Refold unofficial Japanese Guide

“Stage 1 - Laying the foundation”

        

This is an unofficial guide to help people using the Refold method of language learning apply the concepts you learn from the refold website specifically towards Japanese. This guide will not make sense unless you have already read the accompanying Stage articles on the official Refold website here: https://www.Refold.la

Stage 1A - Setting up tools and habits

A1 : Active Immersion  A2 : Passive Listening

How Much Should I be immersing?

What should I be immersing in?

Stage 1B - Learning the building blocks

B1 : Phonetics

Basic phonetics

Pitch-accent

B2 : Writing System (Kana)

Romaji

Hiragana and Katakana

Learn the kana (Hiragana first)

Download and install the kana Anki deck

Learn the kana

Basic Kana

Learning Dakuten TenTen Kana

Learning Dakuten Maru Kana

Learning Kana Yōon - Combinations

Mastering The Kana

B2 : Writing System (Kanji)

The why of RRTK and the Refold kanji learning system

A Three-Part Approach to Kanji

Kanji Production is Overrated

Kanji Recognition Explained

Learning to Recognize the Kanji

Recognition RTK Anki Deck

Credit

1,250 Cards for 1,000 Kanji

Card Format

RRTK and Kanji FAQ

How Will I Learn Kanji Readings?

How do I learn new kanji?

How many new cards a day?

How should I grade cards?

Should I write out the kanji?

What should I do about leeches?

I finished my Anki reviews for the day but still have time. Should I review extra?

When should I delete my Recognition RTK deck?

C: Jumpstarting Your Comprehension

1C: Grammar

Tae Kim Grammar Guide

Imabi grammar database

Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar

Basic Vocab

JLPT Tango N5

Tango N5 Anki Deck

The Rest of the Tango Series

Additional foundation vocab sources

Tango & Vocab FAQ

How many cards should I learn a day?

Should I do Recognition RTK and basic vocab at the same time?

I keep forgetting the reading of kanji words, what should I do?

What should I do about leeches?

Stage 1A - Setting up tools and habits

A1 : Active Immersion  A2 : Passive Listening


How Much Should I be immersing?

Only you can answer that question. What we can say is that the more you immerse each day, the faster you will improve. In fact, larger amounts of daily immersion lead to exponentially faster progress. Said another way, the more spread out your immersion is throughout time, the more total time it’s going to take. Check out this video by BritVsJapan to understand why this is.

OK, we know you probably want some actual numbers, so here goes.

DISCLAIMER: The following should be considered extremely rough estimates at best. At the present moment, we do not have any reliable data on exactly how many hours of immersion it takes to reach fluency in Japanese. Also, one’s speed of progress is determined by many factors in addition to the total number of hours of active and passive immersion.

If you don’t already speak an Asian language and are learning Japanese, with around 5 hours per day of active and 5 hours per day of passive immersion, it should take around 2 years to reach fluency. With around 3 hours per day of active and 3 hours per day of passive immersion, it should take around 4 years to reach fluency.

We would estimate that around 2 hours a day of active immersion is necessary to make real progress towards fluency. Because there aren’t any known examples of people reaching fluency in Japanese with around 1 hour of immersion a day, it’s hard to say whether it’s possible or how long it would take. At the very least, with 1 hour of immersion a day, over time it should be possible to build up a basic foundation of comprehension ability in the language.

With that out of the way, here are some other factors you may also want to take into account when deciding how much daily immersion you want to aim for:

What should I be immersing in?


This is mostly covered in the base guide on the Refold website. But, I would like to take this time to bring attention to the community document. This document is a way for members to find content and resources for every stage of the process.
There is a large list of beginner friendly content (as well as advanced). Tools, websites, etc etc. Please make sure to take a moment to familiarize yourself with the document so you know what resources are available to you. Also, please remember to add great content and resources you have found so that others may benefit from it as well. You can also find this document linked in the #media-rules channel in the Refold Japanese Discord server.

The Refold Japanese community resource sheet

Stage 1B - Learning the building blocks

B1 : Phonetics

When it comes to phonetics in Japanese during the beginner stages, there are two main things to be aware of: introductory phonetics and pitch accent.

Basic phonetics

The phonics of Japanese will primarily be learned while you learn the two phonetic writing systems. However, while you will obtain a basic understanding of the sounds during this process, it's essential to know that many Japanese sounds don't exist in English. This most likely means that your brain won't correctly perceive the sounds you are hearing. As you get more exposure to the language, the accuracy at which you perceive them will also slowly increase.

At this stage, we do not recommend worrying about Japanese phonetics in great detail. For now, focus all your energy on learning to perceive the sounds correctly and comprehending your input.

Pitch-accent

Pitch-accent is an often overlooked part of Japanese. However, we do not recommend spending too much time on pitch-accent at this stage. In the beginning, you probably aren't even capable yet of hearing pitch-accent. On top of that, many new concepts will be thrown at you in these early stages, and we believe it's better to focus on becoming comfortable with these foundational concepts while your ear gets used to the language before adding pitch-accent into the mix.

However, we do recommend making yourself aware of pitch-accent as a completely passive concept. This video by Dogen will provide a conceptual foundation.

