Over the last couple of years, I have taken up several large projects: to name a few, writing a book, taking an online seminary course, and learning Kanji. Kanji are the Chinese characters which are used as part of the Japanese written language. The Chinese language has tens of thousands of characters, but after WWII, the Japanese standardized their linguistic procedures so that today there are about 2000 Kanji that are used for general purposes. A well-read person may know around 3000 Kanji. 

There are two main complexities with Kanji:

1. Writing: The order and direction of pen strokes matters. So, people are not only memorizing how each character looks, but the exact manner in which they should write it.

2. Reading: Each Kanji character has between 2 and 6 different sounds associated with its reading, so if you’re unfamiliar with a given word or grouping of Kanji characters, it can sometimes be pretty tricky to know which permutations of pronunciation are appropriate!

Children begin learning Kanji in grade one, and continue to learn all the way through high school. By the time they have finished high school, they have mastered the 2000 basic Kanji. When they go to university, they may learn more characters which are specific to their chosen field.

My Kanji project: learn all 2000 basic Kanji. I should qualify this by saying that I recognized that it would be easy to get overwhelmed with such a gargantuan task, so I put some limitations on what was inside and outside of the scope for this project. I would learn the meanings of each Kanji character, and how to write the characters. However, learning the verbal readings was outside of my scope.

By the end of the year when I was largely bed-ridden, I was able to memorize just over 1000 Kanji. When we found out that we would be staying in Okinawa with Global Outreach Mission, I dusted off my old Kanji books and decided that I would use the months of administrative and governmental paperwork to try and polish off the other 1000 characters. My goal was to finish by September 2013.

As you can see from the pictures above, I finally completed this project at the end of September. With a big sigh of relief, I can now put away my textbooks for awhile, and let these characters solidify in my brain. The work is by no means over. I still need to learn the readings for the various characters. And, I’ve discovered that often the Japanese will put two or more Kanji together to make an entirely different word. However, I’ve found that often these composite words have a lot of logic behind them.

For instance:
post office = mail + convenience + bureau

So I’ve actually found that knowing the individual Kanji helps me to memorize more vocabulary.

I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the complexities of the Japanese language, so it looks like learning Japanese will be a life-long endeavour. They say that engaging in activities like learning languages and doing crossword puzzles helps to stave off cognitive degeneration. Take that, Alzheimers!