72. The "Sun" Radical: 日

Let's start with a quiz that 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: day; sun; Japan; Sunday)

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 Joyo yomi 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: time, o’clock, hour; when, if)

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

As rectilinear as is, this four-stroke character pictographically represents the round sun! This character was actually rounder way back when:

Oracle-script version of 日.
© Richard Sears

The stroke across the center was probably added to emphasize that the character represents a real object, not an abstract shape. So says Henshall in his newer edition, the source of all etymological information in this Radical Note.

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

The Sun Also Doesn't Rise

In several other kanji we find a 日 shape but not necessarily a connection to the sun. Here are a few examples:

旨 (1312: gist; purpose; effect; delicious; umami (5th category of taste))

The bottom was originally 口 (mouth) or 甘 (sweet), but the shape definitely became 甘 by the seal stage. 

是 (910: morally right; correction; this)

The top represents either "sun, day" or "ladle, spoon."

昆 (1276: insect)

The top may represent "sun," "insect's head," or "insect's body"!

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 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, apparently coming from either Chinese or Ainu.

The Sun Shines on These Kanji

Despite these examples of 日 as possibly not representing "sun" inside kanji, it very often does. Sunshine plays a direct role in these characters:

早 (50: early; quick)

As one scholar sees it, the 日 represents "sun bursting out," and the 十 acts phonetically to convey "open, burst out." The sunrise theme led this character to mean "early" and later "fast."

映 (813: projection; reflection; glow)

The character combines 日 (sun) with 央 (center), the latter shape acting phonetically to convey "shine brightly." Thus we have "sun shines and emits light." By extension  means "reflect." 

昇 (1393: to ascend)

The radical symbolizes "sun, day," and 升 (unit of measure) acts phonetically here to express "rise." Eventually, "sun rises" came to mean "rise" more generally.

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

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 Sun Also Sets

The sun also sets. This character (which contains two instances of 日!) represents that reality:

 (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. Adding 日 between the lower “legs” of 莫 produced 暮 and made it mean “evening” and "late," with "end" as an extended 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.

The Passage of Time

In many kanji that involve the passage of time, 日 represents "day" or "sun":

昨 (486: yesterday; last (year, etc.))
暇 (1050: free time)
(1311: awhile)
(1373: 10-day period; season (for specific products))
(1481: past; old times; long ago; ancient times; 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), 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; good weather; formal, gala)
暑 (313: hot (weather); summer heat)
暖 (932: warm)

Furthermore, 曇 (1672: cloudy) represents a "sun obscured by clouds below."

Photo Credit: Yoshikazu Kunugi

The Yoshino district of Nara Prefecture has as many as thirty thousand cherry trees! This poster features 春 (141: spring), pronounced here as はる, and tells us that springtime in that area is tinted with the color of cherry blossoms. Here are the other terms:

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

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), 由 (399: reason), and 甲 (1243: shell). 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!