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If you saw the following, what would you think the word meant?
山荒 (yamaarashi) mountain + rough
The kanji 荒 (KŌ, ara(i), ara-, a(reru), a(rasu), -a(rashi): rough, crude, natural, wild) contains the “grass” radical 艹, so maybe this is a type of plant that grows on mountains.
Then again, the roughness could describe the mountain itself—perhaps the condition of an eroded slope. (By the way, “erosion” is a great word: 水食, suishoku: erosion, water + to eat. Erosion is what happens when water “eats” a slope!)
Mountain + rough could also refer to the unpolished manner of a country bumpkin living on an isolated mountain.
But no, 山荒 means “porcupine”! (Actually, according to Wikipedia, it’s a supernatural sort of porcupine!)
Do porcupines tend to live on mountains? If I knew nothing about kanji and looked at the spiky lines of 山 and 荒, I might indeed spot the pictograph of a porcupine. In fact, 山 looks more like a porcupine than like a mountain!
Otherwise, I’m hard-pressed to see the connection. Perhaps a porcupine’s shape suggests a mountain of spikes. (Turns out, a mountain range in northern Michigan looked like porcupines to the native Ojibwa people, so it’s known as the Porcupine Mountains, or the Porkies for short!!!)
Two more guesses: Perhaps porcupines dig up plants to eat their roots, making the surfaces of mountains rough. Or maybe, like the legendary tanuki, the Japanese porcupine is known for its rough, crude behavior.
Of course, humans are hardly fit to judge animals for wild behavior. For every disciplined warrior (武者, musha), there have been enough of the following to coin a term for them:
荒武者 (aramusha: daredevil; rowdy person)
savage + warrior + person
The concept of a wild warrior must have evolved into the more general idea of a daredevil.
And for every quiet, self-abnegating monk who tried to do the right thing, there must have been a few who took up arms and terrorized their communities:
荒法師 (arahōshi: ferocious (armed) monk)
savage + Buddhism + master
Together, the last two kanji mean “Buddhist priest.”
When even priests take up arms, what kind of peace can there be? If I had to worry about both out-of-control porcupines and ferocious monks, I might strongly consider moving.
The kanji 荒 not only creates criminals but also aids and abets crime. Take, for instance, this word:
A sample sentence:
Arakasegi shite iru rashii ne.
I heard you’re raking in the money.
If you truly want easy money, consider working with the suffix -荒らし (-arashi), which means “robbery, burglary, intrusion”:
アパート荒らし (apāto-arashi: apartment house robbery)
車上荒らし (shajōarashi: stealing from vehicles)
interior of car (1st 2 chars.) + robbery
Whereas English speakers refer to getting “into” a car, Japanese speakers say they’re getting “on” a car. That’s why the word for “car interior” contains 上 (JŌ, ue: on, above, on board).
荒らす (arasu: to lay waste, devastate, damage; invade; break into)
Using this, you’ll find it much easier to destroy everything in your path. You can do so, in fact, without the robbery; all you need to do is trash someone’s home:
住み荒らす (sumiarasu: to leave a house in bad shape)
to reside + to damage
Wild and Wonderful
荒野 (kōya, a(re)no: wasteland, wilderness, prairie)
wild + wilderness
The first meaning of 荒野 is “wasteland.” This makes sense; with ferocious monks, porcupines, and criminals on the loose, things fall into disrepair. But on the other side of that, they can become gloriously wild and free again and can spring back to life in a wilderness (the second definition)!
Drawing on words from this blog and the last, we can imagine that a great storm (大荒れ, ōare: big + being wild) lays waste to (荒らす, arasu) a garden, creating a wasteland (荒れ地, arechi: being wild + land) that then turns into a wilderness (荒野).
Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!