December 08, 2005

Cactus Land - KAKU

This is Cactus Land, which is basically 'the dessert.' But we in KanjiTown refer to it as Cactus Land, so get used to it. Inside of Cactus Land is where the Oasis (Another location) is at.

The MENACING looking CRANE that has traveled from the oasis (It has two apples in it's mouth) lands near to you. It says, "If you can MEMORIZE the following phrase, I will give you something in return." You say, "sure." So he proceeds to say some weird phrase. You repeat the phrase back to him, and he says "Very well. You have memorized my phrase (Like you should when you see things in school). I will now make you GUESTS in my master's TOWER (A pyramid). I ASSURE you that it is better than a tourist-trap-esque rock on top of a turkey cage.

He escorts you to a pyramid with a small hole in it, but when he says mystic words the hole BROADENS when you touch it with your fingers, and you are able to enter.

The pyramid currently has sandmen bringing in the HARVEST of wheat, which is stored in a giant safe. Inside of the safe is a treasure that you feel you must get your hands on. You take one of the husks of wheat that fell from the sandmen's bringing them back and forth. Suddenly the cactus master (Which resembles the cactus enemies seen in the popular Final Fantasy RPGs) sees you, and says "You! Fight me in this ENCLOSED arena (I will receive you into these small city walls), for you must have been very powerful to get inside in the first place." He wears a LEATHER holster that holds his missile launchers. With a HUSK you fight the missile-firing-crowned-samurai-cactus, and defeat him.

The door to the safe opens, and on the top of the safe (inside of it) there sits the BRUSH STROKE kanji. Fighting off sandmen bringing the harvest into the safe, you reach the safe. You climb to the top of the interior of the safe and reach the brush stroke kanji. *STATUS up!* (Each skill tree went up)

The master cactus sees this, and says "SEIZE him! Now!" Sand-dogs now race from the safe after you, but with your new "brush stroke" power, you are able to bring down the sand enemies down just by saying "KAKU!"

The master now uses his most powerful attack: "Cactus monster summon!" I must now ISOLATE the NUCLEUS of all that is in the cactus (Really a tree and acorn). In CONTRAST to the previous monsters, this summoned sand beast is really two-in-one. It's figure sort of mingles with its counterpart. When the two combine, their "skin" becomes more solid.

You use the kaku brush stroke to bring down the beast's left arm, but it grows back shortly thereafter. You decide that you have to run away. You leave the pyramid by broadening the entrance again. While outside you decide to make the tower collapse upon the monster, and this should destroy it. You choose a brick that appears to be at just the right ANGLE, and it causes the entire structure to collapse. Using this kaku-jutsu, you destroy all traces of the pyramid, leaving nothing but a dessert. /end of story

How does Kanji-Town work? How do I create my own Kanji-Town

OK, now that I've found what I think is the answer to my problem, it's time to figure out how to use it. Because no book or group of people had written anything on this method for learning kanji, I was left on my own to figure out how to work this newly discovered system. Shortly after I found this way of remembering kanji my wisdom teeth were taken out (Which might be considered a blessing), which resulted in a week of do-nothing-but-stay-home. I don't watch many TV shows or movies anymore, nor do I play video games very much (Thanks to KanjiTown, we'll get to that later), so during that week I spent many hours exploring for the first time a complete town of Kanji. I ended up with an 80+ page document on my computer which described in detail every event and encompassed almost every kanji taught in the first book of Heisig's series of "Remembering the Kanji." It was a resounding success, and I can recognize many Kanji thanks to this week of exploring. All that is left for me to do is keep exploring this imaginary inter-connected world until I can recognize every kanji I see.

As an artist (I like to draw, although other things take most of my time away from this hobby), very little compares to the satisfying feeling one gets after creating a picture or some piece of art that truly expresses your emotions and draws you into a world that goes beyond the medium you created it on. "This is beyond writing on a piece of paper, this is a window into a world within my mind that I have created." So with KanjiTown, I wanted to do the same and design locations to my satisfaction that screamed "ME!" from the heights above. I did, but I have found that:

KanjiTown + Personalization = Lots of Time

As much as I love creating things, I realize that to create and reinforce my own worlds and locations would take time if they were to became as second nature to me as the locations in Springfield and such. Because I enjoy doing this as an aritst, I don't mind the extra investment of time. I no longer watch much TV anymore because I enjoy these fictional worlds better than those created by others to entertain me (At least for now). But I want to figure out how this can benefit the other learners of kanji, how this can be made easier for them.
Then I thought back to The Simpsons, and the fact that that show has created a world that has a distinct feel to it. Not necessarily the Simpsons, but I had used other various characters and settings from books I had read, movies I had seen and games that I had played when I created the first document of KanjiTown (The 80 page one). Then, another truth suddenly dawned upon me: Every book, movie, television show, cartoon, video game, etc. has been put on this earth to create distinct locations to use in KanjiTown. Maybe this isn't really the case, but these people have already gone through the work and time to create a world distinct from other worlds (Mainly to compete for my viewership, readership, player-ship(?), whatever), so now it one's job to use their hard work in conjunction with KanjiTown to remember what goes on (Provided the person doing so does not feel bad about missing out on "personalizing" thing; I don't think it can be called "selling out" in this case, but I'll leave that up to the learner).

Now that the conclusion has been drawn that every piece of entertainment is made to help make KanjiTown go quicker, I need to make a list of every different thing that conjures up a different image in my mind. Every book I've read, TV show and movie I've watched, every video game I've played (And even those I haven't; remember we're trying to figure out different environments that you've already got in your head) that carries a distinct atmosphere and "feeling" with it. Once I had a nice sizable list of about 300 or so things, I organized those things by medium (movie, book, video game, tv show, etc.). I'll post a sample list in the next couple days, so you get an idea of what I'm talking about.

Then you get a list of as many different ON yomi that exist (There was an index of such in the back of Heisig's Remembering the Kanji II, and this was of much help. I'll create a document of this in the next few days and post it here). Now you take your list of TV shows/movies/etc. and you write those various things next to ONyomi that you wish that they corrispond to. Remember, you need some sort of way to connect the two.

For example: If you wanted to assign something to the reading "KAKU," you need to have some connection between the setting and the ON yomi. I wanted "kaku" to be a dessert, because "KAKU" sounds like "cactus," and there are cactui in the dessert. So all kanji pronounced "KAKU" are to be placed in the dessert. (HERE IS LINK TO DESSERT STORY)

This is what I did, but I didn't use any movies or games to create a "preset" atmosphere. If I had wanted to, I could have taken one of the settings from the Indiana Jones movies (I haven't seen them in forever, though), and create "Indiana Jones - The Adventures in the Kanji Cactus Desert," or something to that effect. Within this setting, the kanji would play a role in Indiana Jones' adventures. I never had problems remembering the "connecting word," because the world is so detailed in my head that I can't easily forget about it.

Now the question comes up: Should this all be written down, or should it simply stay in your head? Maybe it's becasue I consider myself an "artist" I have to have some sort of hard copy of whatever it is I'm doing. Also, when I add new characters to Kanji-Town, I want to be able to "place" them so they fit into the situation properly, and at least for me, this is simpler when I have a document to record what happens.

(Continued later)

Let's say you do this for every kanji that has an ON yomi.

December 05, 2005

What is Kanji-Town? How did it come about? Why should you care?

I, like many students of Japanese have had to face the task of learning the many different characters. Hiragana and Katakana started, and clearly ended when I finished them all; but not is so with the kanji. There are at least 2,000 that one has to know to be considered "literate" in Japan, and these characters, unlike Hiragana and Katakana represent a concept rather than a phonetic word (Which is something that I, as an American male living in the suburban USA, native only to English and sometimes see little bit of Spanish, am not used to seeing). Like scouting out my pray, I studied how they work, and afterwards I felt very overwhelmed at what lie before me. A mountain of characters that have little visible patterns that allow for remembering.

