Memories of kanji in you brain as time progresses

Hello all,

So the purpose of learning kanji is to be able to recall and recognize ‘automatically’, probably without mnemonics I would say. I know mnemonics are very helpful for aiding in this process but it would not be very applicable to have to think of a story every time you are reading every single character. Do people here on Wanikani feel that as time goes on they are developing a more automatic awareness of meanings and readings of kanji without having to recall a few phrases or sentences? To me, I feel that as I am learning, the character’s meanings and readings are becoming more automatic, however sometimes this is bad I think because I forgot the stories with some characters and eventually lose the meaning or reading completely…

Just wanted to talk about this with anyone.

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It definitely becomes more automatic over time in my experience, and it’s absolutely a good thing - a sign that your reading ability is becoming in-grained.

In the same way the letter “g” just “looks like” the sound it makes to my brain, or the word “ghost” just “looks like” the word ghost and how it sounds and what it means without my having to think about it, a kanji like 無 for example “just looks like” nothingness and the sound む.

It’s definitely one of the most rewarding aspects about learning to read, since you can see all these characters that certainly at one point in time meant absolutely nothing to you, and can see how, at the very least, they won’t ever mean absolutely nothing to you again.
(Even if some characters are less well in-grained than others and we all forget words sometimes even in our native language :slight_smile:)

The mnemonics can be fun, and can help lead you to the right answer, but they’re absolutely meant to fall away like scaffolds over time.


I don’t remember the mnemonics for kanji I learned even like… one level ago, lol. Which is a good thing I think.


I usually ignore the mnemonic stories, because I find them often either disjointed (I don’t relate how A is connected with B and C, because I don’t see the connection) or too complex (any body part/organ kanji being explained using the Moon :joy: ). Whenever I tried relying on mnemonics I would forget a critical middle part of the story way before I would remember the meaning so I more or less gave up on them. Also, I would develop a habit of relying on them more than I should’ve.

But to kind of outline my process (to quote Ian McKellen):

  • Initially I remember the meaning gloss and the reading when I work on it a bit

  • After some time, especially when I see the kanji more often in context, I remember what it represents, not necessarily the one word gloss

  • After much longer I still remember the reading instinctively and the general idea behind the kanji, but not necessarily its meaning in English

I think long-term, from a meta perspective it’s more important to learn how to read and use a kanji, rather than what it means in English :slight_smile: .

I don’t use the mnemonics - possibly because I have Aphantasia so can’t see pictures in my head.

I keep forgetting kanji so for months I review ten lessons a day, checking whether I still remember the reading and meaning. I still don’t get 100% recall but it isn’t too bad. I stopped doing the ten a day for a few months and it was depressing how quickly my reading ability dropped. I assume if you live in Japan and immersed in Kanji every day it must be a lot easier.

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I usually ignore the stories. I just can’t remember them. Because I can still remember song lyrics from 50 years ago (yes, I’m that old!) I try to make a little rhyme for each new kanji. It’s often based on the story, but less “wordy”. Or I have a completely random way of remembering something - I could never remember the radical 周 until I noticed that it looks like the helmets that Knights Templar wore, so that radical became Sir Cumference!

The mnemonics are bound to become less useful over time - even at my age things sink in eventually. Mind you, I’m repeating the first 11 levels at the moment, and it’s depressing how much I don’t remember.


If you forget some words, that’s normal. You don’t even have to take a break from japanese to forget certain words, it’s all about encountering and usage of those words. I like to think of brain as a big whiteboard, and each word you learn as a bandaid with the word written on it. You learn the word “person” and meaning for it, a bandaid goes on the whiteboard. Each time you read, write, see, review that word, another bandaid goes on top of that one. You keep stacking those bandaids as long as you keep reading, writing and talking (so basically living). But your brain is wired to forget, those bandaids are being removed at a certain pace, say 1 bandaid per day. Once you have that concept in your head, it’s easy to understand why you forget certain words. If you were able to record yourself for a week and have an Excel sheet at the very end of that week with all words you used in writing or talking form and count how many times you used/encountered each of them, the ones not on the list would be ones that are in “negative bandaid” territory, as in the ones you’re starting to forget.

You as a person have a certain way of speaking and writing, you have your own mind dictionary full of words you have learned and you’re not going to utilize words outside of your dictionary. That’s why reading is such a powerful tool, be it a book, novel, manga. Putting yourself in position to encounter words that you don’t use (even if you know them) expands that dictionary, leading you to what essentially can be called “fluency”.

I finished WK over a year ago and wasn’t usimg any SRS since then.

I read in Japanese now, mostly fine. I can pick up a book and read it, occasionally looking up vocab in a dictionary. Sometimes I forget some basic kanji or get them confused with similar ones but it mostly happens if I don’t get the context. Otherwise, I can often read the words without thinking about the kanji.

So all in all, I forgot some kanji details but I became more fluent in reading and recognise full words instead of individual kanji. And mnemonics? Don’t remember any of them.


I think mnemonics are useful for beginners. After a while, you stop really needing them, since their focus is to associate image, meaning, and reading. It becomes an automatic process, since you can think of mnemonics like training wheels, or extra lines on notebooks so help you with writing.

That being said, I’ve barely, if ever, used mnemonics for studying Japanese. I’ve instead applied other tricks that I’ve personally found useful studying other subjects.

  • When learning new kanji I would immediately write them down, along with a word that WK was going to teach me
  • I would do the 4 hour review during the same day, to make sure I repeat the kanji. I would also review all the learned kanji before the 4 hour and 8 hour review.
  • There are quite a lot of kanji groups, where the meaning is different, but the reading is always the same. ( 剣、険、検、験 | 複、復、腹). Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but it is a helpful hint sometimes.

For vocabulary, I think it’s important to follow up with lessons after getting a kanji to Guru ( in general, combining two kanji means combining the meaning and readings you’ve learned to form a word, so it helps if they are both fresh in your memory ). I would do them immediately after, but I’m sure that within a couple of days is fine as well. Keep in mind also that sentence SRS is far more effective then word SRS like WK. So at some point I strongly suggest you start reading and mining words you don’t know ( personal sentences in a story you’re enjoying make a giant difference )

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I keep forgeting most of kanji because I dont see them in twitter or nhk articles.

Those I see frequently I can recognize right away but unfortunately many vocab with specific uses I wont see them. For this election period in japan, there are several words I had learned but never used, now I need to keep cheking their meaning.

as far as progress goes, in 10 months indeed I have learned a lot, what I didnt studying in japan for 6 months using genki II.

I am glad with my progress so far.