japanese beginners learning guide 2019

notes, links and hints for learning japanese.

the japanese language education center once posted an average of 2000 study hours needed to pass a jlpt n2 language proficiency test



  • you need to know both hiragana and katakana. some words use the one and some the other. one type of kanji reading is usually given in katakana
  • note that the letters correspond to these consonant/vowel combination: kstnhmyrwbpzj(ch) * aiueo
  • learn it with order, so that you will be able to remember similar sounding kana
  • similarities between characters
  • kana are about 92 characters, some old now unused ones
  • diacritics
  • small characters: small tsu is silent and stresses the next character, other small characters are combined with the previous one to form a new one
  • romaji is the conversion between japanese and latin characters. there are mulitple systems: hepburn (most common, corresponds more to pronounciation) and kunrei (only two latin characters per kana). both have ambiguities


  • jouyou kanji are the about 2130 kanji that are most commonly used and officially recommended for use in some contexts
  • many if not most japanese words use kanji
  • are not independent drawings but share 200-300 components. knowing the components makes kanji recognisable as a combination. this should make it easier to recognise, write (you know how to write each radical), learn (grass, field, beast -> cat) and look up kanji in the dictionary
  • the reading or actual pronounciation of kanji appears in the context of words. either when they are part of a word or stand alone as a word. kanji can have different readings in different words. usually multiple words share the same reading, so you can learn the words with the most shared readings first. ive found individual readings displayed in study software are often not actually used in common words so i ignored them and focused on the reading in words
  • kanjis and letters have a specific stroke order
  • kanji can be looked up in dictionaries by component, stroke count, hiragana pronounciation or by topic
  • links

    • kanji tree it is free, particularly fast, teaches you kanji components, teaches you all jouyou kanji, tracks progression, gives example words by shared readings, lets you explore, collect and train the words you want to learn, lets you train handwriting, has a dictionary. ive tried other apps including some relatively expensive paid ones but none were better

    • topokanji-deck anki flashcards and data csv with example words where no kanji is introduced before its parts

    • kanjicards flashcards with example words

    • kanji radicals anki deck

    • list of kanji radicals by frequency

    • jōyō kanji official guide to kanji characters and their readings. "a literacy baseline for those who have completed compulsory education, as well as a list of permitted characters and readings for use in official government documents"

    • jōyō kanji characters as text

learning strategy

  • bottom to top
  • learn to read/write kana. must be able to recall kana->reading, reading->kana, reading->handwriting
  • learn to name kanji components. must be able to recall component->name, name->component of at least the most common components
  • learn kanji sorted by the "remembering the kanji 6th edition" order because it clusters similar looking characters
  • learn words topicalised by what you want to know. collect words
  • learn vocabulary, conversation and reading comprehension
  • learn grammar


  • spreadsheet
  • smartphone apps
  • kana-latin converter
  • spaced repetition flashcards, revise least well / last remembered cards
  • online dictionaries

how to make your own anki deck

import from csv

  • prepare them in a spreadsheet. one column per field
  • export to comma separated values / csv file
  • ensure that in anki a card with the right number/type of fields exists
  • in anki go to file -> import, choose the target deck and map fields
  • first field is the question, other fields are the answer
  • edit the card template to have the fields and layout you want

export apkg deck file

  • go to browse
  • select the deck in the tree left
  • this file can be imported in anki on desktop or android and shared

add/remove available fields

  • browse -> select deck in tree -> fields... button
  • fields can be deleted from all cards if no card or all cards are selected

edit the card template

  • browse -> select deck in tree -> cards... button
  • templates use html and css