In a recent post titled "Kanji identification?" the accepted answer stated that the "parts" for 「烙」 are "fire", "folding chair" and "mouth". Japanese native speakers don't understand what that means. Likewise, I don't understand.

An answer that is not understandable by native speakers seems a little weird. Japanese people memorize very, very, few radicals. What they memorize is the official name (so as to explain verbally how to write a kanji). The "meaning" is ancillary at best. Can someone elaborate to me why a radical discussion answered the question in the "Kanji identification?" thread? In this forum, I read most questions / answers to learn Japanese.

  • 3
    I don't think it's necessary (or even helpful) to memorize all the Kangxi radical numbers.
    – user1478
    Commented Oct 7, 2013 at 22:30
  • 2
    This strikes me as meta or chat material.
    – dainichi
    Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 1:54
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about a learning method, and the involvement of Japanese language is incidental.
    – Flaw
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 14:27
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    I don't see a big difference between learning arbitrary names in Japanese and learning arbitrary names in English. The main difference I see is that the Japanese names often (but not always) have the position added to them, which makes them a little bit more useful. (Though again, I don't think we should conflate radicals with elements of characters. Only one element in a character is its radical, and they can contain elements that aren't in the list of 214.)
    – user1478
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 19:08
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    Your question seems to be based on the assumption that the way to raise a child in their native language and the way to teach a person a second language should be the same. However, the needs of native learners and non-native learners can be, and almost always certanly are, very different. In any case, how native Japanese speakers learn doesn't matter at all as long as the non-native learners benefit from the techniques they use.
    – Questioner
    Commented Oct 14, 2013 at 1:24

3 Answers 3


It is referring to a technique for learning kanji in which the various components of the kanji are given "names". In addition to breaking the kanji down into an easily quantifiable number of components, it helps to create a mnemonic sentence for the kanji out of the mnemonic words of each component. For example, "烙" means "burn", so a technique for memorizing this kanji would be to form a sentence related to "burn" out of the words "fire", "folding chair", and "mouth".

Note that some of the mnemonics come from the actual meaning of the component when it appears as a standalone kanji (such as 火, which literally means fire), while others are simply named the way they are because of their appearance, such as 夂、 which resembles a folding chair, but the actual meaning of it is "winter". When forming a mnemonic sentence for the kanji, there is also the option of using "winter" as the mnemonic for the 夂 component.

  • @kinyo I'm not sure where you'd find the proper names for each radical. I've never bothered to learn them, personally. Just never found any use for them. I wasn't talking about the actual formal names, just names that you can informally assign to them: really anything that you can associate with that radical will work. Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 0:32
  • @kinyo Btw, if you find this technique helpful, I would recommend this book: Mastering Japanese Kanji by Glen Nolan Grant. It has a nice guide for mnemonics and even a table in the back of the book with a list of all the radicals where you can fill in the mnemonics you chose for them. Commented Oct 8, 2013 at 0:37
  • Where did you find that the meaning of 夂 is winter(冬)? I thought it was a picture of a leg/foot.
    – HAL
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 17:56
  • @無色受想行識 jisho.org/kanji/details/%E5%A4%82 Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 18:03
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    @無色受想行識 English names vary. The names in the Unicode chart for 2F00-2FDF (Kangxi Radicals) don't include "winter"; they give 夂 instead as KANGXI RADICAL GO. The New Nelson gives it the English nickname "winter", after the Japanese nickname ふゆがしら (冬頭). (You have a good point that names and meaning are distinct!)
    – user1478
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 19:39

There are several useful systems for learning Kanji by building a memorable "story" based on (sometimes random) radical names.

My favorite example of a useful story is remembering the kanji for "tall", which is 高. Breaking it apart from top down, we see a cowboy hat over a mouth, above a space helmet with a mouth visible inside. Of course, this is Woody and Buzz from Toy Story, and you can see that Woody in his cowboy hat is TALL compared to Buzz in his space helmet! Bonus is that you know how to write and understand the meaning of this kanji.

Rinse and repeat for the remaining 2,799 Kanji you want to remember ;)

Helpful sites:

  • "Remembering the Kanji" by James Heisig is a series of books which show the author's method for breaking down over 2,800 kanji into simple memorable pieces, that you can recombine mentally in a story so you are building up and (more importantly) distinguishing similar kanji through these stories. A website that helps immensely is http://kanji.koohii.com/learnmore (Reviewing the Kanji) where you can put in your OWN stories for kanji you want to remember.

  • Another new system that has a built-in Spaced Repetition system is http://www.WaniKani.com which has a very nice interface and well-thought-out progression. It will also bug you to come back and keep progressing, which is a nice feature!

  • I have also heard and used KanjiDamage (.com) but it's a little too far out for me. YMMV. ;)

The official radical names are sometimes not meaningful for Westerners learning Japanese, so don't be afraid to make up your own radical names that mean something to you. You only need them for a while until the intermediate step of recalling the story isn't needed anymore, and you just recognize 高 as [mentally insert your recollection here] whenever you see it.


To memorize something abstract like a kanji, you we must to connect it with something, like some nominal meaning (which doesn't have to be entirely accurate or complete).

(If we do not connect the form with something else, then what does it mean to memorize it and to recall it? If something has no association, yet we are able to recall it, all we can do is point at it and say "I am sure I have seen that form before": basically, the form is associated with a "Yes" or "No": yes, I have seen it; no, I don't think I have. And it ends there.)

A mnemonic device just serves to help retain and recall an association. The details of the mnemonic do not matter, as long as it makes sense to you and helps you remember. You can (and should) make up your own mnemonics.

Mnemonic devices can build on your existing knowledge. For instance, in regard to this 烙, I already know 各 which means "each", "every". I do not need a mnemonic for that character any more. (I do not remember whether I ever had one).

So I might build a mnemonic based on treating this with two parts, rather than three: perhaps combining the concept of fire, with each and every: *if each and every part of something is subject to fire, then it is completely burned. Another possible association is with customer/guest (客). We are missing the "roof" part which distinguishes it from "each". Why is that? The store was burned by exhibiting bad customer service (mortal sin in Japan), and lost the roof over their heads.

Another mnemonic that could work, via another connection to "each": the word 烙印 (rakuin) means "brand": a symbol that is burned on, like on cattle. Hence: "Each and every one of my cattle is branded".

You don't have to associate 烙 with the nominal meaning of "burn" given in some dictionaries; you can use something else, like "branding". The accuracy isn't critical, because this meaning-word is only an access key to the other information you will later hang onto the character, like the words that it is involved in.

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