Association means linking the kanji being learned or some part of the kanji being learned to a previously learned kanji, katakana symbol, a letter of the alphabet or some other known symbol. The Association strategy can also include remembering by associating kanji with other kanji of the same meaning group, with kanji having the opposite meaning, with kanji that have the same reading but look different, or with kanji that look the same but have a different reading. All of these strategies involve linking new knowledge with previous knowledge and can lead to more efficient learning.
1 I create associations between the new kanji and other kanji I already know
e.g.1 頭 （あたま head）The right-hand element 頁 carries the meaning of head. 顔 （かお face）is also part of the head and has the same element.
e.g.2 勇ましい （いさましい brave） has 男 (おとこ male) in it. Males are brave.
e.g.3 皆 （みな everyone） “I remember it because it looks like 階 （かい floor）without the front part on it” (student).
2 I create associations between the new kanji and katakana
e.g.1 名 （な name）is made up of タ （たta） and ロ (ろ ro) from katakana. ‘Taro’ is a common boy’s name in Japan.
e.g.2 お茶 （おちゃ tea） has ホ （ほ ho）from katakana suggesting ‘hot tea’.
e.g.3 空 （から empty） has エ （え e） from katakana sounding like ‘e-mpty’
3 I create associations between the new kanji and other known symbols
e.g.1 五 （ご five）looks like a 5
e.g.2 事 （こと thing） from the top, has line, box, upside down E and the whole thing gets cut down the middle.
e.g.3 南 （みなみ south） has a cross at the top – ‘southern cross’
4 I create associations between new kanji and letters of the alphabet
e.g.1 左 （ひだり left） エ looks like ‘H’ on its side. ‘H’ for ‘Hidari’
e.g.2 大阪 （おおさか Osaka） The right-hand character ( 阪) looks like BFX.
e.g.3 階 （かい floor） has B for ‘busy’ at the front – busy shop.
5 I associate kanji with other kanji from the same meaning group
e.g.1 母 (はは mother), 父 (ちち father), 兄 (あに big brother), 姉 (あね big sister)
e.g.2 赤 (あか red), 青 (あお blue), 黒 (くろ black), 白 (しろ white)
e.g.3 馬 (うま horse), 鳥 (とり bird), 魚 (さかな fish)
6 I associate kanji with kanji that mean the opposite
e.g.1 暗い（くらい dark）and 明るい（あかるい light）. They both have to do with the sun (日). When it’s dark, someone is standing a (立) on the sun. When the moon (月) is out as well as the sun, it’s very bright.
e.g.2 朝 （あさ morning）and 晩（ばん evening）. In the morning, the sun (日) comes up between the two crosses and replaces the moon (月). In the evening, the sun gets smaller and sets (lies down on its side).
e.g.3 大きい （おおきい big）and 小さい （ちいさい small）. For ‘big’, the man has his arms outstretched, for ‘small’, his arms are by his sides.
7 I associate kanji with other kanji that look different but have the same reading
e.g.1 泉 （せん spring） out of 温泉 （おんせん hot spring） and 線 (せん line) out of 新幹線 （しんかんせん bullet train） sound the same and have a common element.
e.g.2 洗 （せん wash）out of 洗濯 （せんたく washing）and 先 （せん previous）out of 先生 （せんせい teacher）sound the same and have a common element.
e.g.3 折る （おる to fold or break）and 織る （おる to weave） have no common element but sound the same.
8 I associate kanji with other kanji that look the same but have a different reading
e.g.1 先 （さき before）and 先 （せん）out of 先生 （せんせい teacher）are the same so teacher must mean ‘born before’.
e.g.2 紅茶 （こうちゃ black tea） and 口紅 （くちべに lipstick） share the character 紅. 紅 （くれない）on its own means ‘crimson’ so ‘black tea’ is really ‘red tea’.
e.g.3 学生 （がくせい student）and 生まれ（うまれ born）so student must mean ‘born to study’
9 I compare and contrast kanji that look similar so as not to confuse them
e.g.1 手 （て hand）and 毛 (け hair)
e.g.2 牛 （うし cow）and 午 out of 午後 (ごご afternoon)
e.g. 3 末 （まつ end）as in 週末 （しゅうまつ weekend） and 未 (み unfinished) as in 未来 (みらい future or ‘not yet come’)