フリガナ付き和文はこのページの最後にあります。/ The Japanese translation is at the bottom of this page and has furigana on all Chinese characters.

Chinese Character “蘇” and a Fish at Lunch

  1. How many Chinese characters do we know?
  2. Many Chinese characters are combinations of smaller parts
  3. On a visit at lunchtime
  4. Chinese character “蘇” and a fish at lunch
  5. We verified the Information in the dictionary


1. How many Chinese characters do we know?

How many kanji (Chinese characters) do you know?

I once passed a test to “certify” I knew three thousand, but I doubt if I remember all of them now. Reading may still be OK, but my writing…

These days, I depend so much on the computer in writing, that sometimes I can’t remember a part of a kanji during my teaching. It’s frustrating, let alone embarrassing.

Still kanji is fascinating. They are the products of people’s strong desire to express everything in the universe in a square space, and the imagination and insights put in creating each is very impressive.

They say that there are about six thousand kanji, and up to about three thousands are in use in Chinese speaking societies today.

In Japanese, about two thousand are reportedly used in everyday life, but we doubt if the number has not decreased in these couple of decades.

2. Many Chinese characters are combinations of smaller parts

Many of them are combinations of simpler characters or shapes.

As for the reasons why they chose some characters or shapes to form a particular kanji, I may know some; for example, they put 女 “onna or woman” and 子 “ko or child) side by side to express 好き (suki or like, be fond). But I don’t know many.

In the olden days, there were a lot of people who studied the classics in Chinese literature and were well versed in Chinese characters and their components. Here is an interesting story about them.

3. On a visit at lunchtime

An image of a Chinese character “so” mentioned in the fish lunch story
[Click to enlarge] An image of Chinese character “so”

Rai San’yoo (頼山陽or らいさんよう), a famous Confucianist in the Edo Era, had a friend called Bunkichi (文吉 or ぶんきち). He was also a Confucianist and a self-professed man of refined taste and manners.

One day, Bunkichi casually visited a wealthy friend. He found Rai San’yoo had been invited to lunch at that home. So he asked the host if he could join. Although he didn’t have a lunch appointment, the man kindly concurred and Bunkichi went in and sat at the table next to his pal.

4. Chinese character “蘇” and a fish at lunch

The lunch was served and Bunkichi found something he didn’t appreciate. His friend’s fish was much bigger, but it was natural since they hadn’t expected Bunkichi.

He didn’t say anything then and there, and began a conversation with Rai San’yoo.

He said:

“By the way, as for the Chinese character “so” as in “姑蘇城外” (See Note 1), how would you write it? Was the “fish 魚” part on the right or left?”

His friend naturally knew the answer, and carelessly said,

“That doesn’t matter. It can be on either side.

“Hmm, I wonder.”

Bunkichi, with an unconvinced air, wrote the character with his finger on the tatami mat they were sitting on with his finger.

An image of two variations of a Chinese character “so” mentioned in the fish lunch story
[Click to enlarge] An image of two variations of “so” with “魚” the symbol for fish in different locations

“Really? Would it be the same if the fish was on the right side or left side?”

“Of course. Why are you so interested in that?”

“…Because I wanted to do this!”

No sooner than he said it, Bunkichi quickly exchanged their fish on the table.

“Oh, you’ve got me there.”

His friend hadn’t touched the fish, and so had to let go of it and laugh.

The moral of this story: When you’re served a nice piece of fish, take a bite immediately. (Note 2)

5. We verified the Chinese character in the Dictionary

An image of a dictionary page explaining about the variation of the character “so"
[Click to enlarge] An image of a dictionary page explaining about the variation of the character “so”

We learned this Chinese character at school, too. It is a complicated one but was memorable because of the unusual location of the nogi (禾-shaped component).

Usually the nogi appears on the left of a Chinese character, as in 秋, 萩, 秒, 稲, 穂, and so on. Therefore, we memorized 蘇 as the exceptional character with it on the right.

We had never seen it on the left.

This story told us that there is a variation of the character with the nogi on the left. We confirmed it in our dictionary. We can’t produce the variation character on our computer so we asked someone to write it.

They were enjoying life with their knowledge.

Note 1: This is a line from Huukyoo Yahaku or楓橋夜泊, a famous 8th century poem by Chookei 張継 in the Tang Dynasty China

Note 2: This story was introduced in “Cha-Banashi茶話”, an anthology of essays by Susukida Kyuukin 薄田泣菫

External Link

[End of the English post]


  1. かんをいくつっていますか?
  2. おおくのかんは、ちいさなパーツのわせ
  3. 昼時ひるどき訪問ほうもん
  4. 」のちゅうしょくさかな
  5. しょたしかめたら


1. かんをいくつっていますか?







2. おおくのかんは、ちいさなパーツのわせ



3. お昼時ひるどき訪問ほうもん



4. 「」のちゅうしょくさかな



「ねえ、ところで、じょうがい (ちゅういち) のって、どうくんだっけ。うおひだりくるるのかな、みぎるのかな」






本当ほんとう? みぎてもひだりてもいいの?」






きょうくん: ごそうたらすぐにはしけること。(ちゅう)

5. しょたしかめました

」のかんは、学校がっこうならいました。 複雑ふくざつですが、「のぎ(禾)」のめずらしかったのでおぼえやすかった。





ちゅう1 唐代とうだいひとちょうけい有名ゆうめいふうきょうはく」の一節いっせつ

ちゅう2 岩波文いわなみぶんすすききゅう菫著きんちょちゃばなし』より

External Link / 外部リンク

  • 英文部末尾をご参照ください。
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