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Kodansha Kanji Learner's Course, The : A Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering 2,300 Characters Paperback – 20 Mar 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: KODANSHA USA Inc (20 Mar. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568365268
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568365268
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 3.8 x 15.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


This unique treasure for learners is a step-by-step guide to mastering all the kanji needed for genuine literacy in Japanese. It forms the core of the widely praised and comprehensive “KLC” kanji learning system, supported by the KLC Reading Practice Sets, the KLC Green Book, the KLC Wall Chart, and a user-support website (keystojapanese.com) where you can form study groups, exchange tips, and track your learning progress with points and level ranks.

The 2,300 entries of this main textbook adeptly integrate the three essential elements for mastering kanji meanings: accurate keywords, carefully selected sample vocabulary to illustrate meanings & usage, and an unparalleled system of mnemonic aids.

  Keywords. Each character’s core meaning is encapsulated into a concise, easily memorized keyword. The keywords for all 2,300 entries have been carefully chosen to be semantically accurate and to integrate the character's various senses into a core idea.

   Sample vocabulary. The concept captured in each keyword is illustrated with up to five sample vocabulary items, carefully selected to clarify how the kanji is used in building typical words and phrases.

   Mnemonic aids. Each entry contains an original mnemonic aid that is carefully designed to help learners remember the character’s core meanings. Mnemonic aids pay special attention to helping learners immediately recognize each kanji and distinguish it from lookalikes.

The Course arranges all the information needed to master 2,300 characters into a streamlined, self-guiding, and mnemonically self-reinforcing curriculum. The course follows a sequence that aids learning by introducing kanji components step by step, grouping related kanji together, and teaching kanji in rough order of importance. Moreover, sample compounds include only such kanji as have previously been learned. This ensures that learners are able to understand and use each compound, and provides a built-in review of all the kanji already studied.


   Provides a sophisticated, pedagogically sound method for remembering the core meaning of each kanji, conveniently summarized in concise keywords to facilitate memorization.

   Introduces the meaning and usage of each grapheme the first time it appears, helping learners seamlessly acquire new kanji based on a sound understanding of their component parts.

   Innovatively uses concrete imagery to simplify complex characters and make their meanings immediately recognizable in their graphical forms.

   Teaches characters in a pedagogically effective sequence, presenting graphically related characters together to help learners give significance to their contrastive features as they learn them, and thereby avoid having to re-learn them later.

   Helps learners actively apply each character’s principal meanings and readings using key vocabulary words, carefully chosen to illustrate the character’s uses and to help learners employ it in everyday reading and written communication.

   Helps learners differentiate among graphically similar kanji by showing how to remember the characters in a mutually contrastive manner that connects their graphical distinctions to their underlying semantic differences. Along the way, the course introduces nearly 800 pairs of easily confused kanji.

   Helps students learn to write kanji accurately, by indicating each kanji’s stroke order and placing careful emphasis on distinctions among graphically similar characters.

    Includes all the kanji needed for genuine literacy in Japanese, including all 196 characters added to the official Joyo Kanji List in 2010.

   Includes convenient indexes that allow learners to find a kanji with minimum effort, using its reading, radical, or stroke count. Extensive cross-referencing allows learners to easily find the entries of lookalike kanji, as well as all kanji appearing in the sample compounds

About the Author

Andrew Scott Conning is a doctoral candidate and Presidential Fellow at the Harvard School of Education. He received a bachelor s degree in languages from Georgetown University and a master s degree in social anthropology from the Escuela National de Antropologia e Historia (Mexico). He has been active in Japan as a lecturer and university administrator, and most recently as a research scholar at the University of Tokyo.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is my first attempt at learning the kanji. It is easy to use with clearly defined tables for each character, with four on each page. This table contains all the information you need to learn that kanji. You will need to know your Hiragana and Katakana as there are no tables for these included with the book. Luckily, I have another book that have these in for moments when I get a blank moment with the transliteration from kanji to Hiragana. My knowledge has increased greatly with this book, and I am surprised how much I can recognise after only a month's work. Cannot fault this book in the slightest. If you're willing to put the time and effort in, this WILL teach you kanji.
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Excellent guide to start Japanese
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Delivered really quick! But it is pretty heavy! Can't wait to get cracking
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Great textbook. Surely the best.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars 51 reviews
68 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Book so far for Kanji 23 Aug. 2015
By Yurixy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I rarely post a review, but when I do, it's because the book really deserves it.
This book is a fantastic resource for anyone who is serious in learning Japanese, but why you ask? What it has to make it different from other similar books?

You actually learn vocabulary in this book. The best way to learn on/kun readings is definitely learning the vocabulary with the kanji, what is more, this book always give you about three to five words/sentences for each kanji you learn, making this a super valuable tool for learning. The title of the book may be humble in its way, because it doesn't teach you 2300 characters. It teaches you much more than that, including the 2300 characters plus around a 6000 to 9000 words vocabulary to learn (rough guess, I didn't count). The vocabulary is taken from "The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary: Revised and Expanded", another great asset in combination with this book.
To learn Kanji, this book have some things that makes it much more easier to learn than most books out there (believe me, I have several books for Kanji, and this is my favorite one so far), the order of characters is very well implemented and yes, the order you learn is really important, because you have to fortify the memories from what you learn. The best way to fortify your memories is through mnemonic, short stories or phrases that makes you learn and retain the Kanji. This book tries to follow a solid, concrete aspect, so you can distinguish between similar Kanji and meanings, although, of course with so much mnemonics in the book, a few of them may be not so helpful for you, in that case, you can think of your own story or mnemonic to complement the Kanji you are having difficulty.
Aside from Kanji meanings/readings and Vocabulary, you can also learn the Kanji stroke order - very useful to learn to write them; and the traditional Kanji (probably used in specific literature books) which can be useful for advanced learners of the language.

The only thing I would change in this book, which would be great in my opinion, is to add the type of each word presented to you. For example, noun, verb, adjective, etc. It has sometimes distinction for vert transitive and intransitive. Problem is, this is a flaw from the Kodansha Kanji Dictionary itself, not this book itself. What happens is this book takes the vocabulary from there, therefore it doesn't include the type of the word nor any indication of what type of word is that vocabulary coming from. A simple example would be like this: 二倍 (nibai) double, 倍にする (bainisuru) double. One is a noun, and the other is a suru verb (to double), but as Kodansha Kanji Dictionary doesn't have indications for type of words, the new learner may have a difficulty time figuring out what the word really means. This was just a simple example that can cause confusion, but most of times you will never know if the word is a verb or noun if you are a beginner, so it's a good idea to use other dictionaries to pair up with this book.

COMPARING WITH - Remembering the Kanji - by James W. Heisig
I studied and completed the book Remembering the Kanji 1 - by James W. Heisig, and I have to admit, while Heisig does a good job on teaching the meaning of the Kanji, I personally dislike how the RTK book is lazy with stories and mnemonics. In the introduction, it says you need to create your own stories and mnemonics using the keywords of each Kanji, but in reality, the learner just wants to learn, and most of the time he/she won't have the time to create everything for each Kanji. This book on the other side is much more complete in that sense, because it gives you more stories, more phrases, and more content to build your memory with, without the need to waste time being super creative with tons of characters. You clearly see that this book loves more the Kanji than RTK or other similar books.
Other problem is that RTK does not teach you the vocabulary in the same scope as you are learning each Kanji. This book here shines in this aspect, because you are learning the Kanji, and you are also learning common words that uses that Kanji, what is more, in a cumulative way. You won't see strange Kanji in the vocabulary until you learned them.

This book is definitely the best book released so far to learn and memorize the Kanji and useful Vocabulary as extra. The only downside is the source - "The Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary: Revised and Expanded" which doesn't teach you the type of the words - if it's a noun, verb or adjective.
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Effective building block approach, plus uses appropriate (visual/radical/etymological) aids based on individual kanji 9 Feb. 2016
By C. Cameron - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I know Japanese up to the lower intermediate level (three college classes; ~1,000 words), and I really wanted to continue learning the language on my own, with a preliminary goal of reading shounen manga in their native tongue. Alas, every English speaker learning Japanese knows the huge hurdle that kanji represent when it comes to reading. I needed a method to pick up kanji effectively, so after reading the reviews and book descriptions, I selected this book because it was highly rated and, most importantly, because it includes all of the 2300 basic kanji (most books only include several hundred up to a thousand, requiring you to inconveniently jump ship to another book when you finish).

I've been using this book for just over a month, having made a New Year's resolution to learn 4 kanji per day, a goal I set using the book's layout of 4 kanji per page. This will allow me to begin my dive into native materials before the year's end. I have found that compared to my experience studying kanji from textbooks (e.g. Genki, Tobira), Kodansha offers a much more intuitive experience. The basic Japanese textbooks just throw kanji at you and tell you to memorize them. They do not explain radicals, which can really simplify the learning and association process; they do not use visual mnemonics or etymological backgrounds; and they do not introduce kanji in an order conducive to learning. As two examples of many, Genki teaches the character for "road" (道) without ever first explaining the character for "head/neck" (首); or, Genki teaches the character for mother (母), without telling you that this represents breasts (turned sideways)...trying forgetting the character now! This isn't to fault the textbooks, as such explanations are beyond their scope; it's merely to point out the textbooks are a rather ineffective way to learn all of the kanji, particularly complicated ones.

Kodansha, fortunately, uses a multi-dimensional approach focused on one thing: making the kanji stick in your mind. Depending on what is useful for an individual kanji, the book explains the kanji's meaning using the appropriate and salient selection of radicals, visual mnemonics, or etymological backgrounds, or any combination thereof. I like that this book (unlike others) does not force awkward or ill-fitting visual mnemonics or complicated and obscure etymological backgrounds on kanji where it doesn't work; the book uses only what relatively simple learning aid makes the most sense for each individual kanji. Furthermore, the book introduces kanji in a building block order, allowing you to utilize what you have already learned to simplify the learning of new kanji. For example, kanji are often introduced as combinations of kanji you have already studied; as conceptually related groups tied around a similar radical or idea; or as contrasting groups where similar appearing kanji with different meanings are compared by the stroke to emphasize what makes them visually different, explaining how to interpret that visual difference to underscore the different meanings. It achieves this without becoming dull and repetitive.

Each kanji includes several, typically 3-6, example words. The example words are strategically selected to use kanji previously covered in the book, which helps reinforce what you have studied. Per the book's own recommendation, I find it most effective to learn each kanji in the context of the example words (instead of just associating the sounds to the single kanji), selecting 2-3 vocabulary that cover at least two (where two or more exist) of the kanji's pronunciations. As suggested, I write the new words at least 10 times each, reading aloud (or in my head) as I write, associating sound to character. Sometimes the words will be familiar -- you knew the word, just not how to write it. Sometimes, the word is new, so you increase your vocabulary. Using this method, I have not only expanded my kanji knowledge base, I have expanded my vocabulary. Additionally, each day, before I begin to study my 4 new kanji, I return to the previous day's kanji to write them, and then I will select 2-5 kanji (often ones I struggled with) from even earlier pages. Over the past month or so, I have comfortably learned ~150 kanji (I up to kanji #188, but already knew some of the kanji introduced).

The book's main negative is its lack of context: it does not use example sentences for the words. I understand, however, that this is a space issue (the tome would be enormous were this included for all 2300 kanji), and furthermore, this is a kanji book, not a vocabulary or grammar book. And it succeeds at teaching kanji quite well. Particularly for new verbs, I use a dictionary to get an idea of the verb's usage. With a quick search on my phone's Japanese dictionary app, I do not even have to close the book while I look up example sentences when needed. Thus, I do not feel inconvenienced by the lack of examples.

Granted, this is the first book of its kind that I have purchased, but I am convinced that there is not another book on the market to beat it for teaching non-native speakers kanji quickly and effectively.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I spent a lot of time figuring out a good method to get up and running in Japanese 26 Dec. 2016
By G. Palaia - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I spent a lot of time figuring out a good method to get up and running in Japanese. I work on conversational Japanese with the Shadowing series, work on grammar through a combination of annotated readers/grammar books, and use this book to learn the writing system. For learning Kanji, this is really the only book that you'll need.

