72. The "Sun" Radical: 日

Let's start with a quiz. Actually, this quiz comes to you courtesy of Mark Spahn, who coauthored the famous Kanji Dictionary along with Wolfgang Hadamitzky. In an email, Spahn posed this challenge to me: How many kanji can you make by adding one stroke to 日? The additional stroke does not need to touch the 日 structure. The answers appear at the end of this Radical Note.

The Names of the 日 Radical

The 日 radical is just like the autonomous 日 kanji in several respects. Here are the definitions of that character:

日 (62: sun, day, date; Sunday; Japan)

It follows that we can refer to radical 72 as the "sun" or "day" radical in English.

Just as the 日 kanji can have the yomi of ひ or ニチ, the Japanese names of this radical are ひ or にち.

Let's say that the radical appears on the left side of a character, as in this example:

時 (135: hour, time)

In that case, we can call the radical ひへん or にちへん.

The JOK preference is the first option in each pair of terms—namely, "sun" radical, ひ, and ひへん.

The Shape of the 日 Radical

You can't find a much more straightforward shape than 日. As rectilinear as it is, this four-stroke character pictographically represents the round sun! The stroke across the center symbolizes a "sunspot." (Seriously? The ancient Chinese could perceive sunspots?!)

This character was actually rounder way back when:

Oracle-script version of 日.
© Richard Sears

The following menu listing for 日本酒 (にほんしゅ: saké; Japanese rice wine) starts with a version of 日 that almost replicates its early appearance!

Photo Credit:
Eve Kushner

Radical 73: The "Flat Sun" Radical

Even though matters seem so simple when it comes to the  shape, there are some complications, thanks to 曰, a broader shape that constitutes Radical 73. The cross stroke actually only goes three-fourths of the way across that radical, as you can see more clearly on Denshi Jisho

Henshall says that 曰 represents a "mouth" and that the central horizontal stroke is a "tongue" in that mouth! It makes sense to me that the tongue doesn't extend across to the lips. Given these pictographic origins, it's also logical that 曰 can mean "to say."

Nelson has opted to treat Radical 73 as a variant of Radical 72. I prefer to see them as separate radicals, wherein 曰 is the "flat sun" radical, but that's practically a moot point because this radical does not appear in any Joyo kanji.

There is only one way in which that wider shape is relevant to us. Several Joyo kanji that contain Radical 72 originally included Radical 73 instead. Take, for instance, the on-duty "sun" radicals at the bottom of these kanji:

曹 (1520: sergeant)
替 (1548: to replace, exchange)

Those lower parts used to be 曰. That sergeant has a sun "where the sun don't shine"!

Photo Credit: 
Christopher Acheson

This stone marker has a 日 with an incomplete center stroke, making it look like Radical 73. It's not, though. The other kanji are the non-Joyo 蓮 and 宗, forming 日蓮宗 (にちれんしゅう), the name of a confederation of Buddhist schools.

The Sun Also Doesn't Rise

In several other kanji, we find a 日 shape but no connection to the sun. The reason is similar; that 日 is the simplification of some other shape. Here are a few examples, with Henshall as the source of all the etymological information in this Radical Note:

書 (142: to write)

The bottom is a simplified form of 者 (thing).

旨 (1312: to purport, meaning, point)

The bottom is a simplification of 甘, the "sweet" radical.

最 (484: most)

The top is a variant of a shape that means "warrior's helmet."

是 (910: right, correct)

The top represents "spoon; ladle" and "hook"!

昆 (1276: insect)

The whole kanji symbolizes an "insect with legs"!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

A calligrapher drew this 書 in such a way as to make the 日 unrecognizable. That seems quite appropriate, given what we know about the lack of a sun in the etymology!

Leaping Lizards!

As long as we're talking about creepy crawlies, I'd like to mention this kanji:

易 (618: easy; to exchange; readily)

The original shape depicted a "big-eyed lizard" and "rays of the sun," but the sun wasn't at the top, as one might think. Rather, it lay in the lower part, whereas the upper component symbolized the "lizard's eye"! Some people may have mistaken the bottom part as "lizard legs" at some point. As a result, this character came to mean "readily changing," which led to its current definitions: "readily; easy" and "change."

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

The word 昆布 (こんぶ) refers to a brown type of seaweed or kelp that Hokkaido in particular produces. People use it to make kombucha, a kind of tea that's all the rage right now in health-food circles.


As 昆 means "insect," are there insects in kombucha?! Halpern says that the 昆 in 昆布 does indeed mean "insect" or "swarm of insects"! However, it's possible that this term is ateji, as it apparently comes from either Chinese or Ainu.

