As I understand it works like this. By the time Japanese kids enter first grade they have more or less decent vocabulary of words they know. So when kanjis are taught I can't even imagine how to tell in Japanese that, for example, 女 means "woman"(おんな) and has a kun-reading おんな, since meaning and reading is the same word. 「女」漢字は意味が「おんな」です。くん読みが「おんな」だ。Something like this? It looks like only readings are taught and kids kind of figure out the key meaning on their own, based on the vocabulary they possess.

Note that I'm self-taught in Japanese and though I use JLPT N3 materials, I can mess up in basic things.

Another example. When person wants to explain using what kanji to write his/her name how do they explain that? How to identify exact kanji if one reading links to numerous characters?

In English I rely a lot on using key meaning to identify the kanji, but what exact wording do I use in Japanese?

Hope you can help me out. Thanks.

  • Could you clarify your question? Do you want to know, how to teach someone a new 漢字 in Japanese? Or do you want to know how to tell someone what 漢字 you have in mind when talking in Japanese?
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 12:54
  • I guess both. But 2nd is bigger priority )
    – dimadesu
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 13:09

2 Answers 2


To answer your second question --
When I'm talking on the phone and want to say how to write someone's name or address in kanji, I often say like:

  1. 「[京子]{きょうこ}」の「きょう」は、「[京都]{きょうと}」の「[京]{きょう}」です。
  2. 「[明日香]{あすか}」の「あす」は、「[明日]{あした}」で、「[香]{か}」は、「[香]{かおり}」です。
  3. 「[聡]{さとし}」は、[耳偏]{みみへん}に「[公園]{こうえん}」の「[公]{こう}」と「[心]{こころ}」です。(or 「[聡明]{そうめい}」の「[聡]{そう}」です。)
  4. 「[本陣町]{ほんじんちょう}」は、「ブック」の「[本]{ほん}」と、こざと[偏]{へん}に「[車]{くるま}」(or 「[陣内孝則]{じんないたかのり}さん」の「[陣]{じん}」)で、「[町]{まち}」です。

In English and most other languages, words as part of spoken language and words as part of written language are in a 1-to-1 mapping. In Japanese, 漢字 are just a means for expression, and so there exist both many-to-1 (e.g. こんじつ & きょう -> 今日) and 1-to-many (e.g. みる -> 見る, 観る, 看る, ...) mappings.

To describe what 漢字 you have in mind, you usually give more readings for character of your word, usually in the form

  • 訓読み (e.g. 観る) plus
  • 音読み (e.g. 観察のかん)

but nobody talks about 訓読み and 音読み, you just give a word containing the extra reading. Knowing that the character you're after for the word みる is both read み(る) and かん (and appears in the word かんさつ!), you usually know which character is meant. (Someone once tried used this method with 方法のほう, which is not how it works.)

You might also describe the 漢字 in radicals, but this is usually done for 漢字 both close in meaning and close in writing, in particular for different versions of the same character, like 斎 vs. 斉 vs. 齋 vs. 齊 (from the different versions of the surname さいとう).

Also see my answer on this post: What is the role of 空書 (writing kanji in the air) in modern Japanese?

  • 1
    Your 方法のほう example reminds me of English "K as in knee, P as in pneumonia" letter-spelling. Use only if you're trying to confuse the other guy! Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 2:54

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