Mnemonics : problems and solutions?

Just a comment to add on this, based on what I read in RTK and my own experience :

  • (nearly ?) every time the 月 component is on the left side of the kanji, it’s related to ‘flesh’, so a mnemonic using the moon might not be the best fit…
  • when the 月 component is ‘below’, it is kind of 50-50, could be related to the flesh/body (like 胃, 背) or not (like 肯, 脅)
  • when the 月 component on the right side, it’s (nearly ?) never related to the body/flesh, but rather something else (moon, duration, time…)

This above are just empirical statements, and I’m cautious using ‘nearly’, as there might be some exceptions / counter-examples !

Another remark on my first point : having a kanji related to ‘flesh’ doesn’t prevent from using a mnemonic with the ‘moon’. For (elbow), I’m actually having Chewbacca with moon-shaped pendants glued to his elbows. In that case no risks to make a mistake in writing the kanji 肘, if you also know the (empirical) rule that 寸 is never found on the left side of a kanji.

@Rrwrex @AndyMender I will reply in more details to your messages above (just need more time !), thank you so much, they are really great :pray:


I just use the WK mnemonic if I feel they make sense for me.

If they’re convoluted, long or just not intuitive I usually make one up for myself. Generally though I still try to incorporate some of WK’s characters/objects/places etc. if it fits.

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I just look at menemonics as a helping tools to memorize kanji and vocabs. They are not the priority to put my time and effort into. They are the last thing I would memorize if I really need them.

Usually I already encounter these words and kanji before I have a chance to learn them on Wanikani by reading Japanese news and learning materials.

So Wanikani help me understand those combination because when I learn those words from reading I don’t actually know what those kanji acatually mean separately.


ok clear, basically you don’t start “from the kanji” as I do, makes sense, tx !

Exactly right. You’ve better expressed what I was trying to say: radicals are ultimately only useful as a memory aid. They help you remember the meaning or pronunciation of characters. WK forces you to prove you remember these aids (else they are truly pointless) but the specific word or idea they associate with each really doesn’t matter (and you can add your own associations on the first review).

It’s reasonable to mostly stick with WK’s associations for radicals, though: every subsequent mnemonic they give for kanji using that radical depends on that specific association. If you define your own, you’ll be forced to define your own mnemonic for all of the kanji that use that radical (not necessarily a bad thing).

IMO, that’s why WK forces you to review radicals (to the annoyance of so many on this forum). Some of the odder ones they provide are admittedly annoying (I can’t keep “black hole” and “death star” straight for some reason) but I learned to set aside my annoyance at missing review items long ago. I know that if I miss something enough times I’ll soon see it so often that I eventually recognize it instantly on sight, auto-magically. Trust the SRS!

In fact, I’ve developed a habit of typing “ge” if I can’t recall any item within five or ten seconds, radical, kanji, or vocabulary (why “ge” I can’t really say, but it’s never correct in either language!).

I think that’s an important lesson with any SRS: you must learn to shed your ego and quickly admit you don’t know an item. I suspect many “speedrunners” never experience the true power of this SRS. They get so hung up on “guru-ing” the new kanji at every level as quickly as possible that they feel they can’t afford a single mistake! By contrast, I’ve even intentionally entered “ge” even though I’m pretty sure I know the answer, simply because I think I need more reviews!

Re: your rules of thumb for 月:

There are several true linguists on this forum, and I’m in awe of their level of understanding and ability to express complex ideas. Using language to discuss incredibly nuanced details of a language tickles my appreciation of all things “meta.” But I lack the brain and the rigor to be an academic, so your “empirical statements” ring true to me. I suspect it’s like “rules” for transitive/intransitive pairs: there are so many exceptions it’s more like an occasionally accurate hint than a “rule”.

Lastly, regarding scripts:

I just installed the keisei userscript. It’s pretty awesome and I’m definitely keeping it, but I realized that the WK SRS auto-magically taught me many of these anyway. I already had しゃ、しょ、and ちょ in the same mental bucket, for instance, making recall easy, but と caught me by surprise:

One I really can’t live without is the 似合い visually similar kanji userscript, though.

The keisei script is great to help you guess the 音読み for related characters, but the niai script is fantastic when you keep missing a character and aren’t sure why. In my case it’s almost always because I’m confusing it with a visually similar character. Usually, both characters use a different radical, but sometimes my brain thinks two utterly unrelated characters are the same. This is where the script’s facility to let you add your own “visually similar” characters really shines. I’ve become utterly dependent on this script.

Anyway, I’m getting way off-topic, but this has been a fascinating thread.


Good afternoon,
I find it most interesting that you intentionally type an error to get the reviews! I will keep in mind to not pass too long on an item during reviews. I find myself taking too long on an item, and although I often find it’s meaning after thought process, It is loss of time, and when I get to level 20 I guess it will make reviews unnecessary long!

Although I do find it important to think a bit to remind myself, Koichi did say it help memorization, unless I speed run it, there’s no point in stressing too too much about missing items.

This is a very interesting thread, I love learning more about the language and sharing the knowledge.

Occasionally I’ll spend a moment longer than normal when I’m sure I know an item but just can’t seem to recall it. I do my reviews with my morning coffee, so I often pause for a sip or two. I’ve learned that if it takes me more time than that, then I don’t really know it yet. It’s best to just give up, knowing I’ll get more reviews.

You’re still early in your journey, so you don’t yet have many reviews each day. Soon enough you’ll find yourself doing 100 or more reviews every day if you stick with it (assuming a normal pace with lessons). Once you have a big pile of reviews every day it becomes easier to just move on quickly with an individual item instead of racking your brain for the correct answer.

For what it’s worth, my review sessions go like this (with a fresh cup of coffee):

Before actually starting the review, I spend ten minutes or so reviewing any kanji or radicals that are still in the Apprentice 1 stage (I use the wonderful Wanikani Item inspector userscript for this).

I like to get my review queue down to zero at least once every day. I find it uncomfortable to do so if I have many more than 150 or so items in my queue, so I do my lessons accordingly (rarely getting the lesson queue down to zero).

I don’t like spending more than an hour or so each morning on WK, so I can’t spend more than 20 seconds or so per item on average. That includes answering as well as reviewing the ones I get wrong. The items I know go quickly — just a few seconds teach – but I often spend several minutes reviewing whenever I miss an item. If I’ve just forgotten it or it’s still pretty new, I review my mnemonics and try to burn it into my memory.

If it seems to be a “leech” that keeps moving down to earlier stages because I never seem to get the right for several reviews in a row, I try to figure out why. Usually it’s because its visually similar to some other character and I keep confusing the two. If so, I take the time to highlight the difference in my mind and add a note to both items to shortcut the process next time.

Sometimes with newer items I realize my mnemonic just doesn’t work, so I try to come up with something better.

Other times I realize I tried to answer instantly but I just got it wrong, which tells me I should probably still be using mnemonics and haven’t really moved the item to my long term memory. So I review the mnemonics accordingly.

Finally, I do my lessons. If I’m still early in a level, I rarely add more than five new radicals or kanji. If I’ve been in the level for a while, and I’ve started seeing new vocabulary (which are generally easier) I might do ten or twenty, but I try not to have more than 100 or so items in the “Apprentice” bucket. It gets frustrating if you have too many new, unlearned items in your review pile.

This process has worked well for me and proved quite painless. I’m still astonished almost daily at just how magical and effortless this whole process has been. Learning has never been so easy!


I know everyone learn differently so this is just my own experience.

In the early stage of learning Japanese that I couldn’t read anything. I didn’t bother with trying to memorize the mnemonics. I felt like I’m trying to learn Japanese not memorize a children story inside Kanji. What I did I was breifly read the mnemonics and move on. If the Knaji still doesn’t stick in my head after a day or two. That’s the time I’m starting to bother with memorizing mnemonics.

The vocab I use mnemonics are the odd one like 栄光 光栄. I created whatever story that connect with my interest like series, dramas, or video games. In this case I went with Dark Souls.

The thing that really important for me is not mnemonics but the radicals. They help me regconize Kanji, distinguish the visually similar kanji and help me learn new kanji fasters. Radicle is also a crucial part in finding a kanji in a dictionary.

I’m not saying what you are doing is wrong or anything. I’m just sharing my own experience, which might not be your case. Good luck with your method. See you again at level 60 and lets celebrate our success together.


I make up my own mnemonics if I fail new lesson items multiple times/I get haunted by oldies that keep getting knocked back to apprentice.

Eventually my answers become reflex and my brain can focus on mnemoics for my current challenges.

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Good to read I’m not the only weirdo doing that purposely :slight_smile:

Hi Kimera,

I am a firm believer in the ‘power of the crowd:slight_smile:

I meant limitation as per :

  • number of kanjis I studied ‘deeply’ (*) so far. I’m around 10% versus my objective, so still lots to discover. Gathering others’ input on a larger span will probably speed up my awareness of those problems.
  • areas of difficulties : I may have problems on some areas, while it’s a no-brainer for other people. And vice-versa, others may have problems on something that I did not notice as a potential problem. So having the view of several people will help to identify the

(*) : by ‘deeply’ I mean learning more than the single WK kanji card, but rather a group of several items related to this kanji (ON and KUN readings, writing, a few vocabulary words, sometimes a 四字熟語 using this kanji, etc.)

Actually that’s kind of the idea, at some point I’d like to share back my system to the larger community, rather than just learning the language on my side :slight_smile:

That’s a nice one that will stick with me as well, tx for sharing :slight_smile:
What is great is that you actually created the mnemonics specifically to solve the issues of “じん vs にん”. At least that 's my assumption since you wrote “because you can’t drink gin”. Just curious as this one as been tricky for me : how do you solve the ‘rendaku’ ? Anything you added specifically in the mnemonics or else (rule of thumb, etc.) in order to remember it better ?

For some kanji the wanikani mnemonic makes no sense and is just a word salad, so I come up with my own. Usually, looking at the etymology of the kanji helps a lot. Also somehow coming up with a visual representation for the meaning that’s also visible in the kanji helps a lot. For readings, I usually come up with my own mnemonics because my native language isn’t english, but occasionally I use the wanikani ones too. Sometimes I just can’t remember the mnemonic and I just have to memorize the reading with brute force.


By missing the item about half the time! :slight_smile:

I’m serious! Let the SRS do it’s magic. Same with transitive/intransitive pairs (easier now that they’ve spaced these out intentionally).

If you miss the rendaku, take the time to “hear” the correct pronunciation in your mind’s ear, then move on.

Believe me, if you miss it enough times you’ll eventually see it so often that you’ll never miss it again.

Even works with leeches. Eventually you’ll get so sick of seeing that item that you’ll figure out why you’re missing it and really start focusing on getting it right. Eventually you’ll know it forever.

You’ll start to recognize which words are likely to get the rendaku, but I don’t think it’s worth trying to invent “rules” or tricks. Just trust the SRS.


I can very much second this. Maybe it’s even worth saying the word aloud a couple of times. Usually one of the pronunciations sounds “better” than the rest. Granted, rendaku’d H sounds can be tricky.

I’m afraid you need both: some kind of mnemonics and repetitions.
If you repeat your words often, they will stick for a while. But wait until you start burning them a couple of months later. Chances are, you forgot the word - and if you don’t have any kind of mnemonics to fall back on, you’re lost.

I experienced that when memorizing PIN codes for my banking cards: using the “major system” I associated the numbers with words that where easy to remember. After some time of regular use I knew the pin code and stopped using the associated words every time I used the card. End of story: after not using the card for a while, pin code AND the associated word where gone.

And: you need to detect your Kanji/Vocab in the wild on a regular basis.

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I’m answering several threads at the same time since it seems to be a best practice (I got an automatic message telling me so when trying to answer to each…)

First, thanks all for the detailed answers, it gives me lots of ideas !
I’ll just comment the various messages to keep the discussion rolling-on.

Great books indeed, and the more recent one “Moonwalking with Einstein” is also a good introduction to those Memory techniques.

This is where I am coming from actually :slight_smile: By adapting such techniques to the study of kanji, it is possible to considerable improve the current system proposed by WK. Eventually WK is a SRS with a content covering 2 dimensions (READING and MEANING). But there is much more left to cover for a kanji on top of reading & meaning…

The best summary ever :grinning:
Let’s be realistic : it is impossible to aim at something that would work ‘for everyone’, because we are all different. What is possible nevertheless, is to add more consistency and logic in order to create a system. The benefits of a more systematic approach being :

  • it allows to cover more than 2 dimensions
  • it makes the recalls much easier / faster

Yes, if there’s one thing where we can all agree on, it’s indeed that there’s no “single magic formula fitting everyone”. All one can do is discover what works best for him/herself, so basically test and adapt !

Yes indeed, creating decent mnemonics is time-consuming… In my case I spend between 30 minutes to 3 hours for each kanji to build my own mnemonics. Not saying 3 hours in a row, it’s actually spread over a few days or even weeks, after reviews or reading some info in various books / websites… or just randomly by running into something in real life that helps for the story I’m struggling with ! I guess ‘creativity’ is not something you can just command with a click :grimacing:

None of the WK members should ever use the adjective ‘lazy’ when referring to himself , we are all the opposite of lazy trying to learn Japanese :wink:
I personally never start by WK, but when I am stuck, I do have a look at various online sources (Koohii, KanjiDamage, WK, RTK, etc.) to search for inspiration.

A question for all : are you creating different stories for each vocabulary words using the same kanji ?
What I’m doing is actually creating a more complex story, about the kanji AND inserting some words using that kanji.
So going more ‘deeply’, learning more than the single WK kanji card, but rather a group of several items related to this kanji : ON and KUN readings, a few vocabulary words, sometimes a 四字熟語 using this kanji, etc.

