Column #103 Kanji Clinic The Japan Times, May 19, 2010
"Soak up a sprinkling of rain-component kanji"


The kanji compound word for Japan's annual rainy season-- set to commence in early June--is the poetic ~J (gplum rain,h baiu/tsuyu), but any resident of the archipelago whose closets have been invaded by noxious green mold during ~J will appreciate why it was originally written ꀉJ (gmoldy rain,h also pronounced baiu).

The second kanji in ~J, J (rain, ame), is comprised of a horizontal line, representing the heavens, with clouds and four raindrops underneath. The vertical line running through J symbolizes gdescent from the heavens.h As a kanji component, Jserves in a dozen general-use characters and always occupies the celestial (top) position. Most rain-component kanji represent meteorological concepts, but there are exceptions.

In ancient, fire-lit China, d (DEN) meant glightening,h but now it almost always refers to gelectricity.h d was the first rain-component kanji my bicultural American/Japanese sons analyzed, at my urging, as second-graders. Sean saw a lightening bolt () running through a rice field (c) under a rainy sky, while Lukas imagined Benjamin Franklin standing in a rainstorm clutching a kite (c) with a tail (). On a recent family trip to Shanghai, we noted the simplified PCR character for gelectricityh was missing the rain component, consisting only of Lukasf gkite.h

Tail-less (RAI/kaminari) is used today in Japan to represent both lightning and thunder. was originally written with three rice fields (c) at the bottom, instead of one, lending a connotation of reverberation. Together, and d form the Japanese compound word gthunderbolth (d, raiden, thunder/electricity).

k (SHIN, shake) originally referred to a violent storm causing buildings and trees to shake. Now it just means gshakeh in a general sense. Its bottom component, C, derives from a pictograph of a shell encasing a clam with protruding feelers. Clam shells were used in ancient China as cutting implements, including those swung to and fro (with a related meaning of gshakenh) at harvest time. gEarthquakeh in Japanese is gground shakeh (nk, jishin).

The bottom component of (REI, spirit) once pictured a shamaness possessed by heavenly spirits, but has now evolved into a variant of (nara-bu, line up). (The two strokes at the top of are replaced by a vertical line in .) Picturing a row of spirits lined up outside their tombstones on a dark rainy night makes the shape and meaning of a snap to remember. 쉀 (reien, spirit/garden), incidentally, means gcemetery.h

Inspect the lower half of (JU, demand) and you will see a component derived from a pictograph of facial hair (), with a horizontal moustache and four-whisker beard still in evidence: When a manfs beard gets soaked with rainwater, he demands shelter.

(FUN, atmosphere) pictures raindrops gdividedh (, FUN/wa-keru) into microscopic parts. _ (kumo, cloud) is comprised of J and a variant of gmeeth (, without the gumbrellah at the top, KAI): Imagine the clouds holding a daily grain meetingh to decide whether they will sprinkle, pour, or take the day off and disappear altogether.

I (tsuyu/RO), meaning gdew,h is a rain-like substance condensed on hard surfaces, including paved roads (H, RO, road). (Note the glegs,h , walking down the road in H.) Twenty-one-stroke I is utilized as a one-kanji abbreviation for gRussia,h because RO is the first sound in the Japanese word for that nation (Ro-shi-a, VA), but the graphically simpler three-stroke katakana version of RO, , is often used instead.

(yuki, snow) is rain in a solid form that can be cleared away. Think of the bottom component () as a rake for getting the job done. In the PRC, where d (electricity) has lost its rain component, retains it. is used to render the Chinese name for the soft drink Sprite: (snow/blue).

If you are a foreigner slogging through kanji learning methods designed for Japanese children, perhaps todayfs rain-based characters will inspire you to look at kanji as the sum of their parts and get on the fast-track, component-analysis approach to Japanese literacy.

QUIZ
Match the following rain-component kanji from todayfs column with their meanings and pronunciations.

1.J (rain) + (rake) =
2.J + C (clam shell) = k
3.J + (line up) =
4.J + H (road) = I
5.J + (meet) = _
6.J + (beard) =
7.J + (divide) =
8. J + kite with tail = d
9.J + c (rice field) =

a. atmosphere (FUN)
b.lightening/thunder (RAI)
c.shake (SHIN)
d.spirit (REI)
e.demand (JU)
f. snow (yuki)
g.cloud (kumo)
h.electricity (DEN)
i. dew (tsuyu/RO)

Answers: 1.f 2.c 3.d 4.i 5.g 6.e 7.a 8.h 9.b
Read a column about rain-related compound kanji words.

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