Japanese practice reflection

Last night I had my first-ever proper Japanese conversation practice session with a couple of members from the 日本語と英語 discord server (one native speaker, one fellow learner). It was a lot of fun and I feel encouraged by the outcome; I’ve often felt like all the input I’m getting was doing a great job of helping me develop strong comprehension skills, but not making a huge difference for my production ability. After this practice session, I feel more like my conversation ability is trapped in my head and just needs a little help getting out, like a rusty faucet that needs some encouragement before it can be turned on and off easily.


The biggest thing I noticed is that I rarely had to think hard about the words I wanted to use, but when it did happen it was like my whole brain had shut down. Since we were trading off languages, I was able to fall back on English to keep the conversation going, but I would obviously prefer to move past that.

Since I’ve never really had a proper conversation before, this was also the first time that my typical speech mannerisms had a chance to manifest in Japanese, which was pretty interesting. In English I tend to say stuff like “I guess” (when describing my opinions), and in Japanese I found myself using かな at the end of a lot of my sentences.

One moment I thought was kind of funny was when we were talking about another member of the server and I was asked for my opinion; my answer of 悪いやつじゃないと思う got a laugh out of our native friend and a response of “you’re talking just like a Japanese person!” Just a fun reminder that there’s more to language than just grammar and vocabulary.

Problem areas

Numbers have always been a pain point. More audio immersion would probably be a big help in this regard. At one point I was trying to report on the temperature (-5c) and accidentally said マイナスごじゅう instead of マイナスごど, which got a very surprised reaction. I feel like I made a similar mistake a little later, forgetting to use 回, and then again using ~人目 instead of ~番目 when describing my siblings.

On a number of occasions I found myself suddenly using polite forms (ですます, or saying はい instead of うん or そう) just for one sentence in the middle of a casual conversation. I’m not sure why certain phrases seemed to come out naturally in polite mode but it’s something I want to work on of course.

One more thing that sticks in my mind as a bit of a “regret” is that there were some words I used where I feel like a similar but subtly different word would have been a better fit. As one example in particular, I was asked “why take two trips to Japan instead of staying the whole time” and my answer was 仕事があるから. I feel like 仕事があるし would have been a more natural response in this case, but I thought of it just a moment too late. On another occasion, I was asked if I had heard of something, and I said 知らない at the same time as our native friend said 分からない. Obviously her response would have been more natural.

The last thing I’d like to work on is also a bit of a curiosity. I occasionally found myself code-switching back to English, but only for specific words. One repeat offender was that I would intend to say けど at the end of a sentence, but it would somehow become the English word “though” on its way out of my mouth; another was that I would occasionally just add “so…” at the end, but not with any particular Japanese word in mind, just an example of English brain taking over.

All in all, I feel like it went pretty well and I’m excited for the next one.

Fitness progress

In addition to my normal routine I mixed in a lot of weight training (curls and tricep extensions). I also upped my protein intake a fair amount. While visiting my parents I spent some time in the VR set I bought my mom for Christmas, which is always a surprisingly strenuous workout, and helped my dad throw a cord of wood into the woodshed.

This week’s exhaustion test:

  • Pushups: 82
  • Situps: 70
  • Squats: 46

I wanted to break 80 pushups this week so I’m happy to go over. Situps saw a nice boost too.

I’m kind of disappointed at the change to my squat max but I decided not to push myself too hard. I did manage at least 67 at some point during the week but when the time came to take the test I had to give up early. I’ve probably been punching above my weight for the past couple of weeks and this will put me back at a lower level of the program so I can build up a bit more slowly.

Meals this week

This week’s shopping was pretty minimal. I’m still planning on leaning pretty heavily on the dry and canned goods from last week, plus remaining frozen ingredients that will be carrying me for quite some time. The only thing I really needed to pick up was eggs, and I wanted to restock on green olives since I had run out making fisherman’s eggs last week. I swung by the discount produce shelf and grabbed a cucumber for salad, plus a big package of green beans that I’ll be using as a side dish throughout the week. As a treat, I got a couple of greenhouse tomatoes (for salad and maybe a tomato sandwich or two), plus a bag of mandarins to make up a fruit slot. Finally, I got a bag of coffee beans since I recently ran out. In total, I spent $35; a little more than I had planned on since this is a light week, but it’s really not very much and the unexpected extras will be a nice addition to my meals.

For one reason or another, I still had a few meals’ worth of chickpea curry left from the week before. I might have misjudged just how many meals it actually made. Rather than trying to finish it off early in the week, I decided to use it for one more dinner and then freeze the rest in serving-sized containers. It’ll make things easy in the future if I’m caught without enough time or ingredients to cook, or just give me a chance to add some variety to my lunches here and there.

