How far can I get spending 1 hour/day learning Japanese?

Hi everyone :slight_smile:

I’m a beginner, just started learning Japanese a few weeks ago. I follow this guide, which is amazing. So far, I’ve learnt Hiragana, Katakana, and I’m at level 2 on WaniKani.

Unfortunately, I work full-time (plus extra work on personal projects), so I can’t spend a +20 hours per week learning Japanese.

My question is, how far do you think I could get if I spend 1 hour per day, every day and every week (that’s 7 hours/week), for about 18 months? I plan to travel to Japan in about 18-21 months, and don’t intend to be fluent at all, but at least to be able to read some stuff (to make the experience richer) and maybe ask basic questions (like “where is [place]?”). Is this realistic at all?

NOTE: My learning plan for these 18 months is to prioritise:

  1. WaniKani (to learn the kanji and vocabulary).
  2. Listening (probably japanesepod101).
  3. Grammar (when it comes up in about 3 months, as the guide states).

P.S: In the long-term, I want to be able to read manga and watch anime without subtitles, but this will be in a few more years, so it doesn’t count for now.


It’s impossible to say how far you can get, but you can definitely get the point of reading basic signs and forming basic sentences. Some recommendations though:

  1. Don’t let WaniKani take all your time. Clearly you don’t intend for that to happen, but WaniKani (and SRS in general) has a habit of taking up all your time if you’re not careful. Don’t get lulled into doing your lessons too fast or WaniKani will take up too much of your time later.
  2. Start grammar as soon as possible. The Tofugu guides say to start learning grammar by level 10, but I would recommend getting started right away. I’d recommend an actual textbook that has exercises so you can actively practice. These types of grammar books also tend to include vocabulary in each chapter, which is a good way to learn additional words outside of WaniKani.

definitely. if you only have one hour a day, getting all your reviews to 0 everytime will definitely eat up your whole hour at some point. Take it easy on lessons, and definitely don’t let grammar be an afterthought. If your goal is to get around in Japan, I would definitely recommend you prioritise speaking and listening over reading, but none of those will go anywhere if you don’t study grammar.

Like Sean mentioned, a textbook will take you a long way without you having to put a lot of thought into structuring your lessons. depending on the book (I really like Minna no Nihongo, but for selfstudy it might not be the most useful book, I’m not sure as I haven’t used their grammar accompaniment). The lessons are geared towards work environments a little bit, but definitely useful wordlists. If you really only have an hour, covering one page a day will get you pretty far while spreading out: learning new grammar, practicing new grammar, and reviewing new grammar.

Also, depending on where you live, maybe there is a Japanese conversation club you can join from time to time, to really practice speaking and listening.


I’m an older learner and I have been working at it for almost 22 months now. I probably average around two hours a day and haven’t missed a day yet. I spend 10-15 minutes on grammar before letting myself do WK and then I try to get to zero reviews daily (failing more often than not).

I visited Japan at about the six month mark and could read a great number of signs. I felt more confident in speaking and was able to catch the meaning of spoken language slightly better than in the past. You are giving yourself a nice amount of time and you should be able to meet the goals you have listed.

All that said, I would highly recommend listening practice as you can. That is still my weakest area !


That is most certainly realistic in over 500 hours of study. Its actually a breath of fresh air to hear such reasonable goals!

Im procrastinating studying right now, myself, so I’ll try and keep this brief to force me to get my stuff done:

Basically, if you want to have your level be as high as possible by the time you get over there, take sean’s advice of not letting wanikani take up too much of your time. But the same goes for every area of your study. You’ll notice that when you learn, some areas come easier than others, and some areas are more enjoyable to learn than others. In order to get a richer experience, I’d recommend being very balanced since you’ll need listening, reading, and speaking.

Take myself, for example. I essentially only care about being able to read for the time being and would rather put off speaking till later when I plan on living over there. This is fine and I’ve got no problem with it, but I definitely had some problems with speaking last time I went over to Japan. For an hour or so I was on a train back from nagasaki to fukuoka and was talking with the guy sitting with me, but I made a fair share of mistakes and I had to take a bit to explain myself sometimes within that hour.

My point is, there are some higher level stuff I learned for reading (maybe more difficult kanji or words only found in literature, really) that I never got to use on that trip just reading signs and menus, and that time would have been much better spent practicing speaking.

If you care a lot about reading manga, chances are you’ll want to gravitate towards reading, but just bear in mind that reading skill =/= speaking skill. It will help to some extent, but by no means will you get good at speaking without explicitly practicing it.

