I have been casually learning Japanese for a year now. I have no real reason to learn the language, so I'll get burned out if I try too hard. For this reason I primarily just learn to consume Japanese (reading and listening).

I still don't know many kanji, but sometimes I notice that there is a kanji I see quite a lot, and I start to wonder what it means. Usually I come across a problem: I can't copy-paste it to google since I see it in a video, picture, or drawing.

How can I find the meaning of a kanji?

EDIT: I found the best working solution in the comments of the accepted answer. Writing recognition usually doesn't work for me because I don't know how to write them (If I draw 日 then the closest result is 申). Once I learn a bit more then the other answers might be better. But right now image recognition is the thing I was looking for.

  • 1
    Hi Animiles, thanks for your first question on Stack Exchange. I would note that your question is possibly off-topic as it concerns resources (see japanese.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic for further information), so this question may be closed... But my advice would be to consider an online dictionary with radicals and/or handwriting recognition. One such dictionary would be www.jisho.org; another www.tangorin.com. Using such resources, you can look up the meanings a kanji might hold. Good luck!
    – henreetee
    Oct 24, 2019 at 14:56
  • If you have the curiosity to learn some Kanji, maybe studying japanese is a thing for you. I believe many beginners see learning Kanji as a dull chore that must be dealt with. This is not your case, so go for it!! Don't need to try hard, you just need time and consistency.
    – jarmanso7
    Oct 24, 2019 at 19:42
  • 1
    Don’t worry, though – if the community decides this is mainly a resource question, all that means is we’ll end up moving it to meta. We still have a place for it on our site.
    – user1478
    Oct 26, 2019 at 4:24
  • @henreetee I already thought that would be the case. Though I do believe that this is a thing many people struggle with, and I think that this question would still be really important since it is about the core of the language. Thank you for the heads-up though.
    – Animiles
    Oct 29, 2019 at 10:07

4 Answers 4


This method may be a bit inconvenient but in fact works relatively fast/well.

Whenever you encounter a new Kanji/ Word with a Kanji you don't know you can take a picture of it (preferably with your smartphone) and upload it into your google drive files. If you the use a right button click on the picture you should be able to choose something like "open with Google docs". When you do that it'll turn the picture into a text document. From thereon you can just copy and paste the sentence/word/whatever into a dictionary.

It usually works pretty well without spitting out wrong characters. However I have to admit that it can take some time so it is definitely better to use it with sentences where there is more than one character you don't know.

(I did not discover this method myself but saw it on YouTube, unfortunately the channel that promoted this method has been closed down.)

  • 1
    Also, you can use Google Translate's app, which has an image-to-text function.
    – Mauro
    Oct 24, 2019 at 20:43

dude. if you don't know how to look-up a kanji in a (kanji dictionary 漢和辞典), let me tell you: (1) the most important thing is identify the "radical". a radical is sort of a "part separate" from the rest of the character. (1.a) there are officially 214. but, in general, 4 or 5 ("hand", "person", "water", "heart", etc.) are used then most. You will quickly learn them and recognize them immediately.

(2) a radical is very frequently positioned on the left or bottom of the character. less frequently on top. and very uncommonly on the right.

(3) how to find the radical? a radical normally has between 2 and 7 strokes. so, start your eyes scanning at the left, bottom, top, right sides of the character for a "distinct part" that has between 2 to 7 strokes.

(4) once you think you found the radical, you look that radical's "index number" up in the radical table. The theoretical possible number is between 1 and 214. But that is ridicukous. In reality, maybe 10 radicals are used most frequently. You most common radicals you will immediately memorize like 64 is for "hand", and 9 is for "person" and 61 is for "heart". You will become a machine and will no longer need the radical table. Rarely, there are 2 radicals, and the tie break goes to the radical with the more number of strokes.

(5) turn the kanji dictionary to the pages with the kanji radical number. A page in a kanji dictionary has 3 page numbers, (1) the radical #, (2) the kanjis #, (3), the actual page #. the 3rd value is useless.

So, go to the pages that have the radical #. they are all back to back in a sequence. How are they sequenced? What you do is count the remaining strokes in the kanji. So, count the total # of strokes in the kanji. Subtract the # of strokes in the radical. Then, find the page(s) in the kanji diction that has (1) the correct radical # and the remaining # of strokes in the kanji. Sometimes there will be maybe 4 or 5 pages that are under the hand radical, #9, that have 4 remaining strokes in the total kanji, and so you flip through those 4 or 5 pages to find the character.

that's old school. that's how people used to learn kanji.

  • 1
    This is interesting. Do you know of any list of the most used radicals?
    – Mauro
    Oct 29, 2019 at 10:19
  • @Mauro try this site jisho.org you will find it more useful if you are using it on PC. Nov 18, 2019 at 1:12

You can try to write it on some site/app like Kanji Recognizer on Android or this site; otherwise, you can try via SKIP code (on the same site, or AEdict on Android). Both these methods requires to be able to recognize how many strokes the kanji has, and - if you draw them - usually their order.

  • I have tried some websites, but it hardly ever gives me the proper result since I don't know the stroke order. But I'll keep Kanji Recognizer installed and try to learn how to use it.
    – Animiles
    Oct 29, 2019 at 10:01
  • If you can identify how many strokes has the kanji you can go with SKIP, otherwhise if you don't want to study radicals and/or strokes I guess Google Translate's app it's your best option.
    – Mauro
    Oct 29, 2019 at 10:18

Just to round out the types of solutions, another mechanism that hasn't been mentioned which I find very handy sometimes:

Go to jisho.org and select the little "radicals" button next to the search bar. This will drop down a list of Kanji "components" that are typically combined together in various ways to make most Kanji. If you can identify a few of the sub-components that make up the Kanji you're looking for (which usually isn't that hard.. you don't have to identify everything, just some recognizable elements), and select them from the list, it will whittle down the possible options with each selection until you're left with only a few possibilities to choose from, and then you can just pick the one you're looking for.

(There are a few other sites that offer similar lookup-by-combining-components functions, too)

A side-advantage to this technique is I've found the more I use it the better I get at identifying kanji components when looking at new kanji, to the point that sometimes even if the kanji was something I just saw once and didn't get a picture of, etc, I can often remember enough of it to figure out what it was when I want to look it up later..

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