Thanks so much everyone for all the helpful information and advice. You have given me lots of new things to try. It is really good hearing of others experience, and good to know I am not alone struggling with this!
The most painless method is reading in browser + using Yomichan or a similar hover dictionary. I think this will significantly increase the time and progress you make before losing focus. I really do not recommend using physical books as a beginner if you do not like spending lots of time looking things up. When I discovered that I could convert my ebooks into HTML and read it in a web browser, it changed so much for me.
My personal approach to learning was always minimizing the time spend on tedious tasks that aren’t absolutely necessary. Deciphering sentences as a beginner takes long enough; manually looking up all the words you don’t understand will likely take the fun out of it or make your progress painfully slow.
If you feel like tedious tasks make you avoid reading, I would recommend taking this approach. Of course this may not work for everyone. Using a mixed approach might also be a good idea.
Same reason I got a regular Kindle years ago. I wanted to read without ending up browsing videos/email. I like the idea of purpose built devices. The electronic dictionary is a nice idea. Might look into that myself to get away from the smartphone.
As far as reading though, I’m not very good at it but I have the Todai News app on my Android devices. Able to highlight words and the meaning pops up on it. I also have an old phone where I log into amazon-jp on the Kindle app where I COULD read Japanese books. I have one book but it’s too advanced for me right now. But then, if/when looking up words, I have a newer phone, tablet, or laptop to look up on Jisho or dictionary app.
It’s one of those things that works really well for me but I’m always a little hesitant about recommending just because it’s a bit pricy. The trouble is that to get the decent J-E dictionary you end up having to get a top-of-the-range model that’s stuffed with extra stuff you’ll never use.
I wouldn’t read physical books as a beginner either, which I still am more or less.
I do watch content in japanese in my browser, with japanese subtitles and use yomichan to pause and hover over text. Too enjoyable, rather do this 5+ hours a day, than force myself to read for 30min. Never really liked reading, probably has to do with ADD.
Some sort of reading, made convenient and fun will make you continue to do so. Are books more efficient? Probably, but doesn’t really matter when I’m compensating with alot of time instead.
Besides, in the future when my japanese is better, I’d probably pick up a few novels as I would probably find them far more enjoyable.
In short: Want to get into reading quick? Satorireader.
Annoyingly, DHL say the parcel from Kinokuniya was damaged in transit and they can’t deliver it. So I now have an unanticipated Japanese writing assignment with the prompt “write a brief query to Kinokuniya customer service asking them what they’re going to do about it”…
I prefer physical books, and I either buy them on amazon or borrow at the university library. I like sitting at the library when reading, because they have comfortable chairs and fewer distractions than my apartment.
Whenever I absolutely need to look something up I check Jisho on my phone, but I make a conscious effort to select for books where the unknown word % isn’t too high. I’m doing Anki every morning and I feel like it’s sort of like a pre-emptive lookup (I frequently notice words in books that I learned on Anki that same day).
Also 95% of “unknown” words I encounter are built using kanji where I know both the meaning(s) and common readings, so I can usually infer the word meaning from the context, and the reading from what sounds plausible (usually onyomi readings and possibly adding a dakuten). I still look these up now and then to confirm that I guessed the reading correctly.
Anki is a flashcard app that works sort of like WK. You can download “decks” of cards or make your own (for example, you could make a deck over time by adding words you come across while reading). You don’t need to type the answers, but rather just click to reveal it and rate how difficult it was (this effects how long it is until next time it shows up).
Here is a picture from the desktop app (I also have it on my phone, and as long as I sync between sessions I can use both). I’m mainly using the core vocabulary deck (it has like 30k cards) but I also used smaller decks with more specific sets of cards to prepare for the JLPT.
E-ink readers are great to read for long periods. I use Boox Leaf 2, with ッツ Ebook Reader in Kiwi Browser. This way, you can use the extension yomichan, which is more convenient than other dictionaries I tried.
If I’m reading manga, I keep a physical volume in my electric car. When it’s due for a charge (I get 30 minutes free charging/day) I plug it in and read, writing down unknown words in a notebook. The next step is making flashcards for those unknown words…
If I’m playing the Prince of Tennis Switch visual novel, I use a capture card to record me playing. I’ll listen to what the characters say, then read the subtitles out loud. After I’m done my session I’ll listen to the video and write down unknown words/phrases in a Google doc. I also need to make flashcards for that…
Others posted about Anki, so I’ll just throw this in here:
If you have a little tech know-how or at least patience googling, and want a super clean, efficient way to SRS what you read:
It is a lot to get setup in the beginning, but once you do, it’s extremely efficient.
No clicking around, copy pasting things into Anki.
No putzing with dumping word, then definition, then this then that.
Get this setup, and customize it a bit where you want. For example, I have it set so that when I click a kanji from the vocab word in the Anki flashcard, it sends me to wanikani instead of jisho or whatever the default setup was.