Tokyo Damage Report


 updated, shortened, and slightly proofread 11/29/2009


I teach you the kanji real good.

Introduction – why most kanji books are terrible.

kanji – what it is, and why it is hard.

how to learn it – the ‘kanjidamage’ method of study.

kanji dictionary– applying the method to 1,750(ish) kanji.

appendixes – they exist now.

2/8 – I got a discussion forum.



KANJIDAMAGE is the kanji book I wanted to have when I first started studying! This book is for people with a basic knowledge of ひらがな and カタカナ, people who aren’t in a class and want to learn on their own, and busy people who don’t have time to learn all the formal words or business words. In other words, this book is for average people who maybe have a job or a bunch of college, and can only study an hour a day. I’m one of those people! Finally, it’s for people who are fed up with other methods, who are desperate enough to try anything.

I try to address all the beginner questions, like, “How do I remember how it’s pronounced?” “Why does it look that way?” “How is it different from that other guy over there?”and of course,“Do I really need this one?" My method puts its greasy arm around your shoulders and says, “Look, kid, not only am I going to answer that question, but I’m going to explain what the underlying rule is, so you can avoid similar problems in the future.” It takes the chaos of kanji and makes a rational system out of it. It gives tips to speed up your study and help you avoid common mistakes. And of course  KANJIDAMAGE accomplishes this via plenty of yo mama jokes.

It’s like this : Japanese IS pretty hard, but half the problems are the way it is taught. You’d think that foreigners would teach it better, because native speakers are generally oblivious to the inconsistencies of their own language. But no ! Foreign textbooks are just as bad. Hey, Blue-eyes: you can’t teach Japanese like you’d teach German. You can’t teach kanji without radicals. You can’t teach synonyms by giving them all the same English definition. You can’t teach verbs without including the damn prepositions!

Next time you, the reader, are going batshit about how arbitrary or complex Japanese is, take time and think that maybe the textbook is making it complex. 

So far, all kanji books have been written by people that are language experts and professors. It turns out that professors are the people least-qualified to teach kanji. (well, second only to Japanese people).


Here’s why: By the time some dude gets a PhD. In Japanese, he has totally forgotten the basic problems that drive students crazy. He’s all into the 2,000 year old etymological roots of “cow” (牛)instead of remembering that ‘cow’ looks exactly like ‘noon'(午) and what a pain that is. He’s forgotten that if you’re just now learning “car” (車) and “big” (大), you can’t necessarily see their relationship to collision (衝) and nature (然)(hint: both 車 and 大 are hidden in the middle of the bigger kanji). He’s forgotten that students waste a lot of time learning pronunciations for kanji that are never, in practice, used. That is why I am the ideal person to write kanji books — I still suck!!! Although I have the experience to be a teacher, I am still learning and making mistakes just like you guys, so I can tell you, “Don’t do this dumbass thing that I did!”


  1: When I got my first stack of kanji cards I was like, “WTF??? C’mon guys.” See, I thought it would just have the kanji on the front and the meaning on the back, but instead there was like this deluge of data: Kanji number, dictionary number, meaning, onyomi, examples, radicals, stroke order, even something called the “Sunshine computer dictionary graphemes” . .. WITH NO EXPLANATION OF WHY IT WOULD HELP ME TO LEARN ANY OF IT. Rather than solving the mysteries of kanji, all this extra no-context information only added to the confusion.

2: Most flashcards/iphone apps are small , so they give a one-word definition of a word, but no context. For instance, the card for 亡 will say it’s pronounced な*い, and it means, ‘to go away’ . . .but it won’t tell you that ない is never used by itself!(in fact, it’s only EVER used as part of the phrase  亡くなる). And the flashcard/app  will also neglect to  tell you that 亡くなる doesn’t mean to literally go away, it is used figuratively , to mean ‘pass away, die’ . . . Then, the card/app finishes up by not telling you that ‘亡くなる’ is usually written in hiragana anyway, so who cares. So, through no fault of your own, you just learned three wrong things. The result is that you’ll write an email to your Japanese pen-pal saying, “私のボールペンが亡い“ (watashi no bo-rupen ga nai)  and your pen-pal will be like, ‘Why did his ballpoint pen die?”

3 : Dictionaries, on the other hand, give you TOO MUCH information: look up ‘receipt,’ and you’ll see: uketori (受け取り)、ryoushuu (領収)、ryoushuushuu (領収証)、 juryoushou (受領書), AND Juryoushuu (受領証). But which word do Japanese people actually use when they go to the store? None! They say レシット (RISHI-TO)!!  But you won’t learn that in the damn dictionary!!!!
Also, dictionaries print totally obscure words, wild exceptions, and totally rare nuances, right next to everyday words. Just look at a plain ole’ English-English dictionary if you don’t believe me.

Bottom line : Sometimes it’s not enough to just say ‘Here is the English word which is the equivalent of the Japanese word.’ Because the nearest English word overlaps with 3 Japanese words, and fits well with none! At times like that, you gotta explain the specific real-life situations when Japanese people only use word A and never use word B.


For instance, my dictionary says that both 記憶 and 思い出 mean ‘memory.’ But, 記憶 means one’s capacity to remember, as in, "As I get older I’m losing my memory." And 思い出 refers to a specific memory, such as seeing your dad get out of the hot tub. My dictionary also says 世の中 and 地球 both mean ‘the world’ – except 世の中 means "the social world" as in, "Fuck the world!" or, "I’m mad at the world!" while 地球 means the literal globe. In these instances, it turns out that the Japanese ‘synonyms’ aren’t even close to the same meaning – It is the ENGLISH WORD that has too broad of a meaning!

EXAMPLE 4: A lot of kanji textbooks teach kanji grouped according to subject. For example, the book they made us use in school  put 寒い (samui =cold) , 暖かい (atatakai `= warm) , 涼しい (suzushii = cool) , and 熱い (atsui = hot) together, because they all have to do with temperature. That approach makes sense if you’re teaching German or Swahili or Thai, but for kanji? HELLS NAW!

Here’s the problem: even though their meaning is very basic, those five kanji are all really complex to read or write, and they have almost no radicals (component parts) in common – which means that if you learn the first kanji ( 寒い ) you have exactly zero information about how to draw the next one (暖かい ). Retarded! To make matters even worse, if you’re a drunk like me, you’ll forget the radicals of 寒 and 暖 before you ever encounter another kanji which uses those radicals! So then you have to painstakingly re-learn the same radical, time and again.

So again, it’s not a “Nihongo is fucked” problem, it’s a “how people teach Nihongo is fucked” problem.

Now, compare that to my book, which teaches all the kanji together : 稚, 推, 唯, 維, and 催. And here is what is really rad: by the time you get to , you will already have learned all the left-side radicals like .糸、, and , etc. So instead of learning the kanji from scratch, you’ll be merely re-arranging parts that you already know, to make new kanji.

Which is only one of the many things I do that most books don’t. Which brings us to . . . .


the  four different strategies that together make up the KANJIDAMAGE method:


The genesis of this method  was conversations that I had with two guys who were basically mathematicians applying their knowledge to linguistics. Neither man had ever met the other, nor read the other’s work, but they both said the same thing: the most logical, efficient way to study was going from simple-to-complex.

They said, "Start with a set of the most basic kanji. Then try to combine every kanji in that set with every other kanji in the set – and lo! You will be able to construct several new kanji just by re-arranging the kanji you already know. No learning big, complex kanji from scratch. After you’ve learned all those kanji – ONLY THEN do I teach you a new radical. Then the process repeats: I combine that new radical with all the kanji you already learned, and see how many NEW kanji result – and then repeat, and repeat, and then pretty soon you’re reading whatever bullshit manga you’re into!

The system makes learning easier, because once you’ve learned around 200 kanji,  you can learn 12 NEW kanji just by learning ONE SINGLE 3-stroke radical and combining it with the first 200!

Anyway, both mathematicians had the same idea, and both wondered why there was no book or flashcard on the market that used it. So I sat down and busted that shit out.


Remember mnemonics from school? “Every Good Boy Gets Fudge,” or “My Dear Aunt Sally,” or even that notorious pedophile, one Mr. “Roy G. Biv”?

Well, I wrote a mnemonic sentence for each kanji. And that mnemonic ties together all the radicals in the kanji, the pronunciation, and also the meaning of the kanji.

Not only that, but each radical and each pronunciation corresponds to a specific English keyword, so every time you see a kanji, radical, or a Japanese pronunciation, it will always use the same one keyword. Hella rational!

Like a lot of students, I used to use random, slipshod metaphors with no system – if the same radical showed up in 3 different kanji, I’d use 3 different metaphors for it. "OK, this radical is a fish that the fisherman catches. But on this next kanji, he’s next to a flower, so I’m calling him a flowerpot." The end result is that I wasted a lot of time trying to keep the metaphors straight – time I could have spent on learning kanji! So that’s why I use keywords

There are those that think that kanji stories should be personal, and that making them up yourself is going to provide an intimate connection which facilitates learning. But,
1) The thought of 1,000 students spending 2,000 hours making up 3,000 stories each, and then forgetting them all after they learn/give up on Japanese, is just sad to me.
2) Who has the time to make up 2,000 stories? Why not just get right to the learning?
3) The Japanese schools use standardized stories, and last time I checked, Japanese people speak Japanese ok.


After a year of trying and failing to learn kanji, I stopped and I looked for patterns in my errors. It turns out that, Instead of me making 1,000,000 different mistakes, I had been making the same dozen or so mistakes over and over again with hundreds of different kanji – and what does that mean? It means that there were about a dozen fundamental problems which I had not been warned about. . .Not only did my textbooks not solve the problems, they didn’t even ACKNOWLEDGE the problems existed in the first place. Bullshit !!


There’s a lot of problems with kanji that don’t occur when you’re studying Chinese (or German or English, for that matter!) Further fucking you is the fact that normal textbooks or apps don’t even acknowledge these problems exist! It’s hard to fight back against a problem that has no name – you think you’re the only one who has trouble with it.  I developed a sort of "checklist of common problems," and systematically tagged all the kanji that had those problems.

For instance: Are there 2 kanji with the same meaning? Is this one useful or not? Is is usually written in hiragana? How to I remember if the vowel sound is a long-vowel or short-vowel? Do I often get it mixed up with a similar-looking kanji? Is this a word I can say in casual conversation, or is it only a newspaper word? Does the kanji go with a weird preposition? If there are two synonyms, which one is useful? Is the kanji only used in combination with one specific other kanji? Can you guess the pronunciation from the radicals? Does it have 2 unrelated meanings? And so on.


