Onyomi and Kunyomi frustrations

Starting to feel overwhelmed between the two of these and I’m not even past level one… Maybe I’m not focusing enough on when the different pronunciations are used, but it’s seriously frustrating learning completely different ways to say the same thing. Though I suppose it’s comparative to people and person, etc. Idk, just venting a little. I already feel like I’m hitting a wall here :frowning:


Welcome to Japanese.

A big part of the problem is that the entire kanji system is a Chinese import, retrofitted into the pre-existing Japanese language. So words like おとな and じんこう already existed when court officials (who were probably bilingual Korean or Chinese scholars) decided to write them as 大人 and 人工.


You’ll get used to it. Everybody struggles at first.

Here’s a discussion on the same thing from just one or two days ago in case you want to learn more.


It’s not quite “different ways to say the same thing”, but more “the same character is pronounced different ways depending on context”. So like, there are multiple words that use the 山 symbol, but the actually word “mountain” on its own is always pronounced “yama”.

But yeah, it’s frustrating for pretty much everybody starting out.


Please trust me when I say this is one of those things that’s frustrating for newcomers but a godsend once you start getting the hang of it. With the amount of homonyms that Japanese has in general, I think it would be impossible to operate without one or the other. It makes distinguishing speech especially helpful down the line. Stick with it, one day maybe a year or so down the line, you’ll just wake up and get it.

Don’t worry about trying to memorize rules. Just stick to memorizing the vocab with its associated pronunciation. When you finally get good enough to have a real conversation, you won’t have time to think about rules anyway. It’s just gonna have to be drilled into your head.


Just focus on the radicals, the blue backgrounds, first. They will help you reinforce the mnemonics that will be used to help you remember the kanji meanings later. There are some good rules of thumb with onyomi/kunyomi readings:

  • if it has hiragani next to it like 白い (shiroi which means white), it has a kunyomi reading

  • if it next to another kanji, there is a good chance that it will be onyomi - 白人 (hakujin which means white person)

  • Despite this, sometimes that is not always true, and the names of people follow a different set of pronunciations

Keep in there. It’s confusing and somewhat tough at first, but the further you go, the more you’ll get the hang of it. Any other questions? I’d be glad to answer them.


Well… 白 may not be the best example to go with, because of the seven vocab items in WaniKani that are 白 plus another kanji and no hiragana, four of them, more than half, use kun’yomi.

1 Like

Cyndagon, I watched this the other day and it really helped, because it made me see that it’s nothing weird. It’s only like in English where we talk about dogs, but dog-related words usually start with can (canine) or ken (kennel). When we’re learning the pink kanji, it’s like learning the can/ken. And when we learn the purple vocabulary, that’s like learning the word ‘dog’. (No doubt more erudite Japanese learners will take issue. But as a beginner, it gave me a bit of clarity).

Anyway don’t worry - keep on with the SRS and don’t worry about getting things wrong. It’s through getting them wrong and going over them that you cement the right answer! good luck


Like @Jerred said, it’s entirely a matter of context. A very good analogy I once saw went like this: Imagine kanji were used to write English, and we were studying 水, which represents the concept of water. In that case,

  • 水 on its own would be ‘water’
  • 水 in words that come from Latin would be ‘aqua-’ or ‘aque-’, like in ‘aqueduct’
  • 水 in words that come from Greek would be ‘hydro-’, like in ‘hydrogen’ (by the way, the Japanese word for ‘hydrogen’, 水素=suiso, is a literal translation of ‘hydro-gen’ – ‘origin of water’)
  • 水 in words or phrases coming from French might be ‘eau’, like in ‘eau de toilette’

In other words, we deal with multiple readings for a concept in English too, just that our system of symbols captures sounds, not meaning. That’s all there is to it. Of course, learning a new set of symbols is going to take some effort, but that’s WaniKani’s purpose.


Thank you all for the words of advice an encouragement. I’m going to stick with it. I’m at 2+ weeks studying, and tbh I’ve never been studious about much in my life so I’m probably also just getting over growing pains. My Genki books come in next week (so much for prime two day shipping, amirite?) so hopefully my studies can proceed further than they already are. I think I just need to put forth a little more effort in the Wanikani learning by maybe incorporating flash cards, or just reading over the symbols prior to reviews and whatnot Either way, I’ll figure out what works best for me ^w^


i personally try not to focus too hard on which reading is kunyomi and which one is onyomi. just pay attention to the reading as it appears in its vocabulary. i feel like it’s one of those things that you start picking up on subconsciously, just give it some time. good luck!

1 Like

Did you reset? I saw you joined in around April

I never started :stuck_out_tongue: I’m a Chinese speaker, so kanji are familiar to me. I started Chinese as a toddler and regularly used it in school and for watching TV dramas. I’m basically a native speaker, but I’m not as fluent as someone from, say, China. I was raised bilingual with English as my main language.

I might have found and forgot about it back then, but I did not reset so to speak. I only started recently.

Oh! I wondered how hard it would be for someone who is relatively fluent in Chinese to learn Japnaese.

There are a few other threads on that question that I’ve commented on. I can’t remember their titles exactly, but one of them is ‘Anyone else making the jump from Chinese?’. Another is something like ‘Chinese while continuing Japanese’. Try using the forum search function. They’re fairly recent, so they shouldn’t be too hard to find. I think even ‘chinese jonapedia’ should bring something up. I just don’t feel like looking for them myself right now because I’m on my phone.

In short though, it’s a lot easier for someone who already speaks Chinese, because the meaning of most kanji are the same or very similar. Exactly how easy it is depends on certain details though: do you know some Classical Chinese? That will allow you to work out some of the more archaic uses of kanji in Japanese that no longer exist in Chinese. Are you able to see ‘pronunciation conversion patterns’ between Mandarin and Japanese? That will determine how easily you guess and retain on’yomi. Finally, do you see similarities in structure between Japanese and Chinese? That will determine how comfortable you are with は, relative clauses that come before nouns and modifiers in general (especially the 〜的 な-adjectives), and Japanese compound verbs and sentence-ending particles, among others. The more connections you’re able to draw, the bigger your advantage as a Chinese speaker. If you can’t see all these things, you’ll still have much less to learn than someone starting kanji from zero, but you’ll have to pick many facts about Japanese up as separate, distinct pieces of information, without any help from analogies with Chinese.

1 Like

don’t worry, another few levels and it’ll just click. don’t waste time on getting upset at it!


Would just like to update, for those who are at all interested, I’ve been powering through consistently and have been getting better with practice :slight_smile: I aced my first review today since like 3-4 days ago which felt really good. I’m in the zone now! Thanks all for words of encouragement and just letting me vent :smiley:


Good to hear that you’re getting through it. Just remember that the community is here for you; we’re all learning together, and whether we have advice, resources, or a friendly ear to listen, we’ve got your back.


its color coded. for example if its pink they want the kanji alone. i had that issue. when the background is purple they want the VOCABULARY. so for example the kanji for stone is seki (pink background) when its purple, i ask myself “ok what is the vocabulary word for THIS” then it’ll be ishi.

same thing with 上 the kanji reading is じょう when its purple i ask myself what is the VOCAB FOR 上 SO IT IS UE for example…