Can I make up my own radical mnemonics?

Hello! First time posting. I just started using WaniKani yesterday, and I went through the first 25 radicals in the lesson. I noticed it gives the option to provide your own synonyms, and it even scores you correctly if you use those synonyms in the quizzes. I started making my own synomyms quite a bit, but then I had a mini heart attack realizing I couldn’t recall the mnemonics that wanikani had provided. Do I need to know those?

For example, the kanji symbol for “big.” That looks exactly like “fire blast” from pokemon, so that’s what I wrote to remember it. But do I actually need to remember “big” when it comes to other kanji? My understanding was that by associating a radical with an idea you could easily recall (whatever that idea was), it would make remembering kanji easier because you can then use the radicals to tell a story, even if that story is totally unique to you. But do these radicals also have intrinsic meaning that I need to know?

Another example, I just looked up an article that mentioned the “sickness” radical appears almost exclusively in kanji meaning things related to sickness. Would it be easier to remember what these kanji mean if I associated that radical with “sickness?” Would I be shooting myself in the foot if I associated it with “a lizard smoking?” or something else totally unrelated?

Just want to be sure I have this all right so that I’m not screwing myself over for later.

Thanks for the help!



I think most of us create our own mnemonics sooner or later,

I started creating them when they became a wall of text, I like mnemonics whey they are short and spot on to burn in my mind, otherwise, no way I read all that text


The issue going forward is that the kanji mnemonics use the WK radical definitions, so there will be lots of kanji you then also need to make your own mnemonics for.

Thinking about the “big” example here, you’re not thinking that it looks like this kanji, do you?


Okay, I see. So, assuming I’m okay with making up my own mnemonics (not saying I am, lol), I should theoretically be fine? And yes, I was thinking that it looked like that. Is that fire?

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Yep, as long as you’re willing to make your own, you’re golden.

But it does defeat one of the purposes of paying for WK, the already created mnemonics for everything.

Yeah, big and fire are different kanji, (fire uses the big radical though). Just be careful you don’t get too caught out on these.


The move “fire blast” in pokemon is called ダイモンジ (大文字) in the Japanese version and I think it’s related to a festival in Japan where they make kanji out of fire. It actually is the 大 kanji.


Ah perfect, no mixing up there then

The mnemonics are there to help you remember the meaning or reading during the initial learning process.

If you make you’re own mnemonics it’s good to link the keyword with the one they look for, so you don’t just learn mnemonic but create an association between the two.

I was never a big fan of it myself and several levels in, I was ignoring it all together, relying more on the frequency and filtering power of the brain.

I think mnemonics work well enough to help remember exact components, and work less well for readings and meanings. Nonetheless, not really that Kanji shapes need to be remembered exactly to be able to read.

Feel free to create, or alter mnemonics, if that helps to remember what you need. Otherwise, arriving at the community and you will soon realize how to bypass what you don’t need.

Nonetheless, be careful of leniency as a beginner. Be careful of user synonyms as well. That may hamper what WaniKani creators are trying to tell.

Yes you do. The meanings of the radicals are required when you breakdown the kanji into its radicals. But you can create your own radicals mnemonics as long as the meanings are preserved.

Hey OP!

People are using ‘mnemonic’ to mean a few different things, so let me try to sum it up at the risk of repetition:

You should probably not add your own user synonyms / keywords for radicals right now, unless you’ve done other kanji study and already encountered these radicals under different names. Once you’re a few levels in, you’ll have a better understanding of when it’s okay to bend this rule.

More detail

Yep, that’s one reason of a few:

  • A few ‘radicals’ (like ‘sickness’, ‘fire’, etc.) do end up contributing some meaning to many kanji they show up in, like you say.
  • Many more ‘radicals’ contribute meaning to at least one kanji - the kanji containing just that radical. E.g. ‘mouth’ is a radical, but also by itself is a kanji 口 ‘mouth’, so it’s good to learn it as ‘mouth’. But, that said, it doesn’t always mean ‘mouth’ (or anything at all) when it’s used inside other kanji, like in 四 ‘four’ where it doesn’t really mean anything.
  • For the rest of the ‘radicals’ which are just WK inventions (like ‘zombie’), it’s fine to use your own names, but then you won’t get the benefit of using WK’s prewritten stories.

BTW, if you are interested in kanji etymology, a good place to start is looking for threads here about ‘semantic-phonetic composition’. It’s worth learning eventually IMO but maybe not as useful as you might hope, especially at the start.

But it’s okay if you don’t use a specific mnemonic story that WK gives. You aren’t expected to remember these for the long term anyway, they’re just a short term aid to help you connect the radical with its keyword.


That looks exactly like “fire blast” from pokemon

Fun fact, that’s because Fire Blast is based on the “big” kanji.

But do I actually need to remember “big” when it comes to other kanji?

The kanji using the “big” radical will have pre-made stories using the “big” name for the radical. If you change the name to “Fire Blast”, you need to think of new stories that use the word “Fire Blast” instead, and you will need to remember the “big” meaning anyway when you get to the kanji “big”.

I have renamed 2 radicals before, “triceratops” to “light rays” and “top hat” to “layton” (Professor Layton from the puzzle game series). For these, it has worked out for me, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it a lot, as you need to think of new stories for each kanji that uses the changed radicals.

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