Furigana (振り仮名) are smaller kana printed next to or above kanji to indicate its pronunciation. In horizontal text (yokogaki 横書き) they are placed above the line of text, while in vertical text (tategaki 縦書き), they are positioned to the right of the line of text. In Japanese furigana are also called yomigana (読み仮名) or rubi (ルビ).

Usage

Furigana may be added for each respective character, in which case the part of a word that corresponds to a kanji is centered over that kanji; or by word or phrase, so that the entire furigana word is centered over several characters, even if the kanji do not represent equal shares of the kana needed to write them. When it is necessary to distinguish between native Japanese kun’yomi (訓読み) and Chinese-derived on’yomi (音読み) pronunciations, for example in Kanji dictionaries, the Japanese pronunciations are written in hiragana, and the Chinese ones are written in katakana.

However, this distinction is only important in dictionaries, and other reference works. In ordinary prose, the script chosen will usually be hiragana. The one general exception to this is modern Chinese place names, personal names, and (occasionally) food names—these will often be written with kanji, and katakana used for the furigana; in more casual writing these are simply written in katakana, as borrowed words.

Furigana fonts are generally sized so that two kana characters fit naturally over one kanji; when more kana are required, this is resolved either by adjusting the furigana by using a condensed font (narrowing the kana), or by changing the kanji by intercharacter spacing (adding spaces around the kanji).

Furigana are used:
  • in books for children (as they do not have sufficient skills to read kanji, but understand the word phonetically when written in hiragana)
  • in manga or bilingual books for children or learners of Japanese
  • for words written in uncommon kanji not covered by the 2.136 jōyō kanji (常用漢字)
  • in public places, for instance in railway stations, when using uncommon kanji in place names.
  • by law, in newspapers and magazines using kanji outside the jōyō kanji list must annotate them with furigana.
  • in Karaoke for song lyrics: they are often written in kanji pronounced quite differently from the furigana.
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