Opinions requested, a new style of kanji learning

Hi Guys!

I threw together a very quick mock up card for one particular kanji, based on the way I think that kanji should be learned the most efficiently. This particular style of kanji learning would focus more on radicals, and kun-yomi, highlighting where the base meaning of kanji come from, and how they relate to each other.

Excuse the terrible design and font choice, this is very bare bones. At the top of the card is the most accurate interpretation of the kanji in English, followed underneath by the most basic nuance that all kanji with that kun-yomi portray.

Underneath the kanji itself is the on-yomi and kun-yomi. Following this a brief overview of kanji that share the same kunyomi, and how they make use of that particular nuance. This would reinforce the idea that they are a closely related family.

Lastly is an extrapolation of the idea, with how they are related in a more detailed manner. This kanji itself is a bit more difficult than some others, so the idea was to use a drawing rather than an explanation for kanji the first time a particular kun-yomi is introduced. For example, when learning 書 (The first kanji a person will see kaku in), -The Relationship- would probably only be one sentence, followed by a drawing of a pen running across paper, or something similar, highlighting how the concept/sound works in a less verbose way.

In addition to the card itself, the (note) portion of the card would give brief info on how the learner should approach the radical within that kanji, for example a list of kanji that the user could explore in conjunction with it. E.g learners should know that the right element in this kaku (掻く) is the indicator of something ‘distruptive’, as it always is in other kanji. Such as in 騒ぐ (sawagu).

The actual question - Is this useful information, and could you see yourself learning kanji this way? Is there something missing that would make it easier for you?


This is a very interesting concept that I have vaguely noticed but never delved deeper into. Is this as solid as you’re presenting it to be? Or are these mostly to reinforce the reading of the kanji being learned? Are all kakus somewhat related to each other?

“Etymological” explanations work really well with me, and the story in your example is very clear and puts exactly into words what the connection is between all these types of words. If your explanations are always of this quality, it is a great addition to these cards. However, it might be counter-productive if the explanations become too farfetched or long-winded. I have seen you explain a lot of things really well on this forum a lot though, so I think you have a knack for it.

I’m assuming you will be adding this in the future? I’m not sure whether this will be a physical card or a digital interactive card. But if it’s the latter, it would be very interesting to be able to click on the different kanji segments and have a little tooltip appear with the specific radical and a few examples that also use that radical in a similar way. If it’s a physical note, I think it would suffice to have the radical on the card itself with a line connecting to its position in the kanji, with a general descriptor under it about what it does to the meaning of a certain kanji.

I think this is a very useful card. I didn’t know this kanji, and now most definitely will remember its meaning, shape and reading, which is pretty good proof of how well it works I’d say.

One thing to note is that this might be useful for more experienced kanji learners, but a beginner might not get the same benefits from it as I got, as they will need to learn more kanji at the same time. I believe however that learning readings will become much, much easier. Furthermore, it will really help with reading and listening skills, as you already have all possible translations for for example かく in your head.


All kun-yomi かくs are related in some way, in the same way that the vast majority of kanji with the same kun-yomi have the same basic principal. This is something I have been researching extensively recently, and only appears in books aimed at Japanese natives (and even then it’s more ‘hey this is cool’ kind of books). I feel it has far more worth as a learning tool though, rather than just a novelty.

It would be of the highest importance for me to not use anything that is too long winded, as that completely goes against the concept of what a kun-yomi is, a kun-yomi really is supposed to be the most simple representation of any concept. The kanji itself is what gives that basic meaning it’s own flavor.

An interactive card where you could hover over/ click on a radical and get a description of how that radical gives the same meaning in all of the kanji containing it would be the dream. A linked note would have to suffice until the logistics of that is worked out.

Teaching easier kanji this way would definitely be the biggest challenge, which is where I feel like a picture/drawing would work best initially/on first exposure to a new kun-yomi.

Thanks heaps for your very, very detailed feedback!


I initially thought this would make a great intermediate/advance course if that is your target audience…it may be harder leap for beginners unless you had particular ideas. I could see the content gets richer the deeper you go and still has value for any who us has already ‘learned’ the content previously.

Awesome work, you have been sharing etymology for a while now and has been very interesting so look forward if you continue w/ the project. Looks like the focus is on similar kunyomi semantic but if you had ideas on similar phonetic/radicals, there is a need for that as well. I’m only aware of brute force exposure and/or writing more to get around this (maybe there are some decks out there, IDK). We have a great script on WK that helps presents a list of similar looking kanji w/ similar phonetic but it’s not part of an active study platform unfortunately and I think most of us struggle with this.


I think it’s a good idea. Like other’s have said, this is probably more useful to people who aren’t going into kanji blind.

I’ve long bemoaned the attitude most people have that etymology is not useful in learning kanji (and Japanese), especially when you have words that have the same kun’yomi and similar meanings but use different kanji.

I’ll be following this project with interest.


From what I have researched, the radical, and generally the on-yomi radical (where there is one), gives a onamatapoeic nuance. Finding a way to marry the radical (to give the exact nuance), with the kun-yomi (to give the base nuance) would be the ideal goal.

Again, for beginners I’d start with a picture… I may mock up a ‘beginner’ card within the next few days if I can, to see if you guys think that it is presented in an ‘easy enough’ way to digest.

