The Kanji 則側測賊 and 墳噴憤 – 貝(4) 


This is the fourth posting on kanji that contain the shape 貝. In the first two postings, we explored the shape 貝 related to a “cowrie” that signified “money; value.” In the third posting we explored the shape 貝 related to a “three-legged bronze vessel.” In this posting we are continuing with a three-legged bronze vessel – the kanji 則側測賊. I have realized this week that there is another shape, 賁, that contains 貝 and can be explained as a cowrie. The 墳噴憤 are added to conclude our exploration of the shape 貝.

  1. The kanji 則 “rule; law”

History of Kanji 則For the kanji 則, we have three writing samples in bronze ware style, in green, here. (a) had two three-legged bronze ware vessels whereas (b) and (c) has just one vessel. The right side was a knife. The knife next to the vessel has been given different accounts — It was a knife used as a utensil for eating food that was cooked in the vessel. Sacrificial animal meat and other food that was offered to a deity was also shared by participants in a religious rite. Something that always accompanied the vessel signified “the rules always to be abided by.” Another account is that a knife signified inscription on the vessel [Shirakawa]. What was inscribed on a bronze ware stayed for a long time and was to be abided by — thus “rules; laws.” The double vessels in (a), and (d) in Old style, in purple, are explained by Shirakawa as signifying the fact that important contracts were inscribed in two vessels for each party to keep as proof. In kanji the knife became刂, a bushu rittoo “a knife placed vertically.”

In the last post in discussing the kanji 敗 we touched upon ambiguity of interpreting 貝 as a cowrie or a three- or four-legged bronze vessel. We can see that the kanji 則 is another example. Kyoshin (許慎 Xu Shen), the compiler of Setsumon Kaiji at the turn of the second century A.D., took them (in (d) in 則, I believe) as cowries.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /soku/ is in 規則 (“rules; bylaw; statutory instrument” /ki’soku/), 法則 (“law; principle; rule” /hoosoku/), 鉄則 (“ironclad rule; inviolable rule” /tessoku/) and 変則的な (“irregular” /hensokuteki-na/).

  1. The kanji 側 “close by; side; aspect”

History of Kanji 側For the kanji 側, the bronze ware style writing, and the seal style writing, in red, had a “person” (イ), a “three-legged bronze ware vessel” (貝) and a “knife” (刀).  則 was used phonetically for /soku/. A person standing next to the vessel meant “by the side.” The kanji 側 means “close by; side.”

The kun-yomi /-kawa; -gawa/ is in 向こう側 (“opposite side; the other side” /mukoogawa/), 裏側 (“behind; the back side” /uragawa/) and 片側 (“one side” /katagawa/). The on-yomi /soku/ is in 側面 (“aspect; side view; profile; flank” /sokumen/) and 側近 (“close adviser; member of one’s entourage”).

  1. The kanji 測 “to measure”

History of Kanji 測The seal style writing of the kanji 測 comprised “water” and 則, which was used phonetically for /soku/ to mean “standard.” Together they signified measuring the depth of water or in a more general sense of “to measure.” The kanji 測 means “to measure.”

The kun-yomi 測る /haka’ru/ means “to measure. The on-yomi /soku/ is in 測量 (“location survey” /sokuryoo/), 推測する (“to guess; presume; speculate” /suisoku-suru/) and 目測 (“eye-estimation; measurement with the eye” /mokusoku/).

  1. The kanji 賊 “damage due to a robbery; thief”

History of Kanji 賊In the bronze ware style of the kanji 賊. we see a halberd (戈) on the top right and a three-legged vessel (貝) underneath. But what was the small piece on the left side of the vessel?  Was it a “knife” or a “person”?  As I mentioned in earlier posts, a knife and a person looked so alike in bronze ware style that they caused some confusion. History of Kanji 戎(frame)Then when I looked up the ancient writing for 戎 (“soldier; weapon” /e’bisu; kai/), which was the right side of the kanji 賊, it became clear that it was a shield or armor (The history is shown on the right). The kanji 戎 had a halberd (戈) and a shield, making up the meaning “weapons.” So, the kanji 賊 comprises 貝 “three-legged vessel” and 戎 “weapons; soldier.” Together they meant scraping an inscription of an oath out of bronze ware to revoke it. It was also used to mean injuring a person. The kanji 賊 means “to damage; damage due to a robbery; robber.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /zoku/ is in 賊が押し入る (“a robber breaks into it” /zoku-ga-oshiiru/), 海賊 (“pirate” /kaizoku/), 海賊版 (“pirated edition” /kaizokuban/), 盗賊 (“robber; thief” /toozoku/), 盗賊の一味 (“a pack of thieves” /toozoku-no ichi’mi/) and 賊軍 (“rebels; rebel army” /zokugun/).

History of Kanji 賁(frame)We leave the exploration of the kanji that originated from a legged bronze ware vessel here. The last shape we are exploring in this group of four posts is the shape 賁. The kanji 賁 /hi; hun/ is not a Joyo kanji but we have the history shown on the right side. The bronze ware style was richly decorated ornament. In seal style a cowrie was added to indicate decoration with cowries. The kanji 賁 means “to decorate colorfully,” and when it is used as a component it meant “to burst out.”

  1. The kanji 墳 “burial mound”

History of Kanji 墳The seal style writing of the kanji 墳 comprised 土 “soil; dirt” and 賁, which was used phonetically for /hun/ to mean “causing something to swell; rise.” Together they meant a burial mound of ancient times. In kanji 土 became a bushu tsuchihen “ground; dirt.” The kanji 墳 means “burial mound.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /hun/ is in 古墳 (“ancient burial mound; ancient tomb” /kohun/), 古墳時代 (“tumulus period; Kofun period” /kohunji’dai/) and 墳墓 (“tomb; grave” /hu’nbo/).

  1. The kanji 噴 “to spout out; erupt; blow out”

History of Kanji 噴The seal style writing of the kanji 噴 comprised 口 “mouth; opening” and 賁, which was used phonetically for /hun/ to mean “to burst out; gush out.” Together they meant “to gush out.”

The kun-yomi 噴き出す /hukida’su/ means “to spout out; erupt; blow out.” The on-yomi /hun/ is in 噴出 (“to gush out; eject” /hunshutu/), 噴水 (“fountain” /hunsui/) and 火山の噴火 (“volcanic eruption” /kazan-no hunka/).

  1. The kanji 憤 “to anger; outrage; indignation”

History of Kanji 憤The seal style writing of the kanji 憤 comprised “heart” and 賁, which was used phonetically for /hun/to mean “to burst out.” Together a heart gushing out with emotions meant “to anger; rancor ; outrage; indignation” In kanji, a heart became 忄, a bushu risshinben “heart.” The kanji 憤 means “anger; rancor; outrage; indignation.”

The kun-yomi 憤る /ikidoo’ru/ means “to be furious about; seethe with anger.” The on-yomi /hun/ is in 憤慨する (“to get very angry; feel indignant” /hungai-suru/), 義憤 (“righteous indignation” /gihun/) and 憤激する (“to flare up; explode with anger” /hungai-suru/).

We shall move to another topic in the next post.  Thank you very much for your reading.  – Noriko [July 8, 2017]

The Kanji 鼎員円損貞偵具敗–貝 (3) “three-legged cooking vessel”

  1. The kanji 鼎 “three-legged bronze cooking vessel”

History of Kanji 鼎The kanji 鼎 is not a Joyo kanji, but it is the base of many kanji that contain the shape 貝 that meant “three-legged bronze vessel.” It generally had three or four legs at the bottom and two “ears” at the top. It was used to cook various foods together, including sacrificial animal meat. The food in this vessel was prepared to be used as offerings to an ancestral deity. (a) and (b) in oracle bone style, in brown, and (c) in bronze ware style, in green, had the features of “ears” and three or four legs. The top of (d) in bronze ware style and (e) in seal style, in red, became 目.

The kun-yomi 鼎 /kanae/ means “three-legged bronze vessel,” and is in the phrase 鼎の軽重を問われる /kanae-no-keechoo-o toware’ru/ means “to have one’s ability called in question.” The on-yomi /tee/ is in 鼎立する (“to be a three-cornered contest” /teeritsu-suru/).

  1. The kanji 員 “number of people; one’s occupation; person”

History of Kanji 員(a) and (b) in oracle bone style and (c) in bronze ware style was a three-or four-legged bronze ware vessel. It was originally used as a counter for such vessels, and later for “number of people” or just “person.” A rounded or square shape at the top was interpreted as a shape of the opening at the top. A three-legged vessel had a rounded opening whereas a four-legged one had a square opening. (e) in seal style kept the opening as a square shape, and the legs became two. The kanji 員 meant “member; staff; people.” It is also used for a word to describe a person’s occupation, or a person who is engaged in that occupation.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /in/ is in 人員 (“number of people or staff” /jin-in/), 会社員 (“company employee” /kaisha’in/), 公務員 (“government employee” /koomu’in/). 事務員 (“administrative staff; clerical worker” /jimu’in/), 満員 (“full house; no vacancy” /man-in/) and 定員 (“seating capacity; quota” /teein/).

  1. The kanji 円 “round; circle”

History of Kanji 円The seal style writing and the kyuji (圓), in blue, had 員, a round top three-legged vessel, inside an enclosure (), which signified something all around. It meant “round; circular.” It is also used for the unit of Japanese currency “Japanese yen.” The shinji is 円. The Japanese currency unit (円 /en/ “Japanese yen”), Chinese currency (元yuan), and Korean currency (wong) all originated from the kanji 圓. Japanese yen’s symbol is ¥, a letter “Y” and an equal sign (=) through it.

The kun-yomi 円 /maru/ is in 円みのある (“rounded” /marumi-no-a’ru/). The on-yomi /en/ is 日本円 (“Japanese yen” /nihon-en/), 百円 (“a hundred yen” /hyaku-en/), 円形 (“round shape; ring shape” /enkee/), 楕円形 (“ellipse; oval” /daenkee/), 円周 (“circumference of a circle” /enshuu/) and 円熟した (“matured; mellowed” /enjuku-shita/).

  1. The kanji 損 “loss”

History of Kanji 損The seal style writing comprised , a bushu tehen “hand; an act that one does using a hand” and 員 “three-legged bronze ware vessel” to cook food for offering to a deity. Together they meant a hand damaging the contents of a pot or, perhaps, one of the legs. (Those bronze ware vessels were extraordinarily heavy, and we can easily imagine that the legs could have been damaged.) The kanji 損 means “to damage; impair; loss.”

