How to read kanji from a book?

Q: Hello, I really love this site and you post lots of really good information about the Japanese language and I love how you tell us the ‘everyday’ Japanese not the ‘textbook’ which probly makes us sound really strange and very gaijin to Japanese people. :)


My question though, is how can you translate Kanji from a book without the use of Furigana? I want to know this because the company for my favourite manga has gone out of production and Im thinking of buying the real Japanese mangas, but I wont be able to understand the Kanji. :( I’ve found a good website for translating kanji from the internet on http://nihongo.j-talk.com/kanji/ its really good but it wont help me if I want to translate from a book in my hands. If you could help me I would be very grateful! Thank you! :) – Rebecca

A: Hi Rebecca,

Another good question.  One way is to get something like the penpower pen that you wave over a kanji.  But I’m sure how well it does with Japanese.

Or there are a couple of old school ways to do this using a standard kanji dictionary.  The first one is to count how many strokes make up the kanji e.g. if you see 八 then it has two strokes, or something like 車 has 7.  Or you can look up the left or top part of the kanji e.g. if you see 明 then you can look up the 日 part and get a list of all the characters that include it.  Of course both of these methods require that you know the first 100 or so kanji really well, hence why I recommend learning those as quickly as you can.

Or the easy way is to wait until someone writes a kanji-look-up-from-the-camera app for the iPhone, where you can just take a pic of the kanji and see the meaning.  Apparently Chinese ones are already out, so we just have to wait for the Japanese ones!

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