How many kanji do Japanese people need to know so they can read, write and speak their own language? One of the biggest concerns and “headaches” of learning Japanese is the Chinese characters that the language uses, known as kanji.
How many kanji are there?
Japanese school children must learn 1006 basic characters, kyōiku kanji, before finishing sixth grade. This list is a subset of a larger list, which was implemented by the Japanese Ministry of Education in 1945.
This list is called jouyou kanji (常用漢字) which literally means Chinese characters in common use. Currently, this list of necessary ideograms has about 2136 kanji for the Japanese fluency level. This larger list of characters should be mastered by the end of the school. Students learn through repetition methods.
Altogether it is believed that there are more than 5000 Chinese ideograms in the Japanese language. Over the years these ideograms have ceased to be used and have been replaced by other words written in hiragana, with other kanji or even international words written in katakana. Knowing 2000 kanji is more than enough to be fluent in the Japanese language.
Do the Japanese know all kanji?
It is said that the Japanese do not know all the jōyō kanji, which are the most advanced, as some of them are rarely used in everyday life and, as much as they learned at school, the rare use of some kanji makes the Japanese forget those characters. Depending on the profession, the Japanese may or may not know all of these characters.
- A factory worker, for example, will certainly not know / remember everyone;
- A biologist or doctor may know more about these kanji;
Now, someone who works in the field of education, literature or some humanities will know almost all of these kanji due to the fact that they deal with these little-used characters.
However, in texts and newspapers, the little-used characters contain furigana to facilitate the reading of those who do not know them. A well-literate Japanese person can read 3000 kanji or more. A doctorate can probably reach up to 5000, especially if related to your field of study.
More than 5000 is possible, but many kanji would be extremely rare, which would make it even more difficult to remember them. In reality, we should not worry about the number of ideograms in the Japanese language. We don't even have to count how much we've learned. Just focus on learning words and deciphering an unknown kanji will become easy with the help of your radicals.
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