I've noticed that in fiction a writer will sometimes use an unexpected kanji for a word. For example, instead of 見せる I have seen 魅せる several times. If you know any other examples of this kind of 'poetic license', can you comment and write the standard kanji / alternative kanji pairs? Thanks!

  • 1
    There are a lot examples, like: 町 · 街 (まち) | 声 · 聲 (こえ) | (...). But you know, normally some versions are outdated, or have a similar meaning, but not exactly equal, like: 見る · 観る · 視る · 診る (みる). I think is more about context and kanji origin.
    – CrisCM
    Sep 24, 2017 at 3:11
  • Thanks. I think the みる examples you gave are not quite what I meant. In that case, the meaning changes quite a lot. 見る (see), 観る(watch), 視る(assess), 診る(examine). But I appreciate your input!
    – kandyman
    Sep 24, 2017 at 19:26
  • 護る, 訊く, 起つ, 啼く, 愉しむ, and so on are examples, but asking for a list is "too broad".
    – naruto
    Sep 25, 2017 at 7:02
  • Thanks, these are very good examples. Could you explain the difference with 啼く, 愉しむ?
    – kandyman
    Sep 25, 2017 at 7:37

2 Answers 2



見{み}せる ⇔ 魅{み}せる

The questioner says that he/she wants examples like one listed above, but since he/she said that "聞く、聴く" and "見る、観る、視る、診る" in some answers and comments are not what he/she wanted, it is very difficult, I think, to make a satisfactory answer to what he/she is seeking.

However, I think that "護美箱{ごみばこ} literally a can for keeping clean" corresponds to "ごみ箱{ばこ} a trash can or a garbage can" is sure to match what the questioner wants.

If so, the questioner should study "当{あ}て字{じ}" or "Ateji". By the way, a picture of "護美入{ごみい}れ" is posted in the article of "Ateji".

Speaking of Ateji, the most famous person in Japan is Natsume Sōseki, one of Japan's leading authors. The way to write "うるさい noisy" as "五月蠅{うるさ}い lit. flies of May" a representative Ateji invented by him. Here are a lot of examples of Ateji that he created. Many of them are established as Japanese. "麦酒{ビール} beer" is also one of them.
Please carefully study Ateji.



しかし、「ごみ箱{ばこ} a trash can or a garbage can」に対して「護美箱{ごみばこ} literally a can for keeping clean」は希望にかなっているのでしょうね。


当て字と言えば日本で一番有名な人は、日本を代表する作家のひとりである夏目{なつめ}漱石{そうせき}です。「うるさい」を「五月蠅{うるさ}い lit. flies of May」と書くのは漱石が創作した代表的な当て字です。ここに漱石が創{つく}ったたくさんの例があります。その多くは、日本語として定着しています。麦酒{ビール}もそのようです。 ゆっくり勉強してください。

  • This is an excellent answer. Thank you very much for that really interesting link. There are some great examples of creative kanji use there. ありがとう!
    – kandyman
    Sep 26, 2017 at 15:03

It's not poetic license; there are simply many cases where various kanji characters come to mean the same thing, as CrisCM pointed out.

The original, distinct uses for such characters may have differed at one point and then somewhere along the way they've come to be synonymous.

聞く、聴く to hear or listen

  • The type you mentioned are different from the type I was looking, as mentioned above. 聞く and 聴く refer to different concepts. What I was searching for are instances where authors can use creative use of kanji to imply deeper meaning for the same words, as in 魅せる or 想う for example.
    – kandyman
    Sep 25, 2017 at 7:39

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