Kanji meanings

Not sure if this has to be in kanji section or wanikani section.

I will try to explain as best as I can, but it will be a bit hard for me.

I have a problem of not undrestanding which meanings kanji may hold. When I am learning a new kanji I try doing an extensive research of all meanings it can hold and nearly always it leads me to checking jisho and yarxi (yarxi is for russians).

Thing is that sometimes WK and jisho meanings don’t match at all and same goes for yarxi. Sometimes yarxi has as an adjective while jisho has it as a noun. This confuses me a lot.

As far as I understand it after all these 48 levels, kanji is a formless thing which can’t be any part of speech by itself. So it can draw its meanings from any words it creates, be they kun’ or on’ words. Is that correct? Because I fail kanjis here on WK a lot just solely due to me forgetting whether it was represented as a noun or as an adjective or maybe even as a verb (sad? sadness? jump? jumping? agree? agreement? accept? acceptance? etc.).

Though in the same time sometimes kanjis have own unique meanings which don’t even appear in its own one-kanji word (see 並 which has drastically different meanings as a kanji and as a word).

Also there are moments when kanji has a series of synonyms in its meanings and then a 1 kanji word has a series of even more synonyms. I may have trouble with remembering any of the meanings represented in kanji and I have a really strong desire just taking that additional synonym from a 1 kanji word, but I hesitate in fear.

So here are 2 problems once again:

  1. Can I put all the part of speech variations in kanji meaning?
  2. Can I draw additional meanings from words formed by kanji?

Enlighten me, somebody.


I have done this at times.

Sometimes this meaning will then become too limited, when you see it in the wild. Take for example 生. This means raw on its own (as a vocab), but the kanji meaning is actually Life. So I’d be careful with this one.

Have you tried looking up kanji meanings in monolingual dictionaries instead? In this one the kanji are generally defined by its vocabulary, though.


As far as I see it from your link, 生, as a kanji, means both “raw” and “life” and “live” and and and…

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I mean, I think WK tries to cendense a kanji to its core meaning, and for 生 that would be Life, I guess. Life and Live are the same concept, just one is a verb, and the other is a noun.

How about you only look it up in your native language, when you think you’re unsure of the English meaning in the first place?

I think I didn’t finish my thought here… What I further meant to say, is if you come across a new word, like I did 生前 today, you’d be really limited in your ability to come up with the meaning, if to you 生 means Raw. In front of the raw :thinking: :question:

Limiting myself to russian will bring great troubles. If I add kanjis in russian I will be forced to add any kanji and any vocabulary in russian, it is an enourmous amount of work. I use russian yarxi just to reassure myself that I understood english meaning correctly since you know that some meanings are a bit uncertain and vague.

I usually avoid sticking to unpopular meanings ofcourse. I just want better synonyms of the same core meanings which are not presented in kanji but are absolutely legit as synonyms and exist within a 1-kanji word.

Forgot to reply to that. No, I didn’t. I don’t believe I have that level of understanding of japanese words meanings to draw synonyms from such places. But I guess I have no choice, eh?

In most cases there was one “true” original meaning, and then other meanings developed from abstract uses of that meaning. Beyond that, sometimes there was just rampant borrowing due to “sound-alike” kanji being useful for certain things.

For instance 北 originally was a picture of two people facing back to back, and it meant “back.” Then the abstraction continued and it meant “to face away” or “to move away from.” The abstraction went further to “to be defeated.”

Later, due to the fact that the Chinese word for “north” was a homophone, this character became used to mean north as well. Gradually the original meanings faded away almost entirely, and a new character (背) was created to mean “back.”

The “to be defeated” meaning of 北 still lingers in the word 敗北 though.

The reason I give this example is because the history often makes things needlessly complicated. These aren’t things someone planned from the ground up yesterday. They are living entities with thousands of years of history. Boiling them down to a single English (or any other language’s) word is almost always going to be a weak representation of the full scope of the kanji.


I also had that thought just now. A question like “was there first an egg or a chicken?”. Truly I didn’t know whether kanji got its meanings from the words it created or the other way around.

Even though It is all very insteresting, it doesn’t address my current problem x__x

The answers to both of your questions are yes (except when there’s an obvious reason not to, like how 寿司 being used for sushi because they make the sounds すし doesn’t mean that 寿 or 司 have anything to do with vinegared rice)… but was there something else you were still having issues with?


Yes, such cases where there is ateji or something else require intelligent approach. I am careful with suspicious cases.

Uh, nothing else, I guess. Since I got a permission from a local guru, I will do as I please now. Thanks.

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This is what I meant though :sweat_smile:

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