REVIEW: Kanji in Context

Kanji in Context


It’s the reason I’m so bad at retelling funny stories. (Seriously–you just had to be there.)

But when it comes to language learning, while it’s important to have guidance, the context in which you learn new information has a major impact on your ability to recall that information later.

Let’s take flash cards, a common learning aid, for example. Beginners will find it simple and effective to put a word like「図書館・としょかん」 on a flash card, slap “library” on the back, and call it a day.

Again, simple and effective–especially if you’re just cramming for a test.

But eventually, you’re going to start coming across onomatopoeic words like ガラガラ and ヒリヒリ. After a while, words like this start to pile up, and keeping track of what they all mean without relying on context will quickly become a truly special kind of torture, and indeed, an exercise in futility.

Or, for another example, take「診る・みる」. Yeah, you can just give it a 1:1 translation and say “to examine (medically)”, but it’s far more effective to pair it with something that makes sense in context. Instead of having 「診る」 on a card by itself, try 「脈 / 患者を診る」on the front, while highlighting–as I have done here–the main word to be focused on.

See? Now you’ve exposed yourself to a couple of ways in which 診る can be used, and you’re more likely to be able to use it in a sentence (i.e., a real situation — context!) later.

Pretty neat, huh?

Kanji in Context – Overview

This is where the star of today’s show, Kanji in Context, comes in.

It’s a series of three books–one reference book, two workbooks–originally created in 1994 by the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies, which itself was established by Stanford University in 1961. The Center is one of the most prestigious Japanese language schools in Japan and is currently administered by a consortium of 15 American universities which have strong graduate programs in Japanese Studies, including Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Yale, and a number of others.

The original edition set out to cover all 1,945 常用 (jōyō or “everyday use”) kanji, as well as a couple of others like 誰 and 賄. However, as a new revision of the list was released in 2010, Kanji in Context was updated in 2013 to meet the new standards–now 2,136 kanji–along with nearly 10,000 vocabulary terms that incorporate those characters. Indeed, mastering Kanji in Context is one of the best ways to prepare to pass the current N1-level proficiency test.

Just for good measure, let me say that again: Get the newer, revised edition of Kanji in Context, not the old one. Otherwise, you won’t be covering the current jōyō list of 2,136 kanji. Here’s a visual reference:

Revised Edition (get this one)

Old Edition

The series is written with four key points in mind, as found in the introduction:

  1. The text is specifically designed for intermediate and advanced learners, with clearly stated objectives
  2. Kanji can be learned in a systematic fashion
  3. Focus of study is not on kanji only, but also on kanji-based vocabulary
  4. Kanji can be easily acquired by repeated exposure

To expand each point:

  1. The book doesn’t focus on things like stroke order or radicals (although you can look up the stroke order in the reference book’s entries for each kanji). Indeed, starting this text at the intermediate level or higher will probably allow you to appreciate its contents more as it’s not really beginner-friendly. You will have to read and interpret the contexts in which they appear without being able to rely on any direct English translations, which may prove difficult for a beginner (but it’s a great way to kick off your training wheels). Here’s an example from lesson 2: 「アメリカの景気が日本や東南アジアの国々の景気を左右する。」 Here, the focus is on the two words 「東南・とうなん」(southeast) and「左右・さゆう」(here, to influence or control), but for someone (especially a self-learner) who has only just begun to learn these kanji, it’s perhaps inefficient to be trying to learn these more advanced readings (and meanings) alongside the simpler, more common ones. But once you know that 「左」means “left” and「右」means “right,”  the meaning of「左右」makes more sense.
  2. The book’s authors understand that the number of kanji needed by learners rises sharply at the intermediate and advanced level. They present kanji in a systematic way based on frequency and similarities found in the form, sound, and meaning of characters. Other methods often result in exercises in learning individual characters, which makes it difficult to understand that kanji belong to a system, thus slowing down the acquisition process. Kanji in Context, however, teaches kanji in an order that makes sense from the standpoint of an adult learning Japanese as a second language–not as a native Japanese speaker.
  3. The books go beyond the mere study of kanji to include the acquisition of vocabulary as one of its objectives. The main book contains an abundant collection of essential vocabulary words, all of which have been selected with the different stages of learning in mind. The usage of the vocabulary in the main book can be learned in context through the example sentences and related words found in the workbooks.
  4. The book repeats target vocabulary to a certain extent instead of presenting an item once and then never again. Gaining an understanding of basic words and the system of everyday use kanji, and then at the next stage expanding vocabulary while reviewing the basic words, you’ll be able to make orderly progress through the books, with each stage building on the previous one.

