Why is katakana often used in place of kanji?

This might be a dumb question, but I’ve been seeing some places where katakana is used and struggling to know what is meant to be saying, but upon searching it up I see that it is just a katakana-ization (that is not a word) of kanji.

For example, at work we have a coffee machine that has a collection of lids for the cups that says フタ. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out what it meant until I learned that 蓋 is read as ふた.

Is there a reason for this being done?

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There are a variety of possible reasons

  • It looks cooler in katakana
  • The kanji is harder to read / write and katakana is easier to read / write
  • It’s being emphasized or somehow distinguished from other words
  • Just personal preference
  • probably others too

Keep in mind that while we often associate katakana with loanwords, that’s a relatively modern development. Katakana is far older than the practice of borrowing loanwords, and Japanese people don’t exclusively associate it with foreign words.

Edited because I’m not certain of the timeline


Another possible reason is that 蓋 was added only recently to the jouyou kanji list (just 10 years ago). Anyway, it’s one of those word that get written quite often in hiragana or katakana.


Thanks for the informative answer!

I wasn’t aware that it is older than hiragana, that is very interesting.


Thanks for the info! That’s cool to know. I had always kind of assumed that while the list of jouyou kanji was officially put out in the 80’s that it had remained unchanged since then.

Actually checking again, don’t quote me on that… Hiragana and katakana both developed from kanji, and both seem to have arrived in their modern forms at roughly the same time.

Anyway, the point was that katakana isn’t just for loanwords, since, well, it existed for hundreds of years before Japan started borrowing European words.


Thanks for the clarification, I definitely had always had in my mind that it was used for loan words, mostly as I hadn’t come across anything (that I recognised) yet that said otherwise.

Another reason katakana is sometimes used in cases like フタ is when it is something children might need to read.


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