Note:  We recommend you revisit this video once a month until you are ready to get more serious about pitch-accent later in stage 2B (ish). Each time you revisit this video, it will make a little more sense. Don't try and memorize anything or take notes. Just passively absorb what you can.

Dogen: Pitch Accent in 10 minutes

B2 : Writing System (Kana)

One of the first steps in your journey of learning Japanese will be learning the writing system. Japanese has 3 writing systems. Two phonetic writing systems, Hiragana and Katakana (often referred to as “kana”), and one non-phonetic writing system called Kanji. All 3 must be learned eventually because all 3 are used and mixed together in written Japanese. However, the best place to start is with the phonetic writing systems.

If you wish, here is a great video explaining the 3 Japanese writing systems

Before we get into Hiragana and Katakana, let me take a moment to talk about Romaji.

Romaji

Romaji is not a real Japanese alphabet but takes the Roman alphabet (the alphabet used for languages such as English) and writes Japanese words with it. We recommend you avoid Romaji altogether. Many sounds in Japanese are quite different than English and can not be appropriately represented with our alphabet.

Hiragana and Katakana

The two phonetic alphabets of Japanese are Hiragana and Katakana. These two alphabets are basically exact phonetic copies of each other. The symbols look different, but the sounds are mirror images. あ (Hiragana) ア (Katakana) both have the same pronunciation. Although an oversimplification, Hiragana is basically used for Japanese words and conjugations. In contrast, Katakana is used for loan words (words taken from other languages).

By far, Hiragana is the most useful to learn first. So we recommend learning Hiragana, then after you are comfortable with it, start learning Katakana.

Learn the kana (Hiragana first)

If you do not have Anki installed, and know the basics of using it, take the time to do that now. Here is the Refold basic Anki tutorial.

Refold Anki setup guide

Once you are familiar with Anki basics, continue on.

Download and install the kana Anki deck

To follow this method for learning kana, you will need a custom Anki deck we have created for you. Download that Anki deck at the link below.

Note: The Refold Kana Profile does not work as intended with Anki 2.1 scheduler beta (As long as you change no settings as instructed, you should not have to worry about this)

Refold-Kana-Profile-Anki-Deck

Now that the deck is downloaded, you will want to install it. But first, we want to create a separate profile from your main Anki profile.

This Anki deck you have downloaded will DELETE and replace all cards in your current profile. Create a new kana profile specifically for this.

To create a new profile with Anki open, go to File > Switch profile. When the window pops up, choose “Add” from the right-hand side. Name your new profile, “Kana Profile” and hit “OK” after that. Open the new Kana Profile.

Once Kana Profile is open, locate the “Refold-Kana-Profile-Anki-Deck” that you downloaded and double click it to load it into this Anki profile. When prompted that this will delete and remove all current cards, as long as you are confident you are in the Kana Profile we created above, select “OK” to load the profile.

Learn the kana

Kana is made up of the basic kana as well as modifications. It is our recommendation that people first cram in the basic kana. Once you know the basic kana, the rest is relatively easy to learn by learning a few modification rules.

Note: Complete ALL kana steps (not only Basic Kana), including “Mastering the Kana,” before moving on to Katakana. You should be very comfortable with Hiragana before moving on. It is even acceptable, if you wish, to postpone Katakana and slow roll learning it while you do the rest of the stage. But Hiragana should be somewhat comfortable before moving on.

Basic Kana

Step 1 is to cram the basic kana, so we have a foundation to build on with the modification.

The first thing we want to do is find the “H Step1A Hiragana - Basic Characters (In Order)” deck in Anki. This is a special kind of deck in Anki called a “Filtered Deck.” This allows us to use Anki as a cramming tool instead of a long term spaced repetition tool. Because we will “master” kana in immersion, we just want to get the memory started in Anki.

Open the “H Step1A Hiragana - Basic Characters (In Order)” filtered deck and click on it. At the bottom of the window, you will see 3 options. “Options,” “Rebuild,” and “Empty.”

For our purposes, we will only be using the Rebuild and Empty buttons. To cram the initial basic kana, you want to hit the “Rebuild” button. You should now see 46 cards ready to be studied and a “Study Now” button.

Click the "Study Now" button. I have set up intervals of 1 minute, 10 minutes, 20 minutes. This means you will have to get every kana correct 3 times before it will graduate. If at any point you get a kana incorrect, that one kana will start over.

Make sure you only select "good" and "again" when grading cards and never "easy" as this will automatically remove the card from the filtered deck prematurely.

As you progress through the deck, you will be introduced to new kana and be reminded of kana you have already seen. Blue = unseen, Red = Seen Kana, but more reviews remain in the future.

You can also see this info by clicking on “Decks” at the top of the window, then again selecting the filtered deck you were studying.

Continue studying this deck by only using the "again" or "good" buttons until you have zero cards remaining and the deck is empty.

Note: This is best done in one sitting, and the first time will likely take a good chunk of time. If you can't complete the deck in one sitting, rebuild the deck fresh and start over (if more than an hour has passed since you had to stop). Continue doing this until you can finish the deck in 1 sitting. The cards will be introduced to you in the same order every time. This is intended to work this way, we do not want to use the "Random" order deck until you can make it all the way through this deck in one sitting.

