Learn Japanese Basic Kanji

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Learn Basic Japanese Kanji


The ancient characters adopted from the Chinese Hanzhi writing. They each convey an idea, and are used for nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. This collection of more than 7,000 characters usually has double meanings for each one, depending on the context and position in the sentence.

The third alphabet, kanji, was imported over the centuries from China. These pictograms are typically (much) more complex than kana (remember, “kana” refers collectively to hiragana and katakana). And they have different readings and meanings depending on how they’re combined with other kanji.

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Kanji represent ideas or words rather than syllables, although of course hiragana or katakana could be used to spell out the pronunciation.

Kanji have two sorts of readings, i.e. ways of being pronounced: “on” readings and “kun” readings.

The “on” readings are based loosely on the original Chinese pronunciation of the kanji, and are typically used when a kanji is part of a compound, i.e. written with at least one other kanji to form a word.

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The “kun” reading is used when kanji are used on their own, either as complete nouns in their own right or as adjective and verb stems.

On-readings are typically used when a kanji forms part of a compound word (usually a noun); kun-readings are normally used for single kanji, either as words in their own right, or as the stems of adjectives or verbs. Adjectives and verbs typically consist of a kanji followed by a hiragana suffix.

Take Note: There are exceptions to this rule. Most kanji have at least one on-reading and one kun-reading each, but plenty have no kun-reading and a few have no on-reading. Some use kun-readings, not on-readings, to make compounds. You just have to learn them case by case.

When I’m not sure, I like to refer to Jisho, an online dictionary that has a number of nifty functions. If you want to refresh your memory of hiragana, you can do so by playing a hiragana game.

Kanji Romaji + Hiragana English
ichi Ichi いち One
ni Ni に two
san San さん Three
shi Yon よん four
go Go ご five
roku Roku ろく six
nana Nana なな Seven
hachi Hachi はち eight
kyu Kyu きゅう nine
ju Ju じゅう ten
ka Shita/Ka した/か low, inferior, come down, go down
jou Ue/Jou うえ/じょう high, highest, top, best, superior
chu Naka/Chu なか/ちゅう center, middle, middle of three
hito Hito/Jin ひと/じん man, person, people
yasu Yasu/Kyuu やす/きゅう rest, sleep, retire
sen Saki/Sen さき/せん former, previous, the other side/party
iru Hai/Nyuu はい/にゅう enter, go into
en Maru/En まる/えん circle, yen
sui De/Shutsu で/しゅつ coming/going out, originating from
chikara Chikara/Ryoku ちから/りょく strength
sen Chi/Sen ち/せん thousand, many
kuchi Kuchi/Ku くち/く mouth, speech, words, lips
migi Migi/U みぎ/う right, right hand
mei Na/Mei な/めい name, famous
seki Seki/Yuu せき/ゆう evening
dai Oo/Dai おお/だい big, great, elder, huge, grand, very
tenki Ten てん sky, air, heavens, god
onna Onna/Jyo おんな/じょ woman, female, girl
ko Ko/Shi こ/し child, offspring, seed
ji Ji じ character, letter, word
gaku Mana/Gaku まな/がく learning, scholar, scholarship, science
shou Chi/Shou ち/しょう small, tiny, little
san Yama/San やま/さん mountain
sen Kawa/Sen かわ/せん river, stream, brook
Hidari/Sa ひだり/さ left
nen Toshi/Nen とし/ねん year
shu Te/Shu て/しゅ arm, hand
bun Bun ぶん literature, civil affairs, art, writing, text, composition
nichi Hi/Nichi ひ/にち day
haya Haya/Sou はや/そう fast, quick
boku Ki/Boku き/ぼく tree
getsu Tsuki/Getsu つき/げつ month
mura Mura/Son むら/そん village
hayashi Hayashi/Rin はやし/りん forest
Kou こう school
mori Mori/Shin もり/しん woods, grove
sei Tada/Sei ただ/せい right, justice, correct
ke Iki/Ki いき/き mind, spirit, soul
sui-mizu Sui/Mizu すい/みず water, ice water
ka Hi/Ka ひ/か fire
inu Inu/Ken いぬ/けん dog
o_kimi Oo おお king, rule
tama Tama/Gyoku たま/ぎょく gem, jewel, jade
sei Iki/Sei いき/せい life, birth, existence
ta Ta/Den た/でん rice field, paddy
chou Machi/Chou まち/ちょう town, block, street
dan Otoko/Dan おとこ/だん man, male
haku Shiro/Haku しろ/はく white
hyaku Hyaku ひゃく hundred, many
me Me/Moku め/もく eye
ishi Ishi/Seki いし/せき stone, pebble
su Kara/Kuu から/くう empty
ryu Ta/Ryu た/りゅう stand
chiku Take/Chiku たけ/ちく bamboo
shi Ito/Shi いと/し string, thread
ji Mimi/Ji みみ/じ ear
hana Hana/Ka はな/か flower
kusa Kusa/Sou くさ/そう grass
mushi Mushi/Chuu むし/ちゅう bug, insect
miru Mi/Ken み/けん see, look at
bai Kai/Bai かい/ばい shell, shellfish
seki Aka/Seki あか/せき red
soku Ashi/Soku あし/そく foot, leg
sha Kuruma/Sha くるま/しゃ vehicle
kane Kane/Kin かね/きん money
ame Ame/U あめ/う rain
sei Ao/Sei あお/せい Blue or green
on Oto/On おと/おん sound, noise