My Japanese Journey (so far)

It’s been quite some time since I started learning Japanese, and as time goes on it gets harder and harder to remember the specific details. It definitely hasn’t been easy and I want to make a record of some of the things that went wrong along the way. This will be a “living document” of sorts, and I’ll be adding to it as I continue learning.

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Japanese reading report

Fifteen volumes of manga this week! Another new record, holy smokes. I also watched some anime I think. Finished off ヴァニタスの手記, which apparently covers the entire manga up to this point; very vexing since I’d like some more. Also watched the first episode of 阿波連さんははかれない which does a really good job of adapting the manga’s comedic timing. Random vocab acquisition: 練習台, which showed up the same day in a manga I was reading.

I read vol. 2 and 3 of 大きくなったら、結婚する! and it was fine. I more or less just used them if I needed to read something quickly to keep my streak, since they’re pretty short. The premise is cute but the implementation is ultimately nothing special. The series is over now but I could see myself checking out more of the author’s work in the future.

The heavy hitter this week was 東京卍リベンジャーズ. I read vol. 3-10, so I guess I can officially say I’m into the series now. If I have one real complaint about it, it would be that I occasionally get distracted thinking “most of these problems could be avoided if all of these middleschoolers weren’t so stupid”. Aside from that, the characters are fun and the story is a real wild ride, with every volume ending in a solid hook for the next one. I’ll definitely be reading a bunch of this over the next couple of weeks.

I had planned to finish ヨコハマ買い出し紀行 and read vol. 10-13, but I ended up having one left. I’ll probably read the last one tonight as I fall asleep. The vibes are very strong and it’s been pretty interesting seeing how the story has started to focus more explicitly on both the passing of the old and the birth of the new. I’m not really sure how the series will wrap up but I guess I’ll find out soon.

Last but not least, I read a really nice little oneshot called きみが、すき. It’s a collection of little romance vignettes, each anywhere from 2-20 pages long. At times I was almost getting a “徒然チルドレン but without the frustration” vibe. Random vocab acquisition: 猛 being used as an intensifier (like 超 I guess).

Japanese reading report

Another seven-volume week. Trying to catch up to average one per day this month so I’ll have to do better next week. Still, definitely not bad.

I continued reading ヨコハマ買い出し紀行, volumes 8 and 9. These are always pretty smooth but I remember being pretty happy that I could figure out the kanji for 柿 just based on context (since it’s not too common and there was no furigana) and noticing a specific nuance where a character implied that she had firsthand knowledge of something by using あんな instead of そんな. Kind of a minor thing and I don’t think I would have picked up on it if the other character hadn’t pointed it out, but pretty interesting.

見える子ちゃん vol. 7 came out this week so naturally I read that as soon as I got my hands on it. The previous arc has been wrapped up pretty nicely and the next one seems quite interesting so far — there’s a new transfer student who has some kind of monster obscuring her face and she doesn’t even seem to be aware of it despite the fact that it’s apparently reacting to her suppressed emotions. It seems like a cool premise so naturally I’ll be excited to read on.

I had picked up 東京卍リベンジャーズ vol. 2 a while ago and kept forgetting to read it. I wasn’t impressed by the first episode of the anime but the manga left me curious and this next volume was a further improvement, so I’ll probably keep reading it at some point soon. Noteworthy moment: figuring out the word モメる just based on context (it seems like such a small thing but beggars can’t be choosers; I feel like my ratio of new discoveries has really plummeted lately).

This week also saw a new volume of 着せ恋 (vol. 9), completely unexpected but very welcome. This one seemed to mostly revolve around Marin realizing she had put on some weight and then learning about her new camera, and then the volume ended with some weird unresolved tension with a new character. Overall kind of unsatisfying? Hopefully the next one comes out soon.

Watched a couple more episodes of re:zero. Not really too much to report I guess. Rosewald is a stinker and Petra is a cutie.

Finally, I’ve gotten back to 怪物事変 with vol. 3. I’m not sure why I’ve let this one sit for so long, it’s so good and this volume even has best girl 紺 on the cover!!! Cool mosquito vampire women and a cute date chapter where 晶 and 織 were tailing 夏羽 and loudly giving “subtle” hints about what he should do to be more romantic. I’ll be finishing this one as I fall asleep but I’m totally beat and just want to get my report in before I head to bed.

How I fixed my listening comprehension

I used to have a really hard time understanding spoken Japanese, despite being (at the time) fairly comfortable with reading. I remember thinking I could improve by watching anime with Japanese subtitles, but if there was any benefit it must have been pretty minimal, and I realized eventually that I was just giving myself more practice reading, but when I tried watching without any subtitles at all, I just got frustrated and confused.

Fortunately I happened to hear about Subs2SRS around that time, which is a really cool tool that turns videos into flashcards by reading subtitle files. I didn’t exactly want to add a whole new SRS routine into my study routine, so I came up with a low-impact method that helped me out a lot in just a short amount of time.

