The Kanji 初袖襟裾裕・卒・経径軽茎


This is the third post on kanji that originated from a collar and mean “clothing” – 衣. We have seen in the last two posts that when used as a component in ancient writing a collar may appear as it was (衣) or split in two parts with another component in the middle. In kanji another shape was created –a bushu衤, which is called koromohen. In this post we are going to look at the kanji 初袖襟裾裕 with a koromohen, and 卒, which also came from a collar. Then we are going to look at kanji that had 巠 in kyuji that originated with a warp (straight threads placed vertically) set on a loom in weaving –経径軽茎.

The first two kanji 初 and 袖 have been discussed before, but here we look at them again from the standpoint of the development of a collar into different component shapes.

  1. The kanji 初 “first time; beginning”

History of Kanji 初All the ancient styles (oracle bone style, in brown, bronze ware style, in green, and seal style, in red) had the full shape of a collar (衣) on the left side and a knife (刀) on the right side. In order to make clothes, fabric first had to be cut. From that it meant “first time; beginning.” When 衣 appeared on the left side in kanji, it became 衤, a bushu koromohen “clothing.” /Koromo/ is the kun-yomi of the kanji 衣, as we saw last week. The shape 衤 is not to be confused with ネ, a bushu shimesuhen “religious matter,” which is related to the kanji 示 /shimesu/.  It is interesting to me to see how the two very different kanji 衣and 示 could end up with such similar shapes as bushu.



The stroke order of a bushu koromohen is shown on the right.  (For word samples, please refer to the earlier post.)

  1. The kanji 袖 “sleeve”

Thistory-of-kanji-%e8%a2%96he three writings for the kanji 袖 on the left demonstrate that there have been three different shapes for a collar and all meant the same thing – In one, (a), a collar was split into two, the top being the back of the neck and the bottom a front in which two sides meet; another one, (b), kept the original shape; and the third one as bushu had an abbreviated to衤(katakana ネ with an extra stroke as a fourth stroke added). The right side of (b) as well as that of  the kanji 袖 was 由 “coming out of” (a ripe gourd). When you put on clothes arms would come out of sleeves, and it meant “sleeve.”

  1. The kanji 襟 “collar”

History of Kanji 襟In the bronze ware style of the kanji 襟, inside the wide-open collar was 金, which was used phonetically for /kin/. It meant “collar.” In seal style the same two components 衣 and 金 were placed side by side.  In kanji the left side became a bushu koromohen and the right side was replaced by 禁, which was used phonetically for /kin/ to mean “to close.” The kanji 襟 means “collar.”

The kun-yomi 襟 /eri’/ means “collar,” and is in 襟巻き (“muffler; neck scarf” /eri’maki/). The on-yomi /kin/ is in 開襟シャツ (“open-necked shirt” /kaikinsha’tsu/) and the expression 胸襟を開く (“to open one’s heart; have a heart-to-heart talk with someone” /kyookin-o hira’ku/).

  1. The kanji 裾 “hem; foothills of mountain”

History of Kanji 裾The seal style writing of the kanji 裾 was comprised of koromohen and 居, which was used phonetically for /kyo/. It appears that the meaning was originally inclusive of parts of clothing, such as the hem, the bottom of clothes, the collar, the sleeve and the edge of the front panel of clothes. But now the kanji 裾 is used only for “the bottom of clothes; hem; skirts”

The kun-yomi 裾 /suso/ means “bottom of clothes; hem” and is in 山裾 (“foothills of mountain” /yamasuso/) and in 裾模様 (“kimono with design on the skirt” /susomo’yoo/). There is no practical word using the on-yomi.

  1. The kanji 裕 “leeway; plentiful; room”

History of Kanji 裕For the kanji 裕 in bronze ware style a collar that was opened wide had 谷.  Several kanji that contain谷 are difficult to explain from the origins, because their ancient writings do not appear to have come from the same source. Rather than going into unsolved issues in my mind, I am going to leave it as being used phonetically for “roomy; ample.” Together the original meaning of “roomy; loose clothes” came to be used more generally to mean “leeway; plentiful; room.”

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /yuu/ is in 余裕 (“additional coverage; room” /yoyuu/) and 裕福な (“rich; wealthy well-to-do” /yu’uhukuna/).

