Studying Japanese Kanji Effectively with Kanji City

Studying Japanese Kanji Effectively with Kanji City post image

Welcome to Kanji City, an entire city full of kanji. I’ll be your guide through the many nooks and crannies that we call home here. Feel free to pick up kanji on your way around. You will most likely need them in the future, so that you can read and understand Japanese better.

But, first let me explain the method to all this madness. This city was designed in order to help everyone lock in the kanji they need. A lot of memory techniques used by some of the great memory champions have been employed to help you remember kanji as effortlessly as possible.

Mnemonics are normally used to make it a lot easier to remember large pieces of information. The Heisig method of learning kanji is an example of a good use of mnemonics to help people learn kanji more easily. His series of books walk you through most of the common and uncommon kanji you will ever need using mnemonics.

On our journey through Kanji City, we will be using mnemonics to lock in kanji readings (on, kun yomi) and how they look. But, Kanji City adds an extra twist to the mix. Mnemonics help you remember kanji individually, but it is also useful to be able to reference kanji and relate kanji to other kanji. This helps strengthen the bonds and doesn’t leave a stray kanji behind.

It can be quite taxing, even with the help of clever mnemonics, to remember kanji one by one. So how about grouping them together? Using one kanji to link to another kanji, so that you can create a kanji dictionary in your head.

There is a method used by memory masters, like Ed Cooke (creator of Memrise), that involves laying out information or words in a city in order to sort the information out. A city is a very easy thing to imagine, because we have all been to or lived in one. And it provides a visual base for us to sort things out, and it is generally easier to remember images than words.

If you think back to your grade school years, you undoubtedly took a few family or school trips. I bet that you can remember at least a few select scenes from those trips, even random ones that had no real significant meaning. And for some of you, those trips were ages ago. For me, it was a good 20 years ago, but I can still recall parts of those trips.

How to Use it

You’ll notice that Kanji City has no pictures, only simple representations of the kanji we are studying. This is to help you visualize the city on your own. By using your favorite buildings from your past or places you visited it will be more memorable than any image I can draw for you. So let your creativity and imagination go wild building the scene yourself.

There is no story exactly in Kanji City. I’m just going to show you around the place, but be sure to fully visualize everything in the environment to make it more real. The more real it is to you, the more memorable it will be. You will want to regularly close your eyes and visualize what the story describes. Go wild with it. The crazier the better.

On the first page there will be words written in capital letters that sound similar to the sounds of the on and kun yomi of the kanji. There is also an image of the kanji with the on and kun yomi written in kana to help you understand the sounds more natively. On the opposite page, the English words are replaced by the kanji and sometimes okurigana. The on and kun yomi will not be shown.

On this second page, try to recall what the readings are from the context of the story. Ideally, you should print the page out and fold it in half so that you can drill the one side and then flip it over to check. In this way, you can practice a small group of kanji at one time, making the whole process easier than trying to remember a gigantic list of words.

The entire time, try to use images as much as you can, try to imagine yourself in the city. You might even want to go so far as to imagine the smells and atmospheric sounds you might hear there. Make it real for you, and it will be just that much easier to remember everything.

When you have a free moment, waiting for the bus, taking a smoke break, going for a leisurely stroll or you find yourself standing naked outside your hotel room desperately waiting for someone to unlock your door, you can try to recall the city in your head. It is an incredibly effective use of your time.

The First 7 Kanji

Japanese kanji ichi On your right here you can see our magnificent ten-story welcome center. On the first floor is the main lobby. This is Cap’n Nyan Nyan, our receptionist. He ITCHes a lot because he doesn’t usually bathe.  Sorry about the smell.

HE TOld us that bathing was against his religion see and we want to respect his wishes. IT’S a bit difficult to get used to at first but eventually the smell just blends in to the background trust me.

Whatever you do, don’t try to take his magic mouse. HE TOTSU (totes) that thing around with him everywhere. There is obviously something very important about that mouse.

二、ふた、に, Japanese kanji 二



And if you go up the stairs to the 2nd floor, we have the knights who say NI. There is only two of them, but they can answer any questions you might have. Don’t touch their FUTSU. They get very angry at anyone WHO TATSU them. Very sensitive.

三, み, みっ, さん




The 3rd floor is host to 3 MIeting rooms. Cap’n Nyan Nyan METSU with his poker group a lot, but you can use the rooms for anything. Just remember they are closed on SANday. Monday through Saturday they are open though.


四, よ, よっつ, よつ, よん, シ



The 4th floor is actually home to the world famous 4 YOddler’s school. They are practicing for their big show next month – “CoYOTES in Paradise”. They are YOddling out the window with curtains to their coYOTES. And they did such an amazing job with the background. Even though they colored it with craYON, it is still a masterpiece. You can SHI such amazing detail in it.



五, いつ, いっつ, ご


On the 5th floor, we have 5 brITS working for the British Consulate of Kanji City. They broke their table in a fight yesterday so that one poor guy has to hold up the table while down on one knee If I were him, I’d tell the others to GO screw themselves. I would never hold up a table like that.



六, む, むつ, むっつ, むい, ロク



On the 6th floor is our visiting mad scientist. He always wears that giant hat with two long points of his mustache sticking out from underneath. He has spliced newt DNA with cow DNA. He calls them MUTS because they MU just like cows. Especially when they see their favorite MOvIe – Newt.  That one on the ROKU over there is the biggest of the 6.



Download a free sample of Kanji City (1.38mb/pdf)

That’s Part 1

This is a new series I’ll be working on over the next couple of months.  I hope to keep adding to it.  What do you think of the first installment? Let me know in the comments below.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Lucía January 14, 2016, 1:18 am

    Hi Mac,
    Your course is very interesting and amazing! Thank you for sharing it.
    I have a question, the idea of distributing the information in a city was taken from Ed Cooke, right?
    Is there any book or article I could read in order to learn more about this technique?
    Thanks in advance!

    気 を つけて ね!

    • Clayton MacKnight January 17, 2016, 2:56 pm

      Um, Ed has used it, but I don’t think it was his original idea. It’s basically a variation of the journey method which has been around for centuries. I think either Ed or another Memory Grand Master perfected it, though. I can’t seem to Google effectively enough to find out though.

  • Paul Stevenson February 17, 2016, 5:31 pm

    I like this idea and am going to try it to see how it goes. (And to see if I can do it.) My memorization skills are poor but, for the same reason I am learning Japanese (good puzzle!), this looks like a good and fun idea.

    I also wonder if there is any sort of “Hierarchical software” that is easy to use that does something like this.* One could make a web site quite easily (flw – famous last words lol) Textfugu site has done something like this, (, which might be helpful, and which I am assuming you are working towards in stroke order, or something.

    The more I study Japanese, the more I am amazed that the Japanese speakers process so much situational information before and as they speak. I assume English speakers do something similar but to a much lesser degree (courtesy, place, and social status also apply). I have also been learning Spanish (since about 3 years ago) where tense and gender are so important. Mostly I do this to keep my brain active. Men in my family either die of a stroke between 30-60 or live to their 90’s, seemingly. I am 62 so may live to see grandkids yet. 🙂 )

    *Footnote: Theoretically, one can do it in databases with hierarchical queries ( but I am not any sort of expert in that sort of thing. I used to do SQL and Web programming (before I retired), but that would require me to turn on parts of my brain that are a bit rusty. lol

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