201. The "Yellow" Radical: 黄

See how long you can contemplate the "yellow" radical 黄 without hearing Coldplay's "Yellow" reverberating in your head!

This radical is on duty in just one Joyo kanji:

黄 (120: yellow)

Just as that kanji has the Joyo kun-yomi き, the Japanese call the identical-looking radical き. An alternative name is きいろ, corresponding to the term 黄色 (yellow).

The 黄 shape serves as a mere component in 横 (235: side; across; dictatorial).

The Parent and Variant Shapes

The original shape of the 11-stroke 黄 was 黃, which also has 11 strokes and has since become the variant of the character and radical. This variant pops up in some non-Joyo kanji, such as 黌 (school). Enlarging that 25-stroke monstrosity should help:

I love how, despite all that's going on in this busy shape, it's perfectly symmetrical. Beneath the 冖 we can see the four-stroke shape that differentiates the variant from the Joyo radical. Here's what I mean:

黄 黃

Parent            Variant

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

If you found 黌 hard to decipher, what's your take on this sign? Thank goodness for the romaji! The kanji turn out to be 黄柚子 (きゆず: yellow yuzu), where the non-Joyo 柚 means "yuzu." People usually render the name of this citrus fruit in hiragana, though 柚子 or just 柚 would also work. Yuzu can be yellow or green, so the 黄 in this restaurant name narrows it down to yellow.


How does one represent yellow (or any other color) graphically? It's not easy! Here's what Henshall says in his newer edition about the etymology of 黄:

黄 (120: yellow)

Early forms "seem to depict a flaming arrow with what is probably a counterweight." Other primitive shapes show a standing person "wearing what is taken to be a jeweled belt." The color of that arrow or belt was used by extension to represent "yellow."

As for 横, there's nothing yellow about it etymologically. This again comes from Henshall:

横 (235: side; across; dictatorial)

The character combines 木 (tree) with 黄, the latter phonetically conveying the associated sense "stop, obstruct." Originally, 横 represented a "horizontal door bolt," by extension coming to mean "crossways, side."

Is that Coldplay song stuck in your mind? You're welcome!

Photo Credit: Russell Hogg

At a Tokyo museum showcasing the work of director Yoji Yamada, this movie poster advertises a 1977 film that won awards in Japan:

The Yellow Handkerchief

幸福 (しあわせ: happiness)

Literally translating as The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness but officially called The Yellow Handkerchief in English, the title starts with 幸福. That's typically read as こうふく, and しあわせ is mainly rendered as 幸せ, so it's ateji to connect 幸福 with the yomi しあわせ, as the furigana on the poster instruct us to do.

As for 黄色い (きいろい), that's "yellow" in an adjectival form, whereas 黄色 is a noun.