Let the meat cake!

About ten days ago, I reached level 60 on WaniKani, and now I have just done my last lesson ever on WK (unless they add new lessons, that is). This feels as good a time as any to celebrate, look back on what I’ve accomplished and look ahead at what’s coming next.

As is now customary for these kinds of posts, I’ve split my rambling into several sections, so you don’t have to read the whole sermon if you don’t want to and can scroll down immediately to the stats because I know that this is all you people care about! :wink:

A little bit about me

I was born in Switzerland in 1988 (which I guess puts me in that “neither young nor old” category), when the Berlin Wall was still dividing the European continent, and grew up learning German and Italian at home, then later French and English (plus some ancient tongues) in school. I’ve loved languages for as long as I can remember which is why I went ahead and got myself a useless degree in linguistics. I’ve since realised that I like earning money, though, so I became a software developer (currently residing in Berlin (without the Wall)) and also got another degree in mathematics.

I guess one key thing about me is that I’m interested, for some reason, in a shit-ton of things (I won’t list them all), which is both cool and also overwhelming because it kind of makes it hard for me to focus on anything in particular for an extended period of time, as some new thing always seems to catch my interest. This might become a theme in a later section. In any case, this probably makes reaching level 60 into an even greater accomplishment for me.

If you want to know more, please refer to my forthcoming autobiography.[0]

Why I decided to study Japanese

I admit that I don’t have a particularly good or compelling answer to this beyond “I just like learning languages”. Still, allow me to elaborate.[1]

When I was young, I had a short phase (as many young nerdy people do) where I thought everything Japanese was cool. I grew up watching the likes of Dragonball, Pokémon and especially Digimon (which I still love very dearly, 今、冒険が進化する). As a young teen, I had some online friends/acquaintances who were really into Japanese and I think at some point I even thought I would move there at some point. But beyond learning some, ehm, basic vocab like “baka” and “otaku”, I just never pursued this in any sort of way, and whatever, the phase passed and I stopped caring much about Japan.

That said, I never fully lost interest, and in the back of my mind, I had this thought that I’d really like to visit Japan some day, but wouldn’t it be a shame if I didn’t at least try to understand some Japanese before I did that.

Fast forward many years, and at the beginning of 2021 a number of things happened:

  • Covid lockdowns and ensuing boredom
  • More time on my hands because I was almost done with my degree.
  • I befriend someone who studied Japanese and my interest is somewhat rekindled
  • I just so happen to listen to a podcast about the Russian Revolution, which mentions the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905. This naturally (?) gets me interested in the history of Japan which, I now realise, is almost completely unknown to me. So I start checking that out and before you know it, I eat it all up.

At this point I start to wonder: “What would it actually take to learn Japanese?[2] How would one even start?”

And it’s at this point that a lazy google search turns up the famous tofugu blog article and from there, it’s only a short step to WaniKani…

I’ll also mention that, unlike probably most people here, I don’t have a particular interest in Anime or Manga. That’s not to say that I don’t like any of them (Attack on Titan is pretty good), but it’s just not something that I’m very actively seeking out. My interest in Japanese concerns more its language, history and culture. Video games are a bit better though, since I have been a Nintendo fanboy from a young age, so at least that gives me some native material to peruse.

What I've accomplished so far

Obviously, reaching level 60 on WaniKani.

My biggest other accomplishment is completing both volumes of Genki (including the vocab). I’ve also learned about 56% of a Core 2.3k vocab deck.

Finally, as far as exposing myself to native content goes, I’ve played a single-digit number of games in Japanese (including various Zeldas and Metroid Dread). This probably sounds more impressive than it actually is: first of all, I only played games that I had already played (so I knew what they were about), and second of all, I would sometimes (though not always) just skip dialogue that I barely understood because I was too lazy to look things up. I still think it has been (and continues to be) good practice both for reading speed (looking at you, Katakana) and for reinforcing things that I already know.

(I have no particular interest in the JLPT, as I don’t feel that an exam like that, especially one that doesn’t even test output, is particularly relevant to my goals, and it would just entail a lot of stress.)

What I'm going to focus on next

First of all, I’m going to continue WaniKani for a while (probably a couple of months) because I don’t want to just forget everything that I learned only recently. I have absolutely no interest in burning everything, though, and will just let my subscription expire at some point (I don’t have lifetime).

Finishing WaniKani hopefully will mean that I will have more time available to focus on other things (especially in a month or two when review counts will have significantly decreased), for example:

  • I want to practice conversation. I started with a tutor on iTalki a couple of months ago, and while I still suck, I feel like I’m making progress. Unfortunately, I haven’t had any lessons in a while, because of scheduling conflicts, but I should start again in about a week.

