Kanji Hacks 漢字の覚え方

How to memorize kanji so they stick

年(とし、ネン)

Meaning: year

Components: ノ (katakana), 干 (to dry), or 三 (three)

My hack: “No way will I finish in 2 and a half or 3 years.” The first line is ノ, then 二 where the short vertical line is the “half,” and the final horizontal line makes it 三. The final stroke you’ll just have to remember, I guess.

I also have a hack to remember the stroke order since this one is tricky: start at the top left, and pretend you are Harold with the purple crayon and you have the draw all the steps to get down (“down” being the final vertical line).

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March 31, 2009 Posted by | 6 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4 | , , , , | Leave a comment

干(ほ·す、ひ·る、カン)

Meaning: to dry (something)

Components: 二 (two), 丨(walking stick)

My hack: If you want to dry something, just stretch it over 2 sticks (and let it air dry).

March 31, 2009 Posted by | 3 strokes, Grade 6, JLPT 2, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

字(あざ、ジ)

Meaning: character, letter

Components: 宀 (no particular meaning) and 子 (child)

My hack: When you’re thinking about how many characters you have to memorize, you say, “oo (ウ) child! (That’s a lot of kanji!)”

March 31, 2009 Posted by | 6 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 3 | , , , , | Leave a comment

宀 (うかんむり)

Meaning: there is no official meaning to this one, so just come up with a way to remember this as a set. Make up your own meaning if it helps.

My hack: it looks kind of like the katakana ウ without the tail on the end.

NOTE: don’t confuse this one with 亠 (pot lid)!

March 31, 2009 Posted by | 3 strokes, Radicals | , , , , | 1 Comment

名(な、メイ、ミョウ)

Meaning:  name

Components: 夕 (evening) and 口 (mouth)

My hack: I actually remember this one by the katakana the components resemble: タ and ロ. So, someone introducing himself would say, “The name is Taro.”

March 25, 2009 Posted by | 6 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4 | , , , , | Leave a comment

How to overcome perfectionism (or, at least one way)

A lot of students let their perfectionism become their downfall. They like to be very thorough when they study kanji, and they decide to memorize every single combination that a kanji appears in. Well, if you’ve ever taken a gander at the Nelson’s dictionary, you know that you could spend most of your adult life memorizing just 4 characters. Still, some students push themselves to become some kind of kanji wizard, and they end up either a) completely burned out, or b) utterly consumed by learning Japanese (much to the dismay of friends and family).

So here’s how to avoid that fate if you know you are a perfectionist:

  1. Plan to learn all the combinations at some point, but concentrate only on the most important ones now. Tell yourself you will go back and add the others later.
  2. Remind yourself that your brain can only take in a limited amount of new information at a time, and that it takes some time to solidify before you have really learned it. That means that if you do try to memorize too many too quickly, you’ll probably weaken your grasp on them all to some degree.
  3. Channel your perfection into stroke order. That is far more important than knowing some obscure combination, and it is difficult to re-learn if you get it wrong.
  4. Relegate some combinations to your ROM (read only memory). You don’t know how to write absolutely every compound you come across (even native speakers have to look it up sometimes), so decide which ones you are OK with knowing passively. (If you’re taking a Japanese class then you won’t have this luxury. Sorry.) For example, I made sure I knew all the kanji in my address even though some were obscure, but I was OK with not knowing how to write きれい in kanji.

If you’ve got other ideas, please add them in the comments!

March 24, 2009 Posted by | General learning, Memorization tips | Leave a comment

儿 (legs)

Meaning: legs

My hack: not that there is a need for one, but imagine stick figure legs. The right one is wearing an elf shoe.

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

先(さき、セン)

Meaning: before, ahead, preceding

Components: 儿 (legs), and you could say ノ and 土 (dirt) although they are not technically radicals of this kanji.

My hack: Brush the dirt off your legs before you come in. (Imagine the ノ is a hand.) OR, “no dirt on your legs before you come in.”

March 24, 2009 Posted by | 6 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4 | , , , , | Leave a comment

休(やす·む、キュウ)

Meaning: rest, time off, take a break

Components: 亻(from 人 person) and 木 (tree)

My hack: When a person takes a break, s/he can rest under the tree.

March 21, 2009 Posted by | 6 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4 | , , , , | Leave a comment

亠(なべぶた)

Meaning: pot lid

My hack: Well, it does look like a pot lid, doesn’t it?

