Japanese Immersion – The Needy Girl Strategy

Yes, an aspect of this title was a bit click-baity, but you’ll see why.

A Need Girl or a Needy Guy is always around you, clinging to your every move, watching everything you do, hovering around you, shadowing you and basically constantly in your life. When you have this needy person around all the time, it can be annoying, but sometimes (especially if you live together) you can’t escape this needy person. You adjust to their demands and needs, get used to their idiosyncrasies and quirks, and ultimately forget that the person is always around you. This is how I look at aspects of immersion, looking at the language as a needy person who always needs to be around me even if I don’t want them there. 

In this case, the Japanese language becomes the “needy girlfriend” who is always there (or there most of the time) to create an immersive forcing function. A forcing function in psychology, is setting up a situation that forces you to be far more likely accomplish a task. For example, announcing to everyone at your office that you will be training for an upcoming marathon, or pre-purchasing a non-refundable ticket to that country you’ve always wanted to visit. Forcing functions don’t always have to be extreme, but in terms of immersion, as we all know, there is only one way to immerse, which is to have as much of the language around you as possible, for as long as possible.

The Strategy


I find 1-3 types of content that I can live in the majority of the time for my first 1000 hours of listening. This can be – a TV series, TV gameshow or thematic show or  a specific Youtube channel. The idea here is to have this material constantly around you in one way or another. Why the first 1,000 hours? Most research points that it takes about 1,000 hours of listening for you to start having a more advanced comprehension of your target language. In the beginning, when you don’t know any words, grammar or haven’t mastered understanding spoken speech of the phoenetics of your target language, everything (for a little while) will be “noise”. But this changes quickly. Those first 1,000 hours are basically like training hours, teaching your brain the ins and outs of pronunciation, intonation and expression across a wide variety of scenarios and contexts. As such, you don’t want to spend too much time listening to anything that is going to derail that as you will need to be quite disciplined to do the listening required to advance in those early stages when 99% of what you hear you don’t understand. With that said, your “Needy Girlfriend” (Japanese) content must be: (a) Interesting (b) rewatchable (c) extensive

A – Interesting content

In the beginning, many people suggest watching TV shows or series dubbed in Japanese you’ve watched already in English. This allows you more easily to learn buttloads of grammar, words and expressions via easily observable context, based on stuff you already know and have probably memorized in English. Plus things you’ve already watched and liked and you find interesting will keep your attention as you train your brain to learn the nuances of your new language. Assuming we need to do a minimum of 1000 hours to start having certain breakthroughs in our listening ability, at 5 hours per day, it would take us around 7 months to break 1,000 listening hours. At 2.5 hours per day it would take  1.4 years. Listening while learning has a massive cumulative effective, so the more you listen, the better your listening ability becomes, granted you are interested in what you are hearing and you are able to discern your increase in ability over time. Because listening has such a high demand on time (that you cannot avoid) you must focus as much as possible on something that is as interesting as possible to you in the beginning, so you can start to knock out those listening hours and be able to dive into more varied material further down the line. Some mutants can sit down all day and listening to NHK radio without knowing a lick of Japanese and god bless them, but for us regular humans, save yourself early gray hairs and focus on high interest and familiarity as you aim for your first 1,000 hours.

B – Highly Rewatchable or Overlapping Theme

Having your content be rewatchable helps you in the following way. For me, after watching 7 seasons of Star Trek TNG (in Japanese) I just started the entire series over. Why? Because by the time I got to season 7 I was light years ahead of where i was when I started season 1 and was just listening to train my ears. This time, whether the episodes are playing the background or i’m half watching them whlie doing other things, I see immediately how far I’ve come because now i’m able to follow the stories that before, I could only really follow visually, while picking up some words here and there. So Star Trek was one of my needy girlfriends. I stuck two episodoes a day (90 mins) for quite some time while mixing things up. (I also lived in Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek Deep Space Nine as well, since the type of language and environments tended to overlap and also keep things interesting) Also as a part of my early strategy, I dropped a bunch of dubbed Japanese movies on an iPad, some of my favorite movies EVER, (Ninja Turtles 2, Home Alone 2, Mortal Kombat, The Matrix, Batman Returns and a few others) and I would have one (or 2) of these movies playing every day in the background, usually in the evening a few hours before sleep. This “Rewatch” value, gave me tens of thousands of scenarios (via these movies) to build and build context awareness, get an incredible familiarity with certain types of expressions as well as massively train my phonetic ear. Rewatching these films over and over (just like rewatching movies as a kid) also eventually makes you memorize certain lines and start to “memorize” the film to an extent, as you’ve seen it so often. Again, there really is no way around this listening requirement, so if you are gonna go hardcore, you might as well try and make it fun as not getting your listening it bites you like a rabid dog down the line when you know 6,000 Japanese words but you can barely understand anything anyone says to you.What’s also cool is that each time you rewatch, as you get more advanced you pick up things you didnt’ hear before. You’ll hear Agent Smith say something in Matrix, or the smamry hotel manager in Home Alone 2. You get sharper and sharper and it adds to your sense of growth. For example, tons of Japanese Youtubers make “Crane game” videos, where they go to a game arcade, drop money in a slot and try to win prizes by making a crane arm grab a plush toy, or some other item. A lot of the language used in these scenarios repeat, which gives them a high rewatchable factor along a theme. It is the same with food videos and travel videos. They are “rewatchable” because the themes teach you more and more about context and the type of vocab used in these scenarios and after a while you’ll find yourself watching these videos, understanding pretty much everything that’s being said, which means you can move on to something else.

C – Extensive Library of Content in the same form or theme

Having what you watch all the time being extensive (meaning LOADS of episodes or videos) allows you to get “used” to the nuances of what you watch. For example, the differences between Captain piccard’s voice and Data’s voice, number 1, Troy the doct, Worf and Wesley. This “extensive” aspect allows you to get tons of benefits as you dive deeper and deeper. You get to hear the voices in different emotional situations as various speeds and using different kinds of language. This is amazing with Youtube channels as well, because as time passes you get used to how the host speaks (and how their friends speak) and you will find it less difficult to follow multi-person conversations as your skills become more advanced. Having an extensive library also means the content is quite varied (even if it is the same person). For example, Hikakin & Seikin, two brothers who are two of Japan’s biggest Youtubers, have thousands of videos between them talking about games, traveling, cooking, shopping and more. This “extensive” library, allows me to really “live” in their content and get super used to how they speak, how others speak and train context and (native Japanese) more and more. The easiest way to accomplish this nowadays is to have an ipad chock full of this content, or just pre-select a bunch of stuff to always watch on Netflix (anything with 5-7 seasons is great, like Gilmore girls).

PART TWO – You Need to be a Listening Pitbull!

I design my life around the goal (immersion), NOT the goal around my life. This obviously is a very subjective matter, especially if you have a certain kind of job, or kids or a real-life Needy girlfriend (lol), but take this info with a grain of salt. You wanna get through these first 1000 hours faster if possible. So here’s what I did.

Ipad Forcing Function – Having my content on my iPad, or a iphone with loads of space allows me to have stuff in the background playing all day. Usually after I wake up, I just press play on “something” while I make breakfast, brush my teeth etc. This could be a podcast, or some Hikakin Video. This is in the background of course. Then as I go through my day ( I work remotely) I’ll have these videos playing in the background while I work and then in the evening, I’ll probably watch something directly. Even with all this, I don’t usually cross more than 4 hours a day with a high of 7. I think even a crazy busy person can log 3-5 hours per day

Ritual Forcing function – Do the same type of things all the time. So if you commit to doing some listening as you wake up, do it every day and you get the benefit of an easy hour or two in the morning. If you drive, its pretty easy to knockout an hour of listening on that long morning commute. So let’s say you do

30 mins breakfast + bathing prep (Youtube in the background playing on an iPad)

60 minute daily commute (listening to a podcast, whatever kind even super easy baby stuff)

30-45 mins daily exercise (iPad beside you while you work, wirelessly etc)

2 hrs daily leisure time (your interesting & extensive content)

  • this break down here is about 4 hrs.

What happens is that your brain gets very used to Japanese and this eventually leads to your brain doing what it does to start processing what is being said. In the beginning this isn’t so easy. Your brain is going to try and reject all this Japanese and you’ll get stressed sometimes, you’ll have to turn off your iPad sometimes and jus tchill (which is fine), but the way I worked around this way to always watch those movies that I loved as a kid. Sinc eI can wtach those everyday, even on a “bad day” I could still get immersion going. My “needy girlfriend” (ie. Japanese) was still there, hovering in orbit. You have to be bullish because there is NO WAY AROUND THE LISTENING HURDLE.

You just have to believe that at some point it will improve. The more you watch the better you get, it takes several months to see the breakthroughs, but when they happen you will gain more motivation to keep moving and of course, you can do listening while studying and revising (duh!).

Okay! Hope that was helpful. (BTW I wrote this entire post while listening to a Japanese podcast 🙂


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Why Kanji in 2023? – Response to Gaijin Otousan

A person I follow on twitter (Gaijin Otousan) asked a very good question recently. Why use Kanji in 2023? Why multiple character sets? Why no spaces between words?

As a person who has done pretty intensive studies in learning Kanji (with a focus on learning them very quickly) I thought i’d give my two cents. I’m going to go at it from a few perspectives, relative to each major pillar.

To be clear: I’m ignoring a lot of etymological references and obvious historical stuff. I’m just waxing a bit here, not writing a research paper. Just my thoughts as a person who taught myself to read and write Japanese in 3 or so months, and learned to read very quickly after another 2 or so.

There are only two perspectives on a topic like this I’ve found:

One: — from the standpoint of an absolute  beginner or a learner stuck behind a perceptual wall. A person in this position may believe the language to be too hard or complex, and therefore do not progress much , yet are acutely aware of colleagues (non-Japanese) who have successfully acquired the same skills they see as either ‘too difficult’ or ‘impossible’.

Two: — from the standpoint of someone who has invested significant time  and resources into the process, who has crossed “the perceptual Japanese wall”, made gains in the language understands how all the data (Kanji, hiragana, katakana) integrates. As a person able to read Japanese, I would personally never ask this question, but completely understand why someone would ask this which I why I will attempt to answer it from my perspective. 

I believe the only type of answers that make sense are from people who actually learned the processes that raise the question, so I hope my answer can provide some benefit 🙂

Why No Spaces

I think the first one i’ll tackle is the idea of “no spaces”. All of us have a “native language convention” bias. For the young man who posed this question, as an English speaker, used to spaces and a single character set of 26 letters, he could not “understand” the need for multiple characters sets to communicate. This is what I call inherent bias. It is something we all have when comparing what we know, to what we don’t know. For example in German, all nouns are always written with a capital letter at the front irregardless of sentence position. So a word like ‘dog’  is ‘der Hund’. So when you are reading German sentences as a native English speaker, it looks VERY strange at first because we are used  to using capitals under specific circumstances, but in German capitals are everywhere. In this example, our visual sense of “convention” or “perceptual bias” is quickly challenged.  The sentences look ‘funny’, something feels ‘off’. This is because for the most part we are seeing English words (with the same alphabet) but witnessing an entirely different convention of usage. Also, what’s more fun, in German there are verbs which “split”, meaning depending on the conjugation the front of the verb goes the to very end of the sentence! When I first learned this, I said “what kind of voodoo madness is this?” But to a native German, this is completely normal. It would never be an issue that someone in a German speaking country would question, because that is all they’ve ever known. Likewise with  the Japanese, having no spaces isn’t ‘odd’ or ‘strange’. If you grew up never using spaces between words, reading English at first would probably feel quite bizarre!

