Why Is It Called Joy o' Kanji?
"Joy o' Kanji" is a play on words. To understand it, you need to know the terms Joyo and kanji. Let's start with the second one. Kanji are the complicated-looking characters used in Japanese writing. Meanwhile, Joyo refers to a set of kanji that the Japanese use in daily life. For more on both terms, see the first and second sections of the glossary.
What Does Joy o' Kanji Offer?
You'll find comprehensive, informative essays about the individual characters. Posted in PDF format, the essays feature playful text, an ample supply of compounds (words formed with two or more kanji), sample sentences, whimsical quizzes, and photos of kanji in real-life situations. In the first two pages of each essay, there's a "Character Profile" (with essential facts about the character and a stroke order diagram), a "Read All About It!" box for further investigation, and an "Etymology Box."
To purchase an essay, you can go to its Character Home Page. There you'll find resources associated with that kanji, such as a Mini Profile of the character, a preview of the essay, and readers' comments about the essay.
JOKIA (Joyo Kanji in Action) photo albums contain pictures of kanji from all over the world. With 10 photos apiece, each album puts the spotlight on five kanji. After buying an album, you can view it as many times as you like. As you grow familiar with the material, you may wish to hide information about the photos, seeing whether you've learned to read the text.
In the Renshu Resources part of the site, you'll discover a bounty of useful and FREE tools:
- • Radical Terms, which clarifies the confusing terminology surrounding radicals and components. Don't miss the Radical Terms Quiz at the end!
- • Radical Notes, each of which takes an in-depth look at a particular radical: its nomenclature, its appearance, its variants, and kanji that illustrate the point.
- • Thematic Explorations, which are short, fun essays exploring spinoff topics.
- • Further Resources, which lists books and sites that will amplify your understanding of kanji.
There's also a comprehensive glossary that will bring you up to speed on kanji lingo and basic kanji concepts.
Why Learn Kanji?
You'll be amazed at the profusion of kanji in Japan. The characters flash from signs all over Tokyo. Many restaurants offer only menus in kanji; sometimes even the prices appear in kanji, rather than in arabic numerals. Many people figure they'll only need to speak Japanese during their travels, not read and write. They're shocked when they arrive and feel defeated by the signs.
Learning kanji will help you manage your stay in Japan, but the benefits are far deeper than that. Once you know the characters, you'll gain a much more profound understanding of Japanese vocabulary. Kanji lends clarity to a language so riddled with homonyms that the word for "awarding a prize" sounds exactly like that for "winning a prize." (Both are じゅしょう, but the first is 授賞 and the second is 受賞.)
Moreover, there's endless pleasure to be had in breaking apart compounds and finding a witticism or keen observation inside. Take, for instance, 恐竜 (きょうりゅう). This word combines the kanji for "frightening" (恐) with the character for "dragon" (竜). What does "frightening" + "dragon" give you? The answer is "dinosaur"!
Being able to read characters such as 域 or 城 (respectively, "region" and "castle") yields an incredible feeling of power. If you can decipher words that look like mere squiggles to much of the world, it puts you in the know, giving you a key that unlocks a door. Once you open that door and find out how much fun awaits you on the other side, you may never want to return to the kanjiless, colorless world you inhabited before!
How Will Joy o' Kanji Help Me Learn Japanese Characters?
Learning kanji can put you in the know, but moving around in the world of kanji means that you're often not in the know. Even native speakers struggle with kanji! It can seem as if the characters have been designed to induce confusion and forgetfulness.
People often wonder about the best way to memorize kanji. This is, at base, a question about how the memory works. Well, why do you hold onto particular memories? If something has made you laugh or fume, I bet you're much more likely to store that experience in your brain. Now, think of what you never remember—maybe certain historical dates or people's birthdays or what's on your license plate. If something has no deep significance for you, then good luck trying to imprint it on your memory!
To remember something, you need to care. It also helps to engage fully with that thing. In terms of kanji, that means digging into every crevice of a character and getting to know it from all angles. By engaging with kanji in this way, you can develop certain feelings about each character, just as you feel a particular way about the people you know. Like each person, every kanji has quirks and distinctive traits, and it imbues words with certain moods or feelings.
Once you have completely immersed yourself in the world of one kanji, it will become a three-dimensional, fully alive entity in your mind. You'll come to understand the character as well as you'd know a dog who lived with you for several weeks. And of course you'll be much more likely to recognize the kanji when you see it, just as you'd know that dog anywhere.
Photo Credit: Rajorshi De
Which Characters Will Joy o' Kanji Essays Examine First?
