The Kanji 徳待役後従 – ぎょうにんべん(1)


In the last post we have seen that an image of a crossroad became a bushu yukigamae (行) in 行街術衛. A crossroad was where an action took place. On the other hand, when half a crossroad () was used, the move or motion seemed more apparent. We would imagine that half a crossroad () must have derived from the full shape of a crossroad (行). But, from what I see in oracle bone style samples, both shapes already existed by then, as we will see in 1. The name gyooninben comes from the on-yomi /gyo’o/ of the kanji 行, even though the kanji 行 belongs to the bushu yukigamae group in the traditional kanji dictionary.

Since our exploration on this blog started almost two years ago, we have touched several kanji that had a gyooninben as component. This post is to revisit those kanji from the point of view of the gyooninben. (For sample words, please see the original posts.)

  1. The kanji 徳 “virtue; merit; good (acts)”

The first kanji that we came across that contained the bushu gyooninben was the kanji 徳 in connection with an eye (Eye Wide Open (2) 直値植置徳 posted on March 25, 2014.) We saw that the shape 直 originally came from an eye looking straight ahead that was signified by a vertical line. The horizontal line at the top (十) was originally a bulge in the vertical line to emphasize that the line was straight. The angle at the left bottom below 目 was an emphasis of  being straight.

History of Kanji 徳rFor this post I have added a couple of  samples for the kanji 徳. The two oracle bone style sample (a) and (b), in brown, are mirror images − We have seen many times that in oracle bone style whether a component faces right or left did not carry a particular meaning. Each had an eye looking straight ahead, and a crossroad. The writing meant that one behaved oneself in a straight manner. In the second bronze ware style sample, (d), in green, a heart was added. One had to act straight using not only his eyes but also his heart. In ten style (e), in red, a crossroad became more prominent. In kyujitai (f), in blue, the extra line above 心 was the remnant of an angle that 直 had. So the kanji 徳 is a heavy loaded kanji that meant “a way of life in which one should follow his own heart in a straightforward way.” If you live that way you would be someone of “virtue; merit; good (acts).” I am overwhelmed by morality of this kanji every time I see it.

  1. The kanji 待 “to wait”

History of Kanji 待The kanji 待 was discussed along with kanji that contained 寺 as its component (The Kanji 寺-持待侍特時詩等 “to hold; sustain” on January 24, 2015.) In that post, we noted that even though the kanji 寺 “temple” had lost its original meaning, when 寺 was used as its component it kept the original meaning of “to sustain; hold.” In the kanji 待 in bronze ware style, the left side was a crossroad. The right side was a footprint at the top and a hand at the bottom, signifying “to sustain; hold.” Holding back from crossing a crossroad meant “to wait.”

  1. The Kanji 役 “battle; military service; role”

HistoryofKanji役The kanji 役 was discussed with the kanji that contained the bushu rumata/bokuzukuri (The kanji 役投段殺-rumata posted on October 10, 2014.) The bushu rumata/bokuzukuri generally means “to hit,” from someone hitting with a stick. The two oracle bone style samples did not contain a crossroad at all. Instead they had a person on the left, either standing or kneeling. The right side was a hand holding a long object, which was a weapon, with an emphasis on its tip. Together they meant a person readying to go to battle or patrol of the border. It was an ordinary person conscripted for military duty. In ten style the left side became a crossroad, signifying “to go to the front; a soldier leaving for battle.” The kanji 役 originally meant “battle; military service.” From a call to duty, it also meant “role one assumes.”

  1. The kanji 後 “rear; back; behind; after”

History後rThe kanji 後 was discussed in One Foot at a Time (1) 後夏降麦来 on July 5, 2014. That was the first of several articles that discussed various shapes that came from a footprint (footmark). We also compared a forward facing footprint, such as 止, and a backward facing footprint, such as suinyoo 夂. For the kanji 後, the two bronze ware style samples shown here shared a crossroad and a skein of threads without fringes and a backward foot. The left sample had a forward foot as well, which in ten style was dropped. The skein of threads without the fringes signified “short or small.” Together they meant taking short steps or walking backward that resulted in “coming behind or be late in time.” The kanji 後 means “rear; back; behind; after.”

  1. The kanji 従 “to follow”

History of Kanji 従The kanji 従 was discussed in connection with two people standing side by side (The Kanji 人仁従縦比皆階陛 – Posture (3) on April 5, 2015.) The first oracle bone style sample (a) was just two people standing viewed from the side, signifying “a person following another.” In the second oracle bone style sample (b), a crossroad was added on the left side, giving the sense of forward motion. In bronze ware style (c) a footprint was further added below the two people adding the sense of walking. In ten style (d) this footprint was moved to the left, just below a crossroad. When a crossroad and a footprint were aligned vertically, they usually became the precursor to the bushu shinnyoo. However something interesting took place in this kanji. In kyujitai (e) this footprint moved back to the original position, below two people, leaving the crossroad back in its original shape. The two people were kept as two small 人, which became the two stroke ソ shape in shinjitai.  Unless we are shown the original shapes we would never have guessed that the current shape 従 originated from just two standing persons.

