Academic Kanji?

Hi, my name is Stefan and I’m quite new here and was wondering if learning the common kanji characters is sufficient for studying in Japan or pursuing more academic work? Are there additional academic kanji characters one might need to learn? Are there any lists of such kanji?


I guess the short answer is that you will definitely need more than 2000 kanji, as the average college graduate knows 3000-4000 kanji. Here is a reference, although I’m sure there are better ones:

But no one can give you a list of such kanji, as they are going to be domain specific. So a geology graduate will probably know hundreds of kanji that a law graduate doesn’t know and vice versa. Someone who’s done this would be a better guide, but logically, you’d need to learn Japanese to a good enough level to enter university, and then you’d need to keep learning the language and kanji in your specific field. Once you’re good enough to engage in your field in Japanese, then you’ll probably find this isn’t as hard as you think as you would be totally immersed in it.

As for what level you need to enter a Japanese university, if that is your goal you might want to make some more specific statements about your goals there and maybe someone with experience closer to what you are after can help more.


@mitrac has a good answer but on top of that I want to say that in general you shouldn’t worry about it.

I remember when I started I got pretty invested in the amount of coverage I’d get out of WaniKani (and whether I should be concerned that it doesn’t cover all of jouyou or N1 kanji) but as I’m nearing the end right now I almost feel the other way around: in some respects I would argue that WaniKani teaches too many kanji.

The most important thing with a tool like WaniKani is that it teaches you how to deal with kanji and no longer be scared of them. Once you’re done with WaniKani you won’t be done learning kanji, but you should also find that it’s not really an issue doing that on your own at that point for the kanji that matters for you in your particular environment.

I think this wkstat table is always worth keeping in mind:

Ignoring Aozora (it’s probably not super relevant unless you decide to study classical Japanese literature specifically) you can see that you get over 98% kanji coverage even for something as varied and technical as Wikipedia.

Once you’re at that point, dealing with the ~2% of unknown kanji you meet here and there is a significantly lesser issue. And keep in mind that knowing/not knowing a kanji is not a binary thing either, eventually you will recognize words even if you’re not super comfortable with the individual kanji if you see them often enough. I could read 綺麗 long before I learned what the kanji meant because of how common the word is and how distinctive it looks for instance.

I also learned to recognize the word 細胞 (cell) before it’s taught on wanikani because it’s common in a game I was playing. I knew the first kanji meant “thin” and the 2nd kanji looks like 肉 (meat) + 泡 (bubble). What’s a “thin meat bubble”? Why, it’s a cell of course! And on top of that it even gave me the reading because 泡 and 胞 share the same reading.

So if you read a complex word in an academic context made up of three kanji and you only know two of them, you’ll probably still be able to remember the word easily in context.

For all these reasons and more, coming up with a definite list of kanji you need to know for a specific endeavor is fundamentally pointless.

So again, WaniKani will not teach you every single kanji you may ever need, but by the time you’re done with it that really shouldn’t be much of an issue anymore. You’ll just pick up the rest on your own time.


Fully agreed. What you’re going to end up caring about is the words, not the kanji. By the time you get far enough into studying the language to be doing academic study in it, you’ll find it easy enough to deal with whatever new kanji show up in the technical terminology used in your field; and they’ll be far outweighed by the new vocabulary you need to learn that uses kanji you already know anyway.


That’s a very important point too. I tried reading a light novel yesterday and I don’t think I encountered a single kanji I didn’t recognize, but the vocab gave me a lot of trouble because it was describing a ferry leaving the docks and there was a lot of semi-specific vocabulary that I wasn’t familiar with.

I did encounter the word 汽笛 (steam whistle) which I think I used in the past as an example of a “useless” word taught on WaniKani, so that’ll teach me…


To be frank, but yes. You’ll defo have to learn more than the basic 2000 if your aim is academic work, with an emphasis on work rather than just studying. You can study in English at a Japanese university, and from the little I know, they require a high level of proficiency if you wanna take any course in Japanese, meaning JLPT 1. WK doesn’t cover all of that, but certainly helps you toward that goal.

But working in academia is a whole different beast. and yes, regardless of what country you’re in, having a high level of proficiency in the native language is part and parcel of what Academics do -write. Even if you mainly write in English.

i suggest, going after this goal full throttle because no half-measures will do. You won’t be able to fully participate in the Academic discussions unless you go to that extra level. Same as for any country you’d try to get into the work of the university. English alone just won’t do.

Also, there are academic courses exactly for this purpose: teaching you academic Japanese. Much as there are for academic English and so on. make sure you sign up for one of those, but first, you’ll have to clear the lower level Japanese and get sufficiently fluent. Next is leveling up from that basic knowledge.

You can do it! Good luck! :+1: