In 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.
The kanji 召 “to call for; summon; send for”
There 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/).
The kanji 招 “to invite”
In 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/).
The kanji 紹 “to introduce”
The 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/).
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.”
The kanji 昭 “bright”
In 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”
In 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 灬, 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”
In 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.” There is no on-yomi in Joyo kanji.
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]