Radical names conflicting with real radical meanings

Yesterday in my japanese class somebody told me that the meaning of a kanji I didn’t know had something to do with HAND, and it was pretty cool to understand the meaning of it by its parts.

Then I remembered that I studied that radical in WK and it meant “NAILBAT” (line with a two lines crossing turns out it’s HAND kanji reduced).
Just like Water and Tsunami (at least they are related).

I was thinking why they used “nailbat” instead of little hand or something related… hopefully they don’t change too much important radical meanings. plan related (flower) and water related (tsunami) are decent… but I fear something else coming which confuses me.

What do you think?


WaniKani’s radicals are purely there for them to create mnemonics in order to learn kanji better. They have little to no correlation to official kanji radicals or radicals used anywhere else. It may seem annoying but this way they can really come up with creative mnemonics which may not be as helpful without.


I’m JUST starting here now after learning very basic japanese many years ago and never believing it was worth the trouble to learn kanji. After 7 trips to Japan I’ve changed my mind!

My question/observation relates to the original post. In my very first lesson on radicals I’m shown ENCLOSURE, and yet no kana is provided to know what it means in Japanese. Is this normal? I’m confused… is it that this radical actually never stands alone, so doesn’t have a Japanese meaning/spelling for me to learn?

I’m currently using/trying several apps on my iPhone that didn’t exist “back in the day” when I learned watching a course on PBS and following along with the textbook. Interactive learning on my device (which I carry everywhere) is a game changer, but I want to be sure that I don’t waste my time learning things I don’t need or in the wrong order. Which is why I’m at Wanikani.

Your comments and advice would be appreciated! Also, please let me know if you think I should post this as a thread, to get input from others on approaches to learning, especially since I’m an adult in Canada and not a student in school or an expat living in Japan.

Thanks in advance! Cheers!

The radicals only have made-up names created by the creators of this site, they don’t hold any actual meaning besides helping you learn kanji, so they don’t have any Japanese readings

The purpose of the radicals is to act as building blocks for the kanji you will learn once “guru-ing” the radicals, and each radical will contribute to the mnemonic that helps you learn the meaning of the kanji

For example:

In level 1, you learn the radical “丶” which is given the name “drop”

Then, in level 2, you learn the radical “王” which is given the name “king”

Once you guru these two items (which basically means you get their review correct 4 times in a row), you unlock the kanji that they’re in: 玉 = “ball” – and then the site uses the meanings of “丶” (drop) and “王” (ball) in a mnemonic to help teach you the meaning of the kanji

TL;DR: You only learn the Japanese readings for kanji and vocab because radicals are technically made-up building blocks for mnemonics that help teach you the meanings of the kanji that they appear in

Also, I recommend you read through the FAQ and Guide, those will be helpful in explaining the mechanics of this site and what to expect :slightly_smiling_face:


At the risk of creating confusion, that’s not entirely correct. The radicals are all based on kanji, which do have meanings, and frequently that meaning influences the meaning of the kanji they’re used in. As darkgaze commented, the “nailbat” radical is a modified form of “hand”, and kanji with that radical requently have meanings (or obvious mnemonics) which involve hands. Similarly, the radical “fish tail” is a modified version of the “fire” radical, and kanji with that radical frequently have meanings related to heat.

Then there’s the radicals which tend to lead their readings to characters, like the way characters that include the “construction” radical frequently have こう as on’yomi, while characters that have the “sunflower” radical frequently have り as on’yomi.

I just feel like the radicals have so much more to offer the learner than just “made-up names to influence mnemonics”…


I’m not belittling their usefulness by any means, there’s definitely reasoning behind the naming of the radicals, all I was saying is that they’re created for the purpose of learning the kanji and were made up by the creators for that exact reason, which is why they don’t have Japanese readings

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In that case, why did they use nailbat instead of hand? it’s plausible to find a good mnemonic that uses hand.

In fact, why Tsunami if it’s just water? … oh well. Just to confuse us. I wish the mnemonic was related to the real kanji when they are also kanjis… I ended up adding the meaning of the kanjis on the radicals, or I keep saying them wrong.

for me, that’s a really bad decision and we sadly have to stick with it…


Well, I’d definitely find a mnemonic involving a ‘tsunami’ more memorable than one which just uses ‘water’. The radicals on WK are designed to allow them to create good mnemonics.

Sometimes the decision is a bit questionable, but in those cases I just add a synonym. In the case of ‘tsunami’, it still makes me think of water, so I don’t think it’s problematic that I associate that radical with ‘tsunami’ specifically.

