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There are very specific kanji (the symbols based on Chinese ideographs)
for very specific words. They may sound the same, but the kanji for
"kami" meaning "hair" and "kami" meaning "paper" are different and
distinct. The native Japanese syllabaries, katakana and hiragana, are
purely phonetic. There may be some confusion in that hiragana is used for
native words and grammatical structures, and katakana is used for imported
words. So there are two symbols for "ka", but they're used for different
When word processors first came out in Japan, they worked by typing in the
Romanized spelling (e.g. kami) and it would pull up a kanji that
represented that sound. Then you arrowed through until you found the one
that had the meaning you needed. There was a concern at the time that
younger Japanese would be lazy and always use the first kanji that popped
up with no regard to the meaning. I don't know if Japanese word
processors still work that way, but I don't think the grim predictions of
the death of kanji ever came about.
> ... The spelling is a mixture of Japanese syllabic
> characters and Chinese ideographic ones, and there is no clear
> choice that one should spell a word one way or the other.
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