379 days of WaniKani and reading books


After a bit more than a year I have finally reached level 60 on Wanikani, reviewed all grammar elements on BunPro, and most importantly: read seven visual novels and five novels. Before I started studying Japanese I read multiple anecdotal stories of people who have reached a high level of proficiency in Japanese within a short time span. This allowed me to develop my own study strategy, set realistic expectations, and become aware of any potential pitfalls. Now, having studied Japanese for a year, I believe my own anecdotal story could prove beneficial to others.

身の上話 ~ Why I started learning Japanese

The first time I attempted to study Japanese was actually fours years ago. In contrast to many, I was never an avid fan of Japanese cartoons and comic books, my academic major was completely unrelated to Japanese, and moving to Japan would mean a substantial decrease in my quality of life as well. The one benefit I would have to learning Japanese was that I would be able to play more Dragon Quest games, which often do not get translated. I just thought it would be cool to learn Japanese, since the language is very distinct to what I am used to.

I spent a few months on Wanikani and Bunpro, but quit the moment I got a relationship which quickly got my priority. Due to her having as of then undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder, it ended in complete disaster after approximately 3 years. The aftermath left me craving some form of escapism. After reading some articles written by people claiming to have achieved a high level of Japanese by simply reading novels and watching cartoons, I got inspired to pick up Japanese again. Not only could I have some escapism by reading things and watching shows, I could do it under the pretense of being productive, since it allowed me to learn a language.

I subscribed permanently to Wanikani and Bunpro and reset my progress, got Anki along with the 6k deck, and began reading Japanese comic books and watching cartoons. The comic books didn’t resonate with me, so after a few months I switched to Visual Novels. Eventually, I transitioned from visual novels to actual novels. Although I still do not have a practical use for knowing Japanese, being able to read books and watch shows in a foreign language allows me to engage in activities I used to enjoy in English but in a more productive way.

浅学非才 ~ My current level

I have as of yet not completed any formal test in Japanese. But if I were to warrant a guess I would estimate that I would be able to comfortably pass the JLPT N2 now, maybe even N1. My goal is to take the JLPT N1 at the next testing opportunity, but I am not planning on having any dedicated study for it. I personally see everything below N1 as beginner level, everything between N1 and 漢字検定1級 as intermediate level, and everything above 漢字検定1級 as advanced Japanese. So I am still a beginner under my own definition.

Plenty of Japanese media has become accessible to me. Sometimes I reread the visual novels I started off with and I feel like I have full comprehension of the story with only one word per sentence sometimes being unknown to me. Even simple novels like Norwegian Wood, while having more vocabulary which is unknown to me, seem understandable to me without having to rely on a dictionary. If I do use a dictionary I feel like I can understand most sentences on the first read. I tried communicating with Japanese people on Tandem, and noticed I had little difficulty understanding others, but expressing myself is still challenging. Still, I managed to talk about a wide array of topics outside of small talk with everyone except one seemingly able to fully understand me. I did make plenty of grammar mistakes but my vocabulary choice was mostly on point.

More complicated novels, especially literature written at the start of the last century, is still fairly difficult. I often feel like I do not understand each sentence completely, and only understand the main narrative to some extend. Listening wise, while I am able to understand the plot of many cartoons, I still feel like I am missing a lot of nuance. But I think I can understand enough to enjoy them. Having said that, there are still many cartoons I feel like I understand almost everything of when listening to them (no subtitles, not rewinding segments, and playing them at normal speed).

鵺みたいな蟹 ~ Role of WaniKani

Let me preface this by saying the way I learn Japanese is by reading books and watching cartoons, I use WaniKani to increase the speed at which I learn vocabulary. In my opinion, WaniKani serves as a supplementary tool, and I believe it should be supplementary for you too.

The ability to break down compound words into individual kanji with distinct meanings has accelerated my vocabulary acquisition. Knowing the potential pronunciations of a specific kanji provides me with a starting point when learning a new compound word. Having a spaced repetition system for the most common kanji, which focuses on meanings and pronunciations, has given me a solid foundation. In this context, WaniKani proves to be extremely useful. If you find that encountering vocabulary and kanji on WaniKani helps you learn it more quickly, it is worthwhile to use the platform for all it offers. Disregard the complaints from those who argue it teaches obscure things you will never use.

