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The Rich Heritage of Kanji

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

One of the wonders of our heritage are what are known in Japanese as Kanji (漢字かんじ), one of three Japanese writing systems along with hiragana and katakana. Kanji have been used by the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese. In Chinese, the literal meaning is “han characters” 汉字. In Korean, kanji are known as hanja (한자, 漢字) and in Vietnamese, chữ Hán (𡨸漢). Originating in China, perhaps around 1600 BC, they were adopted in Japan in the 5th century AD.

Kanji is a system of symbols that represent words or ideas, and that can have different meanings and pronunciations depending on their context. The original kanji are pictograms, that evolved into the characters written today. Some kanji have amazingly deep meaning.

This one is 念 Nen. The top part 今 means "now" and the bottom part 心 means "heart," clearly expressing the sense of being fully present in the moment. Together they are often said to express “mindfulness,” but I like “heartfulness,” as a word closer to the Japanese “kokoro,” which unites feeling, emotion, mind, and spirit—the whole person. Heartfulness is opening and cultivating the heart through inner stillness and silence, becoming more human, more compassionate, and more responsible, both to one's own self, to all other beings, and to the earth.

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