Kanji

Kanji

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Kanji'
Start a new discussion about 'Kanji'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Kanji are the adopted logographic Chinese characters hanzi that are used in the modern Japanese writing system
Japanese writing system
The modern Japanese writing system uses three main scripts:*Kanji, adopted Chinese characters*Kana, a pair of syllabaries , consisting of:...

 along with hiragana
Hiragana
is a Japanese syllabary, one basic component of the Japanese writing system, along with katakana, kanji, and the Latin alphabet . Hiragana and katakana are both kana systems, in which each character represents one mora...

 (ひらがな, 平仮名), katakana
Katakana
is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji, and in some cases the Latin alphabet . The word katakana means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana scripts are derived from components of more complex kanji. Each kana represents one mora...

 (カタカナ, 片仮名), Indo Arabic numerals, and the occasional use of the Latin alphabet
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

 (known as "rōmaji
Romanization of Japanese
The romanization of Japanese is the application of the Latin alphabet to write the Japanese language. This method of writing is known as , less strictly romaji, literally "Roman letters", sometimes incorrectly transliterated as romanji or rōmanji. There are several different romanization systems...

"). The Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 term kanji (漢字) for the Chinese characters literally means "Han
Han Chinese
Han Chinese are an ethnic group native to China and are the largest single ethnic group in the world.Han Chinese constitute about 92% of the population of the People's Republic of China , 98% of the population of the Republic of China , 78% of the population of Singapore, and about 20% of the...

 characters" and is the same written term in the Chinese language to refer to the character writing system hanzi (漢字).

History


Chinese character
Chinese character
Chinese characters are logograms used in the writing of Chinese and Japanese , less frequently Korean , formerly Vietnamese , or other languages...

s first came to Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 on articles imported from China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

. An early instance of such an import was a gold seal given by the Emperor Guangwu
Emperor Guangwu of Han
Emperor Guangwu , born Liu Xiu, was an emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty, restorer of the dynasty in AD 25 and thus founder of the Later Han or Eastern Han...

 of the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 in 57 AD. It is not clear when Japanese people started to gain a command of Classical Chinese
Classical Chinese
Classical Chinese or Literary Chinese is a traditional style of written Chinese based on the grammar and vocabulary of ancient Chinese, making it different from any modern spoken form of Chinese...

 by themselves. According to Japanese legends of Nihon Shoki
Nihon Shoki
The , sometimes translated as The Chronicles of Japan, is the second oldest book of classical Japanese history. It is more elaborate and detailed than the Kojiki, the oldest, and has proven to be an important tool for historians and archaeologists as it includes the most complete extant historical...

 and Kojiki
Kojiki
is the oldest extant chronicle in Japan, dating from the early 8th century and composed by Ō no Yasumaro at the request of Empress Gemmei. The Kojiki is a collection of myths concerning the origin of the four home islands of Japan, and the Kami...

 a scholar called Wani
Wani (scholar)
Wani is a semi-legendary scholar who is said to have been offered as a tribute to Japan by Baekje of southwestern Korea during the reign of Emperor Ōjin. He used to be associated with the introduction of the Chinese writing system to Japan....

  was dispatched by the Kingdom of Baekje
Baekje
Baekje or Paekche was a kingdom located in southwest Korea. It was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, together with Goguryeo and Silla....

 in southwestern Korea
Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

 to the Japanese Islands
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 during the reign of Emperor Ōjin
Emperor Ojin
, also known as Homutawake or , was the 15th emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession.No firm dates can be assigned to this emperor's life or reign, but he is conventionally considered to have reigned from 270 to 310....

, bringing with him the knowledge of Confucianism and the Chinese writing system.

The first actual Japanese documents were probably written by Chinese immigrants. For example, the diplomatic correspondence from King Bu of Wa
Five kings of Wa
The five kings of Wa are kings of ancient Japan who sent envoys to China during the 5th century to strengthen the legitimacy of their claims to power by gaining the recognition of the Chinese emperor. Details about them are unknown...

 to Emperor Shun
Emperor Shun of Liu Song
Emperor Shun of Liu Song , personal name Liu Zhun , courtesy name Zhongmou , nickname Zhiguan , was an emperor of the Chinese dynasty Liu Song...

 of the Liu Song Dynasty
Liu Song Dynasty
The Liu Song Dynasty , also known as Song Dynasty , Former Song , or Southern Song , was first of the four Southern Dynasties in China, succeeding the Eastern Jin Dynasty and followed by the Southern Qi Dynasty....

 in 478 has been praised for its skillful use of allusion
Allusion
An allusion is a figure of speech that makes a reference to, or representation of, people, places, events, literary work, myths, or works of art, either directly or by implication. M. H...

. Later, groups of people called fuhito were organized under the monarch to read and write Classical Chinese. From the 6th century onwards, Chinese documents written in Japan tended to show linguistic interference from Japanese, suggesting the wide acceptance of Chinese characters in Japan.

The Japanese language itself had no written form at the time kanji was introduced. Originally texts were written in the Chinese language
Chinese language
The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

 and would have been read as such. Over time, however, a system known as kanbun
Kanbun
The Japanese word originally meant "Classical Chinese writings, Chinese classic texts, Classical Chinese literature". This evolved into a Japanese method of reading annotated Classical Chinese in translation . Much Japanese literature was written in literary Chinese using this annotated style...

(漢文) 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
Japanese grammar
The Japanese language has a regular agglutinative verb morphology, with both productive and fixed elements. In language typology, it has many features divergent from most European languages. Its phrases are exclusively head-final and compound sentences are exclusively left-branching. There are many...

.

Chinese characters also came to be used to write Japanese words, resulting in the modern kana syllabaries. 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
Hiragana
is a Japanese syllabary, one basic component of the Japanese writing system, along with katakana, kanji, and the Latin alphabet . Hiragana and katakana are both kana systems, in which each character represents one mora...

, a writing system that was accessible to women (who were denied higher education
Higher education
Higher, post-secondary, tertiary, or third level education refers to the stage of learning that occurs at universities, academies, colleges, seminaries, and institutes of technology...

). Major works of Heian era literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

 by women were written in hiragana. Katakana
Katakana
is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji, and in some cases the Latin alphabet . The word katakana means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana scripts are derived from components of more complex kanji. Each kana represents one mora...

emerged via a parallel path: monastery
Monastery
Monastery denotes the building, or complex of buildings, that houses a room reserved for prayer as well as the domestic quarters and workplace of monastics, whether monks or nuns, and whether living in community or alone .Monasteries may vary greatly in size – a small dwelling accommodating only...

 students simplified man'yōgana to a single constituent element. Thus the two other writing systems, hiragana and katakana, referred to collectively as kana
Kana
Kana are the syllabic Japanese scripts, as opposed to the logographic Chinese characters known in Japan as kanji and the Roman alphabet known as rōmaji...

, are actually descended from kanji.

In modern Japanese, kanji are used to write parts of the language such as noun
Noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s, adjective
Adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

 stems
Word stem
In linguistics, a stem is a part of a word. The term is used with slightly different meanings.In one usage, a stem is a form to which affixes can be attached. Thus, in this usage, the English word friendships contains the stem friend, to which the derivational suffix -ship is attached to form a new...

, and verb
Verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

 stems
Word stem
In linguistics, a stem is a part of a word. The term is used with slightly different meanings.In one usage, a stem is a form to which affixes can be attached. Thus, in this usage, the English word friendships contains the stem friend, to which the derivational suffix -ship is attached to form a new...

, while hiragana are used to write inflected
Inflection
In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, grammatical mood, grammatical voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case...

 verb and adjective endings (okurigana
Okurigana
are kana suffixes following kanji stems in Japanese written words. They serve two purposes: to inflect adjectives and verbs, and to disambiguate kanji with multiple readings...

), particles
Grammatical particle
In grammar, a particle is a function word that does not belong to any of the inflected grammatical word classes . It is a catch-all term for a heterogeneous set of words and terms that lack a precise lexical definition...

, and miscellaneous words which have no kanji or whose kanji is considered obscure or too difficult to read or remember. Katakana
Katakana
is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji, and in some cases the Latin alphabet . The word katakana means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana scripts are derived from components of more complex kanji. Each kana represents one mora...

 are used for representing onomatopoeia, non-Japanese loanwords
Gairaigo
Gairaigo is Japanese for "loan word" or "borrowed word", and indicates a transliteration into Japanese. In particular, the word usually refers to a Japanese word of foreign origin that was not borrowed from Chinese, primarily from English. Japanese also has a large number of loan words from...

 (except those borrowed from Chinese), the names of plants and animals (with exceptions), and for emphasis on certain words.

Local developments and divergences from Chinese


While kanji are essentially Chinese hanzi used to write Japanese, there are now significant differences between kanji used in Japanese and Chinese characters used in Chinese. Such differences include (i) the use of characters created in Japan, (ii) characters that have been given different meanings in Japanese, and (iii) post-World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 simplifications of the kanji. Likewise, the process of character simplification in mainland China since the 1950s has the result that Japanese speakers who have not studied Chinese may not recognize some simplified characters.

Kokuji



Kokuji are characters particular to Japan, generally devised in Japan. The term wasei kanji is also used to refer to kokuji. These 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.

Since kokuji are generally devised for existing native words, these usually only have native kun reading. However, they occasionally have a Chinese on reading, derived from a phonetic, as in 働, dō, from 動, 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).

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:
  • 働 (どう , はたら hatara(ku) "work"), the most commonly used kokuji, used in the fundamental verb 働く hatara-ku "work", included in elementary texts and on the JLPT N5, for example.
  • 込 (こ ko(mu)), used in the fundamental verb 込む(こむ) ko-mu "to be crowded"
  • 畑 (はたけ hatake "field of crops")
  • 峠 (とうげ tōge "mountain pass")
  • 腺 (せん sen, "gland")

Jinmeiyō kanji:
  • 榊 (さかき sakaki "tree, genus Cleyera
    Sakaki
    Sakaki is a flowering evergreen tree native to warm areas of Japan, Korea and mainland China. It can reach a height of 10 m. The leaves are 6–10 cm long, smooth, oval, leathery, shiny and dark green above, yellowish-green below, with deep furrows for the leaf stem. The bark is dark reddish...

    ") – also unusual in being an ideograph
    Ideograph
    Ideograph is a term coined by rhetorical scholar and critic Michael Calvin McGee describing the use of particular words and phrases as political language in a way that captures particular ideological positions...

    , composed of the elements 木 (tree) and 神 (god), literally “divine tree”; see article for details
  • 辻 (つじ tsuji "crossroads, street")

Hyōgaiji:
  • 躾 (しつ(け) shitsu(keru) "training, rearing (an animal, a child)")


Some of these characters (for example, 腺, "gland") have been introduced to China. Similar coinages occurred to a more limited extent in Korea and Vietnam – see Korean hanja.

Historically, some kokuji date back to very early Japanese writing, being found in the Man'yōshū, for example, 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 – see Chinese characters for SI units for details.

Kokkun


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:
  • fuji (wisteria
    Wisteria
    Wisteria is a genus of flowering plants in the pea family, Fabaceae, that includes ten species of woody climbing vines native to the eastern United States and to China, Korea, and Japan. Aquarists refer to the species Hygrophila difformis, in the family Acanthaceae, as Water Wisteria...

    ; Ch. téng rattan, cane, vine)
  • oki (offing, offshore; Ch. chōng rinse, minor river (Cantonese))
  • 椿 tsubaki (Camellia japonica
    Camellia japonica
    The Japanese Camellia is one of the best known species of camellia. Sometimes called the rose of winter, it is a member of the Theaceae family or tea family. It is a flowering shrub or a small tree native to Japan, Korea and China. It is the official state flower of Alabama.-Description:In the...