The kun-yomi 損なう /sokona’u/ means “to suffer; impair; mar.” Another kun-yomi 損ねる /sokone’ru/ means “to hurt; offend,” as in 気分を損ねる (“to hurt one’s feeling” /ki’bun-o sokone’ru/). It also makes up a verb to mean “failed,” as in やり損ねる (“to fail to do” /yarisokone’ru/). The on-yomi /son/ is in 損害 (“damage; harm” /songai/), 損失 (“loss” /sonshitsu/) and 破損する (“to suffer damage; suffer breakage” /hason-suru/).

  1. The kanji 貞 “right; faithful”

History of Kanji 貞Oracle bone style (a) and (b) was smilar to 員, which was a bronze ware cooking vessel for offerings, and was used phonetically for /tee/ to mean “to inquire about a god’s will; divination.” In bronze ware style (c) and (d) had 卜 “divination” on top of the vessel. It originally meant “to hear the will of a god by divination.” Seeking the god’s will gave the meaning “right; straight; faithful.” The kanji 貞 means “right; upright; faithful.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /tee/ is in 貞淑な “feminine modesty; virtuous” /teeshuku/), 貞操 (“chastity; honor; virtue” /teesoo/) and 貞女 (“virtuous woman; good faithful wife” /teejo/).

  1. The kanji 偵 “scouting; detective work; to investigate secretly”

History of Kanji 偵The seal style writing comprised イ “person” and 貞, which was used phonetially for /tee/ to mean “to listen to deity’s voice; inquire.” Together they meant a person investigating carefully by listening and inquiring. The kanji 貞 means “right; straight; faithful.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /tee/ is in 探偵 (“detective” /tantee/), 偵察 (“scouting; reconnaissance; patroling” /teesatsu/) and 内偵 (“private scouting; secret investigation” /naitee/).

  1. The kanji 具 “contents; be amply provided”

History of Kanji 具(a) in oracle bone style and (b) and (c) in bronze ware style had a bronze ware vessel at the top and two hands held up at the bottom. Together a vessel that was full of offerings of food was held out reverentially with both hands. Two upward hands generally signified reverence or a polite act. Full contents of a vessel gave the meaning “contents” and also “being amply provided.” In (d) in seal style the legs dissappeared. The kanji 具 means “contents; to be amply provided (often in a set).”

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /gu/ is in 具 (“topping; main ingredients” /gu/) as in ちらしずしの具 (“toppings for chirashi-zushi” /chirashizu’shi-no gu/), 具体的な (“concrete; specific” /gutaiteki-na/), 道具 (“tool” /doogu/), 家具 (“furniture” /ka’gu/) and 器具 (“equipment” /ki’gu/).

The shapes of the two different origins, “cowrie” and “three-legged bronze ware vessel,” were distinctively different in oracle bone style as well in bronze ware style. It is only seal style that the two merged and became 貝 (except the kanji 鼎).

There is one kanji that I held back from the last week’s article — the kanji 敗.

  1. The kanji 敗 “to lose; loss”

History of Kanji 敗For the kanji 敗 in oracle bone style the right sides of (a) and (b) were the same — “a hand holding a stick,” which signified “to hit; cause an action.” The left sides, however, came from two different origins. (a) was a bronze ware legged cooking vessel to prepare for an offering, whereas (b) was a cowrie. A bronze ware vessel being used for cooking for offering to a deity and a cowrie being used as money signified something valuable. In bronze ware style, (c), the left side had two cowries. Or, could they be two vessels? Then when I compared the bronze ware style writings for a cowrie and those of a legged-bronze ware vessel in other kanji, there appeared to be a difference — a legged bronze ware vessel had short sideways lines, signifying legs of the vessel.  So (c) in 敗 can be interpreted as having two cowries. A valuable cowrie broken in two by a hand meant “loss.” The right side 攴 in (e) became 攵, a bushu bokuzukuri “to do; cause something to happen” in shinji. The kanji 敗 means “loss; to fail.”

The kun-yomi 敗れる /yabure’ru/ means “to lose a fight.” The on-yomi /hai/ is in 勝敗 (“victory and defeat; result of a match” /shoohai/), 敗北 (“defeat” /haiboku/), 失敗する (“to fail; fail; make a mistake” /shippai-suru/), 腐敗する (“to become corrupt; degenerate” /huhai-suru/) and 成敗する (“to punish” /se’ebai-suru/), a slightly archaic word.

The history of the kanji 敗 having both a cowrie and a legged bronze ware vessel in oracle bone style puzzled me a little, and I wondered if there was any significance to it. Another reason why I held back the kanji 敗 from the last post was that I wondered if the double shapes in (c) and another kanji (則) shared the same origin or not. I am inclined to sort the kanji 敗into a sub-group “cowrie” of 貝 for the time being. I shall discuss the double shapes in the kanji 則 in the next post. Thank you very much for your reading. -Noriko [July 2, 2017]

The Kanji 斉済剤斎帝締諦嫡敵適摘滴


Kanji that pertained to religious matters mostly involved an altar table. We continue our exploration of kanji that originated from an altar table in this fourth post.  The kanji we are going to look at are 斉済剤斎 with 斉, 帝締諦 with 帝 and 嫡敵適摘滴 with 啇.

  1. The kanji 斉 “to be in good order; gather well”

History of Kanji 斉For the kanji 斉, in (a) in oracle bone style, in brown, (b) and (c) in bronze ware style, in green, and (d) in seal style, in red, there were three beautiful hair accessories of women involved in a religious rite in a uniformly neat appearance. It meant “to be in good order; gather properly.”

There is a slightly different acocunt– Setsumon’s account on (d) was that it came from three plants, such as barley, of equal length that were offerings to a deity. Either account pertained to  religious matter. The kyuji 齊, (e) in blue, was simplified to 斉. The kanji 斉 means “to be in good order; gather well.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /see/ is in 斉唱 (“singing in unison” /seeshoo/), 一斉に (“all at once; simultaneously” /issee-ni/) and 一斉休暇 (“all employees taking the days off at the same time” /issee-kyu’uka/).

  1. The kanji 済 “to complete; finish up”

History of Kanji 済The seal style writing was comprised of “water” and 斉. It was the name of a river. From crossing the river, it was borrowed to mean “to rescue people” and further “to be accomplished.” The kyuji 濟 was simplified to済. The kanji 済 means “to complete; finish up.”

The kun-yomi /su/ is in 済む /su‘mu/ “to end” and 済ます (“to compete; settle” /sumasu/).  /-Zu/ is in使用済み (“already finished being used; second-hand” /shiyoozumi/), 返済 (“payback” /hensai/) and 救済する (“to give relief; save” /kyuusai-suru/). /-Zai/ is in 経済 (“economy; economics” /ke’ezai/).

  1. The kanji 剤 “medicine; drug”

History of Kanji 剤The seal style writing was comprised of 斉 and 刂 “knife.” Together they meant engraving on a bronze ware vessel to inscribe a contract. Later on it was borrowed to mean “medicine.” In kyuji the knife, being used on the right side, became刂, a bushu rittoo “knife.” The kanji 剤 means “medicine; drug.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /zai/ is in 薬剤師 (“pharmacist; chemist” /yakuza’ishi/), 錠剤 (“tablet” /joozai/) and 洗剤 (“detergent” /senzai/).

  1. The kanji 斎 “votive abstinence”

History of Kanji 斎For the kanji 斎the bronze ware style writing was comprised of an altar table added to 斉, which was used phonetically for /sai/ to pertain to religious rite. Together they meant the discrete reverential manner of areligious rite. In seal style the altar table was placed inside 斉.  The kanji 斎meant “votive abstinence; .”

There is no kun-yomi. The om-yomi /sai/ is in 斎場 (“funeral parlor” /saijoo/) and 書斎 (“study; library” /shosai/).

The next eight kanji — in two groups, 帝締諦 and 嫡敵適摘滴 — do not appear to share anything common. However, surprisingly, they all came from a principal alter table at which a ruler conducted a rite for his ancestral deities.

  1. The kanji 帝 “emperor; imperial”

History of Kanji 帝For the kanji 帝, (a) in oracle bone style (b) in bronze ware style, and (c) and (d) in seal style was an altar table that had three crossed legs for stability. It was the most important altar table on which to place offerings for the ancestral gods, in comparison to another alter (示), which was for general meaning of religions matters. A person who was the primary celebrant was an emperor. In kanji the bottom 巾 was probably the remnant of three legs. The kanji 帝 meant “emperor; imperial.”

The kun-yomi /mikado/ means “emperor.” The on-yomi /tee/ is in 帝王 (“emperor” /teeo‘o/), 帝国 (“empire; conglomerate” /teekoku/) and 皇帝 (“emperor” /kootee/).

  1. The kanji 締 “to fasten; tie up”

History of Kanji 締The seal style writing for the kanji 締 was comprised of 糸 “thread,” signifying “tying,” and 帝, which was used phonetically for /tee/. The kanji 締 they meant “to fasten; sign a treaty.”

The kun-yomi /shi/ is in 締める(“to fasten; tie up” /shime’ru/), its intransitive verb締まる (“to become closed; become fastened” /shima’ru/), 引き締める (“to tense up; tighten” /hikishime’ru/), and 取り締まる (“to crack down; keep in line” /torishimaru/. The on-yomi /tee/ is in 締結する (“to conclude z treaty; enter into” /teeketsu-suru/).

  1. The kanji 諦 “to resign oneself”

History of Kanji 適The seal style writing for the kanji 諦was comprisee of 言 “word; language,” and 帝, which was used phonetically for /tee/. Together they meant “to make clear (with words); reveal the truth.” In Japanese it also means “to resign to one’s fate; despair.” The kanji 諦 means “to resign to one’s fate.”

The kun-yomi /akirameru/ means “to give up; drop out.” The on-yomi /tee/ is in 諦観する (“to resign oneself” /teekan-suru/) and 諦念 (“understanding and acceptance of the basis of things; resignation” /teenen/).

The Component 啇–The next five kanji all have 啇 /teki/. Its history is shown on the right.– The two bronze ware style writings had a principal altar table for an emperor, which eventually became the kanji 帝, and 口 “prayer vessel; mouth.” Together they signified an emperor or someone who conducted a religious rite in ancescral deity worship. We shall see in the next five kanji that the original meaning of 帝 is more directly reflected in those kanji with 啇 /teki/, which was used phonetically as well, than in kanji with 帝 /tee/ in 6 and 7.

  1. The kanji 嫡 “legitimate”

History of Kanji 嫡For the kanji 嫡 the bronze ware style writing was the same as 啇. In seal style a woman was added to indicate a line of legitimate heirs to a throne. The kanji 嫡 means “legitimate line.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /chaku/ is in 嫡男 (“male heir” /chaku’nan/), 嫡子 (“legitimate child; heir” /cha’kushi/) and 嫡流 (“direct line of descendant” /chakuryuu/).

  1. The kanji 敵 “enemy; opponent”

History of Kanji 敵For the kanji 敵, the bronze ware style writing was the same as 啇 “emperor; imperial” or 嫡 “legitimate heir.” In seal style, 攴, a bushu bokuzukuri “to beat; hit,” was added. Someone who attacked an heir was “enemy; foe.” Someone who was an good match to be one’s enemy also gave the meaning “equal to; match; opponent.”

The kun-yomi 敵 /kataki’/ means “enemy,” and is in 敵役 (“villain’s part in play” /katakiyaku/) and 商売敵 (“rival in trade” /shoobaiga’taki/). The on-yomi 敵 /teki/ means “enemy,” and is in 宿敵 (“old enemy” /shukuteki/), 敵意 (“hostile feeling; animus” /te’kii/) and 匹敵する (“comparable to; equal to” /hitteki-suru/).

  1. The kanji 適 “suitable; to fit”

History of Kanji 適For the kanji 適, again, the bronze ware style writing was the same as in 8 and 9. It suggests that all those meanings were once expressed in one writing. In seal style, 辵, the precursors of shinnyo/shinnyu “to move forward; move on.” The right side was used phonetically for /teki/ to mean “a legitimate person.” The meaning of being suitable to conduct worship rites was used for this writing. The writing 適 meant “suitable; to fit.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /teki/ is in 適切 (“appropriate” /tekisetsu/), 適度な (“moderate” /te’kido-na/), 快適な (“comfortable; pleasant” /kaiteki-na/) and 適用する(“to apply” /tekiyoo-suru).

  1. The kanji 摘 “to pick up”

History of Kanji 摘The seal style writing was comprised of扌 “hand” and 啇, which was used phonetically for /teki/. Together they meant a hand picking or plucking something. The kanji 摘 means “to pick; pluck.”

The kun-yomi 摘む /tsumu/ means “to pick up; pull up.” The on-yomi /teki/ means 摘要 (“abstract” /tekiyoo/), 摘発する (“to expose; unmask” /tekihatsu-suru/) and 指摘する (“to point out; indicate” /shiteki-suru/).

  1. The kanji 滴 “drop; to trickle”

History of Kanji 滴For the kanji 滴 the two writings (a) and (b) in oracle bone style were taken from Akai (2010). In (a) and (b) next to “water” was a tattooing needle and a table or base to place it on, which was the origin of the kanji 商. This puzzles me. Shirakawa (2004) did not list them in 滴. I suspect that it is due to the difference in view on which writings should be taken as for origin of a particular kanji. Generally speaking the writings listed in Akai, a calligrapher and kanji compiler, are in line with Shirakawa’s view, but this is one of very few discrepancies. The seal style writing, (c), was comprised of , a bushu sanzui “water,” and the right side 啇 was used phonetically for /teki/. It is believed to be an onomatopoetic use for the sound of water dripping. The kanji 滴 means “to drop; drip.”

The kun-yomi 滴る /shitata’ru/ means “to dribble; trickle.” Another kun-yomi 滴 /shizuku/ means “drop.” The on-yomi /teki/ is in 水滴 (“water droplet” /suiteki/) and 一滴 (“driblet; drop” /itteki/).

There is one more component that originated from an altar table that I would like to explore, but that has to be in the next post.  Thank you very much for your reading this rather long post.  – Noriko [June 3, 2017]

The Kanji 示宗禁祭際察擦崇奈 – “altar table”


In this and next few posts we are going to explore kanji that pertained to religious matter. The kanji we look at in this post are示宗禁祭際察擦崇奈, which originated from an altar table.

  1. The kanji 示 “to display; indicate”

History of Kanji 示For the kanji 示, in oracle bone style, in brown, it was an altar table with an offering placed above. An altar was where the god showed his message. From that it meant “to show; demonstrate.” In seal style, in red, a line was added on each side of the stand. Setsumon’s explanation of these three lines was the sun, the moon and a star by which the god showed himself to people.

The kun-yomi shimesu means “to show; display; indicate.” The on-yomi /ji/ is in 表示する (“to display” /hyooji-suru/), 暗示 (“hint; indication; suggestion” /anji/), 展示場 (“exhibition  hall; show room” /tenjijoo/), 示談 (“out of court settlement; private settlement” /ji’dan/) and 指示する (“ton instruct; order” /shi’ji-suru/). Another on-yomi /Shi/ is in 示唆する (“to suggest” /shi’sa-suru/).

  1. The kanji 宗 “religion; sect; head of a group”

History of Kanji 宗For the kanji 宗, in oracle bone style it was an altar table inside a house or shrine. In bronze ware style, in green, and seal style the altar table had three lines. Together they meant “religious belief,” and “the head or founder of a religious group; group.”

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /shuu/ is used in the sense of Bhuddist practice such as 宗教 (“religion” /shu’ukyoo/), 改宗 (“conversion of one’s religion” /kaishuu/) and 宗旨 (“tenets of of a religious sect” /shu’ushi/). Another on-yomi /soo/ is used in the sense of “a group of people” such as 宗家 (“head of family” /so’oke/) and 宗廟 (“ancestral mausoleu” /soobyoo/).

  1. The kanji 禁 “to prohibit”

History of Kanji 禁In seal style of the kanji 禁, the top had two trees that signified “forest.” The bottom was “altar table,” signifying something sacred. Together they signified a sacred forest that was forbidden to enter. From that it meant “to prohibit; forbid.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /kin/ is in 禁止する (“to prohibit” /kinshi-suru/), 禁句 (“tabooed word or phrase” /kinku/), 禁断 (“strict prohibition” /kindan/), あゆ漁の解禁  (“the opening of an ayu fish fishing season” /ayu’ryoo-no kaikin/) and 立ち入り禁止  (“Off-limit; Closed to the public” /tachiiri-kinshi.)

  1. The kanji 祭 “festival; feast day”

History of Kanji 祭For the kanji 祭, (a) in oracle bone style was comprised of a “hand” on the left sprinkling “rice wine” over an offering of a “piece of meat” on the right to sanctify it. (b) was the mirror image of (a). In (c) and (d) in bronze ware style an altar table replaced the sanctifying rice wine. (e) in seal style remained in kanji. (The top left of the kanji is not タ “moon” but has two short strokes inside, from 肉.) The kanji 祭 meant “celebration; festival.”

The kun-yomi 祭り or 祭 /matsuri/ means “festival; celebration,” and is in 祭り上げる (“to set someone on a pedestal” /matsuriage’ru/). The on-yomi /sai/ is in 祭日 (“holiday” /saijitu), 司祭 (“Catholic priest or clergy” /shi’sai/), 映画祭 (“film festival” /eega’sai/) and 感謝祭 (“Thanksgiving Day” /kansha’sai/).

  1. The kanji 際 “boundary; edge of an area; contact”

History of Kanji 際rIn the seal style writing of the kanji 際, an earthen wall for a boundary  was added to the left of 祭 “celebration of a god.” The area where the god and people come to meet was edge of an area; contact. In kanji the left side became simplified to 阝, a bushu kozatohen. The kanji 際 meant “boundary; edge of an area; contact.”

The kun-yomi 際 /kiwa’/ means “side; edge; verge,” and /-giwa/ is in 窓際 (“window side” /madogiwa/), 間際に (“just before; at the brink” /ma’giwa/) and 出際に (“at the moment of going out” /degiwa-ni/) and 手際よく (“skillfully; deftly” /tekigayo’ku/). The on-yomi /sai/ is in 国際的 (“international” /kokusaiteki/), 交際する (“to go steady; socialize with” /koosai-suru/) and 実際 (“truly; indeed; in point of fact” /jissai/). /-Zai/ is in 分際 (“position; social standing” /bunzai/).

  1. The kanji 察 “to perceive; conjecture”

History of Kanji 察The seal style writing was comprised of “house” and 祭 “celebration of a god.” In a house that enshrined a god one looked for a god’s will carefully and reflected on it. The religious meaning was dropped and the kanji 察 means “to perceive; look thoroughly; conjecture.”

There is no kun-yomi. On-yomi /satsu/ is in 観察 (“observation; supervision” /kansatsu/), 警察 (“police station; constabulary; police” /keesatsu/), 察する (“to perceive; gather” /sassuru/), 察知する (“infer from; gather from” /sa’cchi-suru/) and 洞察力 (“insight” /doosatsu’ryoku/).

  1. The kanji 擦 “to rub; scrub; scour”

The kanji 擦 was created much later, so no ancient writing existed. The kanji 擦 is comprised of 扌, a bushu tehen “an act that one does using a hand” and 察, which was used phonetically for /satsu/. Together they meant a hand rubbing something. The kanji 擦 meant “to rub; scrub; scour.”

The kun-yomi 擦る /su’ru/ means “to rub; scrub; scour” and 擦れる (“to be rubbed; be worn” /sure’ru/), and is in 擦り切れる (“to be worn out; become threadbare” /surikire’ru/). The on-yomi /sa’tsu/ is in 摩擦 (“friction; rubbing” /masatsu/).

  1. The kanji 崇 “high; to revere”

History of Kanji 崇The seal style writing of the kanji 崇 was comprised of 山 “mountain” that signified “high” and 宗, which was used phonetically for /suu/ to mean “main.” Together from the highest mountain in the mountain range, it meant “high; supreme.”

The kun-yomi /agame’ru/ means “to hold someone in reverence; adore.” The on-yomi /suu/ is in 崇高な (“lofty; sublime; grand” /suukoo-na/) and 崇拝する (“to worship; idolize” /suuhai-suru/).

  1. The kanji 奈 “(interrogative)”

History of Kanji 奈The seal style writing was comprised of 木 “tree” and 示 “altar table.” Together they meant the name of a tree. It was used for an interrogative word. The Correct writing 柰 reflected the seal style, but in kanji the top became 大. The kanji 奈 was used for “how; why” in some kanbun-style writing, but is no longer used except in a very limited word related to Buddhism.

The use of the kanji 奈 is quite limited. There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /na/ is in 奈落 (“Hell; the infernal regions; a trap cellar in a theater” /naraku/) and in a proper noun 奈良 (“Nara” /na’ra/), the old capitol of Japan before Kyoto.

