Trying to memorize each kanji reading without knowing the words

When coming out of kana, people often have the assumption that kanji are just some kind of “alphabet” that maps to a certain phonetic system, just like hiragana and katakana do. However, in reality, kanji are read differently depending on which words they are combined to create. Multiple kanji have several different ways they could be read, including a lot of exceptions and corner cases.


  • Most advanced kanji have a very limited number of readings that usually map to very specific words, so memorizing those readings can be useful to remember those words


  • Kanji have different readings for different words they appear in. Memorizing kanji readings just makes it harder on yourself, it’s a dreadful experience, and will not actually teach you useful Japanese (before you burn out at least)
  • The most common beginner kanji words will have very irregular readings more often than not because the more common a word is, the more likely it “slangified” and became irregular in the spoken language over time. This makes these words extremely hard to memorize by just memorizing readings.

Conclusion: Learn words instead. Do not try to memorize every single Onyomi and Kunyomi# for each kanji you study. Try to find words that use those kanji with those specific readings and learn those words. At least you’ll be actually learning useful Japanese if you do that.