So as a convention no spaces isn’t strange for this reason. From a pictographic standpoint, the way Japanese is written, nouns, verbs adjectives reveals themselves quite clearly (most of the time) and is quite logical to grasp after learning the Kanji. The main (perceptual) limitation of most people who ask questions like Gaijin Otousan are simply that. Perceptual. A Japanese child doesn’t wail and moan about multiple character sets or learning Kanji. Nor does a German child pull their hair out trying to figure out why they have verbs that split. Everyone they have ever known or will know learns the way they learn and it for them, is completely normal. Japanese sentences rarely have spaces, and books are read from right to left (backways to us)! Fun!

However, the better you get at reading Japanese, the spaces “reveal themselves”, because your ability to differentiate between verbs, adjectives, nouns and so on, gets to such a level that “spaces” as a concept changes in your mind. Also having no spaces is can be perceived as quite efficient, as you are able to read more in less space, but that’s a whole other discussion. I’m never surprised when the people who pose these types of questions basically say they have very low reading ability, because from a perceptual standpoint, if one cannot see the value in these character systems, what then would be the value in learning or mastering them? But that is also another discussion lol.

Why Hiragana & Katakana


An interesting fact to note is that as a native English speaker we already have knowledge of thousands of French and German words. This is due to migration patterns of people over the years in Europe etc. So anything in English ending in “ent” or “ant” is basically the same in French. Many English speakers do not know this.  Why do we not know this? Because for us, fortunately, we all have the same alphabet. We are not given an extra set of characters to learn to recognize French (in English) unless we are studying French itself.  As we know German and French will have a few extra characters like  ö  or  é  but we are still able to read and recognize them. So everything we can construct is from our 26 letters. In Japanese, which does not use any form Roman alphabet, there really was no way to say foreign words other than to represent them phonetically. So “Rome” would be written in katakana ロマ because it is the really it is the sound you are conveying. But if I was to type ろま (written in hiragana), in the middle of a sentence I might not know they are referring to “ROME” the city. This would cause incredible problems in general reading, as even for a native speaker, differentiation would be too difficult. Because the Japanese have no way to use Roman words, Katakana provides that access point. It is actually quite useful, because once you encounter a Katakana word (most of the time) what you are reading is a foreign word so your brain circuits prime up to see what it is saying in English or whatever language the word is taken from. Solid blocks of raw characters make the process of what is called ‘differentiation’ far more difficult, but with Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji, once learned, the usage is obvious. In English we can use our own consonants and vowels to say Japanese words, with Romaji. Japanese could not do the same without Katakana.


Hiragana (in this context to me) is a gateway to overall Japanese as an entry level set of characters. I takes Japanese children about 12 years to learn their first 1200-1800 Kanji and to me it is logical that they must have a way to function in the meantime. In the context of this question posed, it bridges that early gap. Hiragana is also the ‘central’ phonetic base of Japanese. Especially since the majority of Kanji is learned through Rote processes (which takes a lot of time and trial and error) there must be a way for kids to read in the meantime! We English speakers have it quite easy. Once we learn our 26 letters, there is nothing else we need to learn beyond that as characters to advance in the language. I am not saying Hiragana was created for children, I am just saying that Hiragana and Katakana are the two bridges that lead to reading Kanji, which then leads to full literacy in the language. So just thinking logically, Hiragana serves that purpose. Babies learn letters then words then sentences. Japanese kids learn the phoenetic groups, then words, then sentences. Same order of acquisition, just a different initial set. More importantly, like learning the English alphabet, learning these characters doesn’t take much time at all.


A quick look at my blog posts will answer that question for you lol. I will attempt to be brief here.


Words and pictures represent a sound… that is how the object is pronounced. Romance languages have scripts that pronounce what an object or concept is, and character based languages has sounds mapped to an object, which can represent an image or a concept. 

I personally don’t see this as good or bad, it just is what it is. If show a picture of a dog to a young English speaking child, they will say “DOG!” because the image represents the word (sound) of dog. If I show a young Japanese child a picture of a dog, they will say 犬! INU! Because the image represents the word(sound) of dog. With one difference: It represents the word, and also the Kanji. Same image, just more data.

The two types of readings for Kanji (Onyomi – from China ) versus (Kunyomi – from Japan) again, allows for differentiation with meanings and reading. But instead of thinking from an English perspective, think from a more pictographic perspective.

家 house 我が家 house  家族 household/family

いえ    わがや    かぞく

IE                    WAGAYA         KAZOKU

We see that the character 家 appears in multiple readings.

In English, each word to us, represents either something physical, or abstract. In Japanese, both the physical and abstract are represented by pictures. The main difference is that the reading is “mapped” onto an image, whereas the English is designed to pronounce the image.

To oversimplify a bit, as children, we read “picture books” to help us with word associations, and in Japanese, thinking along these lines, is a very organized system of scripts and pictographs as an entire  communication system. This is what give you the sheer thrill of making a breakthrough in Japanese. It feels quite complex at first, but becomes more and more logical, until you don’t even see what the big deal was in the first place! (at least to me).

You can read any of my bazillion posts to dive deeper into my thoughts on learning systems and the language on a whole, but to sum this up, if an entire nation uses a languAge to function normally, it is normal to THEM. English is just as difficult perhaps even more so for a Japanese speaker.

I believe the main conundrum here for my colleague Gaijin Otousan, is a perceptual one. It is a similar battle I faced myself until I shifted how I looked at language learning on a whole. In the beginning, thinking of having to learn 150 character for Hiragana and Katakana, then having to learn up to 2,500 characters just to be able to read a the instructions to operate your teapot feels like madness! But only because for most people, they see this as a process that would take forever because the data feels ‘large’. But let’s say you could learn all the hiragana, Katakana, and base 2,136 Kanji in 3 months? What if you knew in 6-8 months you could be comfortably reading Japanese? Would these things be a concern?

The answer is no.

Once I figured out how to tackle the data quickly , everything else was just a matter of revision, putting in reading time and getting exposure. Remember, Japanese native speakers (like Native English speakers) do not walk around with dictionaries. They do no concern themselves about using an ATM, reading the paper, or double checking a receipt to make sure they were charged properly. They just live an exist in the system they grew up in. Because it was all they knew.

So why Kanji in 2023? Because….

Why not? 🙂






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Can You Get God Level Japanese with Subtitles?

Today i’m going to give you a quick breakdown of the massive advantages of utilizing simultaneous subtitles. 

Before I go into this, let’s discuss the elephant in the room. To utilize this information you already need to be able to read Kanji at a decent level. So knowing the first 2,500 or so Kanji leads you to this point. However, this is vital information to know, even if you are staring from absolute zero.

A Brief look at Subs

Generally, subtitles for say, dubbed films in Japanese are not what we call ‘exact’ subs. They are usually translated from the film script, and you can see the difference between what is being said and what is on screen. This means that for a beginner, or advanced learner, it may not always be clear what word was used. Simultaneous, or ‘exact subtitles’ show exactly what is being said at any moment. Therefore you are never ‘lost’, and can look up exactly what was said if you aren’t 100% sure.

With exact subtitles not only do you not have to worry if you are hearing correctly or not, you can train both your listening and word association at the same time. I did not realize this in the beginning due to observational bias. In other words, I just utilized the subtitles that were available to me, besides, early on I couldn’t read them at speed anyways.

However the value becomes almost unfathomable once you are able to read. You can basically ‘loop’ through native, accurately transcribed speech over and over once the subs are exact. As a training tool this is amazing.

What Brought me Here

It was Spirited Away that re-triggered this subtitles observation. I was watching the film with no subtitles and was struggling to understand what was going on. There were two reasons for this. One, my headphones were bad, which was really distorting the voices (didn’t realize) and two the characters in the film speak really, really fast and even after all of my current level of immersion and watching bullet-spoken Japanese, something about how they spoke in this film made everything mesh together. So I turned on the subtitles and saw that they were exact. Now I was able to follow everything because I could read it. In fact, after changing my headphones and working through the film with subs, everything changed. First of all, I wasn’t hearing it as badly as I thought, and secondly, once I was able to read what they were saying I was able to “work through” the film with 100% comprehension. Then the light bulb came on and I realized this would allow me to work through any media with exact subs. 

Exact Subs Allow You to Watch Anything (provided you are able to read it)

Exact subtitles make movies function like picture books. You are able to read what every character is saying and follow the story. Each time you watch the movie, you get better and better at reading and internalizing what is going on, and gain the benefit of the action. Anything you don’t hear clearly, you just replay a few times and read the subs. More and more you start to “unlock” the language. Words you studied before become burned into your mind in a different way. Also, there is no limit to how much you can watch something. You can skim through, read all the subs, see what you don’t know and then rewatch the whole thing. This is a ‘fun’ sort of training because the more you watch and train the better you get.

Why This is So Powerful

People often mislead themselves with the types of activities they do relative to their level. By simply watching and listening to anime at length, they believe they are making “progress”.(I certainly did lol) Now in the very, very beginning, all of these activities are beneficial. You are training your ear, getting used to the phonetics of Japanese and building basic contextual associations. However, as time passes the ‘net benefit’ of listening without knowing what is going on diminishes greatly. I learned this after watching things without subtitles for sometime. Sure I might think I know what is going on, but often, I would lose nuances, or deeper meanings.  Even as my listening ear got better and better and I was able to look up things I didn’t know, sometimes the content you are watching is so loaded with vocabulary you don’t know that it would simply be easier to see it in front of you. You simply cannot know what you don’t know, and Japanese is a language where with words, especially verbs, you must know them beforehand to know what they mean. When people are speaking at bullet speed, you cannot process anything you don’t already know.

In the above picture, from the film Naussica: Valley of the Wind, a character looks down a hill at her army fighting and losing a battle, and calls them orokasha. This means “foolish”, and can also be written 愚か者. There is NO WAY I would pick this up just by watching it without subs, especially if it had been written with the Kanji (which I have never seen used with this word).











In this picture also from the same movie, the characters are talking about a 貯水池 chosuichi (water reservoir). When watching this, I could hear them say it, but being able to both hear it and read it let me know it was a word I needed to pay attention to and I looked it up. Again, these are simultaneous transcriptions, so what I read is always exactly what is said. There is no way I would “pick” this up from just watching it, even passively.

Japanese has the specific challenge of being a pictographic language and we cannot always simply “get” words from context. In fact, most of what we hear will be nonsense if we do not know the words. In fact, I assume this is why pretty much all Japanese context is so well transcribed. Fortunately for us, we have more available that we will ever be able to watch in one lifetime, and its EVERYWHERE.

