kanjijump

Learn the kanji through components and connections.

The "atomic" kanji components

What is a kanji component?

Most kanji can be broken up into two or more separate shapes, or components, which appear on their own as characters in their own right. For example, the characters 日 sun and 月 moon come together as components in the character 明 bright. Some components don't correspond to any standalone character in modern Japanese usage, but they appear again and again inside multiple characters, like the component 宀 which represents a house, and is used in kanji like 家 household, 室 room, and 宿 lodging.

This means that, even though there are tens of thousands of kanji in existence, they all may be combinations of just a few hundred repeating components

How many kanji components do I need to know?

With the help of data from the Kanji Database project, I've established a list of just 278 components which come together in various combinations to form all the 3,530 most important kanji in everyday modern Japanese.

For each component, I've selected an English keyword based on either its historical meaning, its shape, or the context in which it's used in modern Japanese. Hopefully, these keywords will help you imbue the component shapes with meaning so you can learn to recognize them.

In some cases, a set of components will share a single keyword--you can think of these as variant forms of a single component. If you count a set of variants as a single component, there are just 200 components you have to learn in order to cover all the 3,530 most important kanji.

Why do some components have variants?

For the most part, these variant forms only differ slightly in shape, and there is a logic to which variant is used when. For example, the component 羊 sheep has the common variant form 𦍌. If you go to the entry for 𦍌, you'll notice that it's always used on top of other components inside a character; it's almost like the tail end of 羊 is politely contracting to make room for the other components. It's nice to think of the components this way, as helpful alternative forms that make the characters easier to write.

Just a few variant forms exhibit more dramatic variations in shape, like 水 water and its variant 氵. In such cases, these variants are grouped together because they descend from a single historical form. Most of these extremely simplified variant forms like 氵 appear so often in common kanji that you won't have to put much effort into memorizing them. If you're supplementing your kanji study with real-world Japanese (which you should be doing!), you'll have most of them mastered in no time.

Atomic components vs. composite components

This list includes only those components which can't be broken up easily into distinct, meaningful sub-components. Since they're indivisible, kind of like atoms, I've dubbed them the "atomic" components. I've also made available an exhaustive list of all the atomic and composite components, which number over 1,200.

Disclaimer: personal judgments ahead!

My ultimate goal here was to come up with a system that makes the kanji and their components easy to remember. With that goal in mind, I've tried to compile a list of all those components which can't be broken up easily into distinct, meaningful sub-components. But "broken up easily" and "meaningful" are ultimately subjective criteria.

I think this is fine. There are no perfectly objective criteria for judging whether something is "easy to remember", since everyone's brain works differently. In the end, I've done the same as everyone else who has ever tried to devise a kanji-learning method, and I've used a good measure of personal judgment in making this list.

So, some of these "atomic" components are ultimately "atomic" only because I've decided they're not worth analyzing any further. You could very well break several of them down into smaller components, but I've held off from doing so where it doesn't seem to make the shapes any easier to remember. Still, if you think I've overlooked something, feel free to message me and I'll take your feedback into consideration!


All the atomic components

Here are all the 278 atomic components and their keywords, with any variants grouped together. They are presented in order from the most common to the rarest. For those atomic components that can also serve as sound components, a reading is given in katakana.


  • one
    イチ

  • cross
    ジュウ

  • mouth
    コウ
  • 丿
    swiping hand
    ヘツ


  • human


  • dot

  • sun

  • tree
    ボク


  • pole

  • little feet
    ハチ


  • grabbing hand
    ユウ


  • water


  • baby
    ショウ


  • stake


  • wrapping
    ホウ


  • heart
    シン


  • big
    ダイ

  • rice field
    デン

  • lid

  • long legs

  • tail

  • umbrella

  • moon/flesh

  • eye

  • cover


  • blade
    トウ


  • fortune teller
    ボク


  • grass

  • enclosure

  • house

  • hook

  • words
    ゲン

  • standing person
    リツ


  • hand


  • horns

  • stepping foot


  • bristles


  • cap

  • gasping mouth


  • road

  • knot
    ヨウ


  • spoon


  • footprint


  • fire


  • shears


  • woman
    ジョ

  • cliff
    ガイ


  • nose

  • box

  • trail


  • plants
    セイ


  • perching bird
    サイ

  • child

  • mountain
    サン

  • hair
    サン


  • roof

  • dusk
    セキ

  • silver
    コン


  • tree trunk
    カン

  • tool
    コウ

  • block
    チョウ


  • seashell
    バイ

  • strong arm
    リョク

  • gate
    モン

  • rice
    ベイ


  • sheep
    ヨウ


  • ice


  • cattle

  • 广
    cave

  • knock
    ホク


  • elder


  • teacher
    タイ


  • table

  • head


  • towel

  • bamboo
    チク

  • skin


  • axe
    キン

  • snake

  • well
    セイ


  • pig


  • joined hands


  • pattern
    ブン

  • rope

  • altar


  • ear

  • step backwards


  • middle
    チュウ

  • splash

  • spearhead

  • mound


  • kneeling person


  • bow
    キュウ

  • arrow

  • net

  • dog


  • corner

  • jewel
    ギョク


  • enter
    ニュウ

  • town


  • river
    セン


  • claw


  • shell
    コウ

  • bug


  • flesh


  • gap


  • air


  • basket


  • crossed legs
    キュウ

  • criss-cross
    シチ

  • robe


  • mortar
    キュウ


  • mother


  • skirt

  • leaf
    セイ

  • twigs


  • snub-face
    コウ


  • pond

  • horse

  • five

  • clan

  • create

  • round


  • stone
    セキ

  • long-haired person
    チョウ

  • 西
    west
    セイ

  • engulf


  • fetal position

  • plate
    ベイ

  • dancer


  • bed
    ショウ


  • deer legs

  • turn
    キョク


  • crossed out

  • spool


  • body

  • bird
    チョウ


  • climbing legs

  • gravestone
    ショ

  • giant
    キョ

  • timber
    サイ


  • sad

  • vassal
    シン


  • prying hands

  • raising hands


  • sickbed

  • stretch

  • mask

  • tag

  • eyebrow

  • bone
    コツ


  • shelf

  • foot-long
    シャク

  • horn
    カク

  • second


  • feathers


  • cinnabar

  • origin
    ゲン

  • knoll
    キュウ

  • underground


  • light
    コウ

  • turf

  • shield
    テイ

  • people
    ミン

  • ivy

  • twist
    キュウ


  • flat piece

  • dipper

  • pig snout

  • reaching arms
    キュウ

  • plodding tortoise

  • omen
    チョウ

  • vein


  • pennant


  • goatee

  • long-tailed monkey

  • owl

  • chipped blade
    ナイ

  • center
    オウ

  • sake


  • fang

  • choke


  • province
    シュウ

  • span
    コウ


  • masses

  • blade of grass
    タク

  • melon

  • toad
    ボウ


  • space

  • mouse

  • horned dog

  • tile

  • ox
    チュウ

  • volume

  • stitch

  • tortoise


  • concave

  • convex

  • tripod

  • jug