Let’s learn about Japanese On-reading and Kun-reading.


How to read Kanji

On-reading and Kun-reading are for how Kanji characters are read.

  • Kanji: 月 → On-reading: ‘ga tsu’ / Kun-reading: ‘tsu ki’(moon)
  • Kanji: 山 → On-reading: ‘sa n’ / Kun-reading: ‘ya ma’(mountain)
  • Kanji: 火 → On-reading: ‘ka’ / Kun-reading: ‘hi’(fire)
  • Kanji: 海 → On-reading: ‘ka i’ / Kun-reading: ‘u mi’(sea)
  • Kanji: 食 → On-reading: ‘sho ku’ / Kun-reading: ‘ta’(to eat)

Almost all Kanji characters have both On-reading and Kun-reading.

Let’s say them in Japanese.

  • On-reading: 音読み(おんよみ/o n yo mi)
  • Kun-reading: 訓読み(くんよみ/ku n yo mi)

On-reading is derived from Chinese.


Whereas Kun-reading is the sound made by Japanese.

Basic rule

On-reading (or On-yomi) is applied when the Kanji character is used to make a word with other Kanji characters.

Example for On-yomi
  • (August):はちがつ/ha chi ga tsu
  • 富士(Mt Fuji):ふじさん/fu ji sa n
  • (arson):ほう/ho u ka
  • (sea water):かいすい/ka i su i
  • 事(meal):しょくじ/sho ku ji

Kun-reading (or Kun-yomi) is applied when the kanji character is used on its own, with adjectives or with Hiragana characters.

Example for Kun-yomi
  • (moon):つきtsu ki
  • (mountain):やまya ma
  • 赤い(red fire):あかい/a ka i hi
  • 大きい(big sea):おおきいうみ/o o ki i u mi
  • べる(to eat):べる/ta be ru

How to use

  • On-yomi(音読み):with other Kanji
  • Kun-yomi(訓読み): on its own, with adjectives or with Hiragana