Job ID : 7319

A Guide on Improving your Kanji Skills

Japanese is not a particularly easy language to learn. Some primary challenges include the often times confusing grammar, but Kanji can be a real problem for non-Chinese speakers. While knowledge of hiragana, katakana, and some basic elementary kanji is enough for survival, there is a good chance that you will need to know more than just elementary school kanji in order to really understand a lot about the Japanese language. Luckily, kanji can be tackled effectively in several different ways, and if you follow them, kanji would no more be a major issue when taking the N1.

1. Properties of kanji

Understanding kanji is usually all it takes in order to master it, with some practice, of course. Kanji consists of several different parts. A typical kanji will be made up of radicals. A kanji can even consist of other kanji. An example would be 好. This kanji is made up of 2 smaller words: 女 and 子. While the meaning of the word itself has no relationship with girls or kids, the reading is in fact, related to 子. There are 214 radicals, which may seem like a lot, but knowledge of a few of them are essential while numerous. A full list of them can be found here:

Kanji has 2 readings: the Japanese native reading ”訓読み” and the Chinese reading ”音読み”. The Chinese reading is usually more important to learn because most word combinations are read with the Chinese reading. For example, 教室 is read as “きょうしつ”. The Japanese reading for ”教” is ”おし” as in ”教える”, and ”室” is read as”むろ”. When combined, however, the Chinese reading is used. There are numerous exceptions to this rule, but you can usually assume that when reading a pair of kanji, as long as you know the Chinese readings, you can usually deduce the reading.

When trying to deduce the Chinese reading of a kanji, there are some tricks that can be used. For example, in a typical kanji, the part on the right usually defines the meaning as well as the reading of the whole kanji, whereas the radical on the left usually defines the property of the word. For example, the words “泊” and “拍” have different meanings, but both have the same Chinese reading. As knowledge of kanji increases, you can usually discern the positions of these radicals within a kanji and separate the little particles that define the property of the word and the one that defines the reading and meaning.

2.Looking through lists of kanji

Now that you have understood some aspects of kanji, you can start practicing. In order to pass N1, it is generally recommended that you know most of the words that belong in the list of “常用漢字”(じょうようかんじ). The list contains 2136 of the most commonly used kanji in Japanese. 2136 is, however, a scary number, and for those who are not planning to work or study Japanese intensively, knowing not even half of the 常用漢字 list will allow you to read things you see everyday. Alternatively, you could take a look at the list of kanji that Japanese elementary school students use. The list contains around 1000 kanji. This is great if you want to start with the basics, as the most common and basic kanji are usually learned in the first few years of elementary school, and by the end of 6th grade, you would have known essentially half of the 常用漢字 list.

You can also take mock exams on the 漢字検定試験, which is a test ranging from 10 levels that challenges your knowledge of kanji. This approach is helpful if you decide to take the list of kanji that elementary school students learn because each level scales with the number of kanji that elementary school students are supposed to know. For example, the level 10 exam tests your knowledge of first grade elementary kanji, whereas you are expected to know and master all joyo kanji words at level 2. You can take the free level check test here: You can also find free mock exams online or if you buy guide books.

3. Reading Books

If looking at a list of kanji while testing your knowledge of kanji is not your cup of tea, then the good old method of reading might end up being your best bet. Used manga and light novels usually costs around 100 yen used, no more than 300 yen, and can become invaluable practice if you are looking to sharpen your kanji skills. Manga aimed towards younger audiences tend to have readings on top of kanji called ふりがな, whereas there is only ふりがなin harder words in light novels. This is also one of the best way of expanding your vocabulary, as long as you actively try to learn new words.


Being able to read kanji is a very useful skill on any circumstances, even when listening. As such, it seems necessary that practicing kanji will yield beneficial results in your knowledge of Japanese. Aside from the 3 strategies that were described in this article, you can always resort to practicing kanji using apps on your smartphone or looking at subway station maps and trying to read the station names. To some people, mastering kanji just comes up naturally for them as their Japanese skill increases over time, but to those who cannot grasp kanji at all, simply learning the properties of kanji could go a long way. Knowledge of kanji also contributes to your vocabulary, so taking your time to learn them does not hurt at all.

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