How to Stop Learning Japanese

“Ken Seeroi, you should write a book.” People always say that.

Well, like six people, but that’s still a lot. After my fabulous career as English-teacher-in-Japan, I’m counting on book sales to provide for retirement. I assume each person will buy at least ten thousand copies.

Of course, I could write lots of books if I wasn’t so freaking busy. Look, I’ve got mad stuff to do: shower, trim my eyebrows, study Japanese, lie on the floor surrounded by cans of beer watching YouTube. Those are 4 of the 7 habits of highly effective people. Hey, is it my fault wingsuit videos are so enthralling? I think not. The more I watch, the more I’m convinced that arial stuntman is my true destiny. Naturally, as in all things, beer helps. My potential increases exponentially by the can. At this point, the only thing I’m lacking is money. Well, that and skill. And courage. I was just born underprivileged, is all.

Anyway, I’m trying to figure out where I’d get more time. Something’s got to go. But what? Hmmm.

Making Time

Studying Japanese is a pretty great candidate for the old heave-ho, since I’ve spent over five thousand hours on it, and I’m nowhere near done. Now, I know you’re thinking, “Oh, Ken Seeroi, you. You’re always exaggerating, going on about how much you study, and how you’re this tall, ruggedly-handsome guy with perfect eyebrows.” Well, that much is true. I am always exaggerating. My eyebrows aren’t even even, half the time. But when it comes to studying Japanese, I’m actually understating the numbers, just because I’m so modest.

I’m trying to remember what life used to be like, over a decade ago. As I recall, I used to do things. I had meaningful hobbies, like running, drinking, and talking to girls in bars. Okay, some things stay the same. Anyway, I never really thought about where this crazy “Let’s Learn Japanese” project would end up. Probably because, well, I never think about the future at all. Agh, my parents and teachers were right. Next you’re gonna tell me I shouldn’t have spent all my money on booze and loose women. How exactly was I supposed to know this? What am I—-Nostradamus?

I guess maybe I thought someday I’d be fluent and I’d be done. Then the Emperor’d hand me the key to Japan, give me a giant hug, and there’d be nothing left to learn. But now, years later, even though I speak Japanese in my sleep, he still hasn’t called. Probably just too busy, doing all that head of state stuff. Bowing, waving, wingsuit flying with his buddies. Royalty, fo shizzle.

The Myth of Sisyphus

Ever heard of Sisyphus? He was like this Greek dude who rolled a big rock up a hill. I don’t know why, or how that’s even relevant, but anyway Japanese is harder than that, I’m pretty sure. Who knew languages had so many components? It’s all those words—that’s the real problem. First, I only wanted to know enough Japanese to order a beer. I figured I’d be happy with one word. But then I wanted another beer, so I needed another word. See, I told you I don’t think about the future. Then I got all hungry and wanted to say, “One pickled eggplant and a savory pancake with extra fish flakes, please.” And two more beers. But even that’s not enough, is it? Because then you want to have an honest conversation with the pretty girl at the bar, so you need phrases like, “Did I mention I’m a millionaire?” and, “No? How about a rap star?” and, “Do you like yachting? I’ll ready the fleet.” Then you’re gonna want two more beers, and to chat up the homely girl in the back, so you’ll need something like, “Hello, I am Boris, vacationing cosmonaut.” But let’s just face it: no amount of Japanese is ever enough.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The sunk cost fallacy is where you get denied by all the women in a given bar, but believe not trying at two more bars would be a waste of a perfectly good buzz. Or such is my understanding. Anyway, it’s apparent that Japanese girls don’t recognize a man of true quality. Whatever. When it comes to studying Japanese, this fallacy means that once you’ve learned ten thousand words, the only sensible thing is to learn ten thousand more. How could that not be a good idea?

So here’s the fear I live with—-and this should be familiar to anorexics, obsessive-compulsives, and triathletes worldwide—-that if I miss a day, I’ll get worse. Because every day you study, you reinforce what you know, and every day you don’t, you forget.

