I have passed the first level of the Kanji Kentei 3 times: why, how, and what’s next.
Here I wanted to give a sort of an update on the current state of things regarding my studying for and taking the Kanji Kentei test, and offer some general observations on the topic.
If you are interested to know about who I happen to be and what it is all about please refer to other videos on this channel such as the one titled “How I decided to take and finally passed the Kanji Kentei level 1 test” where I describe the history of my Japanese language studies in general and my quest to acquire one of two most prominent and difficult to get Japanese language credentials – the first level of the Kanken (or Kanji Kentei) test in particular.
Passing the Kanji Kentei level 1 is a difficult proposition even for native Japanese speakers let alone for non-native ones. By the time of recording this video which is August 2022,
I have already done it 3 times – the first time was in February 2021, next I passed it for the second time in a row in June 2021, and most recently for the third time in June 2022.
But why? what for? for what purpose? to what end?
These are the fundamental questions that can be asked in this regard.
Well, we can say that similarly to other human endeavors one can do something either because they genuinely like or somehow interested in this or that particular activity
(this type of behavior can be understood as based on an internal motivation) or they are doing it because they have to – that is, owing to whatever circumstances they may be in,
or if engaging in such an activity gives them certain advantages in terms of income, position or reputation (thus, in contrast to the former, this one can be defined in terms of external motivation).
In so far as it exists as a credential with its established authority, recognition, and in certain contexts prestige, as well as in a form of a physical certificate serving as a documental proof of your achievements in the field of Japanese language and kanji studies, Kanji Kentei, and its 1st level in particular, obviously belong to the second category.
On the other hand, the very payoff an ordinary Kanken taker gains after passing level 1 might not necessarily be considered even closely commensurate with the sheer amount of time and effort required to acquire this qualification.
Thus, it can be argued that since it simply does not make too much sense to expend so much resources to accomplish so relatively little in terms of tangible benefits, studying for and trying to pass the first level of the Kanji Kentei, would most likely entail doing so out reasons of inherently internal nature — in this case, that is to gain gratification through satisfying one’s intellectual curiosity about kanji and kanji based vocabulary.
To paraphrase, it is difficult to imagine a person passing the Kanken level 1 who is not a kanji enthusiast who would not have studied kanji even if the test had not existed.
In principle, the same logic applies to those who we may define as “foreigners” – which in this case are non-native Japanese speakers and non-native kanji learners
trying to pass the first level of Kanken.
So, no, you are highly unlikely to find any job offerings stating Kanken level 1 among hiring conditions, nor, as it can be assumed, will you score any points with the Japanese immigration authorities for that matter (well, that’s just my personal guess), and while some universities do account for Kanken results for their admission criteria there is a question of
how practical it may be for foreign-based applicants.
On the other hand, when it comes to non-native Kanken takers there is, of course, a dimension that is absent from native Japanese language speakers –
and that is the rarity and a certain degree of exceptionality especially when it comes to higher levels of the test passing which, in a sense, would set such person apart from other non-native Japanese learners.
But whether this by itself is enough to stimulate one to pursue Kanken is open to discussion.
However, in general, considering that it takes quite a substantial amount of time, determination and discipline to pass the first level of Kanken, whatever their motivation may have been in the first place, most Kanken takers tend NOT to abandon their studies even after achieving their nominal goal of getting their 1st level certificates – and this can to a certain extent be attributed to the fact that they simply like and enjoy what they are doing.
So, what about yours truly?
Well, I guess all of the aforementioned factors have played and are still playing their respective roles: because I have begun studying Japanese in earnest even before
learning anything about the existence of the Kanken test for me taking it is simply a continuation and broadening of my studies, giving them clearly defined boundaries (meaning that at least for now I do not proactively try expand the scope of my interest to kanjis that are not included in the Kanken Kanji dictionary which contains about 6300 characters) and a specific goal consisting of passing the test.
And since I have begun studying Japanese mostly out of curiosity, interest and genuine fascination with the language, and more or less keep doing so for the same reasons, I would say that with Kanken I am mostly driven by the first type of motivation.
Has studying for the Kanji Kentei given me any particular benefits or enhanced my position?
Well, for one thing I can say that the knowledge I have been able to acquire during my preparation for it and actually taking it has allowed me to significantly expand my vocabulary and kanji writing skills – and I would say that this can be thought of as an asset in itself.
As for any other practical rewards or tangible benefits whatsoever, so far there have been none, nor do I expect any to actually happen –
which actually corresponds to a relatively widespread idea, or a meme of a sort (even reflected in google search suggestions) that there is no meaning per se in passing the first level of the Kanji Kentei.
Surely there is also an undeniable aspect of getting a formal accreditation — which in case of the Kanken level 1 is one of the highest pinnacles one is able to achieve
in their Japanese language studies – a PhD degree of a kind (and it also comes with a cool looking certificate too).
Is there any vanity in all of this?
Well, it would be rather strange to deny it completely.
But then, it’s the same vanity as getting a diploma from a university or winning a competition of some sort.
Definitely, if not inevitably, there is a sense of accomplishment when you are able to achieve something – or as in this case to learn and effectively use within the alloted time all the relevant knowledge necessary for reaching the 160 points threshold on the Kanken level 1 test – and such a proof of your accomplishment in form of a passing certificate does serve as an external impetus to motivate your efforts.
But, why then keep taking Kanken even after passing its first level once?
Well, first considering that the scope of material that can be used for the test is extremely broad and in practical terms it may not only be difficult to learn all of it but simply to encounter it even once, taking the test presents such an opportunity: yes, most questions are based on the material given in the Kanken Kanji Jiten and the Kanken Yojijukugo Jiten dictionaries but every test usually includes some really rare words or expressions, which, truth to be said, the majority of test takers are not familiar with, and for that reason are not able to answer such questions correctly – but that’s not the point – or it may actually BE the whole point, because one of the reasons people who have passed the first level of Kanken in the past
continue taking it again and again is this very quest for the unknown – to learn new things which one perhaps would not even have had a chance to encounter if they had been studying only by themselves.
So, Kanken is both the goal, and the means, serving as readiness check for testing ones command of the material one has already learned, and to give a chance to learn something new.
As for me, as long as I can physically take the test I will probably keep doing it (for all the aforementioned reasons),
but since maintaining the required level of preparedness even after you manage to acquire it once is difficult (especially, for someone who very soon will hit his 40s like myself), and since time and attention span are such scarce and limited resources, being able to pass it every time is far far from given.