Remembering the Kanji: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters
People regard the Heisig method with either glowing praise or vitriolic scathing. Why? The converts (I'm one of them) know that the method works (but you have to put in the hours). I think the critics (a) haven't bothered to actually sit down and give the method a go (b) can't deal with the fact that using one's imaginative memory, however childish it may appear, works astoundingly well.
The critics' other usual comment is that the book doesn't teach the readings. Guess what? Neither does "Making Out in Japanese". Why not? Because that isn't the aim of the book ( RTK's subheading is "A complete course on how not to forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese characters"). Heisig has created a system, which if followed, will enable you to write all 2000 Joyo kanji from memory, and know what those kanji mean. (Remembering the Kanji Volume II systemises the learning of the readings.)
Heisig's approach involves breaking down the kanji into basic elements which he calls primitives (the most common combinations of strokes) and assigning to each primitive an image. In this way he creates a kind of alphabet or library of images. Then every kanji is allocated a keyword representing its basic meaning. Finally the student's task is to create a composite ideogram using the primitive meanings and the kanji key-word. This mental picture should be vivid and graphic - something which sticks in the mind - so the stranger the image the better.
For example, the primitive 口 is 'mouth'. The primitive 貝 is 'shellfish'. When you encounter the kanji 員 (keyword "employee") you notice it is composed of the primitives for mouth and shellfish. The image Heisig provides is off an office of employees walking around with shellfish clasped on their mouths so as to stop them idly chatting. The sheer weirdness of this image makes it hard to forget, so everytime you think of the keyword "employee" - BAM! you recall the strange office image and note that "employee" is composed of the elements "mouth" and "shellfish".
The method does take time - Heisig reckons working full time you can remember all 2000 in 4-6 weeks. Given that most people have jobs and could maybe only allocate 2 hours a day you are looking at 4-6 months. And though that is a heavy slog, the prize is that at the end you will be able to write all 2000 of the beasts. How many people do you know who can do that?