Kanji (漢字; [kandʑi] About this sound listen) are the adopted logographic Chinese characters that are used in the Japanese writing system.[1] They are used alongside hiragana and katakana. The Japanese term kanji for the Chinese characters literally means "Han characters".[2] It is written with the same term and characters in the Chinese language to refer to the character writing system, Hanzi (漢字).[3]

LanguagesOld Japanese, Japanese
Parent systems
Sister systems
Hanja, Zhuyin, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Nom, Khitan script, Jurchen script
ISO 15924Hani, 500
Unicode alias


Nihon Shoki (720 AD), considered by historians and archaeologists as the most complete extant historical record of ancient Japan, was written entirely in kanji.

Chinese characters first came to Japan on official seals, letters, swords, coins, mirrors, and other decorative items imported from China. The earliest known instance of such an import was the King of Na gold seal given by Emperor Guangwu of Han to a Yamato emissary in 57 AD.[4] Chinese coins from the first century AD have been found in Yayoi-period archaeological sites.[5] However, the Japanese of that era probably had no comprehension of the script, and would remain illiterate until the fifth century AD.[5] According to the Nihon Shoki and Kojiki, a semi-legendary scholar called Wani (王仁) was dispatched to Japan by the Kingdom of Baekje during the reign of Emperor Ōjin in the early fifth century, bringing with him knowledge of Confucianism and Chinese characters.[6]

The earliest Japanese documents were probably written by bilingual Chinese or Korean officials employed at the Yamato court.[5] For example, the diplomatic correspondence from King Bu of Wa to Emperor Shun of Liu Song in 478 has been praised for its skillful use of allusion. Later, groups of people called fuhito were organized under the monarch to read and write Classical Chinese. During the reign of Empress Suiko (593–628), the Yamato court began sending full-scale diplomatic missions to China, which resulted in a large increase in Chinese literacy at the Japanese court.[6]

In ancient times paper was so rare that people stenciled kanji onto thin, rectangular strips of wood. These wooden boards were used for communication between government offices, tags for goods transported between various countries, and the practice of writing. The oldest written kanji in Japan discovered so far was written in ink on wood as a wooden strip dated to the 7th century. It is a record of trading for cloth and salt.[7]

The Japanese language had no written form at the time Chinese characters were introduced, and texts were written and read only in Chinese. Later, during the Heian period (794–1185), however, a system known as kanbun emerged, which involved using Chinese text with diacritical marks to allow Japanese speakers to restructure and read Chinese sentences, by changing word order and adding particles and verb endings, in accordance with the rules of Japanese grammar.

Chinese characters also came to be used to write Japanese words, resulting in the modern kana syllabaries. Around 650 CE, a writing system called man'yōgana (used in the ancient poetry anthology Man'yōshū) evolved that used a number of Chinese characters for their sound, rather than for their meaning. Man'yōgana written in cursive style evolved into hiragana, or onna-de, that is, "ladies' hand,"[8] a writing system that was accessible to women (who were denied higher education). Major works of Heian-era literature by women were written in hiragana. Katakana emerged via a parallel path: monastery students simplified man'yōgana to a single constituent element. Thus the two other writing systems, hiragana and katakana, referred to collectively as kana, are descended from kanji.

In modern Japanese, kanji are used to write parts of the language (usually content words) such as nouns, adjective stems, and verb stems, while hiragana are used to write inflected verb and adjective endings and as phonetic complements to disambiguate readings (okurigana), particles, and miscellaneous words which have no kanji or whose kanji is considered obscure or too difficult to read or remember. Katakana are mostly used for representing onomatopoeia, non-Japanese loanwords (except those borrowed from ancient Chinese), the names of plants and animals (with exceptions), and for emphasis on certain words.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Kanji
العربية: كانجي
অসমীয়া: কাঞ্জি
asturianu: Kanji
azərbaycanca: Kanci
বাংলা: কাঞ্জি
Bahasa Banjar: Kanji
Bân-lâm-gú: Ji̍t-pún Hàn-jī
беларуская: Кандзі
български: Канджи
català: Kanji
Cebuano: Kanji
čeština: Kandži
Cymraeg: Kanji
dansk: Kanji
Deutsch: Kanji
eesti: Kanji
español: Kanji
euskara: Kanji
فارسی: کانجی
français: Kanji
Gaelg: Kanji
galego: Kanji
हिन्दी: कानजी
hrvatski: Kanji
Bahasa Indonesia: Kanji
interlingua: Kanji
íslenska: Kanji
italiano: Kanji
עברית: קאנג'י
Basa Jawa: Kanji
Latina: Kanji
latviešu: Kandži
Lëtzebuergesch: Kanji
lietuvių: Kandži
magyar: Kandzsi
македонски: Канџи
Malagasy: Kanji
Bahasa Melayu: Tulisan Kanji
Nāhuatl: Kanji
Nederlands: Kanji
norsk: Kanji
norsk nynorsk: Kanji
occitan: Kanji
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਕਾਂਜੀ (ਲਿਪੀ)
پنجابی: کانجی (لپی)
Papiamentu: Kanji
ភាសាខ្មែរ: កាន់ជិ
polski: Kanji
português: Kanji
română: Kanji
русский: Кандзи
Scots: Kanji
Simple English: Kanji
slovenčina: Kandži
slovenščina: Kandži
کوردی: کانجی
српски / srpski: Канџи
Basa Sunda: Kanji
suomi: Kanji
svenska: Kanji
Tagalog: Kanji
ไทย: คันจิ
Türkçe: Kanji
українська: Ієрогліфи (Японія)
اردو: کانجی
Tiếng Việt: Kanji
Winaray: Kanji
ייִדיש: קאנדזשי
粵語: 和製漢字
žemaitėška: Kandžė
中文: 日本汉字