in green, the needle in (c) had an emphatic dot. In (d) in ten style the left side had a tree (木) added to 辛. Shirakawa says that a tree chosen to be cut down was pierced with a needle in ritual, and that the kanji 新 meant “a tree that was marked with a needle to be cut down with an axe.” From a freshly cut tree, the kanji 新 came to mean “new; recent.”

The kun-yomi /atarashi’i/ means “new.” Another kun-yomi 新たに /a’ratani/ means “newly.” The on-yomi /shi’n/ is in 新聞 (“newspaper” /shinbun/), 新旧 (“new and old” /shi’nkyuu/).

  1. The kanji祈 “to pray”

history-of-kanji-%e7%a5%88For the kanji 祈 (a) in oracle bone style was an axe. In (b) the top was an axe, and the bottom was a two-pronged thrusting weapon or shield to protect a soldier. In (c) in bronze ware style, the top was a banner for troops, and the right side was an axe, used phonetically for /ki/. (d) had a footprint at the top, signifying troops advancing. Together they meant praying for good luck in a battle. In (e)  in ten style, the left side became an altar table, and it further changed to a bushu shimesuhen ネ “religious matter” in kanji. The kanji 祈 meant “to pray.”

The kun-yomi /ino’ru/ means “to pray.” The on-yomi /ki/ is in 祈願する (“to pray for” /ki’gan-suru/) and 祈祷 (“prayer” /kitoo/).

  1. The kanji斬 “to cut; chop; hack”

history-of-kanji-%e6%96%acFor the kanji 斬 a vehicle on the left side (車) and an axe (斤) on the right side together meant “to cut/hack (materials) with an axe to make a vehicle.”

The kun-yomi /ki’ru/ means “to axe; cut.”  The on-yomi /za’n/ is in 斬新なデザイン (“drastically new design” /zanshin-na deza’in/) and 斬首 (“decapitation” /za’nshu/).

  1. The kanji 漸 “gradual”

history-of-kanji-%e6%bc%b8By adding “water” on the left to 斬 “to cut; chop,” which was used phonetically for /ze’n/, we get the kanji 漸. 漸 was the name of a river. The kanji 漸 meant “gradual movement,” like water seeping through over time.

The kun-yomi is in 漸く (“gradually” /yooyaku/).  The on-yomi /ze’n/ is in 漸次 (“gradually; one by one” /ze’nji/).

  1. The kanji 暫 “for a short period of time”

history-of-kanji-%e6%9a%abBy adding 日 “sun” to the kanji 斬 for phonetic use, we get the kanji 暫. The kanji 暫 meant “short period of time.”

The kun-yomi 暫 /shiba’raku/ means “for a short period of time/. The on-yomi /za’n/ is in 暫定的な (“temporary” /zanteeteki-na/) and 暫時 (“for a short time,  /zanji/).

  1. The kanji 断 “to cut off; severe; break”

history-of-kanji-%e6%96%adFor the kanji 断, in ten style the left side had four skeins of threads cut short that were placed on shelves. The right side was an axe. Together they signified “to cut off; severe” or “drastic action.” The kyujitai, in blue, reflected the ten style writing. Just think of writing this kanji in kyujitai. A lot of strokes in a small space. The shinjitai replaced to 米 to reduce stokes. The kanji 断 means “to cut off; stop; decline; drastic action.

The kun-yomi 断る /kotowaru/ means “to turn down; decline.” The on-yomi /da’n/ is in 判断 (“judgment” /ha’ndan/), 断水 (“suspension of water supply” /dansui/), 中断する (“to suspend” /chuudan-suru/) and 決断する (“to make a decision” /ketsudan-suru/).

  1. The kanji 斥 “to send away; refuse; defeat”

history-of-kanji-%e6%96%a5The kanji 斥 appears to share the same shape with the kanji斤, except that it has an extra stroke.  But the ten style writing tells us a totally different story – It had 广 “house” and 屰 ”reverse” (as found in the kanji 逆 “reverse; wrong way”). Together they meant “to send away; refuse; defeat.”

The kun-yomi 斥ける /shirizoke’ru/ means “to send away; defeat; turn down.” The on-yomi /se’ki/ is in 排斥する (“to repel; reject” /haiseki-suru/).

  1. The kanji 訴 “to take someone to court; call for; appeal”

history-of-kanji-%e8%a8%b4For the kanji 訴 we have three ten style writings. (c) was 愬 ( a heart that repels屰). The kanji 訴 meant “to sue; appeal; take an legal action.”

The kun-yomi /uttae’ru/ means “to appeal; sue; take a legal action.” The on-yomi /so/ is in 訴訟事件 (“lawsuit case” /soshooji’ken/), 告訴 (“accuse; charge” /ko’kuso/), 訴状 (“written complaint in a lawsuit” /sojoo.)

There are three kanji related to 刀 that we have not included in the two earlier posts on 刀due to lack of space. Let us have a quick look at them here.

  1. The kanji 刃 “blade; cutting edge”

history-of-kanji-%e5%88%83For the kanji 刃, in  oracle bone style a knife had a short line pointing out its blade.  In ten style, the point was still there. The kanji 刃 meant “blade.”

The kun-yomi 刃 /yaiba/ meant “blade; cutting edge.”  /Ha/ means /blade/, is in 刃物 (“edged tool” /ha’mono/) and ノコギリ刃 “saw blade” /nokogiriba/), and 刃向かう (“to raise a hand against; defy” /hamuka’u/).

  1. The kanji 忍 “patience”

history-of-kanji-%e5%bf%8dFor the kanji 忍in bronze ware style the top was a sharp blade of a knife, and the bottom was a heart. This combination remained through ten style and kanji. A person’s heart on a sharp knife signified a heart that was strong and tenacious, thus it meant “patience.” The kanji 忍 meant “patience.”

The kun-yomi /shino’bu/ means “to endure.” The on-yomi /ni’n/ is in 忍耐 (“patience” /ni’ntai/), 堪忍袋の緒が切れる(“one’s patience comes to the breaking point” /kanninbu’kuro-no o’ga-kireru/).

  1. The kanji 認 “to recognize”

history-of-kanji-%e8%aa%8dfor the kanji 認 two ten style writings had a bushu gonben “word; language.”  The right side of (a) had a blade and a heart signifying a tenacious heart, whereas (b) dropped the heart. Together they meant listening patiently to what another person has to say and accepting it. The kanji 認 meant “to accept” or “to recognize.”

The kun-yomi /mitomeru/ means “to recognize.” The on-yomi /ni’n/ is in 認識する (“to recognize” /ninshiki-suru/), 認定 (“certification” /nintee/) and 確認する (“to confirm” /kakunin-suru/).

We continue exploring kanji that originated from sharp objects and weapons in next several posts.  Thank you very much for your interest.  – Noriko  [December 4, 2016]