Rendaku: mnemonics or techniques for exceptions


When choosing how to read a compound word, there’s the decision of what reading each character gets (usually on, sometimes kun, and sometimes which on or kun to use). After that, there’s the decision of whether rendaku applies. That is, there’s 1 bit of information: does it rendaku, yes/no?

I have read Tofugu’s article, studied Lyman’s Law. I am familiar with many always-rendaku and never-rendaku words, searched these community pages and read through many discussions. These give nice heuristics, but at the end of the day it comes down to exposure or rote memorization.


I’m interested if others have attempted to deploy any mnemonic-like techniques on a case-by-case basis for rendaku. That is, for words where it is not obvious from above listed heuristics and prior exposure.

For example, if using a memory palace-like technique, one could think of the words as occupying some specific spacial relation to oneself (e.g. rendaku exceptions are always behind me, or to my left). Or, one could use a temporal relation (e.g. the exceptions are associated with feudal Japan in my mind, or the distant future). Or, one could even ascribe a consistent categorization such as a color or image or association with a person or object.

Has anyone done anything beyond exposure, rote memorization, and heuristics?

Oddly, after seeing it so many times, I tend to be able to guess when it is going to rendaku. I’m about 90% accurate, but I figure that’s pretty good. So, maybe, the more time you give it the more often you can guess correctly at it.

Or, one could even ascribe a consistent categorization such as a color or image or association with a person or object.

I’ve never tried it with rendaku, but in other contexts I’ve done something similar: each class of irregular verb got a particular person associated with it and I came up with a funny story / visualization involving the person performing the action. It worked out surprisingly well.

You could do something similar for rendaku - pick out a few people, one associated with each form of rendaku (either just present/absent or dakuon/handakuon distinctions as well), and incorporate them into your memory story. It helps if the people involved are counterparts in some way (at different times I’ve used the members of a relatively well known manzai duo, the Marx brothers and the members of Monty Python for different purposes). If you try it, report back and let us know how it goes - I’m not there with Japanese yet, but I expect I will get to suffer through / enjoy it soon enough…

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