Feeling the kanji

I’ve noticed recently that my kanji recognition is mostly intuitive rather than being based on discerning the radicals.

For example when I see the kanji 農 I recognize it as “farming”, remember the pronunciation (のう), and if I look at it I can see the radicals “superman” and “music”.

But if you asked me to say what radicals are in the kanji for “farming” without showing me the kanji beforehand, I wouldn’t be able to say exactly.

This is to be expected in some sense, as WK teaches us to read the kanji, not to write them. And this is totally fine with me.

My question is: is it ok to continue like I’m doing now, “feeling” the kanji rather than remembering the radicals? It’s working for me so far, but I’m afraid that, as I progress to higher levels, I’ll be overwhelmed by so many similar looking kanji, that my intuition won’t be enough. What’s your experience?

Thank you!


Well yes, because that’s the ultimate goal of learning the Kanji. You don’t want to be reading native Japanese material and having to identify WK’s made up radicals for every single Kanji.

Keep calm and carry on!


And regarding your point on writing, if you practice writing you’ll find that the same happens there too. I practice writing a lot, and except for Kanji that I have trouble remembering the make-up of, I don’t generally think about radicals and write out the whole Kanji straight out of muscle memory / feel.


Ok, so even at higher levels, kanjis look different enough to be discerned without paying too much attention to the radicals (at least most of the times).

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It gets trickier the further you go for some kanji. Sometimes you have 5 that only have one radical that distinguishes them from each other. I personally deal with that issue as it happens.


Depends on the Kanji; troublesome Kanji you keep looking at the radicals because they help you remember, but for the more commonly used Kanji they generally just get burned into memory pretty well.

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How is your ability to remember kanji without seeing them? That’s probably another symptom of what you were describing. It’s easier to see kanji (or radicals in kanji) and recognize them than it is to remember the shape of kanji (or radicals) from memory.

Although I’m only mid-level WK, I think you’ll always have to remember radicals in some way to write them down. Whether the radicals are WK’s radicals, more official ones, or just your brain’s own filing system, kanji is about composition. Hopefully this feels intuitive eventually but you’ll always have to pause for some things. Still to this day I need to purposefully remember how many “M” and “R” are in “tomorrow”.

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My first encounter with the problem was in a review, which admittedly I was doing very fast, in which I misunderstood

具 for 共

I know that they are not even so similar, but going intuitively I swapped them.

Examples of what might happen.

贈 僧 増 憎 噌

支 技 枝 伎 岐 鼓


No, you need to start paying attention to the details or you’ll get confused. Consider 秀透誘 or the 示余宗除祭察 family.

It’s weird, some kanji never gave me problems. Kanji like 左 and 差 or 右 and 石 have always been totally distinct for me (in fact I never realized how similar they look until I had it pointed out to me by someone who was having trouble distinguishing them). However, sometimes I have trouble with 陸 and 陵 which some people might not. It seems to largely depend on the person.

I would agree with @heisamaniac and just deal with any problems as they occur.


Yes, in each group at least a couple are very similar looking if you just glance at them. But luckily the stroke count is not so high to make it impossible to distinguish.

So long as you aren’t familiar with a Kanji you’ll keep looking at radicals, but once you are comfortable enough you won’t need to anymore. No matter how similar it may be to another Kanji.

First, second, and third I didn’t really need to think about radicals but last three I learnt more recently and had to think about it more.


or 車 軍 連 運, my personal nemesi T__T
I guess everyone has it’s own list of difficult kanji. The rest just sticks in your head :slight_smile:


Similar kanji are definitely the main reason why people “hit a wall” after X kanji, where X will vary greatly. You must get things like 技枝 straight, but when you acquired a “kanji eye” the difference will be clear as day (like getting ⽊ vs. 手 wrong).

Then there are kanji where the “right side” looks similar like 倫偏備, but they often appear in several kanji (like 侖倫輪論 and 扁編遍偏) so you have a benefit to remember the kanji as compounds of only two elements instead of the occasional 4–5 WK radicals that mainly confuse.

The final ones are one-off oddballs like 微徴, your only chance is to see them at the same time or you might have a pair of leeches forever.

You should use my script to spot problematic kanji early before you discover that learning by “rough shape” was not sufficient for a kanji.


Thanks your script sounds very useful. It would also be the first script I use, time to learn.

Those kanji that you remember instinctively now? Ten levels from now when there’s 3-4 more that look like them, you’ll have completely forgotten that first one due to mixing it up with all the others.

Certainly that’s been my experience anyway! I just came across 朱 in my lessons and the moment I saw it, I knew 失’s next review was doomed. I’ve finally gotten the hang of 失, which had been giving me a bit of trouble. But now I’m certain I’m going to mix it up with 朱 for the next few months. It’ll be Apprentice again soon for sure. =( And that’s a relatively simple-looking kanji. It gets worse for more complex ones.

It’s a really crappy feeling, and instances of this will only increase as you get exposed to more kanji. All you can do is power through it. Just go into the later levels expecting it, or else it can be an unpleasant shock.

That’s one of the greatest benefits of learning to handwrite the kanji, since to do that you have to know how it’s composed instead of just the rough shape. Makes it much less likely to mistake similar kanji. But I understand not everyone wants to do that, it’s a fair bit of extra work.

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Know your enemy and you are already 90% there :wink: You should focus on the differences in the kanji, in the end your enemies may turn into your friends.

車軍: The first one is definitely a car. Then, the difference is that stroke on top. It’s the metal plate you put there to turn your car into a tank! And who has tanks? The army! [Forget the forehead, it doesn’t help.]

The water slide signifies movement. With 連 there are cars on the move. [The meaning “take along” in WK is not great, take a look at the vocab and rather learn “link, connection” and “in succession, in a row” (KKLD) instead.] So you look at a highway and see lots of cars coming in succession down the street. They are linked together by the same street.

Now you see tanks on the move instead in 運. Armies are mainly transporting stuff around, so carry, transport, move. Having some tanks driving around in your back yard also signifies if you have good or bad fortune/luck, depending on whether it’s a friendly or enemy army.

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左 and 右 and 石 had me so confused for so long. I finally had to line them up next to each other and really look at them for the differences. I’ve got them now and get them right every time! Finally!

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YES those used to mess with me too. One would pop up and I’d be like, “Oh yeah, I totally know this…WAIT NOOOOOOO!!!” but I think just after a fair amount of time seeing all three in reviews it clicked. Practice really does make perfect, right?

If I have two or three I keep mixing up, I write them each a few times. This really seems to help me remember the pieces of the kanji/by radical first, which I think will become really important later on when I’m seeing more complex kanji. And now I say “Oh yeah I know this one it’s…WAIT… look at the radical on the left… AH-HA YOU SNEAKY LITTLE…” in my reviews instead.:sunny:

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