Reasons for using more obscure Kanji

Hey, I’ve noticed a few times that there are words in Japanese that can be written with different Kanji, yet as far as I can tell the meaning and readings of the word are the same, whichever Kanji are used (for instance I recently saw 歳 used in a song where I’d normally expect 年) but I’m not sure why it is that people select a less used, more complex kanji over one that’s seemingly equivalent.

I’ve heard reasons for some very specific examples, such as people seeing 子ども as more polite than 子供, or preferring ない to 無い as they want “grammar” to be purely kana (I’m not sure if this is a common idea at all), but I haven’t come across any general ideas, if there even are any.

Even if I was to guess I would think of many potential reasons, like trying to appear more “well read”, evoking styles of writing or time periods, local dialects ect. so I’m pretty clueless as to what the normal usage is, and I’d be interested to know if anyone here knows more, or if I’m misunderstanding anything about the usage?

What’s the context on this? Because 歳 and 年 don’t quite mean the same thing. 才, on the other hand…


Was that 17歳? :innocent:

A little reluctant to answer because Leebo is going to come in here 5 minutes after I post and give a better one, but I shall try my best not to seem completely ignorant :see_no_evil:

From my understanding, as you have said, changing things up to be hiragana/katakana/kanji when something else is usually more common is often used as stylistic element. Using a less common kanji for a word that is usually written using a different kanji however, from the times I’ve seen it, is to change up the nuance of a word. Monolingual dictionaries often have little markers next to the definitions depending on the kanji in use. Sadly this doesn’t seem to be the case for 歳 and 年, even though they acknowledge that they can both be read as とし. I could throw an attempt at translating google results your way, but to save me some time and embarrassment I’ll redirect you to googling 「歳」と「年」の違いとは? :see_no_evil:


Here’s the lines I saw it in:

その笑顔はずっと きらめき増すんだ

It caught my eye because it was read とし and didn’t follow a number, and after checking Jisho I saw that 歳 was listed as an “other form” of 年.

Looking closer at the line and googling what GrumpyPanda suggested, it seems like in this case there’s a bit of a semantic distinction, and 歳 is used more for people?

I might be finding out that there’s even more complexity to it than I thought, which should be interesting to keep in mind

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According to Yomichan, (とし)(かさ)ねる is a set phrase that means to age or grow old, so that’s probably why you’re seeing it here :blush:.

People do sometimes make intentional stylistic choices to use different kanji, though. A recent example I saw was the deathmatch wrestler Jun Kasai spelling the word for match, 試合(しあい), with 死愛(しあい) instead in this tweet (warning for, uh, photos of a deathmatch :sweat_smile:).

I’ve also totally encountered unconventional kanji choices that were just typos, though, so sometimes that’s a possibility as well. Often if it’s an intentional choice, there will be furigana clarifying the reading.


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