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I came across several references that say that the Japanese characters for eyelid and tealeaf are the same. This is also in keeping with the legend that the original tea shrub sprung from the eyelids of Bodhidharma. Here are two...

https://earthstoriez.com/japan-tea-daruma-legend/

https://www.dethlefsen-balk.de/ENU/56099/Legend_of_Tea.html

(search for "eyelid and tea" on the above pages)

I tried translate.google.com and this is what I got: eyelid: まぶた tealeaf: 茶葉

To me they don't look similar in any way. Additionally, does the pronunciation of the two have any similarity? Can someone please educate me on this? Thank you!

PS: I posed the same question to ChatGPT and this is the response I got:

"Yes, it is true that the Japanese characters for "eyelid" (まぶた) and "tealeaf" (茶葉) are the same. The character in question is 茶, which can be read as either "cha" or "sa" in Japanese. When it is used to mean "eyelid," it is typically pronounced as "sa," and when it is used to mean "tealeaf," it is typically pronounced as "cha." However, it is important to note that the Japanese language uses a variety of different scripts, and the characters that you are referring to are written in kanji, which are Chinese characters that have been adopted into the Japanese writing system. The pronunciation of kanji characters can vary depending on the context in which they are used."

Hoping a human can either confirm or dispel this.

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    I know there is a chinese tea called "golden eyebrow" (金眉). Never heard of connection to eyelids.
    – andrewb
    Jan 9, 2023 at 9:56
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    I could kind of see someone making this up and not including the way of writing it to kind of hide that they're making it up, but if they put 茶 there then they surely could have checked that it doesn't mean eyelid and know readers can too...
    – Leebo
    Jan 9, 2023 at 11:07
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    ChatGPT just makes things up when it doesn't know (well, it forces things you wanted to know about into what it knows how to say). It will very confidently spew out nonsense. That's all that happened when you asked it this question.
    – Leebo
    Jan 9, 2023 at 13:27
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    When (茶) is used to mean "eyelid," it is typically pronounced as "sa," -- うそや~ん.. [茶]{sa} doesn't mean "eyelid". [茶]{sa}道 means "tea ceremony" and 喫[茶]{sa} means "tea drinking"
    – chocolate
    Jan 9, 2023 at 13:55

2 Answers 2

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Just plain wrong

As @user19642323 states in their answer post, any statement that "Until today the Japanese language uses the same character for eyelid and tea 茶" is wrong.

Where did this come from?

Also as @user19642323 states, you appear to have two separate websites [1] and [2] that include the same text almost verbatim. #1 provides a bit more detail, so let's look at that one.

This website, https://earthstoriez.com/japan-tea-daruma-legend/, has the problematic text towards the bottom of the page in a separate text box. This has tabs across the top of it, allowing the user to view the text in English (the default), "Deutsch" (German), "Italiano" (Italian), and "Espanol" (misspelling for "Español": Spanish).

Bad translation from some other European language + mistake?

The "English" tab authoritatively -- and completely incorrectly -- states:

Until today the Japanese language uses the same character for eyelid and tea 茶.

Any dictionary that includes a definition for 茶 will clearly show that this means "tea", not "eyelid". Chinese characters have inherent meanings. They can sometimes have multiple meanings, but this is not such a case.

→ This claim by the website is plainly bullshit.

If we check the tabs for the other languages, we find some variance.

  • DE:

    Bis zum heutigen Tag, ist in der Japanischen Schrift das Schriftzeichen für Augenlid und Tee だ da, た ta, das Gleiche.

  • IT:

    Ancora oggi, l’ideogramma giapponese per palpebra e té だ da, た ta, lo stesso.

  • ES:

    En la escritura japonesa, los ideogramas de párpado y de té だ da, た ta, son los mismos hasta el día de hoy.

These three all consistently make the same mistakes -- albeit different mistakes than the English version!

  1. These all talk about "Japanese ideograms", meaning kanji.
    Strictly speaking, kanji are not Japanese -- these are almost entirely borrowed from Chinese. (There are a small handful of characters that were invented in Japan, which have mostly been adopted into other languages that use Chinese characters. Examples include (sen, "gland").) Even the name "kanji" literally means "Chinese characters": 漢字, from 漢 (kan, "Han Chinese") + 字 (ji, "character").
  2. These then talk about だ (da) and た (ta), which are hiragana, not kanji.
    Hiragana is a syllabary, which is like an alphabet, except each character (called a "kana") represents a syllable as a combination of consonant + vowel, rather than just a single sound such as a separate consonant or vowel. Kana represent sound, not meaning.
  3. These then claim that "tea" and "eyelid" are both represented by both the hiragana letters だ (da) and た (ta).
    • The word for "tea" in Japanese is (cha), with both the kanji 茶 and the pronunciation borrowed ultimately from Chinese centuries ago. In specific contexts, this kanji 茶 can also be pronounced as sa or ta. So far as I'm aware, 茶 is never pronounced in Japanese as da.
    • The word for "eyelid" in Japanese is (mabuta). The kanji 瞼 is borrowed from Chinese, and the pronunciation is native Japanese, as a combination of ma for "eye" and futa for "lid". (The futa pronunciation often changes to buta in compounds, due to a sound shift called rendaku.)
      In certain compounds, 瞼 might instead be pronounced using the Chinese-derived reading. However, this is ken, not ta or da.

Might be ChatGPT rubbish

To stretch things a bit and to be as kind as possible, the completely wrong conclusions in the website text might be hinging on that final -ta in the word mabuta, and erroneously connecting this to the rare ta pronunciation for 茶.

More likely, this is just some horrible AI garbage, which naive humans have blindly accepted as authoritative, instead of doing actual research and recognizing it for the bullshit that it is.

Conclusion: caveat lector

If you run across some website stating "Language A has this word X that means Y" -- do some digging. There are numerous free online references you can use to quickly check any such statement and see if it passes the smell test.

This statement about "tea" and "eyelid" in Japanese? It stinks to high heaven. Throw it out with the other spoiled compost in the back of your fridge.

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  • "There are numerous free online references you can use to quickly check any such statement and see if it passes the smell test." Could you list some, specifically for Japanese? I have 0 experience with Japanese and the only resource I could think of was Google Translate, which did indeed show different characters for the two, as mentioned in my post.
    – Zaph Brox
    Jan 10, 2023 at 6:57
  • @ZaphBrox: Bilingual resources with EN websites: Wiktionary, Monash U's mirror of WWWJDIC, Jisho.org. Bilingual resources with JA websites (still usable for EN speakers, just more confusing to get around): Eijirō, Weblio E→J and J→E. See also Jim Breen's list of online dictionaries here. (Breen has been a key person building and maintaining the WWWJDIC data.) Jan 10, 2023 at 17:09
  • @ZaphBrox, see also the "Resources for learning Japanese" page on Meta. Jan 10, 2023 at 17:10
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    @BenHocking -- 😄 Ya, strictly speaking, I was talking about "spoiled produce or other food at the back of the fridge, that should be disposed of as compost". That seemed a bit long-winded, however. Mar 17, 2023 at 22:24
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    Unfortunately, ChatGPT feeds on sites like this one. Quoting this statement verbatim in different languages might give an AI the impression that the statment must be true.
    – Florian F
    Mar 19, 2023 at 10:19
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Your two sources are actually just a single source, since the relevant bits of text in each are the same word-for-word. Anyway, I think that the claim

Until today the Japanese language uses the same character for eyelid and tea 茶

is just plain wrong.

Jisho lists a few different ways of writing まぶた (eyelid) in kanji: 瞼, 目蓋, 眼蓋. None of these are the same as the character for ちゃ (tea): 茶. As far as I can tell 茶 is restricted in meaning to tea, and 瞼 to eyelid (even in other languages like Chinese).

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