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Reader Response
May, 2002

"Why do you continue to promote Heisig's book?!"

Dear Kanji Clinic,

First, wanted to let you know I thoroughly enjoy your column and wish it was posted weekly, instead of every three weeks. I would like to see on your site more kanji quizzes, as well as an introduction to rare, unusual or challenging kanji that are not included in the 1,945 jouyou kanji. For example, I'd like to see more of the "hardcore" kanji that you presented in your last column like j.

Speaking of "hardcore" kanji, is there any book you are aware of that takes kanji learners beyond the 1,945 general use kanji? Of course, constant reading is the best way to build up vocabulary and learn new kanji, but I've never found a book that is custom made for the real passionate learners of kanji that takes you beyond the 1,945. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

As much as I love your column, I am baffled as to why you continue to promote the awful "Remembering the Kanji" by Heisig. The first 25-50 anecdotes Heisig crafts, at first, seem so clever and simple. But dig just a little deeper and you are soon swamped with mind-boggling, non-sensical, complex anecdotes for remembering characters where just learning their readings and root meanings is so much easier.

The most damning critique one can give to Heisig is this: Suppose you take the time to master Book 1 and all of his anecdotes. I think it's fair to say this will take close to one year of study to accomplish. And guess what? You will still miserably fail the {\͎S because you will not know how to read one single kanji.

Although far more time consuming, Hadamitzky and Spahn's "Kanji&Kana" Book 1 and Book 2 are vastly superior kanji learning tools. With a little extra effort, creating stories for each kanji are hardly necessary and create more confusion.

George Guida

"Heisig's book enabled me to pass Level 1"

Dear George,

I am glad you have found some things of interest in my columns. I appreciate people like you taking the time to send me ideas for columns and for the site. Thank you!

About your request for more difficult kanji, I wonder if you happened to read Column #30: "Where is the finish-line in the kanji marathon?" In a future column, I would like to take up the subject of non-general-use kanji again, perhaps zooming in on a few specific characters instead of dealing with the overall question of how many kanji one needs to learn.

You will notice in Column #30 a mention of the only kanji learning material I am aware of that deals systematically with non-general use kanji: James Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji III." Based on your strong feelings about the Heisig method, it is hard to imagine that you would find this book useful, however. I agree, constant reading is the best way to build up one's vocabulary and tackle kanji beyond the 1,945 general-use characters.

In defense of the Heisig method as preparation for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (Nihongo Noryoku Shiken):

The learning path which enabled me to meet my own kanji learning goals-- specifically, to pass Level 1 of that test, and to read, without a dictionary, the deluge of printed information which confronts me in daily life both at home and at work, was to take Heisig's advice in the introduction of his "Remembering the Kanji I:" Learn the shapes and meanings of all the general-use (1,945) kanji before tackling their pronunciations.

When I discovered Heisig's book, I was an intermediate level speaker of the language-- having lived in Japan for three years-- relatively familiar with Japanese grammar and vocabulary. After several years of frustrating and virtually fruitless kanji study with traditional learning materials, however, I was ready to give up on ever becoming literate in my adopted land. Standing in the bookstore, reading Heisig's introduction, I thought, "This is it. This is what I have been looking for."

At that time, I was a busy university English teacher, working full-time. (Admittedly, I did not yet have childrearing on my plate). I actually looked forward to picking up "Remembering the Kanji I" every day when I came home from work--kanji learning began to give me pleasure instead of being a dreaded chore. It took me approximately 6 months to complete Heisig's book, and I passed Level 2 of the Japanese Proficiency Test several months later (I never took Levels 3 and 4), after using those intervening months to work on kanji pronunciations.

To learn pronunciations, I began reading a wide variety of junior high to adult level material on topics which interested me. Many of the materials I read had furigana (hiragana typed above the kanji to indicate their pronunciations). For me, this was an excellent way to learn pronunciations for new compounds in context, and to make connections between vocabulary I already knew and the kanji I had learned the shapes and meanings for in "Remembering I." After one year of this sort of pleasure reading, and working with Proficiency Test preparation materials, I passed Level 1 of the Proficiency Test. I went on to pass it twice more in subsequent years, managing to meet my goal of raising my reading score each time.

I agree, Heisig's method is not appropriate for those who hope to pass lower levels of the Proficiency Test after several months to a year of kanji study. But his "divide and conquer" approach may be just what the doctor ordered for those who are taking a more long-term view of the kanji-learning process, for those like me who are planning to devote, say, two years (depending on their skills levels in other areas) to studying kanji before attempting Levels 1 or 2 (and foregoing Levels 3 and 4).

I have heard other kanji learners say, like you, that they find the Heisig method useless. Have you read the comments on his book at amazon.com? Some are absolutelly glowing, others damning. No one seems to feel ambivalent about Heisig, me included.

I hope site vistiors will share their experiences using the Heisig method to prepare for the JLPT.

Stay tuned for more Kanji Clinic,
Mary Sisk Noguchi

Read a review of "Remembering the Kanji I" on this site.
"Help! How can I study kanji for economics?"

Dear Kanji Clinic,

With humble respect, I would like to say that I am a foreign student in Japan and am facing so many problems learning the difficult kanji related to Economics. If you tell me how can I get Kanji books relating to Economics then it will help me greatly.

Sheikh Taher Abu

Stephen Davies, economic researcher at a Japanese university, sends the following advice:

One possibility would be to get hold of a statistical publication such as Monthly Statistics of Japan, published by the statistical department of the (soumusho, General Affairs Ministry). This has in the index both kanji and the English equivalent terms for all the economic series contained in the publication. Then in the actual statistical tables, each column is headed by both kanji and the English equivalent. (It is possible to get these tables from the Internet, but only in monolingual form; to get the more convenient bilingual version I think you will need the hard copy.)

I would also recommend the relevant chapter of "How to Sound Intelligent in Japanese", which used to be published in the Power Japanese series, and which introduces the main economic terms and provides lively examples of their use.

For myself I have expanded my economics vocabulary by reading (or attempting to read) publications such as the annual Economics White Paper and a Japanese/Japanese dictionary of economics terms, but you would need quite a reasonable general level of Japanese reading ability to get anywhere with these.

Although I have not used it myself, there is also a text book called "Reading Japanese Financial Newspapers" (ISBN477002472X, Kodansha), which reproduces Japanese financial/economics newspaper articles with English translations and exercises.

Stephen Davies
"Are and j really politically incorrect?"

Thank you for your helpful website.I must admit that I have found learning kanji to be fun and interesting - something I did not believe could be possible upon arriving at Narita almost 5 months ago and being bombarded with thousands of undecipherable cryptic characters! But, thanks to my great Japanese teacher, Miura-sensei, and your sharing your insights on your interesting website, I'm starting to feel that my efforts will ultimately allow me a reasonable understanding of the Japanese language (and culture, I hope).

Just a quick question... The kanji for ridicule and for wickedness, which you mentioned in Column #36: Are they really Politically Incorrect to use here in Japan or were you just making a joke about PC? I doubt I need to use them soon, so no rush.

Best regards,
George Viveiros

Mary Sisk Noguchi's response:

Dear George,
I was happy to recieve your question. Oh, dear. Yes, I was making a joke when I called and j "politically incorrect." It is perfectly acceptable to use them in written Japanese. Neither one is a general-use (p) kanji, however, and j is particularly rare.

JOU, nabu(ru)
make fun of, ridicule

KAN, kashima(shii)
wicked, immoral, noisy

Spahn and Hadamitzky's The Kanji Dictionary, which lists over 47,000 kanji compounds, does not list a single kanji compound using the on-reading for j, which is "JOU." is more commonly used, in compounds like (rape, goukan) and ߐe (incest, kinshinsoukan). You are unlikely to encounter in light reading!

It would be interesting to ask Japanese people (both men and women) how they feel about the composition of these two characters. In my experience, Japanese do not generally tend to view kanji as the sum of their parts, and so I predict you would get a lot of "I never thought about it" from the people you question. To my surprise, my calligraphy teacher was unfamiliar with both characters.
He prefers the older Canon Wordtank, and here's why

I agree that the Canon Wordtank is far and away the best denshi jisho on the market. There are so many products on the market today that I have to accept the possiblilty that there might be something better but, based on my experience to date, the Canon wins - if only because (I think) it was first with the jump funtion and the 'kanjigen' kanji dictionary.

However I do have a complaint for the makers:

Like many denshi jiten makers Canon has sought to improve the Wordtank by incorporating larger more famous dictionaries into its database. This may be necessary to maintain market share among first time buyers, but I have to confess, as a learner, I still prefer the older bulkier 'Word Super' (the IDX9500) to its more modern descendents such as the IDF 4000 for two simple

- The jump function linked all the various dictionaries (E-J, J-E, kanjigen, etc) and was therefore far more versatile. At the moment you can go from the Kanjigen to the other dictionaries but not vice-versa - and for this English speaking learner thats a big minus. Most words and characters I needed to know were in the old wordtank. I don't think I use separate
dictionaries any less often to look up specialist words with the IDF4000 than before with the old .

- The old keyboard was more responsive/sensitive.

To be fair, the new version looks sleaker and the new Oxford E-E dictionary is a valuable addition but Canon, would it be too much to link the the new dictionaries to Kanji-gen again?


Timothy Barry

Read a review of the Canon Wordtank on this site.
Kanji ABC helped her climb over the formidable wall of kanji

Dear Mrs. Mary Noguchi,

I want to thank you for your "kanjiclinic.com". It really helps me to remember kanji. I like kanji. However, it is difficult to remember so many characters in such a short time. Thank you for your suggestion to study "Kanji ABC" instead of traditional materials. Now, even though I forget how to pronounce the kanji, I can catch the meaning of the words, or at least know the "idea" of the words.

I started my kanji lesson in January 2001. It was not such a difficult thing. However, after finishing Basic Kanji I, I forgot half of the kanji!

I came from Jakarta, Indonesia. Since April 2001, I have studied at Okayama University Graduate School of Medicine and Dentistry. It was really hard, because I had to attend lectures, and all the lectures were in Japanese. I had to learn medical and dentistry terms in Japanese as fast as possible, to understand the lectures, because I had to make a report or to answer some questions just after the lectures finished. (Although the reports were in English, I had to catch the idea of the lectures). Unfortunately, I didn't know about Kanji Clinic, at that time. But it is better late than never, isn't it?

Sincerely yours,
Rosa Tjandrawinata

Read a review of "Kanji ABC" on this site.
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