Learning Japanese is maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not because the language is inherently difficult (it’s not), but because it takes a whole lot of time and effort to get anywhere with it, and you have to somehow find it in yourself to keep going, repeatedly.
I found getting this far with Japanese to be harder than getting through grad school. In grad school, I had financial pressure and family pressure keeping me on track the whole time. With Japanese, the only person holding me accountable was myself. I wasn’t taking any sort of classes, didn’t have to worry about grades or tuition cost, and at any moment, I could walk away from it if I wanted and there would be no penalty whatsoever.
Getting to level 60 doesn’t mean you’ve mastered Japanese (it doesn’t even mean you’ve mastered beginner Japanese). But it does mean that you’ve figured out how to commit to a language goal and keep at it until you get there, no matter how long it takes. And that’s a start.
WaniKani honestly changed my life. Though, to be honest, it was really the forum that did it more than the program itself. This place has been a fixture of my life for the past 2+ years, and my life has been better for it.
The thing about learning Japanese is that it’s (probably) not the studying part that will get you. It’s the other stuff happening in your life that will be the biggest threat to your studies.
Because of that, I wanted to give a bit of a glimpse into what my own journey was like. The long version is in my study log, faithfully recorded as everything was actually happening, but here are all of the major highlights (with a little extra stuff included with the benefit of hindsight), plus some of the lessons that I learned along the way. The abridged version is still long. Sorry. You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to.
There were three points in particular, I think, where I came very close to quitting.
My first inkling of a desire to learn Japanese happened in middle school. I was deep into anime and manga at the time, but I had neither the motivation nor the discipline to learn a second language as a teenager, so nothing really came of it.
It was pro wrestling, of all things, that got me to actually learn Japanese.
In 2019, after an entire lifetime of hating pro wrestling, I discovered pro wrestling’s greatest love story, which is between a Canadian wrestler named Kenny Omega and a Japanese wrestler named Kota Ibushi. Together, they make up a tag team called the Golden Lovers. Their story began in 2008 in a very unconventional company in Japan called DDT Pro Wrestling, and the wrestlers proceeded to carry that love story for over a decade and a half (and counting), taking it to New Japan Pro Wrestling and beyond. Parts of it are exclusively in untranslated Japanese, and other parts are exclusively in untranslated English.
I had no idea that pro wrestling was capable of this level of storytelling. I went from hating the medium to being completely obsessed with it practically overnight.
2019 was a very exciting year to get into pro wrestling! It was not the greatest year to be a Golden Lovers fan. Kenny Omega left NJPW to help start All Elite Wrestling in America, trying to live up to his “change the world” catchphrase, and Kota Ibushi stayed behind in Japan. The relationship between their two companies seemed fraught at best, and so the future of their tag team was up in the air. That didn’t stop them from including little love letters to each other in their work, though.
I actually almost ended up trying to learn Japanese at the end of 2019, but was too intimidated to start, and refocused on brushing up on my old high school Spanish instead (Spanish is actually the third global pro wrestling language, besides English and Japanese. Would I have been motivated to get back into studying it without pro wrestling? I truly don’t think so).
In stark contrast to 2019, 2020 was a terrible year to be into pro wrestling. I’m not going to go into it here, but there were several points where I almost walked away from it entirely. I didn’t, though. And by the end of the year, I was actually watching more pro wrestling than I had been at the start of it…
That’s part of how I ended up here, actually. I was scrolling past Japanese tweets every single day and listening to hours upon hours of (mostly unsubtitled) Japanese media each week. At some point, your curiosity starts to really get to you.
I’ve spent most of my Japanese language journey deeply regretting that I hadn’t started earlier (as it so happened, even one year earlier would have made a difference…). But, well, I think we’re all familiar with the famous proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
And so in September of that year, I planted my tree.
Sept 2020 | 物の哀れ
Over the course of the first pandemic year, I became a little bit obsessed with the theme of transience. It was this review of a wrestling photobook that first put the thought into my head, and I fixated on it for months afterward, trying to make peace with it. It’s a repeated theme in my study log, so I guess I’m still trying to reckon with it.
That summer, I learned that I just had to appreciate wrestling stories while I had them, because there was no guarantee that anything would last. Wrestling is always moving forward, never back.
That got me to finally take the plunge with Japanese. I only had this one chance to experience all of these stories, so I better make the most of it.
I downloaded Anki and started learning hiragana and katakana, figuring I could start there and then see what happens.
And for a few months, that was about as far as I got.
Dec 2020 | 山
The first kanji I learned was 山. I figured out its kun’yomi reading (before I even understood that concept) by triangulating between Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling’s Miyu Yamashita’s name (山下実優) and DDT Pro Wrestling’s Jun Akiyama’s name (秋山 準). When I first discovered WaniKani, I remember coming across a spreadsheet of WK kanji, and the first thing I did was search for 山.
And there it was, a level one kanji. I learned that it meant “mountain.” With a smile, I considered Jun Akiyama and Miyu Yamashita, and thought “how fitting.”
I decided to give WK a shot. This was during the holiday sale, so I almost sprung for lifetime, but Tofugu recommended completing the first three levels before paying for a subscription, and I wasn’t sure I had the commitment or the moxie to see it through to the end.
(Not paying for lifetime from the start is my other big regret with Japanese. I did get a discount on my first year, though.)
Mar 2021 | 石
It took a couple months before I got serious about learning the language. For a while, I was content to just do WaniKani at a very leisurely pace and enjoy occasionally seeing and hearing words I recognized when I watched wrestling without any real urgency to learn more.
In the early days, I especially loved learning kanji that were in wrestlers’ names. I could enjoy that part of it without any grammar knowledge at all. New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Tomohiro Ishii (石井 智宏) is referred to as the “Stone Pitbull”, which is also the name of his theme. I was so incredibly delighted to learn 石. Ishii’s nickname certainly suits him!
At some point, I visited the forum for the first time, and the community here really opened my eyes. I learned that I needed to do a lot more than WK if I truly wanted to become proficient in Japanese, and for that matter, that I was doing WK wrong, too. I learned how the SRS worked, and how to optimize it so that I was getting the most out of my time here. I discovered userscripts and so many other helpful resources, and I started to actually come up with a real study plan.
I still think of the day I joined the WK community as the day I truly committed to learning Japanese.
On March 10, I logged into the forum for the first time. On March 11, I made my first post. Nine days later, I started a study log (I was level 4 at the time).
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Apr 2021 | 里心
By April, I had the beginnings of a routine down. I was practicing reading every day in Spanish (I had wanted to try immersion, but my Japanese wasn’t good enough), was a good chunk of the way through Japanese Ammo with Misa’s grammar lessons for absolute beginners, had downloaded a bunch more scripts, and was well on my way to becoming a forum regular.
I read a lot of very strong opinions about WK (for the record, 里心 is still one of my favorite words), and about language learning in general. But the language learning bug had thoroughly bitten me, and I was hooked. My special interest in pro wrestling evolved to be a special interest in language learning, too. The two interests really fed into each other a lot, and my study log posts got longer and longer because I just had so much I wanted to talk about every level, even though I still couldn’t read much Japanese.
I bought Minna no Nihongo, and ultimately got so eager to start it that I caved and began reading it at level 7, three levels before I’d planned to start. I was nervous about adding another SRS, since I was doing WaniKani and KaniWani, but I started using Anki again to SRS the textbook vocab, and the workload wasn’t too bad.
Once I found a rhythm here, I kept it up without wavering for the entire rest of my WK journey.
Aug 2021 | 不変の狂猿愛
I bought my first issue of shupro (週刊プロレス, the most well-known Japanese wrestling magazine), issue no. 2126, solely because it featured Yoshihiko on the cover. The issue came out in June, but it took a few months for it to get to me, because I had it shipped overseas with some other stuff.
When the magazine arrived, it was too difficult for me to read it on my own, so I spent a few hours painstakingly transcribing the text of a few of the articles so that I could read them with the help of machine translation.
I discovered that all of the time I had put into practicing writing the WaniKani kanji had given me an amazing superpower: I could intuit the rough stroke order and draw just about any unknown kanji on the IME pad and get it to give me the right kanji without much trouble.
Every kanji save one, however. I got stumped by this one: 葛󠄀󠄀. No matter how many times I drew it, it wouldn’t come up, and I ultimately had to find it via radical search. Thanks to google (and some help from rodan), I discovered that it was used interchangeably with 葛. The word that was causing me so much trouble? It was deathmatch legend Jun Kasai’s name: 葛西 純. Hikari Noa, a wrestler from Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling, talked about her love of “Crazy Monkey” Jun Kasai in the interview.
Being able to sort of read shupro gave me a whole bunch of unearned confidence. I’d originally planned on waiting to try reading manga after I finished the first book of Minna no Nihongo, but I saw the book club thread for 大海原と大海原 and got so intrigued by the manga, I decided to give it a shot anyway…
Sept 2021 | 浪花節
I started reading volume one of 大海原と大海原 when I was level 16 in WaniKani and about 10 lessons into Minna no Nihongo. I had grand plans of SRS-ing all of the new vocab in the manga, but abandoned that plan pretty quickly when I saw how much work lay ahead of me, and found out how much harder it was to learn all of these new words when I didn’t yet know the kanji.
Contrary to what I had been told, it wasn’t actually all that scary trying to read manga in Japanese. But, well, compared to the experience of trying to read something like shupro, everything else felt a lot easier!
I enjoyed the manga despite having moderately poor comprehension on my own, and had fun following along with the book club thread, which helped me actually understand the overall plot, but I ultimately realized that my Japanese was too low level for manga to be a truly effective learning tool for me. I decided to stick with 大海原と大海原 simply for fun.
I was getting more and more out of tweets from wrestlers, now that I had tools like Yomichan and ichi.moe and at least a little bit of grammar knowledge. But I ran up against the limits of my ability when I read a tweet by the wrestler Yumehito Imanari, who makes the video packages for DDT Pro Wrestling and Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling.
Imanari said that he can’t make make a cool VTR with CGI like American promotions, but he always makes them with feeling and 浪花節, and he was very glad that something of 浪花節 was conveyed to Chris Brookes (who is an Englishman and not Japanese) with the video he made for Chris’s match. I felt like I had a sense of what he meant by 浪花節, since I had seen many of these videos, but after some googling, I wasn’t able to find a satisfying answer (in English) to what exactly 浪花節 even was, beyond a basic definition of the word. It was a mystery that I would just have to wait to solve when I had greater fluency.
I passed my first real milestone in Japanese: one year had passed since I first started studying the language (though I hadn’t gotten serious about it until six months in).
And after talking about it for weeks, I finally started a thread on the forum for pro wrestling! I didn’t realize at the time just how important it was about to become.
Oct 2021 | 不死鳥
Things were looking up in my personal life: I got a part time job as a librarian, which is the field that I have a master’s degree in. I worried a bit about how it might impact my language learning hobby, since my new job could potentially develop into full-time employment if the opportunity arose. But I decided I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.
Less bright news: In New Japan Pro Wrestling, Kota Ibushi won his block match against Kenta, then went on to face Kazuchika Okada in the G1 tournament final (it was Ibushi’s record-breaking fourth G1 final in a row), and Ibushi ended up dislocating his shoulder after a missed Phoenix Splash, which forced the referee to stop the match.
I’d seen a few injuries happen in pro wrestling before, but none of them were as stressful to watch as this one was.
From purely an aesthetic standpoint, I love the Phoenix Splash. It takes my breath away every time. It’s one of my favorite things about Ibushi’s style of wrestling. But at the same time, it’s an incredibly scary move! I guess that gets at the central contradiction of pro wrestling, for me. I am both compelled by it and repelled by it. I want to look at it and look away at the same time.
There’s a fantastic essay on Ibushi’s entire career (up until that fateful Phoenix Splash) which talks about how that move exemplifies Kota Ibushi, the phoenix who burns up and rises from the ashes time and time again.
(I’ve made the choice to give this chapter a slightly anachronistic subtitle because I hadn’t yet learned the word 不死鳥 when all of this happened originally, but it’s the only word that comes to mind when I think back on this month now.)
Looking back now, my study log post at the time was painfully optimistic. I said that thankfully, the injury didn’t seem to be too serious. The wrestlers themselves tried to stay in good spirits about it, and Ibushi had come back from worse before.
As it turned out, that injury was just the first domino in a long line of horrors.
Nov 2021 | 喜怒哀楽
November is always a busy month for me because it’s National Novel Writing Month, so I’ve spent the past fourteen years writing a 50,000 word manuscript every November, like clockwork. This year was no exception, though I was nervous about balancing my Japanese studies and my new part time job with writing an entire novel. But it was okay; I’d gotten through grad school without breaking my NaNoWriMo streak; I could do this.
The first chunk of the month got off to a great start for Golden Lovers fans, with All Elite Wrestling directly referencing Kota Ibushi at a pivotal moment in Kenny Omega’s story. I was over the moon about that. I wanted to gif it, but didn’t have time.
Kenny’s body ended up being more broken down than any of us knew, and after he lost the AEW championship, he had to take some time off of wrestling to heal some lingering injuries. Even now, there was a strange symmetry between Kenny and Ibushi’s situations.
And so with both wrestlers out of action, I settled in for a long winter, hoping that a bright spring awaited the Golden Lovers after both of them had recovered. Instead, it was a winter that lasted many seasons. It would take me over a year to finish that gifset.
(The subtitle for this chapter is another slightly anachronistic one. I learned 喜怒哀楽 technically slightly after November, in the Kota Ibushi essay linked above. The author described it as a word which means “joy, anger, sadness, and enjoyment or fun”, and which encapsulates the spectrum of these emotions that art should strive to create and facilitate. Ibushi has used this word to describe his ideal of wrestling.)
At the very end of November, everything went wrong for me.
I’m a bit surprised that I didn’t allude to this in my study log entries at the time. I guess I was trying to push through and thought that the bad feelings were going to pass soon. I was in the process of getting friendship dumped by my best friend, though I didn’t realize how unsalvageable that situation was at the time.
And while that was happening, I also nearly lost my only remaining social support network.
I had absolutely no one left to go to. I was crying myself to sleep every single night, and I couldn’t talk about it with a single other person.
Somehow, I made it to the finish line with NaNoWriMo, though the last chunk of my novel was a blur. I tried to distract myself by spending time with family over Thanksgiving and continuing my Japanese studies. I’d somehow managed to finish volume 1 of 大海原と大海原 with the book club and had started volume 2.
Most Novembers, I spend the month telling myself, “You just have to get through November. Things will be better after November.”
But November ended, and things didn’t get better.
Dec 2021 | プロレスは諸行無常
December came with the bitter news that my favorite wrestling translator, Mr. Haku, was leaving CyberFight at the end of the year. This meant no more live translation threads for DDT or Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling. No more translations of post-match comments or press conferences.
DDT/TJPW English Update was the means through which I had watched Kenny Omega come back to DDT Pro-Wrestling for Ultimate Party 2019. It was the means through which I had gotten so invested in Hyper Misao’s story in TJPW that it got me hooked on the entire company.
I deeply regretted the fact that I hadn’t started learning Japanese in December 2019 instead, or April 2019, or any point earlier than when I did. If I’d started earlier, I’d be farther along than I was now, and maybe I’d have more of a chance to be able to watch DDT/TJPW and understand without completely relying on translation.
I tried to remind myself that when I started watching wrestling in the first place, I started with the Golden Lovers’ DDT matches that happened before Mr. Haku was even hired, and I was able to watch them without understanding a word, and it was still somehow enough to pull me into this weird and wonderful world. The beauty of wrestling is that you can watch two people in a match together and just know that they love each other without them ever needing to verbally express it. Ultimately, it’s a story told with people’s bodies, and that part of it transcends language.
But it hurt so much to lose translation because now I knew what I had lost. I’d gotten a taste of being able to actually follow along with all of the jokes and the nuances of the stories as if I were fluent, and now I wouldn’t have that anymore.
I couldn’t help but think about what Pro Wrestling NOAH wrestler Masa Kitamiya had said a few months before: プロレスは諸行無常. Every day, I think about how transient these stories are, all of these moments in time. But I’d failed to consider the transience of the experience of watching wrestling in itself, the people and fans who make that possible and enjoyable. I expect tag teams I love to break up, my favorite wrestlers to retire, stories of heartbreak and separation and longing. But when my favorite translator leaves, I’m blindsided. I suppose I’d taken it for granted that even if the story turned sad, at least there would still be a story for me to follow.
I was so numb from all of the other stuff that had been happening to me, the pain from losing Mr. Haku’s translations barely registered at first. It didn’t feel real.
When I watched my first show without Mr. Haku’s translation, the despair set in.
This was the first point where I considered quitting Japanese. DDT and TJPW felt suddenly completely unobtainable for me. My brain kept trying to trick me into believing that if I listened close enough during DDT and TJPW shows, I’d be able to magically understand everything they were saying. Instead, it just served to highlight just how far I had left to go.
Why not just give up and walk away from it? Why study Japanese if I couldn’t even use it when I needed it? Why keep watching DDT and TJPW if I couldn’t actually follow what’s happening?
If this were normal media, it would be easy to just set it aside for a few years and come back to it when my Japanese ability was better, but pro wrestling doesn’t work like that. It happens entirely in real time. The stories wouldn’t wait for me.
Ultimately, my investment in the characters won out. I picked myself up off of the floor and started a massively overambitious project. Even if it was just for the benefit of myself and a handful of my friends, I was going to attempt to translate as much DDT/TJPW content as I could.
To put my Japanese level in perspective, I had just learned the て form in October. That’s where I was at when I decided to do this.
I ended up splitting the workload with a friend whose Japanese was far better than mine was. She would tackle TJPW (which we both thought was more important, haha), and I would try to cover DDT. I had no listening comprehension to speak of, so I relied entirely on the show recaps they put up on the DDT site, which summarized highlights from the matches and transcribed some of what was said in the ring and in the post-match comments.
And so, armed with ichi.moe and DeepL and some beginner Japanese, I tried my best.
The WaniKani forum was what really saved me in the end, though. I am very, very lucky to have found this place, and to have made a friend like rodan, who just so happens to also like pro wrestling and also really likes answering questions.
That pro wrestling thread I had created a few months earlier became ground zero for my translation drafts and questions.
I realized that I was going to have to step things up with my Japanese studies if I was going to do this, so I started adding words to Anki that I encountered while doing my translations. If I saw it in wrestling, then it was a word that I needed to learn, if not now then eventually, so I might as well put the time in and learn it now.
To seal my commitment to Japanese, I bought lifetime membership to WaniKani during the December sale. I wasn’t going to let that become another regret.
Jan 2022 | 黄昏れる
January passed in a bit of a blur. I signed up for my first read every day challenge, figuring that between the DDT translations and 大海原と大海原, I’d have no trouble at all keeping up with the challenge (I was right).
I also signed a new work contract that doubled my hours, though I was still working very part-time.
The first week of January is イッテンヨン week, named after 1.4, January 4, the traditional date of Wrestle Kingdom, which is New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year. It’s sort of like WrestleMania week in the US, where it has become a bit of a tradition for a whole bunch of other companies to put on shows around that time, piggybacking on the wave of enthusiasm for pro wrestling. Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling had their traditional 1.4 show, and DDT had one at the start of the year, too.
I loved this tweet from Sanshiro Takagi (the president of CyberFight, the umbrella company which includes both TJPW and DDT), which contains a photo of Yoshihiko (the DDT wrestler who is a blow-up doll) looking melancholic after his match with Chris Brookes. It taught me the word 黄昏れる, which felt appropriate for my recent mood.
While listening to a bit of Japanese commentary for TJPW, I realized that I was actually starting to recognize some of the words that I’d put into Anki from my wrestling translations. That was pretty affirming.
I also found out that I could actually read NHK News Web Easy without too much assistance! In my enthusiasm, I got a little overzealous, and started adding words from that to Anki as well. However, those extra reviews came with added stress, so I ended up abandoning this practice pretty quickly; the wrestling translations were simply more important, and I needed to save all of my energy for that.
I think it was around the end of January when I had my first panic attack over my increased Anki workload, thanks to all of the wrestling words I’d been adding, plus the NHK words. I felt like they weren’t sticking at all, and I was just beating my head against the wall trying to bash them into my brain somehow.
But, as always, I got through it somehow. Eventually the feeling passed, and the words started actually sticking, and the number of reviews I was doing every day went back down.
Things were still very hard for me emotionally, but there was some brighter news on the horizon: a fan stepped up on twitter and started doing live translation threads for DDT shows there, just like Mr. Haku used to do. When I found his tweets, I was so happy and relieved, I literally cried.
I considered whether I needed to continue with my own translation project, because this other fan was clearly more qualified than I was, but I wasn’t really satisfied with having only partial translations of the post-match comments, so I decided to keep going for the time being. I didn’t know if the other fan would be able to keep this up, so I thought it was best for me to prepare for a world in which I had to do this on my own.
Feb 2022 | アイアンマン第1529代王者
Miraculously, I managed to finish volume 2 of 大海原と大海原 on time. I made the (somewhat ill-advised) decision to sign up for the spin-off book club for the third volume, which is much longer than the first two volumes, and is much darker in tone and aimed at an older audience, so there is very little furigana. Bit of a steep difficulty jump there! To my surprise, it wasn’t actually as hard to read as I’d feared. My kanji was good enough (I was around level 28), and I was familiar enough with the character names and the story that I could actually survive pretty well on my own without even needing a vocab list.
It was the time investment more than the difficulty curve that ultimately did me in. I fell out of schedule early on in the book club, and to this day have still not finished the manga, though I do manage to squeeze in another chapter every few months or so…
That February, I won my first (and undoubtedly last) wrestling championship! I lost it less than a minute later, but that’s just how it tends to go with the Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship.
DDT Pro-Wrestling streamed one of their house shows live on youtube on an iPad, and at the end of the show, Ironman Heavymetalweight Champ Mao came over to the camera and ended up knocking it over, so the iPad (and everyone watching the match on it) pinned him and we collectively became champions.
It actually marked a very real milestone for me, because the show where I became Ironman Heavemetalweight Champion was the very last DDT show that I translated.
Why did I quit? DDT actually hired the fan who had started live translating the shows on twitter, and so all of their shows going forward had translation again. I gratefully stepped back and let an actually qualified person take over. I could go back to just being a fan again.
However, around that time, my friend who had been translating Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling ran out of time and had to stop doing the translations. I volunteered to do it in her stead, and so midway through the month, I once again took up the reins…
Mar 2022 | 頑張ります
There’s knowing a word and then there’s understanding it. I feel like it wasn’t until I started translating wrestling that I really understood 頑張ります.
It’s probably the single most common word in my translations (besides “match”, at least), even more common than “winning” or “belt” and the like. It’s almost always “頑張ります” specifically, too. It’s what the rookie wrestler says to the cameras at the end of her comments after she loses, or before she’s about to have the biggest match of her career.
Rookies in Japanese wrestling do a lot of losing. Especially in a company like Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling, where you start at the very bottom and have to slowly make your way up, working very hard to improve over the course of several years before you get anywhere close to beating a top wrestler.
Does that sound familiar?
It helped me when I was just starting out as a translator to think of it like being a rookie wrestler. You’ll be very, very bad at it in the beginning, and only after years of hard work and applying yourself to the craft will you start to become genuinely good at it.
I needed to give myself that permission to be bad at it because the shoes I was trying to fill were impossibly big. Not only was I profoundly unqualified for the job; I was trying to fill in for my favorite translator in the entire industry. Even if my Japanese was very good, I still wouldn’t measure up.
March was my first major test as a translator, because Grand Princess was happening on March 19. Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling’s biggest show yet.
I kept hoping that TJPW would hire an actual professional translator like DDT did and render me obsolete. But there was no sign of that on the horizon, so if I wanted to keep watching and allow other folks to follow along, too, I had to be the one to carry it.
I think I cried from stress while translating every single big show that TJPW had that year. Back then, even the 6,000 or 7,000 characters from the official recaps felt like an overwhelming amount of work. But somehow, I always managed to get through it.
Leading up to Grand Princess, I was also feeling more and more guilty about essentially keeping the translations to myself (they’ve always been public on this forum, but I doubt many TJPW fans would think to look on a forum for a kanji learning program to find translation of the shows). I had created a blog for all of the translations, mostly just for the convenience of myself and my friends, and I ended up tentatively promoting it on my tumblr blog, just in case there were folks there who were interested.
There were… not! Well, maybe a few people found it that way; I don’t really know. The post didn’t get much traction because there’s simply not much of an audience for TJPW there. But I was glad that I tried. I wanted people to have the chance to go into TJPW’s biggest show yet with as much context that I could offer.
March also came with several other huge milestones for me. I reached level 30 on WaniKani (halfway done!), finished book one of Minna no Nihongo, and officially passed a full-length practice test for the N5.
I celebrated my one year anniversary on the WK forum with a big overview of my first year of committed study.
Despite all of that, I finished the month with an incredibly low mood thanks to pandemic related stress on top of being depressed from friendship stuff and everything else that I’d been dealing with.
I wish I could say that this was the lowest point of the year for me, but things were about to get a lot worse.
May 2022 | 復活の炎
The pro wrestling industry is a very ugly place. I’ve asked myself over and over again how an industry that is this evil can be capable of producing art that is this beautiful. Pro wrestling has all the same problems as any entertainment industry, but it’s compounded by the fact that it’s a medium that is very hard on people’s bodies, and from the very foundation of it, you are always, always being lied to.
It’s not all bad, of course. If it was, I wouldn’t still be here. But there are times where the industry makes it very hard to be a fan.
I almost walked away from it that May. I almost walked away from Japanese, too.
I’m not going to go into it too much, because it’s a long and depressing story, but early in May, Kota Ibushi broke kayfabe and started calling out New Japan Pro Wrestling management for exploitative labor practices on twitter. As it turned out, the company had been trying to force him to come back to wrestling before his shoulder injury had healed, which was causing him (and his mother) a considerable amount of stress. Here’s a recap of the situation, with a link to translations of all of the tweets.
For the first time, I was using my Japanese to read about horrifically stressful things instead of things that brought me joy.
That month, I started translating senryu in the daily senryu thread, I guess because I was looking for a distraction. I’ve never cared much for haiku, and I didn’t have a strong opinion on senryu before I started participating in that thread, but now I really like them. They’re fun to translate because they’re a bit like a puzzle in addition to being a poem, so my brain enjoys chewing them over.
I kept up with the read every day challenge only barely. I was reading essentially bare minimum each day, and I stalled out a bit on my translations due to all of the stress and despair from the above situation. Paragraph by paragraph, I would get there eventually.
I resolved not to let NJPW take my love of pro wrestling away from me. I was determined to keep trying to translate for Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling, and keep studying and working on my Japanese.
I greatly appreciated this tweet from Kenny Omega, which was almost certainly intended as a message of support for Ibushi. Kenny said that the flame of resurrection will burn hot again someday, and until then, everyone, 頑張りましょう.
I held onto those words a lot over the course of that month.
In late May, I woke up to the news that my mom had tested positive for covid and she’d gone to quarantine with my dad at my uncle’s cabin, and then I went from that to watching Kyoko Kimura put on a memorial wrestling show for her daughter Hana Kimura, and then the news about Kota Ibushi’s mom hit right at the end of the show. I think maybe there’s a limit to how much mother-related grief and stress one person can deal with in one day, and I certainly reached it.
I don’t even know how I got through that last week of May, much less how I kept going with my translations and with Japanese in general.
But, well, I guess you eventually get sort of used to a baseline level of stress. Somehow, I was able to get back into most of my usual study habits, and even started writing poetry in Japanese.
This was the hardest month of my life, in the hardest year of my life. But I survived it.
Jun 2022 | 禁断の扉
Midway through June, one of my coworkers passed away unexpectedly. This made my workplace a lot more miserable and stressful, at a time where I really did not need any more misery and stress. I wondered if I was about to get more hours at work, which might potentially jeopardize my study plan.
Firefox reset all of my extensions, and I ended up having to reinstall all, uh, 32 of my userscripts. So, a word of advice: make sure you backup your tampermonkey scripts.
I signed up for the first listen every day challenge, making it a goal to listen to something in both Spanish and Japanese every day, just as I had been doing for the read every day challenges. For Japanese, in addition to using pro wrestling stuff for this challenge, I started listening to 童話 stories on this website and reading along. These are a pretty good indication of where my grammar was at the time, because I could read them without having to do any grammar lookups.
Naturally, the situation with Kota Ibushi and New Japan Pro Wrestling continued to loom over everything. A little bit of background context for this next part:
From 2019-2021, New Japan Pro Wrestling and All Elite Wrestling had engaged in a bit of a will-they-or-won’t-they relationship. For Golden Lovers fans, it was a particular source of despair. It felt like this great big immutable wall of company politics stood between the wrestlers, forcibly keeping them apart.
But by the time we finally managed to fully get there, it was too late.
In early April, I rambled excitedly in my study log about the rumor that NJPW and AEW were planning a supershow together, which was set to take place in June.
That supershow ended up happening on June 26. It was called Forbidden Door, named after a late 2019 machine mistranslation that went so viral, it ended up becoming real.
At the time the show was announced, I was incredibly excited for it. It felt like the pieces were finally starting to fall in place. AEW had somehow managed to secure partnerships with both NJPW and DDT (both of the Golden Lovers’ former companies), who are themselves competitors. AEW had a lot more Japanese support now, and with Kenny Omega’s heavy involvement, it felt like the Golden Lovers were truly at the center of it all.
Then May happened and everything came crashing down.
For how excited I was when it was announced initially, I almost ended up not watching Forbidden Door at all. Even without considering Kota Ibushi, the show itself felt cursed. Leading up to it, misfortune after misfortune befell the wrestlers, and the card for the show had to get rearranged again and again to make up for the absences.
I went into that show with absolute rock bottom expectations. I had very little investment in any of it, which I guess probably helped me enjoy it a lot more than I was expecting.
As a distraction, at least, it succeeded.
Aug 2022 | 忘れられない夏
Machine mistranslation is a frequent lament on my study log. This was the month where I finally snapped.
It was a combination of a few things that pushed me over. The first was seeing a bad machine translation of a Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling article go viral, and the second was seeing a whole bunch of western fans failing to understand that a story being told by TJPW was in fact a deliberate story that had been repeatedly coming up in the wrestlers’ post-match comments, and not a random act of malice by the booker of the company.
So I made a decision: Screw it. I’m gonna take my translations public.
I tried to be very upfront on my brand new TJPW translation twitter account that I was still a beginner, and that I do occasionally make mistakes (even with rodan catching most of them). But I realized that even though my own work was imperfect, it was so, so much better than the alternative, which was DeepL mangling things beyond belief and causing people to think that TJPW was sending Yuki Arai to All Elite Wrestling on excursion, and stuff like that.
