Kanji used to ID Honnōji

Last week, Frog in a Well noted the discovery of proof that a certain site currently being excavated really is Honnōji, as suspected. What inspired this new confidence? Kanji. (See? They really do have irreplaceable utility! Take that, modernizers.)

The Asahi story contains a photograph of the character along with this explanation:


Let me paraphrase rather than translate...

The name "Honnōji" is usually written "本能寺". However, at Honnōji itself, they usually replaced the middle character (能) with one of their own design in which the two little ヒs on the right were switched with a single 去.

They reportedly did this because ヒ is associated with the pronunciation /hi/, which happens to be homophonous with the native Japanese word for "fire", and the management at Honnōji was especially antipathetic to fire because they had been devastated by it so many times.

(Note also that 去 means "depart", which I think is intended as an additional hint to the fire -- I don't see why else they would have chosen 去 as the replacement.)

Anyway, use of this non-standard character was apparently limited to Honnōji, so when you find it on a roof tile, you can be fairly confident that the tile in question came from Honnōji too. Archaeologists working at a site they suspected was Honnōji found such a tile.

Don't miss the follow-up, with on-site photos.

Popularity factor: 11


The character is in Morohashi as well (#29455), which cites it as attested in a Chinese zokuji dictionary. However, the tsukuri there isn't 去 exactly, but a kind of long ム with two horizontal lines across it (4 strokes instead of 5).

It makes me curious to know if this character had a life if China as well, where there would be no phonic motivation to fear ヒヒ.


Do you know if the print edition has the real character rather than a ●? Apparently in the old (lead) days newspapers had full-time punchcutters for rare kanji. It would be cool if they still had designers on call for the odd non-standard character.


Sorry, Anonymous, no idea... they definitely would have a few generations ago, though, as you say.

Brian: Maybe it had a life in China for unrelated reasons, and the Honnōjocracy just adopted it rather than inventing it. ("Hey, check this out -- it's like 能, but with 去 (almost) instead of ヒヒ!" "We should totally use that.")

Mike Miller:

Is the right-hand side really the character 去, rather than something that looks very close to 长? This is an accepted variant I've seen in calligraphy copy books, and I guess this is what Brian is alluding to.


OK, I investigated a little further. Check out this blog post for a better picture and some more information (if you speak Japanese).

It certainly _looks_ more like the one Brian describes (not yours, Mike, sorry) than a "real" 去. There seems to be some relation to 去 (check out the Chinese characters quoted at Wikipedia -> in comments at the above post), but that could easily be due to bad assumptions after the character was already in use. Or those bad assumptions could have forked the character...


Although the variant used in the name of Honnoji seems to be more of a ム with a cross across it, there used to be a lot of different versions of this in China. I put up a small selection (as a response to this post) here: logoi.com


Thanks, Imre, that's interesting. (I changed your link to a direct link to the post so that it'll still work in the future, I hope you don't mind.)

Nice blog, too!




Anonymous wins. And my setup can even display it: 䏻.

Stephen Cullis:

Perhaps the change reflects the monks wish that the Buddhas LAW 法(dharma) be strongly upheld and keep those flames away ?

Stephen Cullis (again!):

Having had another thought about this, the most plausible could be similar to the changes/deliberate mutilations of potentially harmful characters that scribes/artists made when creating wall inscriptions in tombs (Ancient Egypt), the idea being that potential harm could be avoided by disabling the magic potential of the character and endangering the inhabitant of the tomb or priests officiating at the offertory

Comment season is closed.