Point of interest: use of 京 in the いろは

use of 京 in the いろは
221 words
This article is based on the essay on 京 in the Joy o' Kanji essay collection.
One of the meanings of the kanji 京 is “the final syllable of the iroha poem”.
Iroha, or いろは, is the name of the traditional order of the Japanese syllabary. That is, い, ろ, and は are the first three kana in that syllabary, just as A, B, and C start off the English alphabet.
The いろは syllabary came about in 1079 (or possibly before) when someone wrote a poem that used all basic archaic syllables only once - what is known as a 'pangram'. The poem and the いろは syllabary are essentially the same thing. This famous poem is called
Originally, the いろは syllabary had only 47 characters. Later, ん came into existence, and the Japanese added it to the end of the いろは poem.
Though the syllabary is a collection of kana, the Japanese created all-kana and all-kanji versions of the poem. In the latter kind, 京 represented the ん.
Following the Chinese custom, the Japanese used to tack a specific kanji (usually 京 or the non-Joyo 无) onto the ends of poems, signifying that they were over. With the all-kanji version of いろは, people read both the 京 and 无 as ん (京 would not be read with the ん sound in any other context).
Thus, 京 served double duty, completing the syllabary and signaling its end.

Kanji used in this point of interest

キョウ   ケイ    capital   
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イ    that one; Italy   
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リョ   ロ    spine   
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ハ   なみ wave   
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カ   うた to sing   うた song   
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not, nothing
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