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How does Kanji work?

Posted: April 16th, 2014 12:44 am
So I'm trying to learn kanji and I'm confused as to how it works. Is kanji combining sounds to make words? Or is it combining meanings and imagery to make words? And if that's the case then how does that work? I'm confused because I've seen words with both On and Kun readings that aren't in the word that they are combined with. So where do the On and Kun readings fit in? are they sounds that always go into the word that the kanji is being combined with? or do they fit in somewhere else? Please help me out

Domo arigato!

Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: April 17th, 2014 2:15 pm
by community.japanese さん、
Kanji (漢字) are Chinese characters that have been adapted into Japanese over many years. The characters were originally pictures of people, animals or other things, but over the centuries they have become increasingly stylized and most no longer resemble the things they represent. Kanji are made up of smaller parts known as radicals. Many characters have been combined with others to create new ones. When written on the page, each character is given exactly the same amount of space, no matter how complex it is. In written Japanese, there are no spaces between characters.
The number of kanji in existence number into the tens of thousands, but the good news is that a large number of these are rarely used variants, accumulated throughout history. The Japanese government has created a list of recommended characters known as Jouyou Kanji (常用漢字), which currently contains 1,945 characters (as of 2009). As this list occasionally undergoes revisions, it is possible that this number may increase in the future. Studies have shown that full literacy in the Japanese language requires a knowledge of around two thousand characters.
Most kanji have at least two different kinds of readings: kunyomi (訓読み), which is the Japanese reading, and onyomi (音読み), which is the original Chinese reading. The kunyomi is usually used when the kanji stands alone, and the onyomi when it is part of a compound. To give an example, the kanji 水 (“water”) can be read as either “mizu” (kunyomi) or “sui” (onyomi). However, there are exceptions to this rule that simply must be remembered.
Yuki  由紀

Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: May 20th, 2014 1:16 am
by prgee
A kanji works like this: 正 means correct, justice, righteous.

It has 2 parts: Foot 止, and 一 just a horizontal line. Put your feet along a straight line, thus walk and behave upright, righteously. Even drunkards are tested by the policemen if they can walk along a straight line.

Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: May 20th, 2014 4:55 pm
by community.japanese
prgee san,
Thank you for sharing your study tip. :D
One of strategies is creating own story for each kanji.
That’s a really good example.
Yuki 由紀

Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: May 20th, 2014 11:32 pm
by thegooseking
Most kanji have a meaning, and a reading that describes how the word is sounded, but there are exceptions.

Sometimes kanji is just about combining sounds. For instance 寿司 - sushi. Neither of the kanji will give you the meaning of sushi - 寿 has a meaning of 'long life' and 司 has a meaning of 'manage' or 'control'. But the first kanji is read as 'su' and the second kanji is read as 'shi', hence they are read together as 'sushi'. Kanji that are based on sound rather than meaning are known as ateji.

The other side is jikujikun, which is the opposite of ateji - in this case, the meaning of the kanji is important, but the reading is not. Perhaps the most common example is 今日 - this is the kanji for 'now' and the kanji for 'day', so it does give you the meaning of 'today', but if you look at the readings you'll get 'kon'nichi' for the on'yomi and 'imahi' for the kun'yomi - the kanji readings won't tell you that the word is normally meant to be pronounced 'kyō'.

As Yuki says, you just have to know these. You can't figure them out. Dictionaries will often tell you if a word is ateji or jikujikun, though, so that is your cue to pay special attention.

Edit: I also want to add to what Yuki said about jōyō kanji. It did contain 1,945 characters as of 2009, but it was actually extended to over 2,000 characters in 2010. In addition to this, there's another set called jinmeiyō. These are supposed to be kanji for people's names that are not included in the jōyō set. Personal names might not contain jinmeiyō kanji - Yuki's name, for instance, is written with jōyō kanji. But jinmeiyō are non-jōyō kanji that can be used in people's names, and according to government regulations, the kanji in personal names legally must be either jōyō or jinmeiyō.

However, because everyone learns the jinmeiyō kanji in school as well as the jōyō, the Japanese government has sometimes used it as a kind of "back-door jōyō" for adding kanji it thinks people should know, because it's easier to add something to the jinmeiyō set than the jōyō set. This has been a very controversial practice at times, and a lot of people think that the government isn't supposed to do this. In fact, some kanji have been removed from the jinmeiyō set after the public outcry about their being added by this practice. On the other hand, the extension of the jōyō kanji in 2010 also included some kanji 'graduating' from the jinmeiyō set to the jōyō set.

As for learning, I'd advise not being too worried about this - the jōyō set is still the most important one to learn, but it's worth knowing that things targeted at a Japanese audience might also include jinmeiyō kanji. In fact, the 狼 in the nickname I've given myself is a good example of a jinmeiyō kanji that people might be expected to know.


Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: May 24th, 2014 1:20 pm
by community.japanese
Thank you for the post.
You seem to be a Japanese language expert! :D
Yuki 由紀

Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: June 9th, 2014 12:54 am
by adelholtz_499460
こにちわ 皆さん。

I came here in search for an answer to almost the exact same question as the one posted initially in this thread.
After reading all the replies i just realized that i have a long long way to go.
Allthough im not a complete beginner i started with the Absolute Beginner Section and i am trying to learn kanjis given throughout the lesson as well learning joyo grade 1 kanjis.
I thought i knew how kanis do work but then i came across: 大丈夫
And nothing made sense to me any more...
I mean, whats the point in learning meanings to kanji, when you only need the on/kun readings
Words like: 猫 本日 肉
do make sense i feel, but im completely lost when meeting compounds like 大丈夫.
How should you know this is written like this if you dont learn the word + kanji writing as a whole?
If i learn the 3 kanjis separately i could maybe work out to use them to construct a word, but how do i know if the outcome is actually right??
For Example:
I have 本 and 大.
Then there ist the word おおもと. I know i can wirte おお本 but can i also write 大本.
And if i cant use it, how can i know that i cant use it?
Im a bit confused here :oops: maybe someone can help me out or show me a possible error in my thoughts regarding this.


Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: June 9th, 2014 7:52 pm
by prgee
all i see is 大丈夫 is big+height+husband. Big height husband assures safety and okey (situation), which are the meaning of the compound.

Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: June 9th, 2014 11:01 pm
by adelholtz_499460
Well you are somehow right. But if you try to read a text like that. Good Luck in trying to understand what a word, let alone a whole sentence really means.
My Point is. If you dont know the word you are reading you cant realy decipher it.

I mean how would you read the following sentence jsut by kanji meaning?

It would mean smth like:
cat big height husband is
So literally smth around this lines: Is the cat a big husband?

What it really means is: Is the cat okay?
Which is smth completely different.
So basically. You have to know that 大丈夫 in this case does stand for だいじょうぶ or you wont stand a chance in understanding the sentence.

Which brings me back to my original question.
Whats the point in learning the meaning of a kanji and not just the on and kun readings. The meaning by itself doesnt get you anywhere unless the kanji is used by itself and not in a compound.

So my solution to this problem would be: Learn the on and kun reading of a kanji through sample words and thus be able to remember use cases as well as words they are beeing used in.

Of course there are kanjis which by themselfes do already have a meaning.
猫 旭 人 and so on.
But those are covered when learning the respective kun reading. (when you know the word/vocabulary)

I hope i could bring my point and my doubts across.
I started to learn kanjis by meaning but i feel like this doesn't get me anywhere unless i learn them with sample words + at least one on/kun reading.

Sorry for any mistakes i may have made in this post but english is not my first language.

Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: June 10th, 2014 2:17 pm
by prgee
everybody is in the same boat. If you question this:
It would mean smth like:
cat big height husband is
So literally smth around this lines: Is the cat a big husband?

then you should question this also:
what is 日本 ? it would mean smth like sun and tree root. But not Japan?

Another example 葉書 is leaf and writing. right? This compound means postcard. The Meaning of it is like write on a tree leaf and send it as a postcard.

There is not kanji for every word. That's why compounds are created to mean words. There is not any individual kanji for words like company, or even simple as the goat. Compound kanjis are used for them. Instead of being stubborn enough to dissect any compound, try to see how together they mean something.

Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: June 10th, 2014 6:58 pm
by adelholtz_499460
Well i guess you are right.
I think that i understand the underlying concept of kanjis and how to use them. I also udnerstand that you cant use just any kanji to make a certain compound, cause it just wouldnt fit in the overall meaning of the "constructed" word.

But sometimes i do find it quite hard to make out the underlying conecpt of certain compounds. Maybe this will get better when i know more kanjis, grammar and vocabulary and thus have a "deeper" understanding of the language nad the underlying concepts as a whole.

Im still a beginner after all :)

Time will tell i guess.
Thanks for the answers so far.

Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: June 11th, 2014 3:33 pm
by community.japanese
Adelholtz san, prgee san,

I think you have a good discussion. I can totally understand your struggle.

When you don’t know how to read a compound word,
Firstly, you have to guess the reading.
Secondly you have to look up the word in your dictionary.
If you can't find the word in your dictionary, your guessing is wrong.
Then try other reading again and again until you get the right word.
That is the traditional way to learn how to read kanji and know the meaning.
It takes time however, the experience help you to improve kanji reading.

If you don’t want to do that, use rikai-chan which provides kanji reading automatically.

Ganbatte kudasai.

Yuki 由紀

Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: June 16th, 2014 6:00 pm
by adelholtz_499460

Thanks for the answer and suggestion.
What im wondering myself right now is: should you learn all on and kun readings at once? Do you need them? Or is it more practical to just concentrate on 1 or 2 readings?
I don't have any problems remebering kanjis stroke order and meanings. I get however confused with the different readings.
Right now im trying to learn kanjis through compounds and new words.
It gets easier like that.
Remembering the on reading for most kanjis is either i feel when you learn them within an compoung. Examples would be 度 and 土 like in: 一度 土曜日

Is this actually enough or do you absolutely need to learn every possible on kun reading?

Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: June 20th, 2014 4:27 pm
by community.japanese
adelholts san,
You should know all on and kun reading if you want to reach advanced level.
However, I recommend you to focus on a few reading first.
Even Japanese native speakers learn a few reading first and will learn others step by step.
I can understand on and kun reading makes you confused.
If you have questions, please feel ask us again.
Yuki  由紀

Re: How does Kanji work?

Posted: August 27th, 2014 4:40 am
by adelholtz_499460

so i was actually wondering myself about what im going to ask for some time now. I noticed this in quite a few words and finally i feel inclined enough to ask about it, cause i can't figure it out by myself...
Its about readings of kanji in certain words/compounds.

For example:
こ とし
今年 = ことし
in every database, dictionary and textbook i searched
今 is read キン コン for onyomi and いま for kunyomi.
年 is read ネン for onyomi and とし for kunyomi.

why is 今年 not read as こんねん??

Same goes for 今日(きよう)

or 足立区 (あだちく)
whis is 足 read as あ
and not like
ソク or at least: あし or た

I mean it would make sense if the respective readings in the sample compounds would have been listed anywhere in any dictionary at all, but i just find those words and similar words with similar readings in sample senteces and words for those kanjis...
Whats the meaning in listing on and kunyomi and still having other readings for certain kanjis that are listed nowhere except in sample words?

Maybe someone can explain this to me cause im really confused about this.

i found out that there is apparantly a kanji reading called "nanori" which is used in names, which makes sense for the reading of 足立区 but not for 今年 unless you can combine "nanori" and "regular" kanji readings in compounds.