June 5, 2009

Followup: Why is 仙台 Named so Strangely?

Yesterday I neglected to include 仙台 (Sendai, a city in Japan) in the magical hermit post*, because I thought it didn't match at all. But when Alex brought it up in the comments, I decided to look in Wikipedia. It says,
At this time, Sendai was written as 千代 (which literally means "a thousand generations"), because a temple with a thousand Buddha statues (千体 sentai) used to be located in Aobayama. Masamune changed the kanji to 仙臺, which later became 仙台 (which literally means "hermit on a platform"). The kanji was taken from a Chinese poem that praised a palace created by the Emperor Wen of Han China, comparing it to a mythical palace in the Kunlun Mountains. It is said that Masamune chose this kanji so that the castle would prosper as long as a mountain inhabited by an immortal hermit.

Turns out that the city's name has a pretty cool back story after all. Learning gets.

BTW on the kanji above, 体 is a counter for humanoid forms, such as statues. 臺 is just the old form of 台.
* Magical hermit post is so the next blogging craze.


  1. Interesting follow-up; I'm a bit confused (maybe it's a Chinese-->Japanese thing): for years I've always translated the Chinese 仙 as "immortal." So is it just a Japanese interpretation of 仙 to be "hermit"? Not being smarty-pants or anything, just want to know (I don't speak Japanese but do speak/read Chinese). Cheers!

  2. my guess would be that in Chinese it became so synoymous with immortals that the meaning became that. I can't think of any examples of kanji getting new meanings within Japan (sometimes they do drop a meaning out of multiple meanings when they get imported though).


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