Head Over Heels With Kanji?

kaishaDon’t you just hate it when you sit at a classroom or at your school library and someone approaches you from the front inquiring about the stuff you’re doing? I was the person to ask that nagging question several times when I was still at the pre-intermediate stage with my Japanese.

– Oh, why do you have to read such a long text on Japanese companies [=日本の会社]?

– It’s about Japanese society [=日本の社会], you moron.

– Ah, that’s right. – I turned the book upside down and noticed my mistake.


When learning kanji you have to remember about a ton of things – the readings, the stroke order, the meanings… and a lot of quite funny methods were applied to learning kanji for easy remembering. Various mnemonics, tracing exercises and JLPT examinations… wait, that’s not funny. But how about the usage? Why don’t we stir things a bit and put some kanji upside down? Well, at least their order… let me propose a new way you can pair up the words you learn by a list of 10 such symmetrical kanji relationships (almost like two halves of the same apple, huh?):


会社 (かいしゃ)a company ⇔ 社会 (しゃかい)society

途中 (とちゅう)en route, on the way ⇔ 中途 (ちゅうと)in the middle, half-way

白黒 (しろくろ)monochrome ⇔ 黒白 (こくはく)right and wrong, black and white

五十 (ごじゅう)fifty ⇔ 十五 (じゅうご) fifteen

一万 (いちまん)ten thousand ⇔ 万一 (まんいち)once-in-a-lifetime chance

中年 (ちゅうねん)middle-aged ⇔ 年中 (ねんちゅう)during the year, a whole year

子馬 (こうま)foal ⇔ 馬子 (まご)packhorse driver

生卵 (なまたまご)raw egg, uncooked egg ⇔ 卵生 (らんせい) oviparity

日本 (にほん)Japan ⇔ 本日 (ほんじつ) that (specific) day

理論 (りろん)theory ⇔ 論理 (ろんり)logic, logical


Memorizing Japanese vocab in pairs is a very effective technique – and you’ve probably tried learning antonyms (words with opposite meaning) or synonyms (words with the same meaning). Maybe you’ve even tried learning only half of the material leaving the other half for the friend who will sit beside you on JLPT or any other Japanese test, that’s also your choice. But, honestly, tell me about any other creative ways of pairing up words you personally use or know!