You can’t “learn” Kanji!!

Originally published: 2014/06/23

One of my pet peeves is when somebody says the phrase “learn Kanji” such as, “I learned 100 Kanji in one week!” Kanji has way too many parts to simply say that you “learned” it. Saying you learned Kanji is like saying “I learned computer!” or “I learned a car!” What does that even mean? Let’s break down the concrete things you can learn with Kanji.

  1. Learn the meaning(s)
  2. Learn all the readings
  3. Learn the stroke order
  4. Learn how to write it

Now, let’s see how useful all these possibilities are for learning Japanese.

Learn the meaning – Useful

Learning the meaning of a Kanji is great if it’s a word by itself. For example, 「力」 is also a word meaning “strength” so the meaning directly translates into a word you can actually use. However, you can also argue that since 「力」 is also a word, you are essentially saying that you learned the meaning of a word. So in the end, this is really the same as learning words and doesn’t really count as “learning Kanji”.

Having said that, knowing the meaning of a Kanji is certainly very useful for simpler words and concepts. Memorizing the meaning for Kanji such as 「続」 or 「連」 will definitely help you remember words such as 接続、連続、and 連中. In conclusion, there’s nothing wrong with learning the meaning of a Kanji and something I would recommend.

Learn all the readings – Waste of time

To put it bluntly, learning all the readings of a Kanji is a complete waste of time. Yes, as a general rule of thumb, Kanji compounds use the on-reading while single characters use the kun-reading. However, this rule is nowhere consistent enough to make it more than a good guess (this is particularly true for 大 which we can’t seem to decide to read as おお or だい).

In addition, many Kanji have multiple readings kun or on-readings such as 怪力(かいりき or かいりょく?), 外道(げどう or がいどう?), or 家路(いえじ、うちじ、やじ?). Even if you guessed the correct reading, it might be voiced or shortened such as 活発 and 発展. Also, Kanji such as 生 have so many readings, it’s completely pointless to memorize them because you won’t know which one will be used in a word such as 芝生、生ビール、生粋、and 生涯. Not to mention the various words that only use the Kanji for the meaning while completely ignoring the reading. These words such as 仲人、素人、and お土産 are literally impossible to guess the readings for. At the end of the day, if you see a new word, you always want to look up the reading to make sure you learn the correct combination. In addition, the readings will be easier to remember in context of real words that you can actually use. Essentially, memorizing the readings by themselves is a complete waste of time.

Learn the stroke order – Essential at first

I’m not going to go into all the reasons why memorizing the correct stroke order is important. Without going into detail, of course you want to make sure to remember the correct stroke order. However, you’ll find that once you’ve mastered the basics and all the radicals, stroke order for most Kanji are consistent and easy enough that you no longer need to look it up. Every once in a while, you’ll run into odd Kanji such as 飛 or 鬱 where you’ll want to check the stroke order. So yes, definitely look up the stroke order and make sure you’re not developing any bad habits until… you don’t need to look them up anymore. That happens sooner that you might think.

Learn how to write it – Depends

This is going to be a controversial stance but nowadays, technology has progressed to the point where we never really have to write anything by hand anymore. Yes, it’s embarrassing if you’re fluent in a language but can’t write it by hand. This is an issue even for Japanese people.

By “writing Kanji”, I don’t mean just 2,000+ characters based on keywords. Unless you know which combination of Kanji to use for any given word with the correct okurigana, that is a useless parlor trick.

Being able to write any word in Kanji is an extremely time-consuming goal that may not have much practical value. If your daily life requires writing a lot by hand such as teaching Japanese, I feel that necessity and practice would naturally lend to better writing ability. In other words, if you don’t need it, it’s extremely difficult to keep up your memory of how to write Kanji by hand.

However, that is not to say you should never bother practicing writing in general. For beginners, it’s highly recommended to practice writing in general (especially kana!) in order to help develop muscle memory for stroke order as well as getting a sense of proper character balance.

Conclusion – Learn words with Kanji!

I hate the phrase “learn Kanji” because almost every time someone says that, they don’t realize that they haven’t really learned anything that’s directly applicable to Japanese. Compare “learning Kanji” to learning a word. In order to learn a word, you obviously need to learn the definition, reading, Kanji, and any Okurigana if applicable. There is no question of what you learned and whether it’s useful for Japanese. And yet the idea of learning 2,000 Kanji is so attractive that we can’t seem to get away from that broadly undefined notion.

