The Kanji 里野予理王玉畜蓄玄 – 田 (3)

  1. The kanji 里 “village; one’s parents home”

History of Kanji 里For the kanji 里, the top of the bronze ware style writings, in green, was rice paddies which had neatly arranged grids. Under that the vertical line had a bulge which signified a ball of dirt on the ground (土.) Together they meant a land where people grew rice and produce. It meant a “village; one’s parents’  home.” In the two bronze ware style samples, the center line in the two elements “rice paddies” and “ground” was continuous, rather than two discrete images. In fact none of the eight bronze ware writing samples in Akai (2010) shows a separation between the two elements. We do not have oracle bone style writing. Ten style, in red, had lines that were even thickness.

The kun-yomi 里 /sato/ means “village,” and 里帰り /satogaeri/ means “return to parents home; homecoming.” /Sato/ also is used by a married woman talking about her parents home, in a more humble style than saying 実家 /jikka/. The expression 里心がつく /satogo’koro-ga tsu’ku/) means “to start feeling homesick.” The on-yomi /ri/ was a unit of distance measurement. In Japan one ri was about 4 km. The expression 千里の道も一歩から /se’nri-no-michi-mo ip’po-kara/ means “A long journey begins with the first step.”

  1. The kanji 野 “fields; outside”

History of Kanji 野For the kanji 野, the oracle bone style sample (a), in brown, and the bronze ware style sample (b) had two “tree” 木, signifying woods 林, and “soil; ground” 土. Together they signified “wooded land.” Another bronze ware style sample (c) had rice paddies and the origin of 予 “roomy; latitude” at the top, instead of a wooded land. The bottom was “soil.” Together a land that stretched like many rice paddies meant “fields.” While in (c), 田 and 土 were placed in two separate locations, in ten style (e) the two elements became one shape 里 “village.” The right side was 予 “roomy; latitude.”  Setsumon also gave the shape (d) as its old style, in gray. The shape (d) consisted of 林 “wooded area,” 予 “roominess” and 土 “soil.”

History of Kanji 予(frame)The Kanji 予; The origin of 予 was explained as a weaving shuttle with a thread attached at the bottom. A weaving shuffle pushed through the loom between the threads that were loosened a little. In order to get the shuttle to pass through, threads were pulled to make room. From “making room in advance of a shuttle’s passing” the kanji 予 meant “in advance; preliminary.” As a kanji, 予 only had the ten style sample, as shown on the right. But as a component of 野, we can see a couple earlier shapes in (c) and (d) in the history of the kanji 野 above.

So, the left side of the kanji 野 was 里 “village,” and the right side 予 was “roominess.” Together a spacious piece of land in the field meant “field.” A field was outside of a town where important business was conducted. From that it meant “outside the power; outsider; opposition.”

The kun-yomi /no/ is in 野原 (”a green field” /no’hana/). The on-yomi /ya/ is in 野球 (“baseball” /yakyuu/), 野党 (“opposition party” /ya’too/), 在野 (“outside government; outside power” /zaiya/), 野蛮な (“barbaric” /yaban-na/).

  1. The kanji 理 “logic; rational”

History of Kanji 理For the kanji 理, the left side of the ten style writing 王 was jewels strung together. Splitting a gem neatly along the natural cleavage signified the rational way to do something. The right side 里 was used phonetically for /ri/, and also contained 田 “rice paddies.” Rice paddies had levees that went through. Both components had the meaning of something going straight through. From that the kanji 理 meant “logic; rational.”

There is no kun-yomi in the Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /ri/ is in 理解する (“to understand” /ri’kai-suru/), 理由 (“reason” /riyuu/), 無理な (“unreasonable” /mu’ri-na/) and 論理 (“logic” /ro’nri/).


King’s axe

The kanji 玉 and : The kanji 王 means “king; crown” and the kanji 玉 means “jewel; ball.” Jewels could also signify the crown jewels of a king. In a traditional kanji dictionary, 王 and 玉 are treated as one bushu. However the two shapes have totally different lines of history.

The kanji 王 came from a large ornamental axe of a ruler that signified power, such as the drawing on the right. History of Kanji 王(frame)In the history of the kanji 王 on the right, in oracle bone style it was an outline of an axe that was placed with the blade side down. In bronze ware style the first example showed a thick blade. The bronze ware style and ten style samples showed the middle horizontal line closer to the top line to emphasize the importance of the bottom, the blade. In kanji the three horizontal lines were distributed evenly.

History of Kanji 玉(frame)The kanji 玉 came from a string of jewels. The oracle style sample had three jewels with a string going through with a knot at the top. In bronze ware style and ten style, the three horizontal lines were evenly placed, unlike the kanji 王. In kanji a dot was added to differentiate it from 王.

Among the Joyo kanji the component 玉 is used in just a few kanji, such as the kanji 玉, 宝 and 璧. Most kanji use the component 王 even when it originated in, and/or still means, “jewel,” including the kanji 現珍班球環 and 珠.

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

History of Kanji 裏For the kanji 裏, in bronze ware style, the left sample (a) was the same as that of the kanji 里. In (b), 里 was placed inside a collar and was used phonetically for /ri/. Together something inside the collar meant the wrong side of clothes (a collar). The kanji 裏 meant “the back; inside: the wrong side.”

The kun-yomi 裏 /ura’/ or 裏側 /uragawa/ means “the back; inside; the wrong side,” and is in 裏工作 (“behind-the-scene maneuvering” /urako’osaku/) and 裏話 (“story behind; inside story” /uraba’nashi/). The on-yomi /ri/ is in 裏面 (“back side” /ri’men/).

In this last post on kanji that came from 田 “rice paddies,” let us look at two more that may have a different origin here — 畜蓄.

  1. The kanji 畜 “livestock”

History of Kanji 畜The top of the kanji 畜 was 玄. The history of 玄 is shown on the right.

History of Kanji 玄(frame)The kanji 玄: The bronze ware style of 玄 was a skein of threads. (The one in gray is the old style before ten style given in Setsumon.) In ten style the top was added to signify the tied knot for dyeing. From dyeing threads dark, it meant “black” and “mysterious.”

For the kanji 畜, there are different views on what was under 玄 “skein of threads.” Shirakawa treated it as a pot to dye threads. From soaking the skein of threads for a duration of time to pick up pigments better, it meant “to accumulate.” The Kadokawa dictionary treated the top not as the skein of threads but as an abbreviated shape of the kanji that meant “to nurture (the right side of the kanji 滋),” and the bottom as rice paddies. Together from leaving rice field uncultivated to regain the nutrients in the soil, it meant “to accumulate; store.” Later on the kanji 畜 came to be used to mean “livestock.” For the original meaning “to accumulate; store” a bushu kusakanmuri was added 蓄.

There is no kun-yomi in the Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /chi’ku/ is in 家畜 “livestock.” The word 畜生 originally meant “animals” (in the sense of below humans) and is used as a strong cursing word “You brute!” by an angry male speaker with a variation of こん畜生 /konchikisho’o; konchikisho’o/.

  1. The kanji 蓄 “to accumulate; store”

History of Kanji 蓄We have already touched above on how the kanji 蓄 came about. With the bush kusakanmuri “plants” added, it bears the original meaning of the bottom “to accumulate; store.”

The kun-yomi 蓄える /takuwae’ru/ means “to stash away; store.” The on-yomi /chi’ku/ is in 貯蓄 (”saving” /chochiku/), 蓄積する (”to accumulated; heap up” /chikuseki-suru/), 蓄電 (“to charge electricity” /chikuden/).

There are other kanji among the Joyo kanji that contain 田 that originated from the rice paddies. The presence of the meaning from “rice paddies in the kanji 畔 (“levee; ridge” /u’ne/ in kun-yomil /ha’n/ in on-yomi), and 苗 (“nursery plant; seedling” /na’e/ in kun-yomi, /byo’o/ in on-yomi) are self-evident. The kanji 描 (“to describe; depict” /ega’ku/ in kun-yomi and /byo’o/ in on-yomi) and 猫 (“cat” /ne’ko/ in kun-yomi and /byo’o/ in on-yomi) are phonetically related to 苗 /byo’o/.  Another kanji 奮 (“to muster one’s courage/strength” /huruu/ in kun-yomi and /hu’n/ in on-yomi came from the rice paddies.)

We have had three postings on kanji that contain 田 “rice paddies.” There are kanji that contain the shape 田 but do not mean “rice paddies.” I will try to put some of them together in the next post.  [July 18, 2015]

The Kanji 略各当(當)尚番米巻券 – 田 (2)


In this post we continue to look at kanji that contain 田 and related kanji — 略各当(當)尚番米巻券.

(1) 略 “summary; tactic”

History of Kanji 略For the kanji 略, in ten style, the left side was 田 “rice paddies.” The right side was the kanji 各 that was used phonetically to mean “to divide.” When a new land was conquered, a strategy for how to manage the new land or tax its new rice fields was drawn up. From strategy, it meant “tactic.” It was also borrowed to mean “summary.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /rya’ku/ is used in 省略 (“omission” /shooryaku/), 略図 (“outline; sketch” /ryakuzu/), 計略 (“trick; strategy” /keeryaku/), 略す (“to shorten; take out” /ryaku’su/). The expression 前略 /ze’nryaku/ is the greeting phrase that you write at the beginning of a hurriedly written letter, without putting in an expected seasonal greeting.

History of Kanji 各(frame)The kanji 各: The top of the kanji 各 came from a foot that faced backward or downward. It is a bushu suinyoo . For the explanation of “backward foot” please refer to the July 5, 2014, posting. Even though we spent four postings looking at “a backward foot” a year ago, I did not discuss the kanji that contain 各. The reason was that 各 by itself as a kanji was a borrowing that meant “each; individual.” There was not much for me to add. 各 as a component was mostly used phonetically with little relationship with the original meaning. Several kanji that contain 各 as its component have the following meanings and on-yomi: 格 (“standard; class” /kaku; koo/), 客 (“guest” /kyaku; kaku/), 落 (“to fall” /raku/), 絡 (“to intertwine; contact” /raku/), 路 (“road” /ro/), 略 (“summary; tactic” /ryaku/) and 閣 (“tall important building” /kaka/).  (Kun-yomi is omitted here.)  We can see the phonetic connections in on-yomi.

