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Advanced Japanese Lesson:午前・午後






ちなみに、ウマには角がありません。「午」の文字にもないでしょう。では、ウマに似ていて角が生えている動物は? そうです、「牛」ですね。この漢字は牛の頭部を記号化して作られています。
Are you reading this blog in the 午前 am or 午後 pm?

This time around I would like to introduce some hidden animals in “午前、午後” which represent time.

As a matter of fact, 午 also can be read as “horse”.  Originally, the kanji 午 depicts a mallet that moves up and down repeatedly in succession pounding grain.  The “杵” is wooden, therefore has the 木 or “tree” radical, and the 午 on the right to depict the way it is used and the movement.

Now, to show the animal horse, the kanji 馬 already exists.  Then how did the 午 representing a mallet came about to be read as “horse.”   That reason lies within ancient China. In order for people to easily remember the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, animals that were close were chosen, and it was decided that the character 午 would be read as horse.

The horse is the seventh animal in the Chinese zodiac, and also represents the two hours between 11 o’clock and 13 o’clock. The time between the two hours is 12 o’clock… 正午 shogo or “midday.”  See, the “horse” appears.  In the duodecimal system used for the clock, 午 go means that the first half is finishing and the second half is starting.  Just like a mallet is made of crossing vertical and horizontal wood, the 午 represents the notion of time crossing over.

By the way, horses don’t have horns, and neither does the character 午.   Then what would be an animal that has horns which looks like a horse? Right, that would be the 牛”cow.” This character is made by symbolizing the head of a cow.