102. The "Rice Field" Radical: 田

The world is a chaotic, ever-changing place. Fortunately, the "rice field" radical 田 provides some relief, as it's the model of consistency.

I'm not talking about its definition, though this five-stroke 田 radical almost always means "rice field" or "field" inside characters. 

Rather, I'm referring to its shape. When 田 shapes cluster in characters, they lend a sense of orderliness to the whole visual. It may sound boring to see a bunch of grid shapes, but I find that, on the contrary, they pop out with graphic vividness. 

Here are some examples of what I mean.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

In Kobe, a playful font makes the 田 shapes jump out in 町 (57: town) and 画 (85: picture). This sign says 元町映画館 (もとまちえいがかん: Motomachi Movie Theater).

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

In Tokyo, 田 (59: rice field) combines with 町 to form a great-looking place name. The 駅 (233: station) lends another grid to the picture, though not a 田 type of grid.

Photo Credit: Lutlam

In this author's name (Tadao Mitome), 田 appears inside three consecutive kanji! Here they are:

留 (805: to keep in place)
理 (220: logic)
男 (54: man)

In 理 (220), the "rice field" radical is merely a component, and it's actually just part of the  "village" radical 里 (radical 166). The on-duty radical is radical 96 ("jewel").

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

The grid structures are practically on top of each other! However, 田 is a mere component in 神 (324: god). The 申 in that kanji means "lightning." In analyzing the etymology of 神, Henshall says that lightning was thought to be a manifestation of the gods and even the voice of the gods! The autonomous character 申 (322), which usually means "to say," does feature 田 as the on-duty radical.

Names of the 田 Radical

I've lost myself in the graphic beauty of these grid shapes. Let's return to basic facts about 田.

The Japanese read this radical as た, unless it's on the left side of a kanji. Of the 19 Joyo kanji powered by the on-duty 田 radical, only two feature a 田 that fully occupies the left side:

町 (57: town)
略 (804: omission)

In those cases, the yomi たへん works.

As you know, the English name of this radical is "rice field," though Nelson prefers "rice paddy."

When 田 Means "Rice Field"

The autonomous kanji 田 (59: rice field) depicts a rice field crossed by ridges and paths, says Henshall.

We also find "rice field" meanings in his etymologies of these two kanji:

画 (85: picture)

This character once had a different shape. In its current form, it represents a "rice field" (the 田 in the middle) combined with the remaining strokes (一 and 凵), which collectively mean "partitioning." The whole character means "to partition fields with a brush," which one would do on a map. That definition extended to "strokes" or "diagram, picture."

番 (196: number)

The top shape used to be 米 (rice). The planting of rice in the fields followed a "set order" and involved working by "roster," which is to say in "turn." Later, "roster" led by association to "guard." (Henshall lists "turn" and "guard" as primary definitions of 番.)

Fields of Something Other Than Rice

In these nine kanji, 田 means "field," but not "rice field," says Henshall:

男 (54: man)
町 (57: town)
界 (240: world)
畑 (369: field)
略 (804: omission)
畝 (1468: ridge in field)
畜 (1577: livestock) 
畔 (1713: ridge between fields)
畏 (1955: awe)

Whereas our radical means "rice field" in just three of the 19 Joyo characters containing 田, this shape represents a generic "field" in exactly half of that set. That's quite a few! One might do better, then, to think of 田 as the "field" radical, but of course the "rice field" meaning comes from the primary definition of the 田 kanji.

Here are Henshall's etymologies for three of the kanji in the list above:

町 (57: town)

This character combines "field" with "nail." The latter shape phonetically expresses "walk" and lends its T shape to suggest "junction of paths." The character originally meant "paths through the fields," extending to "place where fields join," then "area, community."

界 (240: world)

Here we have "field" + "to come between," collectively meaning "division of land," leading to both "boundary" and "area."

畑 (369: field)

This is a kokuji, a kanji invented in Japan. It joins "field" with "fire," producing "field that is burned off," as opposed to a rice paddy.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

In a village built for the film 24 Eyes on Shodoshima in the Inland Sea, this field has nothing to do with rice, just as the 田 in 畑 (369: field) doesn't. The sign indicates that we're seeing a 花畑 (はなばたけ: flower garden).

The large writing in the sign is as follows:

お願い (おねがい: request)

Please do not enter the flower garden.

入る (はいる: to enter);
下さい (ください: please)

In the smaller writing to the left, we find 映画村 (えいがむら), the name of the village, which literally means "film village." Eigamura is now a tourist destination, not a neighborhood where people actually live.

The より at the end means "from." It's preceded by 花咲か爺さん (はなさかじいさん: Hanasaka Jiisan), a charming reference to a folktale by that name. In the past, people have translated that folktale title as "The Old Man Who Made the Dead Trees Blossom," though the word 花咲か literally has to do with blooming (咲) flowers (花). The story stars a kind man who has big problems with a nasty neighbor.