Feature to help distinguish things like: 理 vs 由

I’m about halfway through level 7 where I’ve already become familiar with the kanji 由 meaning “Reason.” Today I went through five new items and the kanji 理, also meaning “Reason” came up for the first time.

I’m not worried about the fact that there are two kanji with the same meaning. What would be help is some additional information from Wanikani to acknowledge that these kanji have the same meaning, but then some examples of whatever nuanced difference exists.

For example, I immediately assumed that one means “the reason something happened” while the other refers to the concept of Reason as one of the things the human mind is capable of. Whether or not this is true is unknown to me, but it would be great if it could be clarified in the teaching of these kanji. Otherwise a lot of assumptions are made which distract from the learning process.


FWIW, this is a very similar feature request that even uses the same kanji as its example, requested in 2014.


Good to see I’m not alone in obsessing of this kind of thing. Sad to see it hasn’t been adrressed in nine years.


I find that a few things help in this case:

  • Look the kanji in jisho to see the full list of standard meanings

  • Look at vocab list for the kanji to spot the general pattern (this one is probably the most useful overall in my experience)

Both these things are supported by default in the unofficial Smouldering Durtle app but not by the official website unfortunately.

I made an Anki deck for kanji writing practice that gives you the meaning and you have to remember the kanji and reading, and obviously in this situation having multiple kanji with identical or very similar meanings is a huge issue (if you’re prompted for “reason”, what kanji do you really want?).

My solution was to supplement the meanings with that of KANJIDIC, display the vocabulary that contains the kanji and maintain an ever growing list of “synonyms” for kanji whose meaning overlap in one way or an other: wkanki.py · main · Lionel Flandrin / wkanki · GitLab

So for 由 the front side of my card looks like:

And for 理:

So in this case you can see that 由 has more of a nuance of “origin” or “cause”, while 理 is more “logic” and “order” or something like that. So your intuition wasn’t far off.

I really think that seeing the full list of definitions + vocabulary examples really helps contextualize the nuances of the kanji, and I agree that it’s a wasted opportunity for WK to hide all that stuff.


It would be nice if such a feature were implemented, I agree.

In the meantime, there is a pretty good workaround which I would highly recommend, which is to liberally use the User Synonyms / Manage Synonyms feature to supply yourself with extra synonyms to ‘disambiguate’ different kanji and – even more so! – different vocabulary.

For example, I personally have manually added the user-synonym ‘Cause’ to 由, and ‘Logic’ to 理.

As I’ve progressed in levels, I’ve been using User Synonyms more and more to help conceptually distinguish between different items that are frustratingly similar.

Often, the ‘synonym’ is not even meant to be used (by me) as an actual ‘answer’ during a review session. Instead, it’s just a bit of extra info (like a ‘tag’) that I can quickly scan from the item’s info, for example if I get it wrong.

For example, 用意 means ‘Preparation’, but there are a ton of other vocab that also mean ‘Preparation’, so after looking it up on Jisho.org, I found that 用意 also means “preparation; arrangements; provision; getting ready; laying out (e.g. a meal)​”. And so, since ‘laying out’ is unique to this vocab, I decided to add ‘Laying Out’ as a user synonym. However, since ‘Laying Out’ on its own doesn’t seem (to me, personally) to match with ‘Preparation’, I decided to include the example (of a meal) into this user synonym.

Thus, the actual user synonym I use is ‘Laying Out (a Meal)’. Now, I don’t actually ever intend to type out the whole laying out (a meal) during a review session. Especially with the parentheses! I’ll just type preparation instead. But for the purposes of disambiguation, having a longer ‘synonym’ that at least makes it clear which ‘Preparation’ this one represents, is all I really care about. It’s a workaround, after all, not a true solution. :sweat_smile:

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Exactly how I do it as well. :+1:

I use the ‘reverse WaniKani’ site KaniWani.com for this, although it only works for vocabs, not for kanji items directly.

As a bonus, using the whole User Synonyms as context-cues thing I mentioned in my previous comment works very well with KaniWani, since it will present all meanings / alt-meanings / user-synonyms from WK during reviews on KW.

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I will add to this that one of the key updates to smouldering durtles (as opposed to it’s origins in flaming durtles) is that the alternative meanings/readings for each kanji/vocab are shown every time you get a correct answer, so it reinforces all the meanings/readings of the kanji/vocab (or at least, all the ones wanikani has as standard). This helps to distinguish between similar kanji/vocab as the alternative meanings often provide greater depth to the true sense of it.

Also, the context sentences already here on WK often are very useful for conveying what the word means/how it is used. Even if one does not bother trying to read the Japanese sentences (although I would recommend you do) just looking at the English will give you a pretty good idea. The first thing I do when I come across one like this and have the same question you have is look at the context phrases/sentences. Or in the case of kanji (not vocab) as is the case here, look at the vocab they are used in and then look at the context usage for those. If I am still fuzzy after that I go to the dictionary.

BTW, you have four vocab coming that have the primary meaning “reason” :slight_smile:

Wouldn’t worry about it. Let it be and continue. If you do a deep dive into the details you’ll get caught in it and get nowhere.

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this is one of the many weaknesses of WK, and one of the reasons that WK is at most a (very useful) supplement to learning japanese. many words don’t have 1 to 1 translations, and even when they do, they often have different connotations and usages. the way WK teaches, with mostly 1 to 1 translations, misses this completely.

which is why you need to do grammar, and learn about the culture, and read, all in parallel to learning kanji.