    ; Ch. chūn Ailanthus
    Ailanthus
    Ailanthus is a genus of trees belonging to the family Simaroubaceae, in the order Sapindales . The genus is native from east Asia south to northern Australasia....

    )

Readings

Reading Characters in Japanese
Meaning Pronunciation
a) semantic on L1 L1
b) semantic kun L1 L2
c) phonetic on L1
d) phonetic kun L2
*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). From the point of view of the reader, kanji are said to have one or more different "readings". Deciding which reading is meant depends on context, intended meaning, use in compounds, and even location in the sentence. Some common kanji have ten or more possible readings. These readings are normally categorized as either on'yomi (literally, sound reading) or kun'yomi (literally, meaning reading).

On'yomi (Chinese reading)


The on'yomi (音読み), the Sino-Japanese reading, is the modern descendant of the Japanese approximation of the Chinese pronunciation of the character at the time it was introduced. 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 Japan would 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 "", 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 "" and 泉 "sen".

Generally, on'yomi are classified into four types: readings are from the pronunciation during the Southern and Northern Dynasties
Southern and Northern Dynasties
The Southern and Northern Dynasties was a period in the history of China that lasted from 420 to 589 AD. Though an age of civil war and political chaos, it was also a time of flourishing arts and culture, advancement in technology, and the spreading of Mahayana Buddhism and Daoism...

 during the 5th and 6th centuries. There is a high probability of Go referring to the Wu
Wu (region)
Wu is a region in the Jiangnan area , surrounding Suzhou, in Jiangsu province and Zhejiang province of China. It is also the abbreviation of several kingdoms based in Wu. The two largest cities in the Wu region today are Shanghai and Hangzhou...

 region (in the vicinity of modern Shanghai
Shanghai
Shanghai is the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper in the world. It is one of the four province-level municipalities in the People's Republic of China, with a total population of over 23 million as of 2010...

), which still maintains linguistic similarities with modern Japanese. readings are from the pronunciation during the Tang Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 in the 7th to 9th centuries, primarily from the standard speech of the capital, Chang'an
Chang'an
Chang'an is an ancient capital of more than ten dynasties in Chinese history, today known as Xi'an. Chang'an literally means "Perpetual Peace" in Classical Chinese. During the short-lived Xin Dynasty, the city was renamed "Constant Peace" ; yet after its fall in AD 23, the old name was restored...

 (長安 or 长安, modern Xi'an
Xi'an
Xi'an is the capital of the Shaanxi province, and a sub-provincial city in the People's Republic of China. One of the oldest cities in China, with more than 3,100 years of history, the city was known as Chang'an before the Ming Dynasty...

). Here, Kan is used in the sense of China. readings are from the pronunciations of later dynasties, such as the Song
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

 (宋) and Ming
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

 (明). They cover all readings adopted from the Heian era (平安) to the Edo period
Edo period
The , or , is a division of Japanese history which was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, running from 1603 to 1868. The political entity of this period was the Tokugawa shogunate....

 (江戸). This is also known as Tōsō-on (唐宋音).
readings, which are mistaken or changed readings of the kanji that have become accepted into the 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)
Kanji Meaning Go-on Kan-on Tō-on Kan'yō-on
bright myō mei (min)
go gyō

(an)
extreme goku kyoku
pearl shu shu ju (zu)
degree do (to)
transport (shu) (shu) yu
masculine
bear
child shi shi su
clear shō sei (shin)
capital kyō kei (kin)
soldier hyō hei
strong kyō


The most common form of readings is the kan-on one. 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".

In Chinese, most characters are associated with a single Chinese sound. However, some homographs called 多音字 such as 行 (Japanese: 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
Entering tone
A checked tone, commonly known by its Chinese calque entering tone , is one of four syllable types in the phonology in Middle Chinese which are commonly translated as tone. However, it is not a tone in the phonetic sense, but rather describes a syllable that ends in a stop consonant, such as p, t,...

, did not fit the largely consonant-vowel (CV) phonotactics
Phonotactics
Phonotactics is a branch of phonology that deals with restrictions in a language on the permissible combinations of phonemes...

 of classical Japanese. Thus most on'yomi are composed of two morae
Mora (linguistics)
Mora is a unit in phonology that determines syllable weight, which in some languages determines stress or timing. As with many technical linguistic terms, the definition of a mora varies. Perhaps the most succinct working definition was provided by the American linguist James D...

 (beats), the second of which is either a lengthening of the vowel in the first mora, the vowel i, or one of the syllables ku, ki, tsu, chi, 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
Yoon
is a feature of the Japanese language in which a mora is formed with an added sound.Yōon are represented in hiragana using a kana ending in i, such as き , plus a smaller-than-usual version of one of the three y kana, ya, yu or yo. For example kyō, "today", is written きょう, using a small version of...

 developed in Japanese as a result of Chinese borrowings, as they are virtually unknown in words of native Japanese origin.

On'yomi primarily occur in multi-kanji compound words (熟語 jukugo), 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. The major exception to this rule is family name
Family name
A family name is a type of surname and part of a person's name indicating the family to which the person belongs. The use of family names is widespread in cultures around the world...

s, in which the native kun'yomi reading is usually used (though on'yomi are found in many personal names, especially men's names).

Kun'yomi (Japanese reading)


The kun'yomi (訓読み), Japanese reading, or native reading (literally, meaning reading), is a reading based on the pronunciation of a native Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 word, or yamato kotoba
Yamato kotoba
are native Japanese words, meaning those words in Japanese that have been inherited from Old Japanese, rather than being borrowed at some stage. They are also known as...

, that closely approximated the meaning of the Chinese
Chinese language
The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

 character when it was introduced. As with on'yomi, there can be multiple kun readings for the same kanji, and some kanji have no kun'yomi at all.

