Today we'll take an in-depth look at a a kanji-learning textbook in this Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course Review. For those who want to skip the review and grab this book now, you can go here.
For everyone else, let's review...
Do you remember when you started studying Japanese? There was a time when you thought, “This is fun!”
You started learning those basic phrases and actually started remembering them! You even got that hiragana stuff down without even breaking a 汗 (あせ-sweat).
You started wondering what all the “learn Japanese” fuss was about. THIS is one of the hardest languages to learn?
And then it hit you...KANJI. You dove in, the same way you did with hiragana & katakana. "SURELY it couldn’t be as hard as everyone is making it out to be, can it?"
Just a few short days later, you got that swift, sobering kick in the pants. Not only is kanji as hard as everyone made it out to be…it may be even harder for you because you don’t have a formal teacher...
It’s right here when people decide to a) give up, or b) figure out some framework to get structured and stay consistent.
There are so many kanji (over 2000 if you want to be able to read almost anything). There are so many that look alike.
There are so many ways to read each one. It's overwhelming!
I’d like to share with you. It’s called THE KODANSHA KANJI LEARNER’S COURSE. And if you’ve been struggling to get those kanji to stick, it may be just the book for you:
Please note that this post does contain affiliate links. I do get commission when you purchase from links on this page.
Even though I'm happy to be a Kodansha Kanji Course user, Kodansha will receive the same thorough breakdown
(good and bad) that all other books & courses do in the Japan Guy Reviews.
This is where Kodansha "shines bright like a diamond!"
The kanji course is set up in a way that's simple & logical for even the newest of newbie kanji students.
Grouping like symbols together, clearly showing stroke order, and keeping explanations only as long as they need to be, helps reduce kanji overwhelm .
You get a clearer understanding of a complex subject from page one.
While won't say that you're going to be able to instantly know how to read as soon as you crack open the book, you WILL have moments you come across kanji that you couldn't remember, but now you can because of the course.
In my opinion, this system is more effective in helping wiht character recall (which IS important!) than it is with kanji reading.
The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course is pretty reasonably priced. But I would say that I slightly under-delivers on the "course aspect of the book.
As a result I think a slightly lower price would be justified, but only slightly.
All things considered, it's one of those essentials to have in your Japanese learning library...a solid buy.
Kodansha has the same weakness that most textbooks in it's class does...there's nowhere for the self-studier to go for assistance.
When you're studying that gets to be as complex as kanji, I think this is vital.
Is the book still crazy useful. YOU BET! But this review looks at the great stuff as well as the shortcomings.
"The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course: A Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering 2300 Characters" is a book by author, Andrew Conning. This course attempts to systematically show English learners how to make sense of one of the biggest challenges a Japanese learner will face, learning to read kanji.
The Kanji Learner's Course covers 2300 kanji symbols. In addition to the 2136 "regular use" JOYO kanji, this book includes an additional 164 kanji that are useful, but not designated in this official list. The reasoning behind this is that if you know all 2300 of these, I mean genuinely know them, you will have the ability to read just about any Japanese newspaper, magazine, etc. that you can get your hands on.
The core principle of the system is to use mnemonics to make the kanji stick.
Does it work? Keep reading to find out!
What makes the Kodansha Kanji Leaner's Course worth its salt? Why is it a better purchase than some of the other kanji books out there today?
This was the number one reason I decided to purchase this book. I initially didn’t buy the book to be honest. I like visiting Japanese bookstores with a rather chunky foreign books section. This keeps me from going stir crazy.
I wanted to improve my kanji, so I browsed through some of the book titles that captured my attention. “The Kodanasha Kanji Learner’s Course. Hmm…” I flipped through it about three times to see if it was worth purchasing and thought to myself “Meh.”
But the next day a really weird thing happened when I stumbled across the kanji 昔 (mukashi) which I didn’t know before picking up that book. The course explains the character mukashi as two “OLD” friends holding hands in the sunshine. This mnemonic makes this symbol super easy to remember!
I’m not even talking about an exhausting study session here, these symbols were were cemented in my brain after a quick scan of several pages of the mnemonics in this book. I figured if I picked up kanji without really trying, maybe this book was worth purchasing. So, I bought it the next day.
Here are a couple of other memorable mnemonics that I came across so far in this course:
Again, this book gives you a method to learn, know and understand 2300 Kanji. The sheer number of kanji that this book tries to break down in bite-sized, learnable bits, is pretty freakin’ impressive. If you’re learning kanji…why not go big? Why not learn as many as you can?
There are some very useful snippets at the end of this book:
A rather interesting feature of this book is that they teach similiar kanji in groups so that you can distinguish the differences between symbols that closely resemble one another or distinguish between ones that have similar components. For example these six characters are grouped together:
Each of the symbols above have the character 青 ((あお)-Blue) in common.
I don’t know about you guys, but stuffy books don’t really cut for me when I’m doing self-study. What do I mean by "stuffy?" I mean books that try to sound "smart," or books that are unnecessarily verbose (or complex) for no good god--mn reason!
Now if there’s a teacher who can make a rather starchy book clear to me, THAT'S a completely different story. But these book reviews have a special soft spot for the self-studying, Japanese student who's trying to figure this stuff out on their own (because that's exactly what I was when I started, too).
*Note: Yes, The introduction of the book is pretty darn stuffy, but after that, it lightens up into a simple, easy-to-use resource.
I like that Mr. Conning (author) has kanji knowledge to guide you when there are symbols people often confuse. In the notes on how to remember character meanings, there is sometimes a cross-reference to show characters that look like the kanji you’re studying.
Then this just might be the book to do it. There are a lot of positives to this book. It's worth trying.
Let's take a look at three of the major shortcomings of the Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course:
With so many kanji to cover, it’s nigh impossible for the author to create mnemonics that stick for for every single kanji. Admittedly, some of the kanji mnemonics aren’t as crystal clear as you might think. I have looked at some of them and thought to myself “Well that didn’t help me at all.”
Despite the vast majority of the explanations being super useful, there are some kanji mnemonic snippets that won’t give you that instant recall. Be prepared for that.
For example, here was one of the weaker explanations I came across:
While this book covers a truckload of kanji and shows some useful ways of grouping different kanji together, there are no units or real sections! There is an intro, a HUGE block of kanji content and then the appendices. It’s honestly a lot more like a reference book than an actual course. Luckily the author does include a
"Step-by-Step" method to using the Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course.
Writing is such a big part of kanji learning for me. One of the drawbacks of this book is that there is no place for you to practice writing the book. But I consider this a minor issue? Why? Because each kanji clearly shows the stroke order. So really all you need is a scratch piece of paper or a notebook and, VOILA!
If after the full, pros & cons, Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course Review, you feel like it's still right for you, Try It!
The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s course is designed for you to follow the kanji in sequence. I generally do the following eight things to not only get the meaning but to get the kanji to stay in my head:
I generally like to have a notepad nearby when I use this book because there are not places to actually write the kanji in the book as I mentioned in the “bad” section (it’s not a bad a idea to write in your page margins, though). Writing is one of the most useful ways to acquire the kanji that you’re studying. It’s almost like kanji muscle memory.
Step number 6 is HUGE!! I have found that writing the kanji compounds has been one of the most useful steps in actually being able to read the kanji I come across.
I have never really found memorizing on-yomi (Japanese readings) and kun-yomi (Chinese readings) in isolation very effective. Hopefully that tip will reach someone out there who’s struggling.
As an intro to Japanese Genki One would beat or provide serious competition for even the best beginner textbooks on market today. It’s a solid course that delivers.
The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course got a whopping 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon,
probably one of the highest rated Japanese books around, and understandably so...it kicks major butt!
Back when I purchased this book at my local book store, it cost me $34.00, but that was a while back and undoubtedly prices have changed. You can check it out on Amazon to see for yourself. This book delivers far more value than it costs.
The jury is still out on this one. I gonna have to reserve judgement for now. Despite having just done a full, in depth, Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course Review, I have to fully go through one other WILDLY popular kanji course (like Heisig's Remembering the Kanji) and compare. After going through both, I will update this section with my honest answer.
Keep in mind that kanji is only aspect of learning Japanese. While I think having functional understanding of kanji does reflect, to some degree, your knowledge of the Japanese language, being able to speak and understand do, too.
All in all I thought that the Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course was EXTREMELY well thought out.
It reads far more like a reference book than an actual course, so the title may be a bit misleading to some. However, this does not take away from how useful this book is!
I don’t think book is structured to suit true beginners. But I do HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT for intermediate and advanced students who are struggling to remember kanji. If I had to grade this book like the A-F grades we used to get in school. I’d give it a solid
As of 2017, I still have my (now dogeared) copy of The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course. It's even more useful for me today, than the day I bought it. If any of you are purchasing for the first time, and you've got questions...I'll do the best I can to help with what knowledge I have. Let me know in the comments.
Japanese Textbooks ain't your thing? You many want to try Japanesepod101.
Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
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