Kanji Mission

JapanTree’s Kanji Stories is a “clean parody” of KanjiDamage “that leaves yo’ mama alone (and is safe to use in the classroom).

And a parody of WaniKani without cruelty to imaginary animals. Rock On.

How’d this all get started and what can it do for you? Let me tell you a story…

This is a story all about how my life got flipped-turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute
Just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air

Wait. That’s not the story I was trying to tell. I was going to tell you a story about Kanji.

Now if you grew up in America (poor you) in the ’90s those “Fresh Prince” lyrics were indelibly etched into your brain. That’s some powerful learning.


I’m no fresh prince, but I wouldn’t mind being the King of Kanji. Hey, I’d settle for the Kid of Kanji…  Karp of Kanji… K…  mmmmm….


Like I was saying. I have a little story to tell. Its about Kanji. All of them (the important ones anyway).

Its a story made to stick and made to make you learn Kanji (the fun way)



I didn’t learn Kanji (the first time) with stories. I was beat – by evil Japanese teachers – with a Kanji stick!

Granted that method taught me to recognize over 1900 kanji by my last university course. But it was ineffective for long term retention and just all together bad.

Plenty has been written about the evils of the “beat them with a Kanji stick” approach.

Its no wonder why teachers have loved this approach for hundreds of years. Teachers are Sadists. No, let me take that back not all teachers are Sadists, some are dead.

I’m not ashamed, I can confess I LOVE torturing students. I LOVE telling them, “its hard, but no pain no gain! 🙂 ”  (always include the smiley face. students love smiley faces)

You do not want to learn that way, especially with Kanji.

The method presented here on JapanTree is geared toward smarter Kanji learning.

This is a work in progress, though. So bear with me.

Here are a couple pages you need to read: (but long story short, have fun and make mistakes)
How To Study with Kanji Mnemonics
Your goals – Castles in the Air


(the following are some random but important notes on Kanji)

About Learning Kanji (with mnemonics)

About the Yakitori Kanji Story and the JapanTree Kanji learning method.


SO,let’s think of Kanji and radicals this way…  


  • Learning Kanji by radicals –

Learning kanji is kind of like learning to spell in English.

If you grew up in an English-speaking country you probably spent years in elementary school taking spelling tests.

Your sadist teachers made you learn the spelling word by word. But ofcourse you are smart and a native speaker (and as a child, a genius) so you saw the patterns andwhere able to learn them.

If you were teaching a non-native to spell in English you would be smart to teach them to spell using patterns.


In spelling in English there are all kinds of patterns.

For example





-er / est




These (prefix/suffix) parts (let’s call them radicals) have meaning. Learning them can help you spell and also figure out the meaning of the words

But spending too much time learning roots will make you fluent in pompous and knowledgeable about latin but not English. Not to mention mindnumbing.

The only thing that really matters is that you can recognize the important ones and use them for spelling.


-et (in duet, let, get, bet, set)

-ight (in might, right, light, sight, etc.)

-ide (ride, pride, side, tide)

-oud (proud, loud, cloud)


These radicals have no meaning (you would never say “what does the ‘ight’ in might mean?) but they are definitely spelling patterns. remembering them helps you spell more words faster.


Another example: every once in awhile your sadist teacher would throw you a bone and give you a good mnemonic like “‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c'”


Kanji radicals are like spelling patterns. Some of them have meaning but its not about the meaning (the meanings are just a memory aid).

Some of them give you the category of the kanji

For instance person , is used in characters mostly related to people or something that people do.


In other cases there is a main radical that gives a pronunciation hint for the kanji.

Remembering the radicals (components) helps you to “spell” the Kanji.


NERD RANT (there will be a test on this later, failure punished by death)

THE Chinese were absolute geniuses (not sarcism). Kanji are truly an awesome system for

writing with many many advantages. One example of the brilliance of Kanji spelling system over

the English spelling system is that each of the radicals (spelling pattern components) can

easily be used to create a mnemonic for remembering the meaning of the word.

(why the Japanese typically learn them by rote stroke by stroke memorization is a mystery of

stupidity. And the Chinese do it too… )

Another brilliant aspect of the invention of Chinese characters is that the characters

transcend spoken language. I could go on long about this point but won’t. I’ll just say why

its great. Chinese characters have been used by many languages, for example all the Chinese

dialetics (Mandarin, Cantonese, etc.), Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese. They could be used for

these languages because characters are basically PICTURES. Chinese character combinations can

be read in ANY language. You can read Chinese in English.



This is why you can’t help but learn and enjoy learning Kanji.


The ancient Chinese on top of being geniuses, were COMEDIANS. And awesome story tellers.

There is a story (and comedy) in almost every Kanji. For example…


Kanji Comedy

 (お尻 = おしり)is the Kanji for “butt”

It consists of   (corpse) and nine. Hmmmmm.

Can you just hear the Ancient Chinese sages glancing at each other and chuckling like school children when they created this one?! SAGE 1: “Butt… Your butt smells like nine corpses!” SAGE 2: “Hahaha. Good one! Kanji created!


SAGE 3: “Wait, wait, I got one… 屁 (へ fart). To what shall I  compare your fart?It smells like a  corpse”


SAGE 2: “Not bad. For a bean-head. Which reminds me, I have one…  (あたま head) your head looks like a bean with leaf ears.”


SAGE 3: “いや「厭」、お前。 Here’s one for you 厭 You’re so detestible , your like my               犬dog. he was so annoying barking  day and (moon) night that I threw him off a cliff!


And that’s how it went down…



Considering that all this explaining is probably giving you a headache, I’m stopping here (for now). Just jump in. Just do it. Make mistakes, get messy. Have fun. Learn some kanji.