  1. The kanji 卒 “soldier; sudden; rash; to end”

History of Kanji 卒The kanji 卒 has seemingly different meanings, and that may have affected the interpretations of its origin. In both bronze ware style and seal style, it was a collar that had a slanted line. One view is that the slanted line across the right and left front panels of clothes that were closed signified that soldiers wore the same clothes that were given to them. From that the kanji 卒 meant “low-ranking soldiers.” Another view is that a deceased person’s collar was tied so that the spirit would not stray out – thus the slanted line signified “tied tightly.” The kanji 卒meant “sudden death,” and this sudden happening gave the meaning “rash; hasty.” It also meant “to end after one does everything to be done.”  The kanji became 亠, two 人 and 十. The kanji 卒 means “low-ranking solder; sudden; to end.”

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /sotu/ is in 兵卒 (“private (soldier); enlisted man” /heesotsu/), 卒業 (“graduation” /sotsugyoo/), 軽率な (“careless; hasty,without serious thought” /keesotsu-na/). /Sot/- is in 卒中 (“stroke; apoplectic seizure” /socchuu/) and 卒倒する (“to faint; fall unconscious” /sottoo-suru/).

Now we move on to other shapes that are related to fabric or clothes. We begin with the shape 巠 in kyuji (I do not have the kanji for the shinji, which is 又 and 土.)

  1. The kanji 経 “to pass through; experience; sutra”

History of Kanji 経The first kanji is 経. In bronze ware style, (a), a loom that had threads (warps) was placed vertically to the wooden frame. In weaving, warp has to be placed straight so that other threads (the weft) can pass through to make a cloth. So it signified “straight; to go through.” In (b) a skein of threads was added. In (c) in seal style the threads were three wavy lines and the wooden frame became 工 ”craft” at the bottom. The kyuji 經, in blue, reflected seal style. Experience is something one goes through, so it means “experience.” A Buddhist sutra is a long continuous chanting, and the kanji also is used to mean “sutra.”  In shinjitai, the right became the kanji 又 and 土. The kanji 経 means “to go through; (time) passes; Buddhist sutra.”

The kun-yomi 経る means “(time) passes; to experience; go through.” The on-yomi /kee/ is in 経験 (“experience” /keeken/), 経済 (“economy” /ke’ezai/), 経緯 (“detail of history; longitude and latitude” /ke’ei/), 経歴 (“personal history” /keereki/), 経理 (“accounting” /ke’eri/). Another on-yomi /kyoo/ is in 経典 (“sacred scripture” /kyooten/) and お経 (“Buddhist sutra” /okyoo/).

  1. The kanji径 “pathway; straight line connecting two points”

For the kanji 径 in seal style the left side was a “crossroad.” The right side 巠 signified “lines that go strait.” The shortest way to get somewhere is a straight line, which would involve narrow path, not a major road. It meant “narrow path; pathway.” 径 is a line that connects two points, and a straight line that goes through circle is also 径. The kyuji 徑 reflected seal style. In shinjitai the right side became the kanji 又 and 土.

The kun-yomi /michi’/ is in 小径 (“pathway” /komichi/), 直径 (“diameter” /chokkee/) and 半径 (“semidiameter; radius” /ha’nkee/).

  1. The kanji 軽 “light; frivolous”

History of Kanji 軽For the kanji 軽 in seal style the left side was a “wheel; military vehicle.” The right side 巠 was used phonetically for /kee/ to mean “light.”  It meant a military vehicle that was not transporting heavy equipment. From that it meant “light.” The kyuji 輕 reflected seal style.

The kun-yomi /karui/ means “light.” /-Garu/ is in 身軽に (“lightly; with agility” /migaru-ni/), 手軽な (“easy; offhand; convenient” /tegaru-na/), 軽々しい (“thoughtlessly; frivolous; imprudent” /karugarushi’i/). The on-yomi /kee/ is in 軽量 (“light-weight” /keeryoo/), 軽視する (“to make light of” /ke’eshi-suru/) and 軽蔑する (“to scorn; contempt” /keebetsu-suru/).

  1. The kanji 茎 “stem; stalk”

History of Kanji 茎For the kanji 茎 the seal style writing was comprised of 艸 “plant; grass” and 巠 “something straight across.” The part of a plant that was straight was a stem. It meant “stem.” The kanji 茎 means “stem; stalk.”

The kun-yomi /kuki/ means “stem; stalk.” The on-yomi /kee/ is in 地下茎 (“subterranean stem” /chika’kee/), a rather specialized word for a gardener and vegetable grower.

In the next post, we are probably going to look at kanji that contain 巾, and perhaps a few more if we finish with the topic of threads and cloth.  For people who reside in Japan, please enjoy ゴールデンウィーク (“Golden Week” /goorudenwi’iku/) — consecutive holidays from April 29 (originally Showa Emperor’s old birthday, eventually renamed as Showa Day) through May 5 (Children’s day).  Thank you very much for your reading.  -Noriko [April 30, 2017]

The Kanji 懐壊・遠園・還環・醸壌譲嬢-衣 (2)


In exploring kanji that came from 衣, which originally was “collar,” we are going to look at kanji that contain something complex inside 衣 that was split top and bottom. The etymology of 懐壊・遠園・還環・醸壌譲嬢 is incredibly complex. I wish I could just skip them in our exploration, but I cannot avoid going into the murky intrigue in ancient writing history to cover all Joyo kanji. So, let us explore them, with the help of our trusted old ancient writings.

  1. The kanji 懐 “heart; chest; inside jacket; to hold sentiment”

History of Kanji 懐For the kanji 懐 in (a) and (b) in bronze ware style, in green, the top was “back collar.” In the bottom the center was an “eye” and “drops of water coming down,” signifying “tears pouring out,” and the outside was the right and left sides of a front collar. Under a collar there is one’s heart, so together they appear to signify hiding one’s tears or feelings inside. Shirakawa explains that the right side of the kanji 懐 alone, which was phonetically /kai/, meant “grieving for a deceased person at a funeral,” and that the kanji 懐 with a “heart” meant “sentiments and thoughts cherished in one’s mind,” rather than lamenting someone’s death. (c) in seal style, in red, had a heart. On the right side the two sides of a front collar became overlapping. In kyuji (4) 懷, in blue, the tears were still there, and by the shinji 懐 the tears were gone. The kanji 懐 meant “chest; heart; inside jacket; to hold sentiment.”

The kun-yomi 懐 /hutokoro/ means “heart; chest,” and is in 懐具合 “one’s financial standing; state of one’s purse” /hutokorogu’ai/ and (“dagger; one’s right-hand man” /hutokoroga’tana/). The on-yomi /kai/ is in 懐古的 (“nostalgic” /kaikoteki/), 懐疑的 (“skeptic; incredulous” /kaigiteki/) and 懐中電灯 (“torch; flash light” /kaichuude’ntoo/).

  1. The kanji 壊 “to break; destroy; tear”

History of Kanji 壊The earliest writing that we have for the kanji 壊 was Old style, (a) in purple on the left, which predated (small) seal style. The left side of (a) had an eye with tears pouring down, which was used phonetically for /kai/, and the right side was a mound of soil (土) that signified celebrating the god of earth. It is difficult to get the meaning of the kanji 壊 “to break; destroy” from (a). However, in seal style, in red, in (b) the right side was the same as (c) for 懐, but in (c) the right side had 攴 “to hit by hand using a stick.”  This would be in line with the current meaning. However, the kyuji (d) took after (b). The kanji 壊 means “to break; destroy; tear.”

The kun-yomi 壊す /kowa’su/ and 壊れる /koware’ru/ means “to break” in a transitive verb and “to be broken” in an intransitive verb. The on-yomi /on/ is in 破壊 (“destruction; demolition” /hakai/), 崩壊 (“collapse; cave-in” /hookai/) and 倒壊家屋 (“collapsed house” /tookaika’oku/).

  1. The kanji 遠 “distant; far”

Usually the kanji 遠 is explained as:  辶 “to go” and 袁 “a long road” or “spacious,” together meaning walking a long road–thus “far; distant.” This suffices for the kanji shape, but our interest is to find an explanation of the origin from the earliest shape. Here Shirakawa’s account comes in.

History of Kanji 遠Shirakawa proposed a unique explanation. In bronze ware style in (a) “crossroad” on the left and “footprint” at the bottom together signified “to move forward” (This became辵 in (c), and eventually辶, a bushu shinnyoo in kanji.) In both (a) and (b) the top right was a “footprint” and below that was a collar with a circle, signifying “jewel.” Together, Shirakawa explained, the bottom right (which became 袁) was jewel inside a deceased person’s clothes. The top footprint (止) signified the departure of a deceased person for a long journey. From a long journey of a deceased person it meant “far; distant.”

The kun-yomi 遠い /tooi/ means “far; distant,” and is in 遠出 (“an outing; trip” /toode/). The on-yomi /en/ is in 遠路 (“long distance” /e’nro/), 遠方 (“distant place; faraway land” /enpoo/), 遠慮する (“to keep someone at a respectful distance; avoid” /enryo-suru/) and 敬遠 (“reserve; discretion” /keeen/). Another on-yomi /on/ is in 久遠 (“eternity” /kuon/).

