Read Japanese Today REVIEW – A HOW TO on Japanese Kanji

Have you ever struggled to learn kanji before?

Learning how to speak Japanese is not too difficult once you spend a little time doing it and getting used to it. But learning how to READ Japanese is a completely different story!

There are tons, and I mean TONS of different books and courses that teach you how to read and understand kanji. Have you tried any of them yourself? Some of them are good. And some of them are not so good…

Imagine if you had a way to learn kanji easily and naturally. What would that be like?

Well I’ve got some good news for you: I might have found that way! Here it is, my Read Japanese Today REVIEW – A HOW TO on Japanese Kanji!

3 Ways to Learn Kanji

(1) Rote Memorization is the most common way that people learn Kanji. This is actually how Japanese people are taught to learn kanji in school.

First the kanji is visually presented to the student with its meaning and pronunciation. Then the correct stroke order is shown and space is provided for the student to write out the kanji multiple times.

This is how I learned a few kanji when I first started out, but I don’t do it anymore because of the flaws with this method. It’s a really, really good way to learn how to write kanji, but not to remember it.

That’s because memory is all about meaning and association. Yes, it is possible to learn all 2,000 daily kanji using this method (the Japanese do it after all), but it’s a very, very, VERY slow method. It takes the Japanese all of elementary, middle, AND high school to learn this way!

So, if you want to learn how to write kanji, then go ahead and try this method. But if your priority is to learn to read kanji, then use one of the other two ways.

(2) Reading kanji in sentences is a great way to learn the meaning and pronunciation of kanji. You won’t learn how to write it at all, but considering how most words are digital these days, it’s probably not such a big deal.

It may sound silly, but one of the best ways to learn how to read Japanese, it to just read it! Since you get to encounter the kanji how it is actually used, it becomes a natural way to pick it up.

I’ve learned much more kanji this way than by rote memorization. And as long as there is furigana with any new kanji to show how it’s pronounced, it works pretty well.

The only problem with learning this way is that you’ll have to look up any new kanji you run into in a dictionary. This slows the whole process down each time you run into a new kanji, which can be really frustrating at times.

(3) Mnemonics are learning devices that use patterns or associations to assist in memory. If done well, they are a FANTASTIC way to learn kanji! Basically what they do is, they take the way a kanji looks and its meaning and then attach them together in such a way so that when you see the kanji, the meaning is triggered in your mind.

Using mnemonics to learn kanji is nothing new. And there are actually several different ways that authors and instructors have done it. But there is one way in particular that I have found to be the most useful, and the easiest way to learn. Is is this last method in particular that I believe will help you more than any other.

Read Japanese Today by Len Walsh

Read Japanese Today REVIEW - A HOW TO on Japanese Kanji (2)
I have two copies for some reason…

Read Japanese Today is a book by Len Walsh on (you guessed it!) learning how to read Japanese. It focuses primarily on kanji, although there is a short section on both hiragana and katakana.

The picture above is actually of the original version that came out in 1969. But there’s is an updated 2008 version that is actually quite a bit better. I have the newer one in digital version on Kindle.

Like I said, there are a few different ways to use mnemonics to learn kanji. So how does Read Japanese Today use them to help you?

It’s actually pretty cool. It explains how each kanji was ACTUALLY created when the written language was first being invented. In other words, when it teaches the kanji for “the sun” it shows how it first stared off looking exactly like the sun in our sky and why it was changed to how it is today.

Here’s what I mean: First they drew the sun like we will do today a lot of the time. Then they removed the rays of the sun in order to make it quicker and easier to write. And finally, in order to make all kanji fit together nicely on paper, they “squared” all of them, changing it to its final form.

It’s this step by step walk-through for each kanji that makes the method so powerful. First you see the original shape, then you see how and why it was changed into its current form. So each time you encounter the kanji in its current form, you remember why it looks the way that it does and what it means.

Read Japanese Today starts off with an introduction on the history of kanji and then moves to how you should use the book. Then it’s broken down into 10 chapters that have 40 kanji each. Finally, there are some appendixes at the end that you can use for a quick reference on all the kanji you’ve learned.

Here’s a breakdown of everything in the book:

  • An easy way to learn 400 kanji
  • A short history on how kanji were created
  • A guide on how to pronounce Japanese words
  • A brief guide on how to write kanji
  • Examples of how these 400 kanji are used in Japan
  • A basic hiragana and katakana chart
  • A summary table of all 400 kanji for quick reference

I’ve been very impressed with everything that’s included. Especially considering that it’s available for about the cost of lunch at Wendy’s, on the Amazon Kindle store. But if had to pick the one thing that I like the most about Read Japanese Today, it would be this:

You will learn 400 kanji in 10 days.

To me, that is really fricken’ amazing! And I have yet to see any other book or course that can match it!

But READ THIS before you do anything!

There are only two things that I think the book could have done better:

(1) The book only covers 400 kanji. You need to know about 2,000 kanji in order read most Japanese newspapers, books, and such. So this book will only give you about 20% of the kanji that you need in order to be considered literate.

How awesome would it be if it contained all 2,000?! I mean, each chapter contains 40 kanji. So if you read one chapter a day, you will learn all 400 kanji in 10 days. But if the book contained all 2,000 “daily use kanji”, then you could learn them all in just 50 days! That is crazy talk! But alas, that is not the case. Insert sad face here 🙁

But in all fairness, learning 400 kanji in 10 days is the best result I’ve ever seen when it comes right down to it. If nothing else, use this to jump start your journey on your way to full kanji mastery.

(2) The other thing is that even though the book does a fantastic job at teaching you the meaning of kanji, it has no strategy to teach you the pronunciation of it. It tells you the correct way to say each one, but it doesn’t use any mnemonics to help you remember.

If you had to only learn the meaning of a kanji or the pronunciation, it would be best to learn the meaning. That way when you encounter it in manga or in a Japanese city, you will understand it and be able to continue doing what you’re doing just fine. If you could only say it correctly, but not understand it then you’d be stuck. So the good news is that the book focuses on the most important thing.

My recommendation is that once you’ve memorized the meaning of the kanji, you spend some time reading them in full sentences, like the way to learn kanji #2 up above. That ought to take care of the problem for ya.

Read the First Chapter for Free

If you would like to read the first chapter for free so that you can see how it works, simply do the following:

  1. Click the link (picture) of the book below to go to Amazon.
  2. Then, click on the picture of the book in the top left of Amazon.
  3. You should now be able to read the first chapter for free!

I used to think that Kanji in MangaLand was the best way to learn kanji, but after using this, I have to change my #1 resource for learning kanji to Read Japanese Today.

Well, that about wraps it up! If you liked my review of it, and you’re interested in learning more about it, then simply click on the link below.

You might like Read Japanese Today, because it will teach you 400 kanji in 10 days.

Thanks and I’ll see you later! (^_^)b

I want to hear from you now! What books have you used to learn kanji? Do you know the history of kanji and where it came from? Leave a comment below!


12 thoughts on “Read Japanese Today REVIEW – A HOW TO on Japanese Kanji”

  1. This book seems super cool! I really like watching anime but I have always wanted to read the kanji in it without the translations. But I haven’t been able to because I am a very impatient learner. I might give this a shot, I have been wanting to buy a new book to read and this one seems like a very cool book to read and also a really good learning experience.

    • Yeah, I can appreciate wanting to learn and understand something right away. It is a little difficult at first when it’s all new to you, but after you get some time in studying it actually becomes rather easy and normal for you to pick up new ones.

      I also like to be able to read the kanji in the anime that I watch. When you watch it in SUBs, they don’t always explain the things you see, which is a shame because it can really give you an insight into people or places on screen.

      It’s also pretty cool because you can start to read what people’s names mean in Japanese. That’s also another fun insight to posses when you can read Japanese.

  2. This looks like a cool challenge. Even if you didn’t master the 400 or so characters in 10 days, what a start you’ve made by challenging yourself. Cool post!

    • Yeah, that’s totally true. Even if you just leaned a single new Kanji per day, you would still make great progress as long as you never stopped. And thinking of the whole thing as a challenge is a great way to make it fun and keep yourself motivated!

      I mentioned in this post that it is a shame that the author didn’t continue the process for all 2,000 “daily use” kanji. Then one day I stumbled across a project on Kickstarter called “The Real Kanji World” that proposed to do that exact thing! I totally backed it and shared it on social media, but alas! We could only get is about 75% funded before time ran out. 🙁

      Still, if it ever does manage to get published, I’ll be sure to update this post with a link talking about this newer, more complete book.

  3. Learning how to speak Japanese Kanji in 10 days is quite a promise. I really like the step by step process of looking at the original shape, then learning how and why it was changed so that everytime you see the kanji, you remember WHY so you remember what it means. This seems like an easy way to learn. I’ve never been to Japan, but my dad spent a lot of time there while in the Navy. He’s gone now, but it’s always been a dream of mine to visit, so when that happens I’ll be sure to get the book and learn Kanji! How fun! Thanks for the post. It was a fun read. 🙂

    • Hey Jackie, yeah it’s the best resource I’ve come across so far for learning new kanji. There’s just something incredibly powerful about people’s visual memories. This method is set up so when you see a kanji, it reminds you of the thing it represents!

      And that’s pretty cool that your dad got to go to Japan while in the Navy! I’ve got a Marine who was able to do that too!

  4. I am very interested in learning languages and did well in Spanish, but Japanese is another matter. I hope I am not too old to learn! Even though I have so little time, I want to do this. I use a Transparent Language email, daily, which gives me the native sound as well as the characters.

    I want to learn Japanese, since I know someone who is from Japan and now living in Japan again. I hope to communicate better with this person. They know English very well. I just think communication is so important that when you know the mother tongue of the person you are talking with you understand what they are saying better, even if they speak in English. You can always clarify in Japanese.

    Also, it is important to know more about the culture of the people who speak the language you are learning.

    Thanks and I will read the report you send us as a free gift and read the first chapter of this book sold by amazon.


    • Hey Lynne, I’m glad you liked it! I know you’ll enjoy using those free resources to help you with Japanese. Being able to talk to someone in their native language is always something special!

  5. Wow! Great insights.

    I lived in Japan for four years. The Kanji I learned really helped me get around. The more I learned, the more I picked up, because it really made sense.

    I’m living in the Middle East right now. Very different place, very different language, culture and written characters.

    It was fun thinking about Kanji again. It really took me back. I think anyone who will live in Japan should try to learn kanji. It does enrich your life.

    • Hey Elizabeth, that is so cool that you lived there for four years! And it’s pretty impressive that you’re in the Middle East right now. That is such a different language and script from both English and Japanese! And I would have to say that I agree with you – Knowing kanji does truly enrich your live and your experience with Japanese. Thanks!

  6. Really great article. Japanese is one of the languages I’ve always wanted to learn, but never could figure out where to learn or how! Thanks for the advice!

    • Hey Liz, yeah I think a lot of people run into the same thing where they’re just not sure where to start with Japanese. Check out the tab “For Beginners” if you’d like to learn the basics on how to pronounce Japanese. I’ll put a link below too, thanks!


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