I'd like to know if the word 陰陽 is commonly used to describe Yin and Yang as a "series of words", or if it's (only) used to describe the combination of Yin and Yang as one single term, so to speak. Basically, would it mean "'Yin' and 'Yang'" or "Yin and Yang", or perhaps both? I'm aware that the original concept is Chinese, but it also exists in Japanese as 陰陽道, no? What I basically would like to know is if saying 陰陽 is different from saying 陰と陽.

Also, the word can be read as Onmyō and In'yō, but is there any different in the reading's meaning? I'm aware that the reading of a kanji normally doesn't change its meaning, but it often gives more information, right? For example, 弟 with the reading ボブ to denote that the younger brother that is meant is Bob and not Jim. Is that the case here?

1 Answer 1


It might be the difference between Go-on (呉音, "sound from the Wu region") and Kan-on (漢音, "Han sound").

According to this, Go-on is:

introduced to Japan during the 5th and 6th centuries, when China was divided into separate Northern and Southern dynasties, go-on readings are possibly imported either directly from the Southern dynasty or the Korean Peninsula. This explanation is based mainly on historical reasoning: there was an influx of thinkers from China and Korea to Japan at that time, including both Buddhist and Confucian practitioners. However, there is no historical documentation to conclusively demonstrate that go-on readings are actually based on southern Chinese.

According to this, Kan-on is:

one of the sources of pronunciation of Japanese kanji. They were borrowed during the Tang dynasty (7th to 9th century), introduced by, among others, envoys from Japanese missions to Tang China. This period corresponds with the Japanese Nara period.

Kan-on is based on the central Chang'an pronunciation. The name Kan could refer to the Han dynasty, which also had Chang'an as its capital city.Furthermore, Kan has also become a description for all things Chinese, e.g., Kanji ('Chinese characters').

Kan'on partly displaced the earlier go'on, which were "just imitations of Korean imitations, but Kan-on were imitations of the real things."

Apart from the explanation of Kan-on above, here is an article that the Japanese government at that time often abolished Go-on and designated Kan-on as formal pronunciation of kanji. As a result of the policy of the government, we have a lot of Kan-on as on-yomi for kanji like [陰陽]{in-yoh}, but Go-on remains a little as on-yomi for kanji like [陰陽]{on-myoh} in certain field.
I quote the whole article in Japanese as follows.



  • Okay, so that would mean that there's no deeper meaning behind the reading of the word, yes? Also, what about the first question? What I would basically like to know is if 陰陽 only represents both parts as one or also if they're together separately, like in a list. For example, a character in Naruto lists the seven elements 風火土雷水陰陽 with the reading Fū Ka Do Rai Sui In Yō. Why wasn't Onmyō/In'yō used in that case, but In and Yō separately? Is it because Onmyō/In'yō only describes In and Yō when they're combined into one?
    – Seelentau
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 6:27
  • @Seelentau: >Is 陰陽 different from saying 陰と陽? There exists no difference aside from the nuance like 上下 vs. 上と下, 南北 vs. 南と北. But 陰陽 meaning 陰と陽 and 陰陽 in 陰陽道 are different, because the former are elements of something while the latter is a proper noun of something. I think some of those who named something in Go-on refused to change it into Kan-on in spite of the laws, regulations or notifications issued by the government. I also think they might be the people in religious field.
    – user20624
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 6:50
  • mmh, I think my question is a little hard to understand. Let's put it like this: Imagine you have water and earth. If you mix them, a new item called mud is created. In this metaphor, would saying "water and earth" be the same as saying "陰と陽", and saying "mud" be the same as saying 陰陽? Or can 陰陽 also be used to say 陰と陽, in specific cases like 陰陽道? It's basically the small difference between saying "Yin and Yang" (two concepts) and "Yinyang" (one concept, merged from two).
    – Seelentau
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 7:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .