Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary
Storks are normally white. And cranes tend to be grey, though blue is also a possibility. So what do you think a red stork or red crane would be?
紅鶴 (benizuru) red + crane
To block the answer, I’ll share a picture of a hibiscus plant from my garden. I wanted to post this last week to illustrate the discussion of red flowers, but I didn’t get my act together in time.
Seeing these flowers makes me feel happy and fortunate, as if I’m somehow living in Hawaii!
Give up? We’re talking about flamingos!
紅鶴 (benizuru: flamingo) red + crane
This word combines two kun-yomi, beni and tsuru, which has changed to zuru with voicing.
High in the Sky
Two weeks ago, Alberto’s haiku calendar introduced us to 紅 (KŌ, beni, kurenai: scarlet, deep red). As it turns out, this kanji connects us to the world of birds, particularly red ones such as the cardinal:
紅冠鳥 (kōkanchō: cardinal) red + crown + bird
This is a rare word, perhaps because the cardinal is a rare bird in Japan. The on-yomi of the second kanji (冠: crown) is KAN, as we see here. Its kun-yomi is kanmuri. You may have heard the term kusa-kanmuri. That’s the Japanese way of referring to the “grass” radical 艹, kusa, when it appears at the top of certain kanji. The name of that uppermost position is kanmuri, or 冠.
Well, perhaps I overstated the case. In terms of specific birds, 紅 connects us only to cardinals and flamingos. But in another sense, it brings us closer to the whole avian world. Check out this lovely word:
東天紅 (tōtenkō: (birds) warbling in the morning)
east + sky + red
In the morning, the rising sun reddens the eastern sky, and birds fill the air with chirping. That sounds great, except it brings to mind the saying “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” In other words, a red sky first thing in the day bodes badly. But in the Odyssey, Homer often spoke of “Dawn’s rosy fingers,” and that wasn’t a negative thing at all. Then again, unspeakably awful things happened to Odysseus. Were Dawn’s rosy fingers to blame? You know, I can’t figure this out. (Wikipedia weighs in on the subject with confidence, but I still don’t understand.)
Onto the next—now we have a crimson sky at sunset:
紅霞 (kōka: crimson mist; crimson-tinted clouds (e.g., at sunset)) red + to be hazy
The second kanji isn’t Jōyō.
They say, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” This rare, literary word has to have a positive nuance! Except … the breakdown suggests a sky that’s red and smoky from wildfires—or maybe I’m only thinking that way because we’re currently choking through fire season in California. I hope the word refers only to the diffusion of colors from a setting sun.
As long as we’re discussing the natural world, I’d like to introduce two more things of beauty and redness:
紅玉 (kōgyoku: ruby; Jonathan apple) red + jewel
If you’ve been hanging around “Kanji Curiosity” since the beginning of time, you may remember this word from my first blog on JPod. At that time, I neglected to tell you that the word can also refer to a type of apple. But I did mention that the Emerald City of The Wizard of Oz might be called Ryokugyoku-shi, since 緑玉 (ryokugyoku: green + jewel) means “emerald.” And now it seems that Dorothy could have been wearing kōgyoku slippers in Ryokugyoku-shi.
紅茶 (kōcha: black tea) red + tea
The Japanese see “black” tea (that is, Darjeeling and English Breakfast tea) as red—hence the use of 紅 in this word.
Let Us Count the Ways
Just how beautiful are red things? Let us count the ways. For some reason, several 紅 words involve numbers. That was true of 百日紅 (sarusuberi: crape myrtle, 100 + days + crimson), which appeared on Alberto’s haiku calendar.
As Alberto explained on page 5 of his haiku PDF, “a hundred days” alludes to the long blooming period. It would appear, then, that the next word refers to a blooming period of a thousand days—roughly three years!
千日紅 (sennichikō: globe amaranth) 1,000 + days + crimson
Does it really bloom for all that time? I don’t know, but one source says this plant seems to bloom nonstop.
Here’s a word that also appears to be about flowers but isn’t quite:
紅一点 (kōitten: lone woman (e.g., bright flower) in a group)
red + one + point
In a group of men, a lone woman shines like a bright flower. At least that’s how a man might see it. The woman may actually feel the opposite way; rather than blooming with confidence and beauty, she might be rather nervous. The breakdown of the compound seems strange unless you treat the last two kanji as one word:
一点 (itten: speck, dot, point, only a little, only one)
The last meaning, “only one,” might be most appropriate here.
A similar word involves two numbers:
万緑一紅 (banryokuikkō: one red flower standing out in a sea of green vegetation; one item of quality standing out among many; one woman among many men) 10,000 + green + 1 + red
To Japanese people today, this word sounds old, formal, and even affected. But it’s an interesting expression, because it gives us one red flower–woman standing out in contrast to ten thousand green … men?! Yes, this word appears to be about Martians! And that makes sense because men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Then again, Mars is reddish—even 紅—so where did anyone even get the idea that Martians were green? If they were, they would clash terribly with their surroundings. And can you imagine the problems that people with red-green color-blindness would face?
Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!