(2) 当 (當) “appropriate; correct; the very X”

History of Kanji 当The kanji 当 does not have 田, but 当 had the kyujitai 當 that contained 田. The kyujitai, in blue on the left, faithfully reflected its ten style. In ten style the top was 尚 “high,” which was used phonetically to mean “to be appropriate” (we are going to look at its history below.)  The bottom was 田 “rice paddies.” From an appropriate value for rice paddies, it meant “appropriate; correct.” It was also used to mean “this; the very X.” I am wondering why the bottom of the shinjitai was so drastically abbreviated to ヨ, when the kyujitai was not that complex. I have not encountered a good explanation in reference for this.

The kun-yomi 当たる /ataru/ “to hit (a target)” is in 思い当たる (“to recall; remember” /omoiata’ru/), 八つ当たりする (“to take out on someone” /yatsua’tari-suru/), 当たり前 (“natural; of course; obviously” /atarimae/). The on-yomi /to’o/ is in 当然 (“naturally; of course; obviously” /toozen/), 当人 (“the person in question” /to’onin/), 当事者 (“person concerned; party involved” /tooji’sha/) and 正当化する (“to justify” /seetooka-suru/).

History of Kanji 尚(frame)The kanji 尚; This kanji is not a Joyo kanji or a traditional bushu. But it appears as a component in other frequently used kanji including 常 and 党 in addition to the kyujitai 當. (尚 and other related kanji 常堂賞償党 are discussed in a later post on human habitats.) The history is shown on the right. In oracle bone style, bronze ware style and ten style, the bottom was a kitchen stove with a door to the furnace. The top was smoke or steam rising straight up. From rising straight up high, this shape signified “high.”

(3) 番 “turn; watch; number”

History of Kanji 番There are different views on how the kanji 番 came about. One view is that the top meant to scatter seeds and the bottom was rice paddies. The top was interpreted as grain such as rice. Growing rice involves different steps in a set order, and gave the meaning “turn; a number in a series.” Thus, the kanji 番 meant “to turn; a number; a watch; pair.” It makes good sense to me. However, as I looked at several samples of bronze ware style writing, I began to feel a little uncertain about that. The problem is that the history of the kanji 米 showed a very different shape, as shown on the right.

History of Kanji 米(frame)The kanji 米: The oracle bone style sample had three grains on both sides of a diagonal line. It meant a stalk of millet on which grain was still attached. No bronze ware style sample is available to us. In ten style, it became a cross with grain scattered in four directions. It looks similar to the top of the ten style of 番. But there is an important difference — the tip of the center line in 番 in ten style was bent whereas 米 was straight. So, the top of 番 might not have had been scattered rice grains at the top. That bring to us another view here.

The another view originated from Setsumon. It treated the whole shape as a single image of an animal paw, with claws at the top and palm below. I would never have thought of that. But the power of suggestion is working on me now. An animal paw signified a step for a person, and it signified a person stepping out for his watch duty. It meant “duty watch.” A watch duty was done taking turns, thus “order; a number in a series” and also done in pairs, thus “pair.”

There is no kun-yomi for 番 in the Joyo kanji, but /tsugai/ is used in 鳥の番 (“a pair of birds” /tori no tsugai/) customarily. The on-yomi 番 /ba’n/ means “watch; turn,” and is in 一番 (“the first; most” /ichi’ban), 番をする (“to be on watch duty” /ba’n-o-suru/), 留守番 (“house sitting; staying home” /rusuban/), 番人 (“watch; guard” /banni’n/), 当番 (“duty; watch” /to’oban/) and 番組 (“TV/radio program” /bangumi/).

One more thing about the top of the ten style writing of 番: I have come across in a few kanji that had the same shape at the top of ten style writing. In those kanji it is interpreted as “a paw” or “a human hand.”  Let us look at two examples here, 巻 and 券.

History of Kanji 巻(frame)The kanji 巻: The history of the kanji 巻 is shown on the right. One view, from Shirakawa, was that in ten style the top was an animal paw that signified animal hide. The bottom had two hands outside, and the inside was a person in a crouched position. Together they signified hands rolling an animal hide into a scroll. Another view, from the Kadokawa dictionary, is that it had two hands making a rice ball in the shape of a crouched person. It meant “to roll.” This view appears to take the top as grain or rice.

History of Kanji 券(frame)The kanji 券: The history of the kanji 券 is shown on the right. In ten style the top was an animal paw and the bottom had two hands and a knife. Together they meant cutting an animal hide that had a pledge written on it in half to keep as a tally. Another view is that it was used phonetically to mean “to make a notch.” With a knife at the bottom, it meant a tally. The kanji 券 means “ticket; tally.”

There are a little more matter that I would like to explore on 田. We will continue in the next posting. [July 11, 2015]

The Kanji 田画畑留界介町丁 – 田 (1)

  1. The kanji 田 “rice paddies”

History of Kanji 田We have looked at the origin of the kanji 田 “rice paddies” earlier when we discussed the kanji 男 [December 19, 2014, post]. Since then several bronze ware style samples have come to my attention, so I am adding a couple of bronze ware style samples here, in green. The oracle bone style samples, in brown, had more than a single line vertically and/or horizontally inside the rectangular shape. It was rice paddies and the lines signified levees. In the beginning stage of growing rice, fields are immersed in water inside raised ridges. Those strips of raised land also served as a footpath. The writing meant “rice paddies.” In bronze ware style, the rice paddies were simplified to four paddies. The proportion of the ten style sample, in red, was typical of ten style, which was longer than it was wide.

The kun-yomi /ta/ is in 田んぼ (田圃) /tanbo/ “rice paddies.” The on-yomi /de’n/ is in 水田 (“irrigated rice paddies” /suiden/), 油田 (“oil field” /yuden/), 炭田 (“coal field” /tanden/). It is also customarily used for the word 田舎 (“countryside” /inaka/).

  1. The kanji 画 “drawing; plan”

History of Kanji 画For the kanji 画, in bronze ware style, it had a hand holding a brush at the top, and rice paddies at the bottom. An official recording a boundary of rice paddies meant “boundary; to draw.”  In ten style, the lines surrounded rice paddies to show the boundaries in four directions. In kyujitai, in blue, it consisted of 聿 “to write” from a hand holding a brush, 田 “rice paddies,” and another line underneath 一. In shinjitai, the top was reduced to just 一, and below that 由, instead of 田, was placed inside a receptacle shape 凵.

There is no kun-yomi for 画 in the Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /ga/ is in 画家 (“painter” /gaka/), 画面 (“screen” /ga’men; gamen/), and 漫画 (“comics” /manga/). Another on-yomi /ka’ku/ is in 企画する (“to make a plan; propose a project” /kikaku-suru/), 画数 (“number of writing strokes” /kakusu’u/), 九画 (“nine strokes” /kyu’ukaku/), and 画する (“to mark an epoch or boundary” /kaku-su’ru/).

  1. The kanji 畑 “agricultural field; specialty”

No ancient writing existed because this was created in Japan. It is a 国字 (“kanji that was created in Japan” /kokuji/). All kokuji are a composite of two semantic components. The kanji 畑 is no exception – it consists of the kanji 火 “fire” and the kanji 田 “rice paddies.” The agricultural fields that were not immersed in water would occasionally be burned to give the soil certain nutrients. Together they signified an agricultural field that was not necessarily irrigated. It meant “agricultural field.” The word /tanbo/ 田んぼ is used for rice paddies whereas the word /hatake/ 畑 is used for field that is not immersed in water. 畑 is also used for a more general sense of one’s field, such as a specialty of one’s work.

The kun-yomi /hatake/ 畑 means “agricultural field,” and is in 田畑 (“farm; field” /ta’hata/), 畑仕事 (“field work” /hatakeshi’goto/), 花畑 (“flower field” /hanaba’take/), 畑違い (“different area of expertise” /hatakechi’gai/), 化学畑 (“chemistry field” /kagakuba’take/).

  1. The kanji 留 “to stay; remain; fasten”

History of Kanji 留For the origin of the kanji 留, we discuss two different interpretations here. One from Shirakawa is that in bronze ware style the left side was a stream of water with two pools of water on both sides, and the right side was rice paddies. The pools of water signified something “to stay in one place” like water in rice paddies. It meant “to stay; remain.” In ten style the two elements were placed up and down.

History of Kanji 留 (old kanji photos)Another interpretation is from the Kadokawa dictionary. It does not refer to the bronze ware style sample above. Instead, it appears to be based on writing from later time, including from official seal samples and a stele, as shown on the right side. In this account, the top was explained to be the kanji 卯 “horse’s bridle” and the bottom 由 was used phonetically to mean “to put a bridle on firmly.” Together tying a horse to a tree by the bridle to keep it in one place signified “to fasten” and “to remain.” In the Key to Kanji book I took the latter view. Now I am wondering if both accounts can be possible to explain “to remain” and “to fasten.” In shinjitai kanji the symmetrical shapes at the top (卯) were replaced by two different shapes.

The kun-yomi 留める /tomeru/ means “to fasten.” Another kun-yomi 留まる /todoma’ru/ means “to stay in a place.” The on-yomi /ryu’u/ is in 留学 (“study in a foreign country” /ryuugaku/), 留意する (“to pay enough attention to” /ryu’ui-suru/). Another on-yomi /ru/ is in 留守にする (“to be absent from home” /ru’su-ni-suru/) and 留守番 (“house sitter; staying home” (during a family is away) /rusuban/).

  1. The kanji 界 “world; area” and 介 “to help; mediate”

History of Kanji 界For the kanji 界, in ten style, the left side was rice paddies, and the right side was used phonetically for /ka’i/ to mean “something between.” The history of the kanji 介 is shown on the right.

History of Kanji 介(frame)The Kanji 介; In oracle bone style a person was standing sandwiched by two dots on both sides. It signified a person wearing armor in the front and on the back. A hard casing such as armor was also used for shellfish, as in the word 魚介類 (“fish and shellfish” /gyoka’irui/). A person sandwiched between two sides signified someone who “mediates two sides” or “help.” So the kanji 介 meant “to help; mediate.”

For the kanji 界, 田 ”rice paddies” and 介 “a person in the middle” together signified the area inside the boundaries. What is inside a boundary is also a world. It meant “world.” In shinjitai, the rice paddies 田 is placed on top of 介.

There is no kun-yomi for 界. The on-yomi /ka’i/ is in 世界 (“world” /se’kai/), 限界 (“limit” /genkai/), 境界 (“boundary” /kyookai/), 財界 (“financial world; business circle” /zaikai/), 他界する (“to die” /takai-suru/).

  1. The kanji 町 “town”

History of Kanji 町For the kanji 町, in ten style, the left side was neatly arranged rice paddies. The right side was 丁. The history of the kanji 丁 is shown on the right.

History of Kanji 丁The kanji 丁: In the oracle bone style of 丁, it was the top of a nail that was viewed from the above. In bronze ware style, the nail was viewed from the side. A nail is pounded down in a right angle. In ten style it became stylized. 丁 meant something that had a right angle such as a block. (We discussed 丁 when we looked at the kanji 打 in the June 7, 2014, post.)

For the kanji 町, 田 “rice paddies” and 丁 “block” together meant the land that had blocks and junctions, that is a “town.” /Cho’o/ used to be used as the measurement of land in olden days.

The kun-yomi 町 /machi’/ means “town” and is in 町中に出る (“to go into the town” /machinaka-ni-de’ru/), 町外れ (“outer edge of a town” /machiha’zure/) and 下町 (“downtown; shitamachi.” /shitamachi/). The word Shitamachi usually refers to the low area of Tokyo on the east of the Sumida River. In the Tokugawa era, large residences where samurai class people lived were on the west side of Edo Castle and commoners lived on the east side toward the waterfront. The on-yomi /cho’o/ is in 町内会 (“neighborhood association” /choona’ikai/), 町人 (“merchant” (in old class system, as contrasted to samurai); townspeople” /choonin/).

There are several more frequently used kanji that contain 田, so we will continue this topic in the next post. [July 4, 2015]

Kanji Radical 女 おんなへん-女好妹要妻安 – “woman”

Kanji 女 Stroke Order

Kanji 女 Stroke Order

In this post we are going to look at the kanji that contain a bushu onnahen 女 “woman; female; feminine.” The stroke order is shown on the right: The long horizontal line is the last stroke. Some readers may find this stroke order “counter-intuitive,” as many of my former students lamented in their kanji quizzes. It is a hiragana /ku/ く, a katakana /no/ ノ and a kanji 一. The slang /kuno’ichi/ (くノ一) means “female ninja.” Well, at least that is what you hear in ninja movies and anime stories. (I wouldn’t know about the world of ninja.) But for us, it is useful to remind us of the correct stroke order of the kanji 女.

(1) The kanji 女 “woman; female; feminine”

History of the Kanji 女It is not surprising to find an abundance of ancient writings for the kanji 女. In oracle bone style (in light brown), (1) and (2), it was a person kneeling with arms crossed in front. The pliant posture of the person meant “a woman.” The direction in which a woman faced was the flip side of each other. As noted in earlier posts, in oracle bone style the direction that a figure faced did not seem to carry any particular meaning, whereas in later writing facing right meant looking back or a backward movement. In bronze ware style (in green), in the right one, (4), the line that signified the body and the legs lost a sharp bend that showed kneeling that (3) had. And yet in ten style (in red) the bent knee returned. Her left hand got elongated to reach the floor.

A few posts ago, I treated the left side of the bushu ninnyoo,儿, as a hand. I have also left the possibility of a different interpretation, a leg. But here both 女 and a ninny, 儿, in ancient writings seem to direct us to view that it was a hand. Based on that interpretation, we are going to say that in kanji 女 the first strokes came from two hands and the last horizontal stroke represented the body and legs. I find it a little odd, so I am welcoming other interpretations from readers.

The kun-yomi 女 /onna’/ means “woman,” and is in 女の子 (“girl” /onna’noko/), 女らしい (”woman-like; feminine” /onnarashi’i/) and 女っぽい (“feminine with sex appeal” /onnappo’i/). Another kun-yomi /me/ is in 女々しい (“womanish” /memeshi’i/), The on-yomi /jo/ is in 女性 (“woman” /josee/), 長女 (“first-born daughter; oldest daughter” /cho’ojo/) and 男女 (“both sexes; a man and a woman” /da’njo/). Another on-yomi /nyo/ or /nyo’o/ is a go-on and is in 女房 (“wife; my wife” /nyo’oboo/).

(2) The kanji 好 “to like; favorable; good”

History of the Kanji 好In the first three oracle bone styles of the kanji 好, (1), (2) and (3), a woman was sitting on her heels with a child on her knees. It suggested the tender loving way in which a woman cared for a child. It meant “to like; fond of; good; beautiful.” In bronze ware style, the position of the woman and the child in (4) was the mirror image of (5). In ten style, (6), the woman was placed on the left and the child on the right. Only a left-facing woman remained in ten style. In fact, based on the way the knee was bent, the woman even appeared to be showing her back to the child. But this is because by the time of ten style shapes were not writing from images but just writings. Ten style was the last ancient writing before rei style (隷書 /reesho/), the first kanji style which went through dramatic standardization of shapes. As a bushu onnahen, the last stroke goes up slightly.

The kun-yomi /suki’/ means “to be fond of; like,” and is in 子供好きな (“being fond of a child,” /kodomozukina/) and 好きずきな (”a matter of individual taste or preference” /suki’zuki-na/). Another kun-yomi 好む /kono’mu/ means “to favor; like,” and is in お好みの (“favorite; of one’s choice” /okonomino/). The on-yomi /ko’o/ is in 好青年 (“nice young man; congenial youth” /koose’enen/) and 好物 (“favorite food” /ko’obutsu/).

(3) The kanji 妹 ”younger sister”

History of the Kanji 妹In oracle bone and bronze ware styles for the kanji 妹 “younger sister,” the left side had a tree with a line at the top. The line at the top signified that the tip of the tree was still growing and not matured yet. It was the kanji 未 “yet,” as in 未だ 〜ない (“not yet” /ma’da/) and 未来 (“future,” from the meaning of “yet to come” /mi’rai/). The right side was a “woman.” Together they meant a female member of the family who was yet to grow, which was “younger sister.” In ten style, the positions of 未 and 女 switched.

The kun-yomi /imooto/ means “younger sister.” The on-yomi /mai/ is in 姉妹 (“sisters” /shi’mai/) and 弟妹 (“younger brother and sister” /teemai/.)

(4) The kanji 要 “essential; important; to require; to need”

History of the Kanji 要In the history of the kanji 要, the shape 女 was not present originally. In oracle bone style the middle was a pelvis, and two hands were placed on the hip. It meant “waist” or “hip.” The waist is the center of one’s body and is important. So this writing came to be used to mean “essential.; important.” We have two shapes in ten style. The left one had the hip with both hand and two legs at the bottom. In the right one, because a woman has a more prominent hip, 女 was added at the bottom, but it still meant “essential; important; to require; to need.”

For the original meaning of “waist; hip” a new writing was created by adding a bushu nikuzuki “body part”, 腰 (“waist” /koshi/). This way of kanji formation – in which a shape that originally meant a part of a body got taken away to mean something else and that a new kanji had to be created for the original meaning by adding bushu nikuzuki “part of a body” – is quite common. We have already seen it in 殿 “feudal lord; palace; an official way of addressing someone” and 臀 “hip,” Another pair, 北 “north” and 背 “back; to betray,” is also a good example.

The kun-yomi is in 要る (“to need; require” /iru/). The on-yomi /yo’o/ is in 要因 (“factor“ /yooin/), 要領 (“the gist” /yooryo’o/), 重要な (“important” /juuyoo-na/), 必要な (“necessary” /hitsuyoo-na/), and 要する (“to require” /yoo-su’ru/).

(5) The kanji 妻 “wife” and 夫 ”husband”

History of the Kanji 夫In order to understand the origin of 妻 (“wife” /tsu’ma/), looking at the history of the kanji 夫 (“husband” /otto/) may be useful. The history of the kanji 夫 is shown on the right.  In oracle bone style, bronze ware style and ten style, it was a man, 大, with a line at the top. The line at the top signified a ceremonial or formal hairpin that a groom wore at the wedding. It meant a “bride groom.” From that the kanji 夫 meant “husband; man.”

History of the Kanji 妻For the kanji 妻 “wife,” no oracle bone style or bronze ware style writing is available. In ten style, the top was a hair accessory that a bride wore; the middle was a hand from the side; and the bottom was a woman. Whose hand was it?  Two different views are possible– the hand could be the bride putting her hand on her hair accessory to signify her wedding; or a groom’s hand taking her as his bride. I tend to take the latter view. Together they meant “wife.”

The kun-yomi is in 妻 (“wife” /tsu’ma/). In modern Japanese, when you refer to your own wife, the word 家内 /ka’nai/ (and in some instances かみさん /kamisan/) is usually used. Someone else’s wife is 奥さん and 奥様 /o’kusan; o’kusama/ and never 妻 /tsu’ma/, particularly in speaking. The on-yomi /sa’i/ is in 夫妻 (“married couple; husband and wife” /fu’sai/) and 妻子 (“wife and child” /sa’ishi/),

(6) the kanji 安 “peaceful; inexpensive”

History of the Kanji 安In all of the ancient writings for the kanji 安 shown on the left, a woman, 女, was placed inside a house. It meant “quiet; secure; peaceful.” An inexpensive thing is less strenuous to obtain, so it also meant “inexpensive; cheap.” In a first-year Japanese class in a university program, whenever this kanji was introduced in the context of 高い and 安い (“expensive” /taka’i/ and “inexpensive” /yasu’i), I could almost predict female freshman students would react with disgust or at least annoyance to this kanji, thinking that a woman is cheap. But a woman sitting inside the house peacefully is the original meaning.

Another thing is that when I was copying the photos of ancient writing in Akai (1985 and 2010) last year to be used for the Visual Kanji video tutorials, I noticed that 安 in some of the oracle bone and bronze ware styles had an extra line at the bottom. I wondered if it was just a flaw in the making of the inscription or not. But the same thing happened in copying the kanji 保 “to keep.” Shirakawa’s explanation is that this was a ceremonial piece of clothing to protect someone from evil.

The kun-yomi is in 安い (“inexpensive” /yasu’i/), 安らかな (“peaceful’ /yasu’rakana/), 安上がり (“inexpensive; less cost” /yasua’gari/), 安値 (“low price” /yasu’ne/) and 目安にする (”to use as rule of thumb” /meyasu-ni-suru/). The on-yomi /a’n/ is in 安心 (“security; ease” /anshin/) and 不安な (“anxious; restless” /huanna/).

In the next post, I would like to discuss the kanji 母毎海悔毒梅, which originally contained the same shape as 女. [11-24-2014 Japan time]

Kanji Bushu 攵・攴 ぼくづくり (1) 枚散故教


In this post, we are going to look at a few kanji that contain a bushu bokudukuri 攵 that means “to cause an action” or “an action” in general. We will begin this post by examining the development of the shapes and then look at four kanji 枚散故 and 教 that contain this radical.

(1) The kanji radical bokudukuri 攵・攴

History of Kanji Radical 攵攴The shape never seems to have been a writing by itself but was always used as a component. The five shapes shown on the left were taken from various kanji. In oracle bone style (in light brown, 1), it had a single line and a hand. In bronze ware style (in green, 2) and ten style (in red, 3) the top had another line added, probably for emphasis. The shapes meant an act of hitting or pounding something with a stick and causing something to happen. The old kanji (in sepia background, 4) reflected the ten style. In the current kanji style (in black, 5), the first stroke became a katakana shape /no/; the short second stroke got lengthened; and the kanji 又 became a cross shape, resulting in 攵. I have intentionally avoided calling the old kanji (in sepia) kyujitai, which in this blog would have been in blue. In the Kangxi kanji dictionary of the 18th century in China, most kanji already used the style 攵 (5), even though as a radical category (部首 bushu) 攴 (4) was used. Following that, in Japanese kyujitai too, most kanji used the shape 攵 (5). Even now, if you look up a kanji dictionary, both shapes are listed as bush. Currently the only kanji that still contains 攴 (4) that I can think of is 敲 in 推敲 (“polishing sentences” /suikoo/).

(2) The kanji 枚(counter for thin flat objects)

History of Kanji 枚For the kanji 枚 in bronze ware style, the left side was a standing tree and the right side was a hand holding an axe. Together they signified that someone was cutting a tree making thin flat pieces of wood. In ten style the shape was more stylized.

There is no kun-reading. The on-reading /mai/ is used as a counter for thin flat objects such as paper and is in 紙何枚 (“how many pieces of paper” /kami na’nmai/) and 切符三枚 (“three tickets” /kippu sanmai/).

(3) The Kanji 散 “to disperse; useless”

History of Kanji 散In bronze ware style, the top was pieces of hemp plant, which were pounded to make fibers for clothes. The bottom left was a piece of meat; and the bottom right side was a hand with a stick. Tough pieces of meat were pounded to tenderize them. Pounding to reduce to pieces meant “to disperse.” Tough meat that needed to be pounded did not taste good, so it also meant “useless.”

The kun-reading is /chiru/ as in 花が散る (“flower pedals fall” /hana’ ga chiru/),  散り散りになる (“to disperse; break up” /chirijiri-ni-na’ru/), 散々な目に遭う (“to have a terrible experience” /sanzan-na me’ ni a’u/).  The word 散歩する (“to take a stroll; take a walk” /sanpo-suru/) must have come from “walking without a particular purpose.”

(4) The kanji 故 “reason; cause; of the past”

History of Kanji 故In bronze ware style and ten style, 故 had 古 “old” on the left side and a hand holding a stick on the right side. Together they meant “of the past.” Old customs or precedents were what were to be followed as norms, so they were the cause of or reason for doing something. From that it meant “reason; cause.”

The kun-reading /yue’/ is in それ故 (“therefore” /soreyue/). The on-reading /ko/ is in 故人 (“deceased” /ko’jin/), 故意に (“intentionally” /ko’ini/) and 故障 (“breakdown” of a machine /koshoo/). The kanji 故 meant “on purpose.” I first thought that the word 事故 (“accident” /ji’ko/) would contradict the meaning of the kanji because an accident is an event that happens without one’s intention. But now I realize that 事故 may mean “an incidence that happened in the past,” even though it is often used to mean “happening without intention.”

(5) The Kanji 教 “to teach”

History of Kanji 教History of Kanji 学In the oracle bone style of the kanji 教, the left side had a hand holding a stick, and the right side had two crosses, meaning “to mingle,” and a child. “Two crosses above a child”— It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? That combination was in the kyujitai of kanji 學 and 覺.  In 學 [shown on the right from our earlier post], in addition to the crosses and a child, it had two caring hands and a house, whereas 教 on the left had a hand holding a stick. “A hand holding a stick to teach?” No, I do not think it meant that children were made to learn with the threat of a stick. Even in oracle bone style time, the writing was sophisticated enough that the combination of a hand and a stick was used to signify a more general sense of causation of an event or action. Teaching is “to cause children to learn.” In kyujitai the two crosses were present, but in shinjitai it took the shape of the kanji 孝 “filial duty” having a bushu oigashira “long time.” It had very little if anything to do with the kanji 孝.

The kun-reading is in 教える (“to teach” /oshieru/) and 教え (“teaching; lesson” /oshie/). The on-reading /kyo’o/ is in 教育 (“education” /kyooiku/), 教師 (“teacher” /kyo’oshi/) and 宗教 (“religion” /shu’ukyoo/).

Stroke Order

Stroke Order

The stroke order of a bushu bokudukuri is shown on the left. As is always the case when two strokes cross, you write the one that starts from the right first so that the second stroke ends at the right bottom.

We will continue to look at a few more kanji that contain this bushu in the next post. I have taken a chance in typing in 攴 and 攵 without converting them into images. I hope your browser shows them correctly. [10-18-2014]

Hands and Legs – Ninnyoo 儿 (4) 売読続出買


We have been looking at the kanji that contain a bushu ninnyoo (儿), “a person.” The kanji we have looked at were: 先洗充統 (August 30, 2014) and 説税脱(September 10, 2014), some kanji that contain 見 in relation to the “eye” 現親視規覚 (April 12, 2014) and 元完院見光児 (August 20, 2014). The ancient writing for most of the kanji here suggested that the shape 儿 had come from the image of a person kneeling down with his hand in front, and it meant a “person.” In this post, we are going to look at three kanji 売読続 that have a bushu ninnyoo but their origins were unrelated to the original meaning of a bushu ninnyoo. We will see that the shape ninnyoo in shinjitai was what replaced the bottom of a kanji 貝 used in kyujitai.

1. The Kanji 売 “to sell”

History of Kanji 売For the kanji 売, the ten style writing (in red) shown on the left consisted of three components: a footprint with an outline underneath, a fishing net in the middle and a cowry at the bottom. Let us look at these components one by one. [Top] The shape was the same as the ten style writing of the kanji 出. History of Kanji 出The history of the kanji 出 is shown on the right side: in the two oracle bone style writings, a right foot or a left foot had a receptacle-shaped line around the heel. This receptacle-like shape signified a deeper footprint impression made by the first step when one walked out. 出 meant “to go out.” [Middle] The crisscross shape was a fishing net. [Bottom] It was a 貝 “cowry.” History of kanji貝.jpgThe history of the kanji 貝 is shown on the right. A cowry is a type of mollusk that has a glossy dome-like shell. Beautiful and rare cowries from the southern sea were treasured in ancient times and were sometimes used for money. In the archaeological excavations, a number of ornamental bronze ware containers that kept those precious cowries were found.  They were called 貯貝器 (“cowrie keeper” /choba’iki/.)

History of Kanji 買The kanji 買 —  The bottom two elements in the kyujitai 賣 for 売 were also the same as the kanji 買. The history of the kanji 買 is shown on the right. The top was a fishing net and the bottom was a cowry. Together a netful cowries signified a lot of money with which you can purchase something, thus the kanji 買 means “to buy.”

Now, back to the kanji 売 or its kyujitai 賣. With 士 “footprint; to go out” and 買 “a bagful of cowries” together, they meant goods, a person with goods, going out in exchange for money, that is, “to sell to make profit.” In shinjitai, the net and a shell 貝 lost their shapes completely, and the bottom was replaced by 儿 a bushu ninnyoo with the remnant of a fishing net above.

The kun-reading /uru/ “to sell” is in 安売り(“a sale” /yasuuri/), 押し売り (“aggressive selling or a person who does a pushy sale” /oshiuri/). The on-reading /ba’i/ is in 売店 (“concession; booth” /baiten/) and 販売員 (“sales person” /hanba’iin/).

2. The Kanji 読 “to read”

History of Kanji 読The next two kanji 読 and 続 both contain 賣 In kyujitai (讀 and 續 in blue) on the right side, which is the same shape as the kyujitai for 売.  So, the transition from the kyujitai to shinjitai seems to be consistent among the three kanji. However, when our eyes move to the left to see its ten style, we notice that the right sides were different. What the right side of the ten style originally was is not known. It was used phonetically for /toku/ to mean “to read.” Its left side 言 was a bushu gonben “word; language.” Together they meant “to read a book.” In shinjitai the right was changed to 売.

The kun-reading is /yo’mu/ “to read.” The on-reading /do’ku/ is in 音読 (“reading aloud” /ondoku/), 難読な (“difficult to read” /nandokuna/). Another on-reading /to’o/ is in 句読点 (“punctuation” /kuto’oten/).

