I don't know 40-50% of the kanji I see

It’s just so frustrating to find content that I’d like to watch, especially on Netflix, and when I get into it, my lack of kanji knowledge makes it so hard to understand. Am I just being lazy - are you supposed to look up all the kanji you don’t know; or should I look harder to find content that fits my level?

Not knowing grammar points doesn’t really bother me, because I can kind of understand from the context of a situation. But if I don’t know the kanji, it just feels crippling :frowning:.

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It’s definitely worth looking for comprehensible input.

As for Netflix, this browser addon really makes it easier and better experience: https://languagelearningwithnetflix.com


You seem to have found WaniKani already, so you’re on the right path :slight_smile:

That being said, I’m not sure I understand the exact issue. If you’re seeing kanji on Netflix, I imagine you’re watching something that’s in Japanese and it just has captions? Or are you watching something in some 3rd language you don’t know but with Japanese subtitles? If it’s just captions you can match what they’re saying to the kanji.


I would recommend doing graded readers rather than trying to consume native content at level 11. If you look at this page, it shows you what percentage of the 2500 most commonly used kanji wanikani teaches you level by level. You’ll see that it’s closer to level 20 when you begin to really know more than half of the 1000 most common kanji.


I felt similarly disheartened at level 11. I found that when I hit level 14 and 15 that I felt a lot more competent at reading stuff (in particular, Tae Kim became much more comprehensible to use as intended).

I highly recommend that you keep fighting the good fight, because you’re quite close to knowing the very most important kanji for simple things. This isn’t me trying to prop you up or anything, there will definitely be a lot of kanji you don’t know at 15, but according to zipf’s law, you’ll cover the 100 most commonly used ones easily. Check this out: http://scriptin.github.io/kanji-frequency/

At 14, I found watching J-Drama on Netflix to be very easy to follow. Don’t give up, you’re really close to feeling like you can read lots of random things pretty easily!


Just to add some information:

  • The average Japanese 6th grader knows 1000 Kanji.
  • By the end of 9th grade, they know about 2000.

If you’re watching anime and J-drama the subtitles will likely be assumed for a 9th-grade level or higher. Preschool or elementary school content will have more hiragana.
At level 11 you’ve only learned about 380 kanji, and even then, they’re not necessarily the most commonly used ones (so you may never see them in the subtitles).

You can look up the kanji you don’t know, but I think that’s just going to eat your time and take away from the enjoyment of the show.


I am level 24 i don’t get bothered like that. No still don’t every thing said but at least i recognized the kanji. Some kanjis i found usually around my level or not at wanikani at all.

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Before I even knew WaniKani existed, I would watch programs on Netflix and piece together words in accordance to subtitles. It’s good listening practice, but also the only way of figuring out what the kanji readings were.

So, unless you have a hearing impairment, this should work fine for you too. You may even benefit from learning some kanji before they are unlocked in WaniKani.

I also want to say that, at level 36, I feel like I can read loads. Stick with it and your frustrations will be gone in no time, as everyone here will tell you.

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In my case I found that even at level 30 it was painful to read books, because I still had to do a kanji lookup every 5 to 10 kanji or so, and that frustration definitely pushed me to go all the way !


that’s what i did lol. and now i only have to look up stuff every 30~50 sentences rather than every other sentence :slight_smile:
but i didn’t look up “kanji” i looked up words. just looking up the kanji won’t tell you what the word you’re looking at means lol or how it’s read.

or should I look harder to find content that fits my level

that would help too, it’d be less words you don’t know.


just wondering what exactly do you guys mean by “kanji lookup”? are you only looking up the individual kanji instead of the actual words they’re in?

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You would usually have to do that before you could look up the word (unless it’s one where you could guess the reading because of a phonetic component, I guess), so I don’t think they’re implying they stop there or anything.


Japanese-English dictionaries can be organized in one of two ways. By reading, meaning that you look up the word by the way it’s pronounced, just like you would in an English dictionary. Obviously this only works if you actually know how to pronounce the word.

Or they can be organized by structure, then by characters that have that structure, then by words based on those characters. (There are several different “structure” organization methods.) So in general in order to look up a word you first have to look up at least the first character used in the word.

A paper-based dictionary will typically have several indexes: one based on readings, one based on stroke counts, and one based on whatever structural categories that dictionary uses. Electronic dictionaries let you just copy the word in and search, but they’ll typically have all of this information available as well.


It’s all about exposure: sure, in the beginning, most kanji’s meaning will have to be looked up, along with what the word is that they belong to. However, as others have mentioned, just make sure that you do 2 things: 1) keep studying through WaniKani (and other sources, if applicable) and 2) patiently do your best to read the content that you challenge yourself to do. Yes, constant lookups are annoying and, yes, it gets tiring, but if you remember the reason that you’re looking up and, ultimately, learning Japanese, you’ll find that it’s a labor of love rather than a labor.

Also, as you learn things and they stick, what once was a chore will become more of a pleasure and you self-confidence will also boost as well. Although I’m low level on WaniKani (for now), I can speak from experience that, as I (sometimes painfully) looked up things constantly, I kept in mind that this is part of a) getting exposure that will add to b) learning a language that I love to learn, that ultimately leads to c) getting more enjoyment of said language that will help me reach and maintain my goal of why I’m learning it in the first place.

To be honest, as I’m sure you and most (if not all) the others in this thread (or even students of Japanese in general) were first scared and discouraged at the amount of kanji available. However, I personally find that now, without having kanji, that reading is more difficult as the whole point of kanji is to picturize ideas and take the guesswork out of an intended meaning. Yes, there are a lot of kanji (way more than the letters that comprise the English alphabet and probably more than the characters that make up other languages), but, as I mentioned, they are ultimately there to help and, as you get exposure to them, they will become more of an aide rather than a hinderance.

It’s like how Japanese people view learning English: ugh, I have to learn this weird aspect that doesn’t line up at all with mine? I’ll NEVER learn English… However, they will, they just need the PATIENCE of learning the material and the FOCUS on why they’re learning English in the first place. Same applies with Japanese learners.

Also, don’t fret over memorizing the kanji to the point of being able to write them. Even native Japanese can’t do this for every kanji. Instead, it’s from seeing 常用 jouyou kanji so many times that they can’t help but know what it means and how to pronounce it because they’ve been exposed to it so many times. It’s leik ni Enligsh wehre you dnot see teh indviudal lettres, but teh ovreall wodrs taht givse teh maening. Otherwise, how in the h e double hockey stick would anyone be able to use, much less, understand kanji and their associated words?!

And, speaking of meanings, don’t fret over meanings too much. Over time, as you learn and get exposure to the language, you’ll start to get a real feel for the meaning, its context, and real life practical usage. Again, in short, get as much exposure as you can with the things that you love to do. For example, personally, as a Nintendo and Apple fan, I read about and try to interact as much as possible with the things that are associated with them. I read articles online about them in Japanese as much as possible; I play Nintendo in Japanese as much as possible (unless you play games like Splatoon 2 that, for some reason don’t let you choose Japanese as a language grrrr); I use certain apps that relate to my studies in Japanese and I even use my work iPhone in Japanese to see and reinforce what I do know and look up what I don’t to be able to master that through exposure (seeing it again and again until I can’t help but know what it means from interacting with it so many times).

See where I’m going with this? First FOCUS on your Japanese study reasons, then PATIENTLY interact and look up the unknowns for the content that you have interest in in Japanese, and make sure to keep up your EXPOSURE to said studies and content so that you can reinforce what you’re learning and using. Japanese people are able to do so through years of exposure with Japanese, we English speakers are able to do so through years of exposure to English, and you (along with all other students of Japanese) can too through years of exposure and the patience to go from ugh, another annoying unknown that I have to look up to NICE! I KNOW THIS!


I see that @Nintendude has already given you a very nice, detailed reply, which is what I usually do… Therefore, I’ll abstain from that this time so you don’t have to read through a long post from me as well :stuck_out_tongue: Just some personal experience: after rewatching The Rising of the Shield Hero at least 3 times because I found the series enjoyable, I decided to watch it again, but this time without subtitles, and with the transcription in Japanese in the background in another tab. (Thanks, Anicobin!) I went through 20 episodes before having to stop because I had run out of time for watching and studying. Should you look up every single kanji? Uh… you can. Is it helpful? Well, I think it can be useful if you already know the kanji involved and just haven’t seen those combinations before. You can pick up new vocabulary that way and also learn interesting grammar. (E.g. I picked up を筆頭に from Akashic Records of Bastard Magic Instructor.) However, if you don’t know the kanji involved and you’re not willing to learn them right after looking them up, or confident about doing so, then it might be more useful to just go along for the ride, only looking up things that really strike you are interesting and worth looking up. In any case, I can guarantee you that you won’t remember everything you look up. It’s not possible, barring extreme focus and an excellent memory. In my opinion, unless you have the opportunity to use words you’re just learnt very frequently, the main point of looking something up is to make sure it’s a little more familiar the next time you see it. New words will only stick if you keep having to recall them, which is something you’ll probably only achieve through usage, WK or frequent exposure to Japanese that uses similar terms.

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It’s just so frustrating to find content that I’d like to watch, especially on Netflix, and when I get into it, my lack of kanji knowledge makes it so hard to understand. Am I just being lazy - are you supposed to look up all the kanji you don’t know; or should I look harder to find content that fits my level?

Uhm… I’d say that this applies to almost all foreign languages that you try to learn - before you command more vocabulary it will be difficult and frustrating to watch/read.

I’d say that listening to shows is beneficial as you get to familiarise yourself with the sound of the language. On the other hand I wouldn’t say that watching something that you can’t understand is the be the best option - you will get frustrated and won’t understand half of what you are watching (and pausing every minute is not that entertaining)…

Just learn kanji/vocabulary without stressing to much about it :slight_smile:


I’ve been watching Terrace House on Netflix. I’ll watch each episode twice. First in Japanese with Japanese subtitles, then in English with Japanese subtitles. Not because I like the show, but because the conversation is rather banal, hence simple, and I’m surprised at how much of the kanji I recognize. And it’s really cool to watch the evolution of, “oh I didn’t know that one last month”.

I do wish Netflix would get more quality dramas from NHK or Fuji TV that focus on distinctive Japanese culture. I’m thinking Amazon’s Fukuyadou Honpo. But screw you Amazon for not supplying Japanese subtitles.

I’d pay good money for reasonably priced NHK asadora series with both Japanese and English subtitles.

oh you’ll be pausing a lot more than every minute haha. but i’ve still been able to have fun that way personally, when i was still mining a lot of vocab from shows i was watching on animelon and language learning with netflix! patience is a virtue :smile: you gotta train yourself to enjoy the process of learning new things and celebrate small victories!


whatever rocks your boat :slight_smile:

For some context - I learnt great deal of English by watching TV (with subtitles in my native language) just by listening to it (later on I switched to English subtitles just because sometimes it was hard to catch what they were saying, no I do without them at all most of the time).

I tried to be more proactive with watching shows in Spanish when I was learning it and it was taking me 1-2h to watch simple 20-30 minutes show - I gave up quite quickly as it was just too tedious and I didn’t see much benefit. However - watching shows with original subtitles is great way to learn… when you already have some solid basis in vocabulary (or kanji in this case) where you can rather comfortably watch and understand roughly (give or take, depends on personal taste) half of that’s “transmitted”.

This is of course very IMHO :slight_smile:


Without any paragraph separation, that looks like a huge wall of text… :wink:

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