Tips for remembering hard kanji

Heya, reached lvl 13 kanji and it is a fair bit more complicated than anything I have seen before, with stories often making very little sense.

I tend to get them right after a few times just through learning from my mistakes, but was wondering if anyone had a take on how to deal with this step up.

However, even if there are no good things to do, I will keep going as is!!

thanks for the help as always!


It really helps to make up your own stories. If you go through the mental exercise of making up your own , with things that are relatable to you , then you are far more likely to recall them.


Make your own mnemonics if it helps.

More generally, split them up into whatever radicals/parts you can find - 紫 looks complex, but it’s just ヒ, 止 and 糸. Not that bad. Most kanji are like that. To stick with level 13 kanji, 養 is just 羊 and 良 with a few more strokes. 緑 is just 糸, 求 and ヨ. Radicals (and otherwise just “splitting up” kanji into recognisable bits) are essential to recognising kanji. Chances are you won’t have to remember all the radicals anyway, the way I tell apart 持 and 待 for instance is by the leftmost radical, beyond that I just recognise them by their general shape.

And contrary to the way WK teaches you, learn words containing the kanji you’re trying to memorise. I use this user script to see some vocab words while reviewing a kanji. It helps a ton, and being able to read words is the end goal anyway, so I don’t consider it cheating since the thing that helps me remember a kanji is applying it in practice. It’s made a difficult kanji fairly easy to remember for me more than once.


Agree with @kuchikopi about making up your own stories if the WK ones do not stick. I also encourage anyone to really truly visualize the story in their head. Place the story in a location or setting that you know well (your house, school, work). Take note of the sounds and smells going on. The more senses you can use the more your memory has to work with to trigger the meaning.

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Don’t forget the power of sheer repetition.

People tend to underestimate the number of repetitions required for some items to truly stick.

To give you something quantitative (this is nothing to brag about) I’ve burned a little over 5000 items here in about 2.5 years of once-daily reviews. Roughly 2000 were burned in 8 reviews (it surprises me there were even that many, but I had a moderately large verbal vocabulary before I started). Another 1000 or so needed between one and two dozen reviews. The remaining thousand needed several dozen reviews. Two required over 100! And this didn’t count out-of-band study.

As @yamitenshi points out, vocabulary is what matters in the end, and vocabulary reviews help tremendously to make individual characters “stick” — because they effectively give you more reviews as well as additional context.

I’d strongly encourage extra-study sessions of recent lessons (or the excellent self study quiz user script) before any script that mechanically unlocks vocabulary items.

In my opinion, there are two modes: guruing recent lessons (short-term memorization) and recall of older items (long-term memorization). I feel strongly that both fall to sufficient repetition, but how you accomplish that differs.

For short-term memorization, it’s important to have several reviews of new items per day or even per session. If you answer a stage 1 or 2 item correctly, it’s rescheduled for 4 or 8 hours hence. Since I only perform one session per day, that always meant I wouldn’t see it again until the next day’s session. Making sure you have at least two or more sessions throughout the day, every day can help with recent-lesson items, but my recommendation is out-of-band reviews with extra study (or self study).

For long-term memorization, I think the biggest problem is items that don’t fall back far enough! Items that keep falling from enlightened down to guru-2 then back up to enlightened, then back down again are particularly problematic as the reviews are spaced weeks or months apart when you really need more frequent reviews.

When I notice an item that I’ve seen (and missed) too many times like this, I’ll sometimes intentionally answer incorrectly a few times in a row (even after I know the correct answer) just to ensure it falls back farther and is scheduled again sooner. In other words, if I feel I’ll benefit from more frequent reviews of an item, then answering correctly is precisely the wrong thing to do!

Using extra study for recent mistakes can also help with long-term memorization. No matter what: more frequent reviews will never hurt.


This sums it up fairly well.

What sticks sticks, what doesn’t you get to do again. Doesn’t really matter.


Where does the difficulty resides? Most can be helped with rfindley’s Self-study UserScript, although each problem takes different strategies.

  • Components / Writing complexity?
    • Making up mnemonics is not the only way. Trying writing on audio or English prompt, and you will really have to recall every components. It also makes review slower and you have more time to think through everything.
  • On readings?
    • The best way, IMO, is remembering 3+ vocabularies first. This is in contrast with WaniKani’s way where you have to remember Kanji first to unlock vocabularies.
    • Of course, another way (where I deem inferior), is to remember or make mnemonics.
  • Kun readings?
    • The best way, is also remembering a vocabulary, but there usually aren’t that many vocabularies that stick out to be begin with. So, remembering itself can be problematic too.
    • Mnemonics may help, but I would make them at vocabulary level, not some broken Kun with dropped Okurigana.
    • Another way (for vocabulary) is audio or English prompt => then you recall the written form (in Kanji). This will force you to recall the reading before the Kanji itself.

Repetition and taking enough time helps, but I don’t believe in them. They will probably either or both of – breaking your heart first, or removing sight from possibly more efficient ways.

After all, it is always useful to try to find ways to remember well and efficiently.

Notice that, there are so many things to be remembered; so either you remember well one by one, or click by many at once; it doesn’t matter – so more of Gambatte, to say here.


For me, it was important to learn how to write Kanji in order to break down the parts of them more easily. Sure WK will teach you the radical for hand and you can use it for 持てる but then you have to read it and 待てる looks awfully similar…

That’d be some easy practice you can do on your own time. Maybe go off of Joyo kanji and work your way up the ladder. You’ll start to pick things up that way too.

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