If you want to learn Japanese kanji, you may find yourself turning to several books; one of the most popular ones is Remembering The Kanji by Dr. James W. Heisig.

This book is an introductory level read to understanding kanji. It’s about learning the meaning of kanji and how to write those Japanese characters correctly. It might be ideal if you are a beginner looking to start kanji learning.

SaleBestseller No. 1
Remembering the Kanji 1: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters
  • Heisig, James W. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 496 Pages - 03/31/2011 (Publication Date) - University of Hawaii Press (Publisher)
SaleBestseller No. 2
Remembering the Kanji 2: A Systematic Guide to Reading Japanese Characters
  • Heisig, James W. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 416 Pages - 04/30/2012 (Publication Date) - University of Hawaii Press (Publisher)

However, if you are more of a veteran when it comes to kanji, you may find yourself uninterested in the level that this book takes you to. Be mindful of this before purchasing this.

Dr. Heisig uses a highly innovative technique to immerse you in the learning. However, the style may not work for everyone, so finding out what works for you is essential.

That’s why we’re here. We’ll take you through an overview of Remembering The Kanji book to help determine if this is the right read for you.

About Dr. Heisig

Dr. Heisig works in the field of East Asian religion and spirituality. He’s a senior researcher at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture. After many years in the field, he has an impressive resume and built a strong research CV around East Asian culture. His work is well-studied and has brought fresh perspectives to language learning.

Remembering the Kanji book cover

Kanji is particularly difficult for non-native speakers of Japanese. This led to him taking an interest in language learning, not only for himself but for others. He was interested in finding techniques to help others learn languages quickly and efficiently. He sought to find immersive ways to teach language to others. Through this journey, he discovered different ways to remember kanji.

It’s notoriously one of the significant barriers between non-native speakers and achieving mastery of the language. For speakers from traditionally Latin or Greek-based languages, moving into the unique kanji system can be very difficult to wrap one’s head around. There are no similar roots to follow as there often are in Latin languages, so it can be easy to become lost.

Dr. Heisig discovered that some of the characters looked unique and that he could help non-native speakers remember through clever storytelling by making mental associations and connections. This makes it much easier to learn the language than just trying to memorize it without any connections.

He has involved many others in his research and therefore was able to generate many unique stories surrounding kanji due to his multiple perspectives.

About Dr. Heisig’s Method To Learn Kanji

Traditionally speaking, kanji is memorized through standard memorization, which includes lots of repetition and then later lots of testing of said repetition. This is the method that’s primarily used in Japanese schools, so it’s considered the most traditional and reliable method.

However, Dr. Heisig is on a mission to choose a slightly more engaging method than traditional memorization. The hope is that people who follow this complete course can have more fun learning kanji – instead of becoming a massive chore.

How It Works

When you look at kanji, it’s similar to hieroglyphics in that it almost creates an image. These images trace back to ancient times to create a complex lettering system based on shapes and how they correlate to the meaning of the word, as opposed to the English language system, which only correlates to sound.

Remembering the Kanji page example

Dr. Heisig’s method asks you to visualize the images within kanji to see how they can form words. For example, the kanji symbol for “tree” may bear some sort of resemblance to an actual tree. By making connections like these, Dr. Heisig suggests that this way could be quicker than traditional memorization and stick better.

Does This Method Have Faults?

Unfortunately, connecting the lettering to images can’t be as simple. Just like any other language learning method, there are faults. At the same time, some can line up nicely in a way that gives us a nice story, but not all of them can do this.

Some symbols, for instance, have multiple meanings and can mean different things when used in conjunction with other symbols. You are also given no information about pronunciation, which is essential to learning the language.

This might give you some theoretical knowledge, but when it comes to applying that knowledge and practical settings, such as on the street, at a job, or interacting with other Japanese people, it will not be able to help you.

Having that verbal backing is super essential to this method. While the stories are fun and engaging, you are not given the same amount of context necessary to become fluent in kanji. Without the pronunciation, you are again missing out on multiple different meetings.

The Importance of Pronunciation

It gets to the point where pronunciation can be integral to helping you remember new kanji. Think of it this way: if you were asked to memorize a portrait, you could only do so much to learn it because you could only look at it. You’re not able to say that picture aloud. You simply have to look at it.

So, if looking at kanji is your only available method, you end up pulling the short straw in terms of ability when it comes to memorization. Multiple memorizing kanji routes are integral to total immersion and the ability to truly become fluent.

For example:

  • Saying something aloud
  • Writing it over and over again
  • Speaking it in everyday sentences
  • Reading it in fluent sentences
  • Listening to the audio of the pronunciation

It’s not even indispensable for fluency, but for the ability to barely make your way around Japan. So, if you cannot read kanji aloud on the street to identify street signs, read a menu, or discuss something written down, it serves a minimal practical purpose.

Is Remembering the Kanji Worth It?

In some cases, the answer to this question is yes. If you want to see something exciting or are just trying to invest in a good read, the Remembering The Kanji book is engaging, and the method has proven effective for many. You will at least find yourself with a good read that keeps you fascinated for a while.

The methods are diverse and may work for some. However, it may not work for everyone. You also may find that you enjoy some of the stories in the James Heisig book while others don’t connect with you.

Now, if you’re a more experienced learner or simply looking for something more challenging, you may want to pass on this book and invest that money in something more challenging for you. Perhaps private tutoring or other methods of language learning.

Pros and Cons

There are pros and cons to purchasing this book, so it comes down to what feels suitable for your case. If you are still unsure, continue to do some more research and see what is right for you.


Some pros of the book include the ability to start somewhere. If you’re having trouble finding somewhere to start or just tend to procrastinate, this book is a quick way to jump in and get your feet wet.

It’s also surrounded by a very interesting online presence, filled with people who have been able to offer both praise for the book and critiques. Both prove valuable in understanding what works for people studying kanji. From this kind of debate, you may find something useful for yourself in your journey of learning kanji.

Since there are so many ways to learn kanji, you may be surprised about what works for you. The book also offers a unique way of seeing the world and thinking. Having these different perspectives can only benefit you.


Some cons can refer to the stories. While the stories can be interesting, they tend to get off-topic, and you may spend more time reading the stories than actually learning the kanji.

Once again, the book lacks pronunciation. As this is a massively important part of kanji, it is a big problem not to have. This is a significant con against buying the book. However, if you are willing to look up the pronunciations in your spare time and in addition to the book, you may find that it might end up being worth it.

Remembering The Kanji: Final Thoughts

This will be an exciting read if you have spare time and are a beginner in kanji learning. Now, if you’re an experienced speaker of kanji, this book will offer very little value.

We hope the above information will help you determine whether this book is worth investing in. We encourage you to purchase it if you’re on the fence about it.

Should you find that you wish to go for it, you’ll be pleased to know it’s not a bank-breaking read and won’t take up too much time or money.