Would it be OK if I edited other people's posts to add Furigana if there isn't any, even for much older posts?

If it is, are there instances e.g. where Furigana shouldn't be used/repeated, for example should the same Furigana be repeated multiple times in the below cases or can it be omitted in the second case?

For example, a question contains the following text twice:


Then, how about writing the second occurrence as below?



There seem to be many good arguments on both sides, so I think I'll refrain from editing other people's articles for now unless it fits Flaw's guidelines (although I think it's always going to be subjective which Kanji or Kanji compounds are hard/obscure.)

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    I've been adding Furigana to other people's questions and answers all the time. I can't see how it would be a bad thing. And I add it to all instances of kanji. I can't see how there's any harm in it, and I think it's very helpful for people who are very early learners of Japanese. – Questioner Oct 21 '11 at 17:00
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    @DaveMG I am against adding furigana to all instances of kanji. Please see my answer. – user458 Oct 22 '11 at 3:51
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    The two examples in the question seem textually identical… – Axioplase Oct 24 '11 at 9:02
  • I was asking using japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/3513 as an example whether the Furigana for 詳細{しょうさい} and 削除{さくじょ} should be added every time even if the reading is already known. I'm sorry, I could have been more clear. – user797 Oct 24 '11 at 9:46
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    Regarding your edit, you could take into account proximity. As two extreme examples, a compound that occurs twice in the same sentence probably doesn't need furigana on the second one if the reading is the same. But, if the compound doesn't come up again for many paragraphs later, it may be useful to repeat the reading as a reminder. It's all highly subjective, but I think Flaw's general guidelines would cover most situations. – Troyen Oct 25 '11 at 17:44

Some questions that we might want to run through before making any furigana-adding edits:

  1. Does it resolve ambiguity?

  2. Is there a pun or double meaning that should be noticed?

  3. Is the kanji / kanji compound hard or obscure? (Is it outside 常用漢字?)

  4. Is it a name of a person or a place?

  5. Has the reading of the kanji been already established in other parts of the question/answer?

I'm personally not in favour of "adding furigana to every single kanji" for a few reasons:

  1. There is no sense in repeating information that has already been established.

  2. It's not useful in the long run. (Dependence on furigana)

  3. If you try an analogous concept (the concept of furigana being a little side note for pronunciation help) for English, it doesn't feel quite right. It's like whenever you see the word "salmon" it should be "[salmon]{silent-l}" or "[escargot]{silent-t}" except that it is not.

  4. It is a reading aid, not a substitute. I think users of this site should at the very least have access to a dictionary. If we can say that "we are not your personal translation service" for those questions merely asking the meaning of a relatively simple word/phrase etc. then is it not also reasonable to expect users to do some research on their own for the pronunciation?

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    I think furigana should be the exception, not the rule. Some of the reasons are mentioned in the comments already. Beginners that want instant gratification can install rikaichan. If the OP did not add pronunciation, most likely that means you should know the word too. Add it to Mnemosyne or Anki or what have you. A few other reasons I haven't seen yet: don't mess up the source code; with js disabled the displayed text becomes difficult to read as well; not all systems display the furigana well, for starters line-height is impacted; overzealous furigana may introduce errors; etc. – hurdsean Dec 12 '11 at 7:39

Consider the audience that's likely to read the answers before adding furigana. If the people who are likely to read the answers most likely already can read the characters involved, then don't add it.

However, don't automatically avoid adding furigana merely because it wouldn't be used in "real" Japanese. The Japanese in learning resources is different to the Japanese in real life. For example, スミス-さん from "Japanese for Busy People" uses nothing but teineigo for months at a time. You wouldn't expect this in real life.

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    How can you foresee who is going to read those Kanji? You don't know if some newbie will read that answer or that question. – Alenanno Oct 22 '11 at 16:06
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    You are right about the reality of Japanese sentences here or in textbooks. They are not real Japanese. (Good point about using only teineigo for months. That's funny.) I think your answer together with my answer will make sense. It is a matter of degree. Some furigana (more than what you would see in real Japanese) will help, but not on every single instance of kanji. For example, from glacier's edit, 黒 (くろ) and 車 (くるま) are the most typical readings, and I don't think furigana on them helps. Someone wanting to add furigana has to find a well balanced point. – user458 Oct 22 '11 at 16:45
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    @sawa I assumed that it was standard to add Furigana to every Kanji in other people's articles at first, but now I tend to agree with you up to a point. At japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/3529 I think 済{す}ませた with Furigana should be shown at most once. In addition, in your post at japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/3459 there really isn't any point in repeating the same readings any more than once either. And adding Furigana to 女{おんな}の子{こ} is ridiculous IMHO. If the reader doesn't know those Kanji, what are they doing reading that? – user797 Oct 22 '11 at 22:41
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    @sawa I do think that 麻雀, 馬鹿, 野郎, 平板 and 釣り should maybe be shown with Furigana once at japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/3459. I think it's debatable if Furigana needs to be added to both the question and answers if Furigana has already been defined in that case though. I vote for a rollback on some of my edits. – user797 Oct 22 '11 at 23:17
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    @glacier I think you are now having a reasonable sense about which instances of kanji should have furigana and which ones should not. I agree with your above two comments. – user458 Oct 22 '11 at 23:40
  • I've unaccepted this answer for now. I agree with it, but I think there are still unresolved issues. Please see my answer for more details. – user797 Oct 24 '11 at 5:59
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    @glacier: That's ok, I'm a ruby newbie! – Andrew Grimm Oct 24 '11 at 6:13
  • Is it safe to assume that all kanji in the JLPT N5 level (and maybe N4) would not have furigana. Most beginner learners of Japanese should know those anyway. Such as 行く,来る,勉強する。 – dotnetN00b Feb 18 '12 at 5:16

