can someone please explain me what exactly are ateji and how they differ from on'yomi? I have been told already, but I can't get my head around it.

  • 5
    What exactly were you “told already”? Sep 20, 2021 at 20:52
  • 1
    @IgorSkochinsky If I may make a guess, something to the effect of: "on'yomi is reading kanji by sound, ateji is reading kanji only by their sound value, regardless of meaning". Add to this, "kun'yomi is reading kanji by their meaning".
    – dROOOze
    Sep 20, 2021 at 21:41
  • 2
    Have you read wikipedia?
    – Skye-AT
    Sep 21, 2021 at 1:15
  • 1
    @Skye-AT I think that wikipedia page might not be particularly helpful. I know what ateji are, but, if I were unfamiliar with the concept or Japanese writing in general and already confused about ateji, I don't think that page would have helped me. It's perhaps a bit too much information absorb and take in (if that makes sense).
    – A.Ellett
    Sep 21, 2021 at 2:09
  • 2
    @A.Ellett Right? The English version feels like reading through a treatise or something, while Japanese version is straight to the point and easier to understand it because of nice examples(as you mentioned).
    – Skye-AT
    Sep 21, 2021 at 3:03

1 Answer 1


In simplest form, on'yomi and kun'yomi are ways of reading kanji that relate to the meaning of the character. So, for example, if 独 is referring to something being alone, then you're using either an on'yomi (e.g. doku) or a kun'yomi (e.g. hitori).

If you take a kanji's reading and use it to write another word, then that's ateji. For example, if you use 独 as the "do" in "doitsu", meaning Germany, then that's an ateji.

  • There are also ateji like お[土産]{みやげ} that bare little to resemblance to any standard reading.
    – A.Ellett
    Sep 21, 2021 at 15:48
  • So, on'yomi and kun'yomi are like "fixed" readings. A kanji has it's on'yomi and kun'yomi (or only one of the two categories) and if you give a kanji a reading that is not among them then that reading is an ateji?
    – vae
    Sep 21, 2021 at 16:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .