Aikido Kanji

jay's picture

A friend has a new boat, and he wants to call it "Aiki" which is the first two characters in "Aikido" and means something like "in balance with the energy of the universe."

I promised him a logo for the boat (back when he wanted to call it "Phoenix") so I have to figure out what, exactly, the characters "Ai" and "Ki" look like. I have a bunch of caligraphed samples, but they vary quite a bit and I don't have a good feeling for what is essential and what is ornament. I tried a search the UniHan database, and go 1816 hits for "Ai"... none of which looked like the samples I have. (There was one character that was close, but the definition listed was "bushy black hair", which my friend has, but I doubt he wants that put on his boat.)

Can any of you help me out of this mess? I'm in way over my head. Thx.

jay's picture

In re-reading this, I didn't express very well what I was looking for: is there a unicode number for "ai" and "ki"? if not, how do I find a simplified version of the characters?


John Hudson's picture

A few things to consider. The Unicode UniHan databse is, as the name implies, a unified Han database, which means that you need to be aware that the reference glyphs in the Unicode Standard may not be appropriate as a model for specifically Japanese use. What you need to do is get your hands on a Japanese dictionary. I use this one, which has the benefit of including a Unicode reference for every character.

Forrest L Norvell's picture

Also, if you're using a Mac, there's JEDict, which is mostly a program for the decipherment of kanji, but which can also be set up to be a pretty good Japanese-English dictionary (I use it a lot when surfing Japanese sites).

There are two spellings in Japanese for aikido, according to JEDict, and they use different characters for "ki". I've appended a GIF of both spellings set in Hiragino Kaku (a sans serif equivalent) and Hiragino Mincho (the "serif", or semi-calligraphic equivalent); if you want some of the calligraphic equivalents (as in true Japanese / Chinese calligraphy, as seen in classical Asian art), this book has them. You could browse it in a store, but figuring out how to use kanji dictionaries takes time, even ones as well-designed (for Westerners) as the dictionaries John and I mention.

It's worth pointing out that "aiki" on its own isn't a word in Japanese, at least not in the dictionaries I have. I've highlighted the characters for "ai" and "ki" in vermillion, and left the "dou" black. The top spelling is probably the one you want to use; the bottom is antiquated.

The ideogram for "ai" has a Unicode number of 5408, and the first alternate for "ki" has a Unicode number of 6C17. The second alternate is 6C23. Good luck!

dan_reynolds's picture

Forrest, is it possible that the first "ki" is just a simplified version of the second (as in simplified versus traditional chinese characters)?

Forrest L Norvell's picture

It's almost certainly the product of Japanese language reform, yes. The Japanese government looooves language reform. I think they just finished another round, in fact.

But both spellings are in the dictionary, so I thought I'd include them both. My character dictionary merely says the alternate form is "nonstandard for [standard form for "ki":spirit, which discus won't let me insert]" without any further etymology. I don't have a New Nelson or an actual Japanese kanji dictionary, so I don't know any more about its provenance.

Forrest L Norvell's picture

Also, searching Google using the old spelling yields 22,800 hits, both on Japanese and Chinese web sites (mostly dojos and aikido associations, which makes sense), so that spelling's not uncommon in use.

hrant's picture

Besides the actual characters that will end up as/in the logo, do think about the nautical angle in terms of the stroke structures - and maybe work in a "reference" to anything unusual the boat (or maybe its owner's mane!) might have. Like in Forrest's black glyph, the bottom horizontal stroke could extend in a wavy action?


jay's picture

Thanks to one and all. I should have come here 2 weeks ago, instead of googling my head against a wall.

It was actually a fun experiment, looking at hundreds of glyphs, and trying to decipher what was important and what was not. I can see similarities, duplications and variations in the stokes that compose the characters, but I have no idea whether the variations are artistic license or meaningful. One of my first guesses for "ai" actually means "thick black hair"... which is pretty funny, 'cause that's what my friend has.

W/ the help of John's suggestion I came up w/ a graphic similar to Forrest's ... except that I didn't figure out the archaic version, which would have helped a lot because the caligraphy samples I was using as a guide all used the old version.

Hrant, I'm thinking about abusing the characters to create a logo, but I had to find out where the starting point is ... plus I need to make sure I don't morph the characters into a different meaning.

Kinda fun, now that I'm making progress. Thanks again.

Forrest L Norvell's picture

According to Japanese teachers, there are 200-something "radicals" that can be composed to create kanji. In fact, unless you're looking at very simple characters, just about every kanji can be broken down into constituent components. These parts sometimes are themselves characters, which can provide clues to the meaning of the kanji in which they're included, but there's no necessary correlation between a set of radicals and a character's meaning. Kanji are the end product of 2,600 years' worth of random evolution, gradual refinement, and premeditated simplification, so it's safe to say that all of the strokes in a character, and the spatial relationship between those strokes, are all important.

That's why I included the kaku / gothic version of each word: that's pretty much the barest letterform you can have and still get the essential meaning across, unless you're an actual Japanese typographer and know which rules you can break (translation: I myself have absolutely no idea, and my grasp of Japanese is rudimentary at best).

(When studying Japanese writing and type, all kinds of blarney gets shoveled your way about the importance of stroke order, direction, and formation in Japanese handwriting. Some or all of that might have been true back when people wrote primarily with brushes, but these days, everyone uses ballpoints, and Japanese handwriting is just as rapid and sketchy as most laptop-using Europeans'. Quite frankly I have no idea how most Japanese people read each others' handwriting at all.)

Anyway, good luck with your logo project, which sounds fun, but be careful! Remember all those Japanese T-shirts saying "Let's lucky alligator!" and the like: hapless mistranslation is charming on a 17-year-old girl in Harajuku, not so cute on a big, expensive boat.

hrant's picture

> all kinds of blarney gets shoveled your way

Huh, sounds familiar...


raph's picture

According to the wwwjdic, "aiki" means "belch". But "aiki" is also used as part of "aikikai", which is the Aikido World Association, and also aikinews, so I think you're actually OK. The wwwjdic is the ideal tool for this kind of search, because you can click on "Examine the kanji in a selected compound" and get further details. The two versions of "ki" are indeed the result of simplification.

Forrest L Norvell's picture

"aiki" also means "favorite plane, camera, or other machine", and is the name of a city in China near the Russian border, but all three (the two aforementioned and "belch") are all spelled differently than the aiki in aikido. I'm not really such a pedant most of the time, but Japanese is full of homophones, and I thought I ought to clarify when I said "aiki" isn't a word, I meant, aiki spelled as it is above. Sorry, should have said so in the first place.

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