The Japanese written language employs four kinds of script: the two phonetic syllabaries, hiragana and katakana; rōmaji, or the Latin alphabet; and kanji, or Chinese characters. In 1981 the Tōyō ("Temporary Use") Kanji were replaced by the Jōyō ("General Use", "Permanent Use") Kanji. The new system is not ideal: the list does not include many characters common in personal and place names, for it was devised as a printers guide, and it was expected that these names would be handwritten. Like all such lists, it is subjective and open to question. It does not include the saka in saka, even though this kanji is frequently encountered, and some of the characters that it does include are extremely rare. Furthermore, I do not understand why "ue" and "shita" ("up/above", "down/below"), and "migi" and "hidari" (right and left) have been separated, for learning through antonymic pairings is one of the basic methods of vocabulary acquisition.

For the foreigner who will live in Japan for two years or so, and who wishes to understand the characters he encounters on the street, in shops, at the bank, and so on, the 500 Kanji in the 2 Volumes of the University of Tōkyō's 250 Essential Kanji for Everyday Use (Rutland, Vermont; Tōkyō, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1998) will provide considerable assistance. It is an ideal introduction. For those who wish to study the Japanese language and culture in greater depth, a command of the 2,000 or so basic kanji is essential. I see no reason not to learn them in the order that the Japanese do; imperfect though the present system may be, it is the best available. Moreover, the documents that the student will find presented at this website take the learner of Japanese in Japan into account, for the vocabulary items in each entry are ordered on a scale of diminishing frequency, based on personal experience of Japanese life.

It is difficult to memorise Kanji. Most of them are compounds, and the element which gives the character its meaning was often borrowed for its sound. There is no immediate relationship between the visual appearance of the character and its signification. In order to commit them to memory, understanding and familiarity are of the greatest importance. To that end, my lists include etymologies, cross-references, and the occasional literal translation. They etymologies are often brief and suggestive, my aims being to provoke thought, to facilitate the mnemonynic process, and to illustrate the vast distance that lies between the system of thoughts which created and developed Chinese characters on the one hand and Western concepts on the other. These etymologies have been abstracted from Kenneth G. Henshall's A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters (Boston; Rutland, Vermont; Tōkyō: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1998), which is the best book of its kind, and are given here with the kind permission of the author and Tuttle Publishing. For greater depth and more detailed explanations, as well as information on the structure and history of kanji, the reader is referred to Professor Henshall's Guide.

For every compound to appear in the vocabulary list under an entry, the number of the other kanji in the list is given, so that the reader can either look forward and prepare for the intake of another character, or look backwards and consolidate his learning. Literal translations are given when they help the learner to memorise the word (often with a little lateral thinking), when they are suggestive or poetic (for example, "baishun" or "sell-spring" captures perfectly the tragedy of prostitution, especially in past ages when the prostitute saw no summer), or when they illustrate a feature of the language, such as duplication.

The reader is advised to concentrate on the individual kanji first, then work his way through the first three or four items of vocabulary in each entry, and finally to peruse the whole document, using the cross-references as often as possible. Kanji seem difficult at first because they are entirely different to the writing systems to which we have become accustomed, but the mystique vanishes with time and application. The more often we see a kanji, the more easily we can commit it to memory. It is a long and hard haul, but it is highly rewarding: per ardua ad astra.

The tables are divided into three columns. The first column gives the reader the number of the kanji in the Jōyō list and its stroke count; the second the kanji itself; and the third follows standard practice by giving the onyomi (Chinese reading) in block capitals, while the kunyomi (Japanese reading) is italicised. The reader will encounter the following symbols:

* denotes an irregular reading

-- denotes an NGU (Non-General Use) kanji

oo (in the first column) This means that the long o (ō) is written in

Japanese as (oo), not (ou)

The files below are currently being revised, improved, and converted into pdf format

Kanji 1-76

Kanji 77-221

Kanji 222-416

Kanji 417-611

Kanji 612-806

Kanji 807-996

Kanji 997-1192

Kanji 1193-1386

Kanji 1387-1587

Kanji 1588-1781

Kanji 1782-1945

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