I’ve decided to make jambalaya for my dinners this week. The original plan was to make some kind of side dish with beans and tomato sauce, but finding the big package of green beans for cheap changed my mind. I’ll be preparing them pretty simply; just blanched with some olive oil, chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes. At $3.41 for the package it’ll be running me about $0.48 per meal; a bit pricey all things considered but the jambalaya will be significantly cheaper to balance it out. The breakdown per serving would be something like:

  • Andouille sausage ($0.71)
  • Brown rice ($0.20)

…and that’s pretty much it. Again I’m leaning pretty heavily on freezer staples, so I’m only counting ingredients that appear on the receipts from my recent shopping trips.

I ended up getting a couple of meals for free due to my parents being in town for a few days (a nice dinner out at an Indian restaurant) and my sister making meatballs for dinner one night, both of which led to some of my prepared food being left over. As with last week, I’ll be freezing it into individual servings so I can fill in gaps in the future.

For breakfasts, we’re sticking with oatmeal. About half of the days I went with a huevos rancheros-inspired dish with baked black beans ($0.18 per serving, plus the cost of two eggs and one serving of oatmeal of course) and pickled red onions. The rest was a simple combo of brown sugar and greek yogurt.

As much as I’d love to eat fisherman’s eggs every day, mercury intake is an important consideration. I only ate it on Thursday (my biggest workout day of the week), using three eggs to make up for a missed day.

Fitness progress

This past week was my first week home after my recent trip to Japan, during which time I did no exercise at all (aside from walking around for a significant portion of each day). On Wednesday, after my sleep schedule had more or less stabilized and I felt basically recovered from the travel, I did a quick exhaustion test to find targets for my three exercise types, and these were my results:

  • Pushups: 48
  • Situps: 35
  • Squats: 40

It’s a pretty sad downgrade from my previous best, but not awful, all things considered. I ended up having only two proper workout days this week, but even so my numbers have improved:

  • Pushups: 79
  • Situps : 56
  • Squats: 64

New records across the board! Squats continue to see the slowest progress but I feel very good about the +11 to my max pushups.

With these numbers, I’ll be on week 5 of the program for both situps and squats, and week 6 for pushups (repeating until I reach one set of 100). Both pushups and squats will have me in the highest difficulty slot, and for situps I’ll be in the middle.

Meals this week

Right after I made my first post in this category, I went off to the store to get a batch of groceries to set things in motion. The total came out to just over $67, which is slightly over my ideal weekly budget ($3 per meal x 3 meals per day x 7 days = $63). However, this also included a big bag of brown rice which will probably last me the rest of the month, as well a bunch of canned goods that I’ll be using across the next couple of weeks. I could have held off on buying them but I figured I might as well save a trip if possible.

This shopping trip also didn’t include much in the way of fresh vegetables. I did buy a cabbage and carrots to make salad with, but I do have a decent stock of frozen veggies to work with already, plus some onions and potatoes remaining in the pantry. These kinds of irregularities will stabilize over the weeks of course, but the goal isn’t to hit some magical number, just to be efficient and frugal, and using what you’ve got is a key.

My first big meal this week was a butter-chicken-inspired chickpea and turkey curry. I basically winged the recipe but I had previously made a similar by Adam Ragusea so I had a rough idea of what to go for. Eyeballing it, I probably made about six servings. Not including the spices and vegetables I had on hand at home, the price breakdown per serving is something like:

  • Canned chickpeas ($0.41)
  • Canned tomato ($0.20)
  • Ground turkey ($0.46)
  • Brown rice ($0.10)
  • Greek yogurt ($0.20)

$1.37 per meal for the rest of the week, for a total of $8.22 for all my dinners. Not bad at all.

I ate oatmeal for breakfast throughout the week (I bought a container of quick oats that seems to be listed wrong on my receipt, but the result will be that I get 30 meals for about $0.07 each). I don’t like to eat sweets very often so oatmeal has never been a very appealing choice, but I suddenly remembered Oat Shop, a restaurant near me that had a wide variety of savory oatmeal on the menu (now sadly closed). I fried myself a couple of eggs ($0.33 each), mixed some soy sauce and vinegar with my oats, gave it a dash of hot sauce and away we went. The next day I was feeling like something sweet and mixed in a spoonful each of greek yogurt and brown sugar. The standout of the week was pretty decadent, with some goat cheese mixed into the oatmeal and fried eggs and some bulgogi beef from the freezer on top.

For lunches, I made stir-fry with vegetables and meat I had cluttering up the freezer, along with some cajun red beans I had previously made and frozen in individual portions. My lunch today was fisherman’s eggs, featuring one full can of tuna and two eggs for a total of about $1.91 and a major chunk of my protein for the day, doubling up on eggs because I forgot to eat them yesterday. Dinner will also have a nice cabbage salad on the side.