Rather than beginning with the simplest kanji, I’ve made an unconventional decision to start writing essays about the characters that Japanese students learn in junior high school. I’ve done this for several reasons.
First, it’s easier to write about kanji that appear in fewer words and that have fewer meanings and readings. That’s generally true of the “junior high school” kanji, as compared with the gakushu set, the characters learned up through sixth grade.
Also, I know more gakushu kanji than junior high school kanji, so I want to start with territory where there's more for me to discover.
On top of that, many of the gakushu kanji are quite easy to learn. Some are pictographic (e.g., 雨: rain). Beginning kanji books and classes tend to start with this simpler set. And basic characters (e.g., 人: person) appear again and again, enabling you to absorb them effortlessly.
It’s much harder to find material about advanced characters. According to Mary Sisk Noguchi, who writes the "Kanji Clinic" column for the Japan Times, many students become stuck in "kanji purgatory" as they struggle endlessly with the gakushu set, never progressing to the junior high school list.
The very idea of the junior high school kanji may seem frightening. Indeed there are some hairy-looking characters, such as 騰 (to rise, leap) and 縫 (to sew). However, I’ve been amazed to see that the following common kanji are also in this set: 彼 (he) and 又 (again). Some are quite graphically simple, such as 双 (pair), 了 (to finish), and 束 (bundle). Meanwhile, the gakushu set includes some kanji that seem much less familiar, including these three from fifth grade: 蚕 (silkworm), 衆 (multitude), and 徳 (virtue). I can’t say I understand how the authorities have assigned the characters to different grade levels, but I’m excited to learn the whole Joyo set!
Even though the first essays focus on the junior high school set, a series of photo albums on Joy o' Kanji will help you learn the gakushu set right away. Each JOKIA (Joyo Kanji in Action) album will contain 10 photos of kanji, usually in signs. For example, Album 61 will showcase characters 301 through 305. Album 62 will feature characters 306 through 310. And so on. The captions in JOKIA albums will explain everything you need to know about the photos, helping you absorb characters, vocabulary, and cultural concepts in a fun, dynamic way.
In What Sequence Will Joy o' Kanji Essays Appear?
When I started learning kanji from the Japanese for Busy People series, I was appalled at the scattershot way in which the books introduced characters. Every week we learned 10 kanji, none of which had any connection to ones we'd learned before. The kanji world felt chaotic and random, as if one constantly needed to start from scratch.
Then I began using Basic Kanji Book, which was completely different. In Lesson 1, we learned 木 (tree). Then in Lesson 2, we happened upon 土 (dirt), discovering that it combined with 木 in 土木 (どぼく: civil engineering). Each lesson built on what we'd already acquired, which felt wonderfully reassuring.
Joy o' Kanji essays also expand on earlier information. I first wrote essay 1095 (缶). I then listed any junior high school kanji that appeared in the text and set out to write essays about them. The new write-ups also included some junior high school kanji, so those, too, went on the list of future essays.
In the interest of building on knowledge, two essays may mention the same or related words, but the presentation will likely be different. For instance, while essay 1335 includes 芝居がかった (しばいがかった: affected, theatrical, pompous), essay 1028 introduces 猿芝居 (さるしばい: performance by monkeys; having monkeys put on outfits and wigs and perform like humans). Both essays discuss the root word, 芝居 (しばい: performance, play, drama), but different information emerges each time. The familiarity instills confidence, and the variety keeps things interesting.
In the same vein, certain photos of kanji (usually in signs) appear in multiple essays. If you encounter a picture for the second time, ideally you'll be able to read more of the text than before because you will have studied at least two of its kanji in depth.
In addition to following the characters branching out from 缶, I've given priority to the 22 junior high school kanji that can function as radicals; I've completed all 22 of those essays. As I explain in Radical Terms, knowing radicals can give you a better grasp of characters in which they appear.
You can read the essays in any order; they're autonomous. If you're looking at the main kanji and thinking, "Now, where have I seen this before?" you can search for it on this site and see which essays have included that kanji. The essay publication date appears at the bottom of each PDF page; that will give you more specific information about the sequence of essays.
Photo Credit: Eve Kushner
In What Sequence Will JOKIA Photo Albums Appear?
The first 100 JOKIA albums will feature the 997 gakushu kanji, the ones learned by the end of 6th grade.
I've started somewhat randomly with kanji number 301, and I believe I'll press on sequentially toward kanji number 997, then circling back and doing the first 300. For now I have skipped those because people studying the most basic kanji would probably prefer to see photos filled only with other simple kanji, as well as easy grammatical structures. It may be harder to find such photos, because that's certainly not how people think in Japan when they make signs!
