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All these kanjis have word that contain aspect of hiding or concealing in their meaning: 隠、 忍、 匿、 潜. My head is spinning. Some are used in verbs others are used in compound words. Why do we need so many characters for the same idea?

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    英語にも hide, conceal, cover, sneak, lurk とかいっぱいあるやん。 – Chocolate Aug 18 '17 at 1:11
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Kanji are just a representation for (Old Chinese) words, so your question would be "Why were there so many Chinese words for hiding/concealing"?

Looking up the characters on wiktionary, their meanings are given as (just a selection):

  • forbear, stifle, hold back
  • hide, conceal
  • cover
  • shield, cover up
  • shelter

Why are there so many English words for hiding/concealing? ;)

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This is part of the beauty of the Japanese writing system (and Chinese too). The kanji are able to represent a wide array distinctions that may or may not come across in the spoken word. I recommend seeing this as a particular kind of elegance that is possible in the written word in Japanese.

In these cases where you seem to find a profusion of words meaning the same thing, I would recommend digging deeper. As a first such step, gather as many example sentences using these words and study them. You may begin to discern subtle differences between them (think of the difference between the English cache and hidey hole). As a later step, I would just recommend chucking the Japanese-English dictionary. More often than not, I've found them potentially better designed for native speakers of Japanese trying to learn English; and, even the more recent dictionaries aimed at learners of Japanese still seem aimed too low. Get a decent Japanese dictionary designed for native speakers of Japanese. 漢和辞典 are often very good at comparing and contrasting such characters. As a learner of Japanese interested in learning to read kanji, possibly the best such dictionaries are ones aimed at school age learners of kanji.

My 漢和中辞典 lists 蟄 as yet another kanji meaning to hide or conceal. It lists the readings of this character as チツ (on'yomi) かくれる (kun'yomi) and then explains some of its nuances: 虫などが土地にかくれていること. The dictionary then lists a variety of words formed using this character.

One of these listed words is 蟄伏{ちっぷく}. Denshi Jisho rather unceremoniously defines this word to be hibernation; staying home or in place. My 漢和中辞典 gives as the first definition of this word 虫などが地中に冬ごもりすること, clearly a rather more nuanced meaning than hibernation alone conveys.

Another fascinating word related to 蟄 is 蟄居{ちっきょ}, my dictionary elaborates on this as follows: 江戸時代に武士に課した刑で、自家の一室にとじこめて外出させぬこと. Now just imagine this: yes, it does just mean house arrest, but how boring. The kanji evokes a deeper, more confining meaning--imagine how a bug crawled away into the earth to sleep away the winter is deprived of physical freedom, access to food, and most other enjoyments of life. You might say, "that's clear enough from house arrest itself." But, then I think you're missing the beautiful imagery here.

Now you might be responding to this by saying, "I don't need to know such words like 蟄伏 and 蟄居. I'm neither a biologist (or entomologist) nor someone interested in the miserable lives of samurai under house-arrest." That's fine. You're interests are what they are. But I still recommend digging into a kanji dictionary meant for native speakers and you'll discover how the nuances of these various words distinguish themselves.

Keep in mind that like my example above regarding cache and hidey hole, English is replete with many words having very similar meanings--here are some more that all have uses similar having a hiding place: hideout, cover, recess, niche, dugout, coverture, stash, cubbyhole.... and the list could go on. So, try to think of these various ways of saying hide in Japanese--or whatever the next such kanji is (みる is another word with numerous ways of being expressed in kanji)--try to think of these as an enrichment of the language and an opportunity to plumb deeper into the meaning of these words.

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