ABOUT
KANJI

An introduction to Japanese kanji

What are kanji? A short overview and history

The kanji, or
かんじ
, are a set of thousands of distinct characters imported from China to Japan as a writing system starting around the first century AD. Since spoken Japanese has both different grammar and vocabulary to Chinese, several adaptations were made over the next few hundred years.
At first, the kanji were used exactly as in China, and Chinese texts were imported wholesale, annotated with additional markings known as kanbun (
かんぶん
) to make them intelligible to Japanese.
Later, subsets of the kanji were simplified to enable simple transliteration of the sounds of Japanese - these simplifications became the modern syllabaries we know as hiragana and katakana.
More recently still, the kanji have diverged, with the Japanese making simplifications that were not adopted by the Chinese, and vice versa.

Kanji frequency

In general it makes sense to learn the kanji that you will encounter most frequently first. As a result of your personal situation you may encounter some kanji more frequently than others do, but generally speaking frequency of occurrence in newspapers, Wikipedia, and/or novels are common ways to measure frequency.
The kanji frequency data used in Kanshudo are taken from the 漢字出現頻度表 順位対照表(Ver.1.2)(kanji frequency chart) prepared by the
ぶんかちょう
, the Japanese Government Agency for Cultural Affairs). The data was compiled in 2010 from a number of frequency rankings, and used to create an aggregated frequency ranking which is the ranking applied in Kanshudo. The report provides data on about 3500 kanji, of which about 100 or so are variants of each other (and grouped together in Kanshudo), so the Kanshudo system contains frequency rankings for a total of 3409 kanji. A frequency of 1 means 'most frequent' and hence most common.

Shinjitai vs simplified vs traditional

Over centuries, the kanji have evolved and (unfortunately!) their forms have diverged in different countries, especially China and Japan. Consider for example the kanji . This form is the 'shinjitai' character used in modern Japan. Originally, in both China and Japan, the character was (the 'traditional' form). In modern Chinese, however, the character is written (the 'simplified' form).
Often, the simplifications the Japanese made resulted in a new element that is distinct but clearly related to the original component (such as ), whereas Chinese simplifications often involved substituting existing simpler characters for more complex components (eg , which bears no relation to ).
Look up 戦 in search or view the details page (which shows details of the variant).

Components

Most kanji are made up of components, which themselves have meanings, and which are the basis for the Kanshudo system of learning the kanji.

Jōyō (常用) kanji / Jinmeiyō (人名用) kanji / Hyōgaiji (表外字)

Japanese kanji are commonly thought of in three groups:
  • The Jōyō, meaning 'daily use', kanji are a list of 2136 characters deemed most commonly used by the Japanese government. Kanji on this list are taught in Japanese schools, and the list is divided into sections corresponding to school years. You can see all kanji in the Jōyō, as well as the sets taught in elementary school (Kyōiku kanji) and secondary school in our kanji collections.
  • The Jinmeiyō, meaning 'used in names', is a set of 843 kanji commonly used in Japanese names. This list is not taught in schools, but the kanji are commonly encountered in newspapers and media. You can see all the Jinmeiyō in our Jinmeiyō collections, prioritized by actual usage in Japanese names (a feature unique to Kanshudo).
  • The Hyōgaiji is 'everything else' - all kanji that are no longer in use, or replaced by alternative versions. Most Hyōgaiji will still be visible on most computers that can display Japanese, and you will encounter many of them as you read more widely.
Beyond these three groups, there are still many more kanji - including Chinese variants, kanji in Chinese but not Japanese, as well as characters that are not technically kanji, but which represent kanji elements These are called 'graphemes' in the computer world; some but not all are 'radicals'. Kanshudo refers to all kanji parts as 'components'.

More information

Search results include information from a variety of sources, including Kanshudo (kanji mnemonics, kanji readings, kanji components, vocab and name frequency data, grammar points), JMdict (vocabulary), Tatoeba (examples), Enamdict (names), KanjiVG (kanji animations and stroke order), and Joy o' Kanji (kanji and radical synopses). Translations provided by Google's Neural Machine Translation engine. For more information see credits.
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Change component list
By default the component builder shows the most common components (themselves joyo kanji, or used in at least 3 other joyo kanji). Select an alternative set of components below.



Full details of all components and their English names can be found here.
Help with the component builder
For detailed instructions, see the Component builder how to guide.
To find any kanji, first try to identify the components it is made up of.
For any components you recognize, if you know the English meaning or name, start typing it in the text area. Full details of all components and their English names can be found here.
Alternatively, count the strokes of the component, and scan the list to find it visually.
Example
To find the kanji :
  • Notice that it is made of several components: 氵 艹 口 夫.
  • 氵 艹 口 all have three strokes, so you could look in the list in the 3 stroke section. 夫 has four strokes.
  • Alternatively, you could start typing 'water' (氵), 'grass' (艹), 'mouth' (口) or 'husband' (夫) in the search area, and the components will be highlighted in yellow.
  • Keep adding components until you can see your kanji in the list of matches that appears near the top.