Kanji Hacks 漢字の覚え方

How to memorize kanji so they stick

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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

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