31. The "Enclosure" Radical: 囗

The island name 四国 (しこく: Shikoku) was practically created to showcase 囗, the "enclosure" radical. Just look at all the boxes on this book cover:

This radical is on duty in both 四 (26: four) and 国 (123: country). Even before the 四国 in the title we find another instance of 国 in 中国 (ちゅうごく), which refers here to a region in western Honshu, not to China. Under that title we have 道路 (どうろ: road; highway) and then 地図 (ちず: map), where the last kanji is 図 (150: illustration; plan). This character, too, is classified under the 囗 radical!

Distinguishing 口 from 囗

Our three-stroke radical has no variants and poses only one real source of confusion. When I look at the radical chart in, say, Denshi Jisho, I'm momentarily thrown by the two boxes:

In fact, the last four radicals can make one feel as though one is seeing double! But let's focus on the boxes, which slightly differ in size. The smaller one is radical 30, the "mouth" radical. To its right lies our "enclosure" radical. 

It's easier to distinguish between them when you see actual kanji. Consider, for instance, 咽 (1960: throat). The tiny box is radical 30, and the larger one is radical 31. Incidentally, radical 30 is on duty in 咽, which makes sense, as throats and mouths are closely related. 

Size isn't the only indication of which radical is which; radical 31 always surrounds other shapes—hence the name "enclosure." Well, that's true with one exception:

囗 (イ, コク: to surround; country)

Our radical doubles as an autonomous, non-Joyo kanji. In the case of this character, which of course features radical 31, the enclosure contains nothing!

The Names of Radical 31

It's obvious now why our radical is known as the "enclosure" radical. It's also called the "box" radical. Given what we've just discussed about radical 30, that alternative isn't nearly clear enough, so let's ignore it.

In Japanese the primary name is as follows:

くにがまえ (国構え: enclosure as in 国)

That name means that radical 31 is an enclosure as in the example 国, which carries the Joyo kun-yomi くに. The かまえ part (voiced here as がまえ) refers to the radical position; I've explained in Radical Terms (see the "Radical Positions" section and go to Positions 5–7) that enclosing radicals are usually called かまえ (構え: structure).

The Japanese secondarily refer to radical 31 just as くに, again alluding to 国.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

This sign treats us to three instances of radical 31 as well as the juxtaposition of 園 and 口. The latter shape is not only radical 30 but also a kanji that primarily means "mouth," though it represents "entrance" here.

The sign is on the Seto Inland Sea island of Shodoshima (in Kagawa Prefecture, which is part of 四国!) at a place called 銚子渓 (ちょうしけい), where 銚 is non-Joyo. This expansive park is chock-full of monkeys running free.

Here's what the sign says:

Choshikei, Monkey Country

さる (猿: monkey); 国 (くに: country)

Park entrance

入園* (にゅうえん: entering a park);
-口 (-ぐち: entrance)

Please buy an admission ticket

-券 (-けん: ticket); 買い求める (かいもとめる:
to buy); 下さい (ください: please)

The Joyo Kanji Featuring Radical 31

We've seen just a fraction of the 12 Joyo kanji with radical 31 on duty. Here is the full list:

四 (26: four)

回 (86: to go around; return; time; round, game, inning; Islam)

国 (123: country)

図 (150: illustration; plan)

園 (234: garden; park; farm; institution; business name suffix)

囲 (422: to encircle; circumference; fence)

固 (476: solid, firm; to harden; stiff; stubborn)

因 (614: cause; factor)

団 (749: group; corporation, organization)

困 (868: to be in trouble)

(1216: sphere; range)

囚 (1353: prisoner)

Most of these kanji fall into a fun pattern wherein each enclosure contains another Joyo kanji: 

回 (86: to go around) 口 (20: mouth)
国 (123: country) 玉 (102: ball)
図 (150: illustration) 斗 (1633: dipper)
囲 (422: to encircle) 井 (1470: well)
固 (476: solid) 古 (109: old)
因 (614: cause) 大 (53: big)
団 (749: group) 寸 (909: brief)
困 (868: to be in trouble) 木 (69: tree)
(1216: sphere) 巻 (826: to roll up)
囚 (1353: prisoner) 人 (39: person)

One exception is 四 (26), which encloses 儿 (radical 10: "legs")! In fact, the majority of the kanji in the second column double as radicals.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

In this Osaka sign, the 四天王 begins with 四, but I think that shape is meant to mess with our eyes because a 山 (mountain) jumps out of the negative space and is far more "assertive" than the 四!


Henshall says in his newer edition that, etymologically, 四 may represent an "open mouth with teeth." Look at the last picture and think of a jack-o-lantern, and you'll see what he means!

In most other kanji featuring radical 31, the box represents an enclosure, just as the radical name indicates. Here are some examples, all from Henshall:

囲 (422: to encircle; circumference; fence)

One scholar feels that this square developed from a circle. 

固 (476: solid, firm; to harden; stiff; stubborn)

The radical represents the "walls of a castle or citadel." The middle part is a phonetic with the associated sense "solid, hard, firm." As a whole the character means "defend solidly with castle walls" or "defend castle walls solidly," which later generalized to "hard, solid."

囚 (1353: prisoner)

There's a "person" inside this enclosure, yielding "capture; prisoner" as overall definitions of the character.

Similarly, the radical represents "boundary" in these characters:

国 (123: country)

図 (150: illustration; plan)

How about the box within the box:

回 (86: to go around; return; time; round, game, inning; Islam)

Here, says Henshall, we might be seeing "a current swirling round." Ah, an infinite loop, only it's a square loop!