Do You Love Kanji?

I didn’t love kanji when I first started trying to learn Japanese, but I think I started to love them maybe about four or five levels into WK. Now kanji are my favorite part of learning Japanese, and I look forward to learning new ones when I see them in my upcoming lessons.

As others have mentioned, it’s extraordinarily cool that kanji sort of make the etymology of words more visible. And of course, the origin of the kanji themselves is also cool! One thing that really helped me appreciate kanji is the Keisei Semantic-Phonetic Composition script, which is both very helpful and very fascinating.

I also love words like 火山 or 毛虫, where the meaning follows so clearly from the kanji, or words like 里心 or 花火 where the concept is a little more abstract, but still makes perfect sense. The imagery of the kanji accompanying those words makes their concepts so much more evocative to me.

Another thing that I love about kanji is that I can look at text with a bunch of unknown vocabulary, and if I can recognize the kanji, I can often puzzle out some of the meaning.

And it’s just cool that names spelled with kanji have all of these additional meanings sort of implicit in them. As a pro wrestling fan, it’s so much fun to look at the kanji in wrestling names and think about how they apply to the character! 石井 智宏, Tomohiro Ishii, is often referred to as the “stone pitbull,” and sure enough, the first kanji in his name means “stone.”

I think for me, the big shift in my own mindset happened when I stopped viewing kanji as an obstacle to my understanding, and instead started viewing them as something worth learning just in themselves. My WK reviews went from being a chore that I begrudgingly did in order to get to my real goal (which was being able to read and understand Japanese) to instead being something that I genuinely enjoyed doing every day because it was really satisfying purely to learn more kanji.

As long as I keep working at it, I’ll reach my goal of being able to read Japanese eventually, but in the meantime, I can still experience the pure joy of learning a new kanji and realizing that Konami’s name, 小波, is literally little wave (and thus it translates to wavelets or ripples on water), or realizing that the kanji for autumn, 秋, contains the tree radical and fire, which feels like it embodies the aesthetic of autumn perfectly.

One thing that really helped me love kanji more was using the lesson filter script so that I can learn a few kanji every day alongside my vocab lessons instead of trying to learn them in batches of 10 or more. If I go slower, I can appreciate them individually. It also allows me to have time to learn how to write them by hand. I’m not a skilled calligrapher by any means, but I am a book artist, so I love thinking about how writing tools and methods shaped the language.

I think WK’s system has the potential to be very punishing if you attempt to do it too fast, and that can make kanji less enjoyable if you see them as annoyances adding to the burden of your SRS reviews, or as an obstacle in the way of your understanding that you have to find a way to overcome as soon as possible. Taking it slower helps make the journey an end in itself instead of only keeping your eyes on the finish line.