Yes this is key, and indeed all memory athletes are using repetition to master their own system. The advantage of an initial strong mnemonics is probably that the ‘forgetting curve’ would be softer, but you’ll have to repeat the info anyway to make it stick to long-term memory. Using a SRS being a good way (but not the only one) to optimize the repetition interval.

I recognize this is the magic of WK (both its SRS + its content). You basically just have to sit and do your reviews ! It’s by far the best tool I’ve seen so far. Not perfect, but by following a routine (the one you described, or similar ones by others ), there’s no reason why one couldn’t reach level 60 eventually :grinning:

It’s great to make this conscious effort to analyze an error, because this is basically how we improve our brain. Was listening to an audiobook about that just a few days ago (Mathematical Mindset, by Jo Boaler). Can’t recommend it enough as a parent with young children !


Yes, I usually go about it the other way round as well and that’s why for me the “kanji-only” stage of each level is the most troublesome. I usually try to incorporate into the learning process words which use a given kanji to nail down the sentiment behind a kanji, rather than its literal word-to-word translation/meaning, because long-term that’s not very relevant I think. Depending on how much effort I want to put into a kanji I would distinguish between:
0 (no effort) - 3-5 reps of a kanji with maybe 2 short breaks in-between (long enough to focus on something else and get distracted from the process of actively learning a kanji)
5 (extra effort) - put additional words using the kanji with the reading I’m struggling with into my Anki decks
10 (lotsa effort) - try to incorporate the kanji into an already established phonetic net of other kanji, with extra focus for reinforcement, etc.

I don’t ever, however, create stories for vocab items. These I usually figure out from the kanji and only some oddballs require extra mental leg work :slight_smile: .


What a terrific response! Thanks for taking the time.

Oh yeah, that sounds familiar. (laugh)

The last several review sessions on a level are by far the most fun: you only get vocabulary lessons and most of the kanji have already started to sink in. Conversely, I sorta dread the first few days of a new level knowing I’ve got a week or so of unfamiliar “pink” to deal with.

I have an advantage over many here in that I’ve been speaking Japanese for decades (albeit poorly). I already had a reasonably broad vocabulary. Trust me: learning the kanji in vocabulary words I already “knew” noticeably improves my conversational Japanese.

Like you, I also don’t usually bother with mnemonics for vocabulary (often not even bothering to read the provided ones). Maybe 60% to 80% of the time I already know the word. The kanji in the others usually give me enough of a hint regarding the meaning, so the main things to memorize are pronunciation, rendaku, and transitive/intransitive pairs. As we’ve already discussed I mostly just rely on repetition for those and don’t worry about mnemonics unless I run across something particularly intransigent (usually a leech).

For radicals and kanji, though, I mostly depend on the provided mnemonics for the first few reviews.

One thing that used to bug me frequently was when I mistakenly filed a character into a subtly incorrect mental filing bin. Fairly often I’d come across a kanji (or even vocabulary) that I didn’t realize was for a word I already “knew.” Instead of filing it away with the word/concept I already knew, I’d create a new mental entry. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that the verb 存じる (ぞんじる — to know) was the same root of the polite phrase “ご存知ですか?” (“Do you know …?” or “Are you familiar with …”?).

Similar things happened when I got the nuance wrong (e.g. a thing’s “use”/utility is very different than “use” as a verb, and Japanese has several different words in each category).

The new “context” section, giving you a preview of upcoming vocabulary has been amazingly helpful with this. I’m so happy that the pedagogical geniuses of WK added this!


Hahahaha, very relatable!

Oh yes, I very often have this problem when I first learn a kanji through multiple vocab items I put into my Anki sets and then later it appears on WaniKani and it takes me an embarrassingly long while to realize I actually already “know” this kanji. That’s not always the case, but often enough.

Funny that you mention 存じる - for me this one and 存在 that came up in anime recently (which obviously appeared on WaniKani ages before, but I failed to make the connection :man_facepalming: ) helped me to distinguish 存 from 在. 存じる with ご存知ですか I somehow connected, because the core phonetics overlap, but it’s enough for a word to be pronounced slightly differently in a show, news report or a song and I’m helpless :sweat_smile: .

Oh yes, this is especially tricky. I’m just now slowly learning the various nuances of the “life” words (生活、命、人生, etc.), but today for instance I was doing some research on “manufacturing” and realized I don’t understand the nuance between the various terms. Here’s the article by the way: 「生産」「製造」「製作」の違い - 社会人の教科書