How To Learn Your First 2 Kanji (Guide To Written Japanese: Part 1)

Topics Covered: 日, 月, Writing Dates, Onyomi/Kunyomi, Radicals

Prerequisites: You won’t need any prerequisites to understand this lesson, but a background in Hiragana (The 46 letters representing the sounds of Japanese) is always useful when studying the readings for Kanji. Learning Hiragana is super easy and can be done within a week! But don’t worry if you don’t know them yet.

Today I’d like to show you 2 fundamental kanji that will become the building blocks for giving you a more complex understanding of written Japanese. These 2 kanji are taught to Japanese children in their first year of elementary school. Luckily their shape and meanings are so simple that most children can recognize them by sight before they’re formally taught.

Once you finish this lesson you’ll be able to properly date your Japanese language notes, so you can see these characters every day and memorize them easily as well.

Let’s get right into it with our first kanji:

1.)Sun, Day, Japan:

150px-日-order
Kunyomi: ひ、び (hi, bi)
Onyomi: にち, に (nichi, ni)

Try writing this character down a few times in a notebook. If you would like to be able to write the kanji evenly, I highly recommend picking up a graph paper notebook. If you don’t have any on you know but would like to practice, you can download this pdf and print your own! It’s a good idea to follow the same stroke order as the graphic, but memorizing the stroke order right now is not as essential as remembering the shape. Japan has been referred to historically as “the land of the rising sun”, which is why this kanji takes on the secondary meaning of “Japan”. In case you need it, here’s a static breakdown how to write it:

nichi

Examples:
日本 に.ほん Nihon, Japan

毎日 まい.にち Mainichi, Every Day

日曜日 にち.よう.び Nichiyoubi, Sunday

今日は こんにちは Konnichiwa, ”Hello”

日常 にち.じょう Nichijou, Everyday Life (It is also the name of a famous comedy manga)

11日、21日、29日 The 11th, the 21st and the 29th of the month

For the above example outlining the days of the month, don’t try to memorize the pronunciations just yet if you haven’t already. For now I’d just like you to know that in this way you can date all of your notes in Japanese by writing the date as number+日. Writing your dates in this way will not only help you remember this kanji, but it makes your notes look more aesthetically pleasing. If you want to write a more complete date, such as “February 2nd”, you can use the next kanji:

2.) Moon, Month:

150px-月-order

Kunyomi: つき (tsuki)
Onyomi: げつ、がつ (getsu, gatsu)

Examples:
月 つき tsuki, The Moon

満月 まん.げつ, Man.getsu, A Full Moon

毎月 まい.げつ,Mai.getsu, Every Month

今月 こんげつ, Kongetsu, This month

1月 2月 3月, January, February, March (etc.)

Dates in Japanese are written month first
, so the date this article was written would be 2月14日. (Happy Valentine’s!)

tsuki

What Are Onyomi and Kunyomi?

Is a question you may be wondering if this is your first time looking at kanji. To put it simply: Onyomi is a modified version of the reading in Chinese, it’s used to make compound words of two or more kanji. On their own the onyomi has no meaning. Kunyomi is the original Japanese reading of the word. When we just want to say words that are one kanji, we use the Kunyomi. “The Moon” is “tsuki” and “day” is “Hi”, but a more complicated concept like “every day” (mainichi) will use the Onyomi readings.

A Brief Introduction To Radicals:

Before I wrap up this lesson I would like to tell you the way the majority of more complex kanji are constructed. Fundamental concepts like sun and moon will have their own kanji, but a kanji representing a more complicated concept will actually be built from these simpler kanji. A complicated kanji is really just a combination of simpler characters. The simple kanji that become components of a more complex kanji are called “radicals”.

For example, we can combine our kanji for sun(日), and the kanji for moon (月) in order to write the kanji for the word “bright”: 明

Notice that the kanji for sun has been squished to about half it’s original width. When a simpler kanji becomes a radical, it is often modified into a smaller, simpler form. Sometimes the radical version of a kanji looks very different from the original kanji. In a future lesson I’ll show you more examples of simple kanji being converted to radicals.

That’s it for today! I’ve taken a picture of some handwritten notes in order to outline the major points of this lesson:
IMG_4124

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