Kanji Poster!

About a month ago, after consulting with my Better-Half, I decided to order the famous Kanji Wall Poster from White Rabbit Press:1

Japan Kanji Poster!

I ordered the version 1 poster, though now they have a slightly revised version for the new 2010 JLPT format, though the kanji themselves are more or less the same. My wife wanted to help me learn Japanese, but also let our daughter gain much needed exposure to reading the language as well. At the very least, it hangs nicely over the family computer.2

The JLPT test overall tests knowledge of the Jōyō Kanji, the most fundamental, basic kanji used in the Japanese language. Passing the JLPT N1 will assume you know all the Jōyō kanji and can therefore read more or less at a secondary-school graduate level. Of course, reality may vary, but for basic literacy, knowing this much kanji is necessary, and surprisingly easy to learn.

For me, I studied very hard for the JLPT3 (now N4) using flashcards, but as I study now for more advanced JLPT levels, I find that it’s too hard to do this. The mind can’t retain all those kanji without context. My wife, whose Japanese, said my time would be better spent learning to read Japanese first, and then reviewing the kanji. This actually works a lot better I think, though it takes longer, but I promise you that you will retain kanji and vocabulary much more effectively this way.

As an example, the kanji 報. I won’t even tell you how to read it, because if you see the following words, you’ll figure it out:

  • 情報: jōhō, information
  • 予報: yohō, forecast (e.g. weather)
  • 報告: hōkoku, report

Now if you see an unfamiliar word like 警報, you can at least guess what half the word means, right? It probably is read as hō, and refers to information. In the case above, this is keihō meaning an alarm.

So, the key is not memorization as much as exposure. Memorization using flashcards is much more useful when you’re already familiar with the kanji because it helps refine and define what you have learned, which is useful for a test. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you can memorize 700+ kanji for the N2 just by brute force, with no context on what they mean or how they’re used. You’ll just get frustrated. Instead, just get used to seeing them all the time (poster above is one such example), or reading them in actual Japanese literature.

You’ll find your experience as a Japanese student more rewarding before long. In a year, I made surprising progress and can read more than a few kanji in the N1 JLPT section just because I’ve seen them enough times. :)

Good luck!

P.S. Apologies on the bad lighting in the photo. This was taken with camera phone in a room that really does have bad lighting.

1 Note that I am a registered “affiliate” of White Rabbit Press, but the links above do not cost extra. I simply get store credit for any purchases made, which helps further my own studies (and this blog). :)

2 To the left is the little omamori charm I brought back from Yushima Tenmangu Shrine, to help inspire my studies. ;)

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4 Comments on “Kanji Poster!”

  1. JonJ says:

    Absolutely right-on advice about reading kanji in context first. The kanji I encounter everyday in translating chemistry, etc., present few problems, but put me in front of a newspaper or piece of fiction!

    And after all, why are we learning kanji? To be a whiz with flip-cards? Certainly not–presumably you want to read something.

    I never knew about that poster. Very cool; think I’ll get one, if I can find wall space for it.

  2. Doug says:

    Hi Jon, well said about the “flip-card whiz” comment. As for the poster, it’s better than I expected, but is pretty fun to stare at from time to time. :)

  3. Britany says:

    This was a very helpful post. I just recently (about a week or so ago) started studying Japanese. So far (using just flip-cards) have memorized 10 each of Hiragana and Katakana and about 20 Kanji.
    I think I will take the advice of this post, as it seems like learning from exposure will be much easier in the long run :) I think it will be useful for learning the rest of the kana as well.
    Right now I am just attending a community college but I plan to attend a university in 2 years to major in japanese language and culture, this technique will help me to learn a lot in that time span :D

  4. Doug M says:

    Hi Britany and welcome to the JLR! Glad you hear you’re taking up language studies. Yeah, I tried to write this post to help other students avoid the same mistakes I’ve been making for years. My wife came to the US to learn English and learned it very well, so her advice is pretty sound because she’s been there. Best of luck!

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