Japanese Content is Made Like This

The amazing thing about the majority of Japanese content, is that pretty much all of it is transcribed perfectly with simultaneous or exact subs. From Youtube videos, to anime and Japanese TV series, they are pretty much all transcribed properly, which allows you to watch, learn and grow with native content in real time. You will find that it is foreign movies dubbed into Japanese that rarely have ‘exact subs’. Lucky for us, between Netflix and Youtube we are covered with literally hundreds of thousands of hours of content with exact transcriptions. This means you have an endless variety of ways to “train” your brain. Either through podcasts, talking head Youtube, vlogs, movie reviews, political commentary, TED talks, anime, you name it. Most of them have 100% transcriptions.


Think of this like constant, three dimensional training. You get the benefit of training your understanding of rapidly spoken speech and reading along quickly (if you aren’t 100% following what’s going on). You also get massive context and images and visuals to help you. Just like watching movies and cartoons in English, you will find that in trying to remember a word, you will remember first the scene where you encountered the word, then the word will come to you. You will see 装甲兵 soukouhei (armored soldiers). This means if I’m watching a hit series like Alice in Borderland I am covered with exact subtitles. Because so much Japanese context has exact subs, common words flash hundreds, sometimes thousands of times per day, further training your brain. You see, once you cross the first big barrier of learning how to read the Kanji, if you spend a lot of time watching native content, you will automatically start to memorize or reinforce thousands of words (that you have learned or are learning).

You Will Never Be ‘Lost’ Again

Can you imagine tackling some content and knowing you are able to work through it? You see we focus so much on the end result, which is sitting down and listening to people (in Japanese) argue in parliament or laugh about their grandma’s terrible strawberry cake recipe, we forget that by being able to read what they are saying, we are bridging the gape between the speech we cannot yet always understand and our ability to process it in realtime. Once the subs are exact, I can watch any media and work through it. My reading level is sufficient to allow me to do this.

THIs aspect of my discovery has changed EVERYTHING.  As much as I love watching Star Trek dubbed in Japanese, they aren’t exact subs. I cant’ even image how much i’d gain if I could get exact subs for my favorite shows and then watch them endlessly. When watching Youtubers like Hikakin, just watching 2-3 vlogs a day can build monstrous brain power. These guys are context machines. They are constantly traveling, cooking, explaining the features of tech or software, are always joking, talking about the environment, playing games, pranks etc. All with EXACT SUBS!

I know for the Japanese learners out there, it can feel very stressful watching native media (especially early out) because you can feel “lost”, but with exact subs, once you hit a high enough reading level, you can read anything that is being said. This means, once you have enough reading ability, you will never be lost! You just have to get your listening game up to match what you read and the easiest way to build that is to just keep watching more and more native media. This is a multi-marathon event, not a quick sprint.

To put it simply, at present, it is I can watch anything I want with exact subs without worrying about being lost.   I am not yet able to watch any and everything in Japanese without reference, but knowing that I can watch almost anything (at my own pace) and not be ‘lost’ because of the assistance of subs is an incredible psychological boost. I can keep watching, keep working through, keep getting stronger.

This a tough race, so we have to use ALL the assistance we can get. In pretty much all language training, especially in simultaneous interpretation you live and die by transcripts. Its the most tried and true way to map what you listen to with what you are hearing and create the “matrix” that launches you into greater ability.



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5 Steps To Stop Yourself From Quitting on a Bad Day (Japanese)

Today was one of those days where I literally felt the stress rise from my toes up to my brain. I skimmed through a book I printed quite some time ago, a self-organized word list of the first 5,000 high frequency words. I glanced at  a random page and felt frightened by the number of words I still didn’t know. This is impossible! (I said to myself) having gone through so much so far. I felt sour, like moldy ice cream long forgotten in an abandonded playground. I’m telling you, this isn’t a great feeling, and is probably the most disastrous feeling that will hit you during your language learning journey. However, make a note of this very important thing:

This feeling happens to EVERY language learner. At some point, regardless of your level, irregardless of how many words you’ve learned, how many hours you’ve put in, how much shadowing, training or conversation practice you’ve had, whether you use your own methods or others, you will see the “wall”. Man I saw it today. I saw the huge, looming wall of more and more words I had to learn, the seemingly endless stream that I need to unlock deeper and deeper ability.

Fortunately, there IS a way to counteract this feeling. When this feeling comes and boy when it comes it is bad. I am not talking about a day you feel “stressed”. I am not talking about a day you feel ” a lack of motivation”. I am talking about the absolute worst type of feeling, where you are filled with fear that you are failing, that all your efforts were wasted, and you have a mindless void of “endless words” “immersion” and an “unknown outcome” waiting for you. This is a real ‘do or die’ situation. This feeling is so bad that you could quite right on the spot, walk away from the language and never return.

How To Stop this Feeling Immediately

Firstly, this feeling has always come at a point of general life frustration. It usually isn’t just Japanese that is stressful, but other things are adding up, and the ‘stress’ of learning something that requires a bit of stress to learn, the brain will eventually try its best to reject. So I do 3 things very quickly.

  1. I ask myself “Am I actually in a bad place”? — the answer is no. I can watch Japanese movies often with or without subtitles, I am reading a novel presently and I am leagues beyond anywhere I have ever dreamed of going with Japanese.
  2. I ask myself “Have I recently gauged my progress”? — if the answer is no, that means i’m losing perspective because i’m just going and going. The human brain likes to work towards goals, to complete things within certain timelines, and generally dislikes repetition that feels “as if it is going no where”. So if i haven’t checked my goals, etc. The brain can fall into this bad place.
  3. I ask myself “Is what I don’t know crippling my progress?” – the answer is no, because if it was I wouldn’t be able to do any of what i’m doing now. In language, there is just always going to be a TON of words to learn. This means that even though I still have a ways to go, the words I don’t know (even though they are very common words, some quite low level), I rarely seem them in my reading material! Eventually, I’ll cover everything.
  4. I ask myself “Are you human?” to which I asnwer – yes. I have life, stresses, problems, personal issues, the works. Studying 100 words per day is not feasible consistently in a ‘real life’.
  5. I ask myself “Do you really want to stop” – the answer is no. I say to myself this is just a feeling, a bad one, but it will pass. I look at my progress, recheck my goals and then keep moving forward.


I checked.

JANUARY VOCAB WORDS – 559    PAGES READ OF NOVEL 95   HOURS OF IMMERSION 90+ SHADOWING 15+ HRS (measured @28mins a day) Anki reps 10-12,000

FEBRUARY WORDS (SO FAR) as of the 7th 2023


So in reality, in the first five weeks I’ve almost crossed ONE THOUSAND new words, plus keeping a pretty solid schedule of other mixed activities while doing literally thousands of spoken reps (via shadowing) and thousands of mental training reps with Anki. I was quite surprised when I looked on this from a “top down view”. Learning any language is not an easy undertaking, but as I keep saying in my essays, the NUMBER ONE HURDLE YOU WILL FACE IS YOU.

(before you ask  – I do shadowing usually on a daily walk that takes around 30 mins, or when i’m driving somewhere. So I can easily clock 25-30 mins while just running errands. For immersion i usually have things playing throughout the day when i’m working , so I’m hafl-watching, sometimes full watching, but I try to keep it relatively high, so on my iPad i’ll be playing Japanese dubbed shows like Star Trek all day, or i’ll just keep watching a playlist with “longer Youtube vids” from guys like Hikakin TV. Depending on the day, I can hit 6 hours without much effort, but on average I do about 3 hours a day if i’m not distracted. 3 per day equates to 90 a month (which is actually a bit low but hey, life) it just isn’t easy to be reading, learning words, immersing all at the same time. My craziest immersion month was probably 250+ hours. I will make a post on this another time.)

So that bad feeling I had today? My perception of “where I was”, was waaay off. What was off, in reality, was just my psychology.

Without a robust psychology, the perfect strategy, the perfect Anki deck, the perfect learning systems are useless if you don’t have the mental tools to continue. Sure you can probably put in a hardcore first 3 months, but can you do a consistent 6? 9? 12? 18? Can you keep working and trying to climb the mountain even when you know the top is so far away? I knew it would take me 3-4 months to work on the Kanji BEFORE I started words, meaning I would probably hit 6 or 7 months before I knew i’d have any real reading ability!


For me, I’ve made sure to get insanely better at gauging my own progress and not shutting myself down. I make sure to remind myself that I am human, that life has its own stresses and that Japanese is one of my few outlets that I do not see as a stress and should not become one. Everything takes time. Language requires building pillars that are heavy AF. Thousands of listening hours turns you into a listening monster, but you can’t “shortcut listening”. Vocabulary is pretty straightforward, but requires mental energy. Learning 50 words a day can take 2-3 hours of mental energy ON  TOP of regular life.

You can’t be a mindless Anki robot and have any fun. I started reading a novel because it was different, challenging and interesting. Sure I could have just dedicated to mindlessly studying 100 words a day in a complete void, but that could have been absolutely mentally disastrous. Discovering new words, and getting better and reading has been far more interesting than clocking Anki Reps (which I do everyday anyways).You see, in this process it is just me. Sitting somewhere for hours, learning words, training them, forgetting them, reading them, testing them, trial and error, over and over and over. Just me. I’m not winning any medals, i’m not getting any special recognition. No fans are waiting at my gate. None of us serious language learners get any recognition for this type of work. I call this “the crazy people obsession” because it requires so much fortitude. What do we do?  We must feed on the dreams of our victory. We must get excited with all of our major leaps. Remind yourself of were you actually are. Remind yourself of when you were frustrated because you couldn’t understand spoken Japanese at all! Remind yourself when you started day one, knowing NO WORDS and had to struggle reading simple sentences because you had zero vocab. Now you are ploughing through tweets, reading Netflix movie descriptions, writing the occasional text in Japanese and reading a goddamn novel! Wake up! Feeling stressed? dial it down a bit, but your efforts are not wasted, and you are no alone.

This is  a sport. Think of leveling up like qualifying for higher tier events. Novel reading, watching Youtube without looking things up, all take incredible work but only get as interesting as you make them. I’m rewatching all 7 seasons of Star Trek the Next Generation because I went through them early in the journey before I really had the vocab or listening ability to follow everything. I finished all 7 recently, and then just started playing it back, and now I have the benefit of watching it with far more understanding than before. Will I watch all Seven seasons again? Maybe not, probably just 3 or 4 but you get the point. This is ‘leveling up’ and it is interesting (to me). I’ve watched all of TNG, most of Deep Space Nine and a bunch of Voyager (among other series). I’m watching more Anime as well, reading along with the direct subs and seeing how well I can keep up. So far, I’ve recently watched Spirited Away, Naussica Valley of the Wind and i’m working through a few others. Remember, Japanese people have the benefit of an ENTIRE LIFETIME of building their various skills.

So it will get stressful because the more you level up, the more you want. The perceptual stress comes from the fact that the more you want, the more each area requires. You can’t read better without reading more books, articles, tweets, etc — which takes times —. You can’t speak better without speaking more  — takes times — you cant’ dive deeper into Japanese films and media without dedicating more time to them — time time time — so it really is a mental strategy after a while. You can’t do “everything at once”.

