I'm starting to look for new sources of learning

I’ve been using wanikani for almost two years now and I feel like it’s been a big factor in me maintaining my japanese learning regimine.
It keeps me on track, makes me feel obligated and rewarded for persistent study and dedication, and has made me feel confident when I use other programs to study grammar as I already know a lot of common kanji.
However, there’s two things I really don’t like about wanikani.

  1. leveling up
    I really dislike feeling like I’m finally getting ontop of everything. I get 80% or more daily, finish all my reviews, ontop of my lessons, then I level up and I’m blasted with over 100 lessons.
    I get it, there’s a lot of material to cover, but it’s very frustrating to feel like I’m pushing Sisyphus’s boulder.

  2. the mnemonics and complete lack of reasoning behind why a kanji is built the way it is.
    I’m very frustrated with how information is presented in this application. It really feels like the reason things are the way they are is of no importance, the only thing that matters is shoving the translation into my brain.
    I don’t work that way. I can remember things much more accurately if I can make connections between different pieces of information to grant a bigger picture.
    something like “oh this kanji has the moon radical in it, so it’s part of the _____ type of kanji, that means that it is probably this word” or something.

And I’m now realizing, and sending out this request, that I’m not actually learning anything about kanji, i’m just shoving the translations into my head.

I don’t want to ruffle any feathers or step on any toes, if this works for you and you love it then more power to you and I wish you all the luck in the world. But it’s really feeling not so great for me.

Does anyone have any recommendations on a program, or set of texts, or any source of information that is structured in the way I’m describing? I really want to understand japanese the way that I understand english.
Any help is appreciated, thank you!


I might be completely wrong on this, but I don’t think there is that sort of thing. Now, something with the moon radical can often have something to do with the body, but often times there are many kanji that don’t have this sort of rule. Going through WaniKani you’ll pick up things like something with a certain radical is seemingly always having the same reading, and sometimes WaniKani tells it to you.

I mean yeah, but what do you want there to be done? Would you rather have all items available to you? I think Anki works that way.

I can’t really imagine there is records of every kanji saying that a kanji means “X” because of “Y”. I just don’t think there is this wonderfully structured system you’re hoping for. The Japanese literally cram it into their heads by writing it down over and over. They also don’t have English definitions for kanji, this is just meanings made by us, for us.

I think you’ll need to get out of this mindset, I know I don’t have to say it, but Japanese isn’t English, besides since when did English make perfect sense?


I completely agree with you that you should be looking for other ways to study besides wanikani. I think WK is a great way to learn those pesky kanji. I’ve had to learn another hundred or so that aren’t in WK due to the fact that they’re not as common and not Joyo kanji.

I don’t know if you’re a native English speaker or not, but I am. And I am constantly finding new words that are related to others. Honestly I didn’t even start paying attention to word etymology until I started learning another language. Eventually, the more that you continue to use the Japanese that you have learned, you will stop thinking as much about what makes up the words and more about the concept you’re trying to convey. Which is how you do so as a native speaker. You don’t think about the meaning of every single word that you’re saying. You understand what you want to say and then convey it through the vocabulary that you know.

So, I guess my takeaway is, unless you’re trying to become a professor of Japanese linguistics. It might be overkill to try to get all the nuances of everything. :sweat_smile:


Do you read or use your knowledge in any way? (i.e. Reading books, manga, news, etc)


I’m actually quite surprised to read this, because personally I’ve found that wanikani is the method that gives me the building blocks, so to speak.

I’ve studied Japanese through traditional in-person classes at a college level, where it really was just…here’s a kanji. Here’s the reading. Here’s the meaning. Memorize it. Why is it read this way when it reads another way in a different word? Who knows, don’t care, just memorize it! And to be honest, I always found that really difficult, and a lot of times I’d lose the kanji if I hadn’t studied it for longer than a week or two.

Going through WK, for me, has been providing the groundwork to see connections between kanji. Obviously, like some of the other responses have said, just because a certain kanji includes a certain radical does not mean that it will have a logical (to me) meaning from that radical.

That being said, I find that WK’s system of learning a radical (albeit with some silly, made-up meaning) which I use to learn a kanji which I use to learn the vocabulary has helped me much more with memorizing kanji and actually remembering them. And because the system tends to give you a couple of vocabulary words for any one kanji, it’s possible (for me, at least) to look at some of the nuance across the different vocabulary and really get a sense of the kanji’s inherent meaning, inasmuch as it has one. (Technically many kanji don’t, but they do have a habit of showing up in related or thematic words, and seeing them across those words can give you a feeling for their ‘meaning’.)

Unfortunately, for me WK is the program that tells me why a certain word means what it does. I don’t really know of any program’s or styles of studying that can make it more x = y. Maybe you could try focusing on what different types of vocabulary given kanji are used in? I know WK has a page that shows some words each kanji is included in, maybe that would help to give you a better sense of what you’re looking for.


Now anyone who knows more than I do please correct me but my understanding about kanji and the radicals is that while some radicals have connections a lot dont. Ie something with the water radical may be related to things to do with water, and moon tends to be in body parts, but theres also a ton of it just is that way.

English does have some entomology and sometimes knowing it is useful for guessing meaning, but a lot of words are just you have to know it.

That being said I rather like the ‘entemology’ of japanese kanji and radicals. But to my knowledge its similar to studying english entemology, its partly langage part history (and by history i traceing usage to a possible origin that is part guess work part logical deduction).