Note 2: If you complete the deck fast enough, there will still be "Learning" (red) cards remaining, but you won't be able to study them. If this happens, they are not up for review yet as the final step must wait 20 minutes. If this happens, consider the deck complete. Empty the deck and move onto the next step.

Note 3: If you are still learning Hiragana, complete all kana steps through "Mastery" before attempting to learn Katakana.

FAQ: "Why does it say I have 86 Red Learning cards, but there are only 46 cards" = The answer to this is because there are 3 steps for each card. When you mark a card as correct, and it moves into the red learning cue, it counts all remaining steps. This is why the number can be so high, and it's normal.

Once the above criteria is met, (no cards remaining to study, or only cards that aren't ready to study remaining) then move onto the next step. "Learning Dakuten TenTen Kana".

Learning Dakuten TenTen Kana

Now that you know the core, basic kana, let's learn how those basic kana can be modified to make slightly different sounds with Dakuten. There are TenTen and Maru (These names are not important to remember). We will focus on TenTen first, which looks like two little tick marks. Let's start with the か (ka) row.

か(ka) き(ki) く(ku) け(ke) こ(ko)

Becomes

が(ga) ぎ(gi) ぐ(gu) げ(ge) ご(go)

Notice the first “K” sound of each character in the row becomes a “G” sound. Of course, these are approximations. The sounds are different than we can express here in Romaji, but it illustrates the idea.

This same pattern, with a few acceptions, is consistent with many Dakuten TenTen kana. Once you know how one kana in the row is modified, you can get close to guessing the rest of the row.

But here is the good news, it’s not essential to memorize these deeply. What I want you to do is only browse through the next filtered decks. This deck will be

“H Step2 Hiragana - Dakuten TenTen”. Just notice how each character is modified by the Dakuten TenTen. You don’t have to memorize them; just be aware of them. If you can’t remember what the unmodified character sounded like, that’s fine. Don’t go back and cram more; just browse through. It should take you 5 minutes (or less even). The move on to “Learning Dakuten Maru Kana.”

Learning Dakuten Maru Kana

Dakuten Maru kana are noted by a circle instead of two tick marks. They are even easier to learn than Dakuten TenTen modification because there is only 1 row of them. The “H” or は row is formed by changing the H sound to a P sound.

は(ha) ひ(hi) ふ(fhu) へ(he) ほ(ho)

Becomes

ぱ(pa) ぴ(pi) ぷ(pu) ぺ(pe) ぽ(po)

Build the next filtered deck "H Step3 Hiragana - Dakuten Maru". Same as Dakuten TenTen, go through them, listen to the audio, and be aware of how the sound changes from the original. Don't worry about memorizing them or even remembering the original sound. Just become aware of the maru (circle) modification. This should take less than 2 minutes. The move onto "Learning Kana Yōon - Combinations."

Learning Kana Yōon - Combinations

The last modification we will learn about is kana combinations. When these combinations happen, you will notice that the first kana is full-sized, but the second kana is smaller. It signifies that basically, the last sound of the first kana is cut off, which allows it to flow into the sound of the second (smaller) kana.

(ki)   よ(yo) = きょ(kyo)

き(ki)   や(ya) = きゃ(kya)

し(shi)   ゆ(yu) = しゅ(Shyu)

These are just 3 of the combinations that can be made. Again, don't worry about memorizing them all, or even worrying about which kana can be combined, how they can be combined, or why they can be combined. You will gain a feeling for this as you read and learn vocabulary.  All you want to do is build the "H Step4 Hiragana - Dakuten Yōon" filtered deck, browse through it once. Noticing the big kana, the small kana in each combo, and how they modify to fit together. Going through all the cards should take you 5 minutes (or less). Once you work through the cards and have a general idea of the concept of combination kana, it is time to move on to "Mastering the Kana."

Mastering The Kana

I believe too many people spend way too much time in the flashcard program trying to cram kana. There are only 46 Hiragana and Katakana, as well as their modification on top of that. This is why we recommend this quick cram approach to get you to this stage ASAP. While slightly frustrating at first, the place in which you will master the kana is not within flashcards, but in real immersion. Every day before you immerse, you will perform a slightly modified version of the quick cram we did above.

  1. Cram the base kana (but this time use the H Step1B Hiragana - Basic Characters (Random) deck)
  2. Browse, don't test the Dakuten TenTen, Dakuten Maru, and Dakuten Combinations (Yoon) Decks.

Once you can get about 80% of the kana correct the first time, you can stop reviewing the kana in Anki each day and go straight to immersion.

You will also want to have this cheat sheet handy to make the process smoother when you cannot recall a character during reading (which may happen a lot for quite a while).

 

Tofugu Hiragana cheat sheet

Tofugu Katakana cheat sheet

So after our daily cram, how do we master kana in immersion? Let's go over that now.

Use a site like https://animelon.com/ and find a show that looks good to you. Any show will do. Once you are playing an episode, in the bottom right-hand corner of the player, it will say "subs." Click on "subs" and select "Hiragana" (or Katakana if you are on that step) and "Japanese." Make sure all other boxes are checked OFF.

