Kanji Phonetic Components

Natalie Hamilton is a writer, translator and lecturer in Translation Technology. She turned her focus to Japanese study while living and working in Japan’s rural Oita Prefecture on the JET Programme. She was awarded a Master of Japanese Translation in 2014, which included a linguistics dissertation entitled Cracking the ON Yomi Code. Her new kanji textbook The Kanji Code is a #1 Amazon Best Seller.

Japanese phonetic components

Kanji is a puzzle, you just need to learn the pieces

Many kanji have two or more readings that need to be learned in addition to their meanings. By learning the phonetic components of kanji, this task can be made a lot easier. If you don’t like rote learning, you will love the phonetic components.

Japanese phonetic components: River contains the KA phonetic 可
River contains the KA phonetic 可

Most people know about the radicals, the part of a kanji character that indicates its meaning or meaning category. For example, the radical in forest 森 is tree 木. But not everyone knows about the phonetic components. They are the other side of the same coin, but instead of giving a hint to the meaning, they give a hint to the reading or pronunciation – specifically, the ON (Chinese) reading.

For example, the phonetic SEI 青 appears in the characters for clear 清, ask 請 and spirit 精, and they all have an ON reading of SEI.

If you can access a list of phonetic components and memorize them, reading kanji becomes a systematic process of recall, rather than a stab in the dark.

Japanese kanji phonetic components: Intention contains the SHI phonetic 士
Intention contains the SHI phonetic 士

Phonetic components appear in keisei moji (形声文字) or form-sound kanji characters, which make up 80% of the Joyo or daily use kanji. These characters contain a radical that indicates the meaning, and a phonetic component that indicates the ON reading.

A list of 150 phonetic components can be found in The Kanji Code, a new Japanese textbook.


P.S. If you love what we do let us know by voting for us in the Ausmumpreneur Awards Best Product category (Natalie Hamilton, 26th in the list).

More on The Kanji Code book

Published by Natalie Hamilton

Natalie Hamilton received her Master of Japanese Translation in 2014 from Macquarie University and is NAATI Certified for professional translation from Japanese to English. As a JET Programme participant, she taught English to high school students in rural Japan for three years. She has also taught Japanese at the Japan Foundation and translation studies at Western Sydney University.

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