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Kanji (漢字 literally characterss from Han China) are Chinese characters used in Japanese.
Kanji are one of the three character sets used in the Japanese writing system (the other two being hiragana and katakana). Unlike the kana, which are phonetic syllables, kanji are logographs (also called logograms, pictograms, pictographs or glyphs, meaning a symbol used to represent an entire word), or ideograms which represent abstract concepts, such as "up" or "down".
Kanji were imported over a period of centuries from the Chinese language, are typically more complex than kana, and have different meanings and pronunciations ("readings") 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 kumimoji to its right. This is especially true in children's texts and mangas, or for characters not included in the essential kanji set.
Kanji are taken from Chinese hanzi and some are mutually readable, however there are Chinese characters peculiar to Japanese, Chinese characters that have different meanings in Japanese, Chinese characters that have identical meanings but are written differently, Chinese characters that are not used in Japanese, and also Chinese characters that are used phonetically in Japanese (ateji). It is therefore not always possible to ascertain the meaning of a kanji from its Chinese meaning.
In 1946 the Japanese government, seeking to simplify kanji in literature and periodicals, created a list of 1850 "daily use kanji" (touyou kanji 当用漢字). This list of kanji was expanded to 1945 characters in 1981 and called the jouyou kanji (常用漢字). Characters that were culled from daily usage were replaced by combinations of the simpler jouyou kanji characters. There are also approximately 300 "name kanji" (the jinmeiyou kanji 人名用漢字) used in personal and geographical names.
Kanji have two categories 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 the ideographic iteration mark (々) to indicate a plural meaning, whereas Chinese may reuse the first character, or does not indicate plural at all (although the Chinese use is not limited to that of indicating plurality; it is often used in for the purpose of indicating a repetition of a previous character or a group of characters).
|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.