Kanji (漢字; [kandʑi] listen) are the adopted logographic
Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system.
They are used alongside hiragana and katakana. The Japanese term kanji
Chinese characters literally means "Han characters". It is
written with the same term and characters in the
Chinese language to
refer to the character writing system, hanzi (漢字).
List of kanji by stroke count
List of kanji by concept
Nihon (ISO transliteration)
Old Japanese, Japanese
Oracle bone script
Hanja, Zhuyin, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Nom, Khitan
script, Jurchen script
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering
support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead
Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see
General Standard Chinese Characters (PRC)
Graphemes of Commonly-used Chinese Characters (Hong Kong)
Standard Typefaces for Chinese Characters (ROC Taiwan)
General Standard Characters (PRC)
Jōyō kanji (Japan)
Commonly-used Characters (PRC)
Frequently-used Characters (PRC)
Tōyō kanji (Japan)
Shinjitai and Simplified characters
Table of Simplified Characters
Literary and colloquial readings
Use in particular scripts
For a list of words relating to kanji, see the Japanese-coined CJKV
characters category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
2 Orthographic reform and lists of kanji
2.1 Kyōiku kanji
2.2 Jōyō kanji
2.3 Jinmeiyō kanji
2.4 Hyōgai kanji
Japanese Industrial Standards
Japanese Industrial Standards for kanji
3 Total number of kanji
4.1 On'yomi (Sino-Japanese reading)
4.2 Kun'yomi (native reading)
4.3 Mixed readings
4.5 Single character gairaigo
4.6 Other readings
4.7 When to use which reading
4.8 Pronunciation assistance
4.9 Spelling words
5 Local developments and divergences from Chinese
6 Types of kanji by category
6.1 Shōkei moji (象形文字)
6.2 Shiji moji (指事文字)
6.3 Kaii moji (会意文字)
6.4 Keisei moji (形声文字)
6.5 Tenchū moji (転注文字)
6.6 Kasha moji (仮借文字)
7 Related symbols
10 See also
13 External links
Nihon Shoki (720 AD), considered by historians and archaeologists as
the most complete extant historical record of ancient Japan, was
written entirely in kanji.
Chinese characters first came to
Japan on official seals, letters,
swords, coins, mirrors, and other decorative items imported from
China. The earliest known instance of such an import was the King of
Na gold seal given by
Emperor Guangwu of Han
Emperor Guangwu of Han to a Yamato emissary in
57 AD. Chinese coins from the first century AD have been found in
Yayoi-period archaeological sites. However, the Japanese of that
era probably had no comprehension of the script, and would remain
illiterate until the fifth century AD. According to the Nihon Shoki
and Kojiki, a semi-legendary scholar called Wani (王仁) was
Japan by the Kingdom of
Baekje during the reign of
Emperor Ōjin in the early fifth century, bringing with him knowledge
Confucianism and Chinese characters.
The earliest Japanese documents were probably written by bilingual
Chinese or Korean officials employed at the Yamato court. For
example, the diplomatic correspondence from King Bu of Wa to Emperor
Shun of Liu Song in 478 has been praised for its skillful use of
allusion. Later, groups of people called fuhito were organized under
the monarch to read and write Classical Chinese. During the reign of
Empress Suiko (593–628), the Yamato court began sending full-scale
diplomatic missions to China, which resulted in a large increase in
Chinese literacy at the Japanese court.
In ancient times paper was so rare that people stenciled kanji onto
thin, rectangular strips of wood. These wooden boards were used for
communication between government offices, tags for goods transported
between various countries, and the practice of writing. The oldest
written kanji in
Japan discovered so far was written in ink on wood as
a wooden strip dated to the 7th century. It is a record of trading for
cloth and salt.
Japanese language had no written form at the time Chinese
characters were introduced, and texts were written and read only in
Chinese. Later, during the
Heian period (794–1185), however, a
system known as kanbun emerged, which involved using Chinese text with
diacritical marks to allow Japanese speakers to restructure and read
Chinese sentences, by changing word order and adding particles and
verb endings, in accordance with the rules of Japanese grammar.
Chinese characters also came to be used to write Japanese words,
resulting in the modern kana syllabaries. Around 650 CE, a writing
system called man'yōgana (used in the ancient poetry anthology
Man'yōshū) evolved that used a number of
Chinese characters for
their sound, rather than for their meaning.
Man'yōgana written in
cursive style evolved into hiragana, or onna-de, that is, "ladies'
hand," a writing system that was accessible to women (who were
denied higher education). Major works of
Heian-era literature by women
were written in hiragana.
Katakana emerged via a parallel path:
monastery students simplified man'yōgana to a single constituent
element. Thus the two other writing systems, hiragana and katakana,
referred to collectively as kana, are descended from kanji.
In modern Japanese, kanji are used to write parts of the language
(usually content words) such as nouns, adjective stems, and verb
stems, while hiragana are used to write inflected verb and adjective
endings and as phonetic complements to disambiguate readings
(okurigana), particles, and miscellaneous words which have no kanji or
whose kanji is considered obscure or too difficult to read or
Katakana are mostly used for representing onomatopoeia,
non-Japanese loanwords (except those borrowed from ancient Chinese),
the names of plants and animals (with exceptions), and for emphasis on
Orthographic reform and lists of kanji
Main article: Japanese script reform
A young woman practicing kanji.
Ukiyo-e woodblock print by Yōshū
In 1946, following
World War II
World War II and under the Allied Occupation of
Japan, the Japanese government, guided by the Supreme Commander of the
Allied Powers instituted a series of orthographic reforms. This was
done with the goal of facilitating learning for children and
simplifying kanji use in literature and periodicals. The number of
characters in circulation was reduced, and formal lists of characters
to be learned during each grade of school were established. Some
characters were given simplified glyphs, called shinjitai (新字体).
Many variant forms of characters and obscure alternatives for common
characters were officially discouraged.
These are simply guidelines, so many characters outside these
standards are still widely known and commonly used; these are known as
Main article: Kyōiku kanji
The kyōiku kanji (教育漢字, lit. "education kanji") are 1,006
characters that Japanese children learn in elementary school.
Originally the list only contained 881 characters. This was expanded
to 996 characters in 1977. It was not until 1982 the list was expanded
to its current size. The grade-level breakdown of these kanji is known
as the gakunen-betsu kanji haitōhyō (学年別漢字配当表), or
the gakushū kanji. (ja:学年別漢字配当表)
Main article: Jōyō kanji
The jōyō kanji (常用漢字, regular-use kanji) are 2,136
characters consisting of all the Kyōiku kanji, plus 1,130 additional
kanji taught in junior high and high school. In publishing,
characters outside this category are often given furigana. The jōyō
kanji were introduced in 1981, replacing an older list of 1,850
characters known as the tōyō kanji (当用漢字, general-use
kanji), introduced in 1946. Originally numbering 1,945 characters, the
jōyō kanji list was extended to 2,136 in 2010. Some of the new
characters were previously Jinmeiyō kanji; some are used to write
prefecture names: 阪, 熊, 奈, 岡, 鹿, 梨, 阜, 埼, 茨, 栃 and
Main article: Jinmeiyō kanji
Since September 27, 2004, the jinmeiyō kanji (人名用漢字, kanji
for use in personal names) consist of 3,119 characters, containing the
jōyō kanji plus an additional 983 kanji found in people's names.
There were only 92 kanji in the original list published in 1952, but
new additions have been made frequently. Sometimes the term jinmeiyō
kanji refers to all 3,119, and sometimes it only refers to the 983
that are only used for names.
Main article: Hyōgai kanji
Hyōgai kanji (表外漢字, "unlisted characters") are any kanji not
contained in the jōyō kanji and jinmeiyō kanji lists. These are
generally written using traditional characters, but extended shinjitai
Japanese Industrial Standards
Japanese Industrial Standards for kanji
Japanese Industrial Standards
Japanese Industrial Standards for kanji and kana define character
code-points for each kanji and kana, as well as other forms of writing
such as the Latin alphabet, Cyrillic script, Greek alphabet,
Hindu-Arabic numerals, etc. for use in information processing. They
have had numerous revisions. The current standards are:
JIS X 0208, the most recent version of the main standard. It has
JIS X 0212, a supplementary standard containing a further 5,801
kanji. This standard is rarely used, mainly because the common Shift
JIS encoding system could not use it. This standard is effectively
JIS X 0213, a further revision which extended the
JIS X 0208 set
with 3,695 additional kanji, of which 2,743 (all but 952) were in JIS
X 0212. The standard is in part designed to be compatible with Shift
JIS X 0221:1995, the Japanese version of the ISO 10646/Unicode
Gaiji (外字, literally "external characters") are kanji that are not
represented in existing Japanese encoding systems. These include
variant forms of common kanji that need to be represented alongside
the more conventional glyph in reference works, and can include
non-kanji symbols as well.
Gaiji can be either user-defined characters or system-specific
characters. Both are a problem for information interchange, as the
codepoint used to represent an external character will not be
consistent from one computer or operating system to another.
Gaiji were nominally prohibited in JIS X 0208-1997, and JIS X
0213-2000 used the range of code-points previously allocated to gaiji,
making them completely unusable. Nevertheless, they persist today with
NTT DoCoMo's "i-mode" service, where they are used for emoji
Unicode allows for optional encoding of gaiji in private use areas,
while Adobe's SING (Smart INdependent Glyphlets) technology
allows the creation of customized gaiji.
Text Encoding Initiative
Text Encoding Initiative uses a <g> element to encode any
non-standard character or glyph, including gaiji. (The g stands
Total number of kanji
There is no definitive count of kanji characters, just as there is
Chinese characters generally. The Dai Kan-Wa Jiten, which is
considered to be comprehensive in Japan, contains about 50,000
characters. The Zhonghua Zihai, published in 1994 in
about 85,000 characters; however, the majority of these
are not in common use in any country, and many are obscure variants or
Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 characters are commonly used in Japan, a
few thousand more find occasional use, and a total of 13,108
characters can be encoded in various
Japanese Industrial Standards
Japanese Industrial Standards for
Borrowing typology of Han characters
a) semantic on
b) semantic kun
c) phonetic on
d) phonetic kun
*With L1 representing the language borrowed from (Chinese) and L2
representing the borrowing language (Japanese).
Because of the way they have been adopted into Japanese, a single
kanji may be used to write one or more different words – or, in some
cases, morphemes – and thus the same character may be pronounced in
different ways. From the point of view of the reader, kanji are said
to have one or more different "readings". Although more than one
reading may become activated in the brain, deciding which reading
is appropriate depends on recognizing which word it represents, which
can usually be determined from context, intended meaning, whether the
character occurs as part of a compound word or an independent word,
and sometimes location within the sentence. For example, 今日 is
usually read kyō, meaning "today", but in formal writing is instead
read konnichi, meaning "nowadays"; this is understood from context.
Nevertheless, some cases are ambiguous and require a furigana gloss,
which are also used simply for difficult readings or to specify a
Kanji readings are categorized as either on'yomi (literally "sound
reading", from Chinese) or kun'yomi (literally "meaning reading",
native Japanese), and most characters have at least two readings, at
least one of each. However, some characters have only a single
reading, such as kiku (菊, "chrysanthemum", an on-reading) or iwashi
(鰯, "sardine", a kun-reading); kun-only are common for
Japanese-coined kanji (kokuji). Some common kanji have ten or more
possible readings; the most complex common example is 生, which is
read as sei, shō, nama, ki, o-u, i-kiru, i-kasu, i-keru, u-mu,
u-mareru, ha-eru, and ha-yasu, totaling 8 basic readings (first 2 are
on, rest are kun), or 12 if related verbs are counted as distinct; see
okurigana: 生 for details.
Most often, a character will be used for both sound and meaning, and
it is simply a matter of choosing the correct reading based on which
word it represents. In other cases, a character is used only for sound
(ateji). In this case, pronunciation is still based on a standard
reading, or used only for meaning (broadly a form of ateji, narrowly
jukujikun). Therefore, only the full compound—not the individual
character—has a reading. There are also special cases where the
reading is completely different, often based on an historical or
The analogous phenomenon occurs to a much lesser degree in Chinese
varieties, where there are literary and colloquial readings of Chinese
characters – borrowed readings and native readings. In Chinese these
borrowed readings and native readings are etymologically related,
since they are between Chinese varieties (which are related), not from
Chinese to Japanese (which are not related). They thus form doublets
and are generally similar, analogous to different on'yomi, reflecting
different stages of Chinese borrowings into Japanese.
On'yomi (Sino-Japanese reading) 
The on'yomi (音読み, literally "sound(-based) reading"), the
Sino-Japanese reading, is the modern descendant of the Japanese
approximation of the base Chinese pronunciation of the character at
the time it was introduced. It was often previously referred to as
translation reading, as it was recreated readings of the Chinese
pronunciation but was not the Chinese pronunciation or reading itself,
similar to the English pronunciation of Latin loanwords. Old Japanese
scripts often stated that on'yomi readings were also created by the
Japanese during their arrival and re-borrowed by the Chinese as their
own. There also exist kanji created by the Japanese and given an
on'yomi reading despite not being a Chinese-derived or a
Chinese-originating character. Some kanji were introduced from
different parts of
China at different times, and so have multiple
on'yomi, and often multiple meanings.
Kanji invented in
not normally be expected to have on'yomi, but there are exceptions,
such as the character 働 "to work", which has the kun'yomi "hataraku"
and the on'yomi "dō", and 腺 "gland", which has only the on'yomi
"sen" – in both cases these come from the on'yomi of the phonetic
component, respectively 動 "dō" and 泉 "sen".
Generally, on'yomi are classified into four types according to their
region and time of origin:
Go-on (呉音, "Wu sound") readings are from the pronunciation during
Northern and Southern dynasties
Northern and Southern dynasties of
China during the 5th and 6th
centuries. Go refers to the Wu region (in the vicinity of modern
Shanghai), which still maintains linguistic similarities with modern
Kan-on (漢音, "Han sound") readings are from the pronunciation
Tang dynasty of
China in the 7th to 9th centuries,
primarily from the standard speech of the capital,
Xi'an). Here, Kan refers to
Han Chinese or
Tō-on (唐音, "Tang sound") readings are from the pronunciations of
later dynasties of China, such as the Song and Ming. They cover all
readings adopted from the
Heian era to the Edo period. This is also
known as Tōsō-on (唐宋音, Tang and Song sound).
Kan'yō-on' (慣用音, "customary sound") readings, which are
mistaken or changed readings of the kanji that have become accepted
into Japanese language. In some cases, they are the actual readings
that accompanied the character's introduction to Japan, but do not
match how the character "should" be read according to the rules of
character construction and pronunciation.
Examples (rare readings in parentheses)
The most common form of readings is the kan-on one, and use of a
non-kan-on reading in a word where the kan-on reading is well-known is
a common cause of reading mistakes or difficulty, such as in ge-doku
(解毒, detoxification, anti-poison) (go-on), where 解 is usually
instead read as kai. The go-on readings are especially common in
Buddhist terminology such as gokuraku (極楽, paradise), as well as
in some of the earliest loans, such as the Sino-Japanese numbers. The
tō-on readings occur in some later words, such as isu (椅子,
chair), futon (布団, mattress), and andon (行灯, a kind of paper
lantern). The go-on, kan-on, and tō-on readings are generally cognate
(with rare exceptions of homographs; see below), having a common
origin in Old Chinese, and hence form linguistic doublets or triplets,
but they can differ significantly from each other and from modern
In Chinese, most characters are associated with a single Chinese
sound, though there are distinct literary and colloquial readings.
However, some homographs (多音字 pinyin: duōyīnzì) such as 行
(háng or xíng) (Japanese: an, gō, gyō) have more than one reading
in Chinese representing different meanings, which is reflected in the
carryover to Japanese as well. Additionally, many Chinese syllables,
especially those with an entering tone, did not fit the largely
consonant-vowel (CV) phonotactics of classical Japanese. Thus most
on'yomi are composed of two morae (beats), the second of which is
either a lengthening of the vowel in the first mora (to ei, ō, or
ū), the vowel i, or one of the syllables ku, ki, tsu, chi, fu
(historically, later merged into ō), or moraic n, chosen for their
approximation to the final consonants of Middle Chinese. It may be
that palatalized consonants before vowels other than i developed in
Japanese as a result of Chinese borrowings, as they are virtually
unknown in words of native Japanese origin, but are common in Chinese.
