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If we look at thee はまる, きこり, しじま and うつつ as three examples of many, they are spelt differently in different well known dictionaries.

はまる has 填まる first in Kenkyusha and Daijisen, while Meikyo and Shin Meikai have 嵌まる. The NINJAL-LWP from the corpus writes it with kana only.

きこり 樵 in Shin Meikai, Meiyo and Daijisen, but 樵夫 in Kenkyusha and 木こり in NINJAL.

しじま is kana only in Daijisen, Meikyo, Shin Meikai and NINJAL, but 黙 in Kenkyusha.

うつつ is kana only in NINJAL, 現 in Daijisen, Meikyo and Shin Meikai, but 現つ in Kenkyusha.

So my question is: is there any established, even if unofficial, standard to how these words should be written in a contemporary text? I'm asking both as a general question, but also because it would help me decide what spelling I should use in my flashcards. I see no point in learning what seem to be obscure spellings like 黙, but I also don't want to rely on Jishos "Usually written using kana alone", since I have already encountered loads of words that are very commonly written in kanji, that have such information.

I realize dictionaries have good reasons for their specific spellings. What I'm interested in is a good way to find out the preferable contemporary spelling of a word.

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The jōyō kanji list is widely available online, and it serves as a rough guideline for what kanji, or what reading of a kanji, can be used. Newspaper publishers maintain another list of kanji (including their readings) that can be used without furigana (see 新聞常用漢字表), but it's 99% the same as the standard jōyō kanji list, so laypeople don't need to worry about the difference.

Dictionaries usually indicate non-jōyō kanji and non-jōyō readings or a word, like this:

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This dictionary (明鏡国語辞典) marks non-jōyō kanji with and nonstandard readings of a jōyō-kanji with . These symbols typically mean it's not very safe to use such kanji or readings. (jisho.org is an unfortunate exception; it displays super-rare kanji without any warning.)

Novelists and poets often use rare kanji and rare readings, and native Japanese people who like to read recognize many kanji that are not in the jōyō kanji list. But that does not mean you also have to write them in kanji. Personally, I can read 木樵 and 現 (at least when there is enough context), but always write these words in all-hiragana.

A corpus can be used as a last resort, but NINJAL-LWP is a parsed corpus, meaning different spellings of the same word may have been "normalized". You can use BCCWJ instead if you want to do "raw" text searches.

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  • Thank you. I come from Chinese and mostly plan to read Japanese rather than write it. Would you say that this is a reasonable conclusion: Use a reliable dictionary (in my case Daijisen), take the first spelling and use it to study. In this case it would be 樵, 塡まる, 現 and しじま. Would you even recommend learning these as はまる, きこり, うつつ and しじま. I'm reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and I have already encountered some words that have non jōyō in the dictionaries.
    – timseb
    Mar 2, 2023 at 7:21
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    @timseb The first spelling can be a very rare spelling that is not worth remembering at all. I didn't know 黙 can be read しじま. If you're reading a novel, try to learn kanji and words that don't come with furigana.
    – naruto
    Mar 2, 2023 at 7:45
  • Thank you. The reason I'm adding words that include furigana is that if the word is new to me, even if it does include furigana, I should add it for study. Just to make sure I understand the non-jōyō policy correctly: Daijisen says: えぼし【×烏▽帽子】. Does that mean the recommended modern spelling is えぼし in plain kana, or えぼ子? I try to stick to one standard, if not for other reasons to avoid duplicates due to negligence.
    – timseb
    Mar 2, 2023 at 13:16
  • The "@" message does not seem to work for me. I hope you will se this question @naruto. I have two concrete examples that causes me trouble: 烏帽子 【×烏▽帽子】 How do I know, apart from gut feeling, that it should be えぼし and not えぼ子? 【▽検非違使】 I'm guessing this should be written 検非違使, rather than けびいし or け非違使. Once again, does the dictionary explicitly tell me this (which I might miss because I'm not at an advanced level), or is it once again a basic instinct based on the information provided?
    – timseb
    Mar 2, 2023 at 15:36
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    @timseb Don't worry, comments on answers will always be notified to the answerer. 烏帽子 and 検非違使 are historical terms, and such words tend to be written in the original kanji spelling, ignoring the usual joyo kanji rules. These are words taught in history classes in middle schools, so diligent teenagers can read them without furigana. (BTW, you may be interested in this)
    – naruto
    Mar 2, 2023 at 17:36

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