I don’t consider a Kanji as being learned until I know the most common words using that Kanji with the correct readings and can write those words randomly months after I initially memorized it. Unfortunately, given that standard, I probably know about 100-200 Kanji but hey, we all need goals, right?

Whatever cool method to “memorize Kanji” someone tries to peddle you, at the end of the day, you still have to do lots of reading and memorizing tons of vocabulary. This involves daily struggles starting with remembering that 「き」 in 「好き」 is okurigana and continuing with which Kanji to use for 真剣 vs 試験 vs 検査 vs 険しい, or constantly forgetting which kanji is for net vs rope (網/綱). You may be thinking, “Wow, 2,000 is a lot!” But don’t worry, it pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of words that an adult has memorized in her lifetime. And believe it or not, having a fixed set of characters with mnemonics and compounds actually helps with the much bigger job of learning vocabulary. Once you’ve learned a new word in seconds based on characters you already know, you’ll know what I mean. Trust me.

Addendum: Learning the radicals

Many of the simpler and common characters such as 口 are also radicals that are used as parts of more complicated characters. Obviously you want to learn those as words by themselves. However, there are some radicals that are not characters on their own, for example, 儿 or 辶.

Memorizing them if it helps is fine, especially those that are conceptually easy to visualize such as 儿 for “legs”. In particular, you should learn to recognize when they are derivatives of actual Kanji such as 亻 from 人 and 忄 from 心. A common example is to remember the person radical 亻 next to a temple 寺 as meaning “samurai” (侍). Learning the radical meaning will really help differentiate from other similar Kanji with different radicals eg 「時持詩待特」.

However, I personally can never remember some of the more abstract ones such as 攵 so while useful, I wouldn’t go full speed and memorize every single radical in existence. Again, learning in context and with actual words is your best bet.

大(おお・きい)

Definition: big
Kun-yomi: おお・きい、おお・き(な)
On-yomi: ダイ、タイ

Overview

As you can see by this image of the Pope, 「大」 is yet another one of those simple Kanji that is easy to memorize AND visualize.

The only tricky part is figuring out which reading to use in Kanji compounds. There is no rhythm nor reason for why 「大学」 is read as 「だい」 vs 「大使館」 as 「たい」 except perhaps those readings roll easier on the tongue. If you’re new to Kanji, you’ll see this is often the case for common characters with multiple readings.

As for 「大きな」, this is one of those funny adjectives that you can’t conjugate and only use as is. Stick with the i-adjective 「大きい」 for conjugations eg 「大きくない」 NOT 「大きじゃない」.

Examples

Example 1

  1. たくさん – a lot
  2. 食べる【た・べる】(u-verb) – to eat
  3. 大きい【おお・きい】(i-adj) – big
  4. なる (u-verb) – to become
  1. たくさん食べないと大きくなれないよ!
    たくさんべないとおおきくなれないよ!

    If (you) don’t eat a lot, (you) can’t become big, you know!

Next Suggestions

  1. 小(ちいさ・い)
  2. 太(ふと・い)
  3. 犬(いぬ)
  4. 多(おお・い)

怖(こわ・い)

Definition: scary
Kun-yomi: こわ・い、こわ・がる
On-yomi: フ

Overview

これ、怖いの?

This is one of those rare instances where the Kanji components fit with the definition perfectly. The Kanji for 「怖」 is made up of the 「心」 (heart) radical and 「布」 (cloth). It fits the stereotypical ghost with white cloth trying to trigger a heart attack with the good ol’ “BOO” routine. You can skip to the next suggestions if you want to learn about these characters first.

Examples

Example 1

  1. ハロウィン (n) – Halloween
  2. 仮装 【か・そう】(n) – costume
  3. 怖い 【こ・わい】(i-adj) – scary
  4. セクシー (na-adj) – sexy
  5. コスチューム (n) – costume
  6. 多い 【おお・い】 (i-adj) – many
  7. 気がする 【き・がする】 (exp) – to have a feeling
  1. ハロウィン仮装は、怖いのより、セクシーなコスチュームが多い気がする。
    ハロウィンかそうは、こわのより、セクシーなコスチュームがおおがする。

    As for Halloween costumes, feels like (there’s) more sexy costumes rather than scary ones.

Next Suggestions

  1. 心(こころ)
  2. 布(ぬの)
  3. 恐(きょう・ふ)
  4. 化 (へん・)

口(くち)

Definition: mouth
Kun-yomi: くち
On-yomi: コウ

Overview

You might be asking why is mouth a square, not a circle? Honestly, I have no frickin’ clue. Oddly enough, circle is a shape that is not used in Kanji (○ is a symbol, not Kanji). Even the Kanji for “circle” (丸) is not round in the slightest! Maybe something to do with how brush strokes work, I dunno.

Anyway, it is what it is, a square to symbolize a big, open mouth. Take EXTRA care to learn the stroke order because this is also a very important radical that will be used in quite a few other characters.

Also, this is visually identical to the Katakana: ロ but totally different OBVIOUSLY. (Rolls eyes)

Examples

Example 1

  1. 人 【ひと】 – person
  2. 口 【くち】 – mouth
  3. 丸い 【まる・い】(i-adj) – round
  4. 漢字 【かん・じ】(n) – Kanji
  5. なぜ – why (formal)
  6. なぜか – for some reason (formal)
  7. 四角 【し・かく】 (n) – square
  8. なる (u-verb) – to become
  1. 人のは丸いのに、の漢字は、なぜか角になっている。
    ひとくちまるいのに、くちかんじは、なぜかしかくになっている。

    Despite people’s mouths being round, (the) Kanji for “mouth” is square for some reason.

Example 2

  1. 日本人 【に・ほん・じん】(n) – Japanese person(s)
  2. 女性 【じょ・せい】 (n) – woman; female
  3. なんで – why
  4. 笑う 【わら・う】 (u-verb) – to laugh
  5. 時 【とき】 – when
  6. 口元 【くち・もと】 (n) – mouth, area around mouth
  7. 手 【て】 (n) – hand
  8. 隠す 【かく・す】 (u-verb) – to hide
  9. 多分 【た・ぶん】 – probably; maybe
  10. 歯 【は】(n) – tooth, teeth
  11. やばい (i-adj) – dangerous, risky; slang for bad or great things
  12. こと (n) – matter; event
  13. なる (u-verb) – to become
  14. 失礼 【しつ・れい】 (n) – discourtesy, rudeness
  15. そんな – that sort of; that extent
  16. 関係 【かん・けい】(n) – relation
  17. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  18. きっと (adv) – for sure
  19. 文化 【ぶん・か】(n) – culture
  20. 違い 【ちが・い】(n) – difference
  21. もう (adv) – already
  22. 分かる 【わ・かる】 (u-verb) – to understand; to know
  23. 俺 【おれ】 – me, myself (masculine, casual)
  24. 聞く 【き・く】 (u-verb) – to ask; to listen

Cover face

A: ねえ、日本人女性は、なんで笑う時に口元を手で隠すの?
A: ねえ、にほんじん じょせいは、なんでわらときくちもとかくすの?

A: Hey, why do Japanese women hide (their) mouth with (their) hand when (they) laugh?

B: 多分、歯がやばいことになっているからでしょう?
B: たぶんがやばいことになっているからでしょう?

B: Probably because (their) teeth are in serious trouble.

A: 失礼ね!そんなのと関係ないよ!きっと文化の違いよ。
A: しつれいね!そんなのとかんけいないよ!きっとぶんかちがいよ。

A: That’s rude! That has nothing to do with it! I’m sure (it’s a) cultural difference

B: もうわかってんなら、俺に聞くなよ。
B: もうわかってんなら、おれくなよ。

B: If (you) know already then don’t ask me.

Example 3

  1. 私 【わたし】 – me; myself; I
  2. 日本 【に・ほん】(n) – Japan
  3. 行く 【い・く】(u-verb) – to go
  4. 時 【とき】 – when
  5. 外国 【がい・こく】(n) – foreign country
  6. 外国人 【がい・こく・じん】(n) – foreigner
  7. 登録 【とう・ろく】(n) – registration
  8. 証明書 【しょう・めい・しょ】(n) – certificate, document of proof
  9. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  10. 口座 【こう・ざ】(n) – account
  11. 開く 【ひら・く】(u-verb) – to open
  12. そう – (things are) that way
  13. でも – but
  14. それ – that
  15. 届く 【とど・く】(u-verb) – to arrive
  16. ~まで – until
  17. 三ヶ月 【さん・か・げつ】(counter) – span of 3 months
  18. かかる (u-verb) – to take (time/money)
  19. 本当 【ほん・とう】 – real
  20. 大変 【たい・へん】 – hardship; rough time; tough
  21. 今 【いま】 – now
  22. どう – how
  23. 話 【はなし】 – story
  24. 聞く 【き・く】(u-verb) – to listen

Even though Alien registration card is no longer a thing in Japan, the individual words are still very worthwhile to learn.

A: 私が日本に行った時は、外国人登録証明書がないと銀行の口座が開けなかったな。
A: わたしにほんったときは、がいこくじん とうろく しょうめいしょがないとぎんこうこうざひらけなかったな。

A: When I went to Japan, (I) couldn’t open (a) bank account without alien registration card.

B: へえ、そうなんですか?
B: へえ、そうなんですか?

B: Huh, is that so?

A: でも、それが届くまでヶ月かかって、給料振り込みができなくて、本当に大変だった!今はどうなんだろう?
A: でも、それがとどくまでさんかげつかかって、きゅうりょう みができなくて、ほんとうたいへんだった!いまはどうなんだろう?

A: But that took months to arrive and couldn’t get payroll direct deposit and (it) was really rough! How is it now (I wonder)?

B: へえ、そうなんですか?
B: へえ、そうなんですか?

B: Huh, is that so?

A: 話、聞いてないし・・・。
A: はなしいてないし・・・。

A: (You’re) not listening to my story…

Next Suggestions

  1. 儿(じんぶ)
  2. 八(はち)
  3. 四(よん)
  4. 中(なか)
  5. 兄(あに)

四(よん)

Definition: four
Kun-yomi: よん、よっ・つ
On-yomi: シ

Overview

Well, the easy ride is over but it was great while it lasted, wasn’t it? 「一二三」, let’s see, that’s 3 out of about 2,000+ characters so… progress?

Why Japanese People??
漢字いけるかもしれない?

There’s several explanations on how 「四」 came to be and most of them involve the fact that it comes from a combination of: 口+八. However, the inside part more clearly resembles the 「儿」 leg radical (note: this radical is not a kanji by itself). If these Kanji are new to you and you prefer to learn in radical order, you may want to skip to the next suggestions.

One suggested memonic was an image of an open mouth to signify that your breath is impossible to count (one, two, three, many). This one must go back to the caveman days where four was considered a bigly number? In any case, this Kanji is still common and simple enough you could probably memorize it by brute repetition anyway. Hmph!

Examples

Example 1

  1. 四 【よん】 – four
  2. 漢字 【かん・じ】(n) – Kanji
  3. どうして – why
  4. こう – like this
  5. なる (u-verb) – to become
  1. の漢字はどうしてこうなったのよ!
    よんかんじはどうしてこうなったのよ!

    Why did the Kanji for 四 become this way?!

Example 2

よつばと!
  1. 四つ 【よっ・つ】 (counter) – 4 things
  2. 四つ葉 【よ・つ・ば】 – 4-leaf
  3. クローバー (n) – clover
  4. 見つける 【み・つける】(ru-verb) – to find
  5. 幸せ 【しあわ・せ】(n) – happiness
  6. なる (u-verb) – to become
  7. 私 【わたし】(n) – me; myself; I
  8. 言う 【い・う】(u-verb) – to say
  9. いや – no (casual)
  10. 別 【べつ】(n) – separate
  11. 別に 【べつ・に】(adv) – separately; not really, not particularly (when used with negative)
  12. 今 【いま】(n) – now
  13. 十分 【じゅう・ぶん】(na-adj) – plenty, adequate
A: 四つ葉のクローバーを見つけたら幸せになれるんっだって。
A: のクローバーをつけたらしあわせになれるんっだって。

A: (They) say if (you) find a four-leaf clover, (you) can become happy.

B: じゃ、私は幸せじゃないって言っているの?
B: じゃ、わたししあわせじゃないってっているの?

B: Then, are (you) saying I’m not happy?

A: いや、別に・・・
A: いや、べつに・・・

A: No, not particularly…

B: 私は今でも十分幸せだよ!
B: わたしいまでもじゅうぶん しあわせだよ!

B: I’m plenty happy even now, you know!

A: あのう、大丈夫?
A: あのう、だいじょうぶ

A: Um, (are you) ok?

Example 3

  1. 四つん這い 【よ・つん・ば・い】 – crawling on all fours, on one’s hands and knees
  2. なる (u-verb) – to become
  3. 何 【なに/なん】 – what
  4. する (exception) – to do
  5. コンタクト (n) – contact (lens)
  6. 落とす 【お・とす】(u-verb) – to drop
  7. 大変 【たい・へん】 – hardship; rough time; tough
  8. また – again (casual expression for see you again)
  9. ちょっと – a little
  10. 手伝う 【て・つだ・う】(u-verb) – to help, to assist
A: 四つん這いになって、何しているの?
A: いになって、なにしているの?

A: What are (you) doing crawling on all fours?

B: コンタクトを落としちゃったんだ。
B: コンタクトをとしちゃったんだ。

B: (It’s that) I dropped (my) contact lens.

A: 大変だね。じゃ、またね!
A: たいへんだね。じゃ、またね!

A: (That’s) rough. Well, see you later!

B: ちょっと手伝ってよ!
B: ちょっとてつだってよ!

B: Hey, help (me) a little!

Next Suggestions

  1. 儿(じんぶ)
  2. 三(さん)
  3. 五(ご)
  4. 口(くち)
  5. 八(はち)

人(ひと)

Definition: person
Kun-yomi: ひと
On-yomi: ニン、ジン

Overview

This one is pretty easy and given my (lack) of drawing ability, this is what my pathetic attempts to draw a person typically look like. My drawing ability is so bad, xkcd practically looks like Monet in comparison.

xkcd

However, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security as the tricky part is remembering whether to read it as 「じん」 eg 「日本人、未亡人」 or 「にん」 eg 「職人」. Not to mention some of those tricky words with readings completely divorced from the actual characters: 「大人、一人、二人、仲人、若人、玄人」 etc. Don’t worry about them if you’re still relatively new to Kanji for now.

Examples

Example 1

  1. 人 【ひと】(n) – person, people
  2. 大きい 【おお・きい】(i-adj) – big
  3. なる (u-verb) – to become
  4. 大人 【おとな】(n) – adult
  5. 多分 【た・ぶん】 – probably; maybe
  1. は大きくなると、大人になる。多分。
    ひとおおきくなると、おとなになる。たぶん

    When people become big, (they) become adults. Maybe.

Example 2

  1. 人 【ひと】(n) – person, people
  2. あり得ない 【あり・え・ない】 – cannot exist; exp. for something that one cannot believe
  3. 思う 【おも・う】 (u-verb) – to think
  4. 何 【なに/なん】 – what
  5. それ – that
  6. そんな – that kind of, such
  7. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) – to know
  8. 人前 【ひと・まえ】 (n) – public, in front of people
  9. イチャつく (u-verb) – to flirt
  10. 略 【りゃく】 (n) – abbreviation
  11. ええと – umm
  12. はしたない (i-adj) – improper, shameful
  13. 分かる 【わ・かる】 (u-verb) – to understand; to know
  14. 違う 【ちが・う】 (u-verb) – to be different

A: PDAってとしてあり得ないと思わない?
A: PDAってひととしてありないとおもわない?

A: Don’t (you) think PDA is inconceivable as a person?

B: 何それ?
B: なにそれ?

B: What is that?

A: そんなのも知らないの?人前でイチャつくことだよ。
A: そんなのもらないの?ひとまえでイチャつくことだよ。

A: (You) don’t even know that kind of thing? (It’s) getting all frisky in front of people.

B: へ〜、何の略?
B: へ〜、なんりゃく

B: Huh, what’s (it) stand for?

