2022 in Japanese

2022 was a fun year. Certainly in the sense of “I enjoyed myself during 2022”, but also in the sense of “it’s a year to have fun”. Everything I did this year, I did because I wanted to do it. I know I have a long way to go with Japanese, but even if I never improved from this moment forward, I would still be happy and proud of myself.

I knew from the start that it was going to be a manga year. Before starting to learn Japanese I had read literally three volumes of (translated) manga and didn’t really have any deep thoughts about it. Fast forward nearly seven years (!!) and reading manga is now one of my favorite pastimes; easily my favorite of all the immersion sources I’ve tried. Though it’s not immediately evident from my goal-tracking post, my original manga goal was just 100 volumes, and I decided to only set a goal of one novel for the entire year simply to keep myself from slacking too much. Both of those numbers would grow as I realized what I was capable of.

At the very beginning of the year, I stumbled across サマータイムレンダ and decided to give it a try. This one little series ended up having a massive impact on my year. From the very beginning I remember feeling like it was made just for me; the story was gripping, the artwork was beautiful, and the dialect (和歌山弁, a cozy member of the 関西弁 family that I fell in love with immediately) was easy enough for me to pick up with my existing dialect experience and a good sense for standard Japanese patterns which I could recognize in altered forms. I couldn’t put it down and before I knew it I had read the whole series (13 volumes) in just over two weeks. This was a real eye-opening moment for me. Suddenly my pipe dream of someday being able to comfortably read a whole volume of manga in a day was right before my eyes.

Encouraged by this new development, I decided to see how long I could keep up the pace, and by the end of April I had already completed my initial goal. I decided to go all in and raise my goal to 365 volumes, a goal which I would ultimately still surpass.

The secret, unsurprisingly, was that I needed to find series that were engaging from the very beginning and kept me interested enough to read one volume after the next. I dabbled into a lot of manga in my quest to find the next thing to binge-read. According to Calibre, I’ve read 168 volume-1s, but only 84 volume-2s, and once we get up to the volume-10s only 19 series are still hanging on. I thought I’d put together a list of the series that carried me through. The titles on this list aren’t necessarily my favorites of what I’ve read this year, nor are all of them even good in my opinion, but they all played a part in helping me reach my goal.

  • 鬼獄の夜 (all 14 volumes) – A solid three-star series until the very end. I could never justify rating it any higher but the pages flew by and I was thoroughly entertained. Not for the faint of heart.
  • スクール人魚 (all 5 volumes) – I’d overlooked this series for a while because I didn’t expect it to be anything but fanservice. It turned out to be a pretty creative anthology-type horror series. I believe I read the whole series in two days.
  • 恋獄の都市 (all 5 volumes) – Kind of trashy and felt a bit rushed at the end, but the story was interesting.
  • 火葬場のない街に鐘がなる時 (all 14 volumes) – Terrible. I wrote a post about how dumb it was from start to finish.
  • 東京卍リベンジャーズ (all 30 volumes so far) – Highly enjoyable. I was wary of it for a while but it’s full of good characters and has great moments of heroism and kindness.
  • チェンソーマン (all 11 volumes of part one) – The surprise comeback champion of the year. I love this series.
  • 青年少女よ、春を貪れ。(all 5 volumes) – A beautiful little mystery story about untangling the past and coming to terms with regrets and repressed grief.
  • ダンダダン (all 7 volumes so far) – Beautiful art, hilarious writing, a lot of heart.
  • 圧勝 (all 13 volumes) – Was it good? I can’t decide. I just couldn’t stop reading it.
  • サマータイムレンダ (all 13 volumes, plus the manga oneshot, plus the spinoff light novel) – Highlight of the year? Highlight of my reading career.

I won’t be attempting another 1vol/day goal this coming year, but it was extremely encouraging to know that I could keep it up if I wanted to.

If I have one major regret this year, it’s that I once again didn’t prioritize output as much as I wish I had. I do feel like I’m better at composition now than I ever have been before, and I give my input habit all the credit in that area. I know I can more or less hold my own if I’m put on the spot, and according to a few people on Tandem my texting is “indistinguishable from native” (which I know is not true, but it’s nice to hear anyway). 2023 will definitely be an output year! 知らんけど!

In January, Bunpro.jp gave me a free 30 day subscription, and I decided to go through the material that had been added since I quit actually “studying” over two years prior. Around half of the N1 grammar points that had been added were all familiar and obvious to me thanks to my extensive reading. I did some light study over the course of the month but came away from it confident that I was in a good place.

At the end of the month, I got a chance to work once more with こむぎ先生 on her Persona 5 doujin from Comiket 99. I never got around to writing a project postmortem…hopefully soon. I’m already lined up to work on her next two projects as well.

In April, an anime adaptation of サマータイムレンダ started airing and, thanks to Disney+ having exclusive streaming rights and learning nothing from Netflix’s mistakes, wasn’t made available for streaming anywhere outside of Japan. I had been looking forward to watching it with my sister, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and make my own subtitles. This ended up being a massive labor of love. Transcribing, translating, timing, positioning — I handled every stage of the process and it was common for each episode to take me three hours from start to finish.

In April, I developed a new Discord bot for the 日本語と英語 reading club, which is the original source of my weekly reports for the last few years. The new bot takes her likeness from 早瀬丸さん, the head librarian in 税金で買った本, and the code is available here. Compared to the original manual process (error-prone and tedious) and the previous bot integration (inconsistent due to core libraries nearly a decade out of date), it’s been running smoothly and it’s nice to see people encouraging each other in their reading pursuits.

In August, my love affair with Bunpro came to an unfortunate end. A tenuous attempt to connect the prohibitive な with the self-reflection な particle led to a days-long argument on the forums where I tried to make the case that Bunpro was only hurting their own product by allowing their staff to post unsubstantiated theories as fact in the grammar explanation sections. Embarrassingly, one staff member tried citing a linguistics paper which included language that explicitly disproved his own point. The offending material was eventually corrected and I took my small victory, but I know there will be more where that came from. Unfortunately this leaves me without a “perfect” grammar resource to point new learners to.

August also marked the start of my exploration into audiobooks. With the JLPT N1 on the horizon, I was concerned about the listening section and wanted to improve my ability in general. I signed up for the 聴き放題 course on Audible and essentially cut music out of my life for the next few months. I’m sure a lot of this listening time was essentially useless but there were many audiobooks which I enjoyed a lot and I do feel my listening comprehension has gone up. I can listen to most stories comfortably at 1.4x speed and I can easily see myself leveraging this into shadowing in the future.

In September, the サマータイムレンダ anime came to an end and I rushed to get the final episode subtitled the same day. It was a wild ride from start to finish but the final episode featured my greatest translation trick yet — a singable translation of an important song that kept the same rhythm and also rhymed with each original Japanese line. I’m overdue for a postmortem on this project as well, but I’m extremely proud of the result. For now the subtitles are only available to a few trusted friends, but I’ll be releasing them soon.

In November, my good friend Chris (the first one in our friend group to suggest we all learn Japanese together) decided to turn his focus back to the language. While I spend a lot of my time helping answer questions in 日本語と英語, I do have a general rule against tutoring just due to the fact that it’s so easy for people to flake out and disappear. Personal friends are the exception of course, and I set Chris up with a guide that reflected what I would have done to learn Japanese with the benefit of hindsight. He’s still working steadily through the guide and making good progress and I’m excited to be there to help him on his way.

In December, I once again attempted the JLPT (N1 this time). I’ve written about my thoughts already but to briefly summarize, I’m sure I made some mistakes, but I didn’t feel out of my depth. If I don’t pass this year, I’m quite confident I’ll pass the next year without needing to do any supplementary study.

As the clock ticks towards midnight, my mind is so full of thoughts about what led me here. I’ve had so many experiences that never would have been possible if I hadn’t decided to learn Japanese all those years ago, and they’re nothing compared to what’s on the horizon. It’s been a hell of a year and 2023 is shaping up to be even better.