Why is the music radical in Level 10 when the music kanji is in level 6

I am shocked to see that the music radical is in level 10 when the music kanji has already been introduced in level 6.

Does anyone know why?

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A lot of times, wk will teach a kanji you already know as a radical, so if it appears in a different kanji in its entirety, it will be easier to make a mnemonic out of


That is a design limitation of WaniKani which leaks into the user’s schedule. A kanji is reintroduced as a radical, because bigger kanji can be composed only of radical items


To me, it seems that it is easier to put the radical and the Kanji in the same level. In the end, they mean the same and it is easier for users. You can easily introduce items that use the radicals later if you want to but introducing the radical later looks like patchwork (putting the cart before the horse).


I assume the idea here is minimizing the distance between the radical and the kanji that make it up, so you immediately get usage examples of it. At the very least if you are a couple levels past an item, you are more likely to remember it.


I am in total agreement with this. All I am saying is that, in such cases, introduce the Kanji and the radical when you are going to introduce kanji that makes use of them. I just want to avoid introduction of a radical that is already known in the Kanji.


And that is in fact the case


Then delay this until level 10

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Depends on your definition of “easy.” As you get into higher levels you’ll see much more of this, and it’s frankly a relief to already know them. Saves time and effort you can focus on learning new kanji/vocab, versus made up radicals that are designed to eventually be forgotten anyway.


I would agree that it is a relief if you know them already which is why I don’t want it to appear as an unknown in level 10 because it is known already.

I agree with your last part completely. I feel that only those radicals should be tested which are either the same as the kanji or close to it. The rest of the radicals don’t need testing because they are made up anyway and the way I see the radical is going to be different from the way wani kani sees it. I don’t remember the poop radical as poop but as short thread because it would generally be used as short in kanji.

This is very long. It’s very long because I’ve been thinking about how I’ve used WaniKani a lot, now that it’s been over a year since I started—what’s worked, what hasn’t. And I realized that 90% of my attempts to do something “better” than the good people who put WaniKani together actually made things more difficult. (The other 10%—mostly rules of thumb, memory tips, useful userscripts, and ways to use WaniKani that work better for me — I’ll write about later. I’d already started writing all this up when I saw this thread, and what I’ve written below is largely pulled from that. Still, I’ll hide most of it so it isn’t just a wall of text.)

Since you’re only at Level 11 (I assume, since you’re speaking in the present tense) I’d urge you to wait a bit longer and I think it will make more sense intuitively. It is a judgment call, so you may disagree on particular cases, but since you originally asked

I think it’s a fair question.

Your proposal—I think—is that radicals that match kanji, and vice versa, should appear in the same lesson, correct? But WaniKani sometimes (actually, usually) breaks this in both directions:

  1. It introduces a radical first and only later a kanji matching it, such as radical Products 品 in Level 13 and kanji 品 product in Level 16.
  2. It introduces a kanji first, and then later a radical matching it, such as kanji 少 few in Level 3 and radical Few 少 in Level 11. This is the situation you noticed with radical Music 曲 in Level 11 and kanji 曲 music in Level 6.

I’m not sure which is more prevalant—they both happen regularly as you progress. The one thing they don’t do, though, is introduce a radical without also introducing a kanji containing it (even if it isn’t the kanji matching it). It’s not just free radicals floating around; they’re always motivated. (Of course, just like not seeing vocab with a kanji until you’ve gotten the kanji up to Guru at least once, the same applies to kanji and radicals.)

So why?

Let’s start with the first case:

Case 1: Radical introduced well before the kanji

Case 1: Radical introduced well before the kanji

Let’s consider the radical Stool 又 from Level 3. Level 3! The kanji 又 again doesn’t appear until Level 51! So literally years apart for most learners. Why?

Well, for one thing, 又 is a pretty rare kanji in writing—its kun reading, また, is virtually always written in kana alone. In my 字典 (character dictionary), 又 appears in 45 compounds, but over 30 of those are usually written in kana alone, and 12 of the rest often have 又 written as また. (又 lacks an on’yomi at all. That’s common with these early radical / late kanji pairs, as it turns out.)

It’s not assigned to a school grade in the Jōyō list—meaning it’s not taught directly via drill-sheets for reading and writing the way grade-school Jōyō kanji are, but as a random vocabulary item to pick up in junior or senior high school. In the JLPT framework, 又 is an N1-level kanji (which is the most advanced).

(I should note here that WaniKani does not follow the Jōyō or JLPT orders—as explained in the introduction to the system, the pedagogical order for Japanese schoolchildren (Jōyō) doesn’t make the most sense for foreign-language learners. And JLPT largely just follows Jōyō. But I mention this here to show just how non-“basic” the kanji 又 is. Putting it in Lesson 3 might not increase your workload that much, but putting all similar kanji—and there are many, many of them—so early would be madness.)

So why not wait until it makes sense to introduce 又 before introducing the radical and all its children kanji? Well, if you look at radical Stool 又, there are 35 kanji that use it before you get to the kanji 又 — not even counting its “grandchildren” via radicals like Branch 支. And many of these are extremely important and common kanji, like accept.

Maybe think of it like this: there are lots of radicals that are unlisted or name-only kanji, or even aren’t individual kanji at all. The radical Stool 又 is essentially one of these for the first 50 Levels. In Level 51 you find out it can be a kanji as well—but it’s not a very useful one, which is why it’s so late in the course.

And you wouldn’t insist that radicals be drawn only from shapes that are themselves common kanji, right?

Case 2: Kanji well before radical

Case 2: Kanji well before radical

The second case is kanji before radical, like the one you objected to in the title, . As another example, I’ll use one you’re about to see: the Level 11 radical Few 少. It’s explained as

This radical is the same as the kanji. It means few.

If you go back to the entry for the kanji 少 in Level 3, you’ll see its mnemonic is

You have a small slide. The thing about small slides is that they can only fit a few people at a time.

So your proposal would basically be that the Few 少 radical should have been introduced in Lesson 3 with the mnemonic the kanji uses, then kanji 少 should have been introduced late in Level 3 or in Level 4, with the mnemonic (to follow other cases like this)

A few is a few.

[With one ‘few’ colored blue, the other magenta.]

But if you look at the radicals in order (e.g., starting at Pleasant, then Painful and so on), looking for radicals you already know as kanji, you’ll see that insisting on this inviolable order of radical-before-kanji would result, once again, in front-loading a lot of relatively rare radicals before common ones—especially as you get past Level 15 or so.

More importantly, it’s more optimal for “packing/unpacking cognition”. What I mean by that is, when the kanji 少 is introduced, you get its meaning from elements you already know (‘small’ and the slide), and those elements are also used for the reading しょう:

Why is there a little traffic jam on the slide? Because the SHOUgun (しょう) is using the slide and he loves little things. He’s forcing everyone to stop and watch, even though there are people backed up behind him. How inconsiderate.

The sound mnemonic builds on the meaning mnemonic. They reinforce one another. This promotes “packing” in your memory so that you remember the kanji, its meaning, and its on’yomi as a unit, which you can recall through subconscious “unpacking”.

If you’re at Level 10 or 11, I’ll bet you already have the kanji 少 and its four vocab items (少し・少ない・少女・少年) in Master by now, if not Enlightened. So when you see the radical soon, you’ll just know it, which will make it easy to apply to new kanji.

So there are lots of memory advantages in this.

Conclusion, and why rolling your own mnemonics is a trap


The only real disadvantage is that there are always going to be one or two kanji that you learned with component radicals—so when you see walk, the mnemonic

You stop at a small slide. What were you doing before you stopped here? You were walking.

will only work so long as you don’t read the kanji as breaking down into Stop 止 + Few 少 once you learn the latter. If you forget 歩 and stare at it, you might break it down into Stop + Few, and you won’t come up with a matching mnemonic since you need Stop + Small + Slide.

And I won’t lie—this can be annoying. But the overall ordering of WaniKani items (in both radical-then-kanji and kanji-then-radical cases) seems well-designed so that the number of radicals in a single kanji don’t become huge, while also trying to keep the number of kanji that have ambiguous radical breakdowns (like 歩) small.

In a project like learning over two-thousand kanji and tens of thousands of vocabulary items, it’s important to optimize the flow of new arbitrary things you have to learn. You can take a semiotics course if you want to know the technical meaning of that, but basically, it’s things that don’t have motivation, that you just have to memorize.

A new kanji, its primary reading, and each of its new readings you might see, e.g., when it appears with okurigana, are arbitrary. In a compound like 白黒 しろくろ, black and white, the meaning isn’t arbitrary if you know the two kanji. The reading is a bit arbitrary, because it’s kun’yomi, but once you remember that, the rest isn’t arbitrary either.

Your capacity over time for learning arbitrary things is quite limited unless you learn special techniques—like people who memorize many digits of pi. (That sort of “memory palace” memorization is, unfortunately, not well-suited for the fast random-recall you need to read a foreign language.) But you can learn non-arbitrary things—like facts, stories, theories, how 白 and 黒 go together to make black and white—at a much greater clip.

When you say “it is known already”, you mean it is no longer arbitrary. You still have to learn it—because some kanji become radicals later on without changing meaning, some change meaning, and most do not become radicals at all. It’s just much easier learning it than it would have been otherwise.

I think I made a similar comment when I was similarly far along as well. It seems eminently sensible. But a year later, I feel rather differently about it.

First, the number of radicals is very large—I’ve burned (finished so they’re no longer appearing in my queue) about 250 radicals, at the same time I’ve burned only ~500 kanji and ~1500 vocabulary. When you only have a few hundred items total to keep track of, you can just kind of brute-force it, like you’d learn a telephone number you have to call in a few minutes. I did that a lot at first. It was a big mistake.

When most things are returning on a daily or weekly basis, you don’t have to put a lot of effort into making sure you’ve actually learned something. I think of it a bit like learning a complex piece of software or a programming language, or a long, complex piece of music if you play an instrument—a few hundred items you’re being frequently reminded of, you can probably remember without effort if you’re reasonably smart and repeating it fairly often. But leave it cold for a while and it just… disappears.

But once you have hundreds and then thousands of items at the Master level and above—which you will in just a few months—you’ll be seeing things you probably hadn’t thought about once for months. Figuring out the character’s radicals, remembering that mnemonic, that’s going to help you reinforce that item so you have it cold. If you can’t do that, it’s going to tumble back down the Apprentice levels, then get to Master, tumble back down, and repeat.

Let me make clear—I want to read Japanese, not think about mnemonics. So, I do not Burn any item that I’m still having to work out via mnemonic. (I use the Double-Check userscript, and—contrary what I imagine most users who don’t would think—I use it to mark items I don’t feel I have a good enough grasp on wrong much more often than I use it to override and mark something right!) I still see if I can remember it via mnemonic—but when I do, I mark it wrong. I only let items Burn if I can read them — meaning and reading — straight off.

But at the Guru II through Enlightened level, the mnemonics truly do help to burrow those items into your brain deeper, because it’s not arbitrary—just like how it’s easier to remember what happened in history than to remember a collection of dates, but once you really know the facts about a certain sequence of history, recalling the dates becomes much easier. They have a story to latch onto.

That’s where I’d finally caution you about coming up with your own names for radicals. You say “thread” is better than “poop”. But consider 響 きょう echo, with the meaning mnemonic

If you poop on the roots of a building, the sound will echo all the way through the building, and each and every person in there will know what you did.

and the reading mnemonic

The echo doesn’t stop there, this building’s roots extend throughout the entire city of きょうと. The echo reverberates and soon everyone in きょうと is listening, horrified, to your poop.

Swapping “thread” for “poop” there makes no sense. So you’ll have to come up with your own mnemonic—one that somehow ties your names for the radicals with the meaning “echo” and the sound きょう. You can do it, sure, but you’ll have to do it again, and again, and again.

Coming up with good mnemonics that build on one another is WaniKani’s job. They’re good at it. And they know how to leverage the sounds that come up repeatedly in different permutations. For instance: I thought the idea of “Mrs. Chou” was ridiculous — but nasty old ちょうさん has helped me so much over the past year, and that’s just one recurring mnemonic.


That’s not a reason, and it doesn’t even make any sense. The point is that if music is both a radical and a kanji, the radical should be introduced first.

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The radical for music isn’t there to teach anything new. It’s just there because the wanikani system needs to have that character also be classified as a radical. It’s more a formality and slight refresher than anything. In one scenario you had actually forgotten the music kanji by the time you got to another kanji that used it and the radical item gates you from learning any new kanji with 曲 until you actually learn what it means. In that scenario it makes perfect sense.

Teaching the radical 曲 before the kanji 曲 would make things needlessly complicated. Teaching it directly after wouldn’t allow it to serve as a freebie refresher and put it directly to use. The site has plenty of things I disagree with, but this certainly isn’t one.


That would make sense if 曲 the radical was being used as the radical to teach 曲 the kanji. However, when 曲 the kanji is taught in level 6 it is being taught using 2 smaller radicals from that, or earlier levels. Later, a kanji already known is being introduced to be used as a radical moving forward. But in terms of how things are presented in WK method, the kanji came first before the radical not the other way around. You will also see that if you look at the lesson page for the radical 曲, it does not list the kanji 曲 as being a kanji that the radical is found in.

Note: not making any personal assessment of this, just pointing out how things work within the way that WK is designed.

Note2: Seeing the level you are at, if it bothers you buckle up your seat belt because you are going to see a LOT more :slight_smile: At higher levels, many of the radicals which are introduced are kanji from before. For example, at level 19, 4 of the 6. There are generally several per level from about level 10 on.


And that’s my biggest issue with this method.

I don’t see how that would make anything more complicated.

You’re just going to end up writing the same meaning mnemonic to mean “music” and just make it for the radical this time. Then when you have the kanji introduced you’ll say “it’s the same as the radical” as opposed to “it’s the same as the kanji”.

Everything is the same in terms of work. The only difference is now the kanji is gated behind an extra radical and we have to guru the meaning “music” via the radical before we are allowed to learn the kanji/reading. It’s not the biggest negative in the world, but seeing as there are really no positives it just makes things needlessly complicated.


Im pretty sure that’s not always the case, actually. 蔵 I think is the other way around for some reason. That seems inconsistent and needs fixing imo.

In this case, they are introduced at the same level (33) and the radical would come first as at a new level radicals are taught first, then kanji then vocab (unless you are using some script to alter that for some reason). In this case the radical is not being introduced as being a kanji you have already seen, it is being introduced as a new radical. In the case of 曲 it is a matter of incremental learning being used. One is first taught 2 small things (the radicals used to teach the kanji 曲), then taught the kanji 曲 which is made up of those two smaller things. Later, it is used as a radical, now being used as a single building block with which to build bigger things, but that single block was itself taught using 2 smaller blocks.

Granted, 蔵 as a kanji could have been taught as using three smaller radicals (in fact that is how the radical is described) and then introduced as a radical coming from the kanji which was learned (the same as the case for 曲). When/how it is applied does seem to be arbitrary perhaps?

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Agree with ray here. It does not make anything more complicated. If anything, it simplifies.

That was a lot of words to say “yes, it is” lol

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