Kanji reading type

I have this really big confusion with kanji which you may hear a lot. But I understand the difference between radicals and kanji and the kunyomi and onyumi readings, but what does wanikani actually mean by ‘‘vocab reading’’ and ‘‘kanji reading’’. Also this screen shot i added confuses me as well because why does the word ‘‘big’’ use the kanji for big. I dont know what I have missed and i have never used this forum before so any help is appreciated.


Vocab reading is the reading of a single-kanji word (or any word really, but for anything other than a single-kanji word this confusion is going to be nonexistent)
Kanji reading is the reading (or one of the readings) used for the kanji when used within a word

Something that’s both obvious and not, and should really be taught more explicitly: kanji are not words. Some words are made up of only one kanji, but that does not mean that kanji is a word. It just means that word is written using only that one kanji.

So for 生, the “vocab reading” means the reading of the word 生, which is なま. The “kanji reading” of 生 however would be any of the numerous readings this kanji can take when used in a word, like the せい in 生活

Often that translates to kun’yomi for the vocab reading and on’yomi for the kanji reading (if I remember correctly), but not always.

Because it means big

That’s pretty much it. The word おおきい is the Japanese adjective “big”. That word is written using the kanji 大 and some kana. However, the kanji 大 can also be used in other words and can still mean “big” in those contexts (either literally or metaphorically), like in 大人, 大変 or 大好き.


I was about to answer but @yamitenshi answered way better than what I typed up, that’s exactly it!


There are minor cases where the kanji reading is the kun’yomi reading, but these are few.

Regarding the OP, WaniKani teaches kanji and later vocab using that kanji. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the background of the card during lessons or review as these will be different.

Vocab is a word, kanji is just a character used to write words.


Yeah I was thinking that was a bit of a rarity but I wasn’t sure just how rare. I think there are a few kanji that either don’t have a kun’yomi or an on’yomi, too - not entirely sure which ones.

And then there are cases where there’s a general trend of using the kun’yomi or on’yomi depending on certain circumstances, like counting depending on the counter you use or the general tendency to use kun’yomi for body parts, and such… so I just went with “often on’yomi but not always” - though I can’t quite recall how WK quizzes these and whether あし is accepted as a kanji reading for 足 for instance.

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缶 has only an on’yomi. I think it’s unlikely for kanji to not have an on’yomi, because the origin in the end is Chinese. It’s different for words where the kun’yomi kind of just vaguely justifies the kanji usage like in 台詞.

EDIT: I got it reverse with 縄, my bad.

Not always

Some kokuji still have an on’yomi regardless, but not all. 込 is very common for example and only has kun’yomi apparently (TIL). The article does say most kokuji are rarely used though.

I do recall running into one a while back but I don’t know which one - 込 aside of course because 込む is a ridiculously common verb. 畑 maybe?


Which one of those only has an on’yomi?

腺 and 塀 are both on’yomi-only

If you have not already, I would recommend reading this guide by Tofugu , Learn Japanese: A Ridiculously Detailed Guide hopefully if will help understanding of kana, kanji and vocab.

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The other thing I think it’s useful to be clear about here is that although WK picks one of the kanji’s readings and teaches it to you as “the kanji reading”, this is a WK-specific idea. Kanji have multiple readings, and the one WK picks isn’t special or a standard choice outside WK, it’s just the one they think it would be most helpful to remember if you’re going to remember just one.


Surprised pikachu face.jpg :smiley:

Okay, this one did surprise me. I was expecting it to have an on’yomi, but apparently not. @Jonapedia is there a similar Chinese equivalent? Or do you use 野 instead?

Yeah, I think this might be the leading motivation, though sometimes the choice is quite arbitrary like in the case of 縄 where the kun’yomi reading is far more common, yet WaniKani picked the on’yomi reading as the “kanji reading”.


It’s a little of my idea, but if an On’yomi usage is rare beyond a threshold, or is in very specific vocabularies (beyond a threshold frequency), perhaps it shouldn’t be taught.

Rather than whether On or Kun is more common.


峠(とうげ)? Means mountain pass, and I know it’s a kokuji. Worse, because of the way it’s constructed, there’s no clear match with any traditional radicals, so it’s not obvious what reading to give it. However, there’s a Chinese character with the same origin as the righthand side (卡 kǎ), and that’s been used as a guide to read this character in Mandarin as qiǎ (e.g. when reading Japanese names).

Funnily enough, 畑 has a reading in Mandarin (tián), and even definitions. I checked the original meaning last night, but forgot it. I think it meant something like… ‘succession’? The modern meaning is similar to the Japanese meaning, referring to farmland.