Kanji. The dreaded final frontier of Japanese. Kanji are Chinese characters that have been imported to Japanese. Once you learn them, they make reading much faster and less ambiguous due to the large number of homophones found in Japanese.

Say you want to write the word “I” in Japanese. You probably already know the word is わたし (watashi). But you can also write that word in kanji, like this: 私.

Remember the sample sentence from before that was written in hiragana?

わたし の なまえ は やまもと です。
watashi no namae wa yamamoto desu. (my name is yamamoto)

That sentence can also be written using Kanji as well, like this:


名前 is the kanji for なまえ (name). So anytime you see 名前 , you know it is pronounced “namae” and means “name.”

Kanji can pose a challenge for many people because it is not phonetic (like hiragana and katakana are), so each character must be memorized individually. Additionally, some characters can change pronunciation depending on how they are used. Like is the case with all languages, sometimes it is very logical and while learning them you will have many “aha!” moments, while in other cases you will be thinking “this makes no sense!” and just have to memorize each exception individually.

There are various methods of learning and studying kanji which are examined in other articles.