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Some Handy Kanji

When you visit Tokyo you will find that there is a lot of bilingual signage around the city and that is very a good thing because it’s one thing to know a few Japanese phrases and another when it comes to reading the Kanji that is one of the three scripts used in written Japanese.

To be able to read or write Japanese you would need to be able to identify more that 2,000 Kanji!  Learning the language of Japan is an overwhelming proposition for the traveler and something that is not very practical for tourists.  With that in mind, I would like to share some Kanji that I have found helpful in my travels throughout the city and how I remember them.

It seems appropriate to start with the Kanji for Japan and Tokyo.  While you might not find a lot of use for the Kanji representing Japan, the Kanji representing Tokyo will definitely come in handy on the subway system or if you are traveling around the country and need to get back to the city.  How do I remember these two Kanji?  No secret here, I simply have them memorized but I do have some tricks for the others, I promise!

The next two Kanji come in very handy in a variety of situations.  Need to find the entrance to the museum or any other building?  Look for the Kanji on the left.

The word entrance in Japanese is iriguchi and is a combination of two characters.  The first character is an inverted ‘V’ and I imagine it is a funnel leading me to the entrance.

The Kanji representing exit, deguchi in Japanese, is also a combination of characters, with the second character being the same as for entrance.  I picture the first character as an arrow of sorts with the base being the starting point and the multiple vertical lines representing people moving towards the exit.

If you plan on doing any shopping or dining out when you visit Tokyo you will definitely wand to familiarize yourself with the Kanji for the Japanese currency, the Yen.

While the price of something is fairly obvious if you are looking at a price tag in a retail establishment it can sometimes be elusive when a lot of numbers are present on advertisements, websites and other documents.

Imagine the split curtains, or noren, that hang over the doorway of a traditional Japanese shop and you will remember the Kanji for Yen.  Keep in mind that you may also see another symbol that is effectively a ‘Y’ with a cross on the lower vertical line (¥).  This is interchangeable with the Kanji for Yen.

Lastly, I will present the Kanji for open and close or closed.  How did I learn these and why do I think they are important?  Have you even been embarrassed when the elevator doors where closing as someone approached the door and you hit the close button instead of the open button?  I have done that when the buttons are in English and after helplessly facing the same situation in Japan, on a number of occasions, I taught myself the Kanji.

Picture the torii gate that welcomes you to the grounds of Japanese shrine and you have the small inset character in the Kanji for open.   The inset character in the Kanji reminds me of a stick figure person with their hands full, attempting to kick a door closed.

Other Kanji that might come in handy are those for the months, days of the week and numbers.

At times you may find yourself frustrated with the language barrier when you visit Tokyo but with these Kanji, a few key phrases in Japanese, English menus and the rare application of your charade skills those instances will be minimized.

Image Credit:  Personal Collection