What is the reason for the vocabulary kanji?

im extremely new to japanese, so i am very confused about things to do with kanji. one of the things that confuses me is vocabulary kanji, why do we learn it? for example, if mountain is “san”, and then volcano is ka"zan", then why is the vocabulary version of mountain “yama”. i know this probably sounds super dumb but i just wanted to know, thanks!

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There’s a difference between kanji and vocabulary:

The kanji 山 represents the concept of mountains, and one of its on’yomi reading is さん. You’ll often see this reading when it’s used in compounds, such as for 火山(かざん).

If it’s on its own, you have the word for mountain, (やま), which is the kun’yomi reading of the kanji.

However, さん by itself does not mean mountain. In Japanese, you can’t say you went to a さん, you have to say you went to a やま, since that’s the Japanese word for mountain.

You can compare it to something like “aqua” in English. You can have an aquaduct, but you can’t order a glass of aqua, you have to order a glass of water since that’s the word when it’s alone :grin:


To add to this, やま can also appear in compound words like 高山, 松山, etc. where it would still mean “mountain”.

There is also the や reading in words like 山羊 (goat, literally “mountain sheep”), where the 山 still means “mountain”, because that’s the meaning of the kanji.


In “compound words” (words made up of multiple kanji put together, you do use the onyomi reading (usually) (eg. like you said 火山), same goes for names using that kanji (usually), but when you are talking about mountains, or when a word has a kanji and hiragana attached (usually), you use the vocab reading (usually).


thanks dude for the help, i understand it a lot better now haha.


Aqua is the answer

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I started studying japanese in 2009, but honestly I only started paying attention to kunyomi and onyomi and difference in reading for kanji and vocab thanks to WK. Only this year, in first 2 levels actually.

There in the past I had the same questions but never bother to get a conclusion, but now that I am taking japanese seriously, it helped a lot knowing these differences.