I notice that 衣 as a kanji component is sometimes written without the third stroke. For example, in 壌, 衣 is written with strokes 13 through to 16: below the horizontal line there are 4 strokes. But in kanji like 展, below the line there are three strokes, starting with a straight レ and missing the first stroke after the horizontal line.

Why is this? Is it the same component written slightly differently for historical reasons? Are they different components? Are they interchangeable in handwriting or is using the 'wrong' version considered wrong?

(Note: My initial questions incorrectly referred to the kanji components as radicals, which was corrected by various answerers below.)


3 Answers 3


So, the general spirit of the question has been answered - the key ideas being that radicals (dictionary headers) are not the same as generic components that are found in characters, and thus in different characters what appears to be somewhat similar components should be clearly differentiated and written differently. The general advice given by the other answers are correct, so as long as the advice is taken, the rest of this answer is extra information and can be safely ignored.

However, I gather that the OP (and maybe some other readers) is still interested in a more coherent set of information, and there is much conflicting and incorrect information given by the other answers about the origins of the characters mentioned in the questions and answers on this page. In general, characters that are not kokuji were first created for Chinese words, and thus require explanations which include data from Chinese phonological information (e.g. reconstructions from Baxter-Sagart), which unfortunately many Japanese dictionary explanations, even famously orthodox ones, do not do a very good job of taking into account of.

Since there is a large discussion on this page about character classification and origins, in light of the potential confusion that this may cause in the future, the following is a list of statements on this page that the rest of this answer will hopefully address, for the problematic ones:

  1. The bottom parts of 展 and 喪 derived from something other than 衣.
    • True for 喪
    • Not true for 展
  2. For 長: It originally depicted a person with long hair and transformed into the character it is today. No relation at all to 衣.
    • Largely correct. Not going to address this character.
  3. For 喪: As the image depicts in old writing there was a dog with upright ears (象形文字 class 1), two mouths (象形文字 class 1) and a corpse at the bottom (象形文字 class 1).
    • This ojikten explanation, while very good for a mnemonic, is ultimately incorrect, and appears to be parroted from Dai Kan-wa Jiten, whose explanation is taken straight from Shuowen Jiezi (喪,亾也。从哭从亾。會意。亾亦聲。).
    • The most obvious reason why both Dai Kan-wa Jiten and Shuowen Jiezi are incorrect is that 喪, which was first attested in oracle bone script, appeared much earlier than 哭, which was first attested during the Warring States period, so 喪 cannot have come from 哭.
  4. For 襄, the original right hand side component of 壌: ...the image is still explaining that originally this character is made up of symbols depicting the stashing away of some dirt amulet in your clothes to protect you from evil...
    • This ojikten explanation is incorrect. The right hand side is purely phonetic.
  5. For 展: the interpretation is that there is a corpse (尸) with its arms and legs outstretched (象形文字 class 1). The 㠭 below it is imagery for heavy weight (象形文字 class 1) and finally the bottom part is an old form of clothes or at least some parts of them (the collar to translate exactly) on which all this weight is placed. The character is figuratively depicting the placing of weight onto clothes to stretch them wide (伸ばし広げる). This meaning of stretching is still retained in the character today albeit not in connection with clothes.
    • Explanation of 尸 is incorrect. As a component forming a part of another character, 尸 depicts a squatting person, not a corpse.
    • Explanation of 㠭 is incorrect.
    • The character did in fact contain 衣, but it was inseparable from 㠭.
  6. Also for 展: 尸(からだ)と、音符●テン(×・△はその省略形。ころがる意→転)とから成り、人がからだをころがして寝返りをうつ意……などという説明があります。 この「音符●」の「●」は、何やら漢字になっていない記号のようなもの(象形文字?)で、「△」は「展」の「尸」を除いた部分、「×」は「展」の「尸」を除いた部分と少し形の異なる字(?)です。
    • Overall, largely correct.
    • 尸 as からだ is a much better interpretation than corpse.
    • 「△」is this character, which only takes a phonetic role in 展.
    • In reality, neither 㠭,「×」, nor「△」have been conclusively shown to exist independently from 展. They all seem to have been cut off from the original form of 展, and in the case of 㠭, it is identical in meaning and sound to 展.
    • All other conflicting information should be seen as incorrect.
  7. In those Kanji with 衣 as their radical, the lower part (see bottom of 褎 褏) of the radical seems to be fully included (albeit sometimes modified like in 裹) in all Kanji.
    • 裹 does not have a modified version of 衣. It is simply 果 inside of 衣.

