Please help me understand the point of learning some of those readings

Okay so I’m brand new to this. Couple weeks in, I’m on LvL3, doing the reviews and new lessons is becoming a habit cause honestly it’s kinda fun. But this one thing keeps making me wonder.

Right so after diligently doing the radicals it gives me the lesson for the kanji 方 right. And I’m like ah yea that means “way” or “method” as did the radical, and I was thinking you read that “かた” right, I remember doing my “katas” when I did Karate at age 10 or whatever. But no, the reading it wants me to remember is “ほう”. So alright sure I get there’s multiple readings and then I guess that’s probably the most important one, because that’s how it’s supposed to work right, WaniKani teaches me the most important one as “the reading” (and outliers as they come up in extra vocabulary).

But then you look at the vocabulary examples and literally all of use the かた reading. Whether it’s the kanji on it’s own or in compound with others, all of them it’s always かた.

Right and this is just one example. I’ve had this a couple of times now where it’s like, why does it make me learn the reading that’s explicitly not the one that any of the example vocabulary uses? Can anyone help me wrap my head around this? Cause like when there’s only one reading that you ever actually use, just give me that one from the get go? Or is it like, you just need both but one’s way more rare so they give you the hardly used one from the start just so that you’ve at least heard it in passing? Or is it like, they just choose the example vocabulary poorly and there’s just way more using the other reading but it just so happens they don’t show you those? It just kind of confuses me.

Aye thanks


Most kanji have at least two readings: The on’yomi reading (the Chinese reading) and the kun’yomi (the Japanese one). It’s important that you learn both of them, because in many cases, both are being used in vocab. For example, ほう is the on’yomi reading and かた is the kun’yomi reading of 方. They are both being used in vocab, for example, 仕方(しかた) uses the kun’yomi, and 両方(りょうほう) the on’yomi.

Perhaps you might find this article helpful: Onyomi vs. Kunyomi: What's the Difference?


You will use both. You’ll learn 方言 and 方向 and 東方 in level 6. The fact that WK teaches you ほう as the primary and then doesnt reinforce it for 3 levels seems like it might have been a content movement mistake. Might be worth letting the @Mods know


Also 方 as a word on its own should be read either かた or ほう depending on context. WK seems to treat this as as single vocab item with two readings, although personally I think of it as two different words which happen to be written with the same kanji.


The vocabulary list shown when you first learn the word isn’t exhaustive. When you search on the website, you’ll find many words that use the ほう reading, such as 方向, 両方, 方言 and 方法.

That being said, there is an argument to be made that the vocabulary entries should actually over-represent alternative readings.
Very often, the reading you first learn will be the one most useful for guessing the reading of a word you don’t know (which, most of the time, will be the on’yomi).
Other readings are usually best to learn in context, which usually means teaching them through vocabulary.

For example, there are way manh more words that use 生 with the reading せい than the ones that are taught on WaniKani. However, as far as learning kanji is concerned, you really don’t need to learn all of them; once you know the rule, and you know a few examples, that’s going to be your go-to guess when you spot it kn the wild. Better then to use the vocabulary entries to help you to recognize the exceptions.


So I just looked through the first 3 levels and you’re right this does happen a lot. Here are all of them:


I’m realizing going through these that the reason for this is probably that you just don’t know enough kanji yet. しゅつ is a very standard way to read 出, but only in conjunction with other kanji. So you need to get to other kanji that can pair with 出 before you can start using it.

Seems like its worth the debate though of which reading should be being taught at this level. Once you have enough kanji in your belt, this sort of thing becomes much less frequent. So learning the on’yomi first and getting reinforced immediately will be the norm. Should WK teach you the reading you are more likely to use first even if they can’t reinforce it yet? Or should they teach you the reading they can reinforce now and teach you the readings you need later? Interesting question I think.

Btw 午 is special because it doesnt even teach you any vocab at all until level 6. Maybe that shouldnt be there? ¯_(ツ)_/¯


I just feel like it’s weirdly discouraging if there’s a kanji you recognize from some piece of vocab you learned elsewhere so when you see it in WaniKani you think “aw yeah I know that one! it reads as X!” But then they hit you with the SIKE you actually ought to learn to read it as Y first.

So then when it comes up in reviews every single time without fail I will out of spite put in the other reading in anticipation of the “That’s possible, but we want the other reading.” message. Up yours I’m skipping ahead here.

