Notes on Japanese, the national language of Japan, including a kana cheatsheet and a rough plan for learning kanji.

Writing system

Japanese writing mostly consists of a combination of logographic characters, called kanji (漢字), and syllabic characters, called kana (仮名). There are two sets of kana: hira­gana (ひらがな) and kata­kana (カタカナ).


Kana cheatsheet
あ ア a い イ i う ウ u え エ e お オ o
か カ ka き キ ki く ク ku け ケ ke こ コ ko
さ サ sa し シ shi す ス su せ セ se そ ソ so
た タ ta ち チ chi つ ツ tsu て テ te と ト to
な ナ na に ニ ni ぬ ヌ nu ね ネ ne の ノ no
は ハ ha ひ ヒ hi ふ フ fu へ ヘ he ほ ホ ho
ま マ ma み ミ mi む ム mu め メ me も モ mo
や ヤ ya ゆ ユ yu よ ヨ yo
ら ラ ra り リ ri る ル ru れ レ re ろ ロ ro
わ ワ wa を ヲ wo
ん ン n

Mnemonic phrases:

  • For the order of the vowels:
    Ah, we soon get old

  • For the order of the rows:
    Ah, Kana Sounds – Take Note How Many You Read Well


Learning kanji:

  • Consider learning the kanji radicals first. Study them in order of stroke count, and associate them with mnemonic meanings.1

  • Study kanji in order of increasing written complexity. Contrast this approach with how Japanese children learn: they learn kanji with simple meanings first, e.g. learning (weekday) before (ladle).2

  • Consider the 80/20 rule. Study kanji on the jōyō kanji (commonly used kanji) list.3

  • For pronunciation, focus on being able to read words aloud in context. Don’t try to memorise all of the on and kun readings.4

Kanji lists:

  • Jōyō kanji (2,136) – the official list of commonly used kanji.
    • 1,026 kanji taught in primary school (kyōiku kanji, “education kanji”).
    • 1,110 additional kanji taught in secondary school.
  • Jinmeiyō kanji (863) – additional “name kanji”.


Interesting words

Unevenness, roughness, ruggedness, bumpiness.
Stockpiling books.
Books bought but not read.