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Advanced Japanese Lesson:大黒柱

「我が家の大黒柱」 この言い回しには二つの意味があるのを知っていますか。





Do you know that the expression “the pillar in our home” has two meanings?  A “pillar” is the vertically long wooden or stone structure, which supports the roof and stands perpendicular on the foundation.  When building a house, several of these pillars become the skeleton, the thickest and grandest of all is the 大黒柱 daikokubashira or “main pillar”.

The daikokubashira is the central pillar in the structure of a house, therefore it plays the most important role.  Originally, it was written as 太極柱, and the kanji 極 holds the meaning of “in the very end, the most.”  In other words, 太極柱 indicates “the thickest pillar.”  That changed 大黒 daikoku which has the same pronunciation, with the theory that because the Japanese had the most faith in the “god of wealth” out of the Seven Deities of Good Luck.

Let’s go back now.
The other meaning of the central pillar is “to be the center of a group, and to act as the support.” Specifically, in a typical household it indicates the “father.”  Since the grand pillar placed in the middle of the household perfectly fits the image of the father supporting the household, this kind of figurative use started.

By the way, when counting gods, instead of saying “one person, two people… “ you say, “one pillar, two pillars…,” also when you pour tea, if a stalk floats vertically, it’s said that “the stalk pillar is standing” and it makes people happy since it’s an omen for good things, therefore, for the Japanese, “pillar” is a familiar word even today.