Learning Kanji – Simple Strategies and Your First Two Kanji

2009 September 23

Learning Kanji can be a daunting task. There are about 1,000 – 2,000 Kanji that are necessary to learn in order to be able to read newspapers, street signs, and menus in Japanese. With all these Kanji characters, it’s important to know the most effective order for learning them. In this article we’ll explain how to start learning Kanji, and give you the very first beginning Kanji.

First of all when learning Kanji, be ready to learn multiple meanings and usages per Kanji. Remember in the last article of learning Kanji, 大 means “big” or in the kun reading it’s 大きい (ooki). But when combined in a character combination, it means “important,” as in 大臣 (daijin) important person. You’ll see that characters will also be at the beginning of compound words, and at the end of compound words.

The second most important thing when learning Kanji is the actual method you use to remember them. When learning Kanji it is important to write them, which will hopefully help with memorizing the picture. In other words, like when learning Hiragana, Kanji’s stroke order is also very important to learn.

So with keeping these strategies in mind, let’s learn Kanji! The first beginning two characters are as below:


Kun Reading: shita On Reading: ka, ge

Common Character Combinations:

下水 sewer system (gesui)

Meaning: Shita – literally means down, when you say “shita” you mean lower, or down. For example: Where are my feet? Answer and point: “Shita”

Another common meaning is the verb, Kudaru, “to come down.” So, for example come down the mountain, yama wo kudaru.

And finally, a third usage is kudasai. (下さい)Meaning “please.” So, mizu wo kudasai (みずを下さい) Please give me water.


Kun Reading: ue On Reading: jo

Common Character Combinations:

上京 return to the capital (jo kyo)

上級 advanced level (jo kyu)

In its basic form, this character literally means “above”. So, “where is the sky?” Sora wa doko desu ka? “Above.” ue desu.

A common verb used with this character is noboru, to climb a mountain. Yama wo noboru

Also from the character combinations, you can tell this Kanji means “advanced”. So, is your Japanese advanced? “Nihongo wa jokyu desu ka?”

So to recap, please remember when learning Kanji it’s important to learn both the “on” (Chinese character reading) and the “kun” (Japanese only reading). Stroke order is also important, so when learning each character please write and rewrite the characters so you’ll remember them. Both up and down are within the top 100 characters recommended by the Japanese government to learn, basically due to the frequency of them appearing in Japanese newspapers. So open up a newspaper today, and see if you can find ue and shita!

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