How To Beat Anki J-J Branches

The J-J Anki definition branching process can be difficult.  No, it is difficult.  It is by far one of the biggest challenges you will face in your Japanese studies.  You were so used to leveling at your usual hunting grounds, you change spots, and you get killed repeatedly in violent fashion.  Going back to your previous hunting area isn’t helpful because you won’t gain enough experience points to level anymore, so your only option is to push forward.

A big adversity you will face, in addition to making the leap from the J-E to J-J dictionary, is actually reviewing all those J-J cards that were created with the branching process.  The cards you entered were complex.  To understand the definitions of many of these cards, you sometimes had to branch dozens of cards.

The ideal outcome is that you finally understand the original card and all those additional cards added, so that you should be able to review them all effortlessly.

The occasional unpleasant outcome is that when you review the cards later, it may be hard for you to understand them all.  This is compounded with the problem that if you get the card wrong, merely looking at the answer may not be enough to help you remember the meaning of that card, because it took you X number of branching cards to do that originally.  Many of those branched cards may have already escaped from your memory.

To solve this issue, there are nine tactics to help you break through rotten branches:

1. Keep the faith

A proper mind set is a solution to so many of your Japanese study setbacks, with branching being no exception.  Branching problems will fade away soon, often in a few months.  The more branches you do, the more you expand your J-J only knowledge, and the easier the process becomes.  Everyone faces this and you are not alone.  Passing through this will earn you bragging rights.

2. Knock your reviews down to 0 every day.

Branching requires multiple memories simultaneously being stimulated.  In order to remember the original card you produced, you have to remember all the cards that branched off of it.  You were able to accomplish this when you first created the branch.  Anki and its incredible algorithm sets up the proper review time for you based on scientific studies on memory.  Normally, if you sometimes let your Anki reviews buildup because you get a little busy, there is no real harm.  A few days to weeks of backlog can be dealt with without too much pressure.

However, your entry into branching makes backlog the worst thing you could possibly do.  Adding 40 connected cards requires you to absolutely keep up to date on your reviews, making you unable to indulge in this previous liberty.  For the first few months of branching, keep yourself strictly getting the cards down to 0 every day.

3. Learn to play the dictionary

Make sure you gain a good understanding of the major players of the J-J dictionary that will come up repeatedly.  If you can master these, you will help ease the load on many of your branches.

4.  Stay within your comfort zone

As a branching novice, a habit you want to avoid is adding any and all sentences to your deck that you come across.  Branching is already confusing enough.  There is no reason why you should make it worse.  You may want to add the new word you just came across “糖尿病, diabetes”  but if you do you will be bombarded with advanced technical words in the definition.  Then probably in each of those branched definitions, they will contain their own confusing foreign technical words.  This will lead to utter branching insanity.

If you don’t want to end up in a bad situation, you need to maintain proper restraint.  Keep things simple whenever you can.  And not to worry, your comfort zone will constantly expand, which will eventually allow you to add whatever you want.  Only then should you start going wild.

5. Pick easier sentences to learn the same word

When you want to enter a new sentence to learn a specific new word, briefly scan out how much work the sentence will require.  Is there more than one word in the sentence you don’t understand?  Can you gain no context understanding from the sentence at all?  If this is the case, try to choose a different sentence that uses the same word you want to learn.  The type of sentence you use makes all the difference, and if you can learn the same new word with an easier sentence, you always should.

6. Give up mid-branch

Sometimes you choose the wrong word at the wrong time in your studies.  You start it, think you can handle it, add a few cards, and watch as it gets wildly out of control.  Give up, delete the branch, and cut your losses.  You weren’t ready for it.  You will be one day.  You will start getting a grasp of what you are ready for and what you aren’t.

7. Make full use of your RTK Anki deck

Your RTK deck should be merged with your sentences deck (both J-E and J-J) by now.  The reason for this is for both ease of review, and for easy access to your self-contained Anki universe.  Those Anki keywords can help you solve many of your problems.  Can’t remember what the specific keywords were for the word you are looking up?  Look up the kanji in your own deck to refresh yourself.  Anki has a wonderful search feature which you should be fully utilizing.

8. Make full use of your J-E and J-J sentences

Go back through the branches to refresh your memory.  In an Anki search you can arrange the cards by date added.  This means you can briefly scan all the branches you added for the card you are looking at hopefully jump starting your memory.

9. Wait and slowly take control. . .

The above eight steps should cover most problems.  But let’s say you’ve already added a full branch a short while ago, are up to the review part, and still can’t remember/figure it out no matter how hard you try.  You have 2 options:

A:  Delete the card(s), which some people like doing.  I am usually hesitant to do this unless I find the cards to be worthless.
B:  If you understand some portion of the card, but not the whole, mark it as correct anyway, pushing the review time to a further date.  Right now you are struggling with the word, but by the next review time in 2-4 weeks you may have learned a lot of new vocabulary/grammar giving you the ability to understand the original card better.  I prefer this method because I feel it creates mini-goals in your Anki deck.  It makes you feel like you are gaining control over your deck as your understanding widens, and it feels empowering to finally understand the cards that you were having so much trouble with for so long.


Follow these techniques, and no matter what, keep moving forward.  You will eventually get through this difficult time and look back on this phase and realize how far you have come.  Before you know it, adding new J-J cards will easily take you less than a minute per card.

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


How To Beat Anki J-J Branches — 30 Comments

  1. Thanks for this, really looking forward to part 2 now.

    Maybe my problem was that the first word I looked up wasn’t quite one that I was ready to take on yet. It was sort of demotivating though and I haven’t really been working my SRS very well since then and have just been throwing myself into media. (at least I stayed in Japanese)
    I’ll finish learning those dictionary terms and start another branch.

  2. Well, for the diabetes, you can just look at the kanji. What I love about the medical area is they usually are easy to find out from the kanji
    I don’t know how general the knowledge is, but when you have diabetes, there is more glucose in your pee. I’m pretty sure I learned that in biology.
    But anyways, same with hepatitis-肝liver炎inflammation
    insomnia 不non眠sleep症symptom

    • That’s exactly right! I see Kanji like this after doing 2200 with heisigs method. Nihongoshark tweaked.

      Sugar pee sickness made sense though and the medical field actually makes a lot more sense to me in Japanese than English

  3. What’s you’re opinion on adding sentences where you think you understand the J-J definitions of the words but it’s really just a guess… and reviewing them that way with the hope that if you’re wrong you’ll eventually notice and fix the uncertainty? It’s really not the same thing, but your suggestion of reviewing sentences where you only understand some of the words made me think that this could at least be considered.

    On the one hand this can save a lot of branching if you don’t have to branch everything to the point of absolute certainty but on the other hand if it takes you a long time to notice a mistake it could take time to unlearn.

    I also find that if I try to learn stuff I’m too uncertain of, it won’t stick. But that’s a problem that makes itself clear in the form of leeches.

    Another tip that I don’t think has been mentioned anywhere: google image search isn’t just for those things that are especially hard to explain in a dictionary. Besides solving almost any concrete noun, it can give good hints for many things that aren’t.

    • I wouldn’t do this if it is an absolute guess. But if you understand some of it and have uncertainty with the rest of it, I would say that this can fall under #9, wait and take control. Anki and immersion combined usually have a nice way of correcting out mistakes made in the past. However, I wouldn’t do this too often.

      • Ah, that is a good specific example of why anki and immersion work well together. Not that my immersion is up to the general standards of this site.

        I think I’ll continue to try to excercise caution but be less anxious about the small possibility of the more educated guesses being wrong. I actually had some I thought I was pretty sure about and turned out to be wrong about and it wasn’t as hard to figure out and relearn as I had worried it would be.

        I’m really liking example sentences from source material rather than the dictionary, because I have total context and I can be much more certain of what they’re trying to say.

  4. I like the method…but its certainly getting tricky in case of onomatopoeia and adverbs. In my studies I came across a lot of words with literary mass explanations. Lets for example have じりじり
    Its explanation looks like this ->
    (副) スル
    [1] ある一定の方向に、ゆっくりとではあるが確実に動いていくさま。じわじわ。
    [2] 待ち切れなくて、しだいにいらだつさま。また、そうすること。
    [3] 太陽が強く照りつけるさま。
    [4] 油や汗などが少しずつにじみ出してくるようす。
    [5] ベルなどが続いて鳴る音を表す語。
    [6] 焼けにくいものが少しずつ焼ける音や、油でいためる音を表す語。

    Quite long eh? Do you have any recommandations for handling words like this? Would you rather make a card for every meaning, or take just the meaning which is mostly used; which takes us to the next question: How do you find the meaning which is mostly used?

    Another example would be からり, which also has like 7 definitions (only one is used in 文語 as it seems).

    Do you know a good strategy to tackle those little beasts? ^^


    • I would make a card for each definition above where it gives you sample sentences (the first 4 here, and the 6 for からり).

      Usually words that have multiple meanings and uses are versatile and often used words, so it is good to get as firm a grasp of them in a variety of situations.

      • Thanks for your reply.
        The method of J-J sentences is real great for cases like this.

        But I have another question. I made an anki deck on which the cards look like this.


        (名)dual purpose
        [An air conditioner which is used as a heater and a cooler]


        The purpose of these kind of cards is, that I have to study the words in both directions (I made recognition AND recall cards) and also have the possibility to read an example sentence.

        That´s the point which I think might be a bit of a problem in the J-J sentence cards. Of course it is great to have only japanese explanations and be forced to only read japanese. But on the other hand you only train your passive reading skills. If somebody would ask me for a japanese saying I think I could not actively reproduce it, if I would have learned it with the J-J method. I would maybe only understand it, if I had the possibility to read it.

        What I actually wanted to ask:
        How does the J-J sentence method deal with actively reproducing knowledge/words in your opinion?

        Still I think the J-J sentences method sounds quite interesting and I´m tempted make it a part of my studies.

          • Actually I thought about that problem myself and maybe found a solution.

            What about using the J-J sentences, with also creating recall cards to train passive AND active vocabulary?

            If you see the recall side, it could look like this.



            Please let me know what you think about it.

            • I think this is an excellent solution. It does what you were trying to do by having J-E, but keeps it in J-J and has the same, if not better effect.

  5. Just did my first branching and found it to be quite successful. Either the cards with new words ended in clean definitions, or ended in synonyms that kept sharing the same kanji. Plus, I learned the word 豊か which led me down some branches which led me right back to the word 豊か so I immediately got to use my new knowledge.

    I’m interested to see how quickly I progress with this new method. Especially as I find my old methods of study to be, although at the beginning of my Japanese studies they were great, are now slowing me down in terms of progress.

  6. Just started branching and wow. I came across the word for ‘to be youthful’ on twitter and branching it gave me 28 sentences in total. It’s kind of weird though how it works since the word ‘to be youthful’ got me all the the way to ‘to be scary’.
    Thank you for your website. This is the best learning technique I have ever found for any language and not just Japanese.

    • Skrwitch,

      Not knowing where a sentence will take you is part of the fun. As you’ve already seen, sometimes you go down some really weird paths from where you started. Anyway, I’m really happy to hear it is all working out for you!

  7. For branching, we’re not supposed to branch every single unknown word from the definition of the root word are we? Only the ones blocking off an approximate understanding of the root word. Say I already figured out 親 meant parent because of the RTK help, but there’s quite a few words in the parent definition I don’t know, does that actually matter or should I start working my way back down that branch because I got the root word? Or should we go out of your way to make a new card for every unknown definition word until we get to a point where there are no complete unknowns?

    similarly, if we were able to figure out the root words general meaning from the context of the definition, I don’t need to make cards for any unknown words in said definition?

    • on an unrelated note what do the ‘・’ mean in definitions on yahoo dictionary? They are confusing the hell out of me. Should I be including them as part of my cards? 職業・年齢層・環境などを同じくする人たちの間にみられる、特有の気風・性格。

      • gasp -.- I have one more question. For the example sentences that we take from the root words definition, are we supposed to just ignore the unknowns in those and just define the unknown words contained in the definition? Do I just let the unknowns in the example sentences become defined as a byproduct of defining the unknowns in the definitions ? That’s what I’ve been doing, just want to make sure I’m on track so I haven’t wasted the past 4 hours haha!

        • hmm I’ve read some more around the site, seems like I need to take the unknowns from both the definitions AND the example sentences too. But considering I skipped all the unknowns in the examples sentences, that may take a while haha. I guess i’ll wait till someone verifies this for me :)
          Though if that’s the case, these branches are going to be so much larger than i originally anticipated -.-

    • 1. Branching every unknown word once you already have worked your way to the original meaning is optional. It can be good to skip this when your branches are already growing long, but can be useful when they are short and it is easy to learn the new unknown word while you are there.

      If you know the word from context, or RTK, or any other way, it makes learning its definition a lot easier. And since definition structure is similar in many definitions, it can be useful to pick up the patterns.

      2. The dots are similar to commas, separating a list of grouped words.

      3. Let’s say you don’t know the word 猫, and are currently looking at the definition for it. The example sentence is 猫が小さくて可愛いね。

      Your current card for 猫 is 猫が小さくて可愛いね。But let’s say you branched to understand what 猫 is but don’t know what 可愛い is. You would look up that and use the sample sentence from there to start a new card that contains 可愛い.

      While it is okay to skip unknown words that aren’t necessary to get to the meaning you need, if there is still an unknown word in a sentence card, you should make that unknown word a new card.

      Does this answer your last question?

      If you haven’t been doing it this way, you can see if you remember those words even though you didn’t make cards for them. If you are having trouble remembering them, it should be fairly easy to make new cards of them since everything around it should be covered.

  8. holy… that answer’s so much better than I expected!

    OK so this is what I’ve gathered. It’s not necessary to define each word for long branches in early stages, in order to make it manageable. But, even though you don’t branch those unknowns, you still make a card for them.
    For the example sentences, after you’ve understood the definition, you take the unknowns(within examples) preventing you from understanding the example sentences and branch those. For additional unknowns, I can also just create a card for them, no branching necessary (but useful).

    I’ve actually been making cards for all the definition unknowns, but only branching those I need to understand the root word(so I guess I’m doing that part right, by chance). The example sentence unknowns I have completely ignored up to now. But I’ll go back and add them in, and branch if I need them to understand example sentences.

    I’m assuming you work back through the definition unknowns first, then through the example sentence unknowns, until eventually, and hopefully, reaching your original root word. Do you usually suspend your cards that you don’t branch from? Since I’ve been pretty thorough thus far, the only time I don’t branch is when the definitions were really long and difficult.

    I’ve read the branch annihilator like 10 times now haha, but I’m doing the full branch option because I sometimes get lost in my branches. Knowing your branch position seems to matter more for short slices/strategic cutting where you’re looking at your definitions in groups, out of my league right now.

    Correct me if I’m wrong on anything, but that’s what I took away.

    Thankyou so much for your detailed response, and sorry for being so long-winded! having the site creator’s help is invaluable to me. I follows your words blindly haha, you have no idea. Anyway, back into the fray I go!

    • 《動詞「す(統)ぶ」の連用形+接続助詞「て」から》 [名]ある物や、ある事の全部。いっさい。
      What does it mean when stuff is contained within the arrows? Is there an article with all these symbols so I don’t keep annoying you hah!

    • Yeah, that sounds about right. Though if doing it slightly different feels more natural to you, don’t feel it has to be followed 100% strictly. Many people branch with different variations to meet their studying style.

      I personally tried very hard to finish (or give up on) a branch before stopping adding new cards for the session. But you can suspend if that makes it easier for you.

      This post series covers most of the major elements in the dictionary:

      The stuff between the arrows often contains a mix of word origin, word type, and word function. Some people like to know this, but I personally always just ignored this as it got in the way of smooth branching.

      Anyway, best of luck!

  9. Something I haven’t seen discussed, is how you actually physically organize the information you have during the branching process. Do you just keep the sentences and definitions in a word file and then add them to kanji in reverse order after you finish branching? Do you have a giant whiteboard where you can spread them out graphically? Do you use a spreadsheet and import them into anki that way?

    I think I need to to buy a giant whiteboard. One of the clear ones so I can stand on the other side of it and look cool.

    • Personally, I use excel/google docs. One column for the sentance, one for the word and definition. I rearrange them in order of understanding.

      Then it’s easy to copy/paste the data into anki. I also just write the word(s) I don’t know into the 2nd column and populate the row as I go along.

      • Alright, so I’ve been doing Jalup Intermediate, but I feel like wiping my own butt for a bit, so I am going to try this.

        I downloaded the “core 2k” decks from the anki shared decks and deleted the “vocabulary” and “listening” card types from the notes so that there are only the sentence cards, then I deleted the fields with the translation and the J-E vocabulary words.

        So now I am left with 1993 sentences with Japanese on the front, and the only thing on the back is the reading and a picture. I am going to use these as source sentences and go through them one at a time. The first sentence had a single word I didn’t recognize, and I looked it up in Goo dictionary and didn’t understand a single word in the definition. -.- This is gonna get hairy.

      • Branching is like exploring a floor of a dungeon. Even when you find the exit (the meaning of the root word), there are still a lot of corners with treasure in them you probably haven’t found yet. (the other words in the definitions along the way)

        It’s worth it to note the location of the exit, and then go back to get all that phat lewt!

        Thanks for your help Victoria, it’s going smoothly now. I didn’t have a spreadsheet program on my computer and never thought to use google documents ha! I was really close to going and buying one of those giant rolls of paper and drawing on it with a sharpie. I don’t have a lot of space in my room, so I would have had to take it outside, and the dog probably would have tried to eat it!

        You saved a dog’s life today!

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