kanji characters

The 3002 Kanji characters you need to read a newspaper

If you’ve started learning Japanese you aught to know that there are basically 3 different characters sets you need to learn concurrently to best read Japanese text. 2 of them being the basic hiragana and katakana and the third being the many thousands of kanji characters. All the characters in Japanese are derivitive of Chinese characters, but only the kanji characters keep their original shape (for the most part) There are some exceptions. Their meanings and pronunciation however are usually very different.

Kanji characters cartoon
Kanji characters cartoon – from The Japan times

Far from it for me to put any of you off learning Japanese to any level of fluency, but I thought I might show you the 3002 kanji characters you need to read a newspaper. Even knowing all of these 3002 kanji characters perfectly, you’d still only be able to read 99.97% of what’s written due to irregularities with written name kanji characters. Even Japanese people who have been speaking Japanese from birth have trouble with the more difficult newspapers, so don’t feel too bad.

From year 1 through to year 6 in Japanese primary schools, students are taught the first 1006 most commonly used kanji characters used in written texts called the ‘kyouiku kanji’, this knowledge, by the time you are 11 years old should enable you to be able to read 94.6% of a newspaper.

  • 500 most common characters gives 80.7% comprehension
  • 1000 most common characters gives 94.6% comprehension
  • 2000 most common characters gives 99.72% comprehension
  • 3000 most common characters gives 99.97% comprehension

3002 Kanji characters you need to read a newspaper

3002 kanji characters
3002 kanji characters

This isn’t even a complete list of kanji out there, there are upwards of 5000+ kanji characters in use today for various reasons so if you were to learn 1 a day perfectly, it would take you almost 14 years to learn 5000, and the problem with that is that nobody really actaually knows how many there are, so you’d most likely never learn them all.

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  1. 15-30 new kanji a day is actually a pretty reasonable rate of acquisition for kanji, both from experience in doing so and from learning with others using a similar method. Acquiring 5000 kanji would take 6 months to a year, and probably another 6-12 months to solidify. Perfectly reasonable goal if you were actually interested in learning the language, and absolutely very satisfying when you reach that level of fluency.


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Duncan Sensei

Article by: Duncan Sensei

Steven Duncan Sensei is the DuncanSensei from DuncanSensei.com! having lived in japan for over 2 years he's gained a love for the country and it shows in his teaching and photographic work.