A 60 Level Journey of Discovery and Unlocking Aspirations

Grind the pepper!
Lars Nootbaar __Master of the PepperGrinder (2)

Well, I’m here! 60 levels and I can hardly believe it. There’s a lot of things I want to get out, so I’ve separated this post into two sections: my overall journey of three years and a more basic explanation of my WaniKani experience. I hope you can find something relatable in this that can help you in whatever you may be doing.

The Journey

The Beginning

On December 9th, 2020, I made this post on Discord
While I mark this as the “official” starting point for my journey of learning Japanese, my curiosity for the language and Japanese culture as a whole did not begin there. From a very early age, I was doing things like naming a duck that frequented my family’s street “Japan”. I would watch YouTube videos entirely in Japanese and enjoy them despite not knowing a single thing being said. I had thoughts of visiting or maybe even living in Japan one day. I even made an attempt to learn the language long before where I am now. Needless to say, it’s something that’s been a part of me my whole life, but it was only until later on when everything clicked.

Let's Learn Japanese!

The question of “why did you start at that time specifically?” is one that I myself can’t even give a structured response to. Truth be told, I don’t remember much happening for me at that time. Maybe it was the Christmas spirit. Maybe I was just looking for something to do. Maybe something in my brain triggered and decided that this was just the time. Regardless, I began in December of 2020 and the very first thing I came across was Tofugu’s Ridiculously Detailed Guide to Learning Japanese. Jackpot. This page is a goldmine for resources when you’re first starting out and I instantly got to work on learning hiragana and katakana. This got me familiar with the concept of mnemonics for learning a language and made me eager to delve into the world of kanji. Before I knew it, I was reading words in hiragana and katakana. WaniKani awaited.

It's Starting To Click

I’ll be upfront. I honestly don’t know how this happened. I have OCD and I was told by it constantly that this was a pipedream and you’re doing this for absolutely nothing. For me, living with OCD and trying to accomplish something is like trying to climb a mountain and having a person at the top scream down at you that you’re not doing it properly and need to start from the beginning. It’s a constant machine that showers you with thoughts of self-doubt. It was around January of 2021, a little after I began WaniKani and purchased lifetime, that I started going to therapy to help with years of massive anxiety and OCD. On March 7th, 2023, I had my 100th appointment with my therapist. And there was always something we talked about each and every visit. My WaniKani progress. I absolutely fell in love with WaniKani’s game-like structure and the mnemonics for each kanji. Ms. Chou, Genghis Khan, tater tots, bowling balls, every bit of it. Moreover, my understanding of the Japanese language as a whole began to strengthen with each level, and I felt a genuine sense of joy each time I leveled up. There were speedbumps, level 10 even took over 50 days, but I kept pushing, using what I learned in therapy to tell myself that I have and will continue to make progress. Little that I know that I would soon need to make room for another journey.

It Clicked

Remember how I said that I can’t quite give an answer to why I suddenly began to study Japanese? The same can be said for my weight loss journey. Around July of 2021, roughly 6 months after beginning WaniKani, I watched this inspiring TED Talk by Laurie Coots which goes over her psychological strategy for weight loss. At the time of viewing it, I was roughly 345 pounds. The struggles with weight began in my teen years when I turned to it for comfort from the anxiety and OCD. I was oblivious to any nutritional metric and only cared about finding happiness from the foods I was eating and the soda I was drinking. That same “oh okay, why not” feeling came over me just like that day I decided to start learning Japanese. I began talking with my therapist and implementing the strategies brought up in the TED Talk. I sit here typing this today, a little less than two years removed from that fateful day, at 200 pounds, having lost 150 pounds and feeling as confident as I ever have in my entire life. Losing the weight, along with doing WaniKani every day gave me something to work towards, and more importantly, helped me to unlock my purpose.


