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Japanese Kanji Learning: Short-Cuts to Rapid Mastery (Part 2)

In Japanese Kanji Learning: Short-Cuts to Rapid Mastery Part 1, we looked at mnemonic methods devised by James Heisig and Kenneth Henshall to speed-up kanji acquisition. We saw how their techniques activate the imagination by assigning different meanings individual elements of each kanji. But perhaps these methods do not work so well for you. If you are more of a visual learner, what are your options for rapid kanji assimilation?

Visual learners, you are so lucky! If your are a visual learner, you may well find kanji easier to learn than most other people do because of their pictorial nature. However, there is a way that even you can accelerate your existing kanji-learning advantage:

Michael Rowley's book Kanji Pict-O-Graphix presents the reader with just over 1,000 kanji in a visually memorable form. Taking each character, he first breaks it down into constituent radicals. However, in contrast to Henshall's academic approach (see Part 1), Rowley uses a visual cue for each element to produce beautifully-drawn illustrations that both carry the meaning and hint at the shape of the kanji. He also provides a brief mnemonic phrase to provide additional reinforcement, although this is not the core of this method. It is the clear, high-impact illustrations that give his approach its effectiveness.

This is a beautifully laid out and illustrated book that even has people who are not studying Japanese browsing through it simply for pleasure. With this book, you can have a pleasant moment of kanji study while relaxing on your sofa and not even feel like you are studying. Taking the pain out of studying while simultaneously increasing retention has to be the main advantage of Rowley's approach.

The downside is that, unlike Heisig in particular, this method will not allow you to even dream about mastering the 1,945 joyou kanji: You might breeze through all the kanji in this book, but you will still be only just over half-way there. And without Rowley's illustrative skill, you will find it difficult to use the same method to press on and master the rest.

This is a serious weakness compared to the other methods mentioned in Part 1. Their advantage is not just that they take you through at least all the joyou kanji, but that they also give you a method which you can continue to use for any obscure kanji you come across in the future.

So, if you are a visual learner and you are thinking about using Kanji Pict-O-Graphix as your main kanji learning tool, you will probably want to consider whether you are serious enough to want learn more than 1,000 kanji before you get started. However, if you are simply thinking of using this approach as an extra additional resource, there is very little you can say to fault this volume.

At the end of the day, it still comes down to your needs and your preferred learning method: Will you opt for Heisig or Henshall's mnemonics, Rowley's visual approach or will you be a pioneer and create your own unique method? The choice is yours, but grinding, rote kanji memorization does not have to be your fate anymore.

About the Author
Stephen Munday lives in Japan and is the creator of where you can download images of over 2,200 names in kanji or get a romantic calligraphy gift.

This article is Stephen Munday 2005. Permission is given to reproduce this article in whole with the URLs correctly hyperlinked.

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