Kanji - A Japanese character system often described as "Chinese characters".
People who haven't started learning Japanese yet FEAR this to the point where a lot of them don't even try to learn the language because they somehow think it is impossible (yet all the Japanese people can do it).
Then you have the people who do actually start learning, but don't understand that it takes time to learn how to read, assume it should be done within a short time frame and underestimate how much time you have to put into it, THEN they go tell other people "kanji is so hard".
Well I am here to tell you that Kanji is not hard.
It just takes time. Lots of time.
Japanese people & Kanji - Japanese learn kanji in school starting from grade 1. Japanese elementary school consists of 6 years. During this time they will learn to write 1006 kanji, which means each grade they learn 150-200 kanji on average. These kanji make up a large chunk of the everyday kanji they will use in their life.
They learn They continue to learn new kanji as they go into middle school and high school, even into university are constantly learning how to read new words as they enter their lives as adults.
Since the kanji they learn at a young age is most used and important I am only going to talk about that for now. It takes them a whole 6 years to learn these kanji.
This will give you a general idea as to how long it could take kanji and that it is OK to take this long to learn it (it is the same same it took for Japanese people learned it).
KANJI and YOU - However. It shouldn't take you 6 years to learn all these kanji. As a foreigner studying Japanese, you are only studying Japanese. Japanese students in school are not sitting there all day studying kanji. So your time studying the kanji is compressed to a speed where you can learn kanji faster.
How Kanji are made -
Kanji are characters that often have characters within them. Called radicals in English, but you can forget this word and start calling them 部首 bushu as this is the Japanese word. In the picture to the right you will see the bushu are purple. There are only about 200 different bushu that are used to make up over 2000 different kanji. So not all kanji are completely different shapes all together, but different combinations of different shapes.
This makes learning kanji extremely easy, as you start to understand different patterns. Each bushu has a different name in Japanese. Japanese people use these names to learn how to write, how to tell someone else how to write it. It may sound strange to you, but even Japanese people have times where they don't know how to write a word. In this case they will ask someone else how to write it and they will then say out loud the names of the bushu within that kanji.
YOMIKATA - This is the Japanese words for readings (how kanji are pronounced). Each kanji can have multiple yomikata (sometimes more than 10 different ways to pronounce it). This is one mistake a lot of people make when learning kanji is they don't know where to start. They end up starting with learning how to write kanji (good), and memorizing each and every yomikata (bad).
Memorizing all the yomikata is a waste of time and it wont help with you on reading Japanese words. Japanese read full words, they don't read individual characters and try to think up how to read the word. There is no rule on yomikata. Some books like to give you a little hint as to "maybe" which yomikata will be said depending on where the kanji appears in the word, however there is no solid rule or pattern as to how the kanji is read. So in the end you will have wasted your time learning all the yomikata when you should have been learning FULL WORDS.
As you learn words in Japanese you will generally catch on to the common ways to read a character and you will eventually memorize unconsciously
different ways to read each character.
Another reason you shouldn't waste your time memorizing all the yomikata to each individual kanji is some yomikata are not even written in the dictionary. There are plenty of kanji that follow unique readings or readings that change slightly depending on the word. So in the end this wont help you at all.
So how should you learn kanji? - Kanji is something you will never learn how to write unless you are actually practicing writing it. It is something Japanese people are forgetting because they are using more computers and less paper. If you want to master it, you need to get off your bottom and write. Just like you did in school learning to write your ABCs.
Start with 小学校一年生 (shougakkou ichi nen sei) kanji and work your way up the same way Japanese kids did. Learn the proper Japanese names of the different bushu. Learn how to read and write full words in Japanese. For example the kanji take 竹 which means bamboo
竹とんぼ taketonbo (a bamboo dragon fly toy)
竹林 chikurin (a bamboo forest/park where you go to look at bamboo)
You learn the words associated with that kanji and it will build your vocabulary. Learning to read Japanese is easier than writing. Writing involves using your hands more often. Reading just involves looking at it and usually people can remember the words after a few times seeing it.
LEARN JAPANESE in JAPANESE - If you are learning Japanese you should be learning it in Japanese. I see lots of websites that show the radical lists online however, all the meanings are only in English. That is pointless. You are learning Japanese, not English. So as much as you can learn the way things are said in Japanese. Don't be afraid to start googling questions in Japanese. For example, what is the YOMIKATA of a certain word or what does this word mean. If you don't use your skills they wont grow.