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Japanese vocabulary

Last updated Nov 8, 2022

You will most likely not want to study kanji individually. I recommend studying them as they appear in words, although there is a popular book called Remembering the Kanji (RtK) by Heisig which promotes the individual-kanji approach. To me, this approach appears to be waste of time; after spending several months studying RtK, you can’t read anything! Learning to read real words is left as an exercise to the reader! Additionally, not learning words immediately will slow your understanding of example sentences and therefore grammar. Search the Internet for similar arguments and rebuttals.

For my favorite flashcard software, see Spaced repetition and Anki. A popular flashcard deck is the core10k,1 which contains the 10,000 most frequent words in the language. There is a wealth of information and debates on how to most effectively use Anki, but the default settings worked fine for me for many years.

Japanese word dictionaries are organized in gojūon2 order, and kanji dictionaries are ordered by radical. Most people use Internet dictionaries such as the aptly-named jisho.org .

Many people recommend consuming native material (that is, books, manga, cartoons, etc.) and adding new vocabulary words to a personal flashcard deck in Anki. I found this to be absurdly time consuming, especially early on when my vocabulary was small. I prefer using pre-made Anki decks, rather than creating my own.


  1. The core2k/6k/10k decks were removed from the Anki distribution server due to supposed copyright issues, but had been previously released under a permissive license which obviates any potential infringement. At the time of writing, the core10k is available here ↩︎

  2. The two main kana ordering systems are Gojūon and Iroha ↩︎