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Kanji Introduction

What are kanji ?

Kanji make up the third part of the Japanese writing system after Hiragana and Katakana. Taken from China hundreds of years ago, kanji have evolved in a number of ways to make it sometimes considerably different from its Chinese ancestors both in appearance and sound.

There are about 2000 kanji needed to be literate in Japan. But in reality, knowing just a couple hundred will allow you to read most anything with the aid of a dictionary. Very few foreigners have mastered kanji. Could you be one of them?

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 kanji. There are many, many kanji with various meanings and readings, so without a desire to explore, you will become quickly discouraged.

Write them! Speak them! and Look for them!

My suggestions for studying kanji (as humble as they may be) are to

  1. Create fun mnemonics that will help you remember the character.  Make it personal and even absurd to 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.
  2. Copy each individual kanji several times while speaking and thinking the readings.  While writing them, try to emphasize the kanji's reading, meaning, and shape in your head.
  3. Finally, read! Begin with the reading practice on this site and then search for the newly learned kanji in other contexts. It is an exciting feeling to come across kanji that you have just studied.

One trick would be to highlight a new kanji and Google it to find ways it is used in "real life" Japanese.

What does this site have?

Some (very good) kanji sites present their kanji around the order Japanese school kids learn them. But you are probably not a Japanese school kid nor will you be one in the foreseeable future, so this site bases the kanji on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test order. The JLPT is the standard test both here in Japan and abroad to measure your Japanese ability. There are other tests but this is the most recognized.

The test comes in 4 levels. The 4th being the easiest and the 1st being the hardest . [don't ask me why they did it that way!] Anyway, I presently have typed in all the 4th grade kanji [103 kanji], all the 3rd grade kanji [165] and all the 2nd grade kanji [755] with examples and memory aids. I hope to type in the 1st grade [1036] sometime soon, but...

LASTLY , gambatte (do your best) on your kanji studies. I sincerely hope this site can be helpful for you. Have fun! - Clay

Books and Materials to aid your studies

Click to go to our store below. Then choose the kanji section for a list of highly recommended resources.

Also just read anything! (that is, in Japanese) Read manga! Grab a newspaper and search for kanji you can recognize! If you have access to Japanese subtitled movies - watch them and read the subtitles!