第7課: Introduction to Kanji I: The Radicals 漢字入門①・部首
Before the introduction of Kanji (Chinese characters), Japanese had no writing system. It is because of Kanji that Japanese has writing. For our first lesson about Kanji, we will first focus on what Kanji are and how they are constructed.
What are Radicals 部首とは？
Whereas Kana can be likened to alphabets of a different kind, the same cannot be said for Kanji. Kana represent sound, but Kanji represent meaning. In doing so, Kanji themselves are made up of smaller components. These components can then be categorized, and there are ways in which these components interact to build the thousands of Kanji that exist.
These building blocks are called radicals, or ぶしゅ in Japanese. Traditionally, there are 214 distinct radicals. When Japanese are taught Kanji in school, they are also taught the names and meanings of these radicals. The names, if you will, are at least similar to how English speakers refer to different letters in the alphabet.
These are just six examples of radicals that find themselves in many Kanji. Every radical has one or more (interrelated) meanings, and with native insight, the general meaning of the radical(s) of a Kanji can aid the reader in accurately guessing what the Kanji means even if it’s the first time for the person to see it.
■Radicals as Standalone Kanji
Many radicals happen to also be used as standalone Kanji. After all, they each possess a core meaning. Not all radicals can be used in this way, but for the ones that do, they tend to be very important, commonplace Kanji.
■Radicals Contributing Meaning in Kanji
As an example of how radicals contribute to the meaning of Kanji, let’s take both the radical and Kanji for “fire” as an example. In the ten Kanji below, all have a meaning directly related to fire. As you may notice, radicals sometimes appear slightly differently depending on where they’re placed in Kanji, but this is merely cosmetic in nature.
The Types of Radicals 部首の種類（偏旁冠脚）
There are seven types of radicals based on shape. The shape of a radical is just as important when combining them to form complex Kanji, and shape will also help determine the stroke order of a Kanji. Although some radicals may fit into more than one shape category, a radical will always at least fall under one of the following seven categories.
Left-side radicals are placed on the left-hand side of a Kanji. These radicals establish the general principle that Kanji are written internally from left to right. A perfect example of this is the radical 亻. This radical means “person” and its Japanese name is 人偏(にんべん). It is the result of the Kanji 人transforming into this shape when placed to the left. To illustrate its stroke order as well as how the stroke order of a left-side radical looks like in relation to an entire Kanji, let’s take the character 他 (other) into consideration.
Now let’s look at ten Kanji that use the radical 亻 to showcase how it attributes the meaning of “person.”
Some radicals are found on the right-hand side of a Kanji, and as a consequence, they are generally written last. Let’s consider the Kanji/radical meaning “bird” (鳥) to demonstrate its stroke order and how the stroke order of a right-side radical looks like in relation to an entire Kanji. To do so, let’s consider the character 鳴 meaning “chirp/cry.”
Now let’s look at ten Kanji that utilize the radical 鳥 to showcase how it contributes the meaning of “bird.”
Upper-side radicals are seen at the top of Kanji and they establish the general rule that Kanji strokes are written from top to bottom. To see how this works, let’s consider the radical 艹 meaning “grass.” When you see it in the upper-half of a character, you know that the Kanji has something to do with plant life. To demonstrate how these radicals are written, consider the character 花 meaning “flower.”
Now let’s look at ten Kanji that utilize the radical 艹 to showcase how it contributes the meaning of “plant.”
Bottom-side radicals follows the rule that strokes of Kanji are generally written from top to bottom, meaning that they are written last. Let’s look at the radical 心 meaning “heart,” which is a variant of 忄from earlier. When you see it in the lower-half of a character, you know that the Kanji has something to do with emotions. To demonstrate how these radicals are written, consider the character meaning 思 “think.”
Now let’s look at ten Kanji that utilize the radical 心 to showcase how it contributes the meaning of “heart.”
Hanging radicals follow the general guidelines of writing strokes from top-down and left-right, ‘hanging over’ the rest of the character in an r-shape. Let’s look at the radical 疒 meaning “sickness.” To demonstrate how these radicals are written, consider the character 病 meaning “disease.”
Now let’s look at ten Kanji that utilize the radical 疒 to showcase how it contributes the meaning of “disease.”
Bottom-wrapping radicals are written last from top to bottom. They are written last because anything written on it is technically ‘above’ it most of them. Let’s look at the radical 辶 meaning “movement.” When you see it wrapped around the left-hand side of a character in an l-shape, you know that the Kanji has something to do with movement or distance. To demonstrate how these radicals are written, consider the character 近 meaning “close.”
Now let’s look at ten Kanji that utilize the radical 辶 to showcase how it contributes the meaning of “distance.” Note that in some characters, it may also appear as 辶.
Enclosure radicals surround the rest of the Kanji they are in, but as indicated by the icons, they come in various kinds. In fact, hanging radicals and bottom-wrapping radicals may also be viewed as enclosure radicals. Though stroke order will depend on what sub-type the enclosure radical is, all such radicals still follow the same general principles we’ve discussed thus far.
Let’s look at the radical 囗 meaning “enclosure.” When you see it surrounding a Kanji, you can assume that the Kanji’s meaning entails some sort of boundary. To demonstrate how these radicals are written, consider the character 回 meaning “revolve.”
Now let’s look at ten Kanji that utilize the radical 囗 to showcase how it contributes the meaning of “boundary.”
※国 and 國 are one of the same thing. The latter is the original form of the character prior to script reform that occurred immediately after WWII. Such older forms are known as kyūjitai 旧字体. Although they aren’t necessary to learn right away, you will encounter them in surnames, place names, older literature, etc.
Other examples of enclosure radicals include 門 (gate), 凵 (open box), 匚 (on-side enclosure), 冂 (upside-down box), and 勹 (wrapping enclosure). Usually, enclosure radicals mainly provide shape rather than meaning to the Kanji they’re a part of. Below are some example characters utilizing these radicals.
|Radical 門||Radical 凵||Radical 匚||Radical 冂||Radical 勹|
To be Continued 次章につづく
In this lesson, we learned about the seven kinds of radicals that make up Kanji. The examples given are just a small fraction of the 214 radicals that exist. Of course, there is no need to look up each and every radical, nor is there any need to learn all their names and all the kanji that they make. Even for native learners, this process can take years.
In the next lesson, we will focus on how to read Kanji, and from there, it will be most advantageous that you learn how to read and write words how they are actually spelled. If you forget how to read a word or fail to recognize a word, there are plenty of online resources such as www.jisho.org that you can use for a quick answer.
For your literacy to match your speaking skills, learning approximately 3 Kanji a day can help you be a near-native reader within 3 years. Allow yourself time to see and produce text in Japanese as much as possible.