The component 示 in the kanji 票標漂 did not come from an altar table but came from “fire.”  In the next post we are going to explore kanji that contain ネ, a bushu shimesuhen, which came from 示.  Thank you very much for your reading.  -Noriko [May 14, 2017]

The Kanji 網綱縄総紋紅紺縁級給 – itohen “thread” (2)

  1. The kanji 網 “net”

History of Kanji 網For the kanji 網, (a) and (b) in oracle bone style, in brown, was a net and was also used phonetically for /moo/.  It meant “net.” (c) in seal style, in red, the outside was a net and inside was a skein of thread (糸) and 亡 for /boo; moo/. In kanji, (d), a skein of thread was taken outside the net as a bushu itohen, and the right side became 罔. The kanji 網 meant “net; net-like thing.”

The kun-yomi 網 /ami’/ meant “net.” The on-yomi /moo/ is in 連絡網 (“contact network” /renraku’moo) and 網羅する (“to contain all the points; cover thoroughly” /mo’ora-suru/).

  1. The kanji 綱 “cable; principle”

History of Kanji 綱The seal style for the kanji 綱 had 岡, which was used phonetically for /koo/. 岡 was originally a hard mold that was baked at a high temperature and signified “strong.” Together with 糸, they meant “cable; line.” Something that was strong gave a principle for an order, thus it meant “principle.”  The kanji 綱 meant “cable; principle.”

The kun-yomi 綱 /tsuna’/ means “rope,” and is in 横綱 (“grand champion sumo wrestler” /yokozuna/) and 綱渡り (“tightrope; ropewalking” /tsunawa’tari/). The on-yomi /koo/ is in 綱領 (“platform; principles; directive” /kooryoo/).

  1. The kanji 縄 “rope”

History of Kanji 縄In the seal style writing of the kanji 縄, the right side originated from a fly, but was used phonetically for /joo/ to mean a “twisted thing.” Together they meant “rope.” The kyuji, in blue, reflected seal style. In kanji the right side became simplified. The kanji 縄 meant “rope; cord.”

The kun-yomi 縄 /nawa’/ meant “rope.” The on-yomi /jo’o/ is in 縄文時代 (“Jomon pre-historic era in Japanese history” /joomonji’dai/). The name came from pottery that had the embossed pattern of a rope, and it preceded 弥生時代 /Yayoiji’dai/).

  1. The kanji 総 “to gather all; all; general”

History of Kanji 総In the seal style writing of the kanji 総, next to the skein of threads (糸) was  悤, which was used phonetically for /soo/ to mean “to bundle up hair.” Together they meant to bundle threads into one. From that it meant “to gather all” and “all.” In kanji the right side悤became忩. The kanji 総 meant “to gather all; all; general.”

The kun-yomi 総て /su’bete/ meant “all”. Another kun-yomi /husa/ is in a name. The on-yomi /soo/ is in 総合 (“total; synthesis” /soogoo/), 総称 (“general name; name for all” /sooshoo/), 総務 (“general administration” /so’omu/) and 総理大臣 (“prime minister” /soorida’ijin/).

  1. The kanji 紋 “pattern; (family) crest”

History of Kanji 紋The bronze ware style writing for the kanji 紋 had a skein of threads (three rounds), and the right side was a hand holding a stick, signifying “action by hand.” Together they signified a hand making a pattern with threads. Setsumon did not give any seal style writing. The right side (文) of the kanji 紋 was used phonetically for /bun; mon/ to mean “design.”  With 糸 and 文 together they meant a pretty pattern in woven fabric.  In Japanese 紋 is also used to mean “family crest.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi 紋 /mon/ meant “family crest,” and is in 波紋 (“ripple” /hamon/), 指紋 (“finger print” /shimon/) and 家紋 (“family crest” /ka’mon/).

  1. The kanji 紅 “red”

History of Kanji 紅The seal style writing was comprised of 糸, a skein of threads, and 工, which was used phonetically for /koo/. Together they meant “red.”  The kanji 紅 meant “red.”

The kun-yomi 紅 /be’ni/ is in 紅色 (“red” /beniiro/), 口紅 (“lipstick” /kuchibeni/). The on-yomi /koo/ is in 紅茶 (“black tea” from the color of brewed tea /koocha/) and 紅一点 (“only female in the company” /ko’o itten/).

  1. The kanji 紺 “dark blue”

History of Kanji 紺The seal style writing was comprised of 糸 and 甘, which was used phonetically for /kan/. Together they meant “dark blue.” The kanji 紺 meant “dark blue.”

The kun-yomi /kon/ is in 紺色 (“dark blue” /kon-iro/), 濃紺 (“dark blue” /nookun/) and 紺碧の空 (“the azure sky” /konpeki-no-so’ra/).

  1. The kanji 縁 “edge; to be linked by fate”

History of Kanji 縁The right side of the seal style writing (彖) was used phonetically for /tan; en/ to mean “edge.”  With the left side 糸, together they meant “edge of clothes; fringe.” From that it also meant something connecting. In Buddhism this kanji means “to be linked by fate.” The kyuji, in blue, reflected the seal style. In shinji the right top was simplified. The kanji 縁 meant “edge; to be linked by fate.”

The kun-yomi 縁 /huchi’/ means “edge; border; brim,” and 額縁 (“picture frame” /gakubuchi/) and 縁なし眼鏡 (“a pair of rimless eyeglasses” /huchinashi-me’gane/). The on-yomi /e’n/ is in 縁起がいい (“of good omen; boding well for” /engi-ga-i’i/), 縁談 (“marriage proposal; marriage prospect” /endan/), 縁故採用 (“hiring through personal connection” /enko-sa’iyoo/) and 縁がある (“to be linked by fate” /e’n-ga-aru/).

  1. The kanji 級 “class; order”

History of Kanji 級The kanji 級 had 糸and 及, which was used phonetically for /kyuu/. The history of 及 by itself is shown on the right. The image was a person and a hand of another person catching the person in front. The sense of “order” from these two people, front and behind, signified order. With threads added, they originally meant setting up threads in the right order on the loom. From that it was extended to mean “phase; stage.” The kanji級 meant “class; order.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /kyuu/ is in 等級 (“rank; class” /tookyuu/), 上級生 (“upper class student” /jookyu’usee/) and 一級品 (“first-rate goods” /ikyuuhin/).

  1. The kanji 給 “to supply; be given”

History of Kanji 給The right side合 of the kanji 給 was used phonetically for /kyuu/ to mean “to fill a gap.” With the left side 糸, they meant “to meet what is deficient.” The kanji 給 meant “to supply.”

The kun-yomi 給う /tama’u/ means “to be given (by a superior person)” humble style; “(a superior person) to give.” The on-yomi /kyuu/ is in 給料 (“salary; wage” /kyu’uryoo/), 給与 (“salary; wage” /kyu’uyo/), 支給する (“to pay; provide” /shikyuu-suru/) and 給油 (“refueling; oil supply” /kyuuyu.)

We will continue with a bushu itohen in the next post.  Thank you very much. -Noriko [March 18, 2017]

The Kanji 盾循干刊汗


This is a short post in finishing up with kanji that originated from two weapons– 盾循 and 干刊汗.

  1. The kanji 盾 “shield”

history-of-kanji-%e7%9b%beIn oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style, in green, it was an image of a shield. The seal style writing, in red, had a canopy-like shape and an eye with a cross shape. Following Setsumon’s explanation, which is based on the seal style, many scholars view this as a shield which protected the eyes of a soldier and his body. The kanji 盾 meant “shield.”

The kun-yomi 盾 /tate’/ meant “shield,” and /-date/ is in 後ろ盾 (“support; backing” /ushirodate/).  The on-yomi /jun/ is in 矛盾 (“contradiction; inconsistency” /mujun/) that comprises 矛 “halberd” for attacking an enemy and 盾 “shield” for defending oneself.

  1. The kanji 循 “to follow”

history-of-kanji-%e5%be%aaThe left side of the seal style writing was a crossroad, signifying “going” and the right side 盾 “shield” was also used phonetically for /jun/ to mean “to follow; go along.” The kanji 循 meant “to follow.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /jun/ is in 循環 (“cycle; circulation; rotation” /junkan/).

  1. The kanji 干 “dry; attack”

history-of-kanji-%e5%b9%b2rIn oracle bone, bronze ware and ten styles, it was a forked weapon. The kanji 干 meant “to violate; attack.” However, this kanji is rarely used to mean aggression, except in the word 干渉 “interference; meddling.” It was borrowed to mean “dry; dry up.”

The kun-yomi /hi/ is in 干からびる (“to shrivel up; shrink” /hikarabi’ru/), 干物 (“dried fish” /himono/). Another kun-yomi /ho’su/ means “to air under the sun,” as used in 布団を干す /huton o hosu/ “to air futon under the sun.” The on-yomi /kan/ is in 干渉する (“to interfere; meddle” /kanshoo-suru/), 干拓 (“reclamation by drainage” /kantaku/) and 干害 (“drought damage” /kangai/).

  1. The kanji 刊 “to publish”

history-of-kanji-%e5%88%8aFor the kanji 刊, the left side (干) of the seal style writing was used phonetically for /kan/ to mean “to shave a piece of wood.” The right side was a knife. By using a knife, printing blocks were shaved to make a book. In kanji the knife became刂,a bushu rittoo “knife.” The kanji 刊 meant “to publish.”

There is no fun-yomi. The on-yomi /kan/ is in 月刊誌 (“monthly magazine” /gekka’nshi/), 朝刊 (“morning paper” /chookan/), 刊行 (“publication” /kankoo/), 新刊本 (“new publication; new title” /shinkanbon/).

  1. The kanji 汗 “perspiration; sweat”

history-of-kanji-%e6%b1%97For the kanji 汗, the left side of the seal style was “water,” which became a bushu sanzui in kanji (). The right side was used phonetically for /kan/. The kanji 汗 meant “perspiration; sweat.”

The kun-yomi /a’se/ means “perspiration; sweat” and is in 汗をかく(“to sweat; perspire” /a’se-o kaku/) and 冷や汗 (“cold sweat” /hiyaa’se/).  The on-yomi /kan/ is in 発汗 (“sweating” /hakkan/).

It is time for us to move onto another subject. I have not decided which groups of “things and objects” we may start with next time yet. Thank you very much for your reading. -Noriko [March 5, 2017]

The Kanji 黄横広拡鉱矢知侯候喉- 黄 “fire arrow” and 矢 “arrow”


In this post we are going to look at the kanji that originated from “fire arrow” (黄) – 黄横広拡鉱 −, and “arrow” (矢) – 矢知侯候喉.

