When reading a japanese newspaper there's a lot of kanjis, but how do you know the correct reading if you come across a kanji you dont know? Is there some easy way to look it up, or do you just have to know the word beforehand?

3 Answers 3

  1. The kanji used in newspapers are basically limited to those on the joyo kanji table, which includes only(?) 2,136 characters as of 2018 (there are a small number of exceptions). This means native adults are unlikely to encounter a totally new kanji while reading newspapers. Unsurprisingly, newspapers are meant to be read and understood by native speakers without dictionaries.
  2. Some proper nouns have rare difficult kanji, but they come with its readings in hiragana or katakana anyway.
  3. The majority of difficult kanji are keisei moji, which means you can often make a reasonable guess once you've understood the general pattern.
  4. If you do want to look up a kanji, there is a special type of Japanese dictionary for that, and there is software that allows you to find kanji from mouse strokes.

I'll answer one of your questions.

how do you know the correct reading if you come across a kanji you dont know?

You know the correct reading because you recognize the kanji as part of a word that you know. When you see, let's say, the word 自動車{じどうしゃ} (automobile), there is no mental process such as "ah, its 自{じ} + 動{どう} + 車{しゃ}, じ - どう - しゃ, wa-lah, it's じどうしゃ!". You see 自動車 and directly recognize it as じどうしゃ.

So, in general you either know words or don't know them. The problem is at the words/vocabulary level, not at the kanji level. For this reason, we can say that recognizing the 2136 jouyou kanji is a necessary condition to be able to read a newspaper, but it is not a sufficient condition. You still need to know many, many more than 2000 words.


I'd hate to throw the "there's an app for that" answer at you, but there indeed are such apps. Some make you write it with finger on screen, some let you point the camera at the kanji in question and recognize it for you.


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