  • I want to finish that Core 2.3k vocab deck.

  • I want to go through all of the listening material in Genki and practice listening and shadowing. I already started doing this and I’m currently somewhere in the middle of volume 2, but I just didn’t have that much time in recent weeks.

  • I already have the Quartet books and I want to work through them.

  • I want to continue occasionally playing games in Japanese.

My WaniKani Journey and stats

First of all, my level-up stats:

As you can see, while I do have a median level-up duration of a bit over a week, I took an extended break three times - and ended up spending 265 days on level 44. I never really stopped doing reviews, but I just didn’t do any more lessons. The reasons are that I was on the one hand burned out and seriously annoyed with WaniKani - and on the other hand, as mentioned before, it can be very hard for me to maintain interest in something for a long time, so I had just other… projects which became more important for me (for example, I am also learning Spanish, which at some point got a bit more important, but now I’m at a high enough level that I don’t need to spend so much energy on it any more). Plus, I was also dealing with an exhausting job hunt etc.

In retrospect, I don’t fully understand any more how these 265 days went by so quickly, but it did have the benefit that I was able to burn quite a lot of lower-level items during that period which freed up some space for doing the last 16 levels a bit more quickly.

By the way, I did at some point have a plan to stop after level 51, as that’s the point where you have learned the most important Kanji, but then I sort of just ignored that and went ahead anyway (especially since I saw that some of the stuff you learn in later levels does actually show up in some of the material I was seeing in games… stuff like 胞子, for example).

Anyway, here’s some more stats:

As you can see, I did have some occasional days without reviews, but mostly I was pretty consistent.

Here, the three extended breaks are clearly visible. You can also see them in the following chart:

Turns out I only spent about 30 min on average per day reviewing items. It often felt longer somehow.

Let’s also talk about accuracy. In general, I guess I can’t complain

It also seems fairly consistent over time and also across review types (though what the hell is going on with these radical reviews, why do they have these insane downward spikes at times?):

My bigger worry is with the way the accuracy drops once I reach higher SRS stages - this is from https://storyyeller.github.io/wkbuddy/accuracy.html:

Overall: 96.9% (4077/4209)
Apprentice 1: 97.2% (486/500)
Apprentice 2: 99.8% (486/487)
Apprentice 3: 99.8% (501/502)
Apprentice 4: 100.0% (531/531)
Guru 1: 97.1% (540/556)
Guru 2: 94.9% (553/583)
Master: 95.3% (523/549)
Enlightened: 91.2% (457/501)

Overall: 88.8% (18429/20752)
Apprentice 1: 74.9% (2136/2852)
Apprentice 2: 97.2% (2143/2204)
Apprentice 3: 97.2% (2324/2392)
Apprentice 4: 96.1% (2584/2688)
Guru 1: 95.1% (2770/2914)
Guru 2: 88.5% (2797/3161)
Master: 85.5% (2261/2643)
Enlightened: 74.5% (1414/1898)

Overall: 90.2% (58683/65049)
Apprentice 1: 87.2% (6711/7696)
Apprentice 2: 97.4% (6825/7010)
Apprentice 3: 96.4% (7850/8145)
Apprentice 4: 95.7% (8595/8983)
Guru 1: 90.1% (8620/9566)
Guru 2: 88.0% (8506/9670)
Master: 86.3% (6948/8054)
Enlightened: 78.1% (4628/5925)

Now, let’s talk about leeches. According to the item inspector ([Userscript] Wanikani Item Inspector), I have 102 leeches, 47 with a leech value >= 2.0 (I don’t know how this is calculated).

My worst leeches (all those with leech value >= 5.0) apparently are:

  • 屈む (leech value: 9)
  • 浮気 (8)
  • 甲斐性 (7)
  • 組織 (6)
  • 証拠 (6)
  • 掲げる (5)
  • 完結 (5)

Finally, I’ll show my current item counts per SRS stage on WK:

There are probably more statistics, but that’s likely good enough for now.

Would I recommend WaniKani to other people?

This is a contentious topic, so I don’t want to dwell on it too much and I want to start by pointing out a couple of things:

  • I did learn a ton of Kanji and vocab thanks to WaniKani that I’m likely to remember
  • I also forgot a bunch of things that I already burned
  • Some of those things I forgot will probably come back rather easily when needed
  • My biggest problem are probably similar looking Kanji, I don’t think WaniKani does enough to help you distinguish them
  • I can’t know for sure whether any other method of learning Kanji would have been either more efficient, or have had a higher retention rate. I suspect that at least the former might be true, but it’s impossible to tell, since I can’t go back in time, unlearn Kanji and try something else.
  • Probably no matter what method I would have used, it would have sucked one way or another (though possibly less, or more, so) because in the end, learning Kanji is just a massive pain in the お尻 and 仕方がございません

That all being said… I used to be very much on the fence about this. As some people who have read some of my posts are no doubt aware of, there are many decisions by WaniKani with which I don’t agree. But I also always realised that this is just me and different people feel differently about it. With the recent WaniKani update, though, I’ve just felt that the team is currently rather out of touch with their user base. Considering how much you pay for WaniKani and how little you get in return (especially with user scripts potentially breaking at any time and the team seemingly not really caring about it), I’m just not sure if it’s worth it. Any other comparable tool seems to be a lot more customisable and willing to listen to user needs, and with WK it’s the “our way or the highway” kind of approach that I personally loathe.

But that said, it’s also the only thing I really know, so I can’t reasonably recommend any other Kanji learning method either.

In the end I can only speak about myself, and the only reason I was able to make WaniKani work for me was by using scripts or, in particular, the FlamingDurtles app with which I could sort of adjust WaniKani to my liking.

Do I have any insights about learning Japanese?

The short answer is: no, I don’t think so.

Reaching level 60 on WaniKani is cool, but that does not make me 上手 by a long stretch. I still have a very long way to go until I reach any sort of proficiency in Japanese, so it would ridiculous for me to claim that I know how you learn this language.

The only tips that I could extract are ones that I’ve found to work for me. So here’s some assorted pseudo-wisdom that you should take with a metric ton of salt:

  • Try out different learning methods, see what works for you. Don’t assume that what works for others automatically works for you.

  • Don’t trust people excessively who claim to have understood how people really learn and what you absolutely need to do or else your Japanese will suffer forever. Or at least not until they can cite research papers that say exactly what they claim they say. Maybe not even then.

  • Learning a language is not a game. It can be fun to be competitive or to work towards an arbitrary target (such as WK level 60… cough), I won’t deny that. But in the end, what matters are your goals and not whether some 16 year old with too much time learned all the Kanji in half the time as you did.

  • Don’t neglect speaking/listening. Language is primarily spoken, and IMHO the Japanese learning community seems to be a bit too excessively focused on reading. Reading is important but hearing and speaking the language is, I think, also important to really internalise your knowledge.

Closing remarks

I want to thank the people from the Discord (you know who you are). Without you guys, I probably would have lost motivation a long time ago. <3

That’s it from my side. This was probably way too long, and way too boring, but at least now, it’s out there as a testament to those maddening 60 levels of pain and torture. If you were to be so mad as to have any further questions, I shall be obliged to answer them.

[0] This is a joke.

[1] This is probably the least relevant part of this whole sermon.

[2] Spoiler alert: It takes much longer than I would have thought.


Big congrats on reaching lv 60! :partying_face:



Congratulations! Fabulous achievement!




I think that is just as impressive as it sounds! Only playing games that you had already played before doesn’t sound unimpressive, just sounds smart lol. And skipping things that you’re too lazy to look up sounds like a good idea, too. Something about becoming more comfortable with some level of uncertainty.

This is interesting. I think it’s really cool how different people have different approaches with Japanese. I agree that the WK community is particularly focused on reading (for, uh, obvious reasons, I guess), but a lot of my friends that self-study are the opposite. They can chat quite fluently, but can’t even read menus / street signs / childrens’ books. Maybe it’s because I live in Japan, so it’s more fun (or easier?) to go out and practice talking to people vs sit down and study kanji.

Me too! It’s amazing how different it feels to study Spanish vs. Japanese. I know it goes without saying, but kanji is truly a game changer. I often think about how I could have read a whole book in Spanish from day 1 of studying. Obviously I wouldn’t have understood it, and intonation would’ve be off…but still. Compare that to the time it takes to read Japanese…

Again congratulations and thank you for sharing so much about yourself and your WK journey :slight_smile:


Congratz from a fellow Swiss millennial academic in Berlin that studies Japanese on WaniKani, lol, what are the odds. Nice write-up, was interesting to read! :slight_smile:


What are the odds, indeed! :smile:

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Hearty congratulations @Fryie san :grin:

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Love your post title.
I bet your mnemonics have some great puns.

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Thanks. I don’t think most of my mnemonics are very creative though… also I tend to forget most of them after a while. :smiley:

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