Is it advisable to write Kanji down while learning them?

I can’t really speak for why, but if we assume the JLPT is a decent indicator of which words are more ‘advanced’ and which aren’t… yeah, well, apparently, it’s not rare to find certain fairly advanced words at lower levels, while certain words that you might expect on the N5 only turn up around level 50. It could be due to the corpus of text that WK is based on? I think that おどろく is a fairly common word, whereas 敬 is fairly rare outside of discussions of 敬語 and respect. (Of course, I’m oversimplifying a bit, but I think it’s true that おどろく is more common than 敬.)


The same thing happens in actual Japanese education all the time. They prioritize teaching kanji that express concepts needed at various grades, so it’s not unusual for a more visually complex kanji to appear earlier.

Like 池, 地, 施, etc are all jouyou kanji, but 也 isn’t. It’s fairly abstract and mostly used in words that people typically write in hiragana whether they know it or not.


Oh sorry about that. I’m used to typing what comes to mind in English :see_no_evil: (Not native, no excuse though…)

I write all my vocabulary words down on Kanji practice paper. I include the meaning and reading. These days fewer people feel the the need to write Kanji due to computers. For me, I just love the looks of kanji and enjoy writing them down.In the future I would like to do some Kanji calligraphy, so getting a feel for the writing is good for me to do. I suppose a lot depends on what you intend to do with your Japanese. For me it’s a hobby to stop my brain going to mush as I get older. Good luck with your studies.

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Yeah! What gives? Even at 99% accuracy those reviews pile up fast! If a day goes by I can easily hit 160

Hehe, no worries, these things happen ^-^

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Warning!!! This could be a trap i.e a waste of time for people who become too obsessed with it. It’s one thing if you just love writing kanji, then of course go ahead because it’s just like any other hobby you spend lots of time on just because you enjoy it.

But if you believe you have to write every single kanji from memory in order to know it properly (not true btw), you’re gonna end up wasting hundreds of hours on a skill that you truly don’t need. And that’s not an exaggeration; Japanese people are literally forgetting how to write even Jouyou kanji at unprecedented rates because of how common it is to just type out kanji from their readings via phones and computers rather than write them by hand.

I’d advise writing out the first 200~300 kanji just once or twice each to get some tactile sense of stroke order and how the radicals fit together, and then only for kanji you particularly feel like writing (if any) after that.

Signed, random girl who can read 2,600 kanji and only write about 400 from memory.

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I’m probably disagreeing due to my biases as a Chinese speaker, but I think the only case in which it’s definitely a waste of time is if you’re only interested in reading and never need to write by hand. Even then, it might not be a waste of time because it can help with retention. (At the very least, it might help with choosing the right kanji when using IMEs for input, and not doing things like typing 中間 instead of 仲間.) However, as many people’s experiences (including yours) have shown, it’s not necessary to know how to write kanji in order to be able to recognise them.

(Perhaps I’m just someone who has a bit of ‘handwriting nostalgia’ even though I’m only just over 20. I feel saying that learning to write kanji is a ‘waste of time’ is the same thing as saying that learning to write by hand in English is a waste of time since everyone can just type. Even if kanji are far less essential to Japanese than they are to Chinese, I think that someone who prioritises recognition over production may also have a tendency to avoid the kanji forms of certain phrases so long as they don’t come up in the first suggestions, simply because they’re unfamiliar. (For example, who would have guessed that 流石 is read さすが?) Visually similar kanji may end up being harder to differentiate as well. Also, typing slightly more obscure kanji combinations becomes difficult without knowing kanji independently from their readings in common compounds. Finally, research has shown that handwriting is an aid to learning, whose effects cannot be replicated by typing. I don’t know… perhaps I just feel like people who don’t learn to write are missing out? Ultimately, it’s a personal choice that should be made based on personal priorities and goals, but this is my view as someone who speaks fluent Chinese and can write almost every character he can read from memory. Maybe I see it as a question of ‘active’ (and hence available) or ‘passive’ (and hence only triggered on cue) vocabulary.)


So like 95% of Japanese learners? I’m making that number up, but I don’t really see who needs to write things by hand unless you work at Japan and have to write notes to coworkers etc.

That said I do think it’s good in the beginning to get the stroke order and basics down. I’m actually doing an anki deck for writing currently, which I started only after reaching level 60. Like you said, it has helped with retention and distinguishing similar looking kanji. However, I still think spending an excessive amount of time writing and especially learning to write every kanji you learn as a beginner-intermediate could be time better spent, and it will slow your overall progress. (This is me learning Japanese before and I always failed miserably).

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I think writing each character once or twice to get an idea of how to write it is good, but yes, even native speakers don’t pick up stroke order purely through rote and practice. It’s more useful to practise using words in context and to learn what they mean, while perhaps writing them every once in a while in order to engage muscle memory for the purpose of vocabulary retention (and not simply writing for writing’s sake, though that can always be done later if calligraphy is an interest).


Yeah. To clarify, I tend to synonymize “learning to write kanji” to mean “know how to write this kanji from memory”, because once you have the basics (common stroke orders, radicals, conventions) down, you don’t (usually) really have to explicitly learn how to write a given kanji (unless we start to talk about shodo and the quality of handwriting). Not to say there aren’t exceptions.

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Repetitive writing workbooks are ok but I’ve had limited success; usually I start to space out and get bored though so it’s not time well spent. I’ve had more success writing letters or practicing sentences, just got sick of looking up the strokes every time and it eventually clicks in. However I don’t have much practical use except for like new year cards or letters. But there are so many visually similar kanji to distinguish that I’d like to practice writing more just for that.

you have to do what is best for you, BUT i’ll tell you what works for me:

I write down the kanji and the story (including the part for the reading of the Kanji) 3 times. This does two things for me - one, it helps draw my attention during the whole. It helps me repeat the story so that it is more likely to stick. I don’t retain what I read in enough detail to not have some practice. Lastly, I try and do a rewrite from memory. Sometimes I can see when a story isn’t going to work for me, or if I see a story that works for me better. For example - I have a different story for 要(よう). My story is about Fiona from Burn notice because I was watching burn notice at the time and it has stuck a lot better than the Wanikani.

Then - when I do my reviews, I recall the story. If I can’t recall it, then I do another round of writing down the kanji and the story 3 times.

Another person mentioned that you can use e-paper apps (like on an ipad) to be more sustainable. I personally use old notebooks that I have. I’m a notebook collector from all my travels. It’s fun to think about what memories I have from there. I mark my level down when I start and end a notebook. I also will take pictures on instagram of completed notebooks. This uses a lot of old notebooks first. Eventually I’ll probably get to the iPad.

I would not recommend just writing the Kanji down a 100 times or whatever like we did in our Japanese classes for school. This always was a waste of time to me.

No, no, you’re completely right. You start to realise there are patterns, after a while. They aren’t always followed though (e.g. the official Japanese stroke orders for 飛 and 升 don’t really match up, from what I know), but exceptions are fairly rare.

From personal experience, repetitive, mindless writing is pretty unproductive unless all you want is to drill stroke order. It definitely does get boring: we were assigned handwriting practice in primary school, and I never saw the point because I just couldn’t reproduce the printed characters. That’s why I think the ideal way to learn kanji writing is to combine it with a bit of calligraphy (specifically with some basis in real calligraphic principles): focusing on getting the angles and proportions right can give you a sense of fulfilment since you’ll get to watch your handwriting improve. Still, this goes beyond the scope of just learning kanji, even if I do feel that beautiful characters stick in my head better, so I guess this might not be something everyone would want to do.

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I believe I would really benefit from kanji writing for retention, though possibly limiting my self to first 100-200 at first, as suggested. Are there templates, showing proper stroke order, etc. that follow the kanji levels of Wanikani? I know there are many basic guides out there, but one that is an exact match to the program I’m already pursuing would significantly reduce my mental barrier to getting started.

Thank you

I hope someone else responds and proves me wrong, but it’s not likely, for the simple fact that it would probably be a publication under WaniKani as a company. There are some customisable kanji templates out there though, even if I think they wouldn’t really help to lower the ‘effort’ barrier since you’d have to make them yourself. What I can suggest is this thread:

That’s a link to the calligraphy tips I mentioned on that thread, but actually, a whole bunch of writing practice books were suggested in that discussion.

If you want a really low-entry-barrier thing to start with, you can follow calligraphers on Instagram and Twitter, and maybe try to imitate them from time to time. Here’s one:
Kayo-sensei does quite a lot of random posts (in English!) about common Japanese expressions and kanji origins, along with fun riddles. She writes everything herself, and a lot of it is done with a pen, which gives you a realistic idea of what can be achieved with fairly liquid, flowing ink. (Think ‘Pilot G2’ or fountain pen.) I don’t always agree with what she says on kanji origins or what makes for ‘good’ calligraphy, but my knowledge and handwriting are based on Chinese sources and a particular Chinese calligrapher writing in a particular calligraphic form, so there are bound to be stylistic differences. (I tend to feel like Japanese and Chinese calligraphers each follow certain general trends, like Japanese strokes usually being finer, but that’s probably just due to a lack of experience on my part.) In any case, she’s definitely a professional, and her posts are clear, fun, and easy to read. :smiley:

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well the thing is, most people who are learning japanese (especially those not living in japan or planning to) just want to be able to read japanese as their priority. the necessity/opportunities for them to physically write kanji are just so tiny relative to the massive amount of time it takes to learn.

also i truly believe that the reading/recognition benefits of writing kanji have been overblown. it can help a little (esp if you just write the first few hundred like i said, so you get an idea of how kanji are put together/the shapes that make them up), but reading, in itself, seems to be the most important factor to being able to reliably read words that are written in kanji. especially since writing a kanji doesn’t necessarily tell you how it’s read. the more you read the easier you can recognize words. 流石 is a word i’ve read perhaps hundreds of times now and i have no problem doing so despite having never written it. same with words with “harder” kanji like 薔薇 、醍醐味、or 躊躇. you just get used to them from reading.

someone who prioritises recognition over production may also have a tendency to avoid the kanji forms of certain phrases so long as they don’t come up in the first suggestions

what exactly do you mean by this? i’ve seen さすが written both ways. but either way if i was reading something i’d have to know what it meant? i couldn’t “avoid it”? unless i’m misunderstanding you.

if you’re referring to production/typing messages in japanese, japanese people have actually called it cringe when foreigners over-use kanji in phrases that natives don’t actually use kanji in during normal conversation. for example, saying 御早う御座います in a casual conversation might make a native cringe or think you’re trying too hard, because it’s usually just written in kana, unless it’s a formal document or something.

Different people learn things in different ways, and some people may genuinely get greater benefit from writing than just reading it endlessly.

Plus… some people may just enjoy the actual act of writing.

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Different people learn things in different ways

this has actually kind of been debunked. for the most part most people’s brains learn specific skills in similar ways. for example no one learns how to read by just writing characters, and no one learns how to ride a bike by just walking. you have to train the skill you’re trying to learn to get good at it.

if the skill you’re learning is reading, you have to practice reading. if you want to learn writing, then practice writing. some skills might slightly cross over, but 90% of your improvement in a specific area will come from practicing that specific thing.

and yeah i already said if you just enjoy writing for the sake of it then that’s fine. just don’t believe it’s necessary to be able to read.


Hi, my name is Lee, and I’m a kanjiholic. I wrote some kanji, and then I was trapped. And now I can’t stop. But admitting I have a problem is the first step to recovery.