The video above shows the method in action, but I’ll summarize it here as well.

#1: Pick the show you’re going to watch

You’re going to want to pick something that’s around your reading level. The goal is to bring your listening up to parity with your reading level, and you don’t want to be spending too much time puzzling out the text on each card when you check your results.

It’s also worth mentioning that anything that helps ease the process is good. For example: you could watch a show you’ve seen before with English subtitles, so you have an idea of what’s going on and don’t get totally lost, or you could watch an anime that was based on a manga you’ve already read.

The most important thing is that the show you watch should be interesting. You’re going to have a hard time staying engaged with something you’re watching just because you heard it was easy. Pick something you actually want to watch and don’t worry too much about it.

#2: Find (or make) a flashcard deck for it

This can be a bit tricky but it’s not that bad. In many cases the hardest part is just sourcing Japanese subtitles. Once you have all the necessary files, you can download Subs2SRS here. The manual should have everything you need in order to make your decks. Alternately, you can download a bunch of premade anime decks from here.

Whether you download or make your own, I really recommend you keep your card format as simple as possible. On the front, an image with an auto-play audio clip; on the back, the Japanese text line. You don’t need any special formatting or processing to make this work. It’s a pretty simple process, so don’t waste time trying to make the perfect card template.

#3: Watch an episode of your show

Nothing too special here. Watch an episode start to end without pausing to look up words or grammar. It’s okay if you feel overwhelmed at first; we’ll be reviewing this material later. Just try to pay attention for stuff you do understand.

When you watch anime with English subtitles, your brain has no reason to try and understand the spoken Japanese in the background, and as a result you’ll never develop that skill no matter how many hours you put in. The simple act of moving outside your comfort zone can shift you into almost a kind of survival mode, where you’re forced to start understanding the material just because you’re suddenly out of your depth.

#4: Study the material

The next step is to go through all the cards that correspond to the episode you just watched. Repeat the following steps for each line:

  • Listen to the audio clip, using the image on the front to remind you of context
  • If you understand it, suspend it immediately, otherwise flip the card
  • Compare the sentence on the back to the audio clip you just heard
  • Replay the audio as you read the sentence. Try to identify areas that are difficult for you, such as slurred sounds or fast speech. At this point, feel free to look up words or grammar that you didn’t understand on your first watch.
  • Pass the card

Repeat this process for each card until you reach the end of the episode. It’s a good idea to set your new card limit to something very high (or use the custom study option) so you can get through them all in one go. Don’t worry about overloading yourself with reviews; more on this in the next section.

It’s fine to watch a few episodes back to back and then go through all the cards afterwards, but I do recommend that you do the watching and reviewing on the same day. Without the context in your short-term memory, you might have trouble understanding certain lines that wouldn’t normally give you trouble.

#5: Review

For typical anki flashcards, I’m a firm proponent of “always review every card you have due”, but if you’re blazing through hundreds of cards per episode, you’ll probably have a hard time sticking to a regimen like that.

Here’s what I suggest instead:

  • In your deck options under “Lapses”, set your “New Interval” to 40%, so pressing “Again” won’t reset your card all the way to zero
  • Do as many reviews per day as you want to, but never zero
  • Press “again” if you feel like seeing the card soon would be helpful, otherwise press “good”
  • If you ever feel like you’ve got a good grasp on a card, suspend it
  • Use a card retirement addon to set your cards to automatically suspend themselves when they reach a certain interval (I used three months)

If you’re the kind of person that like keeping anki decks around forever, resist that urge in this case. The point of this method is to give you a way to smoothly and easily quiz yourself on audio cues. It’s not to serve as a brain backup or keep you fresh on rare vocab. The end goal for a deck using this method is for you to complete it and never touch it again. By suspending cards that you’ve mastered, you essentially give the deck itself an expiration date.

#6: Be free

Don’t feel like you have to do this for every show you ever watch. This method is ultimately just a way to give yourself a little kick into gear. If you ever catch yourself thinking “I could probably learn more by watching another show instead of revisiting this one”, follow that instinct! The ultimate goal is to leave flashcards and tools behind and make the language your own.

Japanese reading report

This week I really wanted to get back in the groove and set an non-negotiable goal of seven volumes of manga. Ended up having to read two in a row tonight after getting home and it’s after midnight, but hey, it counts as the same day as long as you don’t go to bed first.

So first up I read vol. 4-7 of ホリミヤ. Was planning to finish the series before I read anything else but ultimately had to take a break. There’s a lot I like about this series but also some really exhausting stuff. Hori in particular is just kind of awful a lot of the time? She’s selfish and controlling and there were times where I felt actually kind of uncomfortable with the way she was behaving. I don’t really remember much about the anime so hopefully she’ll get over it. In contrast I feel like Remi is surprisingly mature despite her first impression. I hope she gets some more focus in the near future (plus best girl Sakura; the cooking class chapter was great).

