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One thing that puzzles me, is how to guess a meaning of a kanji by deducting its radicals. For instance 神 (god), is constructed of | 日 礼 田 . What's the idea behind it? A stick combined with a sun combined with bowing/ceremony in a rice paddy? How do I have to see a god in that combination of radicals? I know some kanji radicals combined make more sense, but in many cases I cannot guess the meaning of the kanji by just combining the radicals.

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For instance 神 (god), is constructed of | 日 礼 田

It is not. This character is made with the radical 礻(which is the character 示, just a little deformed when it appears as a radical) and the character 申. The radical 礻 (示) was originally an altar, so characters with this radical has meanings related to deities.

  • 祝 blessing (from deity)
  • 福 prosperity (bestowed by deity)
  • 祭 ceremony (used to be ceremony where one worship their deity) in this character 示 is on the bottom
  • 祥 Another term for prosperity/peace
  • 禍 woes (comes from deity)
  • 神 deity or God
  • and so on.

This 示 is the meaning-component, while the 申 is the sound component. 申 is pronounced SHIN, and how is 神 pronounced in on-yomi? SHIN. This method of combining a meaning-component to indicate a general meaning and a sound component to indicate the sound is called 形声字, which is one of the six methods Chinese characters are made/used. The six methods, collectively are known as 六書(six-writing). I suggest you watch this video, which explains 六書 clearly. So yeah, while for some kanji ALL components pertain to the meaning, but for 形声字's only one part is meaning-related and the other part is sound-related.

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  • This clarifies a lot. Also the video is super helpful. Thanks!
    – Thomas
    Jun 1, 2023 at 22:49
  • For people with the same question: the referenced video shows that you can use 広辞苑 (Koujien) dictionary to look up the etymology of a kanji
    – Thomas
    Jun 2, 2023 at 9:22
  • @Thomas Glad it helped :)
    – dvx2718
    Jun 2, 2023 at 18:22
  • Bilingual alternative for Kouijen: outlier-linguistics.com/products/…
    – Thomas
    Jun 3, 2023 at 14:19
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Many times the shape of a Kanji character may not really make sense. At such times you need to create some stories about it. The same is the case with the radicals.

The best way is to remember the 51 radicals used in jōyō kanji. Remembering these most common Kanji radicals can really do wonders in learning Kanji fast.

There are many Kanji characters that clearly depict the object they represent - for example, the Kanji of vehicle (車) or mouth (口), and many others, however many such as 前 may not readily make sense - and in that case, it's better to create stories (mnemonics) around them.

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  • Rather than making up your own story, you can also try to look up the actual etymology of the character. While for some characters the etymology is still subject of ongoing research, many characters have a clear etymology that most kanji dictionaries will agree on.
    – Earthliŋ
    Aug 20, 2023 at 0:34

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