Kanji Hacks 漢字の覚え方

How to memorize kanji so they stick

工(コウ、ク)

Meaning: craft, construction

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

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

空(そら、あ・く、あ・ける、から、クウ)

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

学(まな・ぶ、ガク)

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

冖(わかんむり)

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

林(はやし、リン)

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

車(くるま、シャ)

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

疋(ひき)

Meaning: bolt of cloth, head count

My hack: I agree with Heisig that this looks like 正 (correct), with a little flourish on the end. (He calls it “mending.”) I like to remember it with since that one is easier to remember since it has such a clear visual.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Radicals | , , , | Leave a comment

足(あし、た・りる、た・る、た・す、ソク)

Meaning: leg/foot, enough

Components: 口 (mouth), and it looks a lot like 疋 (bolt of cloth)

My hack: To me, this really looks like a cartoon of a person running (“fleet of foot“). That 6th stroke could also remind you of an oversized foot.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | 7 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 3, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

赤(あか、あか・らむ、セキ、シャク)

Meaning: red

Components: 土 (earth, dirt), 刂(sword)

My hack: In Hawaii there is that red dirt, and not even a sword can get those spots (the last 2 strokes) out of your clothes.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | 7 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 3, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

刀(かたな、トウ)

Meaning: sword

My hack: Some took a sword and cut off the power (as in 力).

Other versions: 刂

This actually looks a lot more like a sword than the main version. Go figure.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | 2 strokes, Grade 2, JLPT 1, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

森(もり、シン)

Meaning: forest

Components: 木 (tree)

My hack: Oo, I loves me the easy ones. One tree is a tree. 2 trees are a grove. 3 trees are a forest. Basta.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | 12 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 2 | , , , , | 2 Comments

貝(かい)

Meaning: shell

Components: 目 (eye), and something close to 八 (eight) or the katakana ハ.

My hack: I remember this one visually, with the horizontal lines representing the lines in the shell. The 2 final strokes are the little “legs” that stick out of the shell, or alternatively they can be water being squirted out of the shell.

clam_1_md

April 20, 2009 Posted by | 7 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 2, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

花(はな、カ)

Meaning: flower

Components: 艹(grass), 化 (change)

My hack: A flower is a kind of plant, so we have to have 艹, and flowers change more quickly than any other plants (i.e. the blooms die).

OR

the 化 part could be a person on the left, and another person on the right on his/her knees holding a bouquet of flowers behind his/her back.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | 7 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 3 | , , , , | Leave a comment

艹(くさかんむり)

Meaning: grass

My hack: The horizontal line is the ground, and the 2 vertical lines are blades of grass. It’s a sparse lawn.

Variations: 艸 艹 䒑

NOTE: when you see this radical in any character, you can be pretty sure that you are looking at some kind of plant.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | 3 strokes, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

化(ば・ける、ば・かす、カ、ケ)

Meaning:change

Components: 亻(person), 匕 (spoon)

My hack: I remember spoon as a side view of a baby since that is what it looks like to me, so for this one I think of a spoon-fed baby and a person and how quickly one changes from one to the other.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | 4 strokes, Grade 3, JLPT 2 | , , , , | Leave a comment

匕(さじのひ)

Meaning: spoon

My hack: To me this looks like a baby sitting on the floor with arms reaching up. Maybe he’s waiting for someone to feed him with a spoon.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | 2 strokes, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment

見(み・る、み・える、み・せる、ケン)

Meaning: see

Components: 目 (eye), 儿(legs)

My hack: I like to think of the legs as making the eye work (making it into a verb), meaning to see.

OR

My grandma used to say “keep your eyes out on sticks” when looking for something. That’s similar to “see.”

April 18, 2009 Posted by | 7 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4, Radicals | , , , , | 1 Comment

校(コウ)

Meaning: school

Components: 木 (tree/wood), 六 (six), something close to “X”

My hack: My elementary school was made of wood, I went there for six years and now I’m done (signified by the X).

OR

When I went to school I would (wood) wear a size 6X.

April 18, 2009 Posted by | 10 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4 | , , , | Leave a comment

町(まち、チョウ)

Meaning: town

Components: 田 (rice field), 丁 (town)

My hack: A town is not as big as a city, so it would not be surprising to find one surrounded by rice fields. Here there is a T-intersection in the town right next to a field.

April 16, 2009 Posted by | 7 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 3 | , , , , | Leave a comment