So lets say that I'm going through my Japanese textbook, and I'm I see a page of vocabulary. This page of vocabulary contains such words as:

寝る{ねる} (to sleep)

晩{ばん}御{ご}飯{はん} (Dinner)

The kanji in 寝る is not taught until middle school, and neither is 御. 晩 is not taught until the 6th grade. The textbook that I am currently using is an introductory one. As such, I am familiar with very few kanji, and certainly not these ones. If I was an elementary schooler in Japan, how would I go about learning these terms that are quite ubiquitous in everyday speech? Would I just learn the kana for them, and then learn how to write them properly down the line? Or would I learn to write the word with kanji without actually knowing what the kanji mean?

Background: I'm making flash cards right now and I'm trying to figure out if I should just learn the kana forms or if I should try to memorize the words as Kanji + Kana forms and simply learn the meanings of the kanji later.


2 Answers 2


This is mostly a suggestion rather than an answer but is too long to post as a comment and is meant to provide a reasonable point of view, not a hard fact.

I suggest you learn the word with the Kanji as is, and worry about learning the individual meaning of the Kanji later.

Part of the reason I suggest this is because when you know that the Kanji belongs in the word, it becomes easier to read text whenever this word appears. As you study more Kanji, you acquire a sense of deduction/reduction when it comes to tracing possible meanings to Kanji that over time, you might figure it out.

For example, take 晩御飯 as a good example. Suppose you learn/already know that 晩 is evening, and 飯 is meal. You might not know that 御 is an honorific yet, but that doesn't subtract from the fact that the word 晩御飯 is dinner. However, if you know that 御飯{ごはん} is always in a word about a meal, but you begin to learn that the Kanji 御 shows up in words and phrases like 御茶{おちゃ}and 御嬢{おじょう}さん, you might make the inference that it is probably an honorific prefix (which it is). You didn't need to research to know that that Kanji holds this meaning and words that contain it likely have that meaning.

The other part of the reason is that, sometimes, you will find compound Kanji words that utilize Kanji in a way that do not line up with the Kanji's individual meaning. Oftentimes this is because the Kanji exists solely to provide the sound for the word, and not to provide meaning to the word. It might sound like a contradiction, but in reality, learning the individual Kanji does not guarantee that you will be able to know the proper vocabulary for things. As a matter of fact, focusing on just learning Kanji will probably render you less able to use the vocabulary that most people use, and you'll sound visibly non-native.

Likewise, it's just as important to know when a Kanji can be written in just Kana, and whether most people do that or not. It won't come as a curveball to read 晩御飯 even if you yourself, as do most people, write it 晩ご飯 instead, or 御茶 as お茶, for example.

As I mentioned before, you absolutely should learn the Kanji, but you may want to wait before you delve in learning all of the possible readings and its singular meaning, if the context is beyond you at the moment. My personal rule of thumb is, if the Kanji shows up in more than 3 vocabulary words that you should know, it's probably time to investigate the individual meaning of the Kanji, and try and understand what inherent connection there is between the three (or more) words that feature the same Kanji.


It's common for words to be taught partially in kanji and partially in kana in elementary school. The students may know the reading of common words like 晩御飯, so they are able to use the word in conversation. But they may not be able to write the full kanji forms of words until they cover it in class. The kanji lists which are taught each year are standardized by the Ministry of Education.

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