My Complete Journey, Reflection, and Advice for Achieving a High Reading Level in Japanese

Thanks, I will try then going for Probably will start with yuru camp manga in their website, they seem to have the vocab for the first 5 volumes, so it seems like a good place for a start.

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I’m horrified that I’m just now discovering this thread, but I’m looking forward to watching the entire video (it took me long enough just to read the replies!).

This resonates so strongly I can hardly contain myself. My skills in this area are constantly improving (and increasingly dependent on Japanese only resources) but I’m wondering if you or anyone here has any suggestions regarding reading printed materials?

For a variety of reasons, much of the content that I want to read is in dead-tree books. I’m getting much more efficient when reading material on my computer (and increasingly annoyed when forced to use closed-garden readers), but reading printed books is still a real slog. As with English books, I tend to just skip stuff I can’t follow, hoping additional context will make it clear later.* Often enough I go back to research what I want with computer based tools, but even entering what I’m looking up is often far more time-consuming and painful than I’d hope.

I suspect there are no good answers other than “keep reading,” but any advice at all is appreciated.

* The ultimate example of this for me was reading William Gibson’s novel The Peripheral. I was completely lost for the first ~100 pages. Then it suddenly clicked into focus and I devoured the rest of the novel. To this day, it’s the only book I can recall finishing the last page and immediately restarting on the first. The experience of it suddenly becoming clear was the oddest sensation I’ve had in a long, long time.


I have been working my way through the 深夜食堂 manga series, and some other paper books, using an app on my iPhone called Yomiwa. Although it is not 100% foolproof, it does a remarkable job at reading almost everything I aim my phone’s camera at.
It even has an integrated srs system that makes it very easy to mark words as “ask me about this later” when you look them up.
Like I said it’s not perfect (it has a hard time reading words that are in busy backgrounds) but it is helping me read dead tree material that I wouldn’t be able to tackle without it.

-edit: typo-


I do most of my reading with printed books. I think the main thing I’d suggest is making sure your dictionary lookup process is as smooth as possible, which means something with handwriting recognition for those cases when you don’t know the reading. (I use an old-school special-purpose Casio electronic dictionary, but I imagine there must be smartphone-based approaches.) I also don’t look words or readings up unless they’re either critical for understanding or they turn up frequently enough to bug me.


LOL! (Maybe cry out loud?!)

Yomiwa is my JE dictionary of choice (I even purchased the outlier extension). I pretty much live in it these days.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know it had this ability until you mentioned it!


Thanks! I’m slowly getting better at this, both handwriting recognition (I can’t read my own half the time) and 部首 based lookup.

The book I’m struggling with currently has a combination of specialist/technical vocabulary and 関西弁(かんさいべん) (and combinations thereof) making the process especially fun. I’m slowly building up a concordance (specifically a list within Yomiwa), but some words I just can’t find for love or money.

Right now, for example, I’ve mostly parsed this sentence fragment:


I know 底辺(ていへん) is the base of a triangle, and from context I know that 立辺 means the vertical side. I’m curious about the reading, though (たちへん? たつへん? たちべ? りっぺ?) but can’t find any reference to those characters together other than as names.


Thanks for publishing that. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I’m clearly not the only one to watch the whole two hours (!!). That’s a testament to our interest in hearing from people like yourself that have achieved a level of “comfortable literacy”. (GREAT phrase, by the way!)

When I first saw the thumbnail I thought you were wearing 着物と羽織!:smile:

You initially indicated you weren’t interested in discussion, but since you have engaged a bit in the later thread perhaps you’ll allow me to share some of my notes after watching. (Apologies for reviving an old thread.)

Is it fair to summarize your main themes as follows?

Even level 60 on WK is just the beginning of a journey (it was perhaps only 20% of your own journey so far). Further, there is no final point where you will have “made it” and mastered reading Japanese. The number of books you read isn’t the point: it’s how well you can read, how much effort it takes to read, and how well you comprehend that matters.

Building vocabulary is ultimately more difficult than learning grammar. Learn grammar basics first, then research and learn unfamiliar grammatical constructs as you come across them in your reading.

Build your vocabulary efficiently. Learn vocabulary for a particular genre, author, or even an individual book first. There’s value in learning, say, the most common ~2000 words that cross all genres first (including many words not taught on WK), but you expressly recommend against just throwing yourself at the “Core-10K” Anki deck.

Don’t despair, especially when comparing yourself to others! Everyone finds it difficult for many years. People only publish their accomplishments, the amount of effort it took to get there is usually invisible (and no different than your own struggles).

Your never-ending goal should be continuous improvements in becoming “comfortably literate,” but enjoy yourself! Read what you want to read. But if you don’t enjoy the process of learning to read, there is no point in making the journey.

