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 Ē~ČJ (Āgplum rain,Āh baiu/tsuyu), but any resident of the archipelago whose closets have been invaded by noxious green mold during Ē~ČJ will appreciate why it was originally written ÍÄČJ (Āgmoldy rain,Āh also pronounced baiu).
The second kanji in Ē~ČJ, ČJ (rain, ame), is comprised of a horizontal line, representing the heavens, with clouds and four raindrops underneath. The vertical line running through ČJ symbolizes Āgdescent from the heavens.Āh As a kanji component, ČJserves 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, ďd (DEN) meant Āglightening,Āh but now it almost always refers to Āgelectricity.Āh ďd was the first rain-component kanji my bicultural American/Japanese sons analyzed, at my urging, as second-graders. Sean saw a lightening bolt (āĶ) running through a rice field (ďc) under a rainy sky, while Lukas imagined Benjamin Franklin standing in a rainstorm clutching a kite (ďc) with a tail (āĶ). On a recent family trip to Shanghai, we noted the simplified PCR character for ĀgelectricityĀh was missing the rain component, consisting only of LukasĀf Āgkite.Āh
Tail-less óč (RAI/kaminari) is used today in Japan to represent both lightning and thunder. óč was originally written with three rice fields (ďc) at the bottom, instead of one, lending a connotation of reverberation. Together, óč and ďd form the Japanese compound word ĀgthunderboltĀh (óčďd, raiden, thunder/electricity).
źk (SHIN, shake) originally referred to a violent storm causing buildings and trees to shake. Now it just means ĀgshakeĀh in a general sense. Its bottom component, íC, 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 ĀgshakenĀh) at harvest time. ĀgEarthquakeĀh in Japanese is Āgground shakeĀh (ínźk, jishin).
The bottom component of óž (REI, spirit) once pictured a shamaness possessed by heavenly spirits, but has now evolved into a variant of ēņ (nara-bu, line up). (The two strokes at the top of ēņ are replaced by a vertical line in óž.) Picturing a row of spirits lined up outside their tombstones on a dark rainy night makes the shape and meaning of óž a snap to remember. óžČÄ (reien, spirit/garden), incidentally, means Āgcemetery.Āh
Inspect the lower half of éý (JU, demand) and you will see a component derived from a pictograph of facial hair (éß), with a horizontal moustache and four-whisker beard still in evidence: When a manĀfs beard gets soaked with rainwater, he demands shelter.
ēĶ (FUN, atmosphere) pictures raindrops ĀgdividedĀh (ē™, FUN/wa-keru) into microscopic parts. Č_ (kumo, cloud) is comprised of ČJ and a variant of ĀgmeetĀh (ČÔ, without the ĀgumbrellaĀh at the top, KAI): Imagine the clouds holding a daily Āgrain meetingĀh to decide whether they will sprinkle, pour, or take the day off and disappear altogether.
ėI (tsuyu/RO), meaning Āgdew,Āh is a rain-like substance condensed on hard surfaces, including paved roads (ėH, RO, road). (Note the Āglegs,Āh Ďę, walking down the road in ėH.) Twenty-one-stroke ėI is utilized as a one-kanji abbreviation for ĀgRussia,Āh because RO is the first sound in the Japanese word for that nation (Ro-shi-a, ÉćÉVÉA), but the graphically simpler three-stroke katakana version of RO, Éć, is often used instead.
źŠ (yuki, snow) is rain in a solid form that can be cleared away. Think of the bottom component (Éą) as a rake for getting the job done. In the PRC, where ďd (electricity) has lost its rain component, źŠ retains it. źŠ is used to render the Chinese name for the soft drink Sprite: źŠē… (snow/blue).
If you are a foreigner slogging through kanji learning methods designed for Japanese children, perhaps todayĀfs 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.
Match the following rain-component kanji from todayĀfs column with their meanings and pronunciations.
1.ČJ (rain) + Éą(rake) = źŠ
2.ČJ + íC (clam shell) = źk
3.ČJ + ēņ (line up) = óž
4.ČJ + ėH (road) = ėI
5.ČJ + ČÔ (meet) = Č_
6.ČJ + éß (beard) = éý
7.ČJ + ē™ (divide) = ēĶ
8. ČJ + kite with tail = ďd
9.ČJ + ďc (rice field) = óč
a. atmosphere (FUN)
f. snow (yuki)
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.