Alternative way to memorize?

Hi! I´ve tried to make the kanji into an image, instead of creating a separate image for each kanji using the radicals. I find the biggest benefit to be that there are less steps to take. Instead of “This is the kanji, what are the radicals? what image did they form?” It´s just “kanji -->the image”.

Other benefits:

Each image gets more original and less likely to be mixed up with others

I think it´s solves a problem I worried about: where on the kanji the radicals should be placed? How do you know the the mouth radical should be in the top left and not top right etc. Since the kanji is now an image itself placement is clear

Example: 牛 with radicals: shooting a cow with a gun combined with cross. Kanji-image: The gun radical forms the head and spine of the cow. The cross the fence it stands behind

What are you´re thoughts? Is my method a bad idea?

I´m currently level 3


Well, as far as WaniKani’s creators are concerned, you know because you’re looking at the kanji when you are recalling the mnemonic. They’re not trying to teach how to remember the way to write kanji.

Unless you’re talking about a situation where two kanji have the same elements (from WaniKani’s perspective), just in different positions, like 枚 and 条, in which case, you should probably factor their positions into your mnemonic. Those two are actually subtly different as far as elements, but since WaniKani is concerned with rough recognition and not precise production, they call them the same elements.

I mean, at the end of the day, you should do what works for you. I don’t really see why anyone could say that you shouldn’t do your own particular mnemonic method.


I have all stories/pictures with the same onyomi in the same geographical location in my city. This means I don’t really have to remember the onyomi. I know it automatically when I recall the image. Works great for me.

This is the most important thing. But having said that:

I have the completely opposite experience. I find that new kanji are easier to remember when I include more steps: reading and mentally picturing the mnemonics, writing down the kanji and tracing it a few times to get a feel for the stroke order, saying the meaning and reading out loud as I do so, and so on. Engaging more parts of the brain helps solidify the memory of the new kanji. Then over time, all of these fade into the background. During the lesson, I do all of the above. On first review, I will recount the mnemonics once more. By the second review, I usually don’t need to rely on any mnemonics anymore, except for the few ones that I mix up with each other. (My best friends right now are 投 and 役.)

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I have 2 thoughts about your suggestion. First is what @Leebo was hinting at: is your concern about the position of the radicals about you wanting to learn how to write the kanji by hand? :eyes:

If not, you don’t really need to know that. You merely need to remember the existence of certain radicals in the kanji. From there, you should be able to gauge its meaning, or know outright what the meanings and readings are, with or without help of the WK mnemonic.

The latter is a great tool on the way getting there. Later on you’ll forget them and just “know” the correct reading - like you hinted at wanting to do. Which gets me to my second thought: perhaps you’re merely overthinking things? :thinking:

At first, you’re gonna struggle reading the kanji and keeping them apart. The mnemonics are tools to help you with that. But at some point, you’ll forget them and just see the kanji “like an image” and just know the answer. It just doesn’t happen right away, and it’s going to get pretty difficult as you encounter more and more visually similar kanji with lots of radicals in them, and maybe just one radical that differs between them.

In the end, it’s up to you how to use WK. There is no right or wrong. And a lot of people on here make their own mnemonics. I do it as well from time to time. But, that being said, this sounds like a LOT of work, especially the longer you keep on going. I’m not sure this is a viable thing, unless you have perfect visual memory (photographic memory), or something like that.

So, before skipping the mnemonics entirely, I’d use the first levels to learn HOW to teach myself using the WK method. Because, with the returning themes in the mnemonics, they become more potent as tools for memorization as you keep on going.

In any case, good luck with your studies! :slight_smile:

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If you can do that for all kanji, good for you, and it’s sometimes better to associate a single idea with a large block because it can be easier to retain things that way. I don’t break 牛 down in any case, and I was never taught to do so as a Chinese speaker because it’s a basic kanji with no smaller meaningful components anyway. I think the key thing here should be making sure your mental image is intuitive for you and not overly complicated. I have some knowledge about how kanji evolved, so to me, your kanji-image example isn’t intuitive because I know 牛 represents a cow’s head with its horns:

(The text is in Chinese, so don’t worry if it makes no sense.)
In this case, the so-called ‘gun radical’ is really just the modernised version of that U-shaped line. However, if the image is intuitive for you, then everything’s good. That’s all that matters.

