28. The "Katakana Mu" Radical: 厶

There is shockingly little to tell you about the two-stroke 厶 radical. 

Because 厶 looks almost exactly like the katakana ム (mu), the Japanese refer to the radical as む. Correspondingly, the main English name is katakana mu. Alternate English names for the radical include "myself" and "private," both likely allusions to this non-Joyo kanji:

厶 (シ, わたくし: private)

As you can see, 厶 doubles as an autonomous character and a radical.

If the 厶 kanji rings a faint bell, that's because it has a great deal in common with the Joyo 私 (シ, わたくし, わたし: I; private). In fact, Kanjigen calls 厶 the original shape of 私 yet doesn’t treat the two kanji as variants. That's because 私 has the yomi わたし, whereas 厶 does not.

Which Joyo Kanji Feature 厶?

Our radical is on duty in only two Joyo kanji:

去 (258: to leave; past; completely)

参 (490: to participate; visit a holy place; go; come; reference; be defeated; three)

That's it! I told you there's little to say about 厶! We can't even embellish on the short name む with a position name such as -へん because the む is never on the left and doesn't do anything fancy such as wrap around the rest of the character. The name is simply む! 

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

I like what they've done with our radical in the 参. Quite minimalistic!

The shop is called 金銀花表参道 (きんぎんかおもてさんどう). The 表参道 (おもてさんどう) doesn't mean "Japanese herb therapy," as one might assume here. Rather, it's the name of a tree-lined avenue in Tokyo, a street important enough to have its own Wikipedia page in multiple languages!

What Does the 厶 Shape Represent?

To find out what the 厶 shape represents in kanji, I consulted Henshall's newer edition, discovering that this radical has no fixed meaning. Here are his etymologies for the two kanji in which 厶 matters most:

去 (258: to leave; past; completely)

An old form of this character is based on the pictograph of a “container with double lids, probably for rice, and made of bamboo or similar pliant plant-based material,” says Henshall.

参 (490: to participate; visit a holy place; go; come; reference; be defeated; three)

On the top of the bronze form 參, each 厶 depicted a hairpin with pearls attached. That assembly adorned the hair of a kneeling woman, he says. The bottom three strokes constitute the phonetic with the associated sense “beautiful.” Thus, the overall meaning is “beautiful woman adorned with hairpins.”

Our radical represents a container in one instance, hairpins and pearls in another. Apparently, people have used 厶 as a rough representation of whatever they needed to depict in the moment.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Again 参 appears with 道! Actually, that's not as big a coincidence as it might seem; 参道 (さんどう) is a word meaning "road approaching a shrine." The 厶 and the two strokes atop 道 complement each other beautifully here. 

The bottom terms are as follows:

拝観 (はいかん: humbly visiting a shrine or temple)

順路 (じゅんろ: suggested route)

Go left to find the road to the shrine.