Because of its complicated structure, kanji can be one of the most difficult aspects of learning Japanese. At the same time, however, it can be very entertaining.
The Japan Times talked to Takahide Ezoe, principal of Shinjuku Japanese Language Institute located in Tokyo’s Takadanobaba district, about the joy of learning kanji.
The school, established in 1975, will celebrate its 45th anniversary in 2021. Along with regular courses, it offers JLPT exam preparation classes and business Japanese courses. Such classes are provided on Saturdays or Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Shinjuku Japanese Language Institute has developed Japanese grammar infographics so that grammar can be visualized by learners. Its postpositional particle cards are very popular among students for their effectiveness.
Classes range from basic to advanced Japanese and students can choose the class that matches their level. In addition to regular lecture-style classes, activities such as individual, group and project work presentations help students use various forms of Japanese according to the situation.
When it comes to learning kanji, commented Ezoe, in China, children learn 4,718 kanji characters before they reach grade six. In Japan, however, from the next fiscal year, a student in sixth grade will learn up to 1,026 kanji.
“What differs between Japanese and Chinese kanji is that almost all Japanese kanji has two or more pronunciations, called the on-yomi (Chinese reading) and kun-yomi (native Japanese reading).”
“Also, there are a lot of idiosyncratic reading of kanji compounds — or jukuji-kun — such as saying “kyō” for 今日 and “sanma” for 秋刀魚.
It is almost impossible to learn what a child would in six years for an adult in two years. That’s why nobody has to feel bad about being unable to read or write kanji. Actually, in real life in Japan, you need only 1,000 characters of the 2,136 joyo kanji (kanji designated for daily use) to get along, 70 percent of the time. Think about this every time you become anxious when studying kanji,” said Ezoe.
“Our teaching kanji material is appreciated by students from non-kanji cultures, for how it make studies more fun and helps to enrich one’s vocabulary,” Ezoe added.
An original animated video on Shinjuku Japanese Language Institute’s website shows how 100 kanji were created.
Some kanji characters have very interesting backgrounds. One kanji, 北, was formed from the figure of two people standing back to back. This was because kings used to sit looking at the south, and since their backs face the north, the meaning of the kanji changed from the “back” to the “north.” Using this kanji, and adding 月 meaning “body,” the kanji 背 (back) was created.
Also, 莫 means “the sun that sets across the fields become large and then disappears” and implicates different kinds of losses. One can use the kanji (or its suffix) to signify the sun setting (暮れる), or a lack of water in deserts (漠from砂漠). If someone disappears from view behind a curtain, it would be a 幕 (screen).
Many kanji contain common radicals, so if one finds these connections, one can learn a lot of kanji at once. As soon as one gets the knack of it, it will be easier to guess the meanings of many different kanji.
“Studying at schools and with teachers who can teach such viable hacks would be the best way to faster grasp learning kanji,” concluded Ezoe.