  1. The kanji 黄 “yellow; golden”

history-of-kanji-%e9%bb%84%e8%89%b2For the kanji 黄 in oracle bone style, in brown, bronze ware style, in green, and seal style, in red, it was a fire arrow with an arrowhead at the top, combustible materials in the middle and feathers at the bottom. When a fire arrow was shot, it illuminated an area. The yellow color of this light became the meaning of this kanji. The kanji 黄 meant “yellow; golden.”

The kun-yomi 黄 /ki/ means “yellow,” and is in 黄色 (“yellow” /kiiro/), 黄緑色 (“light green” /kimidoriiro/) and 卵の黄身 (“egg yolk” /tama’go-no kimi/). The on-yomi /oo/ is in 黄金の (“golden” /oogon-no/) and 卵黄 (“egg yolk” /ran-oo/). Another on-yomi /koo/ is in 黄葉 (“yellowing of autumn leaves” /kooyoo/) and 黄河 (“the Yellow River (in China)” /ko’oga/). (The word 黄金色 is also read as /koganeiro/.  /ko/ is listed as a kun-yomi on the Joyo kanji list.)

  1. The kanji 横 “side; sideways; wicked; wrong”

history-of-kanji-%e6%a8%aaFor the kanji 横, the bronze ware style writing was the same as 黄. In seal style 木 “wood” was added on the left, and the right side was used phonetically for /oo/, and meant “sideways,” from a fire arrow illuminating both sides as it traveled. Together they signified a piece of wood placed sideways as a latch on a gate. From that it meant “side; sideways.” Something that goes sideways could be going outside the legitimate areas, thus, it also meant “wicked; wrong.”

The kun-yomi 横 /yoko/ means “side; sideways,” and is in 真横 (“right next to; side” /mayoko/), 縦と横 (“length and width” /ta’te-to yoko/), 横這い (“leveling off” /yokobai/), 横槍を入れる (“to butt in; interrupt” /yokoyari-o-ireru/), 横流しする (“to sell illegally” /yokonagashi-suru/). The on-yomi /oo/ is in 横断歩道 (“pedestrian crossing” /oodanho’doo/), 縦横に (“in every direction; crisscrossing” /juuo’o ni/), 横暴な (“oppressive; tyrannical” /ooboo-na/) and 横領 (“embezzlement; misappropriation” /ooryoo/).

  1. The kanji 広 “wide; spacious”

history-of-kanji-%e5%ba%83For the kanji 広, in (a) in oracle bone style the top was a house, and the inside was a fire arrow that signified “wide.” (b) and (c) in bronze ware style had a house with one side open, which (d) in seal style became 广, a bushu gandare “house with one side open.” In shinjitai (f)  the inside of the kyujitai (e) 廣 was replaced by a katakana ム, which is one of the simplifying shapes.  The kanji 広 meant “wide; spacious.”

The kun-yomi /hiro’i/ means “wide; spacious,” and is in 広場 (“open area” /hi’roba/).  /-Biro/ is in 手広くやる (“do business extensively” /tebiroku yaru/).  The on-yomi /koo/ is in 広告 (“advertisement” /kookoku/) and 広報 (“public information; public relations PR” /ko’ohoo; koohoo/).

  1. The kanji 拡 “to widen”

history-of-kanji-%e6%8b%a1For The kanji 拡, the seal style had扌, a bushu tehen “act that one does by hand.” Together with the kanji 廣 “wide” they meant “to widen.” The kyujitai 擴 was simplified to 拡. By an agent of action ,“hand,” the kanji 拡 is used as a verb, whereas 広 was an adjective.  Until the 2010 revision of Joyo kanji (that is, 1981 version), the kun-yomi /hiro/ was not in Joyo kanji, and 広 was often used. So we see both 広げる and 拡げる in print.

The kun-yomi 拡げる /hirogeru/ means “to widen,” as a transitive verb.  The on-yomi /kaku/ is in 拡張する (“to expand” /kakuchoo-suru/) and 拡大 (“enlargement” /kakudai/).

  1. The kanji 鉱 “ore; mineral”

history-of-kanji-%e9%89%b1For the kanji 鉱 Old style was shown in gray. The seal style writing had 石 “rock” on the left, and the right side 黄 was used phonetically for /koo/. Together they meant “ore; mineral; rock.” In kyujitai 鑛, the left side became 金, a bushu kanehen “metal; mineral,” and the right side became 廣 with a madare, which was further replaced by 広 in shinjitai. The kanji 鉱 means “ore; mineral.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /koo/ is in 鉱山 (“mine” /ko’ozan/), 鉱物 (“minerals” /ko’obutsu/) and 炭鉱 (“coal mine” /tankoo/).

The next 15 or so kanji that we are going to look at in this and next posts deal with an arrow, 矢, and its variants.

  1. The kanji 矢 “arrow”

history-of-kanji-%e7%9f%a2For the kanji 矢, in oracle bone style and bronze ware style it was an arrow with an arrowhead at the top and feathers at the bottom. The seal style writing became much less an image of an arrow. In kanji a short slanted stroke emphasized the arrowhead. The kanji 矢 meant “arrow.”

The kun-yomi 矢 /ya’/ means “arrow,” and is in 弓矢 (“bow and arrow” /yumi’ya/). The expression 白羽の矢が当たる means (“the choice falls on (someone)” /shiraha-no-ya’-ga-ataru). The on-yomi /shi/ is in the expression 一矢報いる (“to shoot back; give a small blow back; retaliate” /i’sshi mukuiru/) and 嚆矢 (“beginning” /ko’oshi/).

A personal note on the word 嚆矢 — Having lived away from Japan so many years and spending my reading time mostly on linguistics and others written in English I had less chance to encounter complex or less frequently used words in Japanese. One day while I was keeping company with my then-90-year-old mother in her room in Japan and working on my materials, I was looking for on-reading words for 矢 /shi/. I found 嚆矢 /ko’oshi/, a word that I had never used myself, and had to look up how to read it. Then, I felt a funny urge to say to my mother, “Mother, do you know what /ko’oshi/ with the kanji /ya/ means?” For a moment she looked puzzled, probably thinking that I was testing her mental ability in her advanced age. My unassuming soft-spoken mother answered, “Do you mean the word for beginning?” After a pause she picked up a pen and started scribbling down the word in kanji on a piece of paper. I had to smile at her with pride and amazement.

I was a product of post-war education in which kanji were simplified, prose made plain and complex words pushed away. It was only in high school that we studied classical Japanese. On the other hand someone who was schooled for fewer years in the Taisho and early Showa eras received an education that equipped her to read much better. Undoubtedly my not living in Japan had something to do with it, but nonetheless it was a humbling experience. At the same time it made me think about the quality of the language education that I received after the post-war national language reform.

(Incidentally the kanji 嚆 means “(whistling) sound of an arrow being shot” and is non-Joyo kanji.)

  1. The kanji 知 “to know”

history-of-kanji-%e7%9f%a5For the kanji 短, the seal style writing had 矢 “arrow,” which also meant “to vow.” The right side, 口 “mouth,” signified “word; language.” Together they signified “to vow to a god.”  Knowledge was what the god gave. From that the kanji 知 meant “to know.”

The kun-yomi 知 /shiru/ means “to know.” The on-yomi /chi/ is in 知人 (“acquaintance” /chijin/), 知事 (“prefectural governor” /chi’ji/), 承知する (“to consent to; accept; know” /shoochi-suru/), 熟知する (“to know well; have thorough knowledge of” /ju’kuchi-suru/), 知能 (“intelligence; mental faculties” /chi’noo/), 知覚 (“perception; sensory” /chikaku/), 周知の (“common knowledge” /shu’uchi-no/) and 機知に富んだ (“witty; resourceful” /ki’chi-ni-tonda/).

The next two kanji 侯 and 候 share the same origin and their developments were intertwined.

  1. The kanji 侯 “(feudal) lord; marquis”

history-of-kanji-%e4%be%afFor the kanji 侯, (a) in oracle bone style and (b) and (c) in bronze ware style had an arrow under a canopy or target range, signifying “to shoot an arrow.” In (d) in seal style, a person bending his back foward to watch out was added at the top. Together they meant the title of a person who oversaw shooting arrows against an enemy – “feudal lord; lord.” Later on it became one of the five levels of titles in the order of 公侯伯子男 based on Confucious. The kanji 侯 meant “lord; marquis.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /koo/ is in 諸侯 (“feudal lords” /sho’koo/) and 侯爵 (“marquisa” /ko’oshaku/).

  1. The kanji 候 “scout; climate; be”

history-of-kanji-%e5%80%99For the kanji 候 the bronze ware style writing had an arrow and a house or canopy, the same components as 侯. In seal style, in addition to a person crouching watching out at the top (侯), another person (イ) was added on the left side. This was to differentiate the two meanings that 侯 originally had – “lord” from shooting arrows, and “to watch for a sign of an enemy; scout,” the latter of which became the meaning of the kanji 候 “to peep; watch for a sign.” Weather or climate was something one judged or forecast from atmospheric signs, so it was used to discuss season or weather. In classical Japanese, 候 /sooro’o/ meant “to be” for /~de aru/ in old epistolary style.  The kanji 候 meant “to scout; climate; be.”

The kun-yomi 候 /sooro’o/ is a classic verb “to be.” The on-yomi /koo/ is in 気候 (“climate” /kikoo/), 天候 (“weather” /tenkoo/), 斥候 (“scout” /sekkoo/), 候文 (“old epistolary style writing in classical Japanese” /sooro’obun/) and 居候 (“a person living in someone’s else’s house without paying; free loader” /isooroo/).

  1. The kanji 喉 “throat”

history-of-kanji-%e5%96%89For the kanji 喉, the seal style writing had 口 “mouth” next to the shape (d) in 侯, which was used phonetically for /koo/. Together they meant “throat.”

The kun-yomi 喉 /no’do/ means “throat.” The on-yomi /koo/ is 耳鼻咽喉科 (“ear nose and throat specialist; otolaryngology” /ji’bi inkooka.) and 喉頭炎 (“laryngitis” /kooto’oen/).

In the next post we continue to add more kanji with 矢 and introduce its variants. Thank you very much for your reading.  –Noriko [February 19. 2017]

The Kanji 弓引張強弱溺弾弦弥-弓 “bow”


In this post we are going to look at kanji that contain 弓 “bow” –弓引張強弱溺弾弦弥.

