Let Your Light So Shine Before Men…

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Finally, I have time to write about noroshi. This is a follow-up to my post on Mountain Names last week. I mentioned that there was a historical reason for mountains being called mine, rather than yama or san or take. One clever reader noted that mountains designated as mine should be highly visible and have a peak, and so, deduced that maybe Fuji should have been Fujimine instead of Fujisan.

Piece by piece, I will reveal details, starting with the basic kanji for mountain and fire. Yama () and hi () or ka, are the characters learned in first grade for ‘mountain’ and ‘fire’ respectively. With little imagination one can perceive the origins of these drawings: three peaks in the distance, and flames.

Next, remember that most complex kanji are made up of many radicals. The radicals are often simplified versions or simpler characters. Putting multiple concepts together in a character is a way to represent more difficult concepts. One easy way to get the idea across is with the three characters for ‘tree’, ‘woods’, and ‘forest’: ,, and respectively. Looking closely you can see that ‘woods’ is made by using two tree radicals, being half as wide as the tree character and having a quick ending on one stroke, but otherwise the same. Inspecting ‘forest’ reveals that it is made from three tree radicals; the top one being very short and wide.

Back to ‘mountain’ and ‘fire’: these characters are often used as a radical on the left side of a character. We call this type of radical hen (偏). Take a look at these two characters: and . The first, mine, has the mountain radical – yamahen. The second, noroshi, has the fire radical – hihen. Otherwise the characters are the same: the right hand parts are identical. Hmmm… must be some connection here.

Noroshi is a word meaning “beacon fire” or “signal fire”. Not surprisingly, mountains that were peaked and highly visible were often used as places for beacons. (Picture sending a signal from the White City in Gondor to Edoras in Rohan.) Yes, there is a connection between the characters: many of these mountains got the title mine. When you see this suffix on a mountain name, you can guess it was probably used for a signal fire.

Unfortunately, due to simplifying the language some details get lost. Today noroshi is usually written as 狼煙 or 狼烟. Using these characters, one can’t make the connection to mine. In the end it isn’t so important to anyone other than historians, linguists, or pedants, since we now use cell phones instead of signal fires.

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2 Responses to “Let Your Light So Shine Before Men…”

  1. Keven Says:

    Wow. Where do you find this kind of information?

  2. びっくり Says:

    Well, I get into studying alternate characters when I find them in my dictionaries. There are a number of well-educated friends whom I like to ask about usage of said characters. Usually they have a lot of detail for me.

    The senior member of our Social Education Board provided me with details about the connection between mine and noroshi. I will miss these conversations when I move on from this position.

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