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Grammar detail: 当て字・熟字訓・義訓

当て字・熟字訓・義訓 - ateji, jukujikun and gikun
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,
じゅくじくん
熟字訓
and
ぎくん
義君
are related but subtly different concepts that all stem from the fact that Japanese as a language existed independently of the kanji-based writing system imported from China.
  • (ateji) refers to the use of kanji phonetically to represent words they are etymologically unrelated to. It was a very common way to import words from foreign languages into Japanese before the advent of katakana (and is still common in China). The term ateji refers to the kanji characters used.
  • じゅくじくん
    熟字訓
    (jukujikun) refers to the use of a (typically native) Japanese word as the reading of a kanji word, without regard to the usual readings of those kanji. The term jukujikun refers to the reading - the readings for jukujikun words are the common readings for these particular words.
  • ぎくん
    義訓
    (gikun) refers to the use of an irregular reading for a kanji word. Examples of gikun may at times be considered to be errors, although they commonly appear in a variety of texts, particularly creative pieces, such as stories, poetry and song lyrics. It is unlikely that they will be found in academic or other such formal texts. As with jukujikun, the term gikun refers to the reading.

Examples

Ateji

  • One of the most common ateji is
    すし
    寿司
    , meaning sushi (i.e. the food comprising rice and raw fish). In fact 寿 means 'longevity' and 司 means 'administer', so the expression leads to an interesting implied underlying meaning - sushi administers longevity! Interestingly, however, this term is in such common use in Japan that most Japanese do not consider it to be ateji.
  • Another very common ateji is
    コーヒー
    珈琲
    , coffee. Although this character combination is falling out of use, it's still commonly seen in the names of traditional coffee shops. In fact the characters used mean 'hairpin' and 'string of pearls' (search)!
  • Ateji are very commonly used for country names. For example, originally America was represented in Japanese as
    あめりか
    亜米利加
    . As here, the characters are chosen for their common readings, independently of meanings. (American doesn't really have anything to do with 'adding effective Asian rice' ...) In modern Japanese, these ateji are no longer commonly used - the name would be spelled phonetically with katakana instead (eg アメリカ).

Jukujikun

  • One of the most common jukujikun is
    つゆ
    梅雨
    , meaning tsuyu (i.e. the rainy season, or the 'fifth season' in Japan). つゆ is the Japanese word, but it is used as the standard reading of the character combination 梅雨, which originated in Chinese. 梅 means 'plum' (the fruit); 雨 means 'rain'. So this is an evocative way to describe the heavy rain of the tsuyu - plum-sized raindrops!
  • Another common (and eminently sensible) jukujikun is
    たばこ
    煙草
    , which uses the characters for 'smoke' and 'grass'.
  • Another very common jukujikun is
    かわい
    可愛
    い, meaning cute. In this case the implied meaning is good (可) love (愛).
  • One of the best examples of jukujikun is
    おとな
    大人
    . In this case the expected reading of the kanji would be 'だいじん', which is a word (but with a slightly different meaning). However, the characters are also used to write おとな, so when reading, the context is required to determine how to pronounce them.
  • Another common jukujikun is
    いなか
    田舎
    , countryside. This is a common Japanese word, applied to the characters for 'field' and 'dwelling'. (Note that いなか is a term that can be considered offensive depending on the context, in the same sort of way that 'provincial' could be seen as subtly derogatory in English.)
  • きょう
    今日
    is another common jukujikun. The Japanese word 'きょう' meaning 'today' is assigned to the characters 'now' and 'day', which makes great sense from a meaning standpoint.

Gikun

  • An example of gikun is the reading からだ for 身体. The expected reading of 身体, しんたい, exists separately, and with largely the same meaning. The 'correct' kanji form of からだ is 体.
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Words used in this grammar

0
Most common form: 宛字
noun
1. kanji used as a phonetic symbol, instead of for the meaning; phonetic-equivalent character; substitute character
2. kanji used for their meaning, irrespective of reading
(click the word to view an additional 4 forms, examples and links)
3 0
noun
special kanji readings
(click the word for examples and links)
0
noun
reading of a kanji by meaning
(click the word for examples and links)
2 1
noun
sushi; anything made with vinegared rice (may also contain vegetables, spices, fish, or other delicacies)  (see also: 巻き寿司; food term)
(click the word to view an additional 3 forms, examples and links)
1
noun
1. rainy season (in Japan from early June to mid-July)
2. rain during the rainy season
(click the word to view an additional 1 reading and 3 forms, useful expressions, examples and links)
3
Most common form: かわいい
1. cute; adorable; charming; lovely; pretty  (often written with kana only)
2. dear; precious; darling; pet  (often written with kana only)
(click the word to view an additional 1 reading, 1 meaning and 4 forms, examples and links)
0
adult
(click the word to view an additional 1 reading, examples and links)
0
noun
1. man of substance or virtue; gentleman
2. giant
(click the word to view an additional 1 meaning, examples and links)
0
1. body  (see also: 身体; からだ is a gikun reading of 身体)
noun
2. torso; trunk
(click the word to view an additional 3 meanings and 4 forms, examples and links)
1
noun
body; physical system; person  (see also: )
(click the word to view an additional 2 readings, examples and links)

Kanji used in this grammar

トウ   あてる    あたる to hit   
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ジ   character   あざ village section   
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ジュク   come to fruition   うれる to come to fruition, to ripen   
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クン    teaching, precept; Japanese reading of a kanji   
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ギ    honour   
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クン   きみ you   
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寿
ジュ   ス   ことぶき longevity   
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シ    administer   
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コー hairpin   
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ハイ    string of pearls   
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ア    Asia; rank next   
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ベイ   マイ   こめ rice   
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リ    effective, interest, profit, advantage   き to be effective   
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カ   くわえる to add to   くわわる to join, to be added to   
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バイ   うめ plum tree   
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ウ   あめ    あま- rain   
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エン   けむり smoke   けむ to smoke (chimney etc.)   けむ smoky   
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ソウ   くさ grass   
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カ    good, possible, approval   
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アイ    love   
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ダイ   タイ   おおきい big   おおいに very much   おお-    
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ジン   ニン   ひと person   
デン   た rice field   
シャ    house, hut, barracks   
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コン   キン   いま now   
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ニチ   ジツ   sun; day   ひ    -か    
シン   み body, person   
タイ   テイ   からだ body   
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