Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary
Let’s start with a quick quiz. From past weeks you already know this kanji:
渡 (TO, wata(ru), wata(su): to cross, extend, cover, range, span; to ferry across; build across; hand over, hand in, transfer)
And you might know 世 from 世界 (sekai: world, world + world). Put these two key kanji together, and here’s what you get:
渡世 (tosei: livelihood, subsistence; business)
to go through (life) + existence
Now, add 人 to produce this:
渡世人 (toseinin) to go through (life) + existence + person
What do you think it means? A person earning a living? A business owner? Check the link for the answer. I think you’ll be surprised! A big hint: Think of Kenny Rogers (for as long as you can stand to do so).
If we reverse the kanji in 渡世, we arrive at this kun-kun combination:
世渡り (yowatari: making a living; getting on in the world; subsistence) life, existence + to go through (life)
It would seem that 渡世 and 世渡り have similar meanings, but a native speaker says people typically use 世渡り in its narrowest sense. He comments, “It’s a very Japanese expression, and I’m not sure how well I can explain its nuance. It doesn’t really mean working hard every day to make a living. Rather, it means ‘to go smoothly among people without friction.’ For example, 世渡りが上手い (yowatari ga umai: excellent + skill) means that even with mediocre talent in a certain field, someone might be reasonably successful by not colliding with other people. The success may come from relying on the favoritism of influential people.”
If you pull apart the compound 世渡り and add hiragana to make a phrase, you change the yomi ever so slightly but end up with much the same meaning:
世を渡る (yo o wataru: to make one’s way in the world; walk through the world; earn one’s living)
life, existence + to go through (life)
I like the second definition—walking through the world. Sounds like such a nice way to live, if a little tiring. With all that walking through the world, you could turn into a nomad, a wanderer:
渡り者 (watarimono: wanderer) migration + person
What kind of nuance does this word have? Here in California, the home of experimentation and alternative living, one often sees the bumper sticker “Not all who wander are lost.” The idea is that by straying from the main road (that is, the road more traveled), one can find one’s true self, and it may take more than a few tries to get it right.
But if you push the idea too far, you might become a shiftless person with commitment issues and a spotty job history! That’s the sense I get from this next word:
渡り歩く (watariaruku: to wander from place to place; change jobs) migration + to walk
Covering a Wide Area
If you’re filled with a desire to explore the world, the suffix -渡る, -wataru, can help you cover wide areas in a variety of ways. For starters, you may want to cover a lot of ground conversationally. If so, here’s the expression for you:
多岐に渡る (taki ni wataru: to cover a lot of ground; include a lot of topics; (as adjectival phrase) wide-ranging)
many + to diverge + to extend
If you’ve had that wide-ranging talk with a gossipy type, then whatever you’ve said will soon 知れ渡る:
知れ渡る (shirewataru: to be well known)
to become known + to spread
It’s as if your friend’s voice will do this:
鳴り渡る (nariwataru: to resound (echo) far and wide)
to resound + to spread
Your friend will spread the news about as efficiently as an Internet rumor makes the rounds. And in fact 鳴り渡る covers that meaning; it refers not just to sounds that echo but also to names and bits of gossip that are widely known.
The next word refers to this act of spreading throughout the world:
行き渡る (ikiwataru: to diffuse; spread through)
to go + to spread
Kono zasshi wa hiroku ikiwatatte iru.
This magazine circulates widely.
雑誌 (zasshi: magazine)
miscellaneous + magazine
広 (hiro(i): wide)
However, this kind of spreading or seepage needn’t just happen out in the world (世). Rather, it can occur inside your own body:
染み渡る (shimiwataru: to penetrate, pervade, spread)
to soak into + to spread
I hope that right about now, you’re experiencing a kanji-related 染み渡る phenomenon; I hope that the characters, and a love of them, are seeping into your brain as never before.
Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!