Cultists vs The Other People, Why am I doing this?

This long post is  in relation to a few forums I was idly browsing through. On the Reviewing the Kanji webiste, there is a forum dedicated to the AJATT method that has well over 50 pages of cross dialogue, flaming and very interesting analyses of the method’s pushed on AJATT.

I had never really seen the passion that some people have for the method, and I found it eye-opening to see how some people passionately wrote post after post flaming the method, and others shot back information supporting it.

Here is my two cents on what i’ve experienced so far.

I think personally, the founder of AJATT, the aptly named “Khatz”, is a beast. A beast in the sense that to truly follow his method to the tee, you need to be relatively obsessive, with a very high capacity for self-motivation and focus. I think this sort of organized obsessive behaviour is the hallmark of any person who wants to gain mastery in anything. The Otaku who sit and watch anime for hours on end with no subtitles while wearing their favourite cosplay outfits may seem “out there” or “bizarre” but if they can speak Japanese pretty well, then a person can merely see that their method… though out there, works for them. I will say what I used to do in my studies, and how I’m modifying the approach.

I was using the approach of Audio, Video, then mixed input, based on the idea of the Rosetta Stone program. This isn’t different from how we learn anything else, this was just how I labelled what I was doing for myself.

For Audio I had – Pimsleur 1-3,

For Video I had “Let’s Learn Japanese, Volume One and Two” (each volume has 30 videos with speakers talking at Native speed with explanantions of the dialogue)

For Mixed input I had the Rosetta Stone program. If you’ve never heard of it, visit the site here

This system worked pretty well, because shifting through the different input methods gave me lots of vocabulary and reference points for remembering things in conversation. For example, I never forgot


(enpitsu wo shitte mo ii desu ka?) may I use this pencil?

The plan for me when I came to Japan was actually to watch only Japanese TV, and continue using my system. I did this for a little while, and my Japanese exploded quickly because of the input and my output (speaking to people), but then culture shock hit, and everything changed.

I wrote a lot about culture shock on my main website, so you can read about my mental evolution there… but your approach to learning a lanugage completlely changes if you are having difficulty living where the language is.

That said, I knew my method wasn’t bad, because even the little bit I did study/practice allowed me to chat at a reasonable level with most people after only a few weeks. Now I will say what I found about the AJATT method that has gotten me “back on the wagon” so to speak.

1. I liked the idea that it could be done.

It’s not often that you find a website where someone is giving this kind of information. I found it by accident, and reading through the posts, reading on other people’s successes and so on, made me think “gee, I could probably do this too.”

2. It made the idea of living in Japan seem less difficult.

Like I said, culture shock can make you not want to speak much Japanese, or live in a little hole sometimes, but this reminded me that if I am in the country and I can “speak and read like an adult” to poorly quote a line from the AJATT website, then that would drastically change my lifestyle here.

3. It gave me a template for execution.

Now, the site has so much information its initially confusing (I still can’t find step-by-step instructions for how to get decks on Surusuru) but I was able to figure out modified approach to learning Japanese based on some of the tenets of the site. This I liked, becuase it was much clearer than anything I had been doing before.

4. It gave the idea of a timeline to reach a good level of proficiency.

The founder of the site said he gained fluency in 18 months. On the internet, many people doubt this claim and constantly talk about the quality of his Japanese, and so on. Whatever the reality of the situation, the man speaks and writes fluent Japanese, so he did something correctly. It didn’t make me think I would become fluent in 18 months, but I knew that I could make about 300% improvement in six months by tapping into some of the methods. The term “fluency” as they say is relative, and I’m aiming for “proficiency”. Reading about the methods and ways, gave me a sense of time, which I like. Some people don’t care how long it takes, but some do. I think this is a divide between various sects of Japanese learning. From my perspective, I had been living in Japan for 8 months, and my Japanese was okay enough to go to the bank, buy food at restaurants and chit-chat in bars, but I thought it would be nice that if I did a few light adjust ments over a six month period, I could push way, way, past that.

That said, I have to say that there are specific aspects of what I researched on the AJATT website that made me look at my learning process diferrently.

1. Learning in context

It’s good to ask yourself why you are learning a language and read on different ideas of learning and also what angle you are coming from. I liked the ideas the website founder put forth in terms of his ideas of education. These mirror some thoughts I have on how learning works, and it gave the “idea of Japanese fluency/proficiency” a very palatable context. Some call it flaming rhetoric, some don’t like the tone, but I ready heavily about personal development, and liked how this linked into language learning methodology. It was actually after reading through dozens of forums on the Heisig method, trying to find how it linked to reading that I stumbled upon a linked to the AJATT website. So, I like the context it is presented in.

2. RTK1 (Remembering The Kanji Volume 1)

– I had started this twice before and both times stopped at 150 Kanji. Mainly because I had no real idea of how learning this connected to learning how to read. I wasn’t aware of how the technology worked, because when I started using RTK1 about five years ago, there weren’t many discussions on transitioning to reading/speaking in a way that appealed to me. Now, its a clear cut method that I can do in a reasonable amount of time.

3. SRS (Spaced Repetitions)

– I didn’t know this existed. After reading about it, I was immediatle able to visualize something after  RTK1, a way to put my new knowledge of Kanji into a system that would allow me to practice reading sentences, which was mind-opening.

4. The Idea of Input VS. Output.

– I saw my sister do this as a teenager to have an understanding of spanish that lead to her fluency in about three years. She listened to mostly spanish music, watched Spanish youtube videos, and so on. Living in Japan, I had seen my personal skills in speaking increase dramatically the more I was exposed to Japanese speaking (if you are there, you are forced to speak a lot, or just hang out with people who speak English all the time). Since I had already field tested this concept, the more polished approach of different kinds of media inputs (music, reading, movies) made sense to me.

I think those four things, just gave me a new wind so to speak. I can’t really say that everything on the site appeals to me, but I like the founder’s musings on language, learning and society.

The website for me gave me a degree of specifity that I could work with. I love new technologies in learning and thinking, and even though I had tried a few approaches, I had never thought of say, watching my favourite movies in Japanese. Sometimes a little suggestion is enough to make you believe more.

That said, I don’t consider myself dogmatic as it relates to AJATT… I just haven’t found any blogs on the internet that document the process from start to finish. I like to track these things, so that’s where this came from. I don’t think I’ve ever even told anyone about this method per se, I just do it by myself. This is probably because you know, 99.99% of people around me are you know, Japanese.

I will make a few brief comments on what i’m not doing with AJATT… on purpose.

1. Listening all the time. – I get a pretty good dose of input each day through work and if I head out somewhere. I found initially that adding Japanese music and media into an already saturated environment made me feel very frazzled. Not everyone can stomach it. I believe in the input method, but i’m taking this aspect slower.

2. Watch movies without subtitles. – I tried this with 猫の恩返し(the cat returns) and it was okay… but not very interesting. I can see that watching Star Wars, Independence Day or other movies that are exciting in Japanese is actually a great step towards learning a lot of dialogue from movies you already know. But it will cost you a few dollars like the guy says, becuase Japanese DVDs are more expensive. But if you feel like you are investing in yourself… it might not be so bad. I have Independence Day and I’m going to get maybe three other “can watch 10 times in a row” movies to practice with. I’m not doing this religuously either, but I do a lot of design work, so I will probably keep one movie playing in the background the entire time I do design work. That’s the plan…

I can’t remember much of the other steps… but right now I’m not speaking a lot of Japanese. This is a personal choice. Reasons will remain a mystery. I can talk if I need to, but i’m not running around trying to chat to everyone I see.


3.RTK1 and reading. I am already beginning to be able to read sentences, and I am only at 550 Kanji, because I know vocabulary and some basic conversational Japanese. The following sentence.


I figured out that the first Kanji was ”kare” and i know the word for horse is “uma”. 上 is “up” or “on top of” and then I could read the sentence as:


kare wa mada uma no ue ni umasu.

He is still on the horse.

I could not read this six weeks ago. Which shows me that a person who knows all 2,045 Kanji that starts actively doing the “sentence mining” is definitely a push in the right direction. This was how I connected the dots after going through the AJATT site… I had a dose of inspiration, a way to do it, some previous history knowing the language, and many, many reasons to follow it.

However, I won’t have much more to say until I finish RTK1 and start doing sentences. Like most people, I just hand picked a few things from the AJATT site that I found workable for me, and added it to my routine. I believe the listening input aspect is major. For people who are twiddling their thumbs and wondering about this, it makes sense. When I arrived in Japan for the first time, when people spoke it was an unintelligible stream. I could barely hear anything much less try and speak back. Club-hopping and having conversations at tons of bars start giving me the skills to chat a little, but everything was still a stream. As time passed and I heard more and more Japanese (I couldn’t help it, at work, the supermarket, the movies, coffee shops, everywhere was Japanese) the sounds started to change, and I could hear snippets of conversation.

Now I’m at the point where I can hear almost everything someone is saying, word by word. I don’t understand everything, but i’m telling you that it is a 100% switch from where I was before. So for me, living here, I saw that increasing listening input would be major for me, because it would feed my word associations and what not. I realized the benefit when i was listening to a song by rock group The Pillows and I understood a few lines. I had listened to the album for years and never knew what the hell they were saying.

Eventually I will write a post on how a person should gauge themself using this method, and how to tweak it… but personally I think if you read too much about the pros and cons and you aren’t doing anything, then you are wasting your time anyways.

I’m going to keep tracking my progress and any hurdles I hit or things I tweak, and make observations as I add more thing to my routine. So look out for updates on:

1. Watching movies in Japanese with no subtitles

2. Listening to different kinds of Japanese music

3. Doing language Exchanges

4. Memorizing Japanese Songs

Till next time.

About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
This entry was posted in AJATT, Heisig Method, language, learning Japanese, Remembering the Kanji, RTK1 and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Cultists vs The Other People, Why am I doing this?

  1. I wish you the best of luck! Culture shock can be a big thing. I was born in Japan and understand most things but having lived in different parts of the world, I could see how some things may be different or shocking.

  2. I’m also in the middle of progressing through RTK1 (although I’m a bit farther than you at 1675 studied) and it’s good to hear from someone else who’s working through the AJATT method. Can’t wait to be done with it and move on to sentence mining!

  3. Steve H. says:

    being able to pick out words that are being said is an awesome feeling. When I first noticed it I was super pumped to get through the rest of RTK. Every little thing that makes you realize what your doing is paying off is great motivation. Plus it makes singing along with songs a lot easier.
    Keep on truckin’~

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