Learn Japanese Kanji

Top 5 tips for learning Kanji

When it comes to Japanese it can be quite challenging! The major issues people have with studying Kanji is that they forget how to use them, read them and the meaning of the kanji. When it comes to kanji many people try to study kanji by drawing each one individually and trying to remember its meaning, although this method might work it will take a very long time till you reach N1 or N2 level in Japanese.

The following tips will help you come up with a better strategy and will make studying kanji easier. Studying kanji all comes down to mindset and point of view. Look at them as a challenge and create a story around them to make them fun

1. Start off by studying kanji with a few strokes (the simple ones)

Starting off with the simpler kanji is a logical first step. Most of the more advanced kanji are indeed made up of simpler kanji grouped together. The N5 kanji are quite straight forward and easy to remember. Some examples of simple kanji are shown below:

一 one = ichi , ひとつ (Hitotsu = one thing), 一員 (いちいん single worker 五 Five = ご (go) = いつつ (itsutsu = five things) 五つ
二 Two = に (ni), ふたつ (futatsu = Two things)二つ 六 Six = ろく (roku) = むっつ (muttsu =six things)六つ
三 Three = さん (san) = みっつ (mittsu= three things) 三つ 七 seven = しち、なな (shichi, nana) = ななつ (nanatsu)七つ
四 four = し、よん (shi, yon), よっつ (yottsu= four things)四つ 八 eight = はち (hachi) =やっつ (yattsu = 8 things)八つ
九 nine = く、きゅう (ku, kyuu) = ここのつ (kokonotsu=9 things)九つ 十 ten = じゅう (juu) = とう (tou)
Common kanji numbers in Japanese

Counter for animals:

Small animals 匹 (hiki), like dogs and cats: Example, 三匹の犬 (sanbiki no inu = Three dogs)

Large animals(tou) like cows and horses: Example この牧場にはが八頭います。 (This farm has 8 cows) 

counters for time:

  • 秒 (byou) Expresses seconds
  • 分 (fun or pun) Expresses minutes
  • (ji) expresses hours, and length of time with ~時間 (jikan).
  • 半分 (hanpun) is half
  • Years are expressed as  年 (nen) and months as 月 (getsu).

Sentence examples: 

1年には365日あります。(There are 356 days in 1 year)

今何時ですか? (ima nanji desuka?) what time is it now?

今は午後5時30分です今は午後5時30分です (Ima wa gogo 5-ji 30-budesu)  it is now 5.30pm! 

Some Common N5 Kanji:

Child す, ね, じ, し 倚子 (い) =chair, post 羽子 (は)= feather, plumage, propeller 王子 (おう) = Prince  
Inside ちゅう, なか, じゅう 空中 (くうちゅうsky, air 中身 (なかみ, nakami)    
Two に 二階 (かい) second floor, upstairs   二つ ( ふた-つ)
Two of ~
= Every まい 毎週 (まいしゅう) every week. 毎朝 (まいちょう) every morning 毎日 (まいにち) every day   毎晩 ( まいばん) Every Evening
Day 今日 (きょう,Kyo)= today, this day 明日 (あした, ashita) =tomorrow. 昨日 (きのう, kinou)= yesterday 当日 (とうじつ)=appointed day
= To see, To look at 見物 (けんぶつ, Kenbutsu) Sightseeing 意見 (いけん, iken) opinion, view 見る (みる, miru) to look 会見 (かいけん, kaiken) interview, audience.

2. Study the Kanji radicals

Kanji are usually made up of smaller components called radicals. A radical is a component that makes up kanji, there are approximately around 214 kanji radicals such as the water radical 水 永 which makes up approximately 25% of the bulk volume of the kanjis. some important radicals include:

ハ (animal legs) 廴 (longstride) 也 (earth ground) 扌(hand) 犭(dog) 心(heart) 艹(plant) 木 (Tree) 气 (steam) 勿 (do not) 門 (gate) 口 (mouth) 幺 (short thread)

The following example of a kanji being made up of smaller radicals:

角 (Horn) + 牛 (Cow) + 刀 (sword) = 解 Key, explanation, understanding, untie, answer

Studying the kanji radicals helps you simplify the system and makes it easier to understand the kanji as they become more easy to identify.

3. Remember the kanji by creating a story

The book by James Heisig Remembering The Kanji is a good reference book where you can look up complex kanji and by correlating the kanji to a story it helps you remember it easier. You can also use an association method by associating a kanji to a famous personality, shop, car or street.

Example imagine I must remember a list of complicated kanji, in my mind by associating them with buildings in a street i can picture them in place and these hypothetical drawings become more real. Physically placing them in space helps them become real.

Use a good dictionary, personally the one i found the best is 2500 kanji Dictionary, in this book kanji are grouped according to frequency and according to action they take. for example weather kanji can be found under each other

4. Read Japanese native texts or manga

Text sources are the best way of meeting new kanji and building up a vocabulary list. Manga always tend to use hiragana readings with kanji and so the kanji becomes easier to understand. Kanji when read in context in a text give rise to a meaning. just constantly copying and writing down various kanji usually doesn’t lead to anything useful in the long term.

The best FREE resources i found to study Japanese include:

More advanced:

When reading Japanese resources it is best to download a kanji converter in Google chrome or firefox. The plugin called Rikaikun allows you to hover over words you don’t know and get hiragana and translations of that same word. This app is a breakthrough as it can help you find new vocab while reading. always take note of new words and look for repetition, as many words are repeated in texts.

5. Do not translate parts but look at it as a whole

Although google translator is not the best option its a very useful tool if one keeps an open mind and does his background research. 

Translating word for word can change meaning so always translate in context or sentences. When we look at a sentence as a whole the meaning will change. The interesting thing about Japanese is that kanji have various meanings.

More tips on learning kanji fast –>