The Japanese Writing System (Part 2)

Hello! This is your Japanese director, Stacie.

This is a continuation from Part 1 of The Japanese Writing System.

The third writing system is Kanji. For kanji, there is no specific chart to learn from because there are over 2000 of them. If you want to read a Japanese novel, you will generally have to learn over 2000 kanji. Kanji is derived from Chinese characters and it can be very complicated to beginners with no exposure to Chinese characters. One kanji has different meanings and different ways to read which can complicate things even more. For starters, I will explain the 2 different readings.

Kanji has 2 different ways to read: on-reading (音読み ; onyomi) and kun-reading (訓読み ; kunyomi). On-readings are pronunciations borrowed from China and kun-readings are originated from Japan. On-reading is generally used when the word is a compound word (more than 1 kanji). Kun-reading is generally used when the kanji is by itself. For example, let’s look at the kanji 力. It means power or force. 力 by itself is read as ちから (chikara). However, when you combine it with another kanji, it is read as りょく (ryoku). ちから (chikara) is the kun-reading and りょく (ryoku) is the on-reading. The kanji 力 in the word 努力 (どりょく ; doryoku) is read as ryoku since it is used in a combination. When kanjis are used in combination, they generally use the on-reading.ど (do) is also the on-reading for the kanji 努. However, on-readings and kun-readings can also be used in combination. For example, the word 見本 (みほん ; mihon) is using both on-reading and kun-reading. み (mi) is the kun-reading for 見 and ほん is the on-reading for 本.

Just like Hiragana and Katakana, Kanji has a specific way to write. These are called stroke orders. Although it’s not necessary to follow the stroke order, following the stroke order usually allows you to write the kanji more naturally. Here is an example below.10003.GIF

As you can see, kanji is a very complex part of the Japanese writing system. Learning enough kanji to be able to read a book might take you a while, but once you start learning, it’s not too bad. Normally, you learn kanji in words and not each character by itself. Learning it in words also allows you to learn more than one kanji at a time and can help you learn the meanings of them from the help of the words’ meanings. However, learning the characters one by one is not a bad idea if that is what you prefer. Kanji will probably take the longest to learn, but just keep studying and you’ll get there one day!

(don’t feel too bad if you’re worried or scared about kanji because I suck at kanji too lol)

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