To learn the kanji, we have to learn the following:

  • kanji form and composition
  • kanji pronunciations (on’yomi/kun’yomi)
  • kanji writing

This post will talk about the first one.

This article describes everything very well, and was the basis for me wanting to write this post.

Basically, every kanji has one and only one radical. Every radical has a meaning, some more clear than others. But acquiring an idea of what each radical means can really help in some cases when trying to figure out what an unknown kanji is referring to.

If there’s only one radical in the kanji, then what are the other parts of the kanji made up of? Collections of radicals.

For example,

There are two pieces to this kanji, heart  「心」 and warrior 「士」. So, what is the heart of a warrior?

Ambition, will, intention, aim. Both of these pieces could be the radical, but looking this up in a Japanese dictionary will tell you that the lower piece (heart) is the radical for this kanji.

This is great for these little kanji, but then you get to something like this:

A little bit of work with a good online Japanese dictionary, and you can extract the following meaning from its pieces:

  • thread/silk
  • short thread
  • small
  • insect
  • wind
  • upside down box
  • grass

Maybe you can get the meaning from this, maybe not. But I think it’s a pretty good clue.


Of course, not all kanji can be examined this way. Language growth and language customs mean that some won’t. How many? I have no idea. I’m not a kanji scholar, just a student of Japanese.

But, in dealing with an ornery dog, any little trick to calm him down is good.




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