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Kanji Study Archive

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KANJI—an Introduction

Kanji make up the third part of the Japanese writing system after Hiragana and Katakana. Imported from China hundreds of years ago, kanji have evolved in a number of ways to make them sometimes considerably different from their Chinese ancestors. They may look different and sound different. Even still, knowing Japanese kanji often means you can guess the meaning of written Chinese—even if you have never studied Chinese!

There are about 2,000 kanji needed to be literate in Japan. But in reality, knowing just a few hundred will allow you to read most anything, even if you may need the occasional aid of a dictionary. Very few foreigners have mastered kanji. Could you be one of them?

Most kanji have a single core meaning (this could be an abstract notion or something more concrete) and two or more “readings” or pronunciations.  The readings are either on yomi” or “kun yomi.”  The “on” pronunciation was the original Chinese pronunciation—or at least the sounds Japanese people thought were the Chinese pronunciation.  The “kun” pronunciation was the native Japanese pronunciation for that particular concept. 

So:
音読み on yomi--the "Chinese" pronunciation
訓読み kun yomi--the native "Japanese" pronunciation

Due to changes in sounds over time, some kanji have an impressive number of pronunciations. It is best to learn these sounds by example which is why we include multiple example words with each kanji in this newsletter.

How do I Study Kanji ?

You gotta love ‘em!

If you don’t decide from the beginning to love kanji, I am sure you will end up hating them. There are many, many characters with various meanings and readings, so without a desire to explore, you will become quickly discouraged.

Write them! Speak them! Look for them!

Our suggestions for studying kanji:

1)      Create fun mnemonics that will help you remember the character. Make it personal and even absurd. This will help make it stick better. For example, the moon 月 looks like the character for sun 日 but with legs. Think of the moon trying to run away from the sun since it usually only comes out at night. If you can think of a mnemonic for one or more readings, all the better.

2)      Keep a writing pad handy. Copy each individual kanji several times while speaking and thinking on the readings. While writing them, try to picture the kanji’s reading, meaning, and shape in your head.

3)      Finally, read! Use the power of a search engine to look for the newly learned kanji in other contexts. It is an exciting feeling to come across kanji that you have just studied.

You may want to review our Kanji Stroke Order lesson here. Or else, you can press the link below to study Kanji 一.

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