Mnemonics, really?

I too had this problem and it’s been related to the fact that I was actually a faster learner than the mnemonics would allow. I would be setting myself up memorising the story, but this was useless because if I just associated the kanji with the sound straight off, I would always remember it. Some people can do that and don’t require a story. If that’s the case for you then just relax and enjoy, and don’t put the artificial barrier of mnemonics between you and learning the kanji.

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PS - you don’t have an extremely bad memory. You learnt 1800 meanings of what are to most people, convoluted, indistinguishable squiggles. That’s bloody amazing. I reckon you have an extremely good memory.
If you want to have a go at WK you might find that the SRS makes you recall them faster. Because it quickly gets rid of the ones you know, and keeps annoying you with the ones you forget, until your brain gets them right to spite itself. And with repeated exposure to them from the real world too… that’s how memories get useful in our heads. from being connected to each other.


Two years of work? If you only ever spent these two years only working then of course you won’t feel like you absorbed kanji naturally. Only after reading a lot you’ll see actual results. Mnemonics/WK help here, when you start to read. They’re the shortcut. You’ll have to read lots to actually transform the gains to something concrete.


I can only speak from my own experience, but for me the mnemonics do fade. This eventually will go a step further where your brain will start recognising whole words rather than individual kanji. But the most important catalyst for this is reading . A lot. Often. Every day if you can.

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Yes, you can’t recognize kanji instantly, but you can recognize them. Instant recognition would come from reading a lot. And yes, at first it would mean spending 30 seconds per kanji. It might seem like a waste of time, but if you keep doing it, you would notice that for many kanji this time would get shorter and shorter, until you get to full recognition.
In other words, I think you did nothing wrong, its just that now you need to do more reading.

Anyway, best of luck to you!

What are you talking about? Your way of learning and recalling kanji was incredibly inefficient if you spent 30 second on each kanji. You don’t think about the mnemonics about every kanji once you see them, you only use the mnemonics if you can’t recall the kanji. But once you’ve seen it with SRS a couple of times you don’t think about the mnemonics you just know what the kanji means instantly. 80% of the kanji I get through my reviews are not something I even think about, I just see them and instantly know what they mean.

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The problem is that mnemonics just act as an initial crutch in learning characters.
I’m currently learning mandarin through 1 program ( simultaneously with Japanese) and in that one method, they heavily utilize sophisticated mnemonics where you create movies scenes with radicals in order to remember meaning and tone.

One common question that people always ask- should I always remember mnemonics or scenes.- If you can instantly recognize the character no. And the way you get used to recalling characters unconsciously is by seeing them in context a lot= reading. Mnemonics only help with that intital start in reading and recalling character, if you never practice reading and just study kanji/hanzi out of context- eventually you will forget them.

Don’t worry.

At the end of Japanese high school you know about 1800 Kanjis, as a native.

Do you still remember the meaning of the Kanjis after five years? You did not clarify that.

Anyway, eg it took me about five years of learning Japanese and living in Japan, married to a Japanese to be able to speak, not fluently, but to be able to say something like 行きたくなかたら行かなくてもいいよ。The whole sentence structure and rhythm is just so alien to a German native, like a tongue- twister.

Everything you have learned is somewhere in your brain and at some point the connections work better and you are able to use that information you have stored.

For some strange reason, often before there is a step up it feels like everything gets worse but it doesn’t. This feeling of having forgotten everything is somehow always happening before a step up, and in my impression, also watching my kids grow up, mastering a new skill is in no way linear, but always goes in the same pattern:

Learning a lot, a period where nothing seems to improve, frustration, a crisis where everything seems to be forgotten and a sudden step up.


Strange thing is, I remember most of the Kanjis really quickly without mnemonics, but I cannot write them. In order to be able to write, I need mnemonics, and it works really well so far.

I am not sure if it is a good idea to learn different mnemonics for all these Kanjis. This could be really confusing.


I can’t imagine the pain of just basing your learning through mnemonics alone. Based on what you said, you may have missed out on the “application” part of your learning if recalling meanings/readings take too much time, so doing other stuff instead of kanji alone may help (listening is fun). But that’s just my two cents.

I see brutally honest comments already, but I hope to hear more of your progress from you here!
:sweat_smile: WK has helped me read news articles already even as a slow learner!

Edit: Welcome to the community!


yh in terms of writing/recalling self made mnemonics are great. sadly my writing is so bad that in the last 8 years iv used a pen only once- not many opportunities to practice that skill. Even my teachers always asked me to bring printed pdf files of my homework.

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I thought my writing is bad for the last couple of years, but now I just decided to be able to write the Jouyou Kanjis and after only one month of training it is much better. No anxiety left. In the end it seems it is just necessary to decide to being able to write.


The real question is “How could you learn Kanji for two years but never actually use them?” :thinking:


A lot of replies mention reading (which I agree with 100%).

Many replies hint that spending two years learning kanji without getting into reading shows a lack of direction in learning Japanese.

Following these, I recommend reading through the Refold web site. (It’s for language learning in general, so it doesn’t go into anything Japanese-specific.)

Start by reading through their Simple Guide for Stage 0, Stage 1, and Stage 2A. You can go back and read the Detailed Guide for those stages later, and you can save reading 2B and beyond for when you’ve reached Stage 2A in learning Japanese.

How well you do in reading will be directly related to how much grammar you’ve learned. I think the Refold method is geared more to jumping into reading, and looking things up as you go. (This is essentially what I did for learning grammar, alongside watching Cure Dolly’s videos on youTube.)

To help ease yourself into reading, I highly recommend joining the Absolute Beginner Book Club here on the forums. We’re starting a new manga in a couple of weeks, which you can buy digital.

Once you get to know the basics of Japanese grammar, reading should become quite a bit easier. However, you’ll want to learn the readings for kanji rather than just knowing the meanings. You can subscribe to WaniKani to start learning them, and see whether than will work for you. Or, you can start putting together a vocabulary deck in Anki to start learning the readings.

If you’ve never watched anything in Japanese, you should start doing so, so you can get used to how the language sounds. If you’ve already watched shows in Japanese quite a bit, you’re good here.

If you start reading soon, learn grammar as you go, and keep at reading every day, you will see improvements including in kanji recognition. The brain is a pattern recognition machine, and you’ll start recognizing kanji that comes up again and again, and in what kind of contexts it appears.

Reading will be slow at first (could take an hour to get through a few manga panels, including time to learn the grammar used). But if you read daily, then after a year you will see substantial progress. (Many first-time readers see amazing progress by the end of their first book club manga volume read.)


The more things you can associate with the word, the more connections are made in the brain to help you get to that word faster. If you were only using RTK, you pretty much only have the mnemonics to get you to the word, which is why you were only getting that word to come up through them. In wanikani, you have the mnemonic, the word meaning, several readings, vocabulary that use the kanji, example sentences and the audio recordings that all get associated with that meaning in the brain giving you more material for your brain to trace back to that word meaning. Reading is also important as it gives your brain more material to associate with the kanji and vocabulary you learn.

If you use all tools wanikani offers you in lessons, I don’t think you will have the same issues you had with rtk.


Lots of comments on this thread so I’ll keep it short, but as someone who got into using mnemonics years ago for memory competitions… they’re used for short term memorization and potential long term recall. The idea when applied to actually learning things is to treat the mnemonics as a middle man, and nothing more. When you see the kanji 火 and the associated image is a car on fire, you shouldn’t keep this in your mind for the rest of your life.

At the start it’s “火 → car on fire → [fire]” (where [word] is meaning of “word”). When you see it enough, you want to habitually get rid of the mnemonic. They aren’t meant to be held on to, but as time goes on your memory will lose the meaning of things so they’re helpful to remember, but you won’t need to if you read and listen to material enough. As you expose yourself to more and more material, the common kanji will become “instantaneous” and the mnemonics secondary.


Wow so many replies in such a short time. Wanikani seems to have such a vibrant and helpful community ! Thank you for taking the time to write all this. I’ve been reading all the replies with great interest.

Just to clarify how I proceeded to learn the kanji. I used the website which is very much like Wanikani except that it’s based on Heisig and only teaches the meanings. It has a built-in SRS system which I used daily to train the kanji.

Perhaps the problem I have with SRS is, it presents you with a kanji just when you’re on the verge of forgetting it. That’s the basic idea of an SRS : to present you with as few reviews as possible so that an item stays in memory. But personally, when I’m on the verge of forgetting a kanji, I have to rely on the mnemonics because that’s what my brain uses as a last resort. So the SRS I used trained the mnemonics, never instantaneous recall of the most frequent kanji. Perhaps that’s where reading actual Japanese helps, as many replies pointed out.


This right here is why I think mnemonics are BS. Takes more time and effort to learn a stupid story in order to then remember the kanji/word/etc than just remembering the word simply by looking at it.

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TBH I am really pissed with this one 抜ける

This one is to be extracted. You’re not doing the extracting. Why? Because you really don’t care (ける).

oh, come on!

it breaks all the other menonics when there is a ける, usually it meant you care so you do the action, but not this one.

it will be my eternal leech I see.