Once the proper subtitles are selected, wait for a subtitle line to show up. As quickly as possible, hit the spacebar to stop the show. (sometimes, you have to click on the video player somewhere in the middle to get this to work correctly). The sooner you can pause, the better because you want to read the subtitle before listening to the audio. Read the hiragana and glance at the kanji, so you get exposed to it, but don't worry about remembering it. Just glance at the kanji. If you forget one of the hiragana, you can use the cheat sheet above to look it up. You can also click on the word in the subtitles, and a dictionary will pop up telling you what the word means. There will also be a romaji representation of the word. (remember, romaji is a lousy representation of the sounds. But in the beginning, it can get you close when paired with the native audio of the show).

After you read the subtitle line, hit play and listen to the line you just read. Try and pick out all the sounds you just read. See if how it sounded in your head is how it sounded from a native. This will help train you to read hiragana as well as help train your ear to hear the sounds of Japanese as spoken by a native.

Note: Spoken language is often very slurred and hard to hear. It is entirely normal for you to read one thing and not hear all the sounds you just read. This could be because your ear is not trained yet, or it could also be because they are slurring words or skipping sounds. Remain focused. Slowly, over time, you will get more and more used to it and pick out more sounds.

Another option that is better than Animelon if you have a Netflix subscription and VPN is the Chrome extension "Language Learning with Netflix."

Chrome extension: Language Learning with Netflix

This addon is, in my opinion, a more seamless experience for learning hiragana. It allows smoother navigation, automatic subtitle pausing and true furigana. If you have the means, I recommend you use the Netflix option for hiragana. However, for katakana, Animelon is the better option since you can convert all subs by choosing the katakana subtitle option. Katakana is much harder to come by, so this is a fantastic way to master it.

Rinse and repeat the steps laid out in Mastering the Kana until you feel entirely comfortable with hiragana. You should be able to read hiragana for 10 minutes without having to use the cheat sheet. Once you can do that, start working on katakana in the same exact manner listed above (but this time use the katakana filtered decks instead of the hiragana ones). Or, slow roll katakana while continuing on with the next steps in Refold stage 1.

B2 : Writing System (Kanji)

NOTE: RRTK followed by TANGO N5 used to be the main recommended method for getting a foundation in the language. However, Refold has since released a beta version of a deck that combined RRTK and BASIC VOCAB into a single deck. It is available to all Patron supporters that are at the $5 level and above. If you wish to use this deck instead of RRTK and buying the Tango book, please check out the resources here.

Video Introducing this new deck
The Patron Post with Deck Link V2

Refold Japanese server also has a jp1k-feedback channel to give feedback on the deck.

If you do not wish to use the Refold Deck Beta, you can continue on to RRTK and TANGO as usual. However, if you DO use the refold deck, make sure to still read the grammar section to learn how to pair the deck with a grammar foundation to jumpstart comprehension of immersion.
 

Note: You want to be immersing while learning Kanji. Continue reading show subtitles as laid out in the kana section to continue mastering it. You also want to be getting a casual grammar foundation while you work through RRTK. This is laid out afterwards in  section 1C: Grammar.

The why of RRTK and the Refold kanji learning system

A Three-Part Approach to Kanji

Just because you can recognize something, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can recall it from memory. For example, in English, sometimes you’re able to read a word, but not spell it. As you can see with this example, in general, recognition is much easier than production.

This is why, initially, we think it’s best to only worry about learning to recognize kanji characters. Using the right system and tools, this can be done easily and fairly quickly. And once you can recognize kanji, you can learn to read written Japanese without too much trouble.

Learning to read Japanese will naturally lead you to become extremely familiar with kanji. That being said, since reading only requires character recognition (and not production), learning to read won’t automatically enable you to recall characters from memory. But, it will take you most of the way there.

Kanji Production is Overrated

When we say “kanji production or “the ability to recall kanji from memory”, we’re referring to the ability to write out kanji characters by hand. This isn’t needed to be able to type Japanese because Japanese typing is done phonetically. So, as long as you can read kanji, you can type kanji as well.

The ability to produce kanji from memory isn’t nearly as important as it used to be, since nowadays nearly all writing is done on a keyboard. As a result of this, even Japanese native speakers have been getting worse at writing out kanji from memory.

This is why we think it’s completely fine to put off learning to produce kanji from memory until after a high level of reading comprehension has been acquired. Some learners may choose to never learn how to write out kanji by hand, and we think that’s perfectly reasonable as well.

Kanji Recognition Explained

Before you start studying Japanese, most kanji aren’t going to look like much more than a blob of random scribbles. Of course, some of the more pictograph-like characters, like 山 (mountain) or 木 (tree), are simple and straightforward to remember. But, these only represent a tiny fraction of all the characters you need to know to be proficient in Japanese.

The thing is, nearly all kanji are made up of different combinations of the same basic ~200 components. The key to learning kanji is training your brain to see them in terms of these components. This way, seemingly complicated characters like “露” can be seen as simply rain (雨) + path (路) = dew (露). Now, why does rain + path = dew? Who knows; kanji etymology is unclear in more cases than not. Regardless, remembering that rain and path combine to make dew is a lot easier than remembering a blob of random scribbles.

As you get more comfortable with seeing kanji in terms of their components, learning new kanji will become easier and easier. Eventually, you’ll reach the point we call being fluent in the meta-language of kanji. Once you reach this point, your brain actually stops seeing characters in terms of their component parts, and instead starts to see each kanji as a unified whole. This is actually how your brain handles words in English as well. The reason you’re able to read this text as fast as you are is that your brain is able to recognize entire words at once, without needing to pay attention to individual letters. That’s why it’s possible to read texts such as this:

“Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.” (source)

In other words, your brain will become able to treat kanji this way. Once this happens, recognizing the appearance of a kanji will become just like recognizing the face of a person. After spending just a few seconds looking at someone for the first time, you instantly remember their face. You could go years without seeing that person again, and if shown a picture of them, their face would likely still feel familiar. You might not remember who they are or how you know them, but you would know that you’ve seen them somewhere before.

Now, think about the way you remember a face. Do you memorize the exact distance between the person’s eyes and categorize the shape of their nose? Of course not. Their face simply has a “look”, and you instantly and automatically remember it. Remembering new characters will become just like this. As soon as you see a new character, it will look like something. When you see that character again, you will instantly recognize it as the same character.

Now, that being said, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you know what the character means or how it’s read. It also doesn’t mean that you can write out the character from memory. It simply means that when you see the character, you instantly know that it’s that character. This is what we mean by “the ability to recognize kanji”.

It might not seem like much, but in reality, this ability is a superpower in the context of learning Japanese. Learning to read and understand a word containing a new kanji becomes as simple as, well, remembering how it’s read and what it means. You won’t have to deal with the additional obstacle of trying to force a blob of random scribbles into your memory.

And like we explained above, it’s through learning to read and understand words in context that you’ll be able to naturally build an extensive mental database of exactly how specific individual characters are read and used in different contexts.

Learning to Recognize the Kanji

Our recommended method of training kanji recognition is Recognition RTK, a modified version of Remembering the Kanji (RTK) combined with an SRS.

Recognition Remembering the Kanji, or RRTK as we often refer to it, focuses only on the 1,000  most common kanji (plus some building blocks totalling 1,250 cards). One problem with original RTK, by James Heisig, was that many of the most common characters would not be learned till the very end, over 3,000 characters deep. This is paired with the fact that the original RTK focused on producing the kanji, and writing them by hand. As we mentioned earlier, we believe this is a heavy frontloaded investment that only increases the frustration of early Japanese learning. While some people will use original RTK (or as we often refer to it PRTK, Production RTK) after reaching fluency in order to learn to handwrite kanji, because of all of the aforementioned downsides we have modified RTK into RRTK to make the process much easier and quicker.

Recognition RTK Anki Deck

You can find the official Refold RRTK deck here.

Online created mnemonics and stories have been removed from the above official Refold RRTK deck due to many being viewed as inappropriate. However, if this does not bother you and you would like easy access to these stories you can find the unofficial verion of the RRTK deck
HERE

Credit

The order that kanji are presented in, kanji keywords, and all information regarding primitive elements, were taken directly from Remembering the Kanji 6th Edition by James Heisig. Although the deck was designed to function as a complete replacement for the RTK book, please support the original by purchasing a copy.

Alternative kanji meanings were taken from JEDict. Mnemonic stories were taken from the Kanji Koohii website. (These stories are removed from the most recent deck, but can be found at this site if you find them useful and added manually)

Frequency information was taken from this site, and is based on an Aozora Bunko corpus. In order to account for biases introduced by the specific source of frequency information, some kanji have been manually included and excluded from the deck in accordance with what we thought would be most useful for learners.

1,250 Cards for 1,000 Kanji

Like we mentioned earlier, one of RTK’s most powerful innovations was sequencing characters based on their components, such that each character learned can be viewed as a simple combination of familiar elements. RRTK makes use of this methodical sequencing to help users learn to recognize the most common 1,000 kanji. That said, applying RTK’s original sequencing to RRTK wasn’t as straightforward as trimming RTK’s kanji list down to the most common characters.

Within the original RTK book, components of kanji are referred to as “primitive elements”. Please note that RTK’s primitive elements do not align with traditional kanji radicals. To go back to the example from above, RTK breaks down the character “露” (dew) into the primitive elements “雨” (rain) and “路” (path). In this case, both primitive elements also exist as independent kanji. However, there are also primitive elements that do not exist as independent kanji, and are solely used as components of other characters. For example, the primitive element "宀" is used inside many kanji (for example, "家" (house)), but isn't actually a kanji itself.

Oftentimes, common kanji are composed of fairly uncommon component characters. For example, the extremely common kanji “頭” (head) contains within it the kanji “頁” (page), which is rarely used. Because of this, reducing RTK to strictly the most common 1,000 characters would be quite problematic. Uncommon kanji that function as primitive elements would end up getting removed, which would in turn make learning characters that contain those primitive elements much more difficult.

