Why does it seem like so many kanji readings are こう, か, た, だい, etc?

I don’t mean the obvious answer “because they are.”

I’m on Level 5 of WK right now and it is really starting to seem like Japanese is FULL of completely different kanji (‘words’) that have the exact same phonetic reading. While I realize that English also has homophones (to/too, be/bee, pair/pear) it seems like they are MUCH more prevalent in Japanese. But maybe this is just because of what WK is introducing in early levels? Is it front-loading the language with all of these homophones for a reason?

Part of me is starting to think, how the heck does anyone understand Japanese if it uses the same phonemes over and over again (especially when there are so many others that seem to be hardly used). Japanese isn’t the first language I’ve learned — I’m moderately proficient in conversational Spanish, and I can read enough French and German to get by fairly well when traveling… and I never felt like homophones were tripping me up in those languages at all.

I also kind of feel like in those languages, I could start by listening to people speak the languages and “pick out” the words that I do know, and get a rough idea of what the person was talking about. But with Japanese, it seems like context is KEY (and not just for grammar reasons). Like if I miss hearing a word(s) that I don’t yet know, I won’t know if the following/preceding だい that I hear is meaning A, B, C, X, Y, or Z (are they counting machines, talking about a platform, something big, an era, or a topic?)

And this doesn’t even consider pitch accent!

Thoughts? Does it get easier / start to make more sense later?

(edit: and yes, I know the point of WK isn’t to teach me all aspects of the language, I just think we are a great community of Japanese language learners, so I just want your opinion/advice about learning Japanese in general and not just the WK part of it.)

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Because there’s only so many different sounds in Chinese, which is where the on’yomi readings originally came.

Also, you missed しょう, the number-one most common on’yomi.


Yes. You’ll get the hang of it once you’ve got some more vocab under your belt.

Also, in Chinese they have tones (in many Chinese dialects anyway). So imagine taking each identical reading and actually dividing it into 4 or more different ones. Not nearly as many that overlap.

Though pitch accent is a common way to differentiate words with the same “spelling”.

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japanese isn’t known for it’s gajillion sounds either. only a-hundred-something.
yeah man, i wonder why it works, and it often leads to you confirming: どういうこと?何の話?
in most cases, context works just fine, and we don’t use many compounds when speaking informally. i’d say 出血しました in a formal situation, but 血が出た normally.

it’s not too bad - but it’s hilarious that it’s not too bad :slight_smile:

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Is this also part of the reason that many Japanese shows on TV (in Japan) are captioned, because even native speakers get confused sometimes?

(I have noticed captions on TVs a lot here in Japan, and not just in places where it’s difficult to hear like a loud bar).

probably more because of dialects and pronunciation.

I think the issue is actually less big that it seems because the most common kanji readings usually show up in compound words, which increases the amount of possible unique combinations. Still there are quite a few compound words that are homophones, and then you have to go by context/accent/kanji.

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they’re so different tho, you won’t assume someone did revenge on some stuff they learned earlier, or that they’d feel boat travel they didn’t start to study earlier.


Imagine tuning into a TV show mid-way. It’s hard to understand the context since you were not there to see the beginning, so subtitles with the Kanji helps to fill in viewers who might not have the context figured out yet.

The logical question that usually follows this topic is “What do they do on Japanese Radio when there are no subtitles to refer to?” Well, from what I’ve noticed they typically try to restate the subjects in their sentences every chance they can and don’t stray too much from the expected subject.

The Japanese language is highly reliant on visual cues to reduce misunderstandings. After all, they only have something like 50~ syllables to choose from. English has a few hundred if I’m not mistaken.

nah, not so much relying on visual clues, as long as the context is intact. i can switch on radio and get into it in seconds - and i’m not even a native.

the difficulty is a bit overstated. most situations in which you ask for clarification also don’t stem from homonyms, but from omissions. it’s normal to only mention what’s needed to understand. in daily life, 食う?is understood instantly, even tho it lacks both subject and object.

not japanese is strange, it’s english being anal with it’s constant need for redundancy. “(do you) eat (that)?” - all the unneeded crap in parentheses, hehe.


You may have heard this already, but kanji are not words. Formal language, which employs many compound words that use the Chinese readings, is often in written form. The spoken language uses more native Japanese words that have less overlap. There can be cases of ambiguity or misunderstanding, but it’s not as big of a problem as it may seem to you right now. And as others have already mentioned in this topic, pitch accent helps to distinguish many of these cases.

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