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The Five Elements in Chinese characters or Japanese Kanji

The five elements are earth (soil), water, gold/metal, wood, and fire. In Chinese astrology these five elements go through a five-year-cycle. Each year has a certain element assigned to it.

If you want to really get into it, there are also twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac which have a 12 year cycle.
If you are looking for more info on the Five Elements (Wu Xing) try this... Wikipedia: Five Elements (Wu Xing).

Quick links to words on this page...

  1. Five Elements
  2. Gold / Metal
  3. Wood
  4. Water
  5. Fire
  6. Earth
  7. Sky / Ether / Void / Emptiness / Unreality
  8. Five Elements Tai Chi Fist
  9. Four Elements
10. Saturn
11. Body and Mind


Five Elements

China jīn mù shuǐ huǒ tǔ
Five Elements Wall Scroll

金木水火土 is a list of the Chinese characters for the five elements in a comfortable order (meaning that they simply "feel right" to a Chinese person who views this arrangement).

The order is metal, wood, water, fire, earth.

Note that sometimes the metal element is translated as gold. And earth refers to soil versus the whole planet earth.

Five Elements

Japan chi sui ka fuu kuu
Five Elements Wall Scroll

地水火風空 is the specifically-Japanese version of the five elements. 地水火風空 is a little different than the ancient or original Chinese version.

The elements are written in this order:
1. Earth / Terra / Ground
2. Water
3. Fire
4. Wind / Air
5. Sky / Emptiness / Void / Ether

Note: This set of Kanji can also be romanized as "ji sui ka fuu kuu," "jisuikafuukuu," or "jisuikafuku."

Five Elements

China wǔ xíng
Japan gogyou
Five Elements Wall Scroll

五行 is the title of the five elements which are: wood, fire, water, earth, and metal.

The first character means "5" and the second character is simply "elements."

According to ancient Chinese science, all matter in the world is made up of these elements. One idea presented with the five elements is that when energy is added, matter is believed to expand. When energy is removed, matter contracts. Oddly, this concept is not far from Einstein's theories, and modern science. Just a few thousand years before Einstein.


See Also:  Wood | Fire | Water | Earth | Metal

Gold / Metal

(One of the five elements)
China jīn
Japan kin
Gold / Metal Wall Scroll

金 is the symbol for metal (often means gold or money) in Chinese, Korean and Japanese.

In an interesting twist, in Japanese, this Kanji can also mean "Friday." I guess Friday is "the golden day" in Japan.

Wood

(One of the five elements)
China
Japan ki
Wood Wall Scroll

木 is the symbol for wood in Japanese, Korean and Chinese. This can sometimes mean "tree" depending on context. In fact, the character comes from a pictogram that is supposed to resemble a tree.

Water

(One of the five elements)
China shuǐ
Japan mizu
Water Wall Scroll

水 is the symbol for water in Japanese and Chinese.

Fire

(One of the five elements)
China huǒ
Japan hi
Fire Wall Scroll

火 is the symbol for fire, flame, or blaze in Chinese, Korean and Japanese.

Earth

(One of the five elements)
China
Japan tsuchi
Earth Wall Scroll

土 is earth, soil, ground or Terra.

Earth

(Used in Japanese version of five elements)
China
Japan chi / ji / tsushi / tsuchi
Earth Wall Scroll

地 is the single-character element and title of the planet Earth in Chinese, old Korean Hanja and Japanese Kanji.

Because this is a single-character, the definition is a little ambiguous, and can have many meanings depending on the context in which it is used. These meanings include: earth, ground, land, soil, dirt, place, territory, bottom (of a package, book, etc.), earth (one of the Japanese five elements), the region in question, the local area, skin, texture, fabric, material, weave, base, background, one's true nature, narrative (i.e. descriptive part of a story), real life, actuality, etc.

In Japanese, this Kanji can be pronounced several ways, including chi, ji, tsushi, or tsuchi.
地 is also an element of the Japanese version of the five elements (the original Chinese version uses a different version of earth).

Sky / Ether / Void / Emptiness / Unreality

(Used in Japanese version of five elements)
China kōng
Japan kuu / kara / sora / ron
Sky / Ether / Void / Emptiness / Unreality Wall Scroll

This single character means empty, void, hollow, vacant, vacuum, blank, nonexistent, vacuity, voidness, emptiness, non-existence, immateriality, unreality, the false or illusory nature of all existence, being unreal.

In Buddhist context, this relates to the doctrine that all phenomena and the ego have no reality but are composed of a certain number of skandhas or elements, which disintegrate. The void, the sky, space. The universal, the absolute, complete abstraction without relativity. The doctrine further explains that all things are compounds, or unstable organisms, possessing no self-essence, i.e. are dependent, or caused, come into existence only to perish. The underlying reality, the principle of eternal relativity, or non-infinity, i.e. śūnya, permeates all phenomena making possible their evolution.

From Sanskrit and/or Pali, this is the translation to Chinese and Japanese of the title śūnya or śūnyatā.

In Japanese, when pronounced as "ron" (sounds like "roan") this can be a given name. It should be noted that this Kanji has about 5 different possible pronunciations in Japanese: kuu, kara, sora, ron, and uro. 空 is also an element in the Japanese version of the five elements.

Five Elements Tai Chi Fist

China wǔ xíng tài jí quán
Japan go gyou tai kyoku ken
Five Elements Tai Chi Fist Wall Scroll

五行太極拳 is a certain school or style of Tai Chi (Taiji). The characters literally mean "Five Elements Tai Chi Fist."

Notes:
In Taiwan, it would be Romanized as "Wu Hsing Tai Chi Chuan" - see the standard Mandarin method above in the gray box (used in mainland China and the official Romanization used by the Library of Congress).

The last three characters are sometimes translated as "Grand Ultimate Fist," so the whole thing can be "Five Elements Grand Ultimate Fist" if you wish.

I have not confirmed the use of this title in Korean but if it is used, it's probably only by martial arts enthusiasts. The pronunciation is correct as shown above for Korean.

Four Elements

Buddhist Term
China dì shuǐ huǒ fēng
Japan chisuikafuu
Four Elements Wall Scroll

地水火風 is a Buddhist term that means "earth, water, fire, wind." 地水火風 is often just referred to as "the four elements." There is a more common title (the five elements) which adds wood to the mix. These four elements are used in some sects of Japanese Buddhism (not so much in Chinese).

Saturn

China tǔ xīng
Japan to shou
Saturn Wall Scroll

土星 is the Chinese, Japanese Kanji, and old Korean Hanja for the planet Saturn.

The literal meaning of these characters is "earth star". The earth character is on of the five elements of Chinese culture. This earth character regards soil or dirt, not the planet Earth.

Saturn has been titled 土星 for at least 2000 years.

Body and Mind

China shēn xīn
Japan shin shin
Body and Mind Wall Scroll

身心 means, "body and mind" or "mental and physical" in Chinese and Japanese.

In the Buddhist context, body and mind encompass the five elements (skandha) of a sentient being.
The body is the physical material (rūpa) of life. Mind embraces the other four skandhas which are consciousness, perception, action, and knowledge.


The following table may be helpful for those studying Chinese or Japanese...

Title CharactersRomaji(Romanized Japanese)Various forms of Romanized Chinese
Five Elements 金木水火土jīn mù shuǐ huǒ tǔ
jin1 mu4 shui3 huo3 tu3
jin mu shui huo tu
jinmushuihuotu
chin mu shui huo t`u
chinmushuihuotu
chin mu shui huo tu
Five Elements 地水火風空
地水火风空
chi sui ka fuu kuu
chisuikafuukuu
chi sui ka fu ku
chisuikafuku
Five Elements 五行gogyou / gogyowǔ xíng / wu3 xing2 / wu xing / wuxing wu hsing / wuhsing
Gold
Metal
kinjīn / jin1 / jin chin
Wood kimù / mu4 / mu
Water mizushuǐ / shui3 / shui
Fire hihuǒ / huo3 / huo
Earth tsuchitǔ / tu3 / tu t`u / tu
Earth chi / ji / tsushi / tsuchidì / di4 / di ti
Sky
Ether
Void
Emptiness
Unreality
kuu / kara / sora / ron
ku / kara / sora / ron
ku/kara/sora/ron
kōng / kong1 / kong k`ung / kung
In some entries above you will see that characters have different versions above and below a line.
In these cases, the characters above the line are Traditional Chinese, while the ones below are Simplified Chinese.

All of our calligraphy wall scrolls are handmade.

When the calligrapher finishes creating your artwork, it is taken to my art mounting workshop in Beijing where a wall scroll is made by hand from a combination of silk, rice paper, and wood.
After we create your wall scroll, it takes at least two weeks for air mail delivery from Beijing to you.

Allow a few weeks for delivery. Rush service speeds it up by a week or two for $10!

When you select your calligraphy, you'll be taken to another page where you can choose various custom options.


A nice Chinese calligraphy wall scroll

The wall scroll that Sandy is holding in this picture is a "large size"
single-character wall scroll.
We also offer custom wall scrolls in small, medium, and an even-larger jumbo size.

A professional Chinese Calligrapher

Professional calligraphers are getting to be hard to find these days.
Instead of drawing characters by hand, the new generation in China merely type roman letters into their computer keyboards and pick the character that they want from a list that pops up.

There is some fear that true Chinese calligraphy may become a lost art in the coming years. Many art institutes in China are now promoting calligraphy programs in hopes of keeping this unique form of art alive.

Trying to learn Chinese calligrapher - a futile effort

Even with the teachings of a top-ranked calligrapher in China, my calligraphy will never be good enough to sell. I will leave that to the experts.

A high-ranked Chinese master calligrapher that I met in Zhongwei

The same calligrapher who gave me those lessons also attracted a crowd of thousands and a TV crew as he created characters over 6-feet high. He happens to be ranked as one of the top 100 calligraphers in all of China. He is also one of very few that would actually attempt such a feat.