Why does WaniKani give precedent to mnemonics over actual definitions

I know questions like this have been asked a lot but most of them center around things like black hole or poop radical which I really don’t mind.

After making a list it also occurred to me just how little of a problem this is after level 25ish considering there are 4 of these in one level, I’m just wondering why. Do some people value the mnemonics highly enough to have to relearn definitions?

Note: All these definitions are taken from KanjiDic so I may very well just be wrong when compared to the JP definitions.

I am at a loss as to why WaniKani makes up certain radical names. I don’t mind things look Poop or Geoduck, only the Kanji that are introduced as radicals, I would hope they somewhat allude to an actual meaning. But with things like 冓 Lifeguard using made up words makes it much harder to infer the meaning.

Now to be fair this is clearly not a big problem, just something that bugs me. From I could tell only about %1.5 of the radicals are this way so really not a big deal at all, just something that bugs me.

Maybe add the “real” definitions into the meaning field of radicals just so people like me don’t need to look it up every time.

I don’t mind the random radicals that don’t mean anything, just the ones that do and that are taught to mean something completely different.

Not trying to complain too much, I really do love wanikani and respect the insane amount of work put into balancing the SRS. Just trying to understand why mnemonics take precedence over characters with actual meaning. Ideally mnemonics would only take precedent if the meaning is far removed from the vocab/kanji you will learn. Sorry if the tone is off, I’m really not trying to be aggressive. If I didn’t have Wanikani I really don’t know how I would study Kanji.


Don’t have actual meanings and only used for the sake of mnemonics, these are fine just annoying.

Scarecrow- to fill,roll of cloth seemingly no relation
Death Star- No meaning to be found, mnemonic only
Wedding- For the first time- seemingly no relation
Pirate- To move on- seemingly no relation
Rocket- rare beast,strange,elegant- seemingly no relation
Hot Pepper- false,punish,crime,law- seemingly no relation
Football- lead on to,therefore,then- seemingly no relation

Has meaning but assigned random name for sake of mnemonic even though the meaning of the radical/Kanji has relation to the meaning of the Kanji/Vocab. As well as not having an intuitive shape to the wanikani name, so learning ease is should not be a factor.

** 莫 Greenhouse-*

  • must not,do not,be not,endless… Used in a whole lot of Kanji.

  • This one has been talked about a lot on the forums so I won’t go too far into it but one glaring issue is 模(imitate). If this radical was taught with the primary meaning of, be not, inferring the meaning of imitate is simple. Tree + do not makes sense, greenhouse + tree obviously doesn’t.

** 冓 Lifeguard-*

  • put together,inner palace… 購(Subscription) 講(lecture) 構(Set Up) 溝(Gutter)

  • This one is pretty bad imo, with the meaning of put together, 講,構,溝 can all be easily inferred. But you are stuck with nothing if you learn it as lifeguard. I mean come on now, put together + tree=構(set up) put together + say is clearly a lecture. Inferring these is simple with the proper definition. You could even use a mnemonic with using something like treehouse for 構.

** 禹 Mantis-*

  • name of a Chinese emperor… Used in 属(Belong) 嘱(Request)

  • Feel like associating a flag with a Chinese Emperor would be a lot easier, to me that conveys a strong sense of belong

  • But this one is mostly fine I guess considering the really outdated usage

** 乙 Nose-*

  • the latter,duplicate,strange,witty…Used in 乙(latter) 乾(Dry)

  • Literally just wrong, serves no relation to any meaning.

  • Surely it would be better to associate the radical with what the Kanji actually means.

** 示 Jackhammer-*

  • show,indicate,point out,express,display…Used in 示(indicate)

  • Seems it would be better to not have to relearn a meaning so far down the road.

  • I can sort of understand this one cause yeah it looks like a jackhammer but why 10 levels before learning indicate.

** 享 Sock-*

  • enjoy,receive,undergo,answer(phone),take,get,catch…Used in 享(recieve) 郭(Enclosure) 塾(Cram School) 熟(Ripen)

  • Surely it would be better to associate the radical with what the Kanji actually means.

  • Literally just wrong from what I can tell, serves no relation to any meaning.

** 甚 Crab Trap-*

  • tremendously,very,great,exceedingly…Used in 堪(endure) 勘(intuition) 堪(Very).

  • Obviously would be easier to associate very with very, intuition with very power, and endure with very dirt.

  • Literally just wrong from what I can tell, serves no relation to any meaning.

** 頁 Geoduck*- page… Literally just wrong, serves no relation to any meaning

  • But eh its a good meme at this point

** Cat Pirate-*

  • lofty,high,raise,high-priced…

  • Used in 仰(look up to) 仰(Welomce).

  • Obviously much easier to associate look up to, with lofty or high, than whatever a cat pirate is supposed to be

** Black Hole-*

  • return,repeat,repeatedly…

  • Used in 復(restore) 複(duplicate) 腹(Belly) 覆(Capsize)…

  • Here duplicate and restore can both be easily associated with return making the association much easier

  • Can sort of see what they were thinking but the actual definitions are much better at for association imo.

If I’m missing something, please let me know cause obviously my Japanese knowledge is not that great, and sorry about the formatting.


The way I see it, how radicals are used traditionally and how radicals are used in WaniKani are completely different, and it doesn’t really make sense to keep the same meanings.

Usually, Kanji only have one primary radical which determines their meaning. For example, most kanji with the primary radical 人 have meanings relating to people, and most kanji with the primary radical 艹 have something to do with plants. Other radicals in the kanji have no bearing on the meaning, and may contribute a hint towards the reading. The primary radical here is just meant to be a general category into which the kanji falls, and doesn’t help with memorization in any real capacity. You can remember that 花, 草, 茶, and 薬 all have something to do with plants, but they wont do any good past that point.

WaniKani’s radicals, on the other hand, only focus on being memorization aids. The reason they differ from the official names is because a good chunk of them don’t lend well to memorization. 凵, 匚, and 冂 are a lot more helpful in memorization if they mean “box” “cage” and “head” rather than “container” “box” and “upside down box”. The point is to make the radicals somewhat outlandish as to lend to memorable stories, as well as to make them fit well together.

The question I would ask is why do the official radicals matter? Sure they’re useful in the narrow case of looking kanji up in a paper dictionary, and phonetic-semantic composition is good to keep in mind, but other than that there’s no real benefit to learning the official radicals. In WaniKani’s case, it makes more sense to deviate from the official definitions for a better memorization process than to stick with them for purity’s sake. In reality, radicals are not the difficult part about learning kanji, and if you absolutely need to know the official radical meanings you could probably memorize all the Japanese names for them in a couple of days.


Mnemonics and radicals aren’t meant to be a long term solution. They are there to help your brain remember in the early stages before it has built pathways to make it easier. In this sense, having one single, memorable meaning for each radical helps make those early days easier. Radicals tend to have a lot of possible meanings (especially if you consider that because of the changes to kanji, some radicals had the completely unrelated meanings of other ones tacked onto them). Having to go “oh right, which meaning was that this one used?” to remember a kanji is slow and annoying.


This is a great answer! :+1:


Oh yeah I guess I never added this to the post, I don’t really care about “official radicals” or anything like that. I like the WaniKani uses their own idea of radicals. I was more just wondering, why not at least try to base the mnemonics around at least a general meaning for what are really kanji that get introduced as radicals, of which there really aren’t many. I’m not advocating for teaching actual radical meanings that would be way too much and silly.

I just really don’t understand things like 莫 and 禹, to me the name could just as easily be something somewhat related to the meaning while still maintaining the usage of mnemonics. And a lot of the other radicals are exactly that. For some reason it changes drastically around lvl24-25 and goes back to normal around 26. Seems inconsistent is all.

Like you could as easily just make up a story of why 禹 looks like a Chinese emperor or why 卬 is a loft or something like that, at least then your brain has a piece of information that is relevant instead of shapes that, by level 20 or so, are not really too hard to distinguish.

Thank you for the detailed reply, I actually agree with all of it, just confused on this specific set as it seems very different from most of the radicals, considering they are Kanji in of themselves that were introduced as radicals but given a different definition.


I can never forget Wanikani’s kiss (各) with warning list not inside API v2. “each” is in warning list, not in block list; and will be marked as wrong when added as a synonym. Bug has been known for long and has been in will-fix list; it’s probably as good as won’t-fix right now.

Perhaps the issue is Wanikani aren’t like RTK. Kanji aren’t made from smaller Kanji, but from Radicals seen here only.

Perhaps I can’t hope much for Wanikani’ers not using mnemonics or creating their own, but it 's probably safe to add “y” as a synonym to every Radicals. (“n” is for marked as wrong.) Otherwise, Double Check or Anki mode.

Some others that bug me.

未 (Jet)

未来, 未決

勿 (Wing)

勿論, 勿体ない

及 (Escalator)


尺 (Shrimp)


至 (Mole)


兼 (Mona Lisa)


Non-Wanikani Kanji might be more forgivable???
巴 (Bed)


辰 (Landslide)


其 (Crab)


曽 / 曾 (Mask)

曾孫, 未曾有

About 頁 (Geoduck, I always confused as whether this is a pokemon?), maybe don’t care much about the actual radical name (大貝(おおがい)), but rather the vocabulary ((ぺーじ)). So, for me as well, Kanji not found in some (?) vocabularies are free to add any new names to them; but I want to avoid adding extra meaning to already meaningful ones.


The geoduck is one of the (おお)est (がい)s


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