First I'll mention why I think this book is good. 1) teaches you all the general use kanji and then some 2) has vivid mnemonics for remembering kanji meaning 3) shows you the readings through vocab words and even suggests which ones you should memorize 4) all the suggested vocab uses only kanji previously covered in the course so each entry builds off previous entries. Every kanji has a number for easy reference and previously seen kanji are indexed in the sample vocab. Essentially, the book is designed so that you're frequently cross referencing other kanji and looking again at kanji you've already covered. 5) the book groups a lot of similar kanji together and does a good job helping you distinguish among them. It also warns you about similar looking Kanji elsewhere in the course so that you can train yourself to see differences.

Now, how I use the book. Read through the entries just as he suggests to do in the intro, but I also add the suggested vocab (the ones he says you should memorize) into Anki to build my own Kanji vocab deck. I find doing this takes a little longer to get through the book, but I feel really confident in recognizing the readings and possible meanings of kanji that i've seen in the course thus far.

Anyway, 5/5 for being among the best Japanese learning resources that I've encountered so far.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Essential for all students of Japanese! 15 Aug. 2015
By R. Nagell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is a fact that any serious student of Japanese must have a working knowledge of Kanji, the building blocks for the majority of Japanese vocabulary. One cannot go far in acquiring a substantial vocabulary without Kanji, and it is essential for technical vocabulary. This book is the single best resource for learning Kanji. That Jack Halpern, author of the Kodansha Kanji Learner's Dictionary recommended it was sufficient for me to purchase it. The brief mnemonics are creative, memorable and hew closely to traditional Japanese radical or component meanings. The truly unique and outstanding feature of this book is that Kanji are presented in order of frequency of appearance in Japan, each with a short vocabulary accompanying each Kanji example, with all vocabulary items consisting only of previously presented/learned Kanji! As a Kanji learning tool, this book has no peer. You start from the first Kanji, learning the meaning and pronunciation, and with the next Kanji, you learn vocabulary that includes the previous Kanji with pronunciation. This approach is unique to this book and facilitates the most rapid acquisition of Kanji facility. It is a perfect mate to Jack Halpern's book if additional vocabulary examples are desired, but is truly a stand-alone resource. Get this with a good Japanese Text (like Genki), A Japanese Verb handbook (I like Kodansha's), the three Japanese Grammar Dictionaries by Makino and the Kodansha particle Dictionary and you are set for self-study.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother with any other kanji course, get this one! 24 Jan. 2017
By Lathaniel - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I studied Japanese for 2.5 years in college, and it was a nightmare having to learn kanji through various textbooks--the keyword there being various, because there are no college textbooks that cover all "necessary" kanji. The only option was to learn those taught in the textbooks (since that's what we were tested on). It didn't help that some chapters would cover 10, then the next could cover 50. The order was seemingly random for all books (maybe some influence from frequency and usefulness, though they weren't always useful). Nothing about learning kanji made sense. That is until this book!

I'll start off by saying the order in which kanji are taught is highly taken for granted by most books. They either go with frequency, or perhaps follow the order in which Japanese children learn in school. These don't help an English speaker learn effectively. This book, on the other hand, follows a general order of frequency, but goes way beyond that. You will learn the more basic kanji first, so that if kanji B is made up partially of kanji A, you will learn kanji A first. Along with that, you'll find kanji that are graphically similar in closer proximity.

The book of course covers all 2,136 Joyo ("official") kanji, but also an additional 164 useful kanji. It offers things like stroke order, alternate/traditional forms, and even mnemonics to help you remember each kanji. This means you need this book and only this book. No need to go cross-referencing various textbooks. No need to buy multiple books in a series just to learn keywords, then pronunciation and such separately. This book has keywords to reference the kanji, it has their most common pronunciations, and it has example vocabulary.

This leads me to my favorite part of the book, the didactic vocabulary. Assuming you follow the order presented in the book, you will never encounter words with kanji that you haven't already learned (with a few marked exceptions). This is such a great feature. After all, you're trying to memorize these kanji as they're featured--what good does it do if the vocabulary for said kanji introduce even more kanji for you to memorize/learn before you're ready for them?

I highly recommend this book to anyone studying Japanese, no matter their level. Do yourself a favor and start this book. You couldn't ask for a better resource when just starting out. This would help build such a good foundation in your kanji knowledge.

The only thing that could be missing from this book is contextual sentences, but that would make the book much bigger than it already is. Luckily, there will be graded reading sets to accompany this book coming out soon for some extra practice. Of course, once you finish the book, you should have a much easier time reading pretty much anything.
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