Kanji (漢字) (help·info) are the ideographic characters of the Japanese language. They are based on the Chinese Hanzi and to some degree are mutually readable, but there are some major differences as well. In fact, guessing the meaning of a kanji based on its Chinese meaning can be misleading.
The kanji do not convey the entire meaning of a word, but its base meaning. Its grammatical use is determined by the surrounding particles and the following kana determine its tense. Also, Japanese does not have a Kanji for every word, especially ones borrowed from English or other Western languages.Nevertheless, to understand the Kanji is at the heart of understanding the Japanese language, and if you cannot read the Kanji, at least at a basic level, the large numbers of homonyms in Japanese can cause much confusion.
A single Kanji can be read (pronounced) in many different ways, depending on its context. These readings are categorized into two groups - that of Chinese origin
It is often the case that a Kanji has more than one reading of Chinese origin. This is because the importing of Chinese letters (with their readings) did not occur just at one time from one region. To help figure out how to pronounce a kanji, kana is printed next to a kanji like in this example:
When kana is printed next to a kanji, like above, it is called furigana.
It may be useful to note that in some Kanji databases, the on reading is written in Katakana instead of Hiragana.
This reading generally will be written in Hiragana in Kanji lists.
The 々, or ノマ (noma) symbol indicates the repetition of a Kanji. An example of a repetition is われわれ (wareware), which indicates "us" or "our group" and is written as 我々 instead of 我我, although they are both the same. The same is true with 人々 (ひとびと, people).
|Project: Introduction to Japanese|
|Previous: Kana — Kanji — Next: Pronunciation of Japanese|