The 2,136 kanji appearing in the books have been divided into seven levels corresponding to the following stages of learning:

LevelNo. of KanjiStage
1250These are elementary kanji that a learner who has completed a beginning course is expected to have already studied.
2100 (subtotal: 350)These are kanji that an intermediate learner is expected to have already studied.
3850 (subtotal: 1,200)These are kanji that are generally taught in an intermediate course.
4220 (subtotal: 1,420)These are kanji that may be covered in certain intermediate courses but are not necessarily common to such courses, or kanji that are generally taught in advanced courses.
5412 (subtotal: 1,832)These are kanji that may be covered in certain advanced courses but are not necessarily common to such courses.
6110 (subtotal: 1,942)These are special kanji which appear only in the vocabulary or terminology of particular fields.
7194 (subtotal: 2,136)These are kanji that were added to the list of Jōyō Kanji when the Ministry of Education revised the list in 2010. Note, however, that in Kanji in Context the character 誰 is presented in Level 1, and the character 賂 is presented in Level 4.

According to a study by the National Language Research Institute, the 500 most often used kanji represent roughly 80% of the kanji found in newspapers, and 94% of newspaper kanji can be covered by 1,000 characters. According to the authors’ reasoning, if you have learned the 1,200 characters in Levels 1-3, you’ll have knowledge of around 95% of the kanji that are used in newspapers today. Tack on Level 4 for good measure, and you should be well-prepared to pass the N2 level of the current JLPT.

The book goes into a lot more detail about how/why information is presented in the text, how to look up unknown kanji/vocab in the indexes (with flow charts and everything!), more statistics, etc., but I’ll let you discover all of that goodness on your own.

What’s Inside

The reference book is beefy and wonderful, but the heart of the content is what’s found in the workbooks–this is where the series truly shines.

There are 156 lessons found throughout both workbooks. Each lesson focuses on about 10-15 kanji (about 10-30 for Levels 1 and 2), providing a variety of approaches to help you master the usage of the target vocab and expand your overall understanding of kanji-based vocabulary. It does this by splitting each lesson into three major sections (I’ve included some examples for clarity).

Section I: Double compounds 「和平交渉」, idiomatic expressions「平和を守る」, and sentence patterns that use the vocabulary「議論が平行線をたどる」.

Section II: Related vocabulary and other related words「管理職・平社員」, contrasting expressions「収入・支出」、「ビールを冷やす・ビールが冷える」(the last being an example of transitivity/intransitivity).

Section III: Example sentences using the vocabulary「慌てて家を出ると、必ず何か忘れ物をしてしまう。」.

Another thing I like about the book is that it will let you know (via special markings) when it’s OK to not worry about studying certain words or characters yet, as you’re guaranteed to pick them up later on. It also marks historical terms with (歴) and specialized terms with (特).

The first volume of the workbook covers Levels 1-3 (kanji numbers 1-1200), and the second volume covers Levels 4-7 (kanji numbers 1201-2136).

How to Use Kanji in Context

Of course, what would a comprehensive review be without a little how-to?

The book assumes you’ve “mastered” (in their words) the 300-500 kanji normally taught in a typical beginning course. Seeing as how the Genki series introduces a little over 300 kanji total, it’s safe to say that you could begin Kanji in Context after completing book 2. However, you will probably want to take it slow, as jumping straight into KiC after Genki might prove to be a daunting task (there are no shiny pictures, and Mary and Takeshi are both sadly absent).

With that said, even if you’re a veteran learner, I suggest starting from the beginning of the series. Although you’ll probably already be familiar with a lot of the content found in Levels 1 and 2, it’s important to note that the material presented at these levels is not confined to elementary vocabulary words, and as I mentioned earlier, the series will continue to build on what you’ve learned in previous lessons. Starting from the beginning will serve as a nice refresher and you’ll be up to speed on what you need to know before digging in to the advanced stuff later.

The authors suggest that you go through the series three times. The first time, you focus on learning the basics (denoted by “key words” printed in red along with other specially marked items). Doing this alone will net you about 3,700 vocabulary words that are considered to be of high importance.

The second run-through covers words unmarked by symbols, but these words still incorporate the kanji you’ve already learned. You will, however, study words marked with an asterisk (*). These are typically words that are important to know but somewhat difficult to use. Since you already have a solid foundation of key vocabulary words at this point, however, you should be able to pick up these new words quickly enough.

On the third time around, you’ll focus on the words marked with the symbols ◊, 歴, and 特. This will get you up to 100% coverage of the jōyō kanji list. As you can imagine, this third stage won’t take as long.

Now, as for how to actually study this material, well, that’s up to you. The books don’t actually have any exercises, per se, but rather a ton of examples of kanji appearing in–wait for it–context.

If you’re familiar with any of my content on Kuma Sensei, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of SRS-based programs (SRS stands for “spaced repetition system”). It’s not a silver bullet that will solve all of your language-learning problems, but it’s a great study aid for moving stuff you’ve learned from short-term to long-term memory for more effective retrieval.

Indeed, my strategy with Kanji in Context was to fire up Anki and start cranking out flash cards. On the front of the card, I put the whole “context” in which the item was to be learned (e.g. the compound, expression, or example sentence) and bolded and underlined the item, mimicking the book’s presentation.

Scan of Kanji in Context
Turn this…
Anki screenshot of Kanji in Context
…into this!

On the back of the card goes English translations of the item being studied — not of the whole sentence itself. You don’t want to get into the habit of translating entire sentences in your head as a learner. Rather, it’s better to train your mind as early as possible to start thinking in the target language.

And when I say “item,” I mean every single item.

Is this excessive? Probably. I think I could have skipped some of the items I had already committed to memory prior to picking up KiC. But being the perfectionist that I am, I just couldn’t bring myself to skip any content. The end result after inputting new items at a rate of about one lesson per day (156 lessons / 30 days avg. per month = 5-6 months) was over 5,500 flash cards, hand-typed, many of them full sentences.


And to be honest with you, I didn’t actually follow the method the authors provide. Rather than going through the book three times, which I’m sure helps with pacing and avoiding flash card burnout, I just went through and created everything in one go. This meant that content started to pile up rather quickly, as I was studying 20 new cards (along with only 50 reviews) per day. My schedule didn’t allow for much more than this, especially considering the time sink hand-typing cards can be.

The reason I mention this is because I don’t want you to burn yourself out using this method. Yes, learners getting tons of input makes Krashen a very happy man, and this method certainly falls in line with popular methods such as the “10,000 sentence” method touted by AJATT-enthusiasts (which I can’t link to here as Google says the site may be infected — you can look it up on your own).

But at the rate I was going, I started to get overwhelmed after a while. You may want to take things a little more slowly depending on your learning goals and personal schedule. After all, learning Japanese is not a race, but a marathon.

Kuma Sensei says…

Kanji in Context is a wonderful resource for ambitious learners who want to take their kanji study to the next level. Whether you’re an intermediate learner looking for a way to break into more advanced material, or a veteran learner preparing for the JLPT N1, Kanji in Context will have something for you.

You can purchase the books below.

White Rabbit Japan

Reference Book – Workbook Vol. 1Workbook Vol. 2


Reference Book – Workbook Vol. 1Workbook Vol. 2

Are you a fan of Kanji in Context? Do you have any questions about using the text? Is there something you wish the book did better?

Leave a comment below!

If you’re interested in further reading, head over to the extensive study path I’ve designed for Japanese learners. If you’d like to see more reviews, check out my popular post on the Japanese course for Duolingo.

As always, thanks for reading.

Author: Kuma Sensei

Kuma Sensei is a mythical bear who lives in the woods and enjoys talking about learning languages.

109 thoughts on “REVIEW: Kanji in Context”

  1. Hi thanks for the informative overview. I have purchased the books and would like a copy of your deck please!

  2. Hello Kuma. Thank you for this review, it was super helpful in helping me decide that i wanted to buy KIC.

    I know it has been some time since you posted this article, but could you please send me your Anki deck? Would be really helpful 🙂

    Email is
    [email protected]

    I really appreciate it!

  3. Thank you so much for this article! I was wondering whether or not buying this textbook would be helpful, uncertain of the content – you made it clear and convinced me to buy it! Great article 🙂

  4. Hello, Kuma-sensei!

    I would really appreciate it if you could send me a copy of the anki deck as well. Thank you in advance!

  5. Hi Kuma Sensei, really nice in-depth review of the series, thank you very much!
    I have just picked up the textbook and both workbooks and was wondering if you could send me the anki deck you mentioned? That would save me much time in manually making entries for several thousand sentences, lol.

  6. Hi! Could I also get a copy of the Anki deck? I may be late to the party but I still hope to get this deck, if it’s okay!

  7. I would also like a copy of the anki deck if it’s not too much trouble. I started a similiar project when I was studying in Japan but only got 7 chapters from the 3rd section completed. Trying to get back into it now with the revised edition.

  8. Hi,

    has the order in which the old and the revised edition present the kanji changed? Or did they just add the new kanji at the end? Do you have a list of which kanji exactly are missing in the first edition?

    I have the first edition and I am working comprehensively with it. I have an Anki deck for kanji which uses RTK stories (or my own made up stories), but I still use the order of KIC. I have two other decks, one with example sentences and one with vocabulary that I often add the KIC material to.

    Could you also send me your deck? I’d appreciate it. Thanks!

  9. Hi ! I’m starting to use this book as my main kanji reference, could I have the anki deck please ? It’d help me a lot !

  10. Hi Kuma Sensei,

    I found your review after I was looking for a kanji book to follow Genki II. Thanks to this review I decided to with KIC. I don’t know if you are still checking this post, but if you could send the Anki deck I would be very grateful. Thank you 🙂

  11. Hello! Thank you very much for this informative post. I’ve been studying the Kanji in Context textbook and am looking forward to purchasing the workbooks as well. If it’s no trouble, could I request access to your Anki deck as well? My email is rinuzuki @ Gmail . Com (no spaces). Thank you again!

  12. Nice and detailed review abouts the KiC books!

    I bought them a couple of months ago and I was wondering if you could send me the anki decks so I could use them to aid my kanji studies? It’d help me save some time on my anki cards.

    Thanks in advance 🙂

  13. Thank you very much for this helpful review. I am starting a course at IUC this summer and have purchased the KIC. I was wondering if you could send me the decks you made for the text book? I would greatly appreciate it! Thanks1

  14. Thanks for the review! I’ve completed RTK and Genki and I seems like this might be a good resource to start next. Could I have a copy of the anki deck?

  15. Thanks for all your posts! Could you please send me the KIC anki deck?

    I was grinding through my own deck but this will save me so much time! Thank you!

  16. KiC is indeed great.
    Istarted to create my own deck from the method. but this is quite time consumin
    could you please shar your deck?

  17. Hi, I got the reference book and one of the workbooks over Christmas, and I’m really excited to try this method out since I have a lot of difficulty with remembering onyomi readings in new words, and something like this would help a lot. Would I be able to use your Anki deck? I might split it up myself between the black circled items (first run of the main book with key words) and the white circled items (second run with supplementary words).

  18. Hi there, I think I found THE resource I needed with Kanji in Context. Would you mind sending me the Anki Deck?

    Thank you!

  19. Hi! Just started working with the deck.

    Curious where the sentences are sourced from?

    I was trying to find a match in the anki deck with one of the first few sentences in the KiC workbook and couldn’t find them. In fact, I wasn’t able to find any sentences in the first workbook for the ones I tried. Could we have a mismatched version or I’m doing a search in Anki wrong? I’m using the revised edition of volume 1.


    1. Hi J, good question. IIRC, I made my deck using the older edition of volume 1, and the revised edition of volume 2. I’m not sure how much the sentences might differ between the two editions.

  20. Hey thanks for the great review. I’ve had this series for a couple of years but never had the discipline to get through it properly. Reading this made me want to really try again. I know this is a couple of years old now but is there any chance you still have your Anki deck? If so would you be willing to share it if I sent you proof of ownership of the books?

  21. Nice review! I’ve had this book on my shelf for a few years and I’m going to try to look at it more comprehensively. If it’s not a huge bother could I get your Anki deck? Thank you.

  22. Hi Kuma Sensei,

    you really helped me with your comprehensive guide for learning Japanese.

    Recently I bought the three books of Kanji in Context and I would love if you could share your anki deck with me.

  23. Dear Kuma-sensei,

    Thank you for your excellent review of these books! I got them right before Christmas and am going to start studying this week. Would it be possible for me to please get a copy of your Anki deck as well?

  24. Awesome review! I’ve almost done with KKLC (RTK style) to get exposed to all the JOYO kanji and learn how to write them. Going to move onto KiC next to completely drill them down after I finish KKLC. Would love the anki deck as well! Thanks!

  25. Hello! I recently purchased these books and have just started going through them. I am about halfway through the Tobira textbook and bought these books to provide a full course roadmap through the jouyou kanj. I cannot imagine the effort going into creating this deck! Huge kudos.
    Could you please share a copy your anki deck? Thanks!

  26. Hello, thanks for the detailed review.

    Would it be possible for me to get a copy of your Anki deck please?

    Thank you so much.

  27. Hi there Kuma Sensei, thanks for the deck! However when I add it to Anki the sentences seem to be in a random order different from the book, is there any way I can get it to display in the normal chapter order?

    1. Hi Joe, this is something that I’m sure can be done using the organizational features of Anki. A lot more people are asking for the deck, so I’m going to try to find some time this holiday season to clean up the deck and make it more user-friendly. I’ll follow up if I find a way to order by chapter!

  28. Hi!

    I am completely new to learning kanji! I live in japan and I want to learn kanji, with context. What should I do? I have Anki but I dont know how to use it. Help me someone pleeeeeease!

    1. Hi Reeda,

      If you’re completely new to learning kanji, I’ll be honest, you might want to steer clear of Anki for the time being. There are plenty of ways to approach kanji, and almost none of them are incorrect. I actually started with the book Remembering the Kanji by James Heisig. It introduces you to the individual components that make up all of the major kanji in use today, and teaches you how those components work together to form kanji and create meaning. It uses stories to act as learning mnemonics to make remembering easier. For example, the kanji for parent, 親, can be broken down into several parts. Let’s take the left side, 亲, which has a top and a bottom: 立 and 木, respectively. 立 means stand and 木 means tree. The right side of the original kanji, 見, means look. So as an example, the mnemonic in the book might have you imagine a parent standing by a tree and watching over their child at play, to make sure s/he stays safe. Then, when you see that kanji, you should see the individual components, “stand,” “tree,” and “look,” and instantly think “parent” thanks to the story.

      This method is obviously slower than most, but will help you form a strong foundation and will help you become a good guesser when you come across kanji you’ve never seen before. Even if you can’t read it, you probably get the gist of what it means, just by looking at its components. This is why Chinese speakers have a leg up on everyone else when it comes to learning Japanese, at least as far as kanji goes.

      Anyway, that’s just one idea. WaniKani also has a lot of fans, and I think it’s a solid app. Skritter is also great, especially if you want to practice writing. But I recommend good old pen/paper for that, at least starting out. You can buy kanji writing workbooks that let you trace in measured squares, making you focus on the balance/size/proportion of the characters.

      As for using Anki itself, be sure to download the desktop version, found here:

      Create an account, which you will use to sync across devices, then you can download a shared deck from here:
      (Core 2k is a good place to start.)

      Please let me know if you have any more questions. Good luck. 🙂

      1. Hi Kuma Sensei,

        I’m interested in your Anki deck. I’ve been looking for an Anki deck with sentences for the Kanji in Context books.

        Your efforts are greatly appreciated!

  29. Hi! I came across your review of kanji in context and was interested in your Anki deck. I started creating my own deck but it’s taking so long. I’d really appreciate it if you could please send it to me. Thanks so much!

  30. Hello Kuma sensei, thank you for your post on KIC. I bought the books because of this article. Would love to make use of Anki too, so if by any chance you could share your Anki deck it would be highly appreciated. Thank you!

  31. Hey there. Thank you so much for the post.

    Is it possible to recieve the KiC Anki deck you created? Thank you so much!


  32. Hey Kuma sensei. I was wondering if I could snag your Kanji in Context deck as well. I’d made one years ago but the hard drive it on crashed and burned, and I really don’t want to go through that again lol.

    Thanks a bunch!
    [email protected]

  33. I love kanji and I am ordering this book as soon as I am done with school finals! Your review has really convinced me to buy it as a supplement to Wanikani. I think that having more context to the kanji and vocabulary that I am learning would really benefit my current learning.

    I would love if I could also have your Anki deck, as I think it would help me a lot.
    My email is [email protected]

    1. Hi Chanel,

      I’m glad to hear the review helped guide you a bit in your studies. Hope the deck helps, too!

  34. Hello Kuma Sensei,
    I recently started working on an anki deck, and wish I came across this article sooner. Any chance you could send me a copy of your anki deck?

    [email protected]

    It would be greatly appreciated.

  35. Hi there! Thanks for such a detailed review!

    I’m excited to get started with this book after (finally!) finishing Tobira. I bought “Authentic Japanese” but after going through one chapter I think I need to get a better kanji base before going ahead! Is there any chance you could share you Anki deck with me? (^^)

    [email protected]

    Many thanks! (^^)

  36. Thank you for your insightful review! I have tried several kanji memorization methods (Heisig, Essential Kanji, etc.) over years of on-and-off study, and am hopeful about this series after reading your review. Would you mind sharing your Anki deck via email? My email is [email protected]

  37. Hi,
    Nice review. I bought that book while in Japan, the fact that they put kanji and vocabulary together really appealed to me. I hate learning a kanji list, I hate learning a vocabulary list, so at least with this book I only have to hate one list xD
    I also liked how they organized the kanji together. I hate books that don’t put together related kanji if you see what I mean. Once I flipped through a book that did even put the kanji for the numbers in order…

    Could you send me your desk, please ? I tried to do mine but it was so time consumming I stopped and went back to a traditional “writing in a notebook” but I can’t review with a SRS which bothers me :S
    My email is [email protected]

    Thank you


  38. Great review! I’m currently using the Kanji in Context series to study, but I’m still in the flash card creation stage. So far I’ve created about 1,200 flash cards, but they only have the vocabulary item rather than the whole context. Including the context sounds like an even better way to study.

    I would love to receive your deck if you wouldn’t mind sharing it. It would save me a lot of time!

    This is my first time visiting your site so I’ll check out some other articles. Keep up the good work!

  39. Thank you so much for this detailed review! I would love a copy of the anki deck if possible my email is jgole1 at I love the idea of learning Kanji in Context and have ordered the books because of you.

  40. Hi Kuma! Thanks for your review. It helped convince me to order the books.

    Would you mind sending me your anki deck for the books? I have the new workbooks but I’m sure it will help me even if the sentences are different for the first half, as long as the kanji order isn’t much different. My email is [email protected]

    Also, have you heard of iKiC? Apparently there used to be an awesome app for the series, with audio(!), but I can’t find it anymore. Just a 1 chapter free lite version. I really wish I had the pronunciation for the words to go along with the text. Pretty bummed about that. Anyway, I hope this reaches you!

  41. Hello Kuma. Thank you for this review, it was super helpful in helping me decide that i wanted to buy KIC.

    Please can you send me your deck to [email protected]

    I really appreciate it.

    Thank you.


  42. Hello, Kuma Sensei! Greetings from Finland ^_^

    Thank you for the review! I bought the book while I was studying in Japan, but as I didn’t have time or any specific plan how to actually use the it, it has been just gathering dust in my bookshelf. 😛

    But not anymore! I’m thinking about trying the N1 this year and using KIC (among some other books) as my main learning material. So, if it’s okay, I would love to get your Anki deck too! My email is hiruterebi AT ^_^

    Thank you in advance~

  43. Dear Kuma-Sensei,
    Thank you very much for the review. It pushed me to buy Kanji in context for studying too.

    Though I started course only a month ago, it seems as really nice and cool book. I’ll check other recommendations on your site too haha

    Can I ask about sending me your deck: [email protected]
    Will appreciate a lot!

    Thanks and spasibo and ありがとう!

    1. Hi Natalia,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the review and I hope the books serve you as well as they did me! I’ll send the deck your way – watch your email!

  44. Hello, thank you very much for everything and your anki deck.

    i just came back to say that unfortunately, it seems no sentence from the new first worknook match with the deck.

    thank you still

    1. sorry, some of them actually do match, but it’s pretty rare and i can’t find anything similar from the I or II parts, i couldn’t find any of them no matter the lesson

  45. Hello ! So i’m back from a few months of tudying and i am soon over with tobira. I bought KIC (because of you haha) and wanted to know just a few things.

    1) When doing flashcards, do you think i should just write the vocabulary or input the whole sentences ?

    2) also and more importantly, do you think i should try to remember how to write them ? That’s the thing i’m wondering, i’m not sure if i should keep trying to remember how to write the vocab with my flashcards, or just how to recall the vocab from reading the flashcards. There are different schools about this issue, some say it’s very important to maintain knowledge on how to write them while other say it’s useless if your goal is to read only.

    What’s your opinion on these stuffs ? Thank you very much

    1. Hey vaanen, glad to hear you’re still going strong with your studies. すっごい勉強熱心!

      1) Well, the whole idea behind Kanji in Context is to learn the words within some kind of context, so studying only the words by themselves kind of defeats the purpose. Traditional flash cards present an item, and then when you flip it over, you’ll see some other stuff, depending on what you want in a flash card. Many cards would just show the translation of the item, and this is fine at an early stage when you’re just trying to cram as much basic vocabulary into your head as possible so you can start making basic sentences (I fondly remember this phase when I was learning German back in high school). However, more effective flash cards have context–phrases, similar/opposite words, or full sentences–in order to increase the chances that you’ll retain the word and have a better understanding of how it can be used. In addition, having the sentences on the front (instead of presenting them as “examples” on the back) cuts down on guesswork and forces you to think about how the word is being used in the sentence before attempting to answer the question–similar to how you would encounter the word in real life situations. Eventually (perhaps around the 6k+ mark) you just won’t be able to be a walking dictionary anymore and you will have no choice but to rely on context to remember things. There are definitely times when I’m reading something in Japanese and I forget how to read a certain kanji, but I can recognize it and I understand what it generally means based on its kanji and the context in which I originally studied it. This will lead to better overall reading fluency and more educated guessing rather than taking potshots in the dark.

      Just to use an example from Kanji in Context:


      The focus word here is 自刃(じじん), which refers to the act of suicide by sword. Instead of just having 自刃 on a flash card by itself, whereupon you flip it over and see if the translation matches up with your guess, you will see 自刃 in the context of that sentence. You have the image of Japanese soldiers escaping becoming prisoners of war by killing themselves with their own swords. Not every flash card will produce such vivid imagery, but learning the word with those Japanese soldiers in the back of your mind will make its meaning more likely to stick, because now you have a mental image to go with it. Of course, the kanji is a pretty dead giveaway (no pun intended)–self + blade–so coming up with its meaning even if you forget the reading shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. And while you’re at it, maybe you can create an extra learning mnemonic for yourself to remember the rather uncommon reading of 刃 as じん: There’s a character in Samurai Champloo named Jin and he’s an expert blade-wielder, so imagine him backed into a corner and faced with the decision to go into captivity or die with honor. Which would he choose?

      Who cares? You’ll never forget that kanji now!

