Should you learn Kanji? How to get started, and why!

October 10, 2019 Tengy

Do I Really Need To Learn Kanji?

After visiting Japan multiple times MY answer is a HARD YES! But only a little bit is needed.


  • Find And Operate the Toilet When Needed.
  • Find The Exit And Entrance.
  • Recognize When Shops Are Open Or Closed.
  • Know What Your Ordering...
  • Men's Room Or Women's... OOPS!?
  • And Many More!

I’ll never forget one particular moment during my first trip to Japan…

After excitingly waking up early to soak in an onsen to watch the sunrise. I ended up outside in my robe confused on which entrance was the mens (男性) or women’s (女性)… Thanks to now knowing two simple Kanji.

It was a 50 / 50 chance to enter into a room I could safely continue to bath. Or end up in a room full of women preparing to bath and possibly getting arrested? At this point my excitement was instantly replaced with FEAR and ANXIETY.

Don’t let this happen to you! 

How Much Kanji Do I Need To Learn?

NOT MUCH! After many visits to Japan. I have compiled a helpful list of common Kanji everyone traveling to Japan should learn. Mastering kanji does take years. Yet learning the essential Kanji to travel confidently in Japan doesn’t take much! You may find learning a few examples will intrigue you to keep learning, as its really quite fun!

in my opinion...






open business


closed business











banned, forbidden


How To Read Kanji

Imagine you are Indiana Jones just stepping foot into Japan. Discovering thousands of ancient symbols that share the secrets behind the Japanese culture!

This may sound exaggerated, but this is essentially what we are doing when reading Kanji. Unlike the English language that combines a series of letters to spell out W-O-R-D-S. Kanji uses symbols to represent meanings.

See example below on how combining symbols works.



緑 + 茶

green tea


Each Kanji has a direct meaning. Such as mountain, book, meat, and so on. Here is the tricky yet fun part! Often you will find a character to have multiple meanings! Let’s look at “book” as an example.

本 – Book, Origin, Truth…

This one symbol has multiple translations. When reading Kanji its best to take into account the context of what you are reading. Pretend you are decoding a fun puzzle! Take a look at the following example. Guess what sign means book and which one does not…

  • A – Sign at a book store reading “本”
  • B – Sign below the flag of Japan reading “日本”

Looking at these two examples, I bet you guessed example B does not mean book. In this case 本 actually means “origin.” Being aware of this will help eliminate confusion when reading. So keep this in mind, and incase your wondering…

How can we translate the Kanji for Japan “日本”

(日 – SUN) + (本 – ORIGIN) = 日本 – Land of the Rising Sun. The Japanese word to say Japan is Nihon, these two characters can also be read as (ni 日) + (hon 本). Not only does the Kanji for Japan mean “Land Of The Rising Sun.” It can also be read as “NI-HON.” Directly translating to Japan. This is a whole other subject you can learn more about below. Or to explore this concept even further check out the video I made how to write your name in Kanji. Its quite a fun way to wrap your head around this subject.


Kanji characters can also be read by the sounds they represent. As Kanji came from China, each Kanji may have a Chinese reading (onyomi) and a Japanese reading (kunyomi). To explain all the details of how this works goes far beyond a simple blog post. So take a look at this example to get a general idea…


    •  Onyomi reading (Chinese) – San
    •  Kunyomi (Japanese) – Yama.

Depending how this character is used it could be read as mountain, san, or yama… YIKES!


One final way to read Kanji I wanted to mention is called Furigana. If you read manga you probably have seen this method used quite often. When a Kanji is used you will notice small hiragana or katakana characters placed next to it. This is used to directly show you what word the Kanji actually represents in a more simple Japanese alphabet. This is very helpful, especially when complicated Kanji is used!

How Common Is Kanji In Japan?

You may be asking, is it really worth the time and effort to learn basic Kanji? Again my answer is YES! It doesn’t take long to learn enough to get around Japan. Just reading this blog post will get you on the right path. In modern day Japan Kanji is still used EVERYWHERE!

You will find it on Street signs, menus, store signs, hotels, business cards, television, books, and so on. I highly recommend getting familiar with the basics to avoid any confusion and truly enjoy your experience in Japan. See the comics below to get a fun reference of why learning kanji is probably a good idea…

How To Learn Kanji – Free Video Course Available!

Enough talk about why you should learn Kanji. At this point you may be asking, so how do I get started learning Kanji? To answer this question is simple, click the button below to access the free course I have created to learn the basics of Kanji. Easy as that!

What will you Get?

Video Series

Learn The Basics Of Kanji.

Bonus PDF

Puzzles, Charts, Guides.

Podcast Episode On Kanji

Conversation With a Japanese.

What will you learn?

  • The History of Kanji.
  • How To Read Kanji.
  • Common and Essential Kanji.
  • How To Write Your Name in Kanji.
  • Podcast Discussing Kanji With a Native Japanese.
  • Bonus PDF Workbook with Puzzles.

Want to Learn More Japanese?

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