Kanji Hacks 漢字の覚え方

How to memorize kanji so they stick

We’ve moved!

Thanks for stopping by!

If you got here via a bookmark, please check out the new site at KanjiHacks.com (no longer kanjihacks.wordpress.com). I’ll be posting there from now on. See you there!


August 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How is Kanji Hacks different from other kanji learning sites?

Glad you asked. There are a lot of fantastic sites out there where you can learn everything there is to know about kanji, but if you are anything like me, you just don’t have the time to go paddling around to find what you need. You’re at your desk thinking, “I have to have these memorized by tomorrow and I’ve hit a wall!” Kanji Hacks is your study aid that will help you get through all that tedious memorization so you can focus on the other zillion things vying for your attention.

You just search for the kanji you need, check out the memorization techniques, find one (or add one) that works for you, and you’re done.

The other thing that’s different is that you aren’t restricted to any particular set of rules, so whatever “hack” works is fair game. I know a lot of people like “Remembering the Kanji” (I used it myself for a long time) and those books are great resources, but sometimes it’s too hard to come up with a great “story.” If you’ve got a trick to remember a kanji that doesn’t follow the traditional rules, great! It may work for others too.

Everything’s still in the construction stage right now, but there’s more content added every day, so keep coming back!

March 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why kanji is not as hard as you think

If you are just starting out with kanji, you are probably thinking:

OMG, I will never learn all these! They are totally random and they only get hairier the more you learn!

If you have already studied for a while, I bet you thought this at some point:

OMG, there are patterns here. These more complicated kanji are just variations of others I already learned. Why didn’t anyone tell me this in the beginning??

So let me tell you if you are just starting out: it’s not as bad as it looks. The worst part is the very beginning when all the characters are new and mean nothing to you. As you learn more, patterns start to emerge and you will eventually be able to guess the meaning and even the reading of a kanji you have never seen before. Here’s why:

  • Kanij are not thousands of unique characters like letters of the alphabet. Some are unique, but the majority are just recombinations of components that come up over and over again.
  • You write the components of kanji in patterns that come up again and again, so you don’t have to remember the stroke order for every kanji individually.
  • Radicals (the building blocks of kanji) can help you memorize meanings, and help you guess meanings of unfamiliar characters later on.
  • When you already know a lot of kanji, you can use that knowledge to guess the reading of a new character. Not only will you read faster, but this will spare you the agonizingly slow process of looking up kanji by radical.

Sure, it looks daunting at first, but as you learn you will start to gather some steam, and memorizing won’t be such a chore later on. But let me say this:

Since you will be building on what you memorized in the beginning, you should really focus on getting those basics down cold!

March 9, 2009 Posted by | General learning | Leave a comment

How to start learning kanji

The flash cards for hiragana, katakana, and Grade 1 kanji are now up. Let me know how they work out for you!

If you’re just starting out learning Japanese, you are probably overwhelmed with the amount of memorization you have to do. Not only are you learning 46 hiragana and 46 katakana, you have 1,945 kanji ahead of you, and they are not all as easy as 一、二、三 …

Here’s what you need to do to get started:

  • Set up a realistic schedule. Don’t say you’re going to learn 20 kanji a day, because you’re just not. Start out slowly with something like 2-3 per day for 4 days a week, and if you can manage that you’ll feel the warm glow of success. You can always build up from there if it’s too easy. If you shoot for 15 a day every day, you’re just setting yourself up for failure, and that’s not too conducive to learning. (For those of you learning in school, go with the time line they give you, but never ever EVER wait till the last minute. If they don’t dole them out to you in daily doses, set up your own schedule.) Here are some scheduling samples:
  • 2 kanji per day, 4 days a week → you’ll have all 80 Grade 1 kanji mastered in 10 weeks
  • 3 kanji per day, 3 days a week → you’ll have all 80 Grade 1 kanji mastered in 9 weeks
  • 3 kanji per day, 4 days a week→ you’ll have all 80 Grade 1 kanji mastered in 7 weeks
    • If you can go slow and steady like this, you’ll have all 1,945 Joyo Kanji mastered in just over 3 years. Not bad considering Japanese native speakers take 9 years to accomplish this.
  • Bust out the flash cards. I know this is not what you want to hear, but flash cards really are the best way to learn. I’ll go over how to use flash cards most efficiently in another post. Also, check out the flashcards I have made for you to print out on your own so you don’t have to waste hours and hours making them yourself.
  • Learn the combinations as you go. Unfortunately you can’t just memorize an isolated kanji for meaning and be done. You’ll have to learn the readings and common combinations, and it’s a lot easier to learn them as you go than to try to catch up later. For example, you may have to learn 校, but it doesn’t occur by itself that much. Go ahead and learn 学校、高校、校長、etc., so you won’t be constantly reaching for the dictionary when you read.
    • NOTE: This means you will be making up one flash card for an individual kanji, and then another 4-5 for combinations. Suddenly your 3 kanji a day has turned into 15 flash cards a day. Aren’t you glad you’re not shooting for 15 kanji a day?
  • Make up a memorization hack. Think of some trick or mnemonic to help you remember. Don’t just think “Hmm, 楽 looks like ‘fun’ so I’ll probably just remember it.” Trust me, that never works. My post on making up hacks will give you more details.
  • Repeat ad nauseum. The more you review your flash cards, the better you will remember the kanji. I’ll go into the best times, places, and cycles for memorizing in other posts.
  • Don’t skimp on the admiring. No matter how much you study it always seems like you have thousands of kanji more to learn, and that really takes the wind out of your sails. At least once every study session, notice how many kanji you have already learned. Put them up on a bulletin board. Stick your old flash cards on the wall. Stick them on the fridge. Do whatever will make you say “Dang, I already know a lot of kanji.” Occasionally focusing on your successes will make the hard work ahead more enjoyable.

March 8, 2009 Posted by | Memorization tips | 7 Comments

Kanji Pict-O-Graphics [book review]

The official review will be coming soon. In the meantime, check out the KanjiPictographix website to get an idea of the approach.

August 22, 2009 Posted by | Reviews | Leave a comment

How to improve your memory [memorization tips]

This is a good video chock full of easy tips to improve your memory (and not the usual “just think harder!” type tips). I especially like the one about moving your eyes right to left every morning. Who knew?

August 22, 2009 Posted by | General learning, Memorization tips | Leave a comment

Memorize on an empty stomach [memorization tip]

If you can manage it, try to memorize your kanji right before a meal.

The “hunger hormone,” ghrelin, has been linked to improved memory, and it “directly influences activity and plasticity of a brain region associated with learning and memory.”

I don’t know how much difference it will make, but every little bit helps when you have to remember thousands of kanji!

August 22, 2009 Posted by | General learning, Memorization tips | Leave a comment


Meaning: to stop

My hack: I can’t claim credit for this one. (I learned this from a book called Kanji Pict-O-Graphix, which has about 1000 mnemonics if you’re interested in seeing some other memorization ideas.)

The first stroke (the longer vertical line) is a police officer, and the little horizontal stroke is his arm out to signal traffic to stop. The third stroke is a child waiting to cross the street, and the final stroke is the ground.

This character is on the cover of the book:

Kanji Pict-O-Graphix

Kanji Pict-O-Graphix

Note: Just in case anyone is suspicious, I have no affiliation with the author of this book and I am not being paid to plug it. I’m just putting it out there as an option for anyone who is interested. For more details on this book and others, check out my reviews.

August 20, 2009 Posted by | 4 strokes, Grade 2, JLPT 3, Radicals | Leave a comment


Meaning: dot, drop

My hack: it’s not much of a hack, but it does look like a droplet of water, or a bead of sweat in a cartoon kind of way.

Photo by emrank

Photo by emrank

unknown source

unknown source

August 17, 2009 Posted by | 1 stroke, Radicals | Leave a comment


Meaning: same

My hack: I like to think of this as a little enclosure, like a fence. You draw an enclosure around things that are the same; so the sheep are in this pen, pigs in another, cows in another….

