192. The "Fragrant Herbs" Radical: 鬯

The toughest thing about radical 192 ("fragrant herbs") is seeing it clearly, so let me present it at a legible size:

While I'm at it, here's a cranked-up version of the only Joyo kanji featuring this on-duty radical:

This kanji is 鬱 (1963: depression; gloom; to accumulate). And until I enlarged both shapes, I couldn't be sure that the kanji even contained radical 192! Now I see it on the lower-left corner, just one of many parts of this absurdly busy character.

The Names of Radical 192

The 10-stroke 鬯 shape is actually an autonomous non-Joyo kanji meaning "scented alcohol." It carries the yomi チョウ and has no variants.

So it is that the primary Japanese name of radical 192 is ちょう. 

An alternative is においざけ, which corresponds to 匂い酒 (scented alcohol). Henshall tells us in his newer edition that the 鬯 in 鬱 represents "wine in vessel with fragrant herb added," which explains the 匂 (fragrant) and 酒 (alcohol).

Nelson provides a third radical name, かおりぐさ. The rendering is probably 香り草 (fragrant grass).

One English name suffices—"fragrant herbs."

The Etymology of 鬱

Now I'm wondering why there would be scented alcohol in depression. If anything, that should enhance one's mood!

Henshall tells us that 鬱 contains all of these components:

林 (forest)

缶 (originally, "lidded earthenware pot/jar" but now "tin, can"), which is radical 121 ("jar")

冖 (cover), which is radical 14 ("cover")

鬯 (scented alcohol), as mentioned

彡 (adorn), which is radical 59 ("short hair")

An ancient Chinese dictionary defines 鬱 as "luxuriant tree growth," says Henshall. He mentions that according to one scholar, 鬱 originally referred to "a special variety of wine with herbs, packed into jars." Another expert interprets 鬱 as "trees and other vegetation growing together in very close proximity" and treats "fragrant herbs" as a loan use. 

Meanwhile, Kanjigen says that in 鬱, all parts except 林 (trees) represented "the grass used to give fragrance to alcohol by sealing it in a jar." The whole character meant "trees sealed in one place and growing thickly." Thus, 鬱 symbolized a situation in which an odor or the air is thick.

As for the link to depression, my proofreader feels that "thickly growing trees" connects to "closed; shut in," which in turn relates to "depression." In a sense, that state of mind occurs when one feels shut in with one's feelings.


I expected to find dozens of books on Amazon Japan about depression. They are indeed there, but the titles typically feature うつ instead of 鬱 in 鬱病 (うつびょう: depression). Maybe someone assumes that the sight of 鬱 will make depressed consumers feel even more overwhelmed. Nevertheless, 鬱 appears on this book cover twice, thoughうつ has oddly replaced 鬱 in うつ状態 (うつじょうたい: depressive state (e.g., of manic depression)).

Here's the text in question:

Depression Is Not the Same
as a Manic-Depressive State?!

The book to read first if you wonder if you're depressed.

かな (I wonder); 思う (おもう: to think); とりあえず (first of all); 読む (よむ: to read); 本 (ほん: book)