Hacking the Kanji: 2,200 Kanji in 97 Days

Be warned: this post on how to learn the kanji easily and remember them is very long.

It’s long, because I’m going to give you a detailed, step-by-step breakdown of how you can and should learn the kanji in 97 days.

This post is actually an excerpt from my Hacking Japanese Supercourse, a practical, detailed guidebook for mastering the Japanese language.

Kanji Are Not Impossible

Learning the kanji is not as difficult as people make it out to be. I might even go out on a limb and say that it’s actually easy to learn and remember the kanji. (Don’t hate me, please).

Part of the reason that I say that it’s easy is that I know so many people who have learned the kanji in the span of only a few months.

My original post on how to learn the kanji is one of the most popular articles on this website. In that post, I described a system for learning and retaining all of the 2,136 general-use kanji characters in 97 days. This article is essentially a more-developed and time-efficient update to that system.

As a side note, if you like giving your brain lots of Japanese love, you might want to sign up for other posts like this…

Japanese Course Awesomeness.

Learn ALL of the Jōyō Kanji Before Studying Japanese

If you really want to become fluent in Japanese, I absolutely recommend learning ALL of the 2,136 Jōyō Kanji before you seriously dive into your studies.

I have quite a few reasons why I recommend this…

 1) I made the mistake of NOT doing this, and it was horrible.

I spent the first year of my Japanese studies lackadaisically studying kanji the way that everyone told me to study kanji: write each character a zillion times until it sticks in your brain. And, yeah, that was a huge disaster. So, after a year of studying, I knew a pretty solid smattering of Japanese, but I only knew about 500 kanji, despite having studied the kanji a lot.

You might be thinking that 500 kanji is a pretty solid amount, but with kanji it’s kind of an all-or-nothing deal. Either you know them or you don’t. Knowing only the most common kanji is certainly better than nothing, but if you can’t read all the common-use characters, you’re still illiterate. And being illiterate sucks.

After that year of studying Japanese without knowing the kanji, I quit studying Japanese completely. I didn’t study Japanese at all for about a year after that. I left Japan and just resigned myself to failure. I thought I can’t do this. It’s not possible for me.

Then, about a year after that, I decided to try studying with a new system. Basically, I used a very rudimentary version of the system that I will walk you through in this book. It wasn’t nearly as fine-tuned at that time, but I still managed to get drastically different results.

I started over, and I learned all 2,136 of the Jōyō Kanji in about 90 days. Not bad, right? But let’s round up and say 100 days.

100 days.

It’s hard to put time into perspective when studying a language. I think that maybe this is why so many of us get discouraged and quit studying somewhere along the line. We expect to learn everything overnight. When we google “how to learn Japanese” or “how to learn kanji” or “how to master Spanish,” we always add words like fast, easily, in 3 months, whatever. I called my last e-book “How to Learn Japanese in 1 Year.” But the thing is, time frames are absolutely meaningless. And I think that searching for accelerated methods for learning languages, though potentially beneficial, is often nothing more than a lack of commitment.

I mean, I get it. I’m human, too. I love instant gratification. Modern-day society has conditioned me to expect it everywhere I go. But there is so much more satisfaction in achieving something that you really have to work for. And I think that that’s the type of mindset that is conducive to making great achievements—not just in language-learning, but in life in general. Yes, we should take the fastest route to our destination. However, the fastest route may still take quite a long time, and that’s okay.

What I’m trying to say is that 100 days is both a very long time and a very short time.

100 days is a long time, because we’re talking about 100 days in a row. Stop and actually think about where you were about 3 months ago. Between then and now, how many times did you go to work? How many times did you talk on the phone? How many minutes or hours did you spend watching TV shows, playing video games, reading books, looking at Facebook, hanging out with your friends? How often did you feel tired? How often did you feel like you really, really, really didn’t want to go to work? Because we are talking about studying the kanji for at least one hour every single one of those days. That’s a long time!

On the other hand, if you take a step back, 100 days is nothing. I started studying Japanese over 1,000 days ago. If I had spent my first 100 days learning all of the kanji in the method described in this book, then I would be much better at the language today. If I had followed all of the advice in this guide, I would be able to destroy my current level of Japanese. Looking back, I see so much wasted effort. So much wasted time. But, whatever. Live and learn… and share what you’ve learned, yeah?

So in my guide we’re shooting for about 100 days. Specifically, we’re going to try to learn all of the 2,136 Joyo Kanji in 97 days. However, you don’t need to strictly follow the schedules and advice in this guide. Go at your own pace. Decide what you like, what works for you. There are people that like to take the approach that I took: a painful 100-day intensive kanji study session. But if that doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it.

Do 10 new kanji a day and learn all of them in about 210 days or so.

Or do 5 new kanji a day and learn them in 420 days. That’s only a little bit over a year. And 5 characters per day isn’t too stressful. And if you miss a few days studying new kanji, it’s not a big deal (because the study system allows for that).

Maybe you’re thinking, over 400 days?! Forget it! I know that feeling. The thing is, though, that time is going to pass. 400 days will come and go, and at the end of them, you will either (A) know the kanji, or (B) not know the kanji. There is no gray area here. It is that simple. A or B. Your choice.

 2) Knowing kanji makes you faster at learning Japanese.

Once you know the kanji, you can often know the meaning of words the first time you see them, even without seeing their definition or English translation. Kanji make sense. Without them, Japanese is just a bunch of random sounds. And that makes it difficult to attach meaning to the pieces of the language.

Once you know kanji and their readings (which you’ll learn naturally by studying vocabulary), you’ll often be able to know the meaning of a word just by hearing it. I’ve done this many times. It’s awesome.

Once you know kanji, it’s easier to ask Japanese people what words mean. If you’ve ever studied a language, you may have noticed that most people are really, really bad at explaining what things mean. I used to be really bad at this in English before I started studying other languages and working as an English teacher. Because of this, in conversation with a Japanese person, sometimes if a new word comes up, and you ask them what it means, they’ll look at you like a brain-dead Neanderthal. The reason for this is that explaining the meaning of words is difficult, especially when you’re talking to non-native speakers.

With kanji, when you get the Neanderthal Stare, you can say: “What are the kanji?” Then the Japanese person tells you the kanji, and you automatically understand the meaning of the word. This doesn’t always work. But it does work quite a bit. “What are the kanji?” is always the first question I ask when trying to learn the meaning of a new word that I’ve heard in a conversation.

 3) If you learn all of the kanji at the beginning, the odds of you quitting Japanese decrease drastically.

I’m always saying this, but the most difficult part of learning any language is not quitting.

If you study effectively and consistently without quitting, you will learn Japanese. Actually, you’ll learn any language. It doesn’t matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at languages. Scientific studies have shown that anyone, even old people, can learn a new language if they study consistently over time.

Not knowing kanji will make you feel like quitting Japanese. Therefore, it’s hazardous to your overall success, and you should get it out of the way as quickly as possible.

 4) It’s entirely feasible.

While you read through the remainder of Phase #2, I’m hoping that you’ll begin to realize something that is essential to completing this course: It is entirely feasible to remember thousands of facts, numbers, symbols, etc. in a short amount of time if you use a systematic approach that utilizes your brain’s amazing potential.

Follow the instructions, and you will succeed. There is a simple process to all of this, and mental barriers are the biggest obstacle to overcome in your language-learning journey. Every setback that you may encounter along the way has already been encountered and overcome by someone else that came before you. So believe in yourself, and let’s stick this thing out. I’ve got your back.

 The 97-Day Kanji Challenge (Version 2.0)

How to Learn and Remember the Kanji Easily

Studying Kanji is tricky business. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the best way to study the kanji fast. And, truth be told, there are a lot of good ways to study the kanji. But most of them can be pretty overwhelming, so it’s easy to lose motivation and go in search of the mythical “easy, fast way to learn the kanji.”

I won’t mince words: Learning the kanji is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not only that, but if you count the year that I spent trying and failing to learn the kanji, back before I started over with a basic version of this system, then it took me a lot longer than 97 days to learn them. It took me a lot longer, because I kept trying different study methods, never thinking that I was on the right track to learning all of the kanji.

However, I know many people, young and old, who have learned the kanji in under 97 days using highly similar methods to the one I am about to explain to you. Getting emails from people thanking me for helping them to learn the kanji is my favorite thing about running NihongoShark.com. This site just started as a hobby, and I probably would have shut it down if I didn’t get one of those emails from time to time. And, getting those emails, I started to feel that I could help people like that even more. I thought that I could create an even better system than the one described in my original 2012 post on how to learn the kanji.

I did a lot of research, and I asked a lot of people a lot of questions. As a result, I created a new system for learning the kanji, which I will now explain to you.

How NOT to Learn the Kanji

Before we get into my system, I should clarify some ineffective kanji study methods. Your Japanese teacher, Japanese friend, study buddy, etc. may very well encourage you to do one or all of the following. Don’t listen to them.

1.    Stroke by Stroke

This is how a lot of Japanese classes will encourage you to learn the kanji. That’s because they teach kanji in the same way that Japanese children learn them—stroke by stroke, over the course of 10+ years.

There’s another word for this method: masochism.

Seriously, this is torture. I’m not saying it’s impossible to learn this way. I’m just saying that it wastes an unbelievable amount of time.

2.    Learning Each Kanji as a Whole

Kanji are made up of parts… and those parts have meaning. So you should learn the parts first, then the kanji as a whole.

3.    Using Only 1 Kanji Study Tool

A lot of people will write books and blog posts and just about anything you can think of in which they tell you about “the best, fastest, most awesome way to learn the kanji”…which, as coincidence would have it, is their way. Not only that, but pay us money for it, too.


There are a ton of useful kanji study tools and methods out there. But the only way to learn kanji fast and effectively is to combine the best methods into one super-method. And that’s what this 97-Day Kanji Challenge is all about: an amalgamation of the best tools and tactics available for learning kanji.

How You SHOULD Learn the Kanji

how you should learn the kanji

As we continue through this 97-Day Kanji Challenge section, we’re going to look at two things:

  1. A practical, step-by-step process for getting the kanji into your brain.
  2. Thorough explanations as to why we’ll study in this manner.

First I’ll give a brief overview of the theory behind my method, and then I’ll explore that theory in depth as we walk through the step-by-step process.

Divide the Kanji into Constituents

We talked about this earlier with the turkey in the tree example, right?

Say I want to learn the kanji for gather. My Japanese teacher might have told me to write this 1,000 times while repeating the meaning in my head:


Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Gather. Forget it. I quit.

Instead, we’re going to take the (now highly evolved) Heisig approach, yeah?

(turkey) + (tree) = (gather)

“I saw a bunch of turkeys gathered in the tree outside my window.”

I’ll see the constituents隹 (turkey) and 木 (tree) in a lot of kanji. So, I’m pretty much guaranteed to remember what those mean, because they’ll appear in a story for every kanji that includes them. This means that if I create a good mnemonic (memory device) for remembering that those two add up to mean gather, then I will learn the kanji集 and it will stick. Luckily, there is a trick to making stories stick.

Create Effective Mnemonics

If you take a look at the story that I wrote above, I said:

“I saw a bunch of turkeys gathered in the tree outside my window.”

There is a very specific reason that I said “outside my window.” In the house that I grew up in, there was a big ash tree outside of my bedroom window. It is a vivid place in my memory, and I won’t forget it my entire life. That is the tree I am picturing when I say: “I saw a bunch of turkeys gathered in the tree outside my window.”

What’s a mnemonic?A mnemonic (RpE: /nəˈmɒnɨk/,[1] AmE: /nɛˈmɑːnɪk/ the first “m” is silent), or mnemonic device, is any learning technique that aids information retention. Mnemonics aim to translate information into a form that the brain can retain better than its original form.²  Wikipedia

There’s a really awesome TED Talk by Joshua Foer, a science writer who ‘accidentally’ won the U.S. Memory Championship.

Here’s the video:

I first learned about this person from the website Hacking Chinese, which has an amazing article titled “Remembering is a skill you can learn.”

If you go look at that article, it will talk about the mechanics of memory. And the author gives a list of random words. I’ve probably read that article four or five times. The last time that I read it was probably about 6-8 months ago. However, without looking at it again, I’m pretty sure that I can remember that random list of words:

  1. Balloon
  2. Cannon
  3. Sun
  4. Child*
  5. King
  6. Tree
  7. Rabbit
  8. Sword
  9. Bottle
  10. Rain
  11. Ship
  12. Book
  13. Mountain
  14. Shovel
  15. Water

So, I just wrote that list from memory, and I was only missing one item: #4, Child. I read a list of random words over half a year ago, and I remembered over 90% of it without reviewing at all. I was able to do so, because I made a mnemonic story that utilizes my spatial memory (my actual memory of places and things that really exist). If anyone is interested, here’s the story:

 I stepped out of my apartment in Shimokitazawa, and I noticed a balloon tied to the banister at the top of the stairs. I went over to look at it, and there was a cannon at the bottom of the stairs aimed right at me! It fired, and I dodged it, but it made a hole in the roof, and the sun shined through it and hurt my eyes. I tried to climb up through the hole to get away, but it was hard to get through. Luckily, a child helped pull me through the hole. “You have to kill the king,” he said, pointing at a king sitting on my roof. Instead, I jumped off the roof into the big tree behind my house. In the tree, there was a rabbit, and the rabbit said, “Take this sword to kill the king with.” I said, “No way.” So then he gave me a huge bottle of beer, and he said “Drink this for courage.” Suddenly it started to rain, and it flooded the entire neighborhood. I thought I was going to drown, but luckily a ship came by. So I climbed into the ship. In the ship, the captain was reading a giant book. “How do you build a mountain?” he asked. “I don’t know,” I said. “You start with a shovel,” he said. I looked out around the ship, and there was water everywhere.

That might seem like a very long, detailed story, but it only takes me about 10-15 seconds to go through the whole thing in my mind. There are some notable aspects of it that I’d like to point out:

  • The story is full of real places that I am extremely familiar with:
    • The banister at the top of the staircase outside of my real apartment in Shimokitazawa (where the balloon is tied).
    • The bottom of the staircase I walked down every day (where the cannon is).
    • The metal roof over the area outside of my front door (which the sun shines through and hurts my eyes after the cannon blows a hole through it).
    • The big tree right behind my house.
  • The story is a little bit ridiculous, because ridiculous stuff is easy to remember.

feats of memory anyone can do

Our minds are capable of amazing things. In particular, scientific studies have shown that our spatial memories are particularly reliable. For example, it’s pretty easy to find your way to work/school/home only a few days after moving to a new place, right? But reading directions for those things might seem confusing.

Luckily, the same type of memory can be utilized when tackling tedious numbers, facts, and (you guessed it) kanji characters. I’ll get more into the specifics of forming your mnemonics later in this article.

Only Worry About 1 Thing: Recognizing the Meaning of Characters

As you will learn very early in your Japanese studies, there are many different elements to “learning the kanji,” which, by itself, is quite a vague statement. For example, consider the following. Say we have the kanji 食, which means “eat.” There are many aspects to “knowing” this kanji:

taberu kanji

(Image from Jisho.org)

  1. In general, it means “eat,” “eating,” or “food.”
  2. The On’Yomi (Chinese-derived reading) is しょく / shoku or じき / jiki.
    • Yeah, by the way, there are different sounds for each kanji. This is one of the side effects of smashing Japanese into the Chinese writing system. So, for one characters, there are many possible readings (ways to pronounce it). We’ll worry about this later. Also, it won’t be stressful at all.
  3. The Kun’Yomi (Japanese reading) is た.べる / taberu or く.う / kuu or く.らう kurau.
  4. This is the stroke order:

taberu stroke order

That’s a lot of info, right? And I’ve had so many readers email me saying that they think they should just learn all of that at once in a sort of get-it-over-with attack on kanji. I also have readers that look at all of that information and just say, “You know what? This just isn’t for me after all.”

There is a much simpler and more positive solution, however:

Only learn the meaning of the character (#1 above).

Use the process that I’ll walk you through in Phase #2 so that when you come across 食, you will know that it means “eat.” And then the rest of that information above you can learn gradually and naturally throughout your studies.

Perhaps there are some of you who disagree with this. I know that there are so many students of Japanese that stress learning the readings of characters, after all. If you don’t mind, I’d like to elaborate (using the example above) as to why this is such a waste of time.

So, for example, say you want to learn the readings of 食. First you’re like, okay. しょく (shoku) and じき (jiki). Only, those are not words by themselves. They only form parts of other words. Yeah, しょく is a super common reading of this character, and you see it in common words like:

  • 食事 (しょくじ / shokuji / “meal”)
  • 食欲 (しょくよく / shokuyoku / “appetite”)
  • 朝食 (ちょうしょく / choushoku / “breakfast”)
  • 昼食 (ちゅうしょく / chuushoku / “lunch”)
  • 定食 (ていしょく / teishoku / “set meal (and type of Japanese food)” )

But memorizing the reading of this character does not teach you any of these words. And trying to learn the reading of this character as you learn the meanings of the kanji will only slow down your kanji learning, which will in turn push back your vocabulary learning, will which in turn push back your progress in Japanese.

Instead, later in Phase #3, you’ll learn a couple of words that use the On’Yomi reading しょく / shoku, and you’ll naturally start to associate it with that kanji (making all of those words above a cinch to remember). You’ll learn to pronounce a word that you already know the meaning of just by looking at its characters. You will know the meaning, because you will have learned all the meanings in Phase #2. So just by looking at that list, you could guess the meaning for most of them:

  • 食事 =            “eat” + “matter”               =            “meal”
  • 食欲 =            “eat”+ “longing”              =            “appetite”
  • 朝食 =            “morning” + “eat”            =           “breakfast”
  • 昼食 =            “daytime” + “eat”            =           “lunch”
  • 定食 =           “determine” + “eat”         =           “set meal”

As you learned words like this, you would naturally get a feel for the reading of the kanji. You would also notice that the reading じき / jiki is much less common than しょく / shoku and probably not very relevant at all for a beginner student of Japanese.

Instead of blindly learning the Kun’Yomi without any words attached to the reading, in Phase #3 you could naturally figure out that 食べる / た.べる / taberu is the most common usage, as it simply means “to eat.” And then you’d learn that 食う / く.う / kuu is a much less polite (though still exceptionally common) version of the same word: “to eat.” You’d learn that 食らう / く.らう kurau, while occasionally used to mean “to eat,” is often used to mean “to receive (something bad),” kind of in the sense of “to (figuratively) eat (something that you don’t want to eat).”

There will come a time when you have to learn all of these things. However, when you learn them, already knowing the readings of the kanji won’t really help you much at all. So, in a way, you could say that studying them is kind of meaningless. Some kids, such as myself, might even say that it’s a waste of time.

I have never studied the On’Yomi and Kun’Yomi readings. In fact, I had to look up online which one was which before I wrote this section of the guide. And yet (although I don’t like talking about it), my Japanese skills are pretty solid. And yet, I have steady work as a translator of Japanese, friends that don’t speak English, and I read Japanese novels for fun. I did all of this without even caring to make a note of the difference between On’Yomi and Kun’Yomi. So I’m going to go ahead and say that we don’t need to worry about it. At least not until Phase #3 when we start filling our heads with a ton of Japanese vocabulary.

Last but not least: the stroke order. If you think that learning the stroke order is fun, then I totally encourage you to study it as you go along (I’ll show you how). I don’t think that it’s totally necessary for learning the kanji, but writing kanji can actually be a lot of fun. And if you’re having fun studying, then that’s always a good thing. It’s also pretty cool once you start to get accustomed to the writing patterns of Japanese characters. So, yeah, learn it if you feel like it. Or, you know, don’t. Whatever.

Review Them with an SRS Program (Anki)

I’m not going to talk much about this here, as I talk about it every three seconds throughout this whole guide. But, yeah, let’s use Anki so that we can remember these characters long-term. Also, because Anki is set up very nicely to walk us through the kanji one at a time… which I’ll be showing you in just a moment here.

How Long Will It Actually Take?

time limit

That’s a difficult question to answer, because it depends on a number of things. Specifically, it depends on the frequency and quantity of your studying.

Using a less-developed version of the system that I’m going to explain in this section, I learned all of the kanji in about three months.

One of the readers on my website used this system, kept track of his progress, and said that he learned all of the joyo kanji in just over 80 days. And that was while he was studying full-time at university.

Honestly, though, I wouldn’t worry about how fast you’re moving forward, as that might just stress you out. Instead, maybe just try to make sure that you are in fact moving, both consistently and efficiently, and you’re sure to learn the kanji in no time.

If you follow the Phase #2 instructions exactly, it will take you 97 days.

Even the Best Way Will Not Be Easy

I tried to think of a method where you could just go to sleep, then wake up in the morning with a bunch of kanji memorized. But, uh… it’s a work in progress.

I think that what I’m about to present is the fastest method currently available for learning and retaining the meaning of the each of the 2,136 Jōyō Kanji.


The “best,” “easiest,” “fastest,” “whatever” way to learn the kanji is still kind of a nightmare. And I’m really sorry to tell you that. But if you’re serious about learning Japanese, then it’s the most valuable 97 days that you will ever spend studying. If you know the meaning of the kanji—even if you don’t know their readings or example vocab to go with them—every part of your Japanese studies will get easier, and you will learn faster. Concepts make more sense. Vocab makes more sense. The opposite sex makes more sense. So what are you waiting for? You can do it. I know you can. You are awesome. You are awesome. You are awesome.

Now, bear with me, friend. I vow to not lead you astray…

Ninja Tool Amalgamation

I love the word amalgamation. If I was going to say it in Japanese, though, I guess I’d opt for the word 融合(ゆうごう) / yuugou, but that actually means “fusion,” like in 核融合(かくゆうごう) / kakuyuugou, which means “nuclear fusion,” a word that I learned a long time ago but have yet to come across in a daily conversation. WTF?! Sounds like a difficult word, but it’s not, because you can know it’s meaning just by looking at the kanji: 核 (nucleus) + 融 (dissolve) + 合 (fit)… if you take some nuclei, then dissolve them so that they fit, then you’re performing nuclear fusion! Now I get it!

Wow, kanji are awesome. Let’s learn 2,000 of them. We can start by 融合-ing the three tools that we picked up in Phase #1:

3 kanji tools

Why these three tools? Well…

  1. Anki Flashcards will keep us from forgetting what we learn.
  2. Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji will help us break our kanji into parts so we can learn them via stories and mnemonics.
  3. Reviewing the Kanji will save us when we have a hard time coming up with our own kanji stories and mnemonics.

Used together, these three tools can speed up your kanji acquisition exponentially. So let’s get started! The first thing you want to do is…

Set Up Your Anki Deck

In my old guide, I had you alter someone else’s deck to fit into this system of studying. This time, instead, I’ve created a deck for you, and now I’ll show you how to set it up.

  1. Download Anki. You should have already done this in Phase #1. But I know some of you are slackers. Seriously, go here, download it onto your PC, install it, and then open it. (If you have problems, then consult the help pages.) When you open it, you will see a screen like this:

anki blank

You did it. Yay! Only, you don’t have any decks, and you feel a gaping hole in your heart. So, you should…

Download the NihongoShark.com Kanji Deck

See in that photo above? My mouse is hovering over the “Get Shared” button. That’s because the next thing we are going to do is get the NihongoShark.com shared kanji deck of glory and awesomeness.

  1. Download the Nihongoshark.com Kanji Deck. Use this link to get it. You don’t actually have to use the “Get Shared” button above. If you do use it, however, then just type “NihongoShark.com Kanji” into the search box on the Anki Shared Decks page.

Either way, you should come to a page that looks like this:

Scroll down to the bottom, and then click the “Download” button:

Clicking that will bring up a Save box:

Clicking “Save” will download it. In my case, I downloaded it to my desktop. So I double-click the desktop icon:

 Anki will start processing the file:

Then, success! It has imported 2,200 cards:

Set Anki Preferences for Efficient Studying

  1. Set Anki’s preferences.

Before we start studying, let’s double-check that Anki’s settings are optimized for learning the kanji. To do this, in Anki I go to Tools à Preferences:

That will bring up this box:

Our main item of concern is that second drop-down box. See how it says “Mix new cards and reviews?” We need to change that! (I’ll explain why later.) So click the dropdown and select “Show new cards after reviews:”

 Then you can go ahead and close the preferences box.

Now we’re all ready to start learning some kanji! Let’s get started…

Understanding the Formatting of This Deck

If you open this deck, you will see this page:

 Click the “Study Now” button, because…

  1. Start learning new kanji.

That’s right. It’s time to start learning kanji right from the start. So clicking “Study Now” will bring up the kanji :

If you click “Show Answer,” it will bring up the back of this flashcard:

There’s a lot of interesting information there, but none of it really helps us to remember this kanji. Well, maybe we don’t need any info for remembering the kanji for “One,” but you know what I mean. So what we want to do is click the “Edit” button down in the bottom right:

Clicking “Edit” will bring up the data for each of this card’s field. There’s quite a lot of it:

 Everything we might need is there, things like stroke order, kanji numbers (in the Heisig system), etc. But the real item of concern is the mnemonic. So, let’s scroll down and look at the mnemonic fields:

Here’s a breakdown of what each of these is referring to:

  • myStory – This field is where we’re going to enter our mnemonics. That is, here is where we write the story or memory device that we want to see for this flashcard when we review it.
  • heisigStory – This field has the story that appears in the Remembering the Kanji Some of you will realize that this means that you probably don’t even need to be buying this book, then. I feel like that’s not totally fair to Heisig himself, though. So if you have the funds, maybe buy it anyways?
  • heisigComment – This field has the comment that appears in the Remembering the Kanji book as a supplement to the kanji’s story.
  • koohiiStory1 – This field has the most popular story on the koohii Reviewing the Kanji site.
  • koohiiStory2 – This field has the most popular story on the koohii Reviewing the Kanji site.

The kanji is so incredibly basic that I probably don’t need to spend any time at all making a story for it. So, I’ll just swipe koohiiStory1:

I select and copy it (above), then I paste it into the myStory field:

 Now I click “Close:”

Doing so, I will once more be faced with the front side of the card:

 I click “Show Answer,” and…

 As you can see, now my story [ = my mnemonic] appears right under the list of constituents [ = parts] of this kanji. I click “Good” and that kanji hides away for a few minutes, programmed to pop up at whatever time I might be prone to forgetting it today, next week, a month from now, in a year—whenever:

 So now we have learned our first kanji! And because it’s in our Anki deck, we will never forget it. That’s amazing!

Go ahead and repeat that same process for the second and third kanji, which, as you might have guessed, are the kanji for “two” and “three.”

Learning New Kanji

I’d like to take an in-depth look at the kanji learning process. In doing so, let’s walk through the kanji for “four:”

Dividing Kanji into Constituents

You might see this kanji for “four” and think, “Hey, things are starting to get complicated.” You hit “Show Answer,” and you even get some new constituents that you’ve never heard of:

“Pent in?” “Human legs?” Those “constituents” are referring to the parts of the kanji. If you have the Remembering the Kanji book, these are written out for you: The outside “mouth” (strokes #1, 2, 5) is written separately for you, and the inside “human legs” (strokes #3, 4) are written separately for you. This makes it very easy to understand what these “constituents” are referring to.

For those of us who don’t have the Remembering the Kanji book, however, the next best thing we can do is look at the heisigStory and heisigComment fields. So let’s click “Edit” and take a look at it:

Okay, whatever. That didn’t help me figure out these “constituents” much at all. Sometimes it does, but not this time. Luckily, it’s kind of obvious what is referring to “mouth” and what is referring to “human legs,” so maybe we’ll be okay without the Remembering the Kanji book after all.

Using Constituents to Make Mnemonics

Once I figure out what each “constituent” is, I need to decide what myStory is going to be. As for 四, the story for koohiiStory1 isn’t bad:

This story is a great example of why I encourage writing your own mnemonics. This story seems great, and it seems easy to remember. But a lot of stories that seem to have great mnemonics just don’t stick, and I think that the reason is a lack of connection to the learner.

Just because the mnemonic is clever or makes sense does not mean that you will remember it.

However, koohiiStory1 has given me an idea for a story that will stick, which I write in myStory:

You might be thinking, “That story sucks, Niko.” Well, perhaps. However, there are some features to it that I’d like to point out, features that make it very easy for me personally to remember:

  1. This is a real place that I am extremely familiar with.
  2. I know exactly what I looked like when I was four, because I have seen a picture of myself at the age of four (a specific picture that I’m recalling).
  3. This story is kind of creepy. And anything that’s creepy, ridiculous, frightening, hilarious, or shocking is much more likely to stick in my mind.
  4. I will never use this exact spot (on the floor next to my bedroom door at my apartment in Sapporo) ever again. The kanji 四 now owns this spot. Every time I see this spot, there should be a four-year-old version of myself with his four legs in his mouth. Every time I imagine this spot, it should have a four-year-old version of myself with his four legs in his mouth. It’s almost like I’m pretending that this actually happened in this place that exists in the real world that I am familiar with.

The Science of Memory

When I first read Remembering the Kanji, Heisig told me about 1,000 times to make sure that my mnemonics were visual. Only, never in my life have I considered myself to have a “visual memory.” So usually that advice didn’t do me any good at all. When I wrote stories for mnemonics I used to try really hard to “visualize” what I was writing so that I could recall the kanji in this magic way that Heisig was describing. Yet, it almost never worked.

It wasn’t until years later (while I was researching the science of memory) that I realized that my memory, though not “visual,” was highly “spatial.” Because all humans have an incredible spatial memory. There are some places in this world that you know really well. You know every nook and cranny of your home. You know how to get from your bed to the front door of your office (or classroom, whatever). You could close your eyes and make that trip in your mind, seeing thousands of details along the way—the height of the roof in your bedroom; the type and size of window in your living room; the type of handle on your front door; the corner at the end of your street.

We can take those little pieces of your incredible spatial memory, and we can add kanji mnemonics to them. Maybe the moment you open the curtains of your living room window, there is both a sun and a moon shining outside, making it so bright that you can’t see [whatever you would normally see outside of your living room window].

Assuming you have a living room window, that story should be pretty easy to conjure up. You can picture yourself opening up the blinds, curtains, whatever. You know exactly where you would be standing when that happened. You know exactly what you would not be seeing because of the giant, bright sun and moon filling up the entire scene. And that’s probably more memorable than any of these:

Some of you may have already realized this, but what I’m talking about specifically is creating Memory Palaces. I didn’t talk about it too much, but that is essentially what Joshua Foer (the science writer I talked about earlier) was doing when he “accidentally” won the U.S. Memory Championship.

Memory Palaces are all the rave these days. You can read about them on Wikipedia. You can look at sites dedicated to them, and you can even read entire books on how to create them. Even BBC’s Sherlock Holmes uses them. I’m not really going to get into them in too much depth, though, because every time I read an article about them, I get distracted and give up on whatever it was I was trying to memorize in the first place… in this case, the kanji!

Let’s just say, for the sake of brevity, that you can turn any place that you know really well into a memory palace, and then you can have kanji stories take place in them. This is sweet, because our spatial memory is super-powered.

Living in a World of Kanji

The reason that I don’t like guides on building memory palaces is that they’re usually quite time-consuming. You read long explanations about how to make these memories stick, about how to walk through your “Memory Palace” 8,000 times until you really get to know it well.

For me, though, the only way this has ever worked was just to start doing it. Then, I took note of what worked (i.e. what I was remembering) and what didn’t work (i.e. what I was still forgetting over and over again).

Practice makes perfect, right? So let’s make 10 bad memory palaces before we try to start making a bunch more really awesome ones. Specifically, I’m going to ask you to create 56!

56 Memory Palaces?! Yeah, it sounds like a lot. But they don’t have to be big. Why 56, you ask? Because Remembering the Kanji has 56 lessons, and in each lesson we can use one memory palace. If you look at the fields in your kanji deck, you will see that each card also lists the kanji lesson. For “bright,” it was lesson number 2 (look at where my mouse is):

I have found that my memory palaces always work best if I walk through them in the same order every time. So, as we go through a lesson, we can try to write stories in order as well. This will help us connect stories to one another and bring up points that we are nearly forgetting. For example, in the random list of words from Hacking Chinese, I remembered that “cannon” came after “balloon,” because the moment I looked at the “balloon,” a “cannon” fired at me, and this opened up a hole in the roof, through which the “sun” (the next word) was shining brightly.

Some of you might still be thinking: But 56 Memory Palaces?! Yeah. It’s not a lot. Let’s see how many I can think of giving myself a 5-minute limit:

  1. My apartment in Sapporo.
  2. My old apartment in Shimokitazawa.
  3. The walk from my apartment in Sapporo to the gym in Odori.
  4. The walk from my apartment in Shimokitazawa to my workplace in Shinjuku.
  5. The walk from Shinjuku to Yoyogi along Meiji-dori.
  6. The walk from Yoyogi to Harajuku along Meiji-dori.
  7. The walk from Harajuku to Shibuya along Meiji-dori.
  8. My parents’ condo in San Diego.
  9. My high school.
  10. My college campus.
  11. My middle school.
  12. My elementary school.
  13. The walk from my parent’s condo in San Diego to the beach.
  14. My apartment in college.
  15. The walk from my apartment in college to the beach.
  16. The drive from my hometown to San Diego (where I went to college).
  17. My last workplace.
  18. The workplace before that.
  19. The workplace before that.
  20. The workplace before that.
  21. My apartment in Bangkok.
  22. The walk from my apartment in Bangkok to the BTS Station.
  23. The BTS stations between On Nut and Asok in Bangkok.
  24. East Shinjuku.
  25. Senta-gai in Shibuya.

All of these are places and routes that I know extremely well, because I have passed through them countless times. They are all probably meaningless to you, but each of these places is concretely imprinted into my spatial memory. I do a lot of walking, so a lot of those are walks. Actually, I’m pretty sure I could just list 25 different walks in Tokyo. But that’s because I’m kind of obsessed with going for long walks, especially in big cities. But maybe you like going for drives. Or maybe you know the world of a video game in depth. Whatever works for you.

We can take these vivid places, and then we can place ridiculous, frightening, sexual, disgusting stories in them in order to memorize the meaning (and writing) of all of the kanji.

For more about using memory palaces to learn the kanji, please take a look at this (even more) detailed walkthrough of the entire process:
Building Memory Palaces In Order to Learn the Japanese Kanji

Using a Memory Palace to Learn the Kanji

So, not only will you be learning to read Japanese, but you’ll also be improving your memory and studying how to become a master of it. I don’t know about you, but I think that that’s downright amazing.

Why We’re Doing Kanji (Front) → Keyword (Back) Flashcards

If any of you read my last book, or looked at any of the other kanji decks and advice in the world, almost everyone will tell you to study your kanji flashcards the other way around: With the keyword on the front side and the kanji itself on the backside.

Specifically, there are two reasons why I choose to do this the other way around:

  1. It’s easier. And easy is good, because easy is fast. And if we can learn kanji quickly and easily, then we are less likely to give up, more likely to complete this kanji journey, and therefore extremely likely to stick with our Japanese studies until we reach pro ninja status.

  2. It’s more useful. You don’t need to know how to write the kanji. At least, not from memory. Sometimes you might have to write some kanji on an address or a form at the city office or something, but 99.99% of your interaction with kanji will be recognizing and reading the characters. So, I think that we should prioritize recognizing and reading the characters. We’re mastering the meaning here in Phase #2, and we’re mastering the pronunciation through vocabulary acquisition in Phase #3. To the best of my knowledge, that’s the most efficient way to spend our time.

Keep a Time-Efficient Flow

One downside to writing your own mnemonics, especially if you’re anything like me, is that it can give rise to unbridled daydreaming. There are far too many times when I have been trying to think of a story for a kanji, and I got lost in my thoughts and wasted a lot of time that I could have spent learning more kanji.

Part of this study process is digging into the recesses of our brains, which is really awesome. However, a side effect of doing so is that we can get lost in the recesses of your brain. As a countermeasure, it might be a good idea to write new kanji stories with a timer that buzzes at you every 5 minutes. Then, if you are taking longer than 5 minutes to come up with a rad mnemonic connected to a spatial memory (a place [in a memory palace] that you know), then copy one of the stories taken from Heisig or koohii and move onto the next kanji. Doing this is okay, because we’re going to…

Clean Up Mnemonics over Time

There is a delicate balance between creating mnemonics that work and optimizing the time spent writing them. If you feel like your mnemonic is “just okay,” but you don’t want to waste more time working on it, then just save it and move onto the next kanji.

The cool thing about Anki is that every card you save will show up in the future (over and over and over again). So, if you find that you’re forgetting the meaning of a kanji multiple times during review, then it’s probably a sign that your mnemonic isn’t so good. At that time, you can just hit “Edit,” clean up the story, and keep on moving forward.

Perfectionism will be your doom. Small, consistent improvements over a long period of time are the key to huge successes, especially when talking about the acquisition and mastery of skills.

Using Other Peoples’ Mnemonics

As a said before, if you’re taking too long to make up your own awesome mnemonic, you always have the option of simply hitting “Edit,” copying one of the stories already filled into the “koohi” or “Heisig” field, then pasting it into the “myStory” field.

Also, as I’m sure many of you have already realized, you do have the option of just setting up your cards so that the koohi stories automatically show up in cards. Personally, I don’t think that this is the best way to learn these characters long-term, as I have forgotten A LOT of characters using other people’s stories. This makes sense if you think about the mnemonic techniques discussed above, because these stories had no spatial or emotional connection to my world.

Still, just because I don’t think it’s effective does not give me the right to keep from divulging this option to you. In the end, it’s your decision. Therefore, for those of you who want to have koohiiStory1 show up in the cards automatically, this is what you need to do (you can skip this step if you’re following my method):

Click on your kanji deck, bringing you to the screen above, then click “Browse.” You should see this:

Hit “Enter” on your keyboard to bring up all the cards in the deck. Select one of the cards and hit “Cards:”

This will bring up a very scary look at the html going into your cards’ formatting:

Looking at the “Back Template,” scroll down until you see “{{koohiiStory1}}”:

Copy that, then scroll up and paste it where it says “{{myStory}}”:

After pasting “{{koohiiStory1}}” in place of “{{myStory}}”, the back side of your flashcards will automatically show the koohiiStory1 every time. It’s the lazy study kid’s ultimate dream approach, I suppose.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat… 2,131 Times.

So now we’ve walked through the process of learning new kanji. If you’re still feeling lost or confused about some of this, please don’t hesitate to email me. Sometimes I am painfully slow to respond, but I promise that I will get back to you eventually!

The next step is:

  1. Repeat new-kanji-learning process 2,131 times.

If you’re feeling like you’re ready to dive headfirst into this, then go for it! The only thing left to do now is to finalize your attack plan. The main aspect of this will be decideing the time period that you’re going to shoot for to get through this whole thing.

Decide Your Challenge Time Period

I called this the 97-Day Challenge, because it was originally designed for learning 22 new kanji per day for 97 days, which would get you through all of the Jōyō Kanji.

If you have the time and motivation, though, I think it’s feasible to do up to 30 new kanji per day. This would get you through all 2,136 of the Joyo Kanji in about 72 days. I think trying to shoot for anything better than that would be a bad idea. 30 kanji per day is a lot, and you might burn out as soon as you have a couple of bad days.

If it takes you an average of 5 minutes to learn a new kanji, then that’s only 12 per hour. Doing one hour of new kanji study per day this way would put you at 178 days! Yikes! But if you could speed up to a 3-minute average for each new kanji, then you could get through 20 in one hour, and doing that every day would get you through all of the kanji in around 107 days—a pretty short amount of time, if you put everything into perspective.

I’m going to list a table of possible daily goals and how long it would take to get through all of the Jōyō Kanji if you hit those goals every single day. Really, though, I think you should just start studying new cards without any time schedules or rules for the first few days and try to get a sense of what a comfortable pace is for you personally. This is not a race. It’s an endurance test. You could run 100 miles at top speed and then drop dead. Or, you could walk quickly for 1,000 miles and not die. And maybe some awesome people can even maintain a light jog for that amount of time (given breaks for food, friends, and lovers). In short, go at a pace that you won’t quit. That’s all you need to succeed.

It’s fun to imagine that charts like this are accurate, but realistically we’re probably way off. For example, this is just talking about the time required for learning new kanji. It doesn’t take into account the amount of time we’ll be spending each day as we review kanji we’ve already learned, which we’ll talk about next.

Prioritizing Your Study Flow

That chart above details how long it would take to learn all of the kanji if you learned a certain amount of them regularly on a daily basis. The truth is, though, that you don’t have to learn new kanji every day if you don’t feel like it. Everyone has their own rhythms. Maybe you can only get to new kanji on the weekend, or weekdays before/after work. That’s cool. It’s not a big deal if you don’t learn new kanji every day, as long as you are still consistently studying new kanji and making progress. Slow progress is better than no progress, right?

But please be careful. Because review cards are not so kind. That’s why the next item is:

  1. Review kanji flashcards every day.

Every day, before you learn a single new kanji, you need to review the kanji that you have already studied in order to ensure that you have not forgotten them. That’s why, earlier, I told you to set your Anki preferences so that new cards show after review cards. Review cards are 2,136 times more important than new cards.

Do every single review card every single day. This is so important, and it’s the only way to avoid a painful death caused by Anki Avalanche.

Anki Avalanche: How I Lost 2 Years’ Worth of Japanese

Did you know that 1 in 250 million people are killed by fallen satellites? You don’t think it’s going to be you. You think, I don’t even know anyone that’s been killed by a satellite! But then, there are you are, walking to tennis practice, and BAM! Satellite on your face and you’re dead. Or, you might have been dead if I hadn’t just warned you about it.

Well, no one ever warned me about the Anki Avalanche. I didn’t even know that it existed!

It was 2010. I had just left Japan because I’d run out of money, and I was living at my parents’ house. I was a lost, unemployed college graduate, and I had no idea what I was doing with my life. All of my friends seemed to be getting good jobs and moving forward. Meanwhile, I was blowing all of my savings living in Tokyo and poring through texts about the Japanese language. I’d been studying for almost two years, and I had absolutely nothing to show for it.

So, I went one day without reviewing my Anki cards. Maybe I had like 80 review cards due (about 20 minutes of study time back then). I don’t really remember. Then I let two days go by, and 80 cards became 150 cards due for review. A week passed, and I think it was up to 500-something.

And the avalanche destroyed me. After a few months, Anki was telling me that around 4,000 cards were due for review. Obviously that’s impossible, I figured. And like that, I gave up on the Japanese language. I quit studying Japanese completely.

This is why you need to do all of your review cards every day. Even if you’re in a rut. Because as long as you’re still reviewing those cards every day, then you won’t lose the investment that you’ve put into this. And eventually, the value of that investment will pull you out of your rut, and you’ll start moving forward again.

This happened to me just last year with Spanish, actually. I had been studying for half a year or so when I just lost all of my motivation. And, for the most part, I totally quit learning Spanish. Except, I still did my review cards on Anki every day. Fast forward to about a month ago, when I suddenly started getting back into my studies with a renewed vigor. It was so liberating to “start” studying with over 3,000 mature review cards up to date in my Anki deck. I’d been reviewing them every day even though I’d lost all of my interest in Spanish. I mean, after all, it only took like 10-15 minutes to get through them every day. So why not? And it’s really paying off now.

Even if you are not engaged, just look at the screen of your phone or computer and click “Good” for every review card. Things will still work out this way, because later when you’re feeling more motivated, Anki will help you pick out which cards are not “Good,” which cards you should actually take a fresh look at again.

Please review your cards every day. Do not get hit by the Anki Avalanche.

So, to recap, the rule is:

Study review cards every day; study new cards if you have time.

Enjoy yourself and keep moving…

Sticking With It for 97 Days

If you were ever going to step up and really put some serious, concentrated effort into your studies, now is the time. Phase #2 is the biggest barrier between you and Japanese fluency. We just need to get past it.

But sticking with this for 97 days (if you’re doing 22 new kanji per day) is a serious commitment. Here are some more tactics that might help us stick to that commitment…

Find Your Study Sanctuary

For the course of this 97 days, you’re going to need to find a time and place to do your daily studying for at least one hour.

Back when I went through the kanji challenge, I went to my favorite coffee shop every single morning. Usually I went around 6am, when it was totally empty. Most mornings a thin fog was hanging in the air. The lights were dim. People were calm, and I had a delicious coffee and a fresh, toasted bagel with cream cheese. It was my favorite time of day. The ambiance was perfect. The food and drinks were perfect. And it was the place that I turned into my study sanctuary. Every morning, I sat down with that coffee and that bagel, and I didn’t leave the coffee shop until I’d learned all of the new kanji for that day.

Most likely, your study sanctuary will be different. Maybe you don’t like coffee. Or (more likely) maybe you don’t like waking up before 6am. Or maybe you work mornings and it’s not feasible to study before work. I was working evenings at a restaurant back then, so it was feasible for me. What’s feasible for you might be at home, or in your car, or at the public library. The key is to find a study sanctuary that fits into your lifestyle.

Qualities of a Good Study Sanctuary

  • You can go there every day.
  • It’s a blocked off time in your schedule.
  • You enjoy going there.
  • You look forward to going there.
  • It’s peaceful (i.e. it’s conducive to concentration).
  • It has an internet connection.
  • It’s free from distractions.

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase that goes something like this: “If you don’t like exercising, it just means that you haven’t found the right type of exercise for you yet.” I think that the same can be said of studying Japanese. We just have to trick our idiot brains into enjoying it.

For example, I absolutely loved going to coffee shops, but the idea of studying Japanese kind of freaked me out, because every time I thought about it I put pressure on myself, felt stressed, and wanted to quit. In order to avoid those negative feelings, I had to focus on the extremely enjoyable process of going to a coffee shop and studying and ignore the extremely stressful process of pressuring myself to succeed. Studying at a coffee shop was also the only time in my daily life that I listened to music, because whenever I was in my car, or running, or going for walks I was always listening to JapanesePod101. Seeing as how I’m a human, I love music. So I wanted to listen to music. So I wanted to go to the coffee shop. So I wanted to study Japanese. I was creating a series of rules that formed into enjoyable, positive study motivators.

The hierarchy of rules that formed my study sanctuary looked like this:

  • Rules
    • Every time I go to the coffee shop, I have to study Japanese.
    • I cannot leave the coffee shop until I finish my flashcards for the day.
    • I can only listen to music at the coffee shop. I can’t listen to it anywhere else.
  • Mental Process
    • I want delicious coffee and a bagel! I love coffee and bagels!
      • So let’s go to my favorite coffee shop.
        • So let’s study Japanese.
    • I want to listen to music! I love listening to music!
      • So let’s go to my favorite coffee shop.
        • So let’s study Japanese.
    • I hate living with my parents. I need to get out of the house.
      • So let’s go to my favorite coffee shop.
        • So let’s study Japanese.

In time, my brain started to think that studying Japanese was fun. It was something that seemed intrinsically positive and exciting. I wanted to study Japanese every day, because it gave me that relaxed, drinking-a-coffee-and-listening-to-awesome-music good feeling. Just writing about it here, I want to put on my headphones and drift away into hours of studying. It is my sanctuary, my place of peace. I am so happy when I go there.

That is the kind of study sanctuary that I want you to search for.

Focus on the Habit

This was one of the assignments in Phase #1:

Study Habit Assignment:So, in Phase #2, I’m going to talk about a daily study routine. You don’t need to worry about it yet, but as a little bit of preparation it might be a good idea to think about and write down a list of your deeply ingrained, enjoyable habits. Then put stars by the ones that you do every day.

Above, when I was listing the qualities of a good study sanctuary, I wrote: You can go there every day. That’s because we need to turn your study habits into a reliable routine. We don’t want to waste willpower working up the motivation to start studying. It should be something that you just do without even thinking about. No, it won’t be like that at the start. But if you do it in the same exact way at the same exact time every single day, then it will become a habit, and it will almost be like second nature to you.

For me, my study habits only ever stick when they’re the first thing that I do in the morning. Recently, for example, I’ve been working on writing projects when I first wake up, then doing my flashcards in the evening, and it’s 100 times more difficult than doing them in the morning. I suppose because it’s such a simple routine: Wake up à Study.

But your study time might be a long lunch break at work, or just after you’ve finished dinner (if you eat dinner in the same place at the same time every night).

We’re not trying to form a new routine. We’re just trying to add studying flashcards to a routine that you already have. I wake up every morning, so that’s a very easy routine for me to have.

So if you can, try to take one of your daily habits and append your flashcard study to it. If you manage to study the kanji at the same time, in the same way, every single day, then your studies will also flow very nicely into Phase #3.

Just please don’t turn this into a task. If you find that you have negative feelings about the study habit that you’re trying to create (e.g. “Ugh, I really don’t feel like studying today!”) then please try to take a deep look at why you don’t want to study: Why does it feel like a chore? Why do you have negative feelings about it? Why is it hard to do it at this particular time of day? What do you dislike about the actual process of studying the flashcards? These are all barriers to creating an enjoyable routine. And your routine must be enjoyable, because if it’s not enjoyable, then it won’t become a routine.

Get Your Grit On

I read this really awesome article on grit recently, and I thought that it could definitely apply to language learning. I probably sound like a broken record talking about how we need to make studying into an enjoyable, routine process full of flowers and sexy anime girls. But there’s no sugarcoating the fact that this will be difficult. This will be work. This will require grit and resilience.

In that article above, you’ll find a really awesome (scientific) exploration of why some people stick it out when others throw in the towel. I recommend reading the whole thing, but for those who are way too excited about learning Japanese to go look at it, I’ll take a quote from when he sums up the factors that contribute to grit:

A Navy SEAL Explains 8 Secrets To Grit And Resilience

What we can learn from James, the SEALs and the research on how to have grit:

  1. Purpose and meaning. It’s easier to be persistent when what we’re doing is tied to something personally meaningful.
  2. Make it a game. It’s the best way to stay in a competitive mindset without stressing yourself out.
  3. Be confident — but realistic. See the challenges honestly but believe in your own ability to take them on.
  4. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Grit comes a lot easier when you’ve done the work to make sure you’re ready.
  5. [For #5-8, Please read the original article, below.]

–            Eric Barker, from “A Navy SEAL Explains 8 Secrets To Grit And Resilience,” from Barking Up The Wrong Tree

That advice sounds a lot like what we’re doing here, don’t you think?

We got this, yo. Easy peasy Japanesy.

Don’t Make Kanji the Enemy

Have you ever gone on a road trip before? In my experience, there are only two types of people on road trips: (1) How-Much-Longer people (HMLs… only, Japanese people can’t always distinguish between the ‘F’ sound and the ‘H’ sound, so I’m going to call these people FMLs) and (2) Really-Awesome-Drive people (RADs).

Say, for example, that you’re driving from San Diego to Las Vegas (which, for some reason, I’ve done way too many times). If you’re fast, it’s about a five-hour drive. And no, there’s not a whole lot to see between San Diego and Las Vegas. It’s mostly just desert. And the desert stops being interesting after about five seconds.

However, I’ve found that my experience of this drive is totally variable. Sometimes it feels like the longest drive in the world. Other times, I don’t get burned out by it at all, and the time just flies by. I haven’t conducted any scientific studies on this or anything, but I’m pretty sure that there is one huge reason for this: The other people in the car.

If you drive to Vegas with a bunch of FMLs, then this is going to be a long, miserable drive, and you’re going to be dying to get out of the car. If you yourself have an FML mindset, then you are going to be a miserable person, too, and I don’t want to go to Vegas with you.

On the other hand, if everyone in the car is a RAD person, then you’re gonna have a RAD time. And if you yourself have a RAD mindset, then you won’t even care how much longer it is until you get to Vegas.

I think getting through the kanji is pretty much the same way. You can have a RAD mindset, or you can have a FML mindset. It’s up to you.

FML Mindset:

  • There are so many kanji! Too many. I hate Japanese people. FML.
  • I have to make another kanji story? This is so lame. FML.
  • Is it even possible for me to get through all of this? FML.
  • Even if I get through all of these, I still won’t know the readings of the kanji. What’s the point?! FML.
  • It’s 7pm, and I still haven’t done my flashcards. FML.
  • I haven’t reviewed my flashcards yet. I’m dreading it! FML.
  • I forget this kanji character’s meaning every time! This is impossible! FML.
  • I can’t do this. FML.

RAD Mindset:

  • I just learned a Japanese character! This is awesome! RAD.
  • I’m using my brain in new ways and creating new neural pathways, making me a smarter person. RAD.
  • If I can get through this, I can brag to everyone. RAD.
  • If I can get through this, I’ll be so proud of myself. RAD.
  • I can’t wait to learn some new kanji today. It’s so cool to swim around in my thoughts and memories, engraving these beautiful characters into my mind. RAD.
  • I’m exhausted. It’s 7pm, and I still haven’t done my flashcards. I’m stoked to chill out and look at some Japanese ridiculousness. RAD.
  • It’s so hard for me to remember this character. I forget it every time. I wonder if there is some way for me to get it to stick in my mind. Maybe I can dig a little deeper to make an even more awesome mnemonic that sticks. RAD.
  • I’m still forgetting this character every time. Oh well. Who cares. Eventually it will stick, because I do Anki every day. Wow, this is a breeze. RAD.
  • I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. RAD.

Kanji don’t have to be a burden or a chore or a nightmare.

Part of getting through the kanji is about developing a greater love and appreciation for this language. There is a deep history in these characters. They go back hundreds and hundreds of years, and they are a testimony to mankind’s effort to share their knowledge with his/her contemporaries and descendants.

While we are on the topic of developing an appreciation for kanji (and Japanese in general), there is a cool quote that I’d like to share:

“Passion is a volume knob, not a light switch.”

Cameron Dare

You can’t expect to simply flip some switch that makes studying Japanese fun and exciting for you. Yeah, some of you will be gifted with that switch from the beginning, but a lot of us don’t have it. And yet, if you give love, attention, and effort to this challenge, if you really put your heart into it, I guarantee you that you will develop a passion for this language. You will slowly turn up the volume on your interest in Japanese. And at some point, it won’t feel like a chore at all. You’ll get to chill and drink beer with friends speaking Japanese. You’ll get to relax in bed with an interesting Japanese novel or manga. You’ll get to go through marathon sessions of anime without melting your brain even the slightest bit.

You might not like studying Japanese at first, but (if you stick with it) over time you can come to appreciate this language. So instead of making the kanji into some enemy that must be toppled, try to have a RAD mindset, and you might actually enjoy the 97-Day Challenge.

Focus on the Awesomeness

Back with a vengeance from my original post on the kanji, we have:

8 Reasons Knowing the Kanji Will Be Awesome

  1. You’ll practically know Chinese.
    China Town in Yokohama
  2. You’ll be able to read ads in Japan.
    Japan Subway Ad
  3. And signs warning you not to be a pervert.
    Chikan Sign in Japanese Subway
  4. You’ll know what food you’re eating.
    Sukiya Tokyo
  5. Crows will be nice to you.
    Crown in Tokyo
  6. Some signs will seem less rude.
  7. You’ll feel safer.
    Neighborhood Watch Sign Japan
    And, perhaps most important…
  8. Hawks won’t steal your lunch. (I wasn’t so lucky that day.)
    Kamakura Hawk Sign

(Seriously, a hawk stole my pizza dumpling right out of my hand. It was both incredible and tragic, and a Japanese lady laughed at me.)

Keep Swimming

Just keep at it. I thought that learning all of the Jōyō kanji seemed impossible. Even when I was up to 1,800 or so, I still thought it seemed impossible. Whether I had 1,000 left to learn or 200 left to learn, it just seemed impossible.

So I had to keep my head down. I had to take it one story at a time and remember that great accomplishments only come from persistent efforts. When I finally lifted my head up, at the end of it all, it was a feeling of joy—relief—that I’ve never been able to adequately describe to anyone before.

You won’t regret it. And yes, you can do this.

1 Kanji at a Time

Just take it 1 kanji at a time. Don’t look forward. Look at the one kanji. Some day in the future, that kanji will be the last kanji. It doesn’t matter when that day is. All that matters is knowing that such a day exists, and it will come eventually.

Kanji Challenge Recap

  1. Download Anki.
  2. Download the Nihongoshark.com Kanji Deck.
  3. Set Anki’s preferences.
  4. Start learning new kanji.
  5. Repeat new-kanji-learning process 2,131 times.
  6. Review kanji flashcards every day.

Hacking Japanese Supercourse

Like I said at the beginning of this article, this is an excerpt from the Hacking Japanese Supercourse.

Hacking-japanese-side - 200

It’s probably the most beautiful thing I’ve created thus far in life. (No, I don’t have any human children. Maybe one day… if I grow up a bit.)

 Japanese for Poor People

I feel your pain, man. Student loans… credit cards… beer… sushi…

This Japanese is totally free, though:

Japanese Course Awesomeness.

Anyways, good luck with your studies everyone.

You got this!


Niko Profile Photo NihongoShark.com

Yo! I'm Niko, the founder of NihongoShark. I'm also a Japanese translator, writer, and all-around language nerd.

I created this site to help as many people master Japanese (any language, really) as possible.

Uh, what else? Well... I live in Tokyo, Bangkok, Sapporo, Saigon, San Diego, Tokyo, Chiang Mai, Thailand! So if anyone wants to meet up for a refreshing nama beer, I'm probably down for that. Or a coffee. Learning Japanese is a betch. But we're in this together. ファイト!

Good luck with your studies!


p.s. The best way to get in touch with me is probably via the (free) NihongoShark Chat Community (signup link)... which is also a sweet place for meeting other motivated students of Japanese.


Yo! I’m Niko, the founder of NihongoShark. I’m also a Japanese translator, writer, and all-around language nerd.

I created this site to help as many people master Japanese (any language, really) as possible.

Uh, what else? Well… I live in Tokyo, Bangkok, Sapporo, Saigon, San Diego, Tokyo, Chiang Mai, Thailand! So if anyone wants to meet up for a refreshing nama beer, I’m probably down for that. Or a coffee. Learning Japanese is a betch. But we’re in this together. ファイト!

Good luck with your studies!


p.s. The best way to get in touch with me is probably via the (free) NihongoShark Chat Community (signup link)… which is also a sweet place for meeting other motivated students of Japanese.

  • Thank You for writing this amazing article !!
    I will definitely start learning kanji ! Today will be the first day and when the time comes, I will definitely know all 2200 kanji !!

  • Hi Kazilik,

    Thank you for commenting! I’ve had many readers that have successfully learned 2,200 kanji using this system. I probably get an email 1-2 times per week from someone that has completed the challenge, and I’m always so impressed at how much hard work and motivation everyone has. It’s really an amazing feat to complete this, especially if you’re trying to do it in under 100 days. That said, I’m sure you can do it!

    I wouldn’t worry about the readings at all while going through the system described on this page. I just learned the readings naturally as I learned lots and lots (and lots!) of vocabulary words, which I did after completing this challenge. This is described in a bit more detail in my free e-course: http://nihongoshark.com/e-book/ , and it’s described at length in my giant e-book: http://nihongoshark.com/hacking-japanese-supercourse/

    Does that answer your question?


  • Yes it does, thank you !

  • Matt

    This is one of the best articles Ive read on the internet man, and ive read alot of articles!
    So much time and passion has clearly gone into it. Thankyou!

  • Hi Matt,

    Thank you! Your feedback really means a lot to me.

    Yeah, it took me many years to be able to write this article… plus who knows how many hours writing it and testing its effectiveness.

    Thank you again for your kind words. It’s always so rewarding and motivating to hear from readers.

    Also, good luck with your Japanese studies!

  • BeerLabelBuilder

    Hello Niko,

    All good stuff but what worries me a bit about your method is we are not learning any of the pronunciation. It is good know the English meaning but without the Japanese On’Yomi / Kun’Yomi pronunciation isn’t it kind of half useless? Please prove me wrong.

  • Hi there!

    This is probably the most common question that I get about this kanji study method. And the answer is… kind of complicated.

    First, studying On’Yomi and Kun’Yomi, specifically, is a massive waste of time in my opinion. I’ve never studied them (half the time I can’t even remember which one is which)… and yet, I can read and write Japanese without any problems.

    However, there is value in knowing the words that these kanji show up in. Part of knowing those words (i.e. vocab) is knowing their pronunciation, which is a natural way to learn the On’Yomi and Kun’Yomi readings. Once you hit a certain level of vocabulary (maybe like 10,000 words or so), you won’t need to use mnemonics or stories to remember the kanji, because your brain will register them as parts of words that you are familiar with, the same way it does with letters of the alphabet.

    That said, I think you will probably hit that high vocabulary level faster if you start out by memorizing the meanings of all of the general-use kanji characters in the first few months of studying. I get emails every week from readers that have completed this challenge, and they always tell me that it makes vocab retention and understanding exponentially easier.

    Does that answer your question at all? If not please let me know!

    Thanks for reaching out!

  • Partha

    Wow! I am inspired.

  • BeerLabelBuilder

    Thanks mate. I am going to give it a crack. I am also doing core 2000 and genki decks and it does seem to help. What I have noticed is some really strange words like eminent and derision. Are these commonly used in Japanese?

  • Hi there!

    Sorry I was slow responding to your comment. I’ve been traveling a bit.

    So those are not the Japanese words for “eminent” and “derision.” Rather, those kanji’s meanings are closest to the meanings of “eminent” and “derision” in English.

    This will start to make a lot more sense once you start encountering vocabulary words that have multiple kanji. For example, if you have a word like 卓越 (takuetsu), which means “excellence” or “superiority,” then it is the combination of the kanji 卓 (eminent) and 越 (surpass). Something that “surpasses eminence” is “superior,” so it kind of makes sense that 卓越 means “excellence or superiority.”

    These keyword meanings will not always match the words that they show up in. For example, the kanji for 卓 (eminent) can also, in some circumstances, mean “table,” so it shows up in words like 食卓 (shokutaku, “dining table”) and 卓球 (takyuu, “table tennis”). Using the remember the kanji system only has you memorize one keyword, though, (in this case “eminent”), because trying to memorize every possible meaning of the kanji would end up taking much longer than is productive.

    Long story short, the keyword for each kanji is to help you figure out the meanings of words that they show up in… most of the time.

    Does that answer your question at all? Good luck with your studies!


  • BeerLabelBuilder

    Yes thanks Niko, I will be all set the next time I need to use my dinning table for table tennis 🙂

  • Pingback: Is Learning the Kanji Hard? | japaneselanguagejourney()

  • Ashley

    Jaysus I made the end of the article! LOL! Ok just like you I’ve quit Japanese a few times but something keeps nagging me to learn..so eff it I’m going for it. Right … memory palaces here I come!

  • Piper

    Hey everyone! Thanks for the article. I actually went through and read it earlier in the year, but didn’t start, probably due to a bit of fear and frustration. However, I have now downloaded the program onto my tablet – the app is ankidroid. I was trying to figure out how to change the settings like you have above, but can’t seem to get them right. Any help? Please? Thank you!

  • Hi! Thanks for commenting! ^_^

    I think that the only way to change anki settings is in the desktop application, which you can download here: http://ankisrs.net/

    As far as I know, you can’t change all of the settings in the mobile app versions

    Hope this helps!

  • Nice! And props getting through this whole article! I think it’s like 12,000 words long, or something crazy like that. Please keep me updated on your kanji progress!

  • Hi Partha,

    Thank you for commenting! And thank you even more for your kind words ^_^

  • Piper

    Makes sense. Thank so much!

  • Sebastian Llaguno

    This is really helping me out a lot. What would you recommend to learn japanese grammar along with this helping me with Kanji?

  • ppm

    Hello Niko, I have started following your kanji hack doc. So far its good. I am also a Free and Open Source Software hacker. I am hapy to see intelligent FOSS tools being used by people and hack them to be efficient. Keep up the good work and our customary friendship slogan, `Happy Hacking.’

  • Hi Sebastian,

    Thanks for commenting! Answering your question is kind of complicated. If you look at the kanji-learning system explained here, it requires a pretty big daily time commitment, which could make it difficult to simultaneously study grammar (or vocab) while also learning 20 or so new kanji per day.

    However, I think that it is helpful to study grammar, vocab, etc. any time you have already finished reviewing your daily flashcards and learning your new kanji for that day.

    Does that make sense?

    Good luck with your studies!

  • Hi there! Thanks for commenting ^_^. I love open-source learning materials. My dream is to somehow get rich enough that I can start giving away all of my learning content for free. Maybe someday… haha

  • Sebastian Llaguno

    Thanks!I will try to do it along with it, I have all the time in the world with my current schedule 🙂
    Any suggestions where I should study grammar, vocab, etc.? Cause I am currently just using wikipedia and translators and it feels clunky (I already know my kanas)

  • Ashley

    Almost 4 lessons down and 60 kanji in! 20 a day is perfect, just as you start to get bored you’re done! Fingers crossed..long way to go though! Last time I tried this I got off to a great start (up to 500) and then I decided to try and crow bar in the meanings like kanji damage ‘to speed things up’. That was a stupid idea as it slowed me down, made it harder and eventually I quit. This time I’m going back to the basics, kanji only, no readings, its easier that way and that means I won’t quit so easily this time.

  • Before I finally stuck it out and finished all of the kanji, I did the exact same thing as you–I got through about 500, then I got impatient, tried to rush through (and learn words and readings and everything), and I pretty much crashed and burned, haha.

    The time I finally stuck it out, I was afraid that I was going to quit the entire time. I got to like 1,500 kanji and I still thought, this is impossible. I can’t learn 500 more kanji! Looking back now, I was just using ineffective study systems (nothing as organized as this). But yeah… it’s a challenge.

    Good luck getting through the kanji! You can do it! ^_^

  • Hi Sebastian,

    A really high-quality (& free!) source is Tae Kim’s grammar guide: http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar

    I also mention a number of free and affordable resources on my Links page: http://nihongoshark.com/links/

    Hope that helps!

  • Ashley

    Senoor I have a question for you! You may have answered it in your 12,000 word essay but I don’t think you did? (By the way I’m 11 lessons in now and have been on it for every single day so far! Yaay!)

    Once you’ve memorised all the kanji what is your next step? I’m just doing a bit of vocab practice now to take a break from RTK 1…so this question popped up.
    For example: this is the word for normal / regular according to iKnow

    Now the separate kanji’s keywords according to reviewing the kanji are ‘universal’ and ‘traffic’.

    Did you make new stories in new memory locations i.e. tying the 2 kanji key words to the meaning of the word and it’s pronunciation i.e. (off top of my head just now) There was universal traffic on my ‘regular / normal’ road so I put my foot into Sue!

    How did you learn a word like this once you had memorised all the key words of the kanji?

    Ta very mucho and yes I’m keeping to keywords only this time around as its working!

  • Hi Ashley,

    Good question! For me personally, I kind of used the kanji to make up stories in my head, but nothing too formal. Like you mentioned, I might think to myself, “it is regular/normal for there to be traffic everywhere in the universe.” or something like that. I probably wouldn’t write it down, but I definitely had a number of little mnemonics like that for vocab words that didn’t stick.

    It might be a good idea to incorporate that if it’s what works for you. We all learn differently, after all.

    In my (often lost, confused) case, eventually everything kind of just seemed to make sense naturally. I’m not sure how much of it was due to making informal mnemonics and how much was thanks to high levels of exposure to the target vocabulary.

    Hopefully that at least 1% answers your question.

    Also, congrats on sticking to it so far! Be over before you know it. And it’ll be a rad journey, I’m sure, too.

  • Wow, awesome. Thanks!

  • Adrisader

    Hey Niko,

    Thanks so much for writing this guide!! I read through the entire thing and it was probably one of the best I’ve ever read in terms of learning Japanese systematically and efficiently.

    I’ve been going at this only for about 3~4 days now doing 30 kanji a day, but I have been wondering how much knowing 1-2 simple word definitions will help in the long run. Do the onyomi and kunyomi readings come that much more easily? Are there a lot of exceptions to these definitions when you form vocabulary words with them? I’m using anki exclusively aside from kanji.koohii to learn these, and I’m a little worried if I’m missing out on a lot of important details.

    It seems a little too convenient to be able to translate individual kanji directly to simple english terms; I feel like there’s a lot more of trying to understand the language itself involved, but then again I may have no idea what I’m talking about since I’ve barely started.

    I haven’t been able to utilize memory palaces very well so I’ve been relying on inferring from the primitives and characters used in each kanji to jog my memory; is this potentially detrimental for my long-term memory? I tried using spatial memory to ingrain characters into my head, but it doesn’t seem to be very practical for me.

    Is there a difference between radicals and primitives? How exactly do you determine the meaning of a given primitive in a character? I’ve noticed that constituents can vary in meaning per kanji, and sometimes there’s a long list of different words some of which I have no idea why they’re included.

    Is simply memorizing all 2200+ kanji by their simple 1-2 english definitions practical for the long run? When you reached this point, could you basically identify most of the kanji you read by their english terms by simply looking at them? After this point, do I just find a resource with all the readings of the characters that I’ve memorized?

    I guess the biggest question for me is: What do I do with all the things that I’ve learned at this end of this journey, given that I only use anki and am able to identify kanji simply by their direct english translations?

    Really sorry for the long word wall; I just want to know exactly what I’m getting into before I continue with the rest of this journey. These questions have been on my mind since I started, so I thought I should get it out before things get too deep, and thanks so much for reading all of this. Extremely well made guide, really appreciate that you took the time to write this out!!

    Thank you so much!!

  • Hi Daniel,

    Thank you for commenting!

    I’m sure that I’m going to miss addressing some of these questions (to which I am already late replying).

    I wouldn’t worry about the readings until getting through the meanings. I explain this elsewhere quite a few times, but you can learn readings as you learn vocabulary, and you can learn vocabulary more quickly if you’ve already memorized the meaning of the kanji.

    Initially, I had a lot of problems utilizing my spatial memory for mnemonics, too. This recent article goes in-depth on how to do this:

    Learning individual English meanings is definitely worthwhile for the kanji. People will complain that kanji are versatile and can have many meanings. This is true, but when you’re a beginner (1) it’s difficult to know which of the meanings in a dictionary are commonly used, (2) it’s too much information to learn altogether quickly, and (3) the various nuances and uses of characters should be acquired through vocab over time.

    Does this answer your question at all? I wish you the best of luck in your Japanese language-learning journey!


  • Adrisader

    Hi Niko,

    Yes, thank you so much! I know I wrote probably a little too much to ask in one post, so I really appreciate that you took the time to read lal of it. I think time helped me answer most of my questions, but you still addressed the most important ones I still had trouble answering. I’m going to prioritize mainly on retaining the English definitions and moving onto vocabulary afterwards. I think I’ve decided to focus on the Core 2k/6k/10k after finishing your deck; would this probably be a good idea?

    Again, thanks so much!

    (only about 1600 more kanji to go! :D)

  • That sounds like a good idea to me. This is the Anki deck for those that I usually recommend to readers: https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/174064441

    Might be helpful. ^_^

  • Ashley

    660 kanji in! Right time for a coffee and then it’s today’s kanji mission! It’s pretty fun and I haven’t missed a day yet!

  • Hey Ashley,

    Sounds like you’re moving along steadily! Nice! Props to you. I know how much discipline it takes to work on these every single day.

  • Ashley

    Just trying to inspire the masses matey! I don’t always write the kanji out though if I’m pressed for time so it’s like 50/50 write / recognize. I tend to just recognize them, my kanji is very childlike anyway but if I have time I try and write them!

    By the way while I’ve got you here… what’s the best way / what resources can I use to learn casual Japanese..Casual Japanese is so different to polite Japanese yet everything I watch online uses casual Japanese. I’m finding resources hard to find…There’s so many Japanese drama’s on You Tube that use casual Japanese like 90% of the time and formal Japanese only 10% that i have no idea about half of the words they’re using. I’d like to be able to actually understand some of it sometime! Have you written any blogs on casual Japanese learning that you can point me too?

    Right my next post will be when the kanji mission of doom is done and dusted! Now it’s off to the “offy” (beer shop as we call it in London) as there’s a BIG football game on tonight! Come on Ireland!

  • Kye Gregory

    That took me 2 hours and It was so worth it

  • Hi Ashley! Congrats on your progess. I just emailed you a bit about casual Japanese. Hopefully I’ll have more content about this up on the site soon.

  • Hi Kye,

    Thank you for commenting! Also, thank you so much for your kind words. It certainly took a lot more than 2 hours to write this post, haha.

    Good luck with your studies!

  • Kye Gregory

    Oh yeh, and if you haven’t already check this out:
    Very useful information for a beginner at Japanese such as myself and something you should defiantly mention when referring to stroke order

  • Sweet article. Thanks for letting me know about it!

  • Kye Gregory

    No problem. 5 Days in 😀

  • I’ve been doing WaniKani, but I have *so* much free time right now. I find myself just sort of sitting around reading articles about learning Japanese, like this one! But this one led to me downloading the anki cards, and I really think I can do this. I really think I can learn the 2000 kanji in 90 or so days. Let’s see how this goes!

    PS- if you never hear from me again, comment section, I failed. T_T

  • Hi Chriss! Thanks for commenting!

    Nothing wrong with failing a few times ^_^. Pretty sure I failed at this about 10 times before I finally stuck it out. That said, I’m always impressed by readers that are able to complete this kanji challenge on their first attempt.

    Good luck!

  • Thanks, Niko. I’m into my third day, and I’ve done over a hundred kanji. So far, the method is working *very* well for me. But I need to be careful not to encumber myself and burn out.

    I’ll update this comment in a month with my progress for any browsers.

  • Ming

    First of all, good article, but I’m a bit confused about what I’m supposed to learn.
    I understand that I should learn the meaning of the Kanji.
    But when learning with the Anki program and your deck, what pronunciation/reading am I supposed to learn as a beginner?
    The On-Yomi or the Kun-Yomi? Or only one of them?
    Because you pointed out in this article that you shouldn’t immediately learn all of them and instead learn 1/2 readings (if I remember correctly).
    It would be pretty pointless to only learn the definition of the Kanji without knowing how to pronounce it.
    Well, thank you for sharing your experience!

  • Hi Ming,

    Thanks for commenting! So, I’m saying that you should not study any readings and instead just focus on learning the meanings of the characters. Later, you can learn the readings naturally by memorizing vocabulary (which will be easy because you’ll already know the meanings of the kanji in said vocabulary).

    I find that studying On-Yomi or Kun-Yomi is largely a waste of time. It doesn’t increase your vocab, your speaking ability, or even your understanding of Japanese. Adding to that, as a beginner it’s hard to know which readings are used commonly.

    Personally, I never studied On-Yomi or Kun-Yomi readings, but now I know 99.9% of them for the Joyo Kanji. I just picked them up naturally as I learned a ton of vocab… and learning a ton of vocab was much easier after learning the meanings (only) of the kanji.

    If you absolutely want to learn the readings of characters while learning the meanings, then you should learn them through learning vocabulary. This is an effective approach, too, but it will take much, much longer than just learning the meanings of the characters… which might increase your likelihood of giving up and/or feeling like you’re not making substantial progress.

    Does that answer your question?

    Good luck with your studies!

  • Ming

    Ah now I understand, actually it does make sense in they way of learning vocab. A tip for future articles, maybe you should explain.the difference between kanji and vocab as many people don’t know it yet. I was pretty confused while reading about this particular topic. Anyway, thanks!

  • ntnd

    Hey Niko.
    I started going through the kanji using your Anki dack a few days ago and have already found a character which is displaying wrong when using AnkiDroid (直).

    For a lot of people it’s probably going to display wrong in a lot of places, and the reason for that is that a computer, phone, or other device doesn’t automatically know what language you’re typing (and some of the characters are used in other languages which draw them slightly differently).
    If you’re interested in fixing this in the deck, it’s actually surprisingly simple. There’s a HTML attribute called ‘lang’ you can use to tell things what language content is in, so changing the ‘div’ elements for the front and back into ” and ” will ensure that the characters are rendered correctly for everyone using the deck.

  • Ashley

    Nice! I noticed that too. What I did was just screen shot the kanji from the stroke picture and then replace the kanji that looked weird. Pain in the bum! Yeah that was a bit annoying along with cards randomly leeching and hiding..but all in all so far so good!

  • Hi Niko,

    Under the section “How You SHOULD Learn the Kanji” when you start talking about how you never studied the On’Yomi and Kun’Yomi readings you wrote: “And yet, I have steady work as a translator of Japanese, friends that don’t speak Japanese, and I read Japanese novels for fun.” Did you mean to say “friends that don’t speak English”? I’m not meaning to nitpick or anything, but aren’t you glad I devoured your every word of this post 🙂 I started casually studying Japanese last summer and now fully intend to jump into the deep end of the pool. My mother has had a Japanese pen pal since high school and they’ve kept in touch for 60 years thus far! While he has a friend who translates my mother’s letters for him, I faced my fears and wrote a very short, 5-sentence letter to him using the small amount of kanji and kana I know, but wish to improve greatly so I can write much longer and more in-depth letters. And, of course, I wish to also improve my listening and speaking. My dream is to take an epic trip to Japan, cross off my bucket list of adventures from Okinawa to Hokkaido, and hopefully meet my mother’s pen pal. And this dream starts with downloading your e-book. Thanks so much for your hard work. encouragement, and practical steps that help us become successful learners of Japanese!

  • Hi Danielle, thank you so much for pointing this out!

    Thank you even more for your kind words. This kind of feed back is really motivating for me.

    You should definitely take an epic trip to Japan! Please tell me about it when you go! ^_^

  • nice! gotta enjoy your studies, right?! ^_^

  • thanks for this! I’ll fix the decks

    good luck with your studies!

  • Jp

    Great article, Niko!
    The ‘anki avalance’ is something I know to be true all too well… I have succumbed to the mountain of reviews thrice already (the second time I actually finished the whole set, though I started rushing things around 1600), and I realize I’ve probably wasted a lot of time, not to mention paper (FML and all that). Doing 35 a day the first time around was likely a cause of that, but I feel like I can finally give it another go now. No more using excuses like being busy with university work. A steady 10 should be managable.
    Another key thing that I think caused my… failures is that I didn’t make all mnemonics personally reletable, or not enough so. I’d often just pick the top one from koohii and stubbornly roll with that until I got it right. No more Mister T and Spiderman this time – they probably only work for people who really grew up watching them.
    There’s also the fact I just revised pretty much whenever I had time, usually somewhere in the evening. I think you make a good point when saying that you need to shape your studying sessions into a routine, so that you don’t have to remind yourself but just start doing it naturally.
    One thing I don’t quite agree with or just misunderstood is that in the article, you state that you have an easier time going through your reviews in order of your memory palaces. But in doing so, don’t you create the bad habit of linking the order of your memory palaces to the time you first learned the kanji? I understand that might sound like a non-issue, but I’d like to ask you for a bit of clarification on that, if possible.
    Sorry for the rant, but seriously, thanks for writing this.

  • Hi JP,

    Thanks for commenting!

    So, I probably didn’t explain that well. When I review the kanji, I just go in the order that Anki presents the cards to me. However, when I forget kanji, then I will try to recall where that kanji appeared in my memory palace. If I can just remember where it was, then I can probably remember one of the kanji “around” it, and this will help me track my way back to my mnemonic and, in turn, my kanji.

    This article has a lot more info on how I approach memory palaces: http://nihongoshark.com/memory-palace-for-kanji/

    Not sure if you’ve already read that.

    Anyways, good luck! I failed at this challenge a few times before I finally stuck it out.

    Keep swimming ^_^


  • Suliman Alsaid

    How’s your progress if you don’t mind sharing?

  • Suliman Alsaid

    I am currently using the kanji radicals deck alongside this and it seems to help (I use rote memorization for the radicals one except for the occasional overlap)

    Current progress:
    Nov 29 100 CARDS FINISHED!!! feels great, I don’t know why people say kanji or chinese characters are hard to remember

  • This might be a bit demotivating, but I am in my last year of High School and I failed a big maths exams and so my maths went south right after that, I had to stop learning the Kanji to improve my maths therefore nowadays I pretty much just look at the kanji I reviewed before but I have not learned anything new in about 4 months, so I have memorized about 300 now, not really the progress I wanted but, it still is progress.

  • Suliman Alsaid

    I envy you for being able to review all those kanji while under the stress of math. I am happy for you that you didnt completely stop. Hey now once you resume, that’s 300 kanjis you don’t have to worry about which means nothing went to waste.

  • But 300 is a lot! If you can hold onto reviewing those cards, you’ll have 300 less kanji to learn next time ^_^

  • Suliman Alsaid

    Any updates?

  • Suliman Alsaid

    Dec 19 500 BABY! I’ve done review and learning everyday but yesterday was a close one

  • wow, you’re making great progress. congratulations!

  • raarnt

    Thank you very much for all the helpful tips! I will now start combining kanji learning with my japanese language infusion courses.. I will try to keep positive like you and will probably comment back later at some point;) Hugs from Norway!

  • sounds great. thanks for the kind words! ^^

  • congratulations!!!

    it’s such an awesome feeling to make it to the end, right? you’re amazing, man. also, a 111-day streak is incredible (with 1 break for mandatory beers, of course).

    look forward to hearing about how this language unfold for you in the future ^_^

    keep in touch, please

  • Ashley

    Yeah I was well happy when I made it to the end! Now I need to keep that morning run going with vocab acquisition. Hope I don’t slack off as finishing your Anki pack was a goal but for now there is no goal again. I shall keep in touch old beany (every now and then we e mail and I’m in the slack group of doom anyway! Ta for you book recommendation btw on content making. Good book that!) At this moment in time here in London I’m currently reading your massive e book of death to see what my next steps should be! Probably vocab I guess but I have no idea = why I’m reading your e book! Almost London bed time! Then kanji reviews only tomorrow! (That’ll be about 100 though!)

  • I have an update!

    …and it’s not good news, I’m afraid!

    First of all: this absolutely works. This 100% nailed the key words right on to the back of my mind. So if your concern is that it won’t work, then don’t fear. It does. Furthermore, it wasn’t that hard! I found that it was taking up very little of my time! So if your concern is finding the time, then again, don’t worry! That is absolutely not a problem!

    I had two fatal problems. The most pressing, first of all: I had started this method to compliment my use of WaniKani – but it began to interfere with my WK regime. You see, unfortunately, WK and Heisig use different key words. I hadn’t anticipated this being as grave an issue as it was. But it became a real inconvenience. I’d find myself taking double the time to pass a level on WK, because although the keyword I was using was correct for this method, it wasn’t accepted by WK. So in the end, something had to give.

    And I decided on this giving way because of my second problem. I began to lose sight of the goal. I was learning the key words, but was becoming more and more aware of how ineffective they are on their own, and how, following those three months of intensive study, I would need likely another three months on top of that. And I felt I would need to scramble about for resources at that point. So I weighed that up against WK – which isn’t perfect by the way, it takes at least 18 months (but you’re learning the kanji in a usable way as you go along) – and WK won out.

    To summarise: this method absolutely works, but go in knowing after those three months, your Japanese journey will really just be getting started. Effectively, you are learning here a technique to help you learn Japanese. Which you will start doing after those three months.

    Again, I knew that when I started, but I had hoped it’d gel with WK. For me, sadly, it didn’t!

  • Hey Niko. Great article. I’ve been studying Japanese for ages, but often get sidetracked or lose motivation. I’ve been using something called Wanikani (from Tofugu I think), and it’s pretty good. BUT… I’m super stoked to try your method now.

    Since 97 days or 100 days or anything like that seems so long, I decided to put some little reminders in my iphone calendar, so I get some motivation to keep going. For example, “You’ve already studied for ten days!” or “Only one more week to go until you know ALL the kanji”. I really think it will help break up the time into smaller, more manageable chunks.
    Thanks again for this great article. I’m really looking forward to reading more of your blog.


  • Hi John,

    I’ve heard great things about WaniKani… although I’ve never tried it in depth. I’m looking forward to hearing about your progress ^_^

  • Hi Chris,

    thanks for the update! I think everyone’s path to learning will be different. but yeah, I could see how this method would not mesh very well with Wani Kani–the keywords are just too fundamentally different, I think. anyways, as long as you find the approach that works for you, then manage to follow it consistently, I’m sure that you’ll get the results you’re looking for.

    good luck! feel free to reach out if you ever need any assistance ^_^

  • FreedomGent

    I just want to say thank you for your kindness Niko.

  • ダニエル

    Hi! Thanks so much! I made the horrible mistake of trying to make separate flashcards for memorizing the meanings of the kanji. Not only was this so annoying, mentally straining, and exhausting, it felt like I couldn’t remember the readings no matter how hard I tried and like it was a waste of time. It felt like a chore all the time to even study kanji. I find kanji so beautiful and so difficult at the same time. This makes everything so much easier and is so straightforward! Thanks for this method, I will try it out and see what happens. Wish me luck!

  • Awesome, let’s do it.

    Thank You.

  • Alex Turner

    1,208 down, 992 to go! I’ve been doing 30 (or a bit more) per day and I haven’t missed a day so far! This is awesome ^^

    Challenge for you, Niko – read my French statistics! 😉 (the yellow suspended are because I already knew about 400 coming in, so I suspend them as I reach them)

  • Lancer_Zero

    Hi Chris,

    I am in the same situation as you. As, I had started with Wani Kani already when I found this. I though it will complement my Wani Kani studies, but it kind of back-fired. Now, I am thinking which path to take , should I ditch Wani-Kani and use these Anki cards? I have time on my hands. Though I would like to learn and understand atleast 1200 Kanji by Nov this year.

    I am quite consistent with my studies and have been doing Jpod101 for past 3 months and my listening has improved a lot.

    Thanks for the help.

  • Grendell100

    Just finished learning the last one. I think I wouldn’t have even started if I haven’t read your article. Thanks for keeping me motivated!

  • Nice! you’re amazing. It’s so motivating to hear about success stories like yours. Congratulations!! The thanks all goes to yourself. I might have helped a little bit, but 99.9999% of the effort was yours ^^

  • nice! this is impressive progress. congratulations ^_^

  • happy to help >_<

  • Baron

    After I complete the Joyo Kanji and know all the meanings, where do I go from there? How do I learn to speak Japanese after?

  • Colette English

    I thought your article was very informative but I do have 1 question before I start. When you are making your mnemonics for each kanji character do you have those mnemonics connect into 1 big story per lesson, or do you just make mnemonics for each kanji in a lesson and the sentences don’t have to relate to each other?

  • I get this question about study priorities quite a lot.

    You look up Japanese, and there’s stuff about vocab, and grammar, and hiragana, and katakana, and kanji, and particles, and audio lessons, and you think–Ah! Where do I start?!

    The simple answer is a process like this:

    #1 – Choose your own study priorities.

    #2 – Make good study investments (i.e. don’t forget stuff you’ve already learned // see this article for more on this topic: https://nihongoshark.com/not-making-progress-in-language-studies/ ).

    #3 – Study every single day for a lengthy, extended period of time.

    As far as what you should “study” every day, it gets a bit more complicated. I put “study” in quotations because I’m talking about focused, makes-your-brain-tired language-learning efforts. For some, this would be time at a desk, maybe in front of a textbook and/or computer and/or teacher or language exchange partner.

    I think an hour a day is a good goal for daily study time, but many study more than that and many study less. It is unlikely that you will be able to study “X minutes/hours per day” every day, though… which is why we need priorities to be set up.

    Here is what I recommend for priorities (after you’ve already learned hiragana, katakana, and basic pronunciation):

    #1) Review Kanji flashcards

    #2) New Kanji flashcards/stories

    #3) Review Vocab flashcards

    #4) New Vocab flashcards

    #5) Study grammar

    Just because kanji is your main priority initially does not mean that you can’t study other stuff. You can’t study kanji while driving in your car or going for a walk–so in that case I’d do flashcards. Sometimes your brain will be tired and you don’t want to sit at a table somewhere. Instead you want to lie in bed. Then you could watch video lessons or read a book without taking notes, etc.

    Figuring out your own ideal system will take time, so I wouldn’t fret if it’s hard to figure out. My own study systems are always changing, because life is always changing. Sometimes for work I have to be in front of computers all day long…and the last thing I want to do is stare at a screen studying after that, so I’ll go for a walk and listen to lessons or just read a book in bed or something.

    Other times, when my real job is slow, I often do sit in front of the computer making lots of flashcards and stuff.

  • Igor Arruda Oliveira

    When you say:
    If you follow the Phase #2 instructions exactly, it will take you 97 days.
    I didn’t understand that, Are you mean “Only Worry About 1 Thing: Recognizing the Meaning of Characters” equal phase#2?

  • Hi Igor, thanks for commenting. So, “the 3 phase system” is actually part of my ebook, as this article is just an excerpt from it. There is more info here: http://courses.nihongoshark.com/

    to be clear, though, you don’t need the ebook to learn the kanji using this method. Many have done so without it

  • Anonymous

    Do I have to remember both the kanji meaning and its reading and have to make both into my mnemonics?

  • Anonymous

    Do I have to remember both the kanji meaning and its reading and have to make both into my mnemonics?

  • Hi there. I wouldn’t worry about the readings in this stage (or ever). I’d study the readings by learning vocab after getting through the meanings of the kanji… if you decide that this system is right for you.

  • Jake Olesniewicz

    Job well done! I have been doing this for 4 days now. I just like you went through hell to learn the first 500 hundred, every time I felt like I wanted to kill myself. Doing everything you said and memorizing the meaning for each Kanji is such a drive I just want to sit and do them all day.

    I am however confused about how we should later learn the readings and readings of compounds later after we are done with learning all the meanings. Would you please be so kind and elaborate?

    Again thanks for doing this, like really…. THANKS!!!

    Edit1: Never mind… 2 posts down you gave a reply to the exactly same question. Thanks!

  • Hi Jake,

    I’m glad to see that you saw my answer to a previous question. Ultimately, how you go about learning the readings (and the meanings, for that matter) depends on the person, I think. Everyone has different time constraints, preferences, etc. The method detailed above has worked for a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t tweak it to your liking. ^^

    Good luck! Hang in there.

  • Michael Noakes

    Hi Niko,

    Thanks for putting the effort into creating this program. I’m an intermediate Japanese speaker looking to build on my reading skills.

    I’m a few days into using your program and am wondering about the efficacy of a few aspects of it:

    1) Why am I asked to learn kanji for obscure words/terms so early? A few examples: gall bladder (胆), measuring box (升), and derision (嘲). I want my Japanese reading to be practical (i.e. for reading newspapers, etc.) as soon as possible and so I think I could do without these characters until much later in my studies – why burden me with them in the first three days of learning? It would seem to me more practical to learn common kanji first before moving on to rare/obscure terms.

    2) All the kanji I’ve encountered so far are given only one meaning, when many of these characters have multiple meanings, particularly in compound words. A couple examples: the kanji for eminent (卓) can also mean desk, but only eminent is listed; the kanji for only (只) also means free of charge or ordinary, yet just “only” is listed.

    3) My third concern is that the kanji are never presented as constituents in compounds, which is how most of the characters are used in everyday life. However, I understand that the goal of this program is to teach the meanings of individual characters so this may simply be outside the scope of the program.

    Thanks again for your work, I’d very much appreciate clarification of the reasoning behind these aspects of your program.


  • Fiona

    I downloaded the ios version of the Anki app on my iphone but after downloading the deck and starting to study I noticed that the order of the cards are just 100% random, rather than starting with the easier kanji like it does on the computer version. Anyone know how to change/fix this? It’s a lot easier for me to study on the go using my phone 😐

  • Before reading this guide, I’ve been treating Kanji as a nuisance I had to get through but now my mindset is different. Since I am in no hurry to learn Kanji.(I might go to Japan in a month or so, but that’ll last just for a few days) I’ll stick with 5 kanji per day.

  • Grey-kun

    I read this post on February 17 this year. I was so excited with the idea, that I immediatly started on the following day, February 18. This journey was really extensive and I thought I would never get to the end, studying 25 kanji per day. But on May 19, I finally did it! I can’t even believe I managed to get all the 2200 kanjis. Thank you so much for your explanation! I would comment on here in the same day, but I was so tired and relieved. lol Thank you! Now I just need to figure out what to do next, while reviewing all of them. lol

  • Sven

    Just started today in prep for a teaching position overseas this Fall!

    Definitely enjoying the system you’ve put together here with the flash cards; personal mnemonic devices based on my own experiences weren’t really flowing very well, but I’ve been making up my own just based on abstract ideas that the Kanji remind me of, and having some success!

    古 = OLD minds turn to religion, lol, will see if they work after a few days of reviewing!

    Only thing I’m not sure about is, should we be trying to speak these? Or just recognize the Kanji and their English meanings before worrying about the verbal language?

  • hanasaki

    i cant be more happy with the system you made! its really smart, and its actually working ^^ i’ll keep updating you on my progress (^O^) thank you so much!

  • hanasaki

    I have a question about readings and the vocabulary that is part of each kanji..should i learn the words so i know the readings or..? what do you guys do?

  • blade9991

    I’m on my third day, and so far all is well, but I am concerned about how some of the ones I don’t remember. “To post a bill” makes complete sense to me as soon as I remember my story and understanding of it, but after it came back today, I looked at it and I was like, “fortune telling and shellfish…” and just couldn’t understand what it is. I’m hoping that after it comes back a few more days it’ll be obvious to me (or perhaps this specific one will always be obvious to me because I’ve had this memorable moment of it being the first kanji I completely forgot), but a part of me wants to doubt how possible it is to retain the information after you only go over each individual kanji 4 or 5 times over the spawn of a few minutes.

    Well, we’ll see in the coming days!

    (also, I think this is going to be a terrible idea, but I am also simultaneously doing the 700 vocabulary word deck. If I find that I can’t keep them both up together, I will only do the kanji, but for now it seems fine, not too time consuming so far. Perhaps it’s a problem because I’m expecting my brain to remember too many items per day? I don’t know, I think vocab words and kanji are very different, are they even stored in similar parts of the brain…? well, we’ll see I guess)

  • blade9991

    this method is solely for learning the key meaning of each kanji, not words that are built from them or their reading.

  • blade9991

    Still surviving a few days later, at around 300 now. I had kind of low expectations of the usefulness of knowing the key words (because some combinations seeed pretty bullshitty), but the vocabulary deck keeps on showing me that i actually already know the kanji for so many words!

    I’m focusing on the hiragana and pronunciation of all the vocab words because the kanji wil come with the kanji deck. It’s this site’s JLPT N5 deck that I’m using and it’s extremely good. So far I’ve been able to progress on both decks swimmingly, but if the burden becomes too much, I’ll change the vocab to just “review” until I’m done with the kanji.

    Very optimistic, this method is great. Also, each kanji has a link to some dictionary website that will tell you the pronunciations and all the words it’s in, which is fun to look at although not a priority right now.

  • Blitz Gamer

    Whew i got to the end, nice post Niko. Also i got 2 questions if you can answer them..:
    1.Since i’m on a summer break i got like 2 months to do anything, and since i’m usually bored i would probably learn about 40 kanji a day.. Is this a good idea? since i think i could handle it since i learned hiragana/katakana in 2 hours (each).
    2.Kinda the only reason i’m learning Japanese is so i could read it/type it so do you have any tips for me?

  • I’m thirteen years old, Honestly? I don’t think i would have found the motivation to start Kanji without reading this post. I learned ひらがな and カタカナ in ~1 week, and was ready to move into Kanji… but looking at the internet and listening to my friend’s Kanji horror stories, I felt a little discouraged and lost. I didn’t think it would be possible to remember so many Kanji- I mean, I wasn’t so concerned about the amount of time it would take, but the language seemed so unrealistic in general. I don’t remember what I searched, but I found this article, and it definitely gave me motivation to get started! The whole thing is empowering, at that last statement filled me with so much determination that I started immediately. At this point, I’m five days in, and really enjoying Kanji. It feels amazing to be able to watch anime, or read manga, and suddenly recognise words, meanings and kanji. Though I’ve only started, and I can’t say with full confidence that I will follow through to the end, I’m so grateful for every single word in this article. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to come back and say that I learned them all!

  • Hi there. Thanks for commenting. I wish I had started studying Japanese when I was your age. That’s amazing! Actually, I wish I had just consistently kept studying Japanese from the first time I dabbled in it at the age of 22. So if you can, try to stick with it. You surely won’t regret it. ^_^ I wish you the best of luck!

  • Julian Tanaka

    The deck shows only 22 cards for me. Does anyone else have this problem?

  • Hi Julian,

    All of the cards are in there, but you Anki settings are probably limited to only 22 new cards per day. If you click the gear next to you deck, then go to options, there is an option to adjust this number.

    Hope this helps. ^^

  • Julian Tanaka

    Your deck is incompatible with the latest version of Anki apparently. I installed an old version and it works on that.

  • Manoj Koram

    hey niko,
    how to set my deck to show onyomi and kunyomi readings for every kanj

  • veracrux

    Hi Niko:
    I have a issue with the deck. I started to use it since last week, but it never show me new kanji to learn, It always show me the same 10 kanji for review. How could I fix that in order to have new kanji in order to write stories on it?

    Thanks in advance, cheers.

  • Nicole158

    Hi. Thanks for the great challenge, starting it today. Wish me luck!!
    One question.. When u finished it you Started learning vocab, right? Where, had you a book for this? Perhabs this is written in your E book, but unfortunately i can’t afford it. :

  • Hi Nicole. Thanks for commenting! Yeah, I did vocab after this. Back when I did it I was manually creating anki flashcards using whatever books I can find. but there are lots of vocab lists and free anki decks online now, which you could use.

  • Hamza Pro

    hello niko .. thank you so much for the deck .. it’s the most thing i think helped me so much in japanese learning .. the outside is so suck of lazy people who are making rtk deck without stories or just one story and few information about the cards ..
    i almost finished the deck .. 350 kanji to go .. but i have a question can’t past my head no matter what .. it’s the cards count .. 2200 kanji .. but .. some forums and people say that they use the extra kanji in rtk 3 .. 900+ .. is it really important to go and finish the extra 900 kanji ?? i have no problem finishing it because i get used to the environment .. but will i see them in decks like core 6k vocab or something else ??

  • First: Congratulations! You’re awesome.

    Second, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to learn those extra 900 kanji. It is true that you do need to know some kanji that are not official general-use characters, but usually these are easy to learn if and when you come across words that use them. For example, I don’t think the 檎 in 林檎 (rin-go // apple) is included in the general-use list but I learned it naturally for two reasons: first, I know 林 because it’s a character I’ve learned. Second, the word usually appears in context, so it’s easy to remember that when I see 林檎 it means “apple” and reads “ringo.”

    So if you do see random kanji that you haven’t memorized yet, just learn them when you come across them. After finishing the initial 2200 or so kanji, making a mnemonic on the fly shouldn’t be too hard, and chances are you’ll know the constituents in your new target kanji anyway.

  • Hamza Pro

    fast answer ^_^ .. thanks for answering my question .. i will do my best in the last 350 kanji ..

  • Hamza Pro

    Great niko .. i did it!! .. i finished the rtk … thank you very much
    for your support .. if without you i couldn’t even believe i could
    memorize all the kanji ..
    i really struggled though but it really
    feels great after around 5~ months ! .. there are times when i’m
    depressed with thoughts like what i will ever gain in learning japanese
    .. can i really do it!? why i even do that and so on .. as i’m attending
    school everyday my free time is so short .. so i usually end up thowing
    all the time in just the kanji .. it makes my day very empty .. i hate
    that bacause i have some friends who would love to hear my stories in
    animes as i’m really talkative so ..
    when i began the rtk i became out of thoughts .. all i do is sitting
    around .. nothing to talk about .. that really frustrate me .. so that’s
    why i had these stupid thoughts along the way .. i’m sorry if my story
    is the most silly thing but it was really the most annoying thing while
    doing the rtk&anki .. but after all i finished it .. the most
    intimidating stage of learning the japanese .. the next phase is far
    easier (thanks to rtk) ..


  • Congratulations!

    I know personally that you must have put so much effort into getting through all of those cards. I’m amazed every time someone manages to go through the system described here to learn the meanings of the kanji. I mean, I have a hard time believing that I did I myself 3-4 years ago!

    Congratulations again, and best of luck as you move into the next (perhaps more exciting) stage of your Japanese studies! ^^

  • Jaded

    I’ve been studying Japanese for some time and stumbled over here. Decided to follow this method, though i won’t be going for all the kanjis in 97 days. Rounding it to 120 days, so go me!!

    You suggested creating 56 mental palaces because Heisig has 56 lessons. I downloaded the first volume and prepared mental palaces, for the kanjis there but there are only 12 lessons in it. Where can I find the remaining 44 lessons? Would I need to buy the book?

    Sorry if this question has already been asked haha.

  • So, the “56 lessons” is a general guideline. You could theoretically divide up the palaces however you want (even just making one giant one if you have a rich enough palace).

    I do recommend, however, getting Heisig’s book. I mean, the study method mentioned here is based on his system. So getting the book gives credit where it’s due… although you will find all of the kanji and names of constituents on the reviewing the kanji site.

    Hope this helps. Good luck!

  • Guy

    Hi niko, this has got me fired up for learning kanji YES!!!
    But I too have given up on Japanese once, after 3 years of learning it in class I gave up because I realised everything I learnt in those 3 years I forgot… SH*T… Now I’m back and ready to learn.
    I saw that comment about the mistake, have you fixed it yet, it’s making me worried.

  • Hi Guy,

    I’m pretty sure that mistake has already been fixed, as that was quite a while ago. In any case, that was only occurring on a select number of devices, as far as I know.

    Good luck with you studies! ^^

  • Sundyko

    I have never EVER read anything like this before. At first I thought: “This guy has nothing new to give me. Yeah, yeah, I know… mnemonics and stuff, Tofugu speaks of this, too” – but thank god I stick through, and after 5 minutes in reading your text, my eyes opened and everything about learning Kanji makes sense now.

    You have truly opened my eyes and given me a better advantage in learning Kanji, as well as the language. You are also the very first person willing to give this much information about how to learn Kanji, for free, and I truly thank you for it.

    I am going to work in Tokyo for 2 months starting next month. If destiny so allows, we will meet in person, and I will shake your hand and buy you a beer or coffee, as a thanks for saving me hundreds of hours of ineffective Kanji study.

  • Thank you for the kind words. I am glad that I was able to help you a bit in your journey to Japanese fluency.

    I’m not in Tokyo at the moment, but if we’re ever there at the same time, I’d be happy to have beer, coffee, and/or handshake. ^_^

    Good luck in Japan!

  • Lost in dark valley

    I had studied for 3 years japanese language and culture on University of Warsawa (it’s called “japonistic” or “japonology” – nihongakka) – it’s more than enough to learn 2000 kanji and speak quite fluently (I was also able to translate novels to polish) and then my life was strucked by a disaster and I had been cut off from so called “normal life” for over 10 years. I wasn’t using japanese for over a decade. And I don’t know if there’s any sense in trying to re-learn now. I mean – I see that my brain still remembers this and that, but I’m afraid that I’ve lost my courage to even dream of going to Japan or to live as a translator. I think I’m too old now.

  • Thank you for commenting. If you have a chance, maybe you should check out this article: https://nihongoshark.com/commit-to-learning-japanese/

    It addresses some of the issues you mention.

    If you love it, then why not learn it? I might get hit by a bus tomorrow and die. But I don’t think that would make the 2 years I’ve spent translating and working using Japanese meaningless. The journey of studying Japanese was a great experience, too. But that’s because I love the language and am fascinated by it. It’s certainly not for everyone. Just like some things are not for me… accounting, for example x_x

  • 『Icyman』

    …m-m-my mind i-i-i-is broken now!!!

  • Fantastic post
    I will definitely start learning kanji ! Today will be the first day and when the time comes, I will definitely know all 2200 kanji !!

  • Nice. Good luck! Feel free to update us on your progress. ^^

  • Thankyou Niko for encouragement. you are doing a great job

  • Cameron B. Lewis

    I’m new to NihongoShark, been studying Japanese on and off for about half a year now. Always loosing the motivation like most students do with this merciless language. Though, after reading this page (especially the “Study Sanctuary” section), I now have a new perspective on studying Japanese.
    I’ve tried many sites regarding advice for Japanese Studies and I have to say that NihongoShark is by far my favourite.

    Thanks Niko!

  • Hi Cameron,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s so motivating to get feedback like this from fellow students that have a desire to learn Japanese.

    Good luck with your studies. And good luck finding your own “study sanctuary.” ^_^

  • Pingback: 2,136 kanji in 97 days – ヘルシー・ファイト!()

  • Light SPEED!

    Already know the meaning and stroke of 1000+ kanji in just 27 days! Thanks a lot Niko! Been having 50 new kanji a day with 100-200 reviews but since I have lots of free times, I have lots of time to study. Fortunately, I could retain almost all the kanji that I learned.

  • This is fantastic news! Congratulations!

    Please keep us updated when you get through all 2,000+!

  • Light SPEED!

    sure! ^_^

  • Ryan Ferguson

    I just read your article and I’m excited to begin the challenge. I’m curious whether you have heard back from others who have gone through the process and have agreed that, looking back, it was very helpful for them to learn the kanji before learning other aspects of the language.
    Very well written article. Thank you for writing it.

  • Thank you Ryan, I wish you the best of luck!

    And yes, besides myself (I’ve found it very helpful to learn the Kanji first), we have received a lot of positive feedback from students who have successfully followed this process and gone on to achieve high level Japanese abilities. We have a slack community full of other students if you’d like to chat with some. Feel free to send us an email through our contact page if you’d like an invite to the community.

    Thanks again! Hope you find it helpful.

  • Matías Pierdoménico

    Excellent article. I will definitely start this challenge very soon. I am so excited. I will post updates.

    ありがとうございます :).

  • Nice! Good luck!

  • Hestia

    Just reccently started with Kanji and discovered this article. I will give your method a trie.

  • Good luck! Feel free to post your progress here, if you’d like. ^^

  • yoav

    started today (30 in) and so far so good.
    but anyways, i’m pretty sure this is one of (if not) the best artical i’ve ever watched

  • Hi there,

    Thank you for your kind words. Good luck in your study journey!

  • Lisa

    Hi Niko! Thank you so much for writing this blog post! I found it last Monday (now 4 days ago) and thought “Hey, this sounds fun, why not give it a try.”
    4 days in, I now recognize 400 kanji.
    I’m kinda worried my brain will be fried in a few more days if I keep going at 100 kanji a day but so far it’s been working perfectly.
    And since English isn’t my first language, it has also taught me a bunch of new interesting English words like “eventide” or “yonder”. 🙂
    I live in Japan right now and I’ve already noticed that I can spot a bunch of kanji “in the wild” now. It’s so much fun.

  • Hi Lisa,

    100 kanji per day?! That’s amazing! My brain would most certainly be “fried” if I tried that many, I think. ^_^

    I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of someone learning so many new kanji per day. I’m sure we’d all be interested to hear how this turns out for you, so please keep us updated.

    Good luck!

  • LunarEmpire

    So does this cover the entire “Remembering the Kanji 1” book or is there more important info. in it that needs to be learned??

  • This covers the whole thing! All 2200 Kanji.

  • LunarEmpire


  • Rose Indigo

    Thank you for this! What a great article. I appreciate how much time you’ve put into researching memory and developing your ideas. I can’t wait to get started!

  • Hey! Thank you for your kind words.

    Let us know how it goes ^^

  • MEN_iiParfumDa

    Japanese culture came into my life about 3 and a half years ago via anime of course, as it probably is for most Westerners. And though I am still in love with Japan’s creative sector, I started to develop in interest in other areas. History, architecture, and anthropology surrounding the country. Though I don’t really have a want to make a life over there, unless it were the perfect situation, as I think the laxer(-ish) work environment in America suits me better, I figured a month ago it was time to learn the language. I’m in that odd nirvana where despite never doing legit study in Japanese, I’ve consumed so much, thousands of anime episodes, read the hiragana and katakana of so many tweets, that I can grasp a somewhat decent amount. And along with that has come my frustration with translations, as I find more and more with anime that I just listen and use context clues and only consult the subs for what I don’t know. All this time I’ve just needed to add the writing system, but the immensity of it always deterred me. Just said screw it eventually as I have an absolute want to consume media like a native Japanese person would. Be it anime, manga, games, novels, television, tweets, youtube/nico nico, etc. Researched for a couple weeks, then started with Anki about a month ago and learned the entirety of the basic kana, which I was then able to take to Twitter to keep myself good with them. Man, that was easy. A few minutes a day and I had it all down in a couple weeks. I still didn’t know how to go about kanji, however. And kanji was always my main deterrent. I was on the fence for about a year. I believe sometime in 2016 I noticed that my blind understanding of the language was getting better to a point that I was consistently frustrated with any English content in what I was doing and felt it was time I put translations and localizations behind me and consume what I really want to consume.

    So, here I am now. Linked to here from your comment on your Anki page as I was looking for Kanji decks. And you know, I’m pretty confident. I have your resource here as kind of the flagship, as well as many other supporting ones. Pacing myself and doing a little chunk each day really works. Plus I follow 200+ Japanese accounts on Twitter so every day I am able to see what I have learned so far.

    Just wanna say thanks for an in-depth guide like this. The mnemonic bit is really interesting. I am sort of a technical non-creative type of person, but I do have a very vivid memory. So, applying that system is a fantastic idea. Thanks again for this write-up! Seems people every day are trying to take the same journey you took years ago. Only gets easier and easier with all these resources.

  • blade9991

    A year later, I am done!

    I actually did it in 100 days, after quitting last year and starting again. Yesterday was the last batch of new words, and now I’m going to move on to vocabulary.

    It took me an average of 50 minutes – 1 hour per day, and it was a matter of discipline. My longest streak is only about 60 days, and in the middle of those 60 days is one day where I didn’t actually finish all the new cards. (although I made up for it the next day)

    I am very hopeful about the future and this is the great start to my Japanese studies, thank you NihongoShark, this blog post was the only thing that managed to initially motivate me to get to this point.

  • Congratulations! I know personally what a massive amount of discipline and effort it takes to get through all of those characters. You’re amazing. For me, getting past this stage was the real catalyst for my progress in Japanese. I finally started to get a bit of confidence that I really can learn this language.

    Good luck with your future studies!

  • JoshLevelledUp !!!

    Hey Niko, I’m just asking if there was a way to switch the cards for review to go from keyword to kanji by changing up the code or whatnot. I know you said that going from kanji to keyword is easier and faster, however I wish to be able use Kanji in my writing as I am learning Japanese in school and wish to get as far ahead as possible. I’ve been using the deck for just about three weeks now and have been writing the kanji and trying to find the mnemonic from my own memory and I’ve found that it would probably be better and more efficient for me to review the cards from the keyword to the kanji. I’ve also tried to find other decks that go from the keyword to the kanji but usually those decks are incomplete and/or are inconsistent.

    In short I want to be able to use the deck but review the cards from keyword to kanji and I was wondering if there was a relatively simple way to do this.

  • JoshLevelledUp !!!

    Thank you so much!

  • Yess2000

    Hi! I have a question for you – when you reach your limit for the day (for me it’s 22 – I’m trying to learn hiragana and katakana and reading my japanese book at the same time as I do this) it seems like I can’t keep study anymore. I know I can increase the card number for the day – but what I would like to do is to do the same cards I’ve finished that day – I think i need to do it all over more than once… Is that possible?

    BTW – awsome article – spend a couple of hours reading that and a lot of the subarticles you link to – it’s so interesting!

  • エクセル

    Hello, I just recently doing this and using this anki app. However, I’m still not sure how anki actually works. on the first day, it just showed 20 kanji and I can review them only once (but I know how to re-review them). However on the second day, it somehow showed more than 20 kanji including the one from yesterday (I didn’t count how much it is whether it’s 40 or not). Is that how it actually works ? so the more day you spent on this, the more cards will appear each day ? Tbh at first I thought it’ll always show 20 cards a day not including the one from yesterday. Thank youu

  • エクセル

    You can do it by creating filtered deck
    and then in the search box type “rated:1”
    go back and you can review them again. Just delete the filtered deck after you done re-reviewing it again. You can do this again again. This is how to re-review what you’ve learned that day. Tho I’m still an amateur with this app myself CMIIW lol

  • Yess2000

    Thank you! Will this include only the new ones for that day or all you have been through up until now? I don’t know if i want them all or not…

  • エクセル

    Hmm I’m only in day two of this practice as well so I don’t know much lol. But on the first day it shows 20 card, using this method to re-review, 20 cards also show sup. Then on the second day, the card that appears are 40 (20 from yesterday cards). When using this method to re-review, all 40 cards also shows up. So I take it it just repeats what appears that day I guess ? So it’s all of them. Haven’t searched for a way for just repeating the new ones

  • Yess2000

    Thank you – i’m on my second day too – and can’t even remember which kanji was new today, but that doesn’t matter – I can regonise all of them, thanks to your help, cause I was able to re-review them a coupple of times

  • エクセル

    No problem~
    Let’s just hope we’ll pull through this lol

  • Yess2000

    We can support each other, looks like we’ve started the same day!

  • Yess2000

    Hi Niko! I have one more question:

    Is there any logic in the order then Kanji show up? I think it seems a little messed up, and it refers to kanji which hasn’t been learned – ex: wand, which is used in a lot of the Kanji I’m seeing on my third day, but I havn’t learnd it yet…

    Leaning Kanji is SO hard 🙁 But I’ll get through it!

  • The kanji in this approach are not ordered according to frequency. Instead, they are ordered in a way that it is easy to build up their primitive elements into more complicated kanji. “wand” is actually a primitive element in this system. The top part of this kanji: 占. Primitives are explained in more detail if you pick up Heisig’s book. I’m also planning to explain this a bit more in depth in a future post.

  • It can be a bit intimidating, but Anki’s User Manual is pretty helpful: https://apps.ankiweb.net/docs/manual.html

    It’s not easy to get used to using Anki, but once you do it is by far the most useful SRS (flashcard program), as it is much more flexible than things like Memrise, for example.

  • You can always “Review Ahead” if you still have time to study more cards. The deck should be set up to show you new cards after your review cards. The statistics page of Anki should also show you a breakdown of how many new or review cards you have coming up. And the card browser (desktop only) can show you which cards will be due at which dates.

  • Yess2000

    Hi Niko! I started over from scratch, the first approach didn’t do it for me. Now I’m a little courius – is it possible to prospone study? Example:

    I’m on my second day, I’ve learned 31 kanji, but know I want to study them more deeply. Can I do so, using like a coupple of days on those 31 kanji only, WITHOUT getting new ones and be left with a bunch of reviews those days?

    I want to study their meaning and use more deeply I think – my friend told me that’s better than knowing all of them too fast….

    What do you think?

  • Yes, you can do this anytime. Just look for “Options” for your Anki deck and change the number of New Cards you are shown per day. You can change this to any amount you like. Once you’re ready for new cards again, you can increase the number of daily new cards. After you have finished your reviews for the day, it is also possible to review ahead and look at which cards will be due the following day.

    You say “study their meaning and use more deeply,” but I’m not sure this is the best approach if that is your goal. The article above describes a method for learning the basic meaning of each general-use kanji as quickly as possible. After that, you would learn more about the variety of meanings and pronunciations a single character can have while you learn vocabulary and study grammar. In other words, this approach is for building a foundation to increase study speed in the near future. It’s not really meant for a slow approach because then you would spend too much time learning only the meanings of kanji but not learning what words they show up in, how they’re pronounced, etc.

    So if you are only going to be look at a small number of new kanji per day to learn only their meanings, then I would simultaneously study vocabulary, grammar, and so on. If you are trying to power through all of the meanings quickly, then focusing just on kanji meanings 100% can work.

    Hope that helps a bit.

  • Yess2000

    This was exactly what my friend told me – I think I’ll try to do it slowly – and then we’ll see where that takes us… My friend doesn’t think it helps to know all the kanjis if you can’t actually use them (meaning: read them correctly in both readings).. I really can’t figure out what’s the best way – to know them all a little or just some (with time, but more slowly, all) and their mening and readning… hmm… Japanese is hard!

  • Lots of people take different approaches. There is no single method that everyone should follow. I understand why people are hesitant to learn only the meanings, and in some cases I think it’s fine to learn kanji while also learning vocabulary that contain them (thereby learning some of their readings as well), though I’d only recommend doing that at a steady pace. Trying to rush through all of the kanji while also learning vocabulary containing each one is something that very few of us can manage in the span of only a few months.

    However, studying the readings of kanji in isolation is a monumental waste of time. Many kanji have more than just two readings. Some have several different readings. Some have irregular readings that are typically not listed under onyomi/kunyomi readings. Rather than trying to make sense of all that, you can just learn useful words and always use kanji when you study them (unlike books that write things in only hiragana half the time, which is really a shame). Over time, you’ll accumulate a large enough vocabulary that you know the essential readings of pretty much all of the general use characters.

    Anyway, powering through all of the meanings quickly is not a method to “know how to read Japanese.” It is a method to learn vocabulary quickly and with considerably less headaches than people who do not know the readings.

    Hope this adds some perspective. Have fun figuring out your study approach. ^^

  • kyon

    Do you keep the ‘easy’ interval to 4 days?

  • Personally, yes, I do. But this is not a strict requirement. I think different people retain things at different rates. If you feel that this is too long or too short, then feel free to change it. Finding just the right settings for you is a big part of this whole process, I think.

  • Aandrew

    How would you do 22 a day if anki only shows 20 new a day?

  • Hi Aandrew,

    You can change the new card amounts in the deck’s options in Anki to whatever amount you like. Some people do 20, 22, or even more. Others take a more gradual approach, doing 5 or 10 per day. It’s up to you, really.

  • Mustafa Agarli

    Hello Niko, how are you doing? I should thank you. Because after I have read your website, I got confident to start to learn Kanji.
    Today, I am very very happy, because I have finished the Kanji challenge at last. It took three and half months to finish it. Even though I need to revise the most of them, because they are not good enough. But I think I am glad that I finished it. I think, I had gradually changed the way that I was writing the stories. And it got better and better. The story of last kanjis are way much better. Now I have a clear idea how to make a good stories. With This method, I am no longer worried about forgetting Kanji which puts my mind at ease. Now I think, I definitely can use this method, when I am memorizing the words. It is a very powerful method.
    This challenge was so intense for me. I sometimes studied 8 hours a day. And I felt like it would never end. It was harder than I thought to finish this deck. But it ended today. Now I can really focus on Japanese, I really wanna start to talk. Because after I had started this challenge, I forgot a lot of words. Now I can’t really speak. But I can study Japanese hard from now on.
    The deck you have prepared is amazingly good. Thank you so so so much for this deck. And Lastly I wanna buy your all lessons, which one should I start with? My level is just beginner.
    Thank you Niko. I hope I am not disturbing. But I really wanted to thank you.

  • Hi Mustafa,

    Congratulations! I know personally how difficult it is to get through all of the kanji using this system (or any system, really). You’re amazing!

    Usually I would say start with our kana course to get your hiragana, katakana, and pronunciation down: https://courses.nihongoshark.com/p/kana-course

    But maybe you’re past that, since you’re already on kanji.

    In our past daily lessons (see this: https://courses.nihongoshark.com/p/ndl-premium) we have already covered all of the grammar from zero up through most of N4. As of this time next year, we’ve have covered almost everything from zero up past N1 level… which is pretty much everything you need to know grammar-wise.

    If you’re concerned about organizing your studies and whatnot, you can check out: https://courses.nihongoshark.com/p/hacking-japanese-study-guide

    Anyway, hope that helps a bit. Our free intro course also mentions a variety of non-NihongoShark materials and courses that are great, too: https://courses.nihongoshark.com/p/how-to-learn-japanese-in-1-year

  • Kika

    Your method of learning kanji is extremely efficient and fun, BIG THANKS, Niko! I am in the state of flow while learning them, because i have much fun, so it is difficut to estimate a time spent on learning, but i would say it does not take more than 30-35 minutes a day.

    Everyone doubts I will learn Japanese, cause I have been a serial language learner /native Slovak and Czech speaker, graduated from German at highschool and forgot it completely, passed a final exam on Sanskrit at uni – currently in the process of forgetting it, basic to intermediate Spanish, half of ancient Egyptian textbook at highschool /loved it!!!//… But i will prove them all wrong! 🙂

  • Mustafa Agarli

    Oh really, you covered all grammar we need. This is truly awesome. I wanna dive into classes as soon as possible.

  • Well, we will have covered it somewhat soon. Zero to N5 is finished. N4 will be finished around March. N3-N1 by the end of 2018.

    We also have a ton of lessons on random topics, casual language, songs, etc. And we just started a travel series. I’m referring to the collection of our previous daily lessons, by the way: https://courses.nihongoshark.com/p/ndl-premium

    New lessons are free and sent by email daily: https://nihongoshark.com/daily-lessons/

    Feel free to dive in any time ^^

  • Hi Kika,

    Thank you for commenting. I personally used to love getting into a “state of flow” while following this learning process, too… although when I learned the kanji this way my system was much less polished. ^^

    I’m glad that you’re enjoying your studies. That makes sticking to them a lot easier, yeah?

  • Xyna

    Oh my god, First of all.. THANK YOU SO MUCH, NIKO!!

    For years, I’ve been constantly in a state of ‘Should I try to learn Japanese?’, ‘Can I really do it?’ and I never really got to doing it, because my fear of failing was so intense. The fear of wasting my time on something I would never be good at.. But then I chanced upon this article.

    It was like getting punched in the face (by motivation!) I felt like I could actually do it! I’ve never felt that way about learning Japanese. Ever. (Looking at all those Kanji before made me want to cry. orz. They were my main source of anxiety ^^”) I learned hiragana and katakana before, so it was just a matter of brushing up my memory of them. Then immediately after, I started with this challenge. I never thought I would have so much fun learning all those (scary? XD) kanji! Your method works perfectly for me! My hobby is writing stories, so it’s so much fun coming up with ridiculous scenarios to keep those kanji in my brain! It’s my 2nd day today, and I’ve learned 70 of them. It’s really giving me so much motivation, because I REALLY wasn’t expecting that. I had such low self confidence, that I could literally feel my failure coming. But I didn’t fail (yet? :’D) and I’m so happy! I know 70 is not much, but I just wanted to tell you how much this motivated me. Thank you so, so much! :”) I’m also going to be busy with my college courses, so it’s gonna be hard to find time, but I’m going to push forward bit by bit until I reach the end. ^^ Again, thank you SO much for giving me the inspiration I lack. I hope someday I’ll get back here to tell you that I have successfully finished the challenge. ^.^ Crossing my fingers! Have a nice day, Niko! 🙂

    PS. Sorry for any weird sentences. English is not my native language so I’m not sure if everything I wrote makes sense. ^^”

  • Hi Xyna,

    Thank you for this positive feedback. It is great to know that this article is helping people like you to be motivated to learn all of the kanji. Some people don’t seem to really like this method of story-based mnemonics, but I found that it worked very well for me… and I have since heard that it worked well for many readers, too.

    I hope that you manage to stick with your studies. If you’re worried about failing/staying motivated, you may want to check out these other articles:

  • Mohamed SI

    Thank you thank you thank you ❤❤