I am curious how many kanji a normal Japanese person is able to read. Since the Joyo kanji are learned by middle school, I assume that as a person goes through high school and university many more beyond the basic 2,000 are picked up.

For a typical 30-ish year old person in Tokyo with some university degree, how many kanji would he be able to read?

Furthermore, how often would he have to look up unknown kanji?

  • 5
    They know very many.
    – user18597
    Feb 3, 2013 at 6:05
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    Since nobody likes to give you a rough estimate: Average is certainly more than 2000 (that's high school level) and less than 10,000. But the moral is: Don't worry. You'll know what you know. If you need more, you'll remember more. The number is really proportional to your average daily amount of characters you are exposed to...
    – Earthliŋ
    Feb 3, 2013 at 11:09
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    @user1205935: I agree with “between 2,000 and 10,000,” but I am not sure if grown-ups tend to know more kanji than high school students. Feb 3, 2013 at 21:33

1 Answer 1


The problem with this question is that there are too many variables.

A university degree in a subject like computer science will not significantly increase a native Japanese speaker's kanji vocabulary. A degree in biology or medicine will add some, but a degree in philosophy, history, or literature could potentially add thousands of rarely used (outside of that specialization) characters.

There's also a huge question about "what does it mean to 'know' a kanji?" Even very common characters have unexpected readings.

How often a person needs to look up kanji varies depending on what they generally read. There are some lists of kanji for particular contexts, but even those are usually too high-level to be of much 'use'. An American who habitually reads "The Economist" is much more likely to need their dictionary on a regular basis than one who just watches the nightly news.

(I've marked this as CW to avoid gaining rep for what is essentially an extended comment complaining about the question, rather than an answer)

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