From this point I tried to "make it on my own" and work my way through this sea of characters. Of course, all to no avail. I went through the "Japanese for Busy People" volume 2 and started by learning all of the kanji in Lesson 1. I took each character and wrote it on a piece of paper over and over, reciting the meaning in English and the pronunciation. Over and over and over and over. One I remember seeing was "sky." I wrote it over and over, saying "sky," "sora," "sky," "sora" until I wrote the same character perhaps 60 or 70 times (I frequently suffered sore fingers). And I did the same thing with the next characters, until all 10 or so kanji from lesson one were completed. But when I saw those characters again, in a different location than the textbook, I would say to myself "I know what that character is! What was it...?!" I would rack my brain for the answer, but I would end up so unsure of what I thought was right that I would abandon the idea altogether and give up. So I never mastered the characters I tried to master using this wrote system of memorization, and I never yielded good results after spending hours drilling characters. But, here's the crazy part: When I didn't get it right, I didn't question the way I was memorizing the characters, I questioned my abilities, or in this case, my apparent lack of them. "Why are you so stupid for not remembering this set of lines! Go back to your room and write them again, and no dinner until you get it right!" I would say to myself. So I repeated the same process, over and over, never achieving any sort of good result, and ending up a discouraged person that feels that he has wasted his time (That has to be one of the worst feelings in the world, to feel that the time you've spent existing has brought no benefit to yourself or anything else).

effort + no success = not a happy person.

Enter the "putting kanji off" phase. I didn't need kanji, because I'm a cool Westerner that likes art; I can talk about kanji, but I'm too good for it. Then you realize that "wait, kanji won't go away. I better do something about it." Then you start to think, "Well, I've already tried writing it over and over, and that didn't help at all. There has to be another way to remember these horrible little lines." Then goes the search on the internet for various learning techniques for remembering kanji. Finally I stumbled upon the book "Remembering the Kanji," which outlined a way to remember kanji that has given me more confidence in my abilities than I can type in front of this computer.

The book "Remembering the Kanji" started a very unconventional way to remember those lovable little shapes we call "Kanji." Rather than remembering each of them as they appear in grade level, or as your textbook demanded them, Heisig outlined a system that would start by tacking an English keyword onto each character. No pronunciations. "What the heck, I want to learn to pronounce kanji! This book doesn't help me, so now I'm an angry monkey!" many people thought (And this is the subject of almost every other review on Amazon.com for this book). Heisig believed in the principle "Divide and conquer" when confronting the kanji. Rather than trying to master each aspect of the kanji (Readings and meaning), they were to be dealt with separately. Before you can learn to read a gigantic set of characters that have no rhyme or reason why they are read the way they're read (Which we'll get to later), you have to become familiar with them. This is what the first book did. Assigning various meanings to the parts that make up the kanji (They are called "primitives", which are not necessarily restricted to the set of "radicals"), and you are to take those various components of the kanji and string them together to come to an English meaning.

The kanji studied are no longer a jumble of lines with no meaning, it is now an image in your head. Take this, and multiply it by 2,000 and you have the first "Remembering the Kanji" book in a nutshell. I am convinced that this is the best way for someone that isn't native to the Japanese system of writing, to learn it. But then again, I'm only an 18-year old kid; take my opinions with a grain of salt.

Let's say you finish book one. You've now got 2,000+ characters memorized with an English word, with a nice 90%+ rate of remembering stuff, which is, by all means, awesome. Now that you can decode a Japanese sentence into some weird morse-code like message, you now need to learn how to use all of that knowledge. Enter "Remembering the Kanji" book 2.

Book 2 taught a systematic way to remember the readings of each character. The bulk of the book is spent on the ON yomi rather than the KUN yomi. To teach the ON yomi, Heisig discovered a system of "signal primitives," meaning that when one sees a certain group of primitive shapes (Which one is already familiar with through book one), it is pronounced a certain way. If this principle worked for every character, there would be no need for this web page, but here is where I encountered trouble: The system for signal primitives worked for around 800 characters. That is very nice, but after those 800 characters are done, one is left to their own pure memory power to remember the others. As much as I love the systems implemented thus far to learn kanji, I totally understand that at some point you can't find mnemonics for everything. But I didn't think that this was one of those cases.
I then set out on a journey to figure out a way to systematically remember ON yomi through some manner, which I assumed would be a mnemonic manner. Because Heisig's method of learning kanji was not very popular, I sought help through the internet, mainly through message boards (Forums), and I asked around "How do you learn ONyomi after you've studied using Heisig's method?" and I got mixed responses, but the breakthrough I found was when someone linked me to the following page (http://www.susi.ru/kanji/ChMethod.html) that brought forth the idea of "phonetic grouping" for the kanji. I would group the kanji together that were pronounced in one way, and then create a story that linked them all together. The example story given on the web page didn't work very well for me, but when a member of the forum posted that he/she could 'remember every kanji sitting on a hanger in a closet', or something to that effect, I thought "Hey, this might be what I'm looking for."

Over the next several days, I thought about the whole "location" thing. I happen to be a fan of the show "The Simpsons," a popular cartoon on Fox. Although I don't care for the newer episodes, I have watched my share of this show. And the more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that Matt Groening and his team of animators have created in my head a town that doesn't exist. When I hear "Moe's Tavern" an image immediately jumps into my mind. Not just the location, the objects around the bar, the people in the bar, and so on. Then I think "Simpsons family room," and another image pops into my mind. Then "Bart's bedroom," "Lisa's bedroom," "Marge and Homer's bedroom," "the backyard," "church where they all attend,": and so on. These locations which are nothing but pictures and drawings are a reality to me. Not only this, but then one thinks of movies, books, video games, etc., and your mind is filled with locations and things that are fake and were created by people.

So the precedent had been set. Others had created a world with a distinct feel to it without it actually existing, and now I must try to do the same for Kanji. I must create a set of locations that each carry a distinct feel to it, so when I see any character, I find its location within this set of locations, which came to be called "KanjiTown."

So I tested this by creating an Ice Rink with the ON yomi "rin." I then "placed" each of the characters in that location, and all of it had to do with an ice rink. I associated it with the various roller skating parties that I had been to in the past, and I had that general "atmosphere" in mind when I was working this out. When I was finished making this ice rink, I sat back and reviewed all of the characters I had learned, and they all had meaning to me, for they were all located within the "Ice Rink," and were therefore all pronounced "RIN." When thumbing through various reading materials, I encountered this character, I immediately thought back to the ice rink, and what role that character played in my exploration of this location. It worked, and there seemed to be no problems in my figuring out what the kanji meant, as well as where it was located (Which instantly signaled how it was pronounced). After all of my searching, I had found the silver bullet I was looking for.

(Continued in post "How does Kanji-Town work? How do I create my own Kanji-Town?" Will be posted in the next day or so...)

The JLPT is over.

I wish I could have taken the JLPT (日本語能力試験) 2級 this year, but my vocabulary and grammer points aren't up to par with what is demanded. I'm trying to solve this by learning about 15 vocabulary words a day (Along with 10 or so katakana words; generally they are much easeier). If you've taken the JLPT, I hope you did your best and I wish the best. Endure the long wait (I did, and I had convinced myself that I had failed; but ALAS! I passed!). Even if you fail, you've figured out what you need to work on, nothing more.

December 04, 2005

My review of "Remembering the Kanji III" by James W. Heisig

This is my review of the final book in James Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji" series (Also posted on Amazon.com). This book is the beginning of "the world beyond" 2,000 kanji, and starts you on the road to learning new kanji for the rest of your life.

"First, I'd like to note a couple of things:
(1) This book is no longer available in printed form on Amazon.com at this time. There are no doubt other places where you can buy this book in printed form, and there is always the option of a pdf/e-book version of this book available from the Nanzen institute website. This is merely a review of the product itself, not of Amazon's price or availability (or lack thereof).

(2) This book is intended for those that have finished both Remembering the Kanji volumes I and II. Chances are that most people reading this review have not done this; they are merely curious about what the advanced stages of this learning method are. If you've studied the first two books to their completion, this final book will be purchased regardless of what I say about it. The devotion one has at this point is stronger than anything I could possibly say to convince one otherwise.

What is this book? It is the third volume that expands on James Heisig's kanji-learning system (Which I would call "revolutionary," but I don't want this to sound too gimmicky). The first book tacked an English keyword onto all of the 2,000 kanji. The second book showed ways to remember readings of the kanji. By the time you finished both of these books (properly), you should know more than 2,000 characters, the basic number needed for a literate person in Japan. (I am at the level that I can read most what I would see in a newspaper, although I can recognize most all of the characters.) Once you are at this level, you now have free roam of many Japanese reading materials; the only obsticle you will encounter are kanji that aren't part of the joyou kanji and aren't part of the 2,000+ kanji you learned in the previous books in this series; and this is where book three comes in, as it expands your kanji knowledge by 1,000 new characters. And since only 1,000 new characters are treated in this third book (Compared to the 2,000 treated in the previous books), this allows enough space to cover all of the new kanji in the same manner as books one and two, except it is done in one volume. The first half of the book treats each kanji with a keyword; the second half covers the readings of the kanji.

The benefits are pretty straightforward, but if you've finished books one and two the benefits and feelings of self-accomplishment are deeper than simply a number. It's hard to describe, so let me use an example: Take the kanji for ant (It is pronounced "ari"); this is a kanji covered in this book. The only time you will see the kanji for "ant" is when you are referring to an ant and ONLY an ant (nothing more), but to actually know the kanji that corresponds to "ant" will give you an odd sense of accomplishment, one that you are no doubt be familiar with if you've attainted the degree of literacy given to you if you finish the first two books.

My point? You should be familiar with the sense of accomplishment you get when you study this writing system, and these benefits will continue through the pages of this book, as "gems" of kanji knowledge are given to you one after another. And when you complete this book (Which I have yet to do), your kanji knowledge does not stop. There are many more kanji that exist and are waiting to be learned by you, and this book sets you up to continue studying and to keep learning new kanji. Studying kanji is no longer a dread for me, I enjoy it; I enjoy learning new characters and expanding my knowledge; it has become a hobby that I don't want to stop.
So rather than thinking about this book as the "last book you'll ever need to read" about kanji, it can be one that starts you on an endless path of learning new characters to your hearts content.

For those that have traveled this particular path to study kanji, and have reached the level requiring another book to guide you deeper into the fabulous, frustrating, strange and beautiful world of kanji, be ready for rewards; not unusual rewards in your case (You're already familiar with what they are), but rewards that allow you to continue your endless and wonderful journey through this sea of these unique characters. If you choose to continue, hopefully you and I will meet someday in "kanji heaven," if such a place exists.
Until then."

Any questions about this book or review? Feel free to ask me about it.

My review of "Remembering the Kanji II" by James W. Heisig

Here is my review (Again, I first made it for Amazon.com) for the next book in Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji" series. In this book, you learn methods for remembering the ON yomi and KUN yomi for the kanji treated in book I, although the bulk of the book is devoted to ON yomi.

"If you're reading this review, you either (a) have not tried Heisig's method at all, and are curious about the results of the later volume(s), or (b) you're in the middle of studying the first volume, and are curious as to the benefits of the second volume (For the first volume lacks the immediate benefits of modern application). If you've already completed the first volume, you will unquestionably move on to the second volume simply because it's a natural progression of studies. Whoever finishes the first book will be move onto this book regardless of what this review says. But the likelihood of one actually finishing the first book (Not to sound pessimistic) is not very high in the first place. In fact, everybody that I've talked to (In real life, NOT through the internet or through e-mail) that started the first volume of Remembering the Kanji have not completed it. They may have gotten halfway, but it became too hard, and they fizzled out. This seems to be a common thing. So provided you can get through the very tough first volume, this is where the benefits start become pronounced. But without the first book, this book has very little meaning; so you can't skip the first book. Period.

I'd also like you to note that (At the time of writing this review) there are a total of three other reviews here. Compare this to the 30+ reviews of the first book. Why? It is because most that have purchased the first volume of RtK did not complete it. In fact, I feel that many that reviewed the first volume of RtK on this website have not truly tried to use the method, they merely comment about the underlying concept and immediate benefits (or lack thereof). I've already reviewed the first volume of RtK on this web site, so I don't need to explain how I feel about it.

This is "Volume 2" in the series; it therefore assumes that you have mastered volume 1 to a reasonable degree. Volume 1 made you connect an English keyword to some 2,000 kanji; although you could not read a single kanji, they were more fermiliar to you (And completing this course in it's entirety was a very, VERY hard task). You become somewhat similar to a Chinese person that is fermiliar with the meaning of kanji characters in their native language, and all they have to learn is a different way to pronounce them. So volume 1 sort of "levels the playing field" between you and the kanji. But it is only in volume 2 that you truly begin to "play" with the skills you've learned, and hit kanji completely out of the ballpark.

This second volume is a "Guide" rather than the first book, which was a "Course." This is because it mustn't be followed to the "t," unlike the first volume. Here, kanji are broken down into groups, many of which have a similar set of strokes that signal a certain reading (They are called "signal primates"). Although not every kanji is like this, there are quite a few, therefore making it possible to systematically learn quite a few readings. When the system of "signal primitives" cannot apply, common word compounds are used to help remember characters.

The biggest bulk of the book is devoted to learning about the ON reading (or Chinese reading of the kanji). Each frame consists of one kanji, one reading, and one compound to reinforce that one reading. Because many kanji have more than one ON reading, sometimes the same kanji will be seen on multiple frames. The KUN (Or Japanese reading) is not consistent with any rules, so there isn't much of a way to systemize the learning of it. At the end of the book Heisig presents a concept of tagging each phonetic element with an image, similar to what was done with volume 1. Combine the phonetic elements, combine the images, and come up with a memorable story or image to connect the two. Eventually you will forget the story or image you used to connect the two, and you'll just remember that such-and-such word has such-and-such meaning. I have yet to try this, but it seems to fall into place with his other kanji-learning methods.

This book builds upon the flashcards you were supposed to have made when you studied and reviewed the kanji from the first volume. There is a flashcard program called "King Kanji" (Google it) for your computer or PDA. When you download the program, flashcard files of every single Heisig kanji are included. Using their "lesson creator" feature, I am creating flashcards of the compounds introduced in this second volume. I prefer this way of creating flashcards rather than by hand. They're much easier to keep track of. (A program called "Stackz" is also good for creating and reviewing vocabulary introduced here).

What am I getting out of this book? I'm reading compounds I've never seen before, I'm seeing kanji in my head when I hear or speak a word, I'm remembering vocabulary at a very quick rate. This book (As well as the first volume) have played a vital role in my understanding of not only kanji, but the Japanese language as a whole. I no longer have to gaze and wonder about this elaborate system of writing; the ability to truly understand it is now within my grasp. Just the self-confidence and sense of accomplishment this has brought me is enough to merit me buying this book. Although I'm still working my way though this book, I've gained a degree of knowledge and ability that I would have never dreamt of. Assuming I continue to make progress like I am now, literacy is no longer a passing thought, it will be an achievement.

Learning kanji can be one of the single most difficult tasks for the Western learner of Japanese. With this book (Along with the first volume), this doesn't have to be the case. If you wish to be literate in Japanese, all you need is right here. No, this is not some magical tool that will make you literate in a week; your progress will depend entirely on how much work you put into it (See my review for book 1).

