Level 60/N5-N2 in 18 Months Living in Japan

Hey all! I’ve replied a bit here and there but never really did an introduction so now seems as good a time as any. A year and a half ago to the day I started WaniKani during my hotel quarantine right after arriving in Japan. Today I’ll be guru-ing my first level 60 items, “finishing” WaniKani after exactly 18 months.

During this time I’ve also been studying Japanese in general with the goal of fluency. I could barely speak when I first arrived, and now am speaking Japanese about 80% of the time in my social life. My phrasing can be pretty odd sometimes, and I have to look up words quite often, but I feel I can express almost all of my thoughts adequately and have been able to build really great relationships here using little to no English. This past December I failed N2 by about 10 points, but I feel confident I could pass it today, and plan to retake it in July.

So, all in all, I’m certainly not the best or fastest learner, but my pace has been a bit faster than some of what I’ve read and some other expats in Japan I’ve met, and more importantly it’s allowed me to have experiences I could’ve only dreamed about a couple years ago. So I guess I’m in some kind of position to give advice, not from the top of the mountain, but from the middle of a road I’ve had a wonderful time traveling on.

WaniKani Advice

My approach to WaniKani has been to keep everything at 0/0 all the time. Doing this probably hurt my accuracy during the first days new levels, blasting through all the new lessons at once, so it’s probably not the absolutely optimal strategy. That said, consistency was key for me and I’ve never been one for complicated systems, so just sitting down and grinding them out until they hit 0 again a couple times a day was a routine I could stick with easily. Maybe a controversial opinion, but I think breaks are bad. Sometimes they’re absolutely necessary, but that doesn’t make them good for learning. So having a routine that’s easy to stick with is really important. For me, the simplest routine was just doing it all as soon as it came up.

I think mornings are the best times for reviews if you’re going to be speaking Japanese that day. I wake up early, usually around 5:30 outside those dark winter months, which gives me enough time to get everything to 0 before work starts. Seeing all those words first thing in the morning is a great way to keep them in your mind, and throughout the day I would try to use the words I reviewed that morning, which really helped them stick. Especially misusing them! Getting embarrassingly corrected on a word basically guaranteed that that word would never become a leech.

General Japanese Advice

I started enjoying the textbooks a lot more when I thought of them less as outlines of a Japanese course and more like boxes of cool tools that I could use to say more complicated things. I took a similar approach with these as with WaniKani — learning and reviewing in the morning, and then throughout the day trying out the new material in conversation. Genki 1 and 2 were fine, Quartet 1 and 2 were actually pretty fun. I also liked the “Try!” JLPT grammar series when I wanted some simple additional review of some of the grammar points. Even just seeing the same point in two different contexts helped reinforce them for me.

I also learned the stroke order and practiced writing at least through the N3 kanji, which helped differentiate similar kanji at higher levels significantly, and generally helped me understand the shapes and logic of them better. It’s worth it, and it’s a pretty relaxing activity, I see no reason to skip it.

Life In Japan

If you want to live in Japan long term, don’t get Mobal because you won’t be able to port your number to a newer and cheaper service after you’re settled in! Super minor but man I wish I knew that earlier lol.

I’ve already mentioned a few times that speaking with friends in Japanese has been one of the key aspects of both learning and enjoying life here, and I really can’t overstate that. Which brings up the topic of making friends in Japan that I’ve seen asked a lot of times. There’s really only two pieces of advice I can give on that, and the first is to have a hobby. Doesn’t have to be one you’re great at, but one that gives you events to go to, where you can see some of the same people periodically over time. For me, that’s playing in bands and performing live music. For my more athletic friends, that’s sports and outdoor activities. But almost everyone I know here who has managed to really meet people did so — at least initially — though a hobby of some sort.

The other piece of advice is just to do it. Not really advice but just a general push I could’ve used a couple times. You’ll never be ready, your level will never be high enough, the timing will never be perfect, so there’s no point in waiting. Sometimes you’ll embarrass yourself trying something new but you can also embarrass yourself like, at the grocery store, so that really can’t be avoided. Literally just do it. If there’s an event and you’re wondering if you should go, the answer is yes.

Hope some of this has been helpful! I might pop around here now and then when I get bored but if not, best of luck to everyone. WaniKani’s an outstanding program and I can say from experience that sticking with it and using all those vocabulary you’re grinding through can lead you to some real magical times in Japan.


Congrats! Well done

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Ah! I wish I knew this earlier, I wanted to switch my plan soon, especially since Mobal’s prices just went up for new customers ugh… What do you reccommend for once you’re settled in?

Congratulations on completing Wanikani in 18 months!!! That’s super impressive!!! This gives me hope as I also started wanikani when I came to Japan and I’m glad to see someone else using similar “using the new words in conversation” strategy. Good luck on the N2 in Summer!!

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Ah sorry they got you too lol. I’m no expert and am still using Mobal which is why I complain about it so much. I’ve wanted to switch to Rakuten’s automatically adjusting plan because I have some real low-usage months I’d like to pay less for, and I live in Tokyo so limited connectivity isn’t a huge issue. But some of my older relatives here only have my phone number to contact me by, so I’ve held off on switching for now.

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I understand that, That’s also why I’ve held off on switch numbers too, but I guess it’s time to rip of that bandaid…

Tbf at least the mobal price won’t change if you keep the same plan for the rest of the time but, it’s still so pricey :confused:

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Which mobile service would you recommend to someone moving there for 3 years only? I would ideally like to have both my U.S. (+1) number as well as a Japanese number, but would settle for just keeping my U.S. number if that was the best/only choice.

Congratulations on reaching 60… Just curious - did you go to Japan as a student, or for work, or for family reasons, or for something else?

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Maybe time? :see_no_evil:
I would love to do it but it’s the lowest thing on the list of all of the other things I’d like to do.

Anyways thanks for the post, love the Insight, especially the advice on how to see textbooks! And the tip on using the words you just reviewed, that’s a fun word of the day challenge :smiley:
And very inspiring to see that you are in Japan, using Japanese, and making great connections!
Have a nice rest of your Japanese journey!

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Really not the expert here but I ported my US number to google voice and then got a Japanese one, which you’ll need for a lot of stuff like 2FA for Japanese accounts. If you’re coming for JET, they have some kind of partnership with Mobal and Sakura Mobile, you can skip those and set up your own if you want, but if you choose one of them, just know that Sakura Mobile supports MNP and Mobal doesn’t.

Work and family basically. I’m half Japanese and have a lot of relatives in the Tokyo area, wanted to move there to become fluent and strengthen the connections between the US and Japan sides of the family for the next generations. Also I love Tokyo, and the goal for me has always been to live here long term, and JET has proven an excellent means to that end. It gives a good chunk of time to get fluent even from zero, and make enough connections to find work after the contract ends if you’re proactive about it.

That’s totally fair, it’s definitely not the most essential part. I think part of what I like about it is that it doesn’t take nearly as much energy as other things, and I found I could do it while listening to music when my brain was too fried from reading to do anything actually difficult lol

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