I agree strongly with all of that, with three small caveats:
  1. I doubt that everyone on this forum even aspires to a near-native level of “comfortable literacy”. I suspect many just want to get to the point where they can enjoy a few simple manga, no matter how stumbling the process. Others (like myself) are more interested in conversation (spoken, email and text), and just see reading as a means to an end: The more you can read, the clearer the language becomes and the easier it becomes to use Japanese-only resources to research points of confusion.

    I’m currently struggling to get through a book on Japanese carpentry tools but, to your point, it doesn’t matter because I’m thoroughly enjoying the process and I’m passionately interested in the content. I also know the next one will be at least a little easier. Ultimately, though, I don’t care if it never truly gets easy. That I’m already able to make progress at all is a reward in itself.

  2. Many, maybe even most, WK users do need to lower their expectations quite a bit, but there are at least a few that fully appreciate just how gargantuan the task of learning a language really is.

    Forgive me, but “comfortable literacy across all genres” is admirable optimism but not practically achievable. The English equivalent would be one person “comfortable literate” reading Joyce, Chaucer, Gene Wolfe, and academic treatises in many unrelated domains. Any language has a lot more words than any one person can possibly know! Go where your interests take you, but as you point out, no-one should ever expect to stop learning new words (or forgetting old ones).

  3. Everyone has different interests, and content comes in many forms. Manga, light novels, visual novels, games, and even full novels aren’t for everyone. I can only speak for myself, but these days I’m far more interested in browsing Japanese websites and watching Japanese tv/videos and movies than I am in reading books in any language. Learning to read even the little I already know from WK has allowed me to understand (and research) much more of the content I consume (written or spoken).

    I am fortunate enough to have discovered two genres of written content that does interest me, however: senryu and Japanese carpentry books. I mention it because the latter has already made several YouTube channels much easier to understand, and even things I’ve picked up from the poetry has paid off in everyday conversation!


It’s a good video and a more honest overview of the process than one usually sees.

I do have some curiosities. You describe WK as sacrificing speed for structure.

And I agree that a lot of the more efficient methods for building vocabulary and learning kanji are also decidedly unstructured, and they’re pretty much an Ikea piece of furniture delivered in the box, with no instructions, and you’re not sure if you even have all of the parts. You just start building and making mistakes until you have something a little wobbly but just stable enough to sit down on.

Whereas if you had the instructions, they have overly complex diagrams and explanations for all of the parts. Eventually you will put it all together and it will be pretty sturdy, but you won’t get it put together any faster than if you had just started experimenting on your own. If this analogy works.

Do you think that a structurally sound Japanese language instructional that doesn’t sacrifice efficiency, doesn’t skimp on vocabulary and doesn’t require multiple other additional resources to get over the initial fluency hurdle is possible? And if so, what do you think it would look like?


No problem. I was kinda expecting for it to randomly get bumped through people seeing it through my profile and stuff.

Yeah, to be nitpicky i think the exact number was like 14% of my journey up until that point time wise. But yeah I think you got it for the most part. Don’t get tied up in the idea of finishing something meaning anything. The time you spend with a language and the quality of that time are the real predictors. The language gains don’t come from getting to the end of a book/movie/manga, it comes from what you did up until that point.

Yeah, with the note that difficulty is really just “time required”. Conceptually, grammar is much harder to grasp. But the grammar contained in say, 50 books, is absolutely dwarfed by the amount of vocab. So in terms of what will bottleneck and pose issues to you for a majority of your journey, vocab is likely to be the problem.

Couldn’t have said it better myself

Yep! I think its very productive to use others as a sort of example, or role model, in deciding how you should study and what good study habits look like, but comparing your achievements should be done with caution. If you’re gonna compare your achievements (which I do sometimes), I think that you should compare yourself with people who seem to achieve more than you and ask yourself what you can learn from them. Expecting and trying to perfectly emulate them and their success is unhealthy, but I think its productive to look at it in terms of “what can I learn from them and use in my own studies”.


I totally agree, so hopefully that was clear. If I had to say, there are probably only a few people on here who really care about getting to near native level literacy and have a similar mindset as me while doing japanese as a hobby. I tried to make it clear in my post and in the video that it was intended for people of that mindset who want to read a lot of novels and have japanese as a hobby. I tried to frame it like “people who aren’t of that mindset, keep in mind this stuff may not apply to you”.

