Context for learning on'yomi of a single kanji

Apologies if this has been asked before (I’m sure it has) - I’ve tried searching back through through the forums but haven’t found anything that feels like it answers my confusion.

The progression of lessons on WaniKani is Radical → Kanji → Vocab, and during the Kanji step you’ll be given the on’yomi reading for a kanji. What I’m finding confusing is for kanji that can appear as a vocab word as a single kanji (for example, 上), what is the benefit to learning the “Kanji” reading over the “Vocab” reading? Is there any instance in real life reading where I’d see 上 on its own and read it as じょう instead of うえ (or any other word, not just 上 specifically of course)? Or is WaniKani simply having you learn the on’yomi reading in the “Kanji” step so that when it comes up later in jukugo/etc. you already know it?

I guess the root of my question is, to what extent is it useful memorizing the specific kanji over how it appears in the context of a word?



Ideally (in my opinion), you would only study vocab, because the vocab reading is the reading you will actually use when seeing words in the wild and when speaking Japanese.

The only benefit of learning individual kanji readings is to make memorizing new vocab readings easier, and to make guessing the pronunciation of unknown words (when reading books, for example) easier.

Actually, yes, but you don’t have to worry about that while in the beginner stage and I would not study this as an individual word, but if you want an example: for books that are separated in two volumes, the first volume will be 上(じょう, abbreviated from 上巻) and the second one will be 下(げ, from 下巻). There might be other such exceptions, but as I said I wouldn’t think too much about it right now, you will memorize those when the time comes :slight_smile:


To add to what @Myria wrote, since the situation is not ideal it’s easier to isolate the kanji in order to teach the concept of how the radicals build it and the main/frequent concept the kanji illustrate/convey. It’s works well in the short run, but in the long run - I can recognize meaning and reading of vocabulary just fine, and fail the lone kanji reading even when I just recognized it a second before in a word, because it’s totally out of context that way. Still, what brings me there is learning it as an isolated kanji first, so I’m fine with it.


Not always, for example

There are many kanji like this, for example

But learning the kanji reading for jukugo words is precisely what you want the kanji readings to be for. If WK didn’t teach you that 王 was おう for example. And then sprung you with 王 and 王子 and 王女 all at once, it would be harder to learn each one. When you already know 王 is おう and 女 is じょ. I takes a whole lot less time to learn, especially when compounded with the 120-130 other vocab items you have per level.


Thanks all! I really appreciate the responses and examples, this is all helping me wrap my head around it a bit more


That’s actually one of the reasons for why WK breaks down a bit as you get towards the final levels. Kanji like 上 are used with their onyomi in dozens and dozens of words, so it’s well worth memorizing on its own so that you can more easily guess and memorize the readings of unknown words containing it when you encounter them.

As you get towards lower frequency kanji however, they’re often mainly used in a handful of common words so it feels like you could skip this step and jump straight to vocab for these cases.

For instance 挨拶 is a fairly common word, but the two kanji making it up are not used in any other common word as far as I can tell. But due to its fixed structure WK still teaches you the two kanji with their (not so helpful) individual meanings and readings before introducing the vocab.


The following kanji that are learned in the early levels (I figured I had enough after looking through the first four levels) are all typically or often read with their onyomi when they appear alone.

本 - ほん (kunyomi: もと is not extraordinarily rare, but also not particularly common)
天 - てん (kunyomi: あめ is an archaic way to say “sky,” not relevant to beginners)
王 - おう (kunyomi: きみ is probably only known to people who are interested in kanji trivia)
中 - ちゅう (kunyomi: なか is extremely common, but the onyomi is also very common)
月 - げつ (kunyomi: つき is extremely common, but the onyomi is also common as an abbreviation for Monday)
文 - ぶん (kunyomi: ふみ / あや are both relatively uncommon as words on their own)
円 - えん (kunyomi: まる is common, but the onyomi is extremely common)
方 - ほう (kunyomi: かた is extremely common, but the onyomi is probably more common)
台 - だい (kunyomi: うてな is quite rare)
分 - ぶん (kunyomi: does not exist for the solo kanji without okurigana)
用 - よう (kunyomi: does not exist for the solo kanji without okurigana)
気 - き (kunyomi: いき is probably only known to people who are interested in kanji trivia)

As noted, this is only from skimming the first several levels.


Interestingly き is listed as both kun and on: 気#kanji -

I’m not 100% sure but it’s possible that it’s one of those rare coincidences where both readings happened to match but are in fact unrelated (like 差/差す for instance). After all as you point out there’s the いき kunyomi that seems unrelated to Chinese and has the き sound. Maybe modern き just came from Japonic いき while a different キ was borrowed from Chinese.

And of course it’s possible that one influenced the other and the い was dropped just because Japanese people started to confuse both readings.

EDIT: I noticed that wiktionary doesn’t agree here and only lists キ and ケ as on and いき as kun: 気 - Wiktionary, the free dictionary


The 漢字源 kanji dictionary agrees with Wiktionary on this one.