Remembering The Kanji – Revisited

I wrote previously about my concerns with the Heisig method of learning Kanji. In particular the reasons for learning so difficult and obscure kanji.

It been a few months since we started Remembering the Kanji and happy to say that I’m convinced in the method now more than ever.

What’s the deal?

The primary reason I was having issues with Heisig’s method was because I couldn’t make sense or justify the reasons we were learning kanji that rarely appear or that only appear in the odd historical text or person’s name.

You see, I didn’t know why we were learning the kanji for generation in Lesson 2 when we wouldn’t learn such basic grade 1 kanji like water or fire until much later chapters.

The reasons started to become clear as we moved into more complex kanji.

For example, although the kanji generation which you probably wouldn’t find used that often, is also found in the kanji for leaf, which I imagine has a much higher usage in Japanese writing.


This is especially true when you learn the kanji for sharp corner, which comes from some obscure reference to the corner of an ancient ceremonial jade tablet. Good luck finding that in any Japanese sentence with any regularity. In fact, this particular kanji is not really taught in any of the primary or secondary school classes of joyo kanji, and only shows up in a few words and family names.

So what’s the point of learning it you ask?

Again, the reasons become clear as you learn subsequent kanji like seal or horizon.

I’m not sure of the reasons why some of these obscure kanji show up in the book when they do. For example you learn generation in Lesson 2 and it’s first usage shows up in Lesson 10, but I suppose Heisig has to introduce them somewhere and sprinkles then throughout the lessons.

The good news, in most cases, is that you learn these kanji just before you start learning kanji combinations with them included.

What’s not to like?

The one issue I still have with the book is that I feel like Heisig must have been getting paid by the word, as some explanations and stories seem to meander along.

Although it’s interesting to see some of the ways Heisig attempts to build a memorable story around the kanji, some of the stories ramble on and included unnecessary details.

It’s certainly not a game stopper or a reason to not purchase the book, but it would been nice to have some of the text tightened up for the sake of brevity.

The whole package

As we progress through the book I’ve started to realize that the Heisig method is really a collective package for learning kanji. You don’t follow the typical method of learning kanji according the joyo levels like Japense students will. In one lesson you’ll be learning a simple kanji like dog shortly followed by the ambiguous kanji for ‘sort of thing.’

You certainly see the reasons why Heisig introduces far removed kanji like these by looking at the elements of the kanji itself.


It’s not the traditional method but it’s certainly a logical one.

Photo Credits – Paper lanterns by: masaaki miyara

4 Responses to “Remembering The Kanji – Revisited”

  1. Nigel Fogden  on May 20th, 2010

    I tried the Heisig method a few years ago. It was interesting but I eventually gave up. My problem was how difficult it was to apply it to practical situations. I ended up with a vague idea of the meaning of a lot of kanji but in most cases what I had learned was quite different from the way they were actual used, particularly in compound words.

    On the other hand, even now I can still get a general sense of the meanings of words that I can’t otherwise read because of the time I spent with “Remembering the Kanji” so I wouldn’t say that the experience was a waste. I can see how it might work for people, but it was just a little too frustrating for me.

  2. Travis  on May 20th, 2010

    That is a very real concern of mine as well. If I may ask, what did you end up doing instead?

  3. Willardsdaughter  on November 15th, 2011

    There is now a free app available from the Google Chrome App Store that uses Heisig’s method. Spaced review and everything. Other users post their stories (caution: some are raunchy!) which really helps me to craft a story that is short and sweet (antidote for Heisig’s “ramblings” mentioned in this post. In fact, since Heisig’s stories are copyrighted, they can’t appear in the app.) I have long been a fan of this method, but needed something electronic to make it work for me.

  4. Travis  on November 15th, 2011

    An electronic option is a must for me, too. Thanks for the recommendation!

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