I have come across this issue a number of times. I am studying Japanese at High School, so I only know about 200 kanji. When I write words that consist of more than two kanji characters, I am unsure whether it is acceptable to write a word with the kanji I know, but also with hiragana to replace the kanji that I don't know.

Here are some examples:

  1. 以来 - I know the second kanji, but not the first. Is it alright to write it as い来?
  2. 図書館 - I only know the second kanji. Is it alright to write it as と書かん?

There's a few different things going on in your question:

  1. A general question about whether you can write words in mixed kanji kana orthography
  2. An implicit question about when you can / cannot do so.
  3. Two specific examples

Starting with the first question, all Japanese language users including native speakers write some words using a mixture of kana and kanji. This happens for at least three reasons. First, when taking notes or writing quickly, there's not always time to write a 20 stroke character. So for something like 機会, you will often see people write キ会. The same thing happens when you hear but don't see a person's name, you have to write it in kana (especially for ones with more than one common way to write it).

Second, the list of kanji taught in schools is managed by a government (or semi-governmental) entity and there are some things that are not on this list. And that means there are some parts of words that are not normally written in kanji -- like 処方せん (処方箋 if it were all kanji).

Third, there are some things like とる, みる where there are many different kanji and it's hard to know which one fits best with a particular activity. Non-native speakers like me are worse at this than native speakers, but native speakers also wind up just writing these in kana when unsure (this is separate from the use of みる as helping verb that means to try in which case it should always be written in kana).

So, the answer to your general question is yes and I've given three cases where everyone does it.

A fourth case is books for children. These will only include characters the child is expected to know and start adding more and more kanji as the grade level goes up.

Moving to your two specific examples, I've seen 図書館 written as としょかん in pre-schools and elementary schools. For two reasons, I think writing it と書かん might be slightly confusing. First, 図 and 書 are both learned in the second grade, so it's weird to have one but not the other. Second, と also functions as a particle so if someone cannot tell where the word break is (remembering there are no spaces in Japanese), then it's going to be harder to read than pure kana or pure kanji.

I think 以来 would be hard to understand if written as い来. Here because くる is such a common verb and い is the ending for Japanese adjectives, there's going to be a lot of potential for this to make it more confusing.

Maybe others disagree with me on this.

One final thought is that I think it's "acceptable" and probably beneficial in language-learning contexts to write this way -- meaning when you submit something to your teacher, they can help you know whether you're making progress if you do this, but it's (in my view) less "acceptable" in general communication in Japanese for the reasons I suggest above.

  • It has always confused me. For example, in my Textbook the authors choose to write some words with known kanji combined with hiragana, but in some other words the authors write entirely in hiragana when previously learned kanji could be included in some parts of the word. – Luke Cooper Jan 21 '18 at 2:49

When one of the characters in a set of characters is rare, contains many strokes, or is hard to read for a large segment of the population, Japanese will sometimes write it in kana. Both 以来 and 図書館 do not follow this example, though. They are commonly viewed as a well-known set and viewed not so much as separate characters placed together to create a meaning as they are seen as a whole.

The basic rule is that there is no special reading for the character combination (漢語). For example, 田舎 is only read as いなか, if you were to change it to 田なか it would be very strange and people would assume you meant 田中.

Words that might be acceptable (though not common) as simplified would be: 豌豆→えん豆  続柄→つづき柄. For example, in supermarkets/convenience stores, they might substitute a more difficult kanji with ひらがな if most people have a hard time reading it.

Actually, [土嚢]{どのう} is a better example of words that commonly substitute one kanji for kana. The Japanese word for ‘sandbag’ is often written as 土のう, as the use of 嚢 is so infrequent. Also, 子供 can be written as 子ども.

Another example of discretionary product naming: 牛肩ロース is changed to 牛かたロース.

*Do not take this as an endorsement to avoid learning and using any and all 漢字 that you can.

  • 1
    neither of these characters follow the standard 音読み or 訓読み readings の例(熟字訓ですよね)なら、(「心太」に異論が出たようですので)他にも色々ありますからよければ使ってください → つゆ/梅雨、きのう/昨日、へた/下手、みやげ/土産、いなか/田舎、せりふ/台詞... for more: ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/熟字訓#%E4%BE%8B Words that might be acceptable as simplified の例も、(「えん豆」「つづき柄」に異論が出たようですので)他にも色々ありますからよければ使ってください→ 子ども、石けん、は虫類、警ら、だ捕、はく離、覚せい剤、改ざん、隠ぺい、漏えい、干ばつ、ねつ造、けん引、くも膜下、骨粗しょう症 – Chocolate Jan 21 '18 at 6:47
  • @Chocolate 提案ありがとうございました!梅雨は「ばいう」, 昨日は「さくじつ」, 土産は「どざん」, 下手は「したて」とも読められて… あんまりその別読みが用いれていないけど、 どうせあるからそのため使わないようになった。 – BJCUAI Jan 21 '18 at 7:23

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