Kanji. Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of millions of Japanese learners worldwide as much as this one simple word. Every learner before you and all those after you will face the same terrifying opponent. An opponent that isn’t even the final boss. It has the strength of a final boss yet appears at the very beginning of the game and lingers around for weeks, months, and even years. Kanji fills the battlefield with slain adventurers.
Kanji. The dangers are real. And it’s waiting for you. Are you prepared?
Everyone knows kanji is a big deal (if you don’t you will), so you will find no shortage of tools at your disposal. Websites, apps, flash cards, kanji-memorization systems. It’s all there.
I’ve praised RTK to no end on this site and provided for many years a modified version of the deck I used. I also created Kanji Assist, which is meant to boost your kanji abilities for the Jalup Beginner deck. These and many other tools on the internet do a good and noble job. They try their best in similar ways to break kanji down into an achievable goal.
But I’ve always dreamed of more. There has gotta be a better way. Or maybe there isn’t?
Either way I wanted to see what was possible. I’ve been through the full kanji journey and I’ve personally helped thousands through the same journey as well. Maybe I can put this information to use and discover something different. So my goal was simple: conquer the kanji learning process. And over the past year, that’s what I’ve been slowly working towards.
I first looked at the things I didn’t like about the current state of kanji learning:
– It’s overwhelming
– It feels like everything hits you at once
– You don’t feel the short-term progress
– Too much information for every kanji
– Too many roundabout ways to learn kanji
– Too much complex learning “scaffolding” set up that is short-lived without long term benefits
– Not enough back-looking review of learned kanji
– No decent i + 1
– No puzzle building and solving aspect
Enter Kanji Kingdom
Kanji Kingdom is a complete kanji learning tool, that will take you from zero kanji knowledge until you grasp every meaning.
Here’s how it works:
1. Kanji Order
There are 2 major standard orders to choose from for kanji learning.
The frequency order:
Used in Japan where kanji are taught based on the importance of the words they appear in. This guarantees you will encounter kanji you will actually use in real life early on, but also results in having to memorize more difficult kanji first when so many easy ones are waiting before it.
The simplicity order:
Used in RTK and other similar methods where the visually easier kanji is taught first and slowly build their way up to more complex ones with disregard to use frequency in Japanese words.
The simplicity order makes more sense for adults learning the language as you don’t need instant access to the easier words like children learning the language do. However, many “easy” kanji are often seldom used or found in very complex words you won’t encounter for years. I discussed this recently and the issue of whether certain kanji are unnecessary and should be left out. My conclusion was that in the race to immersion these type of kanji may only be “unnecessary right now.”
The order of Kanji Kingdom takes both into account. It is simplicity ordered, but the rarer, seldom used kanji are pushed off to the final most difficult stage. I feel this saves the “unnecessary now” struggles, allowing you to move forward at a good pace, and putting them at the end where they belong. You can then choose if you want to complete this last stage later, or even at all.
I was also much more careful with the “unnecessary now” kanji selection than I was in RTK mod. I checked full word counts on how often they were used and how rare the words they appeared in were.
2. Grouping through stages, phases, and chains
There are 2136 Joyo- 常用 (every day use) kanji. Starting at 1 and just counting your way to 2136 doesn’t make sense. This is too large a goal and won’t give you the satisfaction of progress at multiple smaller intervals. The more you can split the whole of kanji down into smaller parts, the more chances you create for enjoying small achievable goals, the feeling of accomplishment and basking in victory.
Kanji Kingdom starts with the full set of kanji and shrinks that set. Then it shrinks that set even further. It will be released in 8 stages, each one covering 250 kanji, with a bonus last stage of the rarer, “unnecessary now” kanji at the end.
Kanji are broken up into phases, based on a kanji’s stroke order (or the amount of lines it takes to make up a kanji). This allows for visual simplicity, and while it is not an absolute simplicity order (some kanji with more strokes can be visually simpler), it makes them much easier to group in a meaningful way that is easy to remember. So phase 1 will have all the kanji with 1 stroke. Phase 2 will have all the kanji with 2 strokes. Phase 20 will have all the kanji with 20 strokes.
Phases are still too large, often at 50-100+ kanji each. So each phase is broken down into kanji chains. A kanji chain is a small group of 3 or 4 kanji that are similar in shape or structure, and are worked together into a memorable mnemonic sentence. Kanji chains can be completed with relative ease and every completed chain is an accomplishment, and one step closer to completing a phase, which is one step closer to conquering the whole kingdom.
Every kanji is given an English keyword. This is the most common meaning of the kanji and goes to its core. The keywords are as simple as can be, without relying on outdated words or those with confusing meanings.
Every kanji is also given a Japanese keyword. Where possible, the keyword chosen is one where the kanji by itself can make its own word without relying on another kanji (kanji compounds). If there is no solo Japanese keyword, its compound element is used. For beginners, the Japanese keywords are not intended to be learned at the same time as the kanji. The Japanese keywords will allow you to connect the kanji to real Japanese sentences you are seeing elsewhere (ex. Jalup Beginner), and become invaluable once you move to J-J and want the English out of your way.
Why separate learning keywords and readings? Because it’s too much to learn all at once and you much more effectively learn the readings naturally in other beginner tools and native materials.
4. Chain interaction
A chain is a short one sentence story that contains 3 or 4 new kanji. The chain borrows and adds chain links from older chains to make sure you get to constantly review old kanji while learning new ones. This gives you a total of around 5-8 kanji per story.
Why use the power of the chain?
– People are better at memorizing things when there is context
– People are better at memorizing things in small groups.
– Chains make sure you know what the meaning of an English keyword actually is in the case of multiple uses.
– Chains allow for memorable one sentence stories
Chains replace the idea of the need to build a story out of all the individual parts of one single kanji (the way RTK does it). To me, using chain stories feels more natural as story building for one specific kanji takes a lot of time, is only temporary, and has a lot of artificial parts.
5. One new element per card (i + 1) building off of older ones
The problem with kanji learning, when it is separated from Japanese sentences, is that each card acts as its own solo review. You learn a new kanji, and the only time you review it again is when that specific card comes back due.
A popular feature of Jalup Beginner was that new sentences built off of what you previously learned, making everything new you learn also help you review everything old. This gives you the chance to review grammar and vocabulary in many different sentences and context giving you a greater intuitive feel for the language. That’s exactly what I wanted to do for Kanji Kingdom as well. With chains and chain links you get multiple cards using the same kanji in different ways.
The explanation sounds confusing, but in action it’s simple. Let’s assume you already have covered kanji 人 (person) and 入 (enter) previously. You are now entering a new chain and the 3 cards in this chain are as follows:
A 人 入 with the power (ちから) of nine katana
A 人 入 with the 力 of nine (きゅう) katana
A 人 入 with the 力 of 九 katana (かたな)
The kanji chain is 力, 九, and 刀, the 3 new kanji you are learning. This kanji chain has two previous chain links, 人 and 入 and is part of the story sentence. The target kanji (the new kanji you are learning for every card) is distinguished by the Japanese keyword (in hiragana and in parentheses).
So your first card:
– Question field is everything above the first horizontal line.
– Answer field is everything below the first horizontal line.
You use your previous knowledge to understand the sentence in your head: A person enter(s) with the power (ちから) of nine katana.
You learn the kanji for power 力.
Then you go the next card:
You repeat the same thing as above except this time you know 力 is power now.
Then the third and final card of the chain:
A 人 入 with the 力 of 九 katana (かたな)
You repeat the same thing as above except this time you also know 九 is nine.
6. Unlocking Puzzles
Being challenged and not having everything given to you is another popular theme of Jalup Beginner. You often have to look up old cards to fully grasp new cards.
The same applies here. While the current card you are learning is focusing on one kanji, many other kanji chain links will appear on that new card. You will review them with the current card. And when you can’t remember or figure them out, you look through older cards to find your answer. You have to piece together all of these old chain links with the new chain to unlock the sentence story. Sounds silly, but this type of mini-puzzle is surprisingly fun.
7. Stroke order diagrams
This is a standard now, but every new kanji card has a colorful stroke order diagram so you know how to write it out by hand. However, I do not believe there is any need to obsess with stroke order in the digital age. You don’t need to memorize it, and if you can’t repeat it in the exact same way, you are fine.
8. New Japanese Keyword Optional Bonus Practice
A Japanese keyword, which is written in hiragana, now contains a period(s) to show how the kanji is written in the actual word when/if there is hiragana mixed in. This allows some optional practice of writing the kanji as part of a regular word, giving extra hiragana practice to beginners, and extra vocabulary knowledge to intermediate and advanced levels.
Whatever hiragana appears to the left of the period is replaced by the kanji.
Example: Enter (はい.る)
When you see the keyword Enter (はい.る) you could write out 入る instead of just 入.
For keywords where the kanji has no hiragana attached to it (example: the kanji 力 from the hiragana ちから), no periods are used, so it would just appear as: Power (ちから), and you would only write out the kanji 力.
For keywords where the kanji is most commonly (or only) found in a compound word, where it is one of two kanji, 2 periods surrounding the Japanese keyword are used. So the kanji 寸 for measurement will appear as: Measurement (.すん.), and you would only write out the kanji 寸.
This is optional, but for those inclined, can give you an added boost.
9. You can ask questions to the creator of this textbook (me – Adam)
How often if you have a problem or question with a textbook can you ask its creator?
I want it to be as clear and easy to use as possible. So if you have a question on kanji, keyword, chain link, chain or whatever, ask me by email. I will answer.
10. I want to continually improve the quality
I want this deck to be awesome. I’ve edited it to death to make it a breeze to use. But I’m only human. Humans (and giant textbook brands) make mistakes and sometimes what is clear to them isn’t clear to everyone. So by leaving the contact line open, if you find something unclear or a typo, I will fix it.
How to actually review a card in Kanji Kingdom
Let’s go through a chain (子 才 寸 ) together.
又 the child (こ) of the 士 made a genius measurement of the 刀
This card assumes you know the previous chain links 又 (again), 士 (gentleman), and 刀 (katana). If you forgot one or more, you do a search in your deck to refresh yourself of the keywords. The target kanji of the first card is child (こ). If this is your first time looking at this card you’d immediately go to the answer to learn the kanji 子.
Your 2 goals are:
1. Be able to understand the sentence internally as:
Again the child of the gentleman made a genius measurement of the katana.
2. Be able to see the target keyword questioned in the card (child – こ) and write out the kanji 子 either with a pen/pencil, with your finger, or visualizing it in your mind. In the beginning it’s often a good idea to physically write out the kanji, but as you progress in your reviews (or you are doing them on the go) you can choose the latter methods.
Click the Show Answer Button and you’ll get:
Grade yourself on how well you understood the card.
Move on to the second card in the chain:
又 the 子 of the 士 made a genius (さい) measurement of the 刀
You are being tested on the new kanji for genius (さい) this time. Can you understand the sentence and write out 才?
Move on to the final card of the chain:
又 the 子 of the 士 made a 才 measurement (すん) of the 刀
You are being tested on the new kanji for measurement (すん) this time. Can you understand the sentence and write out 寸?
Continue on to the next chain.
As reviews start piling in based on your recall ability, your review of the 3-4 cards in a chain will become separate and out of order. This is great and exactly what you want because every time you see the chain sentence you need to know all the kanji in it.
**Important Note 1**
Assume after finishing this chain, a few days later, you get this as your review card.
又 the child (こ) of the 士 made a genius measurement of the 刀
The target kanji you are being tested on is child (こ). However, you already learned the kanji for the other 2 cards in the chain genius and measurement. Do you need to write out all 3 to pass the card?
The keyword with the Japanese hiragana attached (in addition to the older kanji chain links) is your target to be achieved for the card. Requiring you to now write out all 3 kanji is too much information to be tested on for one card. So as long as you can write out 子 and understand the sentence you are good to go.
As a side option, if you have the extra energy, you can try writing out the other two kanji from the chain. But it is not necessary and you don’t want each card to feel so heavy.
**Important Note 2**
While the chain sentences have many kanji in them, they are not Japanese sentences. They are English structured sentences using Japanese keywords in their place.
**Important Note 3**
To make the English sentence sound more natural, sometimes you have to change the verb tense. For example you might read 入 as enter or enters or entered depending on how it fits the sentence. This should come instantly, as it is a part of your English intuition, not Japanese.
**Important Note 4**
Remember, you are not trying to learn the Japanese keywords together with the kanji in Kanji Kingdom. The Japanese keywords are to help give you a boost several months later on when you are reviewing Kanji Kingdom cards and learning Japanese words sentences/grammar with those kanji in other materials.
Want to give it a try first before buying?
Who is Kanji Kingdom for?
Anyone who wants to learn or improve their kanji. It can be used alone or together with any other system.
When should you do this in your studying?
2300 cards that will cover all the standard kanji you need to know to become fluent in Japanese.
It’s time to conquer the kingdom!
No more excuses about why you can’t learn kanji. Let the new battle begin.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.