In ancient China, corners of rooms were thought of as places where evil spirits can hide easily. Underground grave chambers of nobility are represented by the form 亜 (亞) indicating the four reeled off corners.
Ancient clan ‘insignia’ also had the standard form of 亞 with several inscriptions inside. As a rare example, among the inscriptions there also is an equivalent of the element 莫 (meaning ‘dark’). As in the later Tenbun (Zhuàn Wén) style, however, the form 亞 which means ‘grave’ did not remain, here also the lineage of the common explanation as ‘natural’ (not underground) grave as is usual also in traditional grave geomancy will be introduced in the following.
墓 is usually categorized as picto-phonetic character, here it is regarded as a pictograph in the first line. The character combines the upper part 艸 ‘grass’ and 日 ‘sun’ with the lower part, 艸 ‘grass’ and 土 ‘soil,’ showing a state of freshly green sprouting grass. With its sunshine, the bright shining sun fills the grassy plain with vivid life. This shows the ideal of the corpse returning to the soil and to nature. According to Yin-Yang thought, there has to be a balance of the sun (Yang) and the earth or soil (Yin).
The shortened character 礼 is in use already since the time of the Hàn dynasty. By erasing the right part of the original character nearly completely, however, the custom originally shown by this character can no longer be detected.
Ironically, from the standpoint of Kanji science, this maybe regarded as offending etiquette. By this change of character form, the original way of thinking that politeness and wealth are interrelated is now concealed.
The original function and meaning of the classification marker 示 is that of an altar for placing offerings, indicating a character related to religion. After the Yīn (Shāng) and the Zhōu dynasty, actually inappropriately, it came to be accepted as the main part of the character.
Meeting with Dr Shirakawa personally, on of the things I could learn was “The Bushu (classification markers) are often mistaken.” This may also be applied to this character as the original form consists in the right part only. The 示 marker was added much later. Of course, here, the lower 豆 does not represent a ‘bean,’ the other meaning of this character form; it shows a kind of tableware or vase for arranging 丰, a sort of millet. For the part 曲 there also is the linage that shows the pictograph of a musical instrument. Here, however, it shows the offering of two or three stalks of millet. Unnecessarily, by adding the classification marker 示, it became a stand or altar with a vase or tableware next to it. The character 豊 shows offering millet to the gods in a vase or tableware.
The original character is 獨. 蜀 means a male animal. 虫 does not show an insect but the male genitals. As the male animal often separates from the herd, from this behavior of separation and acting alone resolutely and independently, it got the meaning ‘hitori: alone.’ The 犭 animal classifier was added later in the Tenbun (Zhuàn Wén) seal, after basic Chinese characters had been formed already in the Yīn (Shāng) and the Zhōu dynasty.
The works of Dr. Shirakawa also teach that in the realm of usage of Chinese characters since the period of the Yīn (Shāng) dynasty, the animal classifier was used as an expression of contempt and discrimination regarding other peoples or countries.
In Japan, before a unified German state came into existence, in the time leading to the opening of the country during the final years of the Tokugawa period, the characters 独逸 (abbreviated 独) were used for the German speaking people although the reading ‘doku’ does not fit the pronunciation at all. Early documents show that in 度逸 or 都逸, 度 and 都 were alternative characters also read ‘doitsu’ in combination with 逸, but the above version still is in use since 150 years. Regarding countries, however, the use of the animal classifier probably is not appropriate. Dr. Shirakawa has explained this as the ‘Superior Country In The Middle Ideology of the Japanese’ (‘Superior Country In The Middle Ideology’ is a term for the nationalist thought that China is situated in the middle of the world, its culture being superior to others). In the captions of his dictionaries for this character as well as comparable characters used for other countries, there generally is no recognition of such a usage for country names.
This character cannot be seen among the tortoise plastron, bone, or bronze inscription characters but from the Tenbun (Zhuàn Wén) seal script on. Certainly, it can be divided into a left and right part. It, however, would be too rash to jump to an A+B style mathematical explanation. Dr. Shirakawa summarizes: “The meaning is to realize an oath.”
Rather than a mere superficial interpretation like that of a 言 ‘kotoba: word’ that 成る ‘naru: realizes,’ one has to take the customs and religion of ancient China into consideration here. As was pointed out in the explanation of 信, the 口 of the lower part 言 is a vessel for putting in prayer writings. The meaning of the upper part with its four horizontal lines is hard to understand from the form of the Common Use Kanji. Its original form and meaning has to be understood in the context of the tattoo and ritual body painting culture. It shows the form of an instrument, a needle with a handle for tattooing. Already this part 言 only has the meaning of words of oath to the gods.
The part 成 shows the form of the ritual of completion performed after the making of a 戈 ‘hoko: halberd’ is finished, adding a decoration. This means that the left and right character parts have their origin in religion.
Its original character is 气. Again, the original character of 气 is 乞, the form of moving clouds. 気 can be thought of as the basic unit of energy, be it air, atmosphere, weather, vapor, or breathing.
In ‘Explanation of Common Use Kanji,’ the last character dictionary of Dr. Shirakawa, for the first time in his dictionaries, we find his explanation commenting on the vital role of 米 ‘rice’ nurturing 気 spirit or energy. By the way, also Jacob Chang-Ui Kim from Korea gave a similar view in his English explanation of Kanji.
Food is what supplies living beings with energy. Without eating, one cannot live and there is no vitality. From ancient times on, rice is the basic food and basis of energy in East Asia.
The upper part of 気 can also be thought of as the rising steam from rice boiling, and it therefore may even be regarded as a pictograph. In Japanese, 気 came to be used in a lot of expressions describing human feelings and states of mind. In East Asia as a whole, it has become the basis of martial arts culture built on the importance of breathing techniques, as Chinese shadow boxing and Aikidō.
In ancient Greek philosophy, with ‘pneuma,’ there is a very similar notion. The Stoa, a classic school of thought that commends pantheism and a life style following the laws of nature, taught that ‘pneuma,’ the most fine matter like air, is the carrier of ‘logos,’ or world reason, extant everywhere in the universe. In this sense, 気 is (was) a common way of thinking in East and West.
This character is a so-called compound ideograph. What regards the upper part 宀 (ukanmuri: roof classifier) which can be seen also in a lot of other characters, it does not simply show a roof, but is the roof of a mausoleum. This character points at the basis of Asian religious culture, the custom of memorial service for the ancestors and ancestor worship. One key to the long period of peace that can be seen in Asian history thus is included in this Kanji. By thinking about the favors received from the ancestors, it is possible to endure the hardships of human life and one becomes wide-hearted and more broad-minded. When recalling one’s ancestors with their different ways of thinking and life philosophy, one becomes more tolerant regarding people leading diametric opposite lives and holding completely different opinions in the present, and the essence of human life shows.
The lower part is a priestess or shrine maiden engaged in a ritual in the mausoleum. Shintō, the indigenous religion of Japan also often has rituals with shrine maidens inspired when in religious frenzy. In such a state, the priestess gets relaxed and conveys a divine message. The appearance of the priestess or shrine maiden at this time stresses her eyes with what in the character form of the Common Use Kanji looks like a grass-classifier but actually is a curse decoration. Both, the minds and hearts of the family taking part in the ritual as well as the relaxed conduct of the priestess or shrine maiden contribute to the meaning of the character.
It is a character combining the person-classifier and 言. In this combination, it appears for the first time in the so-called Old Script. 言, however, can already be seen in the tortoise plastron and bone characters. As already explained in the character explanations on 吉・哲・仁, its lower part 口 has the meaning of a receptacle for putting in prayer writings. The meaning of the upper part with its four horizontal lines is hard to understand from the form of the Common Use Kanji. Its original form and meaning has to be understood in the context of the tattoo and ritual body painting culture which was already introduced in the character explanation on 清. It shows the form of an instrument, a needle with a handle for tattooing. Therefore, 言 is not simply a word, but means to place the tattoo needle on the prayer receptacle and to accept the tattoo penalty in case one does not keep a promise or oath to the gods. Originally, this tattooing has the background of offending the gods and can be regarded as one of the corporal punishments as were usual in Chinese society. According to Shizuka Shirakawa’s research, in contrast to the general image of Confucius, Confucius was the natural child of a priestess or shrine maiden. The world of the gods Confucius seldom made a subject. Based on words like that of Analects Chapter 12, 顔淵 Yán Yuān and others, however, 信 ‘trust’ became to play a role as a notion in social politics. In Japan, the value of 信 ‘trust’ was pointed out anew by Itō Jinsai (1627-1705), the inaugurator of the ‘Old Meaning School.’ When asked which of the trio – food, army, trust – was the most valuable, Confucius answered that food is more important than the army, but that the trust of the people is an even more important, absolutely vital principle. Certainly, fasting of individuals or even a people for their belief can be seen in religious and political struggle.
清 is a character combining the 氵 three dots water-classifier and 青 ‘blue-green,’ that can first be seen in the Tenbun (Zhuàn Wén) seal script. In reliable Kanji science, the classifier does certainly not always show the leading notion of the character’s meaning, here, however, it originally points to the clearness of water. The basis of its meaning is 青 ‘blue-green,’ which is a color that represents the aesthetic sense of the time when Kanji were created. The lower element of 青 is 丹, which means that there is 丹 ‘cinnabar, vermilion’ (pigment taken from earth and rocks including sulfur) in the mine’ s well for digging cinnabar. Cinnabar of green-bluish color was also collected from such mining wells. The upper element of 青 represents 生 which shows fresh, green, sprouting grass. Chinese characters were created by clerics of the ancient Chinese dynasty of the Yīn (Shāng) dynasty. In contrast to the following Zhōu period, the people of Yīn (Shāng) were a coastal people or were living in areas close to the seas. Even in the present sailors often have tattoos. Especially coastal people often had the custom of tattooing and ritual body painting, which is an expression of the religious view of that period. Such 青 was used as a ‘sacred’ color in rituals. Therefore, the 青 of the so called 青銅器 ‘Seidôki: bronze vessels’ (青銅 ‘Seidô: bronze’) also is no accident. Blue and vermilion were both used for curse exorcism and pacification. It was believed that a force working against curses that exorcizes evil spirits resides in the color used for ritual body painting and festive vessels. As was already emphasized in color theories like that of Von Goethe and Schopenhauer, it is evident that such sacred colors as green-blue and vermilion strike the visual sense intensely. Among them, 青 blue-green was thought of as an especially tranquil color with a pacifying and purifying effect most appropriate in curse exorcism.