Do native Japanese people learn kanji by rote?

I’m fascinated by how they can do it? Do they just memorize readings all through school?

Also, was looking at two learning books made for native Japanese & notice that the onyomi reading is written in katakana whilst the kunyomi is written in hiragana. Why is this & how come wanikani doesn’t?


Well, they only average like 4 new kanji per week over the time they learn them all, that’s part of it. They aren’t going nearly as fast as non-natives tend to. They also do a lot more consumption of material in the language than we do, so they get natural input at a steady rate.

Primarily this can save space in Japanese dictionaries. By doing this, the dictionary doesn’t need labels for the categories of readings, they are distinguished this way. But it became enough of a standard that it continues to get used in some places that don’t have space restrictions.


Just a possibility, though I’m not certain: technically, on’yomi are readings that have a foreign origin, so it makes sense that they’re the ones in katakana. However, I guess it’s just a common convention, not a universal standard.

I’m not Japanese, but as a Chinese speaker… I guess the answer is yeah, sort of? School alone isn’t really enough though for more advanced vocabulary and kanji. However, the key thing is exposure: with enough exposure, you can go really far. Also, I think what helps is that natives tend to get more chances to use the vocabulary they already have and turn it into something substantial. They see more practical uses for the kanji they already know in their daily lives. That’s what helps them to stick. At the very least, natives will learn how to pronounce phrases containing those kanji, even if they can’t always remember to write those things out.

PS: You might have noticed that I said ‘they’ and not ‘we’ even though I’d been speaking Chinese almost all my life. The reason for that is that my main language is and has always been English, meaning that I didn’t have as much immersion as people growing up in areas where Chinese is the primary language. As such, I can’t really claim to know exactly what native speakers have experienced, even though I’m more or less one myself as far as Chinese goes.


4 a week for how many years?

They learn the jouyou kanji (2136 kanji) over the course of their 12 years through high school.

Though after 6th grade things get a little less structured. In elementary school the kanji they are supposed to learn each year is determined by the government, and the teachers teach them the stroke order and all the details for each kanji one by one.

After elementary school, they are just supposed to learn the rest of the kanji before they finish school, there’s no explicit order (not one set by the government anyway). And the teachers stop giving every detail, and expect the students to learn them on their own. Class time can then be devoted to tricky differences rather than all the minor details.


how do kids go about learning other subjects without having yet mastered kanji? is it all in kana?

Textbooks will usually use furigana liberally.

Teachers will usually only write known kanji on the blackboard. Students will only use kanji they learned in their school work.

Let’s say they need to mention the word 実験 (experiment) in science.

Before 3rd grade, neither kanji is known, so they would write じっけん.

In 3rd grade they learn 実, so they can now write 実けん.

In 4th grade they learn 験, so they can write the full word.


I am Chinese but grew up in North America. I did grade 1 and 3 in China, and rest of the time North America. Growing up I loved reading…so although I only formatively learned chinese for 2 years…(and in China I think you learn like 300 kanji per school year)…I can read anything in Chinese with no issues just because of the large exposure of kanji Ive had to read. Actually many times I don’t even know the right pronunciation of those words, but if you read it long enough you will learn the meaning and also you just get a sense of what a word means even if you do not fully understand it.

Now that I am learning Japanese…its kinda the same thing…many times I would look at a kanji and understand what it is trying to say (I know there are kanjis that does not carry the same meaning…but I would say 70% its similar meaning), but many times I cannot articulate it because I have then have to translate the meaning from Chinese to English and that becomes hard.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.