Loci Method Trouble [Japanese vocabulary]

I’m trying to learn Japanese, and I decided to use a variation of Dominic O’brien’s vocabulary town system to memorize vocabulary more efficiently. In his book, O’brien uses German, a language that shares many cognates with English, as the example for demonstrating the use of the vocabulary town. O’brien would connect each German word to an image by using an English pun. However, Japanese has a starkly different phonetic system, so finding Eng-Jpn puns is very difficult. Therefore, I decided to modify O’brien’s system by assigning a PAO to each kana to account for this issue.

I imagined a town split into four districts, one district for each part of speech. However, the challenge I have now is that even with the method of loci, I sometimes still completely forget the image I place at a certain location. For example, I once tried to memorize 擡げる (もたげる), meaning “to raise (usually one’s head).” I used the following PAO image:

も: Moana from Disney’s Moana
た: tackles
げ: gemstone
る: Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer

Moana tackles a giant gemstone, and Rudolph walks in front of Moana and flashes its nose at her, causing her to raise her head (the meaning represented here) to look at what Rudolph is trying to do. BTW, I happen to know Cantonese, so remembering the Kanji 擡 is not an issue for me.

However, when I revisited that location, I completely forgot what scene should unfold there, so I had to double-check my notes to remind myself. For a moment, I completely lost faith in the Method of Loci and was prepared to abandon it. However, this is my first time using the Method of Loci for memorizing anything, so it could be that I made a mistake somewhere or that I don’t have enough experience visualizing absurd scenes. Therefore, before abandoning the method of Loci, I decided to ask you folks for help. I’d appreciate any suggestions you may have! (^_^)


If you’re just trying to remember the pronunciation and meaning, I’d simplify the image. I think it’s best to not try to offload every small detail into the images, but mainly use mnemonics to fill in places where natural memory fails.

I’d use a picture of “moat” and imagine someone raising something out of a moat. Every time I see an image of the moat during recall, I’d say “moat…ageru”. That would train my auditory memory to complete “moat” as “motageru”, and the image would tell me what it means. The main purpose of the moat image would be to get me past the tip-of-the-tongue effect when trying to remember the word. If I had trouble recalling the “-ageru” part of the word, then I’d add another image to the scene later.

Other people here might stop by with alternate suggestions. Here are some related discussions that might be interesting in the meantime:

Thanks! :slightly_smiling_face: This is very helpful.

“Ageru” coincidentally means “to raise” in Japanese and appears at a higher frequency btw.

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Every person’s brain works a little differently. Some people like to create entire movie in their head. Some don’t. The Russian mnemonic system “Giordano” says that it is unnecessary to create complex scenes in the head. Stop just superimposing images of objects on top of each other. For example, to memorize the words: safe, cat and screwdriver. It is enough to first imagine the safe on which the kitten is sitting. And then imagine a kitten with a huge screwdriver on its back.The main thing for the brain is to fix the general outline of the image. Therefore, I advise you to take your mind off creating such complex movies and put more emphasis on visual image. The best way to memorize a book and a knife is to imagine a huge book pierced by a knife. The brain captures the general outline and success. There is no more efficient method than method of loci. It all depends on how you able to adapt it.


Seeing it again, agar might be a good image — turning the moat into jelly. Cut squares of the jelly could raised out of the moat.

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I’m not keen on the system you’re proposing, as I feel like you won’t remember all that well, and you’re missing out a lot of the natural contextual information that will help you remember the word.

If you don’t know about transitive / intransitive verbs in Japanese, I would read up on that quickly. It will save you some greif later.

For example, the 上げる|上がる pattern repeats frequently, with ‘ge’ corresponding to ‘doing to something’ ie transitive (it must have an object) and ‘ga’ corresponding to intransitive.

As you know Cantonese, I would also recommend learning the sounds as tied to that particular Kanji (which you should be able to do much easier than me!), as then you can chunk the first two syllables into one idea. I use Wanikani for Kanji memorization (SRS system with mnemonics) but Anki or RTK plus further study would also be fine. I think wanikani would be suitable for someone with Cantonese knowledge, you could absolutely fly through it.

Once you do that, this word is only two easily memorable chunks instead of 4.

Alternatively can I suggest changing your mnemonic so that the gem turns out to be Rudolph’s nose which he lost.


@pegSystem : if I got you right, your problem is not that much in the story of the kanji (your PAO seems to work fine for you), but rather in the Loci method itself : you were unable to identify which story/kanji was associated with the locus you were visiting. So what is missing is probably a stronger interaction between that locus and that kanji/story. More than the story itself, it’s the “link” between this location and this story that you should improve.
My personal experience on Loci : creating good locations (by good, I mean distinct / unique / not similar ones !) is very important for me. Typically, just using a virtual room and placing objects on the 8 corners would just not work at all for me. I always end up mixing or forgetting what story to unfold (a bit like what you describe). On the contrary, using a real path, from real life, with real different locations, works like a charm !

@Omoide (what a great surname :grinning:)
Can you maybe elaborate on why you think so, particularly the “natural contextual information” piece, what do you mean exactly by that ?

I’m asking because I am using quite a similar approach (kind of PAO technique) and it works very well for me when learning a new kanji. Creating a story obviously takes more time than just an initial “rote learning”, but then it sticks to memory more easily and for much longer. I’m also using Wanikani as a SRS, and I clearly see the difference with kanjis I have learned with my own strong mnemonics and others where I haven’t invested the time to do so… (I do not use the mnemonics provided by default on WK, they just do not work for me !)

I am definitely with you regarding the verbs. @pegSystem : you will save some time by reading on that topic.

PS1 : I am by no means an expert, neither in Memory, neither in Japanese, so just giving my two cents to keep the ball rolling :slight_smile:

PS2 : looking at Jisho.org, the kanji 擡 has a simplified version 抬, I will learn this one first, much easier for my level.

Hope that helps !

Since many keen readers have given their suggestion on memory techniques, I’m not gonna repeat. Instead, I would like to recommend this app, which is free and has an English version.
I don’t know whether you like playing games or not? I had learnt the fundamental Japanese characters from this app. For me, it is fun. I played this game about a day and mastered the 50 elements.