For instance, the kanji for east
East
East is a noun, adjective, or adverb indicating direction or geography.East is one of the four cardinal directions or compass points. It is the opposite of west and is perpendicular to north and south.By convention, the right side of a map is east....

, 東, has the on reading . However, Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 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
Cun (length)
The cun is a traditional Chinese unit of length. Its traditional measure is the width of a person's thumb at the knuckle, whereas the width of the two forefingers denotes 1.5 cun and the width of all fingers side-by-side is three cuns...

, denoting a Chinese unit of measurement (about 30 mm or 1.2 inch), has no native Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 equivalent; it only has an on'yomi, sun
Cun (length)
The cun is a traditional Chinese unit of length. Its traditional measure is the width of a person's thumb at the knuckle, whereas the width of the two forefingers denotes 1.5 cun and the width of all fingers side-by-side is three cuns...

, with no native kun reading. Most kokuji, Japanese-created Chinese characters, only have kun readings (although some have back-formed a pseudo-on reading by analogy with similar characters).

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
Hiragana
is a Japanese syllabary, one basic component of the Japanese writing system, along with katakana, kanji, and the Latin alphabet . Hiragana and katakana are both kana systems, in which each character represents one mora...

 called okurigana
Okurigana
are kana suffixes following kanji stems in Japanese written words. They serve two purposes: to inflect adjectives and verbs, and to disambiguate kanji with multiple readings...

. 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.

承る uketamawaru and 志 kokorozashi have five syllables represented by a single kanji, the longest readings of any kanji in the Jōyō character set
Joyo kanji
The is the guide to kanji characters announced officially by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Current jōyō kanji are those on a list of 2,136 characters issued in 2010...

. These unusually long readings are due respectively to 承る being a single character for a compound verb, one component of which has a long reading (alternative spelling as 受け賜る u(ke)-tamawa-ru, hence (1+1)+3=5; compare common 受け付ける u(ke)-tsu(ke)ru), and to 志 being a nominalization of the verb 志す which has a long reading (kokoroza-su), the nominalization removing the okurigana, hence increasing the reading by one morae, yielding 4+1=5 (compare common 話 hanashi 2+1=3, from 話す hana-su).

In a number of cases, multiple kanji were assigned to cover a single Japanese
Japanese language
is a language spoken by over 130 million people in Japan and in Japanese emigrant communities. It is a member of the Japonic language family, which has a number of proposed relationships with other languages, none of which has gained wide acceptance among historical linguists .Japanese is an...

 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 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
Hiragana
is a Japanese syllabary, one basic component of the Japanese writing system, along with katakana, kanji, and the Latin alphabet . Hiragana and katakana are both kana systems, in which each character represents one mora...

. 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.

Local dialectical readings of kanji are also classified under kun'yomi, most notably readings for words in Ryukyuan languages
Ryukyuan languages
The Ryukyuan languages are spoken in the Ryukyu Islands, and make up a subgroup of the Japonic, itself controversially a subgroup of Altaic....

. Further, in rare cases gairaigo
Gairaigo
Gairaigo is Japanese for "loan word" or "borrowed word", and indicates a transliteration into Japanese. In particular, the word usually refers to a Japanese word of foreign origin that was not borrowed from Chinese, primarily from English. Japanese also has a large number of loan words from...

 (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 other readings, below.

Other readings


There are many kanji compounds that use a mixture of on'yomi and kun'yomi, known as or words (depending on the order), which are themselves examples of this kind of compound (they are autological word
Autological word
An autological wordis a word expressing a property which it also possesses itself...

s): the first character of jūbako is read using on'yomi, the second kun'yomi (on-kun), while it is the other way around with yutō (kun-on). Formally, these are referred to as and . 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 readings. These are the Japanese form of hybrid word
Hybrid word
A hybrid word is a word which etymologically has one part derived from one language and another part derived from a different language.-Common hybrids:The most common form of hybrid word in English is one which combines etymologically Latin and Greek parts...

s. Other examples include 場所 basho "place" (kun-on), 金色 kin'iro "golden" (on-kun) and 合気道 aikidō "the martial art Aikido
Aikido
is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as "the Way of unifying life energy" or as "the Way of harmonious spirit." Ueshiba's goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to...

" (kun-on-on).

Some kanji also have lesser-known readings called nanori
Nanori
are kanji character readings found almost exclusively in Japanese names.In the Japanese language many names are constructed from common kanji characters with standard pronunciations. However, some characters occur only in names, and some standard characters have special pronunciations in names...

(名乗り), which are mostly used for names (often given name
Given name
A given name, in Western contexts often referred to as a first name, is a personal name that specifies and differentiates between members of a group of individuals, especially in a family, all of whose members usually share the same family name...

s), and are generally closely related to the kun'yomi. Place names sometimes also use nanori or, occasionally, unique readings not found elsewhere.

(義訓) and (熟字訓) are readings of kanji combinations that have no direct correspondence to the characters' individual on'yomi or kun'yomi, but rather are connected with their meaning – this is the opposite of ateji. Gikun are when non-standard kanji are used, generally for effect, such as using 寒 with reading fuyu (ふゆ, "winter"), rather than the standard character 冬. 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 Japanese word with two syllables (which may be seen as a single morpheme
Morpheme
In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language. The field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word,...

, or as a fusion of kyō (previously kefu), "today", and asa, "morning"). Jukujikun are primarily used for some native Japanese words, and for some old borrowings, such as 柳葉魚 (shishamo
Shishamo
is a saltwater fish about 15 centimeters in length. It is slim and resembles a willow leaf; the Japanese name, shishamo, is derived from the Ainu name for the same fish, susam, which is supposed to be derived from a compound of Ainu susu "willow" + ham "leaf", hence its name in kanji...

, literally "willow leaf fish"), from Ainu, or 煙草 (tabako, literally "smoke grass"), from Portuguese. 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. See 義訓 and 熟字訓 for many more examples. Typographically, the furigana for jukujikun are often written so they are centered across the entire word – 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 phono-semantic readings. Jukujikun can be considered a form of ateji
Ateji
In modern Japanese, primarily refers to kanji used phonetically to represent native or borrowed words, without regard to the meaning of the underlying characters. This is analogous to man'yōgana in pre-modern Japanese...

,
and many jukujikun (established meaning-spellings) began life as gikun (improvised meaning-spellings).

Many ateji
Ateji
In modern Japanese, primarily refers to kanji used phonetically to represent native or borrowed words, without regard to the meaning of the underlying characters. This is analogous to man'yōgana in pre-modern Japanese...

(here meaning "kanji used only for their phonetic value"; the term "ateji" can also sometimes mean "kanji used only for meaning") have meanings derived from their usage: for example, the now-archaic 亜細亜 ajia was formerly used to write "Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

" in kanji; the character 亜 now means Asia in such compounds as 東亜 tōa, "East Asia". From the written 亜米利加 amerika, the second character was taken, resulting in the semi-formal coinage 米国 beikoku, which literally translates to "rice country" but means "United States of America".

In some rare cases, an individual kanji has a reading that is borrowed from a modern foreign language (gairaigo
Gairaigo
Gairaigo is Japanese for "loan word" or "borrowed word", and indicates a transliteration into Japanese. In particular, the word usually refers to a Japanese word of foreign origin that was not borrowed from Chinese, primarily from English. Japanese also has a large number of loan words from...

), though most often these words are written in katakana. Notable examples include , , , and . 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
Ateji
In modern Japanese, primarily refers to kanji used phonetically to represent native or borrowed words, without regard to the meaning of the underlying characters. This is analogous to man'yōgana in pre-modern Japanese...

, 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. Note that most of these characters are for units, in many cases using new characters (kokuji) coined during the Meiji period
Meiji period
The , also known as the Meiji era, is a Japanese era which extended from September 1868 through July 1912. This period represents the first half of the Empire of Japan.- Meiji Restoration and the emperor :...

, such as .

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 gloss. 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.

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 readings are also common, and kun readings 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.

Okurigana
Okurigana
are kana suffixes following kanji stems in Japanese written words. They serve two purposes: to inflect adjectives and verbs, and to disambiguate kanji with multiple readings...

 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
Closed class
In linguistics, a closed class is a word class to which no new items can normally be added, and that usually contains a relatively small number of items. Typical closed classes found in many languages are adpositions , determiners, conjunctions, and pronouns.Contrastingly, an open class offers...

, and do not generally admit new words (borrowed Chinese vocabulary, which are nouns, can form verbs by adding 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 reading 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 readings – 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
Okurigana
are kana suffixes following kanji stems in Japanese written words. They serve two purposes: to inflect adjectives and verbs, and to disambiguate kanji with multiple readings...

 is an important aspect of kanji usage in Japanese; see that article for more information on kun'yomi orthography

Kanji occurring in compounds are generally read using on'yomi, called 熟語 jukugo in Japanese (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. 東 "east" and 北 "north" use the kun readings higashi and kita, being stand-alone characters, while 北東 "northeast", as a compound, uses the on reading 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
Kamikaze
The were suicide attacks by military aviators from the Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II, designed to destroy as many warships as possible....

"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
Origami
is the traditional Japanese art of paper folding, which started in the 17th century AD at the latest and was popularized outside Japan in the mid-1900s. It has since then evolved into a modern art form...

, 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
Zen
Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism founded by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. The word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán , which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "meditation" or "meditative state."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. A lone 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). Furigana
Furigana
is a Japanese reading aid, consisting of smaller kana, or syllabic characters, printed next to a kanji or other character to indicate its pronunciation. In horizontal text, yokogaki, they are placed above the line of text, while in vertical text, tategaki, they are placed to the right of the line...

 (reading 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 reading for one character in a normally on'yomi term.

As stated above, 重箱 jūbako and 湯桶 yutō readings are also not uncommon. Indeed, all four combinations of reading are possible: on-on, kun-kun, kun-on and on-kun.

Some famous place names, including those of Tokyo
Tokyo
, ; officially , is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Tokyo is the capital of Japan, the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, and the largest metropolitan area of Japan. It is the seat of the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, and the home of the Japanese Imperial Family...

 (東京 Tōkyō) and Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 itself (日本 Nihon or sometimes Nippon) 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. 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 and 天使 Enjeru, quite literally "Earth" and "Angel"; neither are common names, and have normal readings chikyū and tenshi respectively. Common patterns do exist, however, allowing experienced readers to make a good guess for most names.

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 Chinese speakers. For example, Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong
Mao Zedong, also transliterated as Mao Tse-tung , and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao , was a Chinese Communist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist, Marxist political philosopher, and leader of the Chinese Revolution...

's name, written 毛沢東, is pronounced as Mō Takutō in Japanese. Today, Chinese names that aren't well known in Japan are often spelled in Katakana
Katakana
is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji, and in some cases the Latin alphabet . The word katakana means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana scripts are derived from components of more complex kanji. Each kana represents one mora...

 instead, in a form much more closely approximating the native Chinese pronunciation. Alternatively, they may be written in kanji with katakana furigana.

Pronunciation assistance


Because of the ambiguities involved, kanji sometimes have their pronunciation for the given context spelled out in ruby character
Ruby character
are small, annotative glosses that can be placed above or to the right of a Chinese character when writing languages with logographic characters such as Chinese or Japanese to show the pronunciation...

s known as furigana
Furigana
is a Japanese reading aid, consisting of smaller kana, or syllabic characters, printed next to a kanji or other character to indicate its pronunciation. In horizontal text, yokogaki, they are placed above the line of text, while in vertical text, tategaki, they are placed to the right of the line...

, (small kana
Kana
Kana are the syllabic Japanese scripts, as opposed to the logographic Chinese characters known in Japan as kanji and the Roman alphabet known as rōmaji...

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 and manga
Manga
Manga is the Japanese word for "comics" and consists of comics and print cartoons . In the West, the term "manga" has been appropriated to refer specifically to comics created in Japan, or by Japanese authors, in the Japanese language and conforming to the style developed in Japan in the late 19th...

(comics). It is also used in newspaper
Newspaper
A newspaper is a scheduled publication containing news of current events, informative articles, diverse features and advertising. It usually is printed on relatively inexpensive, low-grade paper such as newsprint. By 2007, there were 6580 daily newspapers in the world selling 395 million copies a...

s for rare or unusual readings and for characters not included in the officially recognized set of essential kanji
Joyo kanji
The is the guide to kanji characters announced officially by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Current jōyō kanji are those on a list of 2,136 characters issued in 2010...

.

Spelling words


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 readings). 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 readings 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 via the words , , and – the first two use the kun readings, the third is a well-known compound – saying "kaori, karai, ryō as in inryō".

Total number of kanji


The number of possible characters is disputed. The Daikanwa Jiten contains about 50,000 characters, and this was thought to be comprehensive, but more recent mainland Chinese dictionaries, such as the Yiti Zidian dictionary published in 2004 contain 100,000 or more characters, many consisting of obscure variants. The vast majority of these are not in common use in either Japan or China; as discussed below, approximately 2,000 to 3,000 characters are in common use in Japan.

Orthographic reform and lists of kanji


In 1946, following World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the Japanese government instituted a series of orthographic
Orthography
The orthography of a language specifies a standardized way of using a specific writing system to write the language. Where more than one writing system is used for a language, for example Kurdish, Uyghur, Serbian or Inuktitut, there can be more than one orthography...

 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 glyph
Glyph
A glyph is an element of writing: an individual mark on a written medium that contributes to the meaning of what is written. A glyph is made up of one or more graphemes....

s, called (shinjitai
Shinjitai
Shinjitai are the forms of kanji used in Japan since the promulgation of the Tōyō Kanji List in 1946. Some of the new forms found in shinjitai are also found in simplified Chinese, but shinjitai is generally not as extensive in the scope of its modification...

). 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 .

Kyōiku kanji



The Kyōiku kanji (教育漢字, "education kanji") are 1,006 characters that Japanese children learn in elementary school. The number was 881 until 1981. The grade-level breakdown of the education kanji is known as the gakunen-betsu kanji haitōhyō (学年別漢字配当表), or the gakushū kanji.

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
Toyo kanji
The tōyō kanji, also known as the Tōyō kanjihyō are the result of a reform of the Kanji characters of Chinese origin in the Japanese written language. They were the kanji declared "official" by the Japanese on November 16, 1946...

(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 媛.

Jinmeiyō kanji



Since September 27, 2004, the Jinmeiyō kanji (人名用漢字, "kanji for use in personal names") consist of 2,928 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 2,928, and sometimes it only refers to the 983 that are only used for names.

Hyōgaiji



are any kanji not contained in the jōyō kanji and jinmeiyō kanji lists. These are generally written using traditional characters, but extended shinjitai
Extended shinjitai
is the extension of the shinjitai simplification method to : kanji not included in the jōyō kanji list. They are unofficial characters: the official forms of hyōgaiji are kyūjitai .-Simplified forms:...

 forms exist.

Japanese Industrial Standards for kanji


The 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
Latin alphabet
The Latin alphabet, also called the Roman alphabet, is the most recognized alphabet used in the world today. It evolved from a western variety of the Greek alphabet called the Cumaean alphabet, which was adopted and modified by the Etruscans who ruled early Rome...

, Cyrillic alphabet
Cyrillic alphabet
The Cyrillic script or azbuka is an alphabetic writing system developed in the First Bulgarian Empire during the 10th century AD at the Preslav Literary School...

, Greek alphabet
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

, Hindu-Arabic numerals, etc. for use in information processing. They have had numerous revisions. The current standards are:
  • JIS X 0208:1997, the most recent version of the main standard. It has 6,355 kanji.
  • JIS X 0212:1990, 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 obsolete;
  • JIS X 0213:2000, a further revision which extended the JIS X 0208 set with 3,625 additional kanji, of which 2,741 were in JIS X 0212. The standard is in part designed to be compatible with Shift JIS encoding;
  • JIS X 0221:1995, the Japanese version of the ISO 10646/Unicode
    Unicode
    Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems...

     standard.

Gaiji


Gaiji (外字), literally meaning "external characters", are kanji that are not represented in existing Japanese encoding systems
Character encoding
A character encoding system consists of a code that pairs each character from a given repertoire with something else, such as a sequence of natural numbers, octets or electrical pulses, in order to facilitate the transmission of data through telecommunication networks or storage of text in...

. These include variant forms of common kanji that need to be represented alongside the more conventional glyph
Glyph
A glyph is an element of writing: an individual mark on a written medium that contributes to the meaning of what is written. A glyph is made up of one or more graphemes....

 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
NTT DoCoMo
is the predominant mobile phone operator in Japan. The name is officially an abbreviation of the phrase, "do communications over the mobile network", and is also from a compound word dokomo, meaning "everywhere" in Japanese. Docomo provides phone, video phone , i-mode , and mail services...

's "i-mode
I-mode
NTT DoCoMo's i-mode is a mobile internet service popular in Japan. Unlike Wireless Application Protocol, i-mode encompasses a wider variety of internet standards, including web access, e-mail and the packet-switched network that delivers the data...

" service, where they are used for emoji
Emoji
is the Japanese term for the picture characters or emoticons used in Japanese electronic messages and webpages. Originally meaning pictograph, the word literally means e "picture" + moji "letter". The characters are used much like emoticons elsewhere, but a wider range is provided, and the icons...

 (pictorial characters).

