Kanji 1-13. Numbers one to ten, mouth, sun, eye

This will be a very simple lesson, covering kanji you probably know already: the numbers one to ten, and three simple rectangular kanji (‘mouth’, ‘sun’ and ‘eye’). Subsequent lessons will guide you through the major kanji (about 2200 of them) in a logical sequence, introducing new stroke patterns as needed. Every now and then, we’ll stop to review what’s been covered, consider the reasons the kanji have been presented in a particular order, and consult a brief outline of what lies ahead. We’ll also consider the role of mnemonics, or stories, in memorising large quantities of information – and discuss how mnemonics can be made more effective. But for now let’s get started with the first 13 kanji. Mnemonics are provided below for those who find them useful, but you can probably rely on your native unassisted memory for these early kanji. These first few kanji commonly feature as components in other kanji, so you will be revising them all the time.

, ,
one, two, three

#1-3. These are direct representations of the numbers, similar to the Roman numerals I, II and III, or to counting fingers held out straight. Note that the kanji for ‘two’ has a longer second line, giving it a stable appearance instead of being top-heavy, and the kanji for ‘three’ has a slender waist.


#4. The kanji for ‘four’ is composed of two simpler elements that will be met in hundreds of other kanji: a square enclosure resembling the kanji for ‘mouth’, and a pair of internal lines commonly thought of as ‘human legs’. In kanji terms, what makes the legs human is the curve in the second leg. When you draw this kanji on the KSP app, note the typical stroke order for a box-shaped enclosure: left side, top-and-right as a single stroke, then the contents of the box, and finally close off at the bottom.

If you don’t already know this kanji, choose a mnemonic that suits you:
Four year-olds often put their foot (‘human legs’) in their mouth.
Picture a giant devouring a human in four bites. First the giant bites off the person’s head, then the torso, then the pelvis.
Finally the giant pops the human legs into his mouth. This kanji captures the moment of the fourth bite, when the human legs disappear into the giant’s mouth.


#5. + two vertical lines = 5.


#6. A six-month old infant lying on his back, with the kanji indicating the six parts of the human body… head, body, 2 arms, 2 legs.
Note that this kanji contains two sub-components that appear in many other kanji. The top two strokes resemble a ‘top-hat’ or a ‘lid’, and the
lower two strokes are known as ‘animal legs’ – the second leg lacks the curve of ‘human legs’. These components will be discussed in later lessons.


#7. Choose your preferred mnemonic:
This kanji is our good old seven, turned upside down.
I wrote it upside down so I crossed it out.
(Note that this popular mnemonic implies an incorrect stroke order. The ‘crossing-out’ actually comes first.)


#8. The volcano hasn’t errupted for eight years.
Or, if you know your hiragana: hachi (eight) begins with the sound of the katakana ha, and it’s approximately the same character.


#9. Some people see this as combination of one () and eight (), so you could remember it as . Cruder mnemonics have also been suggested.


#10. The Roman character for ten (rotated 45 degrees).
You scare away ten vampires with a single cross!

Some students use the idea of a ‘needle’ to represent this kanji when it appears as a component within other kanji. Often it is more useful to keep the idea of ‘ten’ in some combinations. In other places, the fact that this kanji resembles a plus-sign or a cross can provide a helpful mnemonic.
Use whatever works for you.


#11. This kanji looks like a huge open mouth. Like many other picture-based kanji, what started as a round shape has become squared off. Note the typical stroke sequence for boxes.


#12. Some people use the keyword ‘day’ for this kanji, and in various mnemonics it may be useful to think of it as day. The kanji began as a picture of a round sun with a dot in the middle, and evolved so that the circle became a rectangle and the dot became a line. If the squareness of the sun makes it unconvincing as a pictograph, you could see it as a half-open window, and say: ‘Open the window, let the SUNlight in, it’s a new day.’


#13. Believe it or not, this is a pictograph of an eye, turned on its side (a bit like modern smileys). There are 3 sections. Imagine the outer two as the whites of your eye. The middle is the iris. Fill it in with imaginary color. (目_目)