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Manyôgana are Chinese characters that were used to write Japanese words phonetically, way back before the kana syllabaries were devised. The name comes from the Manyoshu, one of the oldest works of Japanese literature, where the characters were first used in this way. Modern kana are actually highly simplified versions of their manyogana ancestors, as you can see in the hiragana and katakana nodes.

Manyogana are not to be confused with ateji, the practice of writing foreign-derived words phonetically in kanji.

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