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Lesson 5: Structure of the Kanji

Kanji are made from one or more radicals. Radicals are grouped by where they most often occur in the Kanji (top, bottom, left, right, etc..). In this lesson we will give you the names and some examples for these groups, but don't worry about memorizing them, this is just to expose you to the general concepts.

One important thing to keep in mind is that some radicals may show up in more than one position and may have a couple variations. See Ninben below as an example.

Left Hand Radicals - Hen
Radicals on the left are the most common and they are known as Hen.

Example: Sanzui (meaning: water) is the single most common radical. It is a simplification of the Kanji for water 水 and is three strokes on the left.

(みず)water (This is the original Kanji)
(じる)soup (The three strokes on the left are a simplification of 水)

Example: Ninben(meaning: person) is a simplification of 人 (ひと). It is the second most common radical. Notice that it has two variations: One that appears on the left and another that appears on top.

(ひと)person (This is the original Kanji)
(しん)faith (The two strokes on the left are a simplification of 人)
使う(つかう)to use
(いま)now (In this case 人 is at the top of the Kanji)

Right Hand Radicals - Tsukuri

Example: Rittou (meaning: sword)


Top Radicals - Kanmuri

Example: Ukanmuri (meaning: roof)


Bottom Radicals - Ashi
Radicals located on the bottom are known as Ashi (which means foot).

Example: Kokoro (meaning: heart)

思う(おもう)to think

Top-Left Radicals - Tare

Example: Yamaidare (meaning: sick)


Bottom-Left Radicals - Nyou
The Nyou tend to have to do with movement.

Example: Shinnyou (meaning: road)


Enclosure Radicals - Kamae
Enclosure radicals surround other radicals on 3 or 4 sides.

Example: Kunigamae (meaning: box)


Example: Mongamae (meaning: gate)