In order to remedy this, in addition to the 1,000 most common kanji, the RRTK deck also contains cards for an additional 250 primitive elements. Some of these primitive elements exist as independent kanji, while others are used exclusively as components of other characters. Although these primitive elements are not actually common kanji themselves, because they’re also components of common kanji, learning them is necessary in order to fully benefit from RTK’s original mnemonic system.

Card Format

The deck consists of 3 different types of cards: kanji cards, primitive element cards, and instruction cards. Kanji cards are for kanji, primitive element cards are for primitive elements that are not themselves independent kanji, and instruction cards provide information about either the deck itself or kanji in general.

On the front of each card, you’ll find a kanji or primitive element written in 4 different fonts. The reason for having multiple fonts is that, depending on the character, the same kanji can look quite different depending on the font. So, the more you’re exposed to different fonts, the more prepared you’ll be.

The RTK number for each kanji is listed at the top of every kanji card. If you click this number, it functions as a hyperlink that will take you to the kanji’s entry on this site. Please note that the numbers listed here correspond with the kanji’s position within the 2,200 characters presented in the original RTK book, not the kanji’s position within RRTK. On primitive element cards, “Primitive Element” is listed in place of an RTK number.

On the back of kanji cards, you’ll find the original RTK keyword, some other meanings of the kanji, and any “primitive element meanings” listed for that kanji in the original RTK book. A “primitive element meaning” is a meaning a character takes on when used as a component of another kanji. For example, when the kanji for "one" (一) is used as a primitive element (for example, in "下" (below)), it can take on the meaning of "ceiling". To help you tell them apart, primitive element meanings are listed in a red font.

On the back of primitive element cards, an explanation of that primitive’s meaning is all that is listed. As with “primitive element meanings” on kanji cards, the explanations on primitive element cards appear in a red font.

The deck also comes pre-set with recommended option-group settings. The only one you need to worry about changing is “New cards/day” in the “New Cards” tab. Adjust this at any time to reflect how many new kanji you want to learn each day.

Note: Older versions of the deck had mnemonic stories on the back as well, taken from  the Kanji Koohii website. However in this version they have been removed, as many where inappropriate. Feel free to check the website for stories however and add them manually, or to get inspiration for some stories others have found helpful.

RRTK and Kanji FAQ

How Will I Learn Kanji Readings?

The most pragmatic way of going about learning to read kanji is to forget the whole idea that kanji have individual “readings”.

In reality, the only time you’ll ever need to know how a kanji is read is in the context of reading a word. So, as long as you can read words, your kanji reading problem is solved. And like we mentioned above, once you have a basic ability to identify characters, you can jump right into learning words (exactly how to go about learning words will be discussed in later sections).

Once you’ve learned to read a few hundred words, you’ll naturally start gaining an intuition for how specific characters tend to be read in different contexts. Eventually, you’ll find that you can guess the readings of new words with high levels of accuracy.

For a more in-depth explanation of why you shouldn’t worry about kanji readings, watch from 1:53 to 10:55 of this video (note: Matt has updated his views on some of the conclusions reached in this video, as reflected in this guide).

How do I learn new kanji?

In order to learn a new kanji, break it down into its component primitive elements and come up with a story to link those elements to the kanji’s meaning. If you need some inspiration, you can check out other people’s stories on the Kanji Koohii website, or just use one of the stories you find there.

Feel free to take some liberties when tinkering with the meaning of primitive elements and modifying stories. The mnemonics are just a pragmatic tool for remembering the characters, so whatever works is fine.

How many new cards a day?

Depending on how much time you currently have available, we recommend learning between 10 and 30 new kanji a day. At a rate of 10 a day, you can finish in a little over 3 months. With 30 a day, you can finish in a little over 1 month.

During RRTK, we recommend allocating around 50% to 75% of your “active” time learning and reviewing kanji. Leave around 25%~50% for immersion. Also, no matter how much time you have available each day, we don’t recommend spending more than 2 hours a day on kanji study.

How should I grade cards?

If you could recall the general meaning of the character with relative ease, grade the card “good”. If you couldn’t recall the general meaning of the character, or you could recall the general meaning but it took quite a bit of time/effort, then mark the card “again”. If the character has multiple meanings, as long as you could recall at least one of those meanings, that’s good enough. Don’t worry about recalling the exact RTK keyword. For example, the keyword for “町” is “village”. If you were able to recall anything like “town” or “city”, that’s good enough.

If you didn’t need to use a mnemonic to recall the meaning of a kanji, that’s fine. There’s no need to force yourself to recall a mnemonic. If you did need to use a mnemonic to recall the meaning of a kanji, that’s completely fine too. Whether or not you used a mnemonic to recall the kanji shouldn’t affect the grade you give a card.

Should I write out the kanji?

It’s a good idea to write out new characters when you initially learn them, but we don’t recommend writing out kanji while doing your Anki reviews. Because you’re really only after recognition, it’s not going to be worth the extra time and effort.

What should I do about leeches?

In Anki, a “lapse” is when a learned card is graded “again”. When the same card lapses 5 times, Anki will mark it a “leech” and suspend the card. Leeches are a natural part of the learning process. Some things you learn will stick easily, some won’t stick no matter what you try, and most stuff will be somewhere in between. For those small minority of cards that just won’t stick, AKA leeches, it’s best to just get rid of them. Instead of wasting a bunch of time on a single leech, it’s more productive to learn 5 normal cards in its place.

