Some kanji characters are enough to make you feel sick

Overworked and stressed to the limit in this relentless recession, many Japanese are seeking ways to soothe their bodies and spirits, even if for just one blissful moment. The buzzword iyashi (癒し, soothing) is currently being used to promote an endless stream of relaxation products and services, including massages, weekend hot-spring getaways, jewelry, aroma therapy, even a gadget called an “iyashi wand.” Non-intimidating, soft-spoken entertainers are billed as 癒し系 (iyashikei, soothing types): A bit of screen time spent at the end of a grueling workday with the likes of actress Haruka Ayase is ostensibly an effective antidote for frazzled nerves.



Match the following compound words comprised of kanji containing the sickness-component with their English meanings/Japanese pronunciations.

1. 病院 (illness/institution)
2. 花粉症 (flower/powder/symptom)
3. 治療 (cure/heal)
4. 水痘 (water/smallpox)
5. 下痢 (come down/diarrhea)
6. 悪癖 (bad/habit)
7. 頭痛 (head/pain)
8. 病的 (illness/-like)

a. hay fever (kafunshō)
b. hospital (byōin)
c. headache (zutsū)
d. diarrhea (geri)
e. vice (akuheki)
f. chicken pox (suitō)
g. medical treatment (chiryō)
h. morbid (byōteki)

癒 is one of 15 general-use characters featuring 疒 the kanji component meaning “sickness.” Officially known as the radical yamai-dare (sickness/hanging, “hanging” as it does over the inner part of the kanji), 疒 originally pictured a bed with a person lying on it (i.e., sick), before morphing into the five-stroke 疒 used today. To avoid confusion with three-stroke look-alike radical ma-dare (as seen in 店 [mise, store], and 府 [fu, government building]), representing “side building” (look for the chimney, roof, and left-side wall comprising ma-dare), you may find it helpful to view the two strokes on the left side of 疒 as get-well talismans attached to the outside wall of a building in which an ancient Chinese healer practiced his craft.

Visually and semantically similar 療 (ryō, cure) is the only other general-use kanji comprised of ? that has a positive meaning. The rest represent a range of maladies and other undesirable conditions. Here are some examples divided into all of their comprising components, with a mnemonic provided for remembering the shape and meaning of each. (Note: 痔, hemorrhoid, and 痒, itchy, are not general-use kanji but are commonly seen in advertising for remedies at pharmacies.)

痘 (tō, smallpox): Smallpox is a sickness (?) causing pockmarks resembling beans (豆).

疲 (tsuka-re, fatigue): Fatigue hangs all over you like a sick (疒) skin (皮).

症 (shō, symptom): The correct (正) diagnosis of a sickness (疒) involves looking at symptoms.

痔 (ji, hemorrhoid): Hemorrhoids are a sickness (疒) suffered by those who sit in Buddhist temples (寺) in meditative poses for long periods.

痒 (kayu-i, itchy): Wearing clothing made of pure sheep (羊) wool will give you a sick (疒), itchy feeling all over.

Try using your own imagination and life experiences to think of a memory story for these 疒-kanji:

痛 (ita-mi, pain) = (?) sickness + (katakana マ) + (用) use

下痢 (ri, diarrhea) = (疒) sickness + (利) profit

(Note: Stories from your imagination often serve as better mnemonics than kanji etymologies because: 1) many characters have been simplified and miscopied since they were first created, and 2) components were often chosen for their phonetic — as opposed to semantic — value).

Remember, looking at characters as the sum of their parts instead of as whole units will alleviate the pain of learning the shapes and meanings of kanji, including those written with the component meaning “sickness.” The next time you find yourself in the waiting room of a medical clinic, try dissecting the wealth of 疒-kanji you will encounter there on posters and pamphlets.

Also keep your eye out for 痴 (chi, foolish) on the ubiquitous posters plastered on train station walls warning women of 痴漢 (chikan, foolish/fellow, molesters). The stress of avoiding these groping sickos is enough to make females packed into rush-hour trains crave some serious 癒し at the end of the day



1.b 2.a 3.g 4.f 5.d 6.e 7.c 8.h

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