Remembering the Kanji

James Heisig

I think this is the best method available for learning kanji, but it’s not for everyone.

This first volume teaches you how to recognize, write and understand the meanings of over 2000 kanji. It seems to be succeeding so far for me, though I am only up to about 400 or so. The idea is that you learn all the characters using this book, and then Volume II helps you learn readings (pronunciations) and some words containing the characters.

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Remembering the Kanji — study cards

James Heisig

If you are learning kanji using James Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji books, these study cards are invaluable. Heisig recommends a specific method of studying and reviewing the kanji. The method uses cards to allow you to quickly review the meanings and readings of each kanji. He has created a set of pre-printed kanji cards to save you having to write out all 2000 cards yourself.

I have found these a great help in my kanji study; when I am learning new kanji I carry around a hundred of the cards with me. This way I can review a few kanji during any spare moments.

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Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters

Kenneth Henshall

This book is a really interesting exploration into the origins of the 2000 most common kanji in Japanese. It gives a lot of information about where each kanji comes from — like most writing systems, the characters were once pictures, and this book shows where they came from and how they came to be as they are now.

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Japanese for Busy People (kana version)


These books are simple and logical, with good English explanations of the points covered in each lesson. The language used is appropriate for business people, so may be less appropriate for you, depending on what you want to learn Japanese for. The kana versions are far superior to the romaji versions. You have to learn kana anyway, and it’s not hard, so why not start from the beginning? Volume 1 uses hardly any kanji, but volume II introduces a dozen or so with each lesson. Useful for recognition, but you’ll need a proper kanji book to learn them properly.

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Read Japanese Today

Len Walsh

This excellent book is great value. The kanji (Chinese characters) used in Japanese seem impossible to learn at first (there are thousands of them), but this book gives a glimpse of where they came from and how they can be learned. Spend a few hours reading this book, and you will be able to recognise and know the meaning of a couple of hundred kanji. It shows how fascinating the kanji are, and whets your appetite for the far more detailed (and long) method in “Remembering the Kanji”.

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Remembering the Hiragana/Katakana

James Heisig

The first task is to learn the two phonetic syllabaries used in Japanese. Each has 46 basic symbols (plus a few extras). They’re not too hard to learn — I learned the hiragana in about a week by rote memorization. But then I bought this book and learned the katakana in about one hour!

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