  1. The kanji 弓 “bow”

history-of-kanji-%e5%bc%93For the kanji 弓, (a) in oracle bone style, in brown, and (b) in bronze ware style, in green, had a bow with a bowstring. Another bronze ware style writing (c), (d) in seal style, in red, had a bow only, which became the kanji 弓. The kanji 弓 meant “bow.”

The kun-yomi 弓 /yumi’/ means “bow,” and is in 弓なりに (“in a bow shape; in a curved chain shape” /yuminarini/). The on-yomi /kyu’u/ is in 洋弓 (“western-style bow; western-style archery” /yookyuu/).

  1. The kanji 引 “to pull; pull back; subtract; look up”

history-of-kanji-%e5%bc%95For the kanji 引, the seal style kanji had a bow and a vertical line, which is interpreted to signify something being pulled to straighten. Pulling something back also meant “to subtract.” The kanji 引 meant “to pull; pull back; subtract; look up.”

The kun-yomi 引く /hiku/ means “to pull; subtract; pullback.” It is in 取引 (“transaction; bargaining” /tori’hiki/), 引き受ける (“to undertake; take charge of” /hikiuke’ru/), 引き継ぐ (“to take over; succeed” /hikitsugu/), 引っ越し (“house moving; move” /hikkoshi/), 引き算 (“subtraction” /hiki’zan/), 引き金 (“trigger; immediate cause” /hikigane/) and 辞書を引く (“to consult a dictionary” /ji’sho-o hiku/). /-Bi/ is in 割引 (“discount” /waribiki/). The on-yomi /i’n/ is in 引火 (“ignition; catching fire” /inka/), 引責する (“to assume the responsibility” /inseki-suru/) and 引力 (“the earth’s gravitation; attractiveness” /i’nryoku/).

  1. The kanji 張 “to tense up; stretch; strain; paste”

history-of-kanji-%e5%bc%b5For the kanji 張, in bronze ware style the left side was a skein of thread (糸), and the right side was an old man with long hair (長), which was used phonetically for /cho’o/. In seal style the left side was a bow (弓), which signified something stretched. Stretching something makes it longer. The kanji 張 meant “to stretch; to extend.” The kanji 張 was also used to mean “paste; post” when its correct kanji 貼 was a non-Joyo kanji until the 2010 revision. So, you saw the kanji 張 to mean “post; paste.”

The kun-yomi 張る /haru/ means “to tense up; stretch” is in 見張り (“watch; lookout” /mihari/) and 見栄を張る (“to be pretentious; show off” /mie’0 haru/). /-Pa/ is in 突っ張る (“to cramp up; tighten” /tsuppa’ru/), and /-ba/ is in 頑張る (“to keep at it; stick to” /ganba’ru/).  The on-yomi /cho’o/ is in 出張 (“business trip” /shucchoo/), 緊張する (to tense up; be keyed up” /kinchoo-suru/), 主張する (“to insist; assert; claim” /shuchoo-suru/) and 膨張 (“swelling; increase” /boochoo/).

  1. The kanji 強 “strong; advantage; to force”

history-of-kanji-%e5%bc%b7For the kanji 強, Setsumon gave the Chubun style writing, shown in gray, to be its preceding writing – 彊 phonetically used for /kyoo/ at the top and two worms 虫 at the bottom. They meant a hard shell insect such as a beetle. From that it meant “strong.”  Shirakawa viewed that 彊 meant something else and that 強 was a semantic composite which was comprised of 弘, a bow with bow string detached, and 虫, a wild silkworm thread that was fortified with resin. Together they meant “strong.” Being strong is advantageous.  The kanji強 meant “strong; advantage; to force.”

The kun-yomi 強い /tsuyo’i/ means “strong; advantage.” Another kun-yomi 強いる /shii’ru/ means “to force; coerce”, and is in 無理強いする (“to force someone do”  /murijii-suru/) and in the expression 強いて言えば (“if anything; if I must choose” /shi’ite-ieba/). The on-yomi /kyo’o/ is in 強力な (“powerful; forceful” /kyooryokuna/), 強化する (“to strengthen; reinforce” /kyo’ka-suru/), 勉強する (“to study; reduce the price” /benkyoo-suru/), 強制的に (“by compulsion; enforcement” /kyooseeteki-ni/). Another on-yomi /go’o/ is in 強引な (“aggressive; pushy” /gooin-na/).

  1. The kanji 弱 “weak; fragile; mild”

history-of-kanji-%e5%bc%b1For the kanji 弱 in seal style it had two bows with three diagonal lines.  In ancient writing three diagonal lines usually signified something beautiful or a decorative pattern. A decorative bow was for ceremonial purposes and was not strong. The kanji 弱 meant “weak; fragile; mild.”

The kun-yomi 弱い /yowa’i/ means “weak,” and is in ひ弱な (“feeble; delicate” /hiyowa-na/), か弱い (“weak; delicate” /kayowa’i/),  弱々しい (“frail; weakly” /yowayowashi’i/).  The on-yomi /ja’ku/ is in 強弱 (“strength and weakness” /kyo’ojaku/), 弱小国 (“lesser country” /jakusho’okoku/), 弱点 (“weak pint” /jakute’n/), 百人弱 (“a little under a hundred people” /hyakuninja’ku/) and in the phrase 弱肉強食 (“law of the jungle; The stronger prey on the weaker” /jaku’niku kyooshoku/).

  1. The kanji 溺 “to drown”

history-of-kanji-%e6%ba%baFor the kanji 溺, the seal style writing had a bushu sanzui “water” and the phonetically used component 弱 for /jaku; deki/. The kanji 溺 meant “to drown.”

The kun-yomi 溺れる /oboreru/ means “to drown.” The on-yomi /de’ki/ is in 溺愛 (“doting” /dekiai/) and 溺死 (“death from drowning” /dekishi/).

  1. The kanji 弾 “to flick; bullet; spring”

history-of-kanji-%e5%bc%beFor the kanji 弾, in oracle bone style, (a) had a bow with a circle that might have emphasized the action of shooting, or a rock to shoot with. (b) was a bow. For seal style Setsubun gave two writings (c) and (d), both of which had a bow on the left – (c) had 単 used phonetically for /tan/, and (d) had 爪 “fingernails,” which suggested an action of fingers flicking something. The kyujitai (e) took (c), which became simplified to 弾 in shinjitai.  The kanji 弾 meant “to flick; bullet; spring”

The kun-yomi /hiku/ is in ピアノを弾く “to play piano” /piano-o hiku/). The on-yomi /da’n/  is in 弾丸 (“bullet” /dangan/), 弾力性 (“elasticity; flexibility” /danryokusee/), 弾圧 (“oppression; repression” /dan-atsu/) and 弾劾 (“impeachment; censure” /dangai/).

  1. The kanji 弦 “bow string; string musical instrument”

history-of-kanji-%e5%bc%a6For the kanji 弦, the seal style writing was comprised of 弓 and 玄, used phonetically for /gen/. 玄 was twined threads that were dyed black. Together they meant strings on a bow. Plucking a tightened string makes sounds, and 弦 meant “stringed musical instrument.” The kanji 弦 meant “bow string; string musical instrument.”

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /ge’n/ is in 弦楽器 (“string musical instrument” /genga’kki/), 管弦楽 (“orchestral music” /kange’ngaku/) and上弦の月 (“early crescent moon” /joogen-no-tsuki/.)

  1. The kanji 弥 “long time; increasingly”

history-of-kanji-%e5%bc%a5For the kanji 弥, Setsumon gave two (a) and (b) as its seal style writings. (a) had 長 “long hair” on the left instead of 弓. The right side was 爾 or 璽 “imperial seal.” Shirakawa explained (a) in bronze ware style as having a beautifully done body painting on a woman’s upper body for a ritual, and a bow probably used in a rite to fend off evil. The kanji 彌 meant “long.” The seal style (c) had 王 “jewel” to signify an imperial seal made of a precious stone. In kyujitai (d) 王 was dropped.  In shinjitai 爾 was replaced by 尓, and became 弥. The Kadokawa dictionary and Kanjigen viewed the right side of 彌 to be a seal. The kanji 弥 meant “long time; increasingly.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ya/ is in 弥生時代 (“the Yayoi period” /yayoiji’dai/) and 弥次馬 (“curious spectator; meddler” /yajiuma/), sometimes written as 野次馬.

Other kanji that appear to contain 弓, such as 弟第弔 are not directly related to this group.  In the next a couple of posts we will look at kanji that contain an arrow, 矢.  Thank you very much for your reading. [February 12, 2017]

The Kanji 識職織矛務霧 – 戈 “halberd” (5)


In this last post on the kanji that contain 戈 “halberd” we are going to look at the kanji 識職織・矛務霧.

  1. The kanji 識 “to recognize; knowledge; mark”

For the kanji 識 Setsumon Kaiji explained that it meant “constant” and “to know.” Shirakawa added that something that was always visible was a “flag” or “mark; sign.” Kanjigen and the Kadokawa dictionary explained that the right side was 弋, a stake as a sign, and that 音 was used phonetically (View A), while Shirakawa explained that it was a halberd (戈) with a hanging amulet to ward off evil, which was something that people should pay attention to – together giving the meaning “to discern; to know; knowledge” (View B). Because the earliest ancient writing for 弋 we have was in seal style, I find it hard to decide which of the two – the 弋 “stake in the ground” with a phonetic feature 音, or 戈 a halberd with a hanging amulet – was the likely origin. The kanji 識 meant “to discern; recognize; knowledge; mark.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /shi’ki/ is in 知識 (“knowledge” /chi’shiki/), 標識 (“sign; mark” /hyooshiki/), 常識 (“common sense” /jooshiki/), 意識 (“consciousness; one’s sense” /I’shiki/), 識別する (“to discern; discriminate” /shikibetsu-suru/) and 識字率 (“literary rate” /shikijiritu/).

言 and 音−The seal style writing (c) contained言 and 音. We have discussed in an earlier post how closely言 and 音 were related. [Kanji Component音—おと 暗闇意億憶臆 on November 9, 2014] Even though the two kanji 言 and 音 look different only one point is different in their origins – 音 had something in his mouth. I always find this interesting.

  1. The kanji 職 “job; position; occupation”

history-of-kanji-%e8%81%b7For the kanji 職 in bronze ware style, in green, it had the same shape as the kanji 識 at the top. Below that was 首 “head.” In seal style an ear “耳” was added on the right side. View A explains 職as “to discern by listening” and it signifies a job. View B (a halberd with a hanging amulet) explains that the writing is a piece of cloth over the enemy’s head or ear as a war trophy and that its original meaning was to record military service. From that it meant “job; administration.” The kanji 職 meant “job; position; occupation.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /sho’ku/ is in 職業 (“occupation” /shoku’gyoo/), 職に就く (“to take up a job” /shoku-ni-tsu’ku/), 本職 (“one’s principal job; one’s regular work” /honshoku), 職歴 (“work history” /shokureki/) and 部長職 (the position of a director” /bucho’oshoku/).