  1. The kanji 園 “park; garden”

History of Kanji 園For the kanji 園, the inside (袁) was used phonetically for /en/ to mean “spacious; roomy.” The outside (囗) was an enclosure. An enclosure that had a lot of roomy space was a garden or park. The kanji 園 means “park; garden.”

The kun-yomi 園 /sono/ means “garden” in literary style. The on-yomi /en/ is in 公園 (“park” /kooen/), 庭園 (“garden” /teen/), 園芸 (“gardening; horticulture” /engee/) and 幼稚園 (“kindergarten” /yoochi’en/).

  1.  The kanji 還 “to return; circular”

History of Kanji 還Usually the origin of the kanji 還 is explained as being comprised of “to go” (辶) and that /kan/ was used phonetically to mean “to go around; round.” Together they meant “to go around and return to the beginning.” The kanji 還 means “to return; circle back to the original point.”

Shirakawa’s account was closer to the ancient writing. (a) in oracle bone style had a “crossroad” on the left. The right side was used phonetically for /kan/, and it had an “eye,” signifying “awake,” and “collar.” In bronze ware style in (b) a “jewel; ring” was added inside the collar. (c) was (b) flipped sideways, with a footprint added at the bottom. Together, Shirakawa explained, a deceased person, when departing, was given an eye as a symbol of becoming live again and returning. From that the kanji 還 meant “to return; circle back to the original point”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /kan/ is in 生還 (“returning alive” /seekan/), 返還 (“restoration; restitution” /henkan/), 還元 (“return; reconstitution; resolution” /kangen/), and 還暦 (one’s sixtieth birthday” /kanreki/).

  1. The kanji 環 “ring; circular”

History of Kanji 環The kanji 環 is usually explained as 王 “jewel” and the right side, which was used phonetically for /kan/ to mean “a ring.” The eye signified to look around. Later on it came to be used for “something round” or “to circle.”

Shirakawa explained that 王 “jewel” symbolized what the right side signified – wishing a departing deceased person be returning. In archeological sites a ring of jewels was often found in a burial place.  Returning gave the kanji 環 the meaning of “circular; round; surrounding.”

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /kan/ is in 環境 (“environment” /kankyoo/), 環状線 (“circular road” /kanjoosen/) and 循環 (“circulation” /junkan/).

The component 襄 that appears in the kyuji of the next four kanji –壌醸譲嬢– is also a puzzling one. None of these four kanji has ancient writing earlier than seal style. Fortunately 襄 existed earlier. So, we look at the history of 襄.

History of Kanji 襄For 襄, (a) in bronze ware style had many things inside a collar. We can see “soil” (土) on the left and a hand on the right, which coincided with (b) – more precisely speaking, (b) had 攴 “action.” What the center was in (a) and (b) is hard to interpret. (b) did not have a collar. In (c) in Old style two hands holding something at the top, and the bottom is not clear other than having a “backward foot.” In (d) in seal style, inside the collar were two 口 “mouths” or “prayer boxes” at the top, and below was a lightning-like shape and 爻 “to mix.” Again no clue for me. The kanji 襄, which is not Joyo kanji, is said to have assorted unrelated meanings — “rich; soft; to squeeze in; face forward; wave off; help; to rise.” Well, a little excursion to the history of 襄 did not produce much, but at least we covered the ground. In fact in all of the four kanji the right side was used phonetically for /joo/ whose meanings may or may not have contributed to the kanji.

  1. The kanji 壌 “soil; earth”

History of Kanji 壌The left side of the seal style of 壌 had “soil” on the left, and the right side was used phonetically for /joo/.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /joo/ is in 土壌 (“earth; soil” /do’joo/).

  1. The kanji 醸 “to ferment”

History of Kanji 醸The kanji 醸 had 酉 “rice wine vessel.” The right side 襄 was used phonetically for /joo/ to mean “to put things in,” — together putting rice and yeast in a vessel and brewing or fermenting the contents. The kanji 醸 means “to ferment; brew.”

The kun-yomi 醸し出す /kamoshida’su/ means “to bring about.” The on-yomi /joo/ is in 醸造 (“fermented food production; brewing” /joozoo/) and 醸成する (“to bring about; arouse; ferment (unrest).”

  1. The kanji 譲 “to grant; give way; pass on”

History of Kanji 譲The kanji 譲 had 言 “language; word.”  The right side was used phonetically for /joo/ to mean “to blame; condemn.” It was borrowed to mean “to grant; give way; pass on.”

The kun-yomi 譲る /yuzuru/ means “to give way; pass on.” The on-yomi /joo/ is in 譲渡する (“to assign and transfer” /jo’oto-suru/), 譲与する (to hand over; cede” /jo’oyo-suru/) and 譲位 (“abdication (of the throne)” /jo’oi/).

  1. The kanji 嬢 “daughter; girl”

History of Kanji 嬢The kanji 嬢 had 女 “female.” The right side was used phonetically for /joo/ to mean “plentiful; abundant.” Together they meant “daughter; young lady.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /joo/ is in お嬢さん (“daughter; young lady” /ojo’osan/) and 令嬢 (“young lady of good family” in honorific style /reejoo/).

Well, it has taken me some time to arrive at this about those problematic kanji.  What I have is not complete, but those ancient writings give us something to think about. We will have another post on kanji that came from 衣 next time.  Thank you very much for your reading.  Happy Easter!  — Noriko [April 15, 2017]

P.S. Due to my small trip the next post will be in two week’s time.  Thank you for your interest and patience.  -N

The Kanji 衣依褒表俵裏哀衷衰-衣 “clothes” (1)


In this and next two posts we are going to look at kanji that contain a component that originated from a collar. We begin with kanji 衣依褒表俵裏哀衷衰.

  1. The kanji 衣 “clothes”

History of Kanji 衣For the kanji 衣, in oracle bone style, in brown, bronze ware style, in green, and seal style, in red, it was a single image of a collar — the top was the back of a collar that would be behind one’s neck and the bottom was the front part of a collar where two front sections of clothes were folded in a V-shape. In kanji a back collar became 亠 and a front collar became rather complex. (Please see the stroke order at the bottom of this post.) The kanji 衣 meant “clothes.”

The kun-yomi /koromo/ means “clothes,” and is in 衣更え (“change clothes for the season” /koromogae/). Another kun-yomi /ki’nu/ is in the expression 歯に衣を着せぬ (“not mince matters” /ha’-ni ki’nu-o-kisenu/). The on-yomi /i/ is in 衣服 (“clothes” /i’huku/), 衣類 (“clothes” /i’rui/), 衣食住 (“food, clothing and shelter”– three primary conditions to secure a basic living /ishoku’juu/), 更衣室 (“dressing room” /kooi’shitsu/), 衣装 (“costume” /i’shoo/) and 白衣 (“white garment; white uniform worn by medical or lab staff” /ha’kui/).

  1. The kanji 依 “to depend; follow”

History of Kanji 依For the kanji 依 in oracle bone style the two writing samples had a standing person inside a collar. A person was protected by clothes, and being inside someone’s protection meant “to depend.” In seal style the person was taken out of the collar and was placed to the left side, which became イ, a bush ninben. The kanji 依 means “to depend; follow.”

The kun-yomi 依る /yoru/ means (“to depend; follow” /yoru/). The on-yomi /i/ is in 依頼する (“to make a request; commission to do” /irai-suru/), 依然として (“still; as it was before” /izentoshite/), 旧態依然 (“remaining unchanged; none the better for the change” /kyuuta iizen/) and 依願退職 (“request resignation” /i’gan taishoku/).

  1. The kanji 褒 “to praise; commend”

History of Kanji 褒The oracle bone style writing of the kanji 褒 had a collar split to the top and the bottom, and a middle. In the middle was a hand holding a baby wrapped in diapers, used phonetically for /hu/ (孚) and /hoo/ to mean “to wrap loosely.” Together they meant “robe.” In the kyuji 襃 the collar 衣 was split into two parts, a back collar () and a frontal collar, and the middle changed to 保. Later it was borrowed to mean “to praise; commend.” The kanji 褒 means “to praise; commend.”

The kun-yomi 褒める /home’ru/ means “to praise; commend.” The on-yomi /hoo/ is in 褒美 (“reward; compensation” /hoobi/).

  1. The kanji 表 “outside; surface; public; front; table”

History of Kanji 表The seal style writing had a collar inside which had animal fur. Fur clothes were worn with the fur side out. From that the kanji 表 meant “outside.” Something that is outside becomes “public.” What is shown is “in front” of something. What is seen is the “surface” of something. Something that is shown to be understood at first sight is a “table.” The kanji 表 means “outside; surface; public; front; table.”

The kun-yomi 表 /omote’/ means “outside; surface; front.” Another kun-yomi 表れる /araware’ru/ means “to show up; appear.” The on-yomi /hyoo/ is in 表現 (“expression” /hyooge’n/), 表情 (“facial expression” /hyoojo’o/), 表札 (“nameplate on a outside door” /hyoosatsu/) and 表にする (“to tabulate” /hyoo-ni-suru/. /Pyoo/ is in 発表 (“presentation; making it public” /happyoo/) and 年表 (“time line table” /nenpyoo.).

  1. The kanji 俵 “straw bag”

There is no ancient writing. The kanji is comprised of イ, a bushu ninben “person,” and 表, which is used phonetically for /hyoo/. Together the kanji 俵 originally meant “share the profits equaly.”  But in Japan it is used to mean “straw bag.”

The kun-yomi 俵 /tawara/ means “straw bag” and 米俵 (“rice bag” /komeda’wara/), which has been replaced by a paper or plastic bag nowadays. The on-yomi /hyoo/ is in 土俵 (“sumo wrestling ring” /dohyoo/), which was originally made with a straw rope, and 一俵 (one bag” /i’ppyoo/).

  1. The kanji 裏 “inside; wrong side; hidden”

History of Kanji 裏For the kanji 裏 in bronze ware style (a) had 田 “rice paddies” and 土 “dirt,” which was phonetically /ri/. In (b) 里 was placed inside a collar. From “the inside of clothes” it meant “wrong side; inside; hidden.” In (c) in seal style 里 was placed in 衣 which was split up to the top and the bottom. The kanji 裏 means “wrong side; back; inside; hidden.”

The kun-yomi 裏 /ura’/ means “back; wrong side,” and is in 裏返す (“turn the other around; reverse” /uraga’esu/), 裏切る(“to betray; double-cross” /uragi’ru/), 裏話 (“story behind a story” /uraba’nashi/) and 裏書き (“endorsement (of a check)” /uragaki/). The on-yomi /ri/ is in 裏面 (“wrong side; back” /ri’men/).

  1. The kanji 哀 “sorrow; pity”

History of Kanji 哀For the kanji 哀 in bronze ware style inside a collar was a mouth. The muffled sound of wailing meant “sorrow.”

The kun-yomi /a’ware/ means “to feel pity.” Another kun-yomi 哀しみ /kanashimi/ means “sorrow.” The on-yomi /ai/ is in 悲哀 (“sorrow” /hi’ai/) and 哀悼の意を表する (“to express condolences” /aitoo-no-i’-o hyoosu’ru/).

  1. The kanji 衷 “genuine sentiment”

History of Kanji 衷For the kanji 衷 in the seal style 中 “center; inside” in the middle was used phonetically for /chuu/ to mean “center; middle.” What was inside a collar was underclothes worn under outerwear. Underclothes touch one’s skin. What was hidden under clothes was true feelings. The kanji 衷 means “true feeling; genuine sentiment.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /chuu/ is in 苦衷 (“predicament; mental suffering” /kuchuu), 折衷案 (“compromise plan” /secchu’uan/) and 衷心より (“from the bottom of my heart” in a formal letter /chuushin-yo’ri/).

  1. The kanji 衰 “to weaken; decline; diminish”

History of Kanji 衰For the kanji 衰 in bronze ware style it was a collar at the top and strands of grass or plants hanging down from the neck. It was a straw raincoat.  The Old style writing, in purple, is more descriptive because the wet straws were wilted with rain. It meant “to droop down.” In seal style the drooping straws was placed between the split collar. In kanji the straw became simplified. The kanji 衰 means “to slack; die away; fade; decline.”

The kun-yomi 衰える /otoroe’ru/ means “to weaken; decline; diminish.” The on-yomi /sui/ is in 衰退 (“atrophy; degeneration” /suitai/) and 衰弱 (“weakening” /suijaku/).


Stroke Order of 衣

The stroke order of the kanji 衣 is shown on the left.

We will continue exploring other kanji that contained a component inside a collar, most likely complex kanji such as 遠園・還環・懐壊・壌醸嬢譲 that have been given an intriguing explanation.  Thank you for your reading.  -Noriko [April 9, 2017]

The Kanji 幼玄畜蓄幽率滋慈磁屯純頓鈍-幺 and 屯


History of Kanji 幺In this post we are going to look at kanji that contain幺 “skein of threads”–幼玄畜蓄幽率滋慈磁. The history of 幺 is shown on the right. Then we will look at the four kanji that contain 屯 “threads knotted”– 屯純頓鈍.