March 20, 2009 Posted by | 2 strokes, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

立(た·つ、リツ、リュウ)

Meaning: stand up

Components: 亠 (pot lid), 一 (one)

My hack: It looks a lot like a sign for a men’s restroom, where the handle to the “pot lid” is the head, the “lid” is the shoulders, and the vertical-ish lines are the sides of the body. You can remember it because men stand in the restroom.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | 5 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 3, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

石(いし、セキ、シャク、コク)

Meaning: rock, stone

Components: 一(one), 丿(katakana “no”), 口 (mouth, exit)

My hack: This one is a cheesy one but, “One rock, no way out.” As in, one一 rock (engagement ring), noノway out口 of getting married.

March 19, 2009 Posted by | 5 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 1, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

目(め、モク、ボク)

Meaning: eye

My hack: If you turn it sideways, it sort of looks like a Picasso style eye where the two lines in the middle are the outline of the iris.

OR, how about one of those cartoon eyes like Stewie on the Family Guy?

March 18, 2009 Posted by | 5 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 3, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

How to make up a good “hack”

It can be challenging to come up with a good hack at first, so here are some tips to help get you started:

  1. Use the radicals if you can. There should be a link to all the radicals in each kanji entry.
  2. Make up a sentence or “story” that includes all the components of a kanji, plus the meaning.
  3. In your hack, try to use the components in the order that you write them. For example, a hack for 技 should use the components in the order 扌十又… maybe “skilled hands have ten (fingers) repeating something again and again.”
  4. Keep it as simple as possible. It’s a challenge, but try to avoid extra words as much as possible. My example for #3 probably has too many words, because when I try to write I may be trying to think of a radical for “fingers” which is not even in the kanji.
  5. Make your hack silly, absurd, shocking, or whatever you like as long as it is not bland. Your brain is wired to remember the unusual, so make the most of that and really give it something to grab on to.
  6. If you can get your hack to come out in some kind of rhythm or singable to a tune, you will never forget it. That’s a tall order, I know, but some people are talented that way.
  7. Don’t worry about what others will think. We’re all in the same boat here, and if it works for you, chances are it will work for others.

If you’ve got other advice for coming up with good hacks, please leave them in the comments!

March 18, 2009 Posted by | General learning, Memorization tips | Leave a comment

白(しろ、しら、ハク、ビャク)

Meaning: white

Components: 日 (sun, day)

My hack: white light from the sun.” The sun is 日 and the stroke at the top is the light radiating out.

March 17, 2009 Posted by | 5 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

田(た、デン)

Meaning: rice paddy, rice field

My hack: This one does kind of look like what it means.

taue

You just have to remember to write the outside edges first, then put in your (ten) rice plants.

March 16, 2009 Posted by | 5 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 3, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

生(い·きる、う·む、は·える、なま、セイ、ショウ)

Meaning: life, give birth, real

Components: well, there is no official radical for this character, but Heisig suggests remembering strokes #2-5 as something like “growing” (as in a plant). I think of it as something like a corn stalk, as in this image:

Photo courtesy of USDA

Photo courtesy of USDA

My hack: I think of the first stroke as a drop of water, which gives life to all things that grow.

March 16, 2009 Posted by | 5 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

玉(たま、ギョク)

Meaning: ball, jewel

Components: 王 (king) and 丶(dot, drop)

My hack: I like to think of a fairy tale king who has lots  of jewels. Imagine that the dot is a giant gem in his ring, or that it is the royal orb (ball).

Painting by Gerard van Honthorst via Wikipedia.org

Painting by Gerard van Honthorst via Wikipedia.org

March 15, 2009 Posted by | 5 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 2, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

正(ただ·しい、まさ、セイ、ショウ)

Meaning: correct, justice

Components: 一(one)and 止 (stop)

My hack: Think of someone who is very concerned about the environment, and who wants to use a car as little as possible. This person would say “One stop shopping is correct. (Driving all over town is not.)”

Tip: this character is the one that Japanese people use to count things in fives, as opposed to the “counting days in jail” way:

countingby5

If you’re game for it, I would recommend giving the Japanese way a try. Not only will you learn the kanji down cold, but you may find that you like this way better.

March 14, 2009 Posted by | 5 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 3 | , , , , | Leave a comment

本(もと、ホン)

Meaning: book, main, true, root, source

  • (you’ll probably encounter this as “book” or the “hon” in “nihon” more than anything else in the beginning.)

Components: 木 (tree), and a very small 一 (one)

My hack: Books, which are made from trees, are the one true source of knowledge.”

OR, “books are made from tree roots.”

Photo by a hundred visions and revisions

Photo by a hundred visions and revisions

March 14, 2009 Posted by | 5 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment