第1課: 一, 日, 本, 二, 三, 人, 火, 四, 木, 川, 花, 王, 山, 月, & 水

In every 漢字 lesson on the site, you will be introduced to fifteen characters. There is a lot that you should study to "know" any given 漢字. Things that should be considered include the following. 

  • You know what it looks like and can distinguish it from others. 
  • You know how to write it legibly following the stroke order. Sometimes there are options.
  • You know what the general meaning(s) of the characters are.
  • You know what the important readings of the character and the meanings that they might specify. You also know about very important exceptional readings. 
  Though the IMABI 漢字 curriculum will be somewhat independent from the language curriculum, both curriculums will address 漢字 acquisition in a progressive manner. Each lesson assumes that you will spend on average a week to truly get down the fifteen characters introduced. This gives you sufficient time to go through the language related lessons and 漢字 practice. You can couple what you learn here with other websites such as WaniKani. 
 
Before we begin, since there are so many resources out there already for 漢字, this site will endorse the usage of jisho.org for looking up the stroke orders because it has the most standard stroke order for basically all characters in its database.  
 
This page details what you should learn about the following Kanji: 一, 日, 本, 二, 三, 人, 火, 四, 木, 川, 花, 王, 山, 月, and 水. Now, let's get started! 

This is perhaps the easiest character ever. That's at least what I think. You make a line from left to right. You're done! This character comes from a pictograph. Some say its of an extended finger, but I think it's just a line probably first scratched on a wall, in the dirt, or on the shells of the poor tortoises used as the templates for writing in Ancient China. 

It may be easy to write, but it isn't the easiest of ALL in regards to how to read it. It has both ON and KUN readings as well as certain readings found in names. You aren't expected to learn the readings for names, but there are just some names that come up all the time just like Ashley or Michael. 

オンよみ: イチ、イツ
くんよみ: ひと-

Note: A hyphen denotes that a reading is used as a constructive element in other phrases and is not used in isolation by itself.

イチ is the most important reading and is the word for the number one. It is generally in most words. However, when the sense of "one" is used in a less concrete manner in words like uniformity (キンイツ), the other ON reading イツ is used. The other reading is used in native counter phrases. Since this has not been taught at this point in IMABI, you just need to look at the example words.

Note: All ON readings will be given in カタカナ and all KUN readings will be given in ひらがな. You are not responsible for other characters not taught at this point. So, for now, you're just responsible for 一. 

Example Words

      There is already a lot of vocabulary used in the lesson text. However, the more vocabulary you know, the more useful the grammar and 漢字 that you are learning will become. 

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 一月 イチガツ January 均一 キンイツ Uniformity
 一回 イッカイ One time 一言 イチゴン One word
 一言 ひとこと Utterance; a word 一緒 イッショ Together
 一雄 かずお Kazuo (name) 一目 ひとめ Glimpse

Notes:

1. There are important sound changes in some kinds of expressions. This is what explains why イチ becomes イッ in "one time".  
2. Nuances will be sorted out and discussed as we progress. As you know more Japanese grammar, example sentences will also be incorporated. 

This came from a pictograph of a sun with dot in the middle. Circular strokes in 漢字 have become much more rigid and boxy over the centuries. This is harder to read, but it's not that bad. It can mean sun, but it can also mean day, which makes sense because the "day" starts whenever the sun rises.

It has four strokes, not five. Its readings are as follows.

オンよみ: ニチ、ジツ
くんよみ: ひ、-か

ニチ is the most common reading that you will encounter. It can also be used in words in reference to Japan, even the name itself! If you had to guess the reading in a word, guess this one. ジツ is used when its not the first character of a word, but that doesn't mean ニチ could be used. It just really depends on the word. ひ means "day" or "sun". It is a very important word and is also in compound words. -か is used as a counter word for "days" of the month. You will not be responsible for this until Lesson 31.  

Example Words 

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 日本 ニホン・ニッポン Japan 休日 キュウジツ Holiday
 日記 ニッキ Diary 日曜日 ニチヨウび Sunday
 日の出 ひので Sunrise 日付 ひづけ Date

Notes:

1. Refer back to the lesson text for the differences in the readings for Japan.
2. Note that in the word for Sunday that the くんよみ is voiced because it used as a suffix in the names of the week. This is the case for all of them. Refer to Lesson 31.  

本 is much easier to read. You'll see why. It has several meanings and you can find words for them all. By itself it's usually used to mean "book". It can also be used in words to mean "this" or refer to the truth of something. It can even count things that long and cylindrical. Lastly, it can be used to mean "root" as in the root of something.

This character comes from the more simple character 木 (tree) which we'll see later for this lesson, and the line is the base of the tree. After all, the roots go below the ground in most cases. All of these added meanings evolved from this. After all, trees are long and cylindrical for the most part. They can be cut and used as paper to make books. The others are stretches.

オンよみ: ホン
くんよみ: もと

もと is used to mean root and ホン is all of the above. 

Example Words

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 本屋 ホンや Bookstore 本日 ホンジツ Today (formal)
 根本 ねもと Root 根本 コンポン Root (of things)

Note: ねもと is broad in usage but the other reading コンポン is restricted as stated. 

One was one line and two is two lines. Like that was hard...not. Thankfully, though, ニ is easier to read than 一. It only has two readings. One is for Sino-Japanese (words from ON readings) and the other in native words. Both readings are just used to mean two.

オンよみ: ニ
くんよみ: ふた-

Americans may say "cheese" to get people to smile for a camera, but Japanese people say にー! It's quite fitting. This is also where the Katakana ニ comes from. 

Example Words

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 二月 ニガツ February 二つ ふたつ Two things
 二心 ニシン・ふたごころ Duplicity 二十 ニジュウ Twenty 

One was one line, two was two lines, and three is not surprisingly three lines. People are so predictable. The readings behave the same way just like for two. One is in Sino-Japanese words and the other is in native words.

オンよみ: サン
くんよみ: み- 

 Example Words

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 三月 サンガツ March 三つ み(っ)つ Three things

This character reminds me of a person doing the splits. This is a good mnemonic because the character actually means "person". It may be easier to write, but it's not easier to read. Many people struggle to figure out which ON reading to use. 

オンよみ: ジン、ニン
くんよみ: ひと、-たり、-り

ジン is in words for people/humans. ニン can be rarely seen as a stand alone word to refer to one's character. It is also seen in words for people that have a certain role. It is also used in words for counting people. The readings -たり and -り are very restrictive counter readings that you'll learn about soon. ひと is the word for person.

 Examples

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 人間 ニンゲン Human being 日本人 ニホンジン・ニッポンジン Japanese person
 住人 ジュウニン Resident 人柄 ひとがら Character/personality
 人口 ジンコウ Population 人工 ジンコウ Man-made 

This is supposedly from a stylized pictograph of flames, but do you know what it really looks like? It looks like someone's being burned at the stake. 人 is person, the sparks being the evidence that the person is on fire. This really shouldn't be surprising as people have definitely been being put to the stake throughout history. As you can guess, this character means "fire".

オンよみ: カ
くんよみ: ひ, ほ-

 Example Words

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 火あぶりになる ひあぶりになる To burn at the stake 火山 カザン Volcano
 火花 ひばな Sparks 花火 はなび Fireworks
 火影 ほかげ Firelight 火曜日 カヨウび Tuesday 

Common sense has to fail you somewhere, so it might as well be for the number four because it's unlucky after all. That's because its ON reading is homophonous with the word for death. Four did used to be expressed with four lines...if only...

四 used to mean breath. The inner part looks like the tonsils and 口 is the mouth. That seems reasonable enough. So, why does it mean four!? The most likely reason is that the shape is an approximation of four fingers being able to fit in the mouth. Obviously the person that started using it in this way continued to suck on his fingers throughout adulthood.

オンよみ: シ
くんよみ: よん, よ

I say よん. People from the Kansai region and a lot of older people say シ. よ is used in words, and you'll just have to learn when the ん is dropped. You'll see some examples of this in Lesson 7.

 Example Words

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 四月 シガツ April 四日 よっか Fourth day of the month
 四次元  よじげん  Fourth dimension 四つ角 よつかど Crossroads 

This symbol really does look like a tree. 

オンよみ: モク、ボク 
くんよみ: き、こ-

ボク are both pretty common モク. It really does take knowing quite a few words to get a feel about guessing between the two. き is, of course, the word for "tree".

 Example Words

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 木刀 ボクトウ Wooden sword 木曜日 モクヨウび Thursday
 木陰 こかげ (Tree) shade 樹木 ジュモク Arbor
 立(ち)木 た(ち)き Standing tree 木材 モクザイ Timber 

This character means "river" and comes from a pictograph of water flowing between two banks. 

オンよみ: セン
くんよみ: かわ

 Examples

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 川口 かわぐち River mouth 河川 カセン Rivers
 川辺 かわべ Riverside 川端 かわばた Riverbank 

Note: 河川 is a more special and specialized word, which is why it uses オンヨミ. The first character actually also means river, and it is not uncommon for two Chinese characters with similar meaning to be used together to make a more formal word. Normally, you'd just say 川 for rivers or repeat the word as 川々(かわがわ). 
 

花 means "flower". The top part is the radical for grass and comes from 屮屮. 化 is the character for change. Thus, a change in state of a plant. This refers to the budding of a flower. 

オンよみ: カ
くんよみ: はな

 Example Words 

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 花見 はなみ Blossom viewing 花弁 カベン・はなびら Petal
 花瓶 カビン Vase  花々 はなばな Flowers

   This means "king". It is three connected with the force of 1 (person). This is technically wrong because it actually came from a pictograph that looked more like a battle ax. Whatever the case may be, it's very easy to read. 

オンよみ: オウ
くんよみ: おおきみ

The first reading is almost always used. The second is the original word for king, but オウ, though Sino-Japanese, is used in isolation for this. 

 Example Words

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 女王 ジョオウ Queen 王国 オウコク Kingdom

   It looks like a mountain; it means "mountain". 

オンよみ: サン、ザン
くんよみ: やま

サン is more common and can be used as a suffix to mean "Mount". Don't disregard the other ON reading, though, because we've already seen one important word with it--火山. 

 Example Words

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 氷山 ヒョウザン Iceberg 富士山 フジサン Mount Fuji
 山形県 やまがたケン Yamagata Prefecture 山男 やまおとこ Mountaineer

This character comes from a pictograph of a crescent moon. It can mean "moon" or "month".

オンよみ: ガツ、ゲツ
くんよみ: つき

ガツ is typically used for just the names of the months of the year and ゲツ is the most common. 

 Example Words

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 月光 ゲッコウ Moonlight 五月 ゴガツ May
 月夜 つきよ Moonlit night 三日月 みかづき New moon

Exception Note: 五月雨(さみだれ) = Early summer rain. 

The symbol for water comes from a pictograph of a river. This seems reasonable enough. 

オンよみ: スイ
くんよみ: みず

Example Words

 Word Reading Meaning Word Reading Meaning
 雨水 あまみず Rainwater 海水 カイスイ Seawater
 水曜日 スイヨウび Wednesday 水星 スイセイ Mercury