Let the Sun Shine on These Kanji

Despite all these examples of times when 日 does not represent "sun" inside kanji, it very often does. In fact, that's such a common occurrence that I'll group various characters into categories and present just a few examples of each.

Sunshine plays a direct role in these characters:

早 (50: early; quick)

"Sun" combines with "cutting" or "opening" (十) to mean "sun breaking through (darkness)."

昇 (1393: to ascend)

"Sun" unites with 升, which generally means "measure" but acts phonetically here to express "rise." A "sun rising high" led to "ascend" in the broad sense.

Other examples of this sort include (1174: dawn; when something (usu. desirable) comes true) and 普 (1754: widespread; general; common, ordinary).

Let There Be Light

In several characters, 日 conveys "bright light," as in these examples:

明 (208: bright, light)

The "sun" and "moon" (月) both symbolize light. Thus, this kanji means "very light" and "bright."

映 (813: reflection, projection)

This character combines "sun" with "center" 央, a shape that acts phonetically here to mean "bright." If you have the "bright (center of?) sun," it means "to shine, reflect."

This category also includes 昭 (315: luminous) and 暗 (224: dark), the latter showing what happens when you block out light.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Shhh! A movie screening is in progress: 上映中 (じょうえいちゅう: currently screening a movie).

The Passage of Time

Many kanji involve the passage of time because of the "sun" in those shapes:

昼 (172: daytime; noon)
昨 (486: yesterday; late)
暇 (1050: free time)
(1311: awhile)
(1373: 10-day period; season (for specific products))
(1481: past; old times; long ago; ancient times; once upon a time; decade)
(1927: calendar, almanac)

In this sign for a soba shop in the 小千谷 (おぢや) section of Niigata, the first large kanji is 旬 (1373: 10-day period; season (for specific products)). It appears in this restaurant name:

旬彩庵 (しゅんさいあん)

Whereas the non-Joyo 庵 often appears at the end of restaurant names, 旬彩 might mean 旬の彩り (しゅんのいろどり). That literally translates as “colors of the season," which implies “various foods when they are in season."

The red characters break down as follows:

酒 (さけ: alcohol)
肴 (さかな: food), which is a non-Joyo kanji
店 (みせ: shop, restaurant)

We know, therefore, that this restaurant serves alcohol and food. That's not so unusual!







Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

The Weather

When the weather is good, we talk about the sun. Thus, it's no surprise that these characters contain "sun" radicals:

晴 (155: to clear up)
暑 (313: hot; summer heat)
暖 (932: warm)

Furthermore, 曇 (1672: cloud) represents a "sun" obscured by a "cloud."

The Sun and Plant Life

Plants depend on the sun, and a few characters represent that reality:

春 (141: spring (season))

This kanji shows vigorous growth of the mulberry plant in sunshine.

暴 (793: violent; sudden; unrestrained; to disclose)

The pictograph initially depicted the "sun," "rice," and "two hands offering up a thickly growing plant." After that sweet start, things took a nasty turn, if you consider the current definitions!

(1789: to live; earn a livelihood; grow dark; come to an end)

The top part, 莫, means "sun setting among trees and vegetation," says Henshall in his newer edition. Adding 日 between the lower “legs” of 莫 produced 暮 and made it mean “evening” and "late," with "end" as an associated sense. All of that happened in ancient China. Only in Japan did 暮 come to mean “to live,” says Henshall, apparently through a connection with kurasu. In early Japanese that meant “to spend time until darkness when the sun sets.” He must be talking about 暗 (dark), now read with the kun-yomi kura•i.

With double the sunshine, we come to the end!

Photo Credit: Yoshikazu Kunugi

The Yoshino district of Nara Prefecture has as many as thirty thousand cherry trees! This poster tells us that springtime in that area is tinted with the color of cherry blossoms:

桜色 (さくらいろ: color of cherry blossoms)
染まる (そまる: to be dyed, tinted)
春 (はる: spring)

Answers to the Quiz

Here's the question again: How many kanji can you make by adding one stroke to 日?

Several Joyo kanji qualify, including these: 田 (59: rice field), 白 (65: white), 目 (72: eye), 申 (322: to report; speak humbly), 由 (399: a reason, cause), and 甲 (1243: shell; the first). None contains the "sun" radical. However, two more kanji with 日 + 1 do contain that radical, which is on duty in each case:

旧 (648: old, former)
(2063: dawn, daybreak, morning; first day)

Thanks to Mark Spahn for coming up with the question and to Wolfgang Hadamitzky for supplying the answers!