Say Something About The Kanji Above You

This is my opportunity to finally find out how the word. 弁当(べんとう) came to be. It never really made sense logically to me.

[ten minutes pass] … and that is because it is an ()() for a Chinese word meaning 「convenience」. Apparently the original word is something like biàndang. In Chinese it was 便 (easy) 當 (to be regarded as). Which may be simplified as 便当. Over the centuries, in Japanese, it became 便道 and 弁道, until it finally settled into today’s kanji. (learned from Japanese Wikipedia I may have misread some if it!)

Which is how a kanji usually used for dialects got to be for lunch.

Further more, this kanji which depicts a cap being placed on a man’s head was adopted as a simplification of two old Japanese kanji 辨 and 瓣, both voiced as べん, from whence we get words such as 弁明(べんめい) and 花弁(かべん).



This kanji is common and useful, but properly describing its meaning is annoyingly tricky.

WK calls it correct, but I prefer to think of it as on target or hit the mark. Either way, it has a range of related meanings with that general theme.

The traditional form is , which we saw in the 弁当 discussion above. The ヨ part seems to be based on a calligraphic form.

One vocabulary use that I run into a lot is the prefix 当〜, which can mean “this place” or “this organisation”:

  • 当ビル (this building)
  • 当劇場 (this theatre)

You might see this sort of thing on signage.

Here’s another kanji containing a ヨ shape:


Yuki - it reminds me of dark and cold winter days in Niigata Prefecture which really made me appreciate taking hot baths in winter, even after returning to my country. I think I have seen Niigata-ken being referred to as 雪国 before - country of snow.

Drawing from that association I will post a tough one, which I only know from the place name: 新潟(にいがた)の潟 (がた). It means “lagoon” and my local Japanese teacher said even their friend, a Japanese who grew up in Tokyo usually can’t properly write it when sending them post cards.

So here you go:



As noted, a difficult kanji to write by hand.
But without it, we would never be able to visit




Visually, this one is pretty straightforward: it’s a drawing of a river! Not much else to say on that front.

WK teaches the 訓読み reading かわ, since it seems to be a lot more common.

You might encounter the 音読み reading in the word 川柳せんりゅう, a kind of poetry. It comes from the nickname of the poet 柄井川柳からいせんりゅう, who lived during the Edo period (江戸時代えどじだい).

Next up, how about another kanji that includes the 川 shape:


Meaning rough or wild, occurring in many compounds to describe wild weather, wild seas, etc. And also apparently 荒らし means “internet troll.” One of the compounds I learned when looking up this kanji is 荒唐無稽 meaning absurd, nonsensical, preposterous.

Next kanji: 稽


Hmm, this is a 常用漢字じょうようかんじ (since 2010), but it’s not in WK, so it’s probably a relatively uncommon one.

My dictionary defines it as think or consider, and almost all of the listed word are variations of 稽古けいこ (practice, training, study). Presumably it gets used in some circumstance that made it important enough to add, but I wonder what that would be.

The next kanji shares 旨 as a common element:


This kanji has been around in since the beginning of kanji in Japan, meaning finger.
If you want to make metaphors, use body parts.
()す to nominate
指揮(しき) command
指揮者(しきしゃ) conductor
指名手配(しめいてはい) wanted by the police
()()す to aim at

Here is another body part. It is an uncommon kanji, but I think it is pretty.


I knew right away that this was likely to be a 表外字ひょうがいじ, a kanji not on the official 常用漢字じょうようかんじ (common-use kanji) list.

Why? Because the right part is , but in Jōyō kanji that part gets simplified down to . So when you see the original version, you are probably looking at a non-Jōyō kanji, or the traditional form of a simplified Jōyō kanji.

(There is actually an “unofficial” simplified version of this particular character: 𥇥.)

Anyway, the character itself means eyelid, which probably explains why we see a 目 on the left.

Before I close my eyelids, I’d like to suggest another same-component kanji:


For much the same reason that Zalathar suggests, we can be fairly certain just from looking at this kanji that it’s a shinjitai character, which is to say one with a simplified form that is specific to Japan, because the component 㑒 is different not only from the Traditional Chinese 僉 but also the Simplified Chinese 佥.

Wiktionary (citing Schuessler’s ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese) lists several words thought to be cognates with 険, all (sort of) having to do with things that are high, big or impressive:

Chinese Japanese Meaning Old Chinese (reconstructed) Standard Chinese On’yomi
steep, perilous *qʰramʔ xiǎn けん
strict, stern *ŋam yán ごん > げん
high, lofty > dangerous and important *ŋraːm yán げん > がん
high, lofty > cliff, rock *ŋraːm yán げん > がん
dignified, majestic *ŋamʔ yǎn げん
lofty, large > work *ŋab ごう > ぎょう

This is also thought to be connected to the Tibetan word རྔམས (rngams, “height, splendor”) and the Burmese ငြမ်း (ngram:, “scaffold”).

For the next one, let’s go with … 営

1 Like

The 訓読み for this one is いとな, meaning “to run a business” (and some other similar meanings).

The etymology for this one is interesting. It comes from a modified form of an old word いと, which as you might guess means “having no free time” or “busy”.

