1. What Does the Name "Joy o' Kanji" Mean?

"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.

Three beautiful kanji: 者 (person), 静 (quiet), and 女 (woman).


2. 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.

This word, 一心 (いっしん), means "one mind; wholeheartedness; one's whole heart." More than anything, Joy o' Kanji offers exactly that—singlemindedness driven by wholehearted passion. If you come to feel a passion for kanji, and perhaps for other things (because passion spreads like a fire!), then Joy o' Kanji will have succeeded in its mission.


3. 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!

There's a wealth of information and fun to be had when you study Chinese characters. These are old Chinese coins. The hole in the middle enabled people to carry them on strings, rather than in purses. To read such a coin, think of it as a clock and then read the characters in the 12:00 and 6:00 positions as one compound. This vertical pair represents the name of either a dynasty or an era, indicating when the coin was in use. Then read the other pair from right to left. This twosome indicates the type of currency.

With the coin featured above we find the following:

洪武 (Hong-wu: a Chinese era, 1368–1398)
通寶 (tōngbǎo: general currency)

In both China and Japan, 寶 is the old form of 宝 (treasure). All the other characters on the coin are Joyo kanji.


4. 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

Where do we lodge memories about characters? Why, in the Hotel Kanji!
This one is in Jaipur in Rajasthan, India, but in a sense we all have kanji hotels in our minds!
There are always rooms available for us to lodge more and more kanji!

5. 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 have started 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 the late Mary Sisk Noguchi, who wrote 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!

This says 福徳 (ふくとく: fortune, happiness, prosperity)
and it makes good use of the fifth-grade kanji 徳!

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 contains about 10 photos of a particular kanji, usually in signs. The captions in JOKIA albums explain everything you need to know about the photos, helping you absorb characters, vocabulary, and cultural concepts in a fun, dynamic way.

6. 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 gave priority to the junior high school kanji that can function as radicals; I've completed all 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

If I've mentioned a character in an essay, and if I have a photo of that kanji, then it goes onto a tag. Each tag here represents a kanji. On the left-hand bulletin board, the tags represent essays I plan to write next. On the right-hand board, tags indicate essays that are under way. If an essay has made it into PDF form, it's listed on those typed sheets to the right.

7. 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. 

8. 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 302, and I believe I'll press on sequentially toward kanji number 997, later circling back and doing the first 300 or so. For now I have skipped those because people studying the most basic kanji probably want to see photos filled only with other simple kanji, as well as with easy grammatical structures. It's harder to find such photos, as that's certainly not how people think when they make signs in Japan!

As for the junior high school kanji, I'm not sure right now if I'll make JOKIA albums for those. I'll wait to see how things go. If you have a request in this regard, please let me know!


9. 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. When he published his book in 1998, the Joyo set contained 1,945 characters. Since then, five have dropped out, and 196 have been added, resulting in 2,136 kanji. The added characters are known as Shin-Joyo, or "New Joyo."

I adjusted his original numbering in the following way:

Henshall's 1342, 勺, became 宛 on Joy o' Kanji.
Henshall's 1461, 錘, became 曖 on Joy o' Kanji.
Henshall's 1496, 銑, became 挨 on Joy o' Kanji.
Henshall's 1593, 脹, became 嵐 on Joy o' Kanji.
Henshall's 1858, 匁, became 顎 on Joy o' Kanji.

Incidentally, when you see a kanji number of 1946 or higher in Joy o' Kanji, you can be sure that that character is a Shin-Joyo kanji.

In 2016, Henshall updated his book, adding etymologies for the Shin-Joyo characters and changing practically all the kanji numbers. Now very few of them match the kanji numbers on Joy o' Kanji. The explanations below pertain to his earlier edition. And whenever I cite one of his etymologies on Joy o' Kanji (as I frequently do in Radical Notes, for instance), you should assume that both the etymology and the kanji number have come from his original book.

Henshall organized that first volume 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.