Next I read ヨコハマ買い出し紀行 vol. 6 and 7. These always go by so fast if I don’t slow myself down and let the art soak in. I’ve started noticing that the younger characters have gotten noticeably older recently and I really like how it portrays the passage of time. The famed もののあわれ has started to ramp up and it’s hard to describe exactly how it makes me feel. Definitely need to finish this one off soon.

I watched some anime throughout the week; one more episode of re:zero s2, three episodes of ヴァニタスの手記, two episodes of 東京24区. Re:zero was a wild toal rollercoaster but it ended up being quite touching in the end. I literally have never once thought about Subaru’s pre-isekai days but they managed to fit a lot of character development into just one episode. 東京24区 is still kind of all over the place. ヴァニタスの手記 is still great but they’re running out of manga and episodes so we’re getting into nail-biting territory on three different fronts.

Tonight, for my last manga of the week, I read 光が死んだ夏 vol. 1. The cover caught my eye and I knew I had to read it after flipping through the first few pages. Now that I’ve finished it, I would strongly recommend anyone reading this to give it a try. It’s hard to describe it without giving away what makes it interesting but there were many moments that really messed with me and it really play to the strengths of its medium. Anxiously awaiting the next volume (it just came out this month so I’m sure I’ll be waiting for a while.

Japanese reading report

Another light week, only four volumes of manga yikes! It’s still way more than my initial pace but I do feel like I’m slacking. According to Moyase I just hit the point where I could read one volume every ten days and still hit my initial goal of 100 for the year which is kind of funny.

First thing I did this week was catch up with トニカクカワイイ. I read volumes 18 and 19 with most of the story happening in vol. 18. The backstory arc wrapped up nicely and it’s cool to see all the hints that have been dropping throughout get tied together. It turns out that the “artist and his sister” bit from last time was was actually two characters from ハヤテのごとく (which I’ve never read but apparently it was by the same guy). I know this because the last 20-30 pages of the book this time were dedicated to this weird little omake nonsense which I did not really appreciate. Hoping for further development of some recent hints in the next volume.

Next at my sister’s recommendation I read ゆびさきと恋々, a cute little romance story starring a deaf girl. It does some really interesting things with typography, like using grey text for cases where 雪 is able to read peoples’ lips, but then sometimes flipping or rotating certain characters to show that she didn’t quite catch it. It’s really cute and I particularly enjoy the narration, which I can only describe as “lyrical”. Definitely going to be reading more soon.

Finally I read あせとせっけん vol. 2. It’s been a while since I read vol. 1 for some reason, not sure why I took so long to get back to it. I really like this series despite the weirdness of the first few chapters; this volume was pretty light on the eyebrow-raising stuff and was pretty much just comfy relationship development. This last volume took me way longer to read than I expected, not sure if it’s something about the text or just the fact that there’s so much of it. I have one more volume of this and then I’ll probably get the rest of it pretty soon.

Japanese reading report

As expected, the arrival of Elden Ring put a cramp on my reading time. My soft goal for this week was to get caught up on トニカクカワイイ, which I ultimately didn’t succeed at; I read volumes 13-17 and will finish 18 tonight as I fall asleep for a total of six volumes this week, but I had completely forgotten that vol. 19 came out just recently so I didn’t include it in my plans at all. Oh well.

So the story has finally picked up and all the mysteries that they’ve been dropping hints about have been brought to the forefront. It’s actually pretty funny how much of a tonal shift there was around vol. 17 (there’s even an おまけ that features an author insert getting berated by his sister for including such a serious arc in his “sickeningly sweet romantic comedy”) but all things considered I think it was done well. The storytelling in this part was quite gripping and the twist on 竹取物語 was neat. There are still some threads that need pulling together so I’m hoping that’ll come soon.

I finally started watching re:zero season 2 and I’m only three episodes in but it’s pretty wild so far. All I knew about this season ahead of time was that there was a character named Echidna, which I thought was a pretty stupid name, but when she actually showed up I realized it was in reference to the the Grecian monster (エキドナ) and not the animal (針もぐら). A clear-cut case where the original language version is superior.

Japanese reading report

Pretty lightweight week for me, at least compared to my recent pace. Not looking forward to how next week will be once I finally get my copy of Elden Ring. This will also be a pretty light report since I stayed up late to squeeze in some reading today and I don’t want to be up too much later.

First was 夜ふかしの詩 vol. 1. Didn’t really like it at first, the main kid is kind of a bummer. It got better as it went on but I gotta be honest, I’m not really sure what the premise is going to be. I’ll read vol. 2 before passing judgement since I have it anyway. Learned some useful (?) sex words. The art is nice.

