In Heisig's book Remembering the Kanji, 16th edition, kanji #519 (暗) is named Darkness. In Yu-gi-oh however the darkness element uses 闇

According to the following link, 暗 does indeed mean dark, darkness. The same site mentions the added meaning of gloom to 闇: https://jitenon.com/kanji/%E6%9A%97

Why are there two kanji with the same basic meaning and how would I know when to use one or the other?

Are there implied differences that can be inferred without actually explaining by using one versus the other?


2 Answers 2


You would know which to use because they are used differently.

You don't actually use single kanji very often, so there isn't much confusion (just like in English you know when to use "darkness" or "dark").

闇 is often used as a noun or のadjective to mean "dark", "darkness" or "the dark".

暗 is often used as an いadjective to describe something that is dark (暗い).

If you need more imagery to separate them in your head, you could think of 闇 as having more figurative uses like "the dark age" or "an emperor of darkness" while "暗" might just be talking about a dimly lit room.


I can’t answer your question about “why” but there is a clear difference in usage.

暗 means “dark”. In fact, it is the character for the Japanese native adjective for “dark”, namely 暗{くら}い. When it is used as part of other words, too, it is used attributively to qualify something as dark (“dark something”) whether it is pronounced in kun’yomi or on’yomi. Giving the noun form “darkness” as one of the definitions for this single character could be a bit misleading. It should be understood as the quality of being dark.

闇 refers to a place or situation where it is so dark you can’t see things clearly, if at all. It corresponds to “darkness” in that sense.

  • I see, 暗い describes things and or places as dark while 闇 is more of a place of complete darkness, you could for example use it as a fictional place in a work of fiction. Mar 26, 2023 at 15:54
  • @MarcoAntonioGomezMartinez - If you are a Spanish speaker, it also has a separate noun that is not derived from the common adjective for “dark”, namely tiniebla. Image search for 闇 and that word give similar results. It has an eerie feel to it. When used figuratively, it often means things like “underground”, “illegal”, etc.
    – aguijonazo
    Mar 26, 2023 at 16:06
  • I am, and by underground you mean as in outside of the law like Need for Speed Underground? or an actual under the ground place like a dungeon? Mar 26, 2023 at 19:01
  • 1
    @MarcoAntonioGomezMartinez - the former as in 闇市.
    – aguijonazo
    Mar 27, 2023 at 1:09

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