I flamed out on WaniKani the first time I tried it at about level 7. It just wasn’t working for me and I had a 40% review rate and it sucked.

I tried it again this time two years later and took the stance that I would simply ignore all the radicals and mnemonics. Instead I’d try to build relationships between the characters. Wow, what a difference. Suddenly I’m enjoying it and my review rate is 90%. The change is incredible. Instead of wasting time trying to remember a story about charlie sheen when the word itself has nothing to do with that guy, I say:-

‘Is this Kanji related to any other Kanji I’ve learned?’ For example, so many travelling kanji have the ‘road’ radical. Called ‘water slide’ by WaniKani. So many touch/manual kanji have the ‘hand’ radical. Called ‘nailbat’ by WaniKani. Knowing what the radical really means allows me to build up relationships between the Kanji. It’s a natural clue, and WaniKani does you a disservice by obfuscating that clue.

The second part is the phonetic-semantic script. Instead of just trying to remember the reading, I say ‘does a radical give the reading away’ and it makes things so much easier to remember.

WaniKani is an awesome website, an incredible learning tool. The SRS system is perfectly implemented, and kanji leading naturally into vocab is brilliantly done. But the system of radicals and mnemonics hurt way more than they help, imo.


Hmm, I do agree that it’s often a shame that you lose that kind of information (e.g. that kanji involving the ‘road’ radical often involve travelling), but I’m just not convinced that that kind of information from the radicals takes it far enough for me.

I would need way more in order to be able to distinguish between individual kanji.

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To me it’s definitely helping me out a lot, not in memorizing the kanji themselves, but in distinguishing between similar ones.

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I’m not sure I understand? Are you saying that that kind of detailed extra information helps you to distinguish between kanji? If so, I completely agree. I meant to express that just relying on “this kanji has a road radical so is probably to do with travel” alone, without the WK radical/mnemonic system, would not be enough for me.


Yeah, I meant exactly what you said :slight_smile: Implying that knowing x kanji is related to water might not help 100%. Sure. However, that information is still very valuable in terms of not mixing similar kanji. By calling it tsunami, you’re not really allowing this to happen. My 2c though :slight_smile:


Haha, cool :slight_smile:

I don’t think that giving it the name ‘tsunami’ is problematic though (I mean, that word is intrinsically associated with water). For me, it’s a deeper problem: WK erases all sense of the radicals having actual meaning within the kanji. Regardless of what you call the tsunami/water radical, if you don’t know that it has actual relevance to the meaning of the kanji, that information cannot help you.

I’d love it if they or a script could incorporate that information into lessons about radicals where that is the case.


Also, OP, there are quite a few instances where the radical has a fairly abstract meaning, so you’ll often see those get a different name because it’s hard to incorporate an abstract concept into a mnemonic.

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Yeah, you’re right about this. I think the key idea is that knowing there’s a pattern connected to the meaning will help you then make those distinctions.

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Personally I like to look at the WK radical then check if it’s a kanji in its own right and add that meaning. I then add any other meaning I find from the “official” list of radicals or in the Kanji Learner’s Course book from a kanji where the radical is in use. When I come to learning a kanji with it in I settle on one of the meanings (usually KLC’s).


I just came across 未 as both the kanji and the radical in the same review, and I honestly had to stop and try to remember what on earth Koichi had named the radical. Nothing about it suggests a jet to me anyway - it’s clearly a tree with an extra branch. Which… doesn’t really lend itself well to any kind of mnemonic, but you get my point.

Yeah, I frequently do that too. Like, for 幺, I refuse to type “poop” over and over again because Koichi finds it amusing. “Short thread” is its official name - takes more letters, and breaks all the mnemonics, but it also doesn’t leave me feeling like I need a shower afterwards.


It’s worth noting that a few of WK’s radicals are completely made up, in that they had to make a picture to display because it wasn’t part of a pre-existing font set in Japanese (ie: saw). Any of the radicals that takes a bit longer to load, or may sometimes appear as a box (known bug), are these such radicals completely made up by WK staff to further break down kanji to make it easier for us to recognize parts and learn.

EDIT: Also, Kristen has mentioned overhauls to this coming in the future before… Part of something going along with huge mnemonic rewrites… A big undertaking when you consider there are over 8000 items on WK.


Aye, I know. And I’ve noticed the page loading an image now and again.

Koichi has always loved his made-up radicals…