At my company we use a kanban in our software development process. I speak Chinese and I know the word in Chinese as 看板 (kànbǎn in pinyin), 看 meaning "look" and 板 meaning "board". Google tells me the word/idea is originally from Japanese, and also romanized like "kanban". I don't know much about Japanese but I thought usually kanji are different pronunciations than their sister Chinese characters - is it just a happy accident that the words 看 and 板 mean the same thing and are pronounced similarly in both Japanese and Chinese?

  • 1
    Do you know about on- and kun-readings? Many words sound similar across Chinese, Korean and Japanese. For example, compare 图书馆, 도서관 and 図書館.
    – naruto
    Sep 11, 2021 at 16:44
  • As a side note, when people say "kanban board" it makes my eye twitch
    – Evelyn
    Sep 17, 2021 at 19:28
  • @Evelyn why? I had never heard of "kanban board" in English, but looking it up, it appears that "kanban" in English is a process management concept and not a physical object, and so "kanban board" distinguishes that concept from the physical object. Seems perfectly reasonable considering the fact that it's a borrowed word.
    – Leebo
    Sep 19, 2021 at 22:45
  • Additionally, it appears that かんばんボード exists as a term in Japanese too, presumably imported after the English term developed, though I don't know how well known it is.
    – Leebo
    Sep 19, 2021 at 22:58
  • @Leebo Interesting. In my work, "kanban" usually only refers to the board. I guess it makes sense to say kanban board, it just sounds strange to my ears because on a Chinese software development team, we just called it the 看板. 板 is board so you wouldn't say 看板板 lol.
    – Evelyn
    Sep 24, 2021 at 15:07

1 Answer 1


They just look identical in romanizations. A Japanese person and a Chinese person might understand each other with their native readings, but the real pronunciations have non-negligible differences. Chinese pinyin final n is always [n], where Japanese final n (as the transcription of ん) is called moraic nasal that changes into diverse sounds according to what comes next.

In short, they would respectively sound like:

  • Chinese (Mandarin): kànbǎn [[kʰan˥˩.p(b)an˨˩˦]] (AmE approx. can-ban)
  • Japanese: かんばん kanban [[kʰɐmbɐɴ]] (AmE approx. come-bun(gh))

As you may know, 看板 is not a Chinese Chinese word, merely a transliteration of the Japanese word meaning "signboard", in the kanban system context (ironically, the word is rarely written in kanji in Japanese as for this specific sense) or anime words like 看板娘.

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    – chocolate
    Sep 19, 2021 at 8:01

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