Presently, as in the usage ‘matsuri: sale,’ the character 祭 ‘matsuri: feast, festival, festivity’ has come to be used also apart from the original religious context. Compared with the ancient usage, its meaning became slightly shallow.
The character 祭 originally depicts a scene of worship of ancestors’ souls in the mausoleum. The 又 at the right above is a hand, the part 月 at the left above is the meat offered, and 示 below is an altar, thus it shows the part of a ritual of offering worship meat on an altar with the hands. By adding the宀 roof classifier showing the roof of a mausoleum it gets 察 ‘satsu: guess,’ which originally means to inquire the divine will. The 阝 of 際 being a ladder for the gods, when conducting this ritual of presenting offerings, as result the gods descend. The tortoise plastron and bone character form being the starting point of 祭 does not have the element 示, which was added later in the bronze inscriptions. As the original character form of 禮 also has no 示 classifier in the early stages of Kanji development, it can well be understood that the number of character strokes is small on the tortoise plastron characters compared with the forms of later times due to the hard nature of the medium. As also could be seen in the case of 師, the custom of offering meat to worship the ancestors exists since old times. The dots at the part showing the meat in the above tortoise plastron character form represent drops of blood.
There may be some people who wonder what at all 笑う ‘warau: laughing’ has to do with 竹 ‘bamboo,’ as the Chinese characters supposes. As, among living creatures, laughing is a characteristic of human beings this character also somehow has to depict the image of a human being.
The part 竹 ‘bamboo,’ which became the classifier actually is a part of the body, the arms. It is the form of a female shaman calling for a divine message, laughing in an ecstasy-like state of mind, dancing while waving the hands over her head. Therefore, the ancients thought that laughing brings human beings close to the gods.
There is neither a tortoise plastron and bone character nor a bronze inscription of 笑. For the first time it appears in the Tenbun (Zhuàn Wén) seal. What has now become the so called grass classifier at the top of 若, of which tortoise plastron and bone inscriptions do exist, also shows hands and is the form of a dancing female shaman with raised hands. The meaning ‘young’ of the character 若 probably came from the female shamans usually being young of age. Furthermore, its other meaning ‘maybe’ has its origin in that transmission of a divine mission was not guaranteed. Later, starting with the form of the bronze inscriptions, 口, the shape of a prayer writing receptacle was added and from there it developed into the present character form.
The upper part of this character is often explained as assembling 日 ‘sun’ and 月 ‘moon’ to mean very ‘bright,’ which, however, is a misinterpretation. Dr Shirakawa has scolded explanations propounding simultaneous appearance of the sun and the moon in the sky as ‘idiotic.’ In the ancient character forms, the left part of 明 shows a 囧 window and the whole character part gets the meaning of moonlight shining through the window. Deification of the moon can be observed in all parts of the world. The moon is not just the light of the night; there also is the possibility of it showing the appropriate point of time for concluding an alliance. To regard pledges or oaths being guaranteed and authorized by the gods was a measure that enabled to treat traitors against an alliance the same as opponents to the gods. The 皿 (usually ‘plate’) actually is a version of 血 ‘blood’ shortened by one stroke. As this is a blood alliance, the alliance ritual consists in sipping blood from a plate together, swearing to be each others allies.
When it comes to explaining 蔑 as used in the compound 蔑視 ‘besshi: contempt,’ one has to go back to the curse rituals and ways of war of the Yīn (Shāng) dynasty.
Usually, the grass-classifier above indicates a plant. Here, however, it has to be seen as a unit formed together with 目 ‘eye’ in horizontal position. This unit means a female shaman of another people. As in the above character explanation of 寛 ‘kan,’ it shows the head of a female shaman with curse decoration above the eyes or eyebrows. The lower part 戌 means a weapon (halbard). The character as a whole shows the head of a hostile female shaman cut off with a halberd.
Pioneer forces formed by female shamans usually had the duty of spiritually intimidating the opponents.
The Japanese language has the reading 蔑ろ ‘naigashiro (ni suru: to despise, to neglect),’ which originates on the background of killing the shaman to destroy her curse power.
Until Shirakawa Kanji science became known, the 口 of 石 was traditionally explained as a piece of stone lying below a cliff. The tortoise plastron and bone characters, however, show that 口 is a sacred receptacle for putting in prayer writings. As was introduced in the explanation of 暦 ‘koyomi: calendar,’ 厂 shows the form of a steep cliff, and cliffs were regarded as places of strong spiritual power and were used for various religious services, worship and rituals. Other characters showing the relation between stones and spiritual power are 宕 and 祏. 宕, which shows a mausoleum, has 石 below 宀 a mausoleum roof. 祏, which means an ancestor tablet, combines the 示 altar classifier with 石. From 石 appearing in characters related to rituals and worship, it may be inferred that stones also functioned as altar.
Not only in antiquity, but also in the present, people with strong spiritual sense warn to take stones away from nature and bring them home as one pleases as spirits can easily dwell in these basic elements of nature. In Japan, especially in shrines, worship of stones can often be seen.
夕 is now regarded as the classifier of 夢. Actually, however, it is strongly related to the institution of the 媚 ‘miko: female shaman.’ As in 蔑, the upper part also shows a female shaman with eyebrow decoration. In antiquity, dreams were regarded as something mystical and thought of as being brought about by female shamans.
夕 points to the form of the moon at night. The early tortoise plastron and bone character has no 夕, but instead a 爿 showing the bedstead. Interestingly, all characters including 爿 are not displayed horizontally, but vertically.
In ancient China, a construction method called 版築 ‘hanchiku: board construction’ using boards existed for making clay walls. 爿 and 片 show such boards. Probably because such a board very much resembles a bedstead, in the early tortoise plastron and bone characters also a vertical 爿 board is contained as an element.
Among the tortoise plastron and bone writings a lot of examples of divination by means of dreams can be seen. The answer always took the form of an ‘auspicious’ - ‘inauspicious’ judgment. Among them a great number asks for the meaning of the appearance of deceased persons in dreams.
As a classic of dream interpretation based on ‘auspicious’ - ‘inauspicious’ judgment, ancient China has produced the 周公釈夢 ‘Zhōu Gōng Shì Mèng: Duke Zhōu’s Explanation of Dreams,’ which later also came to Japan and was widely read in the Edo period.
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.
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).