There is something that's confusing me. As far as I understand, kanjis were adopted by japaneses when they arrived to Japan in the form of official seals, letters, swords, coins, mirrors, etc. And because of this, they have a japanese pronunciation and one (or more?) chinese pronunciations. I also know that there are 2136 "joyo kanji" which are from common usage and which are approved by the ministery of education of Japan. Yet, there are many more kanjis which are used and figures vary from 47,000 to over 100,000 (correct me in anything I'm wrong) . Does this mean, you can take any chinese han character and use it as it belongs to the japanese writing system, or this is wrong and there are chinese han characters that you can say they don't belong to the japanese writing system?

  • As far as I know, 漢字 refers to characters of Chinese origin (meaning modern Chinese too). But it also refers to characters used in Japan, not all of which are of Chinese origin. However, it might help us answer your question if you could explain why you might find the characters available in Japanese insufficient, or why you might want to use a particular Chinese character not in the 常用漢字. Incidentally, historically there is a huge ocean of kanji available for use in Japanese. My 漢和中辞典 has over 9500 characters in it and there are other dictionaries with far more.
    – A.Ellett
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 22:53

1 Answer 1


This is a somewhat vague question. Anyway, the answer for this question is not too far from the answer for "Can any German character be used as part of the English writing system?" Characters ö and ß are definitely not part of the English writing system, but you can "use" them if you really need them in your essay written in English.

Can Chinese characters be displayed?: Yes. After the introduction of Unicode, common characters used by modern Chinese people can usually be displayed on most PCs and smartphones available in Japan. You don't need to manually install a special font.

Would they be understood by native Japanese speakers?: Generally, no, but people can often make a reasonable guess.

When is it okay to use Chinese characters in Japanese sentences?: Unsurprisingly, when you are introducing Chinese words, especially person or place names.

Does a character with the same Unicode always look identical in both languages?: No, the standard design of one kanji/hanji may differ between the two languages even if it shares the same character code. From Introducing Source Han Sans: An open source Pan-CJK typeface:

Well, the writing systems for each language, particularly their ideographs that are based on historical Chinese forms, took different paths over time. While some characters remained unchanged and common across the languages, others morphed into regional variations. One can see these in the glyphs represented below. While the variations may be subtle, especially to the Western eye, they are very important to the users of each language.

enter image description here

This means if you blindly copy characters from a Chinese site to a place where Japanese is assumed, like this site, you may end up with awkward characters to the eyes of Chinese people. There is a way to display non-Japanese glyphs on this site.

  • 1
    Also, not every kanji has the exact same meaning as the corresponding character in Chinese - some words show a bit of semantic drift (e.g. 何 is closer to meaning "why" in Chinese than "what"), and the characters for types of fish can be completely different.
    – ConMan
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 3:22
  • My question came from this, if kanjis are han characters adopted by the japanese language system, and since japanese use those characters also with a chinese reading, and since there is 2136 kanjis approved by the ministery of language of Japan, but there are also others 47000 to 100,000 kanjis used in japanese, may be that meant you incorporated all the chinese han characters as kanjis by using its chinese readings first, or that you can use any chinese han character with its chinese reading as part of the japanese language. Who regulates the adoption of chinese han characters to japanese?
    – Pablo
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 12:12
  • BTW, the definition (incorrect perhaps) of kanji from wikipedia says in japanese kanji simply means "han character". According to that definition, you could think that any han character it is a kanji then. And since kanjis are also supposed to be one of the japanese writing systems, then what stops any han character of being a valid japanese character? May be in that list of over 100,000 kanjis there are those han characters with chinese only reading you dont use often in japanese.
    – Pablo
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 12:25
  • This question come from another question where an user pointed that a symbol wasnt a kanji but a han character from chinese, and therefore it wasnt a japanese question but a chinese question
    – Pablo
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 12:27
  • 1
    @Pablo Each country has its own standard set of kanji for common use (for example this and this). Some characters are common, some have small regional variants (as seen in the image above), some are pretty much Japanese-only or Chinese-only. And yes, the Japanese word 漢字 refers to everything I just mentioned. Looks like "kanji as an English word" means something like 日本で使われている漢字 in Japanese... that's a bit funny to me :-)
    – naruto
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 12:32

You must log in to answer this question.

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