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Kanji Clinic #51 The Japan Times, March 11, 2004
gHow many building blocks are in your kanji construction kit?h

Three years and 50 columns ago, I began writing Kanji Clinic for The Japan Times. One of my missions as a self-proclaimed kanji evangelist has been to exhort adult kanji learners to develop the ability to break visually complex characters down into easily remembered components. A visitor to KanjiClinic.com recently asked, "Is a 'component' the same thing as a 'radical'?" As we explore the answer to that question today, perhaps you would like to grab a pencil and take inventory of the component building blocks in your kanji construction kit.

Many of the components presented in component analysis learning materials are, in fact, "radicals," the 214 kanji elements traditionally used to classify characters in kanji dictionaries. In addition to serving as kanji components, some radicals, like the examples below, are also independent general-use (jouyo) kanji. See how many you can provide with an English keyword. One kanji in which each radical serves as a component is given. Answers are at the end of the column.

Example: L() shell

1.āij2.() 3.ij4.ҁiVj5.|ij6.(m) 7.(b) 8.() 9.(G) 10.()

Some radical-components are altered versions of jouyou kanji (e.g., = hand). Unlike the radical-components above, they are not independent kanji. Match the altered component below with the kanji from which it originates.

Example: () = water

11. () 12.() 13.X() 14.() 15.() 16.() 17.(H) 18.() 19.q() 20. ()
A.cow B.Xice C.Sheart D.leg E. |bamboo F.fire G.display H.clothing I.sword J.lhuman

Here are other examples of radical-components that are not independent kanji. Match each with its keyword.

21.iaj22.(G) 23.T() 24.) 25.e() 26.() 27.() 28.() 29.{() 30.()
A.ceremony B.pig C.bone D.bird E.sickness F.lid G.seal H.grass I.road J.wind

While most radicals--like the 30 examples above--are useful kanji memory aids, memorizing the entire 214-radical set is not a particularly efficient means of learning the shapes of jouyou kanji. This is true for several reasons. First, a few radicals are rarely or never used in joyo kanji. Second, in some cases differently shaped radicals have the same or similar meanings (e.g, / both mean "bird," / L "shell," and /v "leather" ). Third, a surprisingly large number of graphically simple, memory-friendly kanji are not radicals (e.g., R reason, together, talent, counter for books ).

Finally, the exclusive use of radicals leads to unreasonable conceptual fragmentation of kanji. Take, for example, the radicals in A, the 16-stroke first character in the compound Ao (export, yushutsu). Thinking individually about the four radicals on the right-hand side of this character (, , , and ) makes it difficult to remember the kanji. But if you combine them into the single component , and give it a label (transport), you can streamline the task of memorizing A as well as other joyo kanji containing (, , and @).

Non-radical components such as , as well as (herbs), (from heaven), (satan), (structure), and more, figure prominently in the self-instruction text gKanji ABC,h by Andreas Foerster & Naoko Tamura (Charles E. Tuttle Co.). Of the 483 components gKanji ABCh lays out for learning the jouyou kanji, one-third are non-radicals.

Once you have decided to master the shapes of 1,945 kanji using a system in which everything fits together logically, take a look at reviews of gKanji ABCh and other component analysis learning materials at KanjiClinic.com.

See how many components you already know. You might well be closer to assembling a complete kanji construction kit than you imagined.

1.rice 2.woman 3.king 4.ax 5.bow 6.arrow 7.tongue 8.gate 9.strings 10.hole 11.E 12.I 13.J 14.F 15.A 16.G
17.D 18.H 19.B 20.C 21.E 22.D 23.A 24.H 25.C 26.I 27.G 28.F 29.J 30.B

A complete list of the radicals and their English meanings is here.
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