      Anyway, tl;dr. I think it’s better to try to learn things in context so that you have something to refer back to when you’re attempting to recall the meaning/reading of a word. You also get TONS of extra exposure to input on the side (like grammar and other non-focus kanji/vocab) and must challenge yourself to understand the meaning of the word based on everything around it, which more accurately reflects the real life situations in which you’re likely to come across the word. Having the example sentences on the back of the card is also a fine option and is indeed the method many other resources use (like iKnow or Anki’s core 2k/6k decks), but since so many flash cards already do that, why not change it up a bit and try learning from sentences?

      Hope that answers your question. My thoughts are always all over the place. 🙂

      2) It really depends on your learning goals. During my university classes, I had to write in Japanese on a daily basis because my grades depended on it. I demolished all of my kanji tests because I wanted a good grade and didn’t want to let my teachers or myself down. Ever since I stopped taking formal classes, I really slowed down my habit of writing every day and thus lost the ability to write a lot of kanji from memory. It’s a little embarrassing considering what I used to be capable of, but while I don’t do a lot of physical writing anymore, I still type a lot in Japanese, which is more important for my personal needs. Point being: The ability to come up with output, whether it’s with pen/paper or your keyboard, is an extremely important skill that all learners must be capable of doing, in my opinion. Being able to express yourself in Japanese orally and in writing is essential to communicating effectively.

      With that said, the benefits of sitting down and writing kanji over and over may or may not be worth your time invested. If you have things like kanji tests because of school classes, then yes, you absolutely need to be practicing kanji writing. I also believe that all learners (except for the utmost casual) should be able to write all of the hiragana and katakana from memory for the purposes of spelling things out. Survival language is important too: If you live in Japan, you should know how to write your name and address.

      Beyond that, it’s really up to you. The reason I got into Japanese in the first place was because I really liked Chinese characters as a kid and wanted to know more about them. James Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji was my first Japanese book, and I love studying them. I have volumes of sketch notebooks filled with my attempts to write kanji as beautifully as possible, and you can bet your butt that I practiced calligraphy when I came to Japan. In retrospect, I do believe that practicing writing kanji extensively like that led to more familiarity with each kanji and probably helped me remember them a little better.

      Was it worth all that extra time? Well, I got good grades, so yeah, it was. Performing well in my classes opened a lot of doors for opportunity.

      But now that I don’t get a grade for writing kanji well anymore, I don’t have that extrinsic motivator to push me to write more using pen and paper. Indeed, I thought, perhaps my time is now better spent on other things that mean more to me, like doing translation jobs so I can pay for rent (being an adult is tough, I discovered). 🙂

      I guess the long and short of it is that it depends on your learning needs.

      Anyway, I wrote a short article on the benefits of writing for learners, so feel free to peruse that. I hope you were able to get something out of all this rambling. Best of luck moving forward!

      1. Very insteresting, thank you for this very thourough answer. I will learn them by context them !

        By the way, i would love to get your Anki deck haba ^^ if you could send it to me on [email protected], that would be awesome !

        Thanks 🙂

  46. Hello Kuma Sensei
    your blog is great, thx for posting it.
    I have copies of the old kanji in Context books and going to purchase the new ones.
    Could you please share your Anki deck you have created?
    It would be great help for me to study from it?
    My email is [email protected]

    Thank you

  47. Hello Kuma-sensei
    thanks for your article.
    I was wondering if you would be so kind as to lend me your Anki cards that you mad for the Kanji in Context series?
    I actually have bought the older versions of the book ( all 3 of them ) and will now purchase the new versions.
    My email is [email protected]

  48. Posted on reddit but i’ll repost here, we never know :

    Very interesting ! I was very interested in Kanji in Context a while ago, however the author of the Kodansha Kanji Learner’s released some graded readers that gives around 10 sentences for each learned kanji. How do you think it compares to that now ? I’m genuinely interested in your opinion, you can check the first volume of the graded reader for free here

    I’m still unsure of which solution i will use so your input will have great value. Also, could you upload your anki deck ? It would be very useful, me and many people have been looking for a kanji in context anki decks and so far, they all disappeared and none are available anymore

    Thanks for your great review by the way

    1. Hey, thanks for the message, I’ll reply on Reddit as well for good measure.

      After skimming through volume 1 of the reader set you linked to, it looks like an overall solid way to gain more exposure to sentences, which is always a good thing. It seems that the author is also attempting to make it as affordable as possible, and it looks like an honest effort went into gathering the contents, which I appreciate.

      However, the aim of the resource is a little ambiguous for me. I believe that graded readers should follow a coherent storyline that has a beginning, middle, and end. The point of using graded readers, after all, is to improve reading speed and fluency. Also, I’m not sure if the author quite understands the meaning of “extensive reading.” He claims that it must

      1. challenge you with new forms
      2. give you adequate support to understand what you are reading

      …neither of which is really true. According to one of the leading experts on the subject, Richard R. Day, extensive reading done at a level that is outside of your comfort zone is missing the point of extensive reading entirely. While you’re reading, you shouldn’t have to be constantly checking your reference dictionaries. If your ability level is i, then reading at the i-1 level will build confidence and will make it easier for you to begin to build both sight and general vocabularies. It makes it clear to you that this is a different kind of reading practice from what you may be used to, and that’s because the reading goals are different (Extensive Reading in the Second Language Classroom, Day & Bamford, 1998).

      The resource you linked does not strive for these goals, which puts it outside the realm of extensive reading.

      So it seems we have something of an identity crisis on our hands.

      It’s not quite a grammar-teaching resource, as there is no clear method to the madness in how it introduces grammar forms. I feel that all of the “grammar glosses” in general are a bit superfluous and undermine the learner’s ability to look stuff up on their own — it ends up contributing little more than additional, unsightly text to each entry.

      The inclusion of English translations is also something that does more harm than good in the long run, in my opinion. If you’re going to add translations, it really should only be for the target kanji/vocabulary being learned. Leave the rest of the interpretation up to the learner. If the meaning is too esoteric, perhaps you shouldn’t be using the constitution of Japan and Plato to teach Japanese in the first place.

      These are just a few of my nitpicks, which are, if I can be honest, more like glaring flaws than minor nitpicks. I’m not trying to harp on the author too much here – I appreciate the honest effort. But I think it’s just trying to do too many things at once, and ends up falling short as a result. You might as well pick up a normal textbook until the intermediate stage, at which point you can start using more specialized texts like this one or Kanji in Context.

      Final thoughts: KLC looks like it’s put together well enough to use. If you’re a current user, and you enjoy it, I’m not advocating that you stop using it. And for people thinking of trying it, it’s nice that you can buy it in separate chunks. And hey, more exposure to sentences. But if I had to choose between the two, I would definitely go with Kanji in Context, if only because it’s a more polished text that is abundantly more clear in its teaching goals (and perhaps more effective in their execution). Hope this helps!

      1. Thank you very much for your great answer. I guess i’ll use Kanji in Context then ! Seems like a very great book, i’ll have around 800 kanji under my belt when i’ll use it so it seems perfect for me.

        I don’t know if you saw, but i was interested in your Anki Deck too. I think it would be a very valuable ressource for anyone trying to do Kanji in Context, since that’s one of the few books that has close to no helping ressource online. That was also one of the big reason i was looking for an alternative and i would be very grateful for it.

        Thank you for everything, your site is very well done and helps a lot

        1. 800 kanji would be a great starting point. I think you’ll like the book!

          I need to clean up the Anki deck because I changed the formatting of the cards’ back side a little bit as I went along. Not a big deal, but just kind of inconsistent in some parts. Also, my deck consists of the older edition of Volume 1 and the newer edition of Volume 2, so there’s a possibility that the contents don’t match up 100% with the current edition of Volume 1. I compared the books in person at a bookstore and there didn’t seem to be any differences, but I’m sure there’s a sentence or two that might have been altered.

          If these issues aren’t a problem, I’d be happy to share the deck. Something tells me, however, that it’s not OK to just post all of the workbooks’ contents online, even in the form of flash cards, since that’s really the meat of the series, which is protected by copyright. I’ll look into some options and get back to you. If nothing else, perhaps I can send the deck privately via email. If anyone else is interested, let me know.

          1. I did a long answer unfortunately it seems it didn’t send…. Anyway i was basically saying that i understand and that i won’t be using KIC before finishing tobira, aka around in 3 or 4 months so there’s time !

            I intend to learn kanji the “textebook” way till i can because even though everyone seems to hate this method and recommend real kanji courses, it works suprisingly well for me. I think it’s the context that they add, like most kanji are gradually introduced in each lesson and i love that because it really makes everything stick in my brain as opposed to the “mnemonics” way, which doesn’t work nearly as well for me. That’s why when i discovered there was a whole kanji book working like that, i fell in love haha ^^ I feel it’s sad it’s not that popular, and it’s great that you did publictiy for it because i’m a big believer in context learning.

            Anyway so as i said in my previous post, i plan to use it in conjuction with Authentic Japanese and then rapid reading japanese because they don’t have a kanji section. After finishing rapid reading japanese and KIC, i hope i’ll be able to just dive into native material and not use textbooks anymore ! But i know myself, after playing many FF games in japanese and reading many mangas, i’ll maybe do the whole Kanzen Master N1 series if i want to try to pass the JLPT N1 🙂

            Thank you btw for all the help, very much appreciated

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