The Kanji 貝貨貯貢賃得負貿貴遺潰- cowrie (1)


The shape 貝 in kanji is used in two unrelated meanings. One is from a cowrie, and it carried the meaning “monetary value,” and another is from a bronze ware tripod (鼎), which carried the meaning of “tripod; pod.” We start our exploration with those that originated from a cowrie. The post this week is on the kanji 貝貨貯貢賃得負貿貴遺潰.

  1. The kanji 貝 “shell”

History of Kanji 貝For the kanji 貝, (a) and (b) in oracle bone style, in brown, and (c) and (d) in bronze ware style, in green, was a cowrie, a spiral shell that has an opening in the back. A cowrie was found in the southern sea of China, a long way from the inland where the civilization was situation. It was treasured and valued and was used for an exchange of goods and as money. A majority of kanji that means “value; money” contain a component 貝 “cowry,” as we shall see in a few posts now.  By itself the kanji 貝 means “shell; shellfish,” inclusive of all shapes of shells.

In Japanese a cowrie is called 子安貝 /koyasu’gai/. In the early Heian period story called Taketori Monogatari 竹取物語, one of the impossible riddles that the beautiful young lady, called Kaguya-hime, gave to her five noble suitors was to bring to her a koyasugai that a swallow mothered. In the end none of the riddles for the five suitors was answered successfully including the one involving a koyasugai, and Kaguya-hime returned to the Moon where she came from.

The kun-yomi 貝 /kai/ means seashell,” and is in 二枚貝 “bivalve” /buna’igai/), 子安貝 (“cowrie” /koyasu’gai/), 貝殻 (“shell” /kaiga’ra/) and 貝塚 (“shell mound; Kaizuka” /ka’izuka/). There is no on-yomi in Joyo kanji.

  1. The kanji 貨 “goods”

History of Kanji 貨For the kanji 貨, the left side of the seal style writing, in red, was a standing person (イ), and the right side had ヒ as a phonetic feature /ka/ to mean “change” and 貝 “cowrie; valuable.” Together they meant something that could be exchanged as money or for goods. In kanji the top became 化 (“to change” and phonetically /ka/). The kanji 貸 means “goods; money.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ka/ is in 貨物 (“freight; cargo” /ka’motsu/), 貨幣 (“money” /ka’hee/), 金貨 (“gold coin” /kinnka/), 雑貨 (“sundries; miscellaneous goods” /zakka/), 百貨店 (“department store” /hyakka’ten/) and 硬貨 (“coin” /ko’oka/).

  1. The kanji 貯 “to save; store”

History of Kanji 貯For the kanji 貯 (a) in oracle bone style was a container, the inside of which showed a cowrie. It meant “to store valuable things.” In (b) and (c) in bronze ware style the container and the cowrie became two separate components top and bottom, which were later placed side by side in seal style, (d). Cowries were so important that they were kept in an elaborate bronze ware container called 貯貝器 /choba’iki/. In kanji the right side 丁 seems to be out of place but in fact one of the origins of the kanji 丁 was a square shape.  The kanji 貯 means “to save up; lay up; make cash of.”

The kun-yomi 貯める /tameru/. The on-yomi /cho/ is in 貯金 (“saving; deposit (in a bank)” /chokin/), 貯蓄 (”saving up; putting aside” /chochiku/), 貯蔵庫 (“storage; depository” /chozo’oko/) and 貯水池 (“water reservoir” /chosu’ichi/).

  1. The kanji 貢 “tribute”

History of Kanji 貢The top of the seal style writing for the kanji 貢, 工, was used phonetically for /koo/ to mean “product; skilled work,” and the bottom 貝 was “cowrie; money.” Many kinds of products of value were paid as a tribute.  The kanji 貢 means “tribute; contribution.”

The kun-yomi 貢ぐ /mitsu’gu/ means “to pay a tribute; support financially,” and is in 貢物 (“present” /mitsugimono/). The on-yomi /koo/ means 貢献 (“contribution” /kooken/). Another on-yomi /gu/ was in 年貢 (“land tax; tribute” /nengu/).

  1. The kanji 賃 “wage”

History of Kanji 賃For the kanji 賃, in (a) and (b) in bronze ware style and (c) in seal style the left side and the top of the right side made up 任, which was used phonetically for /jin/ to mean “work.” The bottom right was 貝 “cowrie.” Together they meant paying money to hire a person to do work for wages. The kanji 賃 means “wages.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /chin/ is in 賃金 (“wage; pay; salary” /chi’ngin/), 家賃 (“house-rent” /ya’chin/), 運賃 (“fair; tariff” /u’nchin/) and 賃貸住宅 (“rental housing” /chintaiju’utaku/).

  1. The kanji 得 “gain; profit; benefit”

History of Kanji 得For the kanji 得, (a) in oracle bone style and (c) in bronze ware style had a cowrie and a hand, whereas (b) and (d) in bronze ware style had a crossroad added. Together they mean one going “to obtain something valuable.”  In seal style, on the left side a crossroad was added to a cowrie, and a hand was on the right side. From “going out to gain something valuable” it meant “to gain; make a profit.” In kanji the cowrie became a 旦 “sunrise” and a hand became 寸.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /toku/ is in 得をする- 得する (“to profit; benefit; gain” /toku-osuru; toku-suru), 得意になる(“to preen; become proud” /toku’i-ni naru/), お買い得 (“great deal; bargain” /okaidoku/), 納得する (“to understand” /nattoku-suru/) and 得心する (“to consent to; realize” /tokushin-suru/).

  1. The kanji 負 “to carry on one’s back; be defeated; negative”

History of Kanji 負The seal style writing of the kanji 負 had a person with his back bent at the top, and “cowrie,” signifying “money” at the bottom. Together they meant a man carrying something on his back, or a debt, on his bent back. The kanji 負 means “debt; to lose; owe; carry on one’s back.”

The kun-yomi 負ける /makeru/ means “to be defeated; lose,” and is in 勝ち負け (“victory and defeat” /ka’chimake/) and 負けず嫌い (“hating to lose; unyielding; competitive.”)  Another kun-yomi 負う/ou/ means “to carry on the back; have a debt,” and is in 背負う “to carry on one’s back.”  The on-yomi word 負 /hu/ means “negative (number); minus,” and is in 負債 (“debt; liabilities” /husai/). /-Bu/ is in 勝負 (“match; contest; game” /sho’obu/).

  1. The kanji 貿 “trade”

History of Kanji 貿For the kanji 貿 in bronze ware style and seal style, the top was used phonetically for /boo/ to mean “to divide in two,” and the bottom was “cowrie.” Together they signified “to trade goods” The kanji 貿means “to trade.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /boo/ is used only in the word 貿易 (“foreign trade; commerce” /booeki/), such as 貿易風 (“trade wind” /booekihuu/), 貿易収支 (“balance of trade” /booeki-shu’ushi/), 貿易自由化 (“liberalization of trade; deregulation of trade” /booeki-jiyuuka/) and 貿易摩擦 (“trade friction; trade dispute” /booeki-ma’satsu/).

  1. The kanji 貴 “noble; precious”

History of Kanji 貴In seal style writing, the kanji 貴 had two hands holding something reverently. The bottom was a cowrie. Together they signified “to handle something valuable carefully.” It means “precious; valuable; of high value.” It is also used for people to mean “noble; august.” The kanji 貴 means “precious; valuable; noble; venerable.”

The kun-yomi 貴い /tooto’i/ means “august; venerable; noble.” Another kun-yomi 貴ぶ /tatto’bu/ means “to appreciate; treasure.” The on-yomi /ki/ is in 貴重な (“precious; valuable” /kichoo-na/), 高貴な (“noble” /ko’oki-na/) and 貴族 (“aristocracy” /ki’zoku/).

  1. The kanji 遺 “to leave behind; give”

History of Kanji 遺In bronze ware style, (a) had “two hands holding something carefully” (top), “crossroad” (left) and a cowrie (bottom right).  In (b) a hand was at the bottom, and a footprint was added at the bottom left. Together they meant someone leaving something precious behind. In (c), underneath two hands holding a thing carefully, were a crossroad and footprint, which in (d) in seal style became 辵 “to go forward,” a precursor of a bushu shinnyoo.  The kanji 遺 means “to leave behind; bequest.”

The kun-yomi 遺す /noko’su/ means “to leave behind.” The on-yomi /i/ is in 遺品 (“article left behind (after one’s death); memento” /ihin/), 遺失物 (“lost-and-found article” /ishitsu’butsu/), 遺跡 (“remains; historical spot; ruins” /iseki/) and 遺書 (“a will; a note left by a dead person” /i’sho/).

  1. The kanji 潰 “to crush; collapse”

History of Kanji 潰The seal style writing of the kanji 潰 had “water” and 貴, which was used phonetically for /kai/ to mean “to collapse.” Together their ogirinal meaning was  “a breach of water; bursting a bank.” It described a forceful destruction such as one made by a collapse of a bank –“collapse; crush; smash.” The kanji 潰 means “a breach of water; collapse; crush.”

