4 Proven Methods To Approach Writing Japanese Characters

4 Proven Methods To Approach Writing Japanese Characters

For those just starting to learn Japanese in Singapore, writing kanji may seem unnecessary in this digital age where most interactions occur online and physically writing things is becoming less common. But in truth, writing is a key step in learning the 2,000 jōyō or general-use kanji necessary to master the Japanese language.

Many studies have proven that writing something down by hand makes remembering easier. Thus, besides contributing to your overall language skills, knowing how to write kanji also helps you better learn these complicated characters by heart. Lastly, there is the fact that knowing stroke order is often integral to recognising kanji, which further reinforces the importance of writing practice. To get started on writing Japanese, try out these 4 leading strategies and see which one works best for your learning style.

1. The historical approach

Etymology, or studying the history of each character, is one way of learning kanji and how to write them. A good starting point for this approach is to read Kenneth Henshall’s “A Guide To Remembering Japanese Characters”, wherein the author details each kanji’s history in depth, starting from the earliest ideograms to their modern version, and truly dives into the inner workings of Japanese.

This learning strategy is best for those who like to get into the weeds of kanji and is suitable for upper immediate and advanced students to independent learners. Note that since this book does not provide opportunities for hands-on practice, it should just be a supplementary resource to your existing studies.

2. Story-based mnemonics

James Heisig’s “Remembering The Kanji” is a series of books that leverages stories to remember kanji. Each “primitive element”, like radicals, strokes, and other basic elements, is linked with a specific meaning and combined to make stories and “creative” associations. These books focus solely on meanings and stroke order and do not touch on phonetics, vocabulary, and exercises. As such, this approach may be suitable for you if you are solely interested in remembering and recognising kanji and its meanings without worrying about the other details that only add complexity.

3. Learning through pictures

Learning kanji through pictures is probably the most common approach out of all the strategies here, with many books such as “Kanji Pict-o-Graphix”, “Kanji in MangaLand”, and “Kanji Look and Learn”, all using pictographs.

This way of learning makes sense, given that many modern kanji characters started as pictographs. These textbooks essentially create new pictures and associate them with each kanji, such as turning the kanji 止 meaning stop, into a picture of a police officer holding his hand out to stop oncoming traffic. Also, they generally include a breakdown of each character’s stroke order and vocabulary words and exercises to reinforce learning.

The picture-based strategy is more geared towards younger learners and beginner students who prefer a fun approach, making learning and writing kanji less daunting.

4. The Japanese way

The Japanese way of tackling kanji is best described as learning the characters through sheer brute force, i.e. extensive amounts of writing and re-writing kanji to the point of filling up pages upon pages with character after character. Naturally, everyone else outside of Japan is not a fan of this approach. Regardless, this rote memorisation does work.

At a certain point, language learners will have to learn by doing, and repeatedly writing kanji characters is one way to do that. Constant practice is also the best way to get familiar with the general rules of stroke order and the few outliers specific to a handful of kanji.

If you do not need extra learning aids, can focus well, and have a long attention span, the Japanese method may work well for you.


There is no one right way to learn how to write kanji, and the best approach for you will depend on your learning style. Thus, ask yourself how you learn best and try all the strategies above to know first-hand which ones are a great fit for you. In doing so, writing (and remembering) kanji becomes an enjoyable experience rather than a tedious one.

Breeze through the challenging parts of Japanese learning by signing up for our classes at Japanese Explorer today! Our native Japanese teachers follow effective teaching methodologies and provide tailored lessons that best fit your learning preferences to get you on the fast track to fluency. To learn more information and scheduling of our Japanese course in Singapore, feel free to drop us a message at any time!


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