We’ve been moderately quiet about the kanji learning site WaniKani. Since it’s getting close to private alpha time (if you get the 30 Day Ebook there’s a link in there for previously said private alpha) I wanted to shed some details on the project that Viet’s been so hard at work on all these months. Of course, since it’s quite early everything I’m about to say is liable to change, but don’t you want to know more anyways?

All In The Name

wanikani name

Perhaps the hardest part about building WaniKani was coming up with a name. It seemed like every day in January we were just listing off name after name after name, trying to come up with something we liked. Here are some failed names:


Yeah. Those are pretty bad. On one fateful day, though, I opened a kanji dictionary up to the fish (魚) section (yeah, there’s a fish section, seriously) and wrote down all of the aquatic animal names since most of our stuff seems to be sea-creature themed. I was looking for two animals that had rhyming names. The only two I came across were a match made in heaven: Wani (alligator) and Kani (Crab).

Of course, the moment we tried imagining what the mascot would look like we were sold. CRABIGATOR. ALLICRAB. WANIKANI.

What Is WaniKani?

The idea behind WaniKani is nice and simple. Basically, we wanted to create something that we’d actually use to learn kanji and vocab. In order to do that, we would have to cover five main things:

  1. Kanji Radicals
  2. Kanji Meanings
  3. Kanji Readings (we narrow it down to the most important one for you so you don’t have to learn a million readings per kanji)
  4. Vocabulary Meaning
  5. Vocabulary Reading

That’s a lot of stuff, but each item on the list is helped by the item before it. For example, a kanji’s meaning comes from the radicals. A vocab’s meaning comes from the kanji that makes it. Etc. Learn them all and you’ll be able to read Japanese. Although this constitutes a lot of items to learn, our goal is to give people to ability to learn all of these within a year. We’re thinking 50 weeks, actually. That way you can take two weeks off for Columbus Day, or something.

Mnemonics, SRS, & Simplicity

As you might expect, learning kanji on WaniKani involves mnemonics, SRS, and a few pounds of simplicity thrown in for good measure. The mnemonics are all made in-house, and also cover the vocabulary (which, I think, is pretty unheard of). When you’ve proven to the computer monster that you’ve learned a new item (radical, kanji, or vocab), it gets put into your review pile. Once they’re in your review pile the SRS kicks in and then based off your answers it will show you the question more often or less often. We’ll definitely be testing and adjusting the “spaces” part of our “spaced repetition system” too when testing begins.

The most important thing for us, though, was the simplicity and ease of use. There are a few similar things out there, but usually it involves combining multiple (complicated) resources into one giant rat king of kanji learning. While combining multiple resource types into one application is a good start, we also wanted to be careful not to let that over-complicate things. Every time we try to add something (Viet’s very good at this) we ask each other what it will do and if it is actually necessary. If it’s not, we cut it. If it is, we then try to shave that feature down to the bare minimum while not losing its purpose. We want to make WaniKani a pleasure to use, above everything else.

Find Out More!

Over the coming weeks I’ll be posting more about WaniKani, but mostly on WaniKani-related sites (sometimes on Tofugu too, though). If you’d like to know more about this project, be sure to follow us via your favorite following service.

Twitter: @WaniKaniApp

You can also sign up for access to the closed Beta (don’t have a timeline for that, but it’ll be after the Alpha) by going to the WaniKani homepage and clicking on the giant 鰐蟹. It’ll then let you put your email in. When the beta is ready, we’ll let you know about it. Of course, if you are dying to get in a little bit earlier, getting a copy of the 30 Day Ebook will give you a link to sign up for the Alpha.

In today’s post, I only went over some of the broad, general details on WaniKani. I’ll be diving into specifics over the next few weeks, but if you have any questions in the meantime put them in the comments below and I’ll answer the ones that I can!

  • Kimura Okagawa

    Uh, I applied to the beta list a few days ago, but tonight I used the alpha link in the 30-day ebook download (finally got Dad to cough up for the ebook! :D), using the same email address as the first time (at least Paypal didn’t get confused about that, since the PP account is my dad’s with his email)… Did I just confuse the WaniKani system by having both a beta and alpha subscription, or will the alpha one take precedence?

  • Kimura Okagawa

    Does that include the Alpha testers as well, or do we get it for free because we got in the alpha with the ebook code?

  • koichi

    you’ll probably just get an email about alpha and then another about beta later on. Two separate lists, so they shouldn’t cause any problems, other than you’ll get more loving emails from me.

    Ty, btw!

  • Lagolden

    Clicking on the giant 鰐蟹 is not working for me. I put my email in etc. but don’t get a confirmation email.

    This sounds better than having to work with Anki.

  • RainSprite

    I’m really looking forward to this. I’ve been studying Japanese for 2 years at a USA university, and Kanji is the main thing I have issues with. I can’t seem to retain kanji very well. I just took my final, and I’m pretty sure I did horribly on the kanji part.

    Approximately what time will WaniKani be available for use? I signed up for the e-mailing list thing. Maybe sometime in May, or June?

  • Marcobach_bios2003

    Hi!, i really like the kanjis and I’m waiting very excited for this proyect jejejeje question… spanish version?? I’m from mexico and i offer my help to translate to the latin language, tanks!

  • Jon E.

    Is that a kappa and a farting-scroll fox?

  • TripMasterMunky

    Awesome. I’ve learned so much with Textfugu so far, and the Kanji teachings are great. This will be a great way to study instead of loading up Anki all the time.

    One thing though, why do you hate darker interfaces so much? The white on tofugu/textfugu hurts my eyes sometimes, and now pink? Am I the only one that finds a darker interface easier to read during extended periods of studying?

  • RainSprite

    I can handle white, but I think the pink might be too much if I were planning to study for prolonged periods of time.

  • Kage Kitsune

    I shall wait for this one in anticipation!!!

  • koichi

    I have come to love the pink (and other colors) the more I use WaniKani. I hope others will too :p

  • koichi

    Only English version – mnemonics are too English language based for translations, as well, I’m afraid.

  • koichi

    Alpha for sure in May, hopefully Beta a bit later, but hard to tell that before seeing what happens in alpha time!

  • koichi

    hahaha – 1) yes and 2) I hope so

  • koichi

    Shoot me an email and I’ll check to see if you got on the list or not.

  • RainSprite

     ah, I see, awesome :)

  • Michiko617

    I’m in full support of this – can’t wait for the release!

  • あいちゃん

    Hey :D
    I got a closed beta invite for Wanikani, but unfortunately I forgot my password. ^^° But when I try to get my password back by writing my e-mail address into that blank space for ‘Forgot your password’, I always get the message ‘Username or e-mail can’t be blank’. ^^° I don’t really know what I should do now. .__.

  • Jon E.

    Still not available, even for textfugu members? I can’t wait much longerrr ! :-o lol

  • Koichi no otousan

    Koichiben! Why the intense eye-blinding pink colour?

  • Elizabeth Nguyen

    I really love wanikani! Great job on beautiful new layout! I am also doing textfugu with wanikani. Since the kanji is out of order should I just learn kanji with wanikani? :c

  • metoob

    Man this is amazing….. y’all really are so dedicated to making japanese easier and fun even (am i alone here?) to learn. but one thing. when should i start useing wanikani? i’ve just gotten to the end of season 1, and as i am broke i need to start studying from other resources, no matter how much better TextFugu is, until i can get some money. but like in what order should i do things until then? i’m assuming kanji is next cause thats what season 1 ended with….

    but is there in general a certain order i should learn things in?