  1. The kanji 幼 “very young; immature”

History of Kanji 幼For the kanji 幼 in oracle bone style, in brown, it was a skein of threads with a long stick that was used to twist the threads. Shirakawa wrote that it was the original shape for the kanji 拗 “to twist” (a non-Joyo kanji), and was borrowed to mean “very young; immature.” On the other hand Setsumon 2000 years ago explained the origin to be 幺 and 力. Oracle bones were first entered into scholarly discussion at the very end of the 19th century so Setsumon’s account naturally did not take oracle bone writing into consideration. Nonetheless Setsumon’s account still influences many kanji dictionaries today. For instance, the Kadokawa dictionary and Kanjigen followed Setsumon’s account — with 幺 “fine small thread,” phonetically for /yoo/, and 力 “power” together, they meant “fragile, young child.” This view does not explain the oracle bone style writing shown above. In the Key to Kanji (2010) I took the latter view.

The kun-yomi 幼い /osana’i/ means “very young; young and fragile” and 幼馴染 (“childhood friend” /osanana’jimi/). The on-yomi /yoio/ is in 幼稚園 (“kindergarten” /yoochi’en/), 幼稚な (“immature” /yoochina/) and 幼虫 (“larva” /yoochuu/).

  1. The kanji 玄 “deep dark color; black”

History of Kanji 玄For the kanji 玄, the bronze ware style writing was the same as 糸 “skein of threads.” The Old style writing that predated seal style, in purple, had dots inside the skein, possibly indicating that it was not raw color. The seal style writing, in red, was a skein of threads with an apparatus for dyeing at the top. Threads that were dyed dark meant “deep color; black.” In Japanese the meaning was applied to a person–someone who became skilled by experience.

The kun-yomi /ku’ro/ is in 玄人 (“expert; master hand” /kuro’oto/). The on-yomi /gen/ is in玄米 (“brown rice; husked rice” /genmai/) and 玄関 (“door; entryway” /ge’nkan/), originally for the entry to a Bhuddist temple. It came from the Bhuddist Zen sect notion that the entrance to the temple symbolized profound darkness leads to enlightenment.

  1. The kanji 畜 “livestock”

History of Kanji 畜For the kanji 畜 the oracle bone style writing was a skein of threads that was tied at the top (玄) and an urn that contained dye (田) at the bottom. In Old style there were two skeins, signifying many skeins together. They were soaked in an urn of dye for some length of time. Leaving the skeins in the urn to pick up the color originally meant “to keep; accumulate.” Animals were kept inside a fence, and it came to be used to mean “animal; livestock.” The kanji 畜 means “animal; beast.”

There is no kun-reading. The on-yomi /chiku/ was in 家畜 (“domestic animal; livestock” /kachiku/), 牧畜 (“stock farming; cattle raising” /bokusan/), 畜産 (“stock farming” /chikusan/). 畜生 (“a beast; brute” /chikusho’o/) is also used as cursing word by a rough male (“The hell with you. Damn it”).

  1. The kanji 蓄 “to accumulate; store”

History of Kanji 蓄For the kanji 蓄 the seal style writing had 艸 “plant” at the top and 畜 “accumulate.” Together they originally signified “to accumulate or pile up plants.”  From accumulating or piling up things, it meant “to store; save.” The kanji 蓄 means “to save up; stock up; learn.”

The kun-yomi 蓄える /takuwae’ru/ means “to save up; accumulate,” and is in 蓄え (“savings” /takuwae/). The on-yomi /chiku/ is in 貯蓄する (“to save; lay put aside” /chochiku-suru/) and 蓄積する (“to accumulate; amass” /chikuseki-suru/).

  1. The kanji 幽 “dark; subtle and profound; obscure”

History of Kanji 幽For the kanji 幽 in oracle bone style and bronze ware style, it had skeins of threads (the two 幺) on top of a fire for smoking. Smoke dyed threads darkened gradually. The smoking room was dark and visibility was obscured. The kanji 幽 meant “dark; subtle and profound; obscure.”

The kun-yomi 幽かな /kasu’kana/ meant “faintly.” The on-yomi /yuu/ was in  幽玄 (“elegant simplicity; the subtle and profound”), 幽霊 (“ghost; phantom” /yu’uree/) and 幽閉する (“to confine someone in a place; lock someone up” /yuuhee-suru/).

  1. The kanji 率 “to lead; rate”

History of Kanji 率The kanji 率 was a bundle of wet threads being wrung tightly. In oracle bone style the six dots were water droplets. In seal style both ends of the skein had an apparatus to wring. Wringing a bundle of threads tightly gave the meaning of “pulling many things into one strongly” and was applied to people too to mean “to lead; head a party of people.” It was also used to mean “rate.” The kanji 率 means “to lead or head a party of people; rate.”

The kun-yomi 率いる /hikiiru/ means “to head a party of people; lead.” The on-yomi /ritsu/ meant “rate.” Another on-yomi /so’tsu/ is in 率先して (“to take the initiative” /sossen-shite/), 引率する (“to be in charge of (a party) /insotsu-suru/) and 統率する (“to command” /toosotsu-rusu/).

  1. The kanji 滋 “nutrient”

History of Kanji 滋For The kanji 滋, the oracle bone style writing had two skeins of thread in the middle of running water. The seal style had water on the left, and the right side was 茲 “(plant) to grow thick; rampart,” which was phonetically used for /ji/.  Together they meant “to become moistened; profit; flourish.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ji/ is in 滋養 (“nutrient” /jiyoo/).

  1. The kanji 慈 “to treat tenderly”

History of Kanji 慈For the kanji 慈, the bronze ware style writing had two 幺, which was used phonetically for /ji/ and 心 “heart.” In seal style it was茲 and 心. Together they meant “to nurture a child; treat tenderly.”

The kun-yomi /itsukushi’mu/ means “to care tenderly; be affectionate toward.” The on-yomi /ji/ is in 慈悲深い (“merciful; charitable” /jihibuka’i/), 慈善 (“charity” /jizen/) and 慈愛 (“parental affection” /ji’ai/).

  1. The kanji 磁 “earthen ware; magnet”

There is no ancient writing for the kanji 磁. The left side 石 means “stone; rock.” The right side 茲 was used phonetically for /ji/ to mean “something black.” Things that were black meant magnet. It also means “earthen ware; magnet.”

The next four kanji 屯純頓鈍 share 屯.

  1. The kanji 屯 “camp; barracks of soldiers”

History of Kanji 屯For the kanji 屯in oracle bone style and in bronze ware style it was the knotted end of threads in woven fabric. Pulling many threads together into one also meant a place where many people congregate, such as “camp; barracks of soldiers.”

The kun-yomi 屯する /tamuro’su/ “to gather in large numbers (of people); hang out (as a large group)” is not in Joyo kanji reading. The on-yomi /ton/ is in 駐屯する (“to be stationed” /chuuton-suru) and 駐屯地 (“army post; camp” /chuuto’nchi/).

  1. The kanji 純 “pure; genuine”

History of Kanji 純For the kanji 純 the two bronze ware style writings were same as those of 屯. In seal style 糸 “skein of threads” was added. A knot of threads of same quality meant “pure.”

The kanji 純 meant “pure; genuine.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /jun/ is in 純粋 (“genuinely; truly; pure” /junsui/), 純正品 (“genuine product; manufacturer’s project” /junseehin/), 純毛 (“pure wool” /junmoo/) and 純真な (“pure; naïve; sincere” /junshin-na/).

  1. The kanji 頓 “to make a deep bow; prostrate oneself”

History of Kanji 頓In 頓 the left side of the seal style writing (屯) was “knotted end of threads; fringe” that hangs down. The right side (頁) was a person with headgear in formal attire, and it meant “head.” Together a kneeling person in a formal attire bowed his head down to the ground. The kanji 頓 meant “to make deep bow; prostrate oneself.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ton/ is in 無頓着な (“unconcerned” /muto’nchaku-na/) and 頓服薬 “medicine taken only when necessary; medicines to be taken only once.”

  1. The kanji 鈍 “dull; bunt; dumb; slow”

History of Kanji 鈍For the kanji 鈍, the left side (金) was “metal.” The right side (屯) “knotted end of threads; fringe” signified something round.  Cutlery whose blade is not sharp (that is “round”) is “dull; blunt.” Applied to a person, it meant “dumb; slow.” The kanji 鈍 meant “dull; bunt; dumb; slow.”

The kun-yomi /nibu’i/ means “slow; dumb; dull.” The on-yomi /don/ was in 鈍器 (“blunt instrument” /do’nki/), 鈍感 (“insensible; unaffected” /donkan/), 鈍痛 (”dull pain” /dontsuu/), 鈍行 (“local” /donkoo/) and 鈍角(“obtuse angle” /do’nkaku/).

Well, this post ended up rather long. I have squeezed in more kanji than usual because I wanted to finish with kanji for “thread.”  In the next post on we are going to look at kanji that contain 衣 that originated from “collar.”   Thank you very much for your reading.  — Noriko [April 2, 2017]