Newspapers and magazines have so much misinformation about Chinese characters that I seldom bother to mention specific instances. But I expect better than this from the New York Times, even though this is but soft news:
The two designers chose 20 stellar examples of a concept defined by the Japanese ideogram katei. It is the joining of two symbols — ka being house and tei being garden — that defines home in Japanese.
Oy. First, katei is not written with one “ideogram” [sic] but two Chinese characters / kanji:
(Somebody help me out if I got that wrong. I don’t know Japanese.) In Mandarin this is jiātíng, meaning “family.” Nishikawa Yūko has a long discussion about notions of katei in “The Modern Japanese Family System: unique or universal?” (Multicultural Japan. Palaeolithic to Postmodern. Donald Denoon, Mark Hudson, Gavan McCormack, and Tessa Morris-Suzuki, eds. Cambridge University Press, pp. 224-232).
Third, the Japanese language is not defined by symbols. Language comes first, writing later.
Fourth, calling Chinese characters “symbols” is at best problematic; this is part of what feeds the ideographic myth. (See the second point.)
I’m all for good design, but it shouldn’t be explained in terms of myths. Otherwise, perhaps architects and interior designers should be putting functioning pigpens inside houses, or at least a little covered shrine to a pig. After all, if we’re going to be guided by how characters look, is not the very essence of “home” (家) in Japan and China defined by having a pig (豕) under a roof (宀)?
source: Homes and Gardens, Living in Harmony, New York Times, March 9, 2006