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.






















About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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