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A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters 2nd Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 70 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 860-1422520965
ISBN-10: 0804820384
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Editorial Reviews


"This book is nothing less than an etymological kanji dictionary of all 2000+ joyo (everyday use) kanji! FOr each kanji character, it presents its history in brief, references it to associated characters, tells its story of how it has evolved into its current form, and also its readings (both kun and on readings) and three example words/compound words written using the character. Of all the Japanese learning–related books I own, this one is by far the one I've gotten the most out of. I heartily recommend this one! —Squidoo.com

"…I use it every single day, and have done for almost a year now. It is the most brilliant reference book ever for learning kanji. I use this in conjunction with a phone app for Android, Obenkyo. I use the app to learn how to write each kanji, and to study them. I consult this book daily to learn the Why of each kanji, and to figure out how to remember them. There is a story to each kanji--and when you know the story it is much easier to remember each kanji. To find a kanji, you look it up by the readings in the back. If you get one book to learn kanji, this is the one you should get." —Goodreads

About the Author

Kenneth G. Henshall is a graduate of the universities of London (B.A.), Sydney (Ph.D.), and Adelaide (Dip. Ed.), and is now a senior lecturer in Japanese at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. He has also taught at the universities of Auckland, Western Australia, and California. Professor Henshall is well known for his translations of Japanese literature and is the author of A Guide to Learning Hiragana and Katakan.

Tetsuo Takagaki is a graduate of the universities of Wakayama (B.A.) and San Francisco State (M.A.), and is now a senior lecturer in Japanese at the University of Auckland. He has also taught at the universities of Hawaii and Maryland, and at Tsuda College in Tokyo. He is the author of a number of publications on Japanese language and linguistics.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Tuttle Publishing; 2nd edition (January 15, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804820384
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804820387
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #321,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

A formidable work which I found essential as a beginning student of Japanese. It will last a lifetime as a text, or at least until the first 996 kanji are completely memorised, which WILL be a lifetime for me. The kanji are ordered in grades according to the 6-grade system used in Japanese schools. I found this useful because this relates to the graded system of testing used in the international Japanese Language Proficiency Test. It's not the way Japanese learn kanji but it is a fascinating source-book for those studying Japanese as a second language. Henshall discounts many common explanations of the origin of kanji eg for EAST, whose common explanation of "sun rising behind trees" he debunks as an error of many centuries standing. I did not give the book 5-stars for the following reasons: (1) It lacks stroke order, so I constantly have to cross-check new kanji with my Kanji Dictionary. (2) It uses romanji. I have come to absolutely subscribe to the theory of my first Japanese language teacher who banned romanji from the classroom and loudly lamented the corruption of thought and understanding it imposed on students of Japanese. Why people who have the interest and motivation to study kanji would want to do so in romanji is certainly beyond my understanding. But obviously Henshall and his editors have given this matter weighty thought and decided otherwise. This book fully deserves 5-stars, but the opportunity for a 5-star kanji guide remains open to others.
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Anyone attempting to learn the Japanese language quickly realizes that Kanji is the most difficult of the three Japanese alphabets to learn. Each kanji can have anywhere from 1 to 42(or so) strokes involved in writing it, and plain memorization is a Herculean task. Kenneth Henshall, however, has provided the divertable rivers with this book. Each of the 2000 standard Kanji that the Japanese have learned by the time they've finished school is indexed by the year it's learned, and each listing has the KUN and 'on' readings listed--just as in a Kanji Dictionary.. ..the difference is, Kenneth has researched each Kanji's origin as a picture or diagrammed idea, and explained the reason for the changes from that form under each Kanji. He has also included Mnemonic devices after each explanation of the origin of the Kanji, to help you remember what the Kanji is drawn like, why, and what each means..
I have found this book immensely helpful. As a straightforward Kanji Dictionary, it's only so-so, because it's not organized by stroke order or some similar method.. --but, knowing the reason for each line in a Kanji helps me to draw them correctly when I need to, interpret them correctly when I see them, and not accidentally add an extra piece to a Kanji that doesn't belong there. The Mnemonic devices weren't as helpful, to me--but they may help some.. --all in all, I found this book necessary in order to have any chance at all at remembering Kanji, and despite it's less than optimum potential as a Kanji Dictionary, it works well enough that I don't have to buying one until I can afford it. Kanji are facinating, and I've caught myself reading this book when I should be studying.
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If you are learning Japanese, you probably already know that one of the most challenging elements is learning Kanji, the ideographic characters that make up a large portion of the written language. This book helps a lot with the Joyo Kanji, the nearly 2000 glyphs that are mandated by the Education Ministry for basic competence.

This book presents the characters in the order they are introduced to Japanese school children, so there's no risk of getting a complex, obscure Kanji until you are ready for them. Each character is introduced with its possible pronunciations and meaning, just like most other Kanji dictionaries.

The two things that make this book unique are the detailed "etymological" explanations of the formation of each character, and the suggested mnemonic devices for each glyph. The mnemonics are not always useful, and often you can come up with better ones yourself, but the explanation of the formations of the characters is outstanding. By understanding how the character was formed, you learn the various elements that make up all kanji, making them easier to learn as you go along. An additional benefit is that by knowing the origins of the character, you won't be thrown off when you happen upon kanji written using the old style, which depending on where you live and what you do, may be fairly often.

The only thing that I found disappointing about this book is that is doesn't give stroke-by-stroke instructions on writing most kanji. Granted, that would make the book a MUCH larger volume, but when faced with a 23-stroke monster, some idea of where to start writing it would be helpful. Of course, if you use a word-processor exclusively, you'll never need to know.
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I think your benefit from this book will very much depend on what you're trying to do and the type of memory you have.
About 3 years ago I bought this but soon after it began to gather dust - I preferred "Kanji Pict-o-Graphix" as I was impressed with my ability to `learn' 20 kanji a day from just remembering the images. As I was learning Japanese as a hobby, this was fun and very useful for the basic vocab at night school, but last year I moved to Japan and needed to rapidly learn as many kanji as possible.
I then realised the worth of this book. As I approached the `useful' minimum of 250 kanji I immediately realised that you can't simply remember any more by rote learning (unless you have 16 years like Japanese children!) and that the only way to fix them in your mind is to actually _understand_ the meaning. This book emphasises the usefulness of the individual kanji components (radicals) and also gives a guide to the broader `sense' - invaluable when an identical kanji is used in very different words.
The only criticism of this book is that it's presentation style at first appears too academic, but if you're seriously attempting to be able to write all 2000 kanji then I've found this one most useful. The various `simple methods' of learning kanji in my 5 other books simply didn't work for me and they are now long forgotten.
Don't worry about the lack of stroke-order, use a book like "The Basic Kanji Book" by Bonjinsha to learn the order of the first 50 and it becomes natural after that (it's about the only thing that has fairly well-kept rules in kanji). There is no English->Kanji section - but this would just perpetuate the myth that Japanese can be translated word-to-word from Latin languages. I just used a dictionary, then looked up the kanji in the book's Japanese index (thankfully in roman text). If you get tired of this, then some of the free computer-dictionaries (e.g. JWPce) have cross-references to the order in this book.
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