As you all probably know, kanji were imported from China. At some point in time, Japan decided to organize some study abroad courses over in the Zhongguo, so scholarly type dudes, monks and shit, would go over and bring back cool stuff – tea, Buddhism, bureaucracy. Gradually through religious study and stuff, I think, kanji came into use by educated, political types (all men).
Hiragana and katakana developed later as abbreviated forms of kanji, although according to myth Kobo Daishi invented the former. (If there was ever a Chuck Norris figure in Japanese history, wouldn’t it have to be Kobo Daishi? We could say hilarious stuff like: Kobo Daishi pissed into the Lake of Japan and turned it into the Sea of Japan. Kobo Daishi sneezed and the Mongolians’ boats all capsized. Shikoku used to be the other way around until Kobo Daishi walked around that motherfucker so much that it did a 180.)
Japanese were not content to create only two other sets of characters. They also created a bunch of kanji that don’t exist in Chinese. These are collectively referred to as 国字（こくじ）, and this week’s kanji is one of those – 峠（とうげ）. It means mountain pass, I think. It’s definitely some feature of mountainous terrain but probably has a few translations in English.
It always makes me think of Aizu-Bange because that last little hill between Yanaizu and Aizu-Bange, that stretch with several sad little inaka love hotels, is called 七折峠（ななおりとうげ）- Seven Folds Pass. Yesterday I drove by Bandai-Atami and on the outskirts between Atami and Inawashiro there was a love hotel named ホテル峠, so perhaps the word 峠 is associated with a hidden space created by mountains, an area perfect for devious activities.
(In addition to 国字, there are 国訓（こっくん）, characters where the meaning in Japanese differs from the original Chinese, and 幽霊文字（ゆうれいもじ）, “ghost” characters that have no pronunciation or meaning at all. Mistakes will be made. In many languages.)