So my general goal now is within the first 6 months to cross the 10K word barrier. I’ve committed to being “word heavy” moving forward. Not sure if this is even possible ( look at what happened today!) but I will probably need a “word exclusive  month” where I’m literally barreling through 100+ a day just to cut down word matter. I estimate presently i’m somewhere around…. 5000+ words. Can’t measure it exactly, but currently a mixture of general and advanced vocabulary. It’s quite fascinating actually. I will effortlessly remember a word like 金融 きんゆう (circulation of money) and struggle sometimes with a word like 瞼 まぶた (eyelash). 

So i’ll figure it out. Either i’ll have to go word robot for a while, or do something like aim to read 10-15 novels in the next 6 months, which could probably take me to 10K naturally through word encounters via reading. Since reading about 120 pages of a 350 page novel gave me 800+ new words, it isn’t inconceivable to think that I will learn about 2000 (or more)  new words from this book alone!

Anyways, i’m rambling. To summarize: Block the mental breakdown before it happens, look at where you ARE versus where you WANT to be, or were you WERE and you will breathe a little easier. I’m very very far from zero in my journey, and based on wherever you are in your journey, i’m sure you are quite far from ‘zero’ as well.

God speed!


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Japanese Novel Reading Ability in Less than a Year?


Like many of you, i’ve dreamed of the day i’d be able to tackle a Japanese novel. As I get deeper and deeper into my learning systems having studied (5) languages, I am starting to see a ‘unified pattern’ emerging, whereas certain actions (across all languages) appear to have the most benefits, relative to accelerating one’s progress drastically. 

Being able to read novel, in any language, is one of the, (if not THE) strongest gauges of one’s language ability. Why? Because to be able to read a novel, you need a very high vocabulary and a reasonably strong sense of grammar, structure and the overall “feel” of the language. When reading you must imagine the scenes, hear the voices, and feel the tone of the writer’s voice. No one can ‘teach’ you this, they can only explain how you are able to get there. Only with an advanced ability does one do this.

Reading a novel is very binary in terms of your ability. If you cannot read it, you are not ready. If you can, you are. As simple as that sounds, getting there is the trick. So i’m reading through a novel called 真夜中の別の顔 mayou naka bestu no kao The Other Side of Midnight, by Sidney Sheldon. I’m going to list what i’m experiencing having gone through the first 100 pages.

But I kid you not, when the day comes you can read a Japanese novel without too much effort, you’ve reached God-level ability.

I will be perfectly honest here, my “ability” to read this novel came quite some time ago. I estimate that I was able to do what i’m doing now about 6 or more months prior. Life, health issues and then trying to understand where my research was going were the major delays, so I can emphatically say in my own words that in my experience it doesn’t need to take you more than 8-12 months to do this process. I say this tentatively, as we are all different, but before I dive into my observations, for those of you who are into rapid learning here is a quick breakdown. All we need is a quick top-down timeline for reference.

PHASE 1  – KANJI (3 Months)

I’ve designed a system that allows one to learn 2,136 Kanji in 8-12 weeks. While doing this research, in my first month I learned 1,009 Kanji (could have learned far more if I wasn’t try to do a bunch of other things at the same time) but arguments’ say it takes 12 weeks (3 months) to clear this hurdle


Now that the Kanji is sorted, (which is a very doable but very focused activity ) we are now able to learn words. Despite what the internet loves to say, you cannot simply “learn Kanji not by themself but with words” as the more words you learn you will find that it is imperative to know the single Kanji for verbs, adjectives and hundreds of single word nouns like tana 棚(shelf) kutsu 靴(shoes) ago顎(jaw) oka丘(hill). I have a data based approach to learning, so I know that across most languages learning the 5,000 high frequency words gives you access to 98% of written and spoken language. This is different for Japanese (you need more words) but I use this as a benchmark. So, if one learns 50 words per day, that is 1500 words per month. So you’ll hit 5000 words (ideally) in 4.5-5 months. Let’s just round off to 5. During this time, you can start collecting some grammar. Japanese has 5 grammar levels ,n1 (highest ) n5 (lowest). n5 has about 85 patterns to learn which are pretty easy. n4 120, n3 162 n2 196 n1 222. So you see as you go up it gets more and more challenging. I go through grammar in bursts (usually I try and learn 20 a day and then slow down and revise) so n5 is 5 days, n4 is 7 days etc. So in about 4 months I can cover everything (up to n3, or n2) with time to revise.


There are two major hurdles you will face during this journey. The main one is “internalization time”. You will need to not just learn words, but see them often enough to recognize it as an entire pattern, not just the individual Kanji. A Japanese person sees saikinbyou 細菌病(infectious disease) as one word. 東京 toukyou is one word but also 東京の塔 toukyou no tou (Tokyo Tower) won’t be confusing, as 塔 by itself is always ‘tower’. The Japanese see 水と水素 as “mizu to suiso” (water and oxygen) because (みず)by itself is always “water” and then 水素 (すいそ) is always ‘oxygen’. To get used to these things has only one path that i’ve found, which is exposure. We must have a way to be exposed to these words often enough to get used to the patterns. There are many approaches to achieve this, but the most convenient (and accessible) way to do this is with raw reading. Through raw reading, the brain is forced in a very natural way to really get the hang of things. You need to see the words you’ve learned many many times, and make many, many, many mistakes while reading them to compartmentalize verbs, nouns and adjectives and also the bazillion grammar patterns you have to learn.  This is a somewhat slow process in the beginning but very efficient.  There are ways to rapidly learn words, kanji and even grammar, but in terms of this I see know “quick” way to do this.

But you will find after a while, you’ll be able to read a lot of sentences without issues, understand spoken speech much better, and effortlessly plough through dozens of short stories. When the short stories, or novellas feel easy, you may start to get overconfident (or bored). This is when you go after your first novel. You are now ready.


At this point, all ‘pressures’ and ‘challenges’ you face will be mainly psychological. Because if you are able to read anywhere from 3,500-5,000 words and know grammar up to say, N2, your ‘ability’ to read is not the problem, it will be your toughness working through the heaps and heaps and HEAPS of words, phrases and what not that you are gonna encounter.

When you think you are ready for novels,  you will be dying to read them quickly. You will want to coast through the novels, go on adventures with rogue Samurai and dissidents living in Tokyo. You will have reading ability (relatively) and may feel overconfident, having learned Kanji and a few thousand words. You must be ready for a novel right?

WRONG.  The picture there is from my notes application on my iPhone. As I read I make a note of words and grammar I don’t know. Depending on the chapters i’ve read so far, on average, there are 40-65 words I don’t know, having already studied several thousand. This image is from one day of about 35 of reading. I just the first three parts of the book, i’ve probably learned 700-1000 new words i didn’t know and i’m just a 3rd of the way through! You will encounter new words at a furious and unrelenting pace. You thought you were a bad boy, coasting through novellas and short stories, but no no, this is the real deal.

I can’t remember which YT video I saw it in, but the person described Japanese as “having to know the entire dictionary before you can read the dictionary”. It is a language with so many words that you can’t just “figure” them out. In German, French and English, after hitting that 5,000 word mark, it isn’t difficult to learn new words in written context (and therefore not have to look up everything). In Japanese, if you don’t know the reading of a word, there isn’t really a way to know how it is pronounced, meaning you technically cannot read it. So every word you don’t know you have to look up.

船乗り funanori and 水兵 suihei both mean ‘sailor’. One may be closer to a ‘seafarer’, or ‘voyager’. But just looking at them does not tell us this. But Japanese writers’, as you will learn, like to use all their vocab. So they might use these two words in the same paragraph. They may write 寂しい sabishii(さびしい)sad, melancholy, or 淋しい sabishii(さびしい) same word, older form.

鎧 yoroi(よろい)is ‘armor’ and even if I can recognize the Kanji as ‘armor’ if I do not know the reading, I cannot read it. 装甲 soukou(そうこう)means ‘armor’ as well. You see, just like English, some words are symbolic, but some words are literal. A person can be wearing ‘armor’ (of some kind) or literally ‘metal armor’. A character may be a 娼婦 shoufu(しょうふ)prositute or a 売春婦 baishunnfu(ばしゅんふ)prostitute. Now one definition is probably closer to the word ‘harlot’ 娼婦. Since the word 売春 baishun literally means ‘prostitution’. The point is, this is how a novel starts, fast and furious.

Make a mental note that initially this process will feel incredibly slow. But patience is a virtue. The more you learn, the faster you will  go. 

Remember this was not written for YOU, oh ‘learner’ of the language! This was written for natives with a minimum of 2 decades worth of life experience (and word experience). This is written for people who live and breathe Japanese. This isn’t written with the expectation that a ‘foreigner’ might read it. So the writer’s go all out with descriptions and cool words, cuz hey, that’s what novels are! So be very aware of this. It will help you greatly psychologically. However, very quickly, you will begin to develop super powers:



The first major power will be what i call ‘differentiation’. When learning words in Japanese, you will find that there are certain principles in play. Word with consonants that meet each other tend to be pronounced differently. For example, a word like 躍起 やっきyakki which means (desperate, hurried) is really yaku + ki . But a lot of the time (not always) the U drops and there is a slight pause when you pronounce the word. I think it has to do with the ease of pronounciation. Anyhoo, your first super power (you actually develop this one early on) is that you’ll be able to figure out word pronunciation like this without looking it up and you will be right most of the time.


After a while, you’ll get a sense of all the readings for a variety of Kanji and then be able to figure out future readings because you brain is doing the 3d math. Lemme give an example。声 koe(こえ) 声高  kowadaka (こわだか) 大声 oogoe (おおごえ)

as you can see they call have the Kanji 声  which is from the group SEI.

As i’ve said before, when words join up, sometimes the consonant changes. Like “kata” will become “gata” as in 大型 oogata おおがた 髪型 kamigata かみがた。 Likewise “koe” which means voice, can become “goe” as in 大声 oogoe or 鼻声 hanagoe はなごえ (nasal voice).

At the start of the Japanese journey, having to learn all these different readings can feel incredibly daunting (and it is), but by the time you start reading novels, you will have encountered so many of these types of words that the new ones aren’t going to give you headaches. You see, I learned two words early on, which was koe  声 voice and kowadaka 声高 loud voice. I didn’t know any of those other words. In fact, as you learn new words, it is actually convenient to NOT learn all of the readings at once. In time you will learn them all gradually, which saves you some early stress.

So once you get a hang of tons of variable readings, you will have a “sense” of the pronunciation of many new words (and often be correct) which helps in memorizing them more quickly. You will also be hit with so many adjectives, grammar (as Kanji) and so on, that after a while just have to know it to read properly and the brain adjusts, and when you encounter the words you just read it as it is.