I’m sure there are a handful of people with reasonable expectations, for sure. But I guess, as a minor rebuttal I would almost expect someone who claims to know how hard learning a language is to probably have incorrect expectations if they are a native english speaker for example. Learning japanese for us is a lot harder than learning german or french, for example. So unless they have learned a language of a similar difficulty to a very high level, I wouldn’t expect their past experiences to make them perfectly aware necessarily. At the end of the day, the only way to know exactly what it takes is to do it, right? So everyone is gonna be off the mark at least a little bit when it comes to say…what 5000 hours of study will look exactly like, and if I had to guess I’d say 99% of people would overestimate it. I don’t doubt a lot of people are a LOT closer to the mark than I was, though.

haha, well to be fair I think I explicitly said “this is for people who want to read a lot of novels” in the video iirc, so I mean yeah its not gonna cover some people like you.

I probably could have done a better job of explaining “I’m only saying this stuff about this very specific group”, since I think all your points are valid and I never meant to suggest otherwise. I just didn’t want to say “for people wanting to get to near native level and read a lot of light novels who are learning japanese as a hobby…” before every statement so I gave the blanket statement at the start. I also guess I shouldn’t have just said “high” level of reading, since “high level”'s definition varies person to person. I know some people would consider passing N1 a high level of reading, but if what I took yesterday wasn’t an out of season april fool’s joke, you could pass the first two sections with what I would consider upper beginner/lower intermediate. I’m aware my scale is very skewed compared to the norm, so using general descriptors like that was probably a poor decision.

Thanks for the reply!


I think your analogy isn’t a bad one, but kinda goes past an important point. If you assemble something yourself through trial and error, and especially watching pros, you’ll likely develop a deeper understanding and intuition of the way things work together. You’ll be thinking about the steps that come next, how pieces fit together, what role something might have based on its shape, etc. whereas someone following instructions has to do none of that. The person following the instructions will probably finish faster realistically. Maybe twice as fast.

The point is, in my opinion, is take someone who has built 5 tables on their own and someone who has built 10 tables while following a guide. Throw them in a room with pieces to build a new table theyve never seen and ask them to build it on their own. The ten table builder has built more tables and the amount of experience (time) they have is the same, but I would expect the 5 table builder to do a quicker and more accurate job. He has honed his intuition and understanding with his time. 10 table builder is familiar with the parts, but his assembly has taken place under the guidance of the assembly guide and his sheltered experience has prevented him from ever having to think critically about the process those parts are utilized in. Take away the crutch and he falls flat.

This is the comparison I tried to illustrate when I talked about a person learning n words and immersing for x hours probably having a higher reading level than someone who did wanikani and got to level 60 after the same amount of time.

Like something outside of immersion? Hmm yeah I think its possible, but idk if it will ever exist. I think that the problem is that it just would not be interesting lol. I think the most efficient way to do something out of context is a PERFECTLY curated set of sentences, like probably 1000s, from actual media. They are introduced in an exact order, given surrounding context when necessary, have explanations and a ton of similar sentences when there is one you don’t understand, and audio and visuals to go along with it. It would basically just be a perfectly constructed artificial immersion environment. Seems near impossible to make, though,


Providing picturesque examples with enough quantity gleaned through real media that perfectly matched the target vocabulary and grammar of a lesson would be an exhausting process, and the end result would still be boring and yield less reward than the effort required.

I was thinking more along the lines of custom PRODUCED media that was tailored around target vocabulary and grammar. Voluminous graded reader style material in an appealing and engaging format, perhaps with an in-built SRS functionality, instead of tacking on SRS as an afterthought.

That sounds awfully similar to what Satori Reader is attempting.


And Lingq and a growing number of services. Custom produced level-oriented reading/sentence pattern engagement is where the future of language learning is heading, IMO. Many of the people I’ve directly spoken with in the industry, and many other services that discuss their philosophy mostly mirror the sentiment that sentence patterns are the most natural and efficient method for acquiring grammar and vocabulary. While immersion in-the-wild also achieves this, it isn’t optimized for second language acquisition. So you’ll see more and more of these “hybrid study-oriented native immersion services” popping up.


I think this is a very good idea, but I don’t actually think it would be more efficient, and you specifically asked for something that doesn’t sacrifice efficiency.

If you’re going to try to create content entirely based around content for beginners, the fact that you have to make all the sentences fit together into one coherent and (preferably interesting) story is a very big constraint. You already don’t have a lot of freedom with what you can do from a language perspective, so the result would be something looking like a very slow toddler aimed show. Considering downtime, necessary compromises for consistency, and general lack of interest in the result for a lot of people…I think a highly motivated learner would outpace it significantly just going through sentences at their own pace.


If you were going by JLPT or 教育漢字 levels, certainly. Their levels are somewhat arbitrary and don’t match the actual experience of a native Japanese language learner (Japanese children already have an extensive vocabulary and are just learning to associate Kanji with it). Most children have a pretty strong understanding of basic potential and causative statements well before they enter the 1st grade, but those are deferred to N4 in the JLPT for some reason, despite being critical components of speech. So you’d basically be needing to combine everything from absolute beginner to pre-intermediate in order for it to have the expressiveness needed to be compelling and provide enough challenge to not immediately lose value upon the first 1-2 uses.

