Does the meaning of the kanji matter?

Hey, i am a beginner to the whole learning kanji experience, and i just wanna know if the meaning of the different kanji has any real world value, or is it mostly so we have something to remember the kanji by? Because i get that sometimes the meaning of vocabulary is very much the same as the combined kanji that make up the vocabulary, but at other times it has no correlation at all and i find that very confusing.
Thank you!

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No Sometimes The Other Meaning Comes In Different Sentences
and when it comes in a sentence

Strictly speaking you could go without learning the meanings and just learn the definition of each vocabulary, as those are what actually make up the language. However, learning the meanings is still very beneficial. Most of the time the vocabulary meaning will be related to the kanji meanings. It also helps when you encounter a word you don’t know yet, often you’ll be able to infer a general meaning from the kanji used.



If you don’t know the meaning of kanji, you won’t be able to guestimate the translation of unknown words. You’ll be forced to look up every new vocab you encounter.

WK will teach you the most common readings, so that together with the meaning, is a huge help when reading.


I consider the meaning of kanji more like the concepts you would associate the kanji with, rather than a literal meaning. Of course, for learning, an initial meaning of a kanji is super useful, especially when you just start or just get to know the kanji.

Overall I notice that the more familiar a kanji becomes, the more it become a thing in and of itself. Much like when I learnt English as a new language, I used to link the English words to the Dutch I natively speak. After a while, you don’t need the link between the two anymore and the English words are just that; English words.
I’m still a beginner in Japanese, but this is a trend I’m seeing in Japanese as well. I don’t translate easier Japanese texts anymore. I just ‘know’ what it says. (there is an obvious risk here, though…)


The only real time there is no correlation between kanji meaning and vocab meaning is ateji, which is when kanji are used for their sound and nothing else. Like in the word 寿司 (sushi). Those kanji were only chosen because they can make the sounds す and し, not for what they mean.

But ateji are a minority of all words.

In other cases, there is always some meaning that is relevant. You might just be noticing that sometimes kanji have multiple meanings, so it might not be the meaning that was initially taught.


Well, eh. Anyone can just associate a kanji with words they’ve previously seen it in and get the same exact benefit so learning the meaning really only provides this advantage for the very first word you learn that uses that kanji.

Though if you only know the word and not the meanings of the individual kanji, it can sometimes be hard to tell what the actual meanings of the component kanji are supposed to be, in some cases. That would make it harder to use that first word to help with another word.


In some cases, perhaps, but I think we all can agree this not only applies to a minority of kanji, but this issue is further shrunk by just learning words in order of usefulness generally too. You have to consider that usually when you are seeing a kanji for the first time, its got a very high probability to be in a very basic word. The first time someone sees 聞 is most likely going to be in 聞く and not 聞香. 口 should be learned before 人口, for example, so that would prevent you from getting confused about 口 in the first place.

Regardless, I think its doing everyone a disservice to claim that being able to infer meanings of words is somehow a special advantage you get from learning the english meanings someone made up. Past the first word for a vast majority of stuff you come across, people who didnt learn the meanings aren’t going to be at any notable advantage. Can you find a handful of cases where they might have one? Sure. But don’t forget to weigh that against the time you’re taking to study the meaning in the first place.


Japanese meanings are fine as well… I can see either being helpful as long as you understand what nuance they’re pointing at. I don’t see English being a special advantage or disadvantage, for any given kanji meaning. If you already know some Japanese, you can try learning the Japanese meaning instead or translate it yourself.

The idea that an English meaning is “made up” doesn’t really sit well with me, because I mean, at the core there’s some concept being expressed, no matter what language you use. (and it was originally ancient Chinese)


Your whole post seems to be focused on the small part of

english meanings someone made up

but not only is that irrelevant to the point I was trying to make, but I think youre reading too much into it. I’m literally just saying that some other person decided this english word fits this kanji. I dont think anyone here would disagree with that. My whole post was about why that word isnt something you have to explicitly study. I wouldnt study the japanese word for tat kanji either

And I usually do. Obviously it’s possible to do it without explicitly studying kanji meanings as well. I still feel like saying “they don’t matter” would be wrong, so I’m on the side of “they matter.” They’re there and being important behind the scenes even if someone doesn’t dig into them.

I guess we’re just answering differerent questions. I was not thinking of this as “does studying kanji meanings matter” and the answer to that question might be “no” for some people.

I didnt read the other posts so I don’t know if you’re referring to what someone else said, but I dont believe I ever said they don’t matter.

The concept behind a kanji is important for practical reasons, but as far as those practical uses go you’ll be able to get all you need to know from the words the kanji is used in.

What doesn’t matter is what english word you use to express it. Of all 3000 something kanji Ive studied, I could probably tell you, with confidence, the english meaning of like 30 of them. In my head, though, I have a concept associated with just about every single one of them. Im not here arguing that associating a concept with a kanji isnt important for learning vocab, Im here telling you you don’t need to explicitly study some english word to do it.

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There have been more than a few times that I have been able to infer the meaning of a word when reading manga by the individual meanings of one or both kanji.


Well, I mean, the question of the thread was, as far as I could tell, “is there value in studying kanji meanings”. I think there is, and it’s not my place to say what language someone should use if they’re interested in them, as long as they make sure they understand what the concept is. Even in Japanese, you have to be careful about that, so it’s not unique to English meanings.


I wouldn’t disagree, but going back to my previous post I mentioned you have to weigh that against the time you are putting in if you are going to consider it from an efficiency standpoint. I think for practical purposes, the concept you are able to extract from the vocab words (and again, usually it only takes one honestly) is good enough for making inferences.

Obviously I’m going to be in the minority here since basically everyone on this site is learning kanji meanings and people are gonna probably over value their importance. But regardless, some people (not you) make the claim that word meaning inference is some advantage specific to explicitly studying the meaning and I mean thats just completely incorrect. I just want to point out how apart from first encounters, you can almost always do it with relatively the same ease anyways.


I think, as others have said, it definitely can have value to assign meaning to the kanji alone as it helps you when trying to figure out the meaning of new words / compounds containing that kanji as you come across them.

It’s also useful to know the meanings of kanji when you see them as part of another kanji. For example, it is easier to remember that 感 means “feeling / emotion” when you can break it into 成 (become) on top and 心 (heart) on the bottom. For some reason WK breaks the top part down into further components (maybe because the shape is slightly different from 成?), whereas 減 loses the 心 but WK still calls the right part 感. So, remembering the meanings of kanji can help with forming your own mnemonics for more complicated kanji as well.

However, if there’s a kanji that has many possible meanings or nuances to it, I also wouldn’t stress out if you mess up when trying to remember the WaniKani primary meanings, especially if you are getting the vocabulary reviews containing that kanji correct.

To give an example, I still have not burned 安, a kanji from WK level 6 and often one of the first taught in any beginner-level Japanese course, not because I don’t know what it means but because when I see it my first thought is 安心 (relief) or 安全 (peaceful) or 安定 (stable) which make me think “peace” and not 安い (cheap) or 安楽 (comfort, ease). Since, after checking other dictionaries, it seems that “peaceful” is also a perfectly fine meaning for this kanji, I finally just added it as a user synonym. I wouldn’t do that if the meaning I kept thinking of wasn’t correct, but in this case it was.