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The History and Evolution of the Kanji Alphabet

How to Learn Kanji Alphabet: A Complete Guide for Beginners

Kanji is one of the most fascinating and challenging aspects of learning Japanese. Kanji are the logographic Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system, along with hiragana and katakana. Kanji have meanings, pronunciations, and shapes that reflect the culture, history, and logic of Japan.

kanji alphabet

Learning kanji can bring many benefits for Japanese language learners. It can help you expand your vocabulary, understand the nuances of words, read authentic texts, and appreciate the beauty of Japanese literature and art. It can also boost your memory, creativity, and critical thinking skills.

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In this article, we will follow these steps and show you how to learn kanji alphabet in a fun and effective way. We will cover the history and origin of kanji, the structure and classification of kanji, and the methods and tips for learning kanji. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of what kanji is, why it is important, and how you can start learning it today.

The history and origin of kanji

Kanji literally means "Han characters", which refers to the Chinese dynasty that ruled China from 206 BC to 220 AD. Kanji was adopted from Chinese characters by Japanese people who had contact with Chinese culture through trade, diplomacy, religion, and education.

Kanji evolved over time in Japan as it adapted to the Japanese language, culture, and society. Kanji underwent several reforms and simplifications throughout history, such as during the Heian period (794-1185), the Meiji period (1868-1912), and the post-war period (1946-present).

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The structure and classification of kanji

Kanji is composed of radicals and strokes. Radicals are the basic components that make up kanji, and strokes are the lines and curves that form radicals and kanji. There are 214 radicals in total, and each radical has a name, a meaning, and a position in kanji. Strokes have different types, such as horizontal, vertical, diagonal, hook, dot, etc. The number and order of strokes are important for writing and looking up kanji.

Kanji is categorized by grade, frequency, and meaning. Grade refers to the level of difficulty and importance of kanji for Japanese students. There are six grades in elementary school and three grades in secondary school. Frequency refers to how often kanji appears in newspapers, books, magazines, etc. There are about 2,000 kanji that are considered common and essential for everyday use. Meaning refers to the semantic category or field that kanji belongs to, such as animals, plants, numbers, colors, etc.

Kanji is pronounced in different ways depending on the context and the word it is used in. There are two main types of pronunciations: on'yomi and kun'yomi. On'yomi is the Chinese-derived reading of kanji, and kun'yomi is the Japanese-derived reading of kanji. For example, the kanji for "water" is 水. Its on'yomi is "sui" or "zui", and its kun'yomi is "mizu" or "mi". Some kanji have only one type of reading, while others have multiple readings.

The methods and tips for learning kanji

Learning kanji can be fun and rewarding if you use the right methods and tips. Here are some suggestions for how to learn kanji effectively:

  • Use mnemonics and stories to memorize kanji. Mnemonics are memory aids that help you associate kanji with images, sounds, words, or concepts. Stories are narratives that connect kanji with each other and with their meanings and readings. For example, you can remember the kanji for "fire" 火 by imagining a fire with two legs running away from water. You can also remember its on'yomi "ka" by thinking of a person saying "ka-BOOM!" when they see the fire.

  • Use flashcards and apps to review kanji. Flashcards are cards that have kanji on one side and their meanings and readings on the other side. You can use physical flashcards or digital flashcards on your computer or smartphone. Apps are applications that help you learn kanji through games, quizzes, tests, etc. You can find many free or paid flashcards and apps online that suit your level and preference.

  • Use context and examples to practice kanji. Context is the situation or environment where kanji is used in real life. Examples are sentences or phrases that show how kanji is used in context. You can use context and examples to practice kanji by reading books, comics, newspapers, websites, etc. that contain kanji. You can also write your own sentences or stories using kanji that you have learned.


Kanji is an essential part of learning Japanese that can enrich your knowledge and experience of Japan. In this article, we have learned what kanji is, why it is important to learn, how it originated and evolved, how it is structured and classified, and how it is pronounced and learned. We hope this article has given you a comprehensive overview of kanji alphabet and inspired you to start learning it today.

If you want to learn more about kanji alphabet, here are some resources and links that you can check out:

  • : A free web application for learning how to read and write kanji.

  • : A paid web application for learning kanji and vocabulary using mnemonics and spaced repetition.

  • : A book series by James Heisig that teaches how to learn the meaning and writing of kanji using stories.

Don't let kanji intimidate you or stop you from learning Japanese. Kanji is a beautiful and logical system that can open up a whole new world for you. Start learning kanji alphabet today and see how much fun it can be!


How many kanji are there in total?

How many kanji do I need to know to pass the JLPT?

The JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is a standardized test that evaluates the Japanese language skills of non-native speakers. There are five levels of the JLPT, from N5 (the easiest) to N1 (the most difficult). The number of kanji you need to know to pass each level varies, but here are some estimates:

LevelNumber of kanji






How long does it take to learn kanji?

The answer to this question depends on many factors, such as your level, goal, motivation, method, and time. However, some general guidelines are:

  • If you want to learn the basic kanji for everyday use, you can learn about 1000 kanji in one year if you study for 30 minutes a day.

  • If you want to learn the advanced kanji for academic or professional purposes, you can learn about 2000 kanji in two years if you study for one hour a day.

  • If you want to learn all the kanji in the official list (the Jōyō kanji), you can learn about 2136 kanji in three years if you study for 90 minutes a day.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when learning kanji?

Some common mistakes that can hinder your progress and enjoyment when learning kanji are:


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