Remembering the Kanji Part 2

Remembering the Kanji Part 2

In the previous post I described what RTK is about and such, so now lets discuss how you’re actually suppose to go about learning it. Heisig himself tells you exactly what to do, from how to set up your flash cards to how to go about making your stories and ultimately how to study them. There seems to be a lot of confusion out there among users as to how many times they’re suppose to write the kanji and what not, so lets address the official way, and then a few variants out there that are getting a lot of talk.

Official Heisig Method:

Your flashcards: If you’re hand making them, I can warn you now that it will be a tedious endeavor. Of course, if you’re using anki, there are a lot of people who have posted decks pre-made for you to save you time. So if you decide to do them yourself to preserve Heisig’s way, then here is what you need to do.

One side: Kanji and the frame number you learned it in. So if it were the first one, it would have the kanji 一 and the number 1 on it.

Other side:  He recommends dividing the space in three so that you have a top, middle, and bottom section. On the top section you write the keyword, so in our example, its One. In the middle you write the story (upside down, so you can see it if you need to but it wont give it away easily), and on the bottom, leave blank until RTK2.

Its pretty simple how he has it set up, and as he recommends, review only from Keyword side to the Kanji side. This means you will see the keyword, the upside down written story, and sounds (later on), and write the kanji ONCE before flipping it over to check if you got it right.

If you have the book already, Lesson 5’s intro covers this with pictures, so go take a look.

How to go about studying:

In Lesson 11 Heisig talks about how to go about studying. I honestly wanted to slap him for waiting so long before going over this. Of course in the beginning he covers the idea loosely, but I think he wanted you to get a feel of what you were doing before talking about more concrete actions. I am not sure why, but oh well. So anyhow, straight from the lion’s mouth:

1. Read the key word and take note of the particular connotation that
has been given it. There is only one such meaning, sometimes associated
with a colloquial phrase, sometimes with one of the several
meanings of the word, sometimes with a a well-known cultural phenomenon.
Think of that connotation and repeat it to yourself.
When you’re sure you’ve got the right one, carry on.
2. Read through the particular little story that goes with the key word
and let the whole picture establish itself clearly.
3. Now close your eyes, focus on those images in the story that belong
to the key word and primitive elements, and let go of the controls.
It may take a few seconds, sometimes as long as a minute, but the
picture will start to change on its own. The exaggerated focal points
will start to take on a life of their own and enhance the image with
your own particular experiences and memories. You will know your
work is done when you have succeeded in creating a memorable
image that is both succinct and complete, both faithful to the original
story and yet your very own.
4. Open your eyes and repeat the key word and primitive elements,
keeping that image in mind. This will clear away any of the fog, and
at the same time make sure that when you let go you didn’t let go
of the original story, too.
5. In your mind, juxtapose the elements relative to one another in line
with your image or the way they normally appear in the characters.
6. Take pencil and paper and write the character once, retelling the
story as you go.

While it doesn’t seem all that important to be specific about how you do things, over the course of 2k kanji, it will make a huge difference. If you follow those steps every time you come to a new frame to learn you wont have any troubles down the line. This also means that studying the kanji will take time, not because you’re repeatedly writing it over and over, but because you’re creating imaginative stories in your mind and WRITING them down somewhere. I personally type mine up, and others bust out the crayons and draw it up. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re creating in your head the story and then writing it someplace you can look later on. Some people keep notebooks or sketch books.

“but I want to write it a million times Mikoto because I just wont get it any other way!” poppycock! haha (always wanted to say that.. :D) Get this, you will write it once when you study it. That’s fine, so long as you’ve been doing this for every kanji/element you learn, you’ll retain the order, trust me. The reason why is because every time that kanji comes up in your flash cards, you’ll be writing it again. And if you miss that stroke order, you’ll be writing it more because it will come back in your flash cards more. It will take care of itself! I don’t spend time writing out my kanji ever! I do record the stroke order down for easy grabbing, but that’s it for me, and that counts as my one, I don’t do it over and over and over because that’s defeating the purpose behind Heisig’s method.

Also remember that the kanji or element you’re learning will appear in other kanji too. So you’ll end up writing it way more than you realize. Heisig’s ordering of the kanji utilizes this concept, and makes learning the stroke order as easily as pie. Sweet yummy pie. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I’ve written 月 because its appeared in so many kanji I know.

The importance of stroke order is always an issue with some people as well. Heisig’s thing is a lot about it too. I personally fail myself if I don’t get it right, however I don’t pine away over it needlessly if I get it wrong. Don’t beat yourself up. The fact that there are tons and tons of devices out there teaching Japanese people stroke order to themselves just goes to show you that everyone messes up on it. Also, do you write your alphabet the way you were taught in kindergarten? I know I don’t, so keep that in mind too. Fluency isn’t perfection, but being understood.

Applying to SRS Flashcards:

The most basic format is simply Front: Keyword   Back: Kanji. There are lots of variations out there too, and adding the frame number does help when going back to look for stroke order/story.

If you participate in Koohi’s RevTK you’ll find it’s really easy. Simply go to the study section and start, you type in your stories, share stories, or copy other’s stories for ease with those who’re less imaginative. Once you’ve done that you add the cards to the deck and review them. Koohi uses the Leitner system (which is another fancy srs). Its nice because you can see your progress, and other cool stuff. They have three options to choose, “no”, “yes”, and “easy”. If you forget the story, there is a button to click up on the right hand side, and it lets you know your progress through the cards you need to study on your left.

For those using Anki, you can simply download various decks and choose which format you like the best. Make sure to check for accuracy because we’re all human. I grade myself the following way:

if I got the stroke order wrong, messed the kanji up in any way, “again” button : If I got it all right, but only after I messed it up in my head to start, “hard” : if I got it right, but it took me a moment to think about it, “good” : If I knew it right away, bam “easy”

I’ve heard of some people using it to where they only ever click the first two, but I honestly think that’s not letting the SRS work for you. If you forget it later, that’s okay, it will show up lots of times. If you find you’re forgetting to many, You need to stop pressing the “easy” button so much, but if you find that you’re remembering them all super easy, you may be pressing the “hard” button way to much as well.

I could go on an on about setting up your cards, but really, its your choice to set them up how you want. I do recommend the SRS programs out there over paper flashcards, but if you find yourself in places where electronics aren’t allowed and you want to study, then by all means, hop on it!

Heisig’s RTK Variations


I discussed before about the RTK Lite setup used with other online resources as a method to learning Japanese. It basically covers 1100 kanji that make up about 95% of all the written Japanese out there. This allows for quicker bang o’ buck for those who are only interested in getting over the majority of kanji quicker so they can get to other things.

Anki has a few of these decks already, which you need to check, as they have errors. It took me roughly 20 mins with the help of my honey doo to go through the one I got to check for errors, and there were 4 mismarked. Not a big deal, but worth it enough to me.

RTK Lite would be done in the exact same manner as normal RTK, just simply less. Its advantage is you can get to sentence mining/or whatever else phase you have planned faster while learning the ones you skipped over. It’s disadvantage is you don’t use your elements as much in newer kanji. This is one of the ways Heisig gets your ease of writing kanji without the crazy work.

Either way, RTK Lite users always come back and learn the more obscure ones along the way of their newer studies. Its not a way to get rid of kanji, but rather just flipping the order up a bit to allow for more usage and flexibility. You’ll also find that Heisig doesn’t cover all kanji out there anyways, and you’ll be adding in more, even if you went through all the Heisig kanji available.

Oh me Oh my: Lazy Kanji by Khatz

There are multiple Lazy Kanji card methods out there, so lets talk about where they started from. Khatz from AJATT one day decided that he wanted to switch the English kanji cards to mostly Japanese. He also decided he wanted to be lazy. Lazy as dirt. To sum it all up nicely:



backbone, spinal column


Kanji on front. On back: general keyword/synonyms, you can put Japanese words it goes into, sounds, whatever, yeah whatever man.

You review it by writing the kanji out while you are starin’ it down, western style. Then you try to come up with a ballpark feeling/word that the kanji is. Then you pat yourself on the back and drink some koolaid. Next.

Khatz didn’t start in this this method either folks, this switch was made after countless vanilla (original) reviews and well into his Japanese ways. He has no long term data to say if this keeps the kanji good in his brain, but its worth a fun try.

My personal assessment to this, is once you’re going into monolingual, this is a great choice, though, unlike Khatz, I think it needs to be kept super simple.

Kendo is a Lazy Kanji Lover!

Down at the bottom of AJATT’s Lazy Kanji post, I noticed several good lookers talking about their variations, and one of them was nice enough to present it to all anki users (and ultimately more if you convert it). In fact, Kendo even posted about it on my RTK P1 post lol! So I’m just going to copy and paste his hard work, since I myself am quite lazy :D.


The TEENAGER went to a _______ in the LITTLE HOUSE.

He recommends you simply copy the kanji while looking at it, read the story if necessary, think of the keyword, next! He breaks up the keywords so that it helps assign those elements to their keywords, making the picture come together. Kendo also puts together a Primitive deck to help out those using the Kendo Lazy Kanji cards. It just helps make it gravy.

While he will admit that the writing doesn’t come together as well as the original RTK way, he says he goes through kanji faster, and they feel just as familiar with them. So those who don’t care much about the stroke order or don’t think they’ll be writing up much pen pal letters, this is defiantly an option for you. He also started out the lazy cards within the relative beginning of RTK, and it is as you can see, mostly English. Switching to this style wont freak out those who’re still a little iffy as the original lazy kanji card style may do.

Monolingual that Lazy Kanji Card!

Several users came up with this, so its not really any one’s style. Basically its the Lazy Kanji in Monolingual format. Here is an example:




1. 衣服などを重ねる。
2. 物を包む。                                         by Yuzuru

Grading and reviewing uses the same concept. I’ve heard that a lot of people do both Heisig’s method in addition to the lazy kanji cards. The benefit is you get the benefit of both worlds. In the end though, You are your own master and commander when it comes to learning kanji.

TextFugu Where Are You?

Funny enough, I think the world of language learners recognize that its just plain smart to go about learning kanji by primitives/radicals/elements/whatever and making up stories. It makes a lot of sense, and TextFugu adapted that similar style in its online textbook. if I weren’t already invested in my Heisig way, I’d try this version out. Its simply this:

Step 1: Learn the radicals. Radicals are like pieces of a kanji – kind of like how the letters that make up the words you’re reading make up the words you’re reading.

Step 2: After you’ve learned the radicals, we’ll start putting them together to build kanji. Using mnemonic devices, you’ll learn the pronunciation of each kanji as well as how to read / write it.

Step 3: Continue to progress in this way. Instead of focusing on starting with the simplest kanji meanings, we’ll focus on learning the simplest kanji (from a number-of-strokes standpoint).

Step 4: You’ll use practice worksheets, unconventional memory tricks, and the best technology out there to study these new words and get them into your long term memory.

😀 yup yup, that’s Koichi’s way. As you can see its not Heisig or a variant, but it is a similar concept which I support, until it goes to the sounds being attached, since I believe context is more important.

Well kiddos, that’s it for this installment of RTK Part 2. Will there be a third? Maybe…? Maybe? hehe

11 Responses to “Remembering the Kanji Part 2”
  1. Suisei says:

    Hello. I was wondering if you had any advice for people that are having trouble with remembering where primitives are placed.

    This seems to be the only thing I’m having trouble right now since I started RTK. I’m pretty stuck on it and not sure how to write out ways to help me in the story. Any suggestions? :/

    • PandaChan says:

      Sometimes the order of the story helps. For example, my favorite example is 唱. A Mouth CHANTS for two DAYS. Mouth and then Days.
      I find writing out my kanji 5 or more times helps me remember where they’re placed. While I write them out, I say the story! However, I am corrected by Mikotochan often when we’re playing the kanji game mentioned in January’s kanjirific game. So, it does also take time and practice!

    • mikotoneko says:

      As Pandachan wrote, it is often really helpful if the story you’re compiling has the order of the kanji in the story. I am also strict with myself on how I grade my answer on my SRS. If I do not get the correct order of primitives, then I fail the card. Because of this, I see the kanji more and therefore and more likely to remember the order of the kanji. If I am still having trouble, I change the story and look up other ides on the RevTK site. My last word of advice is to maybe play games with yourself using elements, or even slow down the number of kanji you are learning per day. If you’re trying to remember too much at once, it can make you feel fuzzy on where things go. Hope this helps, let us know if you’re still having troubles.

      • Suisei says:

        Thank you so much for your help. Right now I’m not sure if I’m learning them correctly with the method. I tend to not use the story and only the primitive parts of them but when I think about what the kanji keyword is, I can’t remember it Am I doing it incorrectly?

      • PandaChan says:

        There’s nothing wrong with asking a lot of questions!! That’s what we’re here for. I know that creating a story and then using the story helps me remember my kanji. Some people use pre-made stories (like I do for the most part) and some make their own. Heisig recommends you spend 5 minutes on a story. It doesn’t have to be very long and can just be a sentence. Like my example of chant is very simple and straight forward. If you’re not remembering your kanji, you’re doing something wrong. Doesn’t mean that you’re using the method wrong, but maybe the method is wrong for you!

      • Suisei says:

        Thanks. I’ll ask question if I need to. 🙂 I do want to learn to do Heisig’s method because people say it’s quite fast. I want to learn japanese as soon as I can since I want to live in Japan some day. I’m not sure what other methods are fast besides this one.

        Well, maybe , since I’m not remembering the story, that can affect that and maybe Kendo’s format is also affecting me ( since I have the kanji in in white text on the front and keyword on the back) Maybe I shouldn’t just memorize the primitive and keyword then? I don’t know. 😦

      • PandaChan says:

        Do a little experiment and just try to figure out what’s best for you. I’m unfamiliar with the Kendo method but I did a quick search. Is this the format that you’re following?

        The TEENAGER went to a _______ in the LITTLE HOUSE.

        ps, i took your email and added you on skype. Please accept if you’d like to speak there. I can do a conference with Mikotochan when she’s home.

      • Suisei says:

        Okay. I guess I’ll try out Heisig’s original format then.

        Yes that’s right! I just put the kanji invisible and highlight it when I check myself.

        Ps: Okay! I’ll get on Skype then. 🙂 Thank you so much for helping out a noob. xD

      • Suisei says:

        Oh, I’m using Kendo’s card format

  2. Lan'dorien says:

    Just saw this post as one of the top posts whilst here for something else – worth noting that there are actually not a lot of pre-made decks for RTK2. There was in fact only one shared deck in the Anki shared deck collection, and it was, well, not very good.

    But the good news is that mine is newly shared and is the best possible Anki deck for RTK2! (he says humbly) has more details.

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