Beauty - a kanji lesson

Sunday, January 22, 2012
美 漢字レッスン

One of the best words to learn in any language is that which stands for one of the best concepts in any language: beauty, beautiful. Who can be offended, who cannot be charmed, if you point at something or someone and say just the word "Beautiful"? (Well, exceptions do come to mind!) Let's have a look at how to write the word "beauty" or "beautiful" in the Japanese language.

The character for beauty is particularly appealing one in that, in its symmetry, it is, indeed, beautiful. The roots of the character might make you think twice, though. The upper part, 羊, is the character for "sheep," and the bottom part, 大, for "big." Old China, pastoral idylls, shepherdly musings - and the imagination starts to race. Enough! Whatever its provenance, beauty is beauty.

In Japanese, the character alone is pronounced bi (its onyomi, or "sound reading", and as an everyday word it is pronounced "utsukushii" (its kunyomi, or "meaning reading"), the final "shii" being adended in hiragana like so: 美しい.

Aesthetics in Japanese is 美学 (bigaku), literally "beauty study"). You get your hair done at a 美容室 (biyoshitsu), literally "beuatiful looks room," or, in normal English "beauty salon." Your mother-in-law is (at least upon first meeting) a 美人 (bijin), literally "beautiful person," or, in normal English, a "beauty." Beautification or glorification is, in Japanese, 美化, (bika), literally "beauty transformation." And 審美眼 (shinbigan), literally "judging beauty eye," is to have aesthetic sense, or an eye for beauty.

So, remember this symbol of beauty whose form reflects so faithfully its meaning, and its Japanese pronunciation, utsukushii, that will so often come buoyantly to your rescue when conversation has started to sink.


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