Stop Studying Japanese

And thus, a couple of months ago, I staged an intervention. First I locked the door, so I couldn’t get out, then I sat myself down on the couch and said, Seeroi, that’s it. No more beer, no more potato chips, no more YouTube, and no more talking to yourself. Oh, and no more damn Japanese. It’s time to get your life back on track. And that was hard to hear, you know? I cried and pleaded. I bargained. And finally, because I’m a man of great compassion, I compromised with me a bit. I said, Okay Ken, you can have a little beer on weekends, and a small bag of chips, and one hour of wingsuit videos, but stay away from Japanese. And because I was so grateful with myself for my generosity, I agreed, and quit, cold turkey.

I suppose I did get a little more writing done. And I finally washed my dishes. Turns out they weren’t decorated with a lacy green pattern after all. I even went running. I raced all the way to the bar, chatted up a few girls, had a bunch of beer, then jogged to a couple more bars, and finally to the convenience store for one last malt liquor and a giant bag of chips, to celebrate my return to health. I felt fantastic, like Rocky, despite having been turned down by several very homely chicks. I really wanted to buy some cold turkey too, just because, but I had to settle for a lousy fish. Anyway, it turns out my optimism was overly, um, optimistic, because after five days, I relapsed.

Addicted to Japanese

Finally, I figured there must be some sort of support group, like

Japaholics Anonymous

so I googled that. But instead of finding a circle of quasi-religious guys in their 50’s sitting around on folding chairs talking about their ruined lives, all I found was a bunch of weirdos. So that was no help at all.

At this point, I have to concede I have a problem. If I don’t study at least a hundred flash cards a day, my hands get all shaky. I sweat at night, and have nightmares that I’m speaking English. More and more, I find myself studying in the morning. I even took to hiding “A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar” in the overhead lamp, and the advanced version in my toilet tank. That’s not a good sign, especially considering I live alone.

If I’m ever going to get this book written, I know I need to quit. And I really will, after just a few thousand more words, I promise. I admit that I am powerless over Japanese, and that my life has become unmanageable. My name is Ken, and I am a Japaholic.

53 Replies to “How to Stop Learning Japanese”

  1. ROFL Ken, I can only buy 9000 books, so sorry! Awwww, just kidding, I’m writing my own book now just to pay for my 10,000 copies of your Gaijin Bible, but I do applaud the effort Ken-sama to bang the book out!! I have a idea for you to help with your relapse into Japanese studying. Try translating a book by Sawachi Hisae called “Midowei Kaisen Kiroku” which lists name, birthplace, age at time of death, rank, length of military service, and other errata for every single one of the 3,057 Japanese fatalities at the battle of Midway, and the 362 American fatalities as well. If that doesn’t cure you, I don’t know what will… hmmmmm!

    1. Well, I guess I’d learn a lot of Japanese names that way, so okay, I’ll get started on it today. And thanks for always supporting the book idea. I wasn’t kidding. I really will begin working on it earnestly once I get a little more Japanese out of the way.

  2. Hey Ken,
    I too am a Japaholic. Your writings are way too familiar, even if I’m all the way over here in so cal. I know all about the panic and racing heartbeat if I don’t finish my 100 anki reviews, and the look of friends faces as if they are ready for an intervention. My only concern for the day is how to minimize everything else in life to fit in those 100 reviews, with the biggest problem being where to fit in the beer and chips, well, and that whole full time job thing. Good news is I found something called state dependent memory, where studying and drinking might actually work together. I guess I’m not all that worried about hobbies, surfing and snowboarding always trashed my body way more than laying on the couch doing anki reviews. Anyway, gotta run down to Mitsuwa to pick up some tall Asahi’s and Calbee chips for double the price your paying, and finish another 50 sentences. Love your writings, and would buy your book in a heartbeat.

    1. Thanks man. So, this state-dependent memory of which you speak…that means that if I plan to speak Japanese while drunk (highly likely), then I should also study while drunk? Because I can do that. I mean, if it’s in the name of science and all…

  3. Glad to know I’m not the only obsessive Japaholic out there, this sounds all to familiar to my life right now! I’m at the point where I don’t even remember what my life was like before I started studying Japanese, sometimes I’m wondering why I’m doing it. But I know it’s a problem when I use my anki reviews as an excuse for not doing anything else! It’s definitely an addiction, but maybe, just maybe, we can make it through this.

    I always love reading your posts! I don’t think buying 10,000 copies will help my addiction, but you can definitely sign me up for a copy of your book when you finish it!

    1. Honestly, I think “addiction” is the right word. Like you ever wake up in the middle of the night and start doing Anki reviews? There seriously needs to be some therapy for that.

  4. Okay, this might be a little unrelated and weird, but with all the Japaholic talk I can’t help, but think of my future.

    I am considering studying Japanese next year in university. I don’t feel pretty much any passion about anything I can study in such a place, but it feels like l can at least stick to that, even if it can be quite the challenge. Considering my young age, as you can imagine I came to learn more about Japan through anime and such. I have always been a person to love any kind of stories and when I found this part of Japanese culture a whole new world opened to me. Though by no means I found it perfect, be it their “literature” or Japan itself. I have enough common sense to think of it as just another place on Earth, with it its weird quirks.

    You know, when speaking to Japanese people for the first time people would tell you to not talk about anime and such, because they might think you are weird. Similar to being a western nerd, or even worse. When it comes to young western people that relate themselves to Japan that is pretty much the truth, really. And that’s my problem. I consider myself not being obnoxious about it and I really don’t do anything obnoxious related to these stuff. But if I go study it I will do it among people that are mostly like that – very obnoxious about it in many kind of ways. And this is not just me being paranoid, it’s reality. I know of only two descent human beings that have studied that, pretty much everyone else can make you not wanna live on this planet any more. And I am scared shitless of spending 4 years of my life with people I probably won’t be able to stand.

    I really don’t have a question to ask or I don’t expect any advice from you, but I want you to know at least of this one thing… I might be a little too young to say that to you, but let me tell you at least this one little thing. You are just some normal guy that somehow got involved in this whole Japanese mess and is right now drinking Japanese beer instead of American. And you have a strangely Asian name (as long as I am concern at least, if you want you can at least elaborate on that). There are people far worse than you and I get to see them on daily bases. And they are not even in Japan. You are a low level Japaholic, there is a bright future for you. Don’t give up hope. You are just learning a language to be able to talk with other normal people like you (as long as we consider Japanese people normal, but we wouldn’t want to sound racist now, would we?). That’s great. Good for you. It’s far from the worst thing you could be doing.

    Also sorry for being too long. And thank you, if you have read this far. Well, the sun is about to come out, so I better sleep.

    1. Thank you for your words of encouragement. I do have hope that someday there will be a cure for Japaholism. I understand scientists are testing new compounds on mice all the time. But I feel bad for the little guys, having to go off to work in their tiny ties after nothing but a bowl of miso soup for breakfast. The scientists, I mean. I’m sure the mice are fine.

      Anyway, yes, I think the dosage I’ve been exposed to is fairly low, and there’s still hope for recovery. Maybe moving to Korea for a few years would be a good cure.

      1. that in itself would present a whole new list of problems, the big one being learning to speak Korean. However, after studying Japanese, maybe you’re a bit more well prepared to do that.

  5. Great writing as always, Ken. One (of many!) thing I love about your writing is that I can’t tell if you’re joking or not. I guess because most of the time, you are and aren’t..

    I left Japan 5 days ago, so I guess I escaped Japaholism. But I think I’ve caught something – right now I’m in Europe travelling, but once I get back home I have this mad desire to find something, anything, Japanese to fill the void of leaving Japan..

    I hope you can write that book soon, I’m putting my name on the sign-up list! Maybe that’s just the fix I need for the void.

    1. Yeah, I’m smiling through the pain. Or grimacing through the joy. I can never figure out which.

      I think if I were to leave Japan for too long, I’d go into withdrawal. But Europe sounds mighty nice…and I’ve no doubt you could become fluent in Spanish, French, and Italian in less time than it’d take to get halfway through Japanese.

  6. LOL if you know that guy in the picture, tell him to stop drinking sake before cirrhosis kills him. Funny article as always. Just food for thought, but why don’t you take the standarized language exams- JLPT- or something. And once you pass with flying colours you can consider yourself done with studies.

