2020 in Japanese

2019 was a year of rapid visible growth in my Japanese ability, mostly thanks to my realization (in late 2018) that I needed to dramatically up-prioritize my grammar studies and introduce a steady diet of native reading material. 2020 would be more of the same, though with a much more gradual slope.

I set two reasonable goals for myself at the beginning of the year:

  • Read 52 volumes of manga (1/week)
  • Read 1 novel

I wasn’t too concerned about manga — I had read about that same number the previous year, and (assuming my reading speed continued to improve) one per week seemed very achievable. Novels, however, were something I had tried multiple times to get into without any luck. My goal was to change that this year, though to be honest I was still unsure if I would be able to manage it.

My first major achievement of the year was Persona 5: Scramble – The Phantom Strikers. My copy arrived just a few days after the Japanese release date of 2/20/2020 and I finished it in under a month, with 75 hours on the clock. This was super encouraging; it took me around 250 hours to finish Persona Q2 despite both of them being pretty lightweight compared to the mainline games, and my pace all throughout was very smooth. As I write this, P5S has only recently been announced for an English release, and won’t be available until a full year after the Japanese edition came out. One of my original goals with Japanese was to be able to play a Dark Souls game early, so even though I missed that boat it’s nice to be able to fulfill the same goal with a new series.

In April I achieved one of my goals for the year by finishing up 氷菓 with the wanikani book club. I had enjoyed the anime a great deal, but the book was just…not fun. I found the main character to be rather unlikable, which just led to the whole experience being tinged with annoyance. It was also quite difficult to read, especially as a first novel. I came out of it feeling somewhat jaded, and came pretty close to calling it quits right there. Fortunately I decided to give the next book club a chance — a decision I’m very glad I made, as it introduced me to one of my favorite Japanese authors and also demonstrated that difficulty was very much a spectrum.

Around this time I was spending some time at my childhood home in the woods of New Hampshire, which gave me the perfect opportunity to record a new bilingual let’s-play of the first act of P5S. The difference in quality when compared with my PQ2 playthrough is very apparent and quite encouraging.

I also dug my PS4 out of storage and finished up P5: Royal, which I had begun playing at the end of 2019 before being forced to put it on hold when I packed up my apartment. It took me quite a long time to beat it (a 100% clear including the brand new content) and I enjoyed every moment. Even though I had missed the opportunity to play it before the English release, I was still gratified to be able to follow along with the new story content despite having had no prior experience.

Around the middle of the year, I realized that I was a mere seven volumes of manga away from meeting my goal, so I decided to set a new record and read one volume per day for the entire week. This ended up being more of a scheduling challenge than anything else, since it was the same week my brother was getting married, but I managed.

しあわせの花 was the next novel I tackled, and then 狼と香辛料 immediately afterwards. At this point I was getting pretty comfortable with the idiosyncrasies of prose and it felt like a whole new world had opened up. I also started reading 本好きの下剋上 vol. 1 with the wanikani book club around this time, but due to the slow pace I wouldn’t finish it for a few months more.

With the English release of 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim announced, I suddenly remembered that I had been interested in playing but had passed on it due to insecurity in my ability to follow along. With my new experience under my belt, I decided to grab a Japanese copy and try to finish it before the English release date of 9/22/2020. I ultimately overshot this goal by a few days, but the whole experience was very smooth — nearly every line of dialogue is voiced, and I was able to follow along with the vast majority of it at full speed. I’m very glad I decided to prioritize this; it’s easily my game of the year, even above P5: Royal, which came as a big surprise.

秋の牢獄 was my next novel completed, squeezed into the week before we moved on to 本好きの下剋上 vol. 2. At the last minute, on track to end the year with seven novels under my belt, I decided to throw one more in for good measure, finishing 片羽の蝶 in a record six days. Over the last few weeks I had also been maintaining a carefully-determined pace to finish out the year with 104 volumes of manga (exactly double my original goal, for an average pace of two per week).

Manga has been solidly in my comfort zone for some time now, but there were a few accomplishments that I feel are noteworthy in one way or another. I finished 五等分の花嫁 and 鬼滅の刃, both of which I started reading fairly early on. I like when a series can end on its own terms, and both of these wrapped up nicely. 五等分の花嫁 in particular was the first manga that I tried my liberal skipping method on, so it’s been with me from the very beginning. I also read both volumes of 虎子、あんまり壊しちゃだめだよ, which, while it’s not particularly remarkable, was the first manga I ever tried to read (and failed spectacularly), so being able to revisit it early this year and get through it with no trouble at all was a good marker of how far I’ve come.

One milestone I’m rather proud of is that throughout the entire year, I barely did any actual “study” at all. In March I broke my streak of 648 days studied on wanikani, and I haven’t done a single review ever since. I also deleted my personal Anki deck around the same time, and stopped reviewing my subs2srs deck not too long afterwards. 2020 was the year I quit SRS (for good? who can say), and despite buying 新完全マスター N1 books, I barely touched them except to idly look up new grammar as I discovered it in my reading. The vast majority of Japanese I learned throughout the year came naturally through my daily reading, not from textbooks. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve reached the (long long) endgame.

In October I was promoted to “Assistant” on the 日本語と英語 discord server, a community which was invaluable to me during my first year of actual progress learning Japanese. Joining the server and realizing how much I didn’t know (not to mention the stuff I thought I knew but was wrong about) was a wake-up call that helped me reevaluate my study methods and get myself out of a deep rut, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back now that I more or less know what I’m talking about.

Finally, there’s one goal that I never really sat down to formulate a plan of attack for: “get my act in gear with regard to speaking”. I must admit I’m ending the year with exactly as much ability, not to mention confidence, as when it began. On the bright side, the more I’ve read, the more comfortable I’ve become with natural, idiomatic phrasing rather than the beginner trap of formulating thoughts in English and trying to fit Japanese words to the same structure. Perhaps next year will be better.