Seeing the light in the Monster

One thing many students of Japanese greatly desire to do is be able to play Japanese video games. Today I felt like I took a step closer towards that goal.

When I was living in Tokyo, I would go to Shibuya quite often. It was a nice rest stop after work, or a place to just walk around and people watch on the weekend. In Shibuya, with its hundreds of shops, I would always browse the book stores and checkout Manga, trying to imagine the day I could actually read them. When I went to the used video game shops, it was the same situation. I would see tons of interesting games with amazing artwork, games I couldn’t play because my reading level wasn’t high enough to get past the basic game menus. Still, every now and then I would look for games on sale, something that I felt I could work towards. I bought Monster Hunter Portable 2 for my PSP for a super-cheap 280yen at some point last year, I think maybe November.


When I slipped the game in, I was immediately stuck at the main menu. I couldn’t really figure out much of the Kanji, and when I figured out how to get my character out of the building he was in, I was stuck trying to translate conversations between other characters that I didn’t understand.

What I realized today is that my tolerance of the learning process has really changed. I still don’t always have a ton of time to “study” Japanese in the way I’d like, but i’m finding I’m not going from zero to one hundred percent stressed out like I normally do. I’m sure it was just being over exposed to Kanji without being able to read any very well that made me stressed; it put me in a position where I had hundreds of little reminders of how far I had to go. I guess being presently in Jamaica has taken some of the edge off. I popped in Monster Hunter today, and still I cannot read most of what I see, but there is a key difference.

I can read some of what I am seeing, and I am starting to isolate groups of Kanji that I recognize as common words. What I know is that these are common words i’m just not familiar with yet. I’m at about 400 sentences with my anki studies, and to have “good reading ability” requires the knowledge of about 4,000 sentences and up. So even though I still cannot read everything, I felt pretty positive because I could go through the menus more easily and I could get an idea of what some of the characters were saying.

This is why I am glad in some ways that i’ve been blogging about my journey, to get insights into the little moments of clarity. I’m seeing more and more that learning Japanese is not so much about how “much” you study, as it is simply “how” you study, and how you keep yourself interested.

But its just like English. As a child, i learned super easy stories with simple sentences. Then these stories increased gradually in difficulty and complexity until I was able to read comics, novels and so on. I am repeating that behaviour in a sense. I’m trying to get a better system for reading Manga, because I don’t like reading it on my computer screen, but if i don’t keep exposing myself to common words, doing sentences in Anki alone won’t work.

But I can see the light. I can see that just by continuing, to just read easy manga, practice learning new vocab and so on, occassionally listening to and watching Japanese media, that I will “reach somewhere”. When will I be able to just play Monster hunter on my PSP? I am not exactly sure. With several months of effort, it might be soon, or not. But the fact it, I could not stomach these game menus only months ago, and now I am going through them (albeit slowly). So since I am almost done with my Hesig (at 2000 Kanji!) I am really going to start putting the pressure on learning new sentences. I am going through the Core 2000 program developed by which teaches you 2000 sentences with I believe 2000 common Kanji words.

If I can fully understand those 2000 sentences, I will take a massive leap ahead in basic reading comprehension. Then there are an additional 4000 sentences to pickup, as the program has 6000 in total. So with some grammar work and the basics of immersion mixed in (and speaking) I can see it happening! I am not sure how many sentences to add per day. At 50 new sentences per day, I can do all 2000 in two months, but I have been mixing it up. Some days i will do 100 new sentences (because some sentences are painfully easy, whereas other sentences have a word I don’t know). Either way, for all the sentences i’ve been reading, I am not forgetting those Kanji, so I will see my progress in a few more weeks.

Till then!

About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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