Nonetheless, not breaking kanji down into smaller meaningful components is probably not a good idea in the long run because the fact is that kanji are built using meaningful components. It’s in their nature. You need to know at least a few basic kanji components in order for more complex kanji to make some sense to you even without explanation. Here’s an example:

This probably isn’t a kanji you’ll ever need to know. I’m pretty sure it’s not on the jōyō kanji list, and it’s probably not very common. It’s read まゆ (kun’yomi) or けん (on’yomi), and means ‘cocoon’, particularly that of a silkworm (at least in Chinese). It makes no sense at all if you’re not aware of the subcomponents, but if you know that 糹refers to silk, 虫 to bugs or worms, and 艹 to grass (and some plants), and you tell yourself that the rest of the character looks like a bunch of compartments, it suddenly makes a lot of sense: a cocoon is a compartment made out of silk in which a larva rests while it’s transforming into a butterfly/moth, and it’s usually attached to a plant. Going in with an ‘image alone’ approach won’t help as much with complex kanji like this one and kanji that represent abstract concepts. You need to know what the components mean.

As for remembering where each component goes… in my opinion, that’s just a WK problem. If the mnemonic doesn’t include spatial elements to begin with, you’re never going to remember where the components go. Ultimately, if you don’t intend to learn to write, you’ll probably never need such knowledge, but if you do want to know where everything goes, then you’ll have to try to visualise the kanji while looking for meaning in the arrangement. Alternatively, you can learn how to write kanji with the correct stroke order, which will also give you an order in which to memorise the components. For me, it’s almost always leftmost component first, top to bottom within that component, and then the same thing for the next component.

For example, おばあさん can be written as お婆さん. What are the components in ? Well, I’ve got water, skin and woman. So… what, am I going to tell myself ‘grandma likes washing her skin with water’? Of course not. That has nothing to do with the meaning of the kanji, nor does it help with memorising the arrangement. It’s a waste of memory space. Instead, what I do is this, after remembering the the kanji is essentially vertical (the components are arranged from top to bottom, not from left to right):

  • A grandmother is a woman. Having 女 on top would be strange because it would look like the kanji meaning requires a ‘woman’ to be physically ‘above’ something or someone. Plus, in kanji in general, the most meaningful components of a kanji are rarely right at the top: they’re usually on the right or at the bottom. You also almost never see 女 at the top of a word, so it’s at the bottom. (Sometimes it’s on the left, but that’s not happening here.)
  • 波 means ‘wave’. Maybe… I can imagine a grandmother washing something by the river in the waves? (It’s not like all grandmothers are washerwomen though, so that may not be appropriate.)

Here’s a shortcut though, if you know the on’yomi of 波(なみ): it’s the source character for the hiragana は. What’s the kun’yomi for 婆 here? ばあ. What’s the on’yomi, come to think of it? ば. So actually, I’m just putting the sound は on top of 女, which changes it slightly so it becomes ば. Tada. Reading, meaning and writing components all memorised at the same time. Done. If you know at least a little about the 六書, which are the six types assigned to kanji based on how they were formed, you’ll be able to come up with these things even more easily.

Anyway, to get back to your question: in essence, it’s worthwhile to know what radicals mean and to use basic kanji as building blocks for more complex kanji. Kanji are like pictures, but they’re not as visual as hieroglyphs, and sometimes they just represent abstract concepts. Remembering where the components go will come naturally if you have an order for memorising their position, especially if you have a basic idea if the usual arrangements that kanji components fit into (vertically stratified, horizontally stratified, little box with a frame) and remember that kanji are written left to right, top to bottom (most of the time). Your idea sounds fine for learning simpler kanji though, and anything visual and intuitive that helps you remember the kanji easily is good.


It’s not very common, and you probably don’t need to know it, but it is on the jouyou list for some reason.


It is? I thought the video I saw which included it on the list was a spoof, and I had a friend telling me he thought there was no way it was on the list. My mistake then. Kanjipedia does list it as a jouyou kanji. Thanks!

Yeah, there are a handful of jouyou kanji that I’ve almost never seen in the wild, but only remember because I’ve taken Kanken. 嫡 being another.

Interesting what they put on Kanken. Hahaha.

I only know this one because I watch Chinese period dramas, and those are always full of succession battles and scheming related to how common polygamy was among powerful families in the day. 嫡子(dízǐ=son of the first/main wife) is a word I’ve heard so many times that I can’t forget it. :sweat_smile:

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