At the N5 level, the kanji that is introduced is very rudimentary. You only need to know around 100 characters. That doesn’t give you much to work with. You learn most of the numbers you will need, which is the first thing you need to know in any language. And there are few basic characters for your family members, actions, and some adjectives.
But you are pretty limited with what you can do. In some ways, it makes it difficult for you to read the passages on the test because they use so much hiragana. That was one of my problems when I took the test. I had taken a more natural way of learning Japanese and hadn’t focused on learning only the kanji for my level.
Previously, you really couldn’t make much use of radicals because the kanji were so simple. But now you can really start to use them to build mnemonics so that you can lock these characters in. It’s important to try to make your own mnemonics, too. I’ve always found that if you struggle to build that connection it lasts a lot longer.
The N4 level has somewhere around ~300 kanji that you need to know. After learning all the N4 kanji you will still have a hard time reading native Japanese material, but there will be some subject areas that you should be able to survive, like ordering at a restaurant. These kanji cover a lot more areas, so there are a lot more groups to consider.
You have a lot more adjectives at this level. For example, there are a lot of the common colors, and feelings that you can use to express yourself more. You can talk about the weight of something (軽い, light) strength (強い, strong, 弱い, weak), and distance (近い, close 遠い, far).
同 広 弱 強 悪 早 明 暑 暗 楽 短 自 重 赤 軽 近 遠 青 黒 特
Okay, so not all of these kanji are directly related to art, but most have to do with creating something. With the following kanji, you can talk about things like drawings (図, map or drawing), colors (色), and characters (字). Keep in mind ‘colors’ can sometimes take on the meaning of attractive. For instance, 色っぽい can mean attractive or sexy.
図 字 文 映 写 歌 画 紙 色
Of course at this lower level of the test, you will be doing a lot of talking about daily life. Using these kanji you can open things (開く), cut things (切る), and use things (使う). There are also some more general use kanji like 事 (thing, generally figurative), 物 (thing, generally more concrete), and 質 (quality). These are used in a variety of compounds like 食べ物 (food), 仕事 (work), or 質問 (question).
乗 切 事 住 使 合 帰 始 引 持 有 服 止 歩 洗 集 開 走 起 質 台 物 着
At the N5 level, you were introduced to a lot of the common family kanji, like 母 and 父. At the N4 level, you will be able to expand your ability to write about other family members like your brothers (弟, 兄), your sisters (妹, 姉), as well as your parents (親).
兄 妹 姉 弟 族 親
Thoughts and Feelings
You will finally be able to write about thinking (思う) and considering (考える) as well as what you like (好き). There is also figurative heart (心), which can also be used to talk about your figurative mind. In English, we might say “heart and mind” as in “winning the hearts and minds of the people”. However, in Japanese these two concepts are covered with one word – 心.
好 心 思 意 正 考
Are you hungry? You can finally write about beef (牛) or other kinds of meat (肉). There are also vegetables (菜) and the general words for food (飯), which often just means rice. You can also grab some tea (茶) to drink. お茶 by itself, typically means green tea, whereas other kinds of tea add something to the front like Oolong tea – ウーロン茶.
味 牛 肉 茶 菜 飯
Most of you reading this are probably human, so you’ll probably want to talk about yourself. You can finally write I (私) at the N4 level, as well as talk about some handy body parts like neck (首), head (頭), and body (体), which can also be used to talk about forms in general. You can also write about your house (家) and your dog (犬).
太 声 家 体 死 民 犬 病 私 頭 顔 首
This is a pretty general category that covers everything from actually moving (動く) to the counter for flights that is also used to refer to mail and packages (便). You can also depart (発), send things off (送る), make progress (進む), transport something (運ぶ), and commute to work (通う). Notice that those last 4 kanji use the same kanji to the left. In general, a lot of ‘motion’ kanji use this radical. But, be careful 運 can also mean luck.
便 旅 発 転 送 通 進 運 別 動
Most of the fundamental nature kanji was covered at the N5 level like weather. But, you still see a few of the more complicated kanji. For example, the material silver (銀), which is used in the compound for bank (銀行). You have wind (風) as well as more elemental kanji like power, strength (力) and light (光).
光 銀 野 音 風 鳥 力
N4 doesn’t introduce any new kanji for numbers. Most of them are covered at the N5 level. But, the useful ‘than’ kanji is introduced. This is used in compounds like 以上 (and up, over) and 以下 (and under). Notice that these compounds include the number, so 6以上 refers to numbers 6 and higher. The exception is 以外(except). You can also borrow (貸す) and lend (借りる) at this level.
以 低 借 貸
There are numerous new kanji introduced at this level for places. You have urban places like 市 (city), 区 (district), 京 (capital), 町 (town), and 村 (village). There are some rural places like 森 (forest), 林 (woods), 田 (rice field), and 海 (sea). There are also places inside, like 室 (room), and two kanji for halls 館 (large building) and 堂 (hall). You can also talk about districts like prefectures (県), or divisions (部).
京 堂 場 区 市 屋 地 室 所 村 林 森 池 洋 海 漢 町 田 界 県 都 門 院 館
Prefixes and Suffixes
Finally at the N4 level, you learn non and un~ – 不. This is a handy kanji that gets put in front of some compounds to negate them. For example, 不全. 全 means whole or complete. Put 不 in front of it and you get not complete. Another handy prefix is 真 (true, reality). It shows up in compounds like photograph (写真), lit. reflection, true. But you can use it to mean pure or totally like 真っ暗 (totally black), or 真ん中 (true center).
不 主 真 方 者
At this level, you can write about the seasons – spring (春), summer (夏), fall (秋), and winter (冬). Also, you can write about the past – 去. Or you can write about how many times you do something – 回 and 度. What’s the difference? 回 is used for things with clear beginnings and endings like chin-ups, championships, or button presses. 度 is used more for things without clear beginnings or endings, like lives or conversations. And you also get a few more handy times of day like night (夕) and morning (朝).
去 回 元 冬 夏 代 世 夕 夜 寒 度 待 急 春 昼 曜 朝 秋 終
You can now teach (教える) someone something. Also, it’s important to learn (習う) and take tests (試験). It is also important to answer (答える) problems (問題), and do research (研究).
教 医 知 理 研 究 答 問 題 習 英 薬 試 説 験 勉
Almost everybody has to work (働く). You might have to make something (作る) like a product (品). Or maybe you sell (売る) or you build buildings (建てる). Whatever you produce (産), I’m sure it has a use (用).
仕 作 品 働 員 工 売 建 料 業 注 用 産 計
Once you have learned the JLPT N4 kanji, you have a good base of kanji. At this level, you will probably start to get a feel for how kanji is used. You might want to try reading some native material to see how much of it you can understand. Good luck studying for the test!
Thanks for this insightful post (and the latest one which reminded me to go change my watch battery!).
I have a question for you and would appreciate it if you could address it.
This question is with regards to the use of Furigana during the JLPT exam (I will be writing the N4 exam on Sunday), specifically for vocabulary words which are made up of several kanji characters.
For the vocabulary words (out of the ~1,500 required for the N4) that are made up of a number of kanji that we should know (out of the ~300), will there be furigana on top of those during the exam?
If not, does that mean that when I am studying the ~1,500 vocabulary words, that I would need to cross-check every single kanji used to check if all the kanji included in each word are part of the N4/N5 kanji lists?
As a further example, let’s say one vocabulary word in the N4 curriculum is formed of 3 different kanji characters (2 included in the N4 or N5, and 1 included in the N3). I am therefore assuming that during the N4 exam, there will be full furigana on this vocabulary word (since I am not expected to know that N3 kanji character). But what about if I write the N3 exam next year and now I need to know that last Kanji character…do I need to back to the N4 & N5 vocabulary lists and cross-check, so that I would need to identify that N4 word and newly learn the kanji sequence?
Hope that my question is clear.
The whole kanji part is a little confusing. I’m not sure about some of your question, but I hope this helps explain everything you need to know:
I believe on the N5\N4\N3 test, there are 3 sections. In the kanji/vocab (文字・語彙）section (the 1st one), they obviously don’t give you furigana for any kanji for that level. So if it is the N4 test, there will be no furigana for N4 kanji in the kanji/vocab section. There will be furigana for N4 kanji in the reading section and the listening sections. The test assumes you know how to read N5 kanji, so there is no furigana anywhere on the test for N5 kanji (or the kanji covered in previous levels of the test).
Kanji that is above the given level is not on the test at all. What this usually means is that if a compound (a word made up of multiple kanji) appears on the test and some of the kanji are at the level, but some are of a higher level, then the whole word is written in kana usually. So for example, 便利 on the N5 test will be written as べんり.
Now, how should you study? Well, if you are in it for the long haul, and plan to be pretty good at Japanese or work in Japan or want to use Japanese in real life. I recommend studying with full kanji from the start. Some people take issue with this and complain that it takes too long, which it does. It can really slow you down when you just want to get started with the language, but it is very helpful in the long term. The thing you have to keep in mind though is that the test will have a lot of words written in kana, so it might help to do some reading practice with materials specifically designed for the JLPT so that you get a feel for it.
Thanks for the thorough answer, that’s quite helpful.
I did not know that N4 Kanji would have furigana (that takes out some of the stress!).
I am indeed in it for the long haul (my goal is to eventually pass N2 and I will be moving to Japan in 2017 for two years). This said, I am compressed for time (only had two months to study for both N5 and N4 material) and as such I would like to be as efficient as possible. I’ll focus on Kanji for N5 then (and on vocab for N4, which will cover the Kanji of that level).
I would actually prefer if they used kanji all the way with furigana, rather than hiragana, but I’m practicing now with the Pattern Betsu Tettei book and it’s helping a lot. Cramming for the next few days until Sunday!
In order to learn the kanji and associated readings etc for N4, would you recommend using the memrise you have created? You’ve got two N4 memrise as far as I can see, which one would be more useful for kanji?
I have worked with Genki I and II before but kanji is my weakest point. I’ve done the N4 practice workbook (thank you for making that so easy to access) and I’ve done well apart from with kanji related questions, so I’m looking for ideas to work on my weakest area. I am doing N4 in December this year in Australia.
I’ve always just practiced vocabulary with full kanji all the time, and just slowly absorb the kanji myself. I also have a giant kanji poster that I occasionally use to look up things or quiz myself on from time to time.
The readings course is the one you want. That’ll go over both the word and how to read it, so it’s double work, but well worth it in my opinion.