I was reading through some text today and found this (emphasis mine):

While it is possible to use the phonetic Hiragana and Katakana scripts to represent almost any Japanese word, it is usually considered more appropriate to use the Kanji characters whenever possible [...]

This seems to imply that there is something or things that can be written with kanji but not with kana. Is this true? If so, what is it?

  • There are interesting discussions about a similar topic, the "nasal n", in the chat logs.
    – user312440
    Oct 11, 2014 at 0:55

1 Answer 1


Kanji are supposed to be pronounced and their pronunciation is given in kana. This means that any word in kanji has a unique representation in kana. However, there are different words with the same kanji representation, e.g.

明日{あした} 明日{あす} 明日{みょうにち}

Similarly, the same kana sequence can represent many different words. One good reason to use kanji here is to disambiguate, e.g.

[きかい]{機会} [きかい]{機械} [きかい]{奇怪} [きかい]{棋界}

While some of these "same kana, different kanji" examples can be disambiguated with pitch accent, in general there are many homophones (usually loanwords from Chinese) that cannot even be distinguished with pitch accent.

(I looked at this for the words with pronunciation きかん once and found 16 words in Japanese, all different kanji, of course. The pitch accent in Japanese can only classify them into two groups: きかん【HLL】 and きかん【LHL】. The corresponding Chinese pronunciation can distinguish between almost all of them.)

In any case, there are no Japanese words which are written in kanji, which cannot also be written in kana, but there are words, which have different kanji but same kana, or the same kanji but different kana.

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