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Reader Response
April-June, 2001

Fluent Japanese speaker wants to "start again" on kanji learning

Dear Noguchi san,

I read your article in the Japan Times today and felt encouraged to email you - am I one of thousands to do the same? I speak fairly fluent Japanese but have had a block against studying kanji for quite a while. I'm beginning to feel it's time I started again. Will look for the book you recommend and make a new start.

Best wishes,


Takushoku University student struggles with kanji

Dear Ms. Noguchi,

I read with interest your article that appeared in The Japan Times of April 13, 2001 aimed at people suffering from kanji headaches. It has instilled confidence in me to do my best in learning kanji from now onwards. I am studying at Takushoku University in Tokyo and enrolled in the university entrance preparatory long term course (each semester being of 6 months).I'm learning Japanese for about one year and have passed the third level of Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT exam)held in 2000 December. I intend to appear in first or second level at the end of this year. My greatest strengths are grammar, conversation and listening skills. And my only weakness remains kanji and as a result I score very low on comprehension drills. Hailing from a non-kanji background as I do, kanji learning is very difficult for me, the only thing that is letting my grades down and consequently, hampering my progress in having good command over the language. Please suggest to me some good books or tricks to overcome my problem. Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Thanking you,
Supriti Sethi


Takushoku student's kanji results improve

Dear Ms. Noguchi,

My Japanese studies are going fine but ever since I have read your column, my perspective about learning kanji has changed a lot. My way of studying kanji has been greatly influenced by the method explained in your column...once again thanx a lot for helping me out with my kanji learning.

Wishing you all the best!

Supriti Sethi


Reader introduces web-based kanji dictionary

Dear Ms. Noguchi,
Thank you for your entertaining and educational "Kanji Clinic" column. Perhaps you or your readers may be interested in trying my web-based kanji dictionary. You can either search for characters and words at


or look them up by radical, stroke, etc. at


Charles Muller
Toyo Gakuen University Web Resources for East Asian Language and Thought http://www.human.toyogakuen-u.ac.jp/~acmuller

Like Lisa, his shelves are loaded with kanji texts

Thanks for your item in Japan Times 13 April. I sympathise with Lisa and her effort to learn kanji. It may be that she has bought more books than me on how to learn but I am almost positive that she hasn't forgotten as many kanji as I have. Yet I think I know why we have both not reached the stage where we want to read novels or newspapers in Japanese. Obviously we are not comfortable with it and need to refer endlessly to dictionaries. And the reason is we haven't spent enough time learning.

I am sure Lisa must be younger and more mentally alert than me but the learning can be
done if enough time is put to the purpose and that means hours per day. The occasional day or week will not produce a satisfactory result - it has to be a long term and resolute effort to learn. Ask any Japanese, including my wife, where did you learn your kanji? The answer is always, at school, for many years. So why should we, and being much older, expect to learn more quickly part time?

I have all the books, and I mean all the books, seen the flash cards, dictionaries etc but
I believe my efforts in the last few months are now paying dividends. I am using several materials, all at the same time. Henshall's "Guide to Remembering --" is the first reference text but only for the purpose of providing a description of the character. Then I refer to Kanji in Context from which I write many times the vocabulary listed there. Having then, at least temporarily absorbed the character I refer to a Japanese student text, presently 6th grade, for further examples of the kanji use and vocabulary. For vocabulary that I dont know I use close by an electronic dictionary. (The order of study of kanji is Japanese school order which is much different to that given to foreign adults.)

Having been through those texts, and writing the words and the new kanji I then refer to a kanji computer programme which I downloaded free, called Kanji Gold. (This is not a perfect programme but quite useful once you have managed to overcome its deficiences.) Before I began to use Kanji Gold I looked at a few other programmes but for the purpose this suits me fine.

Thanks again. Hope my experience helps somebody, including Lisa.
Bruce Martin.
Why Chinese kanji are "easier"

Mrs. (Ms?, Professor?, Doctor?) Noguchi,

I just read your most interesting article in the Japan Times. I understand what you mean, but I'm not sure if I agree with everything you say. It is very helpful to know the components of a given Kanji. I tend to believe that if an adult wants to learn Kanji, (this is called masochism, I believe), he/she should first learn the 214 radicals, or at least a number of them. And, I further believe that he/she should learn to group the kanji by their 音 pronounciation; in order to better remember the 音(the 訓 is usually easier to remember, even though it`s usually longer.)

And it is, I think, very important to remember that even when one knows all or most of the kanji, there is absolutely no guarantee that one will be able to pronounce or know the meaning of a given 熟語。 For example, I have found that many educated Japanese are quite suprised when I point out that しんせつ is written 親 を 切る。

Frankly, although what you say makes excellent sense, I have had better luck learning through books like "Reading Japanese" by Jordan and Chaplain, which I completed and which I consider the absolute best I have seen. Unfortunately, it contains only 400 Kanji or so. If there were only a sequel (or two or three ). Nagamuna Readers, while dated, are also excellent, although I have not finished the series (now unfortunately out of print). "The Japanese Written Word" by Melchinger and Kasha has also been most helpful, as has "Comprehending Technical Japanese" from the University of Wisconsin. The best book using the system you endorse that I have seen is "小学生 の漢字早おぼえ辞典" from 学研.

When I attended college, Japanese wasn't offered, so I took Mandarin with the idea that it would help my Kanji (I was wrong!!!). But, I did find that, for Americans, Chinese is easy (as languages go), much easier than Japanese or than the European languages. Because the syntax is similar? Well, that certainly helps. Because the grammar is simpler? (No tenses for example; not even words meaning "yes" or "no") Again, that`s helpful. But the characters - aren't they hard? Yes, but, EACH CHARACTER IS PRONOUNCED IN ONLY ONE WAY and means only one thing (well, as much as any word means only one thing.) And that makes all the difference. Most Japanese don`t seem to realize the difficulty of the 音 訓 dichotomy, probably because of the years of painful learning they went through; but foreigners learning the language have fits studying this.

Thanks for your article (and the previous one on April 13th). Keep them coming. They might even encourage me to stop procrastinating.

Gary E. Harper

From soup to soap

Ms. Noguchi,

Your last column in Japan Times was interesting, but I wonder if you are aware that the meanings of Kanji are not always the same in Chinese as in Japanese - one of the funnier ones was the Taiwanese who, new to Japan, and seeing a sign, decided to try the Japanese soup. The sign was 湯、and at first he couldn't figure why there were separate sides for men and women. But, despite differences (走る means walk in Chinese), you're right, the Chinese (at least the Taiwanese) does have a head start. I'm not so sure about the new characters from the mainland. Anyway, good luck.

Gary Harper