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To Learn or Not to Learn Kanji?

Posted by on April 7, 2009 in Japanese Study Methods | 4 comments


Without a doubt the most difficult part of learning Japanese is learning kanji. There are over 2000 kanji in the Japanese language and many of them are complex and look very similar to one another. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that each kanji can be read differently depending on the way it is used in a sentence. Because of this, learning to read and write kanji will take much more time to master than the rest of the language. So the question is should you spend the time to learn it or not?

I think this the answer really depends on your reasons for learning Japanese and how much time you plan to devote to it. If you are learning Japanese to live or work  there for a short time or plan to travel there for vacation, then you probably don’t need to learn more than a few very basic kanji. It’s not that learning the kanji won’t help you, but the time you will need to spend learning them won’t be worth the value you will get if you are only visiting Japan for a short time.

For those who who plan to master the Japanese language, live in Japan for more than a year, and especially for those who plan to seek work in Japan, then learning kanji is very important. It is also pretty much required for the majority of jobs in Japan. Since most writing is now done in electronic form (computers) you don’t necessarily need to be able to write them, but you do need to be able to read them. Most documents and government forms are written using kanji. If you can’t read them then you will have to depend on someone else to translate it for you. Not too mention if you can’t read kanji you will have to sign contracts for things like apartments and cell phones without knowing what they really say.

Once we learn to read and write we take these abilities as granted, but they are very important to live and function in society. Having lived in Japan now for a while I see just how important reading is. I also wish I would have spent more time studying kanji when I was I college. So if you are planning to learn kanji I recommend that you start as soon as possible and continue to study at a steady pace. It will take some time, but the benefits are well worth it. The positive side of learning kanji is that it is easier to remember Japanese words once you learn the corresponding kanji.


  1. Well, a great deal of the Japanese content I’m interested in is in written form (teh internets), so I’m afraid there’s no escape for me. I know it’ll be a long and hard road, but I’m taking this up one step at a time (currently midway through the most basic level).

  2. Computers have made it a little easier because as long as we can read the kanji, then you can type it in a computer. By the way, a great tool for reading kanji on the internet is Rikaichan. You just mouse over and it gives you the reading and meaning.

  3. For those who want to learn Kanji there’s a great website I found a while back, http://bonajo.com. Unlike other sites, it teaches you Kanji right from the start with word game software to practice on. It was set up by some dude to teach himself Japanese and I get to use it for free.

  4. Thanks Amboy Charlie! That looks like a really helpful site. I noticed there are also quizzes which are helpful. The one thing I didn’t notice in my few page views was use on context or reading practice. I will have to spend some more time looking through it.