WaniKani seems to be limited with vocab meanings associated with Kanji

Just started level 4, and I’ve been using an app called Kanji Study over the last year or so, on and off. I’ve learned about 500 Kanji on my own, brute force style via the app and I figured WaniKani could help me reinforce what I’ve learned and move me with repetition though the rest. I like the interface here, so far so good.

But, I’ve noticed WK gives ONE definition when you learn a Kanji. That’s it. And most apps will give you four or five. I wonder - will that only hurt me in the long run? Sure, the Kanji called KO might mean Past, but my app also identifies it as “Gone, Leave, Quit, Eliminate, even Divorce.” And when I input any word except Past here, I get it wrong, which only reinforces my feelings that I don’t know the word.

Is there a fix for this, or an API thing? It’s great here in so many ways, but I’m starting to feel my learning might be a little crippled.

How does everyone feel about this?

You get more nuances of the kanji meaning when you learn vocabulary containing it. One definition per kanji helps keep things simple. However, if you already know some kanji and want to be able to use your own translation, you can always add user synonyms. Any user synonym you add will be counted as a correct answer in your next review.


The English translation is just an approximation that you are relying on as a crutch in the beginning. I think it’s better to focus on one and learn the real meaning and nuance through Japanese words where the kanji is used. Learning a list of definitions with each kanji is what you want to avoid (rote learning); just like learning a list of pronunciations.

Kanji =/= word. The title also feels a bit weird, since kanji don’t have vocabulary meanings.

You don’t usually identify kanji like this; it’s too ambiguous. A clearer way is to say something like 去年のきょ.

EDIT: minor wordings.


Honestly, often enough, there are one or two central ideas behind a kanji, so it’s not really a bad idea to use only one word as a keyword for each kanji. That also makes learning simpler for people who are studying kanji for the first time. However,

  1. WK’s meaning keyword isn’t always the most general, from what I’ve seen. It’s sometimes the most common, but the problem with that is that it can make learning more advanced words (while expecting the same meaning to apply) more confusing.
  2. as @morteASD said, learning what a kanji means in words is more important. Maybe you’ll be able to come up with a list of meanings for a kanji after learning words, and there’s nothing wrong with having that in mind, but if you’re learning lists of meanings without any context, I think you’ll have a harder time remembering them than if you had words that allowed you to see what those kanji mean. Also, it’s much more confusing – ‘how can one symbol have so many meanings?’ – seeing just a list of meanings, unless you’re able to find a central idea yourself. By learning words, you’ll eventually notice that a particular kanji is associated with a particular set of ideas, and that will give you a better sense for what it means and how it should be used.

After finishing Wanikani and continuing to learn Kanji, it’s honestly never been an issue.

Definitely this. You can add on to that core meaning as you learn words that use the kanji in different ways, but that doesn’t invalidate sticking to a single point of reference in the beginning. In fact, learning multiple meanings makes it harder since you don’t really have the knowledge to make all the connections yet.

For example, why is 去 associated with divorce? We’ll, because that’s one of the meanings of the verb 去る, to leave. But outside of that, the kanji you really want to remember for divorce are the ones in 離婚, which is 離-detach + 婚-marriage. So I wouldn’t really bother learning the divorce meaning at all for 去.

That does bring up a good point though that 去る should be on Wanikani.


this is one area where I think terminology confuses people.

what WK calls a “meaning” is really a mnemonic device for the kanji, meant to be an easy thing for you to link to the kanji. if it’s the right word for you, this makes it far easier to remember. if it isn’t, you can add a synonym.

what the (bilingual) dictionary provides as “meanings” for a kanji are really a bunch of english words that roughly cover the meanings of the words it’s used in. it’s a bit like if I tried to describe a shape to you by showing you a picture of bunch of random dots than happen to fall inside it. even if the kanji represents a single concept, all you see are a bunch of disconnected meanings.


i sometimes add a second meaning as a synonym to the kanji, when it seems to be that that second meaning would be good to remember. but if i can sorta stretch the one definition to encompass the rest, then i stick with just the one. so with 去, i find it easy to squish all those meanings into “past”. like, we eliminate something, we make it be part of the past.

i do think WK sometimes fudges things a bit, but i’m okay with that. WK doesn’t try to teach us everything about any given kanji, and it’s quite honest about it. but it’s a very efficient way to learn enough about each kanji to get us going.

edit: and of course it doesn’t help that the elements which are most used in a language, and which we therefore tend to learn early, are also the ones which tend get overloaded with most meanings and irregularities etc. so we get most of the kanji which have lots of meanings early on.

also, i came into WK with about 300 kanji, which i’d learned with “properly” with on- and kunyomi and (where applicable) several meanings. tried going back once, noped out of that very quickly.


Aye and it gets into a circular pattern a lot of the time where you could pick one, say past, and have that lead to another, like leaving. Or vice versa.


Even after learning different nuances I still stick to one in my mind and relate it to that.

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Thank you! I found the add synonym button. This was what I was looking for.

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I know, I meant to type the actual kanji, I just couldn’t figure out how to do it.

Even though WK only teaches one or two meanings, it still definitely works. I have been living in Japan for almost three years. Let me tell you that I have been able to read more Japanese in the past 7 or so months than the two years I have lived in Japan. The basic meanings that WK can still help you figure out a lot of words on your own, even if the actual meaning of the kanji is a bit more broad.

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