第360課: 国字 (Japanese-made Kanji)

The development of 国字 is nothing less than fascinating. Despite having already borrowed thousands of 漢字 from mainland China and created its own syllabaries, hundreds of 漢字 have also been made by the Japanese. These 国字, also known as 和(製漢)字, have even at times been sent back to be used in China. 

Curriculum Note: There is a resource page with a lot of 国字. This page, however, is coverage concerning 国字 in lesson format.  

What are 国字?

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. Of all the 国字 that have been created, only a relatively small percentage are still extremely important characters. However, this is not meant to disregard those that are important. For instance, 働 was made in Japan and is now used in China to mean “work” as well. It has even acquired its own 音読み ドウ. Another important case is 腺, which surprisingly only has the 音読み セン. It was coined in translating medical texts in Dutch to mean “gland”.

              There are have only been 10 国字in the 常用漢字表: 働 (to work), 畑 (field), 込 (to put into, etc.), 枠 (frame), 搾 (to squeeze), 峠 (mountain pass), 塀 (earthen wall), 栃 (horse chestnut), 腺 (gland), 匁 (monme). The latter was taken out in 2010. There are also others as 人名用漢字 such as 笹 (bamboo grass) and 麿 (phonetic "maro" in names).

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. Examples include 鰯 (sardines), 鴫 (snipe), 樫 (oak tree), 橡 (sawtooth oak), 椚 (sawtooth oak), etc. A lot of this is due to the fact that there are some things that are just not found in China that are in Japan, so the Japanese felt the need to create characters for these things.  

Making 国字

For the most part, 国字 were created with the 六書 principles kept in mind. Here are a few examples.

 鱈 Created with the cod fish that can be caught when it’s snowing in mind.
 樫 Created with the hard Japanese oak tree in mind.
 辻 Created with crossroads in a path in mind.
 畑 Created with slash and burn agriculture in mind.
 雫 Created with rain falling down in mind.
 俥 Created with a rickshaw in mind.  

              Although the majority of 国字 do not have 音読み, there are rare instances where some were made with漢字 phonetics in mind.

 腺 Created with the radical meat plus 泉 (セン). Thus, 腺’s sound is セン.
 塀 Created with the radical ground plus 屏 (ヘイ).

              Some, though, were created by combining characters.

 粂 久 (ク)  + 米 (メ). Thus, read as くめ. It is seen in names.
 麿 麻 has the reading マ, and 呂 has the reading ロ. So, 麿 = まろ. It is seen in names.


There are even some characters that may also be found in China whose meanings are so different in Japanese that it begs the question whether such characters changed usage once brought to Japan or happened to be made in Japan as well. The two main examples of this are the following characters.

 Character Chinese Meaning Japanese Meaning
 偲 Suddenly To recollect
 鮎 Sheatfish Ayu fish
 藤 Vine Wisteria
 沖 To rinse; minor river Offing/open water

Important 国字 to Study

Though there are many easily searchable lists of 国字 online, below are the most important ones that you should study. Some of these are far rarer than others. So, the table will label these characters with a scale of 1-10 for importance with 10 being extremely important and 1 being minimally important.

If you are hoping to do well on the most difficult 漢字 tests like the 漢検1級, then try learning them all and more. If you want to just know those that show up frequently in literature, you may want to only learn half of them. 

 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
 4 Chub; dace あさり・うぐい 饂
 4 Udon ウン
 4 Foot warmer タツ 鵥 4 Eurasian jay カケス
 4 Shrimp えび 軈
 4 At last やがて
 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
 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
 2 Japanese dace  うぐい 鰘
 2 Mackerel scad むろあじ
 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