Mnemonics for the シ (shi), ン (n), ツ (tsu), (ソ) so, and ノ (no) Characters
In this section we will analyze the シ (shi), ン (n), ツ (tsu), (ソ) so, and ノ (no) characters.
You’ll notice that these characters can be grouped into two separate categories. The シ (shi) and ン (n) (call this Group 1) and the ツ (tsu), (ソ) so, and ノ (no) characters (call this Group 2).
Now let’s look at Group 1 (the シ (shi) and ン (n) characters). What do these characters have in common? Notice how they both have a bottom slopey line that is curved upward only slightly. Also, you’ll notice that the angle of the dot(s) at the top of each character are on an almost horizontal angle.
シ (shi) and ン (n)
Compare this to Group 2 (ツ (tsu), (ソ) so, and ノ (no) characters). With the Group 2 characters, notice how the bottom line is curved upwards on an almost vertical angle? It’s not a slight curve, it’s almost a straight upward curve, and it’s longer! Also notice how the dot(s) on the ツ (tsu) and ソ (so) characters are almost vertical as well?
ツ (tsu), (ソ) so, and ノ (no)
Compare this to the Group 1 characters whose dots are on an almost horizontal angle instead.
So to sum up the difference – シ (shi), ン (n) are more HORIZONTAL in every aspect (both the bottom line and the dots), whereas the ツ (tsu), (ソ) so, and ノ (no) are more VERTICAL in every aspect (both the bottom line and the dots).
Now that we have separated these characters into two manageable groups (Group 1 and Group 2), let’s apply a separate mnemonic to each.
For Group 1 (シ (shi), ン (n) characters), imagine that the シ (shi) character represents a female face, with a mouth and two eyes tilted on the side. It’s a ‘she’. Let the mnemonic be ‘SHE’. Imagine ‘she’ ‘she’ ‘she’ whenever you see シ (shi).
Now notice that the ン (n) character, is identical except one of the eyes are closed! Imagine that ‘she’ asked you to stay over for the night, but you were about to say ‘no’, however before you could, she quickly winked at you (with one eye closed). This caused you to stop in the middle of your speech, just with an ‘n’. You’re sort of shocked almost! It’s as if you can’t get the word ‘no’ out of your mouth because you feel butterflies running through your stomach as the girl is winking at you. Let ‘n….’ be your mnemonic. ‘She’ winks at you and surprises you, which prevents you from speaking properly, all you can say is ‘n…..’.
Now let’s look at Group 2 (ツ (tsu), (ソ) so, and ノ (no) characters). The mnemonic for all these characters is going to be a wave of varying degrees of strength. Notice how the bottom line represents a beach. The dots at the top left represent the waves.
Now for ツ (tsu), there are two dots at the top left, which means it’s obviously going to be the strongest wave of all! This will be called a ‘tsunami’ – ‘tsu’. Let your mnemonic for ツ (tsu) be ‘tsunami’. No other character has more dots than this at the top left!
Now for (ソ) so, there is only one dot at the top left. Since there is only one wave (dot), the wave is going to be ‘soft’. Let your mnemonic for ‘so’ be ‘soft’. It’s not a ‘tsunami’ because there’s only one wave as opposed to two, so therefore it’s ‘soft’.
Now for ノ (no), there are no waves at all, there is quite simply a beach with water that is so calm that you can’t see any waves coming out of it. Since there are no waves, imagine a Japanese person with an accent going ‘no wave’. He keeps saying ‘no, no no! No wave!’ Think ‘no’ for ‘No wave’.
Comparing シ (shi) to ツ (tsu) and ン (n) to (ソ) so.
A subtle yet noticeable difference between the シ (shi) and ツ (tsu) kana is that the dots and curve align along the left vertical edge while for ン (n) and (ソ) the dots and curve align along the top edge.
A special thanks to Alan Miller of the Japanese Language Page for this suggestion.