Radicals and Katakana

In the page introducing radicals we laid them all on the table, together with their variations. We saw that a radical is a set of strokes that has some ‘basic’ meaning. Well… we can certainly use radicals to study kanjis as if the kanjis had been created to synthesize a meaning conveyed with the radicals that form it.

Let’s take the case of a typical kanji: (na), which means ‘name’. For example, 名 is the 3rd character in the title of the blockbuster movie ‘kimi no na wa’ (your name?), that has 98% and 94% critic and audience approval ratings in Rotten Tomatoes and an 84% in IMDB, in case you have not seen it:

Now let’s look at how , or ‘name’, is built; it is composed of two radicals:

  • radical #36, , which means ‘evening’ or ‘sunset’
  • radical #30, , which means ‘mouth’ or ‘opening’

An old and universal technique to memorize kanjis is to come up with a mnemonic using its components. For example, we could concoct, say, that the entrance (口) to Aladdin’s cave opens at sunset (夕), if we chant our name (名). As long as the story is memorable, this method works even if we get the actual components wrong, e.g., if we decompose 名 into 夕, 凵, and 一, we can still come up with a mnemonic that might not be correct with respect to the components but would still work perfectly well for the purpose of remembering the kanji. The popular books of “Remembering the Kanji” by Helsig use this approach. Hence, we are not interested in figuring out how the meanings of 夕, or ‘evening’, and 口, or ‘mouth’, combine to give 名 its meaning of ‘name’. Instead, what we care is that the kanji 名 is composed completely of the two radicals 夕 and 口, which we can use to both remember the meaning of the kanji and figure out how to write it correctly.

Sometimes the radicals are not obvious. For example, the kanji (‘stone’) is composed of the ideogram , which has a meaning but is not a radical, and the radical 口; however, the ideogram 丆 is composed of the radicals 一 and 丿, so in the end, 石 is composed of three radicals:

  • radical #1, , which means ‘one’
  • radical #4, 丿, which means ‘slash’ or ‘bend’
  • radical #30, , which means ‘mouth’ or ‘opening’

The title of this post is ‘Radicals and Katakana’, though. So, where does katakana come into play? Well… take a look at the radicals 一, 夕, 丿 and 口 again: 一 is not a katakana, but 夕 (ta), 丿 (no), and 口 (ko) are. This is because katakana characters come from fragments of kanjis and, in many cases, the monks that created these characters took from a kanji, as the fragment, exactly the set of strokes that centuries later would become one of the 214 radicals. Let’s look again at the kanjis on which the katakana characters are based, but focusing on the fragment of the kanji that was used to create the character:

Many katakana characters, like メ(me) and ラ (ra), were created from fragments that didn’t have a meaning; however, some characters, marked below in green, are very close to the radicals they came from, while others, marked in blue, still preserve from the radicals they came from both a resemblance and the stroke order. These are easy radicals to learn because we already know them as katakana characters, so all we need is to learn their meanings as radicals.

katakanas = radicals

The following katakana characters are both a character and a radical. In some cases, the radical that became a katakana character has additional forms, in which case, we can find them below. For example, the radical/katakana イ, which means ‘man’ or ‘human’, also has the alternative form 人. Since all these katakana characters and radicals are identical, their stroke order is also identical.

original kanji

– i
– e
– ka
– ta
– to
– ni
– ne
丿 – no
– ha
– hi
– mu
– yo
– ri
– ro

rad. forms
人, イ, 𠂉

卜, ⺊

示, ⺬, ネ

彐, ⺔, ⺕
刀, ⺈, リ

rad. # & meaning
9. human, person
48. work
19. power
36. evening, sunset
25. divination, rod
7. two
113. spirit
4. slash, bend
12. eight
21. spoon
28. private
58. pig snout
18. sword, knife
30. mouth, opening

katakanas ⇐ radicals

Sometimes the monks based a katakana character from a set of strokes that would become a radical, but the present form of the character is not identical to the radical. Such set of radicals is also easy to learn because, even if the katakana character and the radical are not identical, they still resemble each other and their stroke order is the same.

original kanji

– u
– tsu
– nu
– ho
– re

rad. forms

巛, 川, 巜

乛, 乙, ⺄, 乚

rad. # & meaning
40. shaped crown
47. stream, river
29. right hand
75. tree, wood
5. second, latter

katakanas ⇒ radicals

Finally, we have a set of mnemonics. There are some katakana characters that resemble radicals from which they were not based, and that share the stroke order.

– ku
– sa

– shi
– tsu
– so
– na
– ru
– ro
– wa

– n

rad. forms

水,⺡, ⺢
小, ⺌, ⺍
八, ハ, 丷

冂, ⺆


rad. # & meaning
20. wrap
55. two hands
140. grass
85. water
42. small
12. eight
24. ten, perfect
10. human legs
31. enclosure
13. inverted box
14. cover, wa crown
15. ice


There are a number of radicals that are easy to learn because either they are identical or similar to a katakana character, or because there is a katakana character that looks similar and has the exact same stroke order as the radical. Organized by number radical they are:

rad. forms & No.
4. 丿, 乀, 乁
5. 乛, 乙, ⺄, 乚
9. 人, イ, 𠂉
12. 八, ハ, 丷
13. 冂, ⺆
15. 冫,⺀
18. 刀, ⺈, リ
25. 卜, ⺊

rad. meaning
slash, bend
second, latter
human, person
inverted box
cover, wa crown
sword, knife
ten, perfect
divination, rod

rad. forms & No.
42. 小, ⺌, ⺍
47. 巛, 川, 巜
58. 彐, ⺔, ⺕
85. 水,⺡, ⺢
113. 示, ⺬, ネ
140. 艸,⺾,⺿,⻀

rad. meaning
right hand
mouth, opening
evening, sunset
shaped crown
stream, river
two hands
pig snout
tree, wood

And, just like that, we have 30 radicals and their forms under our belt.