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 送朕追師遺貴辺遅遊–しんにゅう(3)


1 The kanji 送 “to send; forward”

History of Kanji 送For the kanji 送, in ten style, in red, the left side was a crossroad and a footstep vertically placed, which were the makings of a bushu shinnyoo “to move forward” later on. On the right side the top looked like a fire but it was an object instead (we will come back to this shape in the kanji 朕 below). The bottom was two hands, which signified a careful act using hands. Together they signified a person sending out an object with hands. Then the left side was added to emphasize a forward movement. The two sides together meant “to send something forward.”

The kun-yomi 送る /okuru/ means “to send,” and is in 送り先 (“recipient; addressee” /okurisaki/), 見送る (“to see someone off” /miokuru/), 見送りにする (“not to act now; shelve for now” /miokurini-suru/), 送り仮名 (“declensional kana ending in Japanese” /okurigana/). The on-yomi /so’o/ is in 送料 (“shipping charge” /so’oryoo/), 転送 (“transfer” /tensoo/), 郵送 (“sending by post” /yuusoo/) and 再放送 (“rebroadcasting” /saiho’osoo/).

The kanji  — This kanji is for an extremely exclusive use. Only an emperor uses this to talk about himself. It means “imperial We.” But it is not an unimportant kanji if you study Japanese history. Until the end of WWII, at every important school assembly the principal solemnly recited the Imperial Rescript on Education. It began as 朕惟フ二・朕思うに (/chi’n omo’oni/ “We. the emperor, believe that …”). So, the word 朕 was a familiar word among people of an older generation for a long time.

History of Kanji 朕The history of the kanji 朕 is shown on the right. In both oracle bone style, in brown, and bronze ware style, in green, the left side had a shallow bowl or a tray that could be used to transport things. (月 in this case is not “moon” or “flesh” but “tray; bowl.”) On the right side the vertical line with a bulge in the middle signified an object (a bulge was to emphasize that the shape was more than just a line), and the bottom had two hands holding up the object carefully. Together they meant a bowl that contained something was held carefully with both hands reverentially. Then it was used to mean “imperial We.” (Shirakawa thinks that it was just a borrowing because pronouns are all borrowing.) In ten style, the vertical line with a bulge took the shape of 火. In kanji the two elements on the right side coalesced and became simplified. The kanji 朕 means “I (imperial We)” [exclusively used by an emperor]. Another kanji that contains the upper right side of the kanji 送 and 朕 is the kanji 咲 (“a flower blooms” /saku/), but it appears to be a more recent kanji (no ancient writing available).

2 The kanji 追 “to chase after; add later” and 師 “teacher; military unit”

History of Kanji 追The upper right component in the kanji 追 and the left side of the kanji 師 share the same shape, not only in the kanji but also in oracle bone style and bronze ware style. Kanji scholars’ accounts on what it signified seem to differ. One view is that it was a stack of things or soil for a boundary. Another view is that it was bands of people and was phonetically used to mean “to follow” and “to add (something) afterwards.” And yet another view, which is by Shirakawa, is that it was two pieces of meat for offerings to the god to pray for a victory in a battle. The ritual with an offering was conducted wherever the military moved to fight a battle. Thus it meant “to follow.” From following it also meant “to add (something) afterwards.”

The kun-yomi 追う /ou/ means “to chase after” and is in 追いかける /oikake’ru/ and its colloquial form 追っかける (“to run after” /oikake’ru; okkake’ru/.) The on-yomi /tsu’i/ is in 追加 (“addition” /tsuika/), 追放する (“to expel; banish” /tsuihoo-suru/), 追突事故 (“car accident” /tsuitotsuji’ko/) and 追従する (“to servile to; follow” /tsuijuu-suru/).

History of Kanji 師2The kanji  –The two oracle bone style samples and the left bronze ware style writing sample shown on the right were the same as the components of 追. In the second bronze ware style writing a military flag was added on the right side. Together they meant a military division or its leader. In the military a leader is very important, From that it also meant a “mentor.” The kanji 師 meant “military unit; teacher; mentor.”

3 The kanji 遺 “to leave behind; bequest”

History of Kanji 遺For the kanji 遺, we have three bronze ware style writing samples here. The left most one consisted of two hands holding something carefully at the top, a crossroad on the left, signifying “to go,” and a cowry, signifying something valuable, at the bottom right. Together they meant someone leaving something precious behind after his death. The two other bronze ware style samples contained the same elements in a different layout. In ten style a crossroad and a footprint were aligned vertically to mean “to go forward,” and the right side was 貴 “precious; valuable.” The kanji 遺 means “to leave behind; bequest.”

The kun-yomi 遺す /noko’su/ means “to leave behind; bequest.” The on-yomi /i/ is in 遺族 (bereaved family; surviving family of a deceased), 遺産 (“inheritance” /isan/), 遺伝 (“hereditary transmission” /iden/), 遺伝子 (“gene” /ide’nshi/) and 遺憾ながら (“regrettably; I regret to say” /ikanna’gara/) [formal style]. Another on-yomi /yu’i/ is in 遺言 (one’s dying wish; one’s will /yuigon/).

History of Kanji 貴The kanji 貴–If you take the bushu shinnyoo out from the kanji 遺, we get the kanji 貴. Its ten style writing shown on the right had two hands over a container of valuable cowry with a lid. It signified “to handle something valuable carefully.” Precious cowries were kept in a container with a lid. Together they meant “precious; valuable.” The kanji 貴 is also used for people and it meant “noble.”

4 The kanji 辺 (邊) “peripheral; edge”

History of Kanji 辺The shinjitai kanji 辺 was a drastic change from its kyujitai邊. The kyujitai had 19 strokes and we can hardly make out the shape unless you enlarge the screen many times over. The writing in blue on the left side is the kyujitai. We have two bronze ware style writing samples here. The left one had a crossroad on the left. On the right side it had a face (自) at the top, a table (丙) in the middle and four directions (方) at the bottom, signifying peripheral areas in all four directions. Together they meant “edge of an area; peripheral.” In ten style a crossroad and a footprint were aligned vertically. The kyujitai had two short strokes in the shinnyoo. The kyujitai is still used in some family names, such as 渡邊 “Watanabe or Watabe” in a formal document even though they are likely to use the shinjitai in their daily life. For us, simply learning the shinjitai shape, which has 刀 “sword,” no relation to the meaning, will do. The kanji 辺 meant “peripheral; edge of an area; area.”

The on-yomi 辺り /a’tari/ means “surrounding; vicinity; neighborhood.” The on-yomi /he’n/ is in この辺 /konohen/ “the neighborhood; this area,” 四辺形 (“quadrilateral; four-sided figure” /shihe’nkee/), 周辺 (“surroundings; vicinity” /shuuhen/), 辺境 (“frontier; outlying district” /henkyoo/), and /pen/ is in 天辺 (“top” /teppe’n/ often in hiragana てっぺん). Another on-yomi /be/ is in 浜辺 (“shore; beach” /hamabe/).

5The kanji 遅 “late; slow”

History of Kanji 遅The kanji 遅 had oracle bone style and bronze ware style samples as shown on the left. How a sitting person and possibly an animal came to mean 犀 “rhinoceros” is not clear. In kanji, the upper right component 犀 was used phonetically to mean “slow.” The lower left was a bushu shinnyoo. In ten style the upper right consisted of 尾 “tail” and 牛 “ox; cow,” which was reflected in kyujitai. In shinjitai they were replaced by 羊. The kanji 遅 means “slow; late.”

The kun-yomi 遅い (“late; slow” /osoi/) and 遅れる (“to be late; arrive late” /okureru/), 出遅れる (“to make a late start” /deokure’ru/), 乗り遅れる (“to miss a bus or train” /noriokure’ru/), 遅かれ早かれ (“sooner or later” /osokarehaya’kare/), 手遅れ (“too late” /teo’kure/). The on-yomi /chi/ is in 遅刻 (“late; arrive late” /chikoku/), 遅々として (“very slowly” /chi’chitoshite/).

6 The kanji 遊 “to play; have fun; travel around”

History of Kanji 遊History of Kanji 游The kanji 遊, with a bushu shinnyoo, does not appear in Setsumon Kaiji, Instead it was with a sanzui “water” (游). The history of the kanji 游 is shown on the right. In oracle bone style, the left and the top was a flagpole and a streamer of a clan. The bottom right was a child. The left bronze ware style writing showed a person viewed from the side. He was holding the flagpole with both hands firmly. The writing meant “clan” with a clan streamer swimming in the sky. In ten style, “water” was added on the left side to indicate “to swim.” When a bushu shinnyoo “to move forward” was added instead, the kanji 遊 originally meant “to travel around; move around.” From that it meant “to play; to have fun.” It also retained the original meaning of “moving about; traveling around” in the words such as 遊学 (“to travel abroad for leaning” /yuugaku/) and 外遊 (“to travel abroad” (often by a politician) /gaiyuu/).

The kun-yomi 遊ぶ /asonu/ means “to play; have fun.” The on-yomi /yuu/ include words such as 物見遊山 (“going on a pleasure jaunt” /monomiyu’san/) in addition to 遊学 and 外遊.

The clan’s pole and streamer in the kanji 旅旗族: In kanji it is written as 方 on the left side and two strokes at the top of the right component. But as we have just seen in the ancient writings above, they originally signified a single meaning. In the history of kanji I find that it is very rare that a meaningful unit got cut off in the middle like this. I believe this is a very rare case in which a meaningful segment was dropped off entirely. In a traditional kanji dictionary, even from the Setsumon times, it has been listed among 方 as a bushu. The kanji that share the same origin include 旅 (“to travel” /tabi’/), 旗 (“flag” /hata’/), and 族 (“family; clan” /zo’ku/.)

It looks like I need one more posting to finish up with kanji containing a bushu shinnyoo. [January 15, 2016]