With this list out of the way, let's begin.

イ. Glyph origin of 喪.

All three of the following

  • (mourning)
  • (various meanings)
  • (startling/shocking)

were originally the same character:

enter image description here

In fact, this character was originally a phonetic loan from (mulberry tree), and was graphically differentiated from 桑 via the addition of a bunch of mouths (). For reference, the original form of 桑 was enter image description here and the original form of 口 was enter image description here.

Further evidence for the relation between 喪 and 桑 comes from their phonetic reconstructions. Their Old Chinese reconstructions, as given by Baxter-Sagart, are:

  • 喪: /*s-mˤaŋ/
  • 桑: /*[s]ˤaŋ/

In both Mandarin Chinese and Japanese, they have actually become homophones (sāng, そう).

Note that the number of 口 in later forms was quite variable, and various parts of the character morphed into different shapes (see this), but it eventually settled on two 口. The bottom portion of the character differentiated from its pictographic tree origins to become , which is a variant of . An important note: the original meaning of 亡 was to do with losing (something); die is an extended meaning that only arose later.

As for etymology, 喪 is thought to be cognate with (to forget), 亡, (without), among others all originating from Proto-Sino-Tibetan *ma (meaning not). This is a very important point, as all these characters are related in meaning.

Finally, does not appear anywhere in the historical forms of 喪. For reference, the original glyph of 哭 looked like enter image description here, with the central portion being (enter image description here).

ロ. Glyph origin of 襄.

Despite being graphically well documented, the evolution's a bit of a mess:

enter image description here

Although it started off simple, with something like U on top of (enter image description here), seemingly random components (土,攴) were added on, 人 became , the top U-shape morphed into two 口, 卩 became , 攴 became two , and finally you end up with something like the shape in box 14.

This is one of those (quite rare!) situations where the character is a mystery; there is no written evidence of any concrete meaning for this character, and modern characters [e.g. (allow/permit/yield/concede), (soil/ground/land) (bag)] which use it do not appear to be connected in meaning at all. The ojikten explanation is probably related to 囊 (maybe interpreting it as an assortment of random objects in a bag).

Note that the appearance of (enter image description here) is either a directed or coincidental change or from the original components, and 衣 did not appear anywhere in the original form.

At this point in time, scholarship asks for patience while more evidence can be gathered.

ハ. Glyph origin of 尸.

is simply a depiction of a squatting person:

enter image description here

As mentioned before in Point 6, viewing 尸 as からだ may be helpful, in many situations, in remembering characters. For example:

  • (enter image description here), phono-semantic compound with phonetic and 尸 (a person), indicating the meaning place of residence;
  • (enter image description here), a person with an appendage on the backside, indicating the meaning tail;
  • 尿 (enter image description here), a picture of someone urinating;
  • (enter image description here), compound ideogram of a body (尸) that's dead (), indicating the meaning corpse.


I hope that, from these examples, it has become very clear that character forms are actually very well documented, and their original meanings and sounds are quite well preserved. There has been a quite pervasive myth that's been going around for a long time about the obscurity and chaos of where the characters came from, which is not helped by many standard reference dictionaries providing conflicting explanations with little consistent research. However, the reality is that opaque characters like 襄 are quite uncommon, and consensus is strong among scholars in the field about the origins of a majority of commonly used characters.


  • 季旭昇《說文新證》. Although in Chinese, I'm giving an extremely high recommendation for this reference for character origins. Very accessible, with plain language, and requires no specialist knowledge.
  • 李學勤《字源》
  • 小學堂, excellent website to check for archaic variants, and where the majority of the character forms in this answer have been taken from.

Further Reading and Useful Resources

  • 1
    This should be the accepted answer. I just gathered Japanese information but I knew that there had to be a clearer chinese background to this. I will put 說文新證 on my reading list for whenever my Chinese is up to par to read it. The OP has not come back in quite a while, but if he comes back, please accept this answer and not mine. I'm sorry for giving such a wrong account of things I guess. I just tried the best with the information available to me. Thanks for your answer anyway, it is very interesting!
    – Yannick
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 16:46
  • 1
    @Yannick thanks for the very kind comments, but even now I still feel like that there is a bit too much information here that is tangential to learning Japanese. Unfortunately, that's the state of the Japanese language at the moment - Chinese information is tangential yet you cannot escape referring to it when describing characters.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 16:48
  • 1
    @Yannick I should clarify that I am not a scholar in the field, but I participate in discussion boards which have Chinese Paleographers as group members - and the sources I've mentioned are used as standard references in the field. Experts generally do not recommend 李學勤《字源》, because many of the sources it quotes are quite unreliable, so only use it if you can sort out the correct information from the unreliable. I used it in reference to only, as part of the entry in 《字源》 for 展 is taken as reliable. I didn't mention some other parts in the entry as they look quite unbelievable.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 17:32
  • 3
    Hello, I am still here. Thank you sincerely to both of you for your efforts, I am extremely appreciative of the work you have put in. I have updated the accepted answer to this one as per @Yannick 's request.
    – Judas
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 23:09
  • 1
    Given that urine is a liquid (like water) in your body, it's interesting that 尿 as a whole comes from a picture, rather than being a compound ideogram of body (尸) and water (水)
    – jarmanso7
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 2:43

Edit: Please read this later answer which corrects much of the mistakes that the Japanese sources (that I used) have with more recent and accurate Chinese information. I'll keep this answer around so that it can be seen what was actually corrected.

Short answer:

While the relevant set of strokes in 壌 is indeed a version of 衣, the lower set of strokes in 展 should not be considered as such. Thus, IMO you should not use them interchangeably.

Long Version:

Before we start: I am no scholar of this subject, just an enthusiast that did some research for this answer, so read this more as an informed opinion rather than the ultimate answer. Especially, when it comes to 漢字 there might be differences depending on the person you are asking. Furthermore, I am basing myself mostly on internet resources. They might well be wrong, or the conclusions I am making might be wrong, but I thought I might as well just share the insights I have gotten from my little research.

Classifying 漢字 by their parts

Now, as has been pointed out in a previous answer you have to differentiate between the 部首 (radicals) and auxiliary parts of the 漢字. The character 衣 you are referring to, when appearing in other characters, is referred to as ころもへん. And you can consult in this and this list that characters containing ころもへん as 部首 will always have the ''complete'' character in it. I.e. the one not ''missing'' any strokes. In particular, you will notice that 展 is not part of that list (as pointed out by the previous answer, since the radical is 尸).

Now you might ask yourself, why does it look so similar and what is its relation to other 漢字 with the same parts such as 長 or 喪. And I think it's worth to take a little time to differentiate things that don't belong together.

As you might have guessed by the chapter title or the last paragraph, there are ways to classify 漢字 by the parts they are using and what function they have for the character. I think, the most popular one is [六書]{りくしょ}. It contains the following distinctions (of which there is a nice readup on here):

  1. [象形]{しょうけい} - characters that originate from the looks of what they mean (i.e. hieroglyphs), e.g. how 水 looks a bit like flowing water.
  2. [指事]{しじ} - characters which represent an abstract idea, e.g. 三 which represents the concept of the number three by three lines.
  3. [会意]{かいい} - combination of multiple meaningful parts, e.g. 男 which has 田 for (rice) field and 力 for power and suggests the imagery of a strong man working in the fields.
  4. [形声]{けいせい} - combination of meaningful and purely phonetic characters, e.g. [晴]{せい} which means clear skies and is made up of 日 for sun indicating good weather and [青]{せい} for it's reading. 85% of japanese characters are made up like this (source), which is why you can usually try to guess reading based on the contained parts.
  5. [転注]{てんちゅう} - apply extended meaning to a character, e.g. 楽 comes from 音楽 for music, but since listening to music is pleasant it has also become used in as one way of writing [楽]{たの}しい, which means something like fun or pleasant.
  6. [仮借]{かしゃく} - borrowing characters with similar sound to convey a certain term (more known under the name of [当]{あ}て[字]{じ}), e.g. writing アジア (Asia) as 亜細亜 completely ignoring the original meaning.

Note that the latter two are more about usage (使用法) of characters than their construction (構成法). Now that the vocabulary is down, let us get to some examples.


I feel the need to first cover 長 and 喪 to emphasize that the bottom part is not just a sloppily written ころもへん. Then I will quickly go over 壌. And lastly 展, which will be the most ambiguous section since there seems to have been a shift in its classification.


All images below are from okjiten a great source for this kind of material and it gives a great read, albeit I do not know it's sources so read with that in mind. Another great resource is the 説文解字 database which gives you access to the book of the same name, which is the oldest source that splits the 漢字 into their respective radicals. It is written during the late han-dynasty by a certain [許慎]{きょしん} who was a Chinese that settled over to Japan apparently. I do think that okjiten bases itself on this. But I can't read Chinese so I can't confirm the information.


The characters meaning is long. As the image depicts, 長 is a 象形文字 (class 1 character). It originally depicted a person with long hair and transformed into the character it is today. No relation at all to 衣.


The characters meaning is usually something along the lines of mourning. As the image depicts in old writing there was a dog with upright ears (象形文字 class 1), two mouths (象形文字 class 1) and a corpse at the bottom (象形文字 class 1). This is a prime example of a 会意文字 (class 3 character). You have the dog with the two mouths (nowadays 哭 for wailing). The wailing dog is used to convey the image of wailing people at the sight of the dead person. So it is using the meaning of all the sub-parts. Again no direct link to 衣.


As you can probably guess from the use cases of this kanji (mostly connected to soil) this is a 形声文字 (class 4 character) which retains it's meaning of soil 土 and borrows the reading from [襄]{じょう}. For what it's worth, the image is still explaining that originally this character is made up of symbols depicting the stashing away of some dirt amulet in your clothes to protect you from evil, and this is why one has the 衣 and thus the correct writing of it, since it was an integral part to the meaning of the character.


According to the figure above the interpretation is that there is a corpse (尸) with its arms and legs outstretched (象形文字 class 1). The 㠭 below it is imagery for heavy weight (象形文字 class 1) and finally the bottom part is an old form of clothes or at least some parts of them (the collar to translate exactly) on which all this weight is placed. The character is figuratively depicting the placing of weight onto clothes to stretch them wide (伸ばし広げる). This meaning of stretching is still retained in the character today albeit not in connection with clothes. You might notice that the concept of clothes itself is not as prevalent as in the previous character (which might be the reason it is not contained nowadays). The character can be found in 説文解字 here.

Now this is where it becomes weird. If we take a look at this question dealing with exactly your problem with this character there are citations from dictionaries from way back that read like the following


などという説明があります。 この「音符●」の「●」は、何やら漢字になっていない記号のようなもの(象形文字?)で、「△」は「展」の「尸」を除いた部分、「×」は「展」の「尸」を除いた部分と少し形の異なる字(?)です。

To give a quick summary (the characters from the dictionary could not be copied over, since they are not actual japanese characters, so placeholders ●,×,△ have been inserted). The dictionary explains that this is a pure 形声文字 (class 4 character) in which the meaning is largely conveyed through [尸]{からだ} and the part inside it is just [音符]{おんぷ}, i.e. the phonetic addendum to give a way to read the character. So no relation at all to ころもへん which is also what Chocolate commented on the question with his findings in his 漢和辞典.

But okjiten has connected the character with the meaning of collar and thus somehow to 衣 and thus classifies it not only as a 形声文字 (class 4 character) but claims that the middle part also plays a part in the meaning (which it does, if you follow their reasoning) and thus classifies it as [会意形声文字]{かいいけいせいもじ}, which is a combination of class 3 and class 4. This means that the (previously believed to be purely) phonetic part actually carries some of the original meaning of the character. As the link explains it was added because most of the time characters classified purely as 形声文字 (class 4 characters) actually could also be classified as 会意文字 (class 3 character), as well.

To sum the story up for this character, there doesn't seem to be a consensus. And I can most certainly not tell you whether the dictionaries are old or whether the internet is taking some artistic liberties (some native/scholar opinion would be needed). Though I would personally tend towards the former. Which does not change the fact that the collar of clothes part mutated into something which is the bottom part of the unrelated 喪 and has grown completely unrelated, in meaning and writing, to 衣.


I hope this has shed a bit of light onto this very niche topic for you. I wonder if anybody kept themselves motivated to read until this point over the question of one little line that most people probably don't even actively notice. In any case, I hope my point is clear. While the characters might be similar, they are not the same. It seems that this particular stroke order just naturally evolved from a plethora of different base characters, rather than being based on one single characters like radicals usually are.

While there does seem to be the occasional historical reference to 衣, it is probably better to consider it non-existent if it is not the exact ころもへん in the kanji. It might hint at the fact that the meaning probably evolved, or the relation to 衣 was not strong enough to begin with, to keep that ころもへん in the character.

While it is nice to take a look into history like this, a good baseline is not to diverge from what you learned and keep to consensus.

  • Thanks. And for the short answer: That was an answer to him asking whether using the 'wrong' version would be wrong. And I answered that they are not a different version of the same character and thus should not be used interchangeably. If I didn't word that well, I'm always open to suggestions.
    – Yannick
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 5:19
  • Also you can safely drop classification - there is a question already. PSs also play play no role.
    – macraf
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 5:21
  • Yeah sorry the wording is a bit off here and there. I will need to look at the other question with the classification and see whether that includes what I say. It doesn't seem as though they are asking for classification but rather to confirm their belief on what they know about the classifications. No explanation of it was requested, right?
    – Yannick
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 5:30
  • 非常に興味深い答えを書いて頂いてどうもありがとうございます。I'm blown away by this answer, thank you very much.
    – Judas
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 0:22

This will only be a partial answer.

First off, neither of the two Kanji you named seem to have 衣{ころも} as their radical (部首{ぶしゅ}), but only as a part. The radical of 展 is 尸{しかばね} [1] and that of 壌 is 土{つち} [2]. Here is a list of Kanji with 衣 as their radical.

On a side note, 衤 is actually the same radical as 衣. I'm sure you have seen plenty of Kanji with that part/radical!

In those Kanji with 衣 as their radical, the lower part (see bottom of 褎 褏) of the radical seems to be fully included (albeit sometimes modified like in 裹) in all Kanji.

I haven't yet found a list with all the Kanji that have 衣 as a part and am not sure whether slight variations would influence the meaning. My intuition tells me that you probably want to avoid diverging from the currently common way to write them, but I cannot say with confidence that it would necessarily be wrong.

This is a very interesting question and I will research it more and add to my answer if I can find out anything else!

[1] http://kanji.jitenon.jp/kanjib/953.html
[2] http://kanji.jitenon.jp/kanjid/1758.html

  • 1
    Thank you for correcting my incorrect use of the term "radical". I think I am looking for the reason why there are two ways of writing the same component, i.e. is it random or is there a hidden etymology (like with the 月 radical). I have since asked a native and they said that mixing the two ways of writing up was 'wrong'.
    – Judas
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 2:34

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