Distinguishing Kanji & Kana

Kanji vs Kana

Japanese is often perceived as a difficult language for westerners to learn, partly due to the complexities of the two scripts Kanji and Kana. The Kana script is further broken down into Hiragana and Katakana, which can be confusing for students of the Japanese language. This article aims to clarify the differences between Kanji and Kana.

Key Takeaways

  • Kana is a syllabic script, consisting of Hiragana, Katakana, and the defunct Manyogana.
  • Kanji is a script that incorporates Chinese characters into the Japanese writing system.
  • Kana has distinct sounds for each character, while Kanji is more complex and contains over 2000 characters.


In written Japanese, Kana refers to a syllabic script that includes three distinct scripts: Hiragana, Katakana, and the now obsolete Manyogana, which is considered the precursor to both Hiragana and Katakana. Katakana is an angular script, while Hiragana is the cursive form of modern Japanese script. Most Hiragana characters are derived from old Chinese characters and tend to have similar pronunciations. These characters are rounded and smooth in appearance. Hiragana characters are typically the first ones taught to students, and every Japanese child learns this basic alphabet.

Each Kana character has a distinct sound. The script was developed by Kukai, a Buddhist priest in the 9th century, but the modern form of Kana emerged at the beginning of the 20th century.


Kanji is a script that uses Chinese characters, which are now part of the Japanese writing system. The term “Kanji” refers to Han characters that are part of the Chinese script where they are called Hanzi. These characters were brought to Japan from China through official letters, seals, coins, and other memorabilia. The Japanese initially did not understand this script, but they began to learn it in the 5th century when a Korean scholar was sent to Japan to teach them about these characters. The Japanese named these characters Kanji, which gradually became incorporated into their writing system. Kanji contains more than 2000 characters, but in 1981, Japan officially introduced a script called joyo kanji hyo that contained 1945 characters.

Differences Between Kanji and Kana

  • Kanji is a script containing Han characters, which are also found in the Chinese script.
  • Kana is a syllabic script, whereas Kanji has phonetic, pictographic, and ideographic characters.
  • Kanji contains Hanzi characters that have been adopted into the Japanese script.
  • There is a distinct sound for each Kana syllable.
  • Before the introduction of Chinese characters to the Japanese, there was no written Japanese. The ancient script of Manyogana evolved, using Chinese characters to represent Japanese sounds.
  • Kanji characters represent objects, making it a pictographic script.
  • Kanji is more complex than Kana.
  • While there are around 50 characters in Kana, there are around 2000 characters in Kanji.
  • In Kanji, each character has a meaning. The use of Kanji led to the creation of Hiragana and Katakana, both forms of Kana.
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard
Gil Tillard is an accomplished writer with expertise in creating engaging articles and content across various platforms. His dedication to research and crafting high-quality content has led to over 5 years of professional writing and editing experience. In his personal life, Gil enjoys connecting with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. His curiosity and eagerness to learn from others fuel his passion for communication. He believes that engaging with strangers can be both enlightening and enjoyable, making it easier to strike up conversations and expand one's horizons.


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