Read 珈琲をしづかに vol. 4 and 5, which brought the series to a close. Around the middle of vol. 5 I started feeling like it was getting close to a nice conclusion and was curious how the story would continue past that point, but it ended up ending there instead (I had missed the 完結 badge on the store page and didn’t realize it was over). I’m happy with the way it turned out though. Five volumes felt just right.

I also read 阿波連さんははかれない vol. 6 and wow, the sudden plot development! As funny as ever but I’d actually forgotten how long it had been since anything changed in the status quo so that was a nice surprise.

Tonight I read half of トニカクカワイイ vol. 13 and there has also been some interesting plot development here, though it pretty quickly went back to the standard formula. Haven’t finished this one yet though, so maybe there’s more in store before the end of the volume.

Throughout the week I finally finished watching 赤髪の白雪姫 S2and just…never figured out why it’s supposed to be good. I wanted to give it a good shot since my sister loves it so much but it has a bad habit of introducing a new trial and then resolving it in the very same episode. I think part of the problem is that the きゅん moments in this show just do nothing for me personally. Feels kinda bad. Apparently the manga is better than the book and I have a few volumes of it so maybe I’ll give it a try sometime.

Thinking about the old internet

I used to be a huge fan of Spiderman when I was a kid. The Sam Raimi movie was my first introduction to the character, as well as one of my first exposures to what comic books could be (the DVD release came with a digital copy of Spider Man Blue #1 and Black Cat #1, both of which were quite a shock to the system). My family never got the newspaper, but when we would visit my grandparents I would always have a drawer full of comic pages waiting for me (my grandma, bless her heart, would collect them and set them aside) and I would spend hours cutting out the Spiderman strips and pasting them into a handmade paper album. Maybe it was just a combination of my general attraction to comic books and the fact that Spiderman was the only example that was remotely accessible, but the mythos had its hooks in deep for quite some time.

I had a favorite website around this time. I can’t remember for the life of me how I found it in the first place, but I still remember the url offhand — “alaph.com/spiderman”, aka “Eric’s Spiderman Homepage“, as preserved by the miraculous Internet Archive. It wasn’t even a dedicated site — the actual homepage appears to be some kind of ecommerce site or consultancy business — just a subdomain that some guy decided to devote to writing about his interests.

I think about Eric’s site from time to time but it really came back to me recently thanks to Wordle. It’s currently somewhat of a sensation, which is in no small part due to the clever way in which it displays your result when you solve a puzzle, which starts off inscrutable and quickly strikes home once you play it for the first time.

Something I found fascinating about Wordle is that it in less than a year since its launch, it had managed to become a daily routine for a huge number of people worldwide. Less than a week after I personally found it, @wordlestats was reporting 80k players, and two months later that number is over 300k. In an internet which has become so commodified and platform-driven, it’s amazing to see a subdomain on some random guy’s homepage become so huge.

Of course, as I write this, the link above will instead redirect to the New York Times, who purchased Wordle for a “low-seven-figure sum” and no doubt plan to monetize it or at the very least leverage it to attract a new audience to their other word games. The creator says it’s a perfect fit, and I have to say: props to him for getting his payout. But I feel a bit disappointed that this is the way things have gone. Wordle was a small independent website that managed to permeate the zeitgeist for a few months before being gobbled up by a big company and consolidated. The fact that the thousands-long word list had to be audited to remove potentially offensive words is just the icing on the cake.

There’s a lot of buzz these days about how “decentralization is the future”, which is one of those statements where I agree with all the words but not what people mean when they say it. This kind of line is always tied up with the push for Web 3, which is of course in reference to the distributed redundancy features built into blockchain applications. There might be some use case for a massively redundant database (blockchain or otherwise), but just because something is widely distributed around the world doesn’t make the internet more open or more interesting. In fact, the distributed nature of Blockchain is, is for my money, the single least interesting and desirable type of decentralization.

I’m certainly no hardline social media zealot (I spend a lot of time on Discord and stay somewhat active on Twitter), but the universal move towards centralized platforms doesn’t strike me as such a great thing. I’d like to see more Wordles and Eric’s Spiderman Homepages out there. I have a few blogs and webcomics I check daily and I wish that list was longer. Keeping a blog is a lot of fun, even if nobody reads it. It’s nice to be in charge of when your website theme changes and it’s empowering to know that you retain full ownership of everything you post.

The old internet was weird and interesting. I wish it would come back for real this time.

Blog update

For the past nearly three years (thanks to the magic of backdating) I’ve averaged more than one post per week due to my Japanese reading reports, but since I don’t post about other stuff nearly as often, they’ve ended up taking over the entire feed. I’ve been thinking of posting more regularly, so starting today my reading reports will be filtered from the main page. They’ll still be available from the link above or through the category in the navigation bar.