I know my weight loss doesn’t directly correlate with reaching level 60, but it’s such an important part of what’s transpired for me these past few years that I felt like it’s something that needed to be mentioned to drive home the theme of all of this: purpose. I felt like I had zero purpose for the longest time. No sense of who I was, what I wanted to do, scared of the future, questioning if I could do anything or if it was even worth the time. Alas, the person who I was three years ago is not the same as the person now. WaniKani helped me to remember that little kid who always loved Japan and would talk about living there and how cool it is. The weight loss helped me to regain the confidence that had been lost for years. A little over halfway through these two journeys is when I realized that I’ve always had dreams and a purpose, and it just took until my early 20’s to finally discover them. I’ve lost 150 pounds and I’ve learned a language that if you told little Dude, I would have literally had a energetic freak-out. If I could face myself and tell me one thing, I would say this: That dream of living in Japan that you’ve always had? It doesn’t have to be a dream. Why? Look at what you’ve accomplished. You’ve proven to yourself you can to anything. You were scared to try therapy and you did it. You’ve lost 150 pounds after thinking that you were going to be at that size your entire life. On the aforementioned date of March 7th, 2023, the very day I had my 100th visit with my therapist, I reached the top of the mountain and achieved level 60 on WaniKani. Now, I am ready to enter college to pursue a degree in cybersecurity to help realize my once lost aspirations. 60 levels. 60 steps of purpose.


If I could say one thing to someone in the middle of their WaniKani journey who’s facing hardships, it would be this: “You are doing this for a reason”. It’s very easy to get in a rut and start thinking about the things you haven’t done or failed to do, rather than the things you have done and what you can do in the future with them. Are you learning to watch anime without subtitles? To be able to converse with native speakers? Do you simply just like learning languages? Any and all reasons are valid. You didn’t begin this journey out of nowhere, even in my case where it seemed to be just that. You have purpose. With purpose and a strong will, you can do anything you set your mind to. I will get into more fine details of my experience and what’s next below, but thank you so much for reading up to now, I truly do appreciate it.

Now with that mushy stuff out of the way, let’s actually go into what my experience was like, tips I have, and my plans beyond WaniKani

My WaniKani Experience

I see WaniKani as not just a kanji learning SRS, but also a gateway to making sense out of a complex language. Learning components like on’yomi and kun’yomi, transitive pairs, and the how the small っ affects pronunciation early on solidified a solid base that helped me make sense of more complex questions I had down the line. Now to completely deviate, here’s my very erratic progress chart:

You can see that level 10 is where I first learned the very hard lesson of what happens when you let too many reviews pile up. I lost a bit of motivation here, and it happened more than once as you can see with some other levels. But in all honesty, these slow levels kept me balanced and prevented burnout. I always ended up getting a burst of motivation to study more after slowing it down a bit. My only issues with WaniKani would be these two points:

  • Inconsistent application of radicals
    It’s very confusing to learn a kanji in one level but then seeing it again in another kanji but with the radical names instead of the kanji names.
  • Review hell
    Especially in the later levels, reviews can pile up and become extremely overwhelming. While I get that the system is designed like this, completing a level and then having 100 new items appear can be a lot to handle.
    To sum it up, here are my stats:

    I would have liked to have had my vocabulary be on par with the rest, but I’m not too worried about it.
  • Take it slow!
    Man, I had to and still do tell myself this often. It’s easy to slip into the habit of wanting to rush through lessons and reviews, but it will only cause more trouble in the future.

  • If possible, do reviews on a PC
    I spent a good majority of my first year doing reviews on my phone, and while there is nothing wrong with doing so if you aren’t in a distracting environment, typos on a phone can and will happen frequently.

  • Don’t depend on 100% on WaniKani
    This is arguably my most important tip, and one that I wish I would have followed myself. WaniKani is amazing for learning the kanji, but as for vocab, it’s not the most ideal system. Learning grammar and vocabulary outside of WaniKani will help you immensely later on.

What's Next

If learning Japanese were an RPG, I’d have maxed out all of my points in kanji and left the rest of the components in the dust. Okay, not really, but my skills in other areas are severely lacking and I am hoping to use the vast kanji knowledge I have acquired to assist in learning grammar, speaking, vocab, and more. I also want to begin seeing Japanese being used more often rather than just in an SRS. Time to start watching TV and playing games! I never really posted on this forum during the journey besides leaving my mark in the hidden level 42 thread, but I plan to be more active here as I transition away from the WaniKani nest. Shoutout to everyone in the Ruri Dragon Book Club who have made my first real structured immersion attempt incredibly gratifying.

And Finally, Cake




That cake looks great.

Well earned.


Pepper grinders to rally thongs — yet people still claim baseball is boring.



Congratulations on level 60! Heartwarming story - who would have thought learning a language would help you to rediscover your passions and purpose? Wishing you all the best with your future endeavours :tada:


What a brilliant story, I loved all of it. I really understand what you mean about the purpose part. Thanks for coming back to those that need the inspiration :trophy: :1st_place_medal:

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