Even though I said its trickier to learn some Japanese words from context I didn’t mean it was impossible. For example, in the novel, the characters were talking about 中絶 chuuzetsu ちゅうぜつ (abortion) at at some point mentioned something happening to the “子宮” during the reading, I just figured this was the uterus, the womb, or something like that. The word shikyuu 子宮 actually means womb. I could tell that 救急車 was “ambulance” and so on. Sometimes, the context is obvious and you don’t even need to know how to read the word! This is when the language starts to become fun, because even if it is ONE word that you figured out by yourself out of 50 new words, you still get swag points. You will also have a far easier time reading  a sentence as a whole. You brain will figure out what the overall communication is, one you read enough. You will be able to tell when someone is pissed off, or being snarky, or is frightened out of their mind. If you are reading well enough, you will also feel it. You will feel their anguish and fear, and worry for the characters. You won’t just be mindlessly reading and translating, you will be enjoying the frikking novel. 


As you see the leaps and bounds you quickly make when working through a novel, you will realize where you will end up once you keep going. Even though every day you are still hit with 50 words or more you don’t know,  you are able to read them and them to a study list and keep going. At some point it will level out. The words keep showing up and you realize you don’t have to look them up. You have  day where you read maybe 90% of 3 full page without looking anything up, feeling ecstatic before hitting a monster page filled with so many verbs and nouns you want to weep. But you will know you are making progress. When you watching Japanese on Youtube, you will hear all these new words. You will be reading many subtitles in realtime and just “understand them” because you have put in the work. You can forecast to yourself “where will I be after 5, or 10 novels?” and the clear cut understanding of this will keep you going. Mind you, this is after mindnumbing amounts of effort learning to read the kanji, acquire words and train your listening far beyond 1,000 hours. But hey, that’s the fun!


After fighting through a few more thousand words and conquering a big fat novel, you will find that things like tweets, Netflix movie titles and even searching things on the internet (in Japanese) all feel a lot less scary. I hated reading tweets because at one point they were brutally difficult, since the contexts are so nuanced which made it difficult to know what was going on. Now, tweets aren’t as scary. I can read them, get the gist of what’s going on and also get a sense of people’s reactions by reading their reply tweets. Now do I need to read a novel to read tweets comfortably? Of course not! But for me, tweets presented a significant psychological block, but after tacking a behemoth like a big fat novel, reading through short little tweets (even if they are dense) isn’t so bad, especially with that new, monstrously robust vocabulary you are developing the world of Japanese twitter is opening up.

At the end of the day, Japanese people don’t walk around with dictionaries. They live and breathe the language. It isn’t weird for them to encounter “difficult” words, nor is it strange for them to read what you find very challenging. Only by aiming high and working through engaging in what a regular Japanese person can effortlessly read, do you then level up significantly. When I started this journey in late 2020, I knew it would take me around 3 months to test my Kanji strategy (and it worked). Then I knew I had several more months ahead to test vocabulary acquisition strategies (which worked, though I took waaaaaay longer than I was supposed to), thirdly, I was very hesitant to do reading. My mental block was serious, even after all of my wins, and I really got bored of repetitive “Japanese samurai ghost stories”. But I know that what you put in is what you get, and it is pretty much impossible to work intensely through an entire Japanese novel and gain no benefit. Impossible I say!

So with a lot of grind, it is possible to read a Japanese novel in less than a year, slowly but doable.



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Want To Read Novels in Japanese? – Here’s How



I’m currently reading through 真夜中は別の顔 The Other Side of Midnight, by Sidney Sheldon, translated into Japanese. Several months ago I wrote a post about reading through my first short novella.

The God level goal for most Japanese super studiers is to be able to read through novels effortlessly right? Of course this is possible, with a major caveat. I’m at about 54 pages into this new novel and the progress was very slow in the beginning, and its starting to pick up. Lets’ break it down.

With Novels VOCABULARY is King.

You need around 6,000-10,000 words (or more) to comfortably read novels. There is no way around this. Just like English, there are a bazillion ways to say things, and writers like to say things their own way. As a test, after learning how to read the Kanji, I tried reading a page or two of a novel. Unsurprisingly, I was slapped ten times silly and sent careening backwards in my bedroom. You see, novels, are next level for a reason. It combines pretty much everything you will learn in Japanese. That is; nouns, verbs, adjectives, onomatopeia, esoteric terms, colloquial eexpression, collocations, etc. You need to have battled and lost a lot at trying to understand Japanese before jumping into a novel. They are big, dense, sometimes very literary and filled with so many words you might actually cry by how daunting it is. I already knew i’d need a ton of words to tackle a novel, but I didn’t understand the true cost. 

The True Cost

You need to know the true cost going in. If I were you, I wouldn’t even try to read novels until I hit 6-7K words and know my grammar up to an N2 level. The reason for this is that, with these two bases covered you have no issues learning new things in context. If you run into an expression, a new word or verb, you just learn it and move on. Nothing is “super frightening” if you can read it.  I might see a word like 無垢(むく)innocence, 執拗(しつよう)feverishly, diligently, or 薄紫(うすむらさき)light purple. These are not words you will see commonly anywhere. But in novels, you see them all the time. Visual descriptions require words for common situations and these words (hundreds of them) allow for what we call “depth” in expression and tone. Novels give you depth, at a massive cost… you need to drastically grow your vocabulary to even slowly read a novel.

To give you an example, so far in this book for each chapter I’ve learned about 50-75 new words. The book has maybe 20 chapters, so it is possible I will learn an extra 1500+ words from this book alone! But many of the words aren’t exotic, just regular things. Like 船乗り(ふなのり)sailor, or 店主(てんしゅ)storekeeper. But alas, 水兵(すいへい)also means sailor! Many of them are places and areas;

like 磯(いそ)rocky beach, 崖(がけ)cliff, 地中(ちちゅう)underground. They maybe be body parts you haven’t heard of, or ways to describe degrees of temperature like

生温い(なまぬるい)lukewarm.  Someone’s face might get 渋い(しぶい)grim, or a person can ‘dote’ on their child 溺愛(できあい)。You may know common words like 腕(うで)arm, or 胸(むね)chest/breast. But you may not know 腕前(うでまえ)prowess, or a word like 乳房(ちぶさ)breast. This is how novels, start. With these types of words and expressions, not to mention all kinds of creative uses of grammar.

In short stories they usually start with 昔あるところに、(むかしあるところに)”in some place a long time ago”. Or “an old man lived in a village” etc. Novels, are written like novels. 

The Strategy

There are two ways i’ve dealt with learning high numbers of words to balance my efforts and also not feel like a robot adding words mindlessly to anki. Adding 100 words a day to Anki will get you to thousands of words fast, but unless you have a hardore revision strategy, the words will get forgotten by the hundreds because they have no real connection to anything in your life, or anything you are directly absorbing. I’ve found there are two ways to learn words:


  1. You can learn words through raw Strategy (e.g a list of 5000 high frequency words


2.You can learn words by encountering them (in anime, reading, games etc)

I suggest going hardcore in LANE 1 as your starting point. Work through this as quickly as possible, with as much determination and focus you can muster up. Lane 2 (which tons of people like to suggest as a ‘fun’ way to learn) is extremely problematic if you are trying to gauge your progress in learning based on using data to see where you land relative to your overall goals.  Learning words by randomly encountering them is a problem for a few reasons. Firstly, you will have no idea if the words you are learning are useful (meaning to your current level) and secondly, you will have no way of tracking where you are relative to the larger subset of useful and then necessary words. What i mean by this is:

A list of 10,000 required words organized by frequency WILL get you to the promised land. However, learning this many words takes a good bit of time and strategy. If you live on Mountain Dew, have no friends, tons of disposable income, unfailing health and a brain that doesn’t tire, you can learn 10,000 words in perhaps 7-9 months, Maaaaaayyybe. I’m not even being negative here. In addition to learning words, we have well over 800+ grammar patterns to learn, plus we must log in thousands of listening and watching hours. Knocking out 50 words a day (1500 words per month) for 10 months straight is no laughing matter. You can easily hit 10K in a year and a half with little issues, but to absorb these words PLUS everything else requires a long forgotten ingredient.


I knew based on my research that after trying to read my first novel, I probably wouldn’t be comfortable attempting to read it again for another 6-8 months (depending on my consistency, health and motivation). LANE 1 can be stressful, even painful, but pays of greatly later down. Once you are able to read and understand context and then just “look up what you don’t understand” the game changes. There is a vast, vaaaaast difference between opening a page of something written in Japanese, having a complete brain freeze and weep uncontrollably, versus, being able to read through, get a sense of what is going on and look up other things. Once you reach this point, LANE2 is your destination.


If i’m reading through my book and I see “妻のぶらぶら体” (つまのぶらぶらからだ)。妻 is wife, and 体 is body. So this is some kind of body description. What the hell is “bura bura” I don’t know! So I look it up. (this expression means bloated body).

Consequently, if I see: 彼の顔が渋いした。(かれのかおがしぶいした。) If I dont’ know 渋い(しぶい)grim, I will read it as “his face turned into “something”. Then I look it up, and i move on.

Basically this is the process… it is very slow in the beginning, because initially (probably for your first book or two) a lot of the words you’ll have to look up. However the value here is immense. By encountering these words in context, having the ability to read in context, you vastly increase your likelihood of remembering them. When reading a novel, just like your native language you will “see” the images in your mind. So if the writer describes a woman with a ”まん丸お尻” (まんまるおしり)– perfectly round buttocks, not only do you learn the word, but you create a visual based on the character.

As you go through bit by bit, you collect words.  A lot of them. I find this process (at this stage) to be more interesting than learning raw lists of words. Here we are experiencing the language and as such building stronger memory roots.


Don’t worry about flawlessly reading Murakami and sending him petulant critiques via twitter. There is a giant canyon between you and high numbers of words and you can only access them through either  (raw lists —- which get VERY boring after you cross your first few thousand) and encounters (far more interesting and you still can get to 50-100 words per day depending on how much you read with the benefit of context and visual memory aides).

I am treating this novel as a game. I look up every word I dont’ know and add it to my daily list. I revise these words with anki each day. Then more often than not, these words repeat throughout the chapter, further cementing them. After a while, I’ve found myself reading through entire pages rather quickly, because I know all the word. Then i’ll get hit with a barrage of words I don’t know and have to slow down.

What’s great is that, at some point down the road, you will know so many words that you will be able to read most of what you encounter, anywhere. But I’ve found there isn’t really a “super fast” way to get here. “Fast” is relative to time, meaning, I can learn 100 words a day and blaze a trail, but i’ve found going that hardcore lessens the impact of internalization (meaning these words just get forgotten very quickly). Reading a chapter about a 船乗りの娘 sailor’s daughter who remembers being in a ship that is 生臭い(なまくさい)stinky fish smell gives me far more ammunition to remember it, than just a sentence on a white background.

Again this requires INCREDIBLE patience. You just can’t “speed” up this part of the process. Even if I’m learning 50 words per day I wont’ hear them immediately in speech. My mind has to get used to them. If feels slow, but the compound effect is blazingly fast, and quite incredible to behold. After going through just 54 pages, I find myself reading twice as fast through the novel, because i’ve covered a lot of high level words (that repeat) and i’m getting better and figuring out things in context.

