This paper explores the relation between an unknown place name written in hiragana (a Japanese syllabary) and its corresponding written representation in kanji (Chinese characters). We propose three principles as those operating in the selection of the appropriate Chinese characters in writing unknown place names. The three principles are concerned with the combination of on and kun readings (zyuubako-yomi), the number of segmentations, and the bimoraicity characteristics of kanji chosen. We performed two experiments to test the principles; the results supported our hypotheses. These results have some implications for the structure of the Japanese mental lexicon, for the processing load in the use of Chinese characters, and for Japanese prosody and morphology.