Languages › Japanese 100 of the Most Common Kanji Characters Share Flipboard Email Print ThoughtCo/Grace Kim Japanese Essential Japanese Vocabulary History & Culture Japanese Grammar By Namiko Abe Japanese Language Expert B.A., Kwansei Gakuin University Namiko Abe is a Japanese language teacher and translator, as well as a Japanese calligraphy expert. She has been a freelance writer for nearly 20 years. our editorial process Namiko Abe Updated May 07, 2019 With three different ways of writing, the Japanese language may seem intimidating to new students. It's true that memorizing the most common kanji symbols and other scripts takes time and practice. But once you've mastered them, you'll discover a means of written communication unlike anything you'll see in the English language. There are three writing systems in Japanese, two phonetic and one symbolic, and all three are used in tandem. Kanji Symbols Kanji is symbolic, or logographic. It is the most common means of written communication in the Japanese language, with more than 50,000 different symbols by some estimates. However, most Japanese can get by with using about 2,000 different kanji in everyday communication. A single kanji character can have multiple meanings, depending on how it is pronounced and the context in which it is used. Hiragana and Katakana Hiragana and katakana are both phonetic (or syllabic). There are 46 basic characters in each. Hiragana is used primarily to spell words that have Japanese roots or grammatical elements. Katakana is used to spell foreign and technical words ("computer" is one example), or used for emphasis. Romanji Western characters and words, sometimes called romanji, are also common in modern Japanese. Typically, these are reserved for words derived from Western languages, especially English. The word "T-shirt" in Japanese, for example, consists of a T and several katakana characters. Japanese advertising and media frequently use English words for stylistic emphasis. For everyday purposes, most writing contains kanji characters because it's the most efficient, expressive means of communication. Complete sentences written only in hiragana and katakana would be extremely long and resemble a jumble of letters, not a full thought. But used in conjunction with kanji, the Japanese language becomes full of nuance. Kanji has its historical roots in Chinese writing. The word itself means "Chinese (or Han) characters." Early forms were first used in Japan as early as A.D. 800 and evolved slowly into the modern era, along with hiragana and katakana. Following Japan's defeat in World War II, the government adopted a series of rules designed to simplify the most common kanji characters to make them easier to learn. Elementary school students have to learn about 1,000 characters. That number doubles by high school. Beginning in the late 1900s, Japanese education officials have added more and more kanji to the curriculum. Because the language has such deep historical roots, literally thousands more kanji have evolved over time and are still in use. Common Kanji Characters Here are 100 of the most frequently used kanji in Japanese newspapers. Newspapers give a great representation of the best and most useful kanji to learn because you are more likely to come across these characters in day-to-day use. 日 sun 一 one 大 big 年 year 中 middle 会 to meet 人 human being, people 本 book 月 moon, month 長 long 国 country 出 to go out 上 up, top 十 10 生 life 子 child 分 minute 東 east 三 three 行 to go 同 same 今 now 高 high, expensive 金 money, gold 時 time 手 hand 見 to see, to look 市 city 力 power 米 rice 自 oneself 前 before 円 yen (Japanese currency) 合 to combine 立 to stand 内 inside 二 two 事 affair, matter 社 company, society 者 person 地 ground, place 京 capital 間 interval, between 田 rice field 体 body 学 to study 下 down, under 目 eye 五 five 後 after 新 new 明 bright, clear 方 direction 部 section .女 woman 八 eight 心 heart 四 four 民 people, nation 対 opposite 主 main, master 正 right, correct 代 to substitute, generation 言 to say 九 nine 小 small 思 to think 七 seven 山 mountain 実 real 入 to enter 回 to turn around, time 場 place 野 field 開 to open 万 10,000 全 whole 定 to fix 家 house 北 north 六 six 問 question 話 to speak 文 letter, writings 動 to move 度 degree, time 県 prefecture 水 water 安 inexpensive, peaceful 氏 courtesy name (Mr., Mrs.) 和 harmonious, peace 政 government, politics 保 to maintain, to keep 表 to express, surface 道 way 相 phase, mutual 意 mind, meaning 発 to start, to emit 不 not, un-, in- 党 political party Cite this Article Format mla apa chicago Your Citation Abe, Namiko. "100 of the Most Common Kanji Characters." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, thoughtco.com/the-most-frequently-used-kanji-2028155. Abe, Namiko. (2021, July 31). 100 of the Most Common Kanji Characters. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-most-frequently-used-kanji-2028155 Abe, Namiko. "100 of the Most Common Kanji Characters." 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