Difference Between Kanji and Kana

Kanji vs Kana

Japanese is a language considered tough by westerners, and there are reasons to believe them. There are two scripts called Kanji and Kana that have many similarities to confuse students of Japanese language. In fact, Kana is made up of Hiragana and Katakana to further complicate the situation for the students. This article attempts to remove the confusion and to highlight the differences between kanji and Kana.


In written Japanese, Kana refers to a script that is syllabic in nature. There are three different scripts inside Kana namely Hiragana, Katana, and the now defunct Manyogana, which is considered to be the progenitor of both Hiragana and Katakana. While Katakana is angular script, Hiragana is the cursive form of the modern Japanese script. Most of the Hiragana characters are derived from old Chinese characters and tend to have similar pronunciations. These characters are rounded and smooth in appearance. If you are a student, Hiragana characters are the first ones to be taught and every Japanese kid is made to learn this basic Japanese alphabet.

For all characters in kana, there is a particular and distinct sound. The script was developed by Kukai, a Buddhist priest in the 9th century. However, the modern form of Kana came into existence in the beginning of the 20th century only.


Kanji is a script that makes use of Chinese characters that are today a part of the Japanese writing system. The term ‘Kanji’ actually refers to Han characters that are a part of the Chinese script where they are called Hanzi. These characters were brought inside Japan from China through official letters, seals, coins, and other memorabilia. Japanese did not understand this script, and it was only in 5th century when a Korean scholar was sent to Japan to impart knowledge about these characters that they started to understand Han. Japanese named these characters Kanji that slowly got incorporated in to the Japanese writing system. Kanji contains more than 2000 characters, but in 1981, Japan officially introduced a script called joyo kanji hyo that contained 1945 characters.

What is the difference between Kanji and Kana?

• Kanji is a script containing Han characters that are the same found in Chinese script.

• Kana is syllabic script whereas Kanji has characters that are phonetic, pictographic, and ideographic.

• Kanji contains Hanzi characters that have been adopted in Japanese script.

• There is a distinct sound for every Kana syllable.

• There was no written Japanese before Chinese characters were introduced to the Japanese. The ancient script of Manyogana was evolved that used Chinese characters to stand for Japanese sounds.

• Kanji contains characters that represent objects. This means it is pictographic in nature.

• 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 means something. It is the use of Kanji that gave birth to Hiragana and Katakana, both being forms of kana.