Creating better mnemonics for radicals

How exactly is “stoner on a cliff” help to discuss kanji with Japanese people, or closer to the original meaning? It’s basically the same weird-ass stuff we already have.

Apparently he didn’t intend for that to be the name of the radical. He wanted the radical name to be cliff, but it was confusing, because he was relating it to 麻 by adding the thing about the stoner. I don’t know that that really helps anyone, since there are dozens of kanji that use the まだれ radical, and the vast majority are not related to cannabis.

Huh? You what?

I mean, I’m too lazy to read through the rest of this, so maybe this got addressed…but still. Exactly how many people who use this site do you seriously think this applies to. What’s your definition of “high level”? Most people on here just wanna read/watch weeb shit in japanese, so I really don’t think learning actual radical names is all too important for 99% of people on here.

So say the 音訓. Need to tell them you are talking about 舞, but dont know the kunyomi or any radical names (I actually dont), just say 乱舞の第二漢字 and they will understand. Forgot the onyomi for 曲? Ask them about 曲げるの ”ま”'s onyomi。There are so many ways to get around it, I see it as a non-issue.

Correct. The thing about cannabis was crazy and contrived, yes, but the entire point was creating a radical which more closely matches the meaning of the radical’s name. Remember? You put it up as an example of a radical name which doesn’t actually have a real meaning. I gave it a go because I thought it would one of the more challenging, and thus more interesting, examples of how to deal with tricky radical names.

Anyone wanting to live in Japan for any length of time, for starters.

And your workaround only works for describing kanji to others, not for understanding their descriptions to you.

This is exactly why, to put it in a broader context, it is not enough to be able to express yourself in Japanese; you must also develop the ability to understand what Japanese people say, because, as you rightly point out, circumlocution as compensation for knowledge gaps is extremely easy to do, and comes naturally to all of us.

(It’s also why casual conversation classes are a very poor lesson structure for foreign language acquisition, their popularity–in both Japanese and English–notwithstanding.)

And that disproves my point about 99% of people on here not needing it how…?

You literally just proved me right. Changing the system to fit a very small percentage of users seems smart?

So let’s say someone goes to Japan and they want to describe something with 土 in it to a Japanese person or hear it described to them. Let’s imagine they don’t have cell phones (as odd as that is). WK still teaches つち is the meaning of 土, so what’s the problem?

The Japanese person isn’t going to say earth, or grave, or any other English word anyway.

99% of all Wanikani users have no intention of ever living in Japan? That is an interesting statistic. May I ask where you got it?

It’s not a problem, not for つち.

Then what are we trying to solve here.

Just as an aside, the typical Japanese person you meet doesn’t have all their radical details memorized either, they’re unlikely to describe a kanji exactly the way the Kanji Kentei wants you to. They’ll just use the obvious meanings of parts or descriptive things “like the left part of [some other kanji]”

Sure, for elementary school kanji, they probably have everything down pat, but then again, we rarely need to have discussions about those common ones.

There are several different dimensions you could go for.

  1. “Real” names. Useful for browsing a paper dictionary. Useful for describing a kanji (in my experience people here use compound words and say which kanji they mean)
  2. The “interpretation” of the radical. 广 would be a publicly accessible building (Syphus may want to destroy that one later).
  3. Memorable mnemonics.

I just easily learned the “real” name 麻垂れ yesterday, because I know the kanji involved. Information I always wanted to have? Not really. In the WK you have to learn about the “real” radicals yourself, but for most people it is important to get started first.

Personally I would like to see more interpretations of the radicals because it is really helpful, but the benefits only start after let’s say 500 or 750 kanji.

My book o’ facts. Even if I am wrong on that, you realize someone who does live in japan has already agreed with me, right? You said anyone who lives in japan needs to know the radical’s real names but guess what

Vanilla, you’re forgetting about when neither person has a cell phone and the Japanese speaker refuses to use simpler terms despite knowing that you didn’t learn kanji in the Japanese education system.

One other aside… Radicals are worth 5% of the kanji kentei score. You can even ignore them for that if you want. And since it’s matching you can usually get a few just by chance.

Here’s what the radical section looked like on the one I took (level 5)

I got 10/10 points, woot.


I think I’ll step away from this conversation for a while, because I feel like I’m starting to repeat myself, and we go in circles.

Off topic, but how much did you find your prep for kentei to help your learning overall? (I’m sure it would destroy me without prep, since I’ve never gone above JLPT.) Feel free to link me to your thread on the subject, if the question is already answered there.

Here’s the topic.

