tori gate  

Kanji in Pictures

Kanji is the Japanese script which is based on characters borrowed from Chinese. These characters depict simplified pictures of concrete objects, abstract concepts or combination of meanings.

The most interesting and easy to remember characters are the pictograms of actual objects. Let's see an overview of some of these.



Mountain is written as: . It looks like the three peaks of a mountain range. It's reading is: yama. It can appear together with other characters to form words in which case it can also be read as san depending on the context. Yama participates in many Japanese last names, e.g.: 山川さん, which is read as Yamakawa-san. It means either Mr or Mrs Yamakawa.



The kanji for fire looks like logs on flame: 火. It's read as: hi. It can also be read as bi or ka, depending on the context. For example, volcano is written as: 火山 and read as: kazan. In this case the reading is "ka". Notice how volcano is composed of fire and mountain, i.e. to ancient people it looked like a mountain which produces fire.



The kanji for tree looks like the trunk of a tree: 木. It is read as: ki. It can also be read as moku in combination with other kanjis. Thursday is written as: 木曜日 while it's read as mokuyobi.


Forest is represented by three tree kanji 森. It is read as mori or shin. For example: 森林火災 means forest fire and is read as shinrin kasai.


This character is represented by three vertical lines: , depicting the flow of a river. It is read either as kawa or gawa. Similar to yama it is also a popular element of Japanese last names, e.g. 川口さん which is read as Kawaguchi san (Mr./Ms. Kawaguchi).


The kanji for eye is a bit more abstract with the upper and lower eyelids shown as boxes: 目. It is read as me. Another reading is moku. For example the word purpose is written as 目的 and read as mokuteki.

Person, people

People can be represented by their legs in movement: 人. It is read as hito, while other readings include nin and jin. For example 三人 means three people and it's read as sannin.

Rice field

A rice field is cleverly represented by a square divided in four pieces: 田. It's either read as ta or da. It is the part of many last names together with yama and gawa, e.g. 山田さん is read as Yamada-san, which means Mr/Ms Yamada.


The kanji for rain looks like drops of water falling from a cloud (with a bit of imagination): 雨. It is read as ame. An example word containing this kanji is 大雨 which is read as ooame and means heavy rain.


This character looks somewhat like a Japanese Tori gate: 門, which is read as mon. Example: 正門 means main gate (seimon).


This kanji resembles a fish hanging from a hook 魚 and is read as sakana or zakana. Example: 焼き魚 means grilled fish and is read as yakizakana.

Sun, day

This kanji has developed from Chinese pictograph of the sun 日and means sun. It can also mean day as sun appears every day. It is read as hi, bi, ka, nichi or ni. For example: 日本means Japan and is read as nihon. 毎日means every day and is read as mainichi.


Kanji in pictures new!
How to write Katakana newest!
Lessons new!