Declan Software - Japanese

What is Kanji?


1. What is kanji?
2. What are kanji radicals?
3. What are ON pronunciations?
4. What are KUN pronunciations?
5. More about kanji
6. The 214 bushu radicals

1. What is Kanji?

Kanji means Chinese letter or character. The script was invented by the Chinese and adopted by the Japanese around the middle of the 6th century AD. Kanji are ideographs meaning that the whole character conveys a meaning rather than just a sound (as in the case of hiragana and katakana letters).  Kanji were originally drawn as pictures from nature but gradually transformed to more generalized representations. By the end of year nine Japanese students will have learned 1945 kanji as prescribed by the Japanese Ministry of Education (the Jouyou Kanji). There are many many more less commonly used kanji totaling over 5000. ReadWrite Kanji teaches the 1945 prescribed kanji in the order in which that are taught to Japanese students. More on kanji can be found at the bottom of the page.

Kanji can be written in various styles.
There is the character for "good" written in a number of styles.


Learn about the Japanese phonetic hiragana script here.

Learn about the Japanese phonetic katakana script here.


2. What are Kanji Radicals?

All kanji contain a classifying radical that is a component of the kanji. Often the radical imparts meaning to the kanji - for example the radical for hand appears in both of the kanji that combine to form the word "grasp" (把持) and the individual kanji for "throw" (). Recognizing a kanji's radical often helps in memorising or deciphering the meaning of the kanji.

Most kanji dictionaries classify kanji according to their radicals. Therefore recognising the radial of an unknown kanji helps with looking it up in a dictionary.

 Japanese kanji has 214 different radicals (the Bushu index).

Radicals can appear almost anywhere in a kanji - at the top, on the left, on the right, at the bottom and surrounding (enclosing).

 This is the for "harbour" with the radical for water highlighted in red.
Here is the character for "country" with the radical for "outh, opening, sounding highlighted in red.
Here is the character for "big" - it is classified as a radical itself.

 See below for the complete list of the 214 busho radicals.


3. What are ON Pronunciations?

In Japanese there is generally more than one pronunciation of a kanji. The ON pronunciation (onyomi) is taken from the Chinese pronunciation and the KUN pronunciation (kunyomi) which is derived from the indigenous Japanese pronunciation of the same word/meaning.

Most kanji compounds (words made up of two or more kanji) are built up from the the individual kanji onyomi. For example:

  自動車 The onyomi: zi-dou-sha combine to mean car or automobile

- zi meaning self
- dou meaning move
- sha meaning vehicle or cart


4. What are KUN Pronunciations?

In Japanese there is generally more than one pronunciation of a kanji. The ON pronunciation (onyomi) is taken from the Chinese pronunciation and the KUN pronunciation (kunyomi) which is derived from the indigenous Japanese pronunciation of the same word/meaning. When the kunyomi pronunciation is used the kanji usually stands alone and is not part of a compound. For example:

- hito meaning person
- tori meaning bird
- yumi meaning dream

5. More about Kanji?

Kanji are characters that were developed as part of the writing system used among the Asian countries, especially China. It is generally said that those people using Kanji are the largest race on earth. It is not certain when and where Kanji first appeared. However, the oldest pattern like characters resembling some sort of symbols were carved on fragments of earthenware and have been excavated from the ruins of ancient China (4500 BC). The symbols on these ruins, classified into 22 patterns, have still not been deciphered, but it is widely believed that these symbols were a form of notification, that is, a prototype of a character.

In the time of the Chinese ancient state of IN, which rose in approximately 1600 BC, the king or ruler used the custom of fortune telling to make political predictions by burning tortoise shells or animal bones and observing the cracks that formed in the shells or bones. Then, in order to record the results of the fortune telling, a character called, KOUKOTUMOJI ("inscription on bones and tortoise carapaces"), was inscribed on the shells and bones. This is the prototype of the present Kanji character. Thus, was created, the manner in which the precious data in assuming the politics and social state of the Chinese ancient state of IN was recorded and kept.

Later, in 1300 BC, when the ancient Chinese state of IN reached its golden period, known as the Bronze Age, KINBUN ("a gold letter"), having a softer impression than the character, KOUKOTUMOJI, appeared. KOUKOTUMOJI was initially created as pictograph, that is, as an ideogram. Yet, in the later period, the expression for more abstract phenomenon was systemized.

It is interesting to note that our present-day phonetic alphabet has its origins in the ideography of ancient Mesopotamia (an ancient country in West Asia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; now part of Iraq)--known as another birthplace of civilization. The ancient Mesopotamians made adaptations to their ideographic notations in order to transcribe into a written form the spoken languages of neighboring nations and races. During the process of this transcription, it is believed that the ideogram was converted to phonetic symbols. In addition, it has been suggested that the KOUKOTUMOJI character, which was initially in the form of an ideogram, was actually derived from the Sumerian cuneiform drawings. This is an interesting theory, because it is believed that the concept of writing existed in the Middle East's fertile crescent (present day Southern Iraq) long before China started its own method of writing. History records that that the Sumerian civilization mysteriously vanished. However, it is possible that the Sumerians ended up in China because recent objects resembling Sumerian objects have been found in Northern China.

After centuries of individually ruled kingdoms, China was unified into a single territory with the start of the SHIN dynasty in 221 BC. The first emperor of China, referred to as SHIKOUTEI, appeared and united all of China for the first time. The emperor aimed to create a standard of weights and measurements (units such as length and capacity), as well as, unify a written character for the reign. The style of writing enacted during this reign is called SYOUTEN and was carried out long after as a formal character in China. This style of writing was primarily used to inscribe nationwide important archives on a stone, as well as, for political documents. It would thus, be reasonable to think that this writing style is a principal vestige for today's seal engraving.

However, the formal character was not easy to hand down from generation to generation as Kanji had a complicated typeface. It was thus destined for the character to develop into a character that could be written faster and memorized easier. Gradually, SYOUTEN turned into a form that was more straight-lined and easier to write, called REISYO. Around the second century, the writing style evolved further into KAISYO. The writing materials of the REISYO period were changed from stone to thin bars of bamboo or wood called CHIKKAN or MOKKAN. Then, when paper was finally invented, a style was developed that could supply the demand for much more and faster writing.

Thus, through this history, Kanji was developed as a form of artwork because the writing could bear the penmanship of many clerics. Soon, the period of wood engraving printings, such as those found in the Buddhist scripture came to being. A period of mud printing type also emerged and the writing style became even simpler and more linear. In the eleventh century, known as SOU era, a writing style called MINCCYOUTAI originated. Later this writing style was regulated in the MIN era. This fixed form is almost the same as the present style. To accommodate an easier writing style in China today, a mainstream for common documents was developed in the simple style script known as KANTAIJI. However, in the case of Kanji, the writing style from the ancient or modern times has not disappeared at all and it can be said that it is still alive in the world of art.


6. The Bushu Classification of the Radicals?

Radical Meaning   Bushu Index Radical Meaning
1 one; a horizontal stroke 108 plate
2 a vertical stroke 109 eye
3 a dot 110 spear
4 丿 a stroke curved to the left 111 arrow
5 a bend stroke; the second of celestial stems   112 stone, rock
6 a hook 113 示礻 spiritual, ancestor
7 two; two horizontal strokes 114 animal stamping the earth
8 head, above 115 grain ear
9 人亻 man, a person 116 hollow, hole, hidden
10 man, a person (at the bottom of a character)   117 stand, erect
11 entering, starting 118 bamboo
12 eight; to part, to divide 119 rice
13 wilderness 120 糸糹 thread, fabric
14 cover 121 crock, vessel
15 two dots; ice, cold 122 网罒 net
16 small table 123 sheep, goat
17 wide opened mouth 124 wings
18 刀刂 knife, sword, cutting, separating 125 old
19 strength, force 126 moustache; but, and
20 embracing 127 handle of a plough
21 spoon, ladle 128 ear
22 square box 129 聿肀 brush
23 round box 130 meat, organs of the body
24 ten; two crossed strokes 131 servant, subject
25 divining 132 nose, self
26 seal, stamp 133 arrive
27 cliff 134 mortar
28 self, private 135 tongue
29 grasping, further, again 136 lying side by side
30 mouth, opening, sounding 137 boat, ship
31 enclosure 138 simple, honest, straight
32 earth, soil 139 color, outlook
33 official, scholar 140 艸艹 grass, herb, plant
34 walking slowly 141 tiger
35 overtaking 142 insect, creeping animal
36 evening 143 blood
37 big, large 144 walk, row, line, journey
38 woman 145 衣衤 clothing
39 子孑 child, son; the first of terrestrial branches   146 西覀 cover
40 roof, cover 147 seeing
41 inch 148 horn; a kind of volume measure
42 small 149 speaking
43 尢尣 broken or curved leg 150 valley
44 corpse, body 151 bean; a kind of vessel
45 sprout 152 pig
46 mountain, cliff 153 small hairy animals
47 巛巜川 river, stream 154 cowry snail
48 work 155 red
49 self, own; the sixth of celestial stems 156 walking
50 towel, napkin 157 foot, leg, walking
51 shield 158 body
52 幺乡 small, young 159 cart
53 广 house built at a slope 160 bitter; the eighth of celectial stems
54 walking a long distance 161 morning; the fifth of terrestrial branches
55 廿 two hands (at bottom of character) 162 辵辶 stamping on the earth, going
56 shooting 163 邑⻏ village
57 crossbow 164 wine, jar; the tenth of terrestrial branches
58 彐彑 pig head 165 distiguishing, separating
59 hair, feather 166 mile, hamlet
60 walking slowly 167 metal, gold
61 心忄 heart, feeling 168 long, hair
62 axe, halberd 169 door
63 戶户 house, door 170 阜阝 hill, dam
64 手扌 hand, actions 171 reaching, catching
65 branch 172 small bird
66 攴攵 whip 173 rain
67 word, literature 174 bluegreen
68 a kind of volume measure 175 wings; not
69 a kind of weight measure; axe 176 face
70 square, direction, locality 177 skin, leather, changing
71 无旡 do not, no 178 tanned leather
72 sun, clear 179 chives, scallion
73 speaking 180 sound
74 moon, month 181 page, face
75 tree, wood 182 wind
76 missing, gap 183 flying
77 stopping 184 食飠 eating
78 歹歺 evil 185 head
79 halberd 186 odor, perfume
80 毋母 mother 187 horse
81 side by side, comparing 188 bone
82 hair, feather 189 high, aloft
83 clan 190 hair
84 air, breath 191 battle
85 水氵 water 192 offering spirits
86 火灬 fire 193 a kind of vessel
87 爪爫 claw, hand 194 ghost, spirit
88 father 195 fish
89 crossing two times 196 bird
90 bed 197 salt
91 slice, piece 198 鹿 deer
92 teeth 199 grain
93 牛牜 cow, ox 200 hemp
94 犬犭 dog, dog-like animals 201 yellow
95 black, dark 202 millet
96 玉王 jade, stone 203 black
97 pumpkin, melon 204 needlework
98 tile, earthenware 205 frog, amphibium
99 sweet 206 tripod
100 giving birth, living 207 drum
101 using 208 mouse, rat
102 田由 field 209 nose, self
103 roll, bolt 210 equal, all
104 sick 211 teeth
105 two hands above 212 dragon
106 white 213 turtle
107 leather, skin 214 flute


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