3. The kanji 続 “to continue”

History of Kanji 続In ten style of the kanji 続, the left side had silk cocoons strung together with their long filaments coming out, which signified “thread” or “continuity.” This shape became a bush itohen (糸). The right side was used phonetically for /zoku/ to mean “to continue.” Together they meant “to continue.” What is common between the two kanji 読 “to read (book)” and 続 “continue”?  Both have an activity that requires continuation. In shinjitai, the right side changed to 売 (糸).

In other words, both 売 (賣) and 買 contained the contained the original meaning of a cowry (money), whereas the shape 売 in the kanji 読 and 続 had little to do with a cowry and was probably used in the process of shape reduction in kanji.

The kun-reading is in 続く (つづく) (“(it) continues” /tsuzuku/) – an intransitive verb, and 続ける (“to continue” /tsuzukeru/) – a transitive verb. With a verb stem つづ /tsuzu/, it makes a verb “to continue doing something,” such as しゃべり続ける (“to keep on chatting/talking” /shaberitsuzuke’ru/), 守り続ける (“to continue to protect” /mamoritsuzuke’ru/). The on-yomi /zo’ku/ is in 継続する (“to continue” /keezoku-suru/), 相続する (“to inherite” /soozoku-suru/).  An adverb ぞくぞくと (“one after another” /zokuzokuto/) comes from this kanji.

Kanji貝_草書体“Why a ninnyoo?”  We have just seen that the three kanji 売読続 that contain a ninnyoo in fact were not related to the original meaning “person.” Then, how did the shape of a ninnyoo come to be used in those kanji?  I could not find any plausible explanation in references. This is just my guess but it might have come from a fast informal writing style called grass style writing 草書 (“fast fluid writing style” /soosho/) in calligraphy. The samples on the left are in grass style 草書. In the grass style samples of the kanji 貝, 買 and the kyujitai 賣, the bottom was reduced to two strokes a ハ-shape. When 賣 was further reduced in shinjitai by losing 目, the ハ-shape might have stretched out to a ninnyoo shape.  [October 3, 2014]

Two Hands from Below (1) 共供異興兵具 -“hand” (5)


In this post, I am going to discuss the kanji that have “two hands from below”: 共, 供, 異, 興, 具 and 兵. We immediately spot that they all have a shape that is like the kanji 八 squashed flat a little. They are hands trying to lift something.

1. 共 “together”

Two hands from belowIn the kanji共, in oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style, in green, a hand from the right side and another hand from the left side were holding up something in the middle. The use of both hands and raising something above suggested he was handling with care because it was something important to him. In ten style hands the thing got separated and in kanji they became two components. The meaning focuses on the point that “two” hands were used, rather than on the point of “raising.” It means “to share; do something together.” The kun-yomi makes a phrase “~と共に“ (“together with〜” /〜to tomo ni/) and the on-yomi makes the words such as 共有する (”to share” /kyooyuu-suru/), 共著 (“co-authoring” /kyo’ocho/), 共演者 (“co-stars” /kyooe’nsha/) and 共同で (“collectively; sharing” /kyoodo-de/.)

2. 供  “to keep company; make offering to”

History供In bronze ware style, the components were same as that of 共, and in ten style, by adding a ninben, it indicated the act that a person does with both hands, which was “to make an offering to” or “to keep someone company; accompany someone.” There are two kun-yomi for 供. They are in お供え (“an offering (that one leaves on an altar table)” /osonae/) and お供する (“to accompany a person” [humble style] /oto’mo-suru/). There are also two on-yomi for 供. /Kyo’o/ is in 提供する (“to sponsor; supply; furnish” /teekyoo-suru/)  and /ku/ is in 供物 (“offering at alter” /ku’motsu/). If you guessed that this must be a go-on because it appeared to have a bearing on Buddhist practice, you are right. Naturally the reading /mo’tsu/ for 物 is a go-on too, as seen in 荷物 (“luggage” /ni’motsu/).

You probably have seen the word /kodomo/ written in both 子供 and 子ども and wondered why in hiragana. Because the kanji 供 means “accompanying,” some people consider it to be pejorative. Even in this age of children’s rights, I am quite puzzled by this logic. Now that we have a chance to see the origin of the kanji 供, I still do not see what the fuss is about.

3. 異 “odd; peculiar; different”

History異大盂蘭鼎ー異写真I once showed to the students of my second-year Japanese class the photo of bronze ware style inscriptions in the famous huge bronze ware pot called Daiutei (大盂鼎 Dà Yú Dĭng), and asked them to decipher the writing. The writings were in bronze ware style.  One by one they guessed and enjoyed this new game. And someone said, “There is a guy doing rap!” [The photo on the right (Ishikawa 1996)] Indeed he looked like that. Looking at a photo of ancient artifacts in that way makes the kanji alive. The kanji historians’ interpretation is that he was putting on a fearsome mask over his face to turn himself to another character. From that it meant “peculiar; different.” The kun-reading is in the adjective 異なった (“different” /kotona’tta/) and in the verb (~と) 異にする (“to differ from~” /to koto’-ni-suru/.) The on-reading is in 異説 (“conflicting view” /isetsu/) and 異常な (“unusual; extraordinary  /ijoo-na/).

Notes:  After some exchanges of the comments with a reader on the interpretation of the ancient writings of the kanji 異, I have written its follow-up article entitled “Kanji 異 Revisited and 典其選殿臀” posted on September 26, 2014. Thank you.

4. 興 “to raise; resurrect; start”

History興In oracle bone style, a pair of hands at the top and another pair of hands from below were holding something in the middle. In bronze ware style and ten style, the top and the bottom separated. Shirakawa (2004) says that what was in the middle was a vase which contained sake that a priest sprinkled around to wake up the spirit of the earth. From people trying to raise something together at once it means “to raise; start; to resuscitate.” The kun-reading is in 興す (“to start something new; revive; resuscitate”/oko’su/). The on-reading /kyo’o/ is in 興味 (“interest” /kyo’omi/), 即興で (”extemporaneously” /sokkyoo de/).  Another on-reading /ko’o/ is in 新興の (”newly-risen” /shinkoo-no/). Lately, you see the word 町おこし (“revitalization of a locality” /machi-o’koshi/) quite a lot in the news. Even though the media tend to use the hiragana, it is in this meaning, that people do something to revive the locality by creating an event or project.  Because it is a Japanese word, it is not that necessary to use this kanji, however.

5. 具 “filling; to be equipped”

History具In oracle bone style and bronze ware style what two hands were holding above was a tripod (鼎 /kanae/) or cowry (貝 /ka’i/). A tripod was used to cook sacrificial animals for a religious ceremony, and cowry was used as currency in ancient times. So both are things that had important substance. From placing something important with both hands, it meant “filling; to be equipped.” The kun-reading is in 具わる (“to be equipped with” /sonawa’ru/) and the on-reading is in 具 (“topping/filling on food” /gu/), 具体的に (“concretely” /gutaiteki-ni/), because you would give the details, and 金具 (“hardware/metal fittings” /kanagu/).

6. 兵 “soldier”

History兵Just as I was about to write that “the top of the oracle bone style (the first one) was an axe,” I thought “I do not think I can convince my readers.” So, I went back to my source (Akai 2010) and found the second one, which showed the blade of an axe better. An axe was a weapon, and someone who held a weapon is a soldier. So it meant “soldier.” In writing the kanji 兵, the third stroke starts a little below the beginning of the second stroke, much like the kanji in the upper right of the kanji 近 (“near”), in which 斤 was used phonetically. The old Japanese word for solider was /tsuwamono/, and this kanji is sometimes read as /tsuwamono/. The on-reading is in 兵士 (“soldier” /he’eshi/), 兵器 (“weapons” /he’eki/) and 派兵 (“sending military” /hahee/).

There are a couple of more shapes taken from a hand that I have not touched yet. I will discuss them in the next post, to wrap up the discussion on various shapes that originated from a hand. [May 31, 2014]

A Hand From Above (2): 浮乳争静印 -“hand” (4)


In continuing the “hand-from-above” shape, we are going to look at the kanji that have a hand-from-above and  子 “child” together [浮 and 乳] and three other kanji [争, 静 and 印] in which a hand-from-above lost its shape.

1. The Kanji Component 孚

History孚[Note: The first three kanji are not in Joyo kanji but they tell us what the component of “educational” kanji (学習漢字 /gakushuuka’nji/) 浮 and 乳 meant. So I am going to leave them in here.]

1-1. The Kanji Component 孚 — When a hand-from-above shape took 子 “child” below, 孚 was created. by itself as a kanji It did not survive into Japanese use, but a full range of ancient writing is available to us [left]. All the ancient writing (oracle bone style in brown, bronze ware style in green and ten style in red) consisted of a hand reaching over the head of a child. Let us look at four kanji here.

1-2 The Kanji 孵 — When used with the kanji 卵 “egg,” 孵 “to hatch,” was created. In this kanji what we think to be fingers in other kanji were the claws of a bird, and the kanji meant brooding over eggs. Because this kanji is not a Joyo kanji, in the phrase 卵が孵る (“an egg hatches” /tama’go ga ka’eru/) a more commonly used kanji 返る (“to return” /ka’eru/) is often used. But for the verb 孵化する (“to hatch” /fu’ka-suru/) we still use this kanji. In this kanji 孚 meant a protective hand over a child.

1-3 The Kanji 俘 — When used with a ninben “person,” 俘 (“captive” /toriko’/) was created. The expression とりこになる (“to become a captive” /toriko’-ni-naru/) is a casual expression when you get hooked on something. The on-reading is in 俘虜 “prisoner of war.” So in this kanji, 孚 meant “a captive.”

2. The Kanji 浮  “to float”

History浮In bronze ware style, when a bushu sanzui “water” was added, 浮 was created. A child floated when an adult hand held him. It meant “to float.” The verbs 浮かぶ /ukabu/ and 浮く /uku/ both mean “to float” in the water or in the air. A state of not being attached to something permanent is used in the word 浮き世 (“transitory world; fleeting life” /uki’yo; ukiyo/) and 浮世絵 (“woodblock print” /ukiyoe; ukiyo’e/.)