  1. The kanji 織 “to weave”

history-of-kanji-%e7%b9%94Setsumon Kaiji explained that 織was a general term for weaving. In bronze ware style, in green, (a) was the same as (b) for 識. Another bronze ware style (b) had a skein of threads inside and 才 on the top left of 戈. As we have seen in the last post, 才 on top of 戈would result in the writing sai, the top right side of 裁. In seal style (c), in red, a bushu itohen “threads; continuous” was placed on the left side. The right side was used phonetically for making threads in weaving. In weaving, continuous threads spread sideways and lengthwise. From that it is also used for “organization.” The kanji 織 meant “to weave; organization.”

The kun-yomi 織る /o’ru/ means “to weave,” and is in 織物 (“woven cloth” /orimono/), 機織り (“weaving; handloom-weaving” /hataori’/). The on-yomi /sho’ku/ is in 紡織機 (“spinning machine; weaving machine” /booshoku’ki/). Another on-yomi /shi’ki/ is in 組織 (“organization” /so’shiki/).

  1. The kanji 矛 ”halberd”

history-of-kanji-%e7%9f%9bThis is another kanji for “halberd.” The bronze ware style writing for 矛 was a halberd or lance with a long shaft. It meant “halberd.” (A halberd has both spear-like top and blades whereas a lance has a spear-like top only.) Even when not in a battle, the display of a halberd on a stand signified the display of military power. When used with another kanji 盾 (“shield” /tate’/), the two components 矛 “halberd” and 盾 “shield” make up the word 矛盾 “contradiction; inconsistency.”

The kun-yomi /ho’ko/ means “halberd; lance,” and is in 矛先を向ける (“to make the target of an attack” /hokosaki-o-mukeru/). The on-yomi /mu/ is in 矛盾する (“to be contradictory; be in conflict with” /mujun-suru), and in 矛盾 (“contradiction; inconsistency; ” /mujun/).

  1. The kanji 務 “to work on; duty; mission”

history-of-kanji-%e5%8b%99For the kanji 務, in bronze ware style the left side was a halberd (矛), and the right side was a hand holding a stick, which signified “to act” or “to make someone do something” (a bushu bokunyuu/bokuzukuri). Together they originally meant “to make someone do something.” In seal style 力 “plough” was added to signify hard work in the field. The kanji 務 meant “to work on; duty; mission.”

The kun-yomi /tsutome’ru/ means “to work on.” The on-yomi /mu/ is in 勤務 (“service; duty; work” /ki’nmu/), 公務 (“official work” /ko’omu/), 任務 (“duty; task” /ni’nmu/) and 実務 (“administrative work; practical business”) and 実務会談 (“working-level talks” /jitsumuka’idan/).

6.The kanji 霧 “mist; fog”

history-of-kanji-%e9%9c%a7In chubun style (籀文), in light blue, which predated small seal style, it had a bushu ukanmuri (雨) “atmospheric phenomenon” at the top and 矛. The bottom was used phonetically to mean “not clear.” Together they meant “mist; fog.”

The kun-yomi /kiri/ means “mist; fog,” and /giri/ is in 朝霧 (“morning fog” /asagiri/). The on-yomi /mu/ is in 濃霧 (“thick fog” /no’omu/) and the expression 五里霧中 (“totally mystified; in a fog” /go’ri muchuu/).

We have looked at a large number of kanji that contain戈 in five posts. With a few exceptions we covered all the Joyo kanji with 戈 and 矛. For the kanji 或域惑国(國) that we did not look at this time, please go back to the earlier post [The Kanji 国(國)或域惑図(圖)園遠 -くにがまえ(1) October 3, 20150]

A majority of the kanji in the last five posts contained the meaning “weapon; threat; battle” originally. In ancient times when original writings of kanji were created, a ruler’s job was to win a war to protect his territory or expand it, so having strong military power with effective weapons was essential for his power. We can see that aspect of ancient life by knowing how a weapon was widely used in creating kanji. We have seen kanji that had sharp-edged objects in the origin that were largely weapons. There are other types of weapons, such as arrows, and shields. We will move on to that group in the next post. Thank you very much for your reading. –Noriko [January 29, 2017 Japan time]

The kanji戦賊蔵歳戯賦・幾機畿- 戈 “halberd” (3)


This is the third post on kanji that contain the shape. We are going to look at 戦賊蔵歳戯武賦 and 幾機畿.

  1. The kanji 戦 “battle; to fight”

The kanji 戦 is comprised of two components, which are also kanji — 単 and 戈.  So, let us look at the kanji 単 first.

history-of-kanji-%e5%8d%98The kanji 単—For the kanji (a) in oracle bone style, in brown, and (b) in bronze ware style, in green, was a shield with a two-pronged spear at the top. It was borrowed to mean “single; only.” The top of (c) in seal style, in red, and kyujitai (d), in blue, was simplified to a truncated katakana ツ shape in shinjitai (e). The kanji 単 meant “single; only.”

history-of-kanji-%e6%88%a6rNow the kanji 戦. In oracle bone style (a) was two halberds whereas (b) was two shields. In bronze ware style the left side of (c) was a shield and the right side was a halberd. Together they meant “battle; war; to fight.” The kanji 戦 meant “war; battle; to fight.”

The kun-yomi 戦う /tatakau/ means “to fight.” Another kun-yomi 戦 /ikusa’/ means “war; battle,” and is in 勝ち戦 (“successful war; victory”/kachii’kusa/.) The third kun-yomi /onono’ku/ “to shudder; quiver” is not in the Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /se’n/ is in 戦争 (“war” /sensoo/), Aと対戦する (“to fight against A” /A to taisen-suru/), 作戦 (“strategy” /sakusen/) and 戦々恐々とする (“with fear and trembling; be panic-stricken” /sensenkyookyoo-to-sursu/).

  1. The kanji 賊 “robber; thief; to damage”

history-of-kanji-%e8%b3%8aFor the kanji 賊, in the bronze ware style writing under a halberd the bottom left was a person standing next to a three-legged bronze vessel. Together someone damaging a bronze vessel with a weapon meant “to damage” and a villain who robbed or damaged with a weapon. In seal style a person was placed under a halberd. The kanji 賊 meant “to damage; steal; robber”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /zoku/ means “robber; rebel,” and is in 海賊 (“pirate” /kaizoku/), 盗賊 (“thief; robber” /toozoku/) and 賊が押し入る (“a robber breaks into it” /zoku-ga-oshiiru/).

  1. The kanji 蔵 “vault; to store away”

history-of-kanji-%e8%94%b5For the kanji 蔵, the bronze ware style writing was a vessel for treasure hidden in a house. 爿on the left of the vessel was used phonetically for /zoo/. In seal style, the top was a bushu kusakanmuri “grass” – adding the sense of hiding in tall grass. The bottom had 爿, and the vessel changed to the watchful eye of retainer’s with a halberd. Together they meant to store something valuable away in a secure place. From that the kanji 蔵 meant “vault; to store away.”

The kun-yomi /kura’/ means “vault; storage,” and is in 米蔵 (“rice granary” /komegura/). The on-yomi /zo’o/ is in 秘蔵品 (“treasured article” /hizoohin/), 無尽蔵な (“inexhaustible” /muji’nzoona/) and お地蔵さん (“guardian image” /ojizoosan/)

  1. The kanji 歳 “year; age”

For the kanji 歳, in bronze ware style (a) was an axe with a long handle to dissect a sacrificial animal for a harvest festival, and (b) had a pair of footprints added. A pair of footprints from a right foot (above the line) and a left foot (below) signified someone walking, as in the kanji 歩 “to walk; step.” They may have added the sense of the passage of time.  The cycle of a harvest is once a year. The kanji 歳 meant “year; age.”

The kun-yomi /toshi// means “age; year.” The on-yomi /sa’i/ is in 何歳 “how old” /na’nsai/), 歳入 (“annual revenue” /sainyuu/), 歳末 (“end-of-the-year” /saimatsu/), 歳月 (“years; time” /saigetsu/). Another on-yomi /se’e/ is in お歳暮 (“end-of-the-year gift” /oseebo/).

  1. The kanji 戯 “to play; joke”

history-of-kanji-%e6%88%afFor the kanji 戯, in bronze ware style the left side was a person with a tiger headgear for a play on sitting on a tall stool. It was used phonetically for /ki; gi/. The right side was a halberd. Together they meant someone playing a votive dance before going into battle.  Seal style and kyujitai kept all three components 虍 “tiger” and 豆 “tall stool; something tall” on the left and 戈 “halberd” on the right. In shinjitai 虚, a kanji that had no relation with the original meaning, replaced the left side. The kanji 戯 meant “to play; joke.”

The kun-yomi 戯むれる /tawamure’ru/ meant “to be playful; jest.” The on-yomi /gi/ is in 戯曲 “drama; play,” 遊戯 (“play; playing” /yu’ugi/) and 子供の遊戯 (“dancing’ romping” /kodomo-no-yu’ugi/).

  1. The kanji 武 “military; warrior”

history-of-kanji-%e6%ad%a6For the kanji 武, the oracle bone style writing (a) had a halberd and a footprint. Advancing with a halberd meant “military; warrior.” In bronze ware style (b) had a footprint under a halberd, and (c) had a king’s axe added. In kanji (e) the stroke that crosses the stick was lost. Instead an additional short line was added at the top. The kanji 武 meant “military; warrior.” The kanji 武 is in contrast with 文 in the sense of “civil; literary.”

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /bu/ is in 武士 (“samurai; warrior; military class” /bu’shi/), 武器 (“weapon; arms” /bu’ki/) and 武力 (“military power” /bu’ryoku/). Another on-yomi /mu/ is in 武者 (“warrior” /mu’sha/) and 武者震い (“shaking with anticipation” /mushabu’rui/).

