Reader Response
September-October, 2004

Diminishing the “I will never get a hold of this language” complex

Having moved back to the US a few months ago, I no longer read the Japan Times in print, but I do enjoy keeping up with your columns on the web. Thank you for that service!

I began my own kanji studies about 3 years ago, and I’ve gone through two stages. The first was learning to read: I used those little word cards on a ring that they sell at stationary stores everywhere in Japan to memorize 2-3 new characters a day. After I had learned over 1,000 characters I came across your description of De Roo’s book, “2001 Kanji,” and I bought it. I was skeptical when I first looked at it, but now I wish I’d had the book from Day 1 (new Kanji learners take note!) After taking just a few minutes to familiarize myself with the lookup method, I found it was much faster than looking up a character in a book or with an electronic dictionary. After procrastinating for a year or so and getting close to recognizing 2,000 characters, I started stage 2 of my kanji learning, which is using the De Roo book to learn to write. I’m up to maybe 600 kanji that I can write from memory.

Some people have expressed the opinion that it's a waste of time to learn to write the characters, and if you find that to be true, I'd say you shouldn’t bother; but I've found that learning how to write the kanji a) helps me to remember how to read them; b) comes in handy for writing letters or postcards; and c) diminishes the “I'm a stupid gaijin and I'll never get a hold of this language” inferiority complex which most (all?) of us have probably felt.

Benjamin Willey
Ringoes, New Jersey
Responses: "Should I concentrate on the written language for the time being?"

I am currently learning 漢字 (kanji) for both 中国語 (Chinese) and 日本語 (Japanese) using the combination of the Heisig method (single English keywords), the dictionary, and a flashcard program called Supermemo. I have, in the past year, come to understand 日本語 at a basic level--I can follow my favorite ドラマ(drama, IGWP)、 アニメ(anime), and even some of my favorite 歌 (songs). I feel a rush of pride whenever I walk and talk in public with my Japanese and Chinese friends; but I know I have some 2900 Kanji to learn before reaching my goal of 4279 characters: I am reminded of this every time I see a name or word I cannot parse for meaning.

My stupid question is this: should I give up learning "actual" Japanese (and Chinese) for a while--I estimate 3-6 months--in order to pursue 漢字 with my full attention?

I am in America, not Japan. But I do not want to start forgetting whatever little Japanese I have worked to acquire, though I can see how, ultimately, knowing all the Kanji ahead of time would be beneficial.

Kats Rogo
Provo, Utah

Responses to Kats Rogo's question from visitors:

1) Since returning to the U.S. from Japan I have been trying to learn kanji. On the advice of a friend I started using James Heisig's book about a year ago. Graduate school and family responsibilities have made it necessary to go slowly but I've got about 630 characters under my belt.

Because I live in the U.S., the only opportunity I have to use Japanese is with my wife, and our conversation is limited to the everyday talk that all families engage in. A couple of months ago I checked my vocabulary against an old textbook and learned that I'd forgotten about 50 percent of the vocabulary I once knew.

Clearly, I need review but I don't want it to impede my progress with kanji. For me, the answer has been to go through my old text books at a slow pace, using the website for flashcard review of vocabulary. In this way, I gently review grammar and keep up my vocabulary. My goal is to keep the process simple and easy because I want to focus on kanji. Since kanji is my main goal, I make sure I do it every day (or try to!). If, however, that is all I do, I'm happy. The grammar/vocab review is icing on the cake.

I can't seem to get much done if I divide my efforts.

Peter P.

2) Most of all, do what you feel like. Whether now is the best time for you I cannot say, but I personally recommend concentrating on Kanji and only Kanji for a period of time like 6 months. It is a big job, but the kanji are related to each other through their components and can be studied independently from the rest of the language. That is how I learned to read, just sitting in the library 5- 8 hours a day for four months or so. I highly recommend the Heisig method, outlined in a number of places in, but it seems like you've got your own method. Good luck!

G Johnson, previous reader response contributor

What do other site visitors have to say on this issue? Send your thoughts to Reader Response and they will be posted here.
The wonderful “lie” in 親

I strongly support what you have in mind: Circumstances justify a lie in teaching kanji. In my fiction there appears a teacher who is called Hohben Kyoju or ホウベン教授(嘘も方便).He teaches a girl student from Germany the Kanji 困 (distressed) this way: A tree, if it is confined to a small box, would be distressed, for it would be unable to grow. And 姦(noisy), thus: three ladies have a chat noisily.

May I introduce to you a book:「部首のはなし」阿辻哲次著 中公新書 in which I coincidentally found the following:
「「親」という字は《木》の上に《立》って《見》ると書きますね。 つまりご両親は子供がいくつになっても、かげからずっと見守っていてくださるのです。
「親」については昔からそんな解釈がなされてきた。 私自身も、小学校の卒業式での校長先生の訓話の中でそう聞いた覚えがあって、「だから君たちはご両親のご恩を忘れてはいけません」との話に、なるほど、そうなのかと感じたものでした。・・・・・
わが母校の校長先生にはお気の毒なことだが、「親とは木の上で見ている人」という解釈は文字学的には誤りである。 「親」の古い字形では、《木》の上にあるのは《立》ではなく《辛》なので、《木》の上に《立》っていることにはならない。 つまり「親」とは《見》を意符とし、「辛木」(《辛》と《木》を上下に組み合わせた形の字で、シンと読む)を音符とする形声字であって、左半分を「新」と書くのはその省略形なのである。

Me, too!

Sincerely yours,
Masaharu Yamaguchi
Kanken was the key to passing JLPT, Level 1

The Kanji Kentei Shiken, which I took in Shizuoka Prefecture, was the only thing that helped me clear my Level 1 of the Nihongo Nouryoku Shiken. I was looking for language schools to prepare for Level 1 but unable to do so, I decided to study via the Kanji Kentei. Since it involved writing in Kanji and was primarily meant for native Japanese, I felt that it would provide a good base for the Nouryoku Shiken. I don’t deny that what we study in Kanji Kentei has little to do with spoken Japanese, but believe me, for someone interested in learning the language in its totality, this exam really helps. The kind of questions that are asked in the Kanji Kentei also helps one develop their own analytical ability or analytical method towards studying Kanjis. I started taking the Kentei after I had cleared Level 2 of the Nouryoku Shiken, but my understanding of Kanji tremendously improved only after the Kanji Kentei.

Meera Sarma
Pune, India
Help! Desperately seeking Spectra Kanji

I was wondering if anyone could tell me where or who would be willing to sell a copy of "Spectra Kanji" by Paradigm Research Corporation.? I had the program years ago, but unfortunately I lost it to a hard drive. It was truly the best tool for helping me learn kanji, and I'd like to buy it again if possible.

Thank you,
Joe Park
Introducing JGram

I would like to introduce visitors to an online database of Japanese Grammar and grammar study site. I found there were a lot of places to study Kanji and other parts of the language, but hardly anything on grammar. So hence JGram!

This is modeled after the JDict project, where a wide range of people are contributing grammar and examples, and we have very active dialog between native English and Japanese speakers, correcting each other to ensure everything is correct.

Other features have been added such as a simple quiz, study-lists, and email of items you want to remember.

An online tool for reviewing Heisig’s keywords

I’m a 22 year old student from Sweden who started learning Japanese 7 months ago. I soon found your column. I have enjoyed reading every one since then, and from them I became aware of James Heisig's method. I bought the first book 2 months ago and I’m now halfway through it. As a tool for me to review Heisig’s keywords I created a function on my web-page,, under Kanji->Kanji Keyword Test.

David Hallgren

Note from Mary: site visitors are beginning to write in with praise for this random review tool. Heisig users, be sure to check it out!
He likes making up his own mnemonics

My name is Michael McInerney, and I live in Adelaide, Australia. I found your website a couple of weeks ago, and I absolutely love it. I have read almost every article, and count down the days until your next one.

I started to learn Japanese about four years ago, and I am really enjoying it. About a year ago, I started to get really interested in Kanji. I learnt the first two hundred required for year 12 in about a month. I then read another Kanji book, and know roughly four hundred. I have recently ordered Kanji ABC, and will be attempting to learn the Joyo Kanji over the next year and a bit, in time for my year 12 end of year exam. I think component learning is the best way to go, and that making up your own mnemonics to help remember the Kanji is better, because you can remember the sayings better. I am fascinated by phonetic compounds, and really want to learn more. I am taking level four of the JLPT in December, and intend to do all the levels after that year by year. I want to know 3000 kanji, and pass the pre-1 level of the Kanken.

I have Jack Halpern’s Kanji Learner's Dictionary, and I think it is the best Kanji dictionary for beginners. I find the meanings, the stroke order diagrams, the range of compounds and the appendices particularly helpful.

Once again, congratulations on a great site.
Michael McInerney
Adelaide, South Australia
Calling all Japanese/Chinese kanji lovers: Join the Wakan Whackos

I am an avid reader of all the material on your web site and was pleasantly surprised last week to see another article (#61) about naming babies.Surfing the web later on, in search of original material on the new Jinmei Kanji, I was astounded by the dearth of information. Your site was the only one I found in English that mentioned it, and I only found a couple of good sites in Japanese.

It's strange that the kanji for wax, 蝋 ROU, appears in the 488 approved list and also in the 88 rejected list. I also noticed that, as you mentioned in Kanji Clinic #61, 狽 ケン/バイ/ハイ (wolf, be flurried), is on the rejected list, but 狼 ロウ おおかみ (wolf), is on the approved list. But I'll keep my comments to myself until you've published your article about the 88 NoGoes (column #62).

I am currently preparing a list of the new jinmei kanji for download from the Wakan Project Website at This a FREE Japanese/Chinese tool that features a character dictionary, a word dictionary, a text editor, a vocabulary management utility, many printing options (character flashcards, vocabulary lists, text including furigana), and a text translation tool. From the same site you can link to the Wakan Forum, one of the best for anything to do with Japanese/Chinese, from absolute beginners to veterans. We Wakan Whacko's have just celebrated our first birthday and are now 42 strong. Members come from: Bauzanum (Roman Empire), Brazil, Czech Republic, China, England, France, Germany, Japan, Singapore, South Africa, United States and Venezuela.

Tom Hodgers,
Valencia, Venezuela,.

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