Beginner question regarding readings

When learning kanji through Wanikani, do you actively remember which reading is the onyomi reading, and which reading is the kunyomi reading? I am reaching a point now where I need to decide whether I will/need to do this, or just need to remember the readings irrespective of whether they are the onyomi or kunyomi reading. I hope this makes sense, but it may also be a very rookie-ish question!



It helps if you do!


I think most people take note of this. But, I can’t say I’ve put much mental focus on it. After all, most readings will be the on’yomi. It’s more of an exception that it’s the kun’yomi, and that’s for items where you’ll probably encounter it more, thus making it more relevant to learn first.

In the end, what you need to truly keep straight is the vocabulary as that’s actual words, not readings you learn. There is only one correct answer there. Vocab will help you navigate the differences in kanji readings as you see them applied in words.


To expand on what has been said already, you’ll quickly get a “feel” for it. A standalone Kanji almost always uses the Kunyomi, so if that’s the same what you learned with the Kanji it’s probably kunyomi. If the reading when it’s used in a “single kanji verb” is different, the one you were taught, was the onyomi.

For example you get 人 and 犬 early. For the first one you’ll learn “nin” and “jin” as readings, these are the onyomi. “Hito” is how it’s read when it’s alone, that’s kunyomi.
The second one has “inu” as Kanji and vocab reading, so that’s the kunyomi.

Tldr: You’ll get a feel for it, I would not worry about it too much.


I would recommend reading this article about onyomi vs kunyomi to understand the differences in their usage. I personally do usually remember which is which, but I don’t necessarily have to actively make an effort to do so. They sort of have different vibes, so it becomes kind of natural to recognize “Oh this must by a kunyomi…Yep.” or “This has gotta be an onyomi.”


The userscript “Katakana Madness” could also help to better distinguish between the two readings (at lest when reviewing kanji) as it turns the on’yomi readings into katakana. If that’s something you might be looking for.


as a general rule if there is no ひりがな with the kanji it will be the 音読み but there are exceptions like 私自身 or 建物.
but as @M4tthi4s91said once you get a feel for the language it will become intuitive.

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Personally I try to focus on just knowing the vocabulary words. That’s what you’ll actually be encountering when you read.



In another thread here I read complaints about “wrong” meanings for Kanji that Wanikani teaches. There are no wrong meanings, Kanji don’t have meaning. Words have meaning.

That starts with even a very simple one like 本. Does it mean origin? Or book? It probably comes from “books are the origin of knowledge” or some stretch like that, but just memorizing one keyword is not enough.

Or what does 着 mean? Wear or arrive? Best to just learn the words きる und つく and accept that they are written with the same Kanji.


Hey, I had a similar problem when I started WK! I also posed almost the same question to the community. Since then, though, I’ve learned to take the vocab at face value, without dwelling too much on what reading rule it’s following, because there will always be special cases or exemptions. Instead of filling my memory with rules, I remember the vocab reading as is.

For example, I remember that the reading for 一つ is ひとつ, not because I know “it’s kun’yomi reading when number kanji is paired with つ,” but because I just memorized that that’s the reading for this specific word.

Funnily enough, overtime as you advance through and encounter more kanjis, you do develop a sense of which reading is being used, even for me who’s not paying too much attention which one is the kun’yomi and the on’yomi. I notice this more when I’m stumped in a quiz and throw in a hail mary based on what I think the reading should be, and almost all the time I get a hit.

Hope my answer makes sense too. Good luck!


Yeah, I’ve heard the idea that it’s not great to learn English meanings for individual kanji, but it’s part of the WaniKani system which I otherwise enjoy.

I would say they have multiple meanings, not that they have no meanings…


Or perhaps that the kanji meanings cannot be equated one-to-one with English words and concepts.

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I think that’s the best way to put it. “No meaning” is of course provocation on my part.

the 着 kanji derives it’s meaning from attachment if you look up 付ける you will also see 着ける as an alternative form of the same vocabulary. we attach clothes to our body and we attach ourself to a location when we arrive. The biggest hurdle to understanding Japanese is European languages. the more you learn to easier it gets cause your mind stops translating to English and just knows it as what it is… Japanese. It’s best to think of the English meanings as ideas not a definition.

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Attachment is a nice keyword for both of these meaning actually, but of course attachment in English can mean so much more. So yeah, a 1 on 1 keyword will always be pretty hard.