It may seem counter-intuitive to delete or suspend a kanji out of your deck, but in reality, it’s really not a big deal. If you end up knowing 950 of the 1,000 most frequently used kanji, that’s more than enough to move onto the next stage of the learning process. You’ll pick up those missing 50, along with thousands of other kanji, naturally as you continue to immerse yourself in Japanese. No one word or kanji is going to make or break you, and it’s never too late to learn something later.

I finished my Anki reviews for the day but still have time. Should I review extra?

We strongly advise against doing so. Anki will tell you exactly how much you should review. Reviewing more than this can actually hurt the effectiveness of Anki’s algorithm. If you have extra time after finishing your kanji work for the day, do more active immersion.

When should I delete my Recognition RTK deck?

If you delete your RRTK deck immediately after completing Recognition RTK, you’ll likely end up quickly forgetting a significant portion of the kanji you learned. In order to avoid this, it’s important to continue reviewing your Anki deck after completing RRTK. That said, even if you continue diligently keeping up with your daily reviews, after a few months after completing RRTK, the retention rate of your deck will likely start to decline. This is an inevitable outcome of not emphasizing mnemonics while learning the characters.

But, this shouldn’t be much of a problem. By the time this starts to happen, you should have a strong enough footing in reading immersion (watching with Japanese subtitles) to retain the core of your kanji ability through immersion alone. Yes, you may forget what a specific kanji means here and there, but what’s really important is the ability to identify characters.

As long as you have a strong footing in reading immersion, it’s fine to delete your RRTK deck once the retention rate starts to decline. To be specific, we recommend continuing to review your RRTK deck for 3~6 months after completing Recognition RTK. After that, you can delete your deck.

C: Jumpstarting Your Comprehension

1C: Grammar

While you are learning Kanji you also want to be immersing. Continue to watch shows as well as read the subtitles to shows as laid out in the Kana section above. However, you also will want to begin casually reading through a grammar guide. Here are some grammar sources that can help provide a foundation in the language.

We recommend that you read through the grammar guide for 5 minutes everyday per 1 hour of immersion (with a maximum of 20 minutes). So 1 hour of immersion means reading grammar for 5 minutes. 3 hours of immersion means reading a grammar guide for 15 minutes. (Review the official Refold guide if you need a refresher on how to do this properly, and what you should be looking for while browsing these grammar resources.)

Below are some grammar resources for Japanese. Additional resources can also be found in the community document (including monolingual grammar resources that can be consumed later when you have a foundation in the language): Refold Japanese community document.

Note that these grammar resources should not be actively “studied”. Don’t do any of the drills or worry about memorizing the info. Casually read through it and just see if anything sticks. As you immerse and read, and immerse and reread, things will eventually start to click.

We don’t recommend making sentence cards for Grammar points from these resources. However, if you do, make sure to focus on having the sentence on front, and the bare minimum notes to understand the sentence on the back. Do not write comprehensive notes on a bunch of uses, or nuance etc etc.

Tae Kim Grammar Guide

The Tae Kim grammar guide is a popular foundational grammar source. There is a paid paperback version, but we recommend using the free online version at the link above. Skip the “Before you start” and “Writing systems” as you have already covered that. Also as mentioned above, don’t touch any of the drill sections (or portions of the text). Start at the Basic Grammar and casually work your way through. Focus on Basic Grammar until you feel comfortable with 80% of the content, then you can add additional sections into the mix if you wish.

Imabi grammar database

Another popular grammar source. Start with the Beginner 1 section and keep repeating it till you are comfortable with 80% of the concepts there. Then, start adding other sections to the mix. We don’t recommend going beyond Intermediate 2 section. You can stop reviewing grammar before then, but beyond then it’s better to focus on gaining an instinct in grammar through immersion.

Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar

This is another amazing grammar resource. We recommend only working through the Basic Grammar section that we have linked to above. This grammar resource has a lot of nuance notes. While it’s fine to read through them if you want, it’s also okay to skip most of these really nuanced explanations of grammar. Focus mostly on the main, header grammar points and a few example sentences.

Basic Vocab

NOTE: RRTK followed by TANGO N5 used to be the main recommended method for getting a foundation in the language. However, Refold has since released a beta version of a deck that combined RRTK and BASIC VOCAB into a single deck. It is available to all Patron supporters that are at the $5 level and above. If you wish to use this deck instead of RRTK and buying the Tango book, please check out the resources here.

Video Introducing this new deck
The Patron Post with Deck Link V2

Refold Japanese server also has a jp1k-feedback channel to give feedback on the deck.

If you do not wish to use the Refold Deck Beta, you can continue on to RRTK and TANGO as usual. However, if you DO use the refold deck, make sure to still read the grammar section to learn how to pair the deck with a grammar foundation to jumpstart comprehension of immersion.

JLPT Tango N5

The book 1000 Essential Vocabulary for the JLPT N5, also known as JLPT Tango N5, contains ~1,000 Japanese sentences and their English translations. As you can probably tell by its title, the book was designed with the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in mind. But, this is entirely irrelevant for our purposes.

The reason we’re interested in the JLPT Tango N5 is that the sentences are ordered in such a way that each sentence only introduces a single new word or grammar pattern. It’s designed to teach intuitively through example sentences and keeps technical explanations of grammar and vocabulary to a minimum. This makes it ideal for our purposes.

What’s even better is that you can download audio files of native audio for all of the sentences in the book on the publisher’s website.

Some downsides of the book are that the vocabulary taught doesn’t align precisely with Japanese frequency lists, some of the sentences are contrived, and all the sentences are in polite forms. But, despite these downsides, JLPT Tango N5 is currently the best resource available for our purpose, and will definitely get the job done.

You can purchase the book on Japanese Amazon or OMG Japan.

Tango N5 Anki Deck

With the help of some of our patrons, we have created an Anki deck specifically for the JLPT Tango N5. Because the deck is based on a book, we are unable to provide a public link to access the deck. If you would like the deck, please DM @BrettWilliamsFilm with either a picture of you with the book or with the receipt can serve as proof of purchase, and he will DM you the deck.

The deck has cards formatted as text-based bilingual sentence cards by default (sentence on the front; reading, translation, word meanings, and audio on the back). Each card also comes with a “reverse” field that, when filled, turns the card into an audio-based sentence card (audio on the front; reading, translation, and word meanings on the back).

Because the JLPT Tango N5 was created as a JLPT prep book, it only uses kanji that are tested on the JLPT N5. This means that lots of words that are usually written in kanji in real life show up written with kana in the book. Because this deck was designed for people who have already completed Recognition RTK, all of these words have been converted to kanji.

The deck also comes pre-set with recommended option-group settings. The only one you need to worry about changing is “New cards/day” in the “New Cards” tab. Adjust this at any time to reflect how many new cards you want to learn each day.

The Rest of the Tango Series

The JLPT Tango N5 book is actually the first in a series of JLPT prep books. There are five books total, one for each level of the JLPT.

Anything past the N5 book is beyond the scope of what Refold considers basic vocab. After reading through a grammar guide and learning the most common ~1000 words, you should be more than ready to start sentence mining, which will be discussed in a later section.

With that said, we think it can be useful to go through the JLPT Tango N4 book as well, alongside starting sentence mining. We’ve made an Anki deck for the N4 book in a similar style as the N5 deck. Just like with the N5, please DM @BrettWilliamsFilm with either a picture of you with the book or with the receipt can serve as proof of purchase, and he will DM you the deck.

We don’t recommend going through N3 and beyond, and so we haven’t created Anki decks for those books.

Additional foundation vocab sources

We do believe Tango N5 to be a fantastic foundation source (or at least the best we have right now). However, it does cost money. If you do not wish to, or are unable to make the investment, here are some more foundational sources you can consider to take care of the core vocabulary. (Some also choose to skip premade decks and sentence mine from day 1. This can be very frustrating, but it’s possible. Some of the articles in Stage 2 might be worth checking out if you decide to go this route). Additional sources may be available in the Refold Japanese community document

Core 2k/6k/10k optimized 

Japanese Glossika Anki Deck - all 3k sentences with audio

Tango & Vocab FAQ

Because the Tango N5 deck is a deck of sentence cards, most of the instructions for how to use the deck will be left for the next section, which is dedicated to sentence cards.

How many cards should I learn a day?

We recommend learning between 10~20 cards a day. Keep in mind that the more new cards you learn a day, the more daily reviews you’ll have in the long term.

Should I do Recognition RTK and basic vocab at the same time?

We don’t recommend it. The ability to recognize kanji is a prerequisite to efficiently learning to read vocabulary. So, in the long run, it’s going to be more efficient to finish RRTK before starting Basic Vocab. Also, focusing on one thing at a time generally leads to more efficient learning.

That being said, we do think it’s fine to do basic grammar and basic vocab at the same time, as long as you’ve finished RRTK. Just, if you plan on taking our recommendation of using both Tae Kim and the Tango N5 deck, we highly recommend only reading through Tae Kim, and not making any SRS cards.

I keep forgetting the reading of kanji words, what should I do?

Even after finishing Recognition RTK, it’s common to have some difficulties remembering the reading of kanji words. After you learn to read a few hundred words, this should mostly go away. Remembering how kanji words are read is itself a skill, and you’re going to improve it by practicing. As you learn to read more words and get more comfortable with the Japanese sound system overall, remembering the readings of new words will get easier and easier.

What should I do about leeches?

In Anki, a “lapse” is when a learned card is graded “again”. When the same card lapses 5 times, Anki will mark it a “leech” and suspend the card. Leeches are a natural part of the learning process. Some things you learn will stick easily, some won’t stick no matter what you try, and most stuff will be somewhere in between. For those small minority of cards that just won’t stick, AKA leeches, it’s best to just get rid of them. Instead of wasting a bunch of time on a single leech, it’s more productive to learn 5 normal cards in its place.

If the reason a card becomes a leech is due to a kanji reading just not sticking, feel free to put furigana for that word on the front of the card. To do this, copy the syntax from the “Reading” field into the “Expression” field.