So yeah I’m no language learning expert but I feel like it just makes way more sense to give you the readings you are more likely to encounter in beginner level vocabulary as well. Irregardless of whether that’s on’yomi or kun’yomi. Like if I have the textbook tell me cow means うし or 牛 but then WaniKani goes "this is the cow kanji and you say “ぎゅう”. I don’t know it just feels kinda bad. Or come on how can you sit there with a straight face and give me the blade kanji and go とう before you give me かたな like come on.

At the end of the day I understand that all of these are used and I need to wrap my head around all of them anyway. And it’s not a huge thing or anything. It’s just weird because it makes me sit there and kinda stress because it’s almost like I’m afraid I’ll lose what little recognition I had beforehand if it actively asks me to put in readings that don’t conform to what I’ve learned elsewhere you know.

I do largely agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but with a lot of the examples you’re giving here, and this is common with very early kanji in particular, Wanikani is definitely not wrong to give you those readings and definitions for the kanji. Because those are kanji and not vocabulary.

The deeper purple is when it’s vocabulary, and in that case, the characters alone will be うし and かたな, since those are words on their own. In the case of kanji that becomes part of larger words though, ぎゅう and とう are absolutely the correct readings that will aid in future readings of the language at large.

I do think Wanikani can be unclear at times since they don’t teach all the readings for a lot of characters. And they also tend to lack in standard definitions in a lot of fields.You can and will be marked wrong for knowing too much at times because of that. Some of that is also because English and Japanese is just not all that compatible at the end of the day and you’ll always have weirdness there.

Part of the issue here is that Wanikani is a kanji learning tool. Not a language learning one. The vocabulary is only there to strengthen the understanding of kanji, not to teach you the language wholly. At best, this site is supplementary on top of other forms of learning. Not the whole cow.

Not to dismiss your complaints, I really struggled with this too. Especially early on. There are still situations where I do, but I better understand where a lot of the choices are coming from now and can be a bit more okay with them. Radicals and their “funny” readings though, especially when those are also just kanji, that I have a very strong issue with.


Right I get that. And it makes sense just you know it’s like, at the bottom of my heart I guess I don’t care about learning kanji so much as learning to be able to parse vocabulary that uses the kanji I guess. If there was something like a mode where it only gave you the blue and purple ones I think I’d be using that to be honest.


The blue ones are filled with meme definitions and don’t teach you a whole lot outside of shape familiarity. You do not want those.

Hey whipmywillows! I will bring your suggestion to the content team, but I don’t think this is entirely atypical within WaniKani to present vocabulary a few levels down the line after the kanji is introduced. In any case, I will double check!

Thanks for the ping! :ping_pong:

-Nick at WK

In theory since 力 is level 1 you could use 出力 as a vocab item for that as soon as 出 is introduced; but then you run into the other problem, which is how much not-very-common vocab do you want at low levels for the sake of reinforcing a reading? I suppose it would fit with the existing 入力 at level 2…

You know what I had something similar happen to me recently. I got to 遊 in my lessons which is used in あそぶ “to play”. Verb comes up a lot so I already know it pretty well, so あそ is always going to be what comes to my mind first as the reading. But WK makes me learn ゆうas the primary reading.

I see that as a good thing. The idea that primary meanings are “the most common reading” is a bit overstated. In my mind a good primary meaning is “the most useful reading”. あそ or a variation is gonna be the most common way to read that kanji but it’s always going to be some variation of one word 遊ぶ. That word can be taught in one card. But if I run into one of the hundreds of other words that use that kanji, knowing ゆう as the reading is whats going to help me the most.

I think right now WK wants to maximize useful information. So they teach you the common on’yomi in the kanji card and the common kun’yomi in the vocab cards. It would be nice for them to be reinforcing the on’yomi as well right now but there’s only so much you can do.


Right some of them are ridiculous eh like I’m pretty sure the three lines one is not actually a triceratops. But when it made me think of 上 and 下 not just as weird lines but something above and below a line representing the ground that kinda clicked for me like yeah that makes sense. Might be something along the lines of what these actually represent and how they were conceived you know.

But yeah I guess it’s case by case. Like for 内 the explanation is something like hey it’s the radical for “person” inside the radical for “head” so think of a dude living inside your head. When it’s like, it’s perfectly recognizable as a person being inside of something as-is so why complicate it needlessly by making me learn the “head” bit to begin with

But then again. I guess it’s silly enough to make me remember it so apparently it worked


Henshall’s A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters says they were originally a small horizontal line above/below a large horizontal line, representing “area above/below a line”; the vertical strokes were added later for clarity.

This one was apparently originally 入 rather than 人 to give the “inside” meaning from “enter into a dwelling”.


They should hire you to write the texts. :smiley:

I feel like I’d much rather know “what’s this actually supposed to mean” rather than like, “doesn’t this kinda look like spongebob?”

Because whenever I gather the quote unquote “actual” meaning I can’t help but feel like they do a better job of making you remember them than any given fantasy mnemonic. I mean often enough they align I guess, but couldn’t they just always do that

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If you’re interested in that, then the updated version of Henshall’s book is The Complete Guide to Japanese Kanji by Seeley, Henshall and Fan. My understanding is that the etymologies in it are generally well sourced (though the serious scholar will probably prefer a Japanese language book at some point). Personally I found them interesting but it also became clear to me that etymology is often of no use for remembering today’s kanji – there are too often changes of how something has been written, confusion of meanings, borrowing of a character to use for some entirely unrelated purpose, and so on. As one example, if you remember 内 as “inside a dwelling” then you’ll be writing it wrong, because the modern character uses 人, not 入, even though that’s what the original shape and meaning were.


I personally used to follow this philosophy, but in my experience, it is incredibly inefficient; etymologies are very often just best guesses anyway, and since about 90% of kanji are phono-semantic compounds – often based on how they were pronounced in Ancient, Old or Middle Chinese – they can be quite unhelpful when learning Japanese.

Coming from a math and physics background, I used to think of mnemonics as a crutch that might make it easier to pass an exam, but ultimately make it difficult to build a more general understanding.
I rather distinctly remember two events that helped change my mind:

  1. Listening to the Tofugu podcast episode about keyword mnemonics, they mentioned one thing in particular: Mnemonics aren’t meant to be a permanent solution; they’re a tool used to make it easier for your brain to go from point A to point B, until it gets so used to it that it can skip the intermediate step.

  2. Looking up just how many kanji WaniKani teaches, and thinking to myself “Hey, if it can get me that far, perhaps it’s fine if my knowledge doesn’t ‘generalize’ well.”

That being said, if you find etymology interesting, I absolutely would encourage you to keep looking into it; I can second @pm215’s recommendation of The Complete Guide to Japanese Kanji, and it’s worth noting that Wiktionary has pretty decent coverage as well (usually under the “Glyph origin” section for the traditional Chinese version of each character).

There are even a handful of etymologies that I think work excellently as mnemonics, and some phonetic components that are so consistent that it feels silly that WaniKani doesn’t mention them (unless you use the user-made Keisei script).
In those events, it’s perfectly fine to use those as your personal mnemonic; the WaniKani mnemonics are created to be consistent and understandable to a wide audience, but they are not necessarily the best mnemonics for any particular individual.


It’s my feeling, but I feel 牛 is actually “ぎゅう”, but “cow” is the most common meaning.

However, :cow: is an うし, but 牛 is the most commonly “replaced” Kanji.

Or to say,

To play is あそb, but 遊b is the most commonly replaced Kanji, keeping trailing Kana’s just enough to permit conjugations (of 遊ぶ).

But see and read 遊, it’s actually ゆう, having “playing something” as the most common meaning. (Even saying this, “traveling” is another common meaning.)

Whether ほう or かた is a little more complex, as it can be read both ways alone. (I am leaning towards ほう, though.)

Even in the context sentences of 方 vocabulary, they have only one specific reading to each!!

Maybe Wiktionary can help, though sometimes you might need to click around a little.

But yeah, etymology can be obscured. Radical components can replaced or simplified.

Similarly, Kanji can be replaced, or just used for sound, making it having barely any meaning sense for the actual vocabulary.

Actually, being obscured sometimes is an argument towards “just remember”, rather than making a full sense of the Kanji and words.


Honestly, when it comes to cases like 方 where there are two extremely common readings, I think I definitely would prefer learning the on’yomi reading as my primary association with the kanji in most cases, even if that would mean waiting to learn more kanji that can be used alongside it like whipmywillows pointed out earlier.

I understand WK’s reasoning for teaching the kun’yomi reading as the primary reading for kanji where the on’yomi reading is significantly rarer (like 猫), but I feel like I’m more likely to need to look up unknown jukugo than single-kanji words or words with okurigana, so being able to immediately intuit the reading and quickly type them is a nice skill to have, and generally the reading you’ll want is the on’yomi reading in those cases.

I feel like it’s one of those things that’s frustrating as a beginner, but it’ll greatly pay off over time, especially since it’ll help you get a sense for semantic-phonetic composition of other characters later on.