The standalone kanji (like it’s used in a vocab word) will use the kun’yomi reading. The on’yomi reading is not a word in and of itself unless the kanji uses the same kanji for on’yomi and kun’yomi, but when we review kanji, we answer with the on’yomi reading. It’s not actually a word, it’s just what will typically be used for jukugo, or compound words.

Something about the pink and purple backgrounds might trigger something that gives me the right reading without thinking too hard. It definitely comes with practice. You do something multiple times daily for long enough and you’ll get a hang of it. When I started, I had absolutely no idea how I was supposed to “guess the reading” for vocab, and got it wrong most time before looking even for phonetic ones. By now, I can do the phonetic ones no problem, and am getting a feel for guessing rendaku. It’s all about practice, you’ll get the hang of it in no time!


…Also just so you know it’s probably a good idea to cater to your reader a lil more, OP’s level 2 so he doesn’t know any of those kanji or their readings… Romanji’ll do just fine :relaxed:

I’m a Chinese speaker, so I guess I can’t really not pay attention when a reading sounds like its cousin in Mandarin or other Chinese dialects. However, I don’t think that knowing which reading is which is useful per se beyond increased general knowledge: I’m pretty sure that before the modern Japanese education system, there were relatively uneducated but otherwise fluent Japanese people who went around without worrying too much about whether they were using an on’yomi or kun’yomi. However, if you use the classification as a means of helping you figure out how to read a kanji, then it has value. When you get a feel for it, you might say, ‘OK, this seems like more of a kun’yomi situation. I’ll use the kun’yomi,’ and reach for it in your memory. That’s the point of knowing which is which, in my opinion.

I guess I’ll just try to give you a few ideas about how to tell when you’re looking at an on’yomi. These are just general rules, and I’m pretty sure there are exceptions. Here goes:

  • Most on’yomi are two syllables (the technical term is ‘morae’, since you could see that すう is one syllable, but two morae) long. A few are one syllable long, but those are a bit rarer. In any case, they’re never longer than two syllables, in my experience. (N.B.: using my terminology, ちょう = two syllables. Cho - u. In real life, of course, you just say ‘choo’ with an extended O sound.)
  • Many on’yomi contain sounds that used to be non-existent in Japanese. Apparently the ちし + ゃゅょ system was invented for transcribing Chinese sounds.
  • On’yomi often end with fairly hard consonant sounds. く and つ turn up quite a lot, as does ん. You still hear sounds like this in Chinese dialects today, like in Hokkien, Cantonese and Teochew. The one consonantal ending that turns up in Chinese dialects that doesn’t seem to pop up in Japanese is P: I still haven’t seen an on’yomi ending in ぷ.

That’s about all I can think of for now. I hope that helps.

Sorry to nitpick, but I’ve been seeing this quite a bit on the forums, and I just wanted to say: it’s rōmaji. Long O, no N. (The accent bar can be dropped if you want, since it’s kinda troublesome to type with all that.) I think the reason is that Rome is “Roma” in Latin. Your point about catering to one’s reader still stands though. :grin:

Guess I’ll just break these down for OP: the first is read “watashi jishin”. The second is “tatemono”. The reason this seems unexpected is that if the on’yomi were used for all the kanji, the first would be “shijishin” and the second would be “kenbutsu”. I’m no expert, so I probably can’t explain everything, but I think readings are chosen depending on how words break down in the speaker’s head. It has to be “watashi jishin” in the first case because the three characters don’t form a single concept. It is, rather, ‘I’ (watashi) ‘myself’ (jishin). I’m not sure why the second word uses kun’yomi, but I think it has to do with where the word came from. I don’t think 建物 exists in Chinese. The equivalent in Mandarin is 建筑物 (the second character is the simplified version of 築, a character that appears in Tsukiji 築地, the name of that famous fish market in Tokyo), which means ‘constructed object’. The second character is necessary in Mandarin for clarification, I guess, since 建 means ‘to build’, but not necessarily in the literal sense. As support for my theory, well… you’ll notice that 建築物 also exists in Japanese, but it’s read ‘ken chiku butsu’ – the on’yomi is back. Tatemono probably comes from 建てる(tateru), meaning ‘to build’ and ‘mono’, which is the general word for ‘object’ and usually written as 物.

By the way, for future reference, 物 is probably one of the characters that switches between on’yomi (butsu) and kun’yomi (mono) the most in compounds, so it’s best to be aware of both readings.


Thanks everyone for the helpful comments, and glad to see I am (or was?) not the only person to struggle with this! I will just carry on and see where this road leads me :slight_smile: