10 Essential Kanji

The Japanese language sure looks funny, doesn’t it?  It’s complicated, even for native Japanese.  There are three “alphabets,” one of which is kanji, or Chinese characters.  Everyday Japanese uses roughly 2,000 different characters, and there are close to 5,000 all together.

The good thing about kanji is that with just one “letter,” you can convey a whole word.  There’s a character for “car,” another for “large,” and another for “self.”  One way of saying “bathroom,” for example, is to string together the characters for “wash,” “face,” and “place.”  Makes sense, right?

Travelers can make use of some of these characters and find some things more easily.  With that in mind, here are the 10 that I think are most valuable.

Before we start: if the characters look like boxes or question marks, you need to install Japanese on your computer.

  1. 男: male
  2. 女: female
  3. 薬: medicine
  4. 酒: alcohol
  5. 入口 and 出口: entrance and exit
  6. 円: Yen
  7. 子: child (you may see this character in other places, like names of foods)
  8. 小: small
  9. 中: medium (or middle, center, etc.)
  10. 大: large

Great, so you wrote a bunch of funny stuff on my screen, now what?
Try to learn them!  At least get a feel for what they look like, even if you can’t write them yourself.  If you need to, crank up the text size.  Make flash cards.  It’ll come in handy when you want to know the price for a large sake!

Bonus kanji!
焼: yaki (like teriyaki, sukiyaki, yakiniku, and so on)
yaki means ‘cooking’ or ‘grilling,’ so a restaurant with this character will serve something delicious!

On to saving money!
Read our 5 best ways to save money on a Japan trip.