The history and structure of Kanji

日本文化(にほんぶんか):Japanese culture

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The history of Kanji

Hello, this is MIKA!

Autumn has already come, and we have hot days and cool days around Tokyo.

By the way, autumn is the season of eating, a sport, reading, and an art!

A part of an art, I recommend you to try “Syodou”, Japanese calligraphy.

“Shodou” is the art to write characters or sentences with a writing brush and Japanese ink.Without Japanese ink, use a black paint in place of it!

By the way, Kanji is the characters which has originally come from China, do you know how they come to being?

Of course they weren’t same as now.

Then, let me show you the history of Kanji!

“Koukotsu-moji”, the characters for a fortune telling








“Koukotsu-moji” is the oldest ancestor of Kanji which we have found presently.

They had been used from 17 B.C. to 10 A.C. , the era of “殷(In)”, one of the Chinese dynasty.

In these days, people cracked a shell of a turtle or a shoulder bone of animals to divine the future by recognize how it cracked.

And they recorded the result of divining was right or not with “Koukotsu-moji”.

*Koukotsu is “甲骨” in Japanese, and it means “A shoulder bone”.

How they come to being?

In “Koukotsu-moji”, there are some characters which describe a shape of something. In other words, they like a pictograph.

For example, the upper figure explains the history of “木(き/a tree)”, “山(やま/a mountain)”, “川(かわ/a river)”, “日(ひ/sun)”, and “月(つき/moon)”.

“木(き/a tree)” describes a branch, bole, and root,  “川(かわ/a river)” expresses the situation that a water is running, and “月(つき/moon)” is a crescent moon covered with a cloud.

And this figure introduces the history of “口(くち/a mouth)”, “雨(あめ/a rain)”, “手(て/a hand)”, “火(ひ/a fire)”, and “鳥(とり/a bird)”.

“口(くち/a mouth)” describes a opening mouth, “雨(あめ/rain)” expresses a raining from a cloud, “鳥(とり/a bird)” simplifies its beak, eye, wing, and foots.

Of course they have been changed through many steps, but this is the history of Kanji.

Like them, a part of Kanji which describes a shape of something is called “Shoukei-moji” in Japanese.

In addition, a part of Kanji which expresses a concept like “上(うえ/upper side)” and “下(した/down side)” had been made with a dot and line; they are called “Shiji-moji”.

The structure of Kanji

Then, let’s go to the second theme; the structure of Kanji.

People who are studying Kanji have a hard time becouse of that, however, Japanese people also have practiced hard to acquire in the childhood.

That’s why we know the effective way to learn Kanji!

To sum up, if you just know the structure of Kanji, it’ll be so easy to remember the meaning, how to write and read!!

Today, I’ll tell you that knowledge!

“Bushu”; a part of Kanji

First, there are so many Kanji which has been made with two or more parts.

Some of them are “Kaii-moji”; the Kanji which has other different Kanjis and new meaning and pronunciation.

For example, if unite “山(やま/a mountain)” and “石(いし/a stone)”, it’ll be “岩(いわ/a rock)”.

And others are “Keisei-moji”; the Kanji which has a part of meaning and pronunciation.

For example, if unite “日(ひ/sun)” and “青(あお・セイ/blue)”, it’ll be “晴(はれ・セイ/a good weather)”.

Then, “Kaii-moji” and “Keisei-moji” are constructed with some “Bushu”, the parts of Kanji.


First, the meaning of the Kanji which has “San-zui”, the 12th of ①部首(Bushu)「へん」 is related “a water” mostly.

(うみ)/the sea ②(みずうみ)/a lake ③(およ)ぐ/swim ④(あ)びる/pour ⑤(あら)う/wash ⑥(ふか)い/deep ⑦(あさ)い/shallow ⑧(なが)れる/flow ⑨(あせ)/sweat ⑩(しる)/a soup ⑪(ゆ)/a hot water

“Risshin-ben”, “Kokoro”

Second, the meaning of the Kanji which has “Rissinben” ,the 6th of ①部首(Bushu)「へん」 or “Kokoro”, the 4th of ④部首「あし」, is related “a mind”, “a mental”, and “a feeling” mostly.

(なさ)け/kindness,pity,sympathy,charity ②(こわ)い/be afraid,scared ③(くや)しい/be  frustrated ④(なや)む/be troubled ⑤(おこ)る/get angry ⑥(こい)/love ⑦(おも)う、(おも)う/think ⑧(こころざ)す/aspire ⑩志(いし)/will

“Kusa-kammuri”, “Ki-hen”

Third, the meaning of the Kanji which has “Kusa-kammuri” ,the first of ③部首(Bushu)「草(くさ)かんむり」or “Ki-hen” is related “a plant” mostly.

(くさ)/a leaf ②(はな)/a flower ③(つぼみ)/a bud ④(う)える/plant ⑤(はやし)/a grove ⑥(ひいらぎ)/a holly ⑦(えだ)/a branch ⑧(つくえ)/a desk ⑨(さくら)/a cherry blossom ⑩(ね)/a root


Fourth, the meaning of the Kanji which has “Ame-kammuri”, the third of ③部首(Bushu)「かんむり」 is related “a weather” mostly.

(くも)/a cloud ②(かみなり)/a thunder ③(きり)/a fog ④(しも)/a frost ⑤(つゆ)/a dew ⑥(ひょう)/a hail ⑦(みぞれ)/a sleet ⑧(かすみ)/a haze ⑨(もや)/a mist ⑩(ゆき)/a snow


Fifth, the meaning of the Kanji which has “Yamai-dare”, the third of ⑥部首(Bushu)「たれ」 is related “an illness” mostly.

気(びょうき)/an illness ②(あと)/a mark ③(いや)す/heal ④治(ちりょう)/a medical treatment ⑤状(しょうじょう)/a symptom


Finally, there is no explaining on the figure, the meaning of the Kanji which has “Kai-hen”,is related “a money” mostly. The reason why is that people used a shell as a money in ancient China.

(た)める/save ②入(こうきゅう)する/buy ③産(ざいさん)/a property ④売(はんばい)する/sell ⑤賄賂(わいろ)/a bribe


Additionally, the Kanji which expresses the name of fishes has “Uo-hen”, and the Kanji which expresses the name of metals has “Kane-hen”.

【Examples of Kanjis with “Uo-hen”】

(まぐろ)/ a tuna ②(さけ、しゃけ)/ a salmon ③(にしん)/ a herring

【Examples of Kanjis with “Kane-hen”】

(ぎん)/ a silver ②(どう)/ a copper ③(てつ)/ an iron

Like that, Kanjis include a bushu which are related the meaning of them.

Final comment

How was it?

Kanji is really complexed and it’s very hard to remember how to write and read.

Moreover, there are more and more bushu without them which I told you!!

However, if you remember the meaning of each Kanjis and there are some of them, it’s convenient because you can understand the meaning of some words even it’s the first time to see.

And more than anything else, you can be prounde of your knowledge of Kanji for your family and friends! If you learn “Shodou”, they will respect you!!

Even now you’re troubled by Kanji, however, I wish you’ll like Kanji so much!