Random Kanji 1

Sometimes I think some kanjis are absolutely adorable/funny/horrible/ridiculous, for no good reason. I like to point them out.

Ok. Look at it. Really good. I always have a hard time trying not to laugh when I see it. Because ever since I laid eyes on it it always seemed like a guy taking a dump.

Am I the only one who sees it?


When do you know a Kanji?

This is yet another one of my quirks.

I keep seeing people saying they know 1548 Kanji. And it confuses me. I mean ok, the fact that people keep track of how many words or kanji they know confuses me as well, but how do you KNOW a kanji? I mean, seriously. In my head it’s like this.

Recognition. Ok, you recognize a Kanji. This takes practice and Heisig is great for it. You might even know a meaning or two for it, but for now let’s focus on recognizing. Usually recognition is one of those things built in time, where rather than study the important thing is to get used to them. And then sometimes you THINK you recognize them when in fact it’s something just very similar. I mean sure, it’s easy to recognize a kanji when surrounded by other different ones, but maybe you won’t if it’s surrounded by similar ones. Also, some Kanjis are just too goddamn similar for my own good. I have a hard time telling a 土 from a 士, for example。 And then you have the various fonts and suddenly nothing is recognizable anymore.

Meanings. Ok, you’ve learnt to associate a Kanji with a meaning. Maybe 2-3 meanings. What about the ones with 5+ stand-alone meanings? What happens when it gets into a compound and it loses its original meaning? I remember when during one of my first Japanese exams I came out very confused and started asking my colleagues “wtf does highschool school long mean?”(highschool principal). It’s because I remembered 長い but not -長 as a suffix for a leading position. And that’s a pretty obvious one. I was also confused by 生け花 during the same exam.

Readings. Ok, sure. You look at 上 and you can read it. It’s うえ, right? Sure. Stand-alones are ok. Some stand-alones have more than one reading but you can manage that thanks to the helpful okurigana. I know 上.No prob. And then you randomly open the dictionary an realize it has like 20 alternate readings. Sure, the beginner book in which you learned it says it has 1-5(depends on the textbook), but that’s cause it’s all you need for a basic understanding. Then things get more complicated and new readings should be known. It would be weird to teach someome all the possible readings during their first month of Japanese, after all.

Readings 2. I never remember which is the 訓読み and which is the 音読み. I think it matters. Does knowing all the alternate readings and which is kun and which is on add to important aspects of knowing a kanji?

Okurigana. This one time during the N5 we had to select the proper okurigana for 小さい. No one saw something as simple as that coming, and afterwards we were all confused. I think we all got it wrong. This goes well with readings, but you can’t really know a Kanji without being able to pair it with the proper okurigana for the situation.

Writing. Another biggie. Sure, for the most part it’s only difficult when you’re a beginner, since after a while you know how to write most radicals and how to follow the general rules, but every now and then some weird-looking fella shows up, like nothing you’ve encountered before. And let’s face it, since writing can be hard/boring/timeconsuming/whatever to practice, it is also easily forgotten(I’m very bad at writing, for the record). Sure, I can recognize a 歳 a mile away, but when writing it I will probably forget something important.

So when do you KNOW a kanji? When you can do all of these? Because if it’s like that then I don’t know too many. Or maybe I’m just not good at getting this.

BTW, there are a few user-friendly kanjis, don’t get me wrong. I love 電. I really do. It’s insta-recognizeable, easy to write whilst having a high enough stroke number to make you feel special(some people care about that, I hear), only one reading regardless of what you combine it with, and -best of all- as soon as you see it in a compound you know what that word is about. I can safely say that I know 電 and….maybe 10 other Kanjis? Though let’s face it, I only recently found out that 一 can be used for 一男(kazuo). Even 電 might be keeping things from me.

Iknow review

I noticed that since smart.fm switched to a paid service it has magically dissappeared from the language-learning scene. It’s a shame, really.

Ok, for a bit of background, smart.fm was a free program where people could make their own custom courses and study them SRS style. It switched to a paid service around April 2010, rather controversially since people thought their content would be stolen(it was not the case), and it was a hit to us smart.fm lovers. Most people just switched to Anki.

I paid for it, since I never got along with Anki as well as with smart.fm(I use Anki, but differently. And Anki is a great program and if you like it then go for it!). So, how’s Iknow?


  • very user-friendly
  • it features a Core 6000 series, divided into 60 courses.
  • you can see for yourself how it works on http://www.iknow.jp (it has 5 free study sessions), but basically you get to practice spelling, listening, speaking, kanji reading(optional) and it also features hiragana/katana courses, though there are better places to learn those. Personally, I love the way the study sessions are organized
  • well, it’s SRS. (see cons). It works. After finishing a course you can review it to see how well off you are
  • it features a diagnostic to see at what course you are placed at, though you should totally do all of them.
  • you can make your own custom courses
  • it has a listening practice mode.


  • You can’t reset your courses and the review system is not as good as the learning system, so if the system deems you’ve mastered a word when you haven’t it can be problematic
  • It is also problematic since words are universally accounted for, so if you mastered a word and you introduce it to a custom course, then the custom course will also have it listed as a mastered item. Beating the point.
  • the SRS is a bit flawed, or so the people in the feature suggestion part say.
  • the example sentences can be simplistic, even at core 6000 level
  • the customer service is kind of sucky
  • though they’ve recently introduced a user forum, there is basically no user community
  • it’s expensive
  • it stops at core 6000, which you can easily finish in a few months.
  • It doesn’t list the word functions during learning/review. This can be problematic since, for example, “to care” and “care” are both listed under “care”. They’ve been working on it, but not as much as they should be
  • courses can’t have more than 100 items. Problematic for custom courses.
  • recently a review all section has been introduced, but you cannot review all courses ahead of time, you have to review them individually
  • You can set a weekly study target but not a target for when you want to finish a course. This means that sometimes study will go slower than expected if you’re a crammer.

CONs for smart.fm users(this is the biggie. If you were a die-hard smart.fm user, this is what is gone)

  • custom courses can’t be shared. This is the no. 1 problem if you ask me.
  • again, the universally mastered items will make custom courses a bit useless.
  • they took out Brainspeed and are not intending on bringing it back. No new program has been introduced to replace it
  • there is no user community(they’re working on it)
  • they took out the “continue studying after completion” mode in favor of the review mode, which is not as efficient.
  • If you studied with smart.fm and are switching to Iknow, your mastered items will still be there, despite the courses having disappeared. If you took a break from it, I recommend starting over with a new user. I regret having resubscribed with my original one.

Thought this might help. I still like Iknow, despite it not being the smart.fm I fell in love with. If I ever find a drilling program that suits me as well as smart.fm did, though, I’d switch and never look back. It’s a good program if you haven’t found that one drilling program for you and like things to be readily done(because seriously, the amount of customizing Anki needs is a bit silly). It’s good since you can practice listening, spelling, kanji reading and vocab at the same time.

Also, since they realized that their current users are totally not resubscribing because of their customer service, they’re getting a bit better at it. Hopefully they’ll fix their major flaws and become a trustworthy and well-loved program again.

Helpful tip: Putting every minute to good use

(Ha, the title is so corny.)

So, bit of background. I’m a smoker. I developed the healthy habit of only smoking in the kitchen.

I noticed that most of the time I would just sit there in the kitchen and stare blankly at the walls. Eventually I decided to put up a Kanji poster there, and spent that time looking over the Grade 1/2/3 Kanjis, naming each one’s meaning/reading. I also keep a helpful paper Kanji dictionary nearby, which I use whenever I forget the reading/meaning of a certain Kanji. I also review when I’m cooking/waiting for something to boil/etc, when I can’t be away from the stove too long. It also works for the bathroom, by the way. (though if you have a smartphone that is probably better).

This ended up helping me considerably in the long run.
Sure, it won’t do miracles, but it’s one of those little things that add up :).


Partitioning Japanese

(is that even the term for what we’re doing with it?)

I think one of the greater challenges with learning Japanese is having to learn everything separately. I mean, it’s a bit silly really. It’s the kind of language where you can be proficient from one point of view(saaaay, Kanji meanings) and still not know much. You have to take everything separately and keep doing this until you get to the point where it all adds up. It can be a challenge.

I’m pretty good at recognizing Kanji. I’m also decent with vocabulary, though I have a hard time mingling the two(some words I’ll only recognize if I see their Kanji. This makes the JLPT a bit weird because they use the words in hiragana and I won’t recognize them).

My problem is with grammar. It’s cause I’m lazy. I mean, you don’t really NEED grammar that much in other languages unless you’re aiming for native-like fluency, and even then you end up having to dumb down your grammar for it. (This happens a lot with English. Also, I’m fairly sure the Germans would stop talking to one another if they had to follow all the grammar rules all the time. Conversations would take FOREVER). I can have a conversation in Spanish without knowing any grammar since people will understand me anyway. My native tongue is so bad with grammar that we’re accepting new versions of verb conjugations because no one uses the grammatically correct  ones. People forgive you when you mess up a bit.This does not bode well with a language where changing a syllable will change the entire meaning of a sentence.

Also, practicing and learning vocab is just so much more fun than learning grammar, you know?

Formality levels are also kind of another completely diffferent thing. Sure, for the most part it’s just an extra rule or two, but getting the context and learning the particularities can take a while. Coming from a language where formality level is mostly irrelevant does not help. (we do have polite pronouns and stuff…but people will mostly feel offended if you use them. Unless they’re old. So you just use them when talking to your elders. Easy enough. I think it’s like that with most places around here).

Writing? Another completely different thing. Understanding casual writing? That takes time. A passion or genuine interest for shoudai? Hello, yet another time-consuming aspect.

Talking with the right intonation and pronunciation? Practice practice practice(ok, it’s like that with every language). Listening? More practice. (again, like that with every language for the most part…but with most other languages you can at least tell when a word ends and another begins.). Reading? OH GOD PRACTICE.

Learning to understand the subtleties? OK, you don’t need special practice for that since it comes naturally in time. But you still need to pay attention to it, since it won’t just magically come to you.

And, more importantly, getting used to having it around. This might be just me. If I see a page in a language I don’t know well(saaay, German), I’ll be pretty confused but for the most part ok. When I had my first Japanese exam, I got a headache just from looking at the papers. I think my brain goes on extra-processing mode with this language. But like I said, it might be just me.

A few reasons why I love Japanese

(before this turns into another rant blog >.<)

1. It’s just totally different, you know?

This is stereotypical and yes, I am aware that it is not totally different from the other languages in that region, it’s only different cause I’m an ignorant Westerner. But it’s just so fascinating. It’s amazing to see a language where you just can’t make out anything without prior study. It’s amazing how even with prior study you just run into things that are totally unlike anything you’ve encountered before. Every time I pick up a textbook I learn something new and different. I can read a newspaper and encounter a gazillion things that I have no idea how to make out. It’s not a “hey, that has “ness” in it so it’s a noun”, it’s “I have no idea what that is. Cool”.

2. The experience of learning is unlike any other language.

(is this a continuation of no.1? So be it).

Most Western languages have a foundation on which you build, and it becomes easier and easier to comprehend as time goes by. Once you get the basics, you just improve on them. With Japanese, the basics is just an informal introduction to the vastness of the language. It’s not about perfecting the subtleties, it’s about gaining access to a completely new area once you get past each step.

3. Kanji. ❤

I love Kanji. Each and every one of them. Even the weird ones that make no sense. I got into Japanese when a friend showed me 雨 and explained what it is. They’re just lovely bits of art, each and every one of them. Decrypting their meaning is fun and interesting. Finding out their origins(the ones that have a menaingful origin, that is) is always an interesting task. Being able to link a Kanji to some cultural thing is fascinating…Ok. Occasionally it is hilarious. Am I the only one that laughs when she sees 母?I must be childish that way.

4. The language is embedded with the country’s culture.

I’m big on linguistics, sorta. I’m an amateur, so that translates to “I don’t know anything” in the linguistic world. I think Japanese is any linguist/linguistic anthropologist’s wet dream. I mean it’s kind of cool how these 3 different countries have the same word for something because of their common Latin ancestry but Oh My God are those things derived from a simplistic tribal view on things and have been well preserved for millenia? Sprinkled with the historical view on various subjects? And the national attitude and general view on life is totally reflected in the language? It’s Christmas all over again.

5. Culture which, by the way, is amazing.


So yeah. Nothing new here.

The problem with Remember the Kanji(Heisig method)

OK, so Heisig shows up in basically every beginner thread. There are lots of people who swear by it, and those who don’t generally prefer to not talk about it because it’s…different.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t give it an extensive look. I looked over the first book for the most part and read bits and pieces from the second to see what it’s about and it’s..well…weird. Let’s take each aspect into consideration, shall we?


There are lots of people who use them so they have to be on to something, and I do use mnemonics for a few Kanjis myself(but only the really obvious ones. For example 森、林、親.) They just make sense, you know? Or they’re cute(I find it adorable how the kanji for parents is “they who sit on a tree and look at you”). But finding a mnemonic for 元?A bit too much. I think it takes more time to learn the mnemonics than the actual kanji, and the fact that you learn them without context or readings is just silly, if you ask me.

The order

OK, I get why it is tempting to learn certain kanji before others. “Hey look, I learned日, 昌 AND 晶 today!” does sound better than “I extensively studied 日”, indeed. But getting to really know 日 is worth much more than remembering a few kanji which have it as a radical. Because seriously, 日 is kind of in a gazillion words, whereas you won’t run into 昌 too often. Do you “know” it? Sure! Will it help you in any way? Not so much.

It’s all rather simplistic, innit?

I mean, Kanjis aren’t really stand-alone you know? They mingle with others, they have a different reading according to each interaction, they can be inserted into compounds which completely disregard their stand-alone meaning, thus confusing anyone who learned it. Not that you shouldn’t learn the stand-alone meanings, but they ain’t gonna help you much in the long run.

Am I the only one who noticed that RTK fans are usually beginners?

I’ve seen advanced users recommend RTK, usually with a “I never liked it but others did” attached. It could be an OK add-on. But as the only means of studying? Definitely not. I think the fans of a method tend to shape up my opinion of it a bit. I try to not let it get to me(otherwise I would have completely disregarded Heisig), but it does have a bit of influence.


Did you use Heisig? How did that work out for you?