Demystifying Japanese Kanji: A Practical Guide to Learning and Exploring the World of Characters

Now that we’ve looked at the “easy” writing systems, let’s talk about learning Japanese Kanji in a more serious way. How do you do it best? Well, first, don’t do what I did. A few years ago, I bought the book “250 Essential Kanji for Everyday Use” because it seemed practical for my study goals. But I’ll admit, I haven’t started using it yet.

It’s not because the book isn’t great – it actually is pretty good. I just realized it’s also from Tuttle Publishing, written by the serious-sounding “Kanji Text Research Group” at Tokyo University. This group consists of teachers focused on teaching Japanese to foreign students, and they’ve spent over two decades figuring out the best ways for beginners to learn Kanji.

For Kanji, the best tips I got was to A) Start with it soon in your studies!, B) Focus on understanding the meaning first, the reading later (so the meaning of the Kanji could be “book”, the reading is “kun: moto” and “on: hon”) and C) Create stories to remember the Kanji, for example: the Kanji for book (本) looks like a tree with a stripe under it, e.g. the book is made from the tree)

Japanese grasp the kanji

Another recommended textbook for learning Kanji is “Remembering the Kanji.” This one focuses on creating stories to help with Kanji learning. With this method, you can apparently complete a task that would normally take years in just a few months!

Later on, I’ll also talk about how to learn Japanese online with free Kanji learning tools. If you’re interested in the origins of Kanji, you can explore China, where 3000-year-old written characters are still used today. But don’t worry, you don’t have to go there yourself or do all the research.

In one of my favorite history books, “China: Empire of Living Symbols,” Swedish Sinologist Cecilia Lindqvist tells a beautifully illustrated story of Chinese characters. She shows how their shapes and concepts have influenced Chinese thought, architecture, art, and culture.