Remembering the Kanji

When you are learning the Japanese language, and your wish is to become literate, you can’t avoid to learn the 漢字 (かんじ) at some point in time. For me the Kanji learner phase began in late October of last year. The method i choose for learning the characters was with a book, written by James W. Heisig Remembering the Kanji 5th Edition, that promises to teach the meaning and writing of 2042 odd 漢字. My daily routine during that time was to learn 34 frames, writing out the characters i was learning, writing stories in the later stages of the learning process, and adding new cards to Anki. Also reviewing the 漢字 i had learned became a daily routine. Because i was devoting all my time to the task, i was able to finish the book in 2 months and 24 days.

Most of the time when i was done learning for the day, i was spending over at the website. I was reading on the forums, discussing with other members, and just enjoying myself. I was also reading around the web a lot, what other people have to say about the Heisig method. What i found was a lots of misconceptions about what RTK is good for, and what it does, and does not do, for a Japanese language learner. There seems to be only  two types of people out there. Those who have done RTK and give Mr. Heisig the ecomium he deserves for the method, and those who have never done it, but can’t hold back arguing against it. On Amazon you can read some reviews and discussions, going way back, from both sides. Following you can read two excerpts taken from

A voice from the “Pro camp”


I am whole-heartily recommending this to all Beginners and fellow Intermediates who like me have struggled with Kanji in the past. Try before you buy though, unless you know that constructing meaning through stories does work for your learning style and brainless repetition does not. 

A voice from the “Opposition”


The premise of this book is a joke. The idea that you can memorize 2,000 characters with nothing but a string of goofy mnemonics is mind-boggling. 

There are many more discussions out there about the pros and cons of this book, how the method works, and what it does and does not do. In my opinion the book does what it promises. It will familiarize you with 2042 漢字. The benefit for you is that you will be familiar with the 漢字, and once you see a character, you will immediately recognize it, and you will be able to write it from memory. For me the method has been working pretty well, but it might not work for you. If you are reading this, and you are planning on learning the kanji, try the method out yourself. RTK 1 sample

Never stop reviewing

This is the answer i read very often, when someone asks, if he or she should stop reviewing the kanji. When you want to be able to retain the information over a long time, you would have to review the characters daily with your SRS. Miss out one day or two, and you end up with huge numbers of characters. Some are stopping the review for weeks or months, and when they go back, they find that they have forgotten how to write the 漢字. Some even go so far as to relearn everything again in that case. Because they don’t want to loose the ability of writing single Japanese characters. And, since they were learning other aspects of the language in the meantime, such as grammar, vocab, or readings, they use Japanese keywords when they go all over the process again.

Creative ways to review the 漢字

What I really wonder is, that in all the time i have read around the interewebs, I was not able to find a single discussion about creative ways, to review and use those 2042 single 漢字 outside an SRS. The reason for this is obvious. We have computers and other gadgets such as iPads, so we don’t have to write anything by hand anymore. So it’s easier to use the SRS, that we review and at least write the single characters out once spaced over time, instead of finding other, or more creative ways. Creative ways such as:

  • Write down compounds you know
  • Write off lyrics of your favorite Japanese songs
  • Take out an old book and substitute words you can write with 漢字
  • Start a diary and write a few sentences in it every day
  • Get a graphic tablet and use your Computer to write by hand
  • Learn calligraphy

If you are a creative person, instead of doing your reviews every day you may or may not find boring, you could do one or more of those things regularly. You will get enough exposure if you do anything at all regularly. In the end you must enjoy what you are doing or everything you do will feel like work. So, if you see a discussion about this, maybe you will suggest to the person asking another way, to keep the information fresh. Don’t persist on SRS as being the only way, when there are in fact others, nobody is suggesting instead. Let me know what you think.

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