3. The Kanji 乳 “milk; breast”

HIstory乳When a single bent line (乚) was added, 乳 “milk; breast” was created. This single stroke shape has two different interpretations. One is a hand to caress a baby and the other is a swallow. There was a folktale that a swallow was the messenger of a god and would bring a baby, much like the Western folktale of a stork carrying a new baby to you. In either case, from “caring for a child” it meant milk and the mother’s breast that produces with. The kanji 乳 is used in words such as 牛乳 (“cow’s milk” /gyuunyuu/), 母乳 (“mother’s milk” /bonyuu/) and 乳歯 (”baby tooth” /nyu’ushi/) in on-reading, and 乳 (“milk; breast” /chichi’/) in kun-reading.

4. The Kanji 争 “to fight”

History争Next, I am going to discuss three kanji that lost their hand-from-above shape. For the kanji 争, a hand-from-above was visible through the kyujitai style, in blue on the left, before the Japanese language reform in 1946. The lower part was what I call a sideways hand, because the three fingers stay horizontal in kanji. We see this “sideways hand” in many kanji, and I will discuss them in my future posts. In addition to two hands there was a stick. Together they meant two hands fighting over a stick, or control. In the new style the top was simplified. It is in the words such as 争う (“to fight” /araso’u/) and 争い (“a fight” /arasoi/) in kin-reading, and 戦争 (“war” /sensoo/) and 競争 (“competition” /kyoosoo/) in on-reading.

5. The Kanji 静 “quiet; still”

History静When 争 was combined with 青 “blue,” it made 静 (kyujitai 靜) ”quiet.” Fighting and serenity are opposites. Where did the meaning come from, we wonder. There are two different interpretations. The left side 青 is agreed upon: In the bronze ware style, the upper left was what would become the kanji 生 “live; new life” and the middle was a well 井 with clean water (the dot pointed). Together they made the kanji 青 (kyuujitai靑) and it meant “fresh clean water,” or its color, ”blue,” by itself.

For the right side, one interpretation is that in the bronze ware style, in green, the right side was a plough to till the field that was held by a hand at the bottom. With 青, it meant a “peaceful, quiet” time after a bountiful harvest. Another interpretation is in ten style, in red, “fighting” and “quiet” together meant tranquility after a ceasefire. In the current kanji, the shapes on both sides changed. The kun-reading is in 静けさ (“tranquility” /shizuke’sa/) and the on-reading /se’e/ is in 冷静に (“calmly; cool-heartedly” /reesee-ni/) and 静止する (“to stand still” /seeshi-suru/). Another on-reading じょう is in 静脈 (“vein” /joomyaku/), which is a go-on, an older reading.

6. The kanji 印 “seal”

History印The oracle bone style of the kanji 印 showed a hand-from-above in front of a person who knelt down. In ten style, a hand came above the person who was bowing deeply as if a hand is pushing him down. In kanji, a hand and a person were placed side by side. Pushing a person down was used to mean pressing a seal down. The kanji 印 /i’n/ means ”seal; sign.” 印鑑 (“seal” /inka’n/) is an important thing in Japanese life because it functions as a signature. The kun-yomi 印 (“sign” /shirushi/) is in 目印 (“landmark; sign“ /meji’rushi/).

So, a hand-from-above shape is visible in some kanji such as 受, 授, 釆, 菜, 採, 彩, 孵, 俘, 浮 and 乳, and it has changed its shape in some kanji such as 争, 静 and 印. [May 24, 2014]

[I would like to postpone the kanji 為 to a future post when I talk about an elephant. Yes, it had an elephant in it!]

Stroke Order of the Kanji 右, 有, 左, 友 – “hand” (3)


Here is a quick quiz for you. Question: Please answer the stroke number of the strokes in red.筆順クイズ[右有左友]

Before I give you the correct answer, let me talk about an often overlooked aspect of kanji learning, that is, stroke order. Please look at the table below:

Stroke Orders of 右, 有, 左& 友Row A (Mincho Style): The horizontal lines in all the four kanji look identical and the slanted strokes toward the left are also identical in length and angle, except in kanji (2) 有.  Mincho style is a printer’s typeface for the maximum use of an imaginary square for each kanji. Strokes are elongated to fill every corner. The lines are straight and a thin horizontal line has serifs on the right end.  It is used in books, magazines, computer screens, etc. where available space is more import consideration than esthetics.

Row B (Kyokasho style):  The characteristics of the first two strokes in the four kanji are essentially the same as those of Row A. The Japanese government requires this style to be used for textbooks in elementary education. It is designed so that an elementary school pupil can emulate good handwriting. It is for writing purposes but it is also a type face or font that is designed to be used in print.

Row C (Kai Style): It is in brush writing from the kai style, which is the formal writing style. Now we begin to see something different among the four kanji: (1) The horizontal lines are long in 右and 有 and shorter in左and 友; and (2) The slanted strokes in右 and 有 are shorter whereas those in 左 and 友 are long, to the extent that they touch the baseline.

Row D: The stroke orders are shown. We see that the two different ways coincide with the characteristics of the length of strokes we see in Row C.  Even though the kyokasho style does not show it in its length, we can imagine that in 右 and 左, in blue, we write the short slanted stroke first and the horizontal line long and in a paced way.  On the other hand, in 左and 友, we can write a short horizontal stroke quickly, and in the slanted stroke toward left we bring our stroke down to the baseline carefully.

Row E is a grass style, which is a fast fluid movement of a brush, resulting in many strokes coalescing into one continuous stroke. In these, we can clearly see how a calligrapher carries his brush between the first and second strokes because the first and second stroke are continuous.

So, the answer to the quiz in the beginning: (1) 1; (2) 1; (3) 2; and (4) 2.  How did you do?

Row F is the ten-style writing from Akai (2010). The first strokes of these kanji are all hands.

In 2007 when I was finalizing the manuscripts for the kanji book “The Key to Kanji,” I asked my illustrator to draw the image as a left hand and a right hand for 友. Because 左 and 友 were written in the same manner and I expected that the top left of 友 had come from a left hand. Since then, the Akai books (1985 and 2010) came to my attention, and now I changed my view that both hands were right hands. Stroke order is really the product of brush writing and may have little relevance to its original meaning in some cases. After all, by the time of brush writing how writing came about mattered little. [May 16, 2014]

1) This article was prompted by the comment from Antoniomarco from Italy on my earlier post “which Han d helps?  A Right Hand or Left Hand?” and subsequent information from him.  Thank you very much, Dr. Gennaro.
2) The brush writing font in the row C and E was from s freeware attributed to Aoyagi Shozan.武蔵システム

3) A hiragana さcame from the grass style of the kanji 左.

A Celestial Record Keeper’s Work – 史事吏使


A Hand Holding a Tally Container


This post is a story of the four kanji that came from the a tally container and a hand of a celestial record keeper: 史, 事, 吏 and 使.

(1) 史 “history; to chronicle”

History史It all started with the images of a container that had bamboo sticks inside used as tallies, and a hand. A calendar maker kept the records of celestial changes using these tallies. The kanji 史 meant “to chronicle; history.” Throughout the three ancient writing styles, oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style, in green, and even in ten style, in red, a container and a hand were recognizable as such. In kanji, something changed. I will come back to this shortly. The kanji 史 is used in words such as 歴史 (“history” /rekishi/) and 世界史 (“world history” /sekaishi/) in on-reading. There is no kun-reading.

(2) 事 “work/job; thing; matter”

History事For the kanji 事, in oracle bone style, other than a twig shape at the top, it was the same as that of (1) 史. The twig shape was a sign where government work was done. It meant “work; job; thing; matter.” In bronze ware style, the first two writings had an additional wiggly sideway line right below the twig shape. This was a streamer to point out that it was the government office too. The third bronze ware style writing was less elaborate. In ten style, a hand that was more dominant and it intersected the vertical line that went through the bottom. In kanji, the vertical line goes up at the bottom. The kanji 事 is used in 仕事 (“work; job” /shigoto/) in kun-reading, 用事 (“errand” /yooji/) and 事件 (“incidence” /ji’ken/) in on-reading.

(3) 吏 “government worker”

History吏The kanji 吏 means “government worker.” We see that the oracle bone style writing and the bronze ware style writing were essentially identical with those of 事 in (2) — “Government work” and “a person who works” used the same writing. In ten style, however, 吏 and 事 became different in that the vertical line did not go through in 吏. Further, in kanji the vertical line became a long bent stroke, which left only a single slanted stroke. The kanji 吏 is in 官吏 (“public servant” /ka’nri/). There is no kun-reading.

吏&事DifferenceDuring the last few weeks, while I was preparing for the new kanji tutorial site videos, I was wondering how 史, 吏 and 使, our next kanji, had ended up with a bent stroke, whereas 事 had stayed with as a straight line. Here is my conjecture (the images on the left). When the vertical line in the container got connected to one of the strokes in hand, it produced the shape in 史, 吏 and 使. On the other hand, in 事 “work; job; matter” because a hand was an important aspect of doing actual work, it was made more recognizable. The vertical line in the container got extended through the hand and thus we got 事. Does it make sense to you?

(4)  使 “to use; to make someone do; send a person as a proxy”

History使In the kanji 使, a bushu ninben was added to 吏 “government worker.” A bushu ninben always added the sense of “an act that a person does.” From “to make someone do the work,” 使 meant “to use” or “to send someone as a proxy.” It is used in words such as 使う (“use” /tsukau/) in kun-reading, 使用中 (“in use; occupied” /shiyoochuu/) and 大使 (“ambassador” /ta’ishi/) in on-reading.

So, even though it started with a celestial record keeper, we do not seem to have received a visit from a space alien like we did in the posting last week. The writings were for mundane every day work and nothing fanciful. In the next post, if I can, I would like to take a break from a kanji story and touch on the topic of Japanese tonal patterns, which is very important for us to be able to speak correctly. [April 20, 2014]

Eyes Wide Open (5) 見, 現, 親, 視, 規 and 覚


Big-eyed Space Aliens Looking at Something Closely


It is almost true, isn’t it? As you have undoubtedly guessed, these are the ancient writings for 見. The left one in brown was in oracle bone style and the right one in green was in bronze ware style.

(1) 見 “to see”

History見Another sample of oracle bone style writing, in brown, is facing left.  In ten style, in red, the eye became a vertical shape and the body below the eye became the shape that we see in many kanji such as 元, 院, 光, 先, 売 and 説. This common shape at the bottom of these kanji is a bushu ninnyoo or hitoashi, and it is often interpreted as a person in motion because it looks like two legs in kanji. But judging from the ancient writings, the shapes were originally a hand and a leg. The kanji 見 means to “see.” The on-reading /ke’n/ is in words such as 発見 (“discovery” /hakken/) and 意見 (“opinion” /i’ken/) and the kun-reading is in 見方 (“how one looks at” /mika’ta; mikata’/).

(2) 現 “to appear” (no ancient writing available)

The left side came from jewels strung together, as in the kanji 玉. Grinding a precious stone reveals a shine that was not visible before. What we see is what is present. The kanji 現 means “to appear” or “present.” The kun-reading is 現れる (“to become visible; appear” /araware’ru/). Its on-reading is used in words such as 現金 (“cash” /genki’n/), 現在 (“presently; now” /ge’nzai/) and 実現する (“to become realized” /jitsugen-suru/).

(3) 親 “parent; intimate”

History親In bronze ware style, in green, the left side was a tattooing needle with an ink reservoir. In ten style, in red, a tree was added. It was used phonetically for /shin/ and also to mean the closeness of a knife (or needle). Together with 見, they meant someone who looked at you closely, and thus “parent” and “intimate; close.” A kun-reading 親しい (/shitashi’i/) means close and another kun-reading is 親 (“parent” /oya’/). The on-reading is in 両親 (“parents” /ryo’oshin) and 親切な (“kind” /shi’nsetsu-na/).

(4) 視 “to see”

History視In oracle bone style, in brown, an altar table and an eye meant looking at an altar table. In ten style, in red, the two elements were placed side by side. The left side 示 by itself is the kanji 示 (“to indicate; show”) from “a place where a god demonstrates his will.” In the current kanji 視, 示 was replaced by the shape ネ, which is a bushu shimesuhen “religious matter.” In the kanji 視, however, the religious meaning was lost and the kanji just means “to see.” The kun-reading is /mi’ru/ “to see” but is rarely used. The on-reading is found in 視力 “eyesight” /shiryoku/) and 無視する (“to ignore” /mu’shi-suru/).

(5) 規 “standard”

History規The left side was a ruler or a compass to draw a line or circle, and was used to mean “standard.” The kanji 規 does not have a kun-reading. The on-reading is in 規定 (“regulation” /kitee/) and 規則 (“rule” /ki’soku/).

(6) 覚 “to be aware; memorize” and 学 “to learn”

History学In discussing the kanji 覚, it will be helpful to look at the kanji 学 first because it has a longer history. In oracle bone style, (1), with two hands and an “x” shape, it meant a place where people mingled and helped each other. In bronze ware style, (2), a child was added. A place where children mingled while protected by the caring hands of adults is a place where the children learn — the writing meant “to learn.” The kyujitai 學, (4), was replaced by a much abbreviated form 学, (5).

History覚When the shape for child is replaced with the shape 見 for the act of seeing closely, one looks closely and becomes aware of a matter. The combined shape meant “to be aware.” The kyujitai 覺 was replaced by an abbreviated form 覚. One kun-reading is in 目が覚める (“to become awake” /me’ ga sameru/) and 目覚まし時計 (“alarm clock” /mezamashido’kee/). Another kun-reading is 覚える (“to memorize” /oboe’ru/). The on-reading is in 自覚する (“to be conscious of” /jikaku-suru/).

Well, in the last five posts (including this one) we have seen quite a few shapes that originated from a human eye. We shall revisit other eye shapes later, but for now we leave this topic. Thank you very much for reading these articles. I hope that you have had some surprises that you enjoyed and some affirmations of what you already knew. In the next post, I would like to look into four kanji that essentially came from one origin but now have different meanings: 史, 吏, 使 and 事.  [April 12, 2041]

Eyes Wide Open (4) 限, 眼, 根, 恨, 痕, 銀 and 退


In continuing our search of kanji that contain “eye,” this post is about the component 艮, which is described in dictionaries to mean “to halt,” “to go against” or “immobile.” The top of 艮 has only one line inside, instead of the two that you would expect as an “eye.” So, it is a little puzzling. Fortunately the ancient writing gives us a good clue about what it meant.

(1) 限 “to limit; restrict”

History of The Kanji  限For the kanji 限, let us look at the right side, 艮, first. In the bronze ware style writing, (1), we can unmistakably see an eye. The shape underneath the eye was a mirror image of the ancient writing for ninben or hito, 人. The ancient writing for a ninben or hito usually faced left, instead of right, signifying “backward.” So, one interpretation for the right side 艮 is that an eye and a person facing backward. An alternative interpretation that has been suggested is that a fearsome evil eye petrified a person with such fear that he became immobile or stepped back. In ten style, (2), an eye became a part of a person. In kanji, (3), two shapes became a continuous shape, with an emphasis on feet that retreat.

The left side of 限 is a bush kozato-hen, which meant a ladder on which a god descended, or a tall mound of soil that formed an earthen wall or boundary. Together the kanji 限 meant “a limit; restrict.” The kun-reading is /kagi’ru/ and it means “to limit”; and the on-reading /ge’n/ is in 制限 (“restrictions” /seege’n/) and 限定 (“limitation” /gentee/).

(2) 眼 “eye”

History of 眼While the left side 目 gave the meaning of “eye”, the right side was used for the sound /gan/ “round.” A round part of an eye is an eyeball. The kanji 眼 meant “eye; eyeball.” As we have seen in (1) 限 above, the right side 艮 contained an element of an eye or seeing but in this kanji its role was primarily phonetic. This is a semantic-phonetic composite writing, “keisei-moji (形声文字),” where one part of the kanji represented meaning and another its pronunciation. We see a good example of the fact that even if a particular component of a kanji was primarily intended to represent how it sounded, the shape was also often chosen for its original meaning as well. The kun-reading of the kanji 眼, /ma’nako/, is used as a more poetic expression than just saying /me‘/. 眼 is also used in 眼鏡 (”eye glasses” /me’gane/.) The on-reading /gan/ is in 近眼 (“near-sightedness; myopia” /kingan/).

(3) 根 “root”

Historyof根The kanji 根 had a bush kihen ‘tree.” The right side 艮 was used for the sound /kon/ but it also came with the original meaning of “immobile” or “to stay in one place.” What does not change or move with respect to a tree, regardless of the season?  The answer is Its root. So, the kanji 根 meant “root; fundamental.” By itself is the kun-reading /ne’/ and means “root.” The On-reading /ko’n/ is used in words such as 根本的な(“fundameantal” /konponteki-na.)

(4) 恨 “to resent”

History of 恨What would the combination of the shape of “a heart” (a bushu risshinben, a vertical shape of a heart, on the left side) and the shape 艮 “to stay in one place” mean? One reason why one cannot move on is because something lingers in his heart and that is “resentment” or a “grudge.” The kun-reading word 恨む (/ura’mu/) means “to resent; to have a grudge.” The on-reading /kon/ is in 悔恨 “regrettable; sorrowful.“

(5) 痕 “mark; scar”

History-of-痕In bronze ware style, (1) and (2), the left side was a bed placed vertically which became a bushu yamaidare “fatigue; ill.” A bushu yamaidade “ill” and 艮 “something that remains” together meant “a scar” or “mark.” The kun-reading 痕 /a’to/  means “scar.” The on-reading /ko’n/ is used in 血痕 (“bloodstain” /kekkon/) and 痕跡 (“trace; sign (from the past)” /konseki/).

 (6) 銀 “silver”

History of 銀In 銀, the left side a bush kanehen came from gold nuggets hidden underground. The right side was used phonetically. Together they meant “silver.” A bank, /ginkoo/, is written as 銀行, literally meaning a place to conduct business (行) in silver (銀). The name /ginza/ 銀座 was the silver foundry where the bakufu controlled the production of silver currency during the Edo period. The name Ginza was used for a lively commercial district, the most famous of which is the Ginza district in Tokyo in modern-day Tokyo.

(7) 退 “to retreat”

History of 退The last one in this post 退 had a different story. In ten style, the top of 艮 was not an eye but the sun. Below that was a foot that was facing downward or backward. With the left half of a crossroad彳, altogether they meant to go backward or to retreat. In kanji, on the right side a bushu shinnyoo, “to move on (in a forward direction),” was adopted.* It is hard for us to grasp the meaning of “to retreat” visually from the kanji shape 退. Another example where kanji shape is hiding its true meaning, and that looking into its ancient precursors is helpful to understand what the kanji really means.

Our readers may be tired of “eye” by now.  To be honest, so am I.  But there is one more important shape that we have not looked at, that is 見. I hope to discuss the kanji 見, 現, 親, 視, 規, 観 and 覚.

*Notes: The shapes for a forward footstep (止) and a backward footstep (as in the bottom of 夏) play an important role in kanji and we will certainly visit them later. In the meantime, for a discussion of a bushu shinnyoo, please refer to an earlier post entitled, The History of Kanji Radical Shinnyoo posted on December 28, 2013.   Thank you.  [April 7, 2014]

Eyes Wide Open (3) 臣, 臨, 覧, 緊, 蔵 and 臓


How could the kanji 臣 be related to an eye? Do you wonder? I did, when I first read about it years ago. But once I realized that it was a wide open big eye in a face seen from the side, it became fun to look for kanji that contain 臣. Here are six of them.

(1) 臣 “subject; minister”

History of the Kanji 臣In oracle bone style, (1) and (2), and in bronze ware style, (3), they are all wide-open big eyes. Someone who kept a watchful eye for his master was a loyal subject. (4) is in ten-style and (5) is the kanji in kyookasho-tai “textbook style.” It meant “a subject” or “government minister” and is used in words such as 大臣 (“minister; secretary; chancellor” /da’ijin/) and 臣下 (“subject” /shi’nka/.)

The stroke order is as below. You will find it easy to write a well-balanced kanji if you follow the correct stroke order.


(2) 臨 “to look over from above; provisional”

History of the Kanji 臨The first two, (1) and (2), are in bronze ware style. The top of (1) showed an eye and a standing person. Underneath were three boxes that were connected to the eye. In ten style, (3), a person became taller to see things better. It meant someone viewing many things from a high position. Viewing things meant that he was present and ready to deal with the matter at hand. It makes up words such as 臨海公園 (“an ocean side park” /rinkaiko’oen/), ご臨席 (“attendance” by an important person /gorinseki/); and 臨時列車 (“special unscheduled trains” /rinjires’sha/). The kun-yomi 臨む (”to face“ /nozomu/) is in a phrase such as 試合に臨む (“to face a match” /shiai ni nozomu/.)

(3) 覧 “to view”

History覧In ten style it consisted of two writings 監 and 見. The top had a watchful eye, and a person looking at his reflection in water that was contained in a flat bowl. It meant “to observe” and eventually became the kanji 監 “to observe; to watch carefully.” The bottom 見 is a person with the eye emphasized. So many references to “seeing” in this kanji 覧 “to view”!  Just as 臨席 was an honorific form, ご覧になる is also an honorific verb “to look.” This is because seeing is done from a high position. 覧 is also used in 展覧会 (“exhibition” /tenra’nkai/) and 閲覧室 (“viewing or reading room” /etsura’nshitsu.)

(4) 緊  “tight; imminent”

History of the Kanji 緊The meaning of “hard; tight” came from the top of another kanji shares (堅 “hard; solid” /ke’n; kata’i/). The bottom was threads. To tighten threads and make a tight knot signified something “tight” and “imminent.” It is used in words such as 緊急の (“extremely urgent” /kinkyuu-no/) and 緊張する (“to feel nervous and tense” /kinchoo-suru/.)

(5) 蔵 “a vault; to store securely”

History of the Kanji 蔵The top is the buxhu kusakanmuri “grass.” Tall grasses hide a person or thing well. The bottom was used for phonetic purposes, also meant “to hide.” The shape itself consisted of a bed or table with legs (here vertically placed), a watchful eye or subject (臣), and a halberd (戈), a type of weapon. Altogether they meant that one  hid something important under the place where one slept and watched out with a weapon to protect himself. From that it meant “a vault” or “to store away.” Quite cleverly constructed, I must say. By itself is the jun-yomi 蔵 (“vault; treasure storage” /kura’/) and the on-yomi is in 冷蔵庫 (“refrigerator” /reezo’oko/.)

(6) 臓 “organ”

Kanji 臓The last kanji in this post 臓 was also very cleverly constructed. If we take the kanji 蔵 and add nikuduki 月 “flesh or part of body” (it came from the kanji 肉 “flesh; meat“), we get the kanji 臓 “organ.” A part of the body that is hidden and protected inside is an organ. We get words such as 心臓 (“heart” /shinzoo/), 肝臓 (“liver” /kanzoo/) and 内臓 (”internal organs” /naizoo/.)  An ancient writing for this kanji was not available.

For our next post, I hope to be able to look into the kanji 眠・銀・限・眼 (and other, if I can.)

[Joyo kanji beyond 1,006 Educational kanji that were mentioned in this post: 監・堅・緊]  [3-31-2014]

Eyes Wide Open (2) 直, 値, 植, 置 and 徳 


In this post, I am going to discuss the five kanji 直値植置 and 徳. They all have the common component of 直 ”straight; direct.”

(1) 直 “straight; direct”

History of 直The kanji 直 also contains an eye. In oracle bone style, (1), a side-long shape of an eye had a straight vertical line above. A writing found on a stone inscription, (2), that is believed to predate ten-style had a dot on this vertical line to indicate that the line was important.  In ten style, (3), the dot for emphasis at the top turned into a straight stroke.  Being straight is a “direct” way.  So, the kanji 直 means “straight; direct.”

(2) 値  “value”

Kanji 値By adding a bushu ninben “person; an act that one does” to 直, we get the kanji 値. When one looks at something in a straight and direct way, he is assessing its value. The kanji 値 means “value; approximation, pricing.” It is used in words such as 値段 (“price” /nedan/), 価値 (“value” /ka’chi/) in on-reading as well as 値 (“value” /atai/ ) in kun-reading.

(3) 植 “to plant”

Kanji 植By adding a bushu kihen “tree; wood,” we get the kanji 植. When one plants a tree, he places the tree straight up. This is used to construct words such as 植木 (“garden plant” /ueki/) and 植物 (“plant” as contrasted to animal /shoku’butu/) in on-reading, and 植える (“to plant” /ueru/) in kun-reading. It is also used to infer colonization, as in 植民地 (“colony” /shokumi’nchi/.)

(4) 置 “to place; leave”

Kanji 置Does the top of the kanji 置 look like “an eye” to you? Well, its ten style on the left side tells us that it was a net. In order to catch birds, a net was placed straight above the area where birds gather. From that the writing meant “to place; leave; lay (something).” The kanji 置 makes up words such as 位置 (“position” /i’chi/), 放置する (“to neglect“ /ho’ochi-suru/) in on-reading as well as 置く (“to leave; place; lay” /oku/) in kun-reading.

(5) 徳 “virtue; personal grace”

History of 徳In oracle bone style, (1), we can see that the left side was the original shape of 直, having a straight line and an eye.  The right side was a right half of a crossroad, which meant “to go,” or, when applied in a person, “to conduct oneself” or “deed; act.” Together they meant “one’s conduct with his eye looking straight.” In bronze ware style, (2), a heart 心 was added and the left side of a crossroad was used. So, this writing had a straight line of sight, true heart and straightforward act all in one. Wow! That is one heavily laden meaning. Do we think of “virtue; personal grace,” which is the English translation, in this manner? In ten style, (3), the components were more stylized and the current kanji 徳, (4), lost an angle line below an eye.

In a quick look of the English meanings of these five kanji, it is not obvious that they once had something common. But the ancient writings do reveal what had been left behind along the way as they got standardized into kanji. To me the stories give me something to reflect on how people, of ancient and present times, tried or try to put an idea into visible form so that we could communicate it to others. In the next post, I will discuss a 臣 group (臣, 臨, 覧, 緊, 蔵, 臓.)    [3-25-2014]

Eyes Wide Open (1) 目, 相, 想 and 箱


Ancient creators used different images of each of the human physical features. For “eye,” it was not just 目, and a few other different images were created. We are going to look at different shapes of “eye” that are hidden in various kanji. In this post the kanji 目, 相, 想 and 箱 are discussed.

(1) 目 “eye; seeing”

The eyes in the two oracle bone style writings, (1) and (2), had a pupil and two areas of the white of an eye on each side. That is a side-long shape, which is closer to how an eye looks on the face. In ten style, (3), the eye was placed vertically. Being longer in height than in width is one of the characteristics of ten style writing. The kanji 目 has a number of meanings. Here are only some of them. Kun-yomi /me/ examples include 目 (“eye; ability to see” /me’/), 〜に目がない (“to like very much without reservation” /x ni me’ga na’i/), 目方(“weight” /mekata/) and 四人目 (”fourth person” /yoninme’/).   /Ma/ in 目の当たりにする (“to see in one’s own eyes” /manoa‘tari-ni-suru/) is another kun-yomi. On-yomi examples are 注目する (“to pay attention to” /chuumoku-suru/), 目的 (“purpose” /mokuteki/), and 課目 (“subject matter” /kamoku/.)

(2) 相 “(facing) each other”

Kanji 相 HistoryThe kanji 相 consists of a bushu kihen 木 “tree” and 目 “eye.” If a person faces and looks at a tree, it means the tree faces and looks at the person at the same time. From that the kanji 相 means “facing each other; mutual; government minister (from someone who watches the governmental matter); phase.” In the image on the left, the first two, (1) and (2), are in oracle bone style, and they had a tree above or below an eye. In bronze ware style, (3), a tree and an eye were placed side by side. The eye had a shape that would survive as 臣 “loyal subject” from a watchful eye in several kanji as we will discuss in our third post on eye. In ten style, (4), the two elements are more controlled shapes and closer to kanji, (5), as we use now. Its kun-yomi is /a’i/, as in words such as 相手 (“partner/opponent” /aite’/). The on-yomi words include 相談する (“to talk over with” /soodan-suru/), 首相 (“prime minister” /shushoo/) and 相思相愛 (“(two people) in love with each other” /so’oshi sooai/.)

(3) 想 “think; contemplate”

By adding a heart (心) to 相 “facing each other” we got the kanji 想 “to contemplate.” (The writing on the left is ten-style and the right one is the kanji.) When a person entertains a thought, memory, or idea in his heart, he and the object of thinking are facing other. From that, this kanji tends to have something to reflect on or visualize such as 想像する (“to imagine; visualize” /soozoo-suru/), 感想 (“impression” /kansoo/, 理想 “an ideal” /risoo/.)

(4) 箱  “box”

The top is a bushu takekanmuri “bamboo.”  Once rooted well, bamboo grows strongly and propagates quickly. It provides light-weight materials that are easy to make crafts. Bamboo was also used as the medium of writing before paper was invented. So, many kanji that have a takekanmuri are related to craft or writing. This kanji 箱 is one of them. The bottom 相 was used phonetically for /so’o/ but also gave its original meaning “facing each other.” In traveling, two bamboo boxes were hung on either side of a carriage horse.

In this blog, I am primarily discussing the kanji out of the 1,100 kanji that are included in The Key to Kanji (Williams 2010). If you look at the entire list of the new joyo-kanji, we will find other kanji that contain this common component 相. In the next post, I plan to discuss 直 and four other kanji that contain 直 (値, 植, 置 and 徳).  [3-20-2014]