I started to make a list of all the "components" (I don't know how to call them) all the joyo kanjis are made of, for me to be easier to memorize all the kanjis (I memorize them by remembering the components the kanjis are made of). At first I thought this list could match the radicals list, but it isn't the case. I was wondering if that list already exists and it has a name, since mine (although it isn't cleaned up) it has over 400 "components", and it isn't sorted in any readable way, so I could improve mine.

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    The problem is there wouldn't be one and only decisive list, because granularity matters. Which are you comfortable with for 葛: [艹曷] or [艹日勹𠃊人]? Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 13:15
  • 2
    The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course refers to these “pieces” as graphemes, and there is a list of common graphemes in an appendix.
    – user27918
    Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 19:30

6 Answers 6


James Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji" takes the approach of diving the joyo kanji up into all of its "pieces" so you can take a look at that.

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    It's worth mentioning that he doesn't generally use the real meanings of the radicals, and sometimes makes up radicals that aren't technically recognized as such. His book is meant as a memory aid rather than a linguistic reference, and is commendable for what it is.
    – Nick O.
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 1:28
  • Now that I know the book much better, I can say the "pieces" I was looking for, it's exactly what "Remembering the kanji" describes as "primitives". And the amount matchs and everything, they are 469. Really useful to speed up memorization of the kanjis
    – Pablo
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 17:14

Unfortunately, this is a bit of a complicated situation, as there are a few closely related ideas:

  1. Any piece of a kanji you might recognize as appearing in multiple kanji.
  2. Any piece of a kanji that either is on the official list of radicals from the Kangxi dictionary, or on a closely related list (such as a slightly edited version of that list for another dictionary).
  3. The particular piece of a kanji that is used to index it in the Kangxi dictionary (or similar).

1. and 2. are both commonly called "(kanji) components".
2. and 3. are both commonly called "(kanji) radicals".
And 3. alone is called "the main radical".

Lists of things like 2. can be found in many dictionaries (see jisho.org's radical search , for example) or other references like the links in bcloutier's answer.

But a bigger list of components in sense #1 is more rare. A list of 407 (or so) components can be found at Kanshūdō.

  • Wanikani has a large proprietary list of components in sense #1 for mnemonic purposes.
    – Mark S.
    Commented Jan 8, 2017 at 7:03

The "pieces" are called "radicals", and yes there is a list of all of them. There is a list of 214 radicals used in the Chinese language called the "Kangxi Radicals", located here.

There is a simplified version of these that does away with non-Japanese characters and archaic usages here.

You can also find the main radical for every Joyo Kanji here.

Each radical has a name as well, the full list can be found here.

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    This is not correct. The Kangxi radicals are a system of indexing characters in dictionaries, and each character has a single assigned radical (not always consistent from dictionary to dictionary) which typically corresponds to the semantic portion of the character. But there are more than 214 elements that make up characters, and you cannot decompose every character into Kangxi radicals, so as the OP has discovered, the set of "pieces" that make up a character simply do not correspond directly to the set of 214 radicals.
    – user1478
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 10:34
  • @snailplane, which part isn't correct? He was asking for a list of components that make up all the Joyo Kanji, which is in my second link. You can write every kanji in that list using the radicals and their variations. Once you get down to the level of single strokes it's difficult to create a character that isn't made up of them.
    – bcloutier
    Commented Jul 30, 2016 at 15:27
  • -bloutier The part where you said the "pieces" are called radicals is not correct. The OP is clearly using "pieces" to refer to all constituent components which make up kanji characters, not just the radical which is used as an indexing reference. One problem in discussing kanji is the lack of standardized nomenclature. I prefer the term "subcomponent" or "component" to refer to the elements/radicals/primitives/pieces that make up the kanji characters.
    – kandyman
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 15:51

As you know, the closest concept to your "pieces" is that of radicals.

However, one might use this term to refer to slightly different concepts, varying in strictness:

  1. A radical of a given character is the unique identifier (picked out of a list of 214 radicals) of this character in a dictionary (especially the Kangxi dictionary).

  2. A radical of a character is any part of the character that appears in the list of the 214 Kangxi radicals.

  3. A radical is any part of a given character.

For the jōyō kanji, the indexing radicals are listed on the official list (for example on Wikipedia). Every kanji is either the base character of a radical, or is assigned a radical from the list.

The very first kanji, 亜, already illustrates very nicely why this assignment is not always meaningful when looking at the origin of a character.

From the etymological perspective, 亜 (or rather its traditional form 亞), is a 象形文字 depicting (most likely) the (dark) foundation/basement of a building. The meanings of 悪 and 唖 may be thought of 会意・形声文字 derived from this meaning of "dark".

Being a simple picture, it doesn't have any meaningful components, certainly not any related to 二 "two" which is its indexing radical on the jōyō list.

Moreover, several etymologically distinct radicals have been unified to one form, the most prominent example being the radical ⽉, which represents both 月 (e.g. in 明) and 肉 (e.g. in 腹). Another example is ⺍ which unifies at least the top of 螢 → 蛍 and 學 → 学.

I think it would be interesting to have a list/database of all "pieces", which are based on the characters' actual origins. 亞・亜 would be a "piece" of 亜, 悪 and 唖 and 二 wouldn't be a piece of 亜. Also, 亞・亜 would not be a piece of 壺・壷, because 壺 is itself a 象形文字, and only contains something like 亜 for cosmetic reasons.

In some cases, the origin of a character is unknown, but it's still possible to compile such a list based on a decent kanji etymology dictionary, like 新漢和大辞典. (I also have 漢字源 in my Canon 電子辞書.)

  • I don't think people would use the term "radical" so loosely as to refer to any part of any character, as in number 3 in your answer. That is not what the word "radical" means to the majority of kanji scholars, in my opinion.
    – kandyman
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 15:54
  • @kandyman Maybe "any part" was too loose, but there are parts that some people reasonably call "radicals", which are not on the list of 214 radicals. For example the top of 単 is sometimes called つかんむり. Of course you could say that to you, such examples are also not radicals. But that just means to you "radical" should be understood only in sense (1) (or (2)), which is also perfectly reasonable. I just think that it is not always interpreted as strictly as this.
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 17:23
  • I'm not talking about strict definitions here. You can't just call anything you want a radical and claim that "some people" do that is so it's all good and fine. The total number of components which form kanji characters in the Joyo Kanji list is around 560 components (pastebin.com/6E8Jx89N). Those are NOT all radicals nor can they be reasonably called so. A big problem when talking about kanji is the poor nomenclature. That certainly isn't helped by arbitrarily calling anything you want a radical. It's simply not factually accurate and I felt it necessary to point that out.
    – kandyman
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 18:44

I've made a website that might help. It decomposes complex Kanji into simpler ones.


  • I just did a search for 編 and it didn't list the 糸偏 radical as a constituent component. Is this tool just for full words?
    – kandyman
    Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 21:50
  • Yeah, when I just started doing it, I assumed that listing radicals would be unnecessary. Because so many other other sites already do that. Half way through I changed my mind but the result is that not all character are decomposed completely, meaning including radicals. For convenience every entry row has a link to jisho where you can easily see the radicals. So it's not only for full words. Just press "Get Kanji" and in this case you will get these: 編扁冊一 and their meanings. Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 22:16

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