I am doing a research on differences between kanji and hanzi and accidentally stumbled across the term 同形の別字. The article that refers to it doesn't elaborate on its meaning. Does that term mean similar character shape but different meanings in Chinese and Japanese? I'm still not so good at Japanese so I am sorry if this question is lame.

  • 2
    Google verbatim search "同形の別字" pops up with an example「芸」, so your description seems to be correct. (「[芸]{げい}」simplified from「藝」is not the same character as「[芸]{うん}」, which was its own character ultimately derived from「蕓」; they are the same shape but different characters. 「[芸]{げい}」is a Japan-specific simplification, while both China and Japan use the simplification「[芸]{うん}」.)
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 4:57

2 Answers 2


Does that term mean similar character shape but different meanings in Chinese and Japanese?

Essentially, yes, but...

「同形別字」 or 「同形異字」 literally means "same shape, different character". Something similar happens all the time with 部首 (radicals): for example the radical forms of 肉 and 月 should be said to be "same shape, different radical".

The same can happen with full characters, for example when a character is simplified into an existing one, examples being

  • 藝 > 芸​【ゲイ】 vs. 芸​【ウン】
  • 燈 > 灯​【トウ・トン】 vs. 灯​【チョウ・テイ・チン】
  • 濱 > 浜​【ヒン】 vs. 浜​【ホウ・ヒョウ】

Note that Chinese simplifies 藝 > 艺 and 芸 is a separate character. (Similarly, for 濱 > 滨 vs. 浜.) However, @droooze points out that Chinese also has other examples of 同形異字, such as 后 & 後 > 后 or 發 & 髮 > 发.

  • 1
    Since OP says that he/she is doing research, I'm going to be pedantic: it would be confusing to simplify into an existing character if both are used is not the reason Mainland China simplified 藝 > 艺 and 濱 > 滨 in those ways. (1) 藝 > 芸 is J-style simplification which cuts out the middle bit and preserves the top and bottom (similarly: 應 > 応), which is not something seen in C-style simplifications. 藝 > 艺 is a phonetic substitution using 乙. (2) 濱 > 滨 is used by extension from 賓 > 宾. Overall, C-style simplification has merged frequent-used characters (后後 > 后, 發髮 > 发) much more than Japan.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 11:34
  • 后 & 後 > 后 or 發 & 髮 > 发 is the same concept as the J example 輛 & 両 > 両, can this be called 同形異字? It was basically a conscious choice to use a replacement character which sounds identical, not a simplification which coincidentally merged two unrelated shapes.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 13:56
  • @dROOOze And although not officially called simplification, Japan did merge a lot of chapters by replacing some kanji in established compounds with other ones. 輪廓>輪郭 庖丁>包丁 開鑿>開削 掠奪>略奪 and many other more. You can find a whole list on wikipedia. This is technically not "simplification" because they don't call it so, but it's pretty much the same thing. We can say Japanese merge-simplified 廓 into 郭 and so on. Note that 廓 庖 鑿(simplified to 凿 but remains separate from 削) 掠 are still used in Chinese today.
    – dvx2718
    Commented Sep 9, 2021 at 4:11

Without knowing the article that you found the term 同形の別字 in, a common description seems to be something like characters/components which are (now) the same form but were originally different. This doesn't have to be a difference between Japanese and Chinese, and there are 同形の別字 found entirely within Japanese kanji itself, as already provided by @Earthliŋ♦'s answer. For other full characters and component form examples in Japanese that are the same form but different characters/components,

  • 「⺍」, merger of「炏」,「吅」, and the top part of「𦥯」(cf. 栄, 営, 厳, 単, 学, 覚 vs. 榮, 營, 嚴, 單, 學, 覺)
  • 「缶」, merger of「罐」and「缶」(フ or フウ)
  • 「糸」, merger of「絲」and「糸」(ミャク or ベキ)
  • 「云」(right-hand component form only), merger of「專」and「云」 (cf. 伝, 転 vs. 傳, 轉)
  • 「己」(component form only), merger of「巳」and「己」(cf. {{ja:港}}, {{ja:包}} vs. {{zh-TW:港}}, {{zh-TW:包}})
  • 「豊」, merger of「豐」and「豊」
  • 「艹」, merger of「艹」,「廿」, and「艹」(cf. {{ja:漢}}, {{ja:夢}} vs. {{zh-TW:漢}}, {{zh-TW:夢}})

Note carefully the distinction between 同形の別字 and related (sometimes overlapping) concepts:

  • [国訓]{こっくん} - Japan-specific readings
  • [通仮字]{つうかじ} - phonetic substitutions
  • 多音字 - heterophonous characters
  • 異体字 - variant characters, different characters (or components of different characters) which represent the same underlying morpheme, which includes the following groups:
    • 新字体 vs. 旧字体, 簡體字 vs. 繁體字 (Shinjitai vs. Kyūjitai, Simplified Chinese vs. Traditional Chinese)
    • [俗字]{ぞくじ} vs. [正字]{せいじ} (vulgar characters vs. orthodox characters)
    • 新字形 vs. 康煕字典体/舊字形 (new character forms vs. old character forms)
    • 略字 (abbreviated characters)

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