Unicode
Unicode
Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation and handling of text expressed in most of the world's writing systems...

 allows for optional encoding of gaiji in private use areas, while Adobe's SING (Smart INdependent Glyphlets) technology allows the creation of customized gaiji.

The Text Encoding Initiative
Text Encoding Initiative
The Text Encoding Initiative is a text-centric community of practice in the academic field of digital humanities. The community runs a mailing list, meetings and conference series, and maintains a technical standard, a wiki and a toolset....

 uses a element to encode any non-standard character or glyph, including gaiji. (The g stands for "gaiji".)

Types of Kanji: by category



A Chinese scholar Xu Shen
Xu Shen
Xǔ Shèn was a Chinese philologist of the Han Dynasty. He was the author of Shuowen Jiezi, the first Chinese dictionary with character analysis, as well as the first to organize the characters by shared components. It contains over 9,000 character entries under 540 radicals, explaining the origins...

 (許慎), in the Shuōwén Jiězì
Shuowen Jiezi
The Shuōwén Jiězì was an early 2nd century CE Chinese dictionary from the Han Dynasty. Although not the first comprehensive Chinese character dictionary , it was still the first to analyze the structure of the characters and to give the rationale behind them , as well as the first to use the...

(說文解字) ca. 100 CE
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

, classified Chinese characters into six categories (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.

(For a table of all the kyōiku kanji (教育漢字) broken down by category see this page, from which the following descriptions have been extracted.)

Shōkei-moji (象形文字)


These characters are pictogram
Pictogram
A pictograph, also called pictogram or pictogramme is an ideogram that conveys its meaning through its pictorial resemblance to a physical object. Pictographs are often used in writing and graphic systems in which the characters are to considerable extent pictorial in appearance.Pictography is a...

s, sketches of the object they represent. For example, 目 is an eye, 木 is a tree, etc. (Shōkei 象形 is also the Japanese word for Egyptian hieroglyphs). The current forms of the characters are very different from the original, and it is now hard to see the origin in many of these characters. It is somewhat easier to see in seal script
Seal script
Seal script is an ancient style of Chinese calligraphy. It evolved organically out of the Zhōu dynasty script , arising in the Warring State of Qin...

. These make up a small fraction of modern characters.

Shiji-moji (指事文字)


Shiji-moji are ideogram
Ideogram
An ideogram or ideograph is a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept. Some ideograms are comprehensible only by familiarity with prior convention; others convey their meaning through pictorial resemblance to a physical object, and thus may also be referred to as pictograms.Examples of...

s, often called "simple ideograms" or "simple indicatives" to distinguish them and tell the difference from compound ideograms (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 modern characters.

Kaii-moji (会意文字)


These are compound ideograms, often called "compound indicatives", "associative compounds", or just "ideograms". These are usually a combination of pictograms that combine iconically to present an overall meaning. An example is the kokuji 峠 (mountain pass) made from 山 (mountain), 上 (up) and 下 (down). Another is 休 (rest) from 人 (person) and 木 (tree). These make up a tiny fraction of modern characters.

Keisei-moji (形声文字)


These phono-semantic or radical
Radical (Chinese character)
A Chinese radical is a component of a Chinese character. The term may variously refer to the original semantic element of a character, or to any semantic element, or, loosely, to any element whatever its origin or purpose...

-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 really 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.)

As examples of this, consider the kanji with the 言 shape: 語, 記, 訳, 説, etc. All are related to word/language/meaning. Similarly kanji with the 雨 (rain) shape (雲, 電, 雷, 雪, 霜, etc.) are almost invariably related to weather. Kanji with the 寺 (temple
Temple
A temple is a structure reserved for religious or spiritual activities, such as prayer and sacrifice, or analogous rites. A templum constituted a sacred precinct as defined by a priest, or augur. It has the same root as the word "template," a plan in preparation of the building that was marked out...

) shape on the right (詩, 持, 時, 侍, etc.) usually have an on'yomi of "shi" or "ji". Sometimes one can guess the meaning and/or reading simply from the components. However, exceptions do exist – for example, neither 需 nor 霊 have anything to do with weather (at least in their modern usage), and 待 has an on'yomi of "tai". That is, a component may play a semantic role in one compound, but a phonetic role in another.

Tenchū-moji (転注文字)


This group have variously been called "derivative characters", "derivative cognate
Cognate
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. This learned term derives from the Latin cognatus . Cognates within the same language are called doublets. Strictly speaking, loanwords from another language are usually not meant by the term, e.g...

s", 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)


These are rebus
Rebus
A rebus is an allusional device that uses pictures to represent words or parts of words. It was a favourite form of heraldic expression used in the Middle Ages to denote surnames, for example in its basic form 3 salmon fish to denote the name "Salmon"...

es, 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.

Related symbols


The iteration mark
Iteration mark
Iteration marks are characters or punctuation marks that represent a duplicated character or word.-Chinese:In Chinese, 二 or 々 is used in casual writing to represent a doubled character, but it is never used in formal writing or printed matter...

 (々) is used to indicate that the preceding kanji is to be repeated, functioning similarly to a ditto mark
Ditto mark
The ditto mark is a typographic symbol indicating that the word or figure above it are to be repeated. For example:It has Unicode code-point U+3003 , though in practice closing double quotation marks or straight double quotation marks are often used instead...

 in English. It is pronounced as though the kanji were written twice in a row, for example 色々 (iroiro "various") and 時々 (tokidoki "sometimes"). This mark also appears in personal and place names, as in the surname
Japanese name
in modern times usually consist of a family name , followed by a given name. "Middle names" are not generally used.Japanese names are usually written in kanji, which are characters of usually Chinese origin in Japanese pronunciation...

 Sasaki (佐々木). This symbol is a simplified version of the kanji 仝 (variant of 同 dō "same").

Another frequently used symbol is ヶ (a small katakana
Katakana
is a Japanese syllabary, one component of the Japanese writing system along with hiragana, kanji, and in some cases the Latin alphabet . The word katakana means "fragmentary kana", as the katakana scripts are derived from components of more complex kanji. Each kana represents one mora...

