The Kanji 一二三四五六七八九十上下


Finally, this is the last post on which we explore the origin of individual kanji using ancient writing. By my rough estimate we have touched upon over 1400 kanji last four years. This last post is about the kanji for the numbers 1 through 10 – 一二三四五六七八九十, and “top of” 上 and “bottom of”下.

  1. The kanji 一 “one; single; only; first”

History of Kanji 一For the kanji 一a single bar was used to mean “one; single; only; first.” The kun-yomi /hito/ is in 一つ /hito’tsu/, 一人 “one person” /hito’ri/, 一人っ子 “only child” /hitori’kko/, 一人暮らし “living alone” /hitorigu’rashi/, 一息つく “to take a break” /hitoiki tsu’ku/. The on-yomi /ichi/ is in 一番 “first” /ichi’ban/ and “most” /ichiban/ and 一度 “once” /ichido/. Another on-yomi /itsu/ is in 均一 “uniform; even” /kin-itsu/, 統一する “to unify” /tooitsu-suru/, 同一 “the same; identical” /dooitsu/ and 一般的な “general; popular; common” /ippanteki-na/.

  1. The kanji 二 “two; double; second”

History of Kanji 二For the kanji 二, two bars placed side by side horizontally meant “two; double; second.“

The kun-yomi /huta/ is in 二つ “two” /hutatsu/, 二人 “two person” /hutari/, and /hutsu/ is in 二日 “two days; second day of the month” /hutsuka/. The word /hatsuka/ “20th day” is written as 二十日. The on-yomi /ni/ is in 二分する “to divide into two” and 二人三脚 “three-legged race” /ninin-sa’nkyaku/.

  1. The kanji 三 “three”

History of Kanji 三For the kanji 三, three bars placed horizontally meant “three; third.”

The kun-yomi /mi/ is in 三つ “three” /mittsu/ and /mi/ is in 三日月  “crescent” /mikazuki/. The on-yomi /san/ is in 三角形 “triangle” /sanka’kkee/, 再三 “repeatedly” /saisan/ and 二、三  “two or three; a few” /ni’san/.

  1. The kanji 四 “four”

History of Kanji 四For the kanji 四 four bars stacked up horizontally meant “four; all (directions).” Later on the shape 四was borrowed to mean “four.”

The kun-yomi 四 /yo’n/ means ‘four.”  /-Yo/ is in 四人 “four people” /yoni’n/, and /yotsu/ is in 四角 “intersection; four corners” /yotsukado/,  The on-yomi /shi/ is in 四角い “square” /shikakui/, 四方 “four directions; everywhere” /shiho’o/ and 四季 “four seasons” /shi’ki/.

  1. The kanji 五 “five; half”

History of Kanji 五For the kanji 五the shape in which two sticks crossing with a bar at the top and the bottom was borrowed to mean “five.” Five divides ten equally so it also meant “equal.”

The kun-yomi /itsu/ is in 五つ. The on-yomi /go/ is in 五分五分 “on even terms; evenly matched” /gobugobu/, 五感“five senses” /gokan/.

  1. The kanji 六 “six”

History of Kanji 六For the kanji 六the oracle bone style shape was the shape of a tent, but it is believed that the writing was never used for that meaning. Instead it was borrowed to mean “six.”

The kun-yomi /mu/ is in 六つ “six” /muttsu/ and 六日 “six days; sixth day of the month” /muika/. The on-yomi /roku/ is in  六月 “June” /rokugatsu/ and 四六時中 “around the clock; day and night” /shirokujichuu/, and /ro-/ is in 六法全書 “Compendium of Laws” /roppooze’nsho/.

  1. The kanji 七 “seven”

History of Kanji 七For the kanji 七, in oracle bone style, bronze ware style and seal style it was a bone being cut. But it was borrowed phonetically for /shichi/ to mean “seven.”

The kun-yomi /na’na/ means “seven,” and is in 七つ “seven; seven-years old” /nana’tsu/. The on-yomi 七/shichi‘/ is in 七分目 “three-quarter filled; not full” /shichibunme/, 七分袖 “three-quarter sleeves” /shichibu’sode/ and 七面倒臭い “extremely tiresome” /shichimendookusa’i/.

  1. The kanji 八 “eight”

History of Kanji 八For the kanji 八it was the motion of splitting something into two. Eight is the multiples of two. It means “eight.”

The kun-yomi /ya/ is in 八つ “eight; eight years old” /yattu/, 八つ当たり “random venting; of one’s anger” /yatsuatari/, 八百屋”green grocer” /yaoya/ and 八百長 “race fixing; match rigging” /yaochoo/. The eighth day /yooka/ is written as 八日. The on-yomi 八 /hachi’/ is in 八人 “eight people” /hachi’nin/ and 四苦八苦する “to suffer terribly; be in dire distress” /shikuha’kku-suru/.

  1. The kanji 九 “nine”

History of Kanji 九For the kanji 九 it was a bent elbow with fingers. One tried to thrust a hand into a hold to reach something but fell short of it. A number almost full but short of full is “nine.”

The kun-yomi 九つ /koko’notsu/ means “nine” and is in 九日 “nineth day of the mondy; nine days” /kokonoka/. The on-yomi 九  /kyuu/ is “nine” and is in 九十 “ninety” /kyu’ujuu/.  Another on-yomi /ku/ also means “nine” and is in 九月 “September” /ku’gatsu/.

  1. The kanji 十 “ten”

History of Kanji 十For the kanji 十it was just a vertical line that had a thickness changing or a small dot added, signifying a bundle of ten. In seal style, the dot became a line. It meant “ten; full.”

The kun-yomi 十/to’o/ means “ten,” and is in 十日 “ten days; tenth day” /tooka/. The on-yomi 十 /ju’u/ means ‘ten” and is in 十分な “sufficient” /juubu’n-na/. /Jitsu/ is in 十分 /ji’ppun/ “ten minutes.”

  1. The kanji 上 “top; above; to come up; superior; upper”

History of Kanji 上For the kanji 上 a spatial position above a line signified “above.” The kanji 上 means “top; above; to come up; superior; upper.”

The kun-yomi 上 /ue/ means “above; top” and is in 身の上 “one’s circumstances; one’s upbringing”  /minoue/. /Uwa/ is in 上書き “overwriting” /uwagaki/, 上着 “upper garment; coat” /uwagi/. 上がる /agaru/ means “to rise up” and 上げる /ageru/ means “to raise; give.” /Kami/ is 川上 “upper stream of a river” /kawakami/. The on-yomi /joo/ is in 上品な “stylish; elegant; refined” /joohi’n-na/, 三月上旬 “the first ten days of March” /sa’ngatsu joojun/.

  1. The kanji 下 “bottom; below; to go down; lower; inferior”

History of Kanji 下For the kanji 下a spatial position below a line signified “below.” The kanji 下means “bottom; below; to go down; lower; inferior.”

There are a number of kun-yomi and on-yomi. The kun-yomi 下/shita/ means “below.” /Shimo/ is in 川下”downstream of a river” /kawashimo/, /Moto/ is in 足下 “at one’s feet; steps” /ashimo’to/. 下げる /sage’ru/ means “to lower.” 下る/kudaru/ is in 下さる “a superior gives to me” /kudasa’ru/ and 下り電車 “down train; trains going away from the capital” /kudaride‘nsha/. The on-yomi /ka/ is in 廊下 “passage way; middle corridor” /rooka/. Another on-yomi /ge/ is in 上下 “top and bottom” /jo‘oge/ and 下車 “getting off a vehicle” /ge‘sha/.

Now that we have covered all the categories of kanji origins, it is the time to reflect on this approach to kanji learning that we have been exploring last four and a half years. I would like to take a break here for a few weeks to sit back and think about what we have learned through this rather lengthy exploration. I shall be back in a few week time, hopefully refreshed a little, with more thoughts. Thank you very much for your interest.  – Noriko [June 17, 2018]