Japanese-Made Kanji: 国字

第398課: 国字 (Japanese-Made Kanji)

No sooner than Kanji were being introduced to Japan, Japanese-made Kanji, known as 国字 or 和製漢字, in Japanese, were being created. 国字 have come and gone. By the beginning of the Heian Period (794~1185 A.D), around 400 such characters were recorded in the 新撰字鏡(しんせんじきょう), an early 漢和辞典. Although this lesson won’t go over hundreds of individual such Kanji, you will learn more about those that are most commonly used today.  

Important 国字

The majority of 国字 are ideograms (会意文字), meaning that they are composed of more than one part with meaning being derived from the parts being combined.

As an example, the sacred tree in Shintoism known as the sakaki tree is written with the Japanese-made 榊, which is a combination of 木 (tree) and 神 (god/kami). 

This is contrary to Kanji overall which are typically phono-semantic compounds (形成文字) in which one part indicates meaning and one part indicates sound. This is because 国字 were predominantly coined to represent Japanese words for which there was no suitable existing Kanji. 

As another consequence of this, most 国字 only possess KUN reading(s), but some exceptional ON readings do exist for 国字 which have been borrowed into Chinese. For example, the Japanese-made 働 meaning “to work” has both the KUN reading はたら(く) and the ON readingドウ. There are even some 国字 which only possess an ON reading because the Kanji itself was formed as a phono-semantic character with the word usually having a complicated etymology based on Sino-Japanese phonotactics. An example of this is 鋲 with the ON reading ビョウ meaning “thumbtack.”  

While there are still hundreds of extant examples of Kokuji in Modern Japanese writing, only nine such Kanji are in the Joyo Kanji List (常用漢字表). These Kanji are as follows:

国字 Readings Meaning 国字Readings  Meaning
 ドウ, はたら(く) To work 峠 とうげ  Mountain pass
 畑はたけ, はた Crop field 塀 ヘイ, ベイ Wall
 込 こ(む) To put into 匂 にお(い) Smell
 枠 ワク Frame 腺 セン Gland
 搾 サク, しぼ(る)  To squeeze

In addition to these nine, there are three more 国字 that are included in the Jinmeiyō Kanji List (人名用漢字表), which are as follows: 

国字 Readings Meaning
 もんめ Unit of weight
 辻 つじ Crossroads
 榊 さかき Sakaki tree

The large majority of 国字, though, are not included in these lists as they are in large point used in writing the names of plants and animals, especial fish and tree names.

国字 Reading Meaning
 いわし Sardine
 鴫 しぎ Snipe
 栃 とち Chestnut
 椚・橡 くぬぎ Sawtooth oak

Making 国字

As mentioned, the majority of 国字 were created by combining one or more parts for their meanings to express a word for which no suitable Kanji existed. More examples of this include the following: 

国字 Breakdown
 “Fish” + “snow” = “cod” for being caught in winter.
“Tree” + “hard” = “oak tree.”
 “Movement” + “cross in the road” = “crossroads.”
 “Fire” + “rice field” → “slash and burn agriculture” = “crop field”
 “Rain” + “down” = “raindrop.”
 “Person” + “cart” = “rickshaw.”

Important 国字 to Study

While it isn’t difficult to find lists of 国字, it may be difficult to find ones that are most beneficial to learn. Since some are far rarer than others, the table below ranks them on a scale of 1-10 of importance with 10 being most crucial to 1 being least important. If one of your ambitions is to pass the Kanji Proficiency Test Level 1, then you would need to try to learn as many as possible. 

 国字 重要度 意味 音訓 国字 重要度 意味 音訓 
 畑 10 Field はたけ 働 10 To work ドウ・はたら(く)
 込 10  To put into こ(む) 枠 10 Frame わく
 峠 10 Ridge とうげ 搾 10 To squeeze サク・しぼ(る)
 腺 9 Gland セン 匂 9 Smell にお(い)
 辻 9 Crossroads つじ 辷 8 To slip すべ(る)
 雫 8 Raindrop しずく 凧 8 Kite たこ
 笹 8 Bamboo grass ささ 俥 8 Rickshaw くるま
 畠 8 Field はたけ 躾 8 Behavior しつけ
 喰 8 To eat くら(う) 癪 8 Spasm シャク
 凪 8 Calm; lull なぎ 鰯 8 Sardine いわし
 鋲 8 Tack ビョウ 榊 8 Sakaki さかき
 膵 8 Pancreas スイ 襷 7 Sash たすき
 枡 7 Measure ます 桝 7 Measure ます
 噺 7 Chat はなし 鯰 7 Catfish なまず
 鑓 7 Spear やり 栃 7 Horse chestnut とち
 褄 7 Skirt; hem つま 鱈 7 Cod たら
 俣 7 Crotch; fork また 鱚 7 Sillago きす
 颪 7 Wind from mountains おろし 埖 7 Trash ごみ
 錺 7 Metal jewelry かざり 梺 7 Mountain base ふもと
 縅 7 Braid of armor おどし 麿 7 Maro まろ
 蓙 7 Mat ござ 迚 6 A lot とても
 鞆 6 Archer arm protector とも 簗 6 Girder やな
 裃 6 Samurai garb かみしも 硴 6 Oyster かき
 毟 6 To pull out (hair) むし(る) 毮 6 To pull out (hair) むし(る)
 裄 6 Sleeve length ゆき 俤 6 Vestige おもかげ
 栂 6 Hemlock つが 叺 6 Straw bag かます
 籾 6 Unhulled rice もみ 鴫 6 Snipe しぎ
 鶇 6 Thrush つぐみ 閊 6 To be obstructed つかえ(る)
 杢 6 Woodworker もく 椙 6 Japanese cedar すぎ
 柾 6 Spindle tree まさき 梻 6 Grave tree しきみ
 聢 6 Certainly しかと 杣 6 Timber そま
 鳰 5 Grebe にお 鵤 5 Grosbeak いかる
 〆 5 Letter ending mark しめ 怺 5 To endure こらえ(る)
 渕 5 Edge ふち 鯑 5 Yellow fish; 寿司 eggs かずのこ
 鮗 5 Gizzard shad このしろ 圷 5 Low ground あくつ
 糀 5 Malt  こうじ  鶎 5 Goldcrest きくいた
 椚 5 Horse chestnut くぬぎ 橡 5 Horse chestnut くぬぎ
 桛 5 Reel; skein かせ 鎹 5 Clamp かすがい
 嬶 5 Wife かかあ 遖 5 Good job! あっぱれ
 籏 5 Banner はた 鰙 5 Japanese smelt わかさぎ
 圦 5 Penstock; sluice いり 綛 4 Reel; skein かすり・かせ
 鱩 4 Sailfin sandfish はたはた 鎺 4 Habaki はばき
 籡 4 Temple (clothing) しんし 纐 4 Tie-dying コウ
 硲 4 Gorge はざま 㐂 4 To be joyful よろこ(ぶ)
 魸 4 Catfish なまず 椛 4 Colored leaves もみじ
 鮴 4 Flathead ごり 鞐 4 Fastener こはぜ
 艝 4 Sled そり 轌 4 Sled そり
 鯏 4 Chub; dace あさり・うぐい 饂 4 Udon ウン
 燵 4 Foot warmer タツ 鵥 4 Eurasian jay カケス
 蛯 4 Shrimp えび 軈 4 At last やがて
 鯱 4 Killer whale しゃち(ほこ) 簓 4 Bamboo whisk っさら
 鯲 3 Lamprey どじょう 鵇 3 Crested ibis とき
 鮟 3 Anglerfish アン 鱇 3 Anglerfish コウ
 蚫 3 Abalone ホウ・あわび 苆 3 Finish (plaster, etc.) すさ
 魞 3 Fish trap えり 逧 3 Ravine さこ・たに
 鵆 3 Plover ちどり 鯐 3 Young striped mullet すばしり
 鶍 3 Crossbill いすか 鮖 3 Bullhead かじか
 躮 3  Son/brat せがれ 鮇 2 Charr いわな
 鯎 2 Japanese dace  うぐい 鰘 2 Mackerel scad むろあじ
 屶 2 Wide blade knife なた 熕 2 Big cannon おおづつ
 塰 2 Fisherman あま 鱛 1 Lizardfish えそ
 袰 1 Awning ほろ 弖 1 The phoneme te て