  1. The kanji 賦 “to collect levy; tribute; to allocate”

history-of-kanji-%e8%b3%a6For the kanji 賦, in bronze ware style the top was a halberd and a footprint (together signifying “army advancing”), and the bottom was a cowry, signifying money and valuable things. Together they meant valuable things that were sought by force. From that it meant “to collect levy; impose labor.” A ruler expected to be given a tribute and it meant “tribute.” An interesting point is that it also included the flip side of collecting – “to allocate; distribute.” I find it a little puzzling about having both directions of giving and getting, but this reminds me of the kanji 受 “to receive.” It originally meant both “to receive;” and “to give,” until another kanji 授 was created to mean “to give.” There may be other example like this.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /hu/ is in賦役 (“compulsory labor” /hueki/) and 賦与する (“to endow” /hu’yo-suru/), and /pu/ is in 月賦払い (“monthly installment payment” /geppuba’rai/) and 天賦 (“endowment” /te’npu/).

The next three kanji 幾機 and 畿 share the same component.

  1. The kanji 幾 “a few; how much”

history-of-kanji-%e5%b9%beFor the kanji 幾 the two bronze ware style writings had two short threads (幺) on the top left, a halberd on the right side and something else, possibly hanging threads or a person, on the bottom left.  The interpretations of its origin differ among kanji scholars – (1) it was a halberd with spiritual decoration to ward off evil, and it was probably used to interrogate. From that it originally meant “to detect fine points,” and from that it meant “small; nearly” (Shirakawa); (2) The two short threads signifying “to weave” and 戍 “halberd” used phonetically together meant “to stop weaving thread,” and later on it came to be used to mean “sign” (Kadokawa dictionary); (3) The two short threads for “a little” and a broad-blade halberd (戈) and a person (人) together signified a halberd reaching nearly to a person’s neck. The short distance from a halberd to the neck meant “small; little” (Kanjigen). I do not have a view on which is the most acceptable history.  It is also used as an interrogative word. The kanji 幾 meant “a few; some; how much.”

The kun-yomi /iku/ is in 幾つ (“how many” /i’kutsu/), 幾つか (“some; few” /i’kutsuka/), 幾多の (“many: /i’kutano/). The on-yomi /ki/ is in 機微 (“fine points; subtleties; niceties” /ki’bi/) and 幾何学 (“geometry” /kika’gaku/).

  1. The kanji 機 “machine; moment; change”

history-of-kanji-%e6%a9%9fFor the kanji 機, the left side 木 “wood” signified the wooden frame of a loom. The right side 幾 had many short threads cut by a knife. Together they meant a mechanical device or machine.” It means “moment; change.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ki is in 機械 (“machine” /kika’i/), 機会 (“opportunity” /kika’i/), 好機 (“golden opportunity” /ko’oki/), 機関 (“organization” /ki’kan/), 機嫌がいい (“in good humor” /kigengaii/), 飛行機 (“aircraft” /hiko’oki/), 機密 (“top secrerecy” /kimitsu/) and 機敏な (“smart; shrewd; prompt” /kibin-na/).

  1. The kanji 畿 “area near a capital”

history-of-kanji-%e7%95%bfThe seal style writing of the kanji 畿 had rice paddies (田), which signified a territory or area. The kanji 畿 meant “an area which an emperor rules.”  In Japan 畿 is used for the name of the area that included the old capital 京都 where an emperor was situated. The kanji 畿 meant “an area under the direct control of the emperor.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ki/ is in 近畿地方 “Kinki region,” and  畿内 (“an area near Kyoto” /ki’nai/).

We will continue to explore more kanji that contain 戈 “halberd” in the next post.  Thank you very much for your reading.  –Noriko  [January 15, 2017]

The Kanji 義儀犠感減威滅 –戈 “halberd” (2)


This is the second post on kanji that contain 戈 “halberd/battle-axe/broad-blade axe.” We are going to look at the kanji 義儀犠威戚感滅. There are a number of kanji that originated from a halberd, including 我 戉 and 戊. In the past any kanji that had 戈 was put in more or less a single bag of “a halberd or halberd-like weapon.” But I am curious now whether these were represented differently in their oracle bone style and bronze ware style writings. The answer may not be as clear as I would like, but it is worthwhile to satisfy our curiosity.

history-of-kanji-%e6%88%91Review of 我–Before the holiday season posts on Christmas day and New Year’s Day, in the post entitled The kanji 戈戒械成城誠伐閥我-戈halberd (1), we looked at the kanji 我 “I (first person pronoun)” as the last kanji. The kanji 我was borrowed kanji and had little relationship with its origin. Its origin was the shape of a saw-like halberd or a saw. The history is shown on the right. We saw a three-pronged shape attached to a long stick or a halberd. The writing was a pictograph of a pronged weapon or saw.

  1. The kanji 義 “just; morality; significance; meaning.”

history-of-kanji-%e7%be%a9For the kanji 義 (a) and (b) in oracle bone style, in brown, were very similar to (a) and (b) for the kanji 我, except one point – The top of the vertical line had sheep’s curled horns.  In bronze ware style, in green, the sheep got separated from the bottom. The bottom of 12 writings had three or more prongs on the left, as in (c) and (d). Only two of them had the shape without prongs, as in (e), and that was an axe. Since the overwhelming number had a prong shape, we can comfortably conclude that the bottom of the kanji 義 was a saw-like object or a saw. 羊 “sheep” and 我 “saw” together meant cutting a sacrificial sheep with a saw to prepare for an offering to a god. What is suitable for a god meant “morality; just.” Explaining “what is just” also gave the meaning “significance; meaning.” So the kanji 義 meant “just; morality; significance; meaning.”

The kanji 議 — Later on, 義 phonetically for /gi/ and and 言 “words; language” together made a new kanji 議. From two sides together “discussing what is right” the kanji 議 meant “to discuss.”

  1. The kanji 儀 “ceremony; affair; matter”

history-of-kanji-%e5%84%80The bronze ware style of the kanji 儀 was the same as (c) and (d) for 義. That suggests that the meanings of 儀 was originally a part of 義.  In seal style, in red, , a bushu ninben “standing person,” was added to 義 that was used phonetically for /gi/. Together they signified a person’s righteous deed. A right way of doing by a righteous person became the meaning “protocol; ceremony; affair.” The kanji 儀 meant “ceremony; affair; matter.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /gi/ is in 儀礼 (“ceremony” /giree/), 行儀がいい (“well-mannered” /gyoogi’-ga ii/) and 祝儀 (“celebration; festivity; tips on happy occasion” /shu’ugi/).

  1. The kanji 犠 “sacrifice”

history-of-kanji-%e7%8a%a0The left side of the seal style writing of the kanji 犠was 牛 “cow,” which sometimes signified animals in general. In kanji the right side is 義, but in seal style the bottom had something else added. What this addition meant is not clear. From the original meaning of 義 “a sheep to be cut with a saw for an offering” and 牛 together meant “sacrificial animal; sacrifice.”

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /gi/ is in犠牲になる (“to be sacrificed; fall prey for” /gisee-ni-na’ru/) and犠牲者 (“victim” /gise’esha/.)

history-of-kanji-%e5%92%b8The kanji 咸— The kanji 感and 減share the same shape 咸. The history of 咸, which is not a Joyo kanji, is shown on the right. In oracle bone style, (a) and (b), the top, some sort of halberd (戈), had a large axe. Underneath was a mouth  (口). Together making someone close his mouth by giving a shock of a threat of an axe or weapon” meant “to contain.”

  1. The kanji 感 “to feel”

history-of-kanji-%e6%84%9fFor the kanji 感, the seal style writing had 咸 at the top, which was used phonetically for /kan/ to mean “to contain,” and 心 “heart” at the bottom. Together they signified what was contained inside one’s heart — “to feel; emotion; feeing.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ka’n/ is in 感じる (“to feel” /kanjiru/), 感情 (“emotion” /kanjoo/) and 感謝 (“gratitude” /kansha-suru/).

  1. The kanji 減 “to reduce”

history-of-kanji-%e6%b8%9bFor the kanji 減 the bronze ware style writing had a stream of water on the left, and the right side was a battle-axe and a mouth, signifying “to confine.” Together they meant that closing the mouth of a stream reduced the amount of the flow of water. The kanji 減 meant “to reduce.”

The kun-yomi is in 減らす /herasu/ means “to reduce; make less” and its intransitive counterpart verb 減る /heru/ “to decrease.”  The on-yomi /ge’n/ is in 加減する(“to adjust” /kagen-suru/), 湯加減 (“bath temperature” /yuka’gen/), 軽減 (“reduction” /keegen/) and 減速 (“slowing down” /gensoku/).

history-of-kanji-%e6%88%89The kanji 戉 “broad-blade axe”– In oracle bone style, (a) and (b) were a battle-axe in mirror images. In bronze ware style, (c) had a broad curved blade whereas (d) was a long straight blade. In seal style the blade curled up at the end. It became the kanji 戉. When a bushu kanehen 金 “metal” was added it became 鉞 “broad-blade (curved) axe.” (Neither 戉 nor 鉞 is Joyo kanji, but a phonetic feature /e’tsu/ is used in the Joyo kanji 越.) Shirakawa viewed that the kanji 王 was a king’s ornamental axe with the blade side at the bottom (without a handle). In bronze ware style some had a thick curved blade. [Oracle Bone Writings at Tokyo National Museum and the Kanji 王旺皇士仕 on November 13, 2016]

  1. The kanji 威 “(personal) dignity; prestige”

history-of-kanji-%e5%a8%81For the kanji 威, the two bronze ware style writings had a broad-blade axe or battle-axe (戉) and a woman (女) underneath. Together a woman under the threat of a weapon signified “to threaten” or “authority.”

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /i/ is in 権威 (“authority” /ke’n-i/), 威嚇する (“to threaten” /ikaku-suru/) and 威容 (“commanding appearance” /iyoo/).

  1. The kanji 滅 “to run out; die away”

history-of-kanji-%e6%bb%85The seal style writing of the kanji 滅 hada bushu sanzui  “water.” The right side had a 戉 “broad blade battle-axe” and 火 “fire” inside, and was used phonetically for /betsu/ to mean “to exhaust; run out.” Both sides together signified water running out. From that the kanji 滅 meant “to run out; die away.”

The kun-yomi 滅ぼす /horobo’su/ means “to destroy” and its intransitive verb 滅びる (“to die away; be destroyed” /horobi’ru/). The on-yomi /me’tsu/ is in 点滅する (“to flicker” /tenmetsu-suru/), 滅亡 (“extinction” /metsuboo/), 支離滅裂な (incoherent; disconnected /shi’ri-metsuretsu-na/) and 滅法 (“exceedingly” /meppo’o/), as in 滅法強い (“extremely strong” /meppo’o tsuyo’i/).

We will continue with this topic in the next post. –Noriko  (January 8, 2017)

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 the Shirokane (白金) area of Tokyo in front of a large residential building. 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.” 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]