Lesson 17: Elementary Kanji

In Lesson 6, we learned some very basic kanji by learning how to count. Now we can expand our kanji knowledge by learning some easy elementary level kanji symbols. Kanji is very important to the Japanese language because many of the symbols are used on a daily basis in Japan, so learning this complex writing system is essential for all serious students of Japanese.

Please keep in mind that some kanji symbols have more than one reading. Sometimes they even have more than one meaning. This is especially true for words that are made up of more than one kanji. You may recognize a kanji symbol or two, but not know the symbol before them or after them. The symbol that comes either before or after the symbol you know could change the reading of the symbols or the entire meaning of the symbol phrase. For our purposes in this lesson, I will be giving you the relevant readings and translations—just keep in mind there could be others. As you will see, some of the kanji taught in this lesson have a couple of readings and meanings, so I will explain these in more depth.

Part I – The Kanji

Study the following kanji symbols, their pronunciations, and their meanings. After the chart, there are brief comments about each symbol. After you have studied, try your hand at the exercises that follow.

1. にち/び/ひ Sun, day
2. げつ/がつ Moon, month
3. fire
4. すい water
5. もく tree
6. きん gold
7. Earth, dirt
8. ほん Book
9. にん/じん Person, people

These are the nine main kanji we will be focusing on in this lesson. Here are some more detailed explanations of these symbols.

As you can see in the chart, the symbol日 has three hiragana readings. The main meaning for this kanji is “day,” even though it has several readings. The first reading is used when this kanji symbol is referring to Sunday. The second hiragana reading is used when it comes after this symbol: 曜(よう). This is used when talking about days of the week. You will be asked to write out the days of the week in a later exercise—we have already learned how to do this, but now we are learning the kanji necessary for these words! The third reading for this symbol is used when simply talking about a day or for phrases like “that day.”

月 has two readings in the chart above. The first reading is used to mean “moon” kanji used for “Monday” (since the word is げつようび). You already know that げつ appears at the front of the Japanese word for Monday, so when writing the kanji for Monday, 月 will go first. Then, use the other two symbols taught in the explanation for 日, and you have the word “Monday” written entirely in kanji. The second reading for this kanji we have also covered in an earlier lesson. This reading is used when talking about months of the year. 月appears at the end of each month’s Japanese word (Ex: 一月for January).

火 is an easier kanji since we are only concerned with one reading and one meaning at the moment. Although the kanji means “fire,” it is used to write the Japanese word for “Tuesday.” The following kanji are used similarly to火, since they appear in the first part of the word for different days of the week: 水, 木, 金, 土.

本 looks very similar to木. This is because本 means “book” and 木 means “tree,” so you can see how they are related. 本 can be used to talk about a single book, or many books. This symbol is also used in conjunction with the symbol日to write “Japan” in kanji (日本, written in hiragana asにほん). In the kanji for “Japan,” 日is only read as に, but the reading for 本 remains the same. This is just one of the many examples of how kanji can be very complicated and confusing because any symbol can have multiple readings and meanings.

人is the symbol used when talking about people. You can be talking about one person, or several people. In order to specify how many people, simply place the kanji for the number of people before this kanji. For example, to say five people, write 五人. This is read as ごにん.  This works for most numbers, but “one person” and “two people” have a different pronunciation. Although you write them like this: 一人and二人, they are readひとりand ふたり. You can also use 人 when talking about a person’s nationality. In this case, you would use the second reading of じん.

Now that the kanji symbols have been discussed in more detail, try out the exercises below. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get them correct on your first try. Kanji is very difficult to get used to!

Exercise I – Writing Kanji

In order to remember kanji, it is important to practice writing them. Get a sheet of paper and write each symbol several times, while focusing on what the symbols mean and how to say them. Do this until you can look at each kanji symbol and translate it without needing to look at the information above!

Exercise II – Using Kanji

1. Use the kanji symbols above to write the days of the week. Each blank stands for a kanji symbol. Don’t look at the answer key (located at the bottom of the lesson) until you have finished all the exercises!

Sunday             __ __ __          Monday           __ __ __          Tuesday           __ __ __
Wednesday     __ __ __          Thursday         __ __ __          Friday              __ __ __
Saturday          __ __ __

2. Translate the following into Japanese, using kanji where appropriate.

I have a book.





That book is my book.

That day





Japanese person

Three people


Answer Key

Exercise II Part 1

日曜日            月曜日            火曜日

水曜日            木曜日            金曜日


Exercise II Part 2







2 thoughts on “Lesson 17: Elementary Kanji”

  1. Hello, my name is Sam and I would wonder, are you going to put out more kanji lessons? I would hope you do soon, these lessons helped me a lot, and I want to learn more Kanji!
    Thank You!

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