I like to offer example sentences when I answer a question. However, I can't assume that every reader will know every word I want to use.

How should I indicate kanji readings?

For example, see my response on this question, where I haven't given any readings on 改札口 or 階段, assuming that the reader may be using Rikaichan or Rikai Browser.

For certain questions, the level of the question being asked should give an obvious context for the level of the reader, but not always.

Shall we discuss a standardized approach?

  • Rikaichan should be mandatory. On a more serious note: Should these tools be advertised more aggressively? The current user base seems to know about them, but new users might not.
    – Kdansky
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 15:44
  • Could be part of the FAQ.
    – makdad
    Commented Jun 26, 2011 at 5:22
  • Indication of intended reading maybe could be shown by including Hiragana / Furigana for the characters. Thank you :)
    – M H
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 10:25

6 Answers 6


I'm all for automated furigana (with the option to edit the furigana if automated one is wrong, they are 98% of the time correct though). However I would discourage use of romaji simply because it does not help learners at all and we should have a policy of converting romaji into kanji/furigana if possible.

  • I'd be for it - but isn't this a technical solution? Can the StackExchange people magically do this?
    – makdad
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 3:02
  • 3
    I guess when this site actually launches I would imagine this should be petitioned to the StackExchange staff. The Mathematics SE site have latex, I wonder why it shouldn't be possible to add a customized feature for this on the Japanese SE.
    – Ken Li
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 3:04
  • 1
    Please yes, let's try for mouse-over furigana! I just headed to meta because of japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/22/…, which is a perfect beginner's question, but the highest-voted answer contains many kanji I can't read.
    – MatthewD
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 3:45
  • 3
    When you successfully discourage Japan from using romaji then you might want to consider discouraging it elsewhere. In the meantime even after 8 visits to Japan and I don't know how many years of off-and-on interest in Japanese, I still don't have more than 70% of the kana down pat. The other 30% either flee my memory each time I take a break from Japanese or stubbornly insist on looking alike. Commented Jun 12, 2011 at 13:59

Linguists, including native speakers of Japanese, tend to use romanization when discussing Japanese morphology. Why? Because it makes analysis simpler. Compare the following:

  1. The verb 折る has five surface forms, 折ら・折り・折る・折れ・折ろ.
  2. The verb or- has one form, or-.

The romanized version looks simpler to me!

What if I want to describe the contraction in 言えば → 言や generally? I can say it two ways:

  1. A kana in the え row, when followed by ば, becomes the corresponding kana in the い row, in which case ば becomes little ゃ, unless that kana is え, in which case え disappears and ば becomes big や.
  2. -eba becomes -ya.

The romanized version looks simpler here, too!

Sure, Japanese is usually written in kana and kanji. But there's a point to using romaji some of the time, so we should use it when there's an advantage to doing so.


I am all for an "auto-parse" option on the server side (please, do not assume everybody has Rikaichan/kun running: awesome as it is, it only supports a small subset of browsers and I don't think it is the place of SE to tell the user what browser they should be using). It is doable but frankly unlikely at this stage...

In the meantime, perhaps the FAQ could be amended with a short "best practice" recommendation on providing kanji reading. Of course we would first need to come to a consensus, which might not be easy ;-) Personally, I like the form: 漢字【かんじ】 (death to romaji!) for single word mentions, but I have seen many people use 漢字 {かんじ} in questions, and it looks OK too (perhaps easier to type for beginners?).

For what it's worth, HTML already has a specific tag to display furigana (or equivalent) in Asian languages:


which is meant to look something like:

かん じ
 漢  字

(with better spacing, of course)

It will display nicely in most modern browsers (including IE, I think). With a bit of extra CSS, it will also display fine on less modern ones.

Unfortunately, SE currently doesn't support the <ruby> tag and strips it from submissions. But I suspect it will be much easier to request they allow it (and perhaps even provide a tool or code shortcut to make its writing less cumbersome) than to have them auto-generate furigana.

  • 2
    FYI, there is a feature request for ruby support on the Stack Exchange server. Commented Jun 12, 2011 at 2:36
  • @Tsuyoshi: indeed, I had missed it, thanks for pointing it out. BTW, sorry for the noob question, but is there any way to know what the status on this is? or if it's even acknowledged as an official feature request by the powers that be at SE?
    – Dave
    Commented Jun 12, 2011 at 10:35
  • I do not know. Sometimes the admins just implement feature requests posted on site meta or fix bugs posted on site meta, so it seems that the admins check the posts with [feature-request] tag and the posts with [bug] tag of meta of all sites (probably highly voted ones?). Commented Jun 12, 2011 at 12:20

The first thing that I can think of is to have some sort of furigana reading but that would likely require a high degree of customization for the site, even if limited to a mouse over that could be supplied. We might be able to get it added to the site at some point in the future if the beta proves to be highly successful.

That said though, maybe having the reading in parenthesis or just supplying a link to the word in an online dictionary (i.e. 読み仮名)?

  • For now, that's what I'm doing. I'm fine with a notation (e.g. the reading always follows the kanji in parenths), I just thought it might make sense to standardize it so new users know what they're getting.
    – makdad
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 3:01
  • 1
    Judging by the link URL you have on that fragment, it looks like something that can be easily implemented using a custom shortcode on the editor. Something really similar to getting blocked text in both comments, questions and answers. Should be fairly easy to implement something along the lines of maybe ++some kana here++ that creates a link through to jisho.org/words/?jap=<some kana here>&eng=&dict=edict . Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 7:50
  • It'd be great if we could get a custom markdown notation for it. Ala discussion or something. It could be [k:漢字:かんじ], and then when the user hovers or something it's automagical.
    – makdad
    Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 12:32

I prefer this form for example sentences:

ローマ字どうやって書けるかな? Rōmaji dōyatte kakeru kana?

Inside a sentence, the first use of a 漢字 kanji should be annotated by romaji, any subsequent use of the 漢字 is fine by itself.

Maybe this is too komakai though, I don't think we can get everybody to standardize on the same form.

  • Best way to standardize will be if the software handles it for you.
    – user51
    Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 11:25
  • It's worth a shot to standardize early on.
    – makdad
    Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 0:38

I think that assuming that the user is using rikaichan is fair.

  • 1
    ... but that restricts our users to the Gecko browsers, and that is a fundamentally crippling handicap if you consider that we're supposed to be an encompassing force for good and world peace! Er, I mean Japanese learning. Commented Jun 1, 2011 at 7:48
  • For one I use Chrome, which I am not yet aware of a Rikaichan plugin?
    – makdad
    Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 0:38
  • 1
    Try rikaikun, the port for gc.
    – Ali
    Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 0:47
  • If by fundamentally crippling handicap you mean encouragement to use a modern browser then hella yes please.
    – Ali
    Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 0:50
  • I think we should just have a quick mention of the tools on the FAQ. Thanks for the rikaikun reference, with that, that means I know of Rikai-like capabilities on Firefox, Chrome, iOS, and Android. I guess that's good enough :)
    – makdad
    Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 12:30
  • 6
    What's a rikaichan and how do I ensure it's available at every internet cafe I visit? Commented Jun 12, 2011 at 13:55
  • 1
    Google for rikaichan. If you want to ensure it's available at every internet cafe you visit, take your own laptop.
    – Ali
    Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 17:50

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