A guest blog by Tilak Bhattacharjee on his musings with kanji. This is the first part of a two-part blog post.
The word 東雲 comprises of two Kanji (chinese characters used in Japanese) characters.
But before that I would like to explain about the pronunciation used for the Kanji characters.
The Japanese language has in general two pronunciations for each Kanji characters.
One is called ON-yomi(音読み) which is Chinese pronunciation of a given Kanji character and the other is called KUN-yomi （訓読み) which is Japanese pronunciation of a given Kanji character.
Note:Japanese had a well developed spoken language before the arrival of Kanji through China, so Japanese assigned KUN-yomi for a given Kanji character in addition to On-yomi from China.
That is why there are generally two pronunciations of a Kanji character.
Now the Kanji of my topic is 東雲.
The first Kanji character 東 means “east” and its ON-yomi or chinese pronunciation is “TOU” and its KUN-yomi or Japanese pronunciation is “Higashi”.
The second Kanji character 雲 means “cloud” and its ON-yomi is “UN” and its KUN-yomi or Japanese pronunciation is “Kumo/Gumo”.
So by definition these characters would imply “eastern clouds”, but in reality it implies “daybreak” and its pronunciation in Japanese is also special as it is called “shinonome”.
This type of special Japanese pronunciation given to a word is called “Ateji (当て字)” which uses substitute Kanji characters for a given pronunciation and does not imply its actual meaning.
So that lead me delve deeper as to what is it is the origin of the word “shinonome”.
A skylight in a Japanese house. Photo credit: Atsushi Ishikawa