That’s right – I cheated. I took the two most common sets of kanji used by students: the JLPT kanji, levels 1-4 (which are used in the Japanese Proficiency Test), and the JOYO kanji (which are the 2,000-ish kanji that Japanese students have to memorize in high school). I combined those two sets, and then I threw out all the bullshit ones where the meaning sounds like a crossword puzzle clue (‘deep sea life form’ or ‘17th century sulphur refining component’).  I deleted every out-dated, too-formal, useless, over-specialized, word I could. See, by the time I started writing this book, I’d been living in Japan for about 5 years, so I had a pretty good idea of what was useful and what wasn’t. I looked back at all the stuff I studied over the past 5 years that was not helpful to me, and got rid of it, so you don’t have to waste YOUR time. Not only that, I deleted a gang of seldom-used pronunciations for kanji which most textbooks are cluttered with. Finally, I teach the most-common prepositions and particles together with the verbs – something no other book does. In other words, it’s not a complete dictionary. It’s a book of the MOST COMMONNLY USED forms of words.

And if I saw a radical that didn’t ‘officially’ exist according to the ‘normal’ textbooks, I arbitrairly gave it a name and threw that shit in the mix.  Better to learn it once than 20 different times, and fuck the rules!


Don’t be fooled by my hype, though: even with my awesome system of jaw-dropping logic, kanji is still a motherfucker. You’ll study 12 months and still not be able to read a newspaper. You’ll contend with maddening exceptions, inconsistencies, kanji that mean one thing by themselves, another thing when paired with a second kanji, and nothing at all when converted into a radical. You’ll encounter pernicious kanji that mutate and change shape; that look nothing like what they mean, and of course over 100 kanji with the same exact pronunciation!! (コウ, to be precise). And on top of all that, should you complain, you’ll have to deal with your Japanese friends who are quick to remind you that English is even worse!

(the Yo Mama jokes are also integral to the system, but they’re not really a strategy. They’re more like philosophy).

Anyway, hopefully this intro has convinced you to try the KANJIDAMAGE method.


the method  is split into three parts:

1 –basic facts about kanji like their history and junk. You can skip this.
2 –the KANJIDAMAGE study method . You need to read this to understand all the crazy abbreviations and slang terms in the dictionary.
3 –.the dictionary , which applies the methods of part 2 to around 1,800 kanji.





Radicals (部首)are the smallest units . They are like letters of the alphabet, but there’s over 200 of them. Radicals are combined in largely random combinations to make kanji.

Kanji (漢字) are single words, made of radicals. There’s over 5,000 of them, but most of them are only used in people’s names. You only need to know around 2,000 to read a newspaper.

Jukugo (熟語) are compound words : Just like English, several kanji compose a jukugo. (think of the English words like “butt pirate”, “can opener,” “douche bag” or “hat rack”). Once you learned enough kanji, you can comprehend Jukugo almost without trying.

I’ll go on about these 3 in unrelenting detail later. For now, let’s deal with . . .



Guys like , 、and are what I call ABSOLUTE radicals. They are never kanji on their own, only building blocks.  They don’t have any pronunciations, and they don’t have any meaning.


 . . .are like the ABSOLUTE RADICALS (no pronunciation, never kanji by themselves), except that they DO HAVE MEANING. For example is associated with sickness. It is used in maybe 10 kanji, and all those kanji have to do with sickness. For instance, 痛 ( hurts) ,病 (sick) , 疲 (get tired), 痢 ( diarrhea), 症 (symptom), and so on.


Kanji are made up of radicals. BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT – All kanji , even complex ones, can be radicals- if they wind up inside a bigger kanji! For instance, the kanji for water and tree (水 and 木) become radicals when you stuff ‘em inside another kanji : 様、泳、森 杢 材.
Often, these simple-kanji-which-are-used-in-bigger-kanji are also SYMBOLIC RADICALS – kanji with a tree in them have to do with wooden things, kanji with fire in them are about fire, etc.




Remember what I said earlier about "half the difficulty of Japanese is how it is taught?" This is a perfect example.

Students always say, “Why does ‘country'(風)  have ‘insect’ (虫) in it? Why does ‘muscle’ (筋) have ‘bamboo’ (竹) in it? Why does god damn sake (酒) have ‘west’ (西) in it?”

Before you curse Japanese for being "all crazy and shit," ask yourself, what if some ESL guy pointed at the word “fire” and asked you, “What does ‘r’ mean? What does ‘e’ mean?”

“It means . . . . it , uh. . .. it…”

Then he points to the word “fighter” and asks you, “Why is the ‘r’ at the end? Why isn’t it in the beginning?”

“Because – because mind your own business is why!!!”

See, it hurts your head to even think about questions like that in English . . . and yet when it comes to Japanese, gaijin students can spend years asking nothing BUT those types of questions. I know I did.

This is not a ‘Japanese is crazy’ problem. Nor is it a ‘noobs are dumb’ problem. This is a problem because Japanese teachers and textbooks suck. Most new students are led to believe that radicals have meaning, and that kanji look like the things they describe. That’s not merely wrong, it makes kanji feel very foreign and illogical, when in fact kanji is basically structured the same as English!!

Check it out:

Radicals/kanji/jukugo = letters/words/compound words

Radicals don’t have meaning any more than the letter "F" or "G" does! That’s why it makes your head hurt if some ESL guy asks you, "What does the "f" in "fighter" mean?"

On the other hand, if that same ESL guy asks, “What does ‘fire’ mean? What does ‘fighter’ mean?” In that case, it’s easy for you to answer. Not only that, but once he knows what ‘fire’ and ‘fighter’ mean, he can easily guess by himself what a "fire-fighter" is – he doesn’t even need to ask! And, the good news is that kanji is just the same: Jukugo (compound words) basically shriek their meaning at you.

Think about it like this: if kanji really DID ‘look like the things’ that they describe, you’d have to memorize 2,000 complicated drawings that had nothing in common with each other. But with radicals, you got to do is learn around 200 simple shapes and you can draw and read almost all kanji – which is exactly the intention of kanji’s inventors.

I will try to explain this with A HISTORICAL TANGENT:

In the beginning, Chinese dudes wrote pictographs – pictures that looked like the things they represented. The drawback was that writing a paragraph took as much time as drawing a comic book, because IT WAS drawing a comic book! So they (Who? Sages, motherfucker, sages! Who else?) simplified the pictographs into what we now call Kanji. How?
Step one: They chose 200 or so RADICALS as their building blocks.
Step 2:
Any pictograph that was too hard, they said, “OK, what radical does the
top part most closely resemble? Swap ’em! What radical does the left part most
closely resemble? Swap ’em!” and so on.
For example, the old, complicated kanji for country is 國 . And the current kanji for country is 国。

Now, from the foreigner’s point of view, this change is retarded in two ways.

1) the radical that was swapped into the center of the new version means ‘jewel.’ (a jewel in a box? What does that have to do with a country?)

2 ) the simplified 国 looks almost the same as the kanji for treasure; 宝 . (more confusion!)

But try looking at it from the point of view of the sages: they didn’t have computers, they got bad arthritis, and they had to draw these crazy hard pictographs all damn day. So one of the sages, in his wisdom, said “OK, fuck this! Can’t we swap the center bit for a simpler radical?” And the other sage replied, “Dood, if you drink enough sake,  the center bit looks kind of like  玉 .”
And the first sage was like, “Man you are just high as hell, but it’s late and I got mad poems to write about seasons and shit, so yeah, let’s just say
  is now officially and call it a day.”

So that is how that went down.

So, the bad news is that the kanji for ‘country’ (国) has nothing to do with the meaning of balls ( 玉 ), nor the meaning of box (口).

The good news is that IT DOESN’T MATTER.

What matters is that, thanks to the existence of radicals, you have an alphabet now, instead of 2,000 unrelated pictures of things. Just like English, you can  ‘read’ individual kanji like 国 the same way that reading the letters ‘c’,’o’, ‘u’, ‘n’, ‘t’, ‘r’, and ‘y’ allow you to read the word ‘country’ – in fact, kanji is simpler, because you only had to learn two radicals instead of seven letters! Put another way, if you know the ‘balls’ and ‘box’ radicals, you can easily make a mnemonic, to help you remember the kanji for country: "A country is a big box where the citizens keep all their balls." Then you can chuckle because you just said "balls."

“But Schultzzz,” you ask: “If radicals don’t have meanings, why do you give them names like ‘box’ and ‘balls’ ? Why do you need mnemonics at all?” First, those are not meanings, they’re arbitrary keywords. And second, English has mnemonics too, to help you spell. For example, “I before E except after C, or if your daddy’s GAY with the NEIGHBOR from around the WAY.”


Check out these two groups of kanji:

Group ONE:
履  歯  紫 顔    僕 鼻

Group TWO:
丹  屯 斤 杉 后

Which do you think are college-level words? And which are simple kid-words?


Group ONE:
履 ー put on pants
歯― tooth
紫 - purple
猿― monkey
顔― face
聞 -listen
鼻 – nose

Group TWO:

丹― a color called ‘cinnabar,’ which I didn‘t even know English  had a word for that color.
屯- a garrison of troops under the command of a Shogun.
斤 - unit of measurement only used with bread loaves
杉 - a certain kind of cedar
后― dowager emperess、a word only used in the court.


Put another way : kanji with easy meanings are often hard to learn, and kanji with obscure meanings can be really simple to learn, but you’ll never use them. Here’s why this is important:

If you’re teaching a normal language, like German (or even a pretty illogical language like English), you’ll start with ‘kid words’ and then work up to ‘adult words.’ But if you try teaching kanji that way, you’ll start new students off with hellaciously complex kanji, and then 3 years later, you teach them simple kanji. Dumb! To add insult to injury. . . .after the hapless students bust ass learning common-but-complex kanji like 館 and 裂 . . . a year later, they’ll learn less-used kanji like 官 and  列 . . . WHICH ARE COMPONENTS OF 館 and 裂 ! And the students will say, “DAMN! Why didn’t you teach me官 and  列first!?! Then learning 館 and 裂 would have been easy!”

That’s why people generally agree that gaijin learn kanji best if they learn ’em from simplest-to-most-complex.

The simple-to-complex method might seem like a waste of time when you are learning words like 竹 (bamboo) and complex abstractions like 云  (meaning variously, ‘et cetra’, ‘vague’, or an obsolete form of ‘to say’). You might grumble, “Dude, I don’t yell out “Bamboo!!” on a daily basis, why do I need this?” But in fact, in Japan you need the bamboo radical in order to say box “ 箱 ” or even laugh “笑う ! “ and you need 云 to say childish-yet-fucking-difficult words like cloud 雲。 Learning 云 beforehand makes learning 雲 way more doable.

Put more simply, the ‘simple-to-complex’ method is more practical for learning all 2,000 kanji efficiently. . . but the normal, ‘kid-words-to-adult-words’ method is more practical for people who need to learn basic vocabulary in a hurry. So how to reconcile the two, and get the best of both?


That is to say, if you’re reading a book, and come across a complex kanji you don’t know. . . you want to know it RIGHT NOW, so you can finish reading your book – you don’t want to put your book down, and learn all 1, 400 kanji in my dictionary which lead up to that word.

I get it.

So, what you can do is, look up that word in my dictionary, and right there, under the name of the kanji,  it’ll tell you the radicals that compose every part of kanji, and tell you what page of the book all the radicals are on. Then you go BACKWARDS and LEARN those radicals (and nothing else), and then BOOM, you’re ready to learn the complex word – which by that time will seem simple.


4 : RADICALS -the most overlooked tool

Radicals are the little simple drawings that kanji are made up of. Soul(塊)、grave (墓)、and  place(地) all have the same radical: earth (土).
The same way, bright (明), warm (温), and Spring (春) all contain the radical for sun (日)。 

Here is an example of how useful radicals are:

It looks like a huge, messy pile of chicken scratch, doesn’t it? It is a 21 stroke character .Trying to memorize where to put each of the 21 strokes is a huge depressing pain, and then trying to memorize each individual stroke for ALL 2000 KANJI makes you even more depressed, until you just wish Flanders was dead. BUT, if you have been learning radicals, instead of 21 random chicken scratches, you see only 3 parts: rain 雨 , foot 足 , and each 各。 These three radicals are combined into the one character for outdoor (露). Not only that, if you have learned those 3 radicals, you can use them to help figure out dozens of other kanji too! For example, 雨 ALSO makes 雲 霜 雪 雷. And  足  ALSO makes 踊 路 踏;  各 ALSO makes 客 落 格 , and so on.

In other words, radicals are the ABCs of kanji. If this seems like a ‘DUHHH’ statement to you, then guess what? You’re way smarter than most textbook publishers or teachers!

Because, I ain ‘t seen even ONE JAPANESE TEXTBOOK YET that actually uses radicals like ABCs.

They’ll teach you like the one radical in the upper-left corner of the kanji and then say, “OK you’re on your own, Hoss!” That’s like trying to teach some ESL kid how to read the phrase “Black Sabbath” by telling her “OK, you got your ‘t’ . . .and , uh, a little while later there’s an ‘a’ and oops gotta go, BTW learn that and 10 more words by tomorrow KTHXBYE!


For some reason (perhaps because they imported kanji from China), Japanese are only conscious of maybe 10% of the radicals they’re using. For example: if you show the kanji for warm (暖) to your Japanese friends, they might insist it has only one radical (日). So what is the other 90% of it?? 9 random chicken-scratch lines? This despite the fact that the upper-right part appears in exactly the same shape and position in over 10 other kanji (受、浮、隠、授、妥、採、 etc. ). What is that, some kind of wacky coincidence??? And the lower right part appears in even more kanji: 友、緩、抜、援.

“Oh, but and 友 are not radicals!” Whatever, kid. Have fun spelling ‘Black Sabbath’


 Here’s what English would look like if it was taught the way Japanese is taught:


For a complete list of all the radicals I use, please check the appendix.


Back in the days of books, if you wanted to look up a kanji in a dictionary, you couldn’t type in the hiragana and wait for the kanji to pop up. You had to try to comb through an actual paper book packed with over 5,000 kanji – without using abcs OR hiragana! Dictionaries were organized by "the main radical."

Some damn sage looked at every kanji and arbitrarily decided, "This part is the main radical," and then "alphabetized" all the kanji based on that. So instead of being structured like a, b, c, d, etc. The dictionaries were structured like, " main radical =water(水)", "main radical = fire(火)", "main radical = earth(土)", etc.

Long story short, as long as you knew one radical per kanji, (the so-called "main one"), then you were capable of looking shit up, and that’s why you never learned any of other radicals. Great for dictionaries, but lousy for memorizing kanji.

And you know who is even weirder than Japanese? Stupid effing foreigners!! Because every foreign kanji book I have read copies the Japanese method. All "I had to learn it the hard way, so should you!” style.

So I arbitrarily decided, if the exact same pattern of lines is used in three or more kanji, it’s a damn radical, and I made up a name for it, and listed it in my kanji dictionary right next to the “real” kanji.



In other words, in my system, not only does every part of 暖 have a name, but by the time we get to 暖, you will already have LEARNED all the parts, and so learning 暖 will be easy! Let me break it down further:

First you learn ‘day’ (日), a real kanji.

Then you learn nest () an ‘absolute radical’, with no meaning.

Then you learn ‘friend’ (友) (another real kanji), and combine it with ‘nest’ to make ‘crow’ ()

(mnemonic: the crows are friends, so they live in the same nest).

Finally , you put day (日) and crow () together and you have warm: 暖かい.

And you say, "The crows get warm in the sun." – QED.

And you know what ?  It  turns out that I’m not a TOTAL crackpot ; professional linguists have been aware of these ‘un-named’ radicals for years, and always use them when studying Japanese (they call them ‘graphemes’). But for some reason, this knowledge stayed in the ivory tower and the average Japanese teacher never found out about it.

“But Schultzzz, doesn’t that mean you’re giving me even more crap to learn? What makes you think I have the time?” OK, good question.

I used to think that, too! It took me a long time to realize that, rather than saving time by skipping the radicals, I was actually WASTING my time, and here’s why:

Each radical only requires you to learn 3 or 4 lines at a time- AND those 3 or 4 lines can be used in dozens of kanji.  If you want to learn kanji, you’ll have to learn the radicals ANYWAY – wouldn’t it be easier to learn them once, instead of dozens of times?

Let’s sum up what we’ve learned so far this chapter:

 In KANJIDAMAGE, every part has a name! And every kanji can be assembled like a math equation, hella rationally:

木(tree)+Eazy+Eazy+成 (become)= machine 機!



Besides radicals, each kanji has hella ATTRIBUTES. Here they are:

MEANING: A kanji can have several meanings, just like English words. I take the most common meaning and make it the English keyword for that kanji. Every time you meet that kanji in the future, that keyword will be there, to greet you and say, "You learned me already!"

MNEMONIC: a sentence,  usually about your (adoptive) mother, which ties the MEANING of the kanji, its ON-YOMI, and all of its RADICALS all together.  Why do I pick on your moms so much? Maybe because the more annoying something is, the more it gets stuck in your head -like a bad pop song or a commercial with Carrot Top.

Also, the bitch owes me bail money.

STROKE # : I don’t know who still gives a shit, what with the internet and all. But fuck it, I’ll put the number of strokes it takes to draw the kanji.

STROKE ORDER: Psyche! I don’t care about this even a little bit.

KUN-YOMI: the way the kanji is pronounced by itself, for instance, the KUNyomi of 酒 is "SAKE" and the KUNyomi of 水 is MIZU.

ON-YOMI : the, er, “Chinese” pronunciation of the kanji, which is only used when the kanji is combined with another kanji to form a compound word.  For instance, the ON-yomi of 酒 is "SHU", so drunk-driving (飲酒運転) is pronounced in-SHU-un-ten.

(ON-yomi are about as ‘Chinese’ as Chop Suey and the phrase “Wing Wong,” but I digress).

Unlike other teachers, I teach the ONyomi as just another radical – albeit a radical that you hear, rather than see. A kanji may have 4 or 5 KUNyomi, and it may be part of dozens and dozens of jukugo, but it will only have one bottom-radical, only one left-side radical, only one top-radical, and they only have one ONyomi. Mostly. Furthermore, there may be 100 other kanji with the same onyomi, the same way there are a hundred kanji with a water (水) or tree (木) radical. So that’s why it makes more sense to consider ONyomi as a kind of radical.

In practice, this means that

1) like the written radicals, I give every ONyomi its own English keyword (for instance, the SHU of 酒 is "See Her Underwear," and all the other kanji pronounced SHU have the same keyword. . . .just like all the kanji with the 水 radical have "water" as the keyword for that radical )

2) the mnemonics always include  ONyomi along with the  written radicals, so you learn all of them at the same time.

For a list of all the ONyomi I use, and their corresponding keywords, please check the appendix.

A lot of textbooks and flashcards list 2 ONyomi or even 3 ONyomi per kanji! But usually the kanji in question uses onyomi #1 90% of the time, and only uses onyomi #2 with one specific jukugo. So, fuck it!!  Like I said before, I cheat!

OK! Kanji have two pronunciations, the KUN and ON. But why?  This simple question requires yet. . .


When the Japanese, um, borrowed kanji from China, they got it wrong. There’s no other way to say it. According to Google, the shit came over in the 5th century, because Japanese traders needed to communicate with their Korean and Chinese counterparts.

For every existing Japanese word (what we today call the ‘KUNyomi’ word), they tried to find the corresponding Chinese kanji, and pair them up. Furthermore, they decided to use the Chinese pronunciation of the words, too,but got it wrong . . thus ON-yomi. It’s kind of like Canada: everyone in Canada has to learn Quebeqois French, even though real French can’t understand Quebeqois-French! Anyway, the decision to force the square peg of Chinese characters in the round hole of the existing Japanese language leads to some really janky situations!

JANKY SITUATION 1: 150 words all having the same ON-yomi.

Whichever seafaring trader decided to import kanji to Japan obviously couldn’t speak Chinese! Duh – Chinese has tones, and Japanese doesn’t. The Japanese trader was like, “It all sounds the same – KOU, SHOU, wing, wong, whatever. So let’s import something we don’t understand!” And the Japanese land-lubbers for some reason were heard to reply, “Here is a whole new vocabulary that adds nothing to our existing language, and which can’t be understood by Chinese either! OK, we’ll learn it, but only if we can keep our existing language, so now we have to learn twice as many words for shit we already knew how to say!” And the seafaring traders were like, “OK deal.” "Hey! Someone’s trying to be Catholic over there!" "That’s over the line – let’s massacre the whole village!" That is how Japanese multiculturalism went, back in the day.

JANKY SITUATION 2: Kanji which have two (or more!) ONyomi.

China has hella different dialects. So one Japanese trader would come back from Shanghai, where they pronounce 青い (blue)  as SEI, and he’d teach everyone in his town to say SEI. Meanwhile, another Japanese trader would come back from Hong Kong, where they pronounce 青い as SHOU, and he’d teach everyone in HIS town to say SHOU. So there’s that.

JANKY SITUATION 3: Duplicate kanji.

Even after assigning each Japanese word to a kanji, they still had hella kanji left over. So they took native Japanese words (KUNYOMI, remember) with 2 or 3 nuances and ASSIGNED EACH NUANCE TO A DIFFERENT KANJI, WHILE KEEPING THE KUNYOMI THE SAME. The most infamous examples are the 3 katais (硬い、固い、and 堅い), the 3 hakarus(計る、図る、and 測る), and the 3 tsutomerus(勤める、努める、and 務める). 

As if that were not pernicious enough, they frequently picked kanji which looked as similar as their meanings:


– intense / – extreme

– pattern / – model

 - incline /  - lean or be predisposed to


Can you believe that shit???


Beginner students have been known to weep openly in class when the teacher tries to explain about this.

HOWEVER, THERE IS GOOD NEWS: Despite all the jankiness, it’s pretty simple to tell when to use the KUNyomi and when to use the ONyomi:

One-word kanji (i.e. 水、日、大きい、辛い.) use the KUNyomi.

PROPER NOUNS use the KUNyomi . . .usually. (田中 is Tanaka, 裏山 is Urayama, etc.)

JUKUGO (compound words i.e. 種類、 漢字、 哲学、etc.) use the ONyomi.

HOWEVER . . .jukugo which have hiragana in ‘em (i.e. 手取、 人当たり、 あざ) use the KUNyomi. The Japanese have a word for these hiragana letters that dangle off of the ends of jukugo: OKURIGANA (literally, ‘letters which are sent out from the kanji’) . Please learn this word. Don’t do like I did and wind up bleeding from both eyes.

For instance, when I started studying, I didn’t learn ON yomis for the whole first year, which caused catastrophic problems for me when it was test time. The fuckin’ teachers, they never came out and said in plain English, “You need ON-yomi for compound words!!” I figured the ONyomi was some optional , formal thing, like sonkeigo, stroke order, or flower arrangement.


    Just to make things clearer, here’s a chart, showing various flavors of kanji words:










辺り(around here)




洗濯機(washing machine)



落ち着き(calm down)


食べ放題(all you can eat)


It’s worth noting that the no-okurigana words are almost always nouns.

The single-kanji KUNYOMI words with okurigana are all parts of speech, but the most complex words (compounds with okurigana) are almost always verbs.


666; JUKUGO;

More good news:
Compound words are the MOST LOGICAL part of kanji: if you know the component kanji, you can easily guess both the pronunciation AND the meaning of a compound word . . . even if you’ve never seen that compound before! Just like English!


I try to include a few example jukugo along with each kanji.

"Why bother including example jukugo at all? Isn’t just learning 1800 kanji hard enough??"

Well, if you have never studied kanji before, you should definitely  ignore the jukugo! But after you get some confidence, you’ll find that learning jukugo has 4 benefits:

Just like English words such as ‘foot’, ‘joint’, and ‘bitch’, many kanji ALSO have several unrelated meanings – For instance, 弾 means ‘play guitar’ but it is also the noun for ‘bullet!’

玄 is even weirder – meaning ‘mysterious,’ ‘brown rice,’ AND ‘entryway.’ Including a bunch of example jukugo is a way to show all the different meanings and uses for the more nebulous kanji.

Some students find that repetition helps them learn. If you are reading the example jukugo aloud, and you say to yourself: 本人 is honnin, 本当 is hontou,  本来 is honrai,  本場 is honba . . .it sort of pounds it into your head that 本 is HON!

Unlike certain other kanji textbooks or flashcards, ALL the jukugo here are totally basic useful words . These are all words you’ll be learning ANYWAY in your first 2 years of study. And learning those compound words is way easier if you just memorized the component kanji!


In any language, verbs are used with a particle or a preposition: Go OVER the cat. Come FROM the store, etc. In Japanese, 90% of verbs use the preposition ‘ を’. But the other 10% of verbs just kick foreigners’ ass up and down the street, because each verb uses seemingly random particles, and there is no overall rule to it! Some verbs, such as “行く,” are only used with the prepositions ‘に’ or ‘へ’ and others, such as “言う” or “鳴く” are only used with ‘と’. As bad as Japanese is, the REAL problem is the teachers and textbooks. I find myself yelling at the textbooks: “Why don’t you douchebags just teach the particle as if it were part of the verb?!?” And in this book, you bet your ass that’s how I’m fuckin’ doing it!!! Plus I’ll try to explain a little about the context and usage of the words: is this word childish? Formal? Read in newspapers but not spoken? Is it always used literally, or also figuratively? And so on.



Among linguists, Japanese is notorious for having hella same-sounding words which have totally unrelated meanings. Get out your electric dictionary and type in  かく。 Or しょうこう。 Or こうか Or かい。

Pretty fuckin’ insane, eh?

These same-sounding words are called homophones, and they are almost all the ONyomi-usin’-ass jukugo. In other words, the homophones largely result from Japanese people trying to speak Chinese without tones – Janky Situation #1 of the Historical Context Rant.

Even the word “kanji” ITSELF has like 3 homophones : 漢字、感じ、and 幹事!

Fortunately, this is mostly a problem when one is LISTENING – maybe that’s why most JTV shows have subtitles . . . in Japanese! But if you’re READING two homophones, the kanji are really helpful in clearing up the meaning - If you analyze the English keywords, you’ll see that the first "kanji" (漢字) means  "Chinese + Letter" –  so clearly, THAT’S the "kanji" you want.  On the other hand, 幹事 breaks down to "main office+ action"  – in other words, it means "a secretary."

This is actually one of the few things where the complexity of kanji makes it MORE logical  and MORE handy than spoken Japanese.

Moving on to synonyms: all languages have synonyms. Some people say that synonyms lend variety and shades of nuance to a language, keeping it colorful and alive. I am not one of those people.

Most synonyms are dead-wood. They have the same meaning AND nuance. And what’s worse, you can’t even use them interchangeably – For instance, you can say, "Travel to the ends of the earth," but you can’t say, "Travel to the ends of the globe." You can say, "I’m going to the repair shop," but you can’t say, "I’m going to the fix shop." Can you imagine how fucked-up that is to someone learning English??? It’s like we only keep those redundant words around to specifically to fuck up ESL goons.

The real problem comes when certain kanji are homonyms AND synonyms at the same time! These are what I call the ‘duplicate kanji’ – for instance, 硬い、固い、and 堅い are all pronounced かたい, and they all mean HARD.

Or do they???

Before you give up on Japanese, ask yourself this: Why do E/J textbooks identify all 3 of those kanji as ‘hard’ TO BEGIN WITH?? Wouldn’t it be simpler if the books identified one as, ‘hard,’ the second as ‘firm,’ and the third as ‘solid’? Once again, it’s not a problem with Japanese, it’s a problem with how it’s taught. God damn it!

To help solve this problem, I give each Japanese synonym a HELLA different English keyword, so that you can tell them apart.

Also, on the good-news tip:I have made a list of all these ‘duplicates’ and explained when to use which.





Each kanji has an entry in the dictionary. The format of the entry goes a little somethin’ like this:


1:(the kanji)  

2 : meaning/ English keyword

3 : ON-yomi’.  Each ON-yomi has an English keyword. 

4: the EQUATION: a list of all the radicals in the kanji, along with their english keywords.  The keyword is underlined, and the ONyomi is in ALLCAPS.

5 : the mnemonic, which ties together the meaning (#2), ONyomi (#3), and radicals (#4)! Handy, eh? But sometimes I can’t fit them all inside a single mnemonic. In those cases, I’ll make a separate mnemonic for the  ON-yomi and write that next to the ON-yomi itself. Sorry!

6: U: the "usefulness rating"  of the kanji in general – from one to five stars.
7: 特徴:  (‘特徴‘ is pronounced ‘tokuchou’ and  means ‘unique characteristics’) This is where I put the WARNING TAGS (of which more later) and explain about the kanji in general.

8:  stroke number
9 : KUN yomi – how the kanji is pronounced  when used by itself.  Some kanji have no kun-yomi, others have three or four. Most apps and dictionaries give you a bunch of useless kunyomi. I have eliminated these and replaced them with OTHER words that people ACTUALLY USE.
10 : the 熟語 (pronounced ‘jukugo’, 熟語 means ‘compound words’). The kanji’s most useful compounds , which use the ON-yomi.

11: a list of LOOKALIKES, so you don’t mix them up.


Let’s start with an easy card. . . one without a lot of weirdness:

1 -At the top is the kanji and its English meaning, expressed as a single, unique keyword: SAY.

Unlike most apps and textbooks, I’m NOT going to define 話す (hanasu) and 喋る (shaberu) AND 言う (iu) all as "say." In my system, each synonym has a unique keyword: 言う is ‘say,’ but 話す is ’conversation’, and 喋る is ‘speak.’

2 – Below that is the ONyomi (GEN, in all-caps.). Each ONyomi also corresponds to one  English keyword, which has a similar sound to the ONyomi- to help you remember it. In this case, GEN’s keyword is AGAIN.

(for a list of all the ONyomi, and their mnemonic keywords, see the appendix)

3 – Below that is THE EQUATION: a list of all the radicals that make up the kanji. The dictionary is ordered in such a way that, by the time you get to 言, you will already have learned all the radicals!!

4 – Below that is the MNEMONIC – a sentance which ties together all the information thus far presented: The mnemonic includes the Onyomi, the meaning (‘say’) and the radicals, all in one sentence. ONyomis are in CAPS, while the meaning is underlined.


5 – the GENERAL USEFULNESS RATING. – it refers to how much the kanji is used in newspapers, TV, manga, and magazines. Individual words using that kanji are also rated for usefulness, but this rating refers to all uses of the kanji put together.

言う got five stars, so you can tell it’s one of the most basic, important kanji. You can always skip the one-star kanji. I’m not gonna lie!

Usefulness ratings are based on how often the word appears AS KANJI. If a word is really common, but usually written as hiragana, it’ll have a low usefulness ranking, meaning you shouldn’t bother learning the kanji version.


6 –  特徴:  (‘特徴‘ is pronounced ‘tokuchou’ and  means ‘unique characteristics’) This is where I put the WARNING TAGS (of which more later) and explain about the kanji in general. Since 言う doesn’t have any warning tags, it must be a pretty simple kanji.

7- stroke number

8 – the KUNyomi. how the kanji is pronounced  when used by itself.  Some kanji have no kun-yomi, others have three or four. Most apps and dictionaries give you a bunch of useless kunyomi. I have eliminated these and replaced them with OTHER words that people ACTUALLY USE.

