19. The "Strong" Radical: 力

The English names of the 力 radical are "strong," "power," and "strength," directly reflecting the meanings of this autonomous kanji:

力 (74: power, ability; strength; force; influence; energy)

In ancient days the character looked more like this:

© Richard Sears
Bronze-script version.

According to Henshall in his newer edition, this shape might have represented an "arm and hand." Alternatively, he says, it may have depicted a "plow" and by association "agricultural work" and therefore "physical strength."

What Is the "Strong" Radical Called in Japanese?

The Japanese primarily call this radical ちから, which matches the Joyo kun-yomi of the 力 kanji. That name applies to the "strong" radical in these characters:

勢 (518: power (esp. with movement); situation; tendency; outward appearance)

努 (555: effort; exertion)

労 (610: labor; trouble; fatigue)

劣 (1928: inferior)

In all those cases the 力 is centrally located. By contrast, it slides to the right in most other Joyo kanji in which it is the on-duty radical. Here's a sampling:

助 (314: to help, rescue; assistant; auxiliary)

動 (362: to move)

勉 (390: effort; exertion; study)

功 (477: merit; success, achievement)

効 (671: effect)

(1919: to encourage; strive for; diligent)

This right-side radical is known as りきづくり, where リキ is one of two Joyo on-yomi of the 力 kanji (the other being リョク). As for づくり, that's the voiced version of つくり (旁: side), the name of a radical on the right side of a kanji. (For more on this, see the Radical Terms page and look at "Radical Positions." I'm referring to Position 2.)

Of the 23 Joyo kanji featuring an on-duty 力 radical, including the 力 kanji itself, only this oddball has the radical on the left side:

加 (431: addition, increase; participation; Canada)

Canada—always breaking the rules! The radical name ちから works in this case. 

One draws 力 with two strokes. There are no variant shapes, though the radical does become skinny on the side of a kanji.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

On the island of Shodoshima in the Inland Sea, I found this display on the old set of the film 24 Eyes. The large writing on the wooden sign is as follows:

力石 (ちからいし: lifting stone)

That doesn't clarify much, though the reading offers a lovely combination of two kun-yomi. The faint writing underneath is as follows:

Please take a picture of yourself lifting it up.

持ち上げる (もちあげる: to lift up);
写真 (しゃしん: picture)

This is supposedly a challenge to lift the rocks to prove one's strength, but the stones are fake and extremely light, as you can see from one of the last images in a blog post. The challenge has no connection to the wheel in the background.

The old ad on the wall features the comedian and actor 大村崑 (おおむら こん: 1931–, where 崑 is non-Joyo) and promotes an energy drink called オロナミンC (オロナミン シー), which is still on the market. Comparing ads for this product from 1971 and more recent times is eye-opening.

Photo Credit: Sui Feng

Of all the Joyo kanji with an on-duty 力 radical, this character conceals it best:

勇 (592: brave; to be encouraged)

That is, looking at the second large kanji in the crab sign, I'm hard-pressed to isolate the 力 radical as a separate entity. Another puzzle is what the company name 東勇 (とうゆう), east + brave, is supposed to mean.

The blue writing on the sign indicates what sort of shop this is:

海鮮問屋 (かいせんどんや: seafood wholesaler)

I'm not sure how one establishment could sell both wholesale fish and ice cream cones, but maybe I don't understand the layout of the space.

Fun Patterns with 力

The 力 radical plays a role in an intriguing pattern. In more than half of the 23 kanji in this category, the radical combines with a Joyo kanji to form the character, as in this example:

加 (431: addition) breaks down as 力 + 口 (20: mouth).

Here's how the pattern plays out for 11 more kanji:

助 (314: to help)   (1091: as well as)
勝 (319: win)  (1603: the royal "we")
動 (362: to move) 重 (311: heavy)
勉 (390: effort) 免 (1849: exemption)
功 (477: merit) 工 (113: manufacturing)
努 (555: effort) 奴 (1638: guy)
効 (671: effect) 交 (115: association)
勘 (1100: to consider) (1449: extremely)
勲 (1191: outstanding achievement) 動 (362: to move)
勅 (1600: imperial decree) (1535: bundle)
劣 (1928: inferior) 少 (143: small quantity)

In the next set, the kanji in the left column contain the non-Joyo characters in the right column:

勢 (518: power (esp. with movement)) 埶 (art)
劾 (1068: impeachment) 亥 (sign of the wild boar)
募 (1787: to collect) 莫 (must not)
(2113: sudden) 孛 (comet)

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

At a sheep farm in the Rokko Mountains (六甲山, ろっこうさん) above Kobe on Honshu, a sign appeals to people's strength (and vanity?!):

(Lend) your strength to the Rokkosan farm!

We need you as a farm supporter 

Twice we see 牧場 (ぼくじょう: farm). Aside from 力, the kanji that interests us from a radical 19 point of view is 募 (1787: to collect), which heads off 募集 (ぼしゅう: recruitment). The phrase 「牧場サポーター」を募集 literally means "We recruit 'farm supporters.'" In other words, we need money, and we'd like it to come from you! 

Well, now, this is a different sort of strength altogether! The largest word features two instances of 力 (power), once as the radical in (2113: sudden; rise) and once as a full kanji:

勃起力 (ぼっきりょく: erectile power)
     erection (1st 2 kanji) + power

Below that we find these words:

つける (to increase; develop)
日常生活 (にちじょうせいかつ: daily life)

Unfortunately, the title is poorly written, so it's hard to translate directly, but the idea is that you can develop erectile power in daily life through training.

When I searched Amazon Japan for books about erections and erectile dysfunction in order to write essay 2113, I worried about what kinds of overly graphic pictures I would find. What a happy surprise to spot this work with such a creative (and exquisitely detailed) image!