The kun-yomi 潰す /tsubusu/ means “to crush; break down; squash,” and its intransitive verb counterpart 潰れる (“to tumble; crumble; collapse” /tsubureru/). The expression シラミ潰しに・しらみつぶしに means “(to check) thoroughly; one by one” /shirami-tsu’bushi-ni/). (シラミ /shirami/ means “lice.”) The on-yomi /kai/ is in 決潰 (“collapse; rip” /kekkai/), 潰滅 (“annihilation; total demolition” /kaimetsu/) and 潰瘍 (“ulcer” /kaiyoo/).  The kanji 潰 was not in the previous Joyo kanji, and the kanji 壊 was substituted until the revision.

There are many more kanji with a cowrie. I expect we shall need a couple of more posts on this topic. Thank you very much for your reading. — Noriko [June 17, 2017]

The kanji 径往律彼得復徒-ぎょうにんべん(2)


In the last post, we revisited some gyoninben kanji that had been discussed before with a focus on a component other than gyoninben. In this post we are going to look at several more kanji that we have not discussed yet – 径往律彼得復徒.

  1. The kanji 径 “narrow bath; pathway”

History of Kanji 径For the kanji 径, the left side of the ten style, in red, was a “crossroad.” The right side depicted a loom which had warps (three wavy lines) that were held with a horizontal bar at the bottom, signifying “lines that go straight,” together with the sound /ke’e/. Going straight on foot along a narrow path meant “narrow path; pathway.” In the kyujitai, in blue, the wavy lines reflected warp that would get straightened on a loom. In shinjitai the right side became the kanji 又and 土, which is also seen in the kanji 経.

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo-kanji. Sometimes it is used in 小径 (“a little pathway” /komichi/) in a literary style. The on-yomi /ke’e/ is in 直径 (“diameter” /chok’kee/) and 口径 (“caliber; aperture” /kookee/).

  1. 往 “to go; past”

History of Kanji 往The kanji 往 appears to be a combination of a gyoninben and 主 “main.” But its history tells us that it had nothing to do with 主, as shown on the left. In oracle bone style, in brown, the top was a footprint, and the bottom was a king, which was signified by a large ornamental axe. In the last post we happened to see two actual samples of oracle bone style for 王 in our discussion of the kanji 従 (shown in the photo in the last post). “A king advancing” meant “to advance.” In ten style a crossroad “to go” was added. The kanji 往 means “to go” or “something that has gone; past.” In kanji the footprint became a small dot, resulting in the same shape as the kanji 主.

There is no kun-yomi in Joyo kanji. The on-yomi /o’o/ is in 往復 (“return trip; going and coming back” /oohuku/), 往来 (“traffic; street” /oorai/), 往年 (“years gone by; the past” /oonee/) and 往々にして (”more often than not; frequently” /oooonishite/).

History of Kanji 主 (frame)The kanji – In contrast with the origin of the right side of 往, the history of the kanji 主 is shown on the right. In bronze ware, in green, it was a flame of a lamp only. In ten style, it was a whole image of a long-stem oil lamp holder with a burning oil wick at the top. Fire was important and symbolized the master of a house. The kanji 主 meant “master; primary.” By adding a ninben to this origin, we get the kanji 住 “to reside.”

  1. 律 “law; impartially; rules that one follows”

History of Kanji 律For the kanji 律in oracle bone style, the left side was a crossroad, signifying “a way to go” or “to conduct oneself.” The right side was a hand holding a writing brush straight up. It also had the sound /ri’tsu/. Together they signified “to proclaim law.” Law is something that applies to everyone impartially. So it also means “evenly; impartially.” In ten style the right side took the shape that was closer to the current shape 聿, which is called hudezukuri as a bushu. The kanji 律means “law; impartially; rules that one follows.”

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /ri’tsu/ is in 一律に (“impartially” /ichiritsuni/), 法律 (“law” /hooritsu/), 律する (to judge; govern” /rissuru/) and 規律正しく (“in an orderly manner” /kiritsutada’shiku/). Another on-yomi /ri’chi/ is a go-on and is in 律義に (“sincerely; faithfully” /ri’chigini/).

聿 as a bushu in the traditional kanji classification — There are not many kanji that belong to it. The more frequently used kanji are classified in other bushu. For instance the kanji 律 belongs to the gyoninben group, and the kanji 筆 belongs to the bushu takekanmuri group.

History of Kanji 筆 (frame)The kanji is shown on the right side. The oracle bone style was identical to the right side of 律. In bronze ware style, the left one was a straight line for brush handle only whereas the right sample showed brush’s hair at the bottom as well as a handle. In ten style, a bamboo radical, a bushu takekanmuri, was added at the top to signify a writing brush, from the fact that a writing brush had a bamboo handle. By adding the bamboo the kanji 筆means “a writing brush” rather than an act of writing.

  1. 彼 “he; she; over there”

History of Kanji 彼The kanji 彼 is a borrowed kanji called 仮借 /kashaku/. Kashaku is one of the six ways of classification 六書 /ri’kusho/ in the Setsumon Kaiji. Kashaku writing means that a writing shape was borrowed to mean something totally unrelated in meaning and sound. In 彼, it was borrowed to be used as a pronoun for “he; she” and “over there.” Generally speaking a pronoun was a borrowed writing, including 我 “I,” 他 “other,” and 是 “this; pointing something close to the speaker.” In ten style a crossroad was added on the left. The kanji 彼 indicated a direction away from the speaker and listener.

The kun-yomi 彼 /ka’re/ means “he,” and 彼女 /ka’nojo/ mean “she.” The on-yomi /hi/ is in 彼岸 /higan/. Higan literally means “the other shore,” which came from “the realm of Buddhist enlightenment.” In the Japanese calendar there are two 彼岸 (usuallyお彼岸 /ohigan/) — they are a spring equinox day and an autumnal equinox day. Each is a national holiday. On ohigan time people pay a visit to a family cemetery to place flowers and the favorite food of the deceased. (On the other hand, お盆 /obo’n/ in mid-August is the time when the spirit of the dead comes home.)

History of kanji 皮 (frame)The kanji 皮 – The kanji 彼 was a borrowed kanji, but when the right side, 皮, is used by itself it is used in the original meaning. The history of 皮 is shown on the right. In bronze ware style the top was an animal head. The bottom right was a hand. (We can see that the bronze ware style writing of 彼 came from 皮). It depicted a scene in which an animal was being skinned by hand. The kanji 皮 meant “skin” or “surface skin” and when it is used as a component it usually carries the sound /hi/ or /ha/, as seen in the kanji 波, 破.

  1. The kanji 得 “to gain; make a profit”

History of Kanji 得For the kanji 得 in oracle bone style, (a) was a combination of a cowry, signifying money or valuables, and a hand at the bottom. (b) had a crossroad added. They meant “to obtain something valuable in one’s hand” and “going out to make a gain.” In bronze ware style, in (c) and (d), the three components were the same as (b). Ten style, (e), had the shape 寸 for a hand. From “going out to gain something valuable in one’s hand,” it meant “to gain; make a profit.” In kanji (f), the cowry became 日 “the sun” that had a line underneath.

The two kun-yomi for 得る, /e’ru/ and /u’ru/, mean “to obtain; gain.” The on-yomi /toku/ is in 得する (“to gain; profit” /tokusuru/), 得意がる (“to congratulate oneself; be full of oneself” /tokuiga’ru/), 得意げに (“looking self-satisfied” /tokuige’ni/), Xが得意だ (“to be strong in” /X ga toku’ida/) and得意先 (“customer” /tokuisaki/).

  1. The kanji復 “to repeat; return way; again”

History of Kanji 復For the kanji 復, in bronze ware style a middle cylindrical shape had a small shape at both ends. This was a tool which one flipped repeatedly to measure grain. Underneath this measuring tool was a “footprint” that signified walking back and forth, also a repeated motion. Together they signified “to repeat.” In bronze ware style, the measuring tool became more elaborate and a crossroad was added to signify repeated going and coming. In ten style, it became two round shapes. The kanji 復 meant “to repeat; return way; again.” The same oracle bone style and bronze ware style shapes appear in other kanji such as 複 and 腹, all three of which have the same sound /hu’ku/.

There is no kun-yomi. The on-yomi /huku/ is in 復習 (“review learning” /hukushuu/), 回復 (“recovery” /kaihuku.), 復元 (“restoration” /hukugen/) and反復 (“repetition” /hanpuku/).

  1. 徒 “on foot; follower; in vain”

History of Kanji 徒For the kanji 徒, in both samples of bronze ware style the left side was a crossroad, the right side was a mound of soil, and the right bottom was a footprint. Together they meant “going on dirt on foot.” In ten style, the footprint shifted to the left side, but in kanji it went back to the original position. In travelling, an accompanying servant walked while his master was on a vehicle. So it meant someone who followed a master or follower. It was also used to mean “without purpose; in vain.”

History of Kanji 走 (frame)The kanji –The kanji 徒 looks like it comprised of a gyoninben and the kanji 走 “to run.” But the origin of the kanji 走 is not closely related, as shown on the right. In bronze ware style the top was a person running energetically with his hand up, and the bottom was a footprint, emphasizing that this writing was about the use of feet. In ten style, a footprint got extended toward the bottom right. It meant “to run.” In kanji, this running person took the shape 土 “soil” and the last stroke of the footprint got extended

There is one more kanji I hoped to include in this post, 御. However I do not have enough reference materials with me at the moment. Maybe I will have a chance to look at 御 in connection with other components in the future. [October 31, 2015]