And kanji with manga
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

gikun 義訓

In Japanese, a gikun 義訓 is a special type of kun'yomi kanji reading, literally an "artificial kun [reading]."

It happens when a word is written with a given kanji because of the kanji's meaning, that is, originally the word would be written with other kanji, or without kanji, but it was written with those kanji instead because of their meanings, effectively giving the kanji an unusual (artificial) reading.

In manga, gikun is often used to write a different word in the furigana, specially an English word in the furigana.

Example of gikun reading from manga Made in Abyss メイドインアビス. The word oobaado オーバード, "aubade," being used as furigana for naraku no shihou 奈落の至宝, "precious treasure of the abyss."

Standard Gikun

Some gikun are official, standard.

For example: tabako タバコ, "tobacco," "cigarette," is a gairaigo so it wouldn't have kanji, but it's sometimes written with the kanji for "smoke," kemuri 煙, and "grass," kusa 草. Smoke grass #420, tabako 煙草.

Since it's a gikun you can't divide the kanji in the word and get separate morphemes. For example, you can't divide it into tabako 草 or tabako 草, because those kanji can't be read that way, those readings aren't official, standard, they aren't in the dictionary.

It's only when both kanji are used at once, tabako 煙草, that the gikun applies, because then it refers to the word associated with the "smoke grass" meaning, the "tobacco." This is also called a jukujikun, and there are jukujikun like this that aren't gikun. For example, kyou 今日, "today," the kanji are only read as kyou when they're together..

Words like tabako are sorta official gikun, because people would recognize it if it were written with the kanji for "smoke grass." But normally gikun are made up by authors, specially of manga and light novels, so nobody would recognize normally, only, perhaps, readers of that given work.

Made-up Gikun

In manga, anime, light novels, games, songs, etc. it's possible to create any gikun by simply writing whatever in the furigana reading aid. After all, there's nothing stopping them from writing something totally unrelated in the once-sacred reading aid.

Not all authors do this, however. Some authors avoid gikun, some like to use gikun.

Even if a manga doesn't have furigana in most words, it can still have a made-up gikun show up, which will have furigana, after all, the made-up gikun word needs the furigana so the reader can tell it's read different from normal.

English Word in The Furigana

A common case of gikun in manga is the usage of an English word in the furigana for a Japanese word.

This happens because authors like to use chuunibyou-approved names for skills, techniques, organizations, places, items, and stuff, which are mostly katakanized English words or foreign words. They want those skills to sound edgy, not sphere-y.

But then maybe because katakana words can be difficult to read if they are long, or maybe because a Japanese reader isn't obliged to understand what a foreign word the author looked up on a dictionary is supposed to mean, they put those edgy skill names beside understandable Japanese kanji to convey the meaning of the word by the meaning of the kanji.

For example, hiiro ヒーロー comes from the English "hero." But yuusha 勇者 also means "hero," literally "brave person."

So an author could write a word (with furigana) like yuusha (hiiroo) 勇者(ヒーロー) to mean the character of the manga is literally saying hiiroo with his mouth, but what he means is yuusha.

Revy saying "no problem" from manga Black Lagoon ブラック・ラグーン through a Japanese. Transcript: でもな、うちらの 商売の 足しにさえ なってりゃあ、そいつは 問題なし(ノー・プロブレム)だわかるか?ノー・プロベルムだ正義がなくとも 地球は回るぜ?
Manga: Black Lagoon ブラック・ラグーン
  • demo na, でもな、
    But [you see],
  • uchi-ra no
    shoubai no
    tashi ni sae

    うちらの 商売の 足しにさえ なってりゃあ、
    If it helps our business,
    • uchi-ra no うちらの
      First person pronoun (uchi)
      + pluralizing suffix (ra)
      + possessive particle (no)
    • natteryaa なってりゃあ
      (same as)
      nattereba なってれば
    • tashi ni naru 足しになる
      To be useful (for something.)
  • soitsu wa
    mondai-nashi (noo-puroburemu) da,

    そいつは 問題なし(ノー・プロブレム)
    That one is no problem (no problem)
    • Revy sometimes mixes English phrases in the Japanese.
      Here, she says noo puroberumu, a katakanization of the phrase "no problem."
      The Japanese word, mondai-nashi 問題なし, works as a translation for the Japanese readers that might not understand what the English ノー・プロベルム means.
  • wakaru ka? わかるか?
    {Do you get it?]
  • noo-puroberumu da ノー・プロベルムだ
    No problem.
    • This second time doesn't get a gikun, because the reader will already know what the phrase means.
  • seigi ga nakutomo
    tikyuu wa mawaru ze?

    正義がなくとも 地球は回るぜ?
    Even without justice the world [goes round]. (i.e. the world doesn't stop because of injustices.)

Different Word in Furigana

Some authors make use of gikun to refer to two things simultaneously when those two things mean the same thing. Usually, this requires some context to understand.

For example, muryou 無料, "free of charge," can get a gikun of tada タダ, "for free," to imply it's being given away.

This often happens with locations. For example, if there's a scene in a "hospital," byouin 病院, that word may get the gikun of koko ここ, "here," to imply that "here" and the "hospital" are the same thing, i.e. here's the hospital, we're in a hospital.

Example of furigana that isn't the reading of a word but its synonym as shown in the manga Noragami ノラガミ

Sometimes, the gikun can be something that only makes sense in the context of the story. For example:

戦闘に於いて 熱(ひだり)は絶対 つかわねえ
Manga: Boku no Hero Academia, 僕のヒーローアカデミア (Chapter 28, 策策策)
  • Context: Todoroki Shouto 轟焦凍 has both cold and heat abilities, which come from the sides of his body: from the right comes cold, from the left comes heat.
  • sentou ni oite
    netsu (hidari) wa zettai

    In battle [I] absolutely won't use heat (left).
    • In other words: he said he won't use "heat," netsu 熱, by saying he won't use the "left" side, hidari 左.

It's also possible for the word to be an abbreviation and the gikun to be the full word.

Manga: Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui! 私がモテないのはどう考えてもお前らが悪い! (Chapter 1)
  • Context: Tomoko, a middle school girl, talks about what she's about to become.
  • jeikei (joshi kousei) da!
    [I'll] be a high school girl!
    • JK, normally pronounced jeikei ジェイケイ, is usually the abbreviation of joshi kousei 女子高生, "high school girl" in Japanese.


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  1. Just wanted to say that this was a really well-put together article and did a good job of explaining something I had been curious about even since I first noticed it pop up in a manga panel. Thanks for posting this!!

  2. And here I am, who's been too lazy to check whether dots mean something or is it my visual novel to blame. Always thought that the developers just made a mistake.