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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Kure: The Happiness Behind the Giving

Kanji began as pictograms. Kanji convey little information about pronunciation (even less than English spelling does!), but are all about conveying representing things by way of their shape. Well, at least that's the idea. Those original shapes, conceived thousands of years ago in China, have changed considerably, morphing into logograms, and are now representative only in a very abstract way.

Some kanji retain that pictographic sense of direct representation. Ones that immediately come to mind are 一 (ichi in Japanese) for one, 口 (kuchi) for mouth, 門 (mon) for gate, 田 (ta) for ricefield, and 竹 (take) for bamboo. You look at them and think, "OK, I get it."

But even if you don't "get it" at first sight, kanji have a way of insinuating themselves and coming to feel like very natural ways of conveying a particular thing or concept pretty soon after you've gotten to know them.

For example, if you'd never seen 心 before, you'd probably be hard-pressed to guess it meant heart, but once you've learnt it, you can almost see it beating and the blood itself pumping. And whenever you see it as a component (in technical terms, as a radical) in another more complex kanji, you know that that kanji's meaning pertains to feelings or emotions.

One such kanji for me is , which once you've gotten to know it, is very anthropomorphic to the point of being outright cute.

(onyomi: gu or go; kunyomi: kure) Read more about onyomi and kunyomi kanji readings

Even without knowing what it means, you can see a little figure, feet firmly planted, with left hand on hip and right hand raised in salutation. And, sure enough, it is a combination of the now very rare kanji 夨 which denotes a person with head to one side, and the kanji for mouth, 口, which we saw above.

"Officially," 呉 depicts someone with their mouth open, laughing, or someone dancing, bearing a ceremonial implement. It is the root kanji for the kanji 娯, i.e., with the kanji for "woman" added at the left, which is a now rare way of writing the word "tanoshii," or "fun."

However, over the centuries, 呉 has pretty much lost this meaning in everyday life, and it is now used to represent the word kureru, which means the giving of something to someone of a lower social status, or for requesting something from someone. Yet, even then, kureru is rarely rendered using a kanji, but in hiragana.

Tanaka-san ga kureta mono desu. (It's something Ms. Tanaka gave me.)
Watashite kuremasen ka. (Would you kindly pass me that?)
Sore o kure! (Give me that!)
Yatte kure! (Do it!)

呉 is also used to represent the Chinese Kingdom of Wu, which featured in Chinese history in the sixth century BC, and was located near present day Wuxi and Suzhou cities in Jiangsu province, a little inland from Shanghai. Incidentally the Chinese simplification of this kanji has seen it lose its perky hands-on-hipness to become 吴.

The kanji for kureru is most often seen as a placename: for the town of Kure in Hiroshima prefecture, famous for the JMSDF Kure Museum

Besides representing the word kureru, 呉 is used in the following phrases:
呉呉も kureguremo: repeatedly, sincerely, earnestly
Kuregure mo karada ni ki o tsukete kudasai (Take [constant] good care of yourself)
Kureguremo goryoshin ni yoroshiku (Please pass on my regards to your parents)

何呉と無く (more usually written mostly in hiragana 何くれとなく) means "in many/various ways"
Nanikuretonaku osewa ni narimashita. (You have helped me in so many ways.)

So although you won't see this happy little character waving at you very much, remember its presence every time you encounter a kureru request.

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