Yesterday in Tokyo I had a chance to see a few actual pieces of oracle bone writing that dated from the 13th century B. C. The visit to this small museum (Taito-ward Calligraphy Museum 台東区立書道博物館 in Tokyo near the Uguisudani station on the Yamanote Line) was on my agenda for my visit to Japan this time, but for various reasons it was only yesterday that I was able to visit it. This museum originated from a private collection by an artist-calligrapher before the WWII and was donated by his family to the Taito-ku (ward) in Tokyo more recently. Unlike many art museums in Japan, which started as private collections of wealthy art loving industrialists who had amassed a fortune in modern times, this collection is a modest one and the layout of of the exhibit is rather outdated and not as easy for a visitor to see the objects because of poor lighting. Nonetheless the opportunity to see first-hand the actual archeological pieces was exciting to me. It was also very timely for discussing the kanji 従 in today’s post.

甲骨文(王従)台東区立書道博物館rrOn the right, (A) is a piece of an animal bone with oracle bone writing carved, taken from the article in Yomiuri Shinbun (October 20, 2015). (B) is what I  reproduced from the photo. The left side may be incomplete because it is not legible. (C) is the kanji based on my reading with the help of the accompanying article in the paper. (This exhibit did not give out any literature that I was able to bring home.)  It reads vertically from the right top to the left bottom. It says “The king (王) asked for a forecast (貞) on whether he would make a certain tribe chief (sanzui and 止) follow (従) him or not.” A new sentence starts from the third writing 王, 従, then moves to the left writing. Even in this tiny piece of cow’s bone (the piece is only one inch-wide), we see two samples of the kanji 従 – They were two people standing, one following another.

Oracle bone writing was the record of fortune-telling or divination in answer to a prayer or question made to the god by a ruler. The belly side of a tortoise or a piece of animal bone was heated, and the cracks that appeared were read as the answer from the god. From the contents of this piece, we glimpse the nature of 甲骨文 /kookotsubun/, literally “shell and bone writing,” to be divination. English name goes by its function and it is called “oracle bone” writing. Oracle bone writings were “discovered” as ancient writings only in 1899. The discovery of oracle bone style writing since then has changed the understanding of the ancient Yin 殷 (Shang 商) dynasty and the origin of Chinese characters. Some were brought to Japan. I am hoping to see several more items at the Tokyo National Museum next week. (For bronze ware style writing, I was able to see some items of superb quality at the special exhibit brought from China held at the same museum several years ago.)

This post was revisiting the kanji we had looked at before from the point of a gyooninben. I will continue with a few new kanji with gyooninben next time. [October 25, 2015]

P.S. I have learned that there are various collections of oracle bones in Japan. Most notable one is in Kyoto University. The photos of “rubbing” of these bones were published by Shigeki Kaizuka in 1960, 1968. Another collection is with Tokyo University. I do not know if these collections can be viewed if we make a request in advance.  I would like to try that in my next stay in Tokyo. An experience of looking at real pieces is so different from looking at the “rubbing” of the pieces in print.  [January, 2017}

One Foot at a Time (1) 後夏降麦来



In the next few posts, we will be looking at the various shapes in kanji that came from a footprint or footmark.  Kanji differentiate two directions of walking, forward and backward/downward. We have seen a few kanji that had a forward facing footprint earlier in the kanji 止歩正 and 政. In this post we will look at a backward or downward footprint.

forwardbackwardfeetDirection of footprints:  How did ancient creators of writing in China differentiate the two directions of walking? In the table on the left, the top row shows the development of forward footprint shapes, and in the bottom row for a backward or downward footprint. I am assuming that where two lines crossed was where the toe was. Based on that assumption we can say that the kanji 止 was a left foot and the bushu chi 夂 was a right foot.

(1) The kanji 後 “behind; back; later”

History後rFor the kanji 後, the top of the first bronze ware style on the left had a crossroad (彳) and short threads (幺) and the bottom had a forward footprint (止) and a backward footprint (夂). But the forward footprint was not in the second sample nor in ten style. Short threads meant smallness. By waking in small steps one became behind and arrived later. From that the kanji 後 meant “behind; back; later; late.” In ten style, 夂 “backward foot” became 夊 “dragging foot,” but in kanji it became 夂. It seems that even though夂 “backward foot” and夊 “dragging foot” had different meanings, sometimes they were used interchangeably.

There are three different kun-readings , /ushi(ro)/, /a’to/ and /nochi’/.  They appear in words such as 後ろ (“behind” /ushi(ro)/), 後ろ前 (“with front side back” /ushiro’mae/), 後ろめたい (“to feel a guilty conscience” /ushirometa’i/);  for /a’to/, 後で  (“later; at later time” /a’to de/), 後になって (“after it happened” /a’to ni natte/), 後ずさりする (“to move backward” /atozu’sari-suru/); and for /nochi’/, 後ほど (“sometime later” [polite] /nochihodo/) and その後 (“after that” [polite/writing] /sononochi/). There are two on-readings: /go/ is in 食後 (“after meal” /shokugo), 十年後 (“ten years later” /juunengo/) and /koo/ is in 後半 (“second half” /koohan/ and 後輩 (“a junior in seniority” /koohai/).

