Understanding Japanese/Kanji: A Chinese Perspective

The Chinese and Japanese languages share a common writing system called Kanji. Kanji is a set of ideographic characters borrowed from Chinese characters known as Hanzi. Although the two languages share a writing system, there are significant differences in the pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. In this article, we will explore whether Chinese speakers can read and understand Japanese/Kanji.

Can Chinese speakers read Kanji?

The answer is yes. Chinese speakers can read Kanji to a certain extent. Many Kanji characters were originally borrowed from Chinese and have the same or similar meanings.

One instance were the Kanji character for “person” () is pronounced as “ren” in Mandarin Chinese and “jin” in Japanese. This character is used in both languages, and its meaning is the same.

However, not all Kanji characters are the same as their Chinese counterparts. Many Kanji characters have different meanings and pronunciations in Japanese.

For example, the Kanji character for “river” () is pronounced as “chuan” in Mandarin Chinese, but in Japanese, it is pronounced as “kawa.” While the meaning is the same, the pronunciation is different.

Another difference between Kanji and Hanzi is the way they are written. While the basic shapes and structures of the characters are the same, the stroke order and style of writing can be different.

For example, the Chinese character for “big” () is written from top to bottom, while the Kanji version () is written from left to right. Other differences include stroke order, pronunciation, and meanings that have evolved differently over time.

Can Chinese speakers understand Japanese?

Although Chinese speakers can read Kanji, understanding spoken Japanese is a different matter. The grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation of Japanese are quite different from Chinese.

For example, Chinese has no equivalent of the Japanese particles “wa” and “ga,” which are essential in Japanese grammar.

Furthermore, while many Kanji characters have the same or similar meanings in both languages, they can have different nuances and connotations. This can lead to confusion and misunderstandings when Chinese speakers attempt to read Japanese texts.

Despite these differences, some Chinese speakers may find Japanese easier to learn than speakers of other languages. Due to the shared writing system, Chinese speakers can recognize many Kanji characters and may find it easier to remember the meaning of certain words in Japanese.

Tips for learning Japanese/Kanji as a Chinese speaker

If you are a Chinese speaker interested in learning Japanese or Kanji, here are some tips to help you:

  1. Focus on learning the grammar and pronunciation of Japanese, as these are significantly different from Chinese.
  2. Learn the differences in meaning and usage of Kanji characters in Japanese compared to their Chinese counterparts.
  3. Take advantage of your knowledge of Hanzi to recognize Kanji characters and their meanings.
  4. Use language learning resources that are designed for Chinese speakers learning Japanese/Kanji.
  5. Immerse yourself in the language by reading Japanese texts and watching Japanese media.



Chinese speakers can read Kanji to a certain extent, but understanding spoken Japanese requires additional effort. While the shared writing system between the two languages may provide an advantage, Chinese speakers still need to learn the grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation of Japanese to achieve fluency. With the right strategies and resources, Chinese speakers can successfully learn Japanese/Kanji and gain a deeper understanding of this fascinating language.