How is Japanese writing taught to Japanese children?

Calligraphy by children
Photo credit: Kanko*
Used under a Creative Commons licence.

The Japanese education system is a three-part system which begins at age six and usually continues to age eighteen. Children attend elementary school (shōgakkō (小学校)) for six years, starting at age six. At age twelve, they attend three years of junior high school (chūgakkō (中学校)). On graduating from junior high school, they may attend high school (kōtōgakkō (高等学校)), informally known as kōkō (高校). School years begin in April, and the child's school year is determined by his or her age on April 1.

Children begin officially learning reading and writing at the age of six, when they enter elementary school. Children may already be able to read hiragana and katakana at this age, but this is not part of the official curriculum. They learn hiragana and katakana during the first year of elementary school.

One thousand and six kanji are learnt over the six years of elementary school. The kanji are divided into six one year grades, of 80, 160, 200, 200, 185, and 181 characters. These grades are commonly known as the kyōiku kanji (教育漢字) or gakushū kanji (学習漢字), although the official name is gakunenbetsu kanji haitōhyō (学年別漢字配当表).[2] This means "List of kanji distributed by year".

The rest of the jōyō and jinmei kanji (see What are the ? and How many are there?) may be taught at junior high or high school level, and further non-jōyō kanji may be taught at high school level. There is no set list of grades for the Jōyō Kanji of junior high school or high school are taught.

Children learn calligraphic writing using a brush in the kaisho form (see Handwritten styles) during their third year of school. Many children also study penmanship or calligraphy (shūji (習字)) outside school.

Romanized Japanese using the Kunrei system (see What are the systems of romanization of Japanese?) is taught in the fourth year of elementary school.[3]


  1. Yasuoka, Koichi, 日本の「漢字表」 (in Japanese)
  2. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology: 学年別漢字配当表 [gakunenbetsu kanji haitōhyō] (in Japanese)
  3. Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology: ローマ字のつづり方 [rōmaji no tsuzurikata] (in Japanese)

External links


Copyright © 1994-2016 Ben Bullock

If you have questions, corrections, or comments, please contact Ben Bullock or use the discussion forum / Privacy

Book reviews Convert<br>Japanese<br>numbers Handwritten<br>kanji<br>recognition Stroke order<br>diagrams Convert<br>Japanese<br>units