Dealing with Kanji that has too many radicals

I usually make up my own mnemonic or find one from a different source (ex. Kanjidamage or Remembering the Kanji) that contains fewer parts to remember, usually by virtue of combining some radicals together.

As a simple example, the kanji 混 (to mix) could be thought of as “tsunami” + “sun” + “compare” or “tsunami” + “insect” and the second option has fewer parts to remember. There are a few complicated kanji that don’t break down this nicely, but most do.

Another technique, though it doesn’t work as well with the Wanikani system, is to learn similar looking kanji together and focus on the differences.

For example, I was often mixing up 教 (teach) and 数 (digit / number) until I made an additional mnemonic for myself “we teach children” using the fact that “teach” has the child radical in it at the bottom left. Yes, the upper left radical is also different (coffin vs rice), but neither of those really lent themselves to remembering the difference for me.

Of course, the downside of this is that you may later encounter another kanji which is also only slightly different, for example 敦 (kanji not on Wanikani which according to means “industry, kindliness”), but by then you maybe have mastered the first ones you were mixing up (or then you can come up with another mnemonic for what makes that one different).

EDIT: I say this technique does not work very well with Wanikani because it often means you have to use another tool look for similar looking kanji ahead of time and learn them out of the Wanikani order (though using a script like “Niai visually similar kanji” helps). Alternatively, you could just wait until one you confuse it with comes up naturally in Wanikani and then look for the difference and make a mnemonic.


Yeah, I completely agree.

A slight flaw in the WaniKani system is that they’ll introduce to you kanji that are very similar, but like wildly different levels apart.

So a mnemonic you learned in level 12 is suddenly neutralised by a kanji in level 35 that uses most of the same radicals.

That’s when you have to manually pick those similar kanjis out and focus your study on the differences between them. I wrote down a list on my notes app of all the ‘turkey’ kanji I confuse, all the ‘geoduck’ kanji, all the ‘wolverine, under a roof, on a stool’ kanji, etc.

It’s only with the benefit of hindsight and further knowledge that you can tell which kanji are pretty unmistakeable, and which require you to pull out a mental jeweller’s magnifying glass to separate them.

I’ve been ignoring 95% of WaniKani’s mnemonics since level 20. It’s better to tailor your mnemonics to your own mental associations.


Sometimes I’ll make up my own mnemonic that uses the phonetic/semantic components rather than the individual radicals, if I can spot them or I’m on the desktop and able to use the userscript to point them out.

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I mean I kinda memorize them on a case-by-case basis, but I’ve found that the more radicals they have, the more likely it’s got a group of radicals that has appeared in another kanji I know, and often kanji have the same reading as the ones it’s similar to if that makes any sense. So like almost every kanji with 票 (read ひょう)in it is read ひょう. There are tons of examples and it doesn’t happen every time but it happens pretty often and it’s an easy mnemonic (at least for readings). Btw I use almost none of WaniKani’s mnemonics. They just don’t work for me. I make up my own for almost all of them


There aren’t that many kanji with more than three radicals are there? I only spotted two on level 29 where you are at present. A lot of the time Wanikani will give you new radicals based on kanji you’ve already learned.

I do still find a lot of the Wanikani mnemonics helpful when there are 4 or 5 radicals. 壊 comes up on your current level. I still have the mental image of hanging my clothes out in a net on a cross, and the kayak sending a wave of dirt breaking it. And I learned that one a long time ago.

Having said that, like many others if the Wanikani mnemonic doesn’t work for me I make up my own instead. Admittedly that’s using the techniques and radicals Wanikani has taught me over the years.

There was a lot from Level 24 to Level 27. I’m only on level 28 by the way.

What kanji has 5 or more radicals? Even 鬱 only has 3 thanks to the “psychopath” radical.

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This has also been a big problem for me. Would you recommend any resources in particular?

Oops! It looks like I know 1800 kanji but still can’t read basic numbers… :crazy_face: You can look forward to level 29 then!

I think the Keisei-script helps deal with kanji that WK break down too far in their mnemonics. It’s a very helpful script!

Not only does this help me recognize the bigger radical units (less focus on the individual parts), but it also connects them to the correct on’yomi reading and how that relates to other kanji that looks similar.

Like I said, this is a very helpful script overall. :slight_smile:


It really depends on what you call a radical? Here’s an example with four or five ‘radicals’ (or components, rather), even if some are repeated: (きょう). It’s probably not on WK, and it’s also probably not very common (in Japanese anyway; I learnt it in Chinese, and I haven’t seen it ‘in the wild’ in Japanese yet), but I’m just raising it for the sake of discussion. Among common, everyday kanji, you might say that 朝 is a combination of 2十, 1日 and 1月, or simply of 龺and 月. (To be honest, I have no idea what exactly 龺means. Apparently it represents the sun in the midst of grass in 朝.)


While learning Chinese while growing up, and even now, when I encounter new kanji, I look out for components that I already know as kanji (because those usually form bigger blocks). Thereafter, I remember the kanji based on the ‘sub-kanji’ I recognise. The rest of my ‘strategy’ tends to involve knowing how to write kanji though, since that helps me remember the position of the components based on their order of appearance in the written form, and I tend to kinda just ‘make’ myself remember the reading or the meaning (ideally both) based on something in the kanji, like how it looks.

