WaniKani should include radical meanings

So I’m almost level 60 and only PRETTY recently have I noticed patterns in radicals, like how 月 is used for basically all of the body part kanji because as a compressed radical, it’s actually supposed to say 肉. Or how the 貝 radical is used in most kanji involving money.

If I’d learned this a long time ago, it would have been WAY easier to learn a lot of these kanji. I’m not sure why WaniKani has avoided doing this but this seems like a fairly big thing that’s missing? I get the feeling they went so hard in on their mnemonics system that they’ve neglected something really really big.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to all radicals and some like 土 are covered by basic mnemonics, but even just these two cover a LOT of kanji and there have to be more I haven’t picked up on yet. I found this site that breaks down a lot of the radicals really really well: 154. The "Small Shell" Radical: 貝 | Joy o' Kanji

Anyway it’d be great to see this included in WK’s radical explanations!


Theres a script that does this, but I agree it should be implemented. I guess because a lot of radicals aren’t actual radicals but more so other pieces that the team cut off from a kanji to make it even easier to digest, a lot don’t actually have any meaning, but the ones that would help SO much

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Do you happen to remember the name of the script? I’ve been looking for one like that.

Also 100% agree would be nice if this were part of WK for ones where there actually is a meaning.

I wouldn’t agree, radicals change for each methodology.

I showed radicals from WK to a japanese coworker and she told me completely different names for the same radicals, and when I said the names that WK give to them she laughed and said she would never associate that way. :rofl:

So when I see a radical in reviews, I always set that I know right away, since it is not important to know its name here, after WK, if I study a different platform/method for sure I will find different names for them.

This suggestion isn’t for the wk names, but their phonetic semantic meanings, aka what sound or meaning they give to a kanji

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im not saying explain all the radicals, just the ones with obvious patterns that would help you understand them

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Yeah, this is actually normal when learning Chinese. You tend to learn the 200 most frequent radicals (others are rare enough that you can just as well learn them directly in the character). They nearly all have a meaning. The meaning is often (but far from always) instrumental in both the meaning and pronunciation of a character. It happens plenty of times for a character to contain two radicals that alude to the meaning and a third radical to specify pronunciation. Often enough that it pays off to learn the radicals early on.

Now it is less important in Japanese as the on’yomi readings come from several different time periods of (classical Mandarin/Han?) Chinese. So the radicals probably often are disconnected from a specific pronunciation (unless you want to learn up to three readings per radical). But they still tend to allude to a meaning.

Furthermore, the radicals made by Wanikani seem to be a bit redundant rather often. I understand it can help to deviate from the established radicals to help with mnemonics, but is it worth all you have to sacrifice?

Radicals are one of my biggest critiques of Wanikani to be honest. Common dictionaries are based on a rather defined set of 214 or 79 recognised radicals, (from the limited 79 radicals subset, 49 are used for the jouyou kanji). Or 400/134 radicals if you include variants (e.g. 人 & 亻are a main radical version and a variant of the same radical for person). If Wanikani stuck with them, it would have made things easier for learning Japanese in the end.

What Wanikani has effectively done is create a new script based off the radical system. What they have done is the equivalent of adding their own letters to the latin alphabet instead of using more than one letter for a diphthong sound. This can be useful for new learners of the language that only care about pronunciation and are not familiar with any alphabet, but it would ultimately hinder most language learners.

Now Wanikani is honest in that it is a method build to learn kanji. It’s not to learn the common radical system or the most frequently used vocabulary. Yet, I think a bit more adherence to the standards would have been ok. sticking to the 49 base radicals of the jouyou kanji and being clear on their meaning (and reading!) might have helped us more in the end.

To give them credit, WaniKani has shown their commitment to improving the service over its 10+ years, notably during the aptly-named Overhaul…

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“Poop” bothers me so effing much. I get this is a fun way to remember radicals and such, but c’mon.

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I feel the same about “helicopter,” “triceratops,” and “viking” (plus “viking” is definitely one of my leeches).

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I feel like WK creator tried to be edgy and “cool” with some of the names for it. Why not just use the radical names in all textbooks? I feel like the mnemonics came before these made up radical names to try and sound intelligent or something. Idk. WK is a solid resource, but needs a team to review these things.

They did review them though, and got rid of a bunch of bad ones.

You can email hello@wanikani.com with any concerns you have…


Tofugu has a pretty good explanation about why they avoided using the standard radical names (see the Identifying the Radical section here).

There are a few radicals that probably would be better if they had used names closer to the etymological meaning, but in general their approach seems fine.

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Personally, I don’t care much for them to change the names of the radicals, more so that they talk about if a radical is used semantically or phonetically. If some radicals had an explanation page, like if 月 had a page going “月 is a radical often found in kanji that mean body parts, because it used to look like a different kanji that means meat”, it would be really nice

their rationale for not using standard radicals is completely reasonable. a lot of it is just used because of tradition and there’s a huge amount of confusing overlap, and i think their radical system is way more memorable, if a bit silly.

i just think they could also explain some of the logical parts around it. literally just ‘hey this is used in almost every body part kanj because it looks like the meat kanji’ would be great

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Even in Japanese, the radicals often have more than one name, so it’s not like there’s anything official about them. And describing them by how they look is also perfectly in line with what Japanese people do (for example the top part of 受 is derived from 爪, and thus is called つめかんむり or つめがしら in more technical contexts, but Japanese people often call it ノツ, because, well it looks like you wrote a ノ and a ツ).

Forcing yourself to stick to what other resources have done, even if the keywords are bland or very similar to others, would be kind of strange to me.

People who primarily care about etymology or decide that knowing the history will help them remember can use resources that stick more to that kind of thing. WK’s objective was to make English mnemonics that would be easy to remember, not to teach how to use the dictionary radical system.


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