Reading in Japanese

It’s true but there’s such a wealth of cultural content coming from Japan that it’s hard for me to imagine that you couldn’t find something to your taste, unless you really don’t like reading I suppose.

And yeah, being on WaniKani I assume that most people here have at least a passing interest in reading Japanese…


This is very normal – if your problem is that you need to think and push yourself to remember the words, and that recognizing them when you see them comes more naturally than pulling out the words from your brain yourself, then yes, reading will help you so much with this over time and it’s also not at all something to be concerned with. Otherwise if your accuracy is particularly struggling you can try to rethink how you approach remembering them in the first place, though what works for people (mnemonics, or repetition, or whatever) is pretty personal. I do think remembering new Japanese words gets easier over time as well though, once you learn how you best learn and just get a solid base.

It just occurred to me to share this as well – this topic was written as a primer for preparing to join the Absolute Beginner Book Club, but even if you decide not to do that, I think it’s full of great advice on what to aim to know and what to expect early reading to look like –


Oh, one more thing! Was gonna edit my post, but since you already liked it, wanted to make sure it didn’t get lost. There’s another topic about this recently from someone and it reminded me – it seems very normal when you start reading to have a really hard time remembering any new words. At the early stage you’re probably going to be looking up a word, then seeing it again on the next page and wondering what in the world it is and looking it up right after. That can be frustrating. I definitely did it for a bit myself. Try not to worry though, this is because the first steps into Japanese reading are going to require you to really wrap your head around how sentences are structured, how grammar works, potential slang and contractions, etc. At this phase everything is so vague and your brain is a little too overwhelmed to commit to remembering words very often. I promise it’ll pass if you stick with it.


I am interested in reading without it being challenging. And I only have 20-30 minutes each day to learn Japanese. So I think doing SRS will get me to reading comprehendion in a fewer years than reading random texts.

As for the interesting content, it’s a chicken and egg problem. The majority of content in Japanese that I want to read isn’t easily found, one has to look for it in search results etc. So, to be able to find it at all, one already has to know a lot of specialist words.

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Honestly if you were a beginner with only 20m of practice a day I’d 100% understand where you’re coming from, but being level 60 I find it hard to believe that you can’t find enjoyable content to read. I mean you do you, everybody has their own journey, but in my personal experience there’s a limit to how far SRS can take you without real-life practice.

I can’t imagine memorizing 20,000+ words through SRS before I attempt to switch to live content. And even if I did, the switch would still be painful because there’s more to reading than merely knowing the meaning of words, there are idioms, cultural references, grammar etc…

As such my intuition is that it’s simply impossible not to go through a challenging phase while switching from SRS/textbook practice to real world Japanese. It’s like learning to ride a motorcycle by watching Youtube videos and reading manuals, you can learn a lot that way but the first time you’re going to sit on that bike it’s going to feel awkward and scary, and it will take you some time to get used to it. All that prep work will pay off and you’ll probably progress faster, but it will still take time.

Again if your routine works for you and it feels like you’re progressing then go for it, I don’t mean to bully you into reading Japanese. It just doesn’t really mesh with my personal experience studying languages.


I guess everyone is different. I find it hard to imagine how you can prefer to slog through unfamiliar words, reading maybe a sentence a minute, just in order to extract the same information that you could get in English with a click of a „translate” button. Translators can translate well all the simple verbs, nouns, lately they’re even not bad at translating nuance. Ultimately, to get the fun out of reading in Japanese, one needs to throw the translator away and replace it with their mind - but it seems masochistic to train the knowledge of straightforward words into one’s brain by reading texts while they are so unintelligible, instead of just using SRS that’s giving you only what you need to learn. You aren’t getting the feeling of the text when you can decipher only one sentence a minute, and that probably not wholly correctly, and when you have to struggle to remember half the words. It is a way to learn, but SRS is just much more fun.

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Thank you for your advice.

I am preparing for a test and particularly for that I have to be able to read. In the test I also have a reading and understanding part ( the scariest part for me) . I often don’t recognise Kanji which I already know and it is stressing me.

Machine translation cannot in fact translate Japanese very well, especially not nuance. Slogging through sentences can be very, very hard and time-consuming, yes, but it’s also unavoidable if you want to actually understand what is being said. Reading in Japanese does not simply replace machine translation; it gives you actual understanding of the text.

You’d be surprised how much of the feeling of the text you can get even while reading very slowly! I’ve had times where I spent like 20 minutes painstakingly putting together the meaning of a sentence, and then when I finally figure it out, the emotion of it floors me.

And yeah, you will make mistakes, but you can always ask others for help, especially on a place like this forum, where there are so many people who really enjoy answering grammar questions and explaining what’s going on in a sentence. Making mistakes can feel embarrassing and frustrating, but each one is a learning opportunity, and you can’t proceed without making them at some point. As I heard someone once say, a person with a very high level of Japanese ability has probably made more mistakes than 99% of learners.

