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

Sorry, if somebody has already asked about this. But what is the link for the site which generate wordlist for books? I’ve just started reading 君の名は and would like not just to read through but also learn some words.

Nice vid by the way, rly like it


thank you so much

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I don’t know if my (very occasionally updated) mnemonics thread gives the opposite impression, but I agree from my experience. That’s how it works for me in Japanese, and it was the same for me in Chinese: I didn’t need to learn single kanji after a while. I just open the dictionary pages for those because I’m curious what else they mean, and to see if I can find a link between all their meanings. Knowing individual meanings can be helpful if you like breaking things down (like me), but they’re not necessary on their own since you won’t use the kanji by thinking about what it means; you’ll try to find a word that matches what you want to say. Similarly, even if you haven’t explicitly learnt the meaning of a kanji (which is the case for some of the really common ones in Chinese that I picked up as a child), if you notice it in a new usage, you can always just ask yourself, ‘Where else have I seen this one?’ Besides, monolingual dictionaries in both Japanese and Chinese seem to list meanings of single characters with fairly short definitions and several examples (unless the character is common as a stand-alone word, in which case a longer, possibly separate definition may be present), and at least in Chinese, it’s common to say, ‘It’s the [reading of hanzi] in [word].’ Meanings aren’t used to identify kanji unless you’re analysing the difference in meaning between two very similar ones, and even then, examples of words that use them are preferred. I’d even say it’s not natural beyond a certain point to learn meanings kanji-by-kanji, especially if you’re learning them as translations.


Thank you for this man! This really helpful for someone like me that is still in the beginning of the porcess I would really benefit form a detalied guide like this. I will find the time to watch it completely and take notes when I can.


I definitely second this! I too dare say my reading is on a pretty high level by now.

It really came down to getting massive amounts of input and, especially, being fine with not understanding everything right away.


Big thanks for writing this. I noticed this to become more and more true the higher in WK levels I get and the more words I learn. In a way it makes me dread WaniKani kanji meaning reviews, because nailing that one kanji meaning out of how it’s used in words is to me not very helpful :frowning: .

It feels more natural to associate meanings of kanji through their use in words. :slight_smile:


Thanks for the work you did writing and recording all of this! I finally got the chance to watch this all the way through and you hit on some stuff that I can already feel happening with my as-yet limited time investment.

Quick question: before you turned the corner, as you put it, how often did you use Google Translate and/or DeepL?

I do two kinds of reading practice. The first is Japanese anime/dramas with Japanese subtitles. If I didn’t get something, I live with it. The second is books or video games where I try to grasp every sentence. I use DeepL whenever a sentence has too many “knots.” But I still try to grasp as much as possible before I resort to a machine translation.

Do you think I’m hurting myself by using DeepL this way? I really do try to save it for the last resort, or when I just want to verify what I think I got from context.

Also, may I ask where you get/shop for visual novels? I Googled and it looks like Steam is the easiest way for me, but I’d be interested to hear if you have a method that works reliably for you. If there’s no way to answer that within the forum rules, I won’t judge. In fact, that’s why I’m asking: the only visual novel I own right now is 街, which was only released as a console game from before voice acting was the norm. I use anime cards as well but obviously, a PSP remake of a PlayStation 1 game isn’t an optimal place for mining. I tried it once with Suzuki-kun audio but that computer-generatred audio gets old fast.

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Hmm no I think you’re fine probably. Saving it for the last resort is the right thing to do so I think you’re doing the right thing with that. Realistically, if it’s got too many knots in the first place, it’s ok to skip over that sentence imo, but if you absolutely wanna have a chance at getting it no harm in machine translation. I would just suggest not assuming it’s correct, necessarily. If I’m being honest, I see quite often on the forums and other communities I’m in people asking questions about a sentence they don’t understand, to which a less experienced member replies with a deepl translation that they try to justify…and a lot of times it’s just kinda wrong or missing stuff. I think reading the translation is preferable if available because while they don’t match 1:1, you’re more guaranteed to at least get the right intent across.

Honestly while I buy my books, I usually pirate my visual novels. I used sukebei nyaa for my past few visual novels I downloaded. When it’s on steam though, I’ll get it on there sometimes like for nekopara and stuff. I’ve yet to have an issue with finding the game I wanted between those two, although in the past for like sakusaku I think I got it off some random Russian website lol.


Many thanks!

I’ve been thinking about it, and I agree with you about WaniKani, even though it got me through a plateau that I’d been stuck on for over half my life. I believe WaniKani’s ideal target demographic is neuroatypicals like me. I know I’m capable of learning—hell, I’m a college professor!—but I needed something to counteract my executive dysfunction.

I can see why you’d regret learning the vocabulary here over the core 2100 that you mentioned. (Do you happen to have a URL for that, by the way? I just Googled and got a bunch of different and contradictory results.) I started studying additional words on my own around level 10–15, if I remember correctly. I only added words if I’d have been ready for them on WaniKani, though. I think that allowed me to use WaniKani’s structure (and slowness) to my advantage. Plus I’d already been doing reading practice on and off for almost 20 years.

As you implied, it’s a matter of knowing what one will get out of WaniKani. In my case, it helped me build habits (which, with my brain wiring, is intractable without a lot of clear guidance), become more cognizant of what I was and wasn’t ready for, and get a lot better at guessing.

EDIT: Personally, what I find most fun about visual novels is how often I learn things that are true in real life. I just learned from 街 that some chrysanthemums are edible!


Oh, just in case it wasn’t clear I don’t think the 2k words I learned were best either and they were just the first 2000 from the core 10k at the time. Nowadays, there is a refined core 2.1k deck that is probably a lot better. I think wanikani did a good job of setting me up to have an easier time with kanji, but vocabulary is truly king when it comes to reading.

Here’s the refined core 2k ordered off of vn freq


Many thanks, Vanilla, your video was very insightful. It is great to hear about the experience of someone who has reached your level.

I have a few additional questions if you don’t mind.

  • What is your rule of thumb for suspending a card from your SRS?
  • Generally, how long do you study a card before suspending it?
  • How many cards have you been reviewing each day, and how much time has it been taking you?
  • Finally, when you encounter a reading you don’t know, do you still rely on mnemonics?

The first three questions relate to adding 20 cards a day to your SRS. After 8 months or so, that becomes quite the load, which got me wondering how you are dealing with it.

You might have mentioned those points in the video or the current thread. If that’s the case, apologies, I have missed those bits!


Good questions! My answers to those 4 are pretty short, but I theres something that relates to my answers that I think I forgot to say in the video.

  1. I would never suspend a card from my SRS. floflo originally had a thing where it would take cards out of your review pile when you got them wrong enough, but thats it. Usually I would just give extra attention to things I noticed I was getting wrong a lot. When I would mix one word with another, I would also stop and look up the other word and note differences.

  2. N/A

  3. Usually when I used koohi, it was a bit under 200 reviews a day I think. In total they all probably took me 30-40 minutes of focus.

  4. It depends on the reading, word, and how I saw it. There are generally three categories it can fall under, so I’ll pull up my anki to give an example with words I’ve learned in the past month.

Category 1: Words with new kanji that use a phonetic component

Example: When learning the word 抗癲癇薬 I haven’t seen 癲 before. I have, however, seen 顚末 and I know that 顚 is read てん. So in this case, I don’t use a mnemonic and just remember its a nice kanji reading that uses one of its components. Then, for these I can remember the meaning fine since its a unique pair of kanji and the only thing its really close to is 癇癪 but not really. So overall, these words really don’t get any effort out of me and are the easiest.

Category 2: Words with a new kanji/kanji reading (Usually verbs or standalones)

Example: When learning 嗾ける I haven’t see 嗾 before so I would need to learn the reading and meaning of the word as a whole with no meaning of the kanji to associate with it. First I go for the meaning. In this case its family with 口偏 so I imagine talking your family into kill(ける)ing someone. Thats usually enough for me remembering the meaning, and then for reading I just have the target be kesha’s car for the けしか.

Category 3: Words with multiple new kanji or readings

Example: When I had to learn 欣喜雀躍 it was a little problematic because I knew 欣 as being read as き from 歓欣鼓舞 and ごん from 欣求浄土, so despite the 斤, my first guess wouldn’t be きん for the reading. 雀 I had only seen as すずめ. So I just took the entire thing, and kinda imagined a kinky dude named jack excitedly jumping. That covered the reading and meaning since it just became kinky jack’s yaku (きんきじゃくやく). And sometimes I associate it with other japanese words and not just english ones, like for 人口に膾炙する I associate 膾炙 with 会社.

So one thing I wanna say to wrap this up though, is that I feel like there are a good amount of people out there who might be surprised at one (or both) of two things. One being that I had less than 200 reviews a day despite doing 20 words a day for a prolonged period of time, and the other thing being the fact that all those reviews would take like 30 minutes. Both of those things are, in my opinion, thanks to a little secret to the SRS system imo that might not be intuitive to most people.

I think the way the early states of SRS are presented is pretty misleading, and wanikani makes it even worse. We do our lessons and our first review is 4 hours after that. And then the next review is freaking 8 hours after that. Super short compared to ankis 1 day interval right off the bat. I think this gives people the wrong idea and it causes them issues. People might think that by remembering the item for the 4 hours they need and getting it right in their reviews and then remembering it for 8 more hours and getting it right again in the reviews means that they are on the right track, but I think this is wrong. I think the single biggest factor in how well you will retain an item in the long run is how long you could remember it after first seeing it. If you almost get an item wrong, or have to think a bit before finally getting it in any of your apprentice reviews, I think you’ve already set yourself up for failure. And if you did get it wrong in an apprentice review, you messed up when doing your lessons.

You need to do your lessons very slowly and deliberately. Immense focus and make sure you get the item before putting it into your review queue. I would say I am confident that for a majority of my items, I could get them right a week after my lesson without even reviewing them because of how hard I drill them in from the beginning. Sometimes I’ll literally just sit there for minutes looking at a simple word in my lessons, reading through all the definitions, and reciting its reading and meaning thinking of various connections I can draw to other knowledge.

Do that, and I mean REALLY get the word down pat in your lesson to where you would be confident recognizing it days from now without review, and then the rest falls into place. I guarantee you will have higher accuracy in your reviews (I had like 95% going full speed on WK but honestly I still slacked). Higher accuracy means less total reviews and when you get a card you will be able to recognize it faster.

On how to actually remember words better, I think effort is king really. Put in more and you’ll get our more. With that being said, there are two things I think are very important that I don’t see mentioned a whole lot that improve my retention: Consistent sound → idea association and using the first thing that comes to mind.

Consistent sound → idea association: So an example of this would be like how こう readings are always koichi and せい is always hard gay. Pick certain things to have certain ideas and STICK with it.

using the first thing that comes to mind: This is the most important thing when building mnemonics, imo. You can have the coolest mnemonic ever, but if you can’t remember it its not worth shit. So Whenever I see a new word, especially kana ones, I just focus really hard on what the very first thing that comes to mind is. Like for me, ぱり is perry the platypus from phineas and ferb. When I heard きっぱり for the very first time many years ago, the first thing I thought of was (kill perry). So then, my mnemonic goes from there. It doesn’t matter how hard it seems to work with, I always always always use the first thing that pops into my mind.

The reason is simple. If it popped into your mind in an instant with no effort now, itll naturally come to your mind again in the future. Then, your mnemonic is just a matter of being a bridge from that to the meaning. But thats the hard part, sometimes you gotta come up with some pretty creative mnemonics to bridge that gap. Thats why part 1 is very important though, to make sure you are thinking of the same thing every time. I remember しなびる as しな (しいな being a girls name from a show I watched) and びる for beer. Those two components are always that. So it doesn’t matter that I learned しなびる 4 years ago. I can still tell you exactly what I used for the mnemonic which was shina drinking beer.


I tried this route for several years…meaning, learning kanji from context without mnemonics or learning kanji from context with mnemonics I tried to come up with by myself. I failed because I can’t learn so many symbols without good mnemonics helping me and a repetition system well constructed and progressive. And I tried hard, let me tell you. So I know from my experience that for some people this is not possible…mnemonics help me remember the meaning of the kanji and the meaning of the kanji help me remember compound words…when I tried to do my kind of mnemonic for all those kanji I failed (I tried RTK, before and I couldn’t go over a certain number of kanji).
The repetitions are also perfect for me. There’s no reason I should leave wanikani and make things harder for me when I can continue doing it, learn new kanji and at the same time read and learn from media outside wanikani. All of this steadily and surely learning kanji and new words from wanikani.
I know some people learnt all of that without wanikani but other people try and try and can’t…so it’s not for all the people and it is surely a convenient tool for everyone. Then, if someone is bored by wanikani that’s another problem and that someone should do what is right for him…

Thats nice and all, but I nothing in your post gets me even remotely close to changing my mind. If anything, it doesn’t even address the fact that wanikani makes you better at learning kanji. Its not like I can even assess the validity of your claim that you tried hard for several years in the first place. For all I know, by my standards you could have done jack shit. So yeah, no, definitely still think no one needs wanikani for more than 40 levels. If you don’t wanna listen to my opinion, thats fine, but this is one of them where I’m pretty firm. Also, not to mention, you could just learn kanji like wanikani would teach them to you if you really want to…

Well I don’t want to even start to change your mind, you seem pretty sure of yourself.
Just saying that trying to learn Japanese I got I a degree in Japanese language while working full time in an other field with my previous master’s degree. I began studying Japanese in 2020 with private lessons then got into university in 2005, got my bachelor’s equivalent in Japanese language (I’m Italian) in 2008 and my master’s in 2011. All the time studying Japanese at uni and outside university. I don’t think I’m not fit for language study since I got a working knowledge of English (not perfect by any means but still…) and languages are my hobby. Japanese is one of my passions but, it has unique challenges and wanikani for my experience is invaluable because it provides a fast, reliable and progressive method with progressive mnemonics (this is so important for me) and a srs system (this, you can find elsewhere).

I’m aware someone could be bored by it or could get a proficiency without it but claiming that everyone can do without it is really not true. Not everyone is like me and not everyone is like you…so…all this people claiming that their method is true for everyone. Well…I’m a high school teacher and I can assure you that a method good for everyone has not been invented yet. Our minds function in very different ways.


Legitimate question: Did you watch the entire video and read through my posts in the thread? It feels like you are going after claims noone has made

Uhmm I believe I did and I think I didn’t made any particular claim aside:

  1. saying my experience (and you said you I couldn’t prove I tried hard :laughing:)
  2. saying wanikani could be perfect and necessary for some people. So what I believe because it is my experience is that not everyone can do without it and learn kanji and new words in another way.

listen…I don’t really want to go into an infinite discussion. Like I said I believe there’s no method valid for everyone and so you can’t say that everyone can learn kanji without wanikani because for that learner wanikani could be the perfect and even the only method he could work with getting results in the long run (and this is my experience, you believe it or not).
And I don’t want to change your mind or other people’s mind so there’s no meaning in a long series of “did you read the thread and read this or that?” meaning I didn’t do that or didn’t understand something you said or wrote. I did and I think I answered to something you clearly said so…
You have another opinion? I accept that, please do so with mine…

Its sounds like you have some good experiences, but I think you’re in the wrong spot for sharing them. I’m sure a lot of people would like to hear about it though, so maybe like in a level 60 post you could include them! Like I said earlier, this thread was more meant to be a place to ask questions about the video and ask for clarification rather than discussion/debate!

Do you feel confident with nuances when it comes to reading Japanese?
For example, conditionals tend to have different nuances to them but at the beginning they seem pretty interchangeable. I do realize that this is kind of a weird question since nobody can exactly say how much nuance they’re getting and it’s entirely subjective. My personal anecdote for English however, is that different form of expressions carry different feelings to them after a while.

Related to that, how common is sarcasm in comparison to English? Did you realize along the journey that you happened to realize more often when sarcasm was used?

Also, is it harder for you to read (or recognize) non-standard dialects? They’re probably not as common in reading as in audiovisual media but still common enough I suppose

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