I had spent the past several months waiting for someone else to step up, and no one had. So I became the resource that I wished I could just be following instead.
I also discovered that shupro’s mobile site has full recaps of just about every TJPW show, including transcriptions of most of the in-ring promos and post-match comments. You have to pay for their monthly membership to access them, but this was a goldmine for me.
Armed with the shupro transcripts, I was able to go from translating the official recaps on the DDT/TJPW site to translating the full promos and post-match comments. This was exactly the kind of stuff that Mr. Haku used to translate for every show and post on twitter.
It felt very suddenly like I was doing this for real now.
I wasn’t doing it officially, of course. I was (and still am) very much doing unofficial fan translation, but I was supplying the same type of translation that I used to enjoy reading after every DDT/TJPW show. I wasn’t a full replacement for Mr. Haku (live translation remains beyond me), but I was a partial replacement at least.
Doing translations of all of the post-match comments meant a couple things. The amount of work I was doing increased, and there was a lot more pressure to get stuff exactly right because it was pure quotations from the wrestlers, instead of including some of the dialogue mixed in with recaps of matches. The match recaps were pretty straightforward, and I could sort of fudge them a bit if the Japanese was tricky, but I didn’t want to do that to the wrestlers’ actual speech.
I sort of tend to stick to the shadows in wrestling fandom, so this was my first time really having a public twitter account that can actually interact with wrestlers and participate in hashtags and such. It ended up providing some avenues for practicing Japanese production, which I’ve enjoyed more than I thought!
And so, Miu Watanabe had her 忘れられない夏 where she defeated two of the three most powerful wrestlers in TJPW only to fall to Yuka Sakazaki in the finals of the Tokyo Princess Cup, and my translation account was born just in time to document her rise and ultimate defeat.
Things in my personal life were continuing not to go so great.
My favorite coworker left that month, which made things a lot tougher and less fun for me at work. I was filling in for like four people’s jobs, all while on a part time hourly contract.
My Japanese studies continued, though. I was in the middle of studying pronunciation and pitch accent after diving into the subject in earnest in July. I don’t have much of an interest in learning to speak the language, but I figured learning the fundamentals would at least help with listening (it did).
I was experiencing some stress from the TJPW translation workload (so many Korakuen Hall shows in a row…), but I managed to grit through it and only cried a few times. I told myself that it was going to be extra hard for a bit, but eventually it’ll get easier.
I just had to keep going.
Sept 2022 | 温故知新
My brother visited at the beginning of the month, and I got more or less only bare minimum studying done while he was here. He left right before All Elite Wrestling’s All Out pay-per-view started on September 4, and I thought, “Great! I’ll be able to get some studying done tonight after the show!” Wrong!
This is another thing that I’m not going to go into too much here, because it’s messy and complicated and there are a bunch of rumors mixed up in truths (welcome to pro wrestling!).
Essentially what happened is that Kenny Omega made his return to the ring in August, but he returned to a troubled backstage environment at AEW, which finally boiled over during the media scrum after All Out. Kenny and the Young Bucks (who are executive vice presidents of the company) went to confront CM Punk (who had just won the AEW championship) after he said some not great things to the press, bringing the chief legal officer and the head of talent relations with them, and… CM Punk and his friend Ace Steel ended up physically assaulting them.
The whole thing was A Mess. All of the wrestlers were suspended while the company investigated the incident, and all four of them got their championship titles stripped from them. In many ways, it felt like a betrayal of what AEW stood for at the beginning. Kenny and the Bucks had tried to create a company that was different, but ultimately they couldn’t outrun the shadow of the industry forever. Punk brought with him a deep bitterness and resentment that festered within him until there was nowhere else for it to go but out.
This was the third time I considered quitting. Quitting pro wrestling, quitting Japanese. I was here in the first place because of the Golden Lovers, and at that moment, a Golden Lovers reunion felt more impossible than ever. What was the point of doing any of this, then?
In my study log, I wrote: “But, well, I’m still here. And wrestling is still here. AEW is still here. The Golden Lovers are both still here, reaching constantly for a reunion that’s always just out of their grasp. I guess for me, the lesson is that, as always, you just have to love the things that you love while you still have them. Nothing is unshakable, and just because something is good now doesn’t mean it always will be.”
Then, right when I least expected it, a miracle happened.
A week later, Kenny went to Japan on a, uh, work trip turned personal trip, and while he was there, he met up with Kota Ibushi again at a restaurant. It was the first time they’d been together in public for over three years. As soon as I saw that tweet, I just started bawling (I wasn’t the only one).
Kenny’s reply to Ibushi’s tweet the day afterward taught me the word 温故知新, which is a proverb about developing new ideas based on study of the past. Based on the context (the photo is staged pretty clearly like it’s meant to imply a date, with the candle on the table and the two straws in the drink), it seemed like he was saying that the Golden Lovers were giving their relationship another try, with the intent of not repeating the mistakes they made in the past.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier to add a word to Anki than I was to add “温故知新”. Every time the card comes up, it just makes me smile.
I’m looking forward to being able to learn more words from Golden-Lovers-related stuff in the future. I guess one small benefit of the reunion taking so long to happen is that I had the time to start learning Japanese in the meantime, which means that I’m better able to appreciate the story that we’re getting now in addition to the past.
I wasn’t exactly sure where this reunion stood, in terms of the overall canon of the story. The Golden Lovers have always blurred the lines between kayfabe and real, and this time in particular felt especially hazy, as both of them were technically in the middle of being punished by their respective companies for violence that had been unfairly done to them.
So they chose to reunite on their own terms, outside of the bounds of any company.
(In the months since, it has come up in the context of enough other matches that I can confidently say now that they are together again, in kayfabe. As partners or lovers or whatever you might call them. We’re still waiting for them to share a ring again, though. Maybe someday soon…)
I kept going with my studies and my Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling translations despite the emotional rollercoaster, though let me tell you, it was not at all easy to focus. This was the month I discovered Smartcat, which is a free CAT (computer-assisted translation) software that operates in the browser. That program has helped ease the load a little bit, but even though CAT helps you out, you still very much have to do the work.
Oct 2022 | 私の背中を乗り越えろ
A full-time position opened up at my workplace, and I spent part of the month working on my application for that and stressing out over it just in general. I really needed the job if I wanted to get any sort of foothold in my library career, because my current part-time position was going to be evaporating at the end of the year.
I was also keeping busy with the usual stuff, plus a month-long drawing challenge and a free conversational Spanish class that I’d signed up for. The class ended up being a lot more doable than I was expecting, thanks to all of the time I’d been spending reading and listening to Spanish!
Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling’s other biggest show of the year, Wrestle Princess, happened in the first half of the month, and I worried about stuff like how I was going to translate the sentiment of 私の背中を乗り越えろ in terms of how Shoko Nakajima and Yuka Sakazaki are never going to stop trying to surpass each other, even as the sun sets on their era of the company. At 9k+ characters, it was my longest translation yet. Thankfully, I finished translating it before the bad news hit in my own life.
I didn’t get the job.
Multiple factors contributed to it, a lot of it boiling down to the fact that I picked some fights with my boss that I probably shouldn’t have because my professional ethics wouldn’t let me leave things alone. I realized that some of my skills as a librarian (particularly in preservation librarianship) are things that actually make library directors hate you, and things that are important to me are not priorities in the field as a whole.
This job was pretty much my only shot at being able to do this as a career, so losing out on it was pretty devastating. I dragged myself miserably to the finish line with my drawing challenge, and felt like a zombie at work, just going through the motions.
Nov 2022 | 愛があれば大丈夫だ
In early November, I decided that I was giving up on libraries.
If I was going to just fail at my backup career, I might as well fail at the career that I actually want, which is writing. I resolved to spend the next year or so hardcore studying Japanese and working at getting better at translation (and ideally trying to get back into writing as well). I’d like to publish my own books, but I was increasingly open to getting into translation professionally as well.
I realized that despite all of the stress that doing translation work that I’m very unqualified for had caused me, all of that paled in comparison to the stress I’d experienced while working part-time at a library. Should the world work that way? Feels like it shouldn’t.
I’d had a couple librarians ostensibly offer to mentor me, but the actual mentor I had that year ended up being a complete stranger on a kanji forum who was helping me just out of the kindness of their heart.
It’s probably unlikely I’ll ever get a paying job translating wrestling, and the world of translating literature can be pretty competitive, but it occurred to me that I could look into translating Japanese papermaking stuff into English, since the papermaking field is pretty small, and I don’t think there are many people who have papermaking expertise who are also capable of doing Japanese-English translation.
There certainly would be a lot of demand for it on the English-speaking side, because the entire field of modern book conservation heavily relies on Japanese paper. I have some connections in the field, so I thought maybe I could reach out to them in a few years if I manage to reach an advanced level of Japanese.
I set that as my new goal to aim for.
Before November had started, I’d been nervous about overcommitting. I had my Japanese studies and translations like usual, plus my conversational Spanish class, and I was doing NaNoWriMo again, all with the looming possibility of my part-time job suddenly becoming a full-time one.
Weirdly enough, translating, writing, and studying all ended up being the easy parts. I didn’t have any trouble completing NaNoWriMo or staying on track with everything else. Once again, work was the stressful part, and I spent every single day of it just wanting to cry.
November also brought with it a new stressful thing, which was Elon Musk’s takeover of twitter. As you can probably tell from reading all of this, twitter plays a pretty vital role in furthering wrestling storylines, and it’s a cornerstone of my Japanese immersion.
One of the bright spots for me in a bleak time was this tweet from Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling’s Raku after she and Yuki Aino challenged for the tag team belts. She said: “愛があれば大丈夫だ” and included a picture of the two of them. It made me smile a lot, and I didn’t have any trouble reading it just from the discord embed, which is always a nice feeling.
Tweets are good immersion for several reasons. They’re bite-sized, for one thing, so translating one or two isn’t too intimidating and it’s easier to find the bravery to try reading them unassisted. And for pro-wrestling specifically, because I have that emotional investment, I have a huge incentive to want to read them and properly understand.
Just like last year, I tried to remind myself that if twitter did end up going down, then there was just nothing to be done about it. Pro wrestling is about the impermanence of all worldly things, after all.
(I made a tweet with a translation of that プロレスは諸行無常 quote on my TJPW account, and Masa Kitamiya saw it and liked it. If nothing else, I’m glad that he knows the impact that quote had on me.)
Dec 2022 | 年越し
My employment contract ran out at the end of 2022.
While struggling to survive an increasingly awkward and depressing work environment, I tried not to think about work and tried to focus on the things that I loved instead. Things like pro wrestling, and studying Japanese.
I passed my one year anniversary as a fan translator on December 12. To mark the occasion, I wrote up a guide to learning Japanese for pro wrestling fans, trying to sum up all of the biggest lessons I’d learned and the most important resources I’d discovered. I wanted to make the path a little easier for whoever follows after me so that they don’t have to learn all of this on their own like I did.
I’d been slowing down on my daily WaniKani lessons, and I slowed down even more that month. I wasn’t in any rush to finish, and I wanted to take it easy on myself because I had started to feel the strain from the workload a little bit.
I was deeply exhausted on an emotional level and kept repeatedly breaking my own sleep schedule, but was too depressed to really care.
My last day of work was on December 30. My boss gave people the option to work from home that day, and neither she nor a single one of my coworkers came in to say goodbye to me. I couldn’t do my job from home, so I had to be there physically. I cried my way through the entire work day.
That night, DDT Pro-Wrestling and Big Japan Pro Wrestling did their annual DDT/BJW 年越しcrossover show, which happens every December 31. The show ended up being a lot more fun than I was expecting, and even though it wasn’t technically New Year’s yet where I live, I was really feeling the 年越し spirit that night, so I celebrated the new year along with Japan.
I put 2022 behind me, and looked ahead to a better year.
Jan 2023 | ゴールデンラバーズは終わらない
It was イッテンヨン week once again, and I was watching New Japan Pro Wrestling for the first time since 禁断の扉. I watched Kenny Omega enter to 片翼の天使 and then come down on Will Ospreay like a vengeful angel, and it was maybe what you call closure. Even here, despite everything, the Golden Lovers’ story continues. As I heard someone once say, “in wrestling, you can choose to be whatever you want to be, and Kenny Omega chose to be in love.”
I passed out at 6AM and woke up to two really sappy tweets from both of the Golden Lovers. Here is what Kota said in response to the match/finish, and here was Kenny’s response (links are to translations). I think “待ってて” and “俺はいつまでも待てる” might be one of the most romantic exchanges I’ve ever seen in my entire life? The “ゴールデンラバーズは終わらない” hashtag got me right in the heart. Every time I’ve tried to put it into English, it somehow feels lacking.
I guess in a weird way, there is one positive in the fact that it has taken this long for them to get back together. I have only just started to reach a point with the language where I feel like I can actually genuinely appreciate things in the original Japanese.
I wrote up a bit about that match and many others in my brand new wrestling journal that I started at the beginning of the year. I’d sacrificed most of my hobbies to keep up with Japanese, especially when I had to take up translation as well. But that journal is something that I wanted to do just for me.
イッテンヨン week kept me quite busy, and it took me a little bit to get back on my feet with my studies and adjust to being unemployed again.
I made a big retrospective post about 2022 and my goals for 2023. Most of my goals were pretty standard, but I set one particularly ambitious one: I was going to attempt to complete alternating read every day and listen every day challenges with a perfect score, 365/365 days, in both Spanish and Japanese.
I actually almost managed that in 2022, believe it or not. I hadn’t set my mind on it at first (as you can see from my patchy January/February chart with daily Spanish reading), but once I decided to aim for doing both languages every day, I did keep up with it for every single challenge I committed to. For the last half of 2022, I didn’t miss a single day.
I wasn’t the only person trying to make a new start after a horrible job experience.
Kota Ibushi’s NJPW contract was up at the end of January. The American indie promotion Game Changer Wrestling had an announcement scheduled for January 31 at 10:01 EST. If you do your timezone math, you’ll notice that that just so happens to be February 1 at 00:01 JST. Wrestling fans love nothing more than wild speculation, so you can guess what everyone’s conclusion was.
It was already late when the announcement for the announcement went out, but my sleep schedule was so far gone by that point, I knew there was no way I’d be able to fall asleep anyway, so I decided to stay awake until midnight in Japan (which was 7AM for me) and wait out the remainder of that time along with Kota Ibushi and all of his fans.
We counted down the last few minutes, giddy with excitement and relief that the long nightmare was about to be over.
Everyone was posting celebratory emoji in the group chat and on twitter.
I hit refresh.
And there it was: Kota Ibushi returns to the ring and makes his GCW debut on March 30 in Los Angeles.
He was free.
Feb 2023 | 舞闘会
Within the first couple weeks of February, I finished book two of Minna no Nihongo, and followed it up by successfully passing a full-length practice test for the N4.
And with that, I officially graduated out of the beginner phase! Welcome to the intermediate level.
I finished my long-overdue Golden Lovers gifset, now that it finally felt like that story could actually breathe again. I spent the last half of the month trying to work on some writing projects, and I managed to finish a few fiction pieces and a nonfiction essay.
(I wish I could say that I’d found a bit more balance between my studies and my other hobbies, but the time I’d spent neglecting Japanese came back to bite me next month. This aspect of time management is still a work in progress for me.)
I started Tobira after finishing the beginner’s level of Minna no Nihongo.
I also had a new translation project (in addition to my normal commitments), which I had started working on in January.
