WaniKani Mnemonics are Hard to Remember

I did WaniKani up until level 5, but gave up because many of the mnemonics were too hard to remember. I wound up with huge piles of cards that simply would not stick, due to mnemonics that did not make sense to me.

I’ve done a little practice on Kanji Koohii, and it’s night and day. The community-submitted mnemonics on Kanji Koohii work much, much better for me.

As a completely randomly-chosen example, take 護.

On WaniKani, 護 is known as “defend”, with the following mnemonic:

They say that flowers held by a turkey on a stool are good to defend yourself with. Even better than a guard dog they say. People are so confused by the turkey sitting on a stool holding flowers that they just lose their will to fight. This turkey is great to defend yourself and your home.

On Kanji Koohii, 護 is known as “safeguard”, the top two community-submitted mnemonics are:

Think of the flower-vessels as a the Greenpeace vessel “Arctic Sunrise”, only instead of a rainbow there is a big flower painted on the hull (this will come back in 獲 (#757) and 穫 (#974)). Think of “flower-power” and of the “peace” in “Greenpeace” and it will make some sense hopefully. – In this kanji, we see an inauguration speech being given before the Greenpeace vessel is set afloat and sent to safeguard our planet.


Words and Flowers are exchanged between sailors and their wives before they board the vessel to safeguard the world.

I don’t think the WaniKani mnemonic for 護 looks good in comparison. The keywords are simply juxtaposed with next to no connection. The scene makes little sense, making it hard to remember.

In comparison, the community-submitted mnemonics on Kanji Koohii are creative, vivid, and cohesive.

I much prefer the approach of learning readings along with vocabulary, but it’s just too hard with mnemonics that don’t make sense. Of course, the WaniKani staff create all the mnemonics, whereas Kanji Koohii mnemonics are submitted by users. It would be nice if the ability to submit, share, and vote on custom mnemonics to WaniKani was added.

This would have the nice side-effect of making it less resource-intensive to add new vocabulary and readings to WaniKani, since the WaniKani staff could rely on the community to come up with new mnemonics.


Since there are over 8000 items on items, there are bound to be hit and miss mnemonics. I never had any issues with them but felt they did their work just fine - if I used them. Plenty of times I relied on other techniques for memorizing the kanji, reading and meaning. And that’s not uncommon as far as I can tell having read discussions before about the mnemonics; you use the mnemonics that suits you, or make up your own or use some other technique for memorization. There isn’t really a once size fits all to memorization.


Mnemonics go hand in hand with radicals. You ought to be able to look at a kanji and split it up into its (wk) radicals. Then you go "ok, so which stupid story had say, turkey, stool and flower in it? Ah that one, ok then, so it’s defend.


You always have the option to create your own mnemonic and write in down in the notes. I did so with some of the kanji and it works like magic. WaniKani is great anyways !


Guess the issue with this is that if he really has an issue with most of the radicals, then why pay for wk if he has to create his own mnemonics either way?


User submitted mnemonics sound nice, hard to argue against having more options. I would think the issue there is just that it introduces a whole new group of content for WK admins to have to monitor (they don’t HAVE to but it seems doubtful they’d ignore it), so I’m very sympathetic to why they might not do it.

That aside, I think the answer every time is just that different things work for different people. That first mnemonic you listed is honestly offputting to me. The wanikani one is absurdly thrown together, yeah, but it seems much more clearly written, for my preferences. I won’t deny having times where I went “this is barely a mnemonic!” but, for my brain at least, when a word seems to have a poor mnemonic, I almost remember it better. I guess I end up singling it out and consciously focusing on it. That or the irritation is creating that emotional bond for memory, heh. Obviously I don’t want bad mnemonics, but the rate where they seem totally unworkable is low enough (for me) that they stand out, usually.

It’s worth mentioning, also, that since you mention the scene making no sense, the creators of the WK mnemonics design them around the idea that if it is more ridiculous and absurd, it’s easier to remember. I think I’d agree they take that too far at times, but there’s some truth to it, too.

Glad you found something that works better for you, anyway!


I think the scene being abstract/nonsensical is not the issue here. It’s the lack of connection between the individual elements of the story. For the mnemonic to work it needs to be highly evocative (brutal, perverse, off-putting, funny, etc.) and/or the connection between the elements evident, traceable and coherent. One can’t just add a flower and a turkey and hope it will somehow come together.

How are the radicals here connected exactly? They’re not, they’re just put together into an image and given a single meaning.

Unfortunately, mnemonics are a very personal thing so other than using that other platform one can try importing the user-submitted mnemonics to WaniKani as user-defined ones.


You have hit the nail here. Creating own mnemonics are troublesome, not to mention you need to be consistent with WK system too.

For me, I found after level 20; the mnemonics are becoming harder and harder to remember. There are quite a lot of complaints about this already. I hope it would change. But, unfortunately, we have to keep complaining until it is heard.

WK obviously have users’ data that they can utilize, and they would be able to know which items are troublesome for people and optimize them. It might be as easy as to look at the percentage of users failing the items.

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Would just result in them seeing what the hardest words are to remember generally, not the hardest to remember because of the mnemonic. If the item itself was obscure, that would increase the failing rate.

Same for readings where you need to “choose” between two alternatives, although I do think wk should do something about that and include some small snippet that tries to give you a clue at which one it will be.

The best mnemonics are the ones that work for both meaning and reading, e.g.:




Just speculating here, but maybe this is because higher levels tend to have more abstract terms and glosses? I certainly wouldn’t imagine words like 唯物論 (materialism) or 判断 (judgement*) or 反省 (reconsideration) being easy to remember in English, let alone in Japanese.

Here’s a screenshot from rwesterhof’s wonderful Workload Graph userscript. This allows you to draw graphs of your error percentages as well; mine is below. As you can probably see, there’s no significant difference from 5 to 40 (I speculate that the early levels’ higher error percentage has to do with burn items.) Obviously, not everyone has the same experience, but I think that those whose first (and/or working) language is English it is a lot easier, because they can focus on the mnemonics and not the English glosses.

(this goes hand in hand with the “what’s the newest word you learned thanks to WK?” thread here.)

*WK team, please standardiz(s)e your spellings! :slight_smile:

There are always some hits and misses, but the example you picked I only liked the WK version. The other one went completely over my head


Sometimes people, myself included, will say that they are having trouble with a certain kanji. Often others will suggest an alternative way for memorizing a word.

Would be nice to have a thread dedicated to “this word is giving me trouble hellllpppppp”

Wanikani mnemonics are a good base. 60% of the time I make up my own


Honestly, I’m barely using the mnemonics for now, only sometimes.

I think memorizing the WaniKani radicals is fine, but from there you can make your own mnemonics if you want, or use theirs. Would be great to have the option, and I would certainly make my own if I could.

It’s not vocabs. I don’t usually use mnemonics and rely on immersion more if it is vocabs. I only use mnemonics when remembering radical and kanji. For example, I can easily remember 判断 or 反省 from immersion as I heard that a lot.

A part of it is because many words use fancy terms instead of a basic term such as 逮 (apprehend). I need to look at a dictionary and see that it’s “arrest.” Why not use “arrest” instead. Then I found that it uses the vocab 逮捕 “arrest” and ironically uses “apprehension” as the alternative meaning.

Another one is the mnemonics for radical, for example, 爰 (football):

Your friend is on the ground and you step on him with your cleat. There is no friendship here. This is a true sport you’re playing. This is football.

I had a hard time connecting stepping my friend with my cleat and football. What does it have to do with football? It was tough to stick that to my head. Or maybe I’m just dumb.

That’s wasting your time more than half of the time.

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Mnemonics alone is not the only reason why I use wanikani.
Also it’s nice to have a suggestion to jump off of and connect it to something meaningful to me.

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This is probably because apprehend isn’t exactly the same as arrest. You can apprehend someone in the sense that you stop them from moving. It also has some more metaphorical meanings too, merriem webster does list some. Maybe the wk team tought, that using this meaning will be more useful in the vocab mnemonics that they have to make for the vocab using this kanji.

I don’t have any real examples to show here, but what I think the WK team is trying to do with their “fancy” or “complicated” glosses here is to restrict the scope of the meaning. If you look in RTK or any other kanji book, you will find that it has different English glosses for many kanji, simply because the compromise between mnemonic, reading, and meaning is different in each unique case.

Obviously, it’s not possible to map every kanji to a single English word, or even a set of related terms, and expect it to work flawlessly. It’s a completely different language, after all. What WaniKani specializes in is not only mnemonics, although that is one of their main focuses; they also prioritize the common readings of the kanji as well, because knowing what the kanji “means” is only halfway to reading and comprehending Japanese.

Thus the team at WK, just like any other writer or editor of a kanji textbook, has to weigh these factors and come to a compromise. Are they always perfect for their function? Of course not. There is always human error, and everyone varies in their mnemonic ability. But a company, with presumably decent finances, with a background in Japanese culture and learning, and which is currently hiring apparently, is likely always trying to perfect this balance.

Your example of “apprehend” vs “arrest”: sure, maybe it’s an unreasonable level of detail for an SRS like Wanikani’s. But think of it from the perspective of the first time user. Unlike you, they have no prior experience with vocabulary. They don’t recognize any kanji at all (which is presumably the target audience of the service). And a new kanji 捕 comes along, and WK says it’s “apprehend”, and they just remember that meaning, without referring to 逮捕 because they just don’t know it. I certainly didn’t. So this isn’t really a problem for most users, who generally know both English words and haven’t come across those Japanese vocab beforehand.

(Anyway, you can just download some userscripts if you really have an issue with that. Or even just add your own synonyms! But you’re probably talking about why the WK team didn’t implement these “simpler” “synonyms” into vanilla WK, so I digress.)

And the “football” mnemonic… personally, I think that’s pretty vivid enough. You have a cleat (i.e., a shoe, a sneaker maybe? Mutate it a bit) and you’re standing with one foot on your opponent as a victor in your match, with ball in hand. The spotlights are on you, and someone hands you a trophy. Of course, you could just go and make your own mnemonics, too. I think mine was a mix of that and “cleat (sneaker) sport with friend is football”. But you’ll have to treat that on a case-by-case basis.

Although all the examples I gave were vocabulary, the general idea of gaining abstraction and general rarity as the levels increase extends beyond vocabulary into Kanji as well. I can’t say I use “wisteria”, “plow”, or “seedling” in my everyday life. What do you think of that?

Of the examples given by rodarmor I preferred the wanikani story. Maybe its just because I am used to the pattern of building mnemonic from radical. It works quite well :slight_smile:

This is a really good one! :slight_smile:

I think the other ones which use strange synonyms are 収 (obtain) and 達 (attain), and probably a couple of others. Yes, I also find it confusing. The fancier synonyms don’t always go hand-in-hand with the more nuanced meaning of a kanji. It would probably help more if each kanji and radical had 3-5 meanings in EN so that everyone can sort of understand what the essence of a radical/kanji is, not its direct translation to English, which can be misleading if it’s a single word.

But it could work well if the related terms formed some sort of group meaning together. Kanji are anyhow more conceptual than literal, right?

@rodarmor I don’t think you need to give up just because the mnemonics don’t work for you :slight_smile: . I’m also using WaniKani without mnemonics, often adding user synonyms for new words and the core SRS system works really well for me.