In the long run, why should you memorise kanji once you've memorised associated vocabulary?

Maybe I’m missing something and I’m going off a huge misunderstanding, but I’ve been using wanikani for a few months now and I don’t see why you should memorise an individual kanji’s meaning and reading in the long run. I think it can be useful to memorise kanji to a certain point, but I think that certain point is a lot earlier than it is for vocabulary. Wouldn’t it make more sense if the burn stage for kanji was at an earlier stage such as master?

Sure, learning the on’yomi of kanji can be useful in the short term For example, in level 1, it’s useful to learn the on’yomi of the kanji 口 so that it can help you begin memorising jukugo vocabulary like 人口 or rendaku’d vocabulary like 入り口, but once you’re able to pick up memorising the vocabulary, what’s the point in continuing to memorise the on’yomi when it’s only the vocabulary readings and meanings that are used in the end? You don’t seem to need the on’yomi of an individual kanji because you memorise it through the reading of the specific vocab anyway. It’s also the same case for learning the meanings of kanji, why should you memorise an individual kanji’s meaning in the long term when you can memorise it through memorising the vocab that the kanji is in?

It just seems unnecessary, at least in my opinion.

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Because it helps you intuit the readings and potential meaning of words you’ve never encountered before?

WaniKani’s vocab barely scratches the surface of the depth and variety words you will encounter in the wild so teaching you individual kanji readings and meanings is meant to help build a foundation for once you leave the system and encounter new words in the wild.


Its worth adding to what @athomasm said, that you will never know all the Japanese words (you don’t know all the words in your native language either), so when you encounter new words even decades from now, kanji help you to intuit the meaning.


To add to the above, you’ll also use the kanji you learn in early levels for vocab in later levels, so it helps to know it!


To add to the above, it’s way easier to memorise a new word when you already have a good grasp of the underlying kanji.

Also authors do this annoying cool thing where they put a bunch of kanji together that don’t exist as a word in the dictionary and expect you to understand what they mean (because it’s obvious from the kanji, right?).


I guess that does make a lot more sense, though many individual kanji have multiple on’yomi readings, so if you’re encountering a new vocabulary word you don’t know, how can you tell which on’yomi reading to use? If I encounter a new word with 生, how do I know whether to use せい or しょう? Should I try to memorise both of them even though WaniKani accepts just 1 answer?

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That’s just part of the ‘intuit’ the reading. As you get exposure to more words, you can get a feel for what readings jive. It’s definitely not 100%, though. And then they’ll be words like 今日, 明日, etc.

As to 生, yes you’d want to memorize both readings.

To add to above, often simpler looking kanji serves as phonetic component in more complex kanji, so it’s onyomi reading will be the same as for the other ones. For example 丁 (ちょう) is used as phonetic marker is the following kanjis: 町, 庁, 頂.

If this is unclear, here is a script that adds phonetic-semantic information:


Yeah forgot about that. 生 is even a great example of that. You can even start to intuit the reading of unknown kanji if you understand some general guidelines on how phonetic compounds work. Again not 100%, though, but it’s very helpful.

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