Home Previous Columns Book Reviews Other Articles Reader Response Links






Unfortunately, "2001 KANJI" is now out of print. (If you can find a used copy, grab it!) But Father De Roo's work lives on at Kanji alive, which has now added "mnemonic hints" from "2001 Kanji" to the 1,235 kanji it presents. Check it out. (Posted November, 2010)

2001 KANJI
By Joseph R. De Roo
Bonjinsha, 1980
This book has no ISBN number.

Reviewed by Mary Sisk Noguchi

"Kanji are a rational, coherent system of patterns that always make sense." --J.R. De Roo

KANJI CLINIC readers have been introduced in several columns to some of the memorable "component analysis" stories presented in Joseph R. De Roo's 2001 Kanji. (Read rice stories and tiger stories). De Roo realized from his own early struggles with kanji that kanji-learning materials designed for foreign adults differed little from those used with Japanese school children. He set out to answer the adult's incessant question: "WHY is this character constructed this way?" The result is a remarkably useful and entertaining text for learning the shape and meaning of all the general-use characters.

De Roo, largely ignoring traditional etymological explanations of the origins of kanji, spent years analyzing thousands of kanji. He separated them into every possible component, which he calls "graphemes." Through extensive research on ancient Chinese history, politics, art, lifestyle, architecture, and geography, De Roo developed a unique system for explaining the origins of all the general-use kanji; the result is 2001 Kanji.

In his book, De Roo first lists 230 graphemes. He then goes on to provide explanations for how they fit together logically to form over two thousand characters. Reading these explanations will make you feel as if you have returned to everyday life in ancient China.

Here are four of De Roo's memory stories that include the component "STAND" 立.

SPICY 辛
When you bite into a strong tasting, SPICY 辛 food, you STAND UP 立 TEN 十 times faster than usual and rush to the kitchen to rinse your mouth.

PARENT 親
Responsible PARENTS 親 living near a forest, (a STAND 立 of TREES 木), must carefully WATCH 見 their children, who might be in danger of wild animals or bandits.

COME IN CONTACT WITH 接
A man's HAND COMES IN CONTACT WITH a prostitute (a STANDING 立 WOMAN 女 who reaches out to him on the street).

SOUND 音
Folks in ancient China used to listen for the SOUND 音of the temple bell, morning and evening, at the moment when the STANDING 立 SUN 日 was on the horizon.

And here is a sampling of De Roo's stories for kanji that include the component "TREE" 木:

LEAF
LEAVES 葉 are successive GENERATIONS 世 of VEGETATION on a TREE 木.

FRUIT 果
The “FRUITS” 果 of farming grow in FIELDS 田 and on TREES 木.

NAKED 裸
FRUIT 果 becomes bare-skinned after its husk is removed. Similarly, people become bare-skinned (i.e., NAKED) 裸 when they peel off their CLOTHES .

MANIPULATE 操
The HAND of the Imperial Bird Manager MANIPULATES the tethers that keep the songbirds 品 (look for their three MOUTHS 口) tied to their TREES 木.

Adhering strictly to his system for interpreting the logic of the original creators of kanji, De Roo never arbitrarily changes the names of the graphemes, even when they are written somewhat differently, e.g.: "flesh" may be written 肉 or 月. As an extreme example, De Roo lists 31 different writings for the grapheme "hand" (手, 又, etc.). Other component analysis systems, such as those of Heisig and Foerster/Tamura (see reviews on this web site), take a different approach: They assign different names to each of these various ways of writing a particular grapheme.

Also in contrast to Heisig and Foerster/Tamura, De Roo does not take a building block approach, in which all components of complex kanji are labeled and taught prior to presentation of the character itself. The characters in 2001 Kanji may thus be approached in any order; learners using traditional kanji texts will find an excellent companion in De Roo.

One unusual feature of 2001 Kanji, which helps to rein in its length to a mere 130 pages, is the absence of a pronunciation-based index. Instead, users learn to locate kanji within the book with De Roo's "two-step visual look-up method." The method is intended particularly for beginners who want to look up a particular character, but knowing neither its radical, pronunciation, nor its exact number of strokes, are unable to do so in kanji dictionaries. More advanced kanji learners would no doubt appreciate the inclusion of a pronunciation-based index, but taking the time necessary to become accustomed to De Roo's look-up system is well worth the effort.

To read more about the life and work of Father Joseph R. De Roo, read Column #12 "Until we meet again, Father De Roo, in kanji heaven."