Reading adult, native material without furigana feels like a pipe dream

I’m not saying it is, but it certainly feels like it, especially for me.

I kind of want to ask, “How do you get sure enough with kanji that you can read something with difficult kanji in it and not find yourself second guessing yourself all the time?” but I know the answer is “You just do.” I can already read quite a few kanji with absolute certainty, and I didn’t do anything special: I’ve just encountered them enough times that it is second nature.

But there’s just so many. And I am already prone to second guessing myself. I’ve recently found a lot of joy in reading material aimed at elementary school kids, and one of the reasons I can find that enjoyable is because there’s furigana on everything. I’ve actually found that the best thing about furigana on everything isn’t (for me) being able to read words I’ve never encountered before (although that’s nice): For me, the best thing is just being able to read words that I do know with confidence.


Very relatable. In my case I just have to be super determined. The Love Live Sunshine Manga are only in Japanese (less the first few chapters), so I HAVE no choice but to have my laptop next to me ready to start searching up the more difficult or foreign Kanji. Usually I don’t have a second guessing issue with the kanji though… The only time it happens is when I see a word that uses kanji I know + kanji I don’t know, if the kanji I know has similar kanji (失VS矢、夫VS末VS未)then I have second guessing issues.
Unless you mean second guessing the meaning… In that case I look up the word on my laptop to confirm…

It kinda sucks doing it this way, but the payoff is understanding something while studying at the same time.

I have found lately as well that I am veeeerryyyy slowly coming to be able to read bigger sentences in Japanese, just by basically plowing through a couple examples every day. I guess it all comes down to giving yourself motivating material and doing it as often as you can?


And that will happen with the rest, in time. What you’re talking about is completely normal - I certainly went through it. “Why can I never trust myself to know the reading?!”…but eventually, I did. For most words anyways. Ever a work in progress.

I’m a big fan of reading along with audiobooks, or free read-alongs/朗読 on YouTube in the case of basically anything on Aozora. You get exposure to the written words, the readings of the kanji, and the general cadence of sentences. Huge bang for your buck as far as learning time goes, in my opinion.

Reading things online (Aozora, Google Play Books, etc) lets you use Yomichan to look up readings on the fly when you want to. So essentially the ease of furigana, but only when you need it. The more you read, the less you need it.


Yes, it’s a long road. And it will seem impossible for a long time. But gradually, if you keep reading, there will be more and more words that you can read, whole sentences even. Then, after a while, there will be a whole text that you can mostly read without having to look anything up. And then another. And then reading without furigana will seem not all that impossible, but somehow achievable, even, some day. Then somehow achievable eventually becomes actually achievable and after a while quite manageable and there will be more and more texts that you can read in full until it eventually becomes quite effortless and you only have to look up things every once in a while.

塵も積もれば山となる。Even specks of dust, if piled together, can become a mountain. Language learning is very much like that – gathering little specks of dust until it becomes something so big that it seems like it has always been there.


In my experience at least, the standard you describe may be far in the future, but the threshold where:

  1. you can spot at a glance which words on a page you don’t know (even if there’s a lot of them)
  2. you’ve got an educated guess or two ready to go for those (even if your first one is often wrong)

… may arrive sooner than you think.

“Practical enough to be fun” is, thankfully, a much more attainable level than “perfection” after all.
(and wanikani and practice both help a lot)


I don’t think I really expect to see stuff ‘I know’ but the unknown or new words. I think reading a certain author’s line of books or a certain genre will increase the chances of you seeing certain words repeatedly. I’ve read mostly detective/ mystery stuff, so I’ve experienced that. Get used to looking up things is what I’d advise.
As a matter of a fact, look forward to encountering new words “Oh! A new word! + for my vocab!”
Exposure brings experience. Don’t beat yourself up about not knowing a word.
At the beginning of my reading journey or before it began, I think I read a post by one of 'em senpais who was at a higher level on here. And despite that level, new words are still encountered.
So because of that, I also went in not expecting to one up the novel, but for the novel to one up me! :dizzy_face: :joy: I read my first novel after finishing N3 and it was hard. But the second book was a little easier.
Try making a note of those new words via flashcard apps etc



This is a pretty good example of the concept. I still had to look up the reading for 塵, but I’m familiar with the saying and could read everything else so it’s easy to extrapolate that one word.


It depends pretty greatly on your definition of reading, but if you have a high standard for it and only want to come across a few unknown words per book then it IS a pipe dream. It would be nothing short of ignorance in my opinion to not think so.

Its just the reality that 99.9% of people arent gonna make it to that point. But its also the reality that nearly 100% of those people could have if they just wanted it more, worked harder, and didnt give up. If you give it your best effort and don’t give up, you’ll get there soon enough.

I managed my first adult novel with sub 10 unknown words (although like literally all but 1 of them I could guess with context) recently so I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I know that Im no language guru so anyone who does what I did will be able to get this far or further. The only problem is that what I did is over 6000 hours of study and practice to hone my reading ability. Its just a matter of if you’re willing to do the same.


It’s nice to hear from someone who has somewhat “made it,” or is approaching there. Always more to learn, for sure.

I’m going to hope that it bodes well for my chances that my reaction was more “Oh, that’s all?” than shock or sadness at the number, haha.

I’m not that far along, novels are still a future goal, and I can’t say how I compare to your actual Japanese ability @MichaelCharles , but I feel like I recently crossed the psychological barrier where I just looked around and felt like I finally entered “the loop” where I feel confident that if I read and look things up endlessly, I can make it from there. I’ve been doing it for a while, sure, but something only recently switched over and it feels like the worries that it won’t work out this way are just falling away, so hopefully once you stick at it a little longer, it’ll stop feeling so impossibly far, too.

And yet, when it comes to listening, that’s where I am, 100%. I can’t seem to break beyond the beginner podcasts at all, yet, so I’m having those “pipe dream” feelings and just trying to remind myself they aren’t true.

Best of luck, you’ve got this. Just takes a lot of time.


Yes, the first step is acceptance I find. You will encounter many kanji, words and expressions that you won’t recognize. But if you persevere that number will go down enough that reading isn’t unattainable with some patience for the process. That’s the more reasonable goal that isn’t that far off, imo.

Getting to a point where you can read Japanese like your native content…that’s much further away. But, you should be able to enjoy Japanese written media long before that.

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Yeah, being disappointed is usually a bad sign but maybe not for the reason you would think. If I’m being honest, I don’t think the amount of time it takes to reach that high level actually matters. The point is its enough to weed out a certain group of people be it 5000 hours or 10000 hours.

There are two types of people:

  1. Those who love learning japanese.
  2. Those who don’t.

You don’t have to tell the former to spend 10000 hours studying the language. They’ll do it of their own volition because they want to. Studying is just their hobby and getting good is a natural byproduct of doing their hobby.

For the latter, however, they would have run out of discipline and will power a long time before the finish line.

Thats the difference between someone who wants to learn japanese and someone who just wants to have learned Japanese. The latter doesn’t usually make it from what I’ve seen. They definitely can, but the odds are plenty stacked against them if they don’t have some big driving force like living in the country or a japanese spouse (although even plenty of people in that situation prolly half ass it).


This is why it’s important to set attainable goals, every step of the way. Those will keep you going, rather than having 1 big long-term goal. That’s fine as well to have, but for the immediate future, it’s best to focus on the things you actually will be able to accomplish in that time-span.


Well, if you’re group 2 then yes it’s very important. If you’re group 1 I don’t think it matters too much.

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I still think it’s important to separate immediate goals from long-term ones, as it’s just nice to have that self-pat on the back once you’ve manage to do something you’ve been wanting to do, be that watching an anime with no subs or reading a specific manga. :thinking: Even if i’m defo in the first group, I still have some things I wanna acomplish along the way to “improvement” in general.

I think for the first group the important thing isnt goals, but rather ways to view your own learning. It just so happens that the two can over lap. For example, if you say you wanna be able to watch something without subtitles and one day are able to, I think that will definitely motivate you, but mainly because it serves as an indicator of your improvement. So in that sense, it validates what you have done up until now as having truly learned japanese and improved your craft rather than some checkpoint. That’s just my opinion though.

Although, it’s not like you can’t want to be good and want to learn. They’re not mutually exclusive. It’s just that I don’t think the checkpoints are a necessity necessarily to the first group.


I’ve never had any grand thoughts about my enjoyment about learning Japanese, as in, while I like it, I’m also not learning Japanese for the mere sake of it.

For me, it has always been goal-oriented in some way or the other, but the goals keep changing along the way. Like watching stuff with no subs, reading manga, being able to listen to Drama CDs, play games, listen to live music, understanding rakugo, etc. etc. It’s always been like that for me, while also firmly set in my enjoyment of the journey.

The lack of “formal” goals, for lack of a better word, meant I was in no particular rush. :thinking: Like, thinking of “wanting to enjoy Japanese media X more”, is pretty vague in the end, while, “I wanna work/study in Japan next year”, requires you to keep track of your progress in a different way; it’s just more important for your life, after all.

Just some thoughts from my own point of view.

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What you’re saying is definitely relatable, materials without furigana were (and to a point still are) wildly intimidating to me. However, despite not knowing all too many kanji I do notice I’m getting a lot more comfortable without furigana.

What I’ve found helps the most is not knowing more kanji. I don’t know a lot of kanji or vocab at all. What helped me the most was changing my mentality towards kanji.

Knowing kanji in isolation is useful but not necessary. They’re ultimately just parts of words, and if you can recognise the words you’re good even if you don’t know the meaning or various readings of a kanji. If you can then recognise a kanji in a word you don’t know, and you know you’ve seen the kanji before in a word you do know, you can search for the new word pretty easily. That’s then gonna cement the kanji further, maybe teach you another reading for it, all good.

If you completely don’t know a word or its kanji yet, that’s not too bad either. Yomichan makes that a non-issue for selectable text and with repetition and practice you’ll learn to recognise words and kanji as you come across them more often, meaning you’ll need Yomichan less and less. For non-selectable text Jisho lets you search by drawing a kanji (learning about how stroke orders tend to work is simple enough and lets you do just that for 90% of the kanji you encounter) or by selecting the radicals it’s made up of. So there are ways to search for kanji you don’t know relatively easily.

And in a way, being uncomfortable without furigana is a self-perpetuating problem. You’re only uncomfortable without furigana because you’re used to having them, but as you say, you do know the words. You just don’t trust yourself to know them. Reading stuff without furigana and knowing what it says helps that confidence a lot.


I don’t feel that Furigana even help that much. Maybe for people, who know tons of words from listening or learned them only in Kana.

For me they help me remembering some readings, but they’re no help at all for the meanings.


Yeah, that’s pretty much the realisation I’ve come to as well. They mostly seem more useful than they are because they let you ignore kanji, but ignoring kanji is decidedly not what you want, in my experience. They make searching for new words a bit easier, and they can jog your memory on words you know but didn’t quite recall - but then searching for new words is still possible without them, and if you know a word but didn’t recognise the kanji maybe that added conscious step of looking for the word and realising you were supposed to recognise it is a good thing because it’ll help retention a lot more than just seeing the furigana and thinking “oh yeah that’s what it was”