So, along with thinking of things like Learning Kanji without Kanji, I’ve been thinking of other things related to learning strategic vocabulary sets that make it easier to learn kanji later. I’ve thought often about learning a set of 2,100 or so words (many of which, really, may already covered in begginner Japanese lessons), one per kanji, so that you have at least one reading already under your belt for each kanji to learn. That gives you an “in” to become familiar/comfortable with the characters, which is a good starting point for learning the remaining common readings and meanings for the characters.
But it occurred to me the other day, that you don’t even need 2,100 words. You can learn readings for kanji with fewer than one reading per kanji, thanks to the fact that many words can be written with more than one possible kanji (as we saw in Miru and Friends).
Using Jim Breen’s KANJIDIC and EDICT files, together with some processing scripts I wrote and a certain amount of manual labor, I’ve generated a file that tries to list a minimum number of vocabulary words (219), for a maximum coverage of kanji characters (562). Here’s a link to the version as of this writing, and here’s a link that tracks the latest version as it changes. It’s a plain text file in Unicode/UTF-8 encoding, and lists a Japanese word, followed by a list of the kanji characters that can be used (together with okurigana) to write the word, and then a list of dictionary definitions (from EDICT) for the word. In some cases, different characters used to write the word give different definitions in EDICT (but related: for instance, the verb “toru”/とる usually means “to take”, but when it’s written as 撮る, it specifically refers to “taking” a picture, so its definition reflects that). Words that are written the same in hiragana, but have unrelated meanings, aren’t grouped together.
The file is currently a bit rough. It was generated from a file that I’d generated some time back, and some of the choices for words may be strange. Many of the kanji are very rarely used for that reading (紅 for “akai”/あかい, which is usually written with 赤), though I’ve tried to pull out particularly rare ones. In many cases the meaning changes, subtly or significantly, when certain kanji are used. But I still think it’s a useful list for learning words that can be used later to learn kanji.