Note: I know they might not strictly be interchangeable, but I might end up using "Furigana" and "Ruby text" in an interchangeable manner in this question.

Hi all,

I'm in the process of writing a short essay in Japanese. I'm going to be preparing two versions: one with Ruby text on all Kanji that are new to me (for further self-study purposes), and one with Ruby text on a subset of the more complex Kanji used.

When I craft a Japanese sentence and decide to place Furigana by a specific Kanji, do I need to use Hiragana each time?

I've noticed, in the dictionaries I use at the very least, that Onyomi readings are listed in Katakana and Kunyomi readings in Hiragana. Does this style carry across to essays and similar types of documents?

For instance, if I want t to use the kanji 上 in a sentence and explicitly mark the reading as うえ I would use Hiragana in my ruby text. But what if I wanted to use 日 in a sentence and explicitly mark the reading as ニチ? Would I still use Hiragana then?

I know that these are stupid examples, but I think that they still illustrate my question enough.


Generally (barring situations like this) all furigana are written as hiragana, regardless of whether it's the onyomi or kunyomi of the character.

You could think about it this way: there's nothing grammatically wrong with writing a word like にち in hiragana rather than kanji. ニチ, on the other hand, would be ungrammatical (or at least non-standard). When writing furigana one writes whatever would replace the kanji if the document were to be re-written without using any kanji.

Also since there seemed to be confusion between ruby/furigana, I believe ruby is the general word for pronunciation advice/other info printed in a small font above or beside some characters/text. Furigana is the word used to specifically describe Japanese ruby. For most students of Japanese (and probably Japanese people) furigana is a more recognisable, common word to use.

  • Thanks for the answer ジョン. I think the reason I ended up getting a little confused about ruby and Furigana is because I've been using a ruby extension for TeX (a document formatting language/system, in case you didn't know) to create the document. – Jamie Taylor May 22 '12 at 8:36
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    @JamieTaylor I know all too well - too much of my life was spent trying to get furigana in working in TeX, lol. I think "ruby" is used more in a typesetting/publishing context, so it's suitable for your question here. It's just, in years of using furigana I'd never heard of ruby until I joined JLU :P So I wonder just how widely known it is. – ジョン May 22 '12 at 9:13
  • I'm not sure that ruby is known that well outside of the TeX/typesetting/publishing communities, ジョン. Except for the linguistic communities as well, obviously. I take it then, that proper nouns are the same? No matter what the reading of Kanji used in a person's name, they're always spelt out with furigana? (aside from the example you linked too)? – Jamie Taylor May 22 '12 at 14:11
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    @JamieTaylor I assume you mean spelt out with hiragana? Well, with Japanese names, yes. It might be different for, for example, Chinese names written with hanzi. Furigana for those would be in katakana if it relates to the Chinese pronunciation of the name. Again, this comes back to the way it would be written if kanji were not used. – ジョン May 22 '12 at 20:12

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