One of the most frequently asked questions about Japanese language is how many Kanji characters one has to know to be fluent in Japanese. The answer is sbout 2,000, that is for reading a newspaper without a dictionary's help. Since English has only 26 characters, the number seems outrageously large to most Americans. But not really for Japanese or Chinese people. Why? They say, "The hardest is the first 200, and the rest is just combinations." Well, let me give you some examples....

is my favorite example. The character represents a "tree (it does look like a tree, doesn't it?)." Here, we make a combination by repeating the same character twice, that is . While is a tree on one hand, becomes "woods" since there are more than one tree. You may be wondering, "What if there are even more trees? Can we do that?" Sure, why not? Adding one more tree makes it , and it has cometo mean "forests."

can be combined with other charactersas well. Take this character.Notice that the right side of the character represents tree? The leftside,is representing a"human." So, it pictures a person, standing next to a tree. Whatis he doing? Yes, you've guessed it right: He is taking a break from histrip! That's whymeans a "break."

Let's combine with , and this time, why don't we put it on top of the tree, like ? represents birds. So, looks like some birds, resting on a tree. Did you get the picture? Yes, it has come to mean "gather."

Here is another excellent example, . This is a combination of (tree) and , which means the sun. Can you picture the sun rising behind a tree? It has come to mean where the sun rises, the "east."

is also an interesting example. Do you see underneath ? The second character represents a gate. A tree undera gate? Apparently, not very many people are going through this gate since a tree is growing underneath it. So, it has come to mean "quiet" or "secluded."

Let me give you different example, using something besides tree. is a good example too. The character consists of two parts. 1) , which represents rice fields, and 2) , which represents force. So, what the character is suggesting is "people who work in rice fields, engaging in a physical labor," that is "men." Today, the logic may not be relevant any more, but that's where this character has come to be in usage.

There! Learning 2,000 characters doesn't seem too bad now, does it?

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