Radical Notes are FREE (yippee!) and are intended to complement the essays. Each Radical Note focuses on a particular radical, examining its Japanese and English names, variations on its shape, its positions in a kanji, and characters that contain it.
In the index below, you'll notice that every radical has a number. This numbering system has nothing to do with the Henshall numbers for each kanji. For instance, 心 (heart) is radical 61 and is kanji number 147. The radical numbers correspond to the 214 historical radicals in the Kangxi Dictionary of China. Nelson, Halpern, and Denshi Jisho also use this radical numbering system.
Radical Notes have loose structures; you never know just where the discussions will go. In some cases, such as Radical Note 5, the text is quite brief, pointing you to an essay. That's because the end of that essay will be tantamount to a Radical Note. In many other instances, such as Radical Note 140, you'll find a sizable chunk of writing.
This library of Radical Notes will grow. For every Joy o' Kanji essay published, a corresponding Radical Note will appear below if it's not already there. For example, when the 鬱 (1963: depression; gloom; melancholy) essay posts, so will Radical Note 192 on the "fragrant herbs" radical, 鬯.
Find out when to spot this radical in a kanji (rarely) and when not to (the majority of the time). Also see when it actually means "one" in an etymology, as it does for 与 (1873: to give).
Essay 1041 on 乙 (second (in order or quality); "fishhook" radical) covers this radical and its variant, 乚, showing how radical 5 unexpectedly appears in 乾 (1099: dry) and 乳 (951: breasts, milk). This shape even plays a significant role in one character that represents a number!
Learn to distinguish this radical from others with similar shapes or names, and find out why 凵 is bad news, as in 凶 (1159: bad luck; atrocious).
Find the swords tucked inside ultra-common kanji such as 前 (159: before) and 別 (579: separate; another).
Find out about a radical that looks like several others. What's more, this radical always appears in sets of look-alike kanji, such as 医 (225: medicine) and 矢 (981: arrow), establishing a pattern unlike any other in the kanji world.
Learn to spot the "cross" radical in certain characters, such as 午 (110: afternoon) and 半 (195: half). Also learn when not to see crosses, even though it's tempting to do so.
See when the "mouth" radical actually means "mouth" in a kanji, as in 名 (71: name) and 品 (382: item), and find out when this square represents something as unexpected as a circle! Also learn not to confuse this radical with many others containing squares.
Dig a little to find the difference between this radical and one look-alike radical. Examine the meaning of 圭, which gives you double the dirt. And find out when you shouldn't identify 土 as the radical because that shape is actually part of a larger radical.
Find out what 外 (91: outside), 多 (163: many), and 夜 (212: night) have in common and how they connect to the 夕 radical inside them.
Does the 女 radical contribute an inherently negative meaning to characters? Find out by looking at kanji such as 好 (859: liking) and 婚 (1278: to marry) on the one hand and examples such as 嫌 (1218: dislike, detest) on the other.
The "corpse" radical 尸 has a wide array of meanings, including "corpse" (of course!), "slumped figure," "buttocks," "relaxing" (maybe), and even possibly "roof." That corpse really gets around!
Find out what in the world a "dotted cliff" could be, and see what 广 actually represents in kanji, including 庭 (352: yard) and 底 (549: bottom).
Why would there be hair inside such kanji as 形 (104: shape), 影 (1017: shadow), and 彫 (1590: to carve)? Actually, perhaps there isn't! See what the three slashes of 彡 truly represent!
Learn about the radical that makes 必 (568: certain), 添 (1631: to accompany), and 懐 (1067: to become attached to) pulse with life.
Hands are involved in all aspects of life. So it is with many kanji. Find out how 挙 (458: to nominate) and 推 (908: conjecture, infer, conclude) have unexpected connections to hands, as does the word 抹茶 (まっちゃ: powdered green tea).
The 日 radical is on duty in scads of kanji. Find out when it actually means "sun," as in 昇 (1393: to ascend), and when it doesn't, as in 書 (142: to write).
You'll be over the moon once you understand the differences between two radicals ("moon" and "flesh") that tend to look exactly alike. This Radical Note features two gorgeous shibori works by Glennis Dolce, so be sure not to miss them!
We can't live without water, and neither can many kanji, including 氷 (378: to freeze), 活 (244: lively), and 泰 (1545: tranquil).
Is a person (者) on fire in 煮 (1338: to boil)?! Why would 点 (179: point) be ablaze? And what about the poor bear represented by 熊 (1995)? If you’re burning with questions about the “fire” radical, check out this Radical Note!
Essay 2071 on 爪 (nail, claw; "claw" radical) covers this prevalent shape, which serves as the on-duty radical in 爵 (1344: rank of nobility) and as a component in 菜 (483: vegetable), to name just two examples of places you wouldn't expect to see claws!
Find out about the radical that lends roundness to kanji such as 環 (1115: ring, circle; to surround) and 珠 (1349: pearl; gem; bead) but also pops up in 理 (220: reason; basic principle) and 現 (666: actual; to appear). Also learn why this radical looks like it would mean "king" in all these characters but generally means "jewel."
As important as rice is to the Japanese, rice isn't always part of the picture, despite the presence of the "rice field" radical. See why 田 pops up in kanji such as 画 (85: picture), 番 (196: number), and 界 (240: world).
See how this radical is on duty in just five Joyo kanji, including 百 (67: hundred) and 的 (551: mark, target; adjectival ending), and means "white" in exactly none of them!
For an eye-opening experience, see why there's an “eye” radical in 直 (349: straight; to repair, correct, change, redo; immediately; direct; honest) and 盾 (1375: shield; pretext). Also find out how it might be hard to differentiate an eye from a net in some kanji.
Find out about the stoniness inherent in such kanji as 砂 (869: sand) and 硬 (1260: hard), as well as more unexpected characters, such as 確 (634: certain; definite) and 磁 (881: magnetism).
Find out about the rice in some of the first kanji you learned—namely, 私 (876: private, personal; I, me) and 科 (81: subject of study; department, course)—and in some characters with financial meanings. Learn to distinguish the "grain" radical 禾 from others with similar appearances and names.
Learn to perceive the whole hole in characters such as 窓 (919: window), rather than mistaking the top part for the 宀 radical. And find out why the sky (15: 空) has holes in it!
It's obvious why bamboo would be in 箸 (2094: chopsticks), but it might surprise you to learn about the bamboo connections in 箱 (1703: box) and other kanji. Also see how we came to have bamboo in the body, and find out what a bamboo tally is.
Learn about the radical threading its way through dozens of Joyo kanji, including 絵 (89: picture) and 終 (306: end). This radical connects us to various handicrafts, ropes that play central roles at shrines and in sumo, and four colors.
This radical sits atop common kanji such as 置 (545: to place) and 署 (897: government office). You may know those characters, but did you know that this radical has connections to architecture, eyes, crime, sin, and taxes?!
Feeling sheepish that you know little about the "sheep" radical? That's about to change. Find out about characters with sheep on the left, on the right, and on top, and see what role sheep play in these kanji. Also learn to use 群 (657: flock) when discussing flocks of sheep ... and sparrows and monkeys?!
Learn about the pleasures of the flesh with the radical that pops up inside 20 Joyo kanji for body parts, from 脳 (954: brain) to 膝 (2100: knee, lap). Okay, not quite head to toe, but close!
Study the patterns in the grass, including all the times this radical teams up with the "water" radical. You'll learn to tell whether or not 艹 is an on-duty radical by observing its position in a character.
Learn about the radical that turns 売 (192: to sell) into 読 (189: to read) and that transforms 十 (33: ten) into 計 (105: plan).
Find out about the radical that enriches characters such as 資 (694: resources, funds) and that lends value to kanji such as 賞 (511: prize). Also learn about the connection between seashells and a nervous breakdown!
You know this radical from the first kanji in 趣味 (しゅみ: hobby). See what 趣 and five other Joyo kanji have to do with running, including 起 (250: to rise, stand up; happen, occur), which contains a rearing serpent!
The "foot" radical 足 can mean "foot," not surprisingly, but it can also symbolize "footprint," as in 跡 (1485: trace; ruins). In fact, the 足 radical pops up twice in a term related to digital footprints! In another word, the "foot" radical ends up near the ceiling!
Find out about a radical that puts the moves on many kanji, transforming their meanings. For instance, 辶 can turn a car (31: 車) into a link (607: 連) and can make grandchildren (538: 孫) humble (2057: 遜).
Although 阝looks identical on the left or right side of a character, the meaning varies with the position. Here we look at it on the right side of a kanji, where it often means "village," as in 郷 (841: hometown, native place) and 郊 (1254: suburb; outskirts, rural areas). We also examine how 邑 turned into 阝in both 部 (384: section) and 邸 (1613: stately residence, mansion).
Find out about the radical that gives us everything from silver (263: 銀) and steel (864: 鋼) to tools such as needles (905: 針), mirrors (462: 鏡), and pots for cooking (2088: 鍋). And let's not forget about something none of us could live without—money (734: 銭)!
In Radical Note 163 on the "right village" radical, we examined 阝 on the right side of a kanji. Here we look at it on the left, seeing how it almost always retains its etymological connection to "hill." That's true, for example, in 険 (662: danger; steep), 障 (902: hindrance), and 陥 (1098: to cave in, collapse).
Learn the differences between the "small shell" and "big shell" radicals, and find out why 頁 actually has nothing to do with shellfish! See what it does mean in characters such as 顔 (93: face) and 頭 (186: head).
From 験 (475: to test; attempt; examine; verify) to 駄 (1541: good for nothing; clogs, sandals), find out the equine connection in all the Joyo kanji that contain this radical.