Yesterday I learned something called “ateji” kanji. I was looking through my music folder and as I have been studying the moonrunes for several months, I recognize many kanji used in songs.
The name of this song came up, 群青海月. I can read 海 and 月, which are sea/ocean (read as kai) and moon/month (read as getsu/gatsu). However, the romanization of the song is “Gunjou Kurage” (ultramarine jellyfish).
So here I am like “what the fuck????? How is it pronounced “kurage”????? The onyomi are kai and getsu! this doesn’t even make sense…”
I did a little research and these types of ‘irregular’ kanji are called “ateji,” where the pronunciation of the word doesn’t match the kanji’s actual readings.
Some of the common ones are:
today 今日, read as kyou, but the kanjis onyomi are “kon” and “nichi/ka”
tomorrow 明日, read as ashita, but the onyomi are “mei” and “nichi/ka”
Even the word sushi 寿司 is an ateji! The poetic word for twilight/dusk, tasogare 黄昏 is an ateji as well.
On the opposite hand, ateji are also kanji that are chosen solely phonetically, even though the meaning of the word doesn’t match the meaning of the combined kanji. if I’m understanding right, ateji characters are used for archaic ways to talk about countries, I think. In moonrunes, the kanji for america means… rice 米. This is because it is the shortened form of the ateji for America, 亜米利加 which is sounded phonetically as “amerika”.
Nowadays, most instances of those kind of ateji are replaced with katakana, which is used mostly for writing foreign/borrowed words like America アメリカ.
It was very interesting! Even native moonrunes speakers often get ateji kanji wrong, too.