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

That actually sounds like a fun experiment. I’ll give it a try. I’ll start the N4 JTango deck. Do you have recommendations for a simple % correct Anki stats display addin? I tried a couple but they weren’t working for me.

I don’t, actually. I don’t really track those stats anymore, but I’m sure any old addon will do if it’s just a stats display. Even anki has built in stuff.

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I started the N4 deck tonight, but it won’t have important stats until I begin reviews. Here’s the N5 deck, I only hit it once last week, but the stats were promising considering I was also going full-tilt on that one:

69% (NOICE) retention on 55 cards/day! I didn’t think it was up that high. Going to lower the new number of cards per day (deck is almost complete now) and start doing that one again. It’s been a hot and humid week and I haven’t had the motivation to study, but this was exactly what I needed to re-engage, so thanks! :slight_smile:

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Thanks for the help, man. Just a couple last questions haha. For one, if you could share your card making process? You talked about the details as well as using Yomichan. Does Yomichan add all of those details or is there still a manual aspect to it, if so, which parts am I expected to learn to do on my own? And another thing, I’m noticing increasingly that when I look up vocab I find in the book I’m reading, the definition used in that particular context doesn’t always match with the most common definition, but rather one that’s seemingly unrelated to that common definition. What’s your method of remembering these definitions? Do you create separate cards for them? If I learn a word in one context, should I be SRSing every other definition, or wait to see that word used in another context before SRSing that particular definition? Keep in mind I’m not referring to words like 出る which hold a single ‘core’ meaning not properly transmitted in English like you touched on in the video.

This is probably where his sentence mining advice comes in. Instead of memorizing multiple definitions of a word, you put the word, with the entire sentence you found it in, into a card. That way you’re learning the meaning of that word in-context.

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I basically copied the mining setup from My Mining Setup and just added and changed stuff as I went to adapt to the medium and specific knowlede I wanted. I also have more links here
[2022] 多読/extensive reading challenge - #3761 by Vanilla

and I got my anime mining setup from

Heres the setup in action and general stuff for that (pretty much all the links are on the animecards site tho)
🍃 Shenmue Tree - a Study "Lounge!" 🍂 - #307 by Vanilla.

Great question. So first and foremost, the definition and meaning I would personally quiz myself on was the first one I came across. So my card or koohi review would have had me answering with that specific definition even if it wasn’t the most common one. Then, in nearly all cases I wouldn’t actually make a card for it ever again, even for one of the other definitions. Two exceptions:

  1. It was a very basic word that I had reviewed in a different deck or on a different platform (e.g. 張る (in reference to high price) or 女子(おなご) for the alternative reading.)
  2. It had a different reading I wanted to learn entirely or associate with a new definition (e.g. 素振り、女子 again、人気)

The reason is that usually I found once I knew one definition of the word, the others were a lot easier to learn. I already had a dictionary entry in my head for the word and could read it, so it was just a matter of adding possible things it could mean, which usually didn’t take much work. The reason why number 2 above caused an exception is because its no longer just adding a definition. Its adding a definition and reading, plus associating the correct definition with the right reading. That takes more effort, hence the card. Words like this were pretty rare in the grand scheme of things though, so I didn’t make too many cards of them. To distinguish, if you want you could either give it in a sentence, expression, or add parentheses by the word on the front of the card that include some distinguishing information that will specify which definition/reading needs to be recalled.


I bookmarked this, then I put it off because I was still bouncing around the shiny forum, then I started last night… and fell asleep (in my defense, it was pretty late for me). These are some things that stood out to me personally, now that I’m a bit less sleepy (and because I was watching on 2x speed, almost none of these are verbatim).

*the first 75 minutes or so*

Pick up some basic grammar, learn some vocab, and just jump in was immediately apparent to me because my learning goals revolve around consumption, so I was happy to see that it was the conclusion you came to as well. Unfortunately Koohi won’t load anything for me, so I can’t give it a go, but it sounds like a cool system that I’ll try to find a way to mimic.

Read across authors and genres (after you have a foundation).

The latter part was really important for me. I’ve been attempting to vary my reading content to avoid having a strong knowledge of words that end up being more frequent with certain genres/authors and struggling once I start to diversity my reading. While this is important to work towards, sticking in a niche would help me feel a sense of progress as I read more, and I admittedly already have a niche in mind when it comes to my immediate reading goals.

Your tolerance for unknown words will grow, but as you learn more words it’ll dip again.

I used to consider the “married to a dictionary but can still work through the book” stage to be what my end goal would look like, since I thought being able to pick up a book and simply read would be too ambitious. The knowledge that it’s just one hill before I start to suffer again is somewhat comforting, in a weird way.

“I give a sh*t, I think it’s fun.”

The only verbatim quote here. I was surprised (and initially disappointed) to find that most people seemed to not only dislike but also actively discourage learning to handwrite kanji. I handwrite hanzi (Chinese characters) often, and I’ve found that I can easily break down and look up new hanzi as a result. I also rarely get similar-looking hanzi mixed up, simply because the strokes are different, and it’s rare for me to forget hanzi unless I somehow never see it again in reading. For a bit of a stranger use, I also like attempting to transcribe Chinese audio then comparing my notes to the transcript, and while this can be done easily with typing it’s fun trying to make sense of my rushed handwriting. “Ah, it’s fun.” So I’ll handwrite kanji, too.

If you wanna read difficult stuff, you’ll have a more difficult journey ahead.

*cries in Fire Emblem*

Reading manga is easy, move up as soon as you can.

I’m glad you mentioned this, because many of my “want to reads” are currently manga. I reeeeally want to read them, so I won’t be postponing them for the sake of sprinkling in some better reading material, but I’ll keep in mind that my reading ability is likely lower than it feels.

Set expectations low. It’s easy to miss how much people are struggling when they describe their progress, not because they’re being deceptive but because it’s harder to describe what you’re struggling with than what you can do.

I don’t really have anything to add, it’s just something I wanted to record and remember.

It may seem like I just cherry-picked a few things that I already agreed with, but I listened to everything you had to say and it completely shifted the way I’ve decided to approach reading, as well as my expectations with learning Japanese, so I’m glad I finally sat down to give your video a listen. Also, at the risk of sounding shallow, you’re nice to listen to even at 2x speed.

To others reading, I paraphrased a lot of things that might end up misconstruing the message, so please watch the actual video for the full context surrounding what’s been said!


To be fair, reading manga is generally significantly easier. That is to say, the average text complexity of manga in a certain genre vs novels of the same genre is going to much lower. But, there are some manga out there that are harder than some books for you if you compare stuff like different genres. Good call not postponing them, though. Manga being easy comparatively is more of a testament to how hard books are than anything. Most manga will still challenge most learners and there is a lot to learn from them.

Glad to hear it!


Ok soo 55+ vocab cards a day did not survive more than a week. I’m lowering to 35. Still want enough to be stressful but not enough that it takes over 90 minutes to review. The interesting thing is that, after doing an insane workload per day for a short while, anything less seems drastically easier. I’m redoing my decks and I’ll do a 30-day update in another thread.


I’ve watched your video and if there’s something that bothers me to the point that I’m losing sleep is how much soda you consume in a span of two hours while talking. Jokes aside, I do understand your point of view but there are some that I don’t completely agree on:

Studying Kanji Through Wanikani Will Just Allow You to Search a Word Easier

I remember that I quit WK (almost a year ago) because I was trying to wean myself from 易しい日本語 news articles. Also, I was starting to read native materials wherein I’d rather spend more time studying words that are relevant to what I’m reading instead of what WK teaches.

Since my immersion or at least, reading practice, started from Tadoku graded readers into NHK News Web Easy articles, I thought that what I got from WK was invaluable. It was a necessary first step that helped me to start reading Japanese.

I learned that a Kanji may have more than one meaning and reading, and that seeing its usage in a word may give you a rough estimation of what it means and sounds. For me that’s very useful as I have something to latch on, something that may help me unwind those knots that you’ve mentioned instead of relying on “this random squiggles means this word” kind of brute memorization. Learning the concept of using radicals also helped me in making my own mnemonics which allowed me to memorize the Kanji’s not included on the JLPT (I know that the idea is based on RTK. I’ve tried to study it and it’s too much of an hassle on top of studying Japanese grammar, words etc which led me to WK). With those in mind, I think you underestimate the value that WK gives to beginners.

I would fully agree with you if you said that it has diminishing returns since the vocab that it’ll teach may not be as useful to you when to start to immerse on native material. However, when you said that WK feels like a waste of time and you boiled it down its usefulness to a “be able to look up words faster” is a bit too much. Maybe you based your convictions on other’s people’s opinions (which may have validated them), this made me think that you may have forgotten how useful WK was for you or was expecting too much from it.

