34. The "Winter" Radical: 夂

This radical subverts expectations. That is, I would expect a "winter" kanji to feature an on-duty "winter" radical , but no! Although 冬 (182: winter) does include the "winter" radical 夂 as a component,冫(radical 15: "ice") is on duty.

Then, too, I was prepared to treat radicals 34 and 35 as separate entities, as has traditionally been done. I can't explain why that seemed more polite than jamming them into the same category. And the radicals initially struck me as having different shapes:

radical 34: 夂 ("winter" radical)

radical 35: 夊 ("go slowly" radical)

But that's true only in theory. In practice—that is, when they play roles in actual kanji—the two radicals look identical.

Here are the only Joyo kanji with an on-duty 夂 radical:

変 (581: change; strange; extraordinary event), which traditionally features radical 34

夏 (82: summer), which traditionally features radical 35

Can you see the slightest difference in the 夂 at the base of each? No, there is none, so it only makes sense to classify them both under radical 34. In fact, that's what Kanjigen, Nelson, and probably other dictionaries have done.

That means that the "summer" kanji features a "winter" radical! How about that?!

Photo Credit: Samuel

One brand of potato chip is known as 夏 (summer), as they're available only in that season, and an exuberantly large version of that kanji dominates the packaging! The chips are topped with salt (御塩, みしお) from the beach (浜, はま) on Tsushima (対馬, つしま), as it says down the left side. Sound tempting?

A Radical for the Seasons

What's going on with 夂 and the seasons?! Is it just coincidental that 夏 (82: summer) and 冬 (182: winter) happen to include 夂?

Henshall says in his newer edition that most scholars see early, complex forms of 夏 as showing someone dancing, "probably with mask." He cites one researcher's idea that the dance was held in summer and that 夏 acquired that meaning by association. 

As for 冬, one expert "sees persimmons on tree after leaf fall," says Henshall quite poetically! Another scholar perceives "tied rope ends" in the shape. (It's quite the Rorschach test!) And a third interprets the 冫as "ice" and the 夂 as the phonetic with the associated sense "freeze."

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

This sign lists all four seasons, 春夏秋冬 (しゅんかしゅうとう: spring, summer, fall, and winter), giving us a great look at 夏 and 冬. The leftmost column reassures us that the restaurant serves blowfish (ふぐ) no matter what time of year it is.

This restaurant is part of the chain 玄品ふぐ (げんぴんふぐ), a name that appears on the right. Although 玄品 isn't a word, we can construe it as "professional goods." The 玄品 part of the name appears again in 玄品維新, where 維新 (いしん) means "restoration." According to my proofreader, that doesn't seem to mean much of anything here. However, he notes, "When we say 維新, we pretty much always have 明治維新, or Meiji Restoration, in mind." Because that was a time when Japan opened to the West, 維新 could convey the sense of a fresh start.

The Names of 夂

When it comes to 夂, we have a plethora of Japanese radical names to consider.

Radical 34 has traditionally had these names:




Because the non-Joyo autonomous kanji 夂 (foot) carries the on-yomi チ, we can understand the ち in the first name. The かんむり, the name for radical position 3, typically indicates that a radical sits atop a character like a "crown." (To understand this and other radical position names, see Radical Terms and check the "Radical Positions" section.) But in this case (and in a handful of other exceptions), かんむり means instead that the 夂 is the upper part of 冬. 

So ちかんむり applies to 冬, even though the 夂 is not on duty. That makes ちかんむり a rather strange radical name. The justification, I suppose, is that 夂 is quite visible in 冬, producing a ready association for people.

The radical name ふゆがしら also alludes to 冬, featuring its Joyo kun-yomi (ふゆ) plus an alternate name for radical position 3 (かしら), voiced here as がしら.

By contrast, the name なつあし combines なつ, the Joyo kun-yomi of 夏, with あし (foot), the name of radical position 4. That is, the radical 夂 lies in the lower part of 夏. 

Radical 35 has traditionally gone by this name:


The non-Joyo kanji 夊 carries the スイ sound and means "slow." When this radical is an enclosure running down the left side of a character, the radical 7 position name にょう applies. That would be the case in 処 (896: to deal with; place) if the left side were the on-duty radical, as some sources say it is. But I have filed that character under radical 16 ("table"), 几, just as Kanjigen has done, so it's a moot point.

Still, it's useful to consider 処 so that we can see what other shapes our radical can assume. Though it has a longer "tail" in 処, that doesn't qualify as a variant form. This three-stroke radical has no variants.

As for the English names of radical 34, we know all about "winter." Alternative names include "go" and "descend." I'm not sure of the provenance of that last option, except that Henshall refers to the radical as "descending foot." He has nicknamed it "crossed legs." And he calls radical 35 "walk slowly" or "drag foot" (really?!) but of course we can ignore those options now.

On 変

I've paid so much attention to radical names and the seasonal connection that I've ignored the only Joyo kanji that has featured radical 34 all along. Here it is again:

変 (581: change; strange; extraordinary event)

And now for another subverted expectation. Henshall says that this character originally included 攵, a variant of 攴 (radical 66: "strike"), not 夂, so our radical has no etymological connection to !

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

At a sheep farm in the Rokko Mountains above Kobe (on Honshu), a sign tells us about natural cheese (ナチュラルチーズ). The large red question asks how many types there are. The term 何種類 (なんしゅるい) means "various types." The first black line contains 変 in 変化する (へんかする: to change). Here's what that part says:

菌のちからで毎日変化する、生きているチーズ Through the power of bacteria, cheese is a living thing that changes every day

菌 (きん: bacteria); ちから (力: power); 毎日 (まいにち: every day); 生きる (いきる: to live)

The answer lies at the bottom. There are more than (以上, いじょう) 1,000 types (種類, しゅるい)!