WaniKani's Senseless Cruelty

I’m just getting started, and I’m starting to see some vocabulary. Despite the fact that all of the kanjis I’ve learned so far are given with their on’yomi readings, the new vocab that I’m getting uses the kun’yomi readings. Is there a reason for that, beyond the general senseless cruelty of WaniKani? :slight_smile:


P.S. I’m completely new to Japanese. WaniKani and Tofugu are awesome, and I am very grateful for all of the work and love that you all have put into them.


Think of it like English: you’ve got your basic everyday Germanic-English words like book, girl, sun - that’s your vocab/kunyomi; then you’ve got your polysyllabic Latin/Greek origin words like polysyllabic, decapitation, demographic - each of the meaningful parts of those words [poly-, de-, -cap-, -graph-] are your kanji/onyomi - they get used a lot in combination with other parts and so get used in more different words than the basic Germanic ones.

Hope that helps rather than confuses the situation!

P.S. This is a very simplistic overview - you will sometimes learn the kunyomi reading with the kanji, and some vocab will use onyomi.


My guess is that you learn the Onyomi for the kanji, and then you learn the kunyomi with the vocabulary so you don’t have to memorize both at the same time :slight_smile:



From what I understand, WK will try to teach you the on’yomi and then teach you the most commonly used reading. However, a lot of the words are also kanji compounds which almost always take the on’yomi reading. Japanese has multiple readings for the same kanji character. IMO, is the senseless cruelty. WK, however, will help you wth that with its mnemonics and SRS. :blush:


You should see both the reading you learned and different readings. Maybe the different readings are just more noticeable because you need to learn something new? :slight_smile:

[The vocab in the beginning has lots of exceptional readings, it’s just that the most basic or most widely used words in a language collect a lot of exceptions over time.]

To add to what Goja said, WK’s goal is to teach you the most common readings of a kanji with the kanji itself. This usually tends to translate in the onyomi being taught more often first. Then during the vocab lessons, WK focus on 2 things: reinforcing the readings you’ve learned in the kanji and teaching you less common readings through words that actually use them.

This results in the user being prepared to know what to expect as the main reading of a kanji and the possibility of finding an unknown reading also reduces even more.

@hmapy The first levels are full of “exceptions”, I admit. But I suggest you to try out this program until level 3 (completely free) and see how you feel about it :slight_smile: As a level 60, I couldn’t be any more grateful for Wanikani.


There’s plenty of sense in WaniKani’s cruelty. It’s not that it wants to hurt you, it only wants to make you prepared for the hellish battles you’ll face in the language after you’ve completed level 60.


I love this explanation! I couldn’t have said it better myself. To me, this is exactly how kanji works — building blocks from different origins to create basically a new language / old language.

Japanese is basically the English of the asian languages.

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Here’s a more specific (and I hope clearer) example of what I mean by my Germanic vs Latin/Greek explanation:

In level two you will learn the kanji and vocab for tree - 木

The kanji has the reading もく:

…but the vocab has the reading き:

So, the purple vocab one, , is what you would say if you were talking about a tree (Germanic) and might also be used in terms like ‘tree farm’, but the pink kanji one, もく, may be better thought of as meaning arbor (Latin) and when combined with other ‘bits’ can be used for more complex ideas such as: arborist, arboritum, arboreal, arboriculture, semiarboreal, etc.

So, the reading you learn for the kanji will be the one most used, probably because it is appears in a lot of different, more complex words, but the reading for the same single kanji as a vocab item may well be a different reading.


Thanks for taking the time to clarify. Although I had the jist of what you were expressing from your first post, this really connects the dots in a tangible way.

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That’s a really good illustration.

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I haven’t noticed any cruelty so far :smile:

Those kanji mostly occur as part of expressions with multiple kanji, hence the On’yomi reading is the more common and is teached first. The vocab items (especially in the early levels) are often verbs that use the Kun’yomi readings. That’s simply WK teaching you both readings (since you’ll need to learn both anyway). From the vocab items you’ll see which reading is used when.

Thanks, this is very helpful!

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