It might be hard to read because of the image resolution, but on the cover of this book, on the bottom left side, it says:


Which means something like:

"Even strange Japanese has a reason."

The thing is, 理由 has furigana above it that says it should be read わけ.

わけ is not a reading for 理由. 理由 is only read りゆう, and it means "reason".

Now, I already know that sometimes furigana is used to differentiate between what is said and what is meant. For example, recently in a manga I saw the kanji 妻 with the furigana ワイフ above it. I believe this is done when the author is telling us that the character said "wife", but the kanji 妻 is provided so if the reader doesn't know what the katakana-ized English word means, they have the kanji to help.

So, in a way, when the furigana and the kanji differ, it's so that the kanji provides meaning to the furigana, as opposed to furigana's usual job of providing readability to the kanji.

Okay, fine... but, why わけ for 理由? Doesn't わけ also mean "meaning", "cause", and even "conclusion based on reasoning"?

The difference seems so subtle to me that I can't see the point of it. Yet, given that the book is all about Japanese usage, I imagine the author is quite particular about words, so surely there's a purpose.

What is that purpose?

(Side note: I intend to buy the book, so maybe an explanation is within its covers. But I hope this still merits some discussion.)


1 Answer 1


Your statement

わけ is not a reading for 理由. 理由 is only read りゆう

is too strong. りゆう is the most natural reading, but it can also be read as わけ. Although, it is true that, as with your example with ワイフ, furigana sometimes departs from its established reading under expectation of some rhetorical effects.

why わけ for 理由?

Because りゆう and わけ both mean 'reason', and the reason for having furigana is because it is not the most salient one.

Here are some links, to give you just a few, following your request:

why bother at all to make the effort to use one over the other

That is a good point. Even with the same meaning, there is almost always a different connotation. In this case, reading 理由 as わけ would sound fancier perhaps because of the shorter pronunciation and because it is a yamatokotoba or wago 'native Japanese word, i.e., not Chinese origin'. In general, onyomi 'Chinese originated reading' gives a rigid, academic impression, whereas native Japanese words give an elegant literary impression from the Heian era or earlier. These kinds of readings are not traditional ones, and are usually proposed in some lyrics or literature, and get accepted to the general after a while.

what does the kanji bring to the party that makes it better than just having the hiragana?

It has some kind of literary effect. It looks cool to read the kanji in that way as compared to just reading the hiragana. Think of James Joyce. Why did he write his novel using unusual spelling and his original words and some strange markings?---For some kind of literary effect.

All my dictionaries only say りゆう

You should not have dictionaries as the only source. Especially, Japanese dictionaries written in Japanese are highly prescriptive (you may not like this term, but look at the link for the meaning); they try to describe what they think should be correct, and do not necessarily reflect the reality of the language. In short, they are not much reliable. From my experience, 広辞苑 is the worst in this respect.

  • @DMG: you have to remember two things: 1) Japanese language is not fixed by rules, 2) writers write whatever they want, however they want. In French, "San Antonio" wrote a hundredth books with a lot a non-existing words, fake expressions, deliberate mistakes… And yet, many agree he's hell of a great writer. Choice of kanji/readings is part of the style of the writer…
    – Axioplase
    Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 1:46
  • 3
    Reading 理由 as わけ is informal, and how much informal usage a dictionary should cover is debatable. I do not deny that there is a prescriptive aspect in dictionaries (and worse yet, the level of formality itself can sometimes be affected by how dictionaries treat a certain usage), but that is not the only reason why わけ is not listed as a reading of 理由. Commented Jul 8, 2011 at 15:23

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