Of course you can! And actually it's a good thing to do. I totally agree with what Dave M G said, and I do it as well when I see.

I understand that total beginners might need help to read unknown Kanji, not to mention other Kanji that also intermediate users might nor know. :)

So keep on doing it!

EDIT: The problem about "bumping" old answers because you added furigana is actually existing and I forgot about that. But well, I usually add furigana to questions that were already bumped.

This also helps you for the pacing you were talking about... Now and then check the bumped questions (If you click on "Questions" you'll see the questions listed chronologically, if you click on the LOGO, you'll see questions in order of... "bump"), and when you see already bumped questions that might need a fix in Furigana (and maybe also corrections and formatting), that is a good time.

  • OK, will do! I was thinking maybe create a program which can auto-add Furigana to the text to speed things up (though it would still need to be checked afterwards.) – user797 Oct 22 '11 at 2:01
  • Maybe do just do a couple a day? A real problem with doing this is I think it clutters up the front page. – user797 Oct 22 '11 at 2:42
  • @Alenanno I remember you had similar opinions with me to encourage edits to improve the writing, and that was very thankful, but in this case, I think glacier has gone too much. See all the edits glacier made. A little bit of discouraging from editing may be necessary for glacier. – user458 Oct 22 '11 at 3:49
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    @glacier: I agree, pacing yourself is a good idea, because if you go through all the old answers and add furigana, then that is going to bump long-since-answered topics up ahead of new ones. Also, you're not the only one adding furgiana, so don't take it as a mission that you yourself must do. Other people also want to edit and contribute :) – Questioner Oct 22 '11 at 4:21
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    Yeah, you're all right about the bumping. What I meant is that it's not bad to add furigana, but surely it's not like "Do it for all the questions and answers now." See my edit above. – Alenanno Oct 22 '11 at 9:02

Furigana is not part of the "real" or "pure" writing system of the Japanese language. They are there only to assist the reader when the reading of a particular sequence of kanji seems to be difficult or idiosyncratic. It is something like a margin note added by a writer for particular words. They are outstanding and are helpful if they are done to a few well selected words. If there were margin notes for every single word in the text, or if every single line on a page is marked by a fluorescent color marker, it is not helpful at all. It is simply annoying, and distracts the reader.

By observing all the edits made by glacier, I am feeling that glacier is making a big mistake. I saw glacier's edits that add furigana, and it looks like furigana is added to every single sequence of kanjis. If you are trying to do this, then you should stop. If every single kanji were to have a furigana, then what is the purpose of writing in kanji at all? Are you trying to change the Japanese writing system so that everything will be expressed in hiragana? Is kanji just a secondary decoration that is attached under a furigana? Japanese does not work that way.

Edits that improve the writings are welcome. For example, in a question asking why 様 is pronounced ざま, the pronounciation may be idiocyncratic to people who do not know this usage, and is the point of question, so furigana may help. But just putting furigana on every single kanji is not at all helpful, and can be considered as messing up the question/answer.

