What is this site for?
A guide on how to learn the kanji in 3 months or less. It can also perhaps be considered the most detailed Remembering the Kanji FAQ on the internet.
What is RTK?
It is a method to learn how to write 2200 kanji (2136 常用漢字 + 64 others) from memory, and roughly what they mean. It is explained in this book, which is available through other channels as well, but I recommend that you support the author.
Is RTK for me?
RTK is fastest way to learn the kanji. If you are aiming for native proficiency in Japanese, I highly recommend it.
How should RTK be done?
The traditional way, keyword to kanji. This is very important.
How does RTK work?
RTK works by tapping into imaginative memory, though this is best explained by reading the introduction to the book. When combined with even regular flashcards, not to mention spaced repetition software like Supermemo or Anki, this is devistatingly effective.
Should I use spaced repetition software (SRS)?
Which SRS do you recommend?
Supermemo is the most powerful and is what I use. However, if you are new or anticipate needing mobile access, use Anki. A deck will be provided.
How long does RTK take you?
For the 90% percentile, between 1 and 3 months. The speed depends on the amount of kanji you memorize every day. For context, the equivalent ability (being able to write out 2200 kanji from memory) for conventional learners will generally take around 5+ years.
How many kanji should I do a day?
It depends on how much free time you have. 100 kanji a day will have you finished in just 22 days. However, this is for very extreme learners and cannot be done easily. A more reasonable amount is 20-30 a day, which is probably the most common range. 30 a day will have you finished in a bit over two months. 20 a day will take you about 3 months.
What are the steps to learning a new kanji?
View character in the book, and read the author provided notes and the (optionally provided) author story. Heisig provides stories for you in the earlier parts of the book.
If there is no author provided story (that it to say, you're past phase 1), or you simply wish to use your own, then create a story. Record this story somewhere, ideally on the back of your card.
Close your eyes and visualize this story, invoking all of the primitive elements.
Write the character a couple times until you have the stroke order (but just a couple, as this is not rote memorization) down.
Congratulations. You're done. Move on to the next, or take a break.
How do I make new cards?
In Supermemo this is done with CTRL+A. In Anki you can just the click the add button, but if you're using Anki ideally you should be using the recommended Learn the Kanji pre-made deck.
How should I format my cards?
Keyword on the front. Kanji (and story) on the back. This is important. Other fields are less important, so feel free to experiment, but these two rules must be upheld.
What exactly does RTK teach you?
How to produce all 2136 常用漢字 + 64 others (2220) from memory, along with accurate stroke order for all of them, and the (usually) highest frequency meaning.
What exactly does RTK teach you? Pt.2
To be really explicit, and because there is a lot of misinformation floating around, it's not really a writing exercise as much as it is a kanji production exercise. I'm making a distinction between "produce from memory" and "write" because, while the obvious primary application of this skill is writing kanji from memory like a native speaker, it's not the only application. Anyone who watches Japanese TV knows that Japanese people sometimes like to specify kanji by describing them in terms of other words that use the same kanji, or by simply air-writing them. This happens a lot during personal introductions, but also in random situations where people are clarifying words. To give a fake example, person A introduces himself as きょう, and person B inquires how to write it, and person A tells them 「こうふん」のこう. This all takes places verbally, and if you can't produce kanji from memory not only can you not do this yourself if, for example, when using a word that has a homonym, but you also can't follow along when other people are doing it. The main application of being able to produce kanji in your head is writing from memory though (the primary purpose of RTK), and other general benefits of RTK include being able to easily distinguish similar looking kanji, as well as the easier acquistion of vocab in that you're no longer associating readings with unknown scripts.
Is RTK the fastest way to learn the kanji?
Does RTK make it take longer to learn Japanese?
No. The path to literacy in Japanese is not extended by doing RTK, rather part of it is front-loaded, and in exchange for an overall faster and more efficient journey.
Does RTK make it easier to read Japanese?
Indirectly, but yes. This goes back to the 20 rules of formulating knowledge: learn before you memorize. It is my experience, and the experience of many other people, that familiarity with the kanji makes the acquisition of vocabulary much easier, thus indirectly helping the reading process. See below for a much detailed explanation.
When should RTK be done?
If you're going to do RTK, the earlier the better. RTK should be done as early as possible. Ideally before you even start sentence/vocab-mining. What RTK does is puts one into a state roughly similar to a Chinese speaker learning Japanese. Obviously you don't know Chinese, but you know roughly what the characters mean and can reliably write them all from memory, like someone who knows Chinese. This turns the most intimidating part of the language into the easiest part, has a multiplicative effect on the rest of your studies, and allows a more rapid acqusition of Japanese.
What if I've already started learning Japanese?
Stop what you're doing and do RTK. No, really, just do it. Continue repping your current sentence/vocab deck, however instead of adding new cards to it, use the time to complete RTK. You will feel like superman after.
Should I review kanji to keyword?
No. It is a terrible idea and the author of RTK himself explicitly warns against this on at least two separate occasions. Do not review kanji to keyword.
But someone on the internet said it was fine!
They either misunderstand what they're talking about, or are trying to sell you something (a product, or the fantasy that RTK is easier than it is). Either way it is bad advice if you desire to build a solid foundation.
What is Lazy Kanji?
It is a branding of the above idea; reviewing kanji to keyword instead of keyword to kanji, in other words switching RTK from a kanji production exercise to a kanji recognition one, with the goal of making RTK reviews faster and easier, as production has a much heavier mental burden. Lazy Kanji also preaches that it is okay to put stories on the front of your cards.
What is RRTK?
A rebranding of the branding above.
Should Lazy Kanji/RRTK, AKA reviewing kanji to keyword, be avoided?
YES. Sentence/vocab cards are already kanji recognition exercises. In short, it is entirely redundant to do RTK kanji to keyword. While RRTK will still help, doing it in such a way is not the most optimal way to do it.
Why is RRTK/Lazy Kanji so bad?
When it comes to SRS usage, the target of memorization (which in this case is the kanji) always goes on the back — the purpose of RTK is so that you become able to produce the characters from memory. You'll memorize the meanings as well over time doing it this way through exposure, but you'll never learn how to produce the characters just through exposure when you have them on the front of the cards. This means doing RRTK leaves you unable to produce characters in your head given sound/meaning, and if you ever want to fix that you'll have to do RTK twice. You go from killing two birds with one stone to using two stones. Heisig himself, in the book, very strongly warns about this on at least two separate occasions. Not only that, but doing RTK with the kanji on the front takes away the opportunity to effortlessly transition your RTK deck into a Japanese production deck for free when most of the cards are mature. Learners will be able to replace their English keywords with Japanese keywords that only have one possible correct answer such as 礼ハイ, keeping RTK deck reps relevant even long after one knows Japanese.
I did RRTK/Lazy Kanji. Am I in trouble?
Not entirely, doing it that way prior to cramming vocab will still make your life easier, but you'll have to go back and do it again to get the benefits you missed out on, which you could've gotten the first time around for roughly the same time investment. Ultimately RRTK over-invests on keywords by putting them on the back of the card, when they're actually intended to be input cues (that scaffold away when you learn readings) that you use to produce kanji from memory.
Should I do the most X common kanji instead of full RTK?
If you can't be assed to do RTK otherwise, then yes. You can still learn some without commiting to learning them all. 1000 is infinitely better than 0. If you just don't have it in you to do it all, do 1000 and then go learn grammar/vocab and read. However ideally, I'd say no. The magic of RTK is its ordering, in that it revolves from progressive building blocks. A lot of efficiency you think you're getting by filtering for the most common 1000 will be lost when you have to backtrack and retrace steps to learn the rest of them, because you skipped so many primitives/characters. Secondly, make no mistake, you need them all (the characters in RTK) to function in a basic way, so only learning the most 1000 is ultimately a beginner trap. Beginners tend to focus on microblocks of the most common kanji without realizing that, in the case of something like the jouyou kanji, they're almost all common and without all of them you are non-functional. But more importantly you're messing with the ordering, which is the same as throwing some of the efficiency gains of RTK out of the window.
Should everyone do RTK?
RTK is not entirely necessary if you are not aiming to be literate in Japanese (reading and writing). You can get fluent at reading without it, but I'd still recommend doing it because it is a tremendous gain relative to the time investment required, and because it makes the acquisition of vocabularly marginally easier.
When will I learn how to read?
In the context of sentence-mining native material.
What about Wanikani?
Wanikani is a terrible value proposition and should be avoided. The most commonly cited timeframe for completion of the course is 18 months, and in that timeframe you are taught readings for 2000 kanji as well as 6000 words. In contrast, with RTK + sentence-mining, with a very mild completion pace of RTK in 3 months, and 15 words a day for the remaining 15 months, you will learn more words and will become able to write from memory like a native speaker in the same amount of time, all without being required to pay a monthly subscription. If one is to up the ante and instead do 20 words a day, then the RTK + sentence-mining learner will learn 9000 words in natural context and the ability to read+write 2200 kanji. This is a 50+% increase over what one gets from Wanikani in the same amount of time and for less money. Not to mention that Wanikani teaching kanji readings out of context is a terribly inefficient idea and a recipe for memory interferance. No one should be using Wanikani, and if you are a current user, I implore you to cancel your subscription.
What about KKLC?
KKLC is more of a dictionary than it is a method, and should be treated as such. It rips off of some good ideas from RTK, but ultimately having an excess of indiscriminate information for each character (such as multiple keywords) harms its viability as a learning tool. It is not recommended that one learn the kanji with KKLC, but it is fine to use as a reference.