Next week I’ll still have some of my chickpea curry left over for dinners and I’ll still be working my way through freezer stuff. Haven’t decided what to prep for dinners but I probably won’t have to go shopping at all.

Meals this week (kickoff)

Back when I lived in my apartment in New Hampshire, I had a pretty good mealprep routine going. My income wasn’t great but I also had very few expenses, and I was able to save up quite a lot of money just by limiting my spending, and eating cheaply was a major player. Forgetting to cook for myself often meant eating at the diner across the street, where I could easily blow two hours’ wage on a single meal that was less tasty and much less healthy than what I could make myself.

Since leaving my last job and starting a new one where I can work from home, it’s never been easier to have full control over my meals, but I haven’t made an effort to get back into that habit. I still find myself forgetting to cook and ordering delivery instead (which costs even more than I would ever spend across the street from work).

Having just returned from Japan and with several other trips on the horizon, it feels like a good time to get myself back on track. I’m going to try blogging about what I eat each week, including approximate costs per meal. My goal will be to spend no more than $3 per meal on average, but without sacrificing on flavor or nutrition. I’ve also been trying to gain weight and build muscle lately, which means that high protein is important.

Broadly speaking, my plan looks something like this:

  • Rice. Lots of rice. I’ll be picking up a big bag of brown rice right at the beginning, which will probably account for a big chunk of this week’s budget, but which will carry across multiple weeks in the future.
  • Beans and other similar vegetables will probably account for a large portion of my dinners. I’ll be leaning towards stuff like taco bowls, curried chickpeas, lentil daal, and cajun red beans. If I was trying to go ultra-cheap, I could be buying these dry, but I’ll probably be sticking with cans most of the time.
  • Most of my vegetables will probably be frozen. I might buy some of them fresh (bell peppers for example) and freeze them myself, but in general I want to limit my trips to the store and make sure I always have ingredients on hand without worrying about spoilage. Stuff like onions that get used quickly will be bought fresh, along with hard vegetables that can stay in the fridge for a while. For salads, I’ll mainly be using cabbage since it’s cheaper and heartier than lettuce.
  • Eggs are on the expensive side but they’re good enough that I’ll allow them. I’m going to aim to eat a dozen eggs every week. These will likely be fried for breakfast or boiled for egg salad.
  • Lean meats like ground turkey and canned tuna will be my main protein drivers. I’ll probably supplement with ground beef on some weeks where my other expenses are low. I’ll likely prepare these as soboro or dry curry most of the time.

I don’t plan to prep for the entire week on one day, but ideally most of my meals will be at least partially pre-prepared. Finally, I’m going to dramatically cut back on how much I spend on eating out, and swear off delivery entirely.

It’ll probably take some getting used to but I’m a believer in using periods of motivation to supercharge strong habits. Let’s see how this goes.

Fitness progress (kickoff)

For the past two months I’ve been slowly bringing myself back into a habit of daily exercise, mostly in an effort to keep my body from falling apart. This has involved a series of targeted workout routines (for pushups, situps, and squats), along with ad-hoc moves like shrugs, curls and tricep extensions.

I figured it would be fun to keep track of this stuff in public, so here we are. Going forward I’ll be doing my exhaustion tests on Saturdays and posting about them here on Sundays to drive the next week of exercise.

Exhaustion test results as of this week:

  • Pushups: 68
  • Situps: 52
  • Squats: 62

My diet will be changing in the coming weeks but so far I’ve been aiming for three eggs per day, plus a Huel shake for lunch if I don’t have anything else planned. I’ve also been trying to eat breakfast more consistently.

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.

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Breaking into reading Japanese

At the very beginning, reading can seem like an impossible challenge. No matter how many words you memorize up front, you’re essentially guaranteed to see something unfamiliar within moments of trying to read your first book. Looking up every new word and grammar point will grind you to a halt, but trying to maintain momentum can leave you feeling totally lost.

How do you strike a balance? How early can you realistically start reading without it feeling like a complete struggle?

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Thoughts about Wanikani

Wanikani has been with me since the very first month of my Japanese-learning journey, and I was a big fan for a long time. Over the years my opinion of it has gradually changed, and at this point I feel like I can’t recommend it in good conscience without some heavy disclaimers. I don’t think it’s a bad platform by any means, and there’s a lot to like — I finished the whole course and I’m quite certain it helped me avoid some common pain points — I just feel like if I’m going to say “wanikani worked for me, it’s pretty good”, it’s only right that I be able to point to a list of criticisms to temper that recommendation.

I’ll also be laying out the strategy and schedule I used to get through the second half of the course quickly and efficiently while also working full time.

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