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Why is Japanese kanji so hard?


Japanese kanji is a writing system that utilizes Chinese characters, and it is considered to be one of the most difficult aspects of learning the Japanese language. This article will explore why Japanese kanji is so hard.

The Complexity of Kanji

One of the reasons why Japanese kanji is so hard is due to its complexity. There are over 2,000 commonly used kanji characters, each with its own meaning and pronunciation. Additionally, there are many different readings for each character, making it difficult to know which one to use in a given context.

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The Importance of Stroke Order

Another reason why Japanese kanji is so hard is because stroke order is crucial. The order in which you write the strokes can affect the meaning of the character. For example, writing a horizontal line before a vertical one can completely change the meaning of the character.

Lack of Phonetics

Unlike hiragana and katakana, which are phonetic writing systems, kanji does not have a direct correlation to sound. This makes it difficult for learners to remember the pronunciation of each character.

Memorization Required

Learning kanji requires a significant amount of memorization. Unlike English or other languages that use an alphabet, kanji characters are not based on sounds. Instead, they are based on pictographs and ideographs, which require memorization.

Multiple Meanings

Many kanji characters have multiple meanings depending on the context in which they are used. This can make it difficult for learners to understand the intended meaning.

Contextual Usage

Kanji usage can vary depending on the context in which it is used. This means that learners need to understand not only the meaning of each character but also how it is used in different situations.

Reading vs Writing

Learning kanji requires both reading and writing skills. While it is possible to learn to read kanji without being able to write them, mastering the writing aspect is essential for those who want to be proficient in Japanese.

Integration with Other Writing Systems

Kanji is just one of three writing systems used in Japanese, along with hiragana and katakana. Learning to integrate all three systems can add an extra layer of complexity for learners.

Time-Consuming Learning Process

Learning kanji is a time-consuming process that requires dedication and patience. It can take years of practice to become proficient in reading and writing kanji.

Cultural Significance

Despite its difficulty, kanji is an integral part of Japanese culture. It is used extensively in literature, art, and even daily life. Learning kanji can provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture.


In conclusion, Japanese kanji is a difficult writing system that requires a significant amount of time and effort to master. Its complexity, lack of phonetics, multiple meanings, and integration with other writing systems make it a challenging but rewarding aspect of learning the Japanese language.

How difficult is it to learn kanji?

Although many people think that kanji is difficult in the Japanese language, it is actually quite simple. With technological advancements, learning and writing kanji has become easier through spaced repetition systems and the ability to type it online. There is no longer a need to memorize each stroke order of every kanji.

How long does it take to be fluent in kanji?

The reason why it takes a while to become fluent in this language is because its structure is quite different from English. It usually takes about 88 weeks or 2200 hours of studying to reach fluency, but this article provides tips and tools to speed up and simplify the learning process.

What is the hardest kanji level?

According to records, たいと (taito) is considered the most difficult kanji in Japanese, with a total of 84 strokes. It is created by combining three 雲 (kumo), meaning cloud, and three 龍 (ryuu), meaning dragon, in English.

Which is harder kanji or Chinese?

The way a word is pronounced can affect its meaning, which is not the case with Japanese as it is not a tonal language. While there are intonation differences to be aware of, there is no need to be careful with sounds to convey the correct message, making Japanese easier to learn than Chinese.

How long would it take to memorize 2,000 kanji?

It may not be realistic to learn 2,000 kanji in a single week, but if you remain consistent, it is very possible to learn them within three months.

What age do Japanese learn kanji?

The process of learning Kanji is ongoing and typically takes Japanese children nine years, from ages 6 to 15. Unlike Hiragana and Katakana, it is impossible to cover all 2,136 Kanji characters in a single article.

Resources for Learning Kanji

Despite the challenges, there are many resources available to help learners master kanji. Japanese language textbooks often include lessons on kanji, and there are also online courses and mobile apps that focus specifically on kanji. Flashcards and practice sheets can also be helpful tools for memorizing kanji characters.

The Importance of Practice

Like any skill, learning kanji requires practice. Consistent practice is key to improving reading and writing skills. It can also be helpful to practice in context, by reading Japanese texts and writing sentences using kanji characters.

The Role of Immersion

Immersion in Japanese language and culture can also be a powerful tool for learning kanji. By surrounding oneself with Japanese media, such as movies, TV shows, and music, learners can become more familiar with the language and its writing system.

The Benefits of Learning Kanji

Despite its difficulty, learning kanji can offer many benefits. For one, it can improve one’s understanding of the Japanese language and culture. It can also open up new opportunities for communication and cultural exchange. Additionally, mastering kanji can be a source of pride and accomplishment for learners.

The Future of Kanji

While some may argue that the use of kanji is becoming less important in modern Japan, it remains a vital aspect of Japanese culture and identity. As technology continues to advance, new tools for learning and utilizing kanji may emerge. However, regardless of the changes that may occur in the future, the importance and beauty of kanji characters will likely endure.

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