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Japanese for Beginners: Learn Eight Kanjis in Fifteen Minutes

written by: Makoto • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

This article provides some new Japanese characters with explanations and sketches to make sure they are easily learned and remembered.

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    A Step Further in Learning the Japanese Kanji

    In this article, we will continue our journey in learning the Japanese Kanji. If you haven’t done so already, check out the Kanji Review before going further in this article. If you’ve managed to complete the review successfully, you are now ready to learn more Japanese Kanjis.

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    Four New Kanjis

    The first Kanji I would like to introduce in this article is the Kanji for “say,” as in to say something, which is written like this: 言. It can be easily remembered by associating the Kanji with a mental picture of its meaning. You might instantly recognize the Kanji for mouth at the very bottom (the rectangle shape). Simply picture a mouth saying four words or sentences (the four little strokes right above it). As usual, I’ve drawn a little sketch to give you a better idea of what I mean.

    say1 Let’s move on with the second Kanji for this article, 火, which stands for fire. This one pretty much goes without any explanation as it already somewhat looks like a fire camp. Once again, a sketch.

    fire1 Now that we’ve taken care of those two Kanjis, let’s see what happens when we combine them together to create another Kanji. In this case, both Kanjis take the roles of building blocks for a Kanji. The actual Kanji looks like this: 談. If we look at the construction of this Kanji, we can see the Kanji for "say” on the left part and two “fires” on the right part. At first you might wonder what the Kanji mean: to say fire, to talk about fire? You’ll need to think differently. If you’ve ever been on discussion forums on the Internet, you’re probably heard of “flaming,” which pretty much means insulting someone. This usually happens in passionate discussions which turn inflammatory. Can you guess the meaning of this Kanji now? That’s right: it means “to discuss” something. Once again, I’ve done a little sketch.


    Let's move on to the next character. We’ve already covered that 川 stands for "river" in a previous lesson. When used as a part of Kanji (not as a Kanji on its own), this Kanji takes on a different form depending on where it is located in the actual Kanji. Now, let’s create yet another Kanji by combining other characters we already know. This time around we’ll combine fire 火 and river 川 in order to create this Kanji : 災. We’ll give “river” a slightly different meaning however to help us this time around: "flood." So, here we have “flood” on the top and fire at the bottom: 災. Now let’s think about this for a moment. What happens when both a flood and a fire happen at the same time in some area? That’s right: it’s a disaster! This Kanji is already representative enough on its own, so we’ll pass on a sketch.

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    Four More New Kanjis

    Onward to our fifth Kanji. This one is also fairly straightforward. Let’s combine two 火 together to create our fifth Kanji: 炎. By combining two fires together, you create the Kanji for “flame.” This Kanji is also used for inflammation, as in a physical inflammation, i.e., inflammation of the gums or other body part. It makes perfect sense to represent inflammation with two combined fire as the word “inflammation” is reminiscent of “flames.”

    inflammation So far, we have been covering only five different Kanjis per article. Remembering Kanji permanently with pictures is fairly easy, so how about we learn a few more? If we maintain a steady pace, we’ll be done remembering hundreds of Kanjis in no time.

    The next character is used in many kanjis: 心. Can you tell what it’s supposed to look like? It’s a “heart” with three drops of blood. There’s no real story to remember here; merely looking at this Kanji should be sufficient to remind you of a bleeding heart.

    For our seventh character, we’ll go back to a familiar character we’ve already learned in the previous articles: 刀.We represented this Kanji as the hilt of a sword, the actual Kanji meaning “sword.” By adding a single stroke to this character, we’ll get a new one, 刃. This character stands for “blade”. It is fairly easy to remember this character as it so closely related to “sword”, but a picture might provide some more help. Picture a sword so deadly, it even has a blade on its hilt (deadly for both user and victim)!

    blade1 For our eight and final character, we’ll once again combine two characters you are now familiar with. Let us combine “blade” and “heart”: 忍.Now, judging from both characters, you can guess the meaning of this Kanji isn’t exactly pleasant, and you’d be right. This Kanji has several meanings one of which is to “endure” or to “persevere.” In this particular case, a sketch would be most useful to getter a mental image of how the two parts of this Kanji interact. Picture yourself someone who got stabbed in the heart. That person is near the hospital, but they will need to endure and persevere and reach the hospital despite his or her wound. Allow me to demonstrate with a final drawing.

    endure1 Here’s a list of the Kanjis we’ve learned in this article: 、言、談、心、刃、火、炎、忍、災。That’s eight more Kanjis to add to the previous Kanjis we’ve already learned in the previous articles, and we’re getting closer and closer to reaching our first fifty Kanjis! Don’t give up!