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Mnemonic Devices
My secret to memorizing Kanji

I’m here with a new blog post on Kanji (there’s also a new vid and newsletter on the way) and I thought what better way to start then with a review of one of the greatest Japanese learning devices there is! Uh oh, did I just give away the rating? Anyway, on with it…

What this book, "Remembering the Kanji" does is simply amazing, and its method is extremely different. The author, James Heisig, recognized that Chinese learners of Japanese have an unfair advantage since they already know the meanings of the characters, even if they don’t yet know the pronunciation. And their learning speed is incredible, most times learning all necessary 2,000 characters in less than 6 months.

So he discovered a way to bring the same advantage to English learners. By breaking over 2,000 characters into less than 100 common pieces called primaries, he then used mnemonic devices to tie them together. Mnemonic devices are pretty much God’s gift to language learners, basically stories using the image creating part of the brain to remember the primaries and characters.

Whew… I feel like I wrote that last paragraph without taking a breath. Anyway, that’s the good stuff, back when I used the method I was able to crank out about 50 characters into my brain a day, and learned all essential 2,000 in about a month or 2. Of course my results are unique because I’m a learning freak, but most everyone else who has tried this method has had similar results.

Now for the bad news, you actually must purchase the second book to learn how to pronounce the 2,000 characters you learned. (Which means in the mean time you really can't read much, at least not in the normal way) And the second book isn’t nearly as revolutionary as the first, and can take anywhere from a couple months to a year to complete. I personally didn’t have a problem because at that point I had already learned most of the spoken language, and was able to connect the pronunciations rather quickly. Especially since I read manga quiet often ^^.

The price is relatively no problem, about 30 bucks per book. Not including the 3rd book, which covers an additional 1,000 characters, which aren’t that essential, (at least it wasn’t for my purposes, average newspaper, manga, and book reading.) you’ll spend about 40 to 60 dollars.

I should also mention if you aren’t familiar, Kanji is the most feared subject Japanese has to offer, one that most gaijin (foreigners living in Japan) never even master. And following any normal method is said to take about 4 years for all 2,000 on average.

Now this method isn’t for everyone, in fact I’ve seen quite a bit of debate surrounding this book, even Koichi of Tofugu doesn’t agree with me here. But I consider this book one of my Japanese secret weapons, and therefore give it a very sexy...


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Ken Cannon


  1. Woohoo you're back!

    I think that's a pretty cool method, connecting little stories to each kanji. Of course my problem is remembering all the different readings and stuff :(

    I find just using kanji over and over again in actual sentences (rather than writing out the kanji by itself) makes them sort of stick in my brain. If I don't do this then I'll look at a kanji, memorise and it's meanings, readings, and how to draw it, then instantly forget. Damn memory!!

  2. Hi there! Glad you're back, your texts are really good and funny. Besides, I also can improve my English, that I learn along with japanese...

    I'll try to buy this book, it seems really interesting. I study japanese using the Kumon method and have a great difficulty to remember the kanji writings!! Not to mention the multiple readings!

    But they are so fascinating...

  3. yea your back! hopefully you saw my comment in your channal on youtube *me* XD

    But about the book, it souds really good. besides talking, i've always wantes to learn the kanji, now im glad that theres a book for it XD.

  4. The easiest way to look at this is learning in context. If I, an adult, can learn 1000 Kanji in less than three months, and how to write them, I am in the position as it says on the back of the book:

    " to be like Korean and Chinese students of Japanese who know the Kanji, but don't know their meaning." I think looking at it this way gives a better perspective. If I can write the 2,045 Kanji through memory, then all I need are the various ways to pronounce them, which can be mastered through various methods.

    The idea is to leap over the basic Kanji hurdle in a few months, or a few years. I'd choose a few months with nigh perfect recall, than years of rote memorization that will have me forgetting stroke order within weeks.


  5. Yay! When I was 15 I studied kanji all year and could only remember how to write a little over a hundred, now I have been 16 for a month and with this book have 500 down and counting!


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