Kanji of the Day : 上(うえ/じょう) ue/jo (up/above)

Looks like you have mastered most of the kanjis for numbers, and now you should be able to at least write your own age in kanji 😉 Yay, congratulations!

Today’s Kanji is 上 (ue/jo), meaning top, or above. I think this is one of the most commonly used kanjis, and you will see it everywhere in Japan. Here is a good (and hopefully useful) example.


When I lived in Tokyo, I used commuters train everyday to go to school. So to get to the school, I took 上り電車 (nobori densha) from the closest trainstation, and to come back home, I took 下り電車 (kudari densha). 電車 (densha) means train, so 上り電車 means “train that goes up”, and 下り電車 means “train that does down”.

For a long time I did not really pay attention to why the railroad company called one route 上り, and the return route下り, but recently my friend explained to me the logic behind it.

In ancient times, going to京都 (Kyoto), which was the capital city of Japan back then, was called 都上り (miyako nobori), meaning “going up to the capital”. Since emperors resided in Kyoto up until 明治維新 (the Meiji Restoration of 1883), the city was long considered as the “highest place” of Japan. Hence the reason going to Kyoto was called 都上り. Today the emperor resides in Tokyo, so the modern understanding of the term 都上り has changed to “going to Tokyo” instead of Kyoto.


JR (Japan Railroads), Japan’s largest and oldest railroad company, adopted the idea when they established the train system after the Meiji Restoration: they decided to call the rout that bound to the Tokyo station 上り, and the returning route 下り.

So for my case, the train I took from home was called 上り電車, because it was heading towards Tokyo station, and the on the way back, I took the 下り電車 because I was going away from Tokyo station.

I am not sure how this rule works in the other regions of Japan and there seems to be a lot of exceptions, but if you ever get lost on a train in Tokyo, check and see if it is a 上り電車 or 下り電車. It may give you an idea which direction you are heading to, at least.


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Post by nanami

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