I don't understand the reason to learn Onyomi and Kunyomi of the kanji. Do they have any use besides reading out loud? Can't a person just learn the meaning and read?

  • How can you look up a word in a dictionary if you don't know how it's pronounced?
    – oals
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 10:01
  • @oals well If I already new how it is pronounced the chances are I know its meaning. Though question was asked with the false assumption that the word's meaning can be understood from the kanjis' meanings alone.
    – WVrock
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 10:32
  • @oals There are various dictionaries online for looking up a kanji based on its radicals. You could then, if it's a multi-kanji word, piece together several kanji into the word in question and use a translation service. (Useful if you are intent on not learning the pronunciation, or more realistically if you don't recognize a certain kanji.)
    – nitro2k01
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 16:48
  • @nitro2k01 That method is a massive pain in the arse if you ask me. (Also, my question was a rhetorical one.)
    – oals
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 18:57

1 Answer 1


弥次郎兵衛 is a way of writing the word ヤジロベエ. None of the kanji tell you what this word means. The only way you can tell what it means is by recognizing the word. (It refers to a kind of traditional Japanese toy that balances on a small point, for example in the shape of a dragonfly.)

What if someone's name is 良? You can't call them Good. That's not their name.

What if you see the kanji 百葉箱? This word means "Stevenson screen", but unless you know the actual word the kanji represent, you're unlikely to understand. What's a "hundred leaves box"?

What part of your body is the 盲腸? How about the 虹彩? The 喉仏? The 網膜? The 鎖骨? All of these kanji are used to represent words, and unless you can associate the kanji with those words, you'll have trouble figuring out what they mean.

It's true that you can often figure out an unfamiliar word from the kanji alone. But kanji are used to write the Japanese language, and you won't get very far if you skip the actual step of associating the writing with the language itself. That doesn't mean you have to sit around memorizing individual on and kun readings, but you need to be able to read words if you want to understand Japanese writing.

  • Thanks for the answer. This was troubling me for some time. I get the importance of the onyomi now but every example you have given (except 良) is a jokugo. Does this mean that I can get away with just learning the onyomis and skipping (or learning a selected few of) the kunyomis?
    – WVrock
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 6:52
  • 2
    @WVrock How about 行く【いく】 and 行う【おこなう】? 覚える【おぼえる】 and 覚める【さめる】? 強い【つよい】, 強いて【しいて】, 強ち【あながち】, and 強か【したたか】? 似る【にる】 and 以って【もって】? I think you might have some trouble with that approach.
    – user1478
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 7:19
  • So the same thing happens with fukurigana. Without knowing the kunyomi there is no way to find out what it means. Thanks for the clarification.
    – WVrock
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 8:00

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