Least Useful Kanji you've had to learn (here or elsewhere)

So far, it’s had to be 飴細工 – I’m sure this is a thing, but not really. I think one of the biggest pieces of constructive criticism I had for the language program at the college where I took Japanese for 18 months was that for adult learners of the language, people should be learning survival words and phrases right away. Not what usually passes for survival phrases like, “where are you from,” but I mean real ones like, “how do I do this bank transfer to pay this bill?” or, “I need an ambulance at the following address.”

One of the pitfalls to any study program is that there can be the misplaced focus to Just get the answers right and Just make it to the next level, or just pass a test. But there is a point to all of this… It is to communicate with potential coworkers, students, the police, doctors, your neighbors, or new friends. After studying for Years and building up a vocabulary strong enough to sustain 100% Japanese conversations for 1-2 hours, I found myself feeling like I was caught with my pants down when doing the simplest things like registering my address at a ward office, or calling to have Internet installed.

It was a Real wake up call to have to still pay an interpreter to go onto a 3-way call with me to resolve a problem where it would not have been possible to send an e-mail. Not Just because I didn’t know the nouns I should have known in a situation as an adult, but also because the Japanese spoken by customer service personnel is almost completely unlike anything that would be said between friends, coworkers or classmates.

For anyone studying, I recommend setting concrete goals. There are literally Thousands of words and tens of thousands of phrases/expressions. Trying to learn them all as fast as possible isn’t realistic in my view. I think what ends up being more useful is mastering a handful of relevant conversations that you expect to have in real life whether it’s ordering at a restaurant or trying to understand instructions from a dentist. What is the source material for such realistic conversations?

I will let you know when I find it.

In the meantime, I’m curious to know what terms you’ve learned (here or anywhere) that you’ve realized, you could probably spend the rest of your life in Japan and never utter such words?


I would say the kanji for those words that 99.9% of the time you find in hiragana like apple. Honestly can’t even remember the kanji for apple now.

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Maybe 薔薇ばら. I can read this one just fine, but I might not be able recognize individual Kanji. Also, I see this one in Kanji often, also with Furigana, though.

鬱 is pretty high on my hate list, but it’s sadly incredibly common :sweat_smile:. It appears at least once in every light novel.

If we’re just discussing the kanji themselves, I saw all three of the kanji in 飴細工 today in ordinary life stuff.


I think this one depends a lot on your individual situation. Many learners (including a lot of users of this site) don’t live in Japan and will never need to interact with the Japanese banking system or call an ambulance. That is, Japanese is not a survival issue to them – it’s a hobby or a way to connect with friends or family or maybe something for the future. All of those have a different idea of what might be important to start with. For a language school in Japan their students’ priorities might be easier to guess, but even then there’ll be a mix of “already here and want to get some capability in the language for practical purposes” and “studying for the long haul to get into a Japanese university in a couple of years”.

If you really want to prioritise in country survival Japanese there’s an argument for putting off serious engagement with the writing system and focusing on the spoken language. WaniKani is … not that approach :slight_smile:

On low utility kanji, 朕 comes to mind. But even there it turned up in the Nausicaa manga I was reading this week.


It’s hard to measure usefulness, and I’m sure that many of the recent words I’ve put into my Anki deck I won’t see for a while. But it also takes very little effort to just memorize a specific word, especially those with kanji that are particular to that word.
In the novel I’m reading at the moment, two come to mind: 玳瑁 and 顳顬. The former was not written with furigana and the second only had the furigana for the first iteration. I wouldn’t say that I “had to learn” the kanji, but if I have to look something up twice, I would rather just put it in my deck.

Not 飴, but I just ran across 象牙細工 in this book. Though I think 飴細工 is one of the more common 細工s you’ll find, at least in Japan.