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Kanji of the Day

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Allons, enfants de la patrie... [Jul. 15th, 2005|12:18 am]
Kanji of the Day
kanjioftheday
[feyarh]
Yeah, so technically it's not Bastille Day anymore, but in honor of our French friends, here's:

BUTSU FUTSU hotoke

This character can refer either to Buddhism (and the Buddha Sakyamuni himself) or to... France. Obviously, the latter meaning is much more recent, and it comes from the on'yomi of FUTSU, which sounds sort of like the fu in furansu. There are other kanji like this with a bonus country meaning based on phonetics, like 独 (DOKU; "alone/independent") for doitsu (Germany / Deutschland) and 伊 (I, no real intrinsic meaning) for itaria (Italy). These are examples of ateji, a mostly defunct system of writing the names of foreign people, places, and (oddly enough) fruits and vegetables in kanji instead of katakana. It's too late at night for me to go on about ateji, but here's one teaser example: 鳳梨 ("phoenix pear") looks like a perfectly normal compound that should be read with the on'yomi of houri, but its official reading is actually パイナップル (painappuru, "pineapple" in katakana.) There's nothing quite like trying every possible exotic on'yomi reading you can think of to look up an unfamiliar kanji compound, only to realize that you were way off and the answer was actually freakin' "pineapple".

Anyway, you'll usually see 仏 in the Buddhist sense as part of a compound, and it's almost always read BUTSU. (The BUTSU and FUTSU readings themselves are approximations of the sound of the word "Buddha"; the original Chinese character predates Buddhism.) There's a famous huge Buddha statue in Nara called the daibutsu (大仏, "big Buddha"). Buddhism itself is 仏教 (bukkyou, "Buddha teachings"). Less commonly, 仏 stands alone with its kun'yomi of hotoke, and it can mean a Buddha or a kind-hearted and gentle Buddha-like person. France is written as 仏 only in formal-sounding compounds; if you want to talk about France in general, say furansu and write it in katakana, but if you want to talk about a French-German-Italian-Japanese Pineapple Treaty, say 仏独伊日鳳梨盟約 (futsu-doku-i-nichi-painappuru-meiyaku). And don't actually write pineapple with the defunct ateji unless you want people to think you're a huge dork (which is probably not a concern if you're already writing about fictional multinational pineapple treaties.) Got that?

In summary, the meaning of France associated with this character is a phonetic approximation based on a previous phonetic approximation that has nothing to do with the meaning of the original Chinese character, and the Japanese character is even written differently from the Chinese one. Mon dieu!

Bonus four-character compound, lest you thought I was going to post something without demons or devils in it: 鬼面仏心 (kimenbusshin), which literally means "devil face, Buddha heart" and refers to someone who looks fierce but is really a good-natured softy. Note that the butsu contracts to bus- before the shin sound.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: brownkuma
2005-07-15 08:21 am (UTC)
here is a more detailed list:

Japanese Full name/ for short/ mordern japansese/chinese full name/ for short
仏蘭西/仏/フランス/法兰西/法
和蘭陀/和蘭/オランダ/荷兰/荷
亜米利加/米/アメリカ/美利坚/美
英吉利/英/イギリス/英吉利/英
瑞西/瑞西/スイス/瑞士/瑞士
西班牙/西/スペイン/西班牙/西
德意志/德/ドイツ/德意志/德
葡萄牙/葡/ポルトガル/葡萄牙/葡
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From: feyarh
2005-07-15 08:26 am (UTC)
Thanks. :) For those of you out there who are suddenly worrying about learning a new way to write the name of every country, you'll really only see the long forms on kanji-related game shows, on the top level of the Kanji Proficiency Test, and in writings from before World War II. They can be great fun, though ("I can write Portugal using grapes and a fang!")
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[User Picture]From: brownkuma
2005-07-15 08:53 am (UTC)
Well, actually they are just some transliteration, not too much you call 日本 Japan ;3 And most of them are created in 17th or 18th centry. Much earlier then WWII ;3
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From: feyarh
2005-07-15 03:42 pm (UTC)
Yeah, they were probably most prevalent during the Meiji Restoration, and then they kinda faded out as it became more fashionable to use katakana. I'm not sure if the postwar language reforms actually did away with ateji, or if they just became unpopular on their own.
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[User Picture]From: rikoshi
2005-07-15 10:17 pm (UTC)
I think that, in postwar Japan, just using Japanese to speak Japanese has become unpopular.

I about shit my pants when I saw the word タクティックスライク in the design documentation for a game here at work. I mean, 戦略的 is already a word, for chrissakes! And even if you had to use katakana-eigo, couldn't you at least just say タクティックス的 and retain some semblance of disbelief that you're still speaking Japanese.

Rrf.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-11-02 01:28 pm (UTC)

Another Kanji Blog! OMG!

Hii!!! Nice bloggg! (This is no SPAM!)

Well.. I'm just here to tell you that I've just made a similar blog, but no so explanative :P. Maybe I'll link you from there :P! The URL is http://unkanji.blogspot.com. Greets.
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[User Picture]From: sakura_no_kage
2006-01-03 06:49 am (UTC)
cool. ateji are fun ^_^
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