Master 20 Basic Japanese Kanji by the time you Finish this Article!

  • Approximately 2,000 kanji are needed to read a newspaper. While Japanese children learn them during primary school, junior high and high school, foreigners struggle the most when trying to learn them as adults.

    After finishing the first year of primary school, Japanese students have already studied 80 of the “kyoiku kanji” (教育漢字 = education kanji), the Chinese characters which were decided by the Japanese Ministry of Education. After they finished primary school, they would have learned 1,006 or more kanji.

    The basics include from one to up to twelve strokes. There are even around 30 kanji which have only one to four strokes. Those you can learn pretty easily! Once you master the basics you can move on to more complex ones. But do not give up, many are just a combination of the basics, so if you learn the easy ones well, you will not struggle with the rest.

    One stroke

    Here is one Kanji with one stroke.
    一 ichi (いち) : “one” (no surprise!)

    Two strokes

    Eight Kanji have two strokes, here they are!
    二 ni (に) : “two”
    七 shichi (しち): “seven”
    八 hachi (はち): “eight”
    九 kyuu (きゅう): “nine”
    十 juu (じゅう): “ten”
    人 hito (ひと): “human”
    力 chikara (ちから): power
    入 hai(ru) (はいる): to enter

    Three strokes

    The more strokes you have, the more Kanji there are, at least up to a certain number.
    There are 13 kanji with three strokes, and now it gets interesting.

    三 san (さん) three
    千 sen (せん) thousand
    上 ue (うえ) top
    下 shita (した) bottom
    大 oo(kii) (おおきい) large
    小 chii(sai) (ちいさい) small
    山 yama (やま) mountain
    川 kawa (かわ) river
    土 tsuchi (つち) soil
    女 onna (おんな) female
    子 ko (こ) child
    口 kuchi (くち) mouth
    夕 yuu (ゆう) evening

    When learning kanji, try to see the characters as pictures. For example, in the kanji for “woman”, try to see a person with a “wide pelvic”, “holding a baby”, and so on. Anything that will help you memorize the character is worth a try.

    Besides, kanji are in fact derived from pictograms! The readings for each kanji change if they are in combination. But do not worry, especially since the basic kanji come up often, so you will remember them sooner or later. The most important thing is to keep yourself motivated. Once you master the basic ones, you might even try kanji mapping!

    For practice writing: Here are printable sheets for learning the basic kanji.