Now, from your point of view, WK will look like a waste of time because you dove straight into native material. You were able to somewhat power through but got burned out and had to watch some dramas/shows before diving back in. I wouldn’t recommend that others do the same because some may not bounce back like you did. For me, it’s better to form a habit first by making the learning curve less steeper. Once you got the habit, you’ll require less will power to read through tough material. There’s also an argument for comprehensive or i+1 material but from my experience, the number of words that you got to learn before reaching i+1 level between 易しい日本語 articles and native material is too much that it’s better to just form habits and coping strategies before diving in for the grind.

There is No Reward For Being Able to Read Japanese

I don’t know if this is indicative of your struggles as a learner or maybe a lack of imagination but I think you underestimate the value of being able to comfortably read in Japanese without the use of a dictionary.

Since you like to read light novels I’m sure that you know that some started out as web novels which (from what I understand) you can read for free before its licensed. You can be at the forefront of this scene and know which books will be popular well before the rest of the world! You have access to content that the rest of the world had to wait for years for an official translation or even content that remains untranslated. Why don’t you consider that as a prize? You can build a Youtube channel around it, reviewing potential hits before they get popular.

I think that I’m trying to say is that you’re underselling yourself and you have to appreciate how far you’ve come.

With that out of my chest I hope to attain the same proficiency as you as I have sooo many books that are only in Japanese that I would love to read. Not to mention some that are originally written in classic Japanese!

I hope that I don’t come out as offensive as it’s not my intention, I just want to offer a perspective from someone who’s quit WK for almost a year.


You missed the point here a little bit. I rewatched the video to make sure, but I indeed said that’s the only thing it guarantees. I’ve said before that having prior knowledge of a kanji often makes learning some words easier, but not always.

Learning by words doesn’t mean that you don’t use mnemonics or look at radicals anymore.

I think you’re getting your story waaaaaaaay off here. I started reading native material at like level 25. I then proceed to read throughout using wanikani and got 60. Then I proceeded to continue reading for like a year adding 20 words a day. So all around, I had like 13000+ cards made, over a dozen books, and read plenty of visual novels. At this two year mark I was definitely already past n2 level reading if not n1.

What I said was that I hit a point where the amount of words to learn wasnt noticably diminishing.

And in the face of that I was like okay well maybe it’s time…my reading ability is this far…maybe it’s time I should get experience with more real japanese

No burnout, no bounce back, and I had nearly finished half of wanikani before jumping in…

Well, as someone who does it most days now I disagree but I’ll hear what you have to say haha.

Because people who can’t read without a dictionary can do it too. If I am going to make one correction to what I said, the ability to read faster feels like a big jump. More content can be consumed in the same period.

But for entertainment purposes, I think that in a vast majority of cases there won’t be one. The reason is that if you don’t enjoy the process I don’t think you’ll get to that point anyways. So take 18 year old me reading my first visual novel and 22 year old me reading that same visual novel now. From an entertainment standpoint, I don’t think I can say that I would have more fun. I think I would enjoy the story more, but 18 year old me has the excitement of learning and challenging himself to supplement enjoyment from the story. The fun has changed in nature, but I don’t think it grew.

And an intermediate reader and advanced reader don’t have many differences in terms of what they can tackle. It’s just that the intermediate learner will need a lot more assistance and time. For speaking and listening, however, assistance is much less of an option since you don’t move at your own pace. Inability to come up with a comment in a small time frame or inability to understand what someone is saying is much more likely to limit you and the things you can do.


I’ll hope to hear what 40-year-old you thinks of the value someday. :smile:

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The value of reading without a dictionary or wanikani?

The ability to comfortably read two or more languages.

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Haha I don’t know if it will be more (I want to learn mandarin but I want to improve my japanese more than that), but I’ll see what I can do 18 years from now.

I’ll probably have long forgotten what it was like at the start. One reason I made this video was because I was already beginning to forget some details of my journey without going back to look, so I wanted a way to preserve my advice and opinions while I could still remember the struggles.


True, but it’s better to start somewhere, to have an idea to base on so that reading won’t be as intimidating.

Then were did you get that idea from (i.e. using radicals and mnemonics)? WK is a convenient form of RTK which makes the process easier so it’s not a complete waste of time.

Can you please refresh my memory? I believe that wasn’t mentioned in the video so I had this impression that you dove straight into VN’s. I may have also misunderstood thinking that you didn’t reach 60 since you said you quit before you reached the last 5 levels.

Anyways, I could only guess as why you continued using WK despite diving into native material early on. Maybe back then you thought it still had value for you that it seems trivial to you now. I just don’t get why you thought that WK was a detour, a waste of time compared to what other people touted as more “optimal” ways of studying. To that, only you would know.

I have a question, from your thousands hours of reading, how confident are you that when you read something in Japanese it’s as close as what the writer intended? If you are as good as you said you are I would guess that you can read anything without much thought and can focus on how you felt and the things that you learned.

If you kept looking up in a dictionary there will be interruptions with how you experience the story or text. You won’t be in the moment, you won’t be in this trance state where ideas and emotions just flows into your mind.

Ah so in other words it was a warning, that students shouldn’t focus too much on the goal and should instead enjoy the process. I get that. But still, being able to read Japanese is a skill that have benefits to it like I mentioned. Also, with the amount of passive words and expressions that you’ve accumulated you can use them actively when speaking and writing. You have this pool of knowledge that you can tap into when you try to convey your ideas, all you will need is practice.

Get what idea from?

Learning words is the important part. I don’t really care how you learn the words, just do it and do it well. If you like mnemonics you can still use them. Its not like they are 禁止 if you don’t learn the kanji in isolation first.

It was in the very first section, but as a refresher: I started reading my visual novel around level 25 and adding words from that into houhou. At the time, I had no frequency dictionaries and tools like so I had no idea what was actually common. I also learned some words from the core 6k. At level 55, I stopped doing wanikani vocab and instead did 40 words a day from the core 6k.

50% this. At first this was the case and I overestimated the value of wanikani (especially the vocab). After reading for a bit though, I realized that it wasn’t the optimal route and continued with it anyways. If you go back, you can probably find some posts 4 or so years ago when I was level 30 or 40 and saying that if I wanted to learn faster, I would drop wanikani, but that I didn’t want to purely because I had a race set up with two other friends on here to level 60 and figured might as well see it thorough to the end for vain reasons (e.g. level 60 badge). At the end of the day, 25 or so extra levels wasn’t a terrible time commitment in the grand scheme of things.

Because I did the other ways and it was significantly more effective.

I’m confident its very close, but I haven’t read anything that takes interpretation and reading between the lines to a high level, honestly. In fact, I dislike that sort of literature, even in english, so I tend to stray away from it.

Yeah, which I personally categorize under the “getting more enjoyment from the story” statement. Theres certainly more than can be extracted.

In addition, one thing I didn’t touch on is the fact that stacking up a lot of experience causes your brain to not only notice and learn words, but also the situations they are used in. As a result, I feel like certain phrasings and words can only begin to truly “resonate” with you and have an impact past a certain level. Stories as a whole can resonate with anyone. But the author using a specific word, phrase, or sentence generally loses something going into the head of someone who is just trying to figure out the meaning.

Essentially, yes.

I think it definitely has benefits, but one thing I pointed out was that in cases where translation is an option, I don’t think its worth it. I would never read a translation over the original, but the gap between them in terms of quality is never justifiable by the amount of work it takes. to me, if you dont get enjoyment from the 1000s of hours, its like paying $100,000 to upgrade an iphone to the next generation.

Yeeees, you’re right but I feel weird about saying this was a benefit of reading. So like, realistically right, I just started practicing my listening and speaking 10 months ago. And in these past 10 months, I have probably made more progress with those two things than 99.9% of people will ever be able to make in that same time span. The reason is simply because I have a massive foundation, right. When I output a paragraph, half the time I can just read through it and catch my own mistakes by intuition alone thanks to my reading. Having a very big vocabulary also helps since I don’t need to learn new words and can just focus on identifying what I know. The whole thing makes improving super easy and smooth.


Its also a fact that the time I spent reading was time I spent not listening and outputting. And the reverse would have been true to where if I had spent 6000+ hours listening and 0 hours reading, my reading would be the one to improve a lot faster. So I guess the way I look at it, if you focus on one thing (listening or reading) for a majority of your time, learning the other thing is going to be a lot easier anyways. So to me, its an inevitability and not an advantage I got from reading, but from spending so much time with the language period. As for which is more efficient, I don’t know. Something tells me that in the long run, the listening first would be more beneficial and probably result in more natural speech and pronunciation, but thats entirely speculation. I chose to strictly focus on reading because I wanted to and obviously I don’t regret it in the slightest.

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The idea of using radicals and mnemonics. From what I understand was you’re advocating in just using core 2k and a passing of grammar and then straight into immersion, is that correct? I’m also using core 6k but I didn’t learn the concept of using radicals and mnemonics from it. So from my perspective it’s like brute forcing memorizing Kanji and words, another burden for the beginner student.

Like what? You can’t go into the past, not learn WK, and then start from scratch to compare the results. To be able to go past N1 in just two years after using WK… isn’t that remarkable?

But don’t you think that reading a material at its source not worth it? How about the subtleties in expressions and how it reflects their culture, doesn’t that hold value?

You have one less thing to worry about compared to someone who had to juggle three things at once. Reading is the easiest and most convenient skill to improve as you won’t need a speaking partner or someone to check your output and reading resources are (if you’re resourceful) free. Because of that you were efficient in spending your time and resources to reach your level. That sounds like an advantage, right?

And maybe you’ll also not have a hard time reading books that have less Kanji (i.e. for kids) because you’ll associate the word with a sound than a symbol.

If you want to learn by radicals, there are separate decks out there for that. For a mnemonic though, thats on you to make. That is, if you want to use radicals or mnemonics in the first place. Your goal should be to learn the words and you’ll develop a sense for kanji. Using wanikanis method at the same workload I don’t doubt you can learn more things. The problem is the value of those things is lower. Words you learn on here are just less likely to be of use than words you can get from the alternative method.

You understand that by that logic, no one is allowed to compare the effectiveness of anything they have done, right? I’ve seen how much the wanikani content has come in handy and how long it took.

I guess I don’t really see it as remarkable or not and just a product of my labor. But if it were a remarkable speed, I certainly wouldn’t attribute my speed to wanikani. Again, I think it did a lot for me, but it certainly wasn’t the fastest option. Especially had I stopped completely around level 40 I know I would have progressed faster.

It holds value, but I don’t personally find it to justify the work. Anything short of enjoyment when it comes to learning the language is going to put you at a net deficit after those 6000 hours or so. I believe theres other a lot of things out there to be obtained that will have value to any given individual, so I think that its worth instead finding something that you will enjoy the process of obtaining, is all.

Its hard to say if I was efficient or not, but the reality is that I was able to spend so much time reading, studying, and srsing (4+ hours a day most days) because I enjoyed it. Thus, if I did something like listening I probably would have been able to do much less because I didn’t give a shit about it. I just took advantage of my motivation, is all.

Its hard to say what my overall level would be like if I did all three things at once. You use the term “juggling” 3 things at once, but the reality is they are all related to eachother. Maybe doing all three things at once has some sort of synergetic relationship. I didn’t do it, so I can’t say.

Its the same reason I have avoided giving any advice about listening or output despite the fact that I am at a level most people are striving for. I just had such an irregular experience that I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to do otherwise and my starting point is very different. Some of my first listening practice was a nonfiction audiobook (for adults) with 0 words I didn’t know. Most people’s first listening practice is going to be…not that. As a result, its really hard to even think about whats most efficient across all three of those skills. I started with like

reading practice: 6000+ hours
speaking practice: 4 hours
listening practice: 10+ hours

so I just have no way to say what something like

reading practice: 4000 hours
speaking practice: 500 hours
listening practice: 1500 hours

would look like, for example. Its just too far removed from my experience.

Yeah I know one person who got like fluent fluent before reading and he is progressing extremely fast in reading(while being crazy good at speaking and pitch accent). At the early stages, reading stuff for kids is a lot easier since furigana not only tells you the reading, but also the meaning by extension (since you already know the words). Grammar is also a much much smaller issue. Again though, so far removed from my own experience I cant even begin to imagine what thats like haha.

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Yeah that’s a pretty important point. Once I got to the stage where I can pick up whatever I want as long as I have an internet connection, the drive to improve past that has almost completely dried up.

I’d actually agree quite a bit with this. I found a lot of the stuff below this level useful, but then I realized that when you’re a beginner, almost anything will produce results.

But once you have a decent foundation, branching off for your specific interests is just way more efficient.

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