Volume 4: Kanji Form Categories

Kotoba zamurai articles are written to be a non-systematic approach to learning unusual, but useful words. While these not-so-serious articles are written with the upper-beginner to intermediate in mind, even beginners should be able to get something out of them. If not, I may have wasted 15 minutes of your life... I will leave it up to you to take the chance.


Volume 4: Kanji Form Categories

六書: What is it? Today we will look at how etymology of kanji are categorized. That is, there are 6 ways the ancient Chinese used to explain how each kanji is put together. Some kanji may have more than one way. These 6 categories are called 六書 pronounced りくしょ (not ろく)

Why am I reading this? Well, probably because you have nothing better to do. But other than the obvious, knowing what these are can be very helpful when using a Japanese kanji dictionary since it will probably explain the kanji's origin.


象形 しょうけい
Kanji that look like (or originally was supposed to look like) the object it represents

EXAMPLES:
sun - originally somewhat round with a dot in the middle - not sure what the dot was for (if you know please post a comment below)
moon, month
mountain - a mountain ridge
tree - a tree with low hanging branches
person - a person with no arms doing a split
child - a child needs a hug


指事 しじ
These are kanji whose meaning is somewhat abstract and is expressed as a kind of code.

EXAMPLES:
up, above - the small line is above ground level
heaven - the biggest line is above the man on earth
book - made from a tree (木)


会意 かいい
This is where 2 characters are put together to create a new meaning.

EXAMPLES:
ratio, compare - two people(人)
watch, care for - hand (手) and (目)
(mountain) pass - 山 (mountain), 上 (up) and 下 (down). This is a 和製漢字, for more click here


形声 けいせい
These are kanji with 2 parts usually one for the pronun