(2) The kanji 夏 “summer”

History夏In the kanji 夏, in bronze ware style the top was the head of an official with a headdress on, which appears in many kanji related to a head, including 頭 “head” and 顔 “face.”  Below that he had some adornments in his hands and a downward foot at the bottom. He was dancing in a festival showing off fancy step work and hand movements. From a festival in summer it meant “summer.” In kanji, the two hands were dropped and fancy footwork remained. The kun-reading is in 真夏 (“midsummer” /manatsu/), 夏場 (“during summer” /natsuba/).  The on-reading /ka/ is in 立夏 (“beginning of summer on calendar”/ri’kka/).

(3) The kanji 降 “to fall in the sky; come down.”

History降rFor the kanji 降, in all of the ancient writing, the left side had a pile of dirt raised high, indicating a high place. A dirt wall served as a boundary. This bushu is called kozatohen, and it meant “ladder, boundary, high land.” The right side, in both oracle bone style and bronze ware style were two footsteps facing downward-  a right footprint (the top) and a left footprint (the bottom). In ten style, the bottom footprint was placed more sideways. This shape appears in 韋, a component of the kanji 偉, 違 and 圍 (囲), which we will look at in the next post.  So, with a kozatohen and two downward footprints coming down from the high place, the kanji 降 meant “to fall (from the sky)” and “to descend.”

There are three different kun-readings: /hu’(ru)/, /o(ri’ru)/ and /kuda(ru)./  They are in words such as 雨が降る (“it rains” /a’me ga huru/), 雪が降って来た (“It has started to snow ” /yuki’ ga hutte-kita/); 電車を降りる (“to get off a train” /densha o oriru/), 階段を降りる (“to walk down the stairs” /kaidan o ori’ru/); and ライバルチームを降す (“to win over the rival team” /raibaru-chi’imu o kudasu/). Quite often for /oriru/ and /kudasu/, a simpler kanji 下 is used. The on-reading /koo/ is in 下降する (“to decline” /kakoo-suru/), それ以降 (“since then” /sorei’koo/), 降参する (“to surrender” /koosan-suru/) and 降雨量 (“amount of rainfall” /koou’ryoo/).

Shirakawa (2004) says that a kozatohen was a ladder from which a god descended to the earth. A couple of words do contain the meaning that 降originated from the god descending from heaven. Some of our readers may be familiar with the word /amakudari/ 天降り, which meant a retiring high-ranking government official landing a lucrative job in a private industry that relies on his strong ties to the government. Just like the phrase “a revolving door” in the U. S. it is not used in a complementary context. Another word, by no means a daily word, but nonetheless in the media in the last few years, is 降嫁 (“a royal princess marrying a subject” /ko’oka/.)

(4) 麦 “barley”

History麦In the oracle bone style of the kanji 麦, the top was a barley plant, and the bottom was a downward footprint. In all the styles through the time of kyujitai before the post-war language reform, a barley plant and a downward footprint in the shape of a katakana /ta/ were recognizable. Barley plants grow early and in early spring a farmer treads on the seedlings that pushed up from the ground. In Japanese it is called 麦踏み (treading on barley) and in haiku tradition, it signifies early spring. A downward/backward walk signified that a farmer walked back and forth.

The kun-reading /mu’gi/ is also in 麦茶 (“roasted barley tea” /mugi’cha/). It is a summer drink with no caffeine (if it is pure barley.) In my childhood memory of summer every morning when I walked into the kitchen there was a huge kettle with mugicha in a cloth bag that my grandmother had set up, giving sweet, roasted smell in the air. When I drank freshly made mugicha, there was always a hint of sweetness without sugar. As the day wore on, the sweetness strangely disappeared. Nowadays in a life of convenience, mugicha comes in a prepackaged tea bag that you even do not have to boil, but the price is that it does not have the aroma from my childhood memory. The on-reading /ba’ku/ is in 麦芽 (“malt” /bakuga/).

(5) 来 “to come; upcoming”

History来Speaking of a barley plant, all three styles of ancient writing for the kanji 来 were a barley plant. If you compare with those for 麦, you would think that having downward footprints makes more sense for the meaning “to come,” because someone is coming toward you. Apparently very early on in ancient time, those two writings got mixed up and switched the use of!

The kun-reading is tricky, as any beginning Japanese student knows. The verb inflections  in Japanese are quite regular and are not difficult to learn, except 来る “to come” and する“to do.” So, there are four different kun-readings: 来る (“to come” /ku’ru/), 来ない (“not come” /ko’nai /), 来て(“come!” /ki’te/), and 来る (“upcoming” /kita’ru/) when used as adjective.  The on-reading is in 未来 (“distant future” /mi’rai/) and 将来 (“near future” /sho’orai/).

In the next post, I am continuing with a story of two footsteps in one kanji. [July 5, 2014; partially revised on December 5, 2016.]