Directions in Japanese Quick Kanji Lesson

Directions in Japanese Quick Kanji Lesson

Quick Kanji Lesson

Directions in Japanese

A quick kanji lesson.

Here are a few kanji showing various directions in Japanese. Learn these useful characters when asking for directions or looking at a map. Only the most used readings are given.

On: ジョウ
Kun: うえ

Meaning: up; above

上手(じょうず) skilled; good at; clever
上着(うわぎ) coat; outer garment
その上(うえ)  in addition; furthermore


On: ゲ
Kun: した

Meaning: down; below

靴下(くつした) socks [lit. shoes under] 地下(ちか) underground; basement
年下(としした) junior; younger; young


On: サ
Kun: ひだり

Meaning: left

左手(ひだりて) left hand
左足(ひだりあし) left leg
机の左 (つくえ  ひだり )to the left of the desk


On: ユウ
Kun: みぎ

Meaning: right

右目(みぎめ) right eye
右(みぎ)ページ right page (of a book)
右手(みぎて) right hand


On: ゼン
Kun: まえ

Meaning: before; in front; previous

名前(なまえ) name
前書(まえが)き preface [lit. before the writing] 二年前(ふたねんまえ) two years ago


On: ゴ
Kun: うし・ろ

Meaning: behind; after

最後(さいご) the last; the end; conclusion
後(うし)ろ behind
後書(あとが)き postscript; afterword [lit. after the writing]


On: トウ
Kun: ひがし

Meaning: east

中東(ちゅうとう) the Middle East
東(ひがし)アジア East Asia
東京 (とうきょう )Tokyo

You may recognize the kanji for “east” 東 higashi in Tokyo
東京 toukyou. This is because Tokyo means “east capital.”

Nearly all kanji have at least two readings. In this case, 東 can be pronounced higashi or tou. The first, higashi, is the native Japanese pronunciation, or kun reading. Tou is the Chinese or on reading.

In general, when a kanji character is paired with another kanji, you use the on reading as in toukyou.


西

On: セイ
Kun: にし

Meaning: west

西口(にしぐち) west entrance
関西(かんさい) Osaka and surrounding area; Kansai
西(にし)ドイツ (historical) West Germany
大西洋(たいせいよう) the Atlantic


On: ナン
Kun: みなみ

Meaning: south

東南(とうなん)アジア Southeast Asia
南極(なんきょく) the South Pole; Antarctic
南米(なんべい) South America


On: ホク
Kun: きた

Meaning: north

北海道(ほっかいどう) Hokkaido (most northern part of Japan)
北(きた)アメリカ North America
北京(ぺきん) Beijing (China)
南北戦争(なんぼくせんそう) the (US) Civil War

Directions in JapaneseDownload a graphic

 

Hiragana and Katakana iPhone and iPad App Quiz Words

Hiragana and Katakana iPhone and iPad App Quiz Words

Our popular Hiragana and Katakana iPhone app (it’s free!) has a quiz function that rewards or scolds the user when a correct or incorrect choice is made. If you have an iPhone or iPad and want to learn hiragana, click here to install this free app.
A user asked what these phrases meant.
Correct:
5) やったね! yatta ne – hooray; whoopee
Incorrect:
2) はずれ hazure – miss; failure; (the word found in losing game pieces: sorry, try again)
4) おしい oshii – close; almost, but not quite; disappointing
Learning Japanese Kanji: What are On and Kun Readings and When to Use Them

Learning Japanese Kanji: What are On and Kun Readings and When to Use Them

On, Kun? What is That? And When Do I Use Which?

Hiragana, katakana, and kanji are the three legs that make up the Japanese writing system stool. The kana (a classification name for hiragana and katakana together) are fairly easy to learn in just a few weeks of careful study. Kanji, on the other hand…

THE BIRTH OF ON AND KUN

To be fluent in Japanese, the government recommends learning about two thousand kanji characters. Why so many? You should be grateful. China has over 40,000 characters.

Another reason for being grateful: Most kanji have a single core meaning (this could be an abstract notion or something more concrete). While many do have other meanings, [for example, 生 can mean “live,” “give birth,” or “raw.”] most kanji can be safely associated with a single meaning or idea. The problem comes with the “readings” or pronunciations.

JAPANESE IS NOT CHINESE

However, to complicate matters further, the ancient Japanese seemed to have not realized their language was a different language entirely from Chinese. Most of the time, the meaning behind the imported Chinese characters were often already found in Japanese. To add one more layer of complication, the Japanese thought it best to use the Chinese pronunciation(s) in addition to their own native Japanese pronunciation(s). This is why there are often two totally different sounding readings.

Take 木, the kanji for tree, for example: The Japanese called a tree “ki” but they heard their Chinese neighbors pronounce it as “moku.” So, 木 has two readings, a kun (ki) and an on (moku). –Actually, it has a few more, but these are the most useful.

Take a moment to memorize this:

on = pronunciation taken from the Chinese
kun = pronunciation from the Japanese 

 

音読み on yomi — ON READING

The on yomi is a representation of the ancient Japanese people’s understanding of the ancient Chinese words. As a result, you can often see/hear similarities with modern Chinese or even Korean regarding how they pronounce the same or similar kanji, but it is definitely not the same. Don’t expect a study of on readings will give you the ability to speak Mandarin!

In fact, because Japanese has fewer sounds in the language, the more complex sounds and pitches found in Chinese had to be condensed. This further distorted the family resemblance.

  • Nearly all Kanji have at least one on reading. The only exceptions are kanji created in Japan. [Click here for an article on wasei kanji]
  • On yomi is a rough representation of the ancient Chinese pronunciation for that character
  • On readings tend to be a single syllable in length, but not always as the example above with tree. [新 new | on: shin | kun: atarashii]
  • Sometimes there are multiple on readings. This is often due to that kanji being imported multiple times or from different areas of China which had variations in pronunciation. [生 life | on: sei or shou]
  • Kanji were imported in waves from the 4th century through the 16th mostly by priests and spread by the Buddhist or Confucian scrolls they brought.
  • Jukugo, compound kanji word phrases, tend to use on yomi.
  • But sometimes, jukugo could go either way: [旅人 traveler | on: ryojin | kun: tabibito]

訓読み kun yomi — KUN READING

The kun yomi is the “native” Japanese pronunciation for the concept represented by the kanji.

  • Kun readings tend to be longer than a syllable in length [新 new | on: shin | kun: atarashii] This isn’t always the case, however.
  • Most words that consist of a single kanji all by itself, use the kun yomi. [人 person hito | 車 car kuruma | 夏 summer natsu]
  • Kanji followed by hiragana (okurigana) tend to be kun yomi.


JUST LIKE ENGLISH!

The On and Kun readings are similar to what happened to the English language after the Norman Conquest in 1066. The native population’s language was mixed with their continental overlords’. As a result, the specialized and refined words of the ruling class spoke a dialect of Old French. The common people spoke Old English. So, common everyday words like tree, hill, town, meal, and earth were of Anglo-Saxon origin, but the Norman (from Latin) influence is still heard in specialized words. We say “cow” while plowing in Anglo-Saxon, but “beef” when eating in the castle.

In our tree example, we find the kun reading, the native Japanese pronunciation, is ki. Today, when you want to say, “There’s a tree,” you’d say:

木がある。
ki ga aru.
There is a tree.

But if you want to buy some lumber, you might say,

材木を買いたいです。
zaimoku o kaitai desu.
(I) want to buy lumber.

WHEN TO USE WHAT

Unfortunately, you really need to learn both on and kun readings for kanji. Some are more useful than others, but if your goal is to be fluent in reading Japanese, learn them both.

It isn’t always easy to figure out which to use in context. There are, however, a few quick and dirty tips. (mostly repeated from the above On and Kun sections.)

KUN Tips:

  • As mentioned above, common, everyday words tend to be kun. Specialized words tend to be on. [The kanji for water is 水. To ask for water, use mizu. Swimming is suiei]
  • kun reading dominates ideas that were familiar and common to the Japanese at the time a kanji (the Anglo-Saxon words)
  • If there is okurigana (the trailing hiragana that is written after the kanji), the kanji will most likely be a kun yomi.

ON Tips:

  • As a general rule, jukugo, compound kanji that form a new word, use on readings.
  • On readings tend to be a single syllable in length, but not always as the example above with tree. [新 new | on: shin | kun: atarashii]

TAKE HOME LESSON

  • Most kanji have only one core meaning. Yeah!
  • The readings are either on yomi” or “kun yomi.”
  • 音読み on yomi–The “on” pronunciation was the original Chinese pronunciation—or at least the sounds Japanese people thought were the Chinese pronunciation.
  • 訓読み kun yomi–The “kun” pronunciation was the native Japanese pronunciation for that particular concept.
  • Due to changes in sounds over time, some kanji have an impressive number of pronunciations. It is best to learn these sounds by example which is why we include multiple example words with each kanji in this newsletter.
  • Jukugo, compound kanji word phrases, tend to use on yomi.
  • Kanji followed by hiragana (okurigana) tend to be kun yomi.
  • Concentrate on the one or two most useful readings for each kanji. You can always go back and learn the rarer ones later. This will make your learning progress faster.
  • As you read, take note of usage. You’ll start to associate kanji with their on or kun readings subconsciously.