It's a dangerous thing to wonder how much one needs to learn. Turn back now should the question arise within. The answer, though, at least according to Google (which has all the answers, even ones they shouldn't have) is about 1,000, well maybe more like 2,000, but actually, well, actually it could be a lot more depending on how you're learning. 3,000?
Kanji. Those little characters fraught with meaning. Put them side-by-side and fickle they become. Each has a way it likes to be pronounced, but in the presence of certain of its friends, it might prefer to be called by a different name. The same with its meaning. Each is comprised of certain symbols which recur from one character to another, each carrying a shade of connotation suggesting the semantic origins of the written word. Each must be written in a certain way, though there are general trends that become more apparent. Which line comes first, second, last? From which direction does the stroke originate?
As I add to my kanji repertoire, my brain becomes laden with the lines. My essays and homework are augmented as I wonder for every word, "Can I write it in kanji?" and take the time to retrace my learning and the delicate art of drawing these figures, transforming words in my brain. A year ago I started to learn the art of thinking in syllables and in a new graphic context. "Iku" ("to go") became, and has now thoroughly become, "いく," so much so that it is hard for me to recognize meaning in the former. And now the word is taking another step, slowly morphing into "行く." My brain feels like a recent visit to the orthodontist.
But this translation of graphic meaning in my mind makes me understand why Kaneko-san seems to be able to read my essays so much more quickly now that there is kanji in them. He doesn't even see my efforts on the page for the distance that I have come to meet him in his comfort zone. But in the wake of my difficulties, he understands more easily. The magic trick of meaning is emerging from a preoccupation with the silk of the top hat.
If only a kanji were a step. One at a time, slowly but surely towards the goal I could trod. But it would only be false hope. A step is never complete and the world inevitably comes back on itself; I'm chasing a goal that is as much behind me as ahead. I think true understanding and meaning will always elude but for the enjoyment of their seeking.