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Early stages of Japanese did not have relative clauses, but it was possible to modify nouns with attributive verbs (using contemporary lexicon/morphology for ease): 咲く丘 a hill where something grows I believe that from early stages, there was little restriction on the semantic role of 丘 in the action of 咲く, i.e. all this is really saying is "a hill that ...
I suggest A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters, by Kenneth Henshall. It gives both the true etymology (if known) and a mnemonic explanation that is more useful to memory. It seems to be exactly what you were looking for.
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