The Kanji Code book

See the Sounds with Phonetic Components and Visual Patterns 


The Kanji Code: Japanese phonetic components


9 months in the Amazon top 10, Phonics & Phonetics (US, UK, Australia, Japan)

Tofugu ‘Best New Japanese Resource’ March 2019

Look Inside

ISBN: 978 0 6484886 06



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Intermediate students of Japanese  are well aware of the term ‘ON reading‘ and know that memorising kanji readings is one of the biggest hurdles when learning to read Japanese. This handbook provides a wealth of information to help you tackle this difficult aspect of kanji study.

So many Japanese resources mention phonetic components in passing, only offering one or two examples. It is very hard to find a definitive list of the phonetic components, as opposed to radicals which can be found in most kanji dictionaries and in multiple online resources. The Kanji Code provides that list, introducing 150 phonetic components to help you learn the ON readings of 450+ common kanji characters. The book can be used as a textbook and studied from start to finish, but it is particularly helpful as a handy reference guide, used in tandem with standard kanji textbooks.

What the reviewers said

Read more rave reviews on Amazon

“[A] unique approach… An interesting and useful kanji guidebook that incorporates learners’ perspectives (represented by the author) in studying kanji, and…is uniquely positioned to help non-native learners develop innovative strategies to “[s]ee the sounds with phonetic components and visual patterns” of kanji.” Dr Sachiko Matsunaga, reviewed in Japanese Language and Literature,  peer-reviewed journal of the American Association of Japanese Teachers. Read full review 

The review can also be found on academic databases by searching:

Matsunaga, S. (2021). The kanji code: See the sounds with phonetic components and visual patterns [Book review]. Japanese Language and Literacy, 55(1). 

“With its in-depth, thoughtful, and highly original treatment of an under-researched issue, The Kanji Code makes an important contribution to lowering the kanji barrier. By taking advantage of the regular patterns the author has so meticulously identified, learners can make significant progress toward the essential skills of pronouncing Chinese-derived words used in Japanese.” Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course author Andrew Scott Conning

“The task of remembering the sounds that pair with kanji can seem daunting at first, yet Hamilton has gleaned an elegant system in which you’ll be ‘seeing the sounds’ of kanji and accelerate your fluency in reading kanji. As a visual learner, I wish I had this book when I started my journey of understanding kanji.” Kanji Pict-O-Graphix author Michael Rowley

“Unique… content rich and engaging. If you’ve been trying to learn kanji meanings using a similar book method and need a resource to help you with the next step, this is a great book to pick up.” Tofugu, Best New Japanese Language Resources: March 2019

“Refreshingly different. Well worth reading, and the sort of book I wish I’d had 35 years ago.” — Dr Jim Breen, Founder WWWJDIC and Adjunct Snr Research Fellow, Japanese Studies Centre, Monash University   Read review

The Kanji Code provides useful background information to give you a deeper understanding of the history of kanji and the roles of the different components. It includes an easy-to-understand explanation of the keisei moji (形成文字) or form-sound kanji. In addition to the phonetic components, it introduces two innovative mnemonic methods for learning kanji ON readings.

The first method is association with hiragana and katakana, which were originally based on kanji characters. The second method involves applying art theory to group similar-looking kanji. Graphics show the visual connections. The research chapter will appeal to linguistics students and Japanese teachers, while those looking for more practical tips can skip to Chapter 1, since the bulk of the book contains practical reference materials.

It will be of most use to intermediate learners who have already mastered around 300 kanji or passed N3 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. It will also appeal to visual learners and those who like to take a creative approach to learning. Compact and easy to carry, it is an essential companion handbook for serious kanji students.

  • Learn 150 phonetic components – the key to the readings of 450+ kanji characters.
  • Learn the link between kanji, hiragana and katakana – and use it to remember the ON readings of 50+ common kanji characters.
  • Learn how visual features like shape and pattern can give a clue to the ON reading of 170+ kanji characters.
  • Each kanji features ON and kun readings, English meanings and example words.
  • Kanji readings are written in romaji so they can be read by students of all levels.

Also includes several detailed indexes for ease of searching and improved understanding of kanji composition. The innovative radical index includes the English names of radicals and is sorted not by stroke order but by subject, making it more intuitive to non-native Japanese speakers than traditional stroke count-based indexes.

Watch a free kanji tutorial by the author 

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The book is available in two formats:


The paperback is available through a number of online booksellers including:

If you prefer to shop locally, you can order the book from your bookseller by quoting:

ISBN 978 0 6484886 0 6.


The Kanji Code is available for download as a Kindle ebook. You don’t need a Kindle, Amazon provides a free app so you can read the ebook in your browser.

The following libraries hold copies:
National Library, Canberra
City of Sydney Library, Sydney (Green Square Library)
Western Sydney University (Parramatta Library)
Randwick Library, Sydney (Margaret Martin Library)
Monash University, Melbourne (Matheson Library)
Macquarie University, Sydney

Ocha Press acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we work, the Bidjigal and Gadigal peoples of the Eora nation in Sydney,  Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land. View the AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia.


My web stats tell me that quite a few people have been googling “the kanji code pdf”. Please be aware that I self-published the book with my own savings, paying the graphic designer a decent Australian rate. Even though the book is getting good Amazon rankings, this has not amounted to big bucks and I have barely broken even. I am certainly nowhere near being paid for the months of labour I spent in 2018 collating the lists of phonetic components, kanji examples and indexes. I get a very small proportion of the print book amount  as most of it goes to printing and the distributors.


I did a lot of the work for The Kanji Code after my 2 year old son went to bed each night, after a long day either teaching or parenting. I didn’t run a Kickstarter campaign, I just used my own funds and I would just like to receive some payment for all the hard work I put in which will hopefully help lots of people learn kanji. I don’t have a university or large publisher behind me. I have done all the marketing myself. If one day a big publisher decides to buy the book, I will remove this message.

The print book is comparable in cost with similar textbooks, and the ebook is the cost of a cheap lunch in all regions. I have deliberately lowered the price in the emerging markets to make it more affordable. So please support our small press by paying for your copy

Or if you really can’t afford it, please ask your teacher, school or library to order a copy!

I have shared my list of phonetics below for people who can’t afford to spend the money . よろしくね!

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