Learning to write kanji?

I love wanikani for learning how to read kanji, but I’ve started to think that I would like to learn how to write them as well. Does anyone have any suggestions for how to go about this? It seems daunting and I’m not sure where to start.

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If you’re interested in doing it with spaced repetition, here’s an anki writing deck that follows WK: https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/1741808368

Also, make sure to do this if you decide to try that out:


What I think has been helpful for learning how to write kanji is using the Stroke Order script. I’ve been writing what I’ve learned on grid-square exercise books (large squares), but it’s even better if you can find the type that is meant for Chinese character writing practice. Where I’m from, both are readily available. If not, blank paper and regular notebooks work as well! :smiley:

Currently, I’m doing one grid-square row per kanji, which is like a ten-fold repetition if you think about it. It’s not a lot, I know, but I have every intention to practice more when I have more time.


There are also phone apps, like Kanji Study on Android that let you practice writing kanji.

You could also look up stroke order on jisho, and write with pen and paper.


I use an app called StickyStudy . In this app you create your own lists to study or use their ready curated lists. I create a new list for every level of WaniKani and find learning to write the kanji with correct stroke ordering conjunction with WaniKani helps the kanji to stick.


KanjiStudy did a lot for me too - just by doing the first basic sets a few times a day gave me an intuitive feel of the general stroke order. Finding this Tofugu article later on only confirmed those unconsciously picked up instincts:


Thanks for all of the great replies so far, guys! I think I prefer doing paper pencil, so I will probably trying doing it that way with the grid notebook paper. I’m never sure how many times to practice and how often. Does anyone have guidelines on how to figure that out? I suppose I could use paper pencil in conjunction with anki for spaced repetition as mentioned above?

Long thread on the Kanken that gives a lot of different books/apps to use to study to take the exam which is all about reading and writing kanji.

I use the Kanken Step series https://amzn.to/2Atf99w, いちまると旅しよう! しりもじ漢検 phone app https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=jp.or.kanken.shirikan.free, and the DS Game 漢検トレーニング.

I generally use the step books 1st and use graphing paper to learn the stroke order and sizing then move on to the app/DS game to solidify the knowledge. I don’t have a ‘write it this many times’ recommendation I just do it until I feel comfortable, the apps help here too (at least for me) if the app cant figure out what you’re trying to write, you’re probably still doing it wrong.

Along with the aforementioned programs and techniques, I also use character sheets in which I just practise writing the kanji multiple times while saying the associated mnemonic out loud to really consolidate it in my head.

I get the kanji from the level I’m working on here and then I paste it into either this website (purpleculture.net) or this website (henckq.nl). I then print off the worksheet and complete it, which usually only takes about half an hour. For me, it really helps to allow me to remember the little details and radicals that make up the kanji and not just the general shape of it.


if you want to feel extra fancy while saving paper, use a buddha board. It lets you paint in water and then evaporates so you can use it again and again. I have a small one that I use to practice kanji.
(I hyper linked the amazon page)

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I have been looking for exactly this! Cheers!

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I haven’t bothered trying to write the kanji at all until recently, but I’ve found that it does actually help - and besides anything else, is fun. I’d love to be able to write them - but have also not prioritised it.

What I’ve been doing is using the book “Remembering the Kanji 1: A Complete Course on How Not To Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters Paperback” (grabbed the link from my biz amazon acc so it’s affiliate as a heads up!) by James W. Heisig, and writing down the meaning and kanji of a few each day. The book does not teach you the pronounciation or reading of the kanji - just the meaning. For that reason I’m using it just as an additional resource along with WK.

I actually have one of those two and sometimes have fun messing around drawing kanji on it. I find my pencil skills are simply stronger than my brush skills so prefer to practice kanji on paper still when I’m actually writing out kanji. However, do you think the buddha board is at all useful for shodo like skills?

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Would you recommend this to someone who is level 41 on wanikani?

It depends… it’ll obviously be of less use to you than someone on a lower WK level, but it is helpful to have a significant number of kanji in one book, ordered by the complexity/stroke order in a logical way - so if you have the cash spare, it would be worth a look. I use WK for meaning, and the book to reinforce that by a different way. :slight_smile:

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I’m planning to start writing my journal in Japanese as soon as I’m done with WK. That’d be this December, I believe. So yes, it’d involve lots of dictionary trips just to check up on the kanji but that’s really the way to do it, I believe. I’ll pair it up with massive reading and I’m surre I’ll start remembering them little by little. If you like writing, that’s one way to do it, I believe.

It depends on whether you’re replicating the conditions for actual calligraphy – the type of brush used, orientation of the board and texture of the board will all affect how realistic your practice is. The motions you apply for moving the brush and preparing it for writing are also a part of the skillset. If you can replicate these things with water and a Buddha board, then yes, such practice may be of use.

Details on traditional calligraphy (I’m speaking for the Chinese tradition: I don’t know if Japanese calligraphy has particularities that don’t exist in Chinese calligraphy, kana and the way the brush is held aside, but what I’ve seen so far seems similar as far as materials go. Technique may differ between styles.)

Real traditional brush calligraphy is done on rice paper (which is slightly crinkly and very absorbent) with black ink and brushes composed of a bamboo handle and animal hair (like horse or wolf hair, if my memory serves me). The ink is usually made by mixing an ink stick with water in an ink stone with a grinding motion. It sometimes comes premixed, in which case it can be poured directly into the ink stone or into a small, shallow dish. Before writing, the head of the brush should be lightly pressed against the dish or ink stone with a stroking motion in order to remove excess ink.

Practically speaking, you’ll want to make sure your Buddha board is flat on the table and that your brush is a calligraphy brush. Ordinary paintbrushes will not do, especially those made with synthetic fibres. Make sure that your water is in a shallow dish (something the size of sushi soy sauce dipping dish will be perfect). Dip your brush into the water and then stroke it against the edge of the dish in order to remove excess water. Rotate the brush as you do so. The objective is to shape the head of the brush into something resembling a flame or flower bud: pointed at the tip, smooth and round where it meets the brush. Thereafter, you’ll have to write on the Buddha board with the correct motions in order to create all the contours of the various strokes. You’ll probably find some information if you look up Japanese or Chinese calligraphy.

The reason I’m fairly certain that practising with water on a board that darkens where it is wet is helpful is because it’s one of the methods used for training in Chinese calligraphy: I have a few booklets of calligraphy exercises made using such paper with kanji templates printed on them for the student to trace. I used them when I attended calligraphy classes as a child. (This also means that the Buddha board is unlikely to be based on any sort of traditional Zen practice since it’s really just a very practical calligraphy exercise. I’m just putting this out there for those tempted to buy into this out of admiration for Zen Buddhism, since I saw Zen being mentioned in an ad for a Buddha board – I’m not sure if it’s ‘authentic Zen’, so to speak, even if it’s good calligraphy practice.)

Ultimately, however, developing skill in calligraphy (shōdō) requires more than mechanical practice: you need to learn what makes a character beautiful. The most common way of improving one’s calligraphy is imitating the work of masters while attempting to replicate the angles used and the thickness of the strokes. However, I’ve found it more helpful to learn general principles that contribute to the beauty of a kanji. This can be done through observation (e.g. noting character proportions, stroke density and the general disposition of various components) or through reading works on calligraphic principles. I know that such texts exist in Chinese, and others surely exist in Japanese, but I don’t know if any of them have been translated into English.

In any case, I wish you all the best with your practice, and I hope that you enjoy it even if you don’t get immediate results.

(PS: if you’re wondering why you should trust me… I picked up a course from China on fountain pen calligraphy two years ago and spent about three months on it. I do my best to apply the aesthetic principles I learnt to brush calligraphy as well. As for what the results might look like… my profile picture is something I wrote.)


To add on to this as someone who started learning Chinese as a toddler (semi-native speaker, if you like, since I admitted usually spoke English at home, while watching TV almost exclusively in Chinese), I see kanji writing themselves in my head when I hear or think about them, and that gives me another way to retain them. More practically, learning to write complex kanji helps you to remember details like additional long strokes or dots that might help to differentiate them from other similar kanji. It may seem like a chore to learn the correct stroke order now, but you’ll find that there’s often a certain logic to them, and that as you go along, you’ll get faster and faster. It’s really the same way we learnt the English alphabet: write a letter, say its name; write a kanji, read it aloud. Plus, if you ever need to write kanji by hand, your writing will be much more legible if you follow the correct stroke order. The general idea is this: kanji are written component by component, top to bottom, left to right. There are some exceptions, but if you consider the overall stroke order for each character, you’ll find that this general flow applies to all kanji.


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