Frequently Asked Questions


Why is the pronunciation of numbers in sentences sometimes different from what is shown in the dictionary entries?

When a number is combined with a counter in Japanese, sometimes an effect called euphony occurs, which means a change to the pronunciation to make it easier to say or more pleasing to the ears. For example, the number "one" is いち and the word for "minute" is ふん, but together, the combination is pronounced いっぷん.

In Satori Reader, the dictionary entries that you see in the popups always show the readings of the words in their standard form. So, for example, if you saw the word 一分 and you clicked each component, the dictionary entries would show いち and ふん, respectively.

However, we also always annotate the exact readings being used in each sentence. To see these, simply turn on furigana for the article itself. On large displays, you can do this in the right-hand article settings, under Display Settings > Furigana. On small screens, click the gear icon, then choose Article Display Settings > Furigana.

Why do words that can be written in kanji sometimes appear in kana in an article?

There's certainly no rule that if you can write a word in kanji, you must. In fact, there are lots of situations where using kana can feel more natural. In a nutshell, it comes down to the type of writing (for example, business letter versus friendly email), the particular context, and the preference of the writer. Let's consider a few examples in more detail below.

Sometimes a writer might feel that the kanji representation is too stiff or formal. For example, the word ありがとう can be written 有難う, and you might see it this way in very formal writing, but in most contexts, the kana version feels softer and friendlier, which is usually the feeling the writer wants for a word that, after all, means "thank you."

Sometimes writers have personal preferences or conventions that depend on the particular way a word is being used. For example, a writer might feel that the こと from 見ることができる feels better in kana, but as a literal, simple noun, as in すごい事がおきた, they might prefer the kanji.

Often, the distinction has to do with whether the word is being used literally or figuratively. For example:

  • The words いく and くる are usually written in kanji (行く and 来る) when they literally mean "go" and "come." However, when used as suffixes with another verb, for example, なっていく or なってくる, they are often written in kana.
  • When the word いう literally means "say," it's more common to see it in kanji (言う). But as a part of an expression like ・・・ということだ, it is very frequently written in kana.
  • When the word みる literally means "see," it's usually written in kanji (見る). But when used as a part of a ・・・てみる ("try and see") expression, like 食べてみる, 行ってみる, or even 見てみる, it's frequently written in kana (and you can see from that last example how it helps to make clear that the second みる means something a little different).

See the pattern here? While there are no hard-and-fast rules, you'll find that Japanese writers often unconsciously adhere to this basic principle.

Sometimes writers choose to use kana even when there is a very well-known kanji. The word わたし is frequently written in kanji (私), but it's certainly not uncommon to see it expressed in kana. Again, this comes down to the writer's personal preference and the context they're writing in.

The author may choose katakana in order to draw attention to a word, similarly to how we use italics in English, or to indicate that they know the word has kanji but are deliberately choosing not to use it because they think it's too rare. For example, the word かぎ has the kanji 鍵, but it's often jotted down as カギ as a sort of shorthand for "You know the kanji that I mean."

Scientific terms, such as classifications of animals and plants, are usually written in katakana. Again, this is a way of making the word stand out as distinctly important, much as we write names such as Homo sapiens or E. coli in italics.

In Satori Reader, rather than forcing our writers to always use a particular representation for each word, we encourage them to write naturally so that you can get a feel for the range of kanji/kana usage you'll see in native written content. When a word is written in kana even though it could have been written using a well understood and frequently used kanji representation, we indicate this in a note.

Why do some of the explanations of grammar on this site use Roman characters instead of kanji and kana?

One of the central promises of Satori Reader is that whenever you see Japanese represented in Japanese character sets, you will be able to adjust its representation (kana, kanji, furigana) to fit your knowledge. The goal is to ensure that Japanese text is always readable to you, regardless of your level. This applies to articles, tooltips, flashcards, and example sentences within the review system.

However, in order to do this, Japanese text needs to be marked up in a special format. Currently, there are a few small places within the site that can display only simple text, not our specially annotated markup. The main place you might notice this is the notes field within the popups within an article.

While we certainly agree that Japanese is best represented in the Japanese character sets, it is not uncommon to represent Japanese in Roman characters when it appears inside an English discussion, especially in a textbook setting where the author does not know how much kanji the student can read. For example, the authoritative and well-respected book A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar utilizes the same approach.

We continue to work hard to improve Satori Reader, and in the future, we plan to extend our automatic knowledge-aware display of Japanese text to work in the grammar notes as well. Thank you for your support and patience!