Katakana words with kanji

A small number of katakana words have kanji associated with them despite the fact that they come from a language that has never used Chinese characters. This use of kanji is called 当て字 where the reading or meaning of kanji is forced onto a word that originally didn’t have any. These words hark back to the days before katakana become the common script for foreign words and some of them come directly from Chinese like 「珈琲」. You can still see many of these 当て字 being used today such as street signs so learning them is not a waste of time.

Examples of 当て字
English Katakana Kanji
Cigarettes タバコ 煙草
Club クラブ 倶楽部
Page ページ
Coffee コーヒー 珈琲

You can see more examples of foreign words in kanji at this page.

Kanji for Countries
Many country names also have 当て字 associated with them that are rarely used. However, in newspaper headlines, the first character of the 当て字 is often used in an effort to conserve space. For instance, newspapers use words like 「訪米(ほうべい)」 for visiting the United States or 「日韓(にっかん)」 for news related to Japan and Korea. Here is a short list of the most common
country abbreviations and their full kanji versions.

Country Abbreviations
Katakana Kanji Abbreviation
n/a 日本 日(にち)
n/a 中国 中(ちゅう)
n/a 韓国 韓(かん)
n/a 北朝鮮 朝(ちょう)
アメリカ 亜米利加 米(べい)
イギリス 英吉利 英(えい)
イタリア 伊太利亜 伊(い)
ドイツ 独逸 独(どく)
スペイン 西班牙 西(せい)

12 thoughts on “Katakana words with kanji

  1. Now you know how Chinese learners feel. Chinese doesn’t have the benefit of katakana, so we have to learn Chinese characters for all words, including English loan words. 🙁

    • Do you know Bopomofo?
      It’s used in Taiwan, kind of like katakana for Chinese.
      But besides, I speak Chinese, and I, and actual Chinese (including Singaporians), just use pinyin….

  2. In taiwan some onomatopeic sound can be written with zhuyin. hen biang! for example is originated from Taiwanese and is a common taiwanese slang. I know they might have an 当て字for that now, but zhuyin is also in use. I bumped into one of this while reading とっとちゃん、it marked 放送劇 as ラジオドラマ.


  3. i need a simple word that starts with the katakana form of na ni and nu … this is due tomorrow! HELP!

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