Quite simply, Heisig found the door to Japanese literacy. All you have to do is be determined enough to open it."

Questions or comments regarding why I said what I said? Feel free to ask

My review of "Remembering the Kanji" by James W. Heisig

I reviewed the three books in James Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji" series on amazon.com (Maybe you've read the reviews before). Here is the first of those three, focusing on the first book (Keep in mind, you are not meant to learn the readings in this book)

"I'm 18 years old, and I've graduated slightly earlier due to homeschooling. This evening I finished this book, the first in a series of three books designed to make me literate in the 2,000+ symbols used everyday in Japanese society. After seeing the results of the first book, I truly feel that I am on my way to Japanese literacy.

If you've read one of the many reviews, you probably understand that this book doesn't teach you a single pronunciation of a Japanese character, but rather you tag an English keyword on to all of the Japanese symbols treated in this book, leaving the pronunciation for later.

Why do this? If you aren't noticing quick results in your Japanese abilities, what's the point in learning it? It's true that every single word I've learned will be of no immediate benefit to me if I try to pick up a Japanese newspaper, article, etc. and try to read it. Many have the misconception that in order to "master" the Japanese written language, one must study and "master" the characters individually, and over a period of time, accumulate lots of characters in one's lexicon, therefore allowing the student to read lots of stuff (Makes sense, right?). But our minds don't think like that. (Assuming everybody reading this review is a native to a Roman character based alphabet, or something pretty close to this) We are not used to recognizing little squiggly lines, let alone understanding a concept and multiple pronunciations simply by looking at them. Yet each and every Japanese textbook you'll find on the market supports the idea of mastering each character individually, a method that might seem to be the ONLY method to bring immediate benefits, but requires lots of work and constant drilling of a character. This method is deemed (By the author) to be ineffective and a waste of time.

So what does this book do for our situation? Rather than assuming that we can make the connection between a jumble of lines and the meaning of a character (Which every text book somehow assumes we can do), the kanji are broken down into smaller fragments, and each are tagged with a word that represents an idea, concept, thing, etc., that we are familiar with, such as a hill, the sun, or a baseball bat. Adding these various building blocks together, you form new concepts, and in turn, new characters. True, most these "building blocks" probably don't have a relationship whatsoever with any sort of root meaning, but this isn't the point. The point is to take something you aren't familiar with (Lots of lines), and to make them familiar to you (An image, a picture in your mind). Using these familiar images, you guide yourself from the tagged English word to the Kanji (Or the other way around). No, you will not be able to pronounce any of them when you're finished with this book. But you will be able to identify and tell the difference between even the smallest of nuances. You will look at kanji in a completely different way.

I can't speak for others, but progressing through this course to it's completion was perhaps one of the toughest tests of self-discipline and concentration that I've done in my life. You don't simply "hop along for the ride" to understanding kanji. You will tread through this sea of characters until you've used up every bit of strength your imagination can muster. The only people I've talked to in real life (Not via e-mail) that have attempted this course have either not yet completed it, or have given up with it altogether. This isn't a "learn Japanese kanji in 4 minutes a day" sort-of course. This is a massive undertaking, and must be treated as such, lest the student fizzle out, like so many seem to have done. This is not a book for someone that wants to "get their feet wet" in the sea of kanji. Rather, it is for the serious student, one that is willing to make a commitment (And a big one, at that) towards literacy in Japanese. If this isn't your goal, then I suggest you find another book.

Before you stands a course that requires great stamina, determination and willpower to accomplish. The benefits might not sound like much, but by the time you've finished this course, you'll be on a new plateau of kanji understanding, one that can lead you to literacy. If you "Google" the words "James Heisig Kanji," you'll be able to find a "demo" of the first couple hundred kanji covered in the book. Give it a try. And depending on how much you're willing to work at it, you've either found for yourself a precious gem or another useless rock."

Comments? Questions? Feel free to ask :)