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I have been searching around, but all the sources give completely different answers ranging from 2,000 to 50,000. So my question is how many Kanji characters that have ever existed since the dawn of time? Does this include unofficial characters?

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    Idk but ik that we learn 1006 kanjis in primary school - sorry if this doesn't help much... :(
    – user17967
    Sep 20 '16 at 20:20
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An authoritative classic, the Kāngxī dictionary, lists over 47,000 characters. The Hanyu Da Zidian, a more modern reference, has over 54,000 characters; the Dai Kan-Wa Jiten, the Japanese equivalent, has over 50,000. Even more recently, the Zhōnghuá Zìhǎi has over 85,000 characters, but apparently many of those are variants.

Of course, such counting is more-or-less academic. In Japan, there are only 2,136 Jōyō kanji (lit. commonly-used kanji), which are the ones taught in school, though literate people usually know more. The equivalent list in Chinese is the Xiàndài Hànyǔ Chángyòng Zìbiǎo, which has about 3,500 characters.

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50,000 is usually the number given for the number of Kanji characters since the dawn of time.

2,000 is roughly the number than comprises compulsory education.

5,000 is often assigned to particularly well-read persons (e.g. university professors).

I remember reading a newspaper article about one of these "living national treasures", who was supposedly able to read 10,000 characters. (I have yet to find a reference.) One does have to wonder, however, how they determined the number.

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    There are 75,963 kanji currently encoded in Unicode available today, and another roughly 5,000 scheduled for the next Extension F update. And there will be more after that.
    – Dono
    Apr 18 '13 at 7:36
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    I'd like to see sources for this answer
    – ssb
    Apr 18 '13 at 7:39
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    Perhaps 10,000 if we are talking about Chinese hanzi, but for Japanese kanji, all of the Kanji Kentei level 1 test (漢字検定) comprises "only" 6355 characters. Which is every character you can represent in Japanese on a standard computer. I'd think even the most well-read of Japanese people wouldn't recognise even 5000 characters unless they studied specifically for that purpose. Apr 18 '13 at 8:52
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    Sorry, I had misremembered hearsay. This is how legends start =) I edited my answer a little.
    – Earthliŋ
    Apr 18 '13 at 9:57
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    @Dono, yes, but many of those separate encodings are effectively duplicates, so I don't think that number can be used meaningfully. For instance, 鉄, 铁, and 鐵 are all separately-encoded Unicode characters, but they are all the same single kanji character (as used in Japan, Simplified Chinese, and Traditional Chinese writing, respectively). Not all character form differences are encoded separately in this way (画 for instance will simply look different in Japanese vs Simplified Chinese fonts), but a large number are. May 26 '20 at 8:49
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I feel like this question is lacking a super detailed answer, so I'm going to give an excruciatingly detailed breakdown of various kanji thresholds.

1500ish: This is probably the range of kanji that the average person remembers how to actually handwrite directly from memory.

2135: This is the number of jouyou kanji. These are the kanji that are required to be taught in compulsory education (elementary and middle school, which goes through 9th grade in Japan). This list is followed closely by government documents, and most newspapers also will restrict themselves to these, but it isn't closely followed by anything else.

2999: This is the number that includes the jinmeiyou kanji. These are the kanji legally allowed to be used in names, in additional to the jouyou kanji. There are 863 kanji on this, which brings the total to 2999. Despite the primary use (and 人名用 literally meaning "for use in names"), not every kanji on the list is exclusively on it for its use in names. For example, 臭 is on the list, and no one in their right mind would give a kanji for "stench" as the name of a child (and as far surname websites can tell me, no one has it as a family name either). Rather, 212 of the kanji are just the traditional form of the jouyou kanji that were simplified after ww2.

3500 - 4000: This is about the number of kanji a normal Japanese person can read within the context of a word. I can only find guesses of this, since I can't find a study that covers the number.

6300ish: We have two major thresholds. First, this is the number of kanji tested that the highest level of the kanji kentei. This is far beyond what most Japanese people can do, and is mainly gotten to look good on ones resume, but someone who really likes kanji may also consider it.

Also at this level is the number of kanji encoded levels 1 and 2 of JIS X 0213 encoding standards (6355). This was all you could reliably expect a generic computer system in the 80's to support. The kanji on both closely match, though there are differences. There are kanji on the level 1 kanken exam which are at a higher level of JIS encoding, and over a hundred kanji in the JIS levels aren't included due to being only in very rare place names, or in some cases, not in anything at all (the 幽霊漢字). Basically, when created back in the 70's, there were a few kanji that were surely mistakes/misprints that were included into the standard. They obviously had to be continued to be supported in later updates, even though use of them is very dubious.

6715 - This is the number of kanji when you include IBM select characters which was included with DOS and the early versions of Windows. These were included to maintain support with older systems that included those kanji. Not all systems would support these in the 80's/90's, but some did. The only use of these kanji I've ever seen is in names, either because the name existed before Japan started enforcing the Jinmeiyou kanji, because they are Chinese/Korean and are keeping their kanji from there, or just as something that isn't their legal name, but that they personally use anyways.

10,134 - This is the number of kanji in the latest JIS standard (JIS X 0213), plus the 84 from the IBM select characters that weren't included in the standard so we keep our set increasing.

13,322 - This is the number of kanji in JIS X 0213 combined with the old supplemental standard in JIS X 0212, plus the remaining 34 kanji in IBM select that was in neither. This is basically the number of kanji that were part of a "major" JIS version.

14,664 - This is the number of kanji supported by Adobe-Japan1-7, the defacto standard Japanese font specification. The extra stuff here from beyond the last mentioned one is pulled from a wide variety of sources. This is basically the limit as far as Japanese kanji goes.

The two ways to increase from here is if we wish to extend to the number of Japanese characters in general or from the number of han characters in general. Since the latter is already covered in the other answers (over 100,000), we will go with a final number of Japanese characters of around 15 thousand characters, adding in hiragana, katakana (including the ones used specifically for Ainu), hentaigana, and bonji.

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  • Did you mean 臭 (stench) or 糞?
    – By137
    Oct 6 at 16:39
  • Why the hell is 臭 in that list... This deserve a whole question.
    – Simon
    Oct 6 at 17:34
  • Sorry, I should have translated it as "stench." I'll update it
    – MegaZeroX
    Oct 6 at 23:41
  • 幽霊漢字 - maybe just an epic trolling? If I was tasked with manually digitalizing thousands of characters I might also add something extra :p
    – a20
    Oct 7 at 9:31
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For what it's worth, according to wikipedia, the current largest compendium of Chinese characters, 異体字辞典(Yitizi Zidian), has 106,230 entries, which includes all forms (including alternate versions) of each character.

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