Language | BILINGUAL

Matching the ins and outs of two common kanji

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing Writer

From April 1, the 入国管理局 (nyūkoku kanri-kyoku, Immigration Bureau), which operated under the auspices of the 法務省 (hōmushō, Justice Ministry), was upgraded from a bureau to an agency. Its Japanese name changed to 出入国在留管理庁 (shutsunyūkoku zairyū kanri-chō), which can be interpreted as the agency for control of exit, entry and residence. Its official English name, however, is Immigration Services Agency.

Considering the gravity of this new development for the foreign community, I was somewhat disappointed to see that the English section of the Immigration Bureau’s website does not appear to have been updated since last year.

The new name nonetheless moved me to consider the characters for “entry” (or “arrival”) and “exit” (or “departure”), along with the various ways they are put to use.

The character for enter, 入 (nyū), is a classifier in its own right, called iru, irigashira or iriyane. It is used in very few other characters, including 内 (nai or uchi, inside), 全 (zen, all) and a now-defunct character, 兩 (ryō, meaning both, but now commonly written 両). Nyū also appears tucked into the ⻌ (shinnyō/shinnyū) classifier in the character 込む (komu), a verb with a related meaning that’s used as a suffix in such common verbs as 盛り込む (morikomu, to incorporate), 飲み込む (nomikomu, to swallow) among others.

You’ve probably noticed that 入 looks similar to the character 人 (hito, person), especially when printed with gothic typefaces. Both characters use the same stroke order, but in “person,” the top of the leftward descending stroke overlaps the right. For “enter,” the top of the descending right stroke overlaps the left.

Since terms with the characters 入 and 出 often complement one another, you can quickly acquire double the vocabulary by taking the trouble to seek out a word’s counterpart, as is the case with 入り口 (iriguchi, entrance) and 出口 (deguchi, exit); 輸入 (yunyū, import) and 輸出 (yushutsu, export); and入金 (nyūkin, a deposit or money received) and 出金 (shukkin, an expenditure or payout), to name just a few examples.

A more advanced example of parallel usage concerns a policy strictly enforced by the pre-modern Tokugawa government as a means of keeping the peace: 入り鉄砲に出女 (iri-deppo ni de-onna). In colloquial parlance this might be expressed as “Preventing guns from entering or women from leaving.”

Keep in mind, however, that not all entry-related words can be matched to a corresponding exit word. Thus while 入院 (nyūin) means to be hospitalized, its obverse is not 出院 (shutsuin) but 退院 (taiin, to be discharged). Likewise 入学 (nyūgaku, to matriculate or enter a school) normally culminates in 卒業 (sotsugyō, graduation). However, 退学 (taigaku) is used when a student drops out.

The character 入 can be found in numerous surnames as well, including 入江 (Irie), 入 (Iri), 入谷 (Iriya/Iritani), 竹入 (Takeiri) and 羽入(Hanyū), some of which require some imaginative guesswork to figure out the reading.

Now let’s turn to 出, which is derived from the two-stroke classifier 凵 (ukebako/kannyō, receptacle). At first glance it appears to resemble a pair of 山 (yama, mountains), but actually the top and bottom parts are joined by a single vertical stroke running through the center.

As a stand-alone verb, 出 takes such forms as 出る (deru, to go out) and 出す (dasu, to submit, take out, send, serve, etc.), and 出かける(dekakeru, to leave or depart).

While it is not always written using kanji, 出来る (dekiru) — literally, leave and come — is an extremely versatile verb with a wide range of colloquial meanings. Whether in the infinitive form or using past tense, dekita, it can mean to be able to; allowed or permitted; ready; completed; and ripe. I am also reminded of the name of an evening TV news program titled “きょうの出来事” (“Kyō no Dekigoto,” “Today’s Happenings”).

The 音読み (on-yomi, Chinese reading) of 出 (shutsu) forms dozens of compound words like 出演 (shutsuen, performance) or 検出する (kenshutsu suru, to detect).

The term 出身 (shusshin), is usually preceded by a word that identifies a person’s hometown or other place of origin, previous employer or alma mater.

In surnames 出 is commonly read ide, as in 出原 (Idehara), 出川 (Idekawa) and 小出 (Koide), to name just a few.

When functioning as an auxiliary verb, it is usually read 出し (dashi), as in 持ち出し (mochidashi, to take out). When used in a compound word followed by する (suru, to do), it’s pronounced shutsu, as in 救出する (kyūshutsu suru, save-out — i.e., rescue). The headline of a human-interest news story might read, 井戸に転落した子犬、ついに救出 (Ido ni tenrakushita koinu, tsui ni kyūshutsu, The puppy that fell into a well was finally rescued).

The various combinations of 出 are myriad indeed as it can also be used to form nominatives like 引き出し (hikidashi, a drawer) or 家出 (iede, to run away from home).

Another term that occasionally pops up is 出没する (shutsubotsu suru, to appear sporadically or unpredictably). There’s a related four-character idiom, 神出鬼没 (shinshutsu kibotsu) that literally means “a god appears and a demon vanishes” — used to describe something elusive that unexpectedly pops up and disappears.