I believe that most of the criticisms against WaniKani come from people who either do not read or read very little outside of it. All 60 levels encompass kanji that are quite common and essential for achieving a decent level of literacy. WaniKani may not cover some common things, but you will likely pick them up quickly by reading books. Kanji you might initially consider obscure can actually be quite common in names. When WaniKani introduces seemingly obscure vocabulary, it is often to illustrate a reading of the kanji. In essence, WaniKani is a tool for learning kanji, and in that regard, it excels.

I personally use WaniKani in an unorthodox way. After about 20 levels, I started resorting to some shortcuts. Initially, I would re-read the definition and reading of kanji I got wrong, closing and reopening the app until I got it right. This prevented their spaced repetition system rank from dropping. Eventually, I extended this approach to vocabulary. This allowed me to maintain a maximum pace and keep my review workload manageable. With enlightened items, I always admitted when I got them wrong and let them drop a rank. Now, at level 60 with fewer reviews, I cheat less, especially with kanji. Since WaniKani is supplementary, going through it quickly made sense to me. Currently, I have 3119 burned items, and I tend to get 50% of my enlightened items correct. This approach has not significantly impacted my long-term recall. Even if you do not want to resort to cheating like I did, I think it is important to try to get through it quickly.

全身全霊を込めて、一歩一歩を踏み出す ~ Motivation

There is one crucial aspect when it comes to motivation, and that is accurately estimating the effort required—a step many people often overlook.

If I am not mistaken, the CIA estimated that it takes them 2200 hours to teach an employee Japanese to a level at which they can be deployed in Japan. Despite the numerous products on the internet claiming to accelerate language learning, rest assured that you will not learn Japanese faster than 2200 hours, no matter what method you choose. If you dedicate 10 hours per day, it will take you 220 days. With just 1 hour per day, it extends to 6 years, and 30 minutes per day amounts to 12 years. Keep in mind that the 2200-hour mark typically only signifies an intermediate/N1 level.

If you are a busy person and allocate only 30 minutes a day to learn Japanese, I can almost guarantee that you will not succeed. It is best if you stop wasting your time. I know this is harsh, and that this advice this applies to most Japanese learners, which is why I believe it is important to mention it. In my opinion, aiming for 3 hours per day is more realistic, allowing you to reach an intermediate level in about 2 years.

Learning Japanese does not necessarily mean doing grammar exercises and flashcards all the time. If you read and watch content in Japanese, then these activities already count toward those 3 hours. Most people already spend around 3 hours browsing Reddit, Instagram, or watching Netflix per day. Consider switching those activities to Japanese, and it will become more comfortable with each passing month. Websites like TheMoeWay or Animecards can guide you on how to start.

Many people underestimate the commitment required, leading to demotivation when they cannot understand things even after months. Enjoy activities in Japanese during your free time, realize that reaching your desired proficiency will likely take years, and set realistic expectations based on how much time you allocate to reading Japanese to maintain motivation. Personally, I am more motivated than I was a year ago because I surpassed my original expectations.

最優先事項 ~ Best way to learn Japanese

Read Japanese.

勇猛精進 ~ My studying strategy

Each day I do my WaniKani, BunPro, and Anki reviews and I aspire to have 0 reviews at the end of the day. Each day I read an ebook using ttsu ebook reader and yomichan. Sometimes I watch a cartoon without subtitles. When I encounter a word I want to learn but it is not sticking even after reading it a few times I add it to an anki deck. When I am travelling I read 2channel posts using an app on my phone. I also often watch things on YouTube in Japanese and read the comments. Sometimes I reread some things for some extra motivation. My goal for the future is to read far more novels and set my mouse over dictionary on my laptop to Japanese. After reading the Japanese and English definition of a word using my default phone dictionaries I realized there are some big differences between the dictionaries. I also realized I do not really struggle with the Japanese definitions either anymore.

歴史 ~ Statistics

I keep track of the visual novels and books I read here.


Congrats :smile: looking forward to be where you are at!
I’m curious, can you share which VNs you have read and how you have liked them?

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Nice to hear someone enjoyed reading my posts!

Kanon - I really enjoyed this visual novel and I recommend this to beginners especially. Just follow a guide to follow Ayu’s path. The story is not complicated but still quite original. It isn’t too long either. Despite being a visual novel with multiple paths, the relationship between Ayu and the main character is clearly established. There is good symbolism, things are properly foreshadowed, the conclusion does not come out of nowhere while still being exciting.