TLDR I dont think theres such reasource (in english at least) since most kanji dont have nice explanations why they are that way. If you do find soemthing like that I would be interested if you could post it here since it would be interesting to look over.




:beetle: :bug::mosquito::snail::bug::ant::honeybee::lady_beetle::butterfly::cricket::beetle::postal_horn:


Beat me to it. WK complained my post wasn’t long enough.

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Well, there is “phono-semantic composition”, and there’s a script for that. It helps some people see the relationships between kanji that share similar features. But phono-semantic composition doesn’t apply to all kanji.

Similarly, although it’s not exactly a learning resource (not as-is, anyway), you might be interested to see what sort of relationships pop out at you when you look up kanji here:

(I linked directly to an example kanji so you can immediately see what the site does).


Applicable xkcd

Back to your regularly scheduled serious talk.


For me, it still appears that Wanikani is a good curriculum for learning Kanji. However, the PC web app version, enhanced with Userscripts. Particularly, Keisei Semantic-Phonetic and External Definition that now includes Radicals. Another place that I can recommend, but not in Userscripts, is wiktionary.org.

Nonetheless, truthfully saying, memory would triumph reasoning, and also accounting for exceptional readings and Kana-only. I don’t find anywhere’s mnemonics clearly better either; not to mention you might not need mnemonics in the first place, or create one yourself if you have to.

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The impulse to understand the reasons and how things truly work is very strong and understandable, but having done that many time I found time and time again that it’s just doesn’t help that much for memorization. It’s fun though!

Because 99% of the time when you delve into etymology you end up with either:

  • A big part of the kanji was used to represent the sound in ancient Chinese. Either the connection to Japanese is lost, tenuous, or is reflected in only one of the onyomi. It helps but WK is already good for that (see the script below).
  • The kanji has changed meaning at some point in its history (usually by sound loan) so the current shape is completely disconnected to the meaning
  • The kanji have been so distorted along the millennia that complete chunk have no meaning at all.
  • The kanji have been simplified from a traditional kanji and big chunk have been moved or changed
  • How speculative the whole thing is. It’s funny how many etymology website use a very authoritative tone to explain what part of a Kanji means what, except that they often don’t agree at all with each other.

That said, I think WK is one the best resource to have an idea how a Kanji is composed, thanks to the phono-semantic composition script.


@Cal_L, that just sounds like Kal-El. Are you… Supes?


I like WaniKani, but it cannot be the only source to learn kanji. I think WK gives me the foundation and I like to read newspaper or articles to see how the kanji is being used. I think that is more useful than learning the kanji in isolation. Basically even when we were learning English when we were younger, we also read to see how the words are used in context.

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ish? This might be as close as you’ll get, but idk
Personally I plan to finish WK before getting down in the weeds

^basically a non-WK, non-SRS approach to kanji that also takes into account semantic-phonetic composition among other approaches to make sense of kanji

I’d also second rfindley and Arzar33’s recommendation of using WK with the semantic-phonetic composition script, as it does provide some helpful patterns even if they don’t apply to all kanji.

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It sounds like WaniKani might just not be for you, in which case I would recommend Anki and a deck with most common vocab. That way the words you’re learning are at least meant to be useful and not just hit specific kanji readings.

Other than that I would recommend actually learning the language with a textbook, platform like JapanesePod101 or YouTube videos. 2 years just doing WaniKani sounds to me like a waste :frowning: .


If you want the “why” of why kanji are the way they are, you could try Seeley, Henshall and Fan’s The Complete Guide to Japanese Kanji. This is the updated version of Henshall’s old “A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters” book. The Amazon page has some images so you can see what you get for typical kanji, but basically they give a brief etymology of each kanji and a mnemonic phrase that typically incorporates the components and one or more of the meanings. The etymologies are trustable, in that they give references and mention when there are multiple opinions.

I think most people find that, as @Arzar33 says, the actual historical reasons for the kanji ending up the way they have are typically too complicated to make good material for memorizing, which is why most mnemonic systems prefer “systematic but arbitrary” over “etymologically correct but confusingly inconsistent”. But if you want to try this route, Henshall et al is a pretty good resource, I think.


Welcome to the club. Hahaha. I prefer to use some sort of reasoning to remember things, even if it’s based on false premises (e.g. rubbish etymology that has no historical basis). Books are probably your best bet for real (or close to real) etymology unless you can read Japanese or Chinese (because there’s plenty of free information available in both languages on kanji history, even if Japanese and Chinese sources often disagree on which theories are more widely accepted/preferred). However, you do have some options in English if you want, like this:

(There’s another resource like this, also by Noriko Williams, but I can’t remember the address anymore.)

Also, maybe take a look at traditional radicals?

Please, please don’t try to memorise everything on that page, even if it’s just the ‘important’ radicals. Read through it, especially if it interests you, but I’d say that you should really just aim to build an awareness of the existence of these bits. After that, when you look at kanji, you can try to identify these radicals, recall what they mean (or look them up again), and then see if there’s a link to what the kanji in question means. If you keep doing that, at some point, retention of these radicals will come. I’m a native Chinese speaker, and I know that’s how I learnt basic radicals with my teachers (just a few introduced at a time, followed by a lot of observation on my own), and it forms the basis of most of how I learn and remember new kanji, even now.


Great response