A friend recently commented on how much she likes the character “柊 (hîragi), holly, because the radicals mean tree-winter.” The characters for different kinds of trees, different kinds of fish (鮭、鯨、鮪), flowers (菖蒲、薔薇), fruits (苺、芭蕉、林檎) can be among the most difficult to learn and recognize; they come up relatively infrequently, and are half the time rendered in katakana and not kanji anyway. But, I find that they can also be among the most fun, interesting, and in some ways, beautiful.
Characters like these – especially with trees – are generally formed from the combination of very recognizable elements, such as in the example of “holly” (hiiragi) being made up of the kanji for “tree” and “winter” squooshed together into a single character. This makes the kanji for trees, for example, much more directly connected to imagery, I think, and to imaginative etymologies, than other types of characters. So, inspired by the hiiragi comment, I thought I might share the kanji for some other types of trees, and the beautiful, romantic, or just amusing imagery they bring to mind.
*楓 (kaede) – tree 木 + wind 風 = maple. Once (and still?) a very popular name for girls, this is easily among my favorite tree kanji, though I can’t quite say why. I guess just the imagery of maple leaves in brilliant autumn colors.
*桜 (sakura) – tree 木 + well, I can’t seem to find this character that combines “woman 女” with three dots or dashes above it. Though, I could have sworn that was a relatively normal character. In any case, it reminds me of a young woman in an elegant furisode standing next to a cherry tree, as the pink blossoms shower down all around her.
*橘 (tachibana) – a type of orange tree; tiny oranges, not quite the same as mikan, Satsumas or mandarin oranges, but perhaps similar. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen the fruit, actually, unless it is in fact the same as those… This is perhaps another bad example of a kanji, as the right-hand radicals/components literally mean spear or halberd 矛, and clear & bright 冏, and I’m not sure what to say about what that means overall. But, recognizing the character as a whole, I think of orange trees, and that’s a plenty pretty image by itself, no?
*柏 (kashiwa) – tree 木 + white 白 = oak. Why oak should involve the character for “white”, I don’t know.
*桧 (hinoki) – tree 木 + meeting 会 = cypress. The kind of cypress traditional buildings (and crates, chests, barrels, etc etc) are very often made from, and the profusion of which is a major cause of hay fever 花粉症 in Japan today.
*樺 (kaba) – tree 木 + flower 華 = birch. Not just any flower, this character most often appears in the word 中華, meaning “Chinese,” or slightly more literally “the flower of China” or something to that effect. It has an air of elegant, ancient, traditional civilization. What that has to do with birch, though, is beyond me.
*松 (matsu) – tree 木 + lord/public 公 = pine. 「公」 can have many meanings. It can mean “public,” as in 公園 (public park), but I kind of prefer to think that here it has its meaning of “lord”, as in 家康公 (“Lord Ieyasu”), making the pine a noble tree.
*桃 (momo) – tree 木 + trillion 兆 = peach. Seems kind of appropriate, since peaches are generally associated with immortality.
*梅 (ume) – tree 木 + each/every 毎 = plum. This 毎 is the character used to say “every week” 毎週 or “everyday” 毎日, but it is also the right-side part of characters such as 海 (umi – ocean).
*柿 (kaki) – tree 木 + city/market 市 = persimmon. I can’t say that anything comes to mind explaining why market or city is a perfect meaning to go with persimmon, but..
*椿 (tsubaki) – tree 木 + spring 春 = camellia. Now, admittedly, I’m not sure exactly what a camellia is; it’s certainly not as strongly culturally associated with spring as is the cherry blossom, or the plum. But, the idea of having the seasonal kanji combined with “tree” is a great one. We have tsubaki for spring, and hiiragi for winter. I wonder if there are tree kanji using 夏 (summer) and 秋 (autumn). Ha. Apparently there is. 榎 (enoki) is some kind of hackleberry or nettle, and 楸 (hisagi) is a catalpa, whatever that means.
I suppose that’s enough for now. What are some of your favorite kanji?
Photo of maple leaves taken myself, at Kôtô-in, a sub-temple of Daitoku-ji in Kyoto, 3 June 2010.