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Kanji Writing Drills

Kanji always inspire mixed feelings in people. Some people are huge fans, others can’t be bothered, but they are an essential part of Japanese, and in fact Japanese is a little hard to read without them. And of course knowing kanji well will help you not only in the kanji section of the test, but also the reading because you will be able to read and understand the passage faster if you are more confident with your kanji.

Realistically, nowadays, you really don’t need to learn how to write kanji. There are computers everywhere – at the office, at home, in your pocket, so there isn’t a big need to learn how to write them (as a second language learner of Japanese). Although it would be useful if you are leaving a note for someone else.

However, after saying all that, it is still helpful to learn kanji by writing them. Why? Well, kanji writing drills are helpful in that they force you to pay attention to how the kanji is formed. Some kanji are very unique and are distinguishable from one another. A good example of this is (mother) and (father). Easy enough right?

But, kanji can get pretty tricky at the higher levels (N3+). For example, I recently saw on a test (product or pile up) and (roughly meaning results or records). These two kanji have the same onyomi (or Chinese reading) of せき, but have different meanings and are obviously used in different words. As a matter of fact, is only used in other words, it usually isn’t used by itself. The only difference between these two kanji is the 部首 (ぶしゅ or kanji radical) on the left of the kanji.

If I had practiced a little more kanji writing, I might not have gotten this question wrong on the N3 test I took. So, it can pay off to do some kanji writing practice from time to time.

I tend to practice writing kanji with a Kanji iPhone app about once a day for around 5 to 10 minutes. Nothing too serious. There are a variety of other ways to practice writing kanji though. In the activity guide, I’ll go over how to do this with pen and paper, but there is also Skritter.com which is a kanji practicing site (for both Japanese and Chinese kanji) that offers some good kanji writing practice as well.

Skritter.com has its advantages and disadvantages though. It’s best used with a tablet so that you can write out the kanji naturally (as opposed to using the mouse) and there is a small monthly fee involved ($9.95/month at the time of writing). The website is built with Flash, which makes it unusable for iOS devices (iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad), but there is an iOS app that you can use. Overall, if you are interested in getting into the beauty and art of writing Japanese kanji, Skritter is probably the best choice.


1) First off, you’ll need kanji writing drill sheets. You can either pick them up at a bookstore in Japan or make them yourself (online). I would recommend making them yourself as it is pretty easy and then they will be specific to your needs.

2) You never want to write too many of the same kanji in a row. It’s a bit of a waste of time to do anything over about 5 in a row. For me, this is about where my brain shuts off and I stop paying attention to what I’m doing. So, if you have a drill book with more than 5 in a row, just cut them short.

3) While writing the kanji, it’s helpful to repeat the word over and over again. This is to get in some extra speaking and listening practice along with your kanji writing practice. You might as well, right?

4) As you are writing the kanji, be sure to think about the individual radicals of the kanji not the kanji as a whole. By breaking down the kanji into its respective parts it’ll be a lot easier to remember and also to distinguish it from other kanji.