Today I bought a hundred year old book in a secondhand bookshop in Naha, Okinawa. It's a handbook of the Ryukyuan language in Japanese, though it has both Japanese and English titles there is no English inside.

This is how it describes itself in English

Being a Guide to Conversations in the Standard
Luchuan, to which is added 琉語解釋 written
by Giwan Chōho the last Statesman
of old Luchu,


The Japanese I've shown it to could not guess what 琉語解釋 means. The first two characters are obviously an abbreviated way to say "Ryukyuan language" (琉球語 would be unabbreviated) but the last two characters baffled them.

Since this book is from the prewar era it must use 旧字体, older kanji forms before the simplified characters were introduced and many other characters were more or less deprecated in the language reforms / standardization.

But another strange thing is that the book does not use the usual English terms "Ryukyu" and "Ryukyuan" but very Chinese-looking terms "Luchu" and "Luchuan".

This makes me wonder if this particular phrase might actually be Chinese rather than Japanese?

  • 1
    解釋=解釈, Luchuan was used in English literature, although Ryukyu&c. is more common today.
    – blutorange
    Mar 10, 2014 at 13:31
  • @blutorange: If you submit an answer explaining the how and why of 釋=釈 I will upvote and accept it! I'm guessing they are not a kyujitai/shinjitai pair but rather a case of a deprecated character being replaced by a more common character with similar shape and reading. I've come across this before but couldn't find a name for the phenomenon. Mar 10, 2014 at 13:35
  • @blutorange: Then again it could be a kyujitai/shinjitai pair that just isn't marked as such in the English Wiktionary. I'm still researching this (-: ... OK they are a kyujitai/shinjitai pair and are listed in the Wikipedia article. Mar 10, 2014 at 13:50
  • 2
    Luchu is a reasonable approximation of the local pronunciation of 琉球, namely ルーチュー.
    – Zhen Lin
    Mar 10, 2014 at 20:54
  • @hippietrail There are several examples of kanji that were never officially simplified, but which are often written or printed following simplification conventions anyway (in this case, 睪 -> 尺). Wikipedia has a good explanation of so-called Extended Shinjitai here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinjitai#Unofficial_simplifications
    – Kaji
    Mar 17, 2014 at 17:15

1 Answer 1


釋: The English wiktionary may be incorrect or incomplete. I suggest you cross-reference with a kanji dictionary. Here is a screenshot from my electronic dictionary (新漢語林):釋 as a version of 釈

As you can see, 釋 is marked as a 旧字(体) of 釈. You may also try the glyphwiki: 釋 on glyphwiki. The google android IME tells you this as well when converting しゃく.

Luchuan: Here is an instance of this word in an English book. An historical grammar of Japanese, p.143, Luchuan

It is perhaps significant that the Luchuan conjugation does not include a perfect form.

  • Are you not going to answer the title question: "Is 琉語解釋 Japanese?"?
    – user4032
    Mar 10, 2014 at 14:55
  • 5
    Feel free to downvote, edit this or post a new answer if you feel there is anything that is missing, wrong, or that you can contribute. This site is, after all, not about reputation, but to work together as a community to help people in need.
    – blutorange
    Mar 10, 2014 at 15:22

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