Cracking the Kanji Code: Top 5 Tools for Mastering Japanese Characters!

What’s up hungry learners, we’re back again with another bitesized Japanese knowledge nugget. Today we’re going to talk about the Kanji!

Yes, learning the Kanji is super hard. No, there are no magic tricks or gimmicks I can give you that will smush into your brain all 2136 Kanji you need to be able to read Japanese books and newspapers. But with a bit of hard work and dedication, these tools will make the process so much easier.


Japanese is a language with many homonyms and homophones. That means that there are many words that sound the same and are even spelt the same but they mean completely different things. That’s why we use the Kanji to give context.

  1. はし (Hashi) – Can mean “bridge,” “chopsticks,” or “edge.”
  2. かみ (Kami) – Can mean “paper,” “god,” or “hair.”
  3. き (Ki) – Can mean “tree” or “spirit/mood.”
  4. くも (Kumo) – Can mean “cloud” or “spider.”
  5. いし (Ishi) – Can mean “stone” or “intention.”
  6. はな (Hana) – As you mentioned, can mean “flower,” “nose,” or “rope” in the context of traditional sandals.
  7. さく (Saku) – Can mean “bloom” or “tear.”
  8. ほし (Hoshi) – Can mean “star” or “want/desire.”
  9. まる (Maru) – Can mean “circle” or “correct” (as in a correct answer).
  10. ひき (Hiki) – Can mean “pull” or is used as a counter for small animals.

All of these words are represented with the same hiragana but they have completely different meanings. Having an extra writing system allows us to apply picture letters to the word (similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics) that allow us to get the meaning of that word.

Learning the Kanji 1 by 1 from a dictionary can be super hard and boring. You could do it but it will take you longer to form a connection with the symbols and form a mental connection in your brain. This is why it’s really important to be engaged and have fun with it.

This is why we’ve chosen 5 of the best methods for you to learn the Kanji that won’t put you to sleep and you won’t need to spend 6 days on each Kanji to remember it.

Methods and Apps

Duo Lingo

Most people who have tried to learn a language have probably heard of DuoLingo. It’s the most popular learning tool in the world. The Asian languages such as Japanese and Chinese are super under developed and they sometimes get the meaning and context wrong but they have improved a lot since I have been using them.

In the early days of DuoLingo you could say I will go Saturday and it will be marked wrong because the correct answer they were looking for was “Saturday I will go”. Fortunately it’s not this way so much these days.


This is one of the best known tools in the Japanese specific community. Anki literally means memorization in Japanese. The great thing about Anki is that you can choose, build and customize your own decks. This is great if your goal is studying for the JPLT exam or you want to learn only verbs.

Be sure to check this deck for the Joyo Kanji and this one for the JLPT N5 Kanji.

The interface is simple. No flashy UI/UX or cartoon characters here, it’s simply the character in a simple font and the meaning on the back of the card.

This app is free on Android but your have to pay but you have to pay $24.99 in the Apple Store.

The Mnemonic Method

This method is simple to explain but hard to do well. This method involves looking at a Kanji you don’t know and trying to make it seem close to something in your imagination. For example, if the character for fun was round with two circles in it, you could imagine it as a clown (if you find clowns funny, I don’t I find them to be creepy and terrifying!).

James Heisig Remembering the Kanji

This is by far the most effective way to remember the Kanji. If you’re going to study the Kanji, this is defiantly a book you will want to keep in your arsenal. This book relies heavily on the mnemonic method but fortunate you don’t have to come up with 2136 examples of your own. James has done a masterful job of creating relatable anecdotes for each of the Kanji.

The reason this is not the top pick is because, while it is the most effective way to learn the Kanji, you will learn them all if you follow this method. You will also get bored too if this is your only option. We thought we’d give you some other options to spice your language learning as it’s just a little bit dry.


This is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn Japanese in general. The Kanji covered between both these books will only take you to an N3 level so it’s not super advanced but it is a super fun way to learn. They have downloadable audios and apps you play games on. It really is the most fun way to learn Japanese (aside from watching anime and reading manga).


Learning the Kanji is a tough but very necessary part of your Japanese Journey. Without it you’ll be super confused and you won’t be able to build your Kanji database. Just make sure you do it the right way.

Learning Japanese with a dictionary is super effective. But it sucks and unless you have the discipline of a horse, you’ll likely get board and want to quit. Make sure you use our recommendations to make your language learning more fun.

And remember, if you liked this post, please leave a comment below and share this post on social media. Thank you!


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