Noob question re: readings

Hello WaniKani friends,

I appreciate this is likely a very rookie question (apologies - I’ve just started WK :see_no_evil:), but I don’t get why some kanji have the same reading?

For example (and I’m only up to Level 2 at the moment):
夕 (evening) has a reading of “ゆう”
右 (right) also has a reading of “ゆう”

Can anyone share even a basic overview of why this is? And how one would then know in conversation what word is being referred to? Do we solely rely on context for this?

Thanks so much in advance! :pray:


Kanji were borrowed into Japanese from China more than a thousand years ago. They also borrowed the pronunciations.

But if you’ve ever heard Japanese people try to pronounce English words, you might be able to guess that they didn’t quite get all those Chinese sounds to fit into their existing pronunciation scheme.

But they didn’t let that stop them.

The biggest thing with Chinese was that it had (and still has) tones, whereby identical sounds can be differentiated by changing the pitch of the sound. So you could have two characters make the same sound and yet still be differentiated.

Japanese just abandoned all that when they imported the characters and sounds.

On top of that, sometimes things just sounded identical in Chinese by historical fluke or etymology.

But that’s the treetops reason.

In this case, they aren’t often used as standalone words like that as ゆう. There are dozens of kanji read as こう or しょう, but they usually appear in compounds with other kanji, not just alone like that. Coincidentally, ゆう is actually the native Japanese reading for 夕, not the one borrowed from Chinese, which is せき. But anyway.

夕 appears as ゆう in 夕食 (ゆうしょく) dinner, for instance
右 appears as ゆう in 左右 (さゆう) left and right

For genuine homophones, yes, as you anticipated, context solves it, just like it does for you in English.


in addition to what Leebo said, japanese just has a lot of homophones (words which sound the same). and for those, context is indeed the only way to know.

but it is usually much less tricky than one might think ^^


A somewhat interesting link about a mathematical genius thinking the homophones are the same word, translation - Is [mathematical] 'analysis' in Japanese the same word as 'fine cuisine' in Japanese? - Japanese Language Stack Exchange


Ah, interesting… Have there been any particularly useful strategies you’ve employed to improve comprehension (whether reading or in speech)?

Ah, okay, interesting… Thanks @Leebo :pray:

Is this something that proves challenging as one starts engaging with actual Japanese material, or am I just assuming this will be an obstacle when it really isn’t?

At my stage of learning (I’m level 3 here, but I’ve been studying for much longer), I find repeating readings to be more helpful than challenging.

This is because many share readings because they are related, not randomly. If you learn enough kanji you can start to be able to guess the readings of kanji you’ve never seen before because of this.

For instance, 工, 項, 功, and 攻 are all こう, sharing the 工 element.


at the level where i am (a good year of 2 hours daily - 3 months of wanikani), the most effective tool i’ve found is reading. i’ve not even read much, but it feels like my understanding of written and spoken japanese has taken a leap forward. but that’s also because i like reading, and can now (slowly) read things i actually want to read.

the homophones really aren’t too much of a problem, in particular with written language, as the kanji gives you a meaning along with the sound.

at the stage where you are, you need more vocabulary, and for that you need more kanji. WK is the best place i’ve found for learning kanji, so you’re good there. you’ll also need to start with grammar, i recommend sooner rather than later. but i can’t give you any recommendations for that, i still haven’t found a grammar ressource i could really stick with.


Like @Leebo said, it’s actually really helpful.

And in my experience as an example, in the link @sergiop gave, the せき part of 懐石(料理) and 解析(学) feels different to me even as a homophone because the words I know that use 石 versus 析 are distinct in my mind.

Ah… How interesting… Yeah, I can kinda see how this would actually be helpful… Thanks @Leebo, that’s a good way to reframe it :blush:

Thanks @alo :pray: No doubt it will continue to fall into place as I continue to learn more!

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Thanks @Mrs_Diss, I really appreciate your insights :pray: I look forward to reading eventually too - once I’ve levelled up my kanji and vocabulary some more, as per your recommendations!

Out of interest ('coz I love reading too), what sort of material are you tending towards?

there are lots of recommendations about what to read, starting with graded readers (you might be able to start with some of those right away) via anime and light novels to news-sites with easy language (nhk easy) and games…

my personal advice would be to read something you enjoy, something which you want to read, and which draws you back most days. for me that’s yuri manga :sweat_smile:


Context is really much more useful than one might think. I wouldn’t overthink it.

It’s not too hard. English too, if you pay attention to it, has many words similar to those two. :stuck_out_tongue: