Component order rules 1 and 2 combined

In this section we learn how the left-to-right and top-to-bottom rules work together.

The diagram below presents four kanji with different internal structures. Their structures are represented in the square diagrams above the kanji.

Kanji component diagram showing six different kanji structures to clarify the left-to-right and top-to-bottom rules. The characters are: 語 kataru 'narrate', 類 RUI 'type', 舞 mau 'to dance', 想 omou 'to think about', 務 tsutomeru 'to serve', 殺 korosu 'to kill'.
kataru ‘narrate’, RUI ‘type’, mau ‘to dance’, omou ‘to think about’, tsutomeru ‘to serve’, korosu ‘to kill’.

The diagram shows what happens when the left to right and top to bottom rules are combined.

Let’s focus on kataru ‘to talk’; the implications for the remaining kanji are identical and well illustrated in the diagram.

kataru has two inner components:

  1. iu ‘to say’;
  2. GO ‘I/myself’.

We can apply rule 1 (left to right) and write iu first. Next we want to write GO, which can be further subdivided into two inner components:

  1. GO ‘five’ and
  2. SAI ‘sacred vessel’.

We therefore apply rule 2 (top-to-bottom) and write GO first, then SAI.

If you managed to wrap your head around this explanation, you have mastered the fundamentals of kanji component order. Now I would like to increase the structure complexity just a little with the following examples.

Kanji component diagram showing three different kanji structures to clarify the left-to-right and top-to-bottom rules. The characters are: 態 TAI 'condition', 翻 hirugaesu 'to flutter', 器 utsuwa 'vessel'.
TAI ‘condition’, hirugaesu ‘to flutter’, utsuwa ‘vessel’.

This time we will focus on TAI, which is the combination of:

  1. mu,
  2. tsuki,
  3. hi,
  4. hi,
  5. kokoro.

Together, the first four shapes constitute one macro-component, which exists as an independent kanji: NOU ‘ability’. The fifth shape is the other macro-component, which also exists as an independent kanji: kokoro ‘heart’.

NOU can be split into a left sub-component and a right sub-component. Each sub-component can be further split into top and bottom components. We then apply the rule recursively, until we resolve the component order of this kanji.

Kanji component order of 態 TAI 'condition'.
Kanji component order of TAI ‘condition’.

Try this with the other two kanji in the previous diagram: hirugaesu and utsuwa. It may look quite complex, but once you get the idea it becomes extremely intuitive.

What we just learned covers the structure (component order) of the preponderant majority of the over 2000 kanji that constitute the basic Japanese script.

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