132. The "Oneself" Radical: 自

The graphically simple 自 radical is on duty in just two Joyo kanji. One is 自 itself:

自 (134: self)

The other is quite unexpected, given its primary meaning:

臭 (1356: stink; to have a trace of)

Is this what one wants to associate with oneself?!

The six-stroke 自 radical has no variants. 

In Japanese we can call it みずから, which reflects the Joyo kun-yomi of the 自 kanji. The English name is "oneself." Nelson provides the nickname "dotted eye," which differentiates 自 from this radical:

目 (radical 109: "eye")

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

I'm enamored of the fun font in the upper sign. Though 自 looks as it always does, one has to work a little to recognize some other kanji. Here's what the words say:

自然 (しぜん: nature)

動物園 (どうぶつえん: zoo)

入園料 (にゅうえんりょう: park entrance fee)

This sign is on the island of Shodoshima at 銚子渓お猿の国 (ちょうしけいおさるのくに: Choshikei Monkey Park). Because the monkeys roam freely within bounds, it's a "natural zoo."

What Does 自 Represent?

Henshall tells us in his newer edition (the source of all etymological information in this Radical Note) that 自 is based on the pictograph of a "nose." He says that the extended meaning "self" reflects the Chinese custom of pointing to the nose to indicate that one is referring to oneself. (Of course, the Japanese do this, too, whereas Westerners point to the chest.)

Here's the etymology of the other character featuring an on-duty 自 radical:

臭 (1356: stink; to have a trace of)

This character combines 犬 (dog) with 自, which conveys "nose" here. Together these parts mean "dog smells with the nose," based on the keen canine sense of smell. Henshall calls "bad smell, odor" and "suspicious" extended senses. And he notes that when the Japanese simplified this character in the 20th century, 犬 became 大, which sacrificed semantic transparency. The Chinese kept that dot, he notes. That's true even in Simplified Chinese.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

When I first saw this sign, I must have been so mesmerized by the recurring grid shapes that I forgot to push the requisite button. Just look at that repeating pattern! Six of the kanji contain a grid of some sort!

In case you do want to cross the street, rather than gazing at the sign indefinitely, here is what it says: 

歩行者 (ほこうしゃ: pedestrian)

自転車 (じてんしゃ: bicycle)

専用 (せんよう: dedicated use)

So the crosswalk button is for pedestrians and cyclists. Drivers should not park, hop out, and press the button. Just thought you'd like to know!