A: ええと、ええと、「パブリック・デート・ああ、はしたない」だったっけ?
A: Umm, umm, was it “Public Date Ah, so shameful”?

B: よくわかんないけど、それ、絶対違う!
B: よくわかんないけど、それ、ぜったい ちがう!

B: (I) don’t know all that well but (that’s) definitely not it!

Example 3

  1. 日本人 【に・ほん・じん】(n) – Japanese person(s)
  2. ちょっと – a little (casual)
  3. 待つ 【ま・つ】 (u-verb) – to wait
  4. まさか – by no means; something unexpected
  5. 人種 【じん・しゅ】 (n) – race (of people)​
  6. 差別 【さ・べつ】 (n) – discrimination
  7. 人種差別 【じん・しゅ・さ・べつ】 (n) – racism
  8. 発言 【はつ・げん】 (n) – statement, remark
  9. する (exception) – to do
  10. 心外 【しん・がい】 (na-adj) – unthinkable; regrettable
  11. 俺 【おれ】 – me; myself (masculine and casual)
  12. どんな – what kind of
  13. 人 【ひと】(n) – person, people
  14. 一応 【いち・おう】 – for the time being; just in case
  15. 聞く 【き・く】(u-verb) – to ask; to listen
  16. それで – and then
  17. どうして – why
  18. 損 【そん】 (n) – loss
  19. 損する 【そん・する】 – to lose out; waste effort
A: 日本人は、さ・・・
A: にほんじんは、さ・・・

A: Hey, about Japanese people…

B: ちょっと待って。まさか、人種差別の発言をしようとしてるんじゃないでしょうね?
B: ちょっとって。まさか、じんしゅ さべつはつげんをしようとしてるんじゃないでしょうね?

B: Wait a sec. (You’re) not by any means about to say something racist, right?

A: 心外だ!俺は、どんなだと思っているの?
A: しんがいだ!おれは、どんなひとおもっているの?

A: How could you think that! What kind of person do (you) think I am?

B: う~ん、じゃ、一応聞いておこう。それで?
B: う~ん、じゃ、いちおう いておこう。それで?

B: Ummm, then, let’s hear (it) for now. So then?

A: 日本人は、どうして日本人なんだろう?
A: にほんじんは、どうしてにほんじんなんだろう?

A: (I) wonder why are Japanese people Japanese?

B: 聞いて損した。
B: いてそんした。

B: (I) listened/asked and lost out.

Next Suggestions

  1. 大(おお・きい)
  2. 口(くち)
  3. 木(き)

三(さん)

Definition: three
Kun-yomi: みっ・つ
On-yomi: サン

Overview

This Kanji thing is a cinch! At this rate, we’ll learn everything in no time, right guys?

wink wink

Examples

Example 1

  1. 三 【さん】 – three
  2. 漢字 【かん・じ】(n) – Kanji
  3. 全然 【ぜん・ぜん】 (adv) – not at all (when used with negative)
  4. 難しい 【むずか・しい】 (i-adj) – difficult
  1. の漢字も全然難しくない!
    さんかんじぜんぜん むずかしくない!

    (The) Kanji for “three” is also not hard at all!

Example 2

In this next example, 「姦しい」 is not very commonly used (better to memorize 「やかましい」 or 「騒がしい」). However, the proverb is interesting in terms of the actual Kanji, I just had to include it here.

  1. 女 【おんな】(n) – woman
  2. 三人 【さん・にん】(counter) – 3 people
  3. 寄る 【よ・る】(u-verb) – to approach; to gather
  4. 姦しい 【かしま・しい】(i-adj) – noisy
  5. 死ぬ 【し・ぬ】(u-verb) – to die
  6. ことわざ – proverb
  7. 勉強 【べん・きょう】(n) – study
  8. する (exception) – to do
A: 女三人寄れば姦しい。
A: おんな さんにん ればかしましい。

A: If 3 women gather, (it) gets noisy.

B: 死にたいのかしら?
B: にたいのかしら?

B: Do (you) want to die?

A: ことわざを勉強してるだけだよ!
A: ことわざをべんきょうしてるだけだよ!

A: (I’m) just studying proverbs!

Example 3

  1. 三角 【さん・かく】(n) – triangle
  2. 関係 【かん・けい】(n) – relationship
  3. いい (i-adj) – good
  4. うん – yes (casual)
  5. 多分 【た・ぶん】 – probably; maybe
  6. 今 【いま】 – now
  7. 想像 【そう・ぞう】(n) – imagination
  8. する (exception) – to do
  9. 全然 【ぜん・ぜん】(adv) – not at all (when used with negative)
  10. 違う 【ちが・う】(u-verb) – to be different
  11. かわいい (i-adj) – cute
  12. 女の子 【おんな・の・こ】 – girl
  13. 囲む 【かこ・む】(u-verb) – to surround, to enclose
  14. やっぱり – as expected (casual)
  15. 夢 【ゆめ】(n) – dream
  16. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
A: 三角関係って、なんかいいですよね。
A: さんかく かんけいって、なんかいいですよね。

A: Something about love-triangle, isn’t (it) nice?

B: うん、多分、今想像してるのは、全然違うから。
B: うん、たぶんいま そうぞうしてるのは、ぜんぜん ちがうから。

B: Yeah, (what you’re) probably imagining right now is totally wrong so…

A: かわいい女の子二人に囲まれてですね。
A: かわいいおんな ふたりかこまれてですね。

A: (You’re) surrounded by two cute girls and then, right?

A: やっぱり。まっ、夢があっていいんじゃない?
A: やっぱり。まっ、ゆめがあっていいんじゃない?

B: I knew it. Well, (I guess it’s) good to have dreams.

Next Suggestions

  1. 二(に)
  2. 四(よん)
  3. 口(くち)
  4. 八(はち)

的: A very useful ally

Originally Published: 2005/2/6

While the word 「てき」 usually means “enemy”, that’s not the word we’re talking about today. The word I’m going to talk about uses a completely different Kanji from 「敵」 meaning “enemy” and is in fact a very useful and helpful ally.

If you’ve studied Japanese for a while, you’re bound to have encountered the 「的」 kanji. While this kanji by itself is read as 「まと」 and means a “target”, its usefulness really shines as a noun suffix. This kanji can be attached to countless nouns to easily change them to a na-adjective. In this case, you read the kanji as 「てき」 and you’ll see it all over the place: 一般的、圧倒的、感動的、習慣的、技術的、基本的、and on and on.

Let’s take the word 「感動」 meaning “deep emotion” and say we want to say the following sentence.

That movie was very moving.

Unfortunately, since 「感動」 is a noun, we can’t just say, 「あの映画はとても感動」 because the movie is not a deep emotion. So you’re going to have to say something complicated like the following:

あの映画を見て、感動した。
I saw that movie and I was moved.

But wait! We can just use 「的」 to make 「感動」 into an adjective!

あの映画は感動的だった。
That movie was very moving.

あれは感動的な映画だった。
That was a very moving movie.

What could be argued as even more useful is if you use the 「に」 target particle with 「的」, you can make the noun into an adverb! (Actually, this applies to all na-adjectives)

それは技術的無理です。
That’s technically impossible.

朝ご飯は習慣的毎朝食べます。
I customarily eat breakfast every morning.

In fact, without 「的」 there are just so many things that can’t be expressed. I would definitely put this kanji on my top 100 list.

アメリカでは、車で通勤するのが一般的だ。
In America, people generally commute by car.

客観的な視点から考えたほうがいい。
It’s better to think of it from a objective viewpoint.

二(に)

Definition: two
Kun-yomi: ふた・つ
On-yomi: ニ

Overview

Just two horizontal lines to mean “two”. Awesome, Kanji is so logical. You got this!

This Kanji also happens to look exactly like the Katakana 「ニ」, which is also how it’s read! I don’t know if that’s helpful or confusing.

If we’re talking about 「に」, how could I forget the Knights who say Ni! I assume not the same word but at least it sounds the same!

Examples

Example 1

  1. 二 【に】 – two
  2. 漢字 【かん・じ】(n) – Kanji
  3. 簡単 【かん・たん】 (na-adj) – easy
  1. の漢字も簡単!
    かんじかんたん

    (The) Kanji for “two” is also easy!

Example 2

  1. 一石 【いっ・せき】 (counter) – 1 stone
  2. 二鳥 【に・ちょう】 (counter) – 2 birds
  3. それ – that
  4. 動物 【どう・ぶつ】(n) – animal
  5. 虐待 【ぎゃく・たい】(n) – abuse, cruelty
  6. ことわざ (n) – proverb
A: 二鳥だ。
A: いっせき にちょうだ。

A: One stone, two birds. (Kill two birds with one stone.)

B: それ、動物虐待だよ。
B: それ、どうぶつ ぎゃくたいだよ。

B: That’s animal abuse.

A: ことわざだよ!
A: (It’s) a proverb!

Example 3

  1. 二日酔い 【ふつか・よい】(n) – hangover
  2. 頭 【あたま】(n) – head
  3. ガンガン – pounding (headache); large sound
  4. する (exception) – to do
  5. 二次会 【に・じ・かい】(n) – second party (afterparty)
  6. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) – to go
  7. そう – (things are) that way
  8. なる (u-verb) – to become
  9. ある (u-verb) – to exist (inanimate)
  10. 駄目 【だ・め】 (na-adj) – no good
  11. こりゃ – this is (slang of これは)
A: 二日酔いで頭がガンガンするよ。
A: ふつか あたまがガンガンするよ。

A: (My) head is pounding from (a) hangover.

B: 二次会に行くからそうなるのよ。
B: にじかいくからそうなるのよ。

B: (It) ends up that way because (you) went to the after-party.

B: 二次会、あったっけ?
B: にじかい、あったっけ?

B: Was there (an) after-party?

A: だめだこりゃ
A: This is no good.

In case you’re not familiar with the expression 「だめだこりゃ」, check out the video below.
Sorry, has nothing to do with Kanji!

Next Suggestions

  1. 一(いち)
  2. 三(さん)
  3. 口(くち)

一(いち)

Definition: one
Kun-yomi: ひと・つ
On-yomi: イチ

Overview

What could be easier than this single-stroke Kanji for one! Maybe Kanji isn’t so hard after all?

Examples

Example 1

  1. 一 【いち】 – one
  2. 一番 【いち・ばん】 – #1; the best
  1. は、一番です!
    いちは、いちばんです!

    One is number 1 (the best)!

Oh right, counters. Yay.

Example 2

  1. 私 【わたし】 – me; myself; I
  2. 一歳 【いっ・さい】 – 1 year old (age)
  3. なんで – why
  4. 話す 【はな・す】 – to talk
A: 私は、一歳です。
A: わたしは、いっさいです。

A: (I’m) one year old.

B: じゃ、なんで話せるの?
B: じゃ、なんではなせるの?

B: Then, how come (you) can talk?

Example 3

  1. この – this
  2. かわいい (i-adj) – cute
  3. 人形 【にん・ぎょう】 – doll
  4. 一つ 【ひと・つ】 (counter) – one thing
  5. あの – that (over there)
  6. 不気味 【ぶ・き・み】(na-adj) – ominous; eerie

Chucky

A: このかわいい人形を一つください。
A: このかわいいにんぎょうひとください。

A: Please give (me) one (of) this cute doll.

B: あの不気味なチャッキーのようなお人形ですね。かしこまりました。
B: あのぶきみなチャッキーのようなおにんぎょうですね。かしこまりました。

B: That disturbing doll that looks like Chucky then? Certainly.

A: …
A: …

Example 4

  1. 一人 【ひとり】 (counter) – one person
  2. 旅 【たび】(n) – trip
  3. そう – (things are) that way
  4. 自分 【じ・ぶん】 – oneself
  5. 探す 【さが・す】(u-verb) – to look for
  6. 彼女 【かの・じょ】 – she; girlfriend
  7. いる (ru-verb) – to exist (animate)
  8. 違う【ちが・う】(u-verb) – to be different
A: 一人で旅するの?
A: ひとりたびするの?

A: (You’re) traveling alone?

B: そう、自分探しの旅。
B: そう、じぶん さがしのたび

B: That’s right, trip to find myself.

A: 彼女、いないんだ。
A: かのじょ、いないんだ。

A: You don’t have (a) girlfriend, (I see).

B: 違うよ!
B: ちがうよ!

B: That’s not it!

Next Suggestions

  1. 二(に)
  2. 人(ひと)