The best ways to learn Kanji for Learners of Japanese Language

2021-01-26 OTHERS

This post is also available in 日本語

Nice to meet you all! My name is Eri, and I am a Japanese language teacher. I work at a Japanese language school in Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. In this article, I would like to show how to study kanji, which many people struggle with.

Number of Kanji

How many kanji do you think students study from elementary school to junior high school in Japan? More simply put, how many kanji do you think are used in daily life and on the streets in Japan?

The answer is … 2136 characters.

These 2136 kanji are used in newspapers, news and magazines, which are essential to our daily life in Japan. It is a staggering number compared to English has only 52 upper and lowercase combined.

Students learn kanji in Japanese classes from elementary school to junior high school in Japan. However, they also struggle to remember kanji, especially those who cannot write kanji.In recent years people can easily type kanji using smartphones or computers, so there are opportunities to read kanji, but there are few opportunities to write it.

I am nervous to write kanji on the board when I teach kanji in class. My students sometimes teach me kanji. It is no exaggeration to say that kanji is a burden for the learners of Japanese language, because it is so hard even Japanese people.

There are some tips to study the writing of such a huge number of kanji.

point1 Cutting Kanji!

Kanji has radicals, which often represent the meaning of the kanji. I recommend learning the radicals first rather than learning a large number of kanji suddenly. The number of radicals is about 200, which is 1/10 of the 2136 characters mentioned above!

For example…
The radical of 木 is related to tree as it is used in kanji such as “桜”, “梅”, “柳”, etc.
The radical of シ is related to water as it is used in kanji such as “海”, “河”, “瀬”, etc.

I think it will be easier to remember if you cut the kanji first and then remember the radicals!

point2 Memorize Kanji with Pictures!

Even if you can’t read the kanji, don’t you still understand the meaning of the kanji if it is written as above? Some kanji are made from the appearance of objects, so it is easy to memorize them with pictures. That is interesting, isn’t it?

point3 Heisig Method

Finally, there is the Heisig method of learning kanji which you can study like playing a game. It seems difficult at first glance, however this is a way to learn the kanji found by the philosopher Heisig.

In this method, separate each part and make a story with it, because kanji are made up of some parts.

For example, 好 is made up of the parts 女 and 子, therefore you can remember from the story like a woman(女) likes children(子).

If you are interested in kanji, please use the tips for your study.

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This article by Tokyo Central Japanese Language School


Established in 1988, Tokyo Central Japanese Language School (TCJ) has been engaged in “cross-cultural communication” through Japanese-language education. The student body of TCJ is made up of about 830 students (as of February 2020). There’s always a wide variety of students from around 30 to 40 countries and regions making the school a place where international exchange takes place on a daily basis. We have one of the best achievements in Japan for university entrance and employment. TCJ is one of the few Japanese language schools that has Japanese teacher training course, and has produced many Japanese teachers. TCJ is a Japanese language school with many experienced and high quality teachers.