Is it worth learning all 2,000 kanji?

So I have a friend who took Japanese in high school and he helps me with my learning a lot. I recently started learning kanji, but he told me that most Japanese people only know the basic kanji so there is no point in learning all 2,000 of them. He also said that when typing they will usually just do it in hiragana and that most kanji have their hiragana readings written on top of them.

So should I learn all the 2,000 kanji available to me on WaniKani or should I just learn the 200 or so basic ones and just move on to grammar?


WK never says that you should learn all 2000 kanji first before starting to learn grammar. You can start learning grammar when you know zero kanji. But your plan is also good; try to learn 200 kanji first, then start with grammar. After that, you will add more kanji to your knowledge database, either from WK or from other sources.


Most of the time I’ll only see furigana (the hiragana reading above the kanji) if the kanji is rare or the reading is unusual.


Is your friend literate in Japanese? Can he read a newspaper without a dictionary? Carry on an online conversation?

There’s a big gap between 200 and 2000.

You might want to look at the material you want to read and draw your own conclusions about the prevalence of hiragana. In the adult-level material I have handy (news articles, a few novels), they’re almost entirely absent.

FWIW, the 2,000 characters aren’t arbitrary. They’re defined by the Japanese Ministry of Education as the baseline requirement for literacy at the high school level.


Your friend is full of nonsense. Most academic estimates say that the average Japanese high school grad knows over 2000 characters. And books aimed at adults do not have the hiragana written over the kanji – this is called furigana and is only used as an educational tool and for books meant for schoolchildren who haven’t reached full literacy yet.

Like others have said, you shouldn’t wait until you’ve learned all the kanji to start studying grammar and reading native material but eventually, yes, you will want to learn all 2000+ kanji on WK if you want to reach full literacy


Someone did a frequency analysis on Japanese Wikipedia. They found more than 1900 characters that appear at least 10,000 times.

Complete dataset here:

(FWIW, the bottom of that list, a character that appears 9999 times in Japanese Wikipedia, is 巧, which is a level 50 character here at WK.)


It’s all about priority really. If you just wanna learn Japanese, learning kanji is not necessary to begin with. Just learn grammar, listening comprehension, vocab and production.

But as for kanji and what to limit yourself to, it’s good to remind you of the fact that

Japanese primary and secondary school students are required to learn 2,136 jōyō kanji as of 2010.[3] The total number of kanji is well over 50,000, though few if any native speakers know anywhere near this number.[4]

In other words, learning just 2000 kanji is a drop in the sea really. It will help you with your reading, allowing you to stop less to look up words. Because, furigana is not a thing in all printed Japanese.


Just take a quick look at Japanese people on Twitter. Plenty of kanji in there. I think your friend misunderstood an explanation of what an IME does.

In manga aimed at children and young teens? Sure. In general? Not really. Especially not if you’re looking at any type of user-generated content - think social media, YouTube, etc. - because there’s a good chance it’s not even going to be possible for people on there to add furigana.

And in daily life, well…


It does happen, but it’s not something you can count on. Those are signs the people installing them would want everyone to be able to read, and there’s not a hint of furigana on there.

Those “basic kanji” that native Japanese speakers know, by the way? Those are those 2000-ish kanji.

Your friend very much misunderstood some things, I’d say.


Plus, nanori. Yeah you aren’t going to pick up much from Wanikani in that regard, but some names do use onyomi and kunyomi readings. No one is going to hand you a business card with furigana. It would probably be considered patronizing to the recipient. And then there’s place names! A lot have drifted from the original readings but knowing all these kanji is only meant to be a starting point so you have the tools to figure it out in the real world.


Yes. All of the above.

You should start learning 200 Kanji. You should start learning grammar. You should start learning the first 1000 or so vocab and all the kanji associated with them. Then you should start reading and learning all the Kanji associated with the stuff you read.

It is better at the start to understand that this is a massive undertaking and accept it for what it is. There are no shortcuts. Many people start by thinking they can get by with basic reading and vocab and end up in the wilderness. They spend a lot of time “learning” but cannot consume content or have anything other than a basic tourist conversation.


2000 is the basic kanji. Not sure where your friend got the idea natives only know 200.


As others have mentioned, depending on the level you want to read at, you cannot rely on furigana to always be present. Another thing on furigana, especially in the context of creative writings, it does not always tell you how to read the kanji it is placed above. There are a number of instances in creative writing where the author will place furigana above kanji that it does not match. Usually this is done as a way of showing an underlying intention in what is being said. If your goal is to read at a high level then learning the kanji will help a lot, having to constantly switch over to a dictionary to look up kanji and vocab will exhaust you otherwise.

That being said, there’s no need to wait until you know X-amount of kanji before starting grammar studies. Most grammar texts, especially introductory texts, do not assume high-level kanji knowledge. In fact, most introductory grammar texts aimed at non-native speakers will assume no knowledge at all. It is not uncommon for kanji to not be taught in the first year of learning Japanese.


You might survive on 200 kanji as a tourist or if you only read certain manga. But if you want to be comforable with the language you will need to learn more than that. As others have said 2000 is the minimum for native speakers. When they write in furigana they still have to select the right kanji. When they write きき they know if they meant 機器 or 鬼気 (or any other kanji with the same spelling).

The sooner you start grammar the better.


Exactly this. The Japanese language is as rich and complex as any other, including your own. In your language, how limiting would it be to be stuck with the vocabulary of an eight-year old? That’s about where the first 200 kanji puts you.


“but he told me that most Japanese people only know the basic kanji so there is no point in learning all 2,000 of them.”

That’s the biggest load of shit I’ve ever heard in my life…


I think your friend might have heard an oversimplified version of the story: it’s possible that many Japanese people can write only a fraction of the kanji they were taught, and that’s definitely what I saw in the kanji street interviews done by That Japanese Man Yuta on YouTube. However, they can still read a good number of them.

It’s true that you can type stuff in rōmaji or hiragana and have it converted into kanji, but in order to choose the right kanji, you need to be able to read and understand them at the very least. Also, almost all written communication contains at least one kanji every five characters, except for children’s books. This is true even in the Japanese Twittersphere.

True in textbooks and children’s books, maybe. Completely untrue in most other cases. Even manga and light novels (which are often, well, ‘light’ reading) contain only unmarked kanji unless the kanji are rare or they represent a name created by the author for the purpose of the story.

Finally, a personal note as a Chinese speaker who was taught probably at least 2500 Simplified Chinese characters in school (the current syllabus probably includes something closer to 2700, but I don’t know the exact number back in my day), and that doesn’t include whatever I learnt on my own later on: I know almost all the kanji I come across, but there were probably about 30 of the most common ones in Japanese that I had to look up once because they were sufficiently different from how they’re written in Simplified Chinese for me to have trouble recognising them. My kanji knowledge isn’t wide enough to read Chinese news without encountering new hanzi though, especially if the article is technical. And even with my kanji knowledge, I still have to learn readings, meanings specific to Japanese, compounds specific to Japanese and so on.

My point is this: I probably know at least 2000 of the most common kanji in written Japanese, and believe me, you need to know them. There really are that many of them that are useful, especially if you’re reading the news, and you’ll see even more kanji in technical writing. The lowest estimates I’ve seen for educated adult kanji knowledge in Japan are around 3000 kanji, and I’d say that my experience so far matches that, because I’m pretty sure there are kanji in technical/university-level Japanese I haven’t seen yet.

However, should you start grammar? Yes, please do start learning basic words, sentences and grammar as soon as possible. It’s good for your proficiency in general, and good for learning kanji, because you’ll eventually be able to learn them in context with understanding. Plus, I think you’ll enjoy yourself more if you start to see that your kanji knowledge is actually useful, so please do look out for things to read after you’ve learnt some of the simplest words and sentence types. There’s no need to wait until you know 2000 kanji to start reading, particularly since honestly, even if you know what a kanji means, you’ll sometimes only have about 70% of the meaning of a new word containing it. (I speak from experience with all the kanji I know.) Learning some kanji/symbols and general language knowledge, applying it, learning some more, applying it, and continuing that way, is probably the best general approach to learning any language. There are definitely ways to be more efficient or to link up your knowledge better, and again, you don’t have to wait until you’ve learnt 2000 kanji to start learning how to use Japanese, but it will take a little while for you to acquire all the kanji you need to read fluently.

EDIT: Oh yeah, I figured I should mention this – you’ll need at least 2000 kanji to read content meant for educated adults with ease, but that doesn’t mean you need to learn all of them on WaniKani, and you may eventually find that you prefer learning through reading/listening/watching Japanese content to using WaniKani in a vacuum. You’re free to learn kanji however you want, and you should pick what works best for you. I just wanted to say that the number we’re talking about (2000) seems quite accurate.


Are you sure your friend is describing native knowledge and native content, rather than the knowledge of his fellow high school Japanese learners and the learning material provided there? Because that’s what it sounds like.


You mean “write” a fraction of the kanji they were taught? Recognize and read seem like the same thing to me…


Thanks. That’s what I meant. Let fix that…

EDIT: Fixed. Good save. Thanks again.


You mean he’s full of shit? Lol

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