The Nuance Thread : Kanji Edition

Based on @jprspereira great Nuance Thread template.

This thread’s goal is to finally help you figure out why sometimes the same word can be written with alternate kanji and the nuances it entails (think 作る vs 造る vs 創る, all meaning roughly “to make” but with different nuances)

Why am I making this?

Thanks to Wanikani, your Kanji game is getting strong, vocab too, and it’s time to dive into native materials… But Japanese will throw another curve at you ! Most of the basic vocabulary is sometimes written with kanji that you didn’t learn from Wanikani (often non joyou as well) and it can be quite disturbing at first. This alternate kanji technique is purely a written device, made possible by the kanji system to convey fine shade of nuance, and it’s quite beautiful.

How is this going to work?

This post will be a wiki, meaning that everyone can add their own notes about vocab nuances.

  • This is not limited to WK kanji and vocab
  • Word sounding the same but with completely different meaning (like how はし means both bridge and chopstick) are not really in the spirit of this thread but may be interesting too.


Tofugu amazing article on this matter

List of Nuances:

つくる : 作る vs 造る vs 創る (To make)

作る main kanji

造る usually for large-scale building, manufacturing, etc

創る usually for creating (something new)

のむ : 飲む vs 呑む vs 服む (To drink)

飲む main kanji

呑む is often used metaphorically

服む is often used for medicine

あう : 会う vs 逢う vs 遭う (to meet)

会う main kanji

逢う is often used for close friends, etc. and may be associated with drama or pathos


Then wait for me at my graveside, for I shall come back to see you again
Natsume Sōseki Ten Nights of Dreams

遭う may have an undesirable nuance


Yes, I most certainly saw the dead man yesterday

Note : The person talking saw a man on the road the previous day, a bit before this man got murdered. Talking about encountering someone we know got killed later is quite uncomfortable, thus the use of 遭う
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa * In a Grove*


はく : 履く vs 穿く (to wear shoes/pants/sword)

履く main kanji, but used usually more for footwear

穿く to wear over legs such as pants and skirt


I was wearing huge straw boots on my feet. Straw boots in those times were very high indeed.

(Note : 穿いていた was probably chosen to emphasize how tall those straw boots were. Later in the text, they are described as going over the knee, almost like pants.)
Natsume Sōseki Ten Nights of Dreams

佩く carrying a sword affixed at the hip

あお : 青 vs 蒼 vs 碧 (blue)

This entry is especially difficult, because 青/蒼/碧 have a very wide range of meaning. Being very old kanji and concept, they also appear in a tons of fixed expression with often surprising nuance. Please take the following with a ton of salt

青 main kanji

  • blue sky
  • when associated with plant, immaturity, youthfulness
  • countless amount of expression

蒼 darker and thicker than 青

  • Ocean, but not the tropical blue lagoon style, ocean with depth
  • For plants it’s thick, dense, ripe

The wave-furrowed sea was oppressively vast: an infinite-seeming expanse of blue that turned at times to purple.
Natsume Sōseki Ten Nights of Dreams

碧 The “midori of aoi”

  • The greenest あおい
  • transparent
  • quartz, jasper

From 「青」「蒼」「碧」三つの「あお」の意味と色の違い - 言葉の救急箱

きる : 切る vs 斬る vs 伐る vs 截る(to cut)

切る main kanji


  • slice/cut using a blade
  • kill someone using a blade

伐る to cut down tree, to fell


This morning, just as I always do, I went off to cut down cedars on the mountainside.
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa In a Grove

截る specifically used for cutting clothes

In progress

みる : 見る vs 観る vs 視る vs 診る vs 看る

見る main kanji

観る actively watch a performance, sports, or a movie. When watching TV, 見る would be lightly watching what happen to be broadcasted, while 観る carry a more serious feeling

視る Looking at things in detail to investigate and observe

診る to examine. (almost always medically)​

看る to watch over, to look after (often medically), to take care of​

わかる : 分かる vs 解かる vs 判る (to understand)

分かる main kanji
解かる understand through thinking and reasoning
判る being able to distinguish

歌う vs 唄う vs 謡う vs 詠う vs 唱う vs 謳う
目 vs 眼, 瞳 vs 眸, 嫌な vs 厭な, 波 vs 浪

Other threads related to nuances:


Ooo, ooo, 歌 vs 謳. The latest chapter in the Aria book club has been using that later one, and I’m idly curious as to the purpose.

(Aria is also a fan of using 逢う as well…)

1 Like

Interesting, I would like to know too ! In general 歌 and 歌う seems to have a crazy number of alternate.

Not directly related, but when asking a native about kanji alternate, they told me that the different nuances are generally accepted and understood by japanese, but writers/mangaka love to bend the rules and use whatever they like, sometimes to give a little quirk to a character or whatnot. Maybe that’s what happening here ? 逢う is maybe seen as warmer than plain 会う ?

Edit : Question for everybody, how do I turn a post into a wiki ? I can’t figure it out.

If you’re at the “Regular” user level, click the three dots, then the spanner.

If you’re not a regular, you can’t make posts into Wikis. I’m a regular, though, so I could make my post into a wiki, if that’d be useful. :slightly_smiling_face:

Thanks ! I took a look at discourse guide and becoming a “regular” member seems to be quite difficult… :confused: So I’m given up on the wiki idea. It would be nice if people post their own note or ideas about kanji variant and I will add them to the main post !

Tofugu has made a post which goes through a fair bit of kanji homophones in quite some depth.

It’s a long, but very interesting read. Maybe putting this link in the main post would be a nice addition?

Curious about 見る、観る、視る.

Great article ! And now I feel a bit dumb for having missing it :disappointed_relieved:

I tried to add an entry, based on reading a few Japanese article about those differences, but I’m not sure I grasped correctly, if more knowledgeable people can check , it would be nice

Got promoted to Regular, so I made the first post a wiki ! Everybody can add their kanji nuance now. Don’t hesitate to change the template or big change if you want, I’m not that fond of it.

Also sorry for the lack of update… At first, I wanted to document all those pesky kanji nuance when I encounter them and make a database out of it, but unfortunately I have to admit that after discovering Tofugu very thorough article on this matter, I kinda lost steam…


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