  • Thanks sawa, I was wondering about this. I'll stop until there's a greater consensus on this. – user797 Oct 22 '11 at 3:54
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    @sawa: You are completely unaware of what it is like to be a non-native speaker learning Japanese and how much it helps to have furigana as much as possible. Remember: most people using this site are here to learn Japanese, no one is "trying to change the Japanese writing system." It is a huge, massive help to have the reading as easily accessible as possible, instead of having to scan previous text for that one time the furigana was used before, which takes you out of the flow of reading and makes study tedious and undesirable. More furigana is better - for non-native learners. – Questioner Oct 22 '11 at 4:05
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    @DaveMG I thought you are going to say that. You are completely unaware of what it is like to be a non-native speaker of English and how much it helps to have the pronounciation written in IPA (international phonetic alphabet) as much as possible. There is no threat of learning an English word when the IPA symbol is present. It is a huge massive help to have the reading as easily ..... However, I have never seen an English book that has IPA symbol on top of every single word. Why? If there were such book, what would a native English speaker say? Will they agree that it is a good idea? – user458 Oct 22 '11 at 4:13
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    @sawa: Apples and oranges, my friend. I am completely unaware of what it is like to be a non-native English speaker learning English, and so I would defer to you as to what helps you learn English. You want IPA symbols (whatever that is)? Great. Go get them. You do whatever you think works best to learn English, because I can't advise you. However, what I do have experience with is learning Japanese as a non-native speaker, and the writing system is a massive obstacle that is definitely helped with copious furigana. – Questioner Oct 22 '11 at 4:16
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    It looks like the learners of English can look up the pronounciation in a dictionary. Why can't a learner of Japanese look up the reading in the dictionary? Too lazy people? – user458 Oct 22 '11 at 4:16
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    @sawa: I don't know why this upsets you so much... Anyway... the reason a Japanese learner might not be able to look it up in a dictionary is because sometimes if you can just see the kanji and don't know the reading, a new learner won't know where in a dictionary to look. Remember different learners are familiar with different look up methods, and some early learners don't know the kanji components, or stroke order, and that sort of thing. Having the reading helps them look it up. Also: Don't get so personal about this, i.e: accusations of laziness. – Questioner Oct 22 '11 at 4:24
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    @DaveMG There's another possible option here, but it would require implementation: Show Furigana for the exceptions (and maybe less common Kanji), and an HTML "title" popup kana pronunciation for more common Kanji to reduce clutter – user797 Oct 22 '11 at 4:29
  • @DaveMG My writing above about IPA was an irony. Even though English learners learn the pronounciation through some sort of pronounciation symbol, I am not actually sure whether it helps if every word was annoted with an IPA. It was intended to show you how rediculous it is to have an annotation on every single word. You are right about the difficulty of looking up a kanji in a dictionary. But, at least, you shouldn't need furigana to be repeated for the kanji that appeared in the same passage. – user458 Oct 22 '11 at 4:30
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    @sawa: It depends what your goal is. Sometimes, when you're reading Japanese, you want to focus on things like the grammar and overall comprehension. Stopping at each kanji to back up and hunt it down where it appeared before can become tedious, and I think anything that makes learning tedious should be avoided, IMHO. Also, I suspect some learners on this site are very early beginners for whom they are not at the level of memorizing complex kanji, in which case, they just want to know how a word is said, even if not how to write it. (PS: I got the irony ;), it just didn't change the point) – Questioner Oct 22 '11 at 4:38
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    @glacier: No need for complicated technological solutions. The fact is that people who don't need furigana can easily ignore it. I barely notice it for words I already know the reading for. So people who need it benefit, people who don't aren't hindered. – Questioner Oct 22 '11 at 4:39
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    I agree with @DaveMG on this comments. Although it was ironic, the discourse about IPA vs Furigana can't really stand on its own. There is a reason why no language uses pronunciation helps in their written form, while Japanese does. Because unlike Japanese, those languages can already rely on their written form to suggest the reading. Even if you never saw the word "calculus", you can guess how it's pronounced. But if you never saw 動物, how can you guess the pronunciation? The system is completely opaque. Anyway, I added a few lines in my answer about the "bumping" problem. – Alenanno Oct 22 '11 at 9:15
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    @Alenanno For languages like Spanish, where the writing is transparent, you don't need IPA. But English is one of the most opaque languages, much as the kanji part of Japanese. There is a well known example that the spelling ghoti should be read 'fish'. Perhaps an English native is unaware of how idiosyncratic English pronounciation is. On the other hand, in Japanese, when multiple characters are used together, usually they are written in on-yomi; when it is used isolated, it is usually kun-yomi and is not the case that you can't guess the pronounciation; although there are exceptions. – user458 Oct 22 '11 at 16:28
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    @sawa: "I have never seen an English book that has IPA symbol on top of every single word. Why? If there were such book, what would a native English speaker say? Will they agree that it is a good idea?" <- This seems a bad comparison. We are not writing a book or novel here. This is a learning resource. If there was an English textbook for learning English that annotated IPA above every word, I would call it a good idea. – Hyperworm Oct 23 '11 at 14:47
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    It's quite strange to me that this is even being discussed. To me it's no brainer. In fact, most books that target japanese school children do have hurigana on every word. That's pretty much how Japanese school children learn kanji and words. For me at least it was the single most effective way to learn words. I'm sure this is true for many kids, if not most. – Enno Shioji Oct 24 '11 at 2:40
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    Having furiganas everywhere is quite disturbing for me… People have different levels, alright, but we can assume they have rikaichan too. I vote for furiganas only for rare/obscure/tricky words (like proper nouns, or 衡器{はかり}) – Axioplase Oct 24 '11 at 9:04

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