The Japanese symbols of Jouyou kanji

As many readers will already know, Japanese symbols are ideograms that represent ideas, not words. Because of this, the same Japanese symbol can be translated with different words and meanings.

Japanese symbols joyo kanjiBecause they represent thoughts instead of words, Japanese symbols became very numerous during the history of Japan. Today, it is thought that the number of ideograms already exceeds 6,000 kanji.

Thinking about the difficulty of learning all of them, the Japanese government determined that all people trained in "high school" in Japan should know how to read and write 1,945 Japanese symbols along with many of their combinations, thus creating the Jouyou Kanji ( 常用漢字 ).

With this decision, it was indirectly determined that in order to read newspapers, magazines, understand television programs and live in Japan without many problems, it would be necessary for every citizen to have full knowledge of all Jouyou kanji. And so, young Japanese spend years of their lives learning the 1,945 Japanese symbols, and their various combinations, during something that would be equivalent to our Brazilian high school.

Japanese symbols outside of jouyou kanji

As the Japanese government determined that the Jouyou Kanji would have somewhere around 1,945 Japanese symbols, all printed material for the general Japanese public would need to be limited to the ideograms contained in the Jouyou Kanji.

This happened with most informational material such as magazines, newspapers, banners, posters, signs and notices in Japan. But a good deal of written material continued to be published with Japanese symbols that do not belong on Jouyou Kanji's list of ideograms.

In such cases, as readers are expected not to know the meaning of words from the ideograms, but to know the meaning by reading or pronouncing these same Japanese symbols, the eastern world has started to use a system known as Furigana ( 振り仮名 ).

In furigana, Japanese symbols that did not belong to Jouyou Kanji started to have their pronunciation written in the hiragana alphabet, positioned at a point above each Japanese symbol. The image below demonstrates the common use of furigana in Japanese letters.Japanese symbols with furigana topJapanese symbols furigana vertical

As the use of furigana became popular among Japanese and foreigners, it ended up being used in any Japanese symbol, particularly in books for Japanese language students. The most interesting thing is that today, whenever someone writes a word in Japanese ideograms and imagines that the recipient of the message does not know the kanji used, they use furigana to make the symbol easier to read and understand,

Returning to the original focus, after finishing Japanese “high school”, every student already knows Jouyou Kanji. And when he starts going to college, he also starts to learn more Japanese symbols, but now, these new ideograms are specific to the technical language of the chosen university course.

Hence it has become a common mistake among some Japanese students to think that Jouyou Kanji is the list of all ideograms used in Japan. In fact, Jouyou Kanjis is just the beginning of the Japanese ideographic alphabet.

How to learn Japanese jouyou kanji symbols

The idea of this topic is not to discuss a complete guide on how to learn Japanese Jouyou Kanji symbols, but to give some tips that can make learning Japanese easier for every Japanese student.

The biggest difficulty for those who study Japanese is not only memorizing each ideogram and its meanings, but also being able to memorize the order of each trait.

It's just that each Japanese symbol needs to be written in a stroke order. In many cases, if the stroke order is ignored, the proportion and format of Japanese characters can be compromised, creating something unrecognizable.

Many Japanese students ignore the stroke order of characters, writing in their own way. In my opinion, as long as the Japanese symbol doesn't become “deformed”, becoming unrecognizable, the stroke order doesn't matter much.

Repeating to learn Jouyou Kanji Japanese Symbols

The most common way to learn Japanese Jouyou Kanji symbols is through repetition. In this method, the student of Japanese tries to memorize the stroke order and meaning of Japanese letters by writing the same symbol over and over again.

For this case, I wrote an article containing four tips for writing in japanese and learn Japanese Jouyou kanji symbols.

Learning Japanese jouyou kanji symbols with your imagination

The second method is to learn Japanese letters, stroke order and their meaning through imagination. This technique consists of dividing Japanese symbols into parts, where each part needs to be associated with a drawing or image from our daily lives.

The image below illustrates how to create an image from a Japanese symbol. For composite or complex ideograms, it is necessary to create more than one image that, together, form the idea that the Japanese letter wants to convey.

learn japanese symbols jouyou kanji

In this way, all the main difficulties of learning a Japanese symbol are overcome more easily and quickly. Fixing and associating Japanese symbols directly with their meanings. Also, as each ideogram can be divided into parts, learn stroke order of Japanese symbols it gets a lot easier.

On the website, there is an article about how to write japanese letters, showing the general rules for writing most Japanese symbols. I suggest a read on it.

The important thing here is that you create your own associations with your own images. This will make it much easier to remember the meanings of each Japanese symbol and the order of their strokes.

At first, this method appears to be more complicated than simple repetition, but over time, it becomes much easier and more fun to learn Japanese letters.

If you need help, there are some books that can help with this work. Unfortunately, the best books are in English, but there are some in Portuguese that can be very useful. Below is a list of my book suggestions.

  • Remmenber the kanji (1, 2 and 3)
  • Teach your self beginner's japanese script
  • Manga Kanji (series in Portuguese)
  • Pictographic Kanji (in Portuguese)

Bringing the Two Methods Together to Learn More Japanese Symbols

One of the things I've been doing these past few days is putting the above two methods together. I divide my kanji studies into two phases: Association and repetition.

In the first phase, I associate Japanese symbols with images from my daily life or drawings created in my imagination. And during the second phase, I simply make a habit of practicing Japanese calligraphy by repeatedly writing the same Japanese symbol. Thus, I am able to take advantage of the advantages contained in the two techniques described above.

Try to read and translate texts with Japanese symbols

Regardless of whether you follow any of the techniques described here, it is very important to practice reading and writing texts containing Japanese symbols. This way, you will end up reviewing the ideograms you learned and learn many new symbols.

Also, think that all contact with the Japanese language is going to enrich your vocabulary and make you more experienced with the oriental language.

List of Japanese jouyou kanji symbols

If you are curious to study and learn Japanese jouyou kanji symbols, there is a complete list of ideograms and their meanings in the Japanese language. The list of symbols is divided into series, following the same order of study used in Japan.

Thus, you can learn all Japanese symbols using the above study methods and practicing the Japanese calligraphy of each ideogram. Below is the link to the full list of Jouyou Kanji.

Japanese calligraphy with the Jouyou Kanji.

Image credits belong to sushicam.