As I approach level 5... this one character confuses me

I like to have a good grasp of kanji/vocab/radicals visually (knowing meaning by sight) and mentally (understanding the story, readings, etc through mnemonics) before I move on.

But as I am near the end of level 4, I’ve run into a character that I can’t quite understand 100%. 一文字

一文字 is defined as a “straight line.” I’ve searched the meaning and tried to find it being used in sentences and came to a website which used not only 一文字 but 二文字 as well. It was an article for understanding the meaning of 海’s なのり in boy/girl names. Said site that you DO NOT have to read (though it’s amazing practice for those who want it)

I’m wondering if/when does it mean “straight line” or “one letter/character.” Or even if it means both, just in different circumstances? I’m just unsure and would love for it to be cleared up for me…

First off, you will encounter lots of terms with the same writing but different meaning, even different reading, depending on the context.

According to JMdict, 「一文字」 can be read as 「ひともじ」, meaning “one written character”, but it is marked as ‘archaic’ and ‘female term or language’. My guess is that in the context of Japanese names this word is still used, but it is very specialized and if you see 「一文字」 in the wild it is far more likely to mean straight line. You’ll have to figure it out from the context.

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I did a little research and found that the ひともじ reading means Welsh onion (Allium fistulosum)​ and that is an archaic female language term. Its other meaning is indeed “one written character” uing the same pronunciation. According to “straight line” is read as ひともんじ. However I just spoke at length with five of my Japanese colleagues (I work in Japan) and they say the only way to read said kanji is ひともじ (never ひともんじ). They told me that to say line you either use katakana pronunciation or 線 (せん). Please remember though that as in all things concerning the Japanese language, words and meanings must be understood contextually. I hope that helps. :slight_smile:

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It’s true that it can’t be ひともんじ, but いちもんじ is a valid reading for the word.

Here’s a dictionary entry if you want to show it to your Japanese colleague. If they really do think it can’t be read more than one way. 勉強になります as they say.

The dictionary also clarifies any ambiguity.

It is a straight line, a character, and that archaic vegetable word.

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Ah I see. That is my bad - I miswrote. It should be いち. Thanks.

But they say that they don’t use that kanji at all when they indicate a straight line. They only use ライーン or 線.

Those words do mean “line.” And I agree they’re more common for talking about lines.

It’s just a pet peeve of mine when Japanese people say that “no one” uses a word, or a meaning of a word, that they themselves know and is in the dictionary. How did it get in their head if no one uses it? Perhaps it has a very narrow use, but what is important is nailing that down, not dismissing the word entirely.

Sorry for the rant.


Interesting, jisho is parsing JMdict in a wrong way. Arch and fem apply to the “one written character” sense only. The XML is
<entry><ent_seq>2196030</ent_seq> <k_ele><keb>一文字</keb></k_ele> <k_ele><keb>ひと文字</keb></k_ele> <r_ele><reb>ひともじ</reb></r_ele> <sense> <pos>&n;</pos> <misc>&arch;</misc> <misc>&fem;</misc> <gloss>one (written) character</gloss> </sense> <sense> <xref>葱</xref> <gloss>Welsh onion (Allium fistulosum)</gloss> </sense> </entry>
It doesn’t really make sense that “Welsh onion” should be a female term, right?

I’ve heard it in Jidaigeki period dramas, in settings relating to swordsmanship, such as describing how a swordsman cut someone down with one stroke. I’ve also heard it used in a Detective Conan episode to describe a long horizontal scar similarly inflicted by a katana.


“No one says that” seems to be Japanese for “it’s not the most common way to put it.”

FWIW, 「いちもんじ」is in the 12,000 to 24,000 most used word in Mainichi Shimbun, and 18,500 to 19,000 most used words overall, it is not even obscure.


I just checked with another person who laughed at the word. He said he’s never used it or heard it used other than in class in his whole life. I don’t think that the word is never used. However if no one I work with has heard it or used it themselves I am not inclined to start using it in this area where I live. It’s a matter of wanting fluent natural-sounding speech. And it got in their heads that no one uses it because in 50 years of life they never heard it used. I don’t think they actually mean that no one has ever used it or no one uses it now at all; they simply haven’t heard it and they are answering based on their experiences.

There’s more to it than just “should I use this in speech?” though.

WaniKani is a site to learn how to read. Just like in English, there are far more words that you know than you’ll ever personally use.

I wouldn’t laugh at anyone for learning English words that are formal/academic/limited. The importance is knowing the word’s status in the language.


I agree completely, as Japanese in written form (books, magazines, newspapers) is much different than Japanese in spoken form. I do take into account though when Japanese teachers of the Japanese language (2 of them) say that it is not the word to use in communication with others. I have no objection to learning as many words as possible, but my Japanese college professor (I have a degree in Japanese language) often warned me against using uncommon words in regular practice or in writing because it seems odd to Japanese people to find such words even in written communication. Yes for reading practice it is the best bet to learn everything you can, I agree. That does not lessen the importance of recommendations from people who know the language as intimately as we know English. Not to mention the social and cultural significance of word choices, which I can only learn slowly as an adult. I am saying these things because yes wanikani is a reading resource, but I hear that most people here want to learn the language, not just how to read it, and are using this in addition to many other resources. Hence I am sharing my experiences and information I am gathering as an American ex-pat living and working in Japan. (And he was not laughing at me. It is common for people here, especially when talking to members of the opposite sex, to laugh easily and frequently. It surprised him and he reacted with general non-pointed laughter. People here are cool and support everyone interested in learning their language and culture. :slight_smile: )


Here’s an example sentence using it in the “straight line” sense. This is from a kanji exercise for Japanese first graders (from

–to set one’s mouth in a straight line (my own translation; could be wrong. The 真 seems to be used just as an intensifying prefix, so even if this isn’t exactly the same word, I’d still say it’s pretty strongly related.)

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Thanks for the replies. It’s becoming clearer to me. I figure it’s not something I should be too concerned with right now. If I ever see it while reading again, I’ll understand from context, and that’s good enough for me.

Thanks everyone responding.

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I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying.

I still think a lot of Japanese people don’t “get” what’s being asked when they are asked about words on WK. Otherwise we wouldn’t hear so many stories from people who sound traumatized by the experience of asking Japanese people about them or using them. That didn’t happen in this topic, but it’s a semi-regular theme.

A similar thing happens with N1 grammar if someone peeks over my shoulder at a book I’m studying with. “We don’t use that!” Oh, but you know what it means, right? You realize I need this for a test?


Yeah if you tell them it’s for a test (especially the JLPT) they are like “Ohhhh!! I see.” They know all about tests that include everything and the kitchen sink lol. A few of my Japanese friends don’t understand that I love learning languages not only to communicate here and be able to read more complicated texts, but also because it’s really fun. They are not interested in learning English so they don’t get it. My friends who speak English can dig it though. So we have loooong conversations about vocabulary, grammar and etymology.

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真 indicates true, due, genuine in conjunctions like this. For example 真中 is “due center.” 真赤 is a deep red. 真夜中 is the middle of the night, as in exact midnight.

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can 一文字 be a straight line in any other orientation than horizontal?

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