Alternate Character Reading
The pronunciation of most Japanese words is not easily gleaned from how they are written. In the Japanese Writing System
, words written in kanji
often have multiple pronunciations depending on context. Therefore, phonetic glosses called furigana
are often provided in smaller characters next to the kanji. This invariably happens for names (whose pronunciations are notoriously idiosyncratic—some kanji have special readings only
used in names) and terms with infrequently-used kanji. Publications for younger readers will often gloss common words as well.
Sometimes, the gloss will show a non-standard reading or another kanji, usually to clarify or highlight a particular nuance the author wishes to convey. This technique dates back to the Man'yōshū and Kojiki, and was very common among Edo period writers (mixing and matching Chinese words to Japanese glosses) and Meiji writers (mixing and matching Sino-Japanese words to recently borrowed Western glosses). A few common examples:
- Making puns by giving the kanji for one word and a reading corresponding to a different one. This is known as ateji.
- Glossing semantic compounds made from Chinese characters with a reading borrowed from another language.
- Identifying the person being referred to with a pronoun such as "I" or "he," much like video games with voice acting and custom character names may have "you" in the audio and the assigned name of the character in subtitle text.
- Writing jikan (時間, meaning "a span of time") with the furigana toki (usually just 時, meaning "a specific moment in time").
- Sometimes the furigana will be an English word in katakana, most likely as Rule of Cool. (e.g. スマイル sumairu for 笑顔 egao), both meaning "smile".
The subtle nuances that can be achieved with the use of an alternate reading are almost always Lost in Translation
. On the flip side, alternate readings are frequently used when adapting something from English to Japanese in order to retain English names or puns.
Not to be confused with Alternate Character Interpretation
. See Goroawase Number
for creative Japanese interpretation of numerals.
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Anime & Manga
- Furigana are used in the Japanese translation of Harry Potter in order to adapt the English puns, according to this site.
- Kamikishiro from "Boogiepop Doesn't Laugh" likes to do this with people's names and calls Touka "Fuji."
- Courtesy of a major Japanese life insurer, the top boy's name in 2010, as written, was 大翔. However, they also noted different parents gave the same name different pronunciations, including Hiroto, Haruto, Yamato, Tiga (Tiger)note , Soranote , Taito, Daito, and Masato. See here.
- Also because of this trope, the entire survey results has to be broken into "top names as written" and "top names as pronounced," and further broken down into "top names as written—how are they pronounced" and "top names as pronounced—how are they written"...
- As noted above, there are a few characters that have multiple readings in Chinese itself. One example is 行, which has at least three different Mandarin pronunciations (xing2, hang2, xing4) depending on its meaning, at least four in Cantonese (hang4, haang4, hong4, hang6).
- Ancient Babylonian (along with its sister languages) had the same issue, since the Babylonians adopted Sumerian characters that could be given either a Sumerian pronunciation or a native Babylonian one.
- Keine Kamishirasawa of the Touhou series. Her name can also be read as "Uwa-hakutaku", which is a pun of "were-hakutaku", which she is one of.
- A common joke for Hong Meiling is to read her name in Japanese as Kurenai Misuzu. That's when she's lucky. Usually, she's just China.
- "China" itself was originally proposed as a third option in an internet debate over which reading was correct.
- Reisen Udongein Inaba has spell cards which enforce this. Her spell cards have both a Kanji spelling, and a Katakana pronunciation given after the Kanji. These result in entirely different phrases. For example, her first spell can be read as either "Mind Shaker" or "Lunatic Red Eyes". Strangely, when you go to Hard and Lunatic mode, only the former changes its name. So in Lunatic mode, the same spell is called "Mind Blowing" or "Lunatic Red Eyes".
- The series associates shikigami with computers. This tends to show up by having one term in kanji and the other in furigana. Sometimes related terms get the same treatment.
- Utsuho's nickname Okuu comes from the alternate reading of her first name (Kuu).
- The title of Salamander is written with ateji characters that can be interpreted as "sand gauze wide (or beautiful) snake." Likewise, the title for Contra is written the same way and can be interpreted as the less sensical "soul bucket net".
- This the reason protagonist Syouko of Aoishiro calls Kaya "Natsu" (or "Natchan"). The first character for Kaya's name is the kanji for 'summer,' which when used on its own is pronounced Natsu. It's mentioned in passing that Syouko's grandmother did something similar with the kanji for spring in her name.
- Invoked in Syukusho Gakuen. The Big Bad is named Miku, which is an alternate reading for mirai (future). She's a time traveller.
- The Japanese title of the game Cherry Tree High Comedy Club is "manken" (漫研), which is short for "manzai kenkyuubu" (漫才研究部, rough translation: "comedy research club"). From the shortened title alone, some Japanese readers may see the kanji and think that it's short for "manga kenkyuubu" (漫画研究部, "manga research club"). One of the jokes has one of the characters do just that - when the protagonist Mairu (Miley in the English version of the game) mentions that she's trying to start a club for comics, one of her friends assumes she's talking about "sit-down" comics and not "stand-up" comics.
- The Japanese title of Data East's Psycho-Nics Oscar is written with kanji characters that might ordinarily be read seishimpeiki, but for furigana that gloss them as saikonikku.
- Don Corneo's mansion in Final Fantasy VII has several ateji spellings of his name plastered on the walls, which directly translates to "old remaining root house".
- Cases 2-1 and 3-5 in the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games used this as a plot device, the former because the criminal used the wrong kanji combination for the defendant's surname (defendant has a non-standard combo, criminal incorrectly assumed the standard one) and the latter because an eight-year old misinterpreted Kanji written instructions. These were changed to spelling problems in the English version.
- As part of Woolseyism, the localization team for Ace Attorney Investigations, when translating the names of people from the fictional country of Zheng Fa, simply gave them Chinese versions of what their Japanese names translated to.
- In Tokimeki Memorial Girl's Side 2, Mizushima Hisoka's given name is written with the character for "secret" (himitsu). Having the player character call her "Himitsu-chan" gets a displeased reaction.
- In Yo-Jin-Bo, Bo's nickname is based on an alternate reading of his proper name, Tainojo. He says in his introduction that the alternate reading annoys him, but never has any trouble with anyone else calling him "Bo", and in fact in a later conversation with him, he even tells you it's okay to continue calling him such.
- In Hatoful Boyfriend, Tohri Nishikikouji gets very annoyed with the heroine constantly forgetting and calling him Toshiki Watashouji.
- One of the logic puzzles published by Nikoli (the same company that popularized Sudoku) is known as Masyu ("evil influence"). This originated from a misreading of the characters 真珠 (shinju, "pearls"), referring to what the circular symbols in the grid resemble.
- A joke in Chinese has somebody whose name is 珠月坡 (Yuepo Zhu) gets called 猪肚皮 (pig's belly skin) instead. The words 珠 and 猪 are pronounced the same, and 月坡 and 肚皮 are written with the same strokes, but with the left part of 坡 moved onto 肚.