How I Study Kanji

You’d think this post would have been done a long time ago, considering the fact that I’ve been studying Japanese for a little over a year now. And suprisingly, it hasn’t been fear of Kanji that has been holding me back all this time.

You know that saying “Take it with a grain of salt?” It’s an idiom which basically means “You don’t have to take things literally”. When applied to advice, it means what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for all. I happen to have a habit of taking advice literally. After reading tons of helpful blog posts on Kanji (rather than actually just learning it), I used fancy iPhone apps & games to try to help me learn. I guess the trend in the Japanese learning world at this time is to learn how to read Kanji with less importance put on writing it. It’s practical advice in our technological age. As someone who doesn’t live in Japan, I have no need to write it at this time, yet I do need to read and type it. But what I failed to recall was that everyone has a different learning style.

In my opinion, kanji learning is not a “one size fits all” type of activity. The same way you may study for an exam can be applied to Kanji. You have to stay consistent with your learning style. I happen to benefit from writing things out. Just looking at Kanji was difficult as I easily confused one for the other. So here is MY method to learning Kanji that works for ME.


So I found the workbook pictured above while perusing the aisles of my local Japanese bookstore. I was so lucky to find EXACTLY what I was looking for. A lot of books I found were chock full of kanji, readings and meanings that completeley filled each page. So overwhelming. I wanted a good starting point. The book cost me $15 but is available on Amazon for less than $10. Not bad.

Pretty blurry photo. But you get the idea. You get the kanji, its meanings, radical and MOST IMPORTANTLY example words on the page. There’s tons of space to practice writing and the stroke order is easy to follow. I am actually in the process of tutoring someone else on beginner’s Japanese, so I decided to leave these pages blank for now. I use a cute Japanese Kanji practice book for this purpose.

Not the best handwriting, but I’m working on it! While others advise it’s best to learn simple characters first, I am too impatient for that. I have been learning the most common Kanji as most do, and it’s working out fine for me. I recognize plenty of radicals as I go, so stroke order isn’t as daunting as it might seem. For example the fifth character down in that photo is the character for “week”. The characters for “earth” and “mouth” are located within the little square. I don’t have to worry about remembering the stroke order for those as they have already been memorized.


This is where the fancy apps come in. At this point, I have only been using one app and that is the Kanji Flip app (plan on doing a full review later). I used to use this as my ONLY kanji studying method, and frankly it just wasn’t enough for me. The writing has been instrumental in my memorization process, but using this app is very helpful for retention. I always have this app handy for flipping through whenever I’m out and about. It also uses the SRS technology, which relies on your honesty.

I plan on using Anki very soon for sentences. I am interested in purchasing Tofugu’s Study Decks, but holding off at this time. I’d like to place an emphasis on learning WORDS rather than tons of readings. Look at the most common words the Kanji characters make. USE THEM. Write them, tweet them, lang-8 them… do whatever you usually do when you practice writing real Japanese sentences.

These retention methods help for reading. But how do I remember the stroke order other than writing characters over and over again? You will notice that I continue to mention Tofugu, but they are my study Bible. Tofugu mentions in one of their articles that the most important aspect of memorization is recalling. Rather than staring at something for 5 minutes in order to learn it, let your brain do the work.

Not only do I randomly doodle Kanji characters during breaks at school or while on public transportation, but I like to test myself. It’s fairly simple to test yourself strictly on the writing aspect. I have a piece of paper where I list all the english meanings or sometimes even readings of the kanji, however I indentify them the fastest. I either look at them myself or give the paper to someone else to read aloud to me. Then, just like for a spelling test in elementary school, I write out each Kanji as the meanings are called. I try not to “study” them beforehand. It’s best to do this at random times when you may have forgetten a few. Once you’re done with the test, you know which Kanji you have to put extra time into.

Well, I can’t say that some of my methods aren’t just common sense, but with all the fancy stuff out there, I think it may be helpful to someone to see how the average person learns these things. I’m not exceptionally smart. I never thought I could learn how to read and write Japanese. Yet, here I am, well on my way. I hope this helped someone! If not, I hope it was interesting to read my way of doing things.

Happy studying! 🙂



About L

Interested in Japanese language and culture, J-Pop, K-Pop and Asian Dramas.
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4 Responses to How I Study Kanji

  1. Sabrina says:

    Good study suggestions! -Sabrina

  2. choronghi says:

    Check out ajatt
    Koohii forums
    And anki

    You’re really behinddd

  3. try sticking post it notes labeling things around your house or your room, that worked a lot for recognition for me, and if you practice once in a while, writing too.

  4. Tomoko Kawase says:

    I don’t know why, but i was reading this with the voice of john cena

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