Many of our soon-to-arrive students at Lexis Japan ask us what they should study before arrival. Of course, we will start from the basics and work our way through, but it can be fun to do some pre-study. Here’s a little information about kanji learning, and a simple list of the ten kanji that you really need to know (and can teach yourself…even if it’s on the plane to Kobe)!
Kanji is one of the three writing system used in the Japanese language. It consists of a set of Chinese characters, or ideograms, which have been adapted for use in Japanese. Kanji are an essential component of written Japanese, and are used in conjunction with two other writing systems, hiragana and katakana, to form complete sentences. There are thousands of kanji characters in use, and learning them can be a daunting task. It can take years of study to become proficient in reading and writing kanji. However, the study of kanji is also seen as an important part of Japanese language and culture…and I’m afraid that the path to fluency runs straight through your kanji textbook.
There’s a beauty to kanji, though – think of the stunning Japanese calligraphy that you see. There’s also a science to learning the characters….which your teachers at Lexis Japan will be happy to teach you! Despite its challenges, the study of kanji is a rewarding and enriching experience for anyone interested in learning the Japanese language and culture. Mastery of kanji opens up a whole new world of communication and expression, and is essential for anyone wishing to fully understand and appreciate Japanese society and culture.
While the study of kanji can be challenging, most Japanese people take pride in their ability to read and write them, and consider it a mark of their education and cultural literacy. In fact, kanji proficiency is often used as a measure of language proficiency in Japan, and is required for many jobs, such as government positions and journalism. As you continue your Japanese learning journey, you’ll find that kanji literacy becomes more and more important. The good news is that you’ll receive lots of positive feedback from your local friends as you being to master it … there’s still nothing more impressive than the foreigner with some serious kanji knowledge!
Kanji was introduced to Japan from China during the 5th century AD, through trade and cultural exchange between the two countries. At the time, Japan did not have a writing system of its own, and so the Chinese characters were adapted for use in Japanese.
The earliest examples of kanji in Japan are found on artifacts such as swords and mirrors, which were imported from China and decorated with Chinese characters. Over time, the use of kanji spread to other areas of Japanese life, such as religion and government, and by the 8th century, kanji had become the dominant writing system in Japan.
In order to adapt kanji for use in Japanese, the Chinese characters were given new readings and meanings, which were often based on existing Japanese words and pronunciation. This process led to the development of many new kanji characters, which were specifically designed for use in the Japanese language. Funnily enough, after spending a few years learning Japanese, you’ll find yourself being able to ‘get by’ in Chinese, too – not enough perhaps to read a book, but more than enough to work your way through a menu or identify street signs.
But every journey has a beginning! Here’s a simple list of the first ten kanji you should know. You’ll find these repeated over and over again as you learn more:
1. 一 (いち): “one”
2. 二 (に): “two”
3. 三 (さん): “three”
4. 人 (じん): “person”
5. 日 (にち): “day”
6. 月 (つき): “month”
7. 火 (か): “fire”
8. 水 (すい): “water”
9. 木 (もく): “tree”
10. 金 (きん): “gold”
Try writing them out a few times, ideally onto flashcards. You’ll be surprised how quickly they stick.
If you want to dip your toes more deeply into the Kanji world, try downloading an app such as Anki , which lets you work through ‘flashcards’ of common characters. Learning kanji will take many years, but it’s a fun experience and very rewarding. Enjoy the ride!