Remember flashcards? I remember I used to make tons of flashcards for my high school Spanish class and then try to look through them whenever I could. They still never seemed to stick though. The vocabulary always kept falling out of my head.

From that experience, I developed a distrust in flashcards. They just never seemed to work for me. When I started studying Japanese, I didn’t even bother with flashcards all that much. Instead, I resorted to simply reviewing my textbooks over and over again. This also seemed a bit inefficient, but it got the job done.

Shortly there after I discovered Anki, and well, gave up on paper flashcards all together. In a world with high-tech SRSs for free, who needs paper flashcards? After all, I don’t have to carry around a million cards anymore, all I need is a smartphone and I’m ready to go. I can just pop open my SRS app and look at a few cards and then come home and pick up where I left off on my PC.

But, alas, even in our modern age, we still need paper. People have been talking about a paperless office for years too and we still haven’t gotten that either. Paper still has it’s place in this world, at least for a little while longer.

One major reason for this is that paper doesn’t have to be ‘booted up’ or ‘opened’. You can just whip it out at a moment’s notice to practice a few vocabulary words here and there. This makes them the perfect choice for when you are waiting in line at the grocery store or for the next train.

Another major reason to use paper flashcards is that they are a single purpose device. When you are studying paper flashcards, you aren’t going to get a text, phone call, or push notification in the middle of the process. If you are easily distracted by your smartphone, you might want to switch to paper.

I often carry about 10 flashcards with me on a regular day. I find that this is about what I can normally get done in the little cracks of time I have available for me during the day. I try to do this every day, although there are days I forget to pick up my cards on my way out the door.

Another thing you might want to pick up to help you with your flashcards are small flashcard-sized plastic sleeves to store your cards in. These will help cut down on the wear and tear of taking your cards in and out of your pocket and/or bag as well as offer up a little bit of rain protection. You can usually pick them up at a stationary store or at a 100 yen store here in Japan.


1) After finding some vocabulary words to practice, it’s now time to lock them into your memory by slapping them on some flashcards. First, write the Japanese in kanji on one side of the card, and the kana and English on the other side of the card. This way you get two for the price of one.

2) Take a peek at the kanji side of the card and try to make a guess at the meaning. Try to actively recall the word. Sometimes you might have to hunt deep into your memory before you can recall it. As long as you have something, try to fish for it.

If you draw a blank, flip it over and check the meaning and kana reading. Repeat the word over a few times in your head. If you know this is your second or third time missing the card, you might want to try building a mnemonic to help you remember the word completely. Alternatively you can try to visualize a situation where this word might come up. Remember, images are incredibly powerful.

The point is, that some words are just going to ‘pop’ into your head, others will need some persuading. For the words that just pop into your head, you shouldn’t do anymore work because they are already locked in. For other words, that you draw a blank on, those have to be engraved or they are most likely going to just fall right back out again. Spend the few extra moments now to come up with mnemonic or image and save yourself the frustration later.

3) If you want to, you can ‘recycle’ your cards by putting different words in different colors or on different places on the card, but I would make this a separate set that you study at a different time (after you’ve mastered the first set). This is to cut down on interference between the two sets of words.