On'yomi primarily occur in multi-kanji compound words (熟語, jukugo)
words, many of which are the result of the adoption, along with the
kanji themselves, of Chinese words for concepts that either did not
exist in Japanese or could not be articulated as elegantly using
native words. This borrowing process is often compared to the English
borrowings from Latin, Greek, and Norman French, since
Chinese-borrowed terms are often more specialized, or considered to
sound more erudite or formal, than their native counterparts
(occupying a higher linguistic register). The major exception to this
rule is family names, in which the native kun'yomi are usually used
(though on'yomi are found in many personal names, especially men's
Kun'yomi (native reading) 
The kun'yomi (訓読み, lit. "meaning reading"), the native reading,
is a reading based on the pronunciation of a native Japanese word, or
yamato kotoba, that closely approximated the meaning of the Chinese
character when it was introduced. As with on'yomi, there can be
multiple kun'yomi for the same kanji, and some kanji have no kun'yomi
For instance, the character for east, 東, has the on'yomi tō, from
Middle Chinese tung. However, Japanese already had two words for
"east": higashi and azuma. Thus the kanji 東 had the latter readings
added as kun'yomi. In contrast, the kanji 寸, denoting a Chinese unit
of measurement (about 30 mm or 1.2 inch), has no native
Japanese equivalent; it only has an on'yomi, sun, with no native
kun'yomi. Most kokuji, Japanese-created Chinese characters, only have
kun'yomi, although some have back-formed a pseudo-on'yomi by analogy
with similar characters, such as 働 dō, from 動 dō, and there are
even some, such as 腺 sen "gland", that have only an on'yomi.
Kun'yomi are characterized by the strict (C)V syllable structure of
yamato kotoba. Most noun or adjective kun'yomi are two to three
syllables long, while verb kun'yomi are usually between one and three
syllables in length, not counting trailing hiragana called okurigana.
Okurigana are not considered to be part of the internal reading of the
character, although they are part of the reading of the word. A
beginner in the language will rarely come across characters with long
readings, but readings of three or even four syllables are not
uncommon. This contrasts with on'yomi, which are monosyllabic, and is
unusual in the Chinese family of scripts, which generally use one
character per syllable – not only in Chinese, but also in Korean,
Vietnamese, and Zhuang; polysyllabic
Chinese characters are rare and
承る uketamawaru, 志 kokorozashi, and 詔 mikotonori have five
syllables represented by a single kanji, the longest readings in the
jōyō character set. These unusually long readings are due to a
single character representing a compound word:
承る is a single character for a compound verb, one component of
which has a long reading.
It has an alternative spelling as 受け賜る u(ke)-tamawa(ru), hence
Compare common 受け付ける u(ke)-tsu(keru).
志 is a nominalization of the verb 志す which has a long reading
This is due to its being derived from a noun-verb compound, 心指す
The nominalization removes the okurigana, hence increasing the reading
by one mora, yielding 4+1=5.
Compare common 話 hanashi 2+1=3, from 話す hana(su).
詔 is a triple compound.
It has an alternative spelling 御言宣 mi-koto-nori, hence 1+2+2=5.
Longer readings exist for non-Jōyō characters and non-kanji symbols,
where a long gairaigo word may be the reading (this is classed as
kun'yomi – see single character gairaigo, below) – the character
糎 has the seven kana reading センチメートル senchimētoru
"centimeter", though it is generally written as "cm" (with two
half-width characters, so occupying one space); another common example
is '%' (the percent sign), which has the five kana reading
パーセント pāsento. Further, some Jōyō characters have long
non-Jōyō readings (students learn the character, but not the
reading), such as omonpakaru for 慮る.
In a number of cases, multiple kanji were assigned to cover a single
Japanese word. Typically when this occurs, the different kanji refer
to specific shades of meaning. For instance, the word なおす,
naosu, when written 治す, means "to heal an illness or sickness".
When written 直す it means "to fix or correct something". Sometimes
the distinction is very clear, although not always. Differences of
opinion among reference works is not uncommon; one dictionary may say
the kanji are equivalent, while another dictionary may draw
distinctions of use. As a result, native speakers of the language may
have trouble knowing which kanji to use and resort to personal
preference or by writing the word in hiragana. This latter strategy is
frequently employed with more complex cases such as もと moto, which
has at least five different kanji: 元, 基, 本, 下, and 素, the
first three of which have only very subtle differences. Another
notable example is sakazuki "sake cup", which may be spelt as at least
five different kanji: 杯, 盃, 巵/卮, and 坏; of these, the first
two are common – formally 杯 is a small cup and 盃 a large cup.
Local dialectical readings of kanji are also classified under
kun'yomi, most notably readings for words in Ryukyuan languages.
Further, in rare cases gairaigo (borrowed words) have a single
character associated with them, in which case this reading is formally
classified as a kun'yomi, because the character is being used for
meaning, not sound. This is discussed under single character gairaigo,
Mixed readings 
A jūbako (重箱), which has a mixed on-kun reading
A yutō (湯桶), which has a mixed kun-on reading
There are many kanji compounds that use a mixture of on'yomi and
kun'yomi, known as jūbako yomi (重箱読み, multi-layered food box)
or yutō (湯桶, hot liquid pail) words (depending on the order),
which are themselves examples of this kind of compound (they are
autological words): the first character of jūbako is read using
on'yomi, the second kun'yomi (on-kun). It is the other way around with
Formally, these are referred to as jūbako-yomi (重箱読み, jūbako
reading) and yutō-yomi (湯桶読み, yutō reading). Note that in
both these words, the on'yomi has a long vowel; long vowels in
Japanese generally come from Chinese, hence distinctive of on'yomi.
These are the Japanese form of hybrid words. Other examples include
basho (場所, "place", kun-on), kin'iro (金色, "golden", on-kun)
and aikidō (合気道, the martial art Aikido", kun-on-on).
Ateji often use mixed readings. For instance the city of Sapporo,
whose name derives from the
Ainu language and has no meaning in
Japanese, is written with the on-kun compound 札幌 (which includes
sokuon as if it were a purely on compound).
Gikun (義訓) and jukujikun (熟字訓) are readings of kanji
combinations that have no direct correspondence to the characters'
individual on'yomi or kun'yomi,. From the point of view of the
character, rather than the word, this is known as a nankun (難訓,
difficult reading), and these are listed in kanji dictionaries under
the entry for the character.
Gikun are when non-standard kanji are used, generally for effect, such
as using 寒 with reading fuyu ("winter"), rather than the standard
Jukujikun are when the standard kanji for a word are related to the
meaning, but not the sound. The word is pronounced as a whole, not
corresponding to sounds of individual kanji. For example, 今朝
("this morning") is jukujikun, and read neither as *ima'asa, the
kun'yomi of the characters, nor konchō, the on'yomi of the
characters, nor any combination thereof. Instead it is read as kesa, a
native bisyllabic Japanese word that may be seen as a single morpheme,
or as a fusion of kyō (previously kefu), "today", and asa, "morning".
Likewise, 明日 ("tomorrow") is jukujikun, and read neither as
akari(no)hi, the kun'yomi of the characters, nor meinichi, the on'yomi
of the characters, nor any combination thereof. Instead it is read as
ashita, a native multisyllabic Japanese word that may be seen as a
Jukujikun are primarily used for some native Japanese words, such as
Yamato (大和 or 倭, the name of a Japanese province as well as
ancient name for Japan), and for some old borrowings, such as shishamo
(柳葉魚, willow leaf fish) from Ainu, tabako (煙草, smoke grass)
from Portuguese, or bīru (麦酒, wheat alcohol) from Dutch,
especially if the word was borrowed before the Meiji Period. Words
whose kanji are jukujikun are often usually written as hiragana (if
native), or katakana (if borrowed); some old borrowed words are also
written as hiragana, especially Portuguese loanwords such as karuta
(かるた) from Portuguese "carta" (Eng: card), tempura
(てんぷら) from Portuguese "tempora" (Eng: time), and pan (ぱん)
from Spanish "pan" (Eng: bread), as well as tabako (たばこ).
Sometimes, jukujikun can even have more kanji than there are
syllables, examples being kera (啄木鳥, woodpecker), gumi
(胡頽子, silver berry/oleaster), and Hozumi (八月朔日, a
Jukujikun are quite varied. Often the kanji compound for jukujikun is
idiosyncratic and created for the word, with the corresponding Chinese
word not existing; in other cases a kanji compound for an existing
Chinese word is reused, where the Chinese word and on'yomi may or may
not be used in Japanese; for example, (馴鹿, reindeer) is jukujikun
for tonakai, from Ainu, but the on'yomi reading of junroku is also
used. In some cases Japanese coinages have subsequently been borrowed
back into Chinese, such as ankō (鮟鱇, monkfish).
The underlying word for jukujikun is a native Japanese word or foreign
borrowing, which either does not have an existing kanji spelling
(either kun'yomi or ateji) or for which a new kanji spelling is
produced. Most often the word is a noun, which may be a simple noun
(not a compound or derived from a verb), or may be a verb form or a
fusional pronunciation; for example sumō (相撲, sumo) is originally
from the verb suma-u (争う, to vie), while kyō (今日, today) is
fusional. In rare cases jukujikun is also applied to inflectional
words (verbs and adjectives), in which case there is frequently a
corresponding Chinese word.
Examples of jukujikun for inflectional words follow. The most common
example of a jukujikun adjective is kawai-i (可愛い, cute),
originally kawayu-i; the word (可愛) is used in Chinese, but the
corresponding on'yomi is not used in Japanese. By contrast,
"appropriate" can be either fusawa-shii (相応しい, in jukujikun)
or sōō (相応, in on'yomi) are both used; the -shii ending is
because these were formerly a different class of adjectives. A common
example of a verb with jukujikun is haya-ru (流行る, to spread, to
be in vogue), corresponding to on'yomi ryūkō (流行). A sample
jukujikun deverbal (noun derived from a verb form) is yusuri (強請,
extortion), from yusu-ru (強請る, to extort), spelling from kyōsei
(強請, extortion). See 義訓 and 熟字訓 for many more examples.
Note that there are also compound verbs and, less commonly, compound
adjectives, and while these may have multiple kanji without
intervening characters, they are read using usual kun'yomi; examples
include omo-shiro-i (面白い, interesting) face-whitening and
zuru-gashiko-i (狡賢い, sly).
Typographically, the furigana for jukujikun are often written so they
are centered across the entire word, or for inflectional words over
the entire root – corresponding to the reading being related to the
entire word – rather than each part of the word being centered over
its corresponding character, as is often done for the usual
Broadly speaking, jukujikun can be considered a form of ateji, though
in narrow usage "ateji" refers specifically to using characters for
sound and not meaning (sound-spelling), rather than meaning and not
sound (meaning-spelling), as in jukujikun.
Many jukujikun (established meaning-spellings) began life as gikun
(improvised meaning-spellings). Occasionally a single word will have
many such kanji spellings; an extreme example is hototogisu (lesser
cuckoo), which may be spelt in a great many ways, including 杜鵑,
時鳥, 子規, 不如帰, 霍公鳥, 蜀魂, 沓手鳥,
杜宇,田鵑, 沓直鳥, and 郭公 – many of these variant
spellings are particular to haiku poems.
Single character gairaigo
In some rare cases, an individual kanji has a reading that is borrowed
from a modern foreign language (gairaigo), though most often these
words are written in katakana. Notable examples include pēji
(頁、ページ, page), botan (釦／鈕、ボタン, button), zero
(零、ゼロ, zero), and mētoru (米、メートル, meter). See
list of single character gairaigo for more. These are classed as
kun'yomi of a single character, because the character is being used
for meaning only (without the Chinese pronunciation), rather than as
ateji, which is the classification used when a gairaigo term is
written as a compound (2 or more characters). However, unlike the vast
majority of other kun'yomi, these readings are not native Japanese,
but rather borrowed, so the "kun'yomi" label can be misleading. The
readings are also written in katakana, unlike the usual hiragana for
native kun'yomi. Note that most of these characters are for units,
particularly SI units, in many cases using new characters (kokuji)
coined during the Meiji period, such as kiromētoru
(粁、キロメートル, kilometer, 米 "meter" + 千 "thousand").
Some kanji also have lesser-known readings called nanori (名乗り),
which are mostly used for names (often given names) and in general,
are closely related to the kun'yomi. Place names sometimes also use
nanori or, occasionally, unique readings not found elsewhere.
For example, there is the surname 小鳥遊 (literally, "little birds
at play") that implies there are no predators, such as hawks, present.
Pronounced, "kotori asobu". The name then can also mean
鷹がいない (taka ga inai, literally, "no hawks around") and it
can be shortened to be pronounced as Takanashi.
When to use which reading
Although there are general rules for when to use on'yomi and when to
use kun'yomi, the language is littered with exceptions, and it is not
always possible for even a native speaker to know how to read a
character without prior knowledge (this is especially true for names,
both of people and places); further, a given character may have
multiple kun'yomi or on'yomi. When reading Japanese, one primarily
recognizes words (multiple characters and okurigana) and their
readings, rather than individual characters, and only guess readings
of characters when trying to "sound out" an unrecognized word.
Homographs exist, however, which can sometimes be deduced from
context, and sometimes cannot, requiring a glossary. For example,
今日 may be read either as kyō "today (informal)" (special fused
reading for native word) or as konnichi "these days (formal)"
(on'yomi); in formal writing this will generally be read as konnichi.
In some cases multiple readings are common, as in 豚汁 "pork soup",
which is commonly pronounced both as ton-jiru (mixed on-kun) and
buta-jiru (kun-kun), with ton somewhat more common nationally.
Inconsistencies abound – for example 牛肉 gyū-niku "beef" and
羊肉 yō-niku "mutton" have on-on readings, but 豚肉 buta-niku
"pork" and 鶏肉 tori-niku "poultry" have kun-on readings.
The main guideline is that a single kanji followed by okurigana
(hiragana characters that are part of the word) – as used in native
verbs and adjectives – always indicates kun'yomi, while kanji
compounds (kango) usually use on'yomi, which is usually kan-on;
however, other on'yomi are also common, and kun'yomi are also commonly
used in kango. For a kanji in isolation without okurigana, it is
typically read using their kun'yomi, though there are numerous
exceptions. For example, 鉄 "iron" is usually read with the on'yomi
tetsu rather than the kun'yomi kurogane. Chinese on'yomi which are not
the common kan-on reading are a frequent cause of difficulty or
mistakes when encountering unfamiliar words or for inexperienced
readers, though skilled natives will recognize the word; a good
example is ge-doku (解毒, detoxification, anti-poison) (go-on),
where (解) is usually instead read as kai.
Okurigana are used with kun'yomi to mark the inflected ending of a
native verb or adjective, or by convention. Note that Japanese verbs
and adjectives are closed class, and do not generally admit new words
(borrowed Chinese vocabulary, which are nouns, can form verbs by
adding -suru (〜する, to do) at the end, and adjectives via 〜の
-no or 〜な -na, but cannot become native Japanese vocabulary, which
inflect). For example: 赤い aka-i "red", 新しい atara-shii "new",
見る mi-ru "(to) see".
Okurigana can be used to indicate which
kun'yomi to use, as in 食べる ta-beru versus 食う ku-u (casual),
both meaning "(to) eat", but this is not always sufficient, as in
開く, which may be read as a-ku or hira-ku, both meaning "(to)
open". 生 is a particularly complicated example, with multiple kun
and on'yomi – see okurigana: 生 for details.
Okurigana is also used
for some nouns and adverbs, as in 情け nasake "sympathy", 必ず
kanarazu "invariably", but not for 金 kane "money", for instance.
Okurigana is an important aspect of kanji usage in Japanese; see that
article for more information on kun'yomi orthography
Kanji occurring in compounds (multi-kanji words) (熟語, jukugo) are
generally read using on'yomi, especially for four-character compounds
(yojijukugo). Though again, exceptions abound, for example, 情報
jōhō "information", 学校 gakkō "school", and 新幹線 shinkansen
"bullet train" all follow this pattern. This isolated kanji versus
compound distinction gives words for similar concepts completely
different pronunciations. 北 "north" and 東 "east" use the kun'yomi
kita and higashi, being stand-alone characters, but 北東
"northeast", as a compound, uses the on'yomi hokutō. This is further
complicated by the fact that many kanji have more than one on'yomi:
生 is read as sei in 先生 sensei "teacher" but as shō in 一生
isshō "one's whole life". Meaning can also be an important indicator
of reading; 易 is read i when it means "simple", but as eki when it
means "divination", both being on'yomi for this character.
These rules of thumb have many exceptions. Kun'yomi compound words are
not as numerous as those with on'yomi, but neither are they rare.
Examples include 手紙 tegami "letter", 日傘 higasa "parasol", and
the famous 神風 kamikaze "divine wind". Such compounds may also have
okurigana, such as 空揚げ (also written 唐揚げ) karaage
"Chinese-style fried chicken" and 折り紙 origami, although many of
these can also be written with the okurigana omitted (for example,
空揚 or 折紙).
Similarly, some on'yomi characters can also be used as words in
isolation: 愛 ai "love", 禅 Zen, 点 ten "mark, dot". Most of these
cases involve kanji that have no kun'yomi, so there can be no
confusion, although exceptions do occur. Alone 金 may be read as kin
"gold" or as kane "money, metal"; only context can determine the
writer's intended reading and meaning.
Multiple readings have given rise to a number of homographs, in some
cases having different meanings depending on how they are read. One
example is 上手, which can be read in three different ways: jōzu
(skilled), uwate (upper part), or kamite (stage left/house right). In
addition, 上手い has the reading umai (skilled). More subtly,
明日 has three different readings, all meaning "tomorrow": ashita
(casual), asu (polite), and myōnichi (formal).
glosses) is often used to clarify any potential ambiguities.
Conversely, in some cases homophonous terms may be distinguished in
writing by different characters, but not so distinguished in speech,
and hence potentially confusing. In some cases when it is important to
distinguish these in speech, the reading of a relevant character may
be changed. For example, 私立 (privately established, esp. school)
and 市立 (city established) are both normally pronounced shi-ritsu;
in speech these may be distinguished by the alternative pronunciations
watakushi-ritsu and ichi-ritsu. More informally, in legal jargon
前文 "preamble" and 全文 "full text" are both pronounced zen-bun,
so 前文 may be pronounced mae-bun for clarity, as in "Have you
memorized the preamble [not 'whole text'] of the constitution?". As in
these examples, this is primarily using a kun'yomi for one character
in a normally on'yomi term.
As stated above, jūbako and yutō readings are also not uncommon.
Indeed, all four combinations of reading are possible: on-on, kun-kun,
kun-on and on-kun.
Several famous place names, including those of
Japan itself (日本
Nihon or sometimes Nippon), those of some cities such as
Kyoto (京都 Kyōto), and those of the main islands
Honshu (本州 Honshū),
Kyushu (九州 Kyūshū),
Hokkaido (北海道 Hokkaidō) are read with on'yomi;
however, the majority of Japanese place names are read with kun'yomi:
大阪 Ōsaka, 青森 Aomori, 箱根 Hakone. Names often use
characters and readings that are not in common use outside of names.
When characters are used as abbreviations of place names, their
reading may not match that in the original. The
Osaka (大阪) and
Kobe (神戸) baseball team, the Hanshin (阪神) Tigers, take their
name from the on'yomi of the second kanji of Ōsaka and the first of
Kōbe. The name of the Keisei (京成) railway line – linking Tokyo
(東京) and Narita (成田) – is formed similarly, although the
reading of 京 from 東京 is kei, despite kyō already being an
on'yomi in the word Tōkyō.
Japanese family names are also usually read with kun'yomi: 山田
Yamada, 田中 Tanaka, 鈴木 Suzuki. Japanese given names often have
very irregular readings. Although they are not typically considered
jūbako or yutō, they often contain mixtures of kun'yomi, on'yomi and
nanori, such as 大助 Daisuke [on-kun], 夏美 Natsumi [kun-on].
Being chosen at the discretion of the parents, the readings of given
names do not follow any set rules, and it is impossible to know with
certainty how to read a person's name without independent
verification. Parents can be quite creative, and rumours abound of
children called 地球 Āsu ("Earth") and 天使 Enjeru ("Angel");
neither are common names, and have normal readings chikyū and tenshi
respectively. Some common Japanese names can be written in multiple
ways, e.g. Akira can be written as 亮, 彰, 明, 顕, 章, 聴, 光,
晶, 晄, 彬, 昶, 了, 秋良, 明楽, 日日日, 亜紀良,
安喜良 and many other characters and kanji combinations not
listed, Satoshi can be written as 聡, 哲, 哲史, 悟,
佐登史, 暁, 訓, 哲士, 哲司, 敏, 諭, 智, 佐登司, 總,
里史, 三十四, 了, 智詞, etc., and Haruka can be written as
遥, 春香, 晴香, 遥香, 春果, 晴夏, 春賀, 春佳, and
several other possibilities. Common patterns do exist, however,
allowing experienced readers to make a good guess for most names. To
alleviate any confusion on how to pronounce the names of other
Japanese people, most official Japanese documents require Japanese to
write their names in both kana and kanji.
Chinese place names and Chinese personal names appearing in Japanese
texts, if spelled in kanji, are almost invariably read with on'yomi.
Especially for older and well-known names, the resulting Japanese
pronunciation may differ widely from that used by modern Chinese
speakers. For example, Mao Zedong's name is pronounced as Mō Takutō
(毛沢東) in Japanese, and the name of the legendary Monkey King,
Sun Wukong, is pronounced Son Gokū (孫悟空) in Japanese.
Today, Chinese names that are not well known in
Japan are often
spelled in katakana instead, in a form much more closely approximating
the native Chinese pronunciation. Alternatively, they may be written
in kanji with katakana furigana. Many such cities have names that come
Chinese languages like Mongolian or Manchu. Examples of such
not-well-known Chinese names include:
Internationally renowned Chinese-named cities tend to imitate the
older English pronunciations of their names, regardless of the kanji's
on'yomi or the Mandarin or Cantonese pronunciation, and can be written
in either katakana or kanji. Examples include:
Mandarin name (Pinyin)
Cantonese name (Yale)
Beijing (formerly Peking)
Nanjing (formerly Nanking)
Gaoxiong / Dagou
高雄 / 打狗
カオシュン / タカオ
Kaoshun / Takao
Guangzhou, the city, is pronounced Kōshū, while Guangdong, its
province, is pronounced Kanton, not Kōtō (in this case, opting for a
Tō-on reading rather than the usual
Kaohsiung was originally pronounced Takao (or similar) in Hokkien and
Japanese. It received this written name (kanji/Chinese) from Japanese,
and later its spoken Mandarin name from the corresponding characters.
The English name "Kaohsiung" derived from its Mandarin pronunciation.
Today it is pronounced either カオシュン or タカオ in
In some cases the same kanji can appear in a given word with different
readings. Normally this occurs when a character is duplicated and the
reading of the second character has voicing (rendaku), as in 人人
hito-bito "people" (more often written with the iteration mark as
人々), but in rare cases the readings can be unrelated, as in
tobi-haneru (跳び跳ねる, "hop around", more often written
Because of the ambiguities involved, kanji sometimes have their
pronunciation for the given context spelled out in ruby characters
known as furigana, (small kana written above or to the right of the
character) or kumimoji (small kana written in-line after the
character). This is especially true in texts for children or foreign
learners. It is also used in newspapers and manga (comics) for rare or
unusual readings and for characters not included in the officially
recognized set of essential kanji. Works of fiction sometimes use
furigana to create new "words" by giving normal kanji non-standard
readings, or to attach a foreign word rendered in katakana as the
reading for a kanji or kanji compound of the same or similar meaning.
