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On Sat, Sep 22, 2001 at 10:04:53PM -0400, Herman Miller wrote:
> I'm not fluent in any language besides English, but I've tried to learn a
> number of languages, and written Japanese has got to be one of the hardest.
> On top of all the difficulties of spoken Japanese, you have to deal with
> what's probably the most complicated writing system in current use. Even
> though the number of characters in general use is limited compared to
> Chinese, each character may have a number of different pronunciations
> depending on context (typically two or three, but sometimes even more).

Well, there is *some* rhyme or reason to it.

There are typically two readings, an on-yomi (A reading that reflects the
Japanese interpretation of how it sounds in the Chinese language from which
they got the character) and a kun-yomi (A native word which reflects the same
concept as the character illustrates).

As many Chinese words are two-character compounds, especially the ones in
Japanese, it can be safely assumed that characters in compounds should be
read using their on-yomi, and characters standing alone should use the
kun-yomi.  Interestingly, even compound words that did not come directly
from China, but were created in Japan, also use the on-yomi.  It's kind of
like how English forms a lot of its compound words from Latin and Greek
roots, I think.