SRS might feel easier and more fun than slogging through a text, but SRS can only give you building blocks. At some point, you need to learn how to put them all together.


I want to stress that I’m posting this to try to help and not criticize you – am I misunderstanding and you’re referring to a beginner reading at a pace of a sentence per minute, or since you’re talking about still not reading, do you mean yourself? Because I’m interpreting it as the latter and… that shouldn’t be happening on average after a bit of practice. I know you mentioned trying to read a couple times before and I’m not sure how much time you spent when you did that? But considering that you have gone through drilling 6000 words here and who knows how many others outside WK (I’m assuming you studied grammar or you have other problems heh), unless you are exclusively interested in exceptionally difficult things (very old writing, or super technical stuff or something), the unknown words should be a quick speedbump you look up and then move on. If it’s taking so long, I can’t help but think that’s just a symptom of you not reading long enough to make reading itself more natural and faster. The motorcycle comparison is a good one.

Do what you think is best for you, but I don’t think using real native content is something you can ever be “ready” for. It’s always going to require a period of pushing through the pain. Even if I’m taking it too literally, with the amount of struggle you describe reading being, I’m worried you are holding out for a time that will never come.


Oh, I have tried reading content I enjoy. I spent 3 or 4 months reading NHK News for two hours daily, with Manabi Reader app. I read the first few volumes of 3X3 Eyes manga. Only then I concluded that reading is not a good way to increase my passive written Japanese vocabulary, and SRS is better. I’ll return to reading after I have a lot more complete vocabulary; for now, from time to time I check a few sentences here and there, to confirm I am getting stumped more and more rarely. When it actually becomes fun enough, I’ll switch.

I am also posting this for others - to tell them that, though generally people on this forum recommend reading early, that’s not the best way for everyone to learn, and that they should follow their judgment.

As for the other components of Japanese - grammar, slang, general recognition of mumbled or partial words, idioms - those have not posed any problem for me, compared to the amount of kanji-expressed vocabulary. Possibly it’s because I’ve been watching anime with subtitles for years before starting to learn Japanese, but I found I have a feeling for sentence flow and meanings in it, grammar etc. It’s only nouns, verbs, thing written in kanji that remain blank spaces in written text. Getting to know the vocabulary has been many times as hard as all the other components of Japanese combined. And I don’t think I am any exception, it’s just no one’s mentioning it in detail - but I don’t think anyone ever complained on this forum that they frequently know all the words in advanced sentences but can’t figure out what they mean together. So my advice to others is: focus on kanji and vocabulary, as the rest you’ll understand anyway long before you are done with this aspect of language.

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Fair enough, thanks for explaining your experience in more detail. I won’t push it beyond that, though I think the difference between you and a lot of people here is that looking words up just isn’t a big deal for us once we hit a certain baseline amount – which makes me want to mention tools available whether for you or just anyone happening to read this. Like I use Yomichan on my browser with my some of my reading and all I have to do is hold shift over a word and it’s defined in an instant. There’s usually something like that to make lookups fairly quick.

That said, I do at least half agree with you that SRS is more efficient for growing one’s vocab, and that once you’re out of the beginner stages, learning the 10s of thousands of words out there becomes the primary task. I still stand by the need to read a ton to properly learn the words, but I’ve tried reading without SRS and while I definitely retained words, it wasn’t really at a pace that I was happy with. That’s why if someone can stand SRS at all, I advocate for mining those new words you come across to get the best of benefits of both approaches, seeing words properly in context and training those skills specific to reading while also having the flashcards boosting your retention. It generally doesn’t have to be either/or, though I believe you mentioned having 20-30 minutes per day only which is more or less the time I spend reviewing my mined words so I can’t really argue in your specific case.

Thanks for the discussion. Honestly I’m somewhat torn because I do think people following their judgment and being flexible is, on the whole, a good piece of advice you’re giving. But I also remember the early months of reading where I couldn’t remember any words I came across, felt like I would never be able to make easy manga make any sense… and then I stuck through it because everyone said you should do that and I’m now something like approaching N1 level.


If that’s really the case, learn Kanji, but more than taught in WaniKani, like extra meanings and readings for WaniKani Kanji, as well as several Kanji outside WaniKani, might be pretty useful. At least to cover all words without Furigana. Kanji might not be exhaustive, but more exhaustive than vocabularies.

After that is learning to guess, and perhaps check sometimes. Words with Kanji aren’t exception to guessing compound words.


I found this very useful about how Steve Kaufman (who can speak 20 languages) doesnt memorize lists of words when he learns languages

You CAN’T Memorize A Language - YouTube


Is there anything that could have improved your experience? I’m planning to add “passive flashcard review” before long, so that when you read paragraphs, Manabi Reader will automatically mark any flashcards you have (in Manabi or Anki or Wanikani as well later) as “reviewed” and show you the progress you made that way.

It was over a year ago, so I am afraid I don’t remember the details, sorry. I think the experience was good, it’s that I got fed up with reading news in japanese, and couldn’t find anything non-boring to read.