Samurai Mind Online is dedicated to helping people take on whatever they want to learn whether they think it’s impossible or not. Last night I almost gave myself a concussion when I realized that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to share an interview that I did with James W. Heisig in 2006. As you’ll see in the interview (it’s way longer than my typical post), Heisig came up with a system for how to remember kanji, the Chinese based system that is a key system of writing in Japan. But regardless of whether you are reading this blog because you are interested in learning Japanese, I think there are a few take aways from this interview that any one wanting to learn anything in their life could take away from this story:
- be bold and don’t be afraid to follow your own path
- always be on the look out for smart short cuts or opportunities for deliberate practice. Khatzumoto has some key questions in his article, “Practice Time, Game Time” that I think can apply to any field: What don’t I know well? What doesn’t work? What needs fixing? What can be improved? (Talent is Overrated is a great book to think about this whole idea of deliberate practice.) Heisig realized that understanding kanji would really propel his Japanese fluency and invented a whole system around it.
- don’t depend on others to tell you what is impossible or not
- have fun. Happy feelings bring happy learnings. Heisig hightailed it from the language school as soon as he could and went to the mountains of Nagano and said he learned a lot of Japanese by playing with children and reading comic books.
Give yourself the edge. Be bold and independent but also look at all the resources that are available and be persistent about evaluating them. And above all have fun and enjoy the journey.
This interview originally appeared in kanjiclinic.com, a great resource for learning more about kanji.
“Adventures in Kanji-Land: James W. Heisig and the Birth of Remembering the Kanji”
Based on an Interview with James W. Heisig
By Juan W. Rivera
Free download of the first 125 pages of Remembering the Kanji I.
Every now and then, someone confronts their own personal challenge, systematically overcomes it, and then shares that system with the world. This not only opens up their world, but also opens up the world for generations of people to come. James W. Heisig, author of the sometimes controversial book Remembering the Kanji I: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters, is definitely one of those people. Many people refer to his approach to learning to write the complex Japanese characters as “revolutionary,” making Japanese and kanji study accessible to their lives and opening up a whole world of learning and possibilities for them. I conducted a telephone interview with Prof. Heisig from his office at the Nanzan University Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan.
Heisig’s kanji journey began while he was living in a commune of poets and artists identified as the “spiritual” side of the Sandanista revolution that would soon overthrow the Somoza government. Because of his familiarity with research centers, he was invited by Nanzan University to consult on the establishment of an academic institute devoted to dialogue among religions and philosophies East and West. Shortly after the consultation he was invited back to assist in the project, on condition that he would remain for five years and first attain fluency in spoken and written Japanese at an academic level. Continue reading