Struggling with Mnemonics

Hello all,

I’m just starting out with WaniKani on my first few Kanji lessons and I’m running into a bit of an issue. I’m currently suffering from some probably pretty serious depression so motivation and emotion I do not have in spades. As a result, I need to avoid burnout at all costs.

I’m a programmer and perhaps, as a result, my ability to quickly learn vocabulary (like in HS) was quite good (unlike my spelling). Unfortunately, I think I am simply good at rote memorization of basic associations like one word to a synonym or the methods in a class. As a result, I think I was able to get down to under 5 seconds per hiragana relatively quickly (2-4 days). I did read the mnemonics and I use one or two of them, but it feels like for the most part, it was rote memorization. I’m starting to do the same with katakana and I have been able to at least associate the word that describes what it looks like, with the sound that it makes in at least 35% of cases. For example: “two 'so’s… two… tsu” or “hanger… suit… su”. I was able to use the mnemonics quite successfully for the first radicals (which I had memorized pretty much instantly)

However, the first Kanji are giving me trouble so I’m just wondering what other people experienced and how I can do better. I cannot read a mnemonic and “feel or imagine” the scenario, I also rarely remember the scenario (or if I do, I don’t remember what it’s associated with). The best I can do is remember a single word or at best a phrase. Things like 女 which I can associate simply with “jo-anne” is about my limit. Trying to associate the kanji with meaning, name, reading, and pronunciation (where can I get these btw?) goes way beyond my current learning paradigm ;(

Apologies for writing such a book, and thank you for suggestions you might have!


I go a lot slower than a lot of people here. I also have depression. Helps to find your balance so you don’t get overwhelmed. I can only do 5 lessons a day.

Mnemonics work for me but looks like memorization is key for you.

In that case it reminds me of another post a long time ago. The person just memorized the words and not the mnemonic.

For example:

Woman, Jo じょ
Samurai Sheep し

Go with your strengths.

Hope this helps

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I’m in computing myself and while not a programmer specifically, have learned some programming languages, so relate to what you say about memorising associations. I feel, in general, that this is how I approach learning kanji. I do read through the mnemonic and try and memorise it, but rarely succeed - what seems to work for me is pulling out the components and the relationships between them. This is what the mnemonics are trying to do for you, but sometimes the relationships you make in your own head stick stronger than those made up by others. Typically, with vocab in particular, I’ve half made up a story before I read their mnemonics, so I think the relationships stick that way.

Also, since this is your first post:

\textcolor{pink}{\huge \textsf{WELCOME! ^-^}}

welcome gif - crabigator

Take the time to check out the FAQ and GUIDE if you haven’t already.

There’s also a lot of good stuff on the forum to help you, like:

The Ultimate Guide for WK
The Ultimate Additional Japanese Resource List
The New and Improved List of API and Third-Party Apps

I hope your Japanese learning journey goes well and that you enjoy your time with us on the forums.

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I don’t like mnemonics for batch learning (like WaniKani) to begin with, premade mnemonics arent as useful and there are still some issues with the mnemonics WaniKani offers you. Long story even shorter: They don’t work for me either. I don’t actively use any mnemonics for learning Japanese. That’s totally alright.

Personally I use [Userscript] Self-Study Quiz to drill newly learned items, sporadically over up to an hour after learning them. I’d give that a try. How much extra drilling you need to do is something you’ll have to figure out.

in the beginning, they worked great for me. But from level 15 or so, they are starting to make a lot less sense, and also the stories around the meaning get absolutely ridiculous sometimes. So I had to find other ways to memorize the kanji. What works best for me, is to make at least one association with a japanese word you know.

For example, when I was in Tokyo, I tried to learn all the kanji of station names on the Yamanote line and some subway lines. Almost all the kanji appear on Wanikani in early levels:

For example, Ginza: 銀座 = silver + sit. Knowing that Ginza is quite a fancy place where people are literally sitting on gold/money, that makes a lot of sense and helps me memorize both the meaning as well as the pronunciation.

Of course, not all make so much sense, but many do. And of course, not all kanji appear in Tokyo cities/station names. So as for the others, I always try to find a vocab that I already knew, for example from anime or whatever. or other flash card apps, help you learn vocabulary beforehand, which you can then use to memorize the kanji. For example, just knowing the word gaikokujin = 外国人, which literally every single person knows, already teaches you 3 kanji meanings and pronunciations, so no need to bother with the individual mnemonics. At least that’s what helps me a lot.

That’s also the reason why just rushing through WK doesn’t work for me. I need my time, and I need to do other things like grammar, vocabulary, watching stuff etc. to have more links between the kanji. It took me almost 1.5 years to reach level 25, while others did 40 levels or more in this time, but every one has to find his own way to do deal with it.


I think the first few levels were less about mnemonics and more about memorization, with things like 女 - simple lines with not much to go on. The made-up scenarios can come in handy later on, when you have kanji that combine several seemingly unrelated “objects” (radicals).

To give an example, kanji 得 having three radicals: 彳loiter, 日 sun, 寺 temple. Assuming you have these three memorized over time, it makes sense to arrange them into a sentence like “…while loitering in the Sun Temple, you acquire something” (from a treasure chest or whatnot), which makes it easy to remember the meaning, and imagining Tokugawa Ieyasu from ROTK stealing your hard-acquired goods afterwards can help memorize the reading.

Later on you’ll remember those things without mnemonics, and I honestly don’t remember any mnemonics fot the first few levels anymore except maybe 一/ground radical. I don’t remember 女 being じょ due to Jo-anne, but rather due to being solidified by other words like 女子(じょし), 女性(じょせい), 王女(おうじょ) etc.

I’d say bear with it for now, memorize them however you can, but before giving up and passing on the answer spend at least a few seconds trying to remember the mnemonic - for me this often resulted in some kind of “click” that made everything fall into place.


Fun fact: across the whole of Japan, a little under half of the kanji on WaniKani appear in at least one station’s name. 1014 kanji, to be precise. Though, there’s another 338 kanji in station names that aren’t on WaniKani at all.

There’s just two Yamanote Line kanji that aren’t on WaniKani: the 鴨 in 巣鴨 and the 鶯 in 鶯谷 - both are bird names (the former is duck while the latter is the Japanese bush warbler) so outside the station names (and other location names) you’ll probably only encounter them in kana. Though, 駒 is taught in level 49, but only appears in vocab as itself, so 駒込駅 could form a helpful mnemonic there.


Thank you all for the fast responses, incredible! It sounds to me like simply getting a vocabulary up and running will make it far easier to associate a kanji with a given word. Roughly how far in will I be before I start learning enough vocab to use that? I’m going to try making some of my own “stories”, or just slowing down and using a single word if need be. Hopefully, along with some self-study, I should be able to avoid burnout long enough to get into the flow :slight_smile:

I really like the idea of using station names, I bet that would be really effective for me. Perhaps if it becomes safe to travel in the near future I could take a trip and get some locations and experiences to associate more easily.

Thank you again for all the responses and the warm welcome, looking forward to getting to know you all as I learn :smiley:


Give Anki a try too. Just another SRS flashcard system but you can make your own cards.

I do like the wani community and level ordering on wanikani though.

See ya around!

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