So the first novel, the very first one, learn EVERYTHING you can from it. All the expressions, weird descriptions, funky words, and ways to express things. Trust me, when you hit 100 pages you will feel like you are in a different world.

Now… what kind of novel should you read?

This is a bit subjective, but i will try my hand at it. I will be honest, I hated reading short Japanese stories. They were all about Samurai and ghosts and the themes were very repetitive and boring to me. They also weren’t very visual. Lots of repeated names, simple grammar with a one difficult word here and there. They weren’t always “easy” to read, but I didn’t find them interesting. You must read something that you will have no issue spending 15-20 hours on.

I like Sidney Sheldon novels and also the feel of a physical book, so I’m good to go with that. I have LOTR on my iPad which i’ll tackle at another time. Each writer has their style. Some use lots of dialogue, heavy literary tricks or loads of description. I figured a Sidney Sheldon novel would be a nice mix. Not too high literary (which wont’ help me since its a first novel, and I wouldn’t be able to appreciate such writing anywyas) and then not too basic (boring, no visuals). I tried reading Harry Potter and stopped after the first page. In fact, I tried a few books and the Sidney Sheldon one just felt like me. Sure I can read other novels, but this novel is the one I want to sit with and break apart. This novel is the one I want to read from cover to cover, knowing that I looked up almost everything I read and that I gained a massive understanding of the language from the endeavor.

The goal is to just grab any novel and start reading it, but that won’t be possible in the beginning. It may take 3-5 novels to start getting the ease of reading (maybe just 2 I dunno) but whatever the case, you need to have that first one you really bite into, tear it apart, learn everything and then massively level up. When you get to be able to discern these levels of description, the language massively changes.

Someone can be waiting 待てる(まてる)or they can be lurking 潜む(ひそむ).

A person can be a man 男 or look manly 男っぽい。A person can be おおき(big) or 巨漢(きょかん)a giant man. A lady can be feminine 女らしいor cynical  皮肉. Only by knowing these types of words can you enjoy the stories and the situations and characters. on a deeper level.

So quick recap:

  1. To learn words in context, handle the grammar and vocab load you’ll be encountering, I think you need to know at least 4-5000 words and learned grammar up to N2. If you haven’t, there will be just “too much you don’t know” and the book as you see it will all  be noise. Put it this way, for me, having already learned several thousand words, all of N2 and a bit of N1 I am still crawling through certain pages of the novel. I am reading the novel and following the story relatively well, but this wouldn’t be possible if I wasn’t able to handle what is before me. Remember, this has a massive compound effect. The more words you learn the faster and faster you go until most of what you read self-reinforces. Working intensely through you first novel or two will most certainly guarantee quantum leap in your Japanese.
  2. Pick a novel that you gameify. Something you pick up everyday and work through a few pages at a time. You aren’t trying to read for speed, but for absorption and overall comprehension. You are treating that first novel like the holy grail of your future language ability. Try your best to understand the sentences, look up anything that you don’t 100% understand. Trust me, in the beginning it feels like a serious grind, but then when the grammar patterns begin to repeat over and over in different contexts, your brain does the rest of the work for you. Learning is best done after a while “in the wild”. You want to tackle something a Japanese person reads effortlessly. You want to experience a wide variety of language data, so much that you brain forms its own reference matrix and then you’ve hit the mountain: being able to read Japanese novels.
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How To Learn 20+ Grammar Patterns a Day #Japanese

My revision of new cards and only cards for today, which after 10 days or so, hits the 50 minute mark.

In your strategy to do things super quick, you need to make certain compromises. There are a few main compromises I make in the beginning when pushing through studying a lot of grammar, to ensure I don’t get (too) stressed out.

Firstly, I tell myself the following:

  1. I won’t remember everything right away. – this might seem obvious, but some grammar patterns just don’t ‘stick’ and need a lot of attention. I always highlight these.
  2. Ignore things that sound/feel similar and memorize them anyways. Context will reveal itself in time.
  3. Speed (upfront) is better than nitpicking. its just too much data to nitpick. Learn all of it then nitpick afterwards.
  4. Treat a lot of grammar like words.
  5. Have an ENDPOINT – (Important!)

Secondly, grammar, unsurprisingly, is a lot like vocabulary. In fact, a lot of grammar is vocabulary, meaning it is just a word that conveys a grammatical point.

Thirdly, a lot of grammar are just versions of other things you learned with slight changes (which gives you an advantage). Mostly, what you’ll find is that there are four general ways to say things:

formal, casual, informal and (sometimes) rude.

99% of everything fits into the first 3. This is very important to know because it saves you a lot of headache down the road. In Japanese a ton of things sound very similar (and some are), but I found a lot of them are just either formal versions, casual versions, or informal versions of the same thing. This happens a lot. I repeat a lot. So sometimes a “new” pattern, is one you already know, that is probably either a formal, casual, or informal version of what you learned. I put this as a note in my anki card. Quick example below:



Both sentences read: “This apartment is not only small, but dark.”The only difference is the use of “denaku” versus “ka” in the same position in the sentence. Such nuances for grammar are usually explained, and my go to resource is JLPTsensei.com


Most grammar patterns are very straight forward. All I have to do is read a few example sentences, then add them to my anki deck and then start revising. Generally one pattern doesn’t take more than 3-5 minutes. this means at 20, its about 60-100 minutes per day on the high end. Then revision is probably another 35-50 minutes. So with focus, its about 2-2.5 hours per day. I didn’t really measure my time this time around, I just made a rough estimate. I think a dedicated learner can keep this pace up for about a week or so before you brain starts to crash. Of course you don’t need to do 20 per day, you can do 10 and learn at a more leisurely pace over 2 weeks.

In my experience, revision is always better than memorization. The “brain heavy” component of memorization never goes away, whether you are learning 20 in a day or 10. It’s a lot of work, it drains you, which I why I try and get through it faster. I call this “sprinting”, I sprint to the end of a goal, marinate for a bit and then sprint again. 

Going through 186 grammar patterns in 10 days is Herculean and I feel it in both my brain and body, however, I don’t have to worry about learning N3 patterns anymore, all i need to do is focus on revising them. I dont’ need to ‘add new data’, just keep the data there. That make sense?

What’s cool here is that moving forward its all about training the patterns with mixed listening, reading and a few other techniques to try and get them solidified. In 10 days you will NOT 100% memorize them. You will be “familiar” with them. These will ‘self-internalize’ if you focus on high revision, within 30 days or so.

Okay, on to 5 rules I came up with.


This might sound very counterintuitive, but hear me out. We are obviously, memorizing grammar, but really you are memorizing a situational context more so that just a word. It is the situation that triggers a grammar point’s usage. You must remember the context (and construction of the grammar) or you will either use the point wrong, say it wrong, not fully understand it and get very frustrated.

Grammar learning is a very active process. Doing what i’ve done requires ENERGY, TIME and FOCUS. You need energy to really work through the grammar and get a feel for it.  You need to really vibe with what you are learning.

For example, if I was to say:

“With just a cellphone, he walked into the desert.”

VS   “With just a cellphone, he hacked into the school database.”

A native English speaker immediately knows both sentences are completely different. One emphasizes that he went into the desert with “nothing but” a cellphone. The other says, with “nothing but” a phone he was able to do X thing. We also know we could also express these statements with the words: just, only, or nothing but interchangeably.

Imagine now that these are 3 different grammar patterns for these specific situations. When I learn a new pattern, I try my best to emphasize the context as specifically as possible.  In these examples, two grammar points that could be used here are: て済む、and だけで。Saying “just” is quite relative and what we are really memorizing here are contexts, not just the patterns.

If I was to say: 携帯電話だけでそれを作ったの? keitai denwa dake de sore of tsukutta no?

“You made that just with a cellphone?” or “You made that only using your phone?”

But literally, we could be saying “just”, “only” or “nothing but”.

This means a huge part of working through loads of grammar, is ENGLISH not Japanese! So you have to be sure you get what is being said.

However, not everything is that close in meaning. My emphasis here is to show that grammar is very contextual at high or low levels. The higher we go in grammar, more we tend to add nuance. For example if you say:

“I would never go to Europe.” vs “I would never go to Europe, let alone France.”

One sentence expresses your dislike for Europe, the second emphasizes that in particular it is France you have a dislike for. These are the things we must remember in addition to our pattern. Again, remembering these things take energy and focus. 

I ensure that with each pattern I get this ‘feeling’ right. 99% of patterns are pretty straightforward. If a pattern is unclear, I hop on Youtube and make sure I find a few tutorials and then try my best to get a sense of what it is saying so I can memorize the context. In these cases, I spend as much time necessary to learn the pattern. So if I’m in the middle of learning 20 and I find a “tricky” pattern. I usually mark it, and move on to easier ones and learn it later when I have complete focus.


In memorization, when the mind is learning things that are brand new that sound similar, it will map them together and this can cause great confusion. For example the patterns, wazuka ni(narrowly), wazato(on purpose) and  wazwaza(with great effort) mean completely different things. Learning them at the same time could cause confusion. In a rapid learning strategy, I find that mixing things up helps. I try and make each new pattern I learn be from a completely different sounding group.

aete あえて (dare to), yara yara やらやら (things like A & B), kagiri 限り(as long as) ,ni sotte  に沿って(in accordance)

This allows my brain to be a lot less likely to mix things up. This is a hardcore rule because you don’t want to be doing hundreds of reps and getting super frustrated because you keep mixing up words that sound similar. The thing is you will inevitably mix some things up, but you wanna make sure you do it after you have an understanding of the differences not when you are initially learning them.


Your brain can adapt to learning a lot quite quickly, as long as you don’t stop. Assume you will memorize everything eventually and keep learning. What gets us to a point of what I call ‘production’, is what comes after we stabilize our memory of new words and grammar. In the beginning, there is lag time between memorization and usage that can take anywhere from a day to a month depending on the pattern. So I don’t give myself too much stress about perfection, but focus on completion. I can have a bad day and be tired and still plough through my patterns, and get the benefit the next day of having learned them regardless.

Why Plough Through 

Here’s why:  People take FOREVER to learn Kanji, because it seems impossible. But Kanji is the key to all words, grammar and reading. This means that Kanji is the key to pretty much all forms of training of Japanese. Not knowing Kanji, is a massive disadvantage. I learned at 2,136 Kanji in around 90 days knowing it would set up everything i’m doing now.

In the same way, I want to “get through” all my grammar. I’d rather be “aware” of all grammar points up to N1 than have a God level mastery of just  n4 and n5 (which is useless basically).

The only way to get to high levels quickly is with speed. The only way to get results from speed is proper revision. But the great thing is, once we get through all these patterns, there are many ways to reinforce them (reading, listening, etc). 20 patterns a day sets up a challenge for me that requires focus and dedication. I know i’m gonna have to learn them, revise revise and make sure my work counts. I make more priorities based on the level of my investment. If i’m moving slowly I don’t need to do that with such intensity. This forces me to want the benefit of my goal. 


As technical as my approaches are, the main thing i’ve learned is that is makes no sense to nitpick on things in the beginning. I could have saved myself months of research (and life time ) by simply executing, versus theorizing then executing. This means a few things:

  1. General awareness. – in the beginning the mission is to be generally aware of everything i’ve learned, and not focus on complete mastery immediately. I’ll go through say, N3, and keep revising, will going through N2. The mission is the reach the top, and the only way to the top is by finishing. Finish, then cycle back.
  2.  I define a pattern as “complete” in a simple way. I read it in a sentence, I train several of them, and then each day I see how I do reading the sentence, if I understand it, i’m good to go. if I don’t, I just read it again. But I keep moving.

Here is how I do it exactly:

a) I read the sentences and type a few up them up into Anki. I type them to add a kinetic association to the pattern.

b) I read the sentences aloud and skim through new sentences to see what they say without reading the translation.

c) When I’m revising (doing Anki reps in the evening), I read the entire sentence aloud and try to recall the part i learned. I find doing this takes more energy, but is giving me practice saying the grammar out loud in context. After 10 days you will easily get in well over a thousand repetitions of saying these grammar points. 186 sentences at around 5-20 repetitions = 930 reps on the low and and 3,720 reps on the high end. So not only am I revising but i’m also saying the patterns thousands of times. 

Now I emphasize, this is not full memorization, because a “full production” of the pattern is done, raw, from the brain. But this is like a version of “extreme training wheels”. After thousands of reps and then reading and translations, you will be shocked how quickly you can internalize a lot of these.

The point is, I don’t expect to be blabbering rapidly in no time flat. What I do expect is to have a much more enhanced understanding while reading, eventually while listening, and far more command constructing certain kinds of statements.

What you put in is what you get, so for me at the moment, the mission is to lock down N2 as quickly as possible, hopefully in another month. It is then i’ll assess where I am and see how to incorporate more speaking at length to really tighten everything up. And I still have thousands of words to learn! Ain’t Japanese fun? lol


Your endpoint is the finish line for your sprint. In my case, the end point was around 10 days to do all of N3 no excuses. I’ve been delaying for months (not on purpose) but didn’t want to lose the benefit of all my immersion and strategies thus far. For the month of September, my focus will be mainly on the n3 i’ve done, and working on my revision. I might give it 2 weeks and then sprint through N2 and see how that works. My mission really is to see if “rapid grammar acquisition” is just like vocabulary, because so far, they aren’t much different. Slight more complicated, but not impossible. But knowing that your effort has an endpoint allow you to relax a bit at the end. Today I’m done, so I’m not learning any new grammar, but I still wrote about 100 verbs by hand and also did my Anki. That’s my “rest”.

I’m going to try my best to really lock in these patterns and see how quickly things internalize and then work quickly through N2 with the same strategy to see how best to level up rapidly.



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Learning 183 N3 Grammar Points in 10 days

My checklist of the last 88 grammar patterns which i went through in 5 days.

Hey guys! This is another report to track more testing i’m doing. Okay so one of the most difficult things for anyone to do is look at a list of Japanese grammar, knowing them must learn dozens and dozens and dozens of patterns. Not only must they know these patterns, but they must be able to (a) say it (b) read and translate it and (c) recognize these in speech.

That’s a lot.

However, all of my progress thus far (while struggling with intermittent health stuff) has shown me that “impossible is nothing”. In fact the “hardest” part of this journey, is mentally wrapping my head around what I need to learn, versus actually doing it. It is easy to spend weeks, or even months avoiding tasks because it seems like “too much”, when in actuality, even doing small numbers daily would help you to cross those barriers without too many problems. So how did I do this? Let’s get into it.

In my personal research I’ve come up with 3 core phases of memorization. These are : EXPOSURE, STABILIZATION, PRODUCTION.


This is simply learning what a pattern is. For example “goto ni” means “at intervals (of)”. So if you want to say, “the bus comes every 30 mins”, or “a plane leaves every 2 hours”, you use goto ni. So here, I ‘understand and know’ what the pattern is. I ensure to read about 5-10 examples and then drop at least 3-5 sentences in my Anki deck.


Ebbinghaus, the memory scientist, said that after 24 hours something you memorize (learn that day) begins to fade and needs up to a 7 days to “stabilize” as a memory. By this I believe you have what you’ve learned in short-term memory. This means for each new pattern you learn, its about 3-7 days for your brain to “get it”. Once the memory ‘stabilizes’, you are able to retrieve it (even if it is slow at the beginning). This means the sentences I’ve added to my deck (which I will see many times over the next few days) ‘force’ this stabilization.


Stabilization as i have defined it does not equal memorization. Memorization is a late stage effect of stabilzaiton + production.

You see, when we put new information into the brain in large amounts. what happens is that the brain says “okay. This is stressful and intense, so it must be important.” the brain parks this knowledge near the top so you can retrieve it, but you haven’t stored it into long term memory yet. Production (using things like differentiation, which i think i’ve explained) is what gets in into long term memory.

Your end goal is RETRIEVAL without too much delay, which is your true “training”. Yes there are people who can read a grammar pattern once and never forget it, but they are probably less than 1% or people on earth. Now that I covered that, let me explain the process.



Firstly, this is intense. This is not for the faint of heart and I have several advantages going in.

  1. I can read 2,200+ Kanji already.
  2. I have listened to well over 1,000 hours of Japanese
  3. I’ve read thousands and thousands of sentences and have a reasonable understanding of Japanese sentence structure.
  4. I know about 3,500 words

Now you might say to yourself, “Oh?  He has it easy!” This is absolutely not true. 

When i was working on my theories for these processes, I knew I’d need to build a mental framework to get through all the data. Let’s call it “building a suit of armor”. I would first need kanji to be able to read and study words, verbs and adjectives. Then i’d need a lot of listening, to get familiar, then build vocab etc etc. Grammar is generally NOT a ‘stage 1’ part of the game at all. In my experience with both German and Japanese, I see no need to study grammar at all until you have a pretty sizeable vocabulary and tons of listening in.

Fortunately, this process only takes a few months. With serious dedication, you don’t need more than 4.5 in my opinion, to learn 2,136 Kanji, around 3,000 words and rack up about 500 hours of listening time to get things started.

You see, grammar is something you need to be “able to train” and it becomes a nightmare if you cannot: (a) easily read the sentences you see (b) understand the structure of what you are reading or (c) train yourself to get nuance. The idea with learning grammar is NOT to be looking up words, verbs or adjectives if possible. You just want to be sure you can read the sentence and memorize the meaning. So because I was extremely prepared, I was able to push this hard. But it was still incredibly challenging.


I found that the upper limit for me, was 20 patterns studied a day. It was just enough to be stressful (got really tough like day 6) but also not low enough to feel like what i was gonna do would take forever. My concern here was not raw memorization. I already know that the science says that whatever I put in my brain will start to stabilize after a few days, at which point i’ll have to do certain things to train it further. My goal was to just get it over with.

There is no real”shortcut” to learning 186 grammar patterns. The “shortcut” is mind numbing effort (upfront) and a system of elite revision (to stabilize and produce). Fortunately, as i’ve said, if you cover the basics I’ve listed (know Kanji, have a lot of listening and a good vocab, this is pretty doable in a very short space of time).

In the same way I knew I could learn 2,136 Kanji in 8-10 weeks, it is no different with the grammar, once you are able to handle it. I knew this would be a kind of “stage 4” plan.

The faster you go, the more you revise, the more you revise the faster you internalize (and store in long term memory).

As I’ve said many times in my notes, we can get lost in the data because it feels like so much. BUT, tackling head on is better than staying in limbo. I knew long ago it isn’t impossible to learn up to N1 grammar in less than a year. But it is work, and serious work. 

Know Your Goal  in Your Soul

N3 186 patterns –  lower intermediate level.

N2 224 patterns – upper intermediate/advanced

N1 253 patterns – God level knowledge

My original goal was to reach N2 but I realize N1 isn’t a stretch based on what i’ve done just the last 10 days. I’ll elaborate more on that in another post.

The lsat language I committed this intensely to was German, and I must say with Japanese I’ve definitely committed at least 300% more in certain ways. I see no point in doing all of what i’ve done and then not trying to reach “the top”. I mean, is there a downside to learning everything up to N1? I should have no issues clearing N1 by december, but I think I can do it by November.

A lot of grammar is like memorizing vocab, which i’ll focus on in my next post.



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How To Start Thinking in Japanese With Reading

Greetings. I’ll go through the three phases i’m observing relative to this topic.

Set The Environment

Trigger the Mind

Train Recall Normally

NOTE: The research i’m speaking about here requires intermediate ability. To implement what i’m doing You should know at least 2,163 Kanji and have at least N3 level of grammar locked. To be honest, I think to “comfortably” read novels one needs to hit N2 but I haven’t had that many problems reading (so far) at around an N3 level, but I’m gunning for N2 while I wrap up a Verb memorization strategy i’ve developed and was testing. Still read this article and enjoy it, I just don’t want you to worry if you aren’t at this level yet. Reading research like this might be the trigger that gets you to the next level, so go for it! Okay, on to the article.

Normally the expression  “think in your target language” is a term I avoid at all costs (initially), because if people really knew what is required to think in another language, they would most likely run for the hills. The ability to do this comes after probably thousands of hours of specific activies that reinforce patterns in your mind to the point of being able to then ‘think in the target langauge’. Now, what is an interesting observation that i’ve noticed is that, once you cross certain thresholds , this ‘thinking’ happens by itself. Meaning the brain begins to think in the target language.

Set The Environment

The easiest way to force thinking in Japanese is to attempt reading it. Watching Japanese actively does not always ‘force’ thinking in Japanese, it forces observation of what is said, and then attempting to see what you are able to process. If you are lost, nothing happens. Speaking in Japanese, generally tests your recall of what you know and allows you to try and piece together what you have mastered, though the demonstration of this does not necessarily reflect significant comprehensive ability. if I can say ‘yesterday my friend told me he went to the bank’ in Japanese, that does not mean that I have godlike skills in thinking in the language necessarily. So far, nothing forces your brain ‘to think’ more than reading. Reading cannot be done without attempting to think in the language. You must read a sentence, and gain a sense of what it is communicating in Japanese. Of course your mind is translating (in a sense), but many sentences you just ‘know’ what they are saying because sometimes there are no direct translations, or you figure it out in Japanese. 

These two books:











This entire process is still quite intensive, and I’ve been slowly phasing into different territories. I was fortunate to get a few books form the Japanese Embassy for my research, and these are two of them:

The first is 真夜中は別の顔 mayonaka ha betsu no kao  it translates to ‘Another Face of Midnight’, and the English title is ‘The Other Side of Midnight’.

The second, is  笑いの研究 warai no kenkyuu which literally means ‘Laughter Research’. I picked this one up because the text was easy to read. Many Japanese novels have very tiny fonts and I find my eyes hurting within seconds of trying to read and I try to pick books with bolder prints.

Okay I’m going to use the first book as an example: Let’s look at page 1:

We see:

プロローグ  ー Prologue

一九四七年  ー year 1947

ギリシャのアテネ ー Athens, Greece


A good thing to note here is that I didn’t even look these up the first time. I just saw “Prologue” and the year. but I didn’t know if “ギリシャのアテネ” (Athens, Greece) was the name of a person. This may seem weird to be able to read Kanji and not know this, but there are TONS of words written in Katakana that have to be learned upon encountering them, as they have no real resemblance to words in English. Generally anything foreign, names, places, or onomatopoeia. I’ve personally decided to just encounter them, as sitting down learning “jiggly”, “wiggly”, “squiggly” and those types of thing pretty useless at this stage lol. However, just by opening the book, i’m setting the stage  for ‘thinking in Japanese’.


By reading (or attempting to read) you are stepping into raw Japanese territory. There is no one to save you. Its just you, the words and what they might mean. Your brain will immediately be ‘triggered’ to try and process what you are feeding it, granted that you are sufficiently prepared for this task.

[NOTE: When I’m reading these things I break it down quite quickly my reading speed isn’t bad, so don’t feel intimidated if you think this type breakdown takes forever, it doesn’t. The mind works quickly.]

I haven’t read much of these books yet, just a page or two, since this will be a very intense process and I’m working towards it as I try to wrap up some other research. In the Sidney Sheldon book, I lightly skimmed the first page.

Looking at the first line, I immediately see a word I don’t know.


However, this isn’t an issue since I can read the Kanji. Here i’m seeing either “SHIN KA” or “MA NATSU”. Makes more sense that it is “MA NATSU”, since in the title of the book, the word 真夜中 mayonaka  means “mid night”, then I assume this means “midsummer”. So:


In midsummer in Athens, a baking sun shines. 

The important thing to know here, is that I know 照る which means to shine, and 点ける means ‘to turn on’. Since novels are filled with “flowery language”, this is an elaborate way of saying the sun is shining.

The second sentence is a bit more complicated, but perfectly demonstrates what i’m talking about.



So here I have a sentence that I can read, but I will have to really think in Japanese to get a sense of it. Looking it roughly,

行く手に見える繁華街  ikute ni mieru hankagai 

This feels like “going somewhere, able to see downtown/shopping center” then I looked up “ヨレヨレ” to see that is means, ‘swaying’ so:


“On the way, the shopping district’s buildings are swaying/wobbling and crumbling”

Second part of the sentence:


“Athens Police section chief, Gergiosu Sucri gazes at boats from the car window.”







So here i’m getting an intro to a character, a sense of the environment and I’ve learned some cool new words like ヨレヨレ and 繁華街 。As I’ve said, I’m not 100% at the point yet where I can casually read a novel like this. I’m a few steps behind, but almost there. For now i’m reading lighter, shorter stories and will tackle a novel directly in short order. But by setting the stage here, your mind is forced to ‘think in Japanese’ and create images in your mind and ideas based on what you think is happening. The process is quite fascinating. When I was reading some short stories, I was surprised to be making images of characters in my mind, clearly seeing environments and even getting a joke or two. I could not do this if I was not primarily thinking in Japanese. Of course I look things up and look up words I don’t know etc, but the idea when reading (especially extensive reading which I will write about) is to read at length without looking things up. This forces you to read things as they are, in Japanese and the brain does its thing that you start to just ‘get it’ after a while. Now the last step.

Train Recall Normally

I’ve said before that Japanese people do not walk around with dictionaries in their daily lives and my goal is to also not need one (at some point). I don’t say this as an extreme, but merely as an observation. Reading A LOT ensure this will happen, as you will encounter the various patterns in writing so often, you brain will ‘default to Japanese’ when you start reading. So what’s cool about light reading is that…

you can do it over and over and over and over. I can read page one of this book 50 times if I want to. Or read 10 pages and cycle back, read them again and move forward. The point is, to ‘think in Japanese’ I must (a) Set The Environment — most easily done with reading (b) Trigger the Mind — try and see whats’ going on and don’t look things up right away. Try and say the words, try and feel what a sentence might be saying, even if you are wrong. This starts the process of thinking in the language. (c) Train Recall Naturally — re-read interesting stuff or articles, get used to the patterns and expressions and your mind will naturally do the same.

Now, a major point to note is that resistance in this area is very very strong. Even though I was able to read Kanji for some time, I avoided reading for a while because just looking on pages of Kanji was intimidating, even for me! But there is probably no faster way to start this process. For an absolute beginner I would not recommend this as you wouldn’t be able to budge. You wouldn’t be able to read anything, understand the basic flow of sentences and so on. I found the more comfortable I got incrementally, the less intimidated I was by reading in general and then had little issue reading certain types of stories and short novels. Big novels have far more nuanced words, descriptions and grammar at times, but are still quite readable depending on the subject matter. The more you read, the more you think in Japanese. The more you think in Japanese the less bumps and hiccups while reading and it eventually starts to flow. You will just ‘know’ what a sentence is saying and not need to really look it up.

So that’s my article for today. Hopefully more to come cheers



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Read My First Novel in Japanese [Thoughts]


In this article I’m going to talk about

The Story

Where I am (level wise)

How I Learned 400 verbs in 3.5 weeks

Future Goals



美智子の星空 Michiko no hoshi sora  or “Michko’s Starry Sky”, is a short novel about a young woman who goes to a class reunion and meets the dazzling high school star, Hiroshi, who was the captain of the soccer team, a handsome guy who becomes fascinated with Michiko and how she’s grown into a beautiful woman. As she gets closer to Hiroshi (who works for a sports training company, a job he loves) Michiko questions her own choices and starts to wonder what would excite her. Michiko goes to a book store in Shibuya  one day and finds a book on 砂糖引きび (sugar cane) farming and begins to wonder if that’s a career for her. She sees pictures of a place called 西表島(いりおもてしま) iri omote jima where the cane is harvested. Hiroshi, the affable and outgoing guy, predictably has another love interest, who shows up in the form of Satori, a young woman he still has feelings for. During this mix up, she dumps him and immediately leaves Tokyo and goes to the island. There, working in the sun she’s super happy, meets a guy named Sousuke who loves farming and is very adventurous. Even though Hiroshi comes to the island to try and get her back, she stays with Sousuke, who falls in love with her and tells he he wants to open a cafe on the island, where they make exquisite coffee and a special curry meal.

— end of summary —

Now the majority of this I am recalling from memory (I had to look up Sousuke’s name), but I think it’s pretty cool that I was able to summarize all these details after reading the book. The next level is being able to do this summary in Japanese, but that’s another goal (lo). Ok, so how did I get here and what are my observations? Let’s get into it.


If you’ve been following my research over the past year, you will know that not everything I am doing has been Japanese study. I built a system to memorize all the JLPT 日本語能力 Kanji (2,136) in 8-10 weeks. Building and testing this system took me about 90 days. First 30 days I memorized 1,009 Kanji, then a health crisis struck me (which caused significant pain) but I was able to work through the remaining Kanji at a reduced rate to test the system. I did revision for another 30-40 days and realized that I didn’t need to revise so heavily and needed to transition into learning compound words, verbs, adjectives etc. So these 90 days all I did beyond learning Kanji was listening immersion. In the first month, I  used an Anki deck to refresh my memory of about 1500 words (which I realized was a complete waste of energy), but at the end of those 90 days I had 2,136 Kanji and around 1000+ words without what I call ‘active study’. After that, (still going through major health stuff) I started learning vocabulary words at a pace of 50-100 per day to start training myself to become familiar with the Kanji. This exposed me to reading thousands of sentences, as part of my method uses 3 sentences as examples per Kanji. I was also doing Kanji revisions (written) at this time, and stuff started to add up. During this period, even though I had memorized about 2,200 Kanji, I was still quite intimidated by the idea of reading. This intimidation was triggered by the sheer effort my learning efforts had taken up to that point. Learning 2,200 Kanji and then thousands of words can feel quite maddening. However, I pressed the brakes on word acquisition (and Japanese on a whole )for about 2 months as life stress and other things became overwhelming.

I am giving this summary for  a reason, bear with me. At this point, I tried to figure out what the next best move was. By the time I resumed my research (2 months ago or so), I was probably at around 1000 hours of listening, the same 2,200 Kanji and about 3,000 words. From day one, before learning anything, I had plotted a very clear course of action, but theory and action are not the best bedfellows. My mind was messing with me. Could I ‘really do it?’. Even though I had written extensively on the concept of ‘lag time’ which means that there is a delay between acquiring newly learned information and being able to use it in real time, the vast numbers started to really pressure me mentally. Language learning can feel “endless” and I was doing my best to avoid that sensory trap. However, it is pretty impossible to do all the work I’ve done and not make progress. As I’ve noted on this blog, I can watch Japanese shows without subtitles, write Kanji, transcribe sentences and my listening comprehension was okay for the most part. But as I said, my health issues had cause me to have unusual bouts of fatigue and my brain just didn’t want to tackle reading. So it was not that I couldn’t read but life put me in a position where I had to slowly regain my physicality. That now brings me to where I am presently.

In raw math, I think it took me around 5 months to get my present ability. But since i’m doing both research, observation, system creation and implementation, this is why I emphasize I have not been doing ‘raw study’.

All of my training, learning Kanji, listening and word acquisition were always done with the explicit goal of being able to train the language itself. Learning the Kanji, listening and knowing a few thousand words does not ‘give you’ Japanese, rather it now allows you to really spend time and effort in the language focusing on language versus vocabulary, grammar etc. 

The real skill to learn here is balance and patience, because i knew from the start that the true journey would begin after I learned 2,136 Kanji, about 3000 words and clocked in hundreds of hours of listening. There is no ‘magic’ here. I know exactly why I  was able to do what I did, and could predict it. But there was ONE thing I did specifically that accelerated my progress so quickly it was almost shocking.


I’ve heard of Tadoku before, which literally means ‘extensive reading’ which as an exercise pretty much guarantees you are going to level up your Japanese because the goal is to set a time period (say 30 days) where you read like mad, non stop as much as possible. Now, I did not commit to Tadoku (not yet) but I had an epiphany. I remembered, maybe 10 years ago when I was hearing about Tadoku and immediatley got angry with those promoting it because I said “How the hell can I ‘read extensively’ if I don’t know the Kanji!’ Oh, fun times. Now this “Tadoku” thing popped up during my current project.

My focus has not been reading primarily, as my last month or so has been spend testing and building my new memorization system for Japanese verbs. Note: This system works pretty well. I was able to memorize about 400 verbs in 3 weeks without any issues. The first thing I noticed after hitting 250-300 verbs is that almost everything became “readable”. Verbs are the meat of most sentences, and carry quite a bit of meaning. I surmised that a high verb heavy vocabulary focus is a game changer for Japanese comprehension for one reason:

Reading can be a bit scary when looking at a page of Japanese, but after you really get the hang of it, it starts to feel like regular reading (with the same types of visuals coming to your brain etc). What I liked about this is that I chose to read a novel at my level meaning, at the time around maybe N3, so even though it was 50+ pages, it didn’t have anything too difficult to stop me dead in my tracks every other sentence.


Just doing this is pretty amazing, and this didn’t take very long in terms of time, just a few months.



I’ll post about reading through my first long novel.





















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