These mah-jongg tiles demonstrate another way of associating numbers with characters.

Although Henshall based his numbers on the Japanese curriculum at that time, certain kanji are now taught earlier or later than before, so the grade level and kanji number no longer match. For example, as you can see at the top of Kanshudo's detailed page about 豆 (bean), that kanji is a third-grade character, but as it says at the bottom of the page, the Henshall number is 1640. No matter what the current grade level is, I'm working with 997 through 2136 first. 

You'll see kanji numbers in various places on 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

If you can read this and know that it's 百年 (ひゃくねん: 100 years), you'll definitely be fine. Even if you don't know that, you'll be okay, because I'll always tell you such things!

Don't worry if you can't read this. It's messy! At Joy o' Kanji, we frown on messy characters (even if they're considered beautiful in Japan!). The motto here is "Legibility is Beautiful"! In case you're curious, this character is 林 (forest). You would think the two sides would at least be symmetrical!

Photo Credit: Eve Kushner

Definiitely don't worry if you can't read this menu! I have no idea how anyone can! What insanity!


12. How Can I Acquire Prerequisite Knowledge?

If you're new to kanji, the glossary and Radical Terms can fill you in on some of the basics, but you'll probably want more of a foundation than those can give you.

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.

13. How Much Do Joy o' Kanji Products Cost?

You can find a list of prices, as well as payment options, on this page

14. Is This a Secure Site?

Yes! To the left of the URL, you'll see a green padlock symbol, as follows:

And if you click on that symbol, you will learn more:

This means that the world's major credit card companies trust the security of Joy o' Kanji and that you can, too.

You may not see the same thing, depending on which browser you use. Firefox is a better bet than Chrome, for instance.

15. 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, received a gift certificate, or bought a bundle of essays. Your credit will never expire; you can use some now and some later. Depending on how much credit you have, you can apply it toward various products:

• Individual essays: Go to the table of contents for essays and choose the essays you want. When you buy five or more essays, a volume discount automatically applies at checkout. The amount of the discount depends on the number of essays in the cart. You can see the discounted rates on the Purchasing Information page in the third section, "Volume Discounts and Bundles."

• JOKIA photo albums: Go to the JOKIA page and choose the albums you want.

• A one-year subscription (worth $85): Go to Purchasing Information and choose the second option, "Subscriptions." 

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. 

16. 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?

17. 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.

18. How Can I Open an Essay PDF in Kindle for iPad?

There are a few ways to open a Joy o' Kanji PDF in Amazon's Kindle for iPad.

1. Using a computer: Copy the PDF to the computer, open iTunes, plug the iPad into the computer, sync with the iPad, and open the iPad option within iTunes (where you set what songs to sync with the iPad or where you change apps in the iPad). On the page showing which apps you have on your iPad, you should see a "file sharing" section below. Click on the "Kindle" app. On the right-hand side, a list of Kindle documents will display. Drag and drop your PDF into this list. Then sync with the iPad. The PDF will be copied to the Kindle app on the iPad.

2. Using an iPad: Open the PDF in your email or in your web browser. Tap on the screen to make the menu pop up. In the top right-hand corner, it should say "Open in iBooks" and "Open in..." Tap on "Open in...." A list of apps will appear. Tap on "Open in Kindle." This will then copy the PDF into the Kindle reader.

3. Using Apple's reader (iBooks): In option 2, tap on "Open in iBooks" instead of "Open in ...."

Option 2 is easier than Option 1. Also, Option 2 is the only way to download the PDFs directly into the Kindle reader if you're using an iPad. We are not currently selling the PDFs on Amazon, so direct delivery into the Kindle reader is not possible via Amazon at this time.

19. 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. 

20. 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:

21. How Can I Change the Notification Settings?

Would you like Joy o' Kanji to notify you whenever new content appears on the site? You can control this by going to your account, clicking on "Notifications settings," and choosing the options you like. These are the default settings that now come with all new accounts: