Japan Kanji: Tips and Tricks for Learning the Japanese Characters
Japan Kanji: What are they and how to learn them
If you are interested in learning Japanese, you have probably encountered kanji, the logographic characters that are derived from Chinese script. Kanji are not only essential for reading and writing Japanese, but also for understanding the rich history and culture of Japan. In this article, we will explore what kanji are, how they developed, how they are classified, how they are used, and how you can learn them effectively.
Kanji (漢字) literally means "Han characters", referring to the Han dynasty of China where they originated. Kanji are ideograms, which means that each character represents an idea, concept, or object. For example, the character means "Japan", literally "sun-origin".
Kanji are one of the three types of characters used in the Japanese writing system, along with hiragana and katakana, which are phonetic symbols that represent syllables. Hiragana and katakana are mainly used for grammatical elements, native words, foreign words, onomatopoeia, etc. Kanji are mainly used for nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other important words. For example, the sentence is "study", and the rest are hiragana.
There are more than 50,000 kanji characters in existence, but most of them are rarely used or obsolete. The Japanese government has published a list of jōyō kanji (常用漢字), which means "regular-use characters". There are currently 2,136 jōyō kanji that are taught in elementary and secondary schools in Japan. Most Japanese people can read and write these characters by the time they graduate from high school. However, there are also many other kanji that are used in specialized fields, such as literature, medicine, law, religion, etc. These are called hyōgai kanji (表外漢字), which means "outside-the-chart characters". There are also some kanji that are unique to Japan, which are called kokuji (国字), which means "national characters". For example, the character means "crossroad".
Learning kanji can be challenging, but also rewarding. Kanji can help you expand your vocabulary, improve your reading comprehension, and deepen your understanding of Japanese culture and history. Kanji can also enhance your memory, creativity, and logical thinking skills. Moreover, kanji can be fun and beautiful to look at and write. Many people enjoy learning kanji as a hobby or a passion.
The history of kanji
Kanji have a long and fascinating history that spans over two millennia. Kanji were originally created by the ancient Chinese people as a way of recording their language and thoughts. The earliest forms of kanji were pictographs, which were simple drawings of objects or animals. For example, the character means "bright", and it is composed of the characters for "sun" and "moon".
Kanji were introduced to Japan around the 5th century AD by Buddhist monks and scholars who traveled from China. At that time, Japan did not have a writing system of its own, so the Japanese people adopted kanji to write their language. However, since Japanese and Chinese are very different languages, kanji had to be adapted and modified to fit the Japanese grammar and pronunciation. The Japanese people developed two ways of reading kanji: on'yomi (音読み) and kun'yomi (訓読み). On'yomi are the readings based on the original Chinese sounds, while kun'yomi are the readings based on the native Japanese words. For example, the character means "water", and it has two readings: on'yomi is "sui", and kun'yomi is "mizu" or "mi". Sometimes, kanji can have more than one on'yomi or kun'yomi depending on the region or period of origin.
Kanji also underwent many changes and reforms throughout history. Some kanji were simplified or abolished to make them easier to write or learn. Some kanji were created or imported to express new concepts or terms. Some kanji were influenced or borrowed by other languages, such as Korean, Vietnamese, or English. For example, the character means "electricity", and it was created in Japan in the 19th century by combining the characters for "thunder" and "field". The same character is also used in Chinese as "diàn" and in English as part of the word "denki", which means "electric appliance".
The types of kanji
Kanji are complex and diverse characters that have various features and functions. Kanji are composed of different elements that can help you understand their structure and meaning. Kanji have different readings and meanings that can change depending on the context and usage. Kanji can also be categorized by their shape, function, or origin.
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japan wasei kanji (kanji made in Japan)
japan joyo kanji (commonly used kanji)
japan kokuji (national characters)
japan shinjitai (simplified characters)
japan kyujitai (traditional characters)
japan jinmeiyo kanji (kanji for personal names)
japan hyogai kanji (uncommon or obscure characters)
japan gairaigo (loanwords written in katakana)
japan furigana (small kana written above or beside a character)
japan okurigana (kana suffixes following a character)
japan ateji (phonetic use of characters regardless of meaning)
japan nanori (special readings for personal names)
japan kunyomi (native Japanese readings of characters)
The basic elements of kanji are called radicals (部首), which are smaller characters that can appear inside or outside of a larger character. Radicals often indicate the general category or meaning of a kanji. For example, the radical (life).
Kanji have different readings and meanings that can vary depending on the context and usage. As mentioned before, kanji have two types of readings: on'yomi and kun'yomi. On'yomi are usually used when kanji are part of compound words or technical terms, while kun'yomi are usually used when kanji are standalone words or part of native expressions. For example, the character means "action" or "behavior", and it uses the on'yomi reading for both characters.
Kanji can also be categorized by their shape, function, or origin. One way of categorizing kanji by their shape is by using the six principles of character formation (六書), which are: pictographs (象形), ideographs (指事), ideogrammatic compounds (会意), phonetic compounds (形声), derivative cognates (転注), and phonetic loans (仮借). Pictographs are characters that resemble the objects they represent, such as .
The examples of kanji
Kanji are versatile and expressive characters that can be used to form various words and sentences. Kanji can also be appreciated for their aesthetic and artistic value. In this section, we will look at some examples of kanji and how they are read and written. We will also see how kanji can be combined with other scripts and how they can convey different meanings and nuances.
To read and write kanji, you need to know their readings, meanings, and stroke order. As mentioned before, kanji have two types of readings: on'yomi and kun'yomi. Sometimes, you can guess the reading of a kanji based on its context or its components. For example, if a kanji is part of a compound word with another kanji, it is likely to use the on'yomi reading. If a kanji is followed by hiragana, it is likely to use the kun'yomi reading. However, there are also many exceptions and irregularities, so you need to memorize the readings of each kanji individually. For example, the character has four strokes, and they are written in this order and direction: .
To form words and sentences with kanji, you need to know how to combine them with other scripts and how to use them grammatically. As mentioned before, kanji are mainly used for nouns, verbs, adjectives, and other important words, while hiragana and katakana are mainly used for grammatical elements, native words, foreign words, onomatopoeia, etc. Sometimes, kanji can also be used for function words or onomatopoeia, especially in formal or literary contexts. For example, the word means "was high" or "was expensive", etc.
To recognize and appreciate the beauty and diversity of kanji, you need to know how to read and write different styles and variations of kanji. Kanji have different styles of writing depending on the medium, tool, purpose, or preference of the writer. Some of the common styles of writing kanji are: kaisho (楷書), which is the standard or regular style that is used in most printed materials; gyōsho (行書), which is the semi-cursive or running style that is used for faster or more casual writing; sōsho (草書), which is the cursive or grass style that is used for artistic or expressive writing; and tensho (篆書)