Easy Kanji with Impossible Readings

I think everyone who studies Japanese has a love-hate relationship with kanji.  They look cool, they have so much meaning packed into so little, and they are a challenge to conquer.  Yet there are so many times when you curse their very existence.

Now if you’ve finished RTK, have gotten through a significant number of Anki sentences, and are progressing with your studies quite well, kanji are probably your friend.  They’ve guided you.  They’ve been there for you.  These are old friends that would never let you down.

However, I believe that there are some bastard-child kanji who just want attention and feel the need to make up their own rules and do whatever they damn want.

I’m not talking about crazy complex kanji that don’t belong on the face of this earth (I will discuss these eventually at some point).  I’m talking about the simple kanji that you know and are familiar with.  The ones that you probably learned within a few months and have never given you much trouble.  But once you turn your back on them, watch out . . .

Here are the top 10 contenders.  Without using a dictionary, try guessing on any of the readings of these words.  Get all 10?  Put yourself at legendary status.

1. 店子
2. 足袋
3. 手水
4. 小豆
5. 水母
6. 三和土
7. 弓手
8. 反古
9. 外様
10. 就中

Dear Kanji,

Why can’t you just accept who you are and stop trying to be different?

Your Friend,

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Easy Kanji with Impossible Readings — 15 Comments

  1. Hooray, I got 2 (たび), and 5(くらげ). I should have got 4 (あずき), but somehow I forgot its last ‘き’.

    It’s worth pointing out that these kinds of words will often either be accompanied by furigana telling you the pronunciation, or will be changed into hiragana or katakana to make them easier to read for Japanese people too. It depends on the word though. 小豆 frequently appears without any pronunciation help.

    • Nice. I’m impressed. While often these words will appear with furigana in a book, as you know usually this furigana only appears once, the first time the word appears. So it can be a pain to remember sometimes.

    • Don’t worry, regardless of the ease level of these kanji, these are incredibly difficult readings.

  2. Only tangentially related, but I find that those very complex kanji are among the easier ones to remember. There’s more for the mind to hang on to, or something like that. Especially if you use Heisig-style mnemonics. 響 is a common enough one (and I suppose not even all that complicated) but it’s a favourite of mine. They’re fun to write, too.

  3. I got number 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, but it stopped there.

    Compounds with non-standard readings like these are horrible to remember at first! I’ve found that once they’re in, they stay there though.

      • 水母 is Chinese for jellyfish as well. So my guess is that some of these were borrowed combinations from China, with Japanese pronunciation just placed on top of them.

        小豆 is a really cute combination “small” + “bean” = “red bean”. The characters don’t help you pronounce the word at all, since those characters don’t normally say “a” and “zuki”. But it makes a lot of sense, since they are small beans.

  4. The only one I got was 小豆… But it was the only word I knew though, and it’s in my Anki deck. Another proof, if it was even needed, that everything that goes in Anki sticks in your mind…

    That’s a nice bunch of delinquents you found there !
    Will add them to my deck in a near future :P

  5. Here are a few more :
    (now I’m glad I put an “irregular reading” tag on them in my deck)


    Pick your favorite :)

    • Thanks for the link. It’s nice when the kanji work out well like this. It really creates that fun connection with the language. It’s not so nice when due to all the changes and alterations throughout history, you have no clue (without doing a lot of digging) why some kanji is the way it is today.

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