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You’re right! I did forget about how inconsiderate japanese people are and the high expectations they have for our language ability! Also please ignore the part of the gif where there is a cell phone. We all know those don’t actually exist in japan. Classic anime, portraying japan in an unrealistic light.

Congrats on the 10/10 doe.


So as someone who learned the radical names before studying any kanji whatsoever, I definitely dislike the WaniKani names for radicals (as I’ve posted before), and would rather see the actual names (as I’ve done with synonyms when capable, but even I think attempting to change mnemonics to match the actual radicals is way too large of a stretch for multiple reasons.

First of all, the “radicals” WaniKani employs, as you have not yet seen due to your low level, are not entirely “real” radicals, but simply a cluster of components made up of smaller kanji (which, at smallest form, can be radicals). Because of this, making any sort of transition to the real radical names is fairly pointless, as it would either result in WaniKani having to strip the current radical system (as Leebo mentioned) or result in serious inconsistency between custom WaniKani radicals and legitimate ones.

Secondly, the “effectiveness” of a mnemonic is vastly different based on the person. For my personality, dry, logical mnemonics work like a charm, while the crazy, weird, or morally-borderline go straight over my head. As a result, I personally opt not to use mnemonics on this website, simply using the SRS as a tool to help drill kanji (because I can’t use Anki on my work computer). No matter what type of mnemonic you use, likely a decent portion of people will like and remember it, and a decent portion of people won’t.

Third, meaning is a tricky thing with Japanese. Over time, many radicals have morphed resulting in the visual meaning of the kanji technically changing unless you knew about the change. I can, along with probably most users here in Japan, that a lot of Japanese don’t really pay attention to the meaning of the contents of kanji. There have been many times where I mention a new topic I learned about how a kanji changed four hundred years ago and they just reply, “Really? I didn’t know that,” and continue on with their day.

As for your mention of the “corpse” or “flag” radical, the identity of the radical as “Flag” is reinforced by Andrew N Nelson, a lexicographer much more qualified to decide these matters, along with native Japanese lexicographers. I admit I’m targeting a particular statement, but my point is more that, even in the linguistics field, there is debate about what to call, identify, and categorize as what. The folks at Tofugu made a system that, from what it seems, is mostly embraced by the community.

I dislike both the “radical names” and the mnemonics of WaniKani, but I can still easily say I’m quite happy investing money into it, as the database and SRS system alone are quite useful, and the community quite helpful if there is something with which you have trouble.

There might not be a particularly exact matching post about radicals and their mnemonics to yours, but there are still many more than their should be, unfortunately primarily by low level users who have not seen enough of WaniKani’s radicals to understand they are NOT in total the same as what you’d find on, say, KanjiAlive. They are a combination of radicals and components, and WaniKani, to my knowledge, does not bother with teaching you the radical for a kanji, but the total components that comprise it. This fact alone makes it practically unfeasible to make a major move in any way to the “real” radical names.


Thank you for writing a thoughtful and respectful post.

Because you are someone who forgoes the mnemonics (and appears to be a learner similar to me), I’d be grateful if you could give a little more detail on your opinion of the SRS system as it compares to other services. Do you choose WK over Anki only because you cannot use Anki at work? Or are there other strengths in WK that make you prefer it?

My major reasons for using WaniKani are as follows:

  1. I can’t download any programs on my work computer, so I cannot use Anki’s desktop manager.

  2. It is very low maintenance. I bookmark it and make sure to always check it as soon as I get on or off my computer. I have a large number of hobbies and so I live a very always-doing-something lifestyle. Taking the time to sit down, learn, and organize Anki just isn’t going to happen.

  3. The community modders are quite active, and scripts make such significant quality of life improvements. In addition, a particular website, can link with your API and show you your average speed, predicted times of completion, and how far through Joyo/JLPT recommended kanji. There are so many available and accessible resources.

  4. As I live in Japan, WaniKani is mainly a drill supplement for me rather than a learning tool. I schedule it along with my writing drills, allowing me to progress up the Joyo kanji in a structured, limited manner. Without an SRS, I’d be tempted move through content too quickly and undoubtedly forget the minor differences between kanji when attempting to write them by memory. The bulk of my kanji learning comes from traversing my area and my light novel translating.

Essentially, WaniKani gives me a controlled environment in which I can test my knowledge with little manual effort on my end. What I gain in time and effort I lose in money, but WaniKani’s support is very good both on the dev end and the community end.


A bit unrelated, but yesterday I thought “Why 麻??” Then I saw an advertisement for Mahjong (麻雀), and just now it was on the mapo doufu (麻婆豆腐). They put cannabis into anything :wink:


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