Jumping in at the deep end


This picks up where the White Rabbit kanji cards leave off. Kanji are ordered by usefulness, though what constitutes “useful” depends heavily on what you plan to do with your Japanese skillz.


1. I started with a list of most-frequent kanji as they appear in newspapers, but after the first few hundred it started showing a strong bias toward political vocabulary (which, apart from a political-themed porn I happened to read, I have no use for). In college Japanese they seem to think that reading the newspaper in the Holy Grail, the be-all and end-all of Japanese study, to which I go, pfft, as if. If I wanted to read the newspaper I’d read it in English – the whole point of learning a foreign language is to have access to material that doesn’t exist in your native language. Nevertheless, I recognize that reading newspapers is the goal for a lot of people, so kanji with a newspaper bias are included and color-coded in green.


2. I learned Japanese so I could read fiction, namely manga, and fiction has its own set of frequently occurring kanji. A lot of these, like (おれ), aren’t even Joyo kanji, but are insanely common anyway. There are also “literary” kanji for words and phrases that are usually just written in kana – except in the hands of terribly pretentious writers, and there’s no shortage of those. Kanji with a manga bias are color-coded in orange.


3. And lastly, there are many kanji that aren't much use as vocabulary, but appear very frequently in names and places ( would be the prime example of this) -- they're good to know, particularly if you're living in Japan or planning to. Name kanji are color-coded with purple.




Radicals that appear frequently but don’t have a common name or associated meaning – I’m giving them my own definitions and sticking with them.


– labor

– fur

– complications

– to strike

– handspan

– to kick

– shaku; an old Japanese measurement of about 30 cm




THE TOP FOUR: Fiendishly useful kanji that aren’t JLPT-2 but really, really should be




elementary; principle; suffix for atomic compounds


1. 素直 

すなお frank; honest; unaffected

2. 簡素な 

かんそな simple; plain

3. 酸素 

さんそ oxygen

4. 質素な 

しっそな simple; modest; frugal

5. 要素 

ようそ factor; element; item (in a list)

6. 素っ気ない 

そっけない cold; blunt; curt

7. 素行 

そこう conduct; behavior

8. 素材 

そざい raw materials

9. 素子 

そし electronic component; data

10. 素質 

そしつ personal quality; potential

11. 素人 

しろうと amateur; layman

12. 素性 

すじょう lineage; background; history

13. 素晴らしい 

すばらしい beautiful; magnificent; splendid

14. 素早い 

すばやい quick; prompt; nimble; agile

15. 素敵 

すてき fantastic; superb; cool; great

this radical doesn’t have a name, but it turns up a lot of places. The Japanese think of it as plus

thread 糸





shake; wave; wag; swing


1. 振る 

ふる to wave; to shake; to swing; to dump someone

2. 三振する 

さんしんする to strike out (in baseball)

3. 不振 

ふしん slump; depression; stagnation

4. 振られる 

ふられる to get dumped; to get jilted

5. 振り 

ふり suffix indicating a manner or style

6. 久し振り 

ひさしぶり a long time (since something)

7. 振り仮名 

ふりがな Hiragana pronunciation written alongside kanji

8. 振り掛ける 

ふりかける to sprinkle on top of

9. 振込み 

ふりこみ direct bank transfer

10. 振るう 

ふるう to wield; to exert [power/influence]

11. 振替 

ふりかえ transfer; exchange

12. 振動 

しんどう oscillation; vibration

13. 振る舞う 

ふるまう to act; to behave; to conduct oneself




also appears in (earthquake)、農 (agriculture)、娠 (pregnant)strong radical for シン





hang; suspend; depend; arrive at; tax; pour


1. 電話が掛かる 

でんわがかかる to get a phone call

2. 出掛ける 

でかける to go out

3. 掛り 

かかり expenses

4. 手掛かり 

てがかり clue; hint

5. 飛び掛る 

とびかかる to jump at; to lunge for

6. 引っ掛かる 

ひっかかる to get stuck; to fall for a trick

hand radical

also in 封 (envelope)、街 (town)、佳 (beautiful)



Lookalike kanji:




evidence; proof; credentials


1. 証 

あかし testimony; proof

2. 学生証 

がくせいしょう student ID card

3. 査証 

さしょう visa

4. 認証 

にんしょう authentication; confirmation

5. 証拠 

しょうこ evidence

6. 証券 

しょうけん stocks and bonds; securities

7. 証言 

しょうげん testimony

8. 証人 

しょうにん witness

9. 証明 

しょうめい proof; verification

10. 証書 

しょうしょ document; certificate


words 言


correct 正



The following appear on lists of required JLPT-2 kanji, but were not included in the White Rabbit flashcards:





boulevard; street; town


1. 街 

がい (suffix) –street; -quarters; -neighborhood

2. 商店街 

しょうてんがい shopping district

3. 市街 

しがい urban areas; the city

4. 中心街 

ちゅうしんがい high street; town center

5. 繁華街 

はんかがい downtown; business district

6. 街角 

まちかど street corner

7. 街路 

がいろ road; street; avenue


to go 行


stacked stuff, also in 封 (envelope)、掛 (hang)、佳 (beautiful)


Lookalike kanji: 掛、衝





flower pot; bottle; jar; jug; vat


1. 瓶 

びん bottle

2. 瓶 

かめ earthenware pot; jar; jug

3. 空き瓶 

あきびん empty bottle

4. 花瓶 

かびん flower vase

5. 魔法瓶 

まほうびん thermos

6. 瓶詰め 

びんづめ bottled; bottling

put together  (archaic)

tile 瓦





tin can; container


1. 缶 

かん can; tin

2. 空き缶 

あきかん empty can

3. 薬缶 

やかん kettle

4. 缶切り 

かんきり can-opener

5. 缶詰 

かんづめ canned goods; packing in cans


Appears in many other kanji, no associated onyomi




vessels; counter for ships, items one of a pair


1. 一隻 

いっせき one ship

2. 隻手 

せきしゅ one hand

3. 隻語 

せきご just a few words

4. 数隻 

すうせき several boats

complications radical 

again 又 (archaic way of writing また)




interrogative marker


1. 幾つ 

いくつ how many?

2. 幾度 

いくたび how many times?; how often?

3. 幾ら 

いくら how much?

4. 幾何学 

きかがく geometry

5. 幾多 

いくた numerous


This reappears as a unit in (machine) and shares an onyomi of





afflicted; disease; suffer from; be ill


1. 患う 

わずらう to fall ill

2. 患者 

かんじゃ patient

3. 患い 

わずらい illness

4. 疾患 

しっかん disease; ailment

skewer 串 (shares onyomi of カン)

heart 心


Lookalike kanji: (fidelity)




enroll; domiciliary register; membership


1. 戸籍 

こせき census; family register

2. 国籍 

こくせき nationality

3. 書籍 

しょせき book; publication

bamboo radical

also in  (plow)

long ago 昔 (shares onyomi of セキ)





tracks; mark; print; impression


1. 跡 

あと traces; remains; signs

2. 追跡 

ついせき pursuit; chase; trace

3. 奇跡 

きせき miracle; marvel

4. 足跡 

あしあと footprints

5. 跡継ぎ

あとつぎ successor; heir


foot 足


red 赤 (shares onyomi of セキ)



And eight more very common kanji to finish out the set:





dislike; detest; hate


1. 嫌い 

きらい dislike; hate

2. 嫌な 

いやな disagreeable; unpleasant

3. 機嫌 

きげん mood

4. 不機嫌 

ふきげん bad temper; sullenness; ill humor

5. 機嫌を取る 

きげんをとる to please someone; to curry favor

6. 嫌悪 

けんお hatred; antipathy; prejudice


woman 女


simultaneous 兼 (shares onyomi of ケン)





burden; waste


1. 駄目 

だめ useless; no good; emphatic “no!”

2. 無駄な 

むだな futile; useless; pointless

3. 下駄 

げた traditional Japanese sandals

4. 無駄遣い 

むだずかい a waste; squander (vs)

5. 千駄ヶ谷

Sendagaya (place)


horse 馬


fat 太





propose; carry


1. 前提 

ぜんてい premise; prerequisite; hypothesis

2. 提げる 

さげる to take along; to hold with oneself

3. 手提げ 

てさげ handheld

4. 提供する 

ていきょうする to offer; to sponsor; to furnish

5. 提出する 

ていしゅつする to turn in; to hand in; to submit

6. 提灯 

ちょうちん paper lantern

7. 提携 

ていけい cooperation; partnership




this  是 (archaic way of writing これ), also in (topic)




shadow; silhouette


1. 影 

かげ shadow; reflection

2. 影響 

えいきょう influence; effect

3. 撮影 

さつえい film; photography

4. 投影 

とうえい projection


scenery 景


fur radical 



faction; group; sect


1. 派 

は clique; faction; school

2. 派手 

はで gaudy; flashy; showy

3. 立派 

りっぱ splendid; fine; legitimate

4. 戦後派 

せんごは postwar generation

5. 派遣 

はけん dispatch; send

6. 派生 

はせい derivation

7. 派閥 

はばつ faction




also in (blood vessel); don’t confuse with (melon)






apologize; thank


1. 謝る 

あやまる to apologize

2. 感謝 

かんしゃ thanks; gratitude; appreciation (vs)

3. 感謝祭 

かんしゃさい Thanksgiving Day

4. 謝礼 

しゃれい monetary reward; compensation; fee


words 言


inject 射





detach; separation; disjoin; digress


1. 離婚 

りこん divorce (vs)

2. 距離 

きょり range; distance

3. 分離 

ぶんり separation; detachment (vs)

4. 隔離 

かくり isolation

5. 離す 

はなす to part; to separate; to release

6. 離席中 

りせきちゅう afk

7. 遠距離恋愛 

えんきょりれんあい long-distance relationship


appears in a handful of rare kanji, indicates an onyomi of 


complications radical 





enemy; foe; opponent


1. 敵 

てき rival; foe; opponent

2. 素敵 

すてき cool; superb; fantastic

3. 政敵 

せいてき political opponent

4. 匹敵する 

ひってきする to match with; to equal; to rival

5. 敵わない 

かなわない no match for; uncomparable

6. 敵意 

てきい hostility; animosity

7. 敵対 

てきたい hostility; antagonism; opposition


also in (droplet) (suitable)strong radical for onyomi テキ


strike radical 



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