Crazy for Kanji: A Student’s Guide to the Wonderful World of Japanese Characters

Order Now on Amazon

Crazy for Kanji (Stone Bridge Press, 2009) is now in its second printing! It’s available on Amazon and at many brick-and-mortar bookstores.

An Award!

The East Bay Express gave Crazy for Kanji an award in the July 2009 “Best of the East Bay” issue! The award is for “Best Kanji Crash Course.” Anneli Rufus at the Express had this to say:

“Her latest book, Crazy for Kanji, is funny as well as educational, offering hundreds of games, lessons, and believe-it-or-nots…. Her book brilliantly merges the contemporary — sure to please not just otaku but J-Pop fans and Hello Kittenites — with the antique.”

Read the full article here.

What People Are Saying

Here’s a taste of what other people are saying about Crazy for Kanji:

  • “Highly recommended. Kushner details her passion for kanji in an entertaining, humor-laced narrative chock-full of information, examples, and games…. Kanji neophytes, kanji masters, and everyone in between, let Kushner transport you to Kanji Heaven!”
        —Mary Sisk Noguchi, the Japan TimesKanji Clinic” columnist
  • “In Crazy for Kanji, Eve Kushner takes kanji’s raw ingredients and serves them up in ways that are delicious, surprising, and so satisfying…. I found myself continually returning for more!”
        —Michael Rowley, author of Kanji Pict-o-graphix
  • A fun and informative read for people who are interested in the origins of language or simply want to learn ways to make kanji easier…. Great gift idea for the student studying Japanese or the lover of languages.
        —Sarah Yuen, Nichi Bei Times

To see the full reviews and to hear from more reviewers, click here.

Why a Book About Kanji?

A Japanese-language teacher told me, “Kanji is one of the hardest things to interest students in. I’ve seen a lot of students stop learning Japanese because of kanji, and every time I feel sorry that I can’t interest them in it.”

I’m sorry to hear that, too, but I’m not surprised. Many students don’t have the slightest inkling that kanji can be fun. If teachers present kanji as a random collection of characters, it leaves students feeling hopeless about understanding and mastering this system. What a shame!

Here’s why I’m passionate about kanji:

  • The immense challenge of kanji lures me on, much as Mt. Everest beckons to intrepid mountaineers. I love kanji, not in spite of its being difficult but because of that.
  • I love the puns in Japanese words. Hanabi, “fireworks,” breaks down to “flower” + “fire”—a perfect, poetic way of describing fireworks! The characters reveal the beauty and cleverness behind such constructions.
  • Understanding kanji affords a wonderful feeling of being in the know, as when you can decipher characters on restaurant signs, tattoos, and T-shirts.
  • The child in us longs to decode. That’s why kids spend hours solving puzzles. And that’s why you’ll enjoy unlocking the door to a hitherto sealed-off area.
  • Kanji study has proven effective as an antidepressant! I believe this “drug” works because it gives endless entertainment to overactive minds.
  • Studying kanji brings you into contact with old Japan—with a pure form of the culture and of the Japanese mind—as well as with ancient China. Dating back several thousand years, the characters provide a time capsule, giving us insight into the way people once made sense of the world. As timeless human symbols, these characters can evoke the deepest feelings, above all joy.

Joy and context—those are the two main things I hope to provide with Crazy for Kanji.

Credit: David Tate
This means “peace,” “harmony,” or “Japan.”
It’s most commonly pronounced “wa,”
but there are several other readings.

What’s the Book About?

Crazy for Kanji provides the context sorely missing from most classes and books about kanji. Jam-packed with exhibits, the book supplies background information, explores fun themes, and challenges readers with games. Novices will gain the basic knowledge needed to grasp kanji, and advanced students will come to understand kanji as they’ve never understood it before. Here’s what the book contains:

Preface: Falling in Love with Kanji
      On the joy of cracking the kanji code and revealing hidden meanings.

The kanji
for the
word “kanji.”

Introduction: What Are All Those Squiggles?
      On the way characters have come to represent sound and meaning.

1. Kanji in All Their Glorious Variability
      On the vacillating pronunciation of characters and how this developed.

2. The Architecture of a Character
      On the building blocks of kanji: components, radicals, and phonetics.

3. Compounding the Pleasure
      On kanji compounds, which contain mathematical logic and elegant wit.

4. What Kanji Say About Japan
      On kanji as a cultural mirror informing us about Japan past and present.

5. Japanese Feelings About Kanji
      On the deep feelings that kanji prompt in native speakers.

6. Double Happiness
      On how kanji can make Chinese accessible, which feels like a delightful bonus.

7. Tips for Studying Kanji
      On making kanji study fun and effective by avoiding drills and engaging with characters.

Sneak Preview!

To sneak a peek at the very detailed Table of Contents in PDF form, as well at several sample pages, just click this link.

Have a Listen!

On several occasions, I’ve been featured on PRI’s program “The World in Words.”

  • April 27, 2010: I spoke about five unusual Japanese expressions. My segment goes from 19:05 to the end of the podcast, filling nearly nine minutes.
  • March 4, 2009: I spoke at length about my love of kanji, as well as my undying passion for author Haruki Murakami. My part goes from 10:14 to 22:15.
  • November 2008: I commented on the Geo Quiz answer. My segment goes from 0:30 to 1:01.

To see interviews I’ve done on other topics, visit the press coverage page.


There are no upcoming events. Here are descriptions of past events.

Featured on Flickr!

Crazy for Kanji features the work of photographers from around the world who have captured kanji in unusual situations.

One such photographer, tattoo artist Sergio Quinonez, now has a picture of Crazy for Kanji on his Flickr site.

So does Steve James, who goes by the name steeljam on Flickr.

So does Takeshi Sakamoto, who copyrights his work with takeratta(tm)*. He also featured my autograph on his Flickr page! Very clever!


Alas, mistakes slip into every book. Wish it weren’t so, but it is so, at least in this case. When I discovered the first error, I was distraught. My husband reassured me that in the high-tech world, companies charge customers for lists of known bugs! However, you can download a list of Crazy for Kanji errata for free! The book went into its second printing in early 2011, and when that happened, I corrected the mistakes that I knew about at that time. Since then, however, I’ve found more items that I would like to change. You’ll see those listed at the top of the document.

Related Writings

Joy o’ Kanji is my big kanji-related project. I’m writing one essay about each of the 2,136 Joyo kanji (the characters needed for basic literacy in Japan). For a small fee, you can download these entertaining, informative essays in PDF format. For an even lower fee, you can see photo albums of kanji in action, as well as captions that explain everything you’ll want to know. Check out the site! There’s a lot to enjoy!

Kanji Curiosity was the blog I wrote for from 2007 through 2010.

The April 2007 issue of the East Bay Monthly carried my essay “The Way of Kanji.”

For other articles about Japan and Japanese culture, see Japan Writing.