Are letters with a diacritic (e.g., â) recognized as a variant of the base letter (e.g., a), or as a separate letter identity? Two recent masked priming studies, one in French and one in Spanish, investigated this question, concluding that this depends on the language-specific linguistic function served by the diacritic. Experiment 1 tested this linguistic function hypothesis using Japanese kana, in which diacritics signal consonant voicing, and like French and unlike Spanish, provide lexical contrast. Contrary to the hypothesis, Japanese kana yielded the pattern of diacritic priming like Spanish. Specifically, for a target kana with a diacritic (e.g., ガ, /ga/), the kana prime without the diacritic (e.g., カ, /ka/) facilitated recognition almost as much as the identity prime (e.g., ガ-ガ = カ-ガ), whereas for a target kana without a diacritic, the kana prime with the diacritic produced less facilitation than the identity prime (e.g., カ-カ < ガ-カ). We suggest that the pattern of diacritic priming has little to do with linguistic function, and instead it stems from a general property of visual object recognition. Experiment 2 tested this hypothesis using visually similar letters of the Latin alphabet that differ in the presence/absence of a visual feature (e.g., O and Q). The same asymmetry in priming was observed. These findings are consistent with the noisy channel model of letter/word recognition (Norris & Kinoshita, Psychological Review, 119, 517-545, 2012a).