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Kanji Dekiru Lesson 0 Transcript

Konnichi wa. Hajimemashite. Gavin to moushimasu. Kanji Dekiru douzo.

Hi. I'm Gavin, nice to meet you. Welcome to Kanji Dekiru.

This lesson series is designed to help you learn most, if not all of the Jouyou kanji, to get you
ready for the JLPT. This first lesson will serve as a historical introduction to the Japanese writing
system, so no characters will be taught in this lesson. However, it is still important that you listen
to this lesson (you might also pick up two Japanese words, if you're smart, which I know you

There are three writing systems in use in Modern Japanese. They are Hiragana, Katakana and

Hiragana and Katakana are collectively called kana. They are what are called syllabaries. They
represent sounds by themselves. Individually, most of them have no real meanings. They
combine to form words, which give meanings. In modern Japanese writing, hiragana have
grammatical function, as they are mostly used to write particles and inflections on verbs, as well
as show the pronounciation for native Japanese words. In addition, if you don't know the kanji
for a word or part of a word, you can write that part in hiragana, and hope the other party
understands you (although there are lots of homonyms, so there's a chance there might be some
ambiguity). Katakana however, are used to represent loanwords of foreign origin. Words like
"depaato", meaning "department store", are written in katakana.

You may have noticed that hiragana are more curvy than katakana. Hiragana were originally
called onnade (women's hand), and was used only by women to write. Men wrote in a
combination of katakana and kanji. Now, everybody uses all three systems. Still, when you're
starting out, it's always convenient to tell whether you're looking at hiragana or katakana by the
curviness of the shapes.

Kanji, are Chinese characters borrowed from Han China. (Han Chinese are an ethnic group, but I
won't get into that here. If you REALLY must know, just do some googling or check on

These "kanji" or Chinese characters, were brought to Japan via the Korean peninsula in about the
4th century A.D. Originally, the Japanese used these characters for their phonetic values, and not
for their pictographic meanings. This gave rise to a writing system called man'yōgana.

However, there were linguistic differences between Japanese and Chinese. Chinese is basically
an uninflected language, in that, there are no real conjugations like past tense and such. Japanese
on the other hand, has those conjugations, so issues arose when trying to write Japanese with
classical Chinese kanji.

The symbols used for their phonetic values were eventually simplified (by Buddhist monks I've
been told), such as the hiragana character あ, deriving from the Chinese character 安 (meaning
"peace"). Similar origins can be found for all kana characters, such as the example you see
onscreen. There are resources on the internet if you want to find out more about which kana
character was derived from which kanji. In some later lessons, I'm going to show you what kana
were derived from what kanji.

Some symbols however were kept for the value of their meanings. There were two ways to
phonetically represent these types of characters, called on-yomi, and kun-yomi (Yomi means
reading). On-yomi was a phonetic approximation to the classical Chinese reading, while kun-
yomi was the reading in Japanese (essentially, the reading of the Chinese character in Japanese,
so Japanese people could understand it). In other words, kun-yomi was an explanatory reading.

Kun-yomi arose because the Japanese people already had their own spoken language, so they
had their own words for the concepts represented by the Chinese characters. They started
associating their own words with the Chinese characters.

When reading words made up of more than one kanji, readings may be combined in four
possible ways: on-on, on-kun, kun-on, kun-kun. There is no real guideline for saying how
compound words should be read, although beginners are told ofter than on-readings should be
combined, such as in 時間 (read as jikan), which means "time". This however, is not strictly true,
as there are many exceptions, such as 時々, which is read as "tokidoki" rather than "jiji". Most of
the times, you'll just have to learn them as they come along.

After World War 2, the Japanese government started a programme of language reform, to
simplify the characters, modify some of their readings and limit their numbers (quite similar to
what Chairman Mao did in China). A bit later, the "jouyou" kanji list was published, that is, the
list of characters in common use. This contains approximately 1945 characters that a person will
need for almost everyday use.

Which brings us to why we're here. If you're talking the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency
Test) up to the highest level, you're going to need knowledge of most, if not all of these 1945

Kanji themselves are fun to learn. However, I, and many others find them hard to remember. At
least, they were until I stumbled across this book called "Remembering the Kanji", by James
Heisig. Inside, it gave a method for studying and remembering the Kanji by associating small,
imaginative little stories with it. I tried it for like 2 months, and it worked like a charm. I'm still
working through the book, but it's a wonderful method, and it's going to serve me well for when I
start studying Chinese too, I'm sure.

The only issue I had with James Heisig's book was the fact that the order in which he gave lots of
the characters, wasn't exactly suited for a person who was studying for the JLPT. I understand
that it was because he wanted to build upon knowledge of some characters, to show how they
would be used as elements in other, more complicated characters. I'm going to modify the order
just slightly in this video series.

Now, before I end this video, I have a few more things to say. First of all, as I said earlier, kanji
have two readings, on-yomi and kun-yomi. Remember what I said about katakana being used for
words of foregin origin?

Well, since on-yomi are of foreign origin, usually, they are written in katakana. Kun-yomi are
written in hiragana. When compound words are made, their readings are always written in
hiragana, whether or not the reading of each kanji is kun or on yomi. I'm going to give one or
two example words for each kanji. I'll give the readings in hiragana and romaji (romanized
Japanese) for now. You should really make an attempt to learn all the hiragana and katakana
though. You can do that in like two days of studying. Relying on romaji is a REALLY bad habit,
that if you get into it from early, will hinder your progress later on.

Next, kanji have this thing called stroke order. When you're in a hurry to write, it really doesn't
matter much, but when you're learning, you really should make an effort to learn the stroke order.
It allows you to form your characters better and make them look neater.

Finally, kanji are made up of smaller elements, called primitives, which can sometimes be other
kanji. The smallest of these elements are called radicals. I'll use these words interchangeably, so
don't kill yourself over the difference. Different elements may have different purposes, for
example, some elements are used to give the kanji some sort of phonetic value, while others are
used to impart a certain meaning to the kanji. In addition, depending on their position, some
radicals can change their shapes. In the next lesson, I'll cover some radicals. Okay, now, I'm
going to teach you your first character.

Haha, just kidding, I lied. There's one more thing I need to say. Kanji have a third reading, called
nanori. I won't be covering nanori at all in these lessons, but lots of the time, nanori can be
obtained from on-reading combinations. This isn't necessarily the case though, because some
kanji's nanori readings basically have no relation to their on or kun readings. This would only
complicate things, so I won't cover them in this series.
Well, that's it for the introduction. Stay tuned for the next lesson.