Exceptional Kanji classes

Index of articles

There are a few extra kanji that can be considered as somewhat exceptional categories of their own. For the most part there is overlap, and each of these will fit any of the already mentioned categories, but it’s interesting to look at them nonetheless.


As the name implies, 会意形声文字かいいけいせいもじ are kanji that are both 会意かいい and 形声けいせい at the same time.

Historically, they might have started as pure 形声けいせい with one semantic and one phonetic component, but over time they eventually ended up assuming a more 会意かいい type of interpretation while still maintaining their phonetic component.

There seems to be quite a lot, but they often get overlooked. Some etymological explanations also can be quite convoluted and rely on sometimes knowing the original/archaic form of the kanji itself.

Here are some examples:

  • 終 (end)
    • Both 糸 and 冬 give it some meaning. Tying a knot implies ending something, and likewise winter is the end of the year
    • On the other hand, 冬 has the onyomi of トウ which got modified into シュウ as the language phonetics shifted.
  • 胞 (placenta)
    • Both 肉 and 包 give it some meaning. 肉 as it pertains to human body/flesh. 包 because it is the membrane that wraps around the foetus (包む = to wrap).
    • 包, as we saw earlier, is also a perfect phonetic series with reading ホウ.


As a quick explanation, 国字こくじ are “original” kanji invented in Japan. They do not have a Chinese origin, they were created after the written language had already been imported into Japan.

As an example, 働 (work) is a Japan-only kanji. Interestingly enough it is also 会意形声かいいけいせい as well. It comes from 動(movement) + the 亻 radical(person + movement = work). It also shares its phonetic reading ドウ with 動.

Next: Two more categories of Kanji: 転注文字 and 仮借文字#