Start Kanji

Kanji is one of the writing systems used in Japan. Japanese write with a mixture of four different systems.

  • Kanji: The complex Japanese characters that derive from Chinese characters.
  • Hiragana: A syllabic based set of characters used for writing native Japanese words, and grammatical words or endings.
  • Katakana: A syllabic based set of characters used for writing Japanese words of foreign origin, abusive words or for emphasis.
  • Romaji: The normal western alphabet, also known as Latin characters.

In genuine Japanese documents Kanji, Kana and Romaji are mixed together. To start reading Japanese, learning the phonetic or syllabic scripts of Hiragana and Katakana, together known as kana, is the place to start because they are routinely the place to start. This is beause kana are used to write the pronunciations of words and to use dictionaries.

Kanji (漢字)


There is an official list of 1945 Japanese, called Jōyō Kanji, which make up the majority of characters used in modern Japanese media and education.


On first viewing, Kanji characters look like a random bunch of lines.This apparent complexity can be very off putting. In fact, almost all Kanji are made up from a standard set of parts called radicals. There are just over 200 radicals that are commonly used in Japanese to compose Kanji characters.

Many of the radicals are directly derived from some of the simpler and most common Kanji.

When one Japanese person is describing the writing of a Kanji to another, they will normally describe the character by its radicals and their relative placement.

It is not necessary to learn all of the radical before learning Kanji, but awareness that standard components are used is helpful.


Each Kanji character has one or more meanings. Often the basic meaning is closely related to similar or identical characters in Chinese. The meaning of Each Kanji in isolation is not sufficient, because standard groups of them are placed together to make whole words in Japanese.

Knowing individual Kanji meanings does give the possibility of guessing the gist of unknown words in context, even if detailed reading of the Japanese word is not known.

Sometimes, it is possible to guess the meaning of a Kanji from its component radicals. For example which means "sea" is made up from ,the water radical, and which means "every".

Common Kanji

The most common Kanji is which means day and is the first character in 日本 which is the Japanese for day.

This site contains a reference for some other common Kanji reference for some other common Kanji.

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