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Kanji Clinic #60 The Japan Times September 23, 2004
"Take a radical position and describe some kanji"


My Japanese in-laws, Protestant missionaries in Hokkaido at the time of my husband's birth, creatively bestowed upon their first-born a name that reflected the nature of their work: (gBright-Proclamation,h Mitsunori). Plenty of Japanese males named gMitsunorih begin their name with , but few or none complete it with , and so my spouse is frequently called upon to clarify the second kanji in his given name.


Numerous characters in family and given names--as well as place names-- fall outside the boundaries of Japanfs 1,945 general-use (joyo) kanji and their government-approved pronunciations. A profusion of homonyms, (in my husbandfs case, , , , I, , and T, all of which can be pronounced gMitsunorih) further obfuscates the Japanese proper-name picture.

Written forms requiring Japanese names and addresses usually include a space where pronunciations of problematic kanji can be clarified using kana (Japanfs phonetic script). And in conversation, the Japanese are remarkably adept at explaining kanji shapes-- a skill that can be particularly useful on the telephone or in situations in which introductions are made without the assistance of business cards.

Mentioning a common compound word that includes the kanji in question is often the most expedient way to zero in on it. My husbandfs well-rehearsed explanation of the second character in , for example, is gSenden no sen desu,h (gItfs the first character in esendenfh [`, advertisement]). If this clue fails to elicit the desired gNaruhodoh(gI see)h from the perplexed listener, the next course of action is to launch into a detailed description of the construction of the kanji itself.

Beginning in elementary school, Japanese are trained to explain how characters are constructed. By the time they graduate from junior high school, they are expected to have memorized the names of the 214 kanji components known as gradicalsh (, bushu) that are traditionally used to classify characters in dictionaries.

There are seven basic positions in which a radical can be used within a character, and the names of many of the common ones include their position. These can be particularly useful in describing how kanji are written.


If a radical appears at the top of a kanji, its name includes the word kanmuri (crown). The first three strokes crowning Mitsunorifs second character, , make up the radical named u-kanmuri (katakana guh crown), and so he routinely gives the following directions for writing : gU-kanmuri ni kanji no ichi o kaite, hi o kaite, mata ichi o kakimasu. [Under ukanmuri, write the kanji for eone (),f eday (),f and eonef again]h. Other kanmuri radicals include kusa-kanmuri (grass-crown, as seen in weed, flower) and ame-kanmuri (rain-crown, in _ cloud, d electricity).

Radicals appearing in the left-hand position of kanji include hen in their names. Of the seven basic positions, hen is the most common. Examples include: nin-ben (person-left side, in body, Z reside), gon-ben (speak-left side, in b talk, translate), and ki-hen (tree-left side, in timber, bridge).

The remaining five positions are:
1. tsukuri or -zukuri (right side): boku-zukuri (strike-right side, in government, s be defeated); san-zukuri (three-right side, in ` shape, carve).
2. ashi (base/legs): hito-ashi (person-legs, in look, Z older brother); nijuu-ashi (twenty-legs, in dialect, Z calculate).
3. kamae or -gamae (frame): kuni-gamae (country-frame, in country, be in trouble); mon-gamae (gate-frame, in close, listen).
4. tare or -dare (hanging): yamai-dare (illness-hanging, in a illness, tired); ma-dare (hemp-hanging, in X store, x degree)
5. nyou (L-shape): shin-nyou (advance-L-shape, in road, near); en-nyou (stretch-L-shape, in extend, build)


Perhaps you find yourself stumbling through convoluted explanations of kanji, much as I did in my kanji-clueless days (e.g., gFirst you write that thing that looks kind of like a eTf with a lopsided toph for nin-ben). But being able to write your Japanese address in kanji--and to properly describe obscure characters within it-- are excellent ways to demonstrate you are serious about becoming literate in the language of your adopted land.

QUIZ
Which radical-- each with a radical position as part of its name--is common to the following kanji?
Example:
(Buddha), (other), (borrow), (health) b.nin-ben

1. (pay), (refuse), E (pinch), g (carry in the hand) ______
2. z (slave), D (pregnant), (marriage), (young lady) ______
3. (pull), (stretch), (strong), e (bullet) ______
4. j (needle), (dull), (bell), (mirror) ______
5. (seal), p (eliminate), @(wholesale), r (leg) ______
6. F (pray), (analyze), V (new), f (cut off) ______
7. (release), (teach), (number), ~ (rescue) ______
8. (laugh), J (flute), (answer), (box) ______
9. (investigate), (thrust), (sky), (window) ______
10. (tiger), s (oppress), (fear), (captive) ______
11. (precede), (shine), (child), } (political party) ______
12. (misfortune), (thick), (origin), (personal history) ______
13. (crowded), } (greet), (urge), (differ) ______
14. ~ (yen), (same), (hill),
(periphery) ______

a.dou-gamae b.nin-ben c.fushi-zukuri d.take-kanmuri e.hito-ashi f.kane-hen g.tora-kanmuri h.onna-hen i.ana-kanmuri j.shin-nyou k.yumi-hen l.ono-zukuri m. gan-dare n.te-hen o.boku-zukuri

ANSWERS
1.n 2.h 3.k.4.f 5.c 6.l 7.o 8.d 9. i 10.g 11.e 12.m 13.j 14.a

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