Big Japan Pro Wrestling did a series of Shakespeare-themed deathmatch shows from 2008-2011, which were only released on limited edition DVDs. I’m not a deathmatch fan, but I am a huge Shakespeare fan, and I was obsessed with the mere concept of these shows. They billed themselves as the first Shakespeare productions to contain real bloodshed.
These shows weren’t available anywhere online, so if I wanted to watch them, my only choice was to find the DVDs secondhand somewhere. At the end of 2022, I finally found them. My rare wrestling DVD white whale.
I spent hours in January trying to translate the cast list/card for the shows, as well as some of the other supplemental material. It was surprisingly a pretty research-intensive process, because some of the people in the shows were hard to find! The matches themselves all have interesting names, often with some sort of pun, which really put my Japanese ability to the test.
I’m a little bit obsessed with the title of act 2 of Romeo vs Juliet: “第2幕 パリステイオーの舞闘会”. As soon as I read 舞闘会, I had to take a moment because I was so filled with awe at how Japanese could make such a thing possible.
Japanese is so beautiful. Pro wrestling is so beautiful. Shakespeare is so beautiful.
I had to think for a while about how to even translate that act/match name. The nuance there is entirely lost in English… I ended up going with “Paris Teioh’s Ball/Brawl”, which feels so lacking in comparison, but, well, I don’t know if there’s really a way to do it better.
It wasn’t until February that I actually watched any of the shows. I watched King Lear with some of my friends after painstakingly translating the cast and the description on the back of the DVD. Here’s a post with all of the info I managed to gleam about the show and some stuff I translated, as well as a bunch of screencaps from the DVD.
I still haven’t watched any of the others yet. I have the programs for both Romeo vs Juliet and Macbeth, and I really want to translate more of the text before watching them with my friends.
But I was about to run out of spare time for other translation projects.
Mar 2023 | 物語を紡ごう
Last month was me sowing (neglecting my Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling translations to work on some writing projects instead), so this month was me reaping (having to crunch extra hard to catch up on the translations before TJPW’s biggest show of the year). I did kind of get into a groove with them, though, and they weren’t as hard as I was expecting! My stamina has improved a lot since translating that same show for the first time in 2022.
In the first half of the month, I passed my second WaniKani forum anniversary! I wrote up another overview of where I was at with my studies.
I also wrote an essay on Yuka Sakazaki and Mizuki’s story going into their match at TJPW Grand Princess ‘23 on March 18. I’m really proud of it because it weaves together lots of different pieces from 2020 through now. I tried to write it to be pretty accessible, even to people who haven’t been following these characters. The translations cited at the start of it are Mr. Haku’s, but the rest of them are all mine. It’s such a strange experience citing my own translations, but I’m so glad that I did it because the reception to the essay has been incredibly positive, and it’s a story that no one else was covering.
Funnily enough, Yuka and Mizuki got me so invested in 2020, they got me to write the first full show preview I ever wrote, for Wrestle Princess 2020. So I guess it’s no surprise that the sequel to that match got me to write something, too…
Grand Princess was so good, and so affirming . Yuka vs Mizuki in particular was just spectacular. Being able to follow that story from 2020 all the way to now has been SO rewarding. That’s what it’s all about! That’s what I’m here for! That’s why I’m doing all this! Despite all the stress and the hard work of doing the translations, seeing it all come together like that in my essay, and then seeing the story play out onscreen like that, it made all of those translations and the time I’ve put into learning Japanese totally worth it.
I realized that the timeline of that feud lines up just about perfectly with my Japanese language journey. I started learning the language right in the middle of the original Yuka vs Mizuki drama, not knowing at the time, of course, that I’d ultimately have to be the one to finish Mr. Haku’s work with translating that story. Part of why I picked up the translations after 2021 in the first place was because I couldn’t let go of Yuka and Mizuki in particular. I refused to give up on those characters and those stories, and the story they gave us was just so good . 物語を紡ごう indeed…
My essay and translations even inspired a stranger to write an essay about the match building on my work, which was incredible to see. I was so touched and delighted that someone used my translations to do a queer reading of a wrestling story. That’s, like, the bread and butter of my own pro wrestling fandom, and it’s exactly the sort of thing I’d hoped would come out of my work.
A couple days after I wrote my essay, the 2023/3/29 (No. 2235) issue of shupro came out, which featured an interview with Yuka and Mizuki. I tried to use Mokuro to read it, but didn’t have much success, so I ended up just attempting to skim it on my own. I was able to get surprisingly a lot from it! I almost jumped out of my chair in excitement when I confirmed that it was specifically that one line of Mizuki’s from 2020 (“Even though I like her so so so much, I’m going to hate her so that I can surpass her.”) that Yuka had fixated on, which made her so afraid to fight Mizuki now. My essay was right!
I’ve come so far from the days of manually typing out every character by hand in order to “read” shupro articles. I can really see how the time I’ve put into Anki has paid off, because pro wrestling stuff is totally skimmable for me now. It’s still not easy, but it is doable.
Grand Princess came with a pretty heavy translation workload, which kept me very busy. I also had my brother visiting for several days at the end of the month, and I put Tobira aside for a week or so, but stayed up late every night after my brother went to bed so that I could work on the translations.
All of that also happened to coincide with WaniKani making a bunch of userscript-breaking changes, which disrupted my entire workflow. My study pace is so regular and easy, I’ve rarely gotten frustrated with WK over the past couple years that I’ve been using it, but I came very close to losing my patience due to complications caused by this update.
I got through it, though.
I also had my first negative milestone as a fan translator, which was getting one of my translations stolen by an unethical publication. The same publication had gotten called out for other nonsense the day before, which definitely contributed to my tweet going mildly viral. Wrestling fans love to get mad at people!
The reason why I was working so hard to get caught up on my translations by the end of the month was because TJPW was having their first show in America during WrestleMania weekend (which is is a bit like イッテンヨン week in that a bunch of different companies all have shows around the same time, riding the enthusiasm for WrestleMania), and I knew that a lot of the followers of my translation account would be at that show, so I wanted to do everything in my power to make it accessible to people.
All in all, it was a really fun week because there was so much cultural mixing and connections made across language barriers, which is one of the most fun things about pro wrestling to me, and it always makes me feel revitalized to continue my own studies. A lot about pro wrestling is fake, but you can’t fake the language learning part. You have to put in the work and do that for real.
Kota Ibushi made his return to the ring the day before TJPW’s show. I don’t know if I can even describe in words what it felt like to see him wrestle again, though I certainly tried in my wrestling journal.
I guess this is the feeling they call hope.
Apr 2023 | 二足の草鞋
I spent most of April trying to catch up. On Tobira, on my translations (again), on the brand new book club for A Dictionary of Japanese Grammar that I had helped encourage.
(I love that the WaniKani forum is the kind of place where someone can propose a book club for reading a dictionary cover-to-cover and have over a hundred people express interest in the idea.)
I reached level 60 rather quietly.
I’d been preparing for it over the past couple months. I wanted to make sure that I had a clear plan for transitioning into the next stage of my studies. As part of that plan, I had started adding every new kanji that I came across in my translations to Anki. There aren’t terribly many of them, but for most shows, I learn at least one or two new kanji.
I learned one in 二足の草鞋, for instance. The phrase means engaged in two trades at the same time, wearing two hats, many irons in the fire, etc. Maybe I can relate, just a little bit.
I decided I’d wait to make my level 60 post until after I’d completed all remaining WK lessons. I didn’t rush through them; in fact I had slowed down even more in recent months, dropping down to 10 lessons a day, then to 8 once the level of vocab per level had gotten low enough.
I felt the fatigue a little more than usual at the end, worn down by my busy month and the stress of having to adapt my WK workflow right at the finishing stretch due to the recent updates.
Day by day, I plodded on slowly toward that coveted 0/0, which I had not seen since level 3.
May 2023 | この今から...
Fate has a funny sense of humor.