In this case, the KUNyomi is  と い*う。

Hey, wait, you say. What is that asterisk??? The asterisk shows you where the OKURIGANA start.

For example, い*う is written 言う, and た*べる is written 食べる.

Allright, and what about that と?

That’s the preposition that is used with the verb.

The ‘と’ is the PARTICLE which goes with the verb. Most verbs, like I said before, use を as the particle. But 言う NEVER uses を. Saying を言う is like having NOOB tattooed on your forehead.

Each Kunyomi also gets its own usefulness rating.


9 – the 熟語 (pronounced ‘jukugo’, 熟語 means ‘compound words’). The most useful compound words which can be made using that kanji.  Jukugo  use the ON-yomi.

They’re listed first as kanji (so you can read ’em), then as hiragana (so you can write ’em).


Also, jukugo each have their own usefulness rating, AND sometimes their own WARNING TAGS. For instance, the he (KANA) tag  by 独り言 means that ひとりごと is written as hiragana half the time. So. . . I dunno, study it half as hard or something!

 10 – if there are LOOKALIKES, they would be listed below the jukugo.


OK – moving on to another, slightly more complicated, example:

This entry begins with THE JAPANESE FLAG which is SUPER IMPORTANT:

Every time I introduce a new primary kanji or a new radical, I’ll preface it with  a Japanese flag.


Once you learn that one new guy, the following kanji are THAT NEW GUY COMBINED WITH STUFF YOU ALREADY LEARNED.


Since 干 is very simple, it is  not made out of smaller radicals. So instead of giving you an EQUATION, I’ll try to explain what 干looks like.

Then the mnemonic – again, the Keyword/meaning is always underlined.

U:*** means that 干 is averagely useful.

Then 特徴: the unique characteristics of the kanji.

STRONG? DUH? PK? What do those mean?

Those are WARNING TAGS. And yes, you have to memorize what they mean (or just click on the tag, which will make the definition pop up) I will define all the WARNING TAGS  below.

The LOOKALIKES: SEE BELOW tag means, this kanji resembles another kanji. In the book, I deliberately group similar-looking kanji together, so you can compare ’em easily. So pay close attention to the next kanji!!

Since 干 is a ‘Japanese flag’ kanji (i.e. a new shape) after this kanji entry, there will be a bunch of other kanji which use the 干 radical, such as: 肝, 刊, 芋, 汗 and so on.

For instance.  . .

The (A) by the ONyomi is a WARNING TAG , and it means that you don’t really have to study the ONyomi, since it’s not that useful.

Then below, the EQUATION – all the radicals that make up sweat.


干, which you’ve just learned, is one of them. So you already know half of this kanji! Both radicals link back to their respective entries, so if you forgot what ‘water’ is, you can click on it and review it, before trying to learn 汗.

The 特徴 is SOLO, meaning that we don’t use 汗 in jukugo compounds. – which is why the ONyomi was  tagged with (A) !!! Hopefully this is beginning to make sense.

"But wait! There’s 2 jukugo right below it!! What’s up, dude?"

Those are 2 most common expressions which use the SOLO word. I didn’t know where else to put them!

Below the jukugo are  the LOOKALIKES – which are put side-by-side for easy comparison. To help you tell them apart, I wrote the keyword of the radical which is unique to each kanji – in this case 干( DRY OUT)  and 十 (TEN), respectively. There’s also a mnemonic to help you tell them apart. I’ll go into more detail about DISAMBIGUATING LOOKALIKES later on.

For example:

汗’s right side radical  is 干 (meaning, TO DRY OUT) : the 干 does NOT appear in the 汁 lookalike, so if you see 干, you know you’re reading 汗 and not 汁.

Now that you know which radicals to look for, I give you a mnemonic to help remember the difference: "I drink juices one through TEN but I sweat until I’m DRY again."

The the meaning is always underlined, but the names of the RADICALs are always IN ALLCAPS.



another kanji entry:


You’ll see that 距 has 2 mnemonics – one to help you remember the ONyomi, and another one for the radicals and meaning. That’s because it’s fuckin’ hard for me to combine all 3 in one sentence all the time. If the ONyomi mnemonic becomes a breakaway republic, I always write the mnemonic next to the ONyomi itself. And as usual, meaning is underlined, while ON is CAPS.

Also, the keyword for the ONyomi isn’t a word at all, it’s an abbreviation: KYO spells ‘Keep Your Odor! ‘

Why would I make it complicated like that?

Some ONyomi (such as SHO / SHOU, SHU/SHUU, and KYO/KYOU) come in both short- and long-vowel versions.

This is one of the things that really messes me up!

To help deal with this confusion, I decided that the English Keywords of short-vowel ONyomi will always be abbreviations: SHO becomes Smell His Odor, SHU becomes See Her Underpants, KYO becomes Keep Your Odor, etc.) Since these abbreviations are clearly 3 words, that should cue you that the ONyomi only has 3 letters, and therefore is short-vowel.

Long-vowel ONyomis (SHOU, SHUU, KYOU,etc.) use regular single words: SHOW me the bunny,  put SHOES on yo mama’s hooves, KYOU was a nice day.

Also, you see how 距 is listed as a SIDEKICK? That means it’s only used in one specific jukugo. That’s why the KUNyomi is blank, and why there’s only one example jukugo: 距離。 That might seem uninteresting, but consider this: Every other kanji book or flashcard has 4 or 5 example-words for 距! Even though they know damn well you won’t use those words!! I just saved you an hour, buddy!


OK, so much for the examples. I admit, it’s pretty confusing when theory bangs head-on into reality, isn’t it? I did the best I could (*sobs*)

OK, let’s summarize what you learned from that:

を is the default particle. If a verb uses a weird particle, (へ、に、と, etc.) the weird particle will be written right next to the word!

ONyomi English keywords SOUND like their Japanese counterparts: SHOU becomes SHOW, KA becomes CAR, etc.

If I have to split the mnemonic into two parts, the ONyomi mnemonic goes up by the ONyomi!

Short-vowel ONyomi use abbreviations for the keywords, to tell them apart from their long-vowel cousins.

In the mnemonics, ONyomis are ALL CAPS, while meanings are underlined.

In KUNyomi, the asterisk (*) shows where the okurigana begin.

Jukugo are listed in most- to least-useful order.

Usefulness ratings are based on how often the word appears AS KANJI. If a word is really common, but usually written as hiragana, it’ll have a low usefulness ranking, meaning you shouldn’t bother learning the kanji version.

If a word has only one or two jukugo, that means that in practice, it’s only ever used with one or two jukugo! (other words, like 日 or 車 can be used in a dozen totally useful jukugos)

In the LOOKALIKES, I list the differing radical next to each kanji in ALL CAPS. The lookalike mnemonics go like this: meaning is underlined, and the RADICAL is in all caps.

Also, words with する next to ’em, they can be used as verbs OR nouns. So if I say, for example,  小便する (shouben suru)= ’to take a whiz,’ – I’m assuming you’re smart enough to figure out that  小便 WITHOUT する just means ‘some whiz.’




Earlier I talked about kanji ATTRIBUTES – things like ON and KUN yomis, stroke number, and radicals. Every book teaches about ATTRIBUTES. Now, I’m going to talk about


TAGS – unlike ONyomi, KUNyomi, and stroke count, TAGS are attributes of kanji which  are unique to my system. TAGS attempt to give names and definitions to problems that only exist in Japanese.

Again, the way kanji is taught is the problem – most books/apps don’t even give NAMES for these problems, let alone tell you how to cope with them!

Here’s what happened: Every time I entered a kanji into the dictionary, I first compared it to a list of 29 common kanji problems – and if it matched any of the 29 I tagged it with the appropriate label(s). Most of the tags are WARNINGS – they say, “Watch out! Weird shit !!” On the other hand, some of the tags are TIPS AND TRICKS that exploit some hidden symmetries of kanji to help you learn faster.

Let’s start with TAGS THAT APPLY TO THE MEANING (usually printed in the 特徴 section)

U : stands for USEFULNESS : The answer to the question everyone wants to know: “Do I really need this one???” No professional teacher is going to give you an honest answer : they want you to pass the test, and the test has a bunch of retarded kanji on it that you’ll never use afterwards. Plus, most smart people will give some unsatisfying answer like, “Well, what do you mean by ‘need?’ You’ll need to read all of them eventually, it depends on what you’re reading!” I don’t like nuanced, mature answers like this. I prefer the old-fashioned ‘From one-to-five stars’ method. Yes, one-star kanji are still useful, otherwise I would have cut them out. However, if you’re in a hurry, do what you gotta do. Also, here is a rad thing I did:

 Usefulness answers the question, "Do I really need to know this one?" Usefullness is ranked from zero stars to five – you can decide for YOURSELF where to draw the line. If you’re a beginner, maybe only five-star kanji are essential. Usefulness is based on how often the word occurs IN KANJI FORM. There are words like 有難う (arigatou!) which are really common, but it’s very very rare for them to be written as kanji these days, so 有難う would get zero stars, despite being a common word. OK? ok.

JERK: JERK KANJI have 2 (or more!) unrelated, yet commonly used, meanings.

Some classic JERKS are: 沢 (swamp / bling) and 討(strike down / discuss) and we can’t forget 米 (rice / America). I think this is one of the classic, "Only-in-Japanese" problems that drives people up the wall, so I made a label for it to let you know: be careful, you’re up against a JERK today!

Jerk RADICALS mean one thing when used as a SOLO kanji, and another thing when used as a radical inside a bigger kanji.

The classic example of a JERK RAD is 月, which means ‘moon’ when used by itself, but ‘internal organ’ when used as a radical of a bigger kanji : 肺 (lung)、 肝(gallbladder)、腹 (large intestine), etc.

If you know that a certain kanji is a JERK RAD, it’ll help you better guess the meaning of kanji which use that radical.

TOTAL COCK : I call it that because it’s even worse than a jerk.  Like say the kanji is used in 20 compound words, and all 20 have the same general meaning (call it meaning A). Or it’s used in 20 words and in all of them it’s pronounced the same way (call it pronunciation A). The only exception is this ONE word that is pronounced in a fucked-up way and means something else (call it meaning B) totally unrelated. And guess what? In normal conversation, the ONLY TIME YOU ‘LL EVER USE THE KANJI IS WITH MEANING ‘B’!  Now, that’s not only hard to learn, but it raises quantum-physics-level epistemological questions regarding "what does this kanji mean?" If you go by "how many words use that meaning of the kanji", then Meaning A is the winner by 90%. But if you go by "How frequently is the meaning used in everyday life?" then Meaning B is the winner by 90%.  How crazy is that??

