How to Write Five Elements in Japanese Kanji

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Which Five Elements?

In Japan, the classical Chinese elements, wu xing, are prominent. These are Wood (Ki), Fire (Hi), Earth (Tsuchi), Metal (Kin), and Water (Mizu). They each have a representative kanji symbol.

In addition, Japanese Buddhism has a set of elements, the godai, which vary from the Chinese elements. They also include Earth, Water, and Fire, but Air and Void (sky or heaven) are used rather than Wood and Metal. Each of these has a representation in kanji script.

One reason people have an interest in the kanji of the elements is to choose a symbol for a tattoo. Having this symbol permanently written on the body shows that they aspire to promote the qualities and emotions it represents. These symbols, however, often have multiple interpretations. Especially in their Chinese roots, they represent opposite emotions and qualities as there is always a desire for balance - yin and yang. Learn more about using kanji for tattoos.

Kanji is one of the three kinds of scripts used to write in Japan. It is not usually used for foreign names, which are usually written in the phonetic katakana script.

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Earth (Tsuchi or Chi))

Earth represent things that are solid. The quality is like a stone - resistant to movement or change. It represents the solid portions of the body such as the bones and muscles. For emotional qualities, it can represent confidence and stability, but also may represent stubbornness.

In Chinese philosophy, Earth is associated with honesty and the emotions of anxiety and joy.

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Water (Mizu or Sui)

Water represents things that are liquid. It represents flow and change. The blood and body fluids are categorized under water. Traits that can be associated with water include being adaptable and flexible. But it may also represent being emotional and defensive.

In Chinese philosophy, water is associated with resourcefulness, knowledge-seeking, and wit. The emotions under its sway are fear and gentleness.

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Fire (Hi or Ka)

Fire represents things that destroy. It is forceful and full of energy. It represents passion, desire, intention, and drive.

In Chinese philosophy, fire likewise is associated with passion and intensity. The two sides of emotion it governs are hatred and love. 

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Metal (Kin)

 In Chinese philosophy, metal represented intuition and rationality. For emotions, it is associated with bravery and grief.

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Wood (Ki)

​ In Chinese philosophy, wood is associated with idealism and curiosity. It can represent anger and altruism.

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Wind (Fū or Kaze) 風

In the Japanese five elements, wind represents growth and freedom of movement. In relating it to human qualities, it is associated with the mind and gaining knowledge and experience. It can represent being open-minded, carefree, wise, and compassionate.

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Void (Kū or sora) 空

Void can also mean sky or heaven. It is the element representing the spirit and pure energy, things outside of daily life. It is associated with thinking, communicating, creativity, inventiveness, and power. It is regarded as the highest of elements. In martial arts usage, it is somewhat like the Force in Star Wars - connecting a warrior to a collective energy so they can act without thinking.