177. The "Leather" Radical: 革

When it comes to the nine-stroke 革 radical, nomenclature is the biggest challenge. I find that it's best to put off challenges as long as possible, so let's start with the easy parts.

Joyo Kanji Containing 革

Just two Joyo kanji feature this shape as the on-duty radical:

革 (821: leather)
(1052: shoes, footwear) 

It makes perfect sense that kanji with those meanings would contain the "leather" radical.

By contrast, it's much more surprising to find 革 as a component in this busy character:

覇 (1683: supremacy, mastery, hegemony, domination)

Henshall says that this conglomeration of shapes shows leather (革) exposed to the weather and refers to a carcass being reduced to bleached white bones. Graphic! Actually, this character used to mean "white moonlight" but came to mean "domination, rule." That's quite an evolution!

As 覇 is the only Joyo kanji that contains 革 as a mere component (that is, as an off-duty radical), this shape has made its way into just three Joyo kanji.

Photo Credit: Anton Emsenhuber

This may be the largest 革 radical in existence! 
It's part of the sign for a shoe (靴, くつ) store in Japan.

English Names for the 革 Radical

As you know, we are calling 革 the "leather" radical, but there are other possible names, including "pelt" and "shoe leather." The last option comes from its role in 靴 (1052: shoe).

Japanese Names for the 革 Radical

We can put it off no longer. We've arrived at the only tricky thing about this radical–namely, that another one has a similar meaning:

radical 107: 皮 (hide)

Although we will refer to this as the "hide" radical, an alternate name is "leather." Clearly, these two radicals have overlapping meanings.

The Japanese distinguish between their names by referring to their yomi. When these two shapes function as autonomous kanji, their readings are as follows:

kanji 821: 革 (カク, かわ)
kanji 374: 皮 (ヒ, かわ)

These yomi have inspired the following radical names:

radical 177: 革

1. かわ, reflecting the kun-yomi of the 革 kanji

2. かくのかわ, reflecting that the 革 kanji is the カク type of かわ

3. かわへん, reflecting the kun-yomi of the 革 kanji when the 革 radical is on the left side (へん) of a kanji, as in 靴

4. つくりかわ, in which the つくり (作り) reflects that an animal hide has been processed (tanned)

radical 107: 皮

1. げがわ, a phonetic representation of 毛皮 (animal hide)  

2. かわ, reflecting the kun-yomi of the 皮 kanji

3. ひのかわ, reflecting that the 皮 kanji is the ヒ type of かわ

There are too many choices! To simplify matters, we will go with these decisions:

革 radical: We'll call it かわ in the case of the 革 kanji and かわへん in the case of 靴.

皮 radical: We'll go with げがわ and will call it the "hide" radical in English.

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Another huge version of our radical appears in a lovely setting. Someone painted it as part of a calligraphy demonstration at Hakone Estate & Gardens in Saratoga, California.

Radical 178

Let's throw another radical into the mix! I'm talking about this one:

radical 178: the "tanned leather" radical, 韋, as in 韓 (1981: Korea)

People read this radical as as なめしがわ, which corresponds to 鞣し革, "tanned leather." Ah, there's a word with two examples of our 革 radical! As you may have surmised, 鞣 is non-Joyo. It alone means "tanned leather." Thus, 鞣し革 has an abundance of leather!