June 14, 2009 Posted by | 2 strokes, Radicals | Leave a comment


Meaning: gold

Components: 𠆢 (roof), 干 (to dry)

My hack:   ( Grr. These radicals are the hardest ones, and you can’t just skip them because they show up EVERYWHERE.)

I try to think of this as a gold mine, where the first 2 strokes are the roof, the next 3 strokes are something like a jack hammer, the two dot-like strokes are sparks, and the last is the ground. I’m sure this has absolutely no relation to how gold is actually produced, but it makes a nice visual stimulus.

May 16, 2009 Posted by | 8 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

𠆢 (やね)

Meaning: roof

My hack: not much need for one, since it looks like a roof. Think of a park pavilion.

May 16, 2009 Posted by | 2 strokes, Radicals | 5 Comments


Meaning: sound

Components: 立 (stand), 日 (day, sun)

My hack: If you had to stand on the sun, I’m pretty sure you’d make a sound (if only for a nanosecond).

May 10, 2009 Posted by | 9 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 3, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment


Meaning: grass

Components: 艹(grass), 早 (early)

My hack: You should water your grass early (it’s better for the environment, you know).


Grass (poking up through the snow) is an early sign of spring.

Any other ideas?

May 10, 2009 Posted by | 9 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 2 | , , , , | Leave a comment


Meaning: rain

My hack: This looks a lot like rain on a window to me. The first stroke is the curtain rod above the window, or maybe the top of the window. Strokes 2-4 outline the window panes, and the last 4 strokes are the drops of rain on the window.

Remember this one well, because it’s the radical for all sorts of kanji having to do with weather.

May 9, 2009 Posted by | 8 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4, Radicals | , , , , | 1 Comment


Meaning: hole, opening

Components: 宀 (no meaning), 八 (eight) or katakana ハ

My hack: What sound would come out of your mouth if you fell in a hole? “Uwha?!” (ウハ?!)

May 3, 2009 Posted by | 5 strokes, Grade 6, JLPT 1, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment


Meaning: craft, construction

My hack: it looks like the side view of an I-beam.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | 3 strokes, Grade 2, JLPT 3, Radicals | Leave a comment


Meaning: empty, sky

Components: 穴 (hole), 工 (construction)

My hack: A hole at a construction site is the very definition of empty.

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Grade 1, JLPT 3 | | Leave a comment


Meaning: study, learning

Components: Something close to ツ, 冖 (cover), 子 (child)

  • Heisig refers to the combination of the first 5 strokes as “school house.”

My hack: You know how books lean one way or the other when you put them on a bookshelf? I imagine the first three strokes as books. And when a child has to study, s/he is covered in books.

You can also remember “school house” that way, because where else would you be covered in books?

April 26, 2009 Posted by | 8 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4 | , , , , | Leave a comment

A note on Heisig

Most people who are studying Japanese have heard of James Heisig, author of the Remembering the Kanji series. I used these books myself when I first started out, and I found them very useful. His efforts have helped thousands of students master kanji, and my hat is off to him for all his work.

That being said, I feel that there is room for other approaches, and that is why I started this blog. I will still refer to Heisig’s mnemonics and what he calls “primitives” occasionally, but most of what you will find here is all original work. (I also don’t want to cause any trouble by referring to his work too much!)

If you’re a fan of the Heisig books, by all means leave your mnemonics in the comments, even if they have nothing to do with my hacks!

April 26, 2009 Posted by | General learning | Leave a comment


Meaning: cover

My hack: it looks like a cross section of a box lid.

April 24, 2009 Posted by | 2 strokes, Radicals | , , , | Leave a comment


Meaning: woods, grove

Components: 木 (tree)

My hack: One tree is just a tree, 2 trees are a grove/woods.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | 8 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 2 | , , , , | Leave a comment


Meaning: car

My hack: This looks like a bird’s eye view of a chariot, which was the car of its day I suppose.

Photo by joaquinuy

Photo by joaquinuy

April 22, 2009 Posted by | 7 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4, Radicals | , , , , | 2 Comments