What do Japanese say when they talk about kanji?

So, when Japanese speakers talk about specific kanji, what do they say? Do they use whichever reading is useful in context, or is there a preferred spoken one for talking about the kanji itself? Or maybe like the Latin alphabet, there is a name for each kanji totally divorced from it’s readings (J is never pronounced “jay” by itself)?

Just something I got curious about while watching my daughter (1st grade) working on her reading practice.


As far as I know they will use known compounds as reference points, e.g. 勉強の勉 or something like that.
Or refer to the Kunyomi if that’s unmistakeable enough.


Yeah from talking to my Japanese friends 勉強の勉 is exactly how they do it. I’ve heard it most often when talking about what kanji is used in their name; for example when you’re meeting someone and want to get their contact info or something.


Aye, that’s the one I’ve seen most often. The other option is to describe the components that make up the kanji (for example, “楓, which is 木 plus 風”) though I don’t recall how you’d phrase it in Japanese, and I’m not sure how common it is.

There is not.


Yeah, I didn’t expect there was a whole other thing to learn. But then, kanji have readings only used for names, so I figured there might be another whole class of readings of which I wasn’t aware. :wink:

I’ve heard/seen this in media for names, but wasn’t sure if that was just because names sometimes have unique readings, or if it was used in general. Thanks for the info.

Oh, of that I have no doubt. If there wasn’t a class of readings we didn’t know about, the Japanese would invent it. :stuck_out_tongue:

(Though, while researching possible types of reading, I discovered the most entertaining little nanori: 小鳥遊 is pronounced たかなし. Basically, it’s short for 小鳥が遊んでいるならば鷹がいないはず = “if the little birds are playing, then there are no hawks around”, or in other words, 鷹なし.)


That’s one of my favorites too. It could be also because it’s nostalgic. That’s the family name of the main character in Working, one of the first manga series I managed to read in Japanese. It blew my mind that you could do that with kanji. If it wasn’t for the joy of finally managing to read actual Japanese, I would have probably fell into despair :stuck_out_tongue:


I might be a bit off on the phrasing, but for your example I usually hear something along the lines of “木へんに風” when my students talk about it. I blanked in the middle of writing 私 once and they referred to the right side as ム(mu). In my experience the breaking it into components thing is definitely fairly common.


Yeah, referring to it like that is how you’d do it. Keep in mind that knowing the Japanese radical names helps a lot, especially when it’s something more abstracted than 木.

狩 might be described as けものへんにまもる.
If you didn’t know that 守 is used in the verb まもる, you’d have to say something like 左側がけものへん、右側がうかんむりにすん to describe them separately.

But then more people probably know the verb まもる than the names for the parts of 守…


If the kanji has a common word, you can use “wordの()” to refer to the kanji.


or if it’s a common multi-kanji word you can say something like 努力(どりょく)()


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