Japanese “Women” are “Cheap”

When you think you are learning something about someone else, or some other culture – the sad fact is that you can learn about nothing except yourself. I see this among enthusiastic followers of social or religious groups – they fervently feel that they are taking the words of their guru or leader at literal and simple face value, when the fact of the mater is that the only words they are reading are their own. We filter everything through the sieve of our own mind. No idea can get through to our consciousness until it fits through the sizes and shapes that we have already imprinted within our mental selves. We learn about nothing, ever, except about our own selves.

That Chinese/Japanese character above is a very good example, a perfect example you might say.

People who have highly opinionated and sexist-slanted mentalities see only that there is a character for “woman” (女) as the main part of this character (安), and then see that the Japanese use this character in the word “yasui” (安い) which means cheap – then they conclude that Asian cultures and Japanese people are offensively backwards and sexist – saying that “women are cheap.”

Such interpretations tell you very little about the character “安” – but tell you volumes about the character of the persons making these prejudiced interpretations.

Here is why this letter means “cheap” and what “cheap” has to do with women, and how the concept thus embodied in this letter is thus a fairly accurate representation of something significantly glorious about the female gender. First of all do note that anyone telling you that this character represents a woman under a roof is wrong. There are no two ways about it. The sub-character (or “radical”) on top of the woman in this character is 宀 – “ukanmuri” – which represents not a roof or a building but a crown!

So, the letter 安 depicts a female with a crown. In other words it is referring to something foremost and kingly among the qualities or effects of the female gender.

What quality is that? Cheapness??? Yes, but now let us understand the word “cheap” and its chinese / japanese etymology.

Cheap is not the main meaning of this character, but is a derivative. The main meaning of 安 refers to beatitude. This letter is refers to things which are peaceful, lovable, smooth, and which are accomplished without strife. Really, that last one “accomplished without strife” says it all. One of the crowning qualities of women as a gender is that they make this world worth living in. They bring beauty – both physical and emotional, and kindness, and love and tenderness and make things easier to deal with. This is the true meaning of the character 安.

Something which is “cheap” is something that is easy to obtain, something which doesn’t require a lot of strife to get. This is why the word “yasui” 安い refers to things that you can purchase without having to spend a lot of your hard earned money on.

The contrast is “takai” 高い which is the word used for “expensive” and is also the word for things that are tall and high up out of reach. (Notice that the are no masculine characters in this symbol, btw.) Yasui 安い refers to things which are in reach, easy to grasp without strife and difficulty – inexpensive things, and takai 高い refers to things which are out of reach, high up and requiring strenuous effort to grasp and obtain – expensive things.

Just a few days ago at a bus stop with my whole family — brother-, sister- and mother-in-law too — we saw this kanji character at a bus stop. It was in a sentence telling the people at the bus stop to chill out and be peaceful, wait for the bus in an orderly fashion and be harmonious, because otherwise things would be dangerous.

That is a crowning glory of womanhood: to be peaceful and create harmony, averting danger and strife.

So people who have their minds cast in a sexist mold – either being overly sexist themselves or overly on the prowl to pronounce everything and it’s third cousin as sexist – will see everything in the world as sexist. All they see is their own selves. There is a Sanskrit saying to this effect: अात्मावान् मान्यते जगत् । – aatmaavaan maanyate jagat (Sanskritists, please forgive any spelling errors). It means that what you hold in your mind is what you experience in your world. This character, 安, is a perfect example of this principle in action. It is a glorious tribute to femininity that the world’s most important thing: peacefulness and beneficence, is described by the Chinese Kanji as a crown adorning the head of womanhood. But those whose minds are like rocks will never know this meaning.

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  1. “One of the crowning qualities of women as a gender is that they make this world worth living in. They bring beauty – both physical and emotional, and kindness, and love and tenderness and make things easier to deal with.”

    Is this character and concept something that was created solely from a masculine perspective? Does this and the male character have different meanings from a feminine perspective?


    1. At a certain point we need to step back and be objective.

      Women are Venus and Men are Mars. Study the astrological theories of what those planets are and you will see that this concept of felinity is objectively valid, I think. Venus desires to make the real world a better place and therefore creates peace by instilling love, harmony and cooperation. Mars on the other hand desires to command the world and conquer it. He therefore creates wars as a result of selfishness and the aggressions which invariably ensure.

      Conversely you could connect Venus to estrogen and Mars to testosterone (as they are connected in medical astrology), and then you can study the distinct effects of the the two hormones. One, E, creates a harmonizing, beneficial, pleasant and peaceful motivation. The other, T, creates a self-oriented ambition, and the aggression, enthusiasm, and drive required to achieve that ambition.

      Again, from a biological perspective this concept of femininity is given general objective verification.


  2. It seems like many cultures do accept this as true. Even some Christians, more specifically the Cictersians, will focus on the femininity of Jesus to develop a more affective relationship. It is odd however, that despite the high value on femininity women were and are often repressed as a gender. Must not have enough of that assertive yang essence.


    1. nice points. the very nature of mars is to repress others in it’s own interest. Therefore women are the repressed gender throughout human history. The more enlightened a society becomes the more balanced it’s citizens are in terms of venus/mars male / female energy. The more balanced the citizens are, the less females are repressed.


  3. Interesting. From what I have learned about yin and yang and Taoism all people inherently contain both masc. and fem. and should, at every given moment balance the both which confirms your statement about societies becoming enlightened.

    So..at one point you may balance 20% yin (receptive) to 80% yang (assertive) and other times it will be 90% to 10%.


    1. This is biologically accurate too. Men and women both contain both hormones in varying proportions from individual to individual. Astrology bears out this observation as well.


  4. Calling kanji ‘letters’ is like calling ‘War & Peace’ a ‘short story’ =) You can unpack so much from the characters… they are infinitely interesting. Tho we should be careful not to project our own cultural expectations on them.. some of the kanji really have come about by happenstance.


  5. really liking this blog, feel like i’m learning alot though you provide lots of food for thought and i cannot honestly say i have digested it all as yet.
    shallow comments for the topic, i know, but just thought i’d share.


  6. That’s a very interesting article ; having studied both Japanese and Chinese for some time now I though I might leave a comment:

    First of all, it might be interesting to know that the original meaning of the character, and indeed even its meaning in Classical and modern Chinese, do not involve the idea of something being “cheap” or easily accessible in anyway that I know of; the meaning is restricted to that of “peace” and “peaceful”. This “cheap” meaning is strictly Japanese, and I don’t know where it came from.

    >> The sub-character (or “radical”) on top of the woman in this character is 宀 – “ukanmuri” – which represents not a roof or a building but a crown!

    That’s a very interesting statement; I started Chinese Etymology a few years ago, and never came across this interpretation. Do you have a source for this? Early forms () of http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterEtymology.aspx?characterInput=%E5%AE%89 shows a depiction of a woman under a roof. Same in the 說文解字. Wiktionary agrees (http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%AE%89 / http://ja.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%AE%89), and so does http://kanji-origin.com/list/151.html . It’s true that 宀 is sometimes said to be a depiction of a crown, but mostly on Japanese websites, and 安 is definitely not a 国字. Where did you find the “woman wearing a crown” explanation?

    Don’t get me wrong though, I’d love to believe in this “crown” explanation. But there are just so many characters in Chinese and Japanese with sexist meanings that I’m yet to be convinced about 安: Just look up the meaning of any of 奴, 妄, 奸, 妬, 孥, 姦, 恕, 娶, 嫌, 嫉… And I’m sure there are plenty more, that’s just the few ones I can think of at the moment.

    Thanks for the nice blog!


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