Reader Response
January, 2006

James Heisig announces free online kanji review program

I thought your readers might like to know that our FREE kanji review program (for PC or palmtop) is now available for downloading at: Click on the British flag for English and follow the instructions.

KanjiGym Light is designed to aid you in reviewing the 2,042 Japanese characters introduced in Remembering the Kanji, originally published in English but now also available in French, German, and Spanish editions. KanjiGym Light can handle them all. The software allows you to practice in random order what you have learned in Remembering the Kanji.
A number of useful functions are included, such as stroke order animations, an assessment mode, and reviewing based on past results. You can also make notes for any particular kanji that can be called up later.

Jim Heisig

Warning: Playing Kanji City Defender is addictive!

In my quest to learn kanji, I quickly grew bored with regular flashcards and decided to check the internet to see what kind of online flashcards I could find.  I found some great websites but I decided there were some specific features that I would like to have that I didn't see.  From there, I decided to develop a flashcard and quiz program that was specifically tailored to the exact way I wanted to study. 

Although I used the flashcards extensively, I soon grew bored and decided to look for some Kanji games.  I wanted to find games that were free, fun, playable, and would actually help to learn kanji.  Again, I found some websites but didn't find any that really kept me coming back.  From there, I decided to develop a game I call Kanji City Defender.  You must fire kanji at invading asteroids and match them with either their English meanings or On/Kun readings. 

The second kanji game is Kanji Asteroids which is similar to the arcade classic asteroids except you must must match the kanji you shoot with the reading on the asteroid to destroy it.  I have two more games in the works (a boat race against time and a ball dropping matching style game) as well.  Along with the Kanji study applets, I have also placed similar hiragana and katakana quizzes, flashcards, and games on the website.

I also plan on putting in a feature that allows quizzing of all of the kanji that I have inputted.  Right now, it progresses with the levels but I figured some the more advanced folks would get bored with the first part if it is too simple.  I should have that feature completed soon. All of the kanji programs data includes 1000 kanji right now. 


He injects comic book and video game heroes into Heisig method

I recently discovered your fantastic site to my great benefit--kudos to you for giving us kanji learners another excellent resource!

I'd like to share with you my method for remembering the kanji. I have three main resources I use: 1) James W. Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji" series (Books 1 to 3), 2) Kenneth Henshall's "Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters," and 3) Michael Rowley's "Kanji Pict-O-Graphix." I read from all three authors in equal quantities--if one mnemonic method doesn't work I can resort to the other two!

Now, here's my secret:Using Heisig's method as a template I create my own keywords using comic book heroes, movie stars, and video game characters. For instance, let's take the keyword for "rice." Since it can be used as the abbreviation for the United States, I associate "Captain America" with that keyword. Now, whenever I see the "rice" primitive used in a kanji I'll bring Captain America into the picture when I create my stories. Since I've used Captain America for rice I can never use him again for another kanji or primitive. The important thing here is that I'm not eradicating the "rice" keyword from my memory--I'm merely bringing in another "anchor" to make my stories more vivid and memorable! I'll list some examples below (with Heisig's keyword on the left side and mine on the right):

woman - Wonder Woman
thread - Spiderman (i.e. his webs)
large (St. Bernard dog) - the Juggernaut
fire - the Human Torch (Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four)
rain - Storm (X-Men)
power - the Incredible Hulk
broom - Harry Potter
self (snake) - Indiana Jones (since he hates snakes!)
shape (primitive) - Wolverine (X-Men) (i.e. his claw marks!)

Michael Hwang
Ottawa, Canada
Kanji Town: Mnemonics for remembering ON-readings

I have studied using the Heisig system of remembering kanji and have met with much success. I finished book one and knew some 2,000 characters and what they meant in English.

Then I faced the challenge of learning the pronunciations of each of the characters. I bought the second book in Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji" series and was introduced to the "signal primitive" method for remembering some 900 or so different ON yomi. I was happy, but slightly disappointed when the majority of the kanji were beyond the reach of this system, and pure 'memory power' was the favored method to be used on the remaining characters. I understood why this was done, but I wanted to find another way to harness this 'imaginative memory' to remember all of the readings. There was no book written for such a course, so I didn't quite know what to look for.

After consulting various message boards and forums, I found this page: There I read of a method that involved phonetic grouping to learn lots of kanji at once, as well as their proper reading. This was intriguing, but the story used on the web page didn't "click" very well with me. I then decided to try this out by creating an imaginary Ice Rink. All of the characters that were pronounced "RIN" as their ON yomi were integrated into a story that revolved around an ice rink. I did so, and I found that I was able to remember the reading astonishingly quick after seeing the kanji; my mind tracked right back to where it was in the ice rink with no confusion about the meaning nor reading whatsoever. I had found the answer I was looking for.

Over the next week I created an 80-page document that encompassed almost every character covered in the first "Remembering the Kanji" book. I was able to tell the difference between all of the readings (ON yomi only. Kun yomi comes later). This happened six months ago, and I have since been refining this method.

I had let a few others know about this method and they all told me that they were finding success with it. I was encouraged by several people to publish my findings in a book. I'm probably not the first person to use this method to remember kanji, nor am I familiar with the process one goes through to get a book published, but I figured it would be time-consuming. Plus, I didn't want to try to make money off of my fellow students. So I decided to create a web site for this method (Or a blog; for now). The address is: You can e-mail me questions at and I'll try to answer them on the blog.

I don't claim to be the one that discovered this method, nor does it have to be called "Kanji-Town" (That's just what I started calling it; maybe the name will stick). I just found something that works great for me, and hopefully it will be helpful to others studying kanji.

Ganbare and happy exploring.
Kentucky, USA

JLPT Level 1 tackler outlines his kanji game plan

I talked to you earlier this year concerning learning kanji. I'd read many of your columns and started using the Heisig book, and you posted an announcement for me on your website in Feb about starting a kanji study group. I thought I'd follow up with you and let you know where things went with my study efforts and the Level 1 JLPT last month.

The kanji study group didn't materialize. I got a couple of emails from people, but these didn't lead to study partners. I ended up starting a private lesson with a teacher in Hachioji to prompt me to study--when money's on the line, it gives me a bit more emphasis to follow through on my good intentions. Since the Heisig book is designed for self-study, I had the teacher focus on reviewing kanji that I selected from Heisig, highlighting pronunciations, similar kanji and/or meanings, and the most prevalent jukugo. This left the Heisig style of studying the kanji to me, which, frankly, I did with varying amounts of success over those 3-4 months. As we got close to the JLPT, we shifted the class to using one of the prep books focused on kanji (完全マスター 漢字 日本語能力試験1級レベル).

Separately I bought a couple of books by the 日本語学力テスト, one on kanji (語彙別漢字基準表) and another on general vocabulary (1万語語彙分類集). They appear to be standards for Japanese language testing and competence. I started out by taking a week's vacation from work and, using the order of the kanji in Heisig's book, went through the 日本語学力テスト kanji book one by one. For each of the kanji in the 学力 book, I reviewed pronunciations and then reviewed every jukugo, writing down a short definition for those that I wasn't sure of. Using Spahn and Hadamitzky's "The Kanji Dictionary" really helped with finding the jukugo and their meanings quickly. By mid-Nov I had made it through roughly 3/4 of the kanji in the 学力 book, after which time I shifted focus onto studying for the test. Along with the classes I was taking, I also used another self-study prep book by ALC, 日本語能力試験1級に出る重要単語集, during my free time There was some overlap between the various study resources that helped to reinforce some of the more rare words that would possibly appear in the test.

Much of the kanji and jukugo studying I did this year seemed rather rote, but in my other Japanese classes I showed a greater ability to differentiate difficult but similar kanji. I've gotten a whole lot better at recognizing the pieces and parts of kanji that provide the pronunciation clues, and through this gotten much better at remembering pronunciations. This is something that you've addressed in many of your articles, and this knowledge helped me immensely.

Now, for the Level 1 JLPT earlier this month. I found the kanji and vocabulary part difficult, but I wasn't blown away. I think I got at least 70 percent on this section. I found the listening part to be the easiest of the three for me. It helps that I live in Japan, watch Japanese tv and listen to Japanese radio so much. With the exception of a few tricky spots, I felt comfortable with pretty much all of my answers, and think I got 80-90 percent in this section. Following these confidence builders, the reading and grammar section was an absolute killer. As happened to me when I took the test about 7-8 years ago, I was really crunched for time. I started with the reading portion, but this time I used the tactic of reading the questions and trying just to answer them. This may have saved me some time, but it didn't get me ahead of the clock. The questions and answers were spread out enough that the right answer couldn't just be plucked quickly from a paragraph (by me, at least). It seemed like there was more reading to do in the same amount of time than previous tests I've taken or practiced on, making me wonder if it should be labeled "speed reading" rather than just "reading". I left myself about 30 minutes to answer about 35 grammar questions, and that time just flew by. In the end, I could not even make a guess as to how I did in the last section, and this frustrated me all the way home. Like every shell shocked test taker that day, I'll have to wait until Feb to see how I really did.?

In the end, although there's still uncertainty in the test result, I feel that the year was successful in improving my Japanese ability. Thanks for your teaching efforts and the introduction to the value of Mr. Heisig's system.

Ted Shaw

Memorizing J-Pop lyrics is a fun way to learn kanji

One route I use for learning kanji is memorizing Japanese pop songs for karaoke! I find that practicing to sing "J-Pop" for karaoke not only enables me to learn kanji in context but it helps to improve my grammar as well. In order for me to sing a Japanese song well in front of others I have to practically memorize the entire song! As I listen to the music and read along with the lyrics on a daily basis I get constant exposure to the same kanji and expressions. I find this a great alternative to doing exercises in my textbook!

Michael Hwang
Ottawa, Canada

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