January 31, 2013
Tonan no Tsubasa (15)
Unlike Chinese, which pronounces a kanji only one way, kanji in Japanese can have multiple on'yomi (Chinese) and kun'yomi (Japanese) pronunciations. If that wasn't bad enough, as Peter Payne explains, "There's another way to read any kanji, and that's basically anyway you like, thanks to something called ateji (当て字)."
Ateji are denoted by superscripts and sidescripts (furigana) that provide substitute phonetic readings. See more examples and illustrations here.
For "passport" (旅券), the author substitutes the first kanji (旅), meaning "travel," with similar but obscure one (旌), meaning "flag tassel." When Rikou asks Shushou if she's seen traveling entertainers, the author creates another word (朱旌). Based on the antecedent, it means "red tasseled passport." The accompanying ateji spells out the word for a traveling entertainer.
Shusei (朱旌) lit. "red tassel"
Shushi (朱氏) lit. "red gentleman"
Shumin (朱民) lit. "red people"
Goushi (剛氏) lit. "strong gentleman"
Koumin (黄民) lit. "yellow people"
Koushu to tami (黄朱の民) lit. "people of the yellow and red"
A rokushoku (鹿蜀), lit. "Szechwan deer," is a creature that in Chinese mythology either resembles a zebra or a cross between a tiger and a horse. Shoukei rides one in chapter 21 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind.