< Preschool

Intro to Kanji



Kanji is the final writing system for us to learn (if you haven't read these yet, please take a look at hiragana and katakana first). Clocking in at a whopping 2,136 characters currently featured in the Jouyou (daily-use) list and thousands beyond, Kanji is comprised of characters mostly borrowed from ancient Chinese characters.


Back in ancient times, kanji much-more-closely resembled what they were trying to convey. 日 looked more like a sun, 月 looked like a moon, and even 馬 looked like a horse! Over time, however, these pictures evolved and simplified into how they look today. Although some don't quite look like what they used to, they still carry the same meanings. Every kanji you see has at least one meaning. Many that you see will carry multiple meanings that will change depending on the context/word they're in. This might sound difficult, but most of the time kanji have meaning that are related to each other.

Here are some examples of kanji meanings:
「日」means day or sun
「馬」means horse
「上」means up
「下」means down

Knowing the meanings of kanji will allow you to easily derive the meaning from words you haven't seen before.

So, let's say we see the word「学生」but haven't learned what it means yet. If we know that「学」means study and「生」means life, we can try to derive the meaning. Whose life is full of study? That's right, a student! It's not always this easy, but most of the time this will at least get you in the ballpark.

Radicals/Kanji Primes

Every kanji has a unique look to set it apart from the rest. However, there are a set of components that appear in related kanji, to give a hint at what the meaning is. This set of parts are called kanji radicals. Some radicals are kanji on their own while others are not characters when written by themselves and only appear as a part of other kanji.

Knowing these radicals is not necessary to learn Japanese, but some can be helpful to know, so uchisen doesn't teach the radicals. However, we do teach using a system similar to the radicals, which we call Kanji Primes. The primes are a set of parts that don't appear as characters on their own (some of them being official kanji radicals) but we leave out the radicals that are kanji on their own, because it's not necessary to learn a kanji twice.

Much like how you can break up all numbers to their prime numbers, you can break up all kanji to their primes. Take a look at the following for a visual exmplanation:

Kanji Prime Example


I have some bad news... every kanji has multiple readings. This throws a wrench in the plan of teaching the reading along wih the kanji, as the reading can change depending on what word or context you see it in. Don't worry though! We can instead learn the readings along with the vocabulary words, which makes much more sense.
See below for an example:

Kanji Reading Variation Example

As you learn vocab, you can start to see the patterns of readings with kanji that look alike. This isn't a set rule, unfortunately, but it can help when trying to guess the read of a kanji in an unknown word.

Stroke Order

As you've (hopefully) already learned with hiragana and katakana, the Japanese sure do love their stroke order (and it makes sense why). If everyone writes these complex symbols in different ways, the end products can vary widely. To try to solve this problem and unify everyone's writing, there is a unified stroke order that everyone should adhere to.

The general principle that you'll see in most kanji is that the strokes are written from top to bottom and left to right, much like reading an English book.

You can see the stroke order for each kanji on their individual pages!

Now that you've learned about the three writing systems of Japanese, you're ready to move on! If you haven't learned the kana, we highly recommend memorizing the hiragana and katakana before trying to tackle kanji, but this is your life and you can do whatever you feel like! Once you've created your free uchisen account, why not get started on your first kanji in uchisen grade 1.