"Arbitrary" choice between On and Kun readings

2 month in, reached level 7 yesterday. I have a problem, maybe.
I would like to have only On readings be taught as the main reading for Kanji. Always.

How important is it to be able to remember which of the readings i know for any particular Kanji are the Kun and which are the On?

Because i mix them up in about half of the Vocabulary.
To be more precise, i tend to mix them up alot more in Vocabulary where the Kanji used
was taught with Kun as the main reading.

I understand that the reading taught with the Kanji is choosen based on usage.
By now i understand most of the rules about which reading for which type of Vocabulary.
I see a Vocabulary, i recognize the Kanji, i know what it means, i can type it in Japa… wrong reading again.

Its not that i dont know which reading to use its that i have the wrong type of reading learned for the wrong use of the Kanji.
The fact that Kun and On readings are taught wildly mixed with each other causes confusion for me and adds an unnecessary layer of learning to the whole thing.

If the reading for the single Kanji was always the On, that reading would be associated with the lone Kanji and i knew that it would be the On without having to put in extra active work to remember.

Having 2-3 Vocabulary after that, with the (most used) Kun reading(s), to learn and memorize those
and we have the same effect of association.

If you put in the wrong one on a kanji entry, it just shakes and you can try again, because they want you to enter the one they think is most useful before you move on.

If you enter the wrong one on a vocab, that’s just a wrong answer, but it’s not like there’s a hard and fast rule about those single kanji vocab always being kun or on. They can be either. So even if you made all kanji lessons the on, you wouldn’t guarantee that your vocab answers were always right for single kanji vocab.


This seems like a problem with kanji and not with WK. It’s ok to be frustrated, we’ve all been there, it’ll get better. :slight_smile:


Honestly, I never even think about what is onyomi or kunyomi; I just learn the kanji reading as the most common/useful one and anything else is kind of treated as an exception. More than anything, I find the mnemonics to be the most important for remembering readings.

You mention that you understand most of the rules about which reading to use, but I don’t think that is very helpful. Instead of relying on the rules, try to focus more on the mnemonics, those are really key to this system in my opinion.

It may be slower, but I’d suggest making your own mnenomics when the default ones don’t seem too memorable, or at least come up with some variation of the story presented to you. You’re more likely to remember something you came up with yourself than something that you read.


After learning more kanji and getting more practice, you should start to recognize which readings are possible for on’yomi. So this problem should naturally resolve itself over time.


This is also something I occasionally have trouble with, and I didn’t understand it at all in school; I didn’t know why there were multiple readings and I didn’t have any way of knowing which ones were used when. Not to say that I understand it now, but I seem to know the right reading most of the time, even if I’m not really conscious of how I know it. I think it just comes with practice.

I think that it’s probably best to learn all the different readings and try to figure out what types of words use on’yomi or kun’yomi.

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You will get used to it.
There is no other way.

I forget about on vs kun all the time until I see stuff like this, eventually you just get somewhat decent at “guessing” and just feel what is right where, also I tend to focus on the vocab being the spoken, on its own stuff where as the kanji is sort of like a compound, the building blocks of words and sentences.

Here’s how it works for me:

Learn how the kanji is read when it’s surrounded by other kanji (usually on)

  • 方向 (HOU.kou) [on]
  • 東方 (tou.HOU) [on]
  • 会社 (KAI.sha) [on]
  • 社会 (sha.KAI) [on]
  • 東京 (TOU.kyou) [on]

Learn how the kanji is read when it’s surrounded by hiragana (usually kun) [especially important for verbs]

  • 仕方がない (shi.KATA.ganai) [kun]
  • 会います (A.imasu) [kun]

Learn how the kanji is read when standalone (usually kun)

  • 方 (KATA) [kun]
  • 会 (KAI) [on]
  • 東 (HIGASHI) [kun]

Learn exceptions (on/kun)

  • 方がいい (HOU.gaii) [on] - following the rules, it should be kun because it’s followed by hiragana, but it’s on because it’s an expression. 方 is standalone, followed by the subject particle が and adjective いい. I decided to add this here because a lot of people usually treat expressions like words (a single word, that is).
  • 東口 (HIGASHI.guchi) [kun] - following the rules, it should be on because it’s followed by kanji, but both kanji use the kun reading. “Probably because it’s two words put together (South + Exit) rather than a single word”.

Very rarely if ever do i have a problem with the reading of the Kanji itself.
Its been many days since i last saw the shaking.
The things i get wrong (other than new Kanji) are almost all Vocabulary

Those are basically the rules im going with.

They might not be hard and fast but if i knew which reading is which for each Kanji i would only need to remember the exceptions. Like words with bodyparts being Kun instead of On most of the time.

I do not use these, like at all. Maybe with a handful of Kanji.
And im not talking about the Radicals and Kanji. I dont have problems with those.
I need somewhere between 3-7 repetitions depending on how much the Kanji looks like the way it sounds and then i know the (main) reading for it.

I can to the same 3-7 repetitions for Vocabulary aswell. But it is tedious and the main reason i get things wrong is the On<->Kun mixup created by the fact that i dont know which is which.

As far as i can see the rules are very clear, very easy, have very few exceptions and those exceptions are
regular and clear.
Without those im basically being told to just memorize the reading for each Vocabulary on its own.
That seems like a really bad idea.
Why would i even learn the Kanji readings in the first place if i were to do that?

Isnt the point of learning those Kanji the fact that they repeat their reading in dozens of real words?
It works beautifully in Nouns.
I can stitch those together and be correct with the reading even with new ones i’ve never seen before.

I did read that somewhere else, the number of On readings in use being quite limited.

If you feel like differentiating the readings better, give [Userscript] WaniKani Katakana Madness a try.

Changes on’yomi readings to katakana, just like you would find them in most dictionaries.


Well if you can share this discovery with the Japanese learning world, I’m sure many would be grateful. There are hundreds of threads here trying to make sense of kanji.


Its not like i discovered them.
But the basics got posted in this very thread already and they can be read on several japanese learning sites.

Unless we are talking about different things.
I mean the usage of the Kun vs On readings in Vocabulary depending on what the rest of the word looks like.

The 573 words (according to WK) ive learned so far had very little deviation from those rules, the most notable being “today” and several words with the “4” Kanji because of the whole “death” thing.

The early levels are full of exceptions to the rules that people always mention. Not to mention what lies beyond that.

Commonly given rule: A lone kanji is read with the kunyomi
Kanji in the first 10 levels that break this rule
本点天円王文分用号図 (okay, I’m stopping at level 6, but yeah)

Is there a clear and simple rule that binds these?

Commonly given rule: 2 kanji with no hiragana are read with onyomi
Vocab in the first 10 levels that break this rule
子犬 (both kun)
太字 (mixed kun-on)
花火 (both kun)
花見 (both kun)
里心 (both kun)
大声 (both kun)
毛糸 (both kun)

Again, there are more, but I don’t think I need to make an exhaustive list.

Then you’ve got ones that look easy, but aren’t. I’m barely going to get into this.

何時 - this is なんじ, right? from level 7? Well, except when it’s いつ, which admittedly isn’t often, but it does happen.
行方 - this looks easy, gotta be… let’s follow the 2 kanji = onyomi rule, so… こうほう… nope. Or maybe it’s いきかた? That one is possible, considered an irregular reading, not common. The answer is it’s ゆくえ.

The list of truly exceptional readings (like 今日, 大人, 行方) is very very long.


indeed, it seems WK is in the middle of the bridge between a clear explanation … and no explanation at all.

From the “Heaven” vocabulary item:

Since this word is made up of a single kanji, it would normally use the kun’yomi reading. The kanji that makes this word only has one important reading, though, and that happens to be the on’yomi. Since you learned the on’yomi reading for this kanji, you’ve already learned the reading for this word.

What is this explanation even supposed to mean?

Maybe I’m coming at this from a position of already knowing what it means, and that’s clouding my view, but it seems fairly straightforward, if misguided (as outlined above). It just says to forget about any kunyomi for that word, even though usually single-kanji words are read with the kunyomi*.

*according to many

We outlined why I think that’s a silly “rule” to tell beginners, but the content of it seems straightforward to me.

I don’t think it’s silly. A rule that is correct 51% of the time is still better than guessing randomly.
Sure, knowing the answer is always better, but in the mean time, it’s nice to have a crutch.

And rules 1 and 2 that you mentioned earlier are correct about 80% of the time, if I recall correctly.
That’s pretty damn good.

  1. Most kanji, when alone, use the kun’yomi reading.
  2. 天’s only important reading is on’yomi, therefore you won’t be seeing the kun’yomi even when it’s alone. In other words, it’s not part of the most of #1.
  3. Because you learned the on’yomi during the “Kanji” stage, the vocabulary is the same reading.

As for the OP, I recommend taking a few minutes after doing kanji lessons to look at the WK pages for them. The reading you learn for the kanji (the one that is usually most common) will be solid black, while any other readings used enough to care about at this stage in your Japanese studies will be grey. A trip to Jisho would also suffice. I personally find it quite useful for memory’s sake if nothing else.

An example from my level: 縦’s kanji reading is たて, because that reading is used everywhere and I learned it long before I ever started studying kanji. However, because of my phonetic knowledge, I immediately noticed that じゅう could be potentially its on’yomi due to the right component. I didn’t ever see the on’yomi used until I actually moved to Japan.

There are quite a few cases where you’ll find kanji that may use their on’yomi in literally one or two cases, but otherwise use the kun’yomi. Knowing those on’yomi can help you remember the kanji and maybe the meaning, but ultimately you’re better just learning the more common reading.

Ironically, I actually have a significantly higher accuracy on my vocabulary than I do my kanji because I am much more familiar with kun’yomi as a whole. :rofl:

You have a lower threshold for what makes sense to call a rule than me. It’s fine if you want to guess when you have no other way to know, and you might as well take any edge possible, but people learning kanji on a kanji-learning site are under no such pressure.

And I am a little suspicious of any percentages, since the word frequency would need to be taken into account as well, when we’re considering what to drill into newbies’ minds.

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天’s main kunyomi (the one you learn in elementary school) is my favorite, though. I wish it got more love :cry:
天の邪鬼 天照 etc…