AIR - I enjoyed this visual novel, but it is a bit more abstract in its story and symbolism. I would not recommend this to a beginner.

CLANNAD - This one was okay, and is also the first visual novel I read fully since it forced you to read every of its many routes. This visual novel marked a decline in quality from Key in my opinion. Most of the stories are not too difficult and I can recommend this to beginners, but it is a very long read.

Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet - This was quite good. Short and sweet tragedy. Since it does not have multiple routes and a small cast each character and the relationship between them can be sufficiently developed. The story is not difficult but the vocabulary is due to the setting.

Tomoyo After: It’s a Wonderful Life - This one was okay. But the visual novel has two parts which do not connect well. The story isn’t too difficult though, but it the ending has automatic text, requiring you to be able to read it fluently to read the conclusion. Because of this part I can only recommend it if you feel like you can read regular Japanese without a dictionary and at a decent pace.

The House in Fata Morgana: A Requiem for Innocence - Not my style. I personally found it too edgy and too over the top. It uses some antiquated grammar and vocabulary to match the setting, so it can be useful for intermediate learners if they like more action oriented stories.

Little Busters Ecstasy! - I personally quite disliked this one. The issues that clannad had were even worse. It had many light hearted scenes which clashed completely with the more serious topics. Many of the things characters struggled with came out of nowhere. Many characters were underdeveloped, and because the issues they have often only show in the end of their storyline they required very length exposition sections. Many of the serious topics demonstrated a lack of research into mental issues and its effects, progression, and aftermath. There is a massive deus ex machina which makes all the stories lose their value. The only redeeming factor is Saya’s route, but that’s because she’s in complete juxtaposition to the main plot. It isn’t too difficult to read though.

Kanon > Air > Planetarian > Clannad > Tomoyo > Little Busters > Morgana


Ah now I remember your post about reading visual novels for 6 months! Great to see that you keep going and have still great progress!
Thanks for the reply :smiley: I already have The House in Fata Morgana on my to-play list, and I’ve played CLANNAD, but don’t know much about the other ones so happy to read what you’ve thought!

While I know those things intuitively, it’s still instructive to see it explicitly written out.

Congrats, and thanks for posting this.


Guilty as charged :sweat_smile:

Thank you for your detailed insight, and congratulations on reaching your goals!!

Interesting insights. Thanks for sharing and congratulations!

Hey man, thanks for this thread.

I’d love to be able to read actual novels (I dont like mangas and comics) and thats the main reason I started learning. I also do WaniKani, Anki, Bunpro (+I have Genki but I dont like workbooks so I may only read the explanations)

Do you have any tips on when and how to start reading novels? Did you start at a certain level? Also do you think workbook excercises are irrelevant if I only want to be able to read.

You are very inspirational.

Reading is probably the fastest way to learn actual Japanese so it’s good if you like it!

One of the most important tips is to to just start reading and to not give up. The difficulty curve is entirely reversed. It will start of extremely hard and it instead gets easier with time. Getting to level 60 in WaniKani, reviewing all grammar points in BunPro, and reviewing 6000 words in Anki will only make things marginally easier so you might as well do it now. I cannot understate how difficult it is to read starting off. Just keep going. Remind yourself it will be easier after each month. The stuff you struggle with today might become second nature in a month. If you keep reading WaniKani, BunPro, and Anki will get easier since you will encounter and remember a lot of concepts through reading before you encounter them in the former.

Here’s what you should do: read an entire grammar guide like Tae Kim and just try to generally understand the concepts. Follow a guide like the ones on TheMoeWay (I cannot link it since they mention a method to acquire pirated material). For reading novels, especially read their guides on how to setup ツッ (epub reader compatible with yomichan), yomichan (mouse over dictionary to instantly look up words and grammar) and an epub of a book you want to read.

In regards to regards on how to approach reading; look up everything you do not know with yomichan and spend like 3 seconds trying to understand that sentence and move on. Eventually words and grammar rules will stick because you had to look them up 10-100 times. The words and grammar rules you are unfamiliar with decrease with time if you keep it up. Do you want this process to go quicker? Read more. You will only generally understand sentences when you understand everything except 1 word or grammar rule. The more you read and the more things start to stick the more frequently you encounter the cases where this will be the case.

In regards to when to start reading; the best time is now. Japanese people generally have no clue what the JLPT is, even things written for children will use N1 grammar and vocabulary. 兎も角 is N1 grammar and you are going to see it all the time because it simply means ‘anyways’. 躊躇 means hesitation, and just like in English it’s not exactly an uncommon word, but its not included in either the JLPT tests or WaniKani.

The thing with workbook exercises is that they can actually be detrimental to your eventual fluency in Japanese. I once read this documents which cited a paper where they found that people who learned grammar through rules (L2 speakers) and people who learned grammar through context (L1 speakers (“natives”)) use different parts of the brain, and that natives have a faster recall. I still think that doing BunPro can be useful because it is a good test of which grammar rules have become intuitive and reminder of which grammar structure explanations to reread. But reading can definitely give you an intuitive feel for grammar (which is absolutely necessary for difficult concepts like passive and causative forms).

One thing I will warn against is to not read books which are very abstract in the beginning. Keep in mind that in the beginning you will only be able to generally understand the nouns and will miss almost all nuance and grammar. Try to avoid books written before the 1950s and authors with a proclivity for abstraction and hidden meanings. These books also often contain a cultural context which will be just as foreign to you as the language it is written it while at the same being just as vital to understand the story. I suggest reading books with simple but interesting plots, like the books from Haruki Murakami. However, it is most important that you read the books you like reading. The only reason why I am dissuading you from abstract literature is because they will most likely be extremely boring if you read them too early. If you can read these books and not get bored while only understanding 5% of them then there is no problem with you starting with those books either. I really enjoyed Kanon and Norwegian Wood so there were some days I read for like 10 hours because I really wanted to know how the story would go. Try to find books which make you forgot that you are reading in Japanese.

Tl;dr just read and use the “TheMoeWay Reading Techniques and Strategies” to get started.

To give an example of how reading will be like in the beginning, this is a sentence from the book I am currently reading:

In the beginning, if you use yomichan, it will probably read like this:
clean order room inside, this pure handsome young man face together, my tennis shoes extra dirty broken see.
(Side note: keep in mind, if you have to look up every word it will probably be even more convoluted)

When you get more accustomed with grammar it will read like this:
In purity, inside the ordered the room, this pure handsome young man look at each other, my tennis shoes are extra dirty broken seen.

And eventually you will able to just fluently read it for what it actually is (since Japanese reads differently, I had to localize a bit):
Within the well organized and clean room, I and the well groomed handsome young man face each other, within this situation my tennis shoes looked all the more dirty and broken down.

Be prepared for this. Getting from example 1 to 3 can take months to years for some more complicated sentences.


You’ve just solved a long-running mystery for me - in the J-drama “Mischievous Kiss, Love in Tokyo” (イタズラなKiss〜Love in TOKYO), season 1, the female protagonist, Kotoko, is portrayed as not being very bright and a bit of a lovable ditz - and there’s a scene where a smart-aleck elementary-school-aged kid who lives in the household that she has just moved in to (long story short - because a meteorite has hit and destroyed the brand new home that her father had just built, effectively leaving her homeless, so her father’s longtime dear friend has taken in the family in its time of need - and that happens to be the family of her secret love interest - it’s complicated) doesn’t like her, because due to her appearance on the scene he has lost his private bedroom and must instead share his older ‘genius’ brother Naoki’s bedroom - and in order to demonstrate how stupid she is, he asks her for help with understanding a passage in his homework (even though he knows exactly what it means) - whereupon she translates it as a “rabbit with horns”, complete with giving a demonstration of what that might look like.

Maybe the word in question was actually 兎に角 (とにかく) instead of 兎も角 - I’m not sure because it has been years since I watched that show.

But thanks for solving that mystery. I will not make the mistake of reading rabbits into that when I may see it in the future.


Interesting, I never would have expected it to be incorporated into a joke. To be honest, I only see this expression written in hiragana, I do not think I have seen the kanji form in the wild ever. I only know it is an an ateji from Bunpro. Wordplay is a tricky thing to decipher without a good command of the language sometimes.

One fun thing I once discovered is that the seemingly random hiragana combination of へへののもへじ has a peculiar meaning; you can rearrange them into a smiley which was popular in the Edo period. To understand this it’s better to first see the actual smiley and then the expression to understand it. Opposite of what you had to do to understand the 兎に角 joke.


Usually called へのへのもへじ。



It turns up in the kind of texts that are super enthusiastic about using kanji, like pre war classic literature (eg Tanizaki) and the occasional author with a fondness for a kanji heavy style (eg 京極 夏彦). The variant 兎にも角にも also appears from time to time.


Congrats first of all! I have a question regarding mining: do you mine words or sentences? And do you have any advice regarding that?

Pre-war literature is indeed a treasure trove for these kind of things (the pre-war books I read just haven’t specifically used it in kanji form though, or maybe the versions I had already replaced it – just like they replaced the hentaigana with modern kana). One of my goals in Japanese is definitely to become adept at recognizing the kanji forms which are not used in modern written contexts anymore.

There’s also a bunch of grammar (which is more like vocabulary, but for some reason they’re included on the JLPT lists as grammar) you just don’t see anymore which are used all the time in those books.

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I am super lazy in regards to these kind of things. I just use the yomichan (+) button which automatically puts the word and sentence into anki. I hate doing anki and I only put words on there that really are not sticking or words I like the kanji of like 痙攣,顳顬、and 蠟燭. Unless the words you do not know are truly rare, let’s say once per book, I think they will appear frequently enough that just looking them up every time you see them will make them stick eventually. Much the same as whatever the language is which you grew up with.

As a fun side note, I actually learned the word heteropaternal superfecundation from Japanese (異父重複受精 I found this word in a visual novel).

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Thanks for sharing your experience!

How much has BunPro fed into your learning experience? I’m still trying to work out a good rhythm to my daily learning, and if it is worth it, then I’ll pick up the lifetime membership as a late christmas present.

Very informational read. This has been my favorite 60 celebration thread to date. And you inspired me to start reading sooner rather than later.
Always had in mind to start reading nhk easy at level 25. then go from there. Now Im going to start quite soon with something more fun than that.

Also, looked into Yomichan, and its no longer in development. The successor is Yomitan, a community fork of yomichan.

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BunPro mainly let me have a paced way of getting through the grammar. I would do 3 lessons a day and do all my reviews for the day each day. Before I started reading I read a full grammar guide (Tae Kim) but I found that BunPro still explained certain grammar constructions not covered in the aforementioned.

Because I mainly learned by reading I found that some constructions were already intuitive, some constructions I encountered but never understood, and some constructions were entirely new. But having a paced way to slowly get through all potential grammar points you can encounter is something I found helpful. I think it definitely accelerated my understanding of quite a few things. But I think it is not that useful if you do not have something which forces you to encounter the grammar constructions in the wild, since they really only become second nature after reading them 10,000 times. Just like WaniKani, it is excels as something you do on the side to reinforce things.

They have good explanations, voice overs, and lots of example sentences. You can probably make an anki deck with their freely available material if you want to save some money, but I think what they are charging is not outrageous considering the effort they put into it.

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Thank you, I am happy I managed to inspire some people!

Here’s some other posts of people who also just read a lot and got to high levels fairly quickly.

-This guy spent around 500 days and through reading a lot of visual novels got a 160/180 on the N1.

-This guy spent 8.5 months (from 0 japanese) and got a N1 180/180 score, but he read for like 10 hours per day. Sadly his original Reddit post got deleted so here’s a video detailing what he did.

-This is an user from Wanikani who read a lot and got decent at Japanese. He differs a bit in how how I did things and has some different opinions but our sentiment is the same; read a lot, get good at Japanese.

Even though I and others make it look easy and fun, because it is easy and fun for us now, do not expect it be very fun at first. Reading while not knowing 90% of the words, knowing barely any of the grammar, not knowing where words end and start is really painful at times. But if you look up the words you do not know and read up on grammar you do not understand yet from time to time it will eventually become better.

Not only the difficulty curve is reversed, the “fun” curve is also reversed. It will be very hard and very “not fun” in the beginning. But as words and grammar become second nature, noticing that you can read things you were not able to read last month without lookups, recognizing a lot more words, rereading things and seeing that you understand so much more of the story, is when it starts becoming really fun. Especially if you read a lot and these improvements come by quickly.