For example, how do I know when 日本 is talking about Japan and when it's talking about a book about the sun. I'm very early into learning kanji so I apologize if this is a dumb question.

2 Answers 2


日本 is always taken as one word meaning "Japan". It does not mean "a book about the sun", even though the kanji 日 and 本 in isolation have the meaning of "sun" and "book", respectively.

In Japanese, you have to use something called particles to express longer concepts like "a book about the sun". Particles are small function words that roughly correspond to English prepositions (e.g., "to", "in", "from", "about", "by"). In English, "bookend" and "the end of a book" refer to clearly different things, right? Likewise, since there is no particles between 日 and 本, 日本 will be taken as one word. (This is a basic rule. As you continue learning Japanese, you will encounter many tricky cases where two words are connected without particles. For details, see How to separate words in a Japanese sentence?)

FWIW, "the book about the sun" is 太陽についての本 in Japanese. 太陽 is a word meaning "the Sun", 本 is "book", and についての corresponds to "about".


I believe as you continue to study kanji you will answer your own question, but let me see if I can help.

the combination of the character 日 and 本 into 日本 really only has one meaning. It means Japan. The characters can be used separately to mean sun and book. And even backwards as 本日 has a different meaning. but when put together in this combination they will always mean Japan.

That is how all kanji will be. 明日{あした} will always mean tomorrow, and doesn't mean bright day.

And see below for a great explanation of how particles will help you make distinctions about meaning

  • 本{もと} can also be source/origin/root. Isn't that the meaning intended in 日本{にほん} instead of 本{ほん}?
    – jastako
    Oct 9, 2020 at 20:43

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