Pictographic Kanji - Ideograms and pictograms


Ever wondered what a pictographic kanji is? How can understanding the pictography of an ideogram help you learn Japanese or even Chinese? In this article, we will talk a little about the pictographs of a kanji in the Japanese language. For those who are unaware, the ideograms used in the Japanese language emerged in China throughout the history of mankind.

The origins of Chinese ideograms are unknown because they go beyond 2000 years BC (before Christ). The only certainty we have is that many of the Chinese and Japanese ideograms are actually pcitograms. In other words, representation of images, drawings that represented the word and were simplified over time.

Japanese kanji are mostly pictographic, thus representing some type of image that is visually similar to a real life object. If we take this into account, it may be easier to learn Japanese and Chinese.

Pictogram x Ideogram

In Japanese we all call it kanji or ideograms, but there is a small difference between pictographic kanji that can be called only pictograms. A pictogram is called a shoukei [像形] where [像] means image, figure, portrait and [形] means form and style.


An ideogram can be called shiji [指事] where [指] means to indicate and point, while [事] means importance, reason and fact. In other words, a pictogram is literally an image (picture) while an ideogram passes the meaning of an idea. Ideograms are symbols that represent an idea and not an image.

This does not mean that an ideogram in the shiji category does not convey a pictographic idea. For example, the top [上] and bottom [下] ideograms are not pictograms but give a very logical idea of an arrow pointing up and down.

Kanji pictográfico - curiosidades sobre ideogramas e pictogramas

Kanji go beyond pictograms

It is easy to look at a simple ideogram and see that it is a pictographic kanji (木火人). But there are other ideograms that don't make as much sense as pictograms (気魚言), but they all have a reason and a long history behind their representation. Others are junctions as in the case of forest and forest (森).

This pictographic concept of representing scenes and figures by complex symbols need not be entirely literal. The purpose of the other ideograms is to express an idea through a symbolic form or alteration of pictograms. Knowing the pictograms we will be able to understand the meaning of several ideograms even without knowing their readings or their pictographic logic.


Knowing all the pictograms and pictography of a Japanese character will make our learning of Japanese and Chinese less tedious and more practical. Learning pictograms also involves learning the radicals of a kanji, their writing order, and the countless ideas and synonyms that they want to pass on.

The truth is that not every ideogram is a pictogram, but they all have some connection either by sound or by inheriting a pictographic radical. Some may not find it productive to learn the few existing pictographic ideograms, but knowing them will open the door to thousands of advanced level kanji that use pictograms somewhere.

Kanji pictográfico - curiosidades sobre ideogramas e pictogramas

Pictographic Kanji Books

Even though our Roman alphabet is not a pictogram, many still use our letters to create books teaching children to learn words in a certain language. This works much better in Japanese and Chinese where ideograms or kanji are pictographic.

O RTK method (Kanji Imagine to Learn) uses the idea of pictography well, even if the kanji is not a pictogram. Some even use this pictographic method to learn hiragana and katakana using real background drawings. For this purpose I have separated some books related to pictograms for you to take a look at: