Rikusho System

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The ‘rikusho’ system (六書 ‘six ways of writing’) is an overview of the six ways in which kanji originated. The first four categories explain the way characters were originally formed and the last two, how the use of characters has evolved over time giving rise to new meanings.

English name Japanese name Description Examples
1. Pictographs 象形文字 shōkeimoji characters representing objects 山= mountain
木= tree
2. Simple ideographs 指事文字 shijimoji characters representing concepts by symbols 上 = above
下 = below
中 = in
3. Compound ideographs 会意文字 kaiimoji two or more existing kanji combine to make a single character 木+木+木= 森
(tree) (forest)
4. Phonetic-ideographic characters 形声文字 keiseimoji one part represents meaning; other part represents sound 氵+青=清
Pronounced sei
5. Derivative characters 転注文字 tenchūmoji original meaning may have changed over time 楽 = enjoyable
音 = sound
(音楽 = music)
raku = relaxed
6. Phonetic loans 仮借文字 kashamoji used for phonetic value without relation to original meaning 豆 () = sacrificial vessel
豆腐 tōfu

Last modified 15-Feb-2008