The Key to Kanji. A Visual History of 1100 Characters

EAN: 9780887277368

ISBN: 978-08-87277-36-8 //  ISBN: 9780887277368
Year of publication: 2010
Publisher: Cheng & Tsui
Number of pages: 353
Languages: English and Japanese
Country of origin: US

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The Key to Kanji: A Visual History of 1100 Characters is a book about the origins and evolution of kanji. It is a great material for students who are looking for a book to study kanji or for those who have interest in Japanese language and its evolution. For this reasons, you do not have to be a Japanese language student to use this book. 

The book is divided in 3 different chapters and after, it begins with kanji. The 3 firsts chapters are divided ad follows: 

- Chapter 1: it is focused in the historical development of different forms of kanji. In this chapter, there are explanations about the evolution of kanji in China, old forms etc. 
- Chapter 2: focused in the origins and types of kanji and their semantic and phonetic composition. 
- Chapter 3:  focused in the development and evolution of Japanese language and its writing system: kanji, hiragana and katakana. 

After, each page shows 4 kanjis, each in a table that contains all possible readings, meanings, radicals, most common words, order of strokes, explanation about how a series of pictures turn into a kanji and lastly, an explanation about the origin and the evolution of each kanji. 

At the end of the book there are various index containing all kanjis, so it is quite easy to find each of them. 

Description by the publisher

The Key to Kanji: A Visual History of 1100 Characters is a one-of-a-kind reference for learners at any level! Based in etymological research, this detailed guide takes away the difficulty of learning these Japanese characters. 

Each of eleven hundred essential kanji receives a fully illustrated entry with a brief English summary explaining the evolution of its written form and meaning from ancient to modern times. Each kanji is also given on- and kun- pronunciations, a section header in a traditional kanji dictionary, a clear stroke order illustration, and sample words that are useful for learners.

The unusual breadth and depth of information in The Key to Kanji meets the needs of students and teachers in university, high school, and heritage language school programs, as well as independently studying adult learners.


  • The etymological approach encourages learning kanji by their meanings, alongside visuals showing the changes from ancient forms to current presentations, enriching learners' insight in a unique way.
  • Unlike mnemonic and "folk etymology" approaches, an etymological approach enables learners to apply their understanding to new, unfamiliar kanji and swiftly expand their kanji knowledge.
  • Illustrations make learning more fun than rote memorization and eases the anxiety common to beginners.
  • Includes all 1,006 official Educational Kanji plus 94 commonly-used kanji (Joyo kanji) based on leading textbooks and proficiency test requirements, which exceeds the number of kanji introduced on a beginning through an advanced level of Japanese study.
  • Clear stroke order illustrations help users to write kanji correctly.
  • Sample words introduce learners to common usage.
  • Kanji appear in the traditional 50-syllable order by on- pronunciation, and five additional indexes assist users with looking up specific kanji.
  • Three background chapters introduce the development of kanji in China, kanji formation types and dictionary headers, and the development of Japanese writing systems.

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