Question for those of you higher level people

For those of you with a fairly high level (30+?), do you actually understand most of the Japanese you read? So according to the stats, it should be like this:

  • Level 5: 97.50% of the kanji that Japanese 1st grade elementary students need to know, and 78.48% of the JLPT5 kanji (really, you’re almost here).

  • Level 10: 98.73% of the JLPT5 kanji, 75.90% of the JLPT4 kanji, and 88.75% of the kanji that Japanese elementary school 2nd grade students have to know.

  • Level 15: 86.00% of the kanji Japanese 3rd grade students have to know and 67.50% of the kanji in Japanese Twitter.

  • Level 20: 76.00% of the kanji in Japanese news websites.

  • Level 30: 88.83% of the JLPT3 kanji, 86.48% of the kanji in Japanese Wikipedia articles, and 88.50% of the kanji that Japanese elementary school 4th graders should know.

  • Level 40: 83.11% of the JLPT2 kanji, 86.83% of the kanji found in Japanese books/ebooks, and 90.61% of the kanji that Japanese 6th graders should know (yeah, we skipped a grade).

  • Level 50: 98.05% of the kanji found on Japanese news sites, 53.49% of the kanji in JLPT1, and 96.92% of the kanji found on Japanese Twitter.

  • Level 60: 84.78% of the kanji that Japanese 9th graders should know, 78.81% of the kanji found in JLPT 1, and 99.21% of the kanji found in Japanese books/ebooks.

If this is accurate, then by level 30 you should essentially be able to understand most of the Japanese you see (not counting novels). Is this accurate?


If “most” is “>50%”, then yes. But expect to still have to slog through material. Also, grammar.

There’s a 5 year difference between 4th grade and 9th grade and a lot of material learned in that time. Similarly in wanikani, 10 levels is a big difference. I struggle mostly with grammar at this point but whatever I’m reading there are always a few unfamiliar kanji. That was a more prevalent problem when I was level 30 than when I was level 40.

And as others have commented, knowing the kanji is only half the battle. Many words composed of kanji have meanings that unrelated or only kindof related to the composite meaning of the kanji. So basically, recognizing the kanji is not enough to understand the meaning of novel words one encounters.

Someone here who was in Japan left around level 35 saying they had enough foundation that wanikani wasn’t necessary for their purposes (but of course, we have many people here who are in Japan and going through all of wanikani–YVMV).


There’s a massive difference between recognizing kanji and being able to read and understand Japanese.

You can know all the kanji in a passage and still have no clue what it says if you haven’t studied grammar and vocab thoroughly.


I know most of the kanji I see, but that doesn’t mean I can read the sentence. There’s a ton of words I don’t know, and plenty of kana only ones. And even knowing all the words isn’t enough, as you still have to understand the sentence. Japanese loves to drop words that aren’t necessary and it makes understand sentences more difficult.

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Kanji by itself doesn’t mean you can read anything. Aside from common words the rest is like 25% exceptions and even if you know the kanji there’s no way you can be sure how to read a particular word you didn’t see before :slight_smile:

So at best it can just give you a hint what the word could mean. So, there’s no shortcuts, to be able to read semi-fluently you need to learn 6k vocab from WaniKani and about as much more vocab from the Core10k or other sources to not constantly lookup new stuff from the dictionary.

I do it a bit more organically, I just add all new vocab to my own deck as I read manga or other stuff, plus I studied “WaniKani expansion pack” and a few other decks. It really help a lot.

But yeah, grammar is the most important stuff. I was a bit foolish to ignore it until the very end…, although it is easier to learn grammar when I know all the vocab that I encounter in the example sentences.

Edit: Oh, and by the way, even when you are WK Level 60 you still have to learn about 1000 more kanji to cover most commonly used ones. I really don’t know why WK doesn’t add all that in… I’d buy one more year of subscription if they did.


Eh… what definition are you using for “commonly used?” WK is only few hundred short of the joyo, which is literally “common use” kanji. I mean, there are plenty of name kanji after that that Japanese adults know and aren’t included in joyo, but do you really want to spend time on those? Are you studying for kanken level 1?

Kanji outside of joyo are usually going to have furigana anyway.

I can think of why they don’t add it… barely anyone gets to level 60 and it would be hundreds or thousands of hours of work?


Thanks everyone! Yea I know grammar and everything is important too and I study that on the side. I guess my question was assuming most basic grammar knowledge. I live in Japan and can get by without much kanji but it would certainly help if I could read all of the communications at work in Slack and whatnot lol.

Considering that speaking and reading Japanese and two completely separate beasts, I’m just hoping that WaniKani will cover most of what I need for the reading part. I’m working on speaking outside of WaniKani. So I was just curious about a timeframe for when I’ll start understanding most of what I see (provided I know grammar and some vocab not covered here).

80% is not a lot. Someone once posted a really helpful video that I can’t find, but recognizing 80% of what you read is still super frustrating.

That’s one in five words. That’s something you don’t know probably every sentence.

Even 90% is not a lot. That’s one in ten words you don’t know. You need like > 95% recognition before you can start figuring things out from context.

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I’m not high level, but… yeah, I’m starting to read things. Children’s books at first, graded readers meant for JLPT takers, and now manga (specifically, Violinist of Hameln, which is… several kinds of challenge.)

I read NHK News Easy pretty fluidly, but have a difficult time with the NHK main site, and have to either guess-and-check or look things up to be sure I’ve even gotten the gist of it.

Part of fluency is being able to roll right over things you don’t understand. Don’t stop when you come to the first word - try to puzzle out even one or two kanji and then move on. When you hit it again, or something similar, you’ll remember it better. (Although yes, some words have meanings that don’t readily assign themselves to WK mnemonics! Learning multiple meanings per kanji is useful, but mostly seems to happen through practice, in my experience.)

A lot of that is because I already have a decent grasp of grammar (or so I like to think, haha) and have studied vocabulary and collocation on my own, outside of WK.

Hmm… I feel like that might be a misunderstanding?

If you understand 80% of the kanji in a text, this example only works if all kanji are used equally frequent. If there are 1000 different kanji represented in a text, then the 800 you know would probably make up at least 95% of the text since they would be the ones that are more frequently occuring, like 人 or 見. Comparatively, the 200 you do not know will only show up maybe once or twice in the whole text.

Being level 42 myself, I really don’t feel that every fifth kanji I encounter is unknown, and I certainly get the gist of most texts from context. Not claiming to understand anything perfectly here, just getting the general idea of what is being conveyed.

Or maybe I’m misunderstanding something here?


I can understand what is happening most of the time, but there are still tons of words I don’t know. They also have a totally different way of expressing things, sometimes making it difficult to understand the sentence even if you know all the grammar and words.

In addition with what others have said, I’m struggling with retention of “burned” material. I don’t think you’ll ever know the material well until you’ve encountered the vocab and kanji outside of Wanikani’s walled garden. Part of the problem is that if you spot something here you know for certain you should know it, so you try very hard to recall it (this is a good thing!). If I spot a kanji or vocab in the wild, I may or may not have seen it, so the willingness to struggle to recall isn’t quite as high. Maybe it is a mental thing on my part or maybe I’m just lazy.

My retention might be worse than average since I’m going through the material kind of slowly at this point (34.5 months to date). I’m also slowly resurrecting kanji level by level, which is helping things. I’m surely getting my money’s worth on lifetime!


If I kept up my reading practice, yes. Just restarted my grammar/reading practice, so it’s a bit rough atm. Consistency is important.

[quote=“Leebo, post:6, topic:17228”]
Eh… what definition are you using for “commonly used?” WK is only few hundred short of the joyo, which is literally “common use” kanji. I mean, there are plenty of name kanji after that that Japanese adults know and aren’t included in joyo, but do you really want to spend time on those?[/quote]
Nope, you are mistaken. There are TONS of kanji that people use on daily basis that are not part of joyo. And you HAVE to know them if you want to be able to read “normal” materials. Joyo is useful, certainly, but it is nowhere close to being exhaustive.

[quote=“Leebo, post:6, topic:17228”]
Kanji outside of joyo are usually going to have furigana anyway.[/quote]
That is also a misconception. While it might be true for “official” type of texts such as textbooks or documents, it’s not the case even for newspapers. And don’t get me started on things like dojinshi, there are literally 90% kanji that I haven’t even seen before and they have no furigana :slight_smile:
And yeah… that’s what I’d consider fluency - if you can read any type of text that a Japanese person would.
I’m not a native english speaker but I rarely have to look up any words in dictionary, at most maybe once a year or so. I really wish to achieve the same thing with Japanese. And to do that joyo isn’t even close.

[quote=“Leebo, post:6, topic:17228”]
I can think of why they don’t add it… barely anyone gets to level 60 and it would be hundreds or thousands of hours of work?[/quote]
There is value to be had there. And while it’s true that not everyone gets to the end, there are still people who do. And if they did that their resource would be even better for serious learners. There are no alternatives already, but if they did that it would put even more value in. But oh, well. It doesn’t really matter. It’s just me wishing they incorporated more materials so I don’t have to create my own decks.

While you are absolutely correct in this assertion - but the problem here is that this particular kanji and vocab you don’t know are the most important because they define the context. You could be reading the entire page of text without understanding just one word, but if that text talks about that “thing” and you can’t read it - it really defeats the purpose of the entire process :slight_smile:
In linguistic there is a concept that the rarer the word the more units of information it actually provides.
Well, sorry my explanation of that concept is quite crap, but I hope I was able to share the general idea.
A simple example - when I was still learning English I was reading a book and there was a word “pregnant” in there. I didn’t understand what it meant. So, I finished the entire book without understanding what it meant, only later I found out the meaning and was like “holy fff”. Without just a single word the meaning of the entire book was lost to me… this is why these “single” “rare” kanji and vocab are so important. While the most common stuff is just scaffolding to hold the main meaning.


By 1000 more, do you mean JIS 1? I also feel like grammar and reading practice are the most important aspects of understanding a (written, at least) language anyway.

I certainly know most of the kanji I run into, and I feel like my grammar is at a pretty functional level, but when it comes to vocab it’s still pretty hit-and-miss.

I think I can often understand everyday written conversations I’m having on hellotalk, but one time someone pasted an grammatical explanation from off of wikipedia and I just barely understood it at all…

I’ve also been playing Persona 4 recently, and while I can often get by if I lower my expectations from “understand everything” to “not be completely lost”, there are still times when I need to start looking stuff up just to know what people are talking about.

In contrast, I played half-way through Final Fantasy VII last summer, and looked up every word, adding it to anki, replaying it from the beginning now really goes to show how big of a help knowing the vocab is… it’s a breeze in comparison.

So basically: in my experience, you’ll need to learn quite a bit of vocab from outside of WK, even if you know the kanji. I recommend the core6K/10K/iknow stuff and/or just building your own list from the words you look up as you try to read things that interest you.

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[quote=“Zenyaaa, post:15, topic:17228, full:true”]
By 1000 more, do you mean JIS 1?[/quote]
No. In fact I don’t know what that even is. And google couldn’t help me except for “japanese industrial standard” but I don’t think that’s it.
What’s that? :slight_smile:

[quote=“Zenyaaa, post:15, topic:17228, full:true”]
I also feel like grammar and reading practice are the most important aspects of understanding a (written, at least) language anyway.[/quote]
This is absolutely true.

Very insightful post. Out of curiosity, are doujinshi using obscure kanji or are those just the common kanji which don’t appear in the joyo?

I would say a good mix of both. Plus many dojin authors like to make puns in their titles by replacing the common kanji with a bit more obscure variants with the same meaning or the same reading. It is indeed funny when you understand it, but a bit difficult to figure out if you don’t.
Although, I must say that I don’t read that much dojinshi to give you 100% accurate answer. But that’s just my experience so far.


Ah I see. I guess stuff like writing 聲の形 instead of writing 声の形. Thanks for the reply :crabigator: