Kanji Matrix

Can you find the path that unscrambles the kanji?

The second best way to learn the kanji is by using the much maligned method the Japanese use to teach their grade-schoolers. This method, as most people see it, is little more than rote. Even worse, illogical. Sure, the Japanese, we suppose, can afford to waste their time writing the kanji over and over again, but for the rest of the world this is not a viable option. For the self-learners like myself, we are told through various means, that we should ignore the slow and tedious and even nonsensical Japanese Teaching Model. We need to make our learning process more edgy and embrace the needs and wants of the people learning this extremely difficult language. That the Japanese are doing neither of these things is not just something presumed, but backed-up by some very concrete evidence in the form of a paper list. It is a very simple list. One with just 80 kanji characters. The Japanese Ministry of Education gives this list to all of their first grade school teachers.

The First Grade Kanji List. I am supposing here that this list must be done in the sequence given.

一 右 雨 円 王 音 下 火 花 学 気 九 休 金 空 月 犬 見 五 口 校 左 三 山 子 四 糸 字 耳 七 車 手 十 女 小 上 森 人 水 正 生 青 夕 石 赤 千 川 先 早 足 村 大 男 中 虫 町 天 田 土 二 日 入 年 白 八 百 文 木 本 出 名 目 立 力 林 六

If you look at the list long enough, possess at least a first grader's understanding of the Japanese language, and are paying attention right now, you should be able to see the underlying logic. If you don't see it, however, don't feel too bad, for it seems that it goes over just about everyone's head (including my own).  This is partly because people who didn't know better (like me) think that somebody whose got to know better would of bothered to tell us that there is something very salient to know here. And that is this: the list is organized by...

... pronunciation.   To be honest, laziness probably plays a role. 

A list based on meanings. (above)

A list based on pronunciations. The way the Ministry of Education wants it to be taught.(below)

I know, it seems foolish for me not to of bothered to check if this list is sorted alphabetically. But I believe that just about everyone does the same thing. They look at this list, see the number One, and tentatively assume it must be arranged by its meanings. A foolish thought for sure. But before thinking on it some more we notice there is no Two after the One. So we go down the list, traveling nearly its entire length to find that yes there is a number Two. But the puzzled have become the perplexed: we could of sworn that we ran into the three on the way to the two.

"See! Illogical!", is what every one thinks.

What happens next is anyone's guess. For me, I started looking for the number four. Something of a snob, the one, two and three don't really count (pun not intended) as kanji in my book. Or in any book of a self-respecting kanji guy. Actually, my kanji book is a little smaller than most, I suppose, since I don't include any of the "number kanji" as kanji except maybe for that kanji that represents 10,000. Yes, they have a kanji for 10,000. Anyway, to my disappointment, but not to my surprise, I wasn't able to identify the 4 from this list. If I had passed over the four I was none the wiser. Really, I could have been whacked on the back of my head by that non-kanji kanji and still not be sure of its whereabouts. (Call it the Hesieg syndrome.) This was also true about all the numbers not including 1 2 3. I didn't have a clue how many were in this list- there are ten- but there were kanji that looked like they could be numbers. They are less complex. Some with less than a couple of strokes.

Whether or not the kanji learner is adverse to numbers, the other reason that people get tripped up on this First Grade Kanji list is that even though we basically only study the "meanings" we do actually know that the number One has a couple of pronunciations and we are pretty sure that none of them starts with "ア". AND even though we are terrible when it comes to their alphabet we also know that Japan's "abc"s starts with the letter "ア".  So, logically speaking here, since the kanji for one does not begin with the "ア" and the kanji's "abc" chart starts with "ア" the First Grader list is not arranged alphabetically. 

Well, the joke is on us. The first grade is ordered by their alphabet (or syllaberry or whatever you want to call it). The list with all of its 80 kanji does not possess a single "ア"  kanji. Well, not from any of the on-yomi readings. In fact, there is not even a simple "イ" kanji, the next letter in Japan's alphabet. If there was any kanji of the 80 kanji that had "ア" or a lonely "イ" the kanji for number One would not have started the list. The One's on-yomi pronunciation is イ-チ.

This revelation, the realization that the Japan's Grade school list is in order only came to me relatively recently. I don't know for sure what prompted me to look at this list with a critical eye, but it was probably due to this thing called Unicode. If you don't know what the hell Unicode is then just bear with me.

Nobody in Unicode, as far as I had seen it - and I had researched it pretty well - made any reference to Japan's Kanji as being alphabetically sorted. (I was curious and that's probably where I had my "revelation".) There were a few references that Japan's kanji was separated by grade. But these references seemed to be intentionally oblique, that they weren't getting to the heart of the matter. The heart being that the kanji were sorted alphabetically inside each grade. And since people that should of known better - I'm including everyone involved with Unicode - either didn't know or didn't care or didn't rush to Japan's defense probably made a lot of lay people wonder why the Japanese wanted such a thing. It seemed like such a childish thing to demand. There didn't seem to be a solid reason why they would want them organized in that way. 

 The Japanese do not use the Radical to search their kanji and this is the method of searching that Unicode decided on. In fact, they only use the Radical in school where they are required to quickly sum a kanji's stroke count.

Why, we might ask, are they still organizing their kanji by grade? If we are going to organize the kanji by grade maybe we should just have one grade and just put all the kanji in there. Alphabetically sorted, of course. That makes sense to me.

This is why the Japanese prefer that the kanji besorted alphabetically and by grade:


This is what a portion of the grade school kanji look like when all put into the same table. One can't help but feel intimidated by this grid. It has the feel of a heavily fortified maze. It's also claustrophobic for the kanji. It's a wonder they can even breath. And a person doesn't know were to rest their eye.  And even if that someone knows most of the kanji they too will eventually feel intimidated too. Look at this list long enough and you might even get disoriented.

So, left with the option of having one grid with all the kanji in it OR separate that kanji by its grade, the Japanese chose the most obvious option: separate it by grade. There are also some subtle advantages to separating the kanji by grade which maybe I will go into later. But this request by Japan to Unicode to organize them by grade also provides some insight into how the Japanese adults view their kanji. And it also may give us a clue into the way they store kanji in their minds.

Oh, the request was denied.

So, here I was, holding two opposing thoughts in my head. In one part of my brain, I believed the Japanese Teaching Method was slow, boring and illogical. And probably in the same part of my brain but in a slightly different location, there was the opposing idea that the Japanese kids learn a lot of kanji in a relatively short amount of time. This last thought was certainly not as strong as my first thought.

Joining these two ideas isn't very hard. Obviously, we think, the Japanese are fast learners of the kanji because they are from Japan. This, to be honest, would somehow seem vaguely unfair at various times in my studying. For you see that even though the Japanese method of teaching might be backwards and all of that, it doesn't really matter how it is taught since the kids are going to learn the kanji anyways. 

Cognitive Dissidence had to be playing a roll since not only did I think that the kanji was so much easier for the Japanese, I also believed, as fact, that as far as the General Use Characters are concerned, it took the average Japanese student Grade School and High School to complete their studies of the Kanji. So on some sunny day in Japan during High School Graduation all those smiling Japanese kids would be receiving the usual diploma AND their Certified General Use Kanji diploma. So, while still impressive in my version of reality, I had downplayed their accomplishment by 4 years. I don't think I would have believed anyone if they told me the Japanese formerly finished their studies on the kanji by the end of grade school. It would have sounded preposterous to me. Heck, it kind of more than sort of still does.  

My Cognitive Dissonance was in effect for years, too, because, at some point early in my journey I was using a website that had a kanji database. It also, for reasons I don't remember had a grade school lists 1-8 including. I actually copied from those lists a number of times. It had all of the Grades with all their respective kanji inside the borders and even had headings on each one having the grade number and number of kanji. It was all pretty transparent and obvious. Call me unobservant. Or call me CD.

I suppose that if you think about it in a different way, you could, without Cognitive Dissonance, downplay the Japanese accomplishment of learning the kanji so as to make it more palatable for Americans. For instance,  by the end of sixth grade the kids are expected to have learned, in total, about a 1000 kanji. Very impressive, yes? However, if you do some quick calculating you'll find that this shows the Japanese learn less than a half a kanji a day. Doesn't sound so impressive, now, does it? The only problem with this line of thinking is that if you have spent any time studying the kanji and have made little or no progress, the question quickly turns to you and what you problem is. And maybe that method your using isn't that good. 

The problem with that is that the Japanese don't really have a system, we are told.

But if I am thinking the Japanese are impressively fast at remembering and retaining the kanji, it must stand that I think rote is the way to go. And, of course, I must be an adherent to the whole notion that the Japanese learn the kanji faster because they have the decided advantage of living in Japan.

Maybe so. 

However, if you think about it a little, this whole notion that since the Japanese live in Japan they can learn the kanji faster than we can might not make as much sense as we like to think it does. It certainly makes more sense when we don't think on it. But if you think on it, the Japanese are not exactly constantly being bombarded with kanji. I mean the kanji are not exactly floating around the dinner table are they? 

So what are the advantages the Japanese have over Americans when it comes to learning the kanji? Talking on the phone? That's not much help unless your talking about the kanji. The television? Not exactly, unless your watching with closed captions. Or, perhaps there is some odd show that is randomly pumping out kanji at it's audience. (I don't know, I'm just speculating here.) Spending time on the computer? Well, there you go, except the kids were doing alright before the introduction of personal computing and, in fact, I hear they are a little worse than alright these days due to our ubiquitous information age.

And as for the advantages that the Japanese student have over us when they are in school? Even when in school as they are learning and retaining the kanji they might not be exactly tied to a chair all day as much as we may think. I mean how much time are they actually learning and writing the kanji. They still have to go to gym class, don't they? Recess? Maybe. Math? Of course. Lunch? Maybe they skip lunch. But, other than that it sounds like  they actually have a pretty abbreviated study time for the kanji. Plus, they have to make time for one of the the most one exhausting Japanese classes: Japanese. This class covers the Japanese language which means it covers a whole lot of very confusing grammar rules and other stuff I have embarrassing little knowledge about.

So, if one gets a little closer, it hardly looks like they "have all the time in the world" to study Kanji. 

There is one thing I can think of that the Japanese do while in the classroom that is possibly aiding their ability to retain the kanji. It's a hypothesis on my part. Or an untested theory. Either one. I believe that there is some subconscious association (I know, I'm sort of on a limb here) between those katakana and hiragana charts and those kanji that they are constantly being drilled on. That somehow, while the kids are learning the kanji and their "alphabet", there is a link that is being made that makes the specific sound associated with a specific box in the chart to tie in with the all those kanji. Kids are simply (and unknowingly) placing a kanji inside a box which is inside the grid/chart that is associated with it's sound. The SHI kanji go in the SHI cell. The KO kanji go in the KO cell. And so on and so on. So if a Japanese student is learning the kanji for "left" and they are learning it's on-yomi pronunciation of "SA" , even though not unique only to this particular kanji, it is still placed (mentally placed that is) at that particular cell location.

Above all, I think the relationship between you and the kanji is the location. They, the kanji, are desperately wanting to have a location to exist in. They, after all, are objects not mere words. And you are not listening to them since your too busy insisting that you need to know their meaning. If you asked them for their name, which is their reading, that would work too - as long as you had a grid handy (in your mind) where you could get that location indirectly. But, above all, you are actually wanting to find a place for them. Being able to place them somewhere where you would have easy access to them is actually far more effective and far more rewarding than learning about their specific peculiarities(the normal traits of the kanji). You can easily know the kanji's "properties" once you have a fixed or relative location. A relative location, if it's possible to do, is the better of the two.

But back to the ID and Ego:    In other words there is Loci. Or location, location, and location. Which is a dead give-away that the Japanese have some semblance of mnemonics going on there. A very clever and efficient one at that. The one you can't see, taste, hit or hear. The method even allows for the occasional tweak in order to keep the subtle balance between rote and mnemonics. Rote is great if you have time to kill. And to the extent that they do have time to kill at school they can easily adjust just how much rote is needed.

It's weird. But even for people who might be there in order to just observe the kids in the active state of learning the kanji they simply appear to be just learning by rote, like everyone else learning the kanji. And every child is too busy dealing with all that writing down and drills and the tedious tests to notice that something fairly effective is going on here. They don't see that the kids are taking the readings, and with it's associated sound, placing the kanji somewhere inside its respective cells inside the minds of the students.  Seems innocuous, but is not. Location goes a long way.

Since we don't have that here then there is an advantage the Japanese have over us.  They are faster learners since they are using some fancy mnemonics, in Japan.

So, I suppose we do have an excuse. And since you just learned about it, let it soak in and see if that is a method of learning you would want to take.  There really is nothing stopping you from getting your katakana or hiragana charts out and your stash of index cards. You could be learning their alphabet and their kanji at the same time. A little too much to request? Yeah, I guess so. But part of our problem is we don't want to jump all in and suffer the cold water that would come from studying their way. Just to prove to yourself that you are somewhat into the cold, you should at least insist on a methodology that is mainly using the sounds. These sounds give the kanji a flavor of its meaning.  This shows most of all that there is a maturity about your learning this truly foreign language. It's no game, but they certainly look like the language of some kick-ass fantasy world.

I suppose we could say learning the meaning will help us remember its sound. But that would be a ludicrous statement - unless you are clever person who thinks to take advantage of the meaning and somehow ties it into the pronunciation. (This sounds too Heseig for me). However, the reverse IS true. Knowing the sound can help with the meaning since a lot of the kanji are predisposed to a certain on-yomi reading via its derivatives. Yes, the derivatives, NOT the Radicals. Visualizing the kanji's shape does help with the phonics. Studying the kanji's shape, in fact- studying it's derivatives make learning the on-yomi much easier to do. There are some 700 plus kanji (and we are only talking GUK) that a person can deduce its on-yomisound from just by looking at the kanji. The extent to which this is true, the importance of the derivative, tells you one the biggest of the reasons the Chinese have an easier time learning their 6 or 8 thousand kanji compared to Japan's 2500 to 3000. 

This is a lot of Kanji. Until recently I would not be able to say I even knew a third of the kanji in that list. And I'm just talking about their meaning. But I would include their pronunciation if I had them. For most of the kanji, I wouldn't have a clue about their pronunciations both on-yomi or kun-yomi. I wouldn't be able to name one of their friends, the compounds, either. 

So, yes, the Japanese have a pretty good system for learning and retaining their kanji. But it's not as good as the Visually Linked List.

I am a stroke of genius.

My job was located at an apartment complex where some of the residents where developmentally disabled. We were assigned the not so hard task of checking in on them from time to time and occasionally taking them to doctor's appointments and other simple things. There was a lot of free time since a lot of them worked during the hours we worked which was 10 to 6. Anyway, with so much down time it was somewhat awkward working in our "office". But I found that if I had a pen in my hand (yes, we didn't have a computer) and perhaps a notebook out for one of the clients I was pretty much golden. So with that in mind I would bring in a kanji reference book inside the backpack I had been using exclusively for my jogging. Yes, I got into some pretty good shape thanks to that job. With all this time on my hands I figured I could get some good kanji studying in as well. 

What I figured is that I could peek inside my backpack and check my kanji reference book all the while pretending to be looking for something else. It would look a little unnatural, sure, but if I timed it well... 

At first, I figured that I would remember most of the kanji I had looked at. After all, it was a simple and straight forward process.  I would only have to remember the handful of kanji for about a minute or so. Just long enough to transcribe the kanji I had seen in my kanji book and then transpose them to paper. (Or something like that.) From there I could then rewrite the small sample of kanji over and over again. Then, once I got bored or tired of these kanji I would do another "dive" into my backpack, take another bunch of random kanji and use them to eat up a nice chunk of time at work and add to my hours of rote learning.

I don't know if there is such a thing as very short-term memory but if there is it failed me big time. I was lucky to remember 2 or 3 of them. It was so low that my focus became less about the kanji and more about me trying to hold on to something that I felt should be fairly easy to hold.

It actually still seems like an okay idea: writing out the kanji and think about it a little bit without feeling tied to my reference book. Like I said, it would only take a minute or so to collect these kanji in my head. It seems ridiculous to me that I wasn't able to retain them. The kanji had me stumped. If I could go back to that time, I think I would tell myself to stop focusing on the Radical. The Radical already gets too much attention. If you are trying to remember a left hand side Radical then only look at the right hand side. Barely note what that Radical is. You might even want to cover the Radical up with your hands or a sheet of paper. Even if the derivative is common place it still has far fewer kanji that it could be compared to versus the Radicals. Some of those Radicals are part of a ton of kanji.  

It has the look and feel of perhaps a front end loader moving dirt to the spot right next to where you are digging. Not something that's too hard to do. Maybe if I actually viewed this process in that way I would of had a better go at it. I could imagine the dirt fall out of my shovel - the kanji I lost - and then just toss what remained out to the side. Maybe I could see the kanji as clumps of dirt and the paper the target. Moving dirt around. Or shoveling snow. I suppose the main problem with my process perhaps is that the mind is not so much like a front end loader was I anticipated. That and the radicals. The Radicals always killed me. I didn't consciously deal with them. If your trying to memorize the kanji by focusing even partly on its radicals, good luck. I would try to remember the kanji by looking at them "holistically" but the eyes had the tendency to lean left. Even an average amount of attention I would give each kanji its Radical was the prime culprit in my learning disability. It would have probably been better to barely note the existence of its radical since there are so many kanji under each radical it would get mixed in soup. And being mixed in made me mixed up. I might of contemplated covering up the radical and just focus on the whatever (derivatives, I learned later). I either didn't do that or I don't recall doing that. But the kanji had me stumped.

And if it was a kanji I sort of knew the meaning of I would focus on that, which I believe is a dumb thing to do. Yes, if you know the kanji well enough you could refer to its meaning, but that is really not one your not going to write down. And on the other hand, if it's not one you know at all, or just barely know its meaning, the brain is going to try to remember the meaning more than the visual clues that you could of used. And this is probably why I thought work was the most appropriate place to study...since I was doing something that seemed best suited for down time and rote. 

Anyway, it was stupid for me to think I could have pulled this off without be found out. Suddenly I was the "kanji guy" the guy that was constantly peeking into his backpack for his kanji food. Even after I was found out I still left my kanji book inside the backpack and still, much to the amusement of my coworkers, I continued to peek inside the backpack to get another good look. No matter how useless this was, I was going to be discrete about this.

一 二 三 王 全 金 乂又 文 六 父 交 亥 人大 天 矢 医 口 日 旧工 左 右 石 不 止 正 疋 走 赴 卜 占  古

It wasn't until I up and moved to out West and ran a couple of Marathons that I came crawling back to my first love, the kanji. Before that time I had been studying them on and off. I couldn't explain why exactly, since I wasn't trying to learn Japanese. But I was captivated by the kanji. They possessed certain charms. I could sense it. There was a certain power they possessed, but I had no idea what. I'm not crazy enough to think they possessed actual magical powers or anything so ludicrous. I assumed it to be a not-so-real illusion that was more like the ambiance generated in a D&D game. After all, we aren't really fighting orcs? But there was something...

Fast forward another couple of years.

Practically Nothing. Amazingly, I was making little progress with my kanji. I wasn't studying particularly hard, but that was partly because I was getting no reinforcement. I wasn't learning anything concrete from them. Even though I might of known their specific meaning, it didn't seem to suffice. I was missing something. I just assumed that the thing that would cure this would be remembering ALL the kanji. But in that world it drew no made no distinction if that kanji was for Horse Chestnut or the Kanji for Destroy. Or Emaciate. Or Fundamental. All were the same.

I didn't want that.

In my world there seemed to be some caste system that was important to my kanji. In my world there were some vitally important characters and some characters that could be easily dispose of. Not that I would. Not that I would even think about trashing these objects from Japan.

It irked me a little whenever I saw the Radical for Fish or the Radical for Plants since it would mean a wasted object. An object that could of represented power not one that could be found on a dinner menu. 

And how could they bother with, I don't know, Horse Mackere when they had so many words that could be brought to bear. Metal was a good one. It had the potential for some war machine. And I consoled myself that some of these weapons I wished were part of the General Use kanji or other martial terms might be part of the lexicon once the compounds were introduced. 

I'd seen both discouraging and its opposite in the area of war. I'd seen a few compounds that could easily be placed in a fantasy book. But I'd also read war stories that were absent of any kanji that wasn't part of the General Use Characters. It seemed like all the war stories needed a different cast of cards (they seemed quite suited for a card game). All that I had committed to memory just seemed like scattered index cards in the wind. I probably have ADD or ADHD. So some of this inability to retain the meanings might  seem especially pathetic. I really could hardly give you a blow by blow account of what I was doing studying wise all that time. Heck, I can't even give you score or even the sport. Even if I had seen the game in question not a fortnight before. 

But at least I didn't feel like I was the only one having massive amounts of trouble trying to learn the kanji. There were others. The internet had its share of horror stories. People who spent years studying the Kanji and/or Japanese and getting nowhere. Indeed, it seemed like everyone who was studying Japanese that didn't have a "situation" was getting nowhere with the Japanese. Even though it was good knowing I wasn't alone I thought that this might be the time to let everyone go. 

So there I was looking at my backpack again. This time all the kanji books were splayed out around the round table. There were the same 5 kanji reference books and 2 Japanese dictionaries. The dictionaries were in the backpack. I don't know why I had those romaji dictionaries. Although, my claim that I wasn't studying Japanese was no longer true. I had been studying Japanese. I figure I had been at it for so long it would be a good to find a different way, some way maybe with some concrete gains in the Japanese itself.  It sounded good at the time to at least approach it in a new way, at some different angle. I already had a manga book. And also a potentially useful book filled with short essays - this has been my favorite. It has a green cover. Both of which, just for the record, were not in on my table. 

It might seem excessive having 5 kanji reference books on hand but I used each one. If I had a kanji that I knew the stroke count and perhaps their pronunciation I'd use, say, the blue book. If there was a kanji that I just needed the pronunciation on and had everything else, I'd use the black one. If I wanted to know its stroke order I'd call on another book. There was actually one circumstance where I had to use 3 books just to get to the kanji I was looking for (it could have been more than 3). Still, maybe a third of the time, even with all these books, and all my stubbornness, I still would be stumped trying to merely find the kanji. Sufficiently frustrated, I'd then give up. I'd consoled myself later that at least I was keeping down the eyestrain. A weak rationalization to say the least.

Nelson would have worked. So too the Kodanshi. But, I'm a little before Kodanshi. Just on the cusp. Like I had seen it once in a bookstore but hadn't yet heard anything about it. And Nelson - that's a little heavy. Neither are the perfect dictionaries slash reference books. But they would have solved a lot of issues.  One of them being the ability to supply me with some much needed  example compounds. 3 example per compounds is just not enough.(Now, I have them both, mostly to aid me in my quest for the Visually Linked List of the Kanji.)

I was, at one point, hoping to have the compounds deliver me from ignorance. Just another crazy idea, though, that didn't make much sense as far as memorization went. 