So if I understand correctly, the idea is that you must be doing something important (such as running a business, or carrying out some other important activity), and that’s why you have no free time to spare.

Next up:


A nice 漢字(かんじ) to begin 四字熟語(よじじゅくご)

  • (ゆう)(みょう)(しょう)(じん) engage in ascetic practices with dauntless spirit.
  • 勇気百倍(ゆうきひゃくばい) inspire someone with fresh courage
  • 勇往邁進(ゆうおうまいしん) dash and go, pushing forward
  • 勇気陰々(ゆうきいんいん) full of spirit, brimming with courage
  • 勇猛果敢(ゆうもうかかん) daring and resolute
  • 勇敢(ゆうかん)()() being unmatched for bravery
  • 勇猛(ゆうもう)()() most brave
  • 勇将弱卒(ゆうしょうじゃくそつ) there are no cowardly soldiers under a superior general

The last one is a nice poetic expression. Yet reading the characters literally does not fully express the meaning. Literally we have Courageous General Weak Soldier, but I think that 卒 is used in the sense to death, so Courageous General Weak Die. Or maybe the “no” is just not explicitly stated: Courageous General, No Weak Soldier.

Maybe @Leebo先生(せんせい) can explain this one.


This is one of those kanji where even though the parts never made sense to me (it’s a phono-semantic compound, 犬 in けものへん form gives the category of the meaning and 孟 just supplies the pronunciation) I never had any trouble remembering it or how to write it. It’s weird that some kanji are just like that.

It’s not too difficult in readings or meanings either… it pretty much is always もう in common words and it’s pretty much always “fierce.” It might have more obscure uses, I’m not sure, but that’s pretty much it for jouyou content.

Have we done 一 yet?


Thank you, but I was actually asking if you could explain 勇将弱卒, Leebo. :slight_smile:
See above.

Still 一


It’s literally “Courageous General, Weak Soldier.” You have to know the full meaning on its own to know that it’s about “no weak soldiers.” Many yojijukugo come from old Chinese expressions or stories (as opposed to just being invented originally as yojijukugo) and if you don’t have the context of the original you wouldn’t necessarily be able to guess what the meaning was. I don’t think it’s more complicated than that.


Thank you Leebo. That was my guess, but I thought that I might be missing something with one of the kanji.

一 is arguably the simplest kanji, but there are situations where its simplicity can be an issue. For example, if you’ve agreed to pay somebody 一万円 for something, you wouldn’t want them to draw a few extra lines into the contract to make it 三万円, 五万円, 十万円 or even 千万円.

To get around this issue, both Chinese and Japanese have an additional set of more complex numerals that are used on banknotes and legal documents. In Chinese, they are called 大寫 (dàxiě) and in Japanese they are called だい.
The Chinese 大寫 equivalent of 一 is the homophone 壹 (“faithful, committed” in Classical Chinese). In Japanese, the simplified shinjitai version 壱 is used, instead, as can be seen in this 壱万円 banknote:

Adding to this: As far as I can tell (from sources like Kotowaza Allguide), this does indeed come from a Chinese classic. Specifically, it appears to be from Su Shi’s 題連公壁, where it is rendered (at least in modern Chinese sources) as 強將下無弱兵, or 強將手下無弱兵, or something similar, in which the negation 無 is more explicit.

As you say, yojijukugo often don’t make much sense unless you know the reference (or have absorbed the meaning from observing its contemporary use). Often they are a list of two things, but the actual profundity comes from the relationship between those things, which usually is not stated within the yojijukugo itself. Sometimes, that relationship is a comparison, sometimes it is a correlation, sometimes it is a contrast, sometimes it is causal relationship.

Anyhow, let’s continue with another number:


五十音順ごじゅうおんじゅん (lit. fifty sound order) is the ordering used in modern Japanese for sorting things based on their kana spelling.

It divides the base kana into ten rows (ぎょう) based on their initial consonant sound (or null consonant), and then arranges the items in each row in あいうえお order.

The order of the rows is: あ・か・さ・た・な・は・ま・や・ら・わ. So for example, the next kana after お is か, and so on.

(This ordering of consonants was originally based on Sanskrit, but has some differences due to pronunciation shifts over time.)

Despite its name, the 10x5 arrangement does not contain 50 sounds, because there are no kana for yi/ye/wu, and because the kana wi/we are no longer in regular use. There is also not an orderly place for ん, so it gets slotted in after を in the ordering.

There are rules for placing small kana (っゃゅょ) and voiced/semivoiced kana (e.g. ば, ぱ) after their regular versions.

五十音順 has mostly replaced a system known as じゅん, which arranged kana in an order based on a particular poem that included each base kana exactly once.



This is interesting, always wondered about this! Guess they also look better on mako reactors ;).


Still on thoughts of 四字(よじ), we have this:

色即是空(しきそくぜくう) form is indeed emptiness

This is straight up from the Heart Sutra, and the full expression is

The only other 四字(よじ) that I find with this character is

色恋沙汰(いろこいざた) a love affair.
Literally color romance sand washing.
This looks like two words:
色恋(いろこい) love affair
沙汰(ざた) sand washing

I just love these kanji: