Remembering the kanji and the Heisig method

Many Japanese Language readers may already know the Remembering the kanji and the heisig method, but as most readers of this site are students of basic Japanese, I decided to try to help by writing about the subject.

Remembering the Kanji is a book written by James Heisig, where the author teaches a very interesting way to learn the japanese symbols, providing a way to never forget them.Remembering the kanji and the Heisig method

Who is James Heisig?

James W. Heisig is a philosopher who has published several books in the field of philosophy. He became famous in the Japanese language world for having written the book series Remembering the kanji and Remembering the kana. Where it teaches you how to learn kanji in a completely different way from Japanese schools.

I learned that James Heisig currently lives in Nagoya, Japan and has written a series of books on the same topic, but this time teaching how to learn Chinese. The name of the book is Remembering the Hanzi.

For the curious on duty, Remembering the kana teaches all the symbols of the Japanese alphabet, while Remembering the kanji teaches about 2,000 kanji used in everyday life and in Japanese proper names. Because he was very successful among Japanese students, his teaching method became known as Heisig method.

How does Remembering the kanji and the Heisig method work?

Remembering the kanji and the Heisig method are centered on three main points, imaginative memory or mnemonics and ideograms, you japanese symbols that represent ideas.

Each of these elements provides information about the composition, writing order and meaning of Japanese symbols. When we work on these three elements, it becomes much easier to learn and not forget any studied kanji. Note how this happens:

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Remembering the kanji and imaginative memory

When the author of Remembering the Kanji talks about imaginative memory, he is referring to the use of visual memory working in conjunction with the imagination, that is, imaginative memory means mentally seeing what you are imagining. Complicated? Not so much…

Do a simple exercise, imagine a candle burning in a dark place. Suddenly two arms of the candle appear and a mouth forms right in the middle of it.

Then you realize she's angry because you tried to blow her away to put out the flame that was lit.

The candle comes at you waving its white arms wildly, but you had a fire extinguisher and you use it, extinguishing the candle and leaving it paralyzed.

You could imagine and see the scene above in your mind. It doesn't have to be a sharp image, the most important thing is that you understand how this part of the method works.

The mnemonics of rememebring the kanji

Imaginative memory by itself doesn't say much about kanji or Japanese symbols. But if we create images or stories relating a Japanese symbol to images we already know, we can easily remember the kanji we studied and even know the difference between it and other similar symbols.

Relating an image to a Japanese symbol is simpler than it sounds. Simply turn the symbol into an image similar to its meaning or simply create a scene, or short story, where the symbol relates to its meaning. In this way, when we see the meaning, we remember the kanji, and when we see the kanji, we remember the meaning.

Remembering the kanji ideograms

As most readers will know, Japanese symbols were created to function as ideograms, symbols representing ideas.

As such, many kanji are similar to the image of their meaning. And this makes it much easier when creating stories and memorizing the meanings of a kanji. Look at the image below:

Heisig method and Remembering the kanji

Further improving learning, the Heisig method breaks a kanji into multiple elements that will be used to compose other elements.

It is as if the author of the book created various characters (elements or parts of the kanji) to compose the story of imaginative memory and associate the kanji with its meaning.

Thinking this way, the order to learn Japanese symbols changes, it is no longer necessary to learn following the order of Jouyou Kanji or from the Japanese school.

As an example from the book, you would learn the symbols first.   and  to later learn , using the first two symbols as kanji elements or characters .

What are the advantages of Remembering the kanji or Heisig method?

I believe that the advantages of the Heisig method were already a little clear in the article, even so I will highlight them below.

  • Using imaginative memory makes learning ideograms much simpler, avoiding confusing similar Japanese symbols or forgetting a previously studied kanji.
  • The method can be customized, allowing the student to create their own stories and associations, making the Heisig method much more efficient.
  • The Heisig method makes studying much more fun, reducing the boredom of studying many symbols through simple repetition.
  • Learning kanji using Remembering the kanji or the Heisig method is proven to be the fastest method to learn Japanese symbols without side effects for the student.
  • The book Remembering the kanji teaches more kanji than those featured in Jouyou kanji, making it a good choice as a study guide.

What are the disadvantages of Remembering the kanji and the Heisig method?

Like any study method, the Heisig method also has its disadvantages, but this does not harm the student who wants to learn kanji using the book Rememebering the kanji or simply use the Heisig method, making their own imaginary associations.

  • It takes a lot of mental effort to imagine associations and stories with kanji. For some people, this effort can be tiring.
  • The Heisig method and Remembering the kanji are focused on associating ideograms with their meaning (only one meaning). The method and the book do not teach pronunciation or focus on writing, which must be learned in parallel.


Although Remembering the kanji and the Heisig method do not teach any kind of pronunciation, it does not harm the Japanese student at all.

My experience with studying the Japanese language has shown me that it is much easier to learn the pronunciation of symbols as we learn new words than trying to memorize all the pronunciations of a kanji in isolation.

In the same way that we learn pronunciations gradually, over time we also learn the other meanings of the same symbol, noting that changing context causes the meaning of kanji to change.Kanji: Imagine To Learn

Finally, for those who know a little English, I strongly recommend reading the book remembering the kanji and remembering the kana. For those who do not know English, there are Spanish and Portuguese versions of this book called Kanji: Imagine To Learn.

They are Kanji to remember and Kana to remember. So far, this method has worked very well for me and many Japanese students.

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