Kanji [漢字 literal meaning: "Han character(s)] is one of the three character sets used in the Japanese writing system (the other two being the kana: hiragana and katakana). They are based on the Chinese Hanzi and to some degree are mutually readable, but Japanese has some major differences as well. In 1946 the Japanese government sought to simplify the usage of Kanji in Japanese literature and periodicals and defined the jouyou kanji (essential kanji) set comprised of 1945 characters. Characters that were culled from daily usage were replaced by combinations of the simpler jouyou kanji characters. Guessing the meaning of a Kanji character from its Chinese meaning can be very misleading. Unlike the kana, which represent syllables, kanji are pictograms developed from concepts. They were imported over a period of centuries from the Chinese language, are typically more complex than kana, and have different meanings and pronunciations depending on how they are combined with other kanji and kana. A kanji will often have its pronunciation for the given context spelled out in ruby characters known as "furigana," small hiragana written above it or to its right. This is especially true in children's texts and mangas, or for characters not included in the essential Kanji set.
Kanji have two categories of meanings and pronunciations, referred to as "readings": on readings (音読み or onyomi) and kun readings (訓読み or kunyomi). On readings are derived from the original Chinese pronunciations of the character, and are typically used when a kanji is part of a compound. Kun readings are typically used when kanji are used on their own, either as complete nouns or as adjective and verb stems. Most kanji have at least one on-reading and one kun-reading each. Kanji also have a third, lesser-known reading called nanori reading, which is used for people's names.
There are exceptions to these rules. Many kanji have no kun-reading and a few have no on-reading. Some use kun-readings, not on-readings, to make compounds.
Often a kanji will be used for the root of a verb, with the conjugation written in hiragana. When kanji characters are not followed by hiragana they are often grouped in twos and are pronounced in the On reading. The word "kanji"(漢字) is a perfect example of this. Its pronunciation is derived from the Chinese word "hanzi".
Japanese prefers to use a repeater character (々) to indicate a plural meaning, whereas Chinese may reuse the first character, or does not indicate plural at all.
|Example of the word 'people'|
There is currently no accepted theory about the origin of kanji with accounts ranging from intermediary introduction by Korea, importation by Japanese in China, and exportation by Chinese in Japan.