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日 is at the start of "Nihon" (Japan) making me think it means "Ni" but 日 means Day which is written in romaji as "hi" and pronounced "hi". If 日 has multiple meanings how am I supposed to read it?

marked as duplicate by user3856370, Sjiveru, istrasci, Blavius, Earthliŋ Feb 15 '16 at 19:28

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Let's differentiate between "meaning" and "reading". The Kanji 日 has a number of readings:

[日暮れ]{ひぐれ} Sunset

[日曜日]{にちようび} Monday

[本日]{ほんじつ} Today (formal)

[日本]{にほん} Japan, originally にっぽん.

[今日]{きょう} Today (normal)

So here we see six "readings", but only three really matter: ひ、にち、じつ. You can consider び, に and きょう exceptions (きょう is the original Japanese-origin word for "today". The Kanji 今日 is verbatim Cantonese, read "gam1 jat6"). We call these あてじ, meaning Kanji that were just bolted onto some existing Japanese without following the usual rules.

In terms of meaning, 日 has three meanings: "sun", "day", and more rarely "Japan". The answer to your original question "how do I know how to read this?" is "learn more words".

Note that most Kanji are not like this. 日 is rarer in its weirdness. Most other Kanji stick to the rules, so you'll be able to read things confidently.

  • The reading 「きょう」 for 今日 is not 当て字, it is a 熟字訓【じゅく・じ・くん】. – istrasci Feb 15 '16 at 18:50
  • 1
    当て字 has multiple definitions and can mean 熟字訓. Def 1: Kanji borrowed for sound only: [倶楽部]{クラブ}. Def 2: Kanji borrowed for meaning only: [田舎]{いなか} – Colin Woodbury Feb 15 '16 at 19:32
  • @istrasci, fosskers -- 今日{きょう} comes from older reading けふ. By one theory, け is an alternative form of こ "this", much as in 今朝{けさ}. Meanwhile, ふ may be an alternative form of 日{ひ}, much as in 昨日{きのう}, ancient form きのふ (where き refers to the past, の is regular の, and ふ is again 日). As such, the kanji for 今日 is not so much 熟字訓 as it is an irregular (as in ancient and rare) 訓読み. More at Gogen Allguide. – Eiríkr Útlendi Feb 16 '16 at 20:56
  • That's new information for me, and makes a lot of sense. Thank you. – Colin Woodbury Feb 16 '16 at 21:35

Most kanji have multiple readings and meanings. Btw you shouldn't confuse readings and meanings ("ni" is a possible reading of 日, "day" is a possible meaning of 日). There are no clear rules you can always use to determine the reading or the meaning. The best thing you can do is to learn as many words as possible. Along the way you will get a "feel" for kanji and their compounds and in some cases you will be able to guess the meaning\reading by yourself. But there are no foolproof recipes.

日 can be "ni", "hi", "nichi", "jitsu", etc. It really depends on the context.

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