22. The "Box on Side" Radical: 匚

The "box on side" radical, 匚 (はこがまえ), also goes by the name "right open box" radical. We'll use "box on side."

Look-Alike Radicals

Both names distinguish the two-stroke 匚 from similar radicals, also written with two strokes:

冂 (radical 13: the "upside-down box" radical)
凵 (radical 17: the "open box" radical)

In case you're wondering, there isn't a box radical opening to the left. The closest I can find is this:

勹 (radical 20: the "wrapping" radical)

Back to 匚, Nelson treats the following as its variant:

匸 (radical 23: the "hiding" radical)

We won't do that. We'll call 匸 by its separate name, かくしがまえ. However, this kanji appears in no Joyo kanji, so I imagine we'll never encounter it again!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Three boxes opening to the right.
All hold books on Japanese, mostly on kanji!

Look-Alike Kanji

Just as 匚 resembles a handful of radicals, every kanji with the 匚 radical happens to have a look-alike. Actually, the "look-alike" is simply the contents of the box. I've never before seen a radical with this pattern! Check it out:

医 (225: medicine) 矢 (981: arrow)
(1388: artisan) (1176: loaf (of bread))
匿 (1664: to shelter, shield) 若 (886: young)
匣 (box) 甲 (1243: shell)
匡 (to correct) 王 (5: king)
匪 (negation) 非 (773: non-)

The last three kanji in the left column are non-Joyo. Nelson lists a few more non-Joyo kanji with this radical, and inside each one of those boxes you can again find a Joyo kanji.

In another pattern, completing the box and perhaps adding a few dots produces a second set of look-alikes:

区 (465: ward) 図 (150: drawing)
(1736: counter for small animals) 四 (26: four)
匡 (to correct) 国 (123: country)

Etymological Explanations

How can we interpret the first pattern? When a box opens to the right like that, it looks incomplete, leaving me wanting more. Perhaps someone decided to fix this situation by removing the container, freeing the kanji inside, and deeming many of those unfinished-looking kanji non-Joyo! Unlikely, right?!

Seeking a better explanation, I turned to etymology for answers. I found that this pattern isn't always what it seems to be:

• Henshall says that in (1736: counter for small animals; pair; one in a pair), our star radical never represented a container. Rather, the outer edge came to look that way as the result of miscopying.

• Although 匿 (1664: to shelter, shield) does feature a container, says Henshall, the inner part just acts phonetically, rather than contributing meaning.

• In the non-Joyo 匣 (box), says Kanjigen, 甲 provides sound and means "to close the lid firmly"—namely, the lid of a box.

• The 王 in the non-Joyo 匡 serves as the phonetic and means "to spread widely," according to Kanjigen.

• In 匪, says Kanjigen, 非 provides sound and means "to open like a double door." In fact, 匪 originally meant "box with a double door."

So far, then, there's no object in a box, nothing ready to be released into the world as an autonomous kanji. However, the hoped-for pattern does hold in three cases:

• In 医 (225: medicine), we find an arrow (矢) in its quiver. Every doctor needs that!

• In (1388: craftsperson, we have an ax (a past meaning of 斤) in a box, yielding a toolbox.

• In the old days, people wrote 区 (465: ward) as 區. This 區 was a container around three more enclosures, which is a perfect way of depicting the partitioning of a city.

If the pattern holds at least that many times, that's good enough for me! Suddenly things don't feel so incomplete.