Tips on Kanji Reading

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Posted by Brian Rasmussen ( on January 23, 2015 at 14:32:16:

For those of us whose collections include some prints not identified at, reading kanji is helpful to understand their context. Because there are about 2,000 "regular" kanji and another 700 surname kanji, that seems daunting. But learning about 100 kanji "radicals" will provide the building blocks for reading many compound kanjis. I use the book Easy Kanji by Kaneda to identify these radicals and annotate compound kanji containing those radicals on the same pages as their radicals (compound kanji contain multiple radicals, so those compounds can be listed under each of those radicals). Kaneda's book is also helpful because it lists hiragana and katankana.

If you have specific topical interests such as Meiji modernization or senso-e, you can create a list of frequently-encountered kanji, such as those about railroads or military. Reading proper names such as geographic (e.g. battle) locations is more challenging, but by reviewing prints known to picture specific places, you should be able to deduce (and save in your annotated kanji list) those names without too much difficulty. By this method, I can usually read at least half of prints' cartouches, which should be enough to get at least a general sense of their meanings.

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