111. The "Arrow" Radical: 矢

The "arrow" radical 矢 is a straight shooter. It has no variants, so what you see in the five-stroke 矢 shape is what you get in all four Joyo kanji in which it serves as a radical. 

This autonomous kanji looks exactly like the radical:

矢 (981: arrow)

The kanji carries the Joyo kun-yomi や, which gave rise to the radical name や.

The name やへん works when the radical shifts to the left side of a character, as in these three kanji:

知 (169: to know)

短 (342: short, brief; shortcoming)

矯 (1170: to correct; straighten)

Although the 矢 radical has no variants, the shape is increasingly squished as you go down that list!

Photo Credit: Samuel

My friend Samuel took an extremely brief and busy trip to Japan but still kindly asked if I needed him to take photos. I requested some with the 矢 radical, and oh, how he hit the target with this sign for a Tokyo restaurant! What a sharpshooter! Note the feathered arrows at the top!

Below those we find 矢まと, where まと corresponds to 的 (target). So 矢的 would mean "arrow and target" if it were a word. It isn't, but 矢まと is meant to be read as やまと, an old name for "Japan" (one usually rendered as 大和). What clever wordplay!

The other two kanji in the sign indicate the offerings at this establishment; the non-Joyo 肴 (さかな) means "appetizer or snack served with drinks," and 酒 (さけ) means "alcohol."

What the 矢 Represents

Henshall says in his newer edition (the source of all etymologies in this Radical Note) that the 矢 shape is based on a pictograph of an "arrow." Here's what he says about the other three kanji featuring this on-duty radical:

知 (169: to know)

Henshall calls 矢 the phonetic in 知, which made me wonder if he views 口 as the radical. He doesn't say, but all my sources treat 矢 as the radical here. Anyway, Henshall tells us that 知 combines 口 (mouth; speak) and 矢, a phonetic with the associated sense "hit the mark." Collectively these sides yield "describe spot-on/exactly (like a flying arrow to its target)," which came to mean "know" by extension. Cool! I love the image of an arrow that hits its mark perfectly! 

Henshall does present another interpretation, one connecting the arrow to "taking an oath to the deities." The process of taking an oath led to "knowing" as an overall meaning, he says. That's not as cool.

短 (342: short, brief; shortcoming)

Two scholars see this 矢 as an abbreviation of the non-Joyo 矩 (carpenter's square). The 豆 ("upright vessel," now "bean") phonetically conveys the associated sense "small in measure, short in stature." Another interpretation is that this 矢 literally means "arrow" and that the 豆 phonetically conveys "small," yielding "short arrow." Either way, the character evolved to mean simply "short."

矯 (1170: to correct; straighten)

The left side means "arrow." The remainder now symbolizes "high" but originally represented a "building with curved upper structure." That right side contributes both sound and the meaning "curved, bent." Thus, the whole character means "bent arrow," with "falsify" as an extended sense. Because a "bent arrow needed straightening to fly true, over time 'straighten' evolved as a second extended sense, and this has come to be the main meaning," says Henshall. That's fascinating!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Now, what's going on here? In this sign for the Nagoya restaurant 矢場とん (やばとん), two pigs, who happen to be sumo wrestlers, fantasize about sizzling pork. I don't know how to interpret that cannibalism. Their dialogue is as follows:

What do you want to eat?

何 (なん: what); 食べる* (たべる: to eat)

Yabaton's misokatsu, as expected

やっぱり (as expected); みそかつ (pork cutlet with miso sauce)

I want to eat Nagoya's specialty!

名古屋 (なごや: Nagoya); 名物 (めいぶつ: specialty);
な (sentence-ending particle adding emphasis)

The Yabaton site does indeed bill misokatsu as a Nagoya specialty. I'm still distressed that pigs are eating pork—and possibly growing to sumo size as a result. What kind of advertising is that?!