The Halloween 4-Day Sale
Apply coupon: HALLOWEEN

Kun or On reading


When I am learning kanji, I was taught that there are two types of reading. Kun or On reading What I am really confused is when to use kun or on reading. The rules I taught was this. If the kanji appears by itself, it will be pronounced as kun reading, for example 人 which means person, 人 is pronounced using the kun reading "hito". If the kanji has okurigana, it will also be pronounced as kun reading like , for example 大きい which means big is, 大 is also pronounced using kun reading "ō". Names are also pronounced with the kun reading, for example 田中 which is pronounced as tanaka, both kanji use the kun reading. However, kanji without okurigana is pronounced using the on reading. For example, 人口 which means population, 人is pronounced using the On reading "JIN". However, when I read japanese text, the rules I mentioned above aren't always applied. Like let say, 雨水 which means rainwater is pronounced as "amamizu". Both kanji are using the kun reading even though there is no okurigana. Another examples are some Japanese names. For example, a common Japanese name "Fuko" is written as 風子 where Fu is the on reading of 風 but ko is the kun reading of 子. I also have encountered names that don't even use the On or Kun reading like for example, 时雨 is pronounced as Shigure. I believe Shi is the On reading for 时 but I don't think 雨 is pronounced as gure. 雨 is pronounced as either U or Ame. I also found that some kanji have multiple kun readings. One example is 下. It can be pronounced as shita, moto, shima, sa, kuda or o. With so many kun readings, how do you know which one to use? What is okurigana anyway? I also heard there are special type of kanji called ateji. What is ateji? Thanks


スラシャターンさん、こんにちは! As for rules for "on" and "kun" readings of kanji, truthfully I don't really see much of a use for learning any "grammar rules" for any language as most of the time all they do is end up causing more confusion than they are worth. So in my humble opinion your best bet is learning to read kanji through repetition. One way to do this is using a nifty firefox add-on called rikai-chan which by right clicking and selecting the "enable rikai-chan" menu button. You can instantly know how to read, the definition, and many other facts about the kanji you hover over with your mouse. It even has a name dictionary add-on so you can learn to read people's names (although best to just ask usually). It also works on a lot of hiragana/katakana phrases and more. It really is useful when trying to read an online newsapaper in Japanese. Although to learn to read the kanji, make sure you learn hiragana and katakana first so as to be able to read the on/kun included in the program. In short, many of my Japanese friends tell me to not really focus on memorizing on/kun readings for each kanji. Instead just learn to read via practicing. There are a lot of books that you can buy with furigana above all kanji, but as you progress on you may not need that furigana anymore and so you open yourself to even more and more books in Japanese. Okurigana is the きい of 大きい or the べる of 食べる aka the assisting hiragana that helps you know which reading of the kanji you use when reading it. I've been studying the language for a year and a half now and am nearing a conversational level of Japanese. I never heard of 当て字 (Ateji) until you asked about it. So that alone says the true importance of it, and when I looked it up on wikipedia it pretty much said "These would be kanji used to describe the readings of foreign borrowed words... however they've pretty much been replaced by katakana. So yeah..." Overall, what I'm saying is your getting too grammatical. Focus less on grammar rules, and just try to read things and it eventually sticks. Another great way to do this is by writing your very own Japanese journal/diary on in combination with a Japanese dictionary it can really help you improve your Japanese language skills. (For the most part, it's the one thing I consistently do on a near daily basis and I still improve greatly with each post).


The reason why I am learning the kun and on reading is because Mandarin is my second language and I already know a lot of Kanji. So for me, there will be less writing practice on kanji and more on learning and pronouncing the words in Japanese. Regarding the lang 8 site, I think I will check it out. Thanks for the tip.


Konnichiwa! Okurigana (送り仮名 - lit: "sending off characters" ) are kana characters accompanying kanji which show the grammatical functions of the word. For example, the -べる in 食べる (ta-beru) or -く in 行く (i-ku). They are Hiragana letters that trail the kanji and indicate its inflected meaning. The word for "long" is ながい or in Kanji, 長い now since い part is in hiragana (this is the okurigana) it can change depending on context. For example, to negate the phrase "long" to "not long" we say 長くない (naga-kunai). Notice that the NAGA part has not changed - only the okurigana has. Furigana (振り仮名)are phonetic readings printed above or beside a kanji (usually in small font) to show the correct reading/pronunciation of it. Some rare and strange Kanji compounds often have these Furigana beside them. -Hope that helps! Sayaka :P


But if I am trying to speak a word written in Kanji, how do I know which reading/pronunciation to use?

teacup allows you to select the radicals that a kanji is composed of, or to draw it, and then using your input Jisho gives the proper reading and translation.

You can also look up the correct reading using the Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary (radicals and stroke count) but I find that difficult and time-consuming by comparison. 


Hi there,

I have answered a similar question from a different post by 夫婦茶碗-さん at , but essentially:

「音読み」(おんよみ)is the pronunciation of Chinese words in Japanese, as, originally, kanji had come from China to Japan. This is commonly found in nouns.
「訓読み」(くんよみ)is the Japanese pronunciation of words, and is commonly used in verbs and adjectives.

Apart from this as a guide, there is no easy way to tell what the pronunciation of a word will be except for knowing the word itself. However, it might become easier to tell as you become more familiar with the different types of words and pronunciations there are : ) You would also usually tell from the context what the pronunciation of a word would be.

For now, if you do not know the reading of a particular kanji, it would be best to look it up on a site like, as 夫婦茶碗-さん has suggested.

がんばって ください ね!
Hope that helps :)



Thanks, Crystal.  That helps.

Ask a question or a post a response

If you want to ask a question or post a response you need to be a member.

If you are already a member login here .
If you are not a member you can become one by taking the free Rocket Japanese trial here .