This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of CONNECT.

A Must-Have App for Learning Kanji on the Go

Veronica Nielsen (Hiroshima)


Japanese may appear daunting or even impossible for learners to grasp and speak confidently. As a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in the JET Program whose job primarily involves translation work, I can confirm that learning Japanese is no simple feat. As someone who reads and writes every day in Japanese, one of my biggest challenges in mastering Japanese is memorizing what seem like innumerable readings for kanji, or Chinese characters, that appear in written Japanese. 


Like many others who studied Japanese before traveling to or working in Japan, I had to learn kanji not by its radicals, an aspect of a kanji that helps distinguish similar characters, but by its stroke order—the way to write a kanji character in the correct sequence. Because of this, I sought for a more effective strategy and tool to help me learn kanji; something that didn’t require strenuous effort to memorize these complex but fascinating and fundamental characters. 


The Boon of Kanji Study

Recently, I came across Kanji Study (available on iOS and Android), an easy-to-use app that helps students learn kanji anywhere, anytime. Developed by Chase Colburn, this app trains students to read and learn kanji more effectively than many study guides do. 


For starters, this app has many kanji for students to learn. These include the daily-use kanji (about 2,136 kanji that native Japanese speakers must know) and an additional 4,159 kanji for the more ambitious learners to pursue studying. Also, the app structures its vocabulary into six groups, ranging from beginner to advanced, with a larger category for kanji outside the daily-use list. 


While the number of kanji to learn may seem intimidating to those eager to learn Japanese, the Kanji Study app demonstrates its value through the variety of kanji available and the types of exercises you can choose. 


Since using this app, I have greater confidence in reading and writing more complex Japanese. Kanji Study provides benefits like allowing users to select a pre-made flashcard deck of kanji to study or import their own from another source like Anki: a flashcard app/program that helps users learn by presenting information using a card deck model


Users can also practice writing kanji. When a user taps a kanji, the app displays many features, from stroke order to its kunyomi (Japanese origin) and onyomi (Chinese origin) readings and other minute details that can simplify what initially may have seemed overwhelming. 


The Cost of Excellence

If you want to unlock kanji beyond the beginner level (Japanese Language Proficiency Test N5), you will have to pay about ¥1000. Compared to kanji books that only cover a couple of hundred kanji, this is a deal for anyone who refuses to touch a textbook when studying Japanese. 


For the Kanji Learner’s Course (KLC) graded reading sets, users pay about ¥2,980 through ¥3,980 for thousands of reading exercises. I recommend purchasing these for beginner and intermediate learners. Since Japanese light novels and manga are primarily for native Japanese speakers, it is hard to find something appropriate to practice reading early in one’s language-learning journey. For that reason, graded readers serve as an excellent door to opening one up to the world of Japanese literature.


However, for those who know more Japanese, purchasing higher-level graded readers is not necessary for learning kanji. Many news articles, blog posts, and stories contain many complex kanji that advanced students must learn. Plus, there are many excellent example sentences available online for free when Googling the Japanese word that you wish to study. 


Kani Study as Language Supplement

Some users may find it challenging to learn the numerous ways of using these kanji with the app alone. However, after engaging with kanji on the Kanji Study app first, many Japanese language learners will likely have an easier time reading texts like news articles and learning which kanji appear in various terms. 


This app is also effective for supplementing your test preparation if you wish to take any level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) or aim for additional goals like studying for the Japan Kanji Aptitude Test (Kanken). For anyone serious about learning and achieving high proficiency in Japanese, Kanji Study is an app you will want to add to your study regimen to understand and write kanji. 


And no, this is not a paid ad. I just hope I have helped you to help yourself improve your kanji studies.


Veronica Nielsen is a first-year Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) on the JET Programme living in Hiroshima Prefecture. She has traveled to many prefectures in Japan and aims to visit Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa—three areas she has yet to see.

Featured image photo credit: Nagara Oyodo on Unsplash