How to Learn Japanese Kanji the Fun way (Heisig)

-This video will
be ruh-blah-bluh. This video will be of interest
to people actively studying Japanese, about to start
studying Japanese, people who like art and
memorization techniques, people who have
nothing better to do, and of course, people that enjoy
watching other people get hit by cars in a school playground
under the watchful eye of a thousand schoolchildren
to an over-dramatic soundtrack. [OVER-DRAMATIC MUSIC PLAYING] -Whoa! -Ooh! -Oh, my God. -Oh, my God. -And I thought
road safety lessons were supposed to be boring. How could you go from Will
Smith and Stephen Merchant having an imaginary
conversation to this? And from the world’s most
powerful farmyard animal to this? And finally, from this– OK,
we’ll do this one here– easy to remember, easy to draw. Yes! Oh, they’re nothing alike! No. –to this. [MUSIC THE BEACH BOYS, “WOULDN’T
IT BE NICE”] Oh, yeah, get in. A whole other book– finished! Yeah! Come in here! Come and look at this! I finished a whole other book. It’s pretty cool. Oh– oh, yeah, I– I live alone. [MUSIC PLAYING] When I arrived in
Japan last year, I couldn’t even say the
most basic phrases, such as, “Where is McDonald’s?”
and “A horse is necessary!” which I thank you’ll agree
are absolutely essential for everyday conversation. Well, still, I couldn’t read
anything because of the three Japanese writing systems–
Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. And I didn’t know that I
couldn’t wash my clothes– Uhh. –use the air conditioning. Uhh. Even at restaurants, I’d have
to take a dictionary, only to still fuck up
my order and end up with “The Last Supper” instead
of the healthy, delicious salads that I
thought I’d ordered. So I temporarily
eradicated my social life and sat down to learn Hiragana
and Katakana, of which there are about 100 characters. And by the end of
August, I emerged able to read both
character systems. But more importantly,
I could read the world around me, once and for all– Haha! Eh, oh, give me a break! –except, I couldn’t. I turned my attention to the
final character system– Kanji. The characters are “luh – gog –
ra – fic,” or “lo – go – graf – ic”– I haven’t a clue how
to pronounce that word– meaning a single character can
convey a word or a meaning, such as “water,” the
“moon,” and “rain.” It’s an undeniably
beautiful system, and I was very excited to
learn all 25 of the characters. But there’s not 25. There’s 2,000 characters. This didn’t
initially put me off, but then I learned
that each character can have multiple readings. It was about then that I thought
I was a bit out of my depth. I mean, I thought
I’d taken it badly, but when I told my friend
who’s also learning Japanese– Yeah, so as well as there
being 2,000 characters, it turns out they also have
multiple readings, as well. So– -(ON PHONE) No! No! -No. This was the point
where I thought about quitting the whole
learning of the language, especially as Japanese
schoolchildren learned over a 10-year period through a
unique method known as writing it out again and
again and again. But it was then that a few
advanced non-native speakers of Japanese told me of a method,
of a way of getting around it and being able to learn
the meaning and the writing of the characters in a matter
of months, as opposed to years. Not only that, but it would
be a fun and creative way. And I love fun. If Japanese is your religion,
let this book be your bible. Heisig’s “Remembering the Kanji”
is now in its sixth edition and originally came
out in the 1970s. It’s short, and I
mean very short. The way to learning Kanji is by
using your creative imagination and stories to
memorize the Kanji– hundreds, if not
thousands, of stories. So instead of writing out the
characters again and again and again, you use your
creative imagination to conjure up imagery. Key to the book’s
success is the way it breaks down the Kanji into
their smaller, primitive parts. Kanji are typically made
up of several other Kanji characters we call “primitives.” And the idea is to turn
those squiggly lines into something with meaning,
be it people, objects, or anything that
comes to your mind. Some are quite basic. For example, “I” is
quite easy and natural to see the shape for “I.” But for something like
“fond,” meaning “to be fond of or to like something,” which is
made up of “woman” and “child,” a bit more creativity
is involved. So we imagine a woman who
obviously is fond of her child, loves her child and is fondling
her with happiness and love. At the start of this video,
I had some examples of people that I’ve used as
Kanji characters or as parts of a story. I actually found a use for
Kim Jong Un, and here’s how. So here’s a Kanji
character which means “un,” as in
to “undo something.” It holds other connotations,
such as “mistake,” “negative,” and “injustice,” just
like the man himself. But primarily, I chose Kim Jong
Un because it’s called “un,” even if that description does
have quite a good resemblance to the dickhead in question. So it’s quite a simple
character, as you can see. And the three strokes at either
side are easy to remember, as that’s how many North
Korean leaders there have been in that
failed dynasty. And in my head, when
I see this character, I don’t just see a
load of squiggly lines. I see Kim Jong Un,
which isn’t something you want to necessarily
picture, but eh, it works. And the way the book is ordered,
you learn chronologically. So the next few Kanji
characters that you would learn would have Kim
Jong in it, but it would have “un” as a primitive. So for “sad,” the character
has two primitives– “un” and the one for “heart.” So I’m seeing Kim
Jong Un and a heart, which are two things that
don’t really go together. And that’s when
you actually have to use your psychotic mind
to actually put those bits and pieces together
to form a story that makes you memorize the key word. So maybe Kim Jong Un has
no heart, so he’s sad. That’s the story. So that’s how I memorize it. So when I see that character,
I see Kim Jong Un and a heart. I know he has no heart,
so he must be sad. So the word is “sad.” Another example, Will
Smith and Stephen Merchant having a discussion. How can I get from
that to this character? So this character
means “surrogate,” and it’s made up of
three primitives. We’ve got “finger”
here on the left. We have “ear,”
which I have already memorized that as Will Smith,
because for those of you that know Will Smith, you
know he has big ears or he’s always mocked
for having big ears. I don’t really know why. I don’t think he’s got big ears. But anyway, it is Will Smith. And then we have this one
here, which means “sparkler.” But for no apparent
reason, I’ve decided to have it in my head
as Stephen Merchant. Just because I love
Stephen Merchant, and I’ll have to put
him in there somewhere. Now, in 2009, a movie came
out called “Surrogates,” starring Bruce Willis. And whilst the film was
about was entertaining is taking the words
“crap” and “film” and trying to make an
anagram out of those words. The fact was when I first
saw the word “surrogate” in the book, that is what
came to my mind– Will Smith and Stephen Merchant are at a
dinner party somewhere really nice and wonderful, good food. And Will Smith is standing there
talking to Stephen Merchant, droning on and on
about how he wanted to get the main
role in the film, “Surrogates,” instead
of Bruce Willis. And Stephen Merchant
is too busy thinking about how much money he’s
just got from “Portal 2,” and gradually, puts his
fingers in his ears, because he doesn’t
want to listen. And that is it. Stephen Merchant’s standing
there with his fingers in his ears, trying to avoid
listening to Will Smith talking about how he didn’t get
the role of the protagonist in “Surrogates.” And that is how Stephen
Merchant and Will Smith come to “Surrogates.” I was initially
skeptical of this method. But after making hundreds
of these stories, and after being
able to memorize up to 60 Kanji, how to write them
and their meaning in one day, it just works. It really does. Once you’re able to
turn thousands of words into characters out of thin
air, using your memory, you will literally feel
like Albus Dumbledore, Yoda, and James Bond’s footwear
combined– “Albus Yodabond.” [YODA NOISES] -Perhaps most importantly,
it gives you confidence because it turns those
squiggly lines around you in your everyday life into
something with meaning. For example, a real landmark
moment in my time in Japan was after learning the
Kanji for “big” and “small.” And most toilets in Japan
have a little handle with the “big” and “small”
Kanji written on them. And I finally realized what
it meant– big flush, little flush, big flush, little flush. Gosh, you have no idea
how exciting that was, just to know by looking at
this character, ah, it’s big, that’s small. It changed my life. Well, it didn’t
change my life, but it was pretty big– it was a
pretty big deal at the time. I know what maybe some
of you might be thinking. “Hang on, you can’t actually
pronounce the Kanji. You can’t actually read them. You’re basically an idiot.” And while some of
that is true, the fact is it’s easier to learn the
Kanji and how to write them and their meaning
separate from the reading. That can be done
in a few months. That’s going to
take a bit longer. Well, actually, learning
how to read them will take a fair bit longer. Ultimately, it’s like a puzzle. So this Kanji here
I know means “book.” And I know the word for
“book” in Japanese is “hon.” So together, “hon,”
“book”– together. It just makes memorizing the
characters so much easier. And to someone who’s
going to do the book, it takes between three to
six months, on average. For those of you learning
Japanese or about to start learning, you’ve just
discovered a great shortcut to carve a lot of time
off your studying. For those of you wondering
why you watched the video, because it is irrelevant
to what you’re doing, you’ve learned there’s a
shortcut around any problem or any situation– usually. And I hope you leave this video
with a more positive outlook on life. I mean, that– that
would be amazing. You won’t? Oh, so just trash this shit.

About the author


  1. Thanks for the video… I guess Japanese is out… I just went there for 2 weeks and realized immediately that Hiragana and Katakana alone don't cut it.

  2. I can relate to the oh yeah I live at home moment.

    But at the same time, living alone has some seriously good perks… Most importantly, you don't need clothes! Cut down on washing

  3. You can download the 'duolingo' app.I learned hiragana in about two weeks using the app 15-20 min daily.And it's fun to use,free.You can learn many language from it.Try it 🤓

  4. Finger looks like the segments of the finger bones being chopped, ear looks like the outer lobe drawn by a comic artist, and sparkler looks like… a sparkler. Come on. Toss those MFers together and you got yourself a surrogate

  5. When I began my Japanese learning adventure many a year ago, I thought about and tried out this method. It didn't work for me. The reason I believe, besides having no creative ability, is the fact that instead of memorizing 2000 things, now you have to remember a story for every 2000 things, consisting of the primitives that make them up, which I imagine can spiral to well over 5,000 things. For the meanings.
    Then you have to repeat this process for the reading.
    Then you have to repeat it again for the other reading.
    Doesn't include stroke order or proper way of writing (which granted is a small one that is learned quickly but nevertheless)

    Then this doesn't even include any actual WORDS, which are made up of kanji (1-4 of them), so the actual words and their meanings and pronunciations are on top of all of that. (ie: What's the difference between 階段 and 段階?) And of course it wouldn't be Japanese without those sweet, sweet exceptions. 土木 Anyone?

    For me, It's much slower, but I've found just natural absorption, while possibly taking a fair bit longer, is far less overwhelming and thus I've concluded to be more efficient (ie: Seeing something on the subway Ad, opening up your smartphone dictionary and looking up the spelling and meaning, and being lucky enough to have that piece of information stick well enough that you can recall it the next time you see it).

    Of course another can of worms is to move from recognition (Seeing a kanji word and being able to correctly identify the meaning/spelling) to Recall (being able to on-the-fly bring up the word spelled and meaning correctly in a verbal or written context where it's appropriately and correctly used).

    Japanese is a difficult language.


  7. A word of caution. I've completed the first book of Heisig, and I'd say that it's useful for precisely two things:

    – Learning correct stroke order
    – Becoming comfortable with breaking kanji down into smaller elements.

    What the system does and does well, is help you to see the structure in kanji, rather than a bunch of intimidating nonsensical lines in a tiny square. What the system doesn't do is teach you how to pronounce kanji, use them in a word, or use them in any meaningful Japanese context at all. You can know the character for "Un-" and be none the wiser as to what 非婚 or 是非 means. It does help with learning meanings, though, as once you start actually learning kanji you will probably recognise the character and go "Ohh … so that's the 'un-' character!"

    I would not recommend completing Heisig, personally. I think a few dozen to a few hundred kanji is good if all you want is a non-intimidating start to learning kanji, and to become comfortable with the writing process. But it is precisely not a substitute for learning kanji.

  8. I'm learning mandarin, since kanjis are Chinese characters, it's also a great trick for Chinese learners… Thanks man!

  9. did you know in kanji penis is inkei 陰茎 and its made of 2 words i dont know excatly what they mean but its like shadow stem

  10. There are more than 2000 characters. Also the best way to learn Kanji is TO READ Japanese, because practice is always the best way to learn language.

  11. I went on a tangent a while back and decided to try to learn Kanji, downloaded an app called Kanji tree and basically did exactly this method. Seemed logical at the time.
    Then I got to slightly more advanced ones and gave up because this language is insane.

  12. This just popped up in my recommended. Why is it here? Maybe because I watched a collab with Joey and another woman today, can't remember her name though…

  13. does anyone else recognize that the background musical 3:02 is flight of the bumble bee on the flute? No? just me?

  14. Oh my friend there are much much more than 2000 kanji, you just need to know around 2000 to be literate and popularly used, but there are actually around 50000.

  15. Dude you make great videos! Thanks man! I would recommend to try and cuss less to make it more family friendly, I can't really recommend your videos to younger folk, but for adults its funny.

  16. In the background…

  17. Yo for real thank you for what you do. You've made it so easy to find interest in Japanese language and culture, as well as making it fun to actually work hard at learning both.

  18. A scientist explained, that we memorize strange and sick stories easier. Your Kim Yong Un story is at least weird … could be even more sick ;))
    Thank you for your useful instruction. Now I understand the basic concept, better than by other explanations before. I'll go that way.

  19. I've been studying Japanese for a couple of months now and you have no idea how happy I am to finally learn the phrase "uma ga hitsuyou desu"! Now I can finally take that trip to Japan with confidence. Arigatou gozaimashita, Chris!

  20. As a Chinese speaker, learning Kanji is still difficult. Of course you initially know how to read Kanji as it is similar, if not identical to Traditional Chinese characters. However, in Chinese, every character has only one syllable, but in Kanji, you have up to 4 syllables in one character.
    Also, "Fond" in Japanese, 好, as shown in the video at 4:40, means "Good" in Chinese, and "私", which means "I" in Japanese, is used differently in Chinese.
    All in all, learning Chinese just makes learning Kanji a slight 10% easier. Reading it is a lot easier if you know Traditional Chinese.

  21. If the USA measurement system was created by a drunken mathematician rolling dice than Japanese was created equally by a drunken person trying to make sense of the world around him

  22. Ah fuck, I'm never planning to be multilangual, I can't even speak my own national language and I hate it that I even wished I was born in another country.

  23. Actually, we Japanese don't use this method to learn Kanji characters. We often learn new words by hearing somebody says, then after learning new Kanji at school, we grasp the heart of their meanings at last.

    I agree that creating stories for each Kanji is great tactics to the extent. However, most of the words are not directly related to the shape of Kanji. This is called as "arbitrariness" in linguistics. So I recommend that you simply memorize words and Kanji, not think about why a Kanji becomes the meaning or adhere to the correctness of the story about Kanji.
    Don't forget that Kanji we currently use in Japan have been adopted since 1950 and many of old Kanji in those days was abolished thanks to the U.S. See the history for the detail 🙂
    Our ancestors were using the old fashioned style Kanji like 學生(学生), 危險(危険), 將軍(将軍) and 外國(外国). That is why the real meaning of Kanji has already been lost.
    [FYI, such traditional Kanji were nowadays used in Taiwan. Of course, Japanese people who often read books understand them. Unfortunately, China abolished by themselves. Shocked.]

    One more thing, I want to give a useful information about how ordinary Japanese people learned Kanji.
    At least we learn words and Kanji at elementary, junior high, and high school, which total is 12 years. We wrote uncountable amounts of Kanji on drill books called "Kanji drill", and we were tested again and again, even if they are a kind of idiot. Its period is as long as you learned a lot of words in your own country.

    So I think it requires the same period, at least same amounts, for foreigners to acquire basic Japanese language. Good luck.

  24. I see way the book and its method is so popular. It is not for me as I would rather learn Kanji in some meaningful context and with very limited use of English.

  25. Guys, it’s not that hard. Just look up “what they don’t tell you about Kanji” on Youtube. The readings are easy, the Kanji are easy with Remembering The Kanji. I’m gonna learn all of them in 2 months.

  26. I love the vibe. I'm 36 years old and I've just embraced kanji characters to boost my synapses. It's a matter of mindset. Yes, your video gave me a different perspective. I feel so grateful.

  27. tbh this made absolutely no sense to me lol, i would rather write it over and over and over than try to imagine something because i have a different kind of imagination. All those characters/drawings look like people having sex to me.

  28. My maternal grandparents were Japanese born and raised, but they moved to Peru. My mom grow up only speaking Spanish. The only Japanese I learned was the song playing in the background.
    :::singing::: It's all because of you, I'm feeling sad and blue.
    Going Japan next month so thank you for making these videos. I appreciate you taking the time to make them.

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