The Kanji 一二三四五六七八九十上下

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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]

The Kanji 困因囚圏囲(圍)古固個回四 – くにがまえ (2)

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As the second post on kanji that have the bushu kunigamae “enclosure” and related kanji, we are going to look at the kanji 困因囚圏囲(圍)古固個回 and 四.

  1. The kanji 困 “to be in trouble; be inconvenienced”

History of Kanji 困For the kanji 困, in oracle bone style, in brown, and ten style, in red, it was a standing tree inside an enclosure, and it is commonly explained as “a tree inside a tight space that could not move,” thus it meant “to be in trouble.” Setsumon also gave the shape (b) as its old style, in gray. In it the top was a footprint (止) and the bottom was wood (木), together signifying a wooden latch that stopped someone from coming in through an entrance. Shirakawa takes the original meaning to be “closing time; lockup,” and by extension it meant “to be in trouble; be inconvenienced.”

The kun-yomi 困る /koma’ru/ means “to be troubled; be inconvenienced.” The on-yomi /ko’n/ is in  困難 (“difficulty” /ko’nnan/) and 貧困 (“poverty” /hinkon/).

  1. The kanji 因 “to depend; based on; relatedly”

History of Kanji 因For the kanji 因, inside was a “person” (大) in oracle bone style, bronze ware style, in green, and ten style. The outside rectangle shape signified a floor mat for a person to sleep on. So it was an image of a person sleeping that was viewed from above. From something that one used in daily mundane life such as a place to sleep on, it meant “conventional,” and then it was extended to mean “to be based on; depend on” (Shirakawa). Another explanation (the Kadokawa dictionary) is that a sleeping mattress was something one was on, and from that it gave the meaning “to be based on; depend on.”

The kun-yomi 因る /yoru/ is used in Xによると (often in hiragana) “based on X; according to X.” And another kun-yomi 因む /china’mu/ is used in Xに因んで (“after X” /X ni china’nde/). The expressionちなみに /chinamini/ means “while we are on the subject; in connection with.” The on-yomi /i’n/ is in 原因 (“cause” /gen-in/), 死因 (“cause of death” /shiin/) and 因果関係 (“cause and effect” /ingaka’nkee/).

  1. The kanji 囚 ”captor; to be seized; be shackled by”

History of Kanji 囚The kanji 囚 has the kanji 人 “person” inside an enclosure. The kanji 人 originally comes from a standing person who was viewed from the side, in contrast to 大, which was an image of a person viewed from the front. The oracle bone style and ten style samples on the left exactly showed the shape of 人. It signified a person who was captured or confined. It meant “prisoner; captor; to be seized.”

The kun-yomi 囚われる /toraware’ru/ means “to be shackled by; to be gripped by,” and is in 囚われの身 (“being/falling in enemy’s hands” /toraware-no-mi/). The on-yomi /shu’u/ is in 囚人 (“prisoner” /shuujin/), 死刑囚 (“condemned criminal; death-row convict” /shike’eshuu/).

  1. The kanji 圏 “garden”

History of Kanji 圏History of Kanji 巻(frame)The kanji 圏 has 巻 inside. We have discussed earlier two different interpretations of the upper part of 巻 (The Kanji 略各当(當)尚番米巻券 on July 11, 2015), in the discussion os 番 and 巻 in particular. The bottom was a person with his back round, thus it meant “to roll.” With the enclosure “fence” added to 巻, it meant “a block; to encircle.” Just as with the case in the kanji 巻, in shinjitai a crouched person changed the shape to the inside of 厄, but then in kanji it went back to 己 in shinjitai.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ke’n/ is used only with other kanji, such as 大気圏 (“the atmosphere” /taiki’ken/), 安全圏 (“safety zone” /anze’nken/).

  1. The kanji 囲 (圍) “to encircle; surround”

History of Kanji 囲(圍)History of Kanji 韋(frame)The 囲 has the kyujitai 圍. The inside component 韋 is a familiar shape that we discussed earlier (One Foot at a Time (2) 韋衛圍(囲)違偉 on July 13, 2014). The history of 韋 is shown on the right. Two footprints facing opposite directions around a circle signified patrolling around the wall of a fortress or town. For 圍, by adding an outline of a town, they meant “to encircle.” In shijitai the inside was replaced by 井. The kanji 囲 means “to surround; enclosure.”

The kun-yomi 囲う /kakou/ and 囲む /kakomu/ mean “to surround; besiege,” and 囲い /kakoi/ means “enclosure; fence; wall.” The on-yomi /i/ is in 周囲 (“the circumference; those around one” /shu’ui/), 範囲 (“extent; scope; accessible limit” /ha’n-i/) and 雰囲気 (“an ambience; an atmosphere” /hun-i’ki/).

  1. The kanji 古 “old”

History of Kanji 古Before we look at the kanji 固 and 個, let us look at their inside component 古. There are different views about this simple shape — View (A) It was a crown on the ancestral god, and from that it meant “ancient; old”; View (B) The bottom was an old skull of an ancestor and the top was a crown or hair accessory. From that it meant something “old and hard”; View (C) In oracle bone style, the top was a shield and the bottom was a prayer box that was protected with the shield above. Prayers that were protected aged and became authentic precedents to follow. From that 古 originally meant “therefore.” In bronze ware style the vertical line showed a bulge to signify a shield. In ten style, the top became the shape 十. The kanji 古 means “old.” The view (C) is by Shirakawa. If we take the oracle bone style sample into the account, (C) may make more sense to me.

The kun-yomi 古い /huru’i/ means “old,” and is in 古びた (“old and worn” /huru’bita/), お古 (“hand-me-down; used article” /ohu’ru/). Just a reminder that the kanji 古い is not used for people’s old age. Another kun-yomi 古 /inishie/ is a literal word and means “ancient; olden days.” The on-yomi /ko/ is in 古代  (“ancient times” /ko’dai/), and 古典 (“classical work; classics” /koten/).

  1. The kanji 固 “hard; solid”

History of Kanji 固For the kanji 固, in ten style the kanji 古 was placed inside an enclosure. The outside line signified to protect something important and old. Old things became hard, so it meant “solid: hard.”

The kun-yomi 固い /katai/ means “hard; solid; stiff; firm,” and in 固める (“to make hard; solidify; strengthen” /katameru/) and its intransitive verb counterpart 固まる (“to harden; become solid” /katamaru/). The on-yomi /ko/ is in 頑固な (“obstinate; stubborn” /ga’nkona/) and 堅固な (“firm; strong” /ke’ngona/).

  1. The kanji 個 “individual; piece”

There is no ancient writing available for the kanji 個 because this was created at a later time. In kanji, the left side is a bushu ninben “person.” The right side 固 was used phonetically to mean something solid and individual. It is used as a counter for an object. In modern times it came to be used for “individual” as in person. There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ko/ is in 一個 (“one object or item” /ik’ko/), 個数 (“number of items” /kosu’u/), 個人 (“indivisual person” /ko’jin/).

The rectangular shape of the next two kanji, 回 and 四, is wide rather than long unlike other kunigamae kanji and their origins differ from other kanji with kunigamae. Nonetheless they are among the kunigamae kanji in the traditional kanji dictionary.

  1. The kanji 回 “to whirl; time”

History of Kanji 回For the kanji 回, in oracle bone style and bronze ware style, it was the image of whirling water or something coiling. The directions of coiling were not uniform among these earlier styles. It meant “to whirl; to coil.” Coiling also meant “times” because it always returns to the same place.

The kun-yomi 回る (/mawaru/ means “to go around”), an intransitive verb, and 回す/mawasu/ is the transitive verb (“to run in a circle; go around” /mawasu/). It is also iin 遠回り (“detour” /tooma’wari/). The on-yomi /ka’i/ is in 一回 (“once” /ikkai/), 回数 (“number of times” /kaisu’u/).

  1. The kanji 四 “four”

History of Kanji 四For the kanji 四, the writing for “four,” had originally four bars placed horizontally in oracle bone style and bronze ware style. It is in line with 一 “one”, 二 “two” and 三,”three.” Later on the shape 四 was borrowed to mean “four,” and also meant “all (four directions).”

The kun-yomi /yo’n/ or /yo/ is in 四つ (“four pieces” /yottsu/), 四日 (“four days; fourth day of month” /yokka/), and 四人 (“four people” /yonin/), 四時 (“four o’clock” /yo’ji/). On-yomi /shi/ is in 四方 (“all directions” /shiho’o/). The Japanese language kept both Japanese counting systems (kun-yomi) and Chinese kanji counting systems (on-yomi) from one through ten. Some words contain both kun-yomi and on-yomi, such as 二十四日 (“twenty four days; 24th day of month” /ni’juu yokka/), in which 二十 /ni’juu/ is the on-yomi and 四日 /yokka/ is the kun-yomi, even though 二十日 “twenty days; twentieth of month” by itself is in kun-yomi /hatsuka/.

We have seen quite a few kanji that have an enclosure shape. The meaning of the rectangular shape ( ) varied — as a boundary of a country or land, as a fence to corral animal or confine a prisoner, to surround, etc. There are other kanji, such as 団 (團), that have a kunigamae. We will look at them at a later time when we discuss other related kanji. [October 10, 2015  Japan time]