Ateji, meaning "given characters" or "assigned characters," are kanji that have been arbitrarily "assigned" to a borrowed or native Japanese word with which they have no historical or etymological connection. Often the characters will be chosen with the intent of implying an etymology which is fanciful or false. Ateji have sometimes been used to write loanwords in Japanese. Although the usual modern method of writing such loanwords is katakana, in the past it was considered necessary to have kanji versions of words. For example, many Japanese words of Portuguese origin have kanji versions, all of which are ateji. (from Wikipedia)
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