How do I search for kanji I don't know?


I was shopping online and I found A t-shirt I like, however, I’ve been having difficulty reading the sizing chart. So far I’ve only been able to determine “Saizu” at the top, and the kanji “袖” for sleeve.
1.)would anyone be able to tell me what the rest mean?
2.)how would I go about searching for kanji in the future? in order to find 袖 I used wanikani to look up kanji that use the katana ネ which I already knew. This method worked for this kanji, however, it didn’t for most of the others.
Thanks in advance!


If you mean on WaniKani, you have to know the radicals WK uses, or the reading, or the meaning.

If you mean generally, you can use something like google translate’s handwriting recognition or camera recognition. Jisho is another site that has a radical search, which might work better than WK, since it’s meant to identify the parts of the full kanji, not just make a mnemonic, which is what WK radicals are for.

All these kanji here are



And in case the kanji are not on WK, you can use search by radicals on


I have to have my phone.
Take a picture or screenshot mystery word, pop it in google translate

Dictionary apps usually have a feature of kanji search by drawing them. It helps to know general stroke order rules, but you can manage without them! I use Jishop, but there are many other similar apps.

I’ve used in the past, they let you handwrite a kanji and even ignore the stroke order if you don’t know it. Has worked a treat for me, even just knowing some bare basics about how stroke order tends to be.


Just wanna add that you can also use handwriting recognition on!

Searching either by multiradical or by SKIP method is usually the quickest. To show a few examples:


Go to (or whatever your preferred character dictionary is) and click on “Radicals” from the menu. Then look for components that appear to be used in this kanji.

For 着, the most obvious component is 目. This may be difficult to recognize at first for a low-resolution image, but it’s something that will become quite easy with time.
To find it in the list of components, try to see how many strokes 目 contains. Depending on how much experience you have with handwriting, it may not be always be obvious how many strokes a component has, so you may want to check a range of possible values. For example, 目 has five strokes, but at first glance it may look like six.

Once you’ve selected the component, you’ll be shown a list of kanji that contain it, ordered by stroke count.
Sometimes, it’s easiest just to count the full number of strokes in the kanji and go to that number to see if you recognize the kanji.
In this case, the kanji has 12 strokes, and there are about 33 kanji listed with that stroke count.

If you’re having trouble counting the number of strokes, or if there are just too many options, you can try identifying additional components, such as 羊 (or 丷 and 王) and ノ.

In this case, adding 丷 narrows down the options by a lot, and adding 王 leaves only the correct kanji.

Learning to recognize the radicals and count strokes takes time and a fair amount of trial and error, but it becomes second nature after a while :slight_smile:

By SKIP method

The SKIP method is a bit trickier, but can be very efficient when a kanji has an easily recognized structure.

The SKIP method breaks a kanji into just two parts, arranged in a certain pattern.

For example:

  • 状 consists of the components 丬 and 犬 arranged in a left-right pattern - ⿰丬犬

  • 空 consists of the components 穴 and 工 in an up-down pattern - ⿱穴工

  • 医 consists of 匚 and 矢 in an enclosure pattern - ⿷匚矢

着 is perhaps not the best example, because it’s not really obvious if it is up-down or enclosure.
As it turns out, it is an enclosure pattern, so you go to a SKIP search dictionary (such as Find kanji by SKIP code) and select the icon that looks like a box in a box.
Next, you select the stroke count of the two components: 7 and 5. Many electronic dictionaries also allow you to set an error margin, in case you’re not 100% certain how many strokes there are.

No error margin:

+/- 1 stroke in each component:

Again, this may seem a bit overwhelming at first, but after a while you start to develop a gut feeling that “Oh, this kanji should be easy to find by SKIP method” or “Ugh, this one has so many little details; I’ll just use multiradical”.

Also, some search engines work as a sort of middle ground between SKIP and multiradical, in that you start by selecting a pattern, then select the first component, and then finally the full kanji.

For example, in the screenshot below, I’ve used the iPhone app imiwa. I started by selecting the enclosure pattern, and then scrolled down to enclosing radicals with 7 strokes. Once I’ve chosen the right top part (the one that looks almost like ⺶), I’ll be given a choice between 差 and 着.


Kinda off topic but isn’t that a lot of information to list about a T-shirt? :smiley:

When I buy t-shirts it’s usually just [ S / M / L ] I have to worry about

I’m always happy when I can get an idea of what that specific company (in their specific country) actually means by S or M or L…

In Europe basically every country has their own interpretation of that. And I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how that maps to Japan even…


I just use handwriting input on my phone to look up a new kanji in a dictionary.

Notice that I wrote the kanji wrong but it was still similar enough so that it was available among the suggestions.

But you need to know the basic stroke order rules. There was a good article on Tofugu:

1 Like

Yeah, I’m slightly below average height but have broad shoulders, so whenever I buy shirts that are supposed to be my size, there’s always a risk I won’t be able to move my arms freely without the risk of ripping my shirt like I’m the lankiest Hulk in the multiverse.

1 Like

looks at green shirt in profile pic :eyes:


Everyone else has given detailed answers, so I just thought I’d pick up on one last thing. Although the radical on the left of the 袖 Kanji looks like the katakana ネ, it’s not! Hiragana, katakana and Kanji are separate writing systems, so a Kanji is never made up of kana.

(In fact, it’s kind of the other way around - the kana were created from Chinese characters/Kanji. But that’s a story for another time,aand probably covered in an interesting article of Tofugu somewhere!)

i tend to draw them. the google translate handwriting input is quite lenient about stroke-order (but it’s still better to have the strokes in approximately the right order), and very forgiving about whether they look pretty.

also, i have an old graphics tablet lying around, and when i’m reading (or any activity where i might have to look up lots of kanji) i plug that in, it’s much more convenient than trackpad or mouse…

I think he just mistyped radical as ‘katana’ there.

If you have an Apple device download the “shirabe jisho” dictionary app (it’s not available on Android though :disappointed_relieved:). It’s one of the many that steals/borrows directly from but is the best I’ve come across. It’s available offline and has more features than any other free dictionary I’ve come across, including the ability to handwrite a kanji. It’s pretty good about ignoring radicals and stroke order too. It also has a feature that I’ve used a lot, where the page for each Kanji lists all the compounds that kanji features in. So if you know one of the kanji in the word, you can go to the page for that kanji and then just look through all the words until you find the one you’re trying to match. It’s a blood fantastic app if I’m perfectly honest.

Other features include the ability to look up names, make flashcards, lists of words/kanji by JLPT level, Kanji by frequency, lists of common words/slang, it even includes a lot of dialect words. I love it.

1 Like

That’s what WaniKani uses for all the kanji that use shimesuhen and koromohen. Even though the shape in 袖 is based on 衣 and not 示 (and has an extra stroke as a result), WK categorizes them all under ネ, so yeah… he found it by searching for that. Think that’s all that was meant. It’s not literally a katakana ネ, but I don’t see a problem referring to it like that when talking about kanji shapes. Japanese people do the same thing.

1 Like

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