Conversely, specifying a given kanji, or spelling out a kanji
word—whether the pronunciation is known or not—can be complicated,
due to the fact that there is not a commonly used standard way to
refer to individual kanji (one does not refer to "kanji #237"), and
that a given reading does not map to a single kanji—indeed there are
many homophonous words, not simply individual characters, particularly
for kango (with on'yomi). Easiest is to write the word out—either on
paper or tracing it in the air—or look it up (given the
pronunciation) in a dictionary, particularly an electronic dictionary;
when this is not possible, such as when speaking over the phone or
writing implements are not available (and tracing in air is too
complicated), various techniques can be used. These include giving
kun'yomi for characters—these are often unique—using a well-known
word with the same character (and preferably the same pronunciation
and meaning), and describing the character via its components. For
example, one may explain how to spell the word kōshinryō (香辛料,
spice) via the words kao-ri (香り, fragrance), kara-i (辛い,
spicy), and in-ryō (飲料, beverage)—the first two use the
kun'yomi, the third is a well-known compound—saying "kaori, karai,
ryō as in inryō."
In dictionaries, both words and individual characters have readings
glossed, via various conventions. Native words and Sino-Japanese
vocabulary are glossed in hiragana (for both kun and on readings),
while borrowings (gairaigo) – including modern borrowings from
Chinese – are glossed in katakana; this is the standard writing
convention also used in furigana. By contrast, readings for individual
characters are conventionally written in katakana for on readings, and
hiragana for kun readings. Kun readings may further have a separator
to indicate which characters are okurigana, and which are considered
readings of the character itself. For example, in the entry for 食,
the reading corresponding to the basic verb eat (食べる, taberu)
may be written as た.べる (ta.beru), to indicate that ta is the
reading of the character itself. Further, kanji dictionaries often
list compounds including irregular readings of a kanji.
Local developments and divergences from Chinese
Since kanji are essentially Chinese hanzi used to write Japanese, the
majority of characters used in modern Japanese still retain their
Chinese meaning, physical resemblance with some of their modern
Chinese characters counterparts, and a degree of
Classical Chinese pronunciation imported to
5th to 9th century. Nevertheless, after centuries of development,
there is a notable number of kanji used in modern Japanese which have
different meaning from hanzi used in modern Chinese. Such differences
are the result of:
the use of characters created in Japan,
characters that have been given different meanings in Japanese, and
World War II
World War II simplifications (shinjitai) of the character.
Likewise, the process of character simplification in mainland China
since the 1950s has resulted in the fact that Japanese speakers who
have not studied Chinese may not recognize some simplified characters.
See also: Gukja, Chữ Nôm, and Chinese family of scripts
§ Adaptations for other languages
Kokuji (国字, "national characters") refers to Chinese
characters made outside of China. Specifically, kanji made in Japan
are referred to as Wasei kanji (和製漢字). They are primarily
formed in the usual way of Chinese characters, namely by combining
existing components, though using a combination that is not used in
China. The corresponding phenomenon in Korea is called gukja (國字),
a cognate name; there are however far fewer Korean-coined characters
than Japanese-coined ones. Other languages using the Chinese family of
scripts sometimes have far more extensive systems of native
characters, most significantly Vietnamese chữ Nôm, which comprises
over 20,000 characters used throughout traditional Vietnamese writing,
and Zhuang sawndip, which comprises over 10,000 characters, which are
still in use.
Since kokuji are generally devised for existing native words, these
usually only have native kun readings. However, they occasionally have
a Chinese on reading, derived from a phonetic, as in 働, dō, and in
rare cases only have an on reading, as in 腺, sen, from 泉, which
was derived for use in technical compounds (腺 means "gland", hence
used in medical terminology).
The majority of kokuji are ideogrammatic compounds (会意字),
meaning that they are composed of two (or more) characters, with the
meaning associated with the combination. For example, 働 is composed
of 亻 (person radical) plus 動 (action), hence "action of a person,
work". This is in contrast to kanji generally, which are
overwhelmingly phono-semantic compounds. This difference is because
kokuji were coined to express Japanese words, so borrowing existing
(Chinese) readings could not express these – combining existing
characters to logically express the meaning was the simplest way to
achieve this. Other illustrative examples (below) include 榊 sakaki
tree, formed as 木 "tree" and 神 "god", literally "divine tree", and
辻 tsuji "crossroads, street" formed as 辶 (⻌) "road" and 十
"cross", hence "cross-road".
In terms of meanings, these are especially for natural phenomena (esp.
flora and fauna species) that were not present in ancient China,
including a very large number of fish, such as 鰯 (sardine), 鱈
(codfish), 鮴 (seaperch), and 鱚 (sillago), and trees, such as 樫
(evergreen oak), 椙 (Japanese cedar), 椛 (birch, maple) and 柾
(spindle tree). In other cases they refer to specifically Japanese
abstract concepts, everyday words (like 辻), or later technical
coinages (such as 腺).
There are hundreds of kokuji in existence. Many are rarely used,
but a number have become commonly used components of the written
Japanese language. These include the following:
Jōyō kanji has about 9 kokuji; there is some dispute over
classification, but generally includes these:
働 どう dō, はたら(く) hatara(ku) "work", the most commonly
used kokuji, used in the fundamental verb hatara(ku) (働く, "work"),
included in elementary texts and on the Proficiency Test N5.
込 こ(む) ko(mu), used in the fundamental verb komu (込む, "to be
匂 にお(う) nio(u), used in common verb niou (匂う, "to smell,
to be fragrant")
畑 はたけ hatake "field of crops"
腺 せん sen, "gland"
峠 とうげ tōge "mountain pass"
枠 わく waku, "frame"
塀 へい hei, "wall"
搾 しぼ(る) shibo(ru), "to squeeze" (disputed; see below); a
榊 さかき sakaki "tree, genus Cleyera"
辻 つじ tsuji "crossroads, street"
匁 もんめ monme (unit of weight)
躾 しつけ shitsuke "training, rearing (an animal, a child)"
Some of these characters (for example, 腺, "gland") have been
introduced to China. In some cases the Chinese reading is the inferred
Chinese reading, interpreting the character as a phono-semantic
compound (as in how on readings are sometimes assigned to these
characters in Chinese), while in other cases (such as 働), the
Japanese on reading is borrowed (in general this differs from the
modern Chinese pronunciation of this phonetic). Similar coinages
occurred to a more limited extent in Korea and Vietnam.
Historically, some kokuji date back to very early Japanese writing,
being found in the Man'yōshū, for example – 鰯 iwashi "sardine"
dates to the
Nara period (8th century) – while they have continued
to be created as late as the late 19th century, when a number of
characters were coined in the
Meiji era for new scientific concepts.
For example, some characters were produced as regular compounds for
some (but not all) SI units, such as 粁 (米 "meter" + 千 "thousand,
kilo-") for kilometer, 竏 (立 "liter" + 千 "thousand, kilo-") for
kiloliter, and 瓩 (瓦 "gram" + "thousand, kilo-") for kilogram –
Chinese characters for SI units for details. However, SI units in
Japanese today are almost exclusively written using rōmaji or
katakana such as キロメートル or ㌖ for km, キロリットル
for kl, and キログラム or ㌕ for kg.
Japan the kokuji category is strictly defined as characters whose
earliest appearance is in Japan. If a character appears earlier in the
Chinese literature, it is not considered a kokuji even if the
character was independently coined in
Japan and unrelated to the
Chinese character (meaning "not borrowed from Chinese"). In other
words, kokuji are not simply characters that were made in Japan, but
characters that were first made in Japan. An illustrative example is
ankō (鮟鱇, monkfish). This spelling was created in Edo period
Japan from the ateji (phonetic kanji spelling) 安康 for the existing
word ankō by adding the 魚 radical to each character – the
characters were "made in Japan". However, 鮟 is not considered
kokuji, as it is found in ancient Chinese texts as a corruption of 鰋
(魚匽). 鱇 is considered kokuji, as it has not been found in any
earlier Chinese text. Casual listings may be more inclusive, including
characters such as 鮟. Another example is 搾, which is sometimes
not considered kokuji due to its earlier presence as a corruption of
In addition to kokuji, there are kanji that have been given meanings
in Japanese different from their original Chinese meanings. These are
not considered kokuji but are instead called kokkun (国訓) and
include characters such as the following:
rattan, cane, vine
rinse, minor river (Cantonese)
catfish (rare, usually written 鯰)
Types of kanji by category
Chinese character classification
Xu Shen in his 2nd-century dictionary Shuowen
Chinese characters into six categories (Chinese:
六書 liùshū, Japanese: 六書 rikusho). The traditional
classification is still taught but is problematic and no longer the
focus of modern lexicographic practice, as some categories are not
clearly defined, nor are they mutually exclusive: the first four refer
to structural composition, while the last two refer to usage.
Shōkei moji (象形文字)
Shōkei (Mandarin: xiàngxíng) characters are pictographic sketches
of the object they represent. For example, 目 is an eye, while 木 is
a tree. The current forms of the characters are very different from
the originals, though their representations are more clear in oracle
bone script and seal script. These pictographic characters make up
only a small fraction of modern characters.
Shiji moji (指事文字)
Shiji (Mandarin: zhǐshì) characters are ideographs, often called
"simple ideographs" or "simple indicatives" to distinguish them and
tell the difference from compound ideographs (below). They are usually
simple graphically and represent an abstract concept such as 上 "up"
or "above" and 下 "down" or "below". These make up a tiny fraction of
Kaii moji (会意文字)
Kaii (Mandarin: huìyì) characters are compound ideographs, often
called "compound indicatives", "associative compounds", or just
"ideographs". These are usually a combination of pictographs that
combine semantically to present an overall meaning. An example of this
type is 休 (rest) from 亻 (person radical) and 木 (tree). Another
is the kokuji 峠 (mountain pass) made from 山 (mountain), 上 (up)
and 下 (down). These make up a tiny fraction of modern characters.
Keisei moji (形声文字)
Keisei (Mandarin: xíngshēng) characters are phono-semantic or
radical-phonetic compounds, sometimes called "semantic-phonetic",
"semasio-phonetic", or "phonetic-ideographic" characters, are by far
the largest category, making up about 90% of the characters in the
standard lists; however, some of the most frequently used kanji belong
to one of the three groups mentioned above, so keisei moji will
usually make up less than 90% of the characters in a text. Typically
they are made up of two components, one of which (most commonly, but
by no means always, the left or top element) suggests the general
category of the meaning or semantic context, and the other (most
commonly the right or bottom element) approximates the pronunciation.
The pronunciation relates to the original Chinese, and may now only be
distantly detectable in the modern Japanese on'yomi of the kanji; it
generally has no relation at all to kun'yomi. The same is true of the
semantic context, which may have changed over the centuries or in the
transition from Chinese to Japanese. As a result, it is a common error
in folk etymology to fail to recognize a phono-semantic compound,
typically instead inventing a compound-indicative explanation.
Tenchū moji (転注文字)
Tenchū (Mandarin: zhuǎnzhù) characters have variously been called
"derivative characters", "derivative cognates", or translated as
"mutually explanatory" or "mutually synonymous" characters; this is
the most problematic of the six categories, as it is vaguely defined.
It may refer to kanji where the meaning or application has become
extended. For example, 楽 is used for 'music' and 'comfort, ease',
with different pronunciations in Chinese reflected in the two
different on'yomi, gaku 'music' and raku 'pleasure'.
Kasha moji (仮借文字)
Kasha (Mandarin: jiǎjiè) are rebuses, sometimes called "phonetic
loans". The etymology of the characters follows one of the patterns
above, but the present-day meaning is completely unrelated to this. A
character was appropriated to represent a similar-sounding word. For
example, 来 in ancient Chinese was originally a pictograph for
"wheat". Its syllable was homophonous with the verb meaning "to come",
and the character is used for that verb as a result, without any
embellishing "meaning" element attached. The character for wheat 麦,
originally meant "to come", being a keisei moji having 'foot' at the
bottom for its meaning part and "wheat" at the top for sound. The two
characters swapped meaning, so today the more common word has the
simpler character. This borrowing of sounds has a very long history.
See also: Japanese typographic symbols
The iteration mark (々) is used to indicate that the preceding kanji
is to be repeated, functioning similarly to a ditto mark in English.
It is pronounced as though the kanji were written twice in a row, for
example iroiro (色々, "various") and tokidoki (時々, "sometimes").
This mark also appears in personal and place names, as in the surname
Sasaki (佐々木). This symbol is a simplified version of the kanji
仝, a variant of dō (同, "same").
Another abbreviated symbol is ヶ, in appearance a small katakana
"ke", but actually a simplified version of the kanji 箇, a general
counter. It is pronounced "ka" when used to indicate quantity (such as
六ヶ月, rokkagetsu "six months") or "ga" in place names like
The way how these symbols may be produced on a computer depends on the
operating system. In OS X, typing「じおくり」will reveal the
symbol 々 as well as ヽ, ゝ and ゞ. To produce 〻, type
「おどりじ」. Under Windows, typing「くりかえし」will
reveal some of these symbols, while in Google
IME,「おどりじ」may be used.
Kanji, whose thousands of symbols defy ordering by conventions such as
those used for the Latin script, are often collated using the
traditional Chinese radical-and-stroke sorting method. In this system,
common components of characters are identified; these are called
radicals. Characters are grouped by their primary radical, then
ordered by number of pen strokes within radicals. For example, the
kanji character 桜, meaning "cherry", is sorted as a ten-stroke
character under the four-stroke primary radical 木 meaning "tree".
When there is no obvious radical or more than one radical, convention
governs which is used for collation.
Other kanji sorting methods, such as the SKIP system, have been
devised by various authors.
Japanese dictionaries (as opposed to
specifically character dictionaries) generally collate all entries,
including words written using kanji, according to their kana
representations (reflecting the way they are pronounced). The gojūon
ordering of kana is normally used for this purpose.
An image that lists most joyo-kanji, according to Halpern's KKLD
indexing system, with kyo-iku kanji color-coded by grade level.
Japanese school children are expected to learn 1006 basic kanji
characters, the kyōiku kanji, before finishing the sixth grade. The
order in which these characters are learned is fixed. The kyōiku
kanji list is a subset of a larger list, originally of 1945 kanji
characters, in 2010 extended to 2136, known as the jōyō kanji –
characters required for the level of fluency necessary to read
newspapers and literature in Japanese. This larger list of characters
is to be mastered by the end of the ninth grade. Schoolchildren
learn the characters by repetition and radical.
Students studying Japanese as a foreign language are often required by
a curriculum to acquire kanji without having first learned the
vocabulary associated with them. Strategies for these learners vary
from copying-based methods to mnemonic-based methods such as those
used in James Heisig's series Remembering the Kanji. Other textbooks
use methods based on the etymology of the characters, such as Mathias
and Habein's The Complete Guide to Everyday
Kanji and Henshall's A
Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters. Pictorial mnemonics, as in
Kanji Pict-o-graphix, are also seen.
Japanese government provides the
(日本漢字能力検定試験 Nihon kanji nōryoku kentei shiken;
"Test of Japanese
Kanji Aptitude"), which tests the ability to read
and write kanji. The highest level of the
Kanji kentei tests about six
Japanese writing system
List of kanji by concept
List of kanji by stroke count
Han-Nom (Vietnamese equivalent)
Hanja (Korean equivalent)
Japanese script reform
Japanese typefaces (shotai)
Kanji of the year
POP (Point of Purchase typeface)
Radical (Chinese character)
Table of kanji radicals
^ Taylor, Insup; Taylor, Maurice Martin (1995). Writing and literacy
in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing
Company. p. 305. ISBN 90-272-1794-7.
^ Suski, P.M. (2011). The Phonetics of Japanese Language: With
Reference to Japanese Script. p. 1.
^ Malatesha Joshi, R.; Aaron, P.G. (2006). Handbook of orthography and
literacy. New Jersey: Routledge. pp. 481–2.
^ "Gold Seal (Kin-in)". Fukuoka City Museum. Retrieved September 1,
^ a b c Miyake (2003), 8.
^ a b Miyake (2003), 9.
Kanji History in Japan". Les Ateliers de Japon.
