Many people believe that kanji characters are
hieroglyphs which encodes visual illustration of real objects
such as a bird, a tree, a river, etc. However, this is not necessarily
true. According to the traditional accounts of the Japanese language,
kanji characters in fact involve 6 different formational procedures.
One of them is called shoo-kei.
Shoo-kei represents a hieroglyph in which a character is derived
from describing the shape of an object in the real life. For instance,
is derived from an image of a mountain. Similarly,
takes the form of a river in which the left and the right lines represent banks and line in the middle indicates a stream.
Other examples of such shoo-kei kanji
are (hi, sun),
(ki, tree), and many others.
The second procedure which is used to create kanji is called shiji. Shiji can be translated in English
indication and is used to designate a
specific direction or a number. For example,
up or above because it points to the upper direction. Similarly,
down or below because it points to the
The third procedure which is used for kanji formation is called
kaii. Kaii refers to a compound ideograph
which consists of several components which together contribute to the
meaning of a character. One good example of this is
consists of several
(ki, tree) thus it
indicates a forest which is actually a collection of many number of trees. On the other hand,
represents the meaning like
because it illustrates the picture of
(onna, woman) holding
(ko, child); a symbolic picture of liking someone.
The fourth method of character formation is called
keisei. Keisei represents
the case in which a certain component is included in a character in order to
indicate a specific reading. For instance,
(ka, river) consists of two components
Between the two, is read ka and it
provides the reading to the character
which is also read ka. In the similar vein,
is read kou because one of its components
has the reading kou.
In each of these cases, another component in a character
(water) endows a particular meaning to these characters because both of them are somehow related to water.
The fifth procedure used for kanji formation
is called kashaku. Kashaku can be translated in English
as temporary borrowing and it indicates a case in which a certain kanji
was started to be used to represent a certain word because of their phonological equivalence.
(tou) originally indicated
a tool used in rites and rituals.
was later applied to the Japanese original word tou which means beans because they had similar readings.
Eventually, the meaning of as beans
became more popular than the original one and it even superceded the original meaning.
Finally, tenchuu indicates the case in which a new meaning
has been derived from the original meaning of a character but does not have an immediate relationship with each other.
For instance, (kuu)
originally indicated emptiness.
was later used to indicate the meaning the sky by applying the Japanese original word sora
because it is somehow related to emptiness.
is now popularly used as sora which indicates the sky than the original meaning of emptiness.
These 6 major procedures altogether contribute to the formation of kanji characters and have created diversity in the systems.