As an example… OK, in order to remember (かまど, which shouldn’t be on WK), I remembered that the bottom component is something like ’turtle’ (亀, which used to be 龜 – I know some of the traditional kanji forms, which helps with stuff like this. Truth is though, the bottom component is actually 黽, which isn’t ‘turtle’ at all), then I noticed the 土 inside it, which means ‘earth’. That makes sense because 竈 refers to a traditional wood/coal stove made of bricks/earth, or a hearth. I know that the thing at the top is basically a small 穴: you could say that’s the ‘cave/hole’ radical, which makes sense as well because you need a hole in the wall to put firewood in. Weird stuff like that. I don’t come up with all this consciously. Some components just seem more obvious/sensible, and I use them to help me.

I think the original mnemonic for 掃 used to contain four components: wolverine + cloth + hand + 冖 (IDK what WK calls it, and I can’t name it in Chinese either). That comes pretty close to five ‘radicals’, and is probably an excessive breakdown, even if it’s not hugely problematic since the components are relatively simple. I can’t think of any kanji with more than four components that might appear on WK though, aside from 鬱, which you’ve already mentioned.

Here’s to hoping that @cringe knows of some in English, because everything I’m aware of is written in Chinese or Japanese. I mean, popular kanji courses outside of WK like ‘Remembering the Kanji’, ‘The Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course’ or ‘Essential Kanji’ generally have at least a bit of etymology in them, but not all of it is accurate or serious, since some of it is just there for the sake of helping people remember. The one resource I do know of is Not sure how good it is though, regardless of the author’s credentials, because I don’t know if she’s an etymology specialist. Another option would be to look at Kayo-sensei (aka @Kayoshodo) on Twitter, because she occasionally posts stuff about kanji origins, in addition to lists of common words and writing tips. She’s a Japanese calligrapher, but she posts in English. I don’t always agree with what’s said by these sources about etymology, but as Kayo-sensei says, there are multiple theories, and since most of my theories come from Chinese sources… well, perhaps some disagreement is to be expected.

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Thank you, for these recommendations. None of them seem to go into the level of detail desired, but Kayo-sensei’s calligraphy content is very interesting to me.

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There’s 滅. I believe there’s a few more, although not so many. I don’t recall any 6-radical kanji.

Hm… Well, NHK does have the JapanEasy II series, which covers a few kanji along with origins… I’m not sure how detailed they are though.

OK, after some digging, I found this: Bu Sensei’s Kanji Dojo, which is a part of the JapanEasy series. I think Bret Mayer does a good job of explaining all this stuff, even if, again, I don’t really subscribe to 100% of the explanations. For example, 忍 is explained as ‘sharpening the mind’ i.e. gaining patience, because 刃 represents a sharpened blade. There’s a link made to Japanese blade-smiths and the time and effort that goes into their craft. I mean, all well and good, but all this is just ‘Japanifiying’ the origins, since almost all kanji are from China (こくじ aside, of course). Chinese sources – including my late grandfather, who taught himself to write and learnt Mandarin even though he was a Teochew native speaker – all tell me that 忍 represents a sharp blade stabbing/cutting into the heart as one endures the pain. That’s why it means ‘to tolerate, to bear with’. In other words, to me, the explanation given by the NHK programme is wrong, even if it’s a possible explanation. Chinese legends tend to celebrate a blade itself along with its wielder anyway, and I haven’t really heard blacksmiths being celebrated in Chinese tradition the way they are in Japan, so I think it’s really unlikely that the meaning is related to ‘sharpening’.

Still, I can’t deny that the explanations are memorable, so it might be worthwhile to take a look at them. Plus, some of the information is very accurate. The explanation for 歩, for instance, is truly excellent, especially since the Oracle Bone script version is carefully explained. I don’t think there are many people learning kanji as adults who know that 止 is a picture of a foot. Most native speakers probably don’t know either. I may not buy everything that’s said, but it’s a good programme nonetheless. :slight_smile:

I thought of 檻 (おり), which is a kanji I came across thanks to an anime and which would probably be split into four components. I don’t think it’s on WK though. Anything containing the right-hand side of 檻 would probably count though. I came across another enormous kanji earlier while looking for examples of kanji with lots of components (), which apparently is another kanji for 炊ぐ(かしぐ)– to boil/cook – but I figured there’s no way it’s on WK because it’s too rare.


Thank you once again! I really enjoy seeing and understanding the character in its original form and how it gets altered in time. Really helps with memorization. Thank you for doing the digging and supplying this for me ヽ(^o^)丿

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If you’re looking for a good book with etymology, I would recommend Henshall’s “A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters.”

Here is a picture of one of the pages so you can get an idea:


The World of Kanji
The Complete Guide to Japanese Kanji
are the ones I use.

Ah, I have that. I’ve never opened it, though.

I wonder where I’ve put it…

I didn’t realize this book had this level of detail and categorization. I have to pick this up now! Thank you Deliana

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