JLPT Journal #5: How I learn the kanji for N1, part 1

Last entry in my JLPT N1 series: Vocabulary, Grammar and Kanji! 


First of all, I would like to say that I have never learned the kanji thoroughly. I only learn the kanji in context, i.e. when I learn a new word, and I have never worked with a specific method like RTK. When I prepared for N2, I had the kanji textbook, but I didn’t know how to study with it, and I have finally skipped learning the kanji for N2 (which didn’t prevent me from passing the test).

This year, however, I have decided to be as thorough as possible. I have spent the whole month of January studying the N2 So-matome textbook. February has been a long month of trials and errors, but I have finally made up my mind to:

  • Use Anki to study the kanji and create my own deck.
  • Stick to my method “learning in context”. I don’t learn the kanji by themselves, I only learn words.
  • Create a JLPT oriented deck that challenges me on typical JLPT questions.
  • Share the deck when it is done.

I plan to create an Anki deck as thorough as possible to pass the JLPT N1. It will take me the whole year to complete, but I hope that in the end, it will be useful for other people too.

One textbook: So-matome

For now, I only have the So-matome textbook for N1, but I plan to buy other textbooks later in the year.

The So-matome textbook for N2 had the same structure throughout the chapters, but the N1 textbook is different. This is, very roughly, how it is divided:

Week 1: Kanji with the same component will have the same “on” pronunciation.
Week 2: Kanji with the same component can have different “on” pronunciations.
Week 3: Some words have the same kanji but different “kun” pronunciations.
Week 4: Same kanji, several pronunciations, unexpected pronunciations or special pronunciations.
Week 5: Homonyms: different kanji share the same pronunciation (with similar meanings or not)
Week 6: Synonyms: words with similar meanings: when to use which one?
Week 7: Several ways to remember the kanji
Week 8: Reading the news: kanji and words that often appear in the news.

I think that the best way to tackle the different lessons is to use different methods. My plan is to use different types of note in Anki to match the different lessons of So-matome.

How I study

I have only reached the lessons of week 2 for now. I don’t really study with the textbook, I only use it to create my Anki notes, and then I only use Anki to study.

Week 1 and Week 2 are similar. They show you that if several kanji share the same component they are likely to have the same pronunciation (week 1), but you should also be aware that they can also have different pronunciations (week 2).

I am using the same type of notes for the kanji of Week 1 and Week 2. One note generates two cards:

First, you should know how to pronounce the kanji:

This is the first card of all the notes from Week 1 and Week 2. I have to say the pronunciation and the meaning of the words.

The second card of the notes from Week 1 is:

All the kanji listed on the front have the same pronunciation, the point is to know which one I should use in this word.

The second card for the notes of week 2 is slightly different:

So-matome wants to show you that usually, the kanji that share the same component have the same pronunciation, but sometimes, one or several kanji that have this component can have a different pronunciation.

All the kanji listed on the same line have the same pronunciation, the kanji on the second line has a different pronunciation. Sometimes, there are more than one kanji on the second line:

I still have to decide whether I want to have the pronunciation and the meaning on the front or the back of the card. What annoys me is that the meaning of “warship” helps me to choose the right kanji in the example above. In the end, I might put both the pronunciation and the meaning on the back:

I still have to work more with these cards to see which layout is best.

To be honest, I still don’t know if it will work well. I have lost a lot of time in February looking for a good method, and this deck is very young.


Everything that I do to prepare for N1 (learning vocabulary and grammar, practice reading and listening…), I do it more to improve my Japanese than to pass the test. I don’t really need to pass the JLPT, it is just a pretext that I use to motivates me throughout the year.

The kanji, however, are different. This is 100% JLPT oriented. If I don’t do that, I will end up skipping the kanji altogether like I did for N2. Why? because I don’t really need to have such precise knowledge of kanji to read novels, so I don’t see the point in doing kanji oriented study. What motivates me this year, is the prospect of sharing my Anki deck and do something useful!