What on earth is going on with the readings?

Hi everyone, I’m new to WK and I’m trying to get a hang of things. One of the things I’ve been advised against by other Japanese learners is spending time learning kanji, especially focusing too hard on the readings. They state it’s better to just learn vocab and pick up on the readings naturally, so to speak. Then others say learning the barebone meanings of Kanji is useful. WK seems to have a fairly kanji-heavy focus. I’m actually okay with this.

But what I don’t understand is the readings. I’ve researched all over online and couldn’t find anything particularly specific or useful. Does WK only teach On’yumi? If so, why? Is On’yumi used more frequently? It seems to me that Kun and On are both used frequently. Why only learn On’yumi?


for most kanji the way it works is that you learn the onyomi and then it gives you vocabulary using that kanji and you can apply it because multiple kanji together usually (emphasis) use onyomis. but then there’s a vocab that’s just the kanji alone that uses the kunyomi so you learn it as a singular word as well.

eg the kanji 刀. you learn the reading as とう so when you see the vocab 短刀 you can read it たんとう but also there’s the vocab かたな.


Onyomi vs Kunyomi answers this well!


Thanks for the link, not sure why searches didn’t come up with that

That sounds like terrible advice.

WK tends to teach the ‘most common’ readings. They also teach vocab to reinforce these, as well as other vocab that are common words, but with less common readings.


I guess the logic is that kanji are simply shorthand for kana that are used contextually. So they would essentially suggest brute force memorizing the vocab.

No worries, you’re welcome!

So there are (generally) two schools of learning when it comes to learning kanji. There’s the WK way, which is learn readings then kanji then progress to reading them in the wild, and then the way where you start with reading them in the wild and work your way to the readings (I forget the service/method that does this). Personally I like the WK way, but be sure to start supplementing it with some sort of outside material to cement them in your memory. WK is just for recognizing the kanji, it doesn’t necessarily help with vocab.

Welcome to WaniKani, and I hope that you can do well here! And even if you end up not using it, I wish you the best of luck in your Japanese studies!


The hardest part for me is just getting to the point where I can simply recognize a sentence, or even a phrase, out in the wild. That’s why I’m warm to the idea of learning what kanji fundamentally mean so I can try to at least glean the meaning of an unfamiliar term and take a good guess at its reading.

The part that was confusing is how WK even selects the highlighted reading in the first place and why.


Yup that’s the hardest part for me too, but it has only gotten better for me with studying and reading manga, my medium of choice. I also use KaniWani (which is English->Japanese) to help with going the other direction.

And I think WK does the more common compound reading (is that onyomi or kunyomi? I never can remember) first and then adds them on later as the vocab requires.

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As someone who has been living in Japan, I have to say that the onyomi pops up more often in day to day life. Knowing onyomi well will really help you to pronounce and look up words that you see but dont understand. Many signs and documents will have a lot of kanji, often times outnumbering hiragana.
Theres actually quite a few cases where WK emphasizes the kunyomi and I actually do not like it. I find it easier to search for kanji using onyomi.
As for philosophy, Kanji studies are indispensable. If you cannot read the language, you are already losing half the battle by losing half the opportunity to learn. By studying kanji, you realize that each character is actually an image with a meaning. That said, you can actually discern the meaning of a lot of words just by knowing the kanji. And WK with all its flaws is still a great tool. Instead of perusing social media on your phone, open up the WK app and do it 30mins a day. Boom, you learn a bunch of new Kanji and vocabulary. WK handles your study plan, you just simply use it.


Yeah this has already been answered in the first post but just to clarify: The Kunyomi is used when the kanji is by itself or the only one in the word (single kanji words). The Onyomi is used when multiple kanji are used to form one word (compound kanji words).
E.g. - - tree
曜日 - もくようび - Thursday
This of course is a general rule as there are exceptions where compound kanji words have both onyomi and kunyomi readings for their kanji.
E.g. 仕草 - しぐさ - gesture
仕 - し (Onyomi)
草 - くさ (Kunyomi)

As for the learning of Kanji, the method which BigEm was referring to other than wanikani was the MIA (mass immersion approach) I believe. There’s an interesting thread on it here: MIA or WaniKani.
Basically it has you learn just one english word closely associated to each Kanji which acts as a placeholder meaning until you can intuit the kanji readings/meanings later by learning vocab or context which the Kanji is used in. You achieve this by consuming a lot of native content and essentially “immersing” yourself in the Japanese language.
This contrasts from WaniKani in that Wanikani has you learn readings as you go along with vocab to go with those readings. Wanikani you see results straight away and can immediately use the kanji/vocab you’ve learnt whereas MIA requires you to go through at least 1000 kanji before you even start to learn readings, and you learn readings by looking up words you encounter after this phase.

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To reinforce the above sentiments, when I started Genki, I found the first quarter of the book extremely difficult to read with the (understandable) over use of kana combined with my then inability to pick out the particles in the clauses. I ended up needing to diagram the sentences and reverse furigana kanji over the kana, much to the amusement of my tutor. Later on, learning the kanji that go into sentance structures really helps turn Japanese from memorizing phrase chunks to understanding and appreciating what is actually going on in the phrase. ie のほうが->の方が.


The pink kanji reviews ask you for what is considered the most likely-to-be-applicable reading when you encounter learned kanji in an unknown word.

Generally speaking, tons of kanji have only 2-3 kun’yomi words, after which almost all of their other vocab is made of compound kanji words that use on’yomi instead. So, the on’yomi/kun’yomi split on WK’s pink kanji reviews is about ~1,700 on’yomi to ~300 kun’yomi.


You can also install a userscript (called Wanikani Katakana Madness) to display all on’yomi answers as katakana (the WK phone app, Tsurukame, also has this functionality available as an option now). This is a super efficient way to learn which readings are which (requiring no extra time/effort from the user), and also doubles nicely as some extra katakana exposure.


It’s not terrible or good. It’s just another learning method. If I had to guess, hardcore AJATTers. They use RTK to learn the English meaning of the Kanji, then learn the readings through reading and immersion or something like that.

a terrible one

We all have our opinions. Just because it doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for others. There are people who could advance very quickly using “terrible” learning methods, while see little improvement using the “best” learning method(s).


I started mostly with WaniKani. Then about level 8 switched to mass immersion emphasis (Cure Dolly style) while keeping up slowly with WaniKani. They now complement each other since about 25% of WK lessons are familiar to me from the immersion. And anime J subs are also familiar from WK. This is what is working for me.

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