^ Hadamitzky, Wolfgang and Spahn, Mark (2012),
Kanji and Kana: A
Complete Guide to the Japanese Writing System, Third Edition, Rutland,
VT: Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 4805311169. p. 14.
^ Tamaoka, K., Makioka, S., Sanders, S. & Verdonschot, R.G.
(2017). www.kanjidatabase.com: a new interactive online database for
psychological and linguistic research on Japanese kanji and their
compound words. Psychological Research, 81, 696-708.
^ JIS X 0208:1997.
^ JIS X 0212:1990.
^ JIS X 0213:2000.
^ Introducing the SING Gaiji architecture, Adobe .
^ OpenType Technology Center, Adobe .
^ "Representation of Non-standard Characters and Glyphs", P5:
Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange, TEI-C .
^ "TEI element g (character or glyph)", P5: Guidelines for Electronic
Text Encoding and Interchange, TEI-C .
^ Kuang-Hui Chiu, Chi-Ching Hsu (2006). Chinese Dilemmas : How
Many Ideographs are Needed Archived July 17, 2011, at the Wayback
Machine., National Taipei University
^ Shouhui Zhao, Dongbo Zhang, The Totality of Chinese Characters – A
^ Daniel G. Peebles, SCML: A Structural Representation for Chinese
Characters, May 29, 2007
^ Rogers, Henry (2005). Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach.
Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0631234640
^ Verdonschot, R. G.; La Heij, W.; Tamaoka, K.; Kiyama, S.; You, W.
P.; Schiller, N. O. (2013). "The multiple pronunciations of Japanese
kanji: A masked priming investigation". The Quarterly Journal of
Experimental Psychology. 66 (10): 2023.
doi:10.1080/17470218.2013.773050. PMID 23510000.
^ "How many possible phonological forms could be represented by a
randomly chosen single character?". japanese.stackexchange.com.
^ "How do Japanese names work?". www.sljfaq.org. Retrieved
^ "ateji Archives - Tofugu". Tofugu. Retrieved 2016-02-18.
^ "Satoshi - Jisho.org". jisho.org. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
^ "Haruka - Jisho.org". jisho.org. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
^ "How do Japanese names work?". www.sljfaq.org. Retrieved
^ Koichi (2012-08-21). "Kokuji: "Made In Japan,"
Tofugu. Retrieved 2017-03-05.
Kokuji list", SLJ FAQ .
^ Buck, James H. (October 15, 1969) "Some Observations on kokuji" in
The Journal-Newsletter of the Association of Teachers of Japanese,
Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 45–9.
^ "A list of kokuji (国字)". www.sljfaq.org. Retrieved
^ 国字 at 漢字辞典ネット demonstrates this, listing both 鮟
and 鱇 as kokuji, but starring 鮟 and stating that dictionaries do
not consider it to be a kokuji.
^ the word for wisteria being "紫藤", with the addition of "紫",
^ Halpern, J. (2006) The Kodansha
Kanji Learner's Dictionary.
ISBN 1568364075. p. 38a.
DeFrancis, John (1990). The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy.
Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1068-6.
Hadamitzky, W., and Spahn, M., (1981)
Kanji and Kana, Boston: Tuttle.
Hannas, William. C. (1997). Asia's Orthographic Dilemma. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-1892-X (paperback);
ISBN 0-8248-1842-3 (hardcover).
Kaiser, Stephen (1991). Introduction to the Japanese Writing System.
In Kodansha's Compact
Kanji Guide. Tokyo: Kondansha International.
Miyake, Marc Hideo (2003). Old Japanese: A Phonetic Reconstruction.
New York, London: RoutledgeCurzon.
Morohashi, Tetsuji. 大漢和辞典
Dai Kan-Wa Jiten (Comprehensive
Chinese–Japanese Dictionary) 1984–1986. Tokyo: Taishukan
Mitamura, Joyce Yumi and Mitamura, Yasuko Kosaka (1997). Let's Learn
Kanji. Tokyo: Kondansha International. ISBN 4-7700-2068-6.
Unger, J. Marshall (1996). Literacy and Script Reform in Occupation
Japan: Reading Between the Lines. ISBN 0-19-510166-9
The Wikibook Japanese has a page on the topic of: Kanji
Look up kanji in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kanji.
Kanshudo — integrated system for finding and learning kanji,
Japanese vocab and grammar, with multiple ways to search, 3500+
mnemonics, free flashcards and lessons
Japanese - A free Japanese-English dictionary with flashcard study
features for iOS and Android
Kanji-Trainer Free flashcard learning tool with mnemonic phrases for
Kanji by radical, readings or meanings and see how to draw
it. Common words that contain it are also shown
Learning Kanji, an animated application for the 1st Grade Kanji.
Kanji Dictionary online Free
Jim Breen's WWWJDIC server used to find
Kanji from English or
Kanji Dictionary a comprehensive
Kanji dictionary with
strokes order and various lookup methods.
Kanji flashcard tool that runs on mobile phones.
JISHOP – Japanese-English computer kanji dictionary
KanjiLearn – Electronic set of 2135 two-sided kanji flashcards, as
easy to use as paper flashcards.
Kanji to Romaji, Hiragana—Converts
Kanji and websites to
forms that are easy to read and gives a word by word translation
Tangorin—Find kanji fast by selecting their elements
Learn Japanese Kanji—How to write
Kanji in Japanese
Drill the kanji—online Java tool (Asahi-net)
Kanji Alive—Online kanji learning tool in wide use at many
universities, colleges and high-schools.
Real Kanji—Practice kanji using different typefaces.
Change in Script Usage in Japanese: A Longitudinal Study of Japanese
Government White Papers on Labor, discussion paper by Takako Tomoda in
the Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies, August 19,
Genetic Kanji, etymologically organized lists for learning kanji.
Kanji Networks, a kanji etymology dictionary
Kanji Dictionary—Each character is presented by a grade,
stroke count, stroke order, phonetic reading and native Japanese
reading. You can also listen to the pronunciation.
WWWJDIC Text Translator—Takes Japanese text and returns each word
with pronunciation (hiragana) and a translation in English.
JavaDiKt — Open source kanji dictionary for desktop
Daoulagad Han — Mobile OCR kanji dictionary, OCR interface to the
Denshi Jisho — Online Japanese dictionary
Kanji — organized list of kanji which takes into account
both grade, stroke count and frequency
Simplified Chinese character
Kyūjitai – Simplified Chinese
by stroke count
by stroke count
Jōdai Tokushu Kanazukai
Transcription into Japanese
ARIB STD B24
Verb and adjective conjugations
Consonant and vowel verbs
Native words (yamato kotoba)
Loan words (gairaigo)
Court lady language (nyōbō kotoba)
Chinese radicals according to the Kangxi Dictionary
See also: Kangxi radicals
Types of writing systems
History of writing
Languages by writing system / by first written accounts
Old North Arabian
Boyd's syllabic shorthand
Thomas Natural Shorthand
New Tai Lue
Pau Cin Hau
New York Point
New Epoch Notation Painting
Chinese family of scripts
Oracle bone script
Khitan large script
Khitan small script
Ditema tsa Dinoko
Great Lakes Algonquian syllabics
Nwagu Aneke script
Old Persian Cuneiform
Unicode braille patterns
(see for more)
Devanagari (Hindi / Marathi / Nepali)
Chinese (Mandarin, mainland)
English (Unified English)
Inuktitut (reassigned vowels)
Taiwanese Mandarin (largely reassigned)
Thai & Lao (Japanese vowels)
Gardner–Salinas braille codes (GS8)
Symbols in braille
Canadian currency marks
Gardner–Salinas braille codes (GS8/GS6)
International Phonetic Alphabet
International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)
Nemeth braille code
Optical braille recognition
Refreshable braille display
Slate and stylus
Thakur Vishva Narain Singh
William Bell Wait
Braille Institute of America
Braille Without Borders
Schools for the blind
American Printing House for the Blind
Other tactile alphabets
New York Point
Electronic writing systems
Internet slang dialects
Lolspeak / LOLspeak / Kitteh
Martian language (Chinese)
Padonkaffsky jargon (Russian)
See also English internet slang (at Wiktionary)
BNF: cb11974966p (d