sci.lang.japan FAQ / 1. Writing / 1.2.

1.2.2. How many kanji are there?

Numbers of characters and reading level
Source Number Level
Learnt at Shōgakkō (小学校) 1,000 Schoolchild
Jōyō Kanji (常用漢字) 2136 Good reader
JIS level one kanji
Kanken level pre-one
3,000 Excellent reader
JIS level one and two kanji
Kanken level one
6,000 Kanji expert
Dai Kan-Wa Jiten 50,000 Specialist

According to the authoritative Dai Kan-Wa Jiten, about 50,000 Chinese characters in total have been created. However, most of them are obscure. For instance many refer to specific places, or names of insects or plants. Most are not widely used even in China.

The Japanese government's list of recommended characters, the Jōyō Kanji (常用漢字) (see 1.2.4. What are the ?), consists of 2136 characters,[1] together with their approved readings, plus another set of called the Jinmeiyō kanji (人名用) literally means `people name use') which are extra characters permitted to be used in making given names. See 1.2.14. What are the Jinmeiyō Kanji? To read a newspaper in Japan, one probably needs to know most of the characters in this set.

Modern written Japanese also often uses characters outside this set, making the set of commonly used kanji larger. Specialized fields such as medicine use many non-Jōyō characters, and many place and family names also use characters outside the Jōyō set. See 9. Names for more on Japanese naming.

Japanese children learn about one thousand kanji from ages six to twelve, followed by further kanji at middle and high school level. See 1.3.5. How is Japanese writing taught to Japanese children?.

The computer encoding known commonly as the JIS encoding contains two levels, with each level containing about three thousand characters. JIS level one contains all the jōyō (see 1.2.4. What are the ?) and jinmeiyou (see 1.2.14. What are the Jinmeiyō Kanji?) kanji, as well as a thousand or so more characters. Level two contains about three thousand more characters. The highest level examination of the Kanji Kentei or Kanken (see 10.2. Kanji Kentei) tests complete knowledge of both level one and level two. The second highest level examination tests complete knowledge of level one only. A person with a complete knowledge of JIS level one kanji can be said to have a comprehensive knowledge of kanji as used in modern Japanese, and a person with a complete knowledge of both level one and level two kanji has an exceptional level of expertise.


  1. 常用漢字表 (30 November 2010), Agency for Cultural Affairs

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