36. The "Evening" Radical: 夕

Henshall says that 夕 (44: evening) derives from the same pictograph of a "crescent moon" as 月 (16: moon) but has no pitted surface, unlike 月. He adds that 夕 came to symbolize "evening."

This radical is on duty in just four Joyo kanji aside from 夕 itself.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Evening in Hong Kong with a spire pointing right at the moon.

The Names of the "Evening" Radical

Nearly everything flows from this background. The Japanese name of the radical is ゆうべ (夕べ), which, again, means "evening." In English, the main name of this radical is "evening."

Alternate English names are "katakana ta" or "kana ta," both alluding to the way 夕 looks a lot like the katakana タ (ta).

The "Moon" in Two Kanji

The 夕 radical means "moon" in the following two characters, says Henshall, who supplied all the etymological information below:

外 (91: outside)

This kanji combines 夕 with ト. The 夕 symbolizes "crescent moon." It also acts phonetically to express "split open" and lends its crescent shape to suggest a "turtle shell." Meanwhile, ト represents a "crack in a turtle shell used in divination." Because such cracks generally appeared on the outside surface of the shell, this character came to mean "outside, outer." Things are topsy-turvy here; the radical 夕 is acting phonetically, and the phonetic component ト is driving the overall meaning of 外 by bringing in the concept of "outside."

夜 (212: night)

The complex component on the lower right is an old form of 月 (moon). The remainder of the shape means "clear." Thus, the whole character means "when the moon is clear." Henshall equates this with "night." But doesn't night also come when it's too cloudy to see the moon?

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

This sign for Aoyama Gaienmae Clinic in the Aoyama (青山, あおやま) section of Tokyo features two instances of the 夕 shape and a moon (月) to boot! That is, we find 夕 in 外 and in the non-Joyo 苑 (farm, garden, park), where it's just a component. Meanwhile, the off-duty 月 radical is in 前 (before).

The "Evening" in Two Kanji

The 夕 radical means "evening" in the next two kanji:

多 (163: many)

Doubling "evening" (夕) shows plurality. "Many evenings" came to mean "often" and finally just "many."

夢 (1844: dream; vision)

This character used to look very different. The original shape included 夕 (which meant "evening"), something kind of like 勹 (which has turned into 冖 and which Henshall defines as "cover"), 罒 (which meant "eye"), and the bit sticking up on top (which Henshall simply calls obscure). He says that, together, these meant "dark night when one cannot see," saying that the character minus the topmost squiggle presumably referred to the "eye in the nighttime." Henshall adds that "dream" is either a borrowing or an "associated meaning," depending on which scholars you ask.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

The 夕 shape is almost unrecognizable in the second kanji, which is 多. The first word, 喜多方 (きたかた), is the name of a Fukuoka town. The next word is ラーメン. After that we find the name of the restaurant, 坂内 (ばんない).


Akira Kurosawa's movie Dreams or「夢 (ゆめ)」is about eight dreams that the famous director repeatedly had. This is the DVD cover.