As for the junior high school kanji, I'm not sure right now if I'll make JOKIA albums for those. I'll wait and see how things go. If you have a request in this regard, please let me know!
What Are the Numbers Associated with Each Kanji?
Joy o' Kanji has borrowed the numbering system from Kenneth Henshall's Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters. He organized his book according to the grade levels at which Japanese students learn each kanji, and he then assigned a number to each character. The lowest numbers correspond to first grade. The junior high school kanji start at 997 in his book, and the same is therefore true in Joy o' Kanji.
When Henshall published his book, the Joyo set contained 1,945 characters. Since then, five have dropped out, and 196 have been added, resulting in 2,136 kanji. I have adjusted his numbering in the following way:
Henshall's 1342, 勺, has become 宛 in Joy o' Kanji.
Henshall's 1461, 錘, has become 曖 in Joy o' Kanji.
Henshall's 1496, 銑, has become 挨 in Joy o' Kanji.
Henshall's 1593, 脹, has become 嵐 in Joy o' Kanji.
Henshall's 1858, 匁, has become 顎 in Joy o' Kanji.
If Henshall ever updates his book, his new numbering will likely not match my choices (unless he takes his cue from Joy o' Kanji!).
Incidentally, when you see a kanji number of 1946 or higher in Joy o' Kanji, you can be sure that that kanji is an addition to the list (also known as Shin-Joyo, or "New Joyo").
The website Denshi Jisho indicates the grade level for each kanji, as well as the Henshall number, but these sometimes conflict. For example, whereas Denshi Jisho calls 豆 (bean) a third-grade character, the Henshall number is 1640. No matter what Denshi Jisho says about the grade level, I'm working with 997 through 2136 first.
You'll see these numbers in various places in Joy o' Kanji, particularly when I present lists of look-alike kanji and sound-alike kanji, as well as characters that share a radical. Inspired by Henshall's use of numbers in his discussions, I've chosen to supply numbers rather than yomi (readings) for the characters in question because characters tend to have scads of readings, whereas numbers are concise "nicknames." These numbers position each character precisely in the vast Joyo collection, and in that way they should help you feel more oriented. If you want to know the yomi, you can easily look up the kanji by using the search box above.
How Can I See the Shin-Joyo Kanji List?
In Joy o' Kanji, characters numbered 1946 through 2136 are all new additions to the Joyo list, also known as Shin-Joyo kanji. To survey these kanji, go to page 93 of the table of contents for essays. There you'll find 1946 through 1953. Then look at the pager on the bottom:
Pages 94 through 102 will show you kanji 1954 through 2136.
There are still five more characters, however—namely, the ones mentioned in What Are the Numbers Associated with Each Kanji? As I said there, these have replaced others that used to be in the Joyo kanji list:
Kanji 1342: 勺 has dropped out, and 宛 has replaced it.
Kanji 1461: 錘 has dropped out, and 曖 has replaced it.
Kanji 1496: 銑 has dropped out, and 挨 has replaced it.
Kanji 1593: 脹 has dropped out, and 嵐 has replaced it.
Kanji 1858: 匁 has dropped out, and 顎 has replaced it.
How Much Do Joy o' Kanji Products Cost?
You can find a list of prices, as well as payment options, on this page.
Is This a Secure Site?
Yes! At the bottom of the page, you'll see the following logo:
This so-called TrustLogo means that the world's major credit card companies (such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover) trust the security of Joy o' Kanji.
If you hover over the logo with your mouse, you can verify that it's live and up to date.
For more information about what the logo means, you can go to the Comodo website.
How Can I Use My Credit on the Site?
You may have credit on the Joy o' Kanji site, particularly if you won a contest or bought a bundle. (To learn about bundles, see the second section of the Purchasing Information page.)
When you want to check out, click "my cart" and choose the last payment method, as shown here:
Before you complete the transaction, you can see how much credit you have left. That amount is $6.53 in this example.
Your credit will never expire; you can use some now and some later.
If I Can't View Japanese in My Web Browser, What Can I Do?
Are you able to view other Japanese sites? If not, then you probably don't have Japanese-language support installed on your computer. If you install Japanese-language support, it will install the fonts you need to view Japanese pages. The installation will also make it possible to type Japanese with a non-Japanese keyboard.
If you are using Windows, have a look at Microsoft's support article. Once there, scroll down to the section for your OS and follow the instructions provided for installing Japanese-language support. Another site offers a more visual tutorial on how to do this.
If you are using another OS besides Windows, please contact us and supply the following information, which will enable us to solve the problem more quickly:
- • What web browser you are using, and which version?
- • What operating system (OS) you are using
- • What is the URL of the page on which you can't see kanji, if it's just one page?
How Can I Open the Essay PDFs?
After you buy the PDF of an essay, it will download, and you can open it simply by clicking on the file icon. You shouldn't need to open any other application first; these days, most computers come with a PDF reader installed, usually Adobe Reader, and clicking on the file should make the PDF reader spring into action. If you encounter problems, though, you will probably need to install Adobe Reader. You can download it for free from Adobe.
What If I Want to Read About a Kanji for Which There's No Essay?
If I haven't completed an essay about a kanji that interests you, there may still be something useful for you to read. Links on Character Home Pages will take you to relevant passages from Kanji Curiosity, the blog I wrote from 2007 through 2010. You'll find such links only if the Kanji Curiosity text covered etymology or surprising meanings, not if the blog simply provided words containing a particular kanji.
By the way, I take requests! If you're struggling to get a handle on a junior high school character and would like an essay on that in the near future, just let me know.
How Experienced Should I Be to Benefit Most from Joy o' Kanji?
Anyone can learn quite a bit from Joy o' Kanji essays and JOKIA photo albums. (Even native Japanese speakers will find information they don't know!) However, I’m gearing Joy o' Kanji toward readers who have already learned some Japanese and kanji.
To derive full benefits from the essays and photo albums, you'll need hiragana, because I provide yomi in hiragana, not in romaji. (If I've lost you with these or any other terms, see the glossary.)
It would also help if you knew the basics of kanji, particularly how a character may have a "Chinese" reading (an on-yomi) and a "Japanese" reading (a kun-yomi) or perhaps several of each. Everything will make more sense if you also understand how these readings tend to change when kanji appear in compounds, as opposed to standing alone, unaffiliated with other characters.
If you know the terms "radical" and "component," you'll be even better equipped to read Joy o' Kanji essays.
Photo Credit: Eve Kushner
How Can I Acquire Prerequisite Knowledge?
If you don't know any characters, I recommend beginning with the easiest ones before plunging into Joy o' Kanji. For that, I would steer you to Basic Kanji Book, Volume 1. Taking at least one kanji class would help a lot, too. Barring that, look for free kanji-learning resources on the Internet.
For an overview of how kanji work on both a macro level (e.g., patterns in the system of kanji) and a micro level (e.g., how components behave within kanji), my book Crazy for Kanji: A Student's Guide to the Wonderful World of Japanese Characters is also extremely helpful (in my unbiased opinion!).
To start learning Japanese or to enhance what you know, check out JapanesePod101.com—Learn Japanese with Free Daily Podcasts. By listening to their podcasts (which are free) and studying the accompanying PDFs (which are not), you can boost your vocabulary and your knowledge of grammar, as well as your listening comprehension. The lessons make the challenge of learning Japanese feel fun and manageable.
See Further Resources for more recommendations.
What Features Are Coming to Joy o' Kanji?
We're expanding this site bit by bit. Here are the parts we hope to add in future phases:
- • Single-Character Flashcards for the whole Joyo set, enabling you to test yourself on the meaning and readings of each kanji.
- • Vocabulary Flashcards featuring the words, expressions, and even the sample sentences introduced in each essay. You can go from Japanese to English or vice versa.
- • Games and quizzes.
- • Haiku Corner, with in-depth discussions of haiku.
- • Ask a Native Speaker, a place for you to ask my team of editors questions about their language.
- • A store where you'll be able to buy a fun assortment of kanji-related products.
Once I've Bought a Subscription, How Can I Download Essays?
1. If you're already logged in, please log out. Then log in again. (Sorry for the inconvenience.)
2. Click on "Account." You will see these choices:
Please choose "Files," as shown.
3. Now you will see something like this:
4. To choose an essay, go to the column called "Filename." Click on the blue filenames (e.g., JOK1041second.pdf) of the essays you want.
5. Once your download is finished, refresh the page to download again.
6. After this session, if you want to access essays that have since been added to the site, you will need to log out and log back in. That is the only way the new essays will appear in your account. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Once I've Bought a Subscription, How Can I Access JOKIA Albums?
1. Log in (if you're not already logged in). It should say "Welcome, (your name)" at the top of every page.
2. Go here: http://www.joyokanji.com/jokia/albums
All albums shown here, and any albums added later, should be accessible to you. That is, you should see this kind of display:
If instead you see the following, then something isn't right: