365 Days of Japanese Day #24

Thinking Face Emoji

Yesterday I wrote about the kanji for days of the week and some of the tricks I use to remember them.

I believe that having little personal methods to remember idiograms is super important for building up a good knowledge of kanji.

Something I also believe – but that may be controversial – is that it is not really so important how logical one’s mnemonic methods are, because after a short while of familiarity the method typically fades and you are left with that feeling of “I know this thing because…I just do“.

In a similar way to some of the Mathematics I have done, I strongly believe that so long as the scaffolding does fall away to leave the clean and finished building, it does not much matter how messy it was while under construction.

However, just like in Mathematics, we should not ignore the fact that mental scaffolding was used, and we should not be afraid of sharing it if it can help others.

Today I will look at a few more Japanese characters and give my “scaffolding” methods for remembering them, which range from the logical and intuitive to the absurd and ridiculous.


It looks like a hand!

hiragana “alphabet” phonetic character forki

It looks like a key!

Remembering hiragana and katakana can be a bit of a minefield since their inherently phonetic nature means your memory “scaffolding” ends up being pretty ugly. On the surface it is super sweet that this character looks like a key and is pronounced “ki” (similar pronunciation to “key”). But it is important to try to lock in that phonetic~character association as quickly as possible and ditch the part of the memory chain using the English word “key” because – aside from that superficial appearance~homophone aspect – the character き has nothing to do with actual keys.


I think of this as an open mouth, perhaps shouting. It is easy to imagine two eyes above it and this forming the mouth of a face.


To me this is a car from a top-down view. It is moving left or right and the top/bottom horizontal lines are wheels. Vroom vroom!

during, middle, medium (size)

The line divides the box exactly in the middle! I think of this as a sort of pictorial scale, where the line is the “pointer”, pointing to the middle of the shape. This also works for the idea of “during”, if you imagine the box as a period of time and the line again as a focus-pointer.

hiragana “alphabet” phonetic character forshi

I thought I’d end on a weird one. When you write this you go down from the top-left in a curve ending up on the right a little above the dip. When I was learning hiragana I would write this and imagine it as someone rolling down a steep hill and hitting a dip at the bottom. They were shouting “shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii” (they never get to the “t” at the end).

I could have listed a lot more of these, but I’ll leave it there for today. I will definitely write future entries on this topic though, possibly with sketches!

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