The Kanji 街崖涯封山岸崩岳丘


In the last post we look at the component 土 in kanji. In this post we begin with a component that has two 土 stacked up and related kanji 街崖涯封. Then we look at the component 山 in the kanji 山岸崩岳 and 丘.

The shape 圭

History of Kanji 圭There are several kanji that contain the shape 圭. The history for 圭 is shown on the left. There are two different interpretations. One is that it was two mounds of dirt stacked up, signifying land that stood high. Another is that it was a gem that an ancient Chinese ruler gave to his subject when giving him land. It is related to feudalism. The older writing, in purple, given in Setsumon, reflected that the left side 王 was “jewel; gem.”

  1. The kanji 街 “town; major street”

History of Kanji 街(frame)We have already touched upon the kanji 街 in connection with the bushu yukigamae “crossroad.” The left and right components together were a crossroad in a full shape, rather than only the left side, as in 彳, the bushu gyooninben. The center was dirt piled up or crossing, signifying a street. Together they meant an area in which streets crisscrossed, which is a “town.” For the sample words please see the earlier post.

  1. The kanji 崖 “cliff; bluff”

History of Kanji 崖The top of the ten style writing for the kanji 崖 was a mountain. Below that were 厂 “overhanging cliff” and a tall stack of dirt. Altogether they signified “cliff” (in a mountain). The shape became a bushu gandare. The name probably comes from the kanji 雁 /ga’n/ — it meant a tare/dare that was in the kanji 雁. (The kanji 雁 in fact belongs to the bushu furutori 隹 “bird.”) A bushu name in Japanese is what Japanese people created based on Japanese use of kanji. They are different from Chinese names.

The kun-yomi 崖 /gake’/ means “cliff,” and is in 崖っぷち (“the edge of a cliff; the brink of (catastrophe)” /gakeppuchi/). The on-yomi /ga’i/ is in 断崖 (“cliff” /dangai/).

  1. The kanji 涯 “cliff (against water); end”

History of Kanji 涯The left side of the kanji 涯 was “water.” The right side was the same as the bottom component of the kanji 崖, which was used phonetically for /ga’i/ too. The two kanji were different in that the kanji 崖, with 山, was a cliff in a mountain whereas 涯, with a sanzui, was a “tall shore; bluff” overlooking a river or sea. The kanji 涯 is also used in the word 生涯 “one’s lifetime.” I was curious where this word came from, but was not able to find an explanation. I suspect that it comes from the view that the end of one’s life on earth ends where the land ends, and the kanji 生 was a goon is also suggestive.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ga’i/ is in 生涯 (“lifetime; for life; throughout one’s life” /sho’ogai/) and 天涯孤独 (“having no family, all alone in the world” /te’ngai kodoku/).

  1. The kanji 封 “to close; feudal’

History of Kanji 封The kanji 封 appears to share the shape 圭 among  the three kanji that we have just seen. It reveals that it has a different history, however.In oracle bone style, in brown, (a) was a young plant. In (b) the bottom of the young plant had a ball of “soil; dirt (the loop) attached that was placed on the ground (the horizontal line). On the right side a hand was added – together, a hand planting a young plant with a dirt ball was placed on the ground (for a ceremony). The two bronze ware style samples (c) and (d), in green, were exactly the same as oracle bone style samples (a) and (b) respectively. The difference came from how the writing was inscribed — carving the inscription on an animal bone with a knife, and founding the inscription in bronze. Together they signified a ruler’s hand planting a young plant in the ground, which was giving a fief for feudal service. From that it meant “feudal.” The land has a boundary, thus it also meant “seal; closure.”

There is no kun-yomi. There are two on-yomi. The on-yomi /ho’o/ is in 封建主義 (“feudalism” /hookenshu’gi/), 封建的な (”feudal; fuidalistic” /hookentekina/). Another on-yomi /hu’u/ is in 封をする (“to seal” /hu’u-o suru/), 封印する (“to seal; put something down” /huuin-suru/), 封鎖 (“blockage” /huusa/) and 封筒 (“envelop” /huutoo/).

Now we are going to move to the kanji that contain 山.

  1. The kanji 山 “mountain; peak; heap”

History of Kanji 山The history of the kanji 山 shown on the left does not require any explanation. Any Japanese learner knows that the kanji 山 came from a mountain range with three peaks. The kanji 山 meant “mountain; peak; heap.”

The kun-yomi 山 /yama’/ meant “mountain,” and is in 山登り (“mountain climbing” /yamano’bori/), 山積みになる (“to pile up” /yamazumi-ni-na’ru/) and 山場を迎える (“to reach the climax” /yamaba-o-mukaeru/). The on-yomi /sa’n/ is in 火山 (“volcano” /ka’zan/) and in mountain names such as 富士山 (“Mount Fuji” /Fu’jisan/). Sometimes the word たくさん (“a lot; abundantly” /takusan/) is written as 沢山.

  1. The kanji 岸 “shore; bank”

History of Kanji 岸For the kanji 岸, the ten style writing consisted of 山 a “mountain” at the top, 厂 a “cliff hanging over” in the middle and a phonetically used component, 干 for /ka’n/. Altogether they meant “shore; bank.”

The kun-yomi 岸 /kishi’/ means “shore,” and is in 川岸 (“riverbank” /kawagishi/), 向こう岸 (“the other side of a river/lake” /mugoogishi/). The on-yomi /ga’n/ is in 沿岸 (“seashore” /engan/), 岸壁 (“quay; wharf” /ganpeki/) and 彼岸 (“the other shore; the realm of Bhuddist enlightment” /higan/). In Japan お彼岸 /ohigan/ is the equinoctial week during which Buddhists have memorial services. The expression 暑さ寒さも彼岸まで /a’tsusa sa’musa-mo higan-ma’de/ means “No heat or cold lasts over the equinox.”

  1. The kanji 崩 “to collapse; crumble”

History of Kanji 崩The ten style of the kanji 崩 had 山 “mountain” on the left whereas the older writing, in purple on the left, had a kozatohen “hill; stack of dirt piled high.” What was the right side? Shirakawa viewed that it was an imaginary auspicious bird 鳳 /ho’o/, which Setsumon incorrectly took for 朋 /ho’o/. Other references treat 朋 as two strings of necklaces that came apart, which was used phonetically. A mountain that collapsed meant “landslide.” The kanji 崩 meant “to collapse; crumble.” As a special use, it is also used to describe the death of an emperor or empress.

The kun-yomi 崩れる /kuzure’ru/ means “to collapse; crumble,” and is in 山崩れ (“mountain landslide” /yamaku’zure/). The on-yomi /ho’o/ is in 崩壊 (“collapse” /hookai/) and 崩御 (“demise of an emperor or empress” /ho’ogyo/).

  1. The kanji 岳 (嶽) “mountain: ragged mountain”

History of Kanji 岳The kanji 岳 with its kyujitai 嶽 has a peculiar history. The kyujitai,in blue, was 嶽, which directly came from ten style. It had 山 “mountain” at the top, and the bottom 獄 had two dogs on both sides and 言 ”word; language” in the center. 獄 /go’ku/ by itself is the kanji “prison” (as in 地獄 “hell” /jigoku’/ and 監獄 (“prison” /kangoku/). Together 嶽 signified “ragged harsh mountain.” The earlier writing, in purple, was very different, and reflected the oracle bone style writings. In oracle bone style, the sample shown here had a sheep’s head at the top and the bottom was a mountain. Ragged mountains were a sacred place for sheep herding people. So the origin of the shape of the shinjitai 岳 was found all the way back in oracle bone style. The kanji 岳 (嶽) meant “mountain: ragged mountain.”

The kun-yomi is /take/, and is used in a name such as 八ヶ岳 (“Mount Yatsugatake” in Nagano prefecture  /yatsuga’take/). (I also look at this kanji with a little nostalgia, because my old junior high school has this kanji in its name.) The on-yomi /ga’ku/ is in 山岳地帯 (“mountainous area” /sangakuchi’tai/). It is also in 岳父 (“the father of one’s wife” /ga’kuhu/.)

  1. The kanji 丘 “hill”

History of Kanji 丘The kanji 丘 is the same as the top of the kanji 岳 “mountain” that we have just seen, but it does not share the same origin. In oracle bone style, 丘 had two hills or a hill with a hollow in the middle. The bottom line was the ground level. The bronze ware style writings (b) and (c) look like two people standing back to back on the ground, which were similar to the origin of the kanji 北. The ten style writing also reflected the bronze ware style writing. Incidentally, the kanji shape 丘 is found not just in 岳 but also in the kanji 兵 “soldier,” but the two kanji,i 丘 and 兵, have nothing in common. [The kanji 兵 was discussed in the earlier article —Two Hands from Below: 共, 供, 異, 興, 兵 and 具 on May 30, 2014]

The kun-yomi /oka/ means “hill.” The on-yomi /kyu’u/ is in 砂丘 (“sand dune” /sakyuu/) and 丘陵 (“hilly land” /kyuuryoo/).

In the next post, we continue with kanji that originated from topographical features, including 石泉谷. [May 7, 2016]