The まるごと series does a fairly good job at this, and that may be because it’s based on CEFR levels, but the first two volumes do also suffer the “immediately obsolete” problem.

I was just pointing out an observation I had made that there seems to be an intersection between research and results that many instructional materials/services are converging on that is based on a philosophy centered around sentence patterns. I think we’ll continue to see optimization of 2LA as new theories emerge seeking to better integrate and implement the techniques that we know do work (and I think there is still MUCH room left for optimization).

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Hey, I came back to this thread because I remember you mentioning an Anki deck in the video, and I have a couple of questions (1 related 1 not)

About the Anki deck, I just got it imported and… the first 20 lessons had stuff like する,こと,いる… uh, how much of the content do I already know do I need to slog through to get to the good stuff? Am I wasting my time with this deck? I’m sure there’s bound to be stuff in there I don’t know but, damn I might have to get through like 500+ cards by time I get there.

About leaving WK at level 40, say I go along with your stance on WK and how the last 20 levels are worthless, what am I to fill the void of time with? If WK from 40-60 is inefficient, what is the efficient replacement? Am I using this as more time to read and study my personal deck?

IME it’s faster to go to the edit-the-deck UI in the desktop Anki app, and then you can scroll through the list pretty quickly and shift-select all the already-known very easy words and suspend those cards, assuming the deck is sorted in frequency order. Then when you’re using the deck and encounter way-too-easy cards you missed, suspend those too so they never appear again.

There’s probably also a script or plugin somewhere that can cross-reference two decks and suspend all the cards you already have elsewhere.


Just a small tip with Anki, the stuff is ordered, right? Just browse the deck and select all the stuff you know then delete it. I don’t know exactly how much stuff you will or won’t know because I don’t really know your level apart from the wk level 35.

Assuming you have done the core deck and know basic grammar:

As for what you do, I mean it really just depends on what you want to do content wise, but the core idea will be consume->mine->srs on repeat. I personally think visual novels are a great way to get started with that process and prime material for learning for reasons stated in the video, but the important part is that you’re engaging with what you like. If you like anime, I think that’s perfectly fine too and would recommend starting with JP subs. If you are going to use anime, though (or even vns…or anything really) if yomichan doesn’t have kitsun integration somehow I would consider not using kitsun. You can make the mining and srs process incredibly smooth, fast, and high quality thanks to all the amazing tools people have made for Anki. I’m not sure what kitsuns like on that front, but if they aren’t compatible I would suggest reconsidering. You’re going to be making countless thousands, possibly tens of thousands of cards, and doing hundreds of thousands of reviews in your journey to becoming a high level reader. Opting to do those things less efficiently for a significantly lower quality result is a big sacrifice.

Of course, maybe kitsun as added something and it does support all the tools.



I think I’ll stick with kitsun, honestly. It has a feature to pull and create entire cards from I used to use Anki and it was a nightmare, hence why I switched. Very happy with that choice, and have already made 400+ cards since I started. I don’t mind creating a card taking 10 extra seconds, lol. How many lessons do you think is preferable per day? Since watching the vid I went with the 20 you talked about, but I don’t recall you mentioning ever doing more than 20 a day? So is 20 good? Or do you recommend doing more? Of course if I ditch WK I’ll double those lessons regardless.

It’s not so much about the time as it is about the quality of your cards. Like I said, youre spending more time on something of “significantly lower quality”. Even ignoring stuff like images, the sentence where you got it, isolated word audio, sentence audio, pitch accent graphs, and etc., Being able to use monolingual definitions is a big advantage. Not to mention tying a single English word or phrase to japanese words when you’re training your recall of those words is… suboptimal to say the least. It’s a big reason I kept asking @Raionus for an Anki style mode on floflo. Not sure if it ever got added tho.

But yeah I did 20 cards a day for the most part. For some parts of my journey I did more. Recently, even if I read for awhile it’s not a guarantee I’ll even find 20 words Ive never seen/seen and forgotten so nowadays it’s less than 20 on average. It just depends on what’s sustainable given your level of effort, time, and general ability to learn new info I guess. I wouldn’t recommend doing more really, but I dont think it’s a bad idea to do less. You can learn words outside of srs too, so you can add 10 cards a day but still be learning more than that on average if you’re immersing plenty.

And fwiw, I used to use Anki too and I hated it and quit. Then I took time, set it up, and copied an experienced users interface and setup. It was much better after that.


I think a better question would be how many lessons/reviews per day did you find yourself doing during the pre-advanced stage where you’re just trying to sponge everything to break through to advanced?

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