昨 is a typical COCK: It’s used in words like 昨月(さくげつ)、昨朝 (さくちょう)、昨日 (さくじつ)、 昨年(さくねん)、昨晩(さくばん)、昨報(さくほう)、and 昨夕(さくゆう). But no one ever says those words. Instead, 昨 is only used in the context of 昨日(のう) which is pronounced totally differently (ki instead of saku)  and means ‘yesterday.’

SOLO : 貝 (‘sea shell’) is a classic SOLO kanji. If you look it up in your dictionary, you’ll find like 20 jukugo: 中毒、割れダイコン, ,貝形模様の飾り,採集, 殻, etc. But unless you’re a marine biologist, you’ll never use any of them! Fortunately, the jukugo all mean ‘sea shell’, so 貝 is not a COCK – there’s no exceptions to the meaning or ponunciation.

Since 貝 is used by itself, so usually you can get away with not learning the ONyomi. This is why it helps you to learn the SOLO tag.

Also, even if a kanji is used often in compounds, BUT IS PRONOUNCED   WITH ITS KUNYOMI, it’ll get a SOLO tag – since you still don’t need to learn the ON!

BETA The opposite of SOLO – BETA kanji are only found in compound words, (jukugo). ‘Beta-beta’ in Japanese means “sticky,”  and BETABETA kanji hate to be alone – they like to ‘stick’ to other kanji. This is good news, because it means you don’t need to study their KUNyomi.

SIDEKICK : A variation of the BETABETA kanji, the SIDEKICK is a very distinct feature of Japanese:  And by ‘distinct’, I mean ‘irritating.’

Take, for example, a trifling, minor-league kanji like 途.

In fact, 途 is so low, he’s only used in one word. He’d be a forgettable nobody, if it wasn’t for one thing: that word is 途中 (‘on the way’), and we use that word every day!

Basically he got lucky and became a SIDEKICK of a really famous kanji, namely 中. This used to drive me CRAZY!!!! I was like, “Fuck!!!!! Why I gotta learn this if it’s only used in one word??!”

The good news is, it turns out you don’t really need to learn sidekick kanji. Once you’ve learned the OTHER, more USEFUL kanji of the jukugo (in this case, ‘中’), make a flashcard of the whole jukugo, and learn 途 that way. More good news: You don’t have to learn the KUNyomi of sidekicks, because they’re seldom used.

PK means ‘PRIMARY KANJI’ : this is exactly what it sounds like – a kanji that can’t be broken down into radicals. For example, tree (木)、water (水)、 and mountain ( 山) are all PK. As you’d expect, primary kanji are often radicals of other kanji – 森、機、模、札,etc. AND, PKs are pretty likely to be DUHs as well!

DUH : a kanji that (surprisingly) looks like what it represents: 山(mountain), 口(mouth), 木 (tree), or 三 (3).

With DUH kanji, you can skip learning the mnemonics and /or equations.

PREFIX and SUFFIX : Just like in English, these go in front of / behind dozens and dozens of words, to modify them. One of the most common prefix is 無, which means ‘un-‘ as in 無敵 (unrivalled)、 無限 (unlimited)、and  無口 (person who doesn’t talk much).But UNLIKE English, you can’t put a Japanese prefix in front of any old word, it’s not allowed. You should only use them in the specific circumstances – which I’ll teach you.

DUPE – aaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!! Another only-in-Japanese irritation: the DUPLICATE. Dupes are fuckers like 務、努、and 勤, which are synonyms AND HOMOPHONES. In fact, type in つとめる in your dictionary- all three of those dudes will pop up – IN THE SAME ENTRY. Luckily, I am in your corner!

I made a separate page that lists all the DUPEs, and explains how they are different, and when to use which ones!  (it’s all in this handy appendix.)



ABSOLUTE RADICAL: Things like, , , or that are so basic, they don’t even get to be simple kanji – they’re only radicals.

MUTANT RADICAL; some very common PRIMARY KANJI change shape when they are used as radicals. They tend to get squished and simplified. 水 becomes 、火 becomes , and 人 becomes .These simplified, squished versions are MUTANT RADICALS.

STRONG is short for ‘STRONG RADICAL,’ which means ‘radical that usually controls the pronunciation of any kanji in which it is a component.’ For example,   Both 可 (on-yomi: KA) and and 中 (on-yomi: CHUU) are STRONG.

So if you see a kanji with the 可 radical  inside it, (i.e.苛、何, 河, or 歌 )most likely their ONyomi will also be SHI. Likewise, if you see a kanji with 中 inside it, (i.e. 虫、忠, or 仲 )the ONyomi of that kanji will probably also be CHUU.

Strong radicals are good because they help you guess the ON-yomi of kanji that you can’t read.

But BE CAREFUL of kanji such as 己. 己’s ONyomi is KO, but most of the kanji which use the 己 radical have the ONyomi of "KI", not KO!!!!

In cases like that, I’ll write a  warning tag which says something like: "STRONG RADICAL FOR ‘KI’"


SAME ON: the SAME ON tag tells you that the kanji’s ON-yomi is the same ON-yomi as one of the radicals in it (usually a STRONG RADICAL). For example, 衣 (cloth) is pronounced "I". 依 (rely on) has the cloth radical and is also pronounced "I."

So if you forgot how to pronounce 依, but you remember how to pronounce 衣, you’re in luck.

Also, I don’t usually bother with an ON-yomi mnemonic for SAME-ON kanji, since you already learned the other kanji and its ON-yomi!

 SYMBOLIC RADICAL: If a symbolic radical is inside of a kanji, the meaning of the whole kanji will be pretty similar to the meaning of the symbolic radical. This is a helpful tool if you encounter  a kanji you can’t read!

For instance, (sickness)  is used in words like 病(sick) 、 痛 (pain)、 疲 (fatigue)、 and 痴 (pervert).

火 (fire) is used in words like 焼 (roast)、 燃 (burn)、 爆 (explode)、 and  災 (natural disaster).

One more thing: SYMBOLIC  RADICALS are usually on the left side, STRONG RADICALS are usually located on the right side of a kanji. So if you are stumped by a new (or, heh, forgotten) kanji, check the right-side radical for clues to its on-yomi. And check the left-side radical for clues to its meaning.



LAZY : some kanji have the same ON- and KUN-yomi. I say that is not nearly arbitrary or complicated enough – why did they pass up a perfectly good chance to mess with foreigners’ minds? they must have felt LAZY.

BOOBOO : A word that most people use wrong gets a BOOBOO tag. For instance,

明けましておめでとう!(あけましておめでとう) is usually translated as "Happy New Year!" But if you use this before Jan. 1st, you might as well hold a huge flag up over your head that says NOOB. Or 話す(はなす, which means ”speak’) Only noobs say "あなた は にほんご を 話す?ー ’Do you conversation Japanese?’)

You’re supposed to say ”あなた は 日本語を 喋る?”( あなた は にほんご を しゃべる?-’Do you speak Japanese?’) So 話す also gets a BOOBOO tag.

NUBI : a KUNyomi which is Never Used By Itself – 夕 is a NUBI. The KUNyomi is ゆう, but you’d never say, "It’s a nice ゆう tonight!" You have to use it in certain specific idioms like 夕方(ゆうがた -evening) or  夕べ (ゆうべーlast night). (it makes more sense to just teach the phrases, but first you have to learn the word).



NP (newspaper word)

All languages have a very formal version, even English: (“Your Honour, if it please the court to introduce the writ of habeas corpus?” “Indubitably, my good chap!”) But as usual, Japanese has to take a common linguistic phenomenon and bug it out until it’s totally incomprehensible to foreigners. So, in ADDITION to the formal Japanese (used only when talking to the Boss) , there’s a WHOLE ‘NOTHER SET OF WORDS which are used in very informal,  every-day settings: announcements on the loudspeakers of train stations, television news reports, newspapers, etc. Some of these words are the most common and useful in Japanese, and yet most people will never ever say them. These words are only HEARD or READ, but they’re not SAID. I call these words NEWSPAPER WORDS, although they might be better called ANNOUNCEMENT WORDS. A common noob mistake is when a foreigner (having just learned the words) says them out loud. The foreigner figured that since they describe common things like trains leaving the station, they must be useful. Ha! NOOOOB. To make matters even worse, most every NEWSPAPER WORD has a more casual equivalent that regular folks use, and you gotta learn those too!

FO (formal word): exactly what it sounds like.  Mostly it’s 尊敬語 (sonkeigo) and  謙譲語 (kenjougo) words that get the FO tag.


NEOLOGISM: Remember how people always laugh at the French because they outlawed the word “le hamburger,” and they don’t say ‘email address,’ they gotta say, ‘adresse de courrier electronique?’ When an English word gets popular, they stone cold invent a French version, rather than polluting their language with outside terms! Well, back in the pre WWII days, Japan did the same thing. Today if they want to import a new word, like ‘customer support’ they’ll use katakana: カストマー・サッポト。 But back in the  Pearl Harbor  days, speaking the words of inferior mongrels was pretty gauche. What they’d do instead was, break the foreign compound word down into its basic parts, then find the kanji which corresponded to those parts, and combine those kanji to make a new Japanese word – a NEOLOGISM. For instance, wheel-chair became 車椅子 (car-chair), and space-ship became 宇宙船 (universe vessel).

Of course, these ‘pure Japanese’ words were written in Chinese, but whatever. When have racists ever made sense?

OBSOLETE : Unfortunately, a lot of kanji which are not used anymore as words anymore . . . are still indispensable as radicals, so you still have to learn ’em.

KANA: Yet another only-in-Japanese headache: All kanji are written as hiragana. . . TO SOME EXTENT. For instance, in kids’ books, or simply to emphasize the word (like all-caps in English). Then there’s words such as 帽子 (hat) or 沢山 (hella) which are written as hiragana about half the time. Words like 居る (to live) or 可愛い (cute) are usually hiragana unless it’s a really formal (or pretentious!) book. Words like 馬鹿 (idiot) or 凄い (deeeyamn!) are, inexplicably, usually written as KATAKANA.

Then there are words like 宜しく (yoroshiku= please) or 有難う (arigatou= thanks ) which are never written as kanji  anymore – BUUUUT they still carry the pronunciation of the kanji. Unlike some books or flashcards, I cut these words out so you don’t waste your time.

Furthermore, a lot of the DUPE kanji are written as hiragana, simply because even Japanese people don’t have any fuckin’ idea which kanji to use!!!

And then there are literally hundreds of jukugo where the first kanji is written as kanji but the second kanji is always written as hiragana. Or vice versa. What the hell is up with that? Make up your minds, guys!! (one piece of good news: if a kanji is written as hiragana in one jukugo, it’ll probably be written as kana in all of its jukugo)

Anyway, when a word is written in hiragana OR katakana  about half the time, I give it the 1/2 KANA tag.

If a word is almost always written in hiragana/katakana, I give it the KANA tag, which means you can skip it.


FP stands for FUCKED PRONUNCIATION – the Japanese equivalent of English’s  silent ‘p’ in ‘psychology’ : words like 田舎 (countryside), which, according to the ONyomi of its respective kanji, should be pronounced たしゃ. . .but it’s actually pronounced いなか. Or お土産 (souvenir) , which you’d think would be pronounced おどうさん, but it’s actually pronounced おみやげ.

KUNKUN : a particular kind of FUCKED PRONUNCIATION.  Jukugo which don’t have okurigana generally use the ON-yomi. But KUNKUN words use the KUN yomi anyway, in defiance of the rules. For example:

靴下 (kutsushita – socks), 下着 (shitagi – underwears), and 悪口 (waruguchi – to badmouth someone)

 Words with OKURIGANA are almost always KUNKUN anyway, so I don’t bother putting this tag on them.

KUN ON : same deal. Jukugo which mix kun and on yomi. These are the worst because you just have no clue.

NOKURI: the most spectacular, insidious, treacherous, downright evil form of FP. You remember okurigana? Those hiragana that hang off the tail ends of compound kanji?  繰り返し、落ち着け, 食べ放題, etc? Well sometimes Japanese people get tired of writing the okurigana. They don’t write it BUT THEY STILL PRONOUNCE IT, which makes it basically IMPOSSIBLE to find that word in  your dictionary! Words like 取引 (torihiki :取り plus 引き , meaning to haggle) . . .or  受付 (uketsuke : from 受け plus 付け). How the hell are you supposed to know? Anyway kanji with OKURIgana that have become NOkurigana get the NOKURI tag.

PN – PROPER NOUN – this kanji is often used in names of people or places. Actually, most kanji CAN be used in proper nouns, but certain ones appear so often you should learn them just for that alone!  And THOSE guys get the PN tag. Incidentally, Proper nouns in Japanese usually but not always take the KUN reading.

CCW: (cultural code word) : a word which has no real English translation, because it represents a state of mind unique to Japan. It’s useful to learn these words because they teach you about the Japanese mentality. I’m not trying to teach you all of the cultural code words – there’s plenty of books out there already. But when it comes up, it comes up.

SARC : Some people say Japanese don’t “get sarcasm,” because they don’t understand the “I’ll say the opposite of what I mean and it never stops being funny” concept so beloved by Americans. Japanese sarcasm tends towards subtle irony ,and can be pretty rewarding if you can determine that a joke has, in fact, been made. To help you pick up on the difference between Eastern and Western sarcasm, I’ve tagged some of the better / more obvious examples. For instance, 党 means ‘political party’ – but someone who loves candy is called ‘甘党’ (’member of the Sweet Party’)

FR is short for FUCKED ROOTS – They say that kanji are ‘windows into the past,’ meaning that since they look like the things they depict, we can see the values of the ancient society that made them. However, in today’s politically correct times, that window is often as embarrassing as the screen of an old Western TV playing reruns of Sambo and Amos and Andy. This is evident in kanji like wife (奥さん), which famously translates to, ‘back of the house person,’ or  乙, which has two meanings: ‘second place’ and ‘girl.’ Oh no you di’int!!!!

ABUNAI : abunai (危ない)means ‘dangerous!’ ABUNAI kanji fall into 3 types:
1: it’s a discrimination word.
2: it’s a word that might start a fight
3 : it’s a word that will make Japanese giggle at you.
I deliberately don’t tell you which type the kanji is because I want you to ask your Japanese teacher or friends!!!!!!

ILL PAIR: Yet another only-in-Japanese type of problem : Synonyms where the kanji look as physically similar as their meanings!  “Hey, a few foreigners managed to suss out the difference in the meanings of these synonyms. We can’t let that slide. . . why don’t we make them look almost identical too?? That’ll slow ’em down . . .IN YOUR FACE, FOREIGNERS!!!” Classic ILL PAIRS ? Here’s a few:

削 (whittle down) /消 (erase)

福 (good luck) / 富 ( get rich )

近 (close) /辺 (around here)

王 (king) / 主 (master)

妻 ( wife) / 婦 – (housewife)

Unlike most of these WARNING TAGS, learning ill pairs doesn’t really help you in any way. But it’s so fucked up, I had to make a list of them. I guess you could show the list  to your Japanese teacher and try to get her to apologize personally to you.

To see a list of all ill pairs, please consult the appendix.


PRE, SUF: Just what you’d think :PREFIXES and SUFFIXES. Unlike English or German, you can’t attach prefixes or suffixes to any word. You can only use them with certain arbitrary other words.Sorry! My dictionary gives you the top 1 or 2 most common uses for the prefix, so just stick to those if you don’t want to look like a beginner.

COUNTER: One of the more psycho things about Japanese is that it has a different  method of counting for  EVERY OBJECT EVER. And each method of counting has its OWN KANJI. For example, sheets of paper are 一枚、二枚、三枚 (ichimai, nimai,sanmai), but oranges and apples are 一個、二個、三個 (ikko,niko, sanko)。

Any kanji that is used to count something gets the COUNTER tag.


This is another main problem that drives gaijin crazy.

Some kanji are different by only one stroke! Behold!!!!!

夫:husband/ 未 – not yet /末: the tip

太 – fat /犬 – dog

告 – inform / 吉 – good omen


Dealing with lookalikes is a two-step process.

1) Learn the radicals and mnemonics. For example,

‘Good omen’ (吉)is made out of samurai (士)+ mouth 〔口).


告 isn’t just ‘good omen plus a line’ , it has its own distinct roots:

It’s made out of hurl) + mouth 〔口)

Now, when you’re reading and you come across , you’ll be like, "Fuck! It’s either ‘good omen’ or ‘inform’ . . .but which one?"

And then you’ll say, "OK, that top bit is . .. um. . .HURL. And the mnemonic for ‘good omen’ is. . ."It’s considered good omen if a samurai kisses you on the mouth."? OK – so this kanji is not ‘good omen’, because there’s no samurai. And the mnemonic for ‘inform’ is. . . "I inform you with my mouth, that I’m about to hurl the football." AHA! I see the ‘hurl’ radical! So this must be ‘inform’!!"

So that is how knowing radicals and mnemonics pays off : if you’ve memorized them, 90% of lookalike problems just go away.

If you’re constantly confusing two similar kanji, draw them side-by-side and compare them. Look at ’em until you find which radical is different. No matter how complicated kanji X and Y are, you know there’s one little part that’s different, and that one part is all you have to look at . For example, 技 andlook really similar. But the left-hand radicals are different. So just ignore the right-side altogether. And concentrate on remembering the keyword of the left-hand radicals.

技 – technique (HAND)

枝 – branch (TREE)

When you think about it like that, it’s almost impossible to confuse them. You do techniques with your hands, but a tree has a branch. That rhymes, Marge, and you know it rhymes.

Here’s another example that always used to kick my ass: and .

The only difference is that one little line in the center. If the line is straight, the radical is ‘bureaucrat’, and if the line is crooked, the radical is ‘washtub.’ That’s easy to remember because the ‘bureaucrat’ radical LOOKS LIKE A CAPITAL ‘B’. Anyway, once you just concentrate on those two bottom radicals, it’s totally easy to tell apart the two kanji:

官 – federal (BEURACRAT)

宮 -palace (WASHTUB) (呂)

DUH! There’s a washtub in the palace, and a ‘bureaucrat’ works for the federal government.


To help you carry out this two-step program, I’ve tagged the more obvious lookalikes (at least the ones that trouble me), and put them side-by-side for easy comparison.

I then point out the UNIQUE radical for each kanji – the radical that ISN’T in the other lookalike.

Finally, I make a mnemonic like the ones above, that only compare those 2 unique radicals.

CAREFUL, SON: the ‘lookalike’ mnemonics aren’t supposed to be used together with the regular mnemonics, but INSTEAD of them. Only use the lookalike mnemonics if you’re already confused about which kanji is which. Otherwise it is too much information: You will go, “Hey, those DO look alike! I didn’t think so before, but now that you mention it. . .” and then you will be more confused than you were before you read it.



Study the kanji in order.


There, that was easy.



No, seriously. . .

In the beginning, set a goal of, say X amount of kanji. On your first go-round, don’t even look at the jukugo or KUNyomi. Just try to associate the kanji with its meaning and its component radicals; if you can do that you are rad.

Eventually, you’ll reach a point where you’ll start to recognize a lot of the ‘other kanji’ in a given kanji’s example jukugo. Say you’re studying 具 (tool). You happen to glance down at the jukugo list and see:

道具:どうぐ: tool


具体的に:ぐたいてきな: concrete as opposed to abstract

具合:ぐあい:  a condition - usually either good or not good. (KANA) (A)

And maybe you’ll say to yourself, "道具? Hey, waitaminute, I’ve seen 道 before . . .road! 道 means road! It’s on the street sign near my apartment! And the 家 from 家具 means house. AHA! Furniture literally means ‘house tool’! How cute! Hmm. . .wonder if I can do all of them. The third one is still fucked. I got no idea. But the fourth one – 具合. . .合 . . . I know 合 from somewhere. . . Fuck . . AHA! It means ‘to suit’! 似合う! OK, rad! So ‘condition’ is literally ‘tool is suitable’ . . the ‘tool’ (具) is in a ‘suitable’ (合) condition for me to use it.

"Hey . . .could it be . . .Not only do I know the kanji for these jukugo, but it’s like I can memorize them hella easy. House tool = furniture. Duh! ‘Tool is suitable’ = ‘it’s in good CONDITION.’ Double rad!"

I call this THE BREAKTHROUGH. You’re now ready to go back to the beginning of the whole book and take on all the jukugo. You’ll find that knowing the meanings of the ‘other kanji’ (道、家、 合) helps you learn 具’s jukugos fast, AND helps you review those older kanji at the same time.

But – I’m not going to lie. . 50% of the time, the jukugo are going to have kanji you haven’t learned yet. Don’t even worry about those guys. Skip and come back later.


Say you’re reading a Japanese book, and come to a word which stumps you. You want to learn it, but you also want to get back to reading your damn book.  You look up the kanji in my dictionary. It’s #1,400.  You can’t be bothered to learn all the damn kanji 1-1,399. What do you do?

1  Look up the word in the dictionary.

2 Check the EQUATION (the list of radicals below the word). Any radical you don’t know? Click the link to go to that radical and learn it.

3 Write the radical 10 times, while saying the keyword out loud : shouting, even. In fact, why don’t you make a flashcard of it, ya teacher’s pet!

4 Is the radical ITSELF a kanji, made up of radicals you don’t know? Go back to step 2 and repeat.

5 Once you’ve learned all the parts, THEN go back to the word you wanted to learn.

6 Write it 10 times, while muttering all the names of the radicals as you draw them. Then write it 10 more times, while reciting the mnemonic.

7 Read a book or magazine which uses that kanji a lot. Trust me, just reading a card a bunch without using the kanji in the real world is a guarantee you’ll forget the word. It’s one of my biggest faults as a student : I don’t read enough.



Check the context. If you are looking at 泳 and can’t remember if it means ‘eternity’ (永) or ’swim’ (泳), the context should help you. For example, “This sentence is about the ocean. Ok, I guess it must be ‘swim’ then.”

Say all the radicals’ keywords aloud a few times – maybe that’ll make the mnemonic pop up in your memory. ("得 . . .Go! Sun! Temple! Go! Sun! Temple! You go, to the, . . uh, temple. . .You go to the temple of the sun god to OBTAIN virtue. It’s OBTAIN!! 得る is OBTAINNNNN!! "

Draw the kanji several times – this also sometimes knocks the memory loose.

If you’re trying to read a jukugo and get stuck on one of the kanji, try to think of another jukugo that uses that same kanji. Not only is this an effective way to remember, but the "AHA!!" feeling you get when you pull it off is one of the best things about studying Japanese. Say, you’re trying to read 品質. You’re like, "Something, shitsu. NNNnnnnnnn. … shitsu. Damn it! Where have I seen those three boxes before? Art? No, that’s 芸実. Something about art, anyway. 作品!!! Sakuhin! Artworks! OK! SakuHIN = 作+品, so 品 = HIN. Therefore, 品質 must be HIN shitsu!"

Check for ‘swell radicals’ー radicals such as 口, 木, and  火 that actually DO have meaning. If it’s got a 火 in it, it’ll probably have something to do with fire.

Remember: the left side radicals are likely to be SWELL – to have to do with the meaning of the kanji. The right side radicals are more likely to be SYMBOLIC – to dictate the ONyomi of the kanji.


Still stuck?



"Jesus, what a vicious circle. If I could fuckin’ spell it, I wouldn’t need to look it up, would I? You cocks!!!"

Yeah, I know. tell me about it. You just discovered yet another hideous, pernicious ass-ache available only in Japanese.

Let’s say that you are lucky, and remember the ONyomi for BOTH kanji in a given word. So, you are searching using the ONyomi – but there ain’t nothing there in your dictionary! In that case, try searching by using the KUN yomi instead.

(remember : if there’s okurigana, you gotta use the KUNyomi!)

If the jukugo is long, and you can’t find it in the dictionary, maybe it’s two words. Try just looking up the first 2 kanji. (unless the first kanji is a common prefix such as, 無 不 反 . . .in which case, try looking up the word without the prefix)

If you can’t remember whether the ON has a short vowel or a long vowel, try remembering the mnemonic, because the mnemonic uses the English keyword for the ONyomi. The English keyword for the short vowel ONyomi  is gonna an abbreviation (SHO= Smell Her Odors) or (SO=Some One). While its long-vowel counterpart is going to have a regular keywords like SHOW(me your butt) or SOO(many butts).

If you have absolutely no clue what the ON yomi is – ask yourself, "Does the right-side radical look like the right-side radical of another kanji that I DO know?" Maybe it has the same ON yomi as that other kanji.

If nothing else works, chances are you got a ‘ten-ten and maru’ problem on your sweaty little hands.  Ten-ten and maru are the little marks that change the pronunciation, such as ha-ba-pa (は・ば・ぱ) or  sha-ja (しゃ・じゃ). For example, usually, 者 is pronounced SHA, and 本 is supposed to be HON. But in 忍者 (ninja), SHA becomes the softer JA: にんじゃ. And in the word  一本 (one rod), HON becomes PON :いっぽん.

Why? My first Japanese teacher said, "Because it’s DIFFICULT to pronounce ninSHA and ichiHON." I think the whole class laughed at her, although maybe I just wanted them to have laughed at her. God forbid that Japanese be difficult! Let’s invent 20 new syllables to cut down on the difficulty, sure! And apply those 20 new syllables in totally arbitrary places? Why not?

Anyway, long story short, try changing the first syllable of the second kanji to a ten-ten or a maru and see what happens.

Finally, if you DO manage to find the word in your dictionary, don’t just nod, “Aha!” and keep reading. No no no. You need to write the kanji down like 10 times while saying the mnemonic. If you don’t have time right there and then, at least write that kanji down once on a "list of kanji I fucked up on while reading this book” . . .so you can study the list later.


1) When you are learning a new word, draw it a bunch while repeating the names of the radicals. All gritting your teeth and muttering, “Earth, rifle, mouth, plate. . . earth, rifle, mouth, plate…” over and over. And then write it some more while saying the mnemonic out loud. That way, tomorrow when you already forgot what the kanji means, you can squint at it and say the names of the radicals, and the story should theoretically just pop into your head.!! “Earth. . . rifle. .. mouth. . pl?SALT!!! THAT’S FUCKIN’ SALT!! 塩!!“  And then the cute guy next to you in line at the bank will all look at you like, “Who is this fucking spaz??” But that is your problem, not mine.

2) Write the information from this book on flash-cards. Personally I’m only putting this on the internet because it’s free. But if you’re like me, trying to study on the internet, with porn and Youtube only a click away, is just futile. Cards are the way to go, because they’re tiny. You can whip ‘em out and study in line at the bank, at a red light, waiting for the bus, or whenever you got nothing else going on. I even study with my cards when I am in a traffic jam on the freeway, although I don’t recommend it.

Put the kanji on the front, and the on / kun yomi, radicals, and mnemonic on the back. Don’t forget to leave room for lookalike kanji that you’ll encounter later in your studies. If you are writing a card for, say, 郡 , leave space on the front side for lookalikes you discover later. Next week, when you fuck up and confuse 群 with 郡 , you can write “It’s NOT 群 !!” in the corner.

I wouldn’t recommend writing any of the tags on the cards – except maybe the "SAME ON" tag.

2a) Yes, make cards for the radicals too.

4) For some kanji (particularly guys like 名 or 物 which tend to use the KUNyomi in the jukugo) I always get the KUN and ON readings mixed up . I get stuck in one of those awful “OK, it’s the opposite of what I think it is. But now I think it’s the opposite of THAT,. . .crap!” brain-freezes. Anyway if you get stuck like that, here’s an easy tip: learn the kun and on together as if it was one big word. 名 = NA-MEI and 物= BUTSUーMONO that’s one strategy. to keep from getting them mixed up. of course this trick doesn’t work all the time: some words have like 4 kun yomis.

5) Email me! Like all things on the internet, this is a continual work-in-progress. I’m working alone, doing this in my non-existent spare time, so there will doubtless be 100 mistakes. if you spot one, please let me know.  Or if you have some lookalikes, new kanji, or think of new tags that you think should be included.

click here to go to the actual dictionary!


1 – GLOSSARY OF TAGS and abbreviations used in the book.



4 – ALL "DUPLICATE" KANJI – differences explained!


6 – examples of how to make a rad flash-card. (this does not exist yet)

7 – fuckin’ huge suppliment about how to tell apart hundreds of common Japanese synonyms. (this will take years to finish)



3 Comments so far

  1. boppitman September 30th, 2009 9:02 am

    Dear TDR

    First of all, let me start by saying that I’ve been a fan of yours since around 5 years ago. I was living in Tokyo back then, and you really helped me get through the culture shock, simply by being a fellow gaijin who knew about a) how frustrating Japan can be, b) all the weird and wonderful stuff you don’t see in the guide books, c) what it’s like to be single when all of your pals have a lifestyle not dissimilar to that of P.Diddy, and d) where to go for a decent scat party.

    I really do think that your writing is some of the funniest stuff I’ve ever read – whether on the net or on the printed page – and while I don’t necessarily read every single one of your gig reviews, I have laughed like a drain over stuff like the holiday reports (the Australia trip is a particular favourite).

    But anyway, what I’m really writing to say is that I’ve just finished working my way through the entire Kanji Dicks site. It’s taken me about a year, and I have to admit I kind of rushed through the last 40 or 50 characters, but I’ve now started reading my first actual book in Japanese, and that’s all thanks to your good self (along with The Power of Dick Jokes, of course).

    I too agree (along with the guy who writes that all Japanese teaching is rubbish. In the past five or six years, in Japan and in the UK, I must have had 15 or 20 Japanese teachers, and maybe one of them could have taught her way out of a paper bag (and even she was still stuck in the whole teaching-the-masu-form-before-the-dictionary-form thing, which is evil and should be stamped out). I also believe that all Japanese textbooks – but particularly Japanese for Busy People and Minna No Nihongo – are barely fit to be used as toilet paper, and at the risk of sounding like a Nazi, should be burned.

    Heisig’s method seems like a pretty good one, but yours is streets ahead – not only in terms of how much information it’s possible to learn, but also in terms of how much it’s possible to laugh while you’re doing so, and for that, I salute you.

    I’ve always been intrigued (along with a lot of other TDR readers, I assume) as to how you make a living, and I suppose you’ll want to keep that between you, your lawyer and your parole officer, but if there’s any justice in the world, you will publish a Kanji Dicks textbook and rake in multi-million dollars’ worth of hard cash, thus enabling you to retire to a penthouse apartment in Shibuya and basically drink champagne from swan’s necks for the rest of your life.

    I’ve got plenty more to say about Kanji Dicks, but for some reason, I don’t seem to be able to leave a comment on the forum there. I’ll keep trying though, and in the meantime, apologies for being so sycophantic, and keep up the good work.

    Yours sincerely

  2. admin September 30th, 2009 11:37 pm

    @boppitman: thanks for your mail! It really made me feel better about spending 3 years on this project. I wish you the best of luck with your study! Also, I’m working on a version of the kanji dictionary which is like a program that helps you learn. And doesn’t crash your computer. And has graphic design. Hopefully in another month there should be a beta version up, but it’s slow going for now.

  3. boppitman October 1st, 2009 9:51 am

    Cool – I’ll look forward to that.

    Incidentally, I’ve now worked out how to post on the forum, so you’ll find a whole heap of my language nerd opinions over there, which you are free to read or ignore at your discretion.

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