How I study Kanji

So here I am, five months before the second JLPT test of the year and I’ve realised I can’t read Japanese! I feel like I’m trying to run a marathon, while still learning how to walk. And this is where I’ve started to think, “Why did I ever let my friend persuade me to take N2?!” . The good thing is, I’ve realised this early enough, so hopefully I can remedy the situation.

Now when I say I can’t read Japanese, I am slightly exaggerating of course. As we all know, Japanese has three writing systems: hiragana, katakana and kanji. I’ve mastered hiragana, katakana I have a love-hate relationship with, and as for kanji I know the basics. However N2 requires a lot more than just the basics. So here’s how I’ve decided to go about this:

First, do as the Japanese.

kanji note book


This is what most young Japanese children will use to study kanji. The inside of the notebook is split into squares, which are furthermore split into four sections to give the learner guidelines on how to write. I remember one of my teachers was very severe when it came to my kanji, and would remove points from my test if one of my lines was too long. For example, have you noticed how the top line in the character 仕 is longer than the bottom one? I had never really paid attention, and I missed perfect test scores for such mistakes 😦 Therefore, I believe this type of notebook is great for teaching you how to get the right balance for your characters.

kanji practice

Since I’m the type of learner that learns best by doing and repetition, this is a good way for me to study. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but I find it very helpful. In conjunction I’ve been using an app called Japanese to look up the stroke order of the characters I’m learning.


For me stroke order is important, because of muscle memory. Trust me after writing something over and over again, eventually your hand will naturally remember it. After learning one character, I look at what other words you can find it in. I then make up my own example sentences using both On-yomi and Kun-yomi examples to give me context. Even if I still don’t manage to remember how to write the kanji come exam time, that’s fine because you don’t actually need to know how to write for the JLPT. What’s important, is reading. And I will have seen these characters enough times to at least remember how to read them (hopefully!).

Which brings me to my second focus: read, read read! It makes sense right? To learn how to read, I need to practice. This will allow me to discover new words, therefore enriching my vocabulary, as well as seeing how they’re written. Again, I’m hoping that seeing the same kanji over and over again will eventually help me remember it.

There are several things you can read, such as manga, books, news papers, websites etc. Two example websites that are really useful in my opinion, are NHK News Web Easy and Madame Riri. Both websites talk about current affairs, whether it’s in Japan or around the world. They also have slightly more random and amusing articles (especially Madame Riri).

NHK News Web Easy
NHK News Web Easy

The nice thing about the NHK website is that it has furigana (kana written above kanji to indicate pronunciation). The articles underline words which are important, and if you place the cursor over, it gives you a definition. You can also find videos, where you can listen to natural Japanese. (Remember there’s also a listening part to the exam 😉 )

Madame Riri on the other hand is a bit more of a challenge, as it does not have all the useful learning tools the NHK website has, and that’s because it’s not intended for studying. However, I think, it’s where you can find amusing articles. And we all know, we learn best when having fun right?! (^◇^;)

Madame Riri
Madame Riri

So those are a few of my tips for studying kanji, but if you have any, please do share in the comments below! I would be ever so grateful! 😉

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