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All Hail the Alicrab! A Peek into WaniKani


Since I was a wee kanji learner, I have gone upon the mountains and lo, preached the goodness that was the world of Remembering the Kanji and all the RTK followers would rejoice on high...that is until the Almighty Alicrab appeared and toppled RTK over the hill.

Wanikani is crack where RTK is caffeine, picking off where RTK does and going a step further. I found that after RTK there was a sort of deadening space where you lose a little motivation, but mostly because though you can see soooo many kanji everywhere and understand that gist (which is an awesome feeling) it is sorta a little browbeating to sorta 'start from scratch' in terms of getting sounds to the kanji. RTK's 2nd book supposedly addresses this issue, but never have I really heard any good comments about RTK2, nor have I even been remotely interested in it.

This is ultimately why WaniKani is now my beginner 'program' of choice when anyone asks me how to start the reading/writing process. It all began with the Alicrab.

What is the almighty Alicrab you say? Well pictures are worth a thousand words.

Description: https://encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRSfIW8dFGUoj6_guT-C4On79LDU0DgtTgTGaJQjTWUZK98rTszFQ

Just an alligator with a crab body here, nothing to see, move along!

General Thoughts

Though you can see Tofugu's own post about WaniKani, I'm here to give you a peak at my thoughts. Even though I have completed RTK1, it might not be completely fair to hear my thoughts on the ease of the program. Worry not however, because I forced about 3 people near me who had relativity no kanji experience to use it as well.

Having been a member of the beta for some time now, I've seen a wealthy amount of UI changes, even their blog post is quite outdated, however, the changes are like most site changes, some you like, some you don't. I'll admit at least for this sensitive eyeballed person here, the newer color scheme is just a tad bit painful and I do hope that it may change soon, however that said, I still enjoy the overall changes and progression that WaniKani has taken on. I've seen the levels progress from 7 to now 33, and things like audio and such add up.

I think my favorite things about the site is the system itself, its cuteness of the Alicrab, and the ease of the layout (where you get to see lots of information to fuel your excitement), where as my most hated thing is the lack of sentences and rigidity during reviews (I'll explain the review section below), but mostly the color scheme (yeah yeah I know, I might complain about it a little more though. Not to say everyone feels the same, lots of people enjoy the color. As a side note, its not my monitor as I've viewed it on several computers and my ipad).

Enough of my general talking, let me get down to business.

WaniKani Basics

The Radicals

Like RTK where there are elements that you use to propel mnemonics, so does WK. If you're into RTK just a little bit, it would not be hard to convert over at all. Even I, who've had those keywords in my head for a long time, was almost painless to switch. There were only a few where I continuously miss them due to RTK, such as 日, however I do not see it being problems for those with no heavy RTK influence.

The Kanji (General)

Kanji are usually given the most appropriate keyword for testing periods (SRS), however there are explanations of more within the kanji's information...center? I'm not sure where he is pulling his list from, but from what I can tell in my own readings and such, the kanji are all relevant kanji you'll need to know.

The Kanji (Readings)

The readings for the kanji are broken into two sections, the kanji side and the vocabulary side. For some this may seem like a rather odd thing, and at first I was a little eyebrow raising, however I noticed right away the ingenious behind it. Well Played Good Sir, Well Played. If you're like me, you can never remember the difference between the words, On'Yomi, or Kon'Yomi, however, and though I still don't think it matters if I do, WaniKani takes on that responsibility of helping you distinguish between when to say what (in general) without you caring to know still. I might of confused you, but when I give an example below, I will point this out better.

The Vocabulary

Every kanji has a vocabulary in which it goes into in the WaniKani side of things, and some even get a handful (especially combined with other kanji). This can be a little confusing, as for kanji's readings in its kanji only side is sometimes different than the vocabulary side, and can be a little mind numbing if you mix them up and get the review wrong. However, the reinforcement of how the reading's show up is a blessing in disguise, and it helps hit home that the kanji should never be confused with its vocabulary counterpart (even if, it is a single kanji vocab). Okay, maybe you're worried or confused now, but I'll show you below in an example. The great thing however is most of the vocabulary I feel is pretty common and useful right out the gate.


WK works on a leveling system. The number of radicals, kanji, and vocabulary differ for each level as well. The radicals do not run out however, due to a lot of them being kanji used in other kanji. This is similar to how RTK worked, and perhaps some people have complained about just slightly, since they have to double test on it, however others feel that it is doubly helpful that way.

Home Page

The homepage, where all your information is before your eyes, you can easily see where you came from, where you're at, and where you're going. The dashboard is useful, with the ability to always return to the home screen, start your lessons, your reviews, drop down boxes to view your Level, Radicals, Kanji, and Vocabulary.

The layout is prone to changes, so rather than describing it, I'll just tell you stuff that has remained on there pretty much the whole time I've been on WK. You get to see 4 levels of mastery and a burned item. Basically the more you answer correctly your items pass through stages until they're so 'burned' into your mind that you'll never forget them.

Apprentice --> Guru --> Master --> Enlightened --> Burned

I have to admit I miss the images they use to have with the levels, of the demon guy, but the new look is sleek and good too showing a turtle coming out of its egg.

Progression bar on the level for both Radical and Kanji has been there, letting you know how many you need to unlock to move forward. I've never paid any attention to this, but its a cool thing to look at if you're powering towards the next level and need some visual boost to propel forward.

It's also nice to note that there is a color scheme that matches what the item is. When reviewing, the color of the background changes to help you realize it's a specific item. For example when you have a kanji and a vocabulary item that is the same, the color will change still. The colors are noted below with the examples.

There has always been a showing of current forum posts and the beta blog for WK, so far as I can remember. There is a forum on the site, but I do not participate in it, but from what I have seen, there are bug reporting places, requests, questions, minecraft information, and of course people talking about Japanese related things like media and what not.

Other things have come and gone on the page, such as now there is a 'New Unlocks", "Critical Conditions Items", like those you miss a lot, and "Burned Items" (last 30 days for the new and burned). Also a when to review now, and a bit from then.

Overall the main points have stayed there, just changes in how it is displayed, with a few tweaks.


Certainly the first thing you do on WK is a lesson. A lesson basically consists of the radical, kanji, vocabulary that you are learning to show up, its breakdown (which is what the item is all about), meaning, and reading. These are able to be viewed outside of the lessons as well, and during reviews. The lesson will generally provide you with a mnemonic to use, however you are free to use your own, you just cannot modify it into the system.

Perhaps a first confusion for many is, if you are given more than one reading. In this case, you only need to input one when reviewing, not both/all.

You do roughly 5 new items before it goes into a mini review, and then back again into the lessons. This is helpful to help re-solidify  and I enjoy it a lot. It is one of the reasons that I liked iknow as well, which incorporated a 'learn, review, test' SRS mentality.


The second main thing you do on this site (and probably actually the most thing you should be doing) is reviewing. WK is an SRS, and therefore, you have to come back and review. Reviewing is pretty straight forward. The review screen will show you what you're reviewing (and is color coated depending on the item being vocab, kanji, radical) and some options below it.

  • item at top in colored box
  • question
  • input box
  • option to view Hiragana

Once you enter in your answer, a few things happen. The top right stats will change depending on your correctness, as well as the box. If you get it right, your stats stay closer to 100% rightness, if not, it detracts from that and you get a little red box where the input was. Options to relearn about the item is now allowed to be accessed. Most items (vocabulary) have sounds which you can hear when ever, and keyboard shortcuts are highly usable, making it really nice.

If you need to look up information on the item, at first it will only show you what you missed, so that it does not give away other testable aspects of the word, however, you can click to see more information to allow you to see more if you've just completely forgot a bout the item in question.

A few people claim that the strictness of the spelling is very off putting, but the system does allow for a handful of mistyped words, however similar meanings aren't usually accepted. There are ways to ask for this stuff on the forum, but you have to be reasonable to an extent about what you can allow in these types of input tested programs.

When items are right, of course, your box goes green! Yay! You can still view information though, just in case you need a refresher, and you'll notice that when items are reviewed in completion correctly, they can be upgraded, and if missed in one aspect, possibly downgraded (like you get meaning right but reading wrong).

Example run through!

So when you're a beginner, the very first thing you'll see is a radical. Here is a listing of some of the radicals you'll see right out, 大,十、口、日 Its pretty straight forward. Once you unlock a certain amount of them, then you'll be able to see a kanji. Here is where we'll pick up our example.

Kanji! [Pink Background]

上=じょう=above, equipped with the radicals that make up this Kanji, writing it is easy, and the mnemonic brought with it :

Meaning: "There's a toe above ground. Look at it."

Reading: "The toe sticking up above the ground is just a little thing... You go up to poke it and then you realize that the toe actually belongs to Joseph (じょう) Stalin. Joe doesn't like people messing with his toes, so you slowly back away."

There is more information given in general during the lesson, but this is the most important things to bring from it in the long run.

Then later on you'll run against its single kanji vocabulary form.

Vocabulary [Purple Background]


Meaning: "When a vocab word is a single kanji and alone, it tends to steal the meaning from the kanji. Same goes for this one too. It means above or up."

Reading: "When a vocab word is a single kanji and doesn't have okurigana (hiragana attached to the kanji) it usually will use the kun'yomi. Since you learned the on'yomi reading of the kanji, we'll need to use a mnemonic to learn the reading of this vocabulary word. ---- Above you is a huge weight. You're holding it up and struggling (it's heavy!). You look up and try to crane your neck to see how much it weighs (うえ), but you can't see the numbers on the side of it. How long can you hold it above your head like this?"

So as you can see, there will be a few of these you'll run across and forget which one went to which one. It can be a little frustrating at first I know, but working through these little small things make it all pretty cool in the end, trust me.

More vocabulary:

As you combine other kanji into your learning, they will combine with other kanji and create even more vocabulary words. Here are some that the above kanji are turned into both within the first level to many later:


and many more.

User Created Tools

A cool thing is that every user has a code to their account that contains some general information, like what's due, lessons, and so on. People have created handy little extensions and what not to use, and If you get into WK I recommend you check them out. They're mostly about helping remind you to do your work!

Closing Thoughts

Of those that tried it out for me, only a few complained of frustration of some of the exact input spelling for meanings and readings. All in all, we all agree that WK picks up a huge piece that Heisig doesn't do very well. Perhaps to me, the absoluteness is what bothers me most, and has always been the case with any language to language. Where there are with no doubt words that equal words, that is not always the case, and without sentence examples and usages, the vocabulary words feel a little detached. So it would be my recommendation to combine the sentence mining method with WK in full force from the beginning! Seeing what I have, I also feel that if you were to complete WK, you should go straight to J-J. There is enough background to switch over easily to monolingual, especially if you sentence mined your way through it.

How to get it

As it stands, WK is in the beta phase, so please email sign up! The great thing about beta is that you get started sooner while still helping mold the product. On another good note, you get a discount when going beyond level 2. Yes WK is a paid product, and you can pay by several methods in several time groups. Those who have Textfugu also receive a discount (not stacked). So get in now to get the discounts! Also, it is not known when WK will be released fully and tit is not known how many full levels, though I have heard whispering of at least 50 levels.

I hope that this was helpful, if you have any further questions, or are participating already and would like to expand, comment below!

Mikoto Neko

The Ring leader of multiple projects who is studying japanese and raising a family! Who needs time for sleep?

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