Difficulty with mnemonics due to aphantasia

Hi all, I’ve just reached level 3, and I’m looking for some advice. WaniKani’s system for learning kanji seems good and I’ve learned a lot so far, however, I am not able to follow the mnemonics properly because I have aphantasia and am not able to fully imagine scenes, much less on command.

(Aphantasia, for those who don’t know, is a difference in brain experience where the person does not have internal imagery, and other internal “senses” may be affected as well. In my case I have pretty good internal sounds, but not much else.)

So, I am wondering if it is worthwhile for me to get premium and continue working my way through. I’ve been making it by so far on my brain’s strong ability to recall random bits of words and phrases, but I don’t know if that will be enough once I am past the easiest stages. I’m starting to struggle to keep readings between kanji and vocabulary straight. Is that a typical difficulty at this stage?

Any advice is appreciated, especially if anyone else who has trouble with the mnemonics has made it far. I suppose in the meanwhile I’ll keep working my way through what’s available to me and just see how it goes.


I think WK’s radical breakdowns are helpful for constructing mnemonics, as someone with aphantasia myself I just create less visually dependent mnemonics when the WK ones don’t work for me. Making them sexual also makes them more effective for me:/


I’m also an aphantasiac but I’ve got a good sense of internal “space” or “geometry”. I don’t see things in my head, but I can intuit the shape of things and their location/size in space, if that makes sense.

So for example, for 八つ, WaniKani says “So what eight things do you have? You have eight yachts (やっつ). Go ahead and count them, drifting on the water. They’re beautiful.” I split them up into 4 yachts on my left and 4 yachts on my right and can “feel” their locations. So that’s how I remember 8 things.

I’ve done alright so far (Level 7, 91.97% accuracy).


(Don’t have aphantasia, but WK’s mnemonics tend not to work for me either)

I rarely look at the mnemonics (and half the time when I do, I make the wrong connection and get it wrong…) because most of them I find unhelpful, and for kanji I’d rather look at words/compounds they’re used in to get a sense of its meaning, and vocab I struggle with I usually need to get a feel for it from seeing it in use (radicals names I ignore). Readings I struggle with… I dunno, I come across it enough, I eventually remember it. I try to say the reading in my head regardless of whether WK is asking for the meaning or reading, which may or may not help. I do fine on WK, though I had some prior knowledge and I started reading pretty early.

WK’s mnemonics are just there to get you started, and they’re not really meant to be a one-size-fits-all. WK goes the “stands out because it’s weird” route, but the other set of mnemonics that tends to stick well is ones that you make yourself, and a lot of users end up making their own mnemonics for any number of reasons, or else go a different route to get something to stick.

The premade mnemonics are a selling point, but they’re not the whole of WK, and it’s definitely possible to get by without them.


Since you have a good internal sense of sound, maybe make your own mnemonics that focus on sound, and speak them aloud. Rhyming, alliteration, etc?

Mnemonics serve to create a pathway in a brain to reach a specific information. It doesn’t necessarily have to happen through imagery. Although most of WK’s mnemonics might not be of much help, I think its other features of it can still contribute to your success. I personally very rarely made use of WK’s mnemonics and usually made up my own, and nonetheless I can’t say it wasn’t worth it for me.

I don’t have aphantasia, but if you could manage to build your own pathways with tools that your brain can make use of, no matter how unconventional that may be, I think you could make it far.

I didn’t do wanikani but I did get all the way through RTK, basically just ignoring all the instructions about making strong mental images. Mnemonics involving keywords still work generally fine as words in your head. Rhymes help when you can find them: “house with a spine – shinto shrine” == 宮 is still stuck in my brain years later (those are rtk component keywords, not WK ones).


FWIW, Tofugu’s guide to memorizing kanji says:

Humans, it turns out, are very good at memorizing two things: stories and three-dimensional space.

and Wanikani mnemonics are built more around the former than the latter:

There are a ton of different mnemonic methods out there, but the one we’ll use to learn a kanji’s meaning and reading uses stories. This point is important, because stories are what catapults a brand new piece of information (a kanji’s meaning) into your long-term memory.

so I think you’ll be fine!

I don’t use any visual imagery when memorizing kanji (with one exception, I have a silly scene that I imagine to remember the readings of left vs. right) and I’ve been able to go through the program without issues so far.


I’m so aphantasic that it didn’t even occur to me that someone would want to try and imagine visual scenes of the mnemonics, and I’ve made it up to… whatever level is next to my avatar. (Also I’m aphantasia-for-sound, too, whatever that is called.)

I only look at them for the kanji which don’t immediately stick, which is, eh, maybe half of them. For that half, I look at the mnemonics, think about them a bit, and then write the kanji, the reading, the meaning, and the names of the radicals (positioned relative to one another as they are in the kanji) a couple of times. That sorts most things out. The mnemonics all fade after a few days, but the kanji are usually sticking by then.


Thanks for the responses, everyone! I didn’t expect so many.

I’m going to keep at it and see how I fare with level 3, if I’m doing alright then I suppose I’ll go for it. I think I saw some other resources around here that I want to have a look at soon, too, as they may help with some of the bits that have me confused.


You can try searching for aphantasia here Search results for 'aphantasia' - WaniKani Community

I think this thread is the biggest one, with couple of tips Having aphantasia means "imagining" doesn't work