Apart from that, have fun. Your biggest challenge will be actually doing the work, believe it or not. Get yourself a SET SCHEDULE that you need to follow down to the day. Just setting monthly or even weekly stuff is good, but you need a daily schedule to hold you accountable. And remember that if you don’t have the discipline/motivation, the only thing thats realistic is failure! I’ve been there and done that.


Thanks @seanblue, @Saida, @dreamerpaula and @Vanilla a lot for your recommendations. I’ll make sure I neither delay grammar nor let WK eat all my time, and that I spend time on listening (and speaking if I can). I’ll change my priorities to be Listening/Speaking > Grammar > WK (this has worked well when learning English too). I just thought WK was more important because you need to learn kanji to learn grammar, but I’ll follow your advice.

I made a conservative estimation, I might be able to spend a few extra hours per week some times, but better estimate realistically, as some other weeks will surely be messed up by being busier than usual. I could potentially double or triple the amount of hours, but need to get other side-work stuff done that is more important than a trip, long-term. I’ll try to maximise my efficiency to make the most of any every minute.

BTW another quick question: some of you have been to Japan; can you survive with just English outside Tokio?


Depends on what you mean by “outside Tokyo”. If it’s a Kyoto or another large city, it shouldn’t be a problem. Same for smaller places that however attract many foreign tourists.

But otherwise expect to see very little English and assume people don’t speak English. But they could be very friendly and try to help you anyways.

Make sure you have the basic vJapanese vocab down and you should be good.


I just came back from two weeks in Tokyo and I’ve been learning Japanese for around 18 months (1 hr/week tutor plus self-study). I would say that the kanji I’d learnt from WaniKani was actually more useful to me while I was there than most of what I had learnt from my textbooks. Most of the speaking I did was only ordering food and a little bit of asking for directions, but thank to wanikani I was able to understand a lot of the signs I saw, and to figure out things like where to stand on the train platforms (there are separate queues for the next train and subsequent trains).

My first trip to Tokyo I didn’t speak any Japanese at all and had a great time but, as you have surmised, it was definitely a richer experience this time for knowing a little. I felt more confident and more able to go into restaurants and shops that last time we would have only looked at longingly from the outside. I’m sure studying for one a hour per day would easily get you to that level.

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Others have already touched upon this but keep in mind that Wanikani is for learning how to read kanji, not for learning how to speak basic phrases or understand Japanese. If those are your goals I think you would be much better off with a Memrise course for basic phrases and vocab, and possibly a grammar book. Take a look at the free resources thread that is somewhere here on the forums, that should help you a ways. Wanikani is fun and very effective at teaching kanji, but unless you want to READ it’s not the best tool to use.


@d-hermit @fustian_garb @Voleuse thanks for your input. I’ll do my best to balance all areas and make sure that WK doesn’t eat too much time. I’m glad to hear that my first goal is reasonable. I would never shoot for something too ambitious yet. Hell, I’m just starting and I’m struggling a lot already :smiley: Getting to fluent must be a titanic task.

After the trip to Japan, I’ll focus more on reading and keep improving listening, as I’m a lot into anime and want to start reading manga at some point.

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Here you go…

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I use RocketLanguages for learning speaking, writing, grammar, listening, and culture. It’s a paid site, but you could sign up for a year only and then go monthly till your trip. You will learn quickly and it is fun.

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I fit your parameters pretty similarly… full time job, family stuff, other hobbies. I do probably 60% WK, 25% listening, 15% misc (reading, grammar, etc) in about an hour or so per day. I don’t have access to proficient speakers in my day to day life, so although I have listening practice, I have basically no speaking practice.

I’ve been at it about two years. I went to Japan last October (a little over a year into starting). I was able to read a lot of stuff, but I was mostly useless for listening and speaking. I felt like my trip was greatly enriched for me and my wife because of what I had learned. It was disappointing to be unable to talk with people, but it was really fun to try to read everything. We called it the “roulette”: will I be able to read this thing? Let’s find out!!

I’m hoping once I hit level 60 I can shift my practice time into the areas I’m weaker. For now, it’s hard to do much more than WK+listening in the time I allocate to learning.


@marcusp That’s interesting… Soon after learning a bit of grammar :slight_smile:

@dunlewy I’m trying japanesepod101 for listening and learning stuff, but I’ll have a look at RocketLanguages

@timfreilly I feel your pain, having little time s*cks. It’s great that you still managed to enjoy Japan and the effort payed off.

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