It’s just unfortunate that etymology is so disregarded. Probably because English etymology is so much less useful as a learning tool. Modern (English) literature quite often claims that etymology is merely coincidental, even in languages like Japanese where it is so clearly not a coincidence… It’s an uphill battle to prove that it A: exists, and B: is very useful. But definitely a battle that is interesting enough to persue.


I think its a really cool idea! Currently such info on how Kanji relate to each other is not exactly very accessible hehe
(I am actually surprised how useful that can be when looking up words in the dictionary.)

My only worry would be if this becomes a bit of an information overload…
How the cards / book / website is designed will be really important!

I can see myself adding something this like over time to my custom kanji Anki cards ( probably like an “overall info kanji card” which I can review ) if I had access to the information. I think it will definitely help reinforce different kanji and their meanings.


Makes me wonder if 蛙 and 返る share かえる because frogs tend to return to the same place to mate each year.


I like it a lot! This is a good use of your skill set too! I’m a little concerned about information overload as well, but I don’t think that would be difficult to fix. You could do collapsible parts like japanese.io.

I could see myself using something like this in a short time—I already know about 60% of the jōyō kanji and I could use something for maintenance.

This might be overambitious, but I’m wondering if you could do some simple diagrammatic pictures like Duolingo does to convey the meaning and nuance. Not like drawing out the actual ideograms; I’ve found that’s novel but impractical. More like just a way to make sure I can picture the concept without having to put English words to it.

My newest Anki deck is anime cards. I was skeptical at first, but the combination of a pictorial answer and a J→J definition actually takes the pressure off me to think of the concept in English. I’m neurodivergent, so even though I speak English as a native, sometimes I can imagine the the thing but not the name of the thing. I’m not sure if that makes sense.

It seems to me that in practice, English etymology centers on the historical reasons why words aren’t phonetic, while Japanese etymology makes it easier to see just how regular the whole language is. It’s counterintuitive to us as native English speakers to find etymology useful!


:joy: かえる is going to be one of the more difficult ones due to the obscene amound of kanji that have that reading. One thing I did work out is that まいる、and かえる、are opposites of sorts. かえる means to return from a temporary location to your ‘origin’. まいる、means to go from your origin to a temporary location.

If I had to guess, 蛙 may have originally been (かいる), and changed due to ease of reading, or constant misreading. The reason I think this is because the onyomi of 蛙 are ア and ワ which are quite rare. ワ is an on-yomi that historically represented cycles/things in a harmonious state.

かいる would reflect that a lot better because かい means to be within a single sphere. る is just the motion marker. かいる would indicate the beginning of a frogs life. It goes from わ の かい a harmonious and complete state, to る leaving harmony to develop further.

This is very much a concern of mine too. If we take かく for example


Starting from the left 書 would probably have the least information, as it’s easier to conceptualize mentally, and they would progressively get a tiny bit more detailed (in writing), as you move toward the right. If I can make good use of drawings, it would help a lot in visualizing these though. A picture paints 1000 words so to speak.

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This is one of my main ideas. Drawing simple diagrams would be far easier for many kanji than writing. Probably much easier to understand too for the end user. Your idea of collapsible parts is great. Similar to the hint function on Anki that only shows sections if you click on a specific word etc.

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I think learning it at the rate of wanikani is quite a big challenge, but I don’t think that’s required if this is aimed at intermediate/advanced users. It could be like 1 a day or something? There aren’t that many kun’yomi readings anyway right? (right??? :cold_sweat:)

It’s so sad. I specifically search for etymological explanations for grammar points, because if there’s at least some convoluted logic inside of there, I can read much faster.

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So much this, what seems convoulted at first becomes much clearer inside of a larger sentence, expecially in speech where you can’t see the kanji and verbal cues become more important. The best books for explaining this concept (in Japanese) are -

‘The mysterious world of sound based words’

and ‘The riddle of onomatopoeia’

I couldn’t recommend these books more. The only problem is that I don’t think there are translated versions… and they are very difficult. If you take it slow though, it’s worth a shot!


And also, the more of these explanations you see, the more you can see the logic and point of view of the construction of the grammar points.

I don’t think my grammar is there yet in that case, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind to upgrade my Japanese skills.


I’ll probably ruin your fun but oh well, here we go :joy: Actually Kanji or more specifically Chinese characters are based on phonetic components in around 80% of cases. In the example you provided in the first post [搔] is pronounced as ‘sao’ and the right-side component [蚤] means ‘flea’ and is pronounced as ‘zao’. Because these two syllables share the same final, 蚤 was chosen as a phonetic component to indicate pronunciation. In this case, however, the combination of ‘hand’ and ‘flea’ can indeed be associated with scratching but majority of characters have a rather arbitrary choice of components/radicals based solely on pronunciation rather than meaning.


I think it’s important to take pitch accent into consideration. 変える and 返る have different pitch patterns as well as being an ichidan verb and a godan verb respectively. They are therefore not related.

I can see where some of the concerns regarding accuracy are coming from, but I would personally ravish a thousand innocent corpses for this to be done. A potentially inaccurate but plausible and extremely helpful way of organizing Kanji phonetically would help tremendously not only in reading, but also listening!

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