Some Techniques to Help Recognise Kanji for Days of the Week [23/365]

Fire and Water by Felicia Wert

In the previous entry I gave the days of the week in Japanese but I didn’t say where the names come from.

Hopefully you had a guess or two from how the kanji look.

Let’s go through them!

日曜日
(にちようび)
“nichiyōbi”
Sunday

This one is the same inspiration as in English.


[ニチ], [ジツ], (ひ), (か)
“nichi”, “jitsu”, “hi”, “ka”
day, sun, sunshine, Sunday, counting word for “days”

The meaning is perhaps rather unsurprising, as you will notice the symbol 日 at the end of each of these days of the week. Combined with the other symbol we get:

曜日
(ようび)
“yōbi”
day of the week

The way I like to remember 日 as “sun” (and therefore “day”) is that the outer square is the circle shape of the sun, and the line across the middle is the horizon. I realise that is a bit abstract and forced, but when it comes to remembering symbols it’s good to use whatever you can and – sometimes – the weirder, the better (the more it sticks in the mind).

月曜日
(げつようび)
getsuyōbi”
Monday

This one is also the same as in English!


[ゲツ], [ガツ], (つき)
“getsu”, “gatsu”, “tsuki”
moon, month

This makes a lot of sense to mean “month”, in the same way that “sun” means “day” (the relative cycles of each, or at least the day/night cycle for sun and lunar cycles for moon).

In many cultures the moon has a special cultural significance, and in Japan it is no different. I remember that McDonald’s would do a seasonal “tsuki-mi burger” which had an extra egg inside the bun. My boss recommended it to me. She loved that time of year and always made sure to get a Tsuki-mi Burger or two! The burger was very tasty and the timing was to coincide with a local “moon festival”. I will talk in detail about the Moon Festival in a future entry!

I remember around the same time as these moon festivals, I went to the beach late one evening with two friends for a “full moon viewing”.

Moon Viewing Picture
When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

We are drinking Japanese whisky! The whole thing looks like some kind of arcane pagan ritual, but it was super chill and fun.

火曜日
(かようび)
kayōbi”
Tuesday

水曜日
(すいようび)
suiyōbi”
Wednesday

I put these two together because 火 and 水 are sort of opposites.

The header image today is a clue.

Do you have it?


[カ], (ひ), (ほ)
“ka”, “hi”, “ho”
fire, flame, blaze, Tuesday


[スイ], (みず)
“sui”, “mizu”
water, (fresh, drinking water), Wednesday

For 火 I like to think of it as a little dancing flame elemental, something like this:

Hearthstone Flame Elemental

For 水 I think of it as a pump, pumping up fresh spring water, I suppose something like this:

Hand Water Pump

I don’t expect these images to be very helpful to everyone, but they are useful to me.

To remember that fire is Tuesday I think of how in most European languages Tuesday is named after the God of War. To me that has always seemed to be a natural crossover with fire signifying the same day.

For water day being Wednesday I would use the rather cheap trick that water and Wednesday both begin with “W”.

Typically when trying to assimilate a new language I avoid tricks that use unrelated properties of my native language and prefer to keep things as conceptual as possible (like with Tuesday being a fiery war kind of an image) but in this case I used the cheap trick and it helped the meaning to stick.

木曜日
(もくようび)
mokuyōbi”
Thursday

木 looks like a little tree, doesn’t it?


[ボク], [モク], (き), (に)
“boku”, “moku”, “ki”, “ni”
tree, wood (material), timber, Thursday

“moku” means the material of wood, and “ki” means a tree.

I don’t have any tricks for remembering that this is Thursday, but when I think of the word “moku” I often think of the wooden training dummy from Tekken 3:

Mokujin Tekken 3

“Mokujin” literally means “Wood Person”.

 金曜日
(きんようび)
“kinyōbi”
Friday

To remember this one I use a slightly inaccurate or perhaps old-fashioned idea but it seems to work. I think of being paid at the end of the week.


[キン], [コン], (かね), (かな)
“kin”, “kon”, “kane”, “kana”
metal, gold, money, valuable, Friday

Friday = pay day = “gold” day.

And finally:

土曜日
(どようび)
“doyōbi”
Saturday

To remember 土 I think of the top cross as a flower growing out of the bottom line being the ground or earth.


[ド], [ト], (つち)
“do”, “to”, “tsuchi”
earth, soil, ground, Saturday

How can you remember this is Saturday?

Perhaps think about taking your day off (Saturday) to do some gardening? I think I read that in a book once and although I am not much of a gardener it stuck with me!


I hope you enjoyed this entry digging a bit deeper into the symbols behind the days of the week and my peculiar ways to remember them. Tomorrow I am going to talk a little bit more about remembering kanji and give some more of the silly tricks I use for a few others.

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