A very dear person asked me what beginning kanji book she should buy.  This is hard for me to answer because I have not studied from a beginning kanji book in years.

So I thought I would explain a little about my kanji learning.

When I arrived in Japan in 1995, I didn’t use the internet at all for materials. The internet existed, and I had seen it in America, but I did not use it at all.  (Neither did most Japanese.  Japan surprisingly lags behind America in technology use.)

I studied from kanji books that I had.  I don’t even remember the textbooks’ names now.   I had a bit of help from my boss who would tell me when I was getting it wrong.

I would write kanji over and over in my texbooks, but how long did my “Learning to Write Kanji” phase last?  NOT VERY LONG!!!!!

You see, I haven’t needed to actually write kanji very often. Even now if I scribble something down I will often just use hiragana.  If I write something formal like a Thank You Letter, I will use a dictionary.

When writing on the computer, the computer automatically finds the kanji for you.  (Thus, Japanese and Chinese people are forgetting how to write kanji.)

For me, READING KANJI HAS BEEN IMPORTANT THAN WRITING KANJI.   When I can read, I can read signs, doctor’s slips, menus, and so on.  Reading brings freedom.

I am not yet perfect at reading kanji–there are a lot that I don’t know.   But I have picked up a lot of kanji just from seeing them over and over in textbooks.

Here are some hints from me:

1.)   Think about the kanji.   We are told to make pictures, but for me it is different than that.  Kanji do make sense, and if you think about why a kanji looks a certain way, you can fit the pieces together.   Taking a random kanji:  社 “Shya” This means “Shrine”.

And so when you see it in another word, you will go “Oh! I understand that word because it somehow relates to shrine!”

神社=jinjya=shinto shrine  (literally: god shrine)

Taking it further, the same kanji is in

会社=kaishya=company   (literally:  meeting shrine)

You will see this one kanji over and over and over and over again.   So link the words in your heads.   When you see kanji, take time to sort of think about them.

2.)  Japanese people have suggested to me to buy textbooks that kids use.  Or my son’s textbooks for school.  That has NOT worked for me.   YAWN!   I am sorry, but those government issued school textbooks are the most boring and politically correct things ever.

So my advice is (in the beginning, at least) to use textbooks that are meant for foreigners.  They’ll make the most sense to you and will be at your level.

3.)  Textbooks?  I think nowadays people use apps.  However, I am old school.  I have bought a few apps on my Ipad, AND I LIKE MY TEXTBOOKS BETTER.

Textbooks have been higher quality than anything I can find on the computer or Ipad.  Even Jpod, which I obviously like, is not as high quality as a good textbook.   So yeah, I like old school textbooks.

Which ones?

I am not one to give advice, but I was looking at the sample pages and I liked this one:  http://www.amazon.co.jp/gp/product/4805313404/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=AN1VRQENFRJN5  “Essential Japanese Kanji” volume 1.  I like that it gives some explanations in English.  I like that it provides reading practice and writing practice.  Both are important.  (I stated earlier that I can’t write kanji, but I do know how to write the basic ones.  Those are important.)

I am on the Facebook Tae Kim Japanese Learning Japanese group, so if you want more suggestions, you can see what they have to offer.

4.)  One more thing.  When you are learning a kanji character, there will be MANY readings of the same kanji that you are supposed to remember.  (“On”and “Kun” Readings)  I found it impossible to “memorize” them.  (So I no longer bother.)  Remembering the correct readings comes naturally when you start actively reading Japanese and learning the kanji.  When you see the kanji character in context, you will be able to remember more easily the correct reading.  So I think the best way to learn kanji is to start reading and learning them.

5.)  Furigana is your friend.  (Furigana is little hiragana characters next to a kanji to help you read the character.)   When you are a beginner, you will often need the aid of furigana.  My son’s textbooks use them.  When I read the newspaper, I read the children’s newspaper because it has furigana.  (I often cover the furigana and guess the meaning of the kanji, then look.   This is a huge timesaver.)

(Note:  A beginning textbook might not use furigana, but that is because the kanji in their reading passages are kanji that you should already know, or that is being taught in that chapter’s lesson.)

I hope this helps!  Kanji to me seems almost insurmountable, but I feel a real sense of achievement when I see a kanji that I know.  I’m like “Wow!  I know it!  Yes!”

And kanji can be fun in its own weird little way!!!!!!  LOL

So ganbatte!  Don’t give up!


Please feel to give your own advice in the comments, or critique my advice.  I know there are a variety of opinions.