History of Kanji can be a little scary
One of the hardest things to learn Japanese may be Kanji (漢字). The problem of Kanji is not only its abstract form but also the reading, which usually one Kanji has more than two ways to read. Not even that, a Kanji has a Japanese way of reading (kun yomi / 訓読み) and a Chinese ways of reading (On yomi / 音読み). After clearing all these tasks, you still need to learn when you should read it in Kun yomi or in On yomi.
I may have discouraged you to learn Japanese… I apologise. But today, I´m not talking about how difficult to remember Kanji but to see what stories behind the Kanji.
Recently I´ve found out that Kanji has its origin and history and some of them are a little scary.
This is read as Shin (on yomi) and Ma (kun yomi). The meaning is truth, truly or really.
It sounds like a very nice character. Now let´s look at the old writing of this Kanji.
This is the same but the original way of writing. It´s not so common but still in use.
This character was originally to describe the dead body who lost the life because of the desastre. The top part “匕” was the dead body lie backward and the bottom part “県” was the hair hanging down from the body. Hmmm.
People believed that the dead people who were killed by a desastre became a vengeful spirit who has a strong spiritual power. And those spirits were needed to be enshrined to console the death.
This is why the characters, 慎(tsutsushimu / moderate) and 鎮 (shizumeru / quell) are used for the ceremonies to calm down the vengeful spirits.
Now let´s see the Kanji, 道, read as Michi (kun yomi) and Dou (on yomi) and the meaning is the way. People who practice martial arts are very familiar to this character and actually this is one of the most popular Kanji among them.
I always wondered why the way is related to 首 (neck). Now I know… Are you ready?
This Kanji was created from the form of a hand holding a head (separated from the body of course…).
Ancient time, people used a head to purify the bad spirits who bring desastres and curses on the wasteland where there were no roads.
Are you OK for one more?
This is 取, read as Toru (kun yomi) and Shu (on yomi), meaning is to take. It sounds very normal, doesn´t it?
However, the origin is a little cruel. On the left side of this Kanji is 耳 (mimi / ears) but do you know about the right side? 又 is read as Yuu (on yomi) and Mata (kun yomi). I have learnt the meaning of this character as help but actually this means a hand.
In the ancient China, soldiers cut the left ear of the enemy they killed to see how many they killed. The Kanji, 取 comes literary from the action of “taking the ears in the hand”. I find it quite brutal.
There are more but I will introduce them to you another time. Although it´s scary, I like to know the origin of Kanji. Do you?
More about Kanji