Is it important to remember which readings are kun vs on?

The first two levels, I was taking each vocab words and reasoning out why the reading was the way it was (single kanji, jukugo and okurigana basically).

Now I realize that I don’t really know how to classify the level 3-5 kanji readings, and I recognize them more.or less in context. If I want to know an on reading, I need to recall a jukugo and assume that it used on reading (which doesn’t always work) Kun reading is easier because lots of kanji are also words themselves.

I wonder if I’m being lazy in this way and hampering my learning. Does this matter long-term?


This doesn’t matter. Most people don’t try to remember which reading is on and which is kun. There are rules for this but there are too many exceptions. It is simpler to just remember which reading goes with an item and forget whether it is on or kun.


What you do need to remember is what language each kanji reading is. Chinese and Korean both share some characters, and for me it is very confusing. (i’m learning chinese as well). This probably doesn’t apply do you but it did confuse me.

Japanese people don’t even learn the difference between the two until they are in 3rd grade, and they already know about 300 kanji, and both kinds of readings for those kanji.

It’s not critical to know initially. Once you have a foundation, it can be helpful.


I don’t really think it does. I could pretty much figure out which was which by level 30 or so, but the only time I’ve worried about it was when seeing new words that used kanji I already knew and trying to figure out how it was read. And in that case I’d end up checking Jisho anyway.

I’d say it’s not strictly necessary to focus on learning whether a reading is On or Kun at the start, as you’ll mostly start to get a feel for it later on anyway. However knowing which is which can be useful. On readings are often used in words where multiple kanji are combined, whereas Kun readings are often used when a kanji is either on its own, or if it’s combined with some hiragana. Knowing which is which can help you know which reading is probably going to be used.

Although having said that, learning which reading is which isn’t really something I’d spend any time on learning specifically. Eventually you’ll get a feel for if something is an On reading or not, so I definitely wouldn’t spend extra time studying the difference in the beginning.

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Thanks all! Seems like it’s not extremely important to begin with and maybe later I’ll have more information on whether it’s useful from personal experience.

As others have said, it’s not important to know, really.

And after you’ve learned a lot of them, you’ll know which ones should be which in most cases. For example, readings with おう will be normally be on readings, and readings with おお will be kun. There are guidelines that give you strong hints based on how many syllables there are and what sounds are present in the reading.

Some you just have to memorize, though.

I think it is helpful because you can better structure the relations between kanji, readings and specific words if you know what’s on and what’s kun, and brains are generally better at remembering structured information rather than random sequences of data.

YMMV on that, of course.

But I’m pretty sure random strangers on the streets of Tokyo won’t force you at gunpoint to tell on and kun readings apart so if it’s not useful to you and you can get by without remembering that information, then you don’t really need to.

The more vocab you learn it will be obvious.