The books were well worn and even though I tried to keep them clean they were quite dirty on the edges. To tell you the truth, I thought about hiding them. I suppose I could of lied and said that I bought them second hand, but I don't think that was even plausible considering it was sort of dubious that a second hand store would of taken them. Two of them had lost their cover and a third would have if it were not for tape. That was the Hesieg book. I held on to that book even though there were many times that I thought of tossing it. Past Greivences, ya know. But Heseig actually had an good index that I used a lot. It seemed to prove that the only effective method was the rote action of flipping through pages of Heisig's creative imagination book.

After all this time studying you would have thought a lot of the kanji would have stuck, but it's amazing how little of the kanji did stick. At least it didn't feel like it was sticking. But, really, how would I even know that it was sticking with absolute surety. It's not like one can just go over all the kanji. It takes time, lots of time. And actually in route to going through the kanji you might actually forget. Or get a little less certain, etc. (Actually, statistics calls 30 the magic number. I could of simply randomized the kanji index cards and picked 30. That would give me more than just an educated guess on my rough estimation.)

I never did do this even though I was well aware of the magic 30 rule.

It's nice to think that. But the kanji, just looking over the internet, a person can reasonably assume that these kanji thingys are inscrutable. Which is weird since when one reads over the thoughts of people learning Chinese that "their kanji" are not that much of a problem. Even though it's essentially the same thing. How can one language see one thing as relatively easy to do and another be absolutely confounding when they are learning pretty much the exact same thing in the exact same way. This is a story worthy of a journalist. 

China...yes there are complaints....but it's several levels less than Japanese BUT they are learning more characters by a factor of 3! What is their secret? Well, it's funny. Well, not funny since it was only about a month and a half ago. Derivatives? Anyone, anyone. Actually, it's kind of depressing. But I JUST learned a big chunk of the reason why there is a difference. It has to do with derivatives. Derivatives can easily be thought of as the opposite to the Radical since these guys are what is left over after the Radical. But we don't want to mention that since it means testing out the waters in what suspiciously looks like a quagmire. 

So, there I was, deliberating on whether to continue with kanji or go our separate ways. 

I had reached for a kanji book, but stopped myself. Instead of picking up a book, I picked up a pen and paper. I decided that I was going to test these books, get a rough estimate on just how much (or how little) I had remembered from them. And by "remembered" I meant only the meanings. So, no pronunciation, no stroke count, no stroke order, no on-yomi reading, no kun-yomi reading and not a single friend, their compounds. It was going to be all "meanings" since the little bit that I studied around their pronunciations didn't stick.

I allowed myself to go along with it even though I knew the bitter truth. 

The results were bad. The fact that I didn't write anything down, even though I surely came across some in my mind, (I actually don't remember now so I have to assume I didn't write anything down) revealed the general state of my thinking. That I didn't bother to write any down was telling. The backpack was looking more and more worn. The Dumpster nicely located right in front of my house seemed a lot closer.

I also must of been feeling self-conscious just sitting there holding a pen and paper and having nothing written. In my state of somewhat staged amazement at how little I had recalled, I, for some reason, decided to write out the kanji for one - one horizontal stroke, for two - 2 horizontal strokes, and for three - 3 horizontal strokes. I suppose I was shaming myself.

After the three, I ran smack into the number four. Not that I could of ever visualized the four, I tried anyways. Nothing. Zero. In fact, I let my mind have as much time as it needed: a trick I use when I am feeling quite impatient. 

It was odd that I never questioned the faults of Heisig. It obviously had many flaws, but I never put these vague thoughts into words. This particular flaw was a biggie: Heisig only worked when going in a certain direction. 

The direction, one could claim, was the more intuitive, but the less right way of supplying the answer, a image of the number four. The Heisig direction, practically mandated that I had need of a picture of the four. From there you could figure out your "creative story" and come up with the kanji.

If, in an alternate reality (but a more right reality), I would be tested by a sensei. He would prompt me by requesting that I try to visualize the number 4 and write it down in correct stroke order. There was nothing I could do. You actually needed to have all the parts - all the primitives - of the kanji to even have a shot of finding the correct answer. This means actually staring directly at the kanji with the mind needing its full attention. "Sorry, Sensei", I would say.

But even if it was in the direction that Heisig could handle, like reading a Japanese book, you had to put all the elements together and form a story you had made many many months before to even have a shot at placing the 4.

Yes, as incredibly ridiculous as this might sound, under Heseig, every time you run into a kanji while reading a Japanese book, you have to drop everything, come to a complete stop and give the kanji your full attention. And if it is a compound you have to do this twice. You might even successfully deciphered both the kanji, but the compounds meaning might be well out of your grasp. It's a very common thing that happens since half of the compounds often possess only a hint of one of the kanji. And the other half live under a cloud since the person trying to figure out if the meaning is one that is of the murky sort. Often you need a full explanation why the combination of these two kanji would equal THAT!

All of this may or may not lead to a foreign language book being thrown across the room. But the odds our stacked for.

As a slight aside, the ability to recall a story you made a year before has to be one memorable story.  If it is not, then actually remembering a short story that you yourselves have made up, you have to recall certain things. A nice one is knowing how short the short story is. Was it too the point or take a more circuitous route. Also nice to know is how creative you felt that day, or maybe on this day you were feeling especially perverted or creative or gloomy or perhaps just plain neutral. A little story could differ mightily at the time of  day you came up with it, which happens to make it difficult to jog the memory out of something that is a month or even a year separated.

The funny thing is the four was a primitive in Heisig's world. These are the building blocks that Hesigites stories were built on. I think this is one of the main reasons people are tempted by the Hesieg. It's Kanjigo Land. (The other problem is that often once you learn the primative it is then a primative when it combines with another primative. So that same primative is being used as meaning something different.) Theoretically the primitives are used so often that it's not really necessary to "learn" them. But in Heisig world they are sacrificed. The four represented something that I have completely forgotten. 

A"primative" in Hesig world is stripped of its meaning and doesn't have a story. A small sacrifice it sounds, but it is also just one other things one has to remember when trying to learn his system. 

another visual

Anyway, how could I conjure up the four or any other kanji. One always creates a story from the kanji that they see. It didn't work the other way around. So, I didn't have a clue. I needed to be looking at the four to know it was a four. Incredibly stupid this system, no? So, in the spirit of a mutinous act, I put a line down the center of the kanji for three. 

I looked down at the notebook and saw...that it was good. No. Not good. Intriguing. Knowing that I had something interesting, I delved further, putting one of those pointy hats on it. This was the kanji for "everything" or something like that. Then I put two dashes near it's bottom stroke.  The kanji for metal, or, more specifically "gold". I had just struck gold. Figuratively speaking.

I know I had a stroke of genius in the form of an actually stroke that was more a stroke of frustration. The stroke skewering the kanji for the number Three and turned it into a king was a stroke done in anger.

could use a break here.

I still am not totally sure what I have, but it definitely works as far as the kanji reference books go.  It's a liberating feeling not having to "peek" at those books every third kanji or every 30th kanji, or if I am especially focused: every 333rd kanji. Although my initial reaction was to go speedily through adding to the list - even at its beginning stages - I could now go slow. I could sit on a kanji and try to recall it's name. Or I could stop and look around a little and see what might be located in its path. Maybe I had left something there from the time before. Heck, while there with the kanji maybe I would recall its name. (It's on-yomi pronunciation.)

Another plus to the Visually Linked List is that while you are practicing writing them down you have gone so fast and kept up the pace by necessity, that you aren't really wasting time just writing them down to write them down. You are getting feedback. You have a rough estimate on how many times you have been over this area. The feedback is consistent too. The mind is doing its job totally in order. In all it's arbitrary glory order. It is in order, therefore you can start learning from the get go. And once you have gotten a solid feel on one portion of the list you can determine to move up to a section maybe a hundred kanji down the road. Or the path, that is. You might not be totally sure so you go back through that portion of the list. Your not trying to memorize a kanji you haven't touched for a year.

There is too much fluctuation so that there has to be - this is the problem with index cards anyways, but its made more of a problem by the sheer number of index cards - and you could be looking at kanji you barely have a grasp on with one's that you feel as if is second nature. The sheer volume of the kanji necessitates that it follow some order, whatever that order is. 

This was made possible by the Visually Linked List. After a long while of trying to learn the kanji without the Visually Linked List I could fully appreciate this experience. 

After that day, the public library became my office. During that time, I was writing out the kanji and looking for more to add to my list. The kanji books - and even the backpack - had been saved.

A break could be good here.

People wonder if they can get away without writing down the kanji. Or, at least, not have to write them out as much. I believe, that this is partly because the reason given for writing them down is not really correct. Or, if partially correct, seems somewhat lame. The answer given is Muscle Memory. I'm not totally sure I know what this means exactly. Is it possible for the brain to create a neural network for a specific kanji? Would this network need just one or would it necessitate one network for each kanji. And if that were even true would the brain be smart enough to know which path to take? I can't really image how it supposedly works. But if it means increasing your ability to visualize than I guess we are on the same page. But I have a feeling this is not what they mean. And frankly, I don't think they really know either. 

Anyways, it was during this time, the time I was finishing off reams and reams of paper (okay, that is a exaggeration unless a ream is only one page), sometimes in notebook form, but more likely a varying number of single-sheet computer paper that I started to try and visualize the kanji. I don't know how long I was at it with the whole writing them down thing, but however long the whole visualization thing still felt very forced. I remember that. It was like a bad signal. I wondered to myself if this was what they meant by visualization. Which led me to my cliche long afterwards: if you don't know you are visualizing correctly than your doing it wrong and/or your power to visualize is weak. The corollary to this is: if you aren't wondering if your visualizing correctly you are probably doing it right. The corollary isn't quite as true sounding. 

Writing the kanji down for hours at a time --- Frankly, I don't know why I spent so much time writing out the kanji, since really it was more about looking them up and searching for the one that fit the last one showing. I WAS constantly changing my linked list. Capricious by nature, I was having trouble sticking with what I had. And since I changed it up so often it was sometimes hard to keep track of what kanji I had. And checking that list to see if I wasn't putting a duplicate kanji down. This was the case for me since I had been burned several times before. Finding that I did indeed use a kanji a 100 links or so before was infuriating.

There was also the much more frequent occurrence of the links that seemed okay a week ago that would suddenly seem so foolish the next. That speaks to my capricious nature, I suppose. 

But again, I believe that most of this writing them down business was because I felt like a free bird. At least this is how I rationalized it.

Honestly, this wasn't as much of a problem as I would have thought: tossing stuff. I was unusually patient. Going through the kanji made me more relaxed and focused. Sure, I probably looked like some introverted cryptographer trying desperately to find patterns. But I didn't care. 

I'm not sure how long it took for me to become good at visualizing, but it came upon me quite naturally. You can always improve on it. I don't think I ever heard anyone say that they had passed the visualizing test and were now done with it. But at some point while living in that little imaginative world in that library, I stopped wondering if I was visualizing correctly.

Even with all this new found patience and ability, it still didn't stop me from up and giving up the whole thing. I found that I could go no further. The way I was making my lists, the process of linking the kanji, made the whole thing get clunky after about 700 kanji, well out of the range of the 1945. (Or, was it?) Basically, I didn't like what I was seeing so I gave it up. And, though it worked and worked well in some areas there were also areas where it didn't work well at all. There were too many ways to backtrack and find yourself going over the path you'd already just gone over, or jump forward a couple dozen kanji and wonder where it was you went. What the heck was I supposed to do with that? Some of the "backtracking" or "forward tracking" was obvious: the radical I used was the same Radical that I used 15 kanji before. Other times it was just bad karma. Or, more than likely the link between the two radicals was just so flimsy that it would need a lot of practice getting through that part of the list. Maybe build my muscle memory at the same time.

This realization that things were not working well weakened my resolve. It broke up my stoney resolve. But I had admitted that SOME of it did work. 

I was so clueless about making this linked-list that it didn't even occur to me that I could modify the length of the list. That not all the kanji had to be linked. As intuitive as this thought might sound, it was really outside my line of thinking. All they were as of now was the path itself. I certainly could put "stuff" on or in the kanji along the path, but that didn't occur to me either. Because I had such a single minded goal and was quite serious about it it didn't occur to me that I could do some things differently. I was too  focused on the links that the portion that was working, to try and change things up a little. Yes, BUT I was also amazed by how many mistakes I made. Simple, obvious mistakes that would occasionally make my jaw drop. How could I continue even if I went about it reasonably if I could make some mistakes that should have never happened. 

But what about posting it on the internet...so I could at least claim a little credit. Or get help. Or help others out. I don't remember thinking that. It just seemed like a incredible hassle. 

The Kanji Visually Linked List


I read a relationship book one time. I don't recall what it was about specifically. Or what it's take was. This wasn't surprising, I guess, since I made it only to page 2o something. The one thing I remember, besides it being suspiciously eloquent for about 15 pages, was the author's assertion that EVERY psychologist or PhD or whatever has a different take on the difference between monkeys and humans - I wish I could remember the book's name. It was a wild assertion to make and seemed highly unlikely that there would be this ONE thing that they, the PhD types, all try and shoot for at some point in their career.

It also seemed to be a little off topic.

I'm actually very good at listening to writers and allowing them a general suspension of disbelief  (or is that because I like to rationalize). Sometimes, I can go the whole book suspending disbelief. But it has to be somewhat coherent. I can go through a book that I know I'm disagreeing with while still leaving plenty of room for interesting insights. Sometimes I even allow a book a couple of days to soak in. As is sometimes the case, it can be the best way to evaluate a non-fiction book.

But okay, so his one big shot, his belief about the difference between man and monkeys (and his other shot of claiming its existence), is that man has a frontal lobe which allows him memories and the ability to think in the abstract - specifically in the abstract concept of time. Man can see the future. Or, is a future thinking machine(my term). Now that I think about it, something I haven't really done till now, this is possibly one of the stupidest things to tell your readers about in a relationship book a and b)doesn't science know whether a monkey has the area in question: the frontal lobe. To make it sound more scientific the author uses an anecdotal story. One I'd already heard of a couple of times before. This seems to be a common practice of pop-sciency type books. They all share the same 50 or so anecdotal stories. This one was of a guy who accidentally and unwittingly shot himself with a nail gun, and did so without his knowledge. The nail was lodged inside of his brain. Due to this - unless its just one big coincidence (I've been hanging around people that live on coincidences), he didn't have memories and lived in the now. At this point I am thinking perhaps he is going to tell us that the guy with the nail in his head lead the happiest life. But no. He was sort of a sad case it turned out. He was unable to hold on to a job a relationship, etc. 

Anyways I figured if I ever wrote a book (or, "cough" a website) I would have to render my own version on the ONE theory, the one take, on the difference between monkeys and humans. Since I feel like I am writing a lot - as much to fill a book - I feel obliged, however preposterous it may sound. But bare with me.

Even though I figured there would be this one day when I would have my chance to reveal my stunning posit about monkeys and man, I actually have given it so little thought that I'm going to have to make up stuff quick.

RATIONALIZATION. It is the one thing that puts us, the primest of the primates, above all other apes. Sure the Gorilla has bested our top memory expert time and time again, but the Gorrilla had home turf. And hey, we still managed to WIN one time out of three. Not to shabby. I can only see the future will be brighter with the humans winning close to half the time. This is true, we did win over 30 percent of the time. Check Wikipedia to learn the truth.

I also thought so little about rationalization that I will have to use the one example that every human has heard of at least once before about what constitutes major rationalization on the part of the human: the commute.
Apparently, people don't know where to buy their house since it is often the case that their job and their house are quite far apart. I live in Fort Collins and know of one person (of the very few people I know) who works all the way in Denver. He claims his time commuting is not that long, that some people have it far worse.  A major plus, he told me, was now he didn't have to drive since there was a bus that was filled to the brim with people doing the exact same thing he does (by the way the reason he moved to Fort Collins was that he actually had a job in Fort Collins. He was laid off and the only gig he could find was in Denver. )
This is his "zen" time, he calls it. Here, in this bus, he can relax - since he gets to avoid, driving something he really couldn't see putting up with on such a long commute, (that is was the long drive due to a long commute didn't seem to occur to him). Instead he zones out listening to his music slash learning a language. While all this sounds great it still is quite the bit of rationalization. He still needed to come to terms with his new life. He had to get adjusted to listening to music again. He had to get up quite a bit earlier. And deal with all those other people. Some of whom like speaking to strangers. I suppose he has come to enjoy the small talk of semi-strangers. Hey, maybe they weren't even strangers. Maybe they were more like family to him.
By the way, now his answer has changed quite a bit since he works from home one day a week. The zen time is not so zen and the bus is not so magical like but it's great having a three day weekend every weekend.

People love to rationalize. It's what non-chimps like us do. I'm sure that book readers love it too since that whole thing about "can't write himself out of a paper bag" is really he can't rationalize himself out of a situation in the book. They are looking for some clever artist who can provide this. He or she doesn't have to be the next Shakespeare. He just needs to get himself out of the paper bag he managed to throw himself into in the first place. That the hero stumbles from one scene to the next all the while addressing how and why he is doing this after THAT just happened is a huge part of writing. It's not so much that you have to be a good liar to be a writer, but perhaps you have to know your audience and not let them down by having no excuses. You have to do well what the monkeys don't know how to do. (My take.)

By the way, did you notice how I got out of that paragraph? Utilizing the monkeys just enough so they are or could be the randomly typing monkeys. Yes? Yes.
I even enjoy rationalizing rationalization. For instance, I believe that some of the enjoyment of the movies actually happens due to the whole image to seconds per frame bit and the belief that we fill in the blanks. An average movie has roughly 24 frames a second, too many for us to notice that these images are stills. But also low enough for our brains to be aware of it. Thus while watching a movie you brain is kept interested and active because there is a lot of blank spaces streaming through you head and it is certain that there is a whole lot of rationalization going on with the blank screens, it is willing to allow a whole lot "paper bagging" since it has the pleasure of reading more into the movie than he or she is used to getting watching television. (I just looked it up. Television has 48 frames a second compared to 24 for films. The Hobbit was done at 48 frames (I thought it was 60) a second and the audience came away thinking the whole experience was unpleasant. Good movie, but it felt off.)  
To test this assertion would be fairly easy: We being the easy part. The magic of the movies is that relatively slow projector. We are more interested in the monkeys. Do the monkeys enjoy watching TV? Do they enjoy watching movies, is it more or is it less? How focused are they on a movie? How focused are they watching TV?

Rationalization saved my kanji list.

All those times of tossing out the list: gone. Irritated by an obvious mistake: more memorable. Weak links: you get to write out the kanji more. Repeated kanji: something new and fresh in the way we teach the kanji. I mean, why does it always have to be a one time only deal in these reference books?

This was my mantra while doing the list, especially after I found a dozy in one part that wasn't even past the hundred kanji point. Armed with the rationalization argument I have gotten comfortable with the mistakes I make since I know now that everyone likes to rationalize. Some people have a lower threshold then others and, of course, some have a higher threshold ---like this insipid sentence might make someone to stop dead in their tracks. But, while writing this little piece (are you going to believe me?) guess what I was able to rationalize: all my mistakes. 

So a mistake actually allows one to rationalize even more, something that we like to do and something we are quite good at. It is the anti-Shakespeare take on writing. Shakespeare, in case you missed school that day, is perfect. And that the better the writer the more perfect she is. But here we have another belief - to which I am now an ardent adherent - it is good to have mistakes, lots of mistakes, or weak sentences or even nonsensical sentences, since the reader enjoys the challenge of rationalizing two absurd ideas or scenes or whathaveyou.

They hate misspellings. Hate it. Also, bad grammar. Terrible. This is true since their are a lot of anal types, but also since there is no way to rationalize your way out of that one without getting contemptuous snickers. 

People like to rationalize not passively watch something that makes TOO MUCH sense. So when you are going through the list remember that if it seems to you that I flubbed up, check yourself...you might not be rationalizing enough!

Good for a break here

This alphabet, this Katakana might be something that you could become actually quite good at WHILE you are learning the kanji. The loan words or whathaveyou ARE hard to translate and they need to be practiced practiced practiced. So wouldn't this be a good use of your time to be attempting to learn the kanji while at the same time learning their alphabet and loan words and converting them to English words. Even more straight to the point we could actually turn the English meanings into katakana. What I mean is that the English meaning will be spelled by the Japanese alphabet. The learning curve is pretty low for a while, so wouldn't this be made more palatable if we are becoming expert at translating English words in Japanese? And here's the thing I've never heard somebody utter and I just uttered one second ago and repeated but it's work repeating: the katakana takes practice. A whole lot of practice. Practice practice practice. It is the sheer amount of time that you spend doing this that is going to determine how well you know what some people ridiculously call "free-bies". So, for instance, instead of having the kanji that means loyalty wouldn't it be better to have it in katakana. Like I said, it takes a lot of practice to even get a chance at getting/solving one of those "freebies". They are used quite a lot and even more so on the internet. So what is yours and ours bigdeal.

The only concrete response I got on the Visually Linked List besides "so what" and "I don't get it" was the charge that the list was "too arbitrary”. At the time, it was meant as a criticism. But now it seems more like  a compliment. The buzz these days seems to be that arbitrariness is “in”. At least that is what I heard. I’m not sure what the driving force is for making arbitrariness as being "in", but it seems to come from the world of mathematics. Unfortunately, I can only get the door to mathematics propped open so far. I found nothing to show that arbitrariness is now hip. So we will just have to assume that it's true. Okay?

Anyway, I didn’t feel insulted or anything like that. In fact, I was positively peached(?). I like getting feedback from people. If there is no feedback such as "so what" or "I don't get it" or comments on grammar than there is nothing to go on. There is nothing to spur your thinking. And as it was in this case, I felt that I “proved” that the linked-list is not as arbitrary as it first seems. 

The professor in question pointed out the obvious. A part of the list goes like this: 矢医口日旧->工左右 but it could go like this:  矢医口日旧->児... So, it is arbitrary. From the "Olden Days" kanji to the next kanji, which one is better. The 2nd one is better since it is building on what I have. The first one is simple to remember, but is not as elegant. Or "superior". It did lend itself better to the link-list, however, so I stuck with the first one. Sometimes you have to make decisions that are better for what comes next.

It wasn't till some serious time passed that I was able to mentally challenge this assertion that it was arbitrary. But first I had to know the definition of Arbitrary. That meant going directly to Wikipedia. 

"Arbitrariness is the quality of being determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle". (AND) "Or Actions lacking a telos, a goal, are necessarily arbitrary."

So, it is not arbitrary. I have not determined what kanji comes next by chance or whim or impulse and I have determined the next kanji with necessity and reason and principle.  

Oh yeah, and, like I think I already mentioned: it has telos.

That was easy.

The Ancients never had the kanji...

I apologize for not having this completed. I still have more I need to write and more of the linked list I need to add to. There is actually enough there in the linked list and using the derivatives to get to 1000 or so kanji. The main trick is simply this: 交 郊効校絞較鮫 劾刻核該骸 . Most kanji are not such excellent examples of derivatives in conjunction with the linked list, but there are plenty of them in the shorted version of the linked list to get to some fairly high number of kanji. Today's date is 4/17/18. A plan to be done with the rest of this within a weak.

If your excited about this linking of the kanji and/or have questions please email me at zecherpaul@yahoo.com.