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Issue 10: Mini 日本語 中級

March 21, 2010


How do you call the parts that make up kanji? Radicals, right? And in Japanese?

explanation-3awhitenyone that has been learning Japanese for some time, knows that kanji are made out of parts called『部首 (radicals)』. These can help you understand what certain kanji can mean. For example the earth radical『』is often used in kanji related to the earth or geographical features such as『 (bury)』and『 (hill)』. Though any radical can be used in kanji even unrelated to their original meaning, nevertheless, knowing these can help you differentiate when learning new kanji. In todays issue we’re going to take a look at the most common radicals, how they are called and where they’re often positioned.


So did you get everything? 頭がいいね、good! Take five, make yourself a nice cup of tea and let everything settle. Now we’ve memorized 🙂 the most common radicals (and this WILL get tested), let’s do a special Chokochoko practise (I told you so) in:『Find the Radical』!


Whew! That wasn’t too hard was it? How many did you get? Post your results in the comment section. Radicals are an important part of learning kanji, helping you further understand how a kanji is made up and its meaning in relation to the radicals. Radicals are as diverse as there are kanji and there are many more. Hope these basics will help you learn and understand new kanji along the way, がんばってね

11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2010 3:26 pm

    Fantastic blog!

    I am blown away by the phenomenal first impression you have made on me. Your blog is approachable and interesting, full of useful information and good links. I enjoyed this particular entry because I recently endeavored to explore what makes up the kanji 愛. I explored all the radicals and their historical relevance and found that it is actually quite difficult to extrapolate why exactly the ancients chose to use such radicals to express the kanji for love, for that was my question: What symbols did the ancient Chinese chose to represent such a complex and important emotion? My article is titled “愛の部分: The Pieces of Love” and it’s all in Japanese.

    I will continue to explore your blog and most likely link to yours as well.

    ~Dorian Wacquez

    • March 21, 2010 10:35 pm

      Thanks! I checked out your blog and we use the same theme! I was actually dreading at first to read through your whole article (fortunately there was a picture break in between), but it was actually very interesting and its actually mindboggling to think that each kanji might have such a history behind it.

  2. ニケ permalink
    March 21, 2010 8:11 pm

    Very interesting stuff, especially for me, as I have just started learning about Kanji. 🙂 While it is clear to me that all kanji are constructed from a limited set of elements, I am confused when it comes to the term “radical”. Some use this term when referring to any kanji element, while others use it in a more limited sense, only when referring to one particular element in a kanji, i.e., the one by which it is classified in a dictionary. Related to this confusion: If I look at your quiz, I see 汽 (Q1e) and 濃 (Q2b). So why is the left element, the water, the radical of 汽, but not of 濃? (I am assuming your quiz answers are correct of course.)

    • March 21, 2010 10:44 pm

      Hi ニケ! Radicals are all parts, not a main part or small part, but each part that makes up a kanji is a radical. Though it’s different from strokes. So you could say that kanji are made out of radical, radicals are made out of strokes.

      About your ‘confusion’, I thought I checked all the answers, turns out, I missed one! oops haha. So I corrected that one (汽).

      There are two kinds of water radicals, one is 水 and the other one the three dots on the left as in 汽. I didn’t include the three dots (and youll see in the answer that I corrected it and was actually about the right side radical). But good observation! Hope this cleared some things up!

      • ニケ permalink
        March 22, 2010 12:50 pm

        Aha! Thanks for your reply. I guess the issue of which strokes together form a radical is simply a matter of convention, as all radicals have been defined.
        And I take it that all the kanji parts that have not been given a cheerful colour in the answers, are still radicals, but are simply not in the set of radicals in your table, so out of scope in this exercise.
        One more question: I think I’ve seen that kanji dictionaries categorize kanji according to radicals. Does this mean that a kanji with x radicals has x entries in the dictionary?

      • March 22, 2010 1:56 pm

        Thats right, simply because there are too many to list. And about your question, it depends on the dictionary. Usually (and I think this might be what you referred to earlier about ‘kanji element’) kanji are categorized by their ‘main’ radical and this has to do with their meaning.

        For example: 抱 is almost always categorized under the 手-radical, rather than the 勹-radical or 已-radical. This is because this particular kanji means ‘to embrace’ and thus categorized under the 手-radical, and it would make sense. Paper dictionaries do this because otherwise you’ll get a book with a LOT of pages. Speaking from experience, when learning kanji, you will develop a feel for it and know under which radical certain kanji are categorized. This will come naturally as you progress. (Nevertheless, if you can’t find it listed under one radical, simply try another.)

        Electronic dictionaries such as wordtanks and online dictionaries on the other hand don’t have the paper limit, so in this case it would appear under each radical. So the example 抱 would appear 3 times.

      • ニケ permalink
        March 22, 2010 2:09 pm

        I think some people use the term radical only for the main radical, but the good news is I am now no longer confused. Thanks for your clear explanations! 🙂 And for teaching me a brand new kanji: 抱. Funny how the kanji I know as ‘hand’ and ‘(to) wrap’ together make ‘to embrace’, it makes perfect sense: ‘to wrap (someone) in your hands’! 😀

  3. March 22, 2010 10:53 am

    すご〜〜〜い!!Very impressive!!!

  4. March 25, 2010 6:59 am

    I must admit, I’ve never been a fan of learning kanji via radicals, and have never learnt them myself this way, but for somebody who is approaching kanji for the first time, it is without a doubt a very effective method, to a point.

    The problem comes, as you mentioned early in your article, when you come across kanji that include radicals that bear no references to their meaning. There’s always going to be exceptions to every rule though, so I suppose it depends on the method that you choose to take.

    • March 25, 2010 9:49 am

      Yea, it is by no means a standard rule to think this specific radical only appears in those specific kanji, in fact the majority might be even unrelated to its radical. That having said, I believe it does help you distinguish similar looking kanji with different radicals. For me it is something I learned as a kid (going to saturday chinese school), and it’s helpful now when distinguishing kanji or when learning new kanji, it is something I don’t have to think about because they’re familiar. And as for new learners, everything starts with the basics! 🙂

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