I am learning how to write kanji using the obenkyo app. I am trying to remember the strokes of each kanji and how to read them (onyomi & kunyomi).

But do I really need to remember the onyomi & kunyomi for each of them? I mean there are at least 4-5 different ways to read each of the kanji, and I don't think I can remember the strokes, onyomi, and kunyomi all at the same time. That's too much for me.

How important is it to know onyomi and kunyomi readings? How is it useful?

Suppose we came across a word with new kanji somewhere, is there a way to know how to read it?

I mean it's confusing and the readings always change.

For example 人 can be read jin, ri, hito, etc.

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    I would gently disagree with the accepted answer. I think that it's important to know the main on-reading for each character, and at most two main kun-readings for a character when you're starting out. And by "know" I mean, you can look at a character and go "Oh, that's 人", and in your head you read it out as either ひと or じん for example. For characters uses in transitive and intransitive verb combinations (e.g. 開く・開ける) I think it's helpful to learn both kun-readings. As melissa_boiko says, you should be learning words first, not readings.
    – Lou
    Commented Oct 30, 2019 at 14:52
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    I think that this question belongs to meta, and that it is highly opinion based.
    – jarmanso7
    Commented May 23, 2020 at 23:31
  • One does not study lone kanji characters. It's a complete waste of time
    – Newbie
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 2:11
  • I agree with jarmanso7, that this is essentially a question asking advice about how to approach learning Japanese.
    – henreetee
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 14:49

5 Answers 5


Studying Kanji can easily become one of the most overwhelming challenges of studying Japanese. Even people who speak the language decently have difficulty reading and writing Kanji.

As you have no doubt discovered, learning a single 漢字{かんじ} can be a challenge. Unfortunately, you should do your best to learn everything about the character you can.

While you've only touched on it, stroke order IS important, but the more you practice the easier it gets. You'll start to develop a natural feel for it over time.

But do I really need remember onyomi & kunyomi for each of them?

Yes, you do. I'm sorry to say it, but your example of 人 is a classic example of why you should learn all the readings.


Below are some common words that use 人.

あの人{ひと}(that person)
一人{ひとり}(one person)
二人{ふたり}(two people)
仲人 【なこうど】(matchmaker -- less common, but uses the -と reading)
日本人{にほんじん}(Japanese people)
本人{ほんにん}(the person himself)

The best way to learn the readings of a kanji is to see common usages of it. Look up all the words you can that use the character, and learn how it would be read in different situations. Of course, practice, practice, practice. It will take a lot of effort on your part.

If you see the character on its own (hiragana on both sides), you've likely got a kunyomi. This isn't guaranteed, but it is the case more often than not.

If you see the character with other kanji, it's likely an onyomi. This too isn't guaranteed, but it is also the case more often than not.

The fact of the matter is, you have to expose yourself to Japanese writing a lot before you start to develop an intuitive feel for how things could be read. Honestly, I still misread some characters when I go off of intuition, but as I keep saying, practice makes perfect.

How important is is to know the onyomi and kunyomi readings? How is it useful?

Japanese people use both onyomi and kunyomi readings all the time. It's useful to know both of them because otherwise you will never be able to read the language fluently.

Suppose we came across a word with new kanji somewhere, is there a way to know how to read it?

The only way you will know how to read the characters is if you have had prior experience with it. This will require a lot of practice and a lot of patience. Practice makes perfect here, and you will need a lot of practice.

Take comfort in knowing that kanji is hard for Japanese natives and foreigners alike. I have known several Japanese people who struggled with reading kanji. They could read the common, basic characters, but a lot of the time they needed help from someone who had a better knowledge of the characters. I have even been in reading groups where educated people have needed help reading characters, simply because it was outside their area of expertise. It would be the same thing if I started talking about electrical induction to a doctor. Sure, it's English, but they haven't studied it before, and likely won't fully understand what the term electrical induction means.

  • thats bad news but i will try remember the stroke,onyomi and kunyomi too from now on. i saw some kanji has some more than one kunyomi reading too, how to know which one should we use to read a kanji? i learn the writing in order to make me not forgetting the kanji very soon.
    – Kakashi
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 14:40
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    @Kakashi Practice, After spending some time in Japan, I started to get a feel for what sounded like a better reading, but in reality, nothing was more helpful than lots of exposure and practice.
    – ajsmart
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 14:42
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    uhm okay, i will practice more. thanks for the advice and answer.
    – Kakashi
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 14:53
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    @Kakashi No problem. It will seem overwhelming at first, but once you get past the initial shock, you'll get it. It's not impossible, it just takes a lot of effort.
    – ajsmart
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 14:56
  • @ajsmart In the text, there are also what I believe are a few more instances where you said "kun'yomi" or "on'yomi" but meant the other: such as "If you see the character on its own (hiragana on both sides)" and "If you see the character with other kanji"
    – A.Ellett
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 18:58

Adding to what others said, in my opinion you shouldn't think of it as memorizing all the readings for every kanji, abstractly. You should think of it as learning Japanese words (which you have to know anyway), and then learning how to write them as kanji. Words come first, kanji come later. The words would exist even if the kanji didn't. Consider that Japanese people learn the Japanese language before learning to write (just like peoples of all languages learn to speak before learning to write).

For example, hitori, futari, sannin, hito, hitobito, nihonjin and amerikajin are some Japanese words. If you want to know Japanese, you have to know these words and what they mean (just like learning any other language). This is the basic level. Then, in addition, you also have to know how to write them: 一人、二人、三人、 人、人々、日本人、アメリカ人. You will then naturally absorb, by osmosis, the convention that certain words (hito) and word-pieces (-ri, -jin, -nin) are written with the same character, 人. (The words and word-pieces written with the same character often share a rough general "meaning", but not always.)

So it's not really a matter of drilling "on and kun readings" as one would drill country capitals. Things like -nin and hito aren't just "kanji readings"; they're words and word-pieces (morphemes) that occur in the Japanese language. You have to know what they mean if you want to speak Japanese; and, additionally, you have to know how they're written if you want to read Japanese.

Source: Nara and Noda, Acts of Reading: Exploring Connections in Pedagogy of Japanese.


I believe the best way to remember kanji is by seeing how they are used in words because this is how you will have to read them.

I use Wanikani by Tofugu myself, and have found that the readings, although useful, can get you confused sometimes especially if you try to remember how readings work (onyomi with onyomi, kunyomi with kunyomi, and even exceptions).

"In general, you'll use on'yomi when a word is made up of a multi-kanji compound (this is called jukugo).

You'll use kun readings when a kanji has hiragana attached to it (though this isn't always the case), or when a kanji's sitting out there on its own.

Really though, prior knowledge of the kanji and how it is used is necessary, which unfortunately means you actually have to practice since there are no really solid rules you can use to shortcut your way out of figuring out how to use what pronunciation and where."

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    "there are no really solid rules you can use to shortcut your way out of figuring out how to use what pronunciation and where." does it mean by remembering onyomi and kunyomi doesn't guarantee you can read new word you just met?
    – Kakashi
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 14:50
  • @Kakashi exactly. "if you try to remember how readings work onyomi with onyomi, kunyomi with kunyomi, there can be many exceptions." Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 14:51
  • Although, there are times where I could read a new word based on onyomi and kunyomi but its a not for certain that you will get the right reading the first time always. Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 14:52
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    +1 for giving real advice. Indeed, you won't need to recite all the readings of 雨 in real life, this kind of skill is not useful. What you need is to understand 雨具 when you see this word, and ideally to know its pronunciation. Quite honestly I would never be able to remember the reading of 睡 if I saw it alone outside of 睡眠. Who cares if you know the words anyway!
    – user14602
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 16:01
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    Insofar as how you read a kanji, you should be concerned with the vocabulary first, and then which kanji it uses and why. this way, you place less emphasis on a "clinical" approach to kanji, and instead learn it more "naturally." It won't stop you from reading 女 as おんな and knowing this word and kanji to mean "woman" before you learn other related words such as しょうじょ or じょおう to learn that 女 is read as じょ for these words 少女(しょうじょ) and 女王(じょおう), as these are harder vocabulary you'd learn later.
    – psosuna
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 22:33

Personally, I don't think you need to learn the kun'yomi and on'yomi. Why? Well, you will naturally learn them when you progress with your studies.


From what I understand, and when it comea to mulptiplwe kanji, I think what a lot of folks are worried about are prefixes and suffixes, and knoqing what order they are supposed to be in. Then, afterwards would be the accepted readings.

Basically, it is more of a gut instinct language, based on what is socially practiced based on prefecture (going by each region in Japan, that is).

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    I don't understand what you're trying to say, or how you are trying to answer the question.
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented May 23, 2020 at 21:44

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