Kanji lightbulb moments

I love that “aha” moment when a kanji really makes sense visually.

I just had 機 come up in review (Level 20, machine, for anyone not there yet)
WK has a truly appalling mnemonic involving poop, which may be completely hilarious and memorable to others but never worked for me.
Useful fact: the “poop” radical 幺 actually means “short thread” (ie it’s a version of 糸)
So, the lightbulb moment came when I discovered that 機, containing two short threads, also means loom i.e. a machine for weaving threads.

Aaah, the little joys of kanji. :grin:

And now I am wasting time googling pictures of old Japanese looms…


Actually, I also read somewhere that 機 is a hieroglyph of a loom, but it’s not really possible now that I think about it. The part 幾 is used phonetically, what does 幾 (how many), 畿 (capital), 磯 (beach) or 譏 (slander) have to do with a loom?

It seems 幾 is related to policing something, there is a halberd 戈 or to protect 戍 in there, 𢆶 is either 絲 some decoration for the weapon, or something dangerous (related to 幽). In the end the Chinese called the loom き, and they used 幾 to mark the sound, and the loom き is made out of wood 木 (as shown by the radical).

If it helps you to remember the kanji it’s a good mnemonic to see a loom, maybe the Chinese even chose this phonetic as き for this reason (but it would rather be a pun?).

I found out recently that oftentimes when there is a sun 日 somewhere in a kanji that has nothing to do with sun it is actually a simplification of 曰 (really hard to see but the stroke in the middle doesn’t go all the way). It means to say something, or more generally to have something in the mouth [oftentimes an additional dot or stroke in kanji is used to highlight a part, like 本 or 刃.]. So 音 is actually closely related to 言, the lower part was also a mouth (with some words in it, or something that gags the mouth and just a muffled sound comes out).


Everyone should know this.

The 月 Moon radical you see in a lot of Kanji is actually quite often a form of the 肉 meat/flesh radical, this is why you so often find it in many Kanji characters relating to body parts.

You can forget thinking about the moon radical with all of these WK Kanji:

骨, 脳, 胸,腕, 肩, 腰, 腹, 胃, 背, 脈, 肺, 筋,臓, 肝, 脚, 肌, 胴, 胴, 脂, 肪, 胎, 膜, 腸, 胞


This is very helpful to know, just to add to this, in some fonts you can actually see a more “meaty” moon, like this: ⺼ (like in a)


My AHA! moment was when I realized ミスタースパーコル was actually a combination of a lightbulb from Tamaribuchi Manufacturing Concern and a fish from Matsumora Fishworks.




Puns are good! I like puns!

I did know that, but thanks for the impressive list of what I assume are body related words.

From Henshall

Thank you for this - I always thought it looked a lot like thread, so this makes good sense. And I totally agree on poop; it never worked for me either!


I think it’s nonsense. The character existed before they had even invented looms.

From Shirakawa

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Thank you for sharing. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter - I get an instantly recognisable kanji, and whether looms predate or postdate written language isn’t as important to me as burning those turtles.

Speaking of which… I can see what looks like one of my other favourites, the original form of 亀、on the adjacent page. :smiley:
I understand why it was simplified, but… :two_hearts:


Yes, it’s always an opportunity to learn something new. The ancient Chinese had to have something to produce the 絲 hanging from a halbert anyway, so no guarantees for the loom after reading a bit about it :slight_smile:

There are always lots of theories what a kanji is actually showing, and it does look like a loom …

That “turtle” looks like a crabigator to me. I vote unofficial mascot.


@acm2010 Please note that I am writing this to share information, not to argue.

It dawned on me while I was gardening for the last several hours that although your Japanese knowledge is unquestionably far better than mine, you may have been mistaken in your idea of how long looms have existed.

I found this article about looms in China: “It’s unclear when and where the first looms were developed, but archaeologists have found ancient looms parts at a variety of sites. For instance, in China’s eastern Zhejiang province archaeologists found an approximately 8,000-year-old loom from the Kuahuqiao archaeological site, and a roughly 7,000-year-old loom found at the Hemudu site”

This means looms had been around in China for several thousand years before the oldest oracle bones scripts.

My Henshall’s Guide (sorry, but it’s all I’ve got) has explanations for the existence of the halberd in the basic loom character and explains how loom came to mean predictable quantity and hence how many, but it appears to be far more basic than your Shirakawa so I expect you can re-read those listings with the switch in order of kanji/looms in mind to find out more than I could tell you.

Thanks for listing the other characters that loom appears in - it will be food for though as I progress through WK.


Yes, I also found out that the looms have to exist far longer, I was thinking of the ones with the wooden frame where you can press some pedal. But before that it seems that they used several sticks to do the same thing. It makes sense if you don’t want to walk around in some caveman attire, and they had the silk threads already.

I can also only read the works of people who have the means to find out what the origins are, and every source has a different theory. At least it is not so clear that it is a loom :slight_smile:

The part 幾 appears in many other kanji if you are interested in the listing (for some you probably need a more complete font) [there are only 幾機畿 in jouyou, however, and 畿 is not in WK]:

[璣 – pearl that is not quite round; the Chinese really have all bases covered …]

For the phonetic compounds it is not so important what the kanji actually shows, so this doesn’t give a hint what 幾 originally was.


I realized one day that エダマメ is 枝豆…branch beans…and カッコイイ is said when someone’s 格好 is いい


Lightbulb moments are what I’m banking on while learning - I’m living in Japan, speaking Japanese all the time, and learning new kanji is like puzzle pieces falling in place. It’s working beautifully, but I might run into more rare characters later that require mnemonics.


I’m kinda blown away by 格好いい, that makes so much sense :laughing:


Same here. I’m on the Yamanote line studying at this very moment!


Get home safe :slight_smile:

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