Reason behind Katakana for Japanese words

So recently I came across this phrase on the Kanji Kentei books I use for Kanji learning:


My question comes, why use セミ instead of せみ or even in hiragana form せみ.

From the self-study and the few lessons I got, if I recall correctly Katakana is used on Japanese words when there’s a negative feeling or connotation, but is this the case here? I can not really see it.

Maybe I’m missing something obvious so thanks in advance for the insights that you might provide.


Animal names are simply often written in katakana. There are many other reasons why a word would be written in katakana though — for emphasis, to highlight colloquialisms… a lot of mimetic words (onomatopoeia etc) are usually in katakana too. Take a look at this FAQ question from Satori Reader: Why do words that can be written in kanji sometimes appear in kana in an article?


蝉 is also not on the joyo kanji list so it is less likely to be written in kanji form.


Thanks for the input.

I just found it weird that a book that it’s focused to teach Kanji, some of then being extremely obscure, would choose using Katakana over the Kanji with furigana/hiragana.


What level kanji kentei? I mean, it certainly wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to see it written in a Natsume Soseki book or a classical poem as 蝉.


I’m still in a low level, but they quite frequently show higher level kanjis with a symbol telling you how far up is it from the level you are at.


Since it isn’t a joyo kanji then I imagine it would only be used in say level 2 or 1, or maybe even not at all since the katakana is used 90% of the time, thus they determined it was not necessary at that particular level. Could be wrong though. As for hiragana, then yes, I have surely seen it written as せみ. It is just the author or editor’s choice really. There is no one rule.


Just looked it out of curiosity, and you are right, it’s a Pre-1 kyuu kanji.
Maybe too far to even bother showing at my level.


There is a kanji for almost every word/animal you could possibly imagine, but memorizing the ones outside of jouyo kanji would be ridiculous, even for a native.

People might know quite a few unique kanji that they have come across several times. For example I know 蛾(が) for ‘moth’ (which is usually just katakana), and some other random ones, but never go out of my way to learn them. Most rare animals will be written in katakana.

Another random rule you may come across soon if you are reading, is ‘non-human speech’. Usually in books, if an animal is speaking, or an alien, or something similar, many (sometimes all) of the words will be in katakana. This is because using kanji is a sign of the intelligence of the character that is speaking, and animals/etc aren’t thought to have the mental capacity to understand a word beyond anything more than the sound (which katakana represents).

(I remember finding that very interesting when I first read about it :joy:)


Thanks so much for the information.

Yeah I don’t intend to go all the way to 1-kyuu of Kanken.
I’m not that insane (yet) .

My main purpose is still being able to read comfortably, so I’ll probably stop at level 2 tops, that covers all joyo.

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I think a good rule of thumb for the Japanese learner is : even though the kanji exists it’s not always a good idea to use it. Writing conventions change over time and words that used to be written in kanji a generation ago may not be written in kanji these days.

On a related note - last year during the height of the pandemic one would often see “まん延防止” (stop the spread) in the news. I’m not sure if there is a requirement for news agencies in Japan to only use kanji that are government approved, but it is still strange to me that only one character in that phrase is written in hiragana. Just convert it into kanji already :laughing:


OMG I was playing Katamari Damacy in Japanese and the King of All Cosmos talked almost exclusively in Katakana. I thought it was a weird design choice from the developers, because it’s a weird af game, but I never thought there was an actual reason for that. Thanks! :slight_smile:

I’d love if @Asher made a thread with his daily/weekly dose of Japanese insight. I’d definitely read it.