I believe that the tittle already covers my question, but I will explain it better here.

When I was reading the Heisig book (Remembering the Kanji, the sixth edition I believe) I came across the kanji 旦, which Heisig defines as Nightbreak. I looked at http://www.edrdg.org/cgi-bin/wwwjdic/wwwjdic?1MMJ%E6%97%A6 and found the following definition:

daybreak; dawn; morning

Which lead me thing that 旦 means the start of the day and NOT the start of the night, as the key-word and the story Heisig provides leads me to think.

But the story also talks about a more cultural aspect... I will quote the story from the book here:

While we normally refer to the start of the day as "daybreak," Japanese commonly refers to it as the "opening up of night" into day. Hence the choice of this rather odd key work, nightbreak. The single stroke at the bottom represents the floor (have a peek again at frame 1) or the horizon over which the sun is poking its head.

I know that are two different languages, but I think it it worth mentioning: I also have access to another book from Heisig, the Remembering the Simplified Hanzi (Chinese) and there the Hanzi has the meaning of daybreak; making me think that he really wants to give the kanji #30 the meaning of nightbreak.

I am super confused about this Kanji now. Can someone explain to me what is happening here regarding the meaning of the kanji and possibly give me an explanation about why Heisig chose this key word?

  • 旦 is a Chinese character and あした is a native Japanese word that happens to be written as 旦. That many idioms use night rather than day is just a coincident, because night collocate with the “ak-” verb family. But I believe “ak-” is more day-like. It literally means to light up (the night). (あけぼの, あかつき, よあけ, 夜があける/をあかす, etc.)
    – Yang Muye
    Jul 29, 2015 at 13:54
  • 2
    Heisig explains in his story that the Japanese see the "daybreak" not as a situation of breaking into a day, but rather as a "nightbreak", with "break" as in "breakfast", the breaking of a given state (night) into another (day). I'm not sure about the actual validity of this story, but that's what he means.
    – user10725
    Jul 29, 2015 at 21:31
  • @Kuri now I can see why he chose "daybreak", it can even make sense. Thank you!
    – Xaphanius
    Jul 30, 2015 at 12:53

2 Answers 2


I haven't read that book, but 旦 means morning, not evening.

I think this "opening up of night" refers to the Japanese word 夜【よ】明【あ】け ("morning, dawn", where 夜=night, 明=open), but I don't know why nightbreak suddenly came in.

This kanji is rarely used except in the compound 元旦【がんたん】 ("the morning of New Year's Day") or in several ateji compounds such as 旦那【だんな】. I think only a few native speakers can explain the original meaning of 旦 with confidence.

元旦 itself has been commonly misunderstood, and some recent dictionaries admit that 元旦 can simply mean "New Year's Day" instead of "New Year's morning". Strictly speaking, "元旦の夜" is wrong ("the night of the morning??"), but many people use it without caring the meaning of 旦. NHK carefully avoids such an expression.

  • I think the character 旦 can mean 日. (日 contrasts with 夜, but can also refer to the whole day.) This usage is attested in literature dated about 2000 years ago.
    – Yang Muye
    Jul 29, 2015 at 14:50
  • 1
    I found a few online dictionaries say 旦 also means 日, and that seems to contradict what some authoritative Japanese paper dictionaries say (see the link to NHK). And, oh, is there a word 旦日 which means tomorrow (morning)? The same dictionary doesn't say 旦 means next/coming. Looks like I'm one of those Japanese who can't fully explain this kanji... (sigh) But it does not mean evening in any way, right?
    – naruto
    Jul 29, 2015 at 15:05

It makes sense if you change the context a little ---> night break, i.e the night takes a break, and it become day again.

  • Not sure they this was downvoted, as I think its pretty clear that's what the book is intending to convey, and as someone else pointed out, breakfast is a word that means ending a fast. Night-break can be thought of as the same.
    – Andy
    Jul 28, 2017 at 0:35

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