"Almost" and "usually" here means that while "alternative" is definitely used, vast majority of people is still using the mentioned version. Just look at google results count!

Also, note that kanji used in words like 暫く and 敢て are jōyō while 鹸 is not.

(I understand the common variants are generally suggested by IMEs and dictionaries and people simply are used to seeing しばらく written in kana. But my question is, how did this situation come into existence?)

  • 3
    石鹸 is often written as 石けん as well. A native recently told me that they couldn't write 石鹸, just for what it's worth..
    – ssb
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 0:51
  • 2
    In BCCWJ, we find 418 results for 石鹸 and 492 for 石けん.
    – user1478
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 0:51
  • 1
    On google, 石鹸 still beats 石けん by a margin. I bet it wouldn't be hard to find some other widely used non-jōyō kanji
    – squirrel
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 0:55
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    @squirrel "on google" counts are bunk. There's a stackexchange thread about it too, but also here: quora.com/Which-Google-results-count-is-the-right-number. Corpus numbers like BCCWJ or google ngram are a much more accurate way to see how much something is used.
    – virmaior
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 1:25
  • 3
    @squirrel That's definitely true, although the most common examples (like 誰) were added to the list in 2010. On the flip side, there are jōyō kanji that are very rarely used, like 虞 and 璽. It's not a perfect list.
    – user1478
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 3:23

2 Answers 2


Most modern style guidelines say that adverbs, including しばらく, should be written in hiragana. (examples of adverbs which should be written in hiragana.) It is true that some adverbs are simple enough even in kanji, but many people are conscious of this rule and tend to use hiragana versions.

I think this rule came into existence somewhere during the simplification process in writing after WWII. Pre-war documents are full of kanji adverbs. I found that 当用漢字表, predecessor of 常用漢字表, issued in 1946, already said 「代名詞・副詞・接続詞・感動詞・助動詞・助詞は,なるべくかな書きにする」.

According to such guidelines, I believe 石鹸 should be written as 石けん because "鹸" is not in jōyō kanji list. Frankly, I am a native speaker of Japanese and I don't remember how to write 鹸 in kanji by hand. But IMEs are so powerful, and people do not strictly memorize which kanji is in the jōyō kanji list. And such mixture of kanji and hiragana in a single noun is simply not pleasant to the eye. So it's not surprising people use 石鹸 often, and I would probably do the same in casual situations.

  • Do they give any specific reasons for 「なるべくかな書きにする」?
    – squirrel
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 17:16
  • Not really. But in those days, people involved in the simplification process were trying to reduce the number of kanji. They were even considering the abolishment of kanji at all, partly under the influence of the US. So that policy might have been a good compromise.
    – naruto
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 2:36
  • Oh, that Wikipedia page says 臨時国語調査会 recommended 「副詞、接続詞、助動詞及び助詞はなるべく仮名で書く」 in 1923, which surprised people.
    – naruto
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 2:50

A lot of the times, but not always, this originates in literature. A word like しばらく came up through Heian and Kamakura female writers, so they were written in hiragana from the beginning. 石鹸 on the other hand has its origin in Meiji when a lot of new and fancy Western products entered Japan. There was a need for words that would also describe its utility and Kanji simply does that better, think 電話.

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