Learning Kanji With Heisig: The Island Boy’s Review

Ever wish there was a method for learning kanji that didn’t involve hand cramps and migraines? Well, you’re in luck if you’ve stumbled upon this post…provided you have a bit of imagination.


RTK stands for Remembering The Kanji, it is a learning method designed by James Heisig, not only is it a method but it’s also a fully loaded kanji series designed to help you memorize all two thousand essential kanji in a short span of time (3 months even!). He preaches that kanji memorization is not about the repetition but rather imagination, so he came up with this unique utilization of mnemonics to introduce different radicals and “memes” to learn kanji.

Each kanji introduced is given a unique story based on its radicals, your job is to piece together this story in your head as graphically as possible and keep it with you as long as you live, every time you draw the kanji 猿 you, must remember the wild beast cloaked in a yukata standing in the soil, what animal could pull off such a feat? The monkey of course, what else? Heisig holds your hand throughout the first half of the book with his stories but then you have to start making your own, that’s when the going gets tough. The stories will begin to look something like this; animal…soil…clothe. You have to fill in the blanks 🙂

Related image
Putting it together.

However,  since the book is in a series you won’t learn all the kanji components at once. For example, you have to go through the first book first with only English meanings for the kanji in order to get to the second with kunyomi and onyomi pronunciations.  If you are an avid learner you can run through both series in a matter of months, but it gets increasingly demotivating as you realize you are only learning the English of said kanji, and you  may want to stop, and we all know what happens once you stop anything in a language learning journey …bad …unspeakable things.

Calligraphy Courtesy of Pixabay

Another thing the series doesn’t do is show kanji in context, in Japanese, there are several words for what you think would be one definition. For example 顔付き (facial expression), here you can see the kanji for face and attach…imagine this; in RTK these two kanji can be separated by pages and pages of other kanji. You’d be learning kanji and then wondering “I wonder what would happen if I added this kanji to another…?”

*If you are curious as to what learning platform can do this check out WaniKani. ⇑

Overall, RTK does teach you patience and shows you just how fun kanji can be if you’re creative enough that is… I find that the negative reviews on this series usually come from hardcore learners who don’t have the time or patience to comprehend that they are only learning a kanji piece-by-piece and not in its entirety.

Remembering the Kanji 1: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters


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