I somehow forgot about Golden Week until it was basically already happening. I immediately found myself swamped with a translation backlog and a whole bunch of shows from a handful of different companies, all while I was trying to wrap up WK and put together this post that you’re reading right now (my wrestling journal is currently woefully behind).
Then, once again, right when I least expected it, another miracle happened.
Pro Wrestling NOAH had a show on May 4. And at the end of one of those matches, Katsuhiko Nakajima extended his hand to his ex-partner, Go Shiozaki, whom he had just beaten in that match, and reunited their tag team, Axiz. Backstage, Nakajima said, “たった、この今から、AXIZ復活だ！”
I could hardly believe it. I’d titled the September 2020 chapter “物の哀れ” after a word I’d learned thanks to a photobook of this very tag team. They broke up just before I started learning Japanese, and now here they were, back together again two and a half years later, right at the end of my WK journey.
We’d come full circle.
Maybe they’ll find a way to make it work out this time. Maybe they won’t. For now, I’m just focusing on this specific moment in time where it feels like anything is possible. In wrestling, just as in Japanese, you have to take it day by day, moment by moment.
I typed that last paragraph thinking that I would end this chapter on that note.
But, well, life had one last curveball to throw at me (hey, there’s a baseball word that WaniKani doesn’t have).
On May 8, Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling announced that Yuka Sakazaki would be graduating and leaving the company at the end of 2023.
Ah, there it is again. The 物の哀れ of it all; the プロレスは諸行無常 of it all.
To say the announcement devastated me would be an understatement.
I gave myself one night to grieve. The next day, I got to work. Translated piecemeal bits of the press conference were already floating around twitter, stripped of context as usual. I worked very hard to get a full translation of it done as soon as I could. (It’s also the reason why this post that you’re reading right now is a day late).
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever translated. Not because the Japanese was difficult, but because I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to read it, much less spend several hours painstakingly going over every inch of it. I didn’t want it to be true. As soon as I finished the first draft of the translation and posted it in the pro wrestling thread, I just broke down crying.
I had to take a day off from doing the TJPW translations after that one.
But I picked them up again the day after that.
In 2020, Yuka Sakazaki and Mizuki (the Magical Sugar Rabbits) had been the happy tag team story I had leaned on to get through some of the pain from the Axiz breakup. Now it’s the opposite. I have Axiz to look forward to again, but the impending loss of the Magical Sugar Rabbits looms over everything.
It’s kind of amazing how much can change in just a few years. I was thinking back on how much had happened in both of those wrestling stories over that stretch of time, and I realized just how far I myself had gone. I went from not even being able to read hiragana when Mizuki first challenged for Yuka’s belt, to full-on translating the whole second half of Yuka and Mizuki’s story for hundreds of people.
I’ll probably be the person translating the end of Yuka’s TJPW story, too. But I’m not going to think about that yet.
There will be some hopeful things happening before the end of the year. There’s a Golden Lovers reunion in sight on the horizon. There will be new stories for me to pore over and go on Japanese research deep dives. There might even be some cool non-wrestling stories out there, too.
I don’t know what’ll happen next, but I’m excited to see where it goes. With pro wrestling, and with Japanese.
Back in 2021, I shared a photo of a wrestling shirt made by Mao from DDT Pro Wrestling. He designed this shirt for fun, but it was instantly so popular with DDT’s foreign fans, they made it available to buy internationally.
I bought one and ended up converting it into a crop top because that felt like this shirt’s ideal form. It’s the shirt I own with the most readable kanji, so I feel like if there’s any audience that would appreciate it outside of wrestling fans, it’s the folks on this forum:
These are my stats as of the moment I completed my last WK lesson:
Item distribution from the WaniKani dashboard:
WaniKani Workload Graph:
I’ve reached level 60 on WaniKani, so I’ve learned 2,074 kanji from WK. I’ve also learned 47 kanji on my own outside of WK.
Here’s my “level 61”:
Here's how they are represented on the joyo/LJPT/frequency charts of kanji that aren't in WK:
JLPT N1 kanji:
Top 1001-1500: (1) 彦
Top 1501-2000: (6) 葛辰桐鷹鴨哨
Top 2001-2500: (14) 禄巳祇鷺絆鮫峙叶嫉稽溢揃拭摯
Not in any lists:
I’ve completed book one and two (lessons 1-50) of Minna no Nihongo and the first 5 chapters of Tobira, and am somewhere between N4 and N3 in grammar ability.
I’ve learned 6,528 vocab words through WaniKani, as well as over 1,080 vocab through Anki that I mined from native Japanese media. Additionally, I’ve learned 2,129 words (through Anki) from my textbook Minna no Nihongo, and 476 from Tobira, many of which overlap with WK, but many of which don’t. These are the words I consider essentially my working vocabulary, which I am comfortable using when producing Japanese.
What I can do:
- Can read without feeling a need to use ichi.moe because the majority of sentences have few enough unknowns that spot-checking unknown words with Yomichan is sufficient, though reading without a dictionary is still impossible most of the time, except with some circumstances, like reading some wrestling content.
- Can read a fair number of tweets without needing to use Yomichan (which I don’t have on my phone) or the auto translate, and can skim-read for wrestling information pretty efficiently.
- Can read many manga sentences without any grammar or vocab lookups, though plenty of sentences still contain unknowns, and I can’t understand enough from context to be able to read without a dictionary.
- Can follow along with a transcript for pro wrestling comments and promos and generally understand at least the gist of what is being said.
- Can understand lots of scattered words and phrases in spoken Japanese, and occasionally catch full sentences, though I often make mistakes and miss nuance.
- Can write fairly complex multi-part sentences about simple everyday things and pro wrestling, though my working vocabulary and grammar are limited enough, I’m not able to express much nuance.
- Can handle short interactions in writing, though I’m very slow at composing my responses, and I’m still learning how to navigate what level of politeness is expected in different contexts, and which words are used only in text or only in speech. I also make a lot of mistakes, but usually my meaning still comes across regardless.
- Can understand and translate senryu poems, for the most part.
- Can understand and translate pro wrestling promos and backstage interviews as long as I have a transcript, though it’s rare for me not to make at least several mistakes.
- Can recognize almost every kanji that I encounter. Reading without furigana is easy.
- Can write a lot of kanji (poorly), but only a few from memory.
- Can more or less guess the stroke order for most kanji, and can get the correct kanji to come up by drawing it on my Japanese keyboard IME pad 99% of the time.
What I can’t do:
- Carry on a spoken conversation. I still have yet to try this, but I feel like I would struggle a lot and my answers would be incredibly stilted.
In the first post of my study log, I listed these two things as my ultimate goals with Japanese:
- Be able to read tweets and articles in Japanese, as well as handwritten Japanese
- Be able to understand Japanese pro wrestling commentary and words spoken by wrestlers in the ring, as well as Japanese podcasts and spoken interviews
So, how close have I gotten? Let’s see…
Be able to read tweets and articles in Japanese, as well as handwritten Japanese: Yes, I pretty much can do this now! At least in the domain that I care about the most, which is pro wrestling. I still make mistakes, and still run into stuff that is beyond me, but by and large, I can read the things that I want to read, assuming I put the time into it. It isn’t quite effortless yet, but it gets easier every year.
Be able to understand Japanese pro wrestling commentary and words spoken by wrestlers in the ring, as well as Japanese podcasts and spoken interviews: Well… sort of? I’m on the way there, I think. I can understand these things if I have a transcript or subtitles. Pure listening is more touch and go. I never in a million years expected to be doing what I’m doing now with the Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling translations, and yet here I am, doing it. So I would say that even though I still can’t survive on my own without transcripts, I have proven to myself that I can actually follow a Japanese pro wrestling company on my own without official or unofficial translation. I don’t know if I ever thought I’d actually get that far.
Despite my best efforts, I did in fact run up against the character limit . The next post is lighter on the personal anecdotes and heavier on the resource lists, if that’s all you’re after.