 "ke"), pronounced "ka" when used to indicate quantity (such as 六ヶ月, rokkagetsu "six months") or "ga" in place names like Kasumigaseki
Kasumigaseki
Kasumigaseki is a district in Chiyoda Ward in Tokyo, Japan. It is the location of most of Japan's cabinet ministry offices...

 (霞ヶ関). This symbol is a simplified version of the kanji 箇.

Radical-and-stroke sorting



Kanji, whose thousands of symbols defy ordering by convention such as is used with the Roman Alphabet, uses radical-and-stroke sorting to order a list of Kanji words. In this system, common components of characters are identified; these are called radicals
Radical (Chinese character)
A Chinese radical is a component of a Chinese character. The term may variously refer to the original semantic element of a character, or to any semantic element, or, loosely, to any element whatever its origin or purpose...

 in Chinese and logographic systems derived from Chinese, such as Kanji.

Characters are then grouped by their primary radical, then ordered by number of pen strokes within radicals. When there is no obvious radical or more than one radical, convention governs which is used for collation
Collation
Collation is the assembly of written information into a standard order. One common type of collation is called alphabetization, though collation is not limited to ordering letters of the alphabet...

. For example, the Chinese character for "mother" (媽) is sorted as a thirteen-stroke character under the three-stroke primary radical (女) meaning "woman".

Kanji education


Japanese school children are expected to learn 1,006 basic kanji characters, the kyōiku kanji
Kyoiku kanji
, also known as is a list of 1,006 kanji and associated readings developed and maintained by the Japanese Ministry of Education that prescribes which kanji, and which readings of kanji, Japanese schoolchildren should learn for each year of primary school...

, 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 1,945 kanji characters, in 2010 extended to 2,136, known as the jōyō kanji
Joyo kanji
The is the guide to kanji characters announced officially by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Current jōyō kanji are those on a list of 2,136 characters issued in 2010...

– 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
Radical (Chinese character)
A Chinese radical is a component of a Chinese character. The term may variously refer to the original semantic element of a character, or to any semantic element, or, loosely, to any element whatever its origin or purpose...

.

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
Mnemonic
A mnemonic , or mnemonic device, is any learning technique that aids memory. To improve long term memory, mnemonic systems are used to make memorization easier. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often verbal, such as a very short poem or a special word used to help a person remember something,...

-based methods such as those used in James Heisig
James Heisig
James W. Heisig is a philosopher who specializes in the field of philosophy of religion. He has published several books, their topics ranging amongst the notion of God in Jungian psychology, the Kyoto School of Philosophy, and contemporary interreligious faith...

's series Remembering the Kanji
Remembering the Kanji
Remembering the Kanji is a series of three volumes by James Heisig, intended to teach the 3007 most frequent Kanji to students of the Japanese language. The series is available in English, Spanish and German...

. Other textbooks use methods based on the etymology
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 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 the text Kanji Pict-o-graphix, are also seen.

The Japanese government provides the Kanji kentei
Kanji kentei
The , also known as , or , is a test of kanji ability.There are 12 levels with level 10 being the easiest and level 1 the most difficult. The test examines ability to read and write kanji, to understand their meanings and use them correctly in sentences, and to identify correct stroke order...

(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 6,000 kanji.

See also

  • List of kanji by concept
  • List of kanji by stroke count
  • Four-character idiom
    Four-character idiom
    Chengyu are a type of traditional Chinese idiomatic expressions, most of which consist of four characters. Chengyu were widely used in Classical Chinese and are still common in vernacular Chinese writing and in the spoken language today...

  • Han unification
    Han unification
    Han unification is an effort by the authors of Unicode and the Universal Character Set to map multiple character sets of the so-called CJK languages into a single set of unified characters. Han characters are a common feature of written Chinese , Japanese , Korean , and—at least historically—other...

  • Hanja
    Hanja
    Hanja is the Korean name for the Chinese characters hanzi. More specifically, it refers to those Chinese characters borrowed from Chinese and incorporated into the Korean language with Korean pronunciation...

  • Japanese script reform
    Japanese script reform
    The Japanese script reform is the attempt to correlate standard spoken Japanese with the written word, which began during the Meiji period. This issue is known in Japan as the...

  • Japanese typefaces
    Japanese typefaces
    ' is the Japanese word for writing style and typeface. Shotai covers the calligraphic writing styles, such as*regular script,*seal script,*clerical script,*running script, and*cursive scriptas well as Japanese styles like*Edomoji....

     (Shotai)
  • Kanji of the year
    Kanji of the year
    The Kanji of the year is a kanji chosen by the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society through a national ballot in Japan. It began in 1995...

  • POP (Point of Purchase typeface)
    POP (Point of Purchase typeface)
    POP , in Japanese ポップ体, is a mono-weight typeface for the Japanese Kanji writing system. It is similar to both sans-serif and script-based typefaces in the Latin alphabet. The POP typeface is designed to effect the look of handwritten Kanji, as though produced by a felt-tip marker...

  • Stroke order
    Stroke order
    Stroke order refers to the order in which the strokes of a Chinese character are written. A stroke is a movement of a writing instrument on a writing surface. Chinese characters are used in various forms in Chinese, Japanese, and in Korean...

  • Radical (Chinese character)
    Radical (Chinese character)
    A Chinese radical is a component of a Chinese character. The term may variously refer to the original semantic element of a character, or to any semantic element, or, loosely, to any element whatever its origin or purpose...


Other sources

  • 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. ISBN 4-7700-1553-4.
  • Morohashi Tetsuji, 大漢和辞典/Daikanwajiten (Comprehensive Chinese–Japanese Dictionary) 1984–1986. Tokyo: Taishukan (generally regarded as the most authoritative kanji dictionary)
  • 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

External links




Glyph conversion