    That’s what I did with my english skills. Once I passed the Certificate of Advanced English I was done with formal studies. After that point exposure is the only thing you would need. But maybe it’s different with Japanese I don’t know…

    1. I don’t know either, but as I’ve progressed through the language, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much I don’t know. Somehow a certificate doesn’t seem like the remedy, although I agree following the JLPT study plan is a good idea. I guess I figured that 10+ years would be enough, but in retrospect, I can see how naive that is.

  7. Nooooooooooooo your baby photo is gone!!!!!!!

    BTW, I think I know what cures this so-called “Japa-holic” symptom.

    Working at a Japanese company. Sucks the joy or even addiction for Japanese study right out of you (at least, that’s what happened to me).

    Another brilliant post, and as usual, you always have me craving a beer post-read….

    1. Yup, working in a Japanese company’ll do that. Actually, I’m starting to think that just living in Japan and talking to Japanese people is enough to make one want to give up the language forever. I sure look forward to my trips overseas, where I can enjoy studying Japanese in peace.

  8. This is why I love your site Ken. Many blogs on Japan – yours included – have a post about How To Start Learning Japanese. But how many have one for when you want to stop? Maybe the reason why you don’t think of the future is because you are so compassionately thinking about your audience’s, and what information they might need down the road.

    1. Thanks. Yes, my limitless compassion often clouds my vision. It’s just one of the many character flaws I have to accept in myself.

      But truly though, I do believe people should give some thought to the end-game when it comes to learning Japanese. Right off the bat, it pays to realize that every Japanese person knows thousands of words in English, or something closely approximating it. So you’re going to need more than that in Japanese, otherwise you might as well just use English. And even after you know several thousand, people will still try to speak English with you, unless you appear Asian. So if you actually want to be accepted as an adult member of society, and not just some hilarious English teacher who can speak a little Japanese, you’re gonna need a pretty massive vocabulary. And you can’t get that in a few months, or even a few years. Hell, most folks would have a hard time learning a handful of new English words a day, much less something written in sticks and lines. So plan ahead, is my advice.

      1. That sounds like very good advice, and it makes me wonder something else.

        I know (at least in part) your reasoning for massive vocabulary is to have the upper hand on the Japanese person you’re conversing with, forcing them to bend back into Japanese when their English fails them. But in general, do you think massive vocabulary is intwined with fluency?

        Like, do you think someone could obtain fluency and maintain it without trying to achieve a massive vocabulary?

        1. Here’s the way it seems to me…to be fluent, you have to be able to understand what’s being said in a given situation, and provide appropriate input, fairly smoothly. With a little bit of practice, you could have a “fluent” conversation with relatively limited vocabulary. You’d just be limited to the subjects you’d prepared for.

          Let’s say you had the necessary grammar and vocabulary for asking directions. You could walk up to someone, ask “Where’s the train station?” and understand when they tell you right, left, go straight, dead end, etc. Then it’s just “Thank you,” and you’re on your way. So that could be a fluent conversation.

          Fluency is a little bit of a red herring, in other words. It’s not really what you should be aiming for.

          Vocabulary is. It enables you to expand the range of topics upon which you can converse, and to utilize multiple ways of expressing the same thing. (There are two common ways of saying “left turn” in Japanese, for example.) Without vocabulary, you could be fluent, yet still sound like a child.

          That’s kind of the angle I’m coming at this from. My reason for building a large vocabulary isn’t simply to force the conversation into Japanese. It’s really because I view myself as a normal member of society here, no different than anyone else. Sure, I’m white, but so what—everybody’s something. But not having the necessary words to say what you want, well, how many years can you live like that? Yeah, I’d like two pieces of bread, and between them, some of that green leafy stuff, plus a slice of the red fruit-like vegetable, and also several strips of your finest cured meat of pig. Oh, and some mayo.

          So yeah, you can get by in Japan with very little Japanese. Zero, actually. And that’s okay for being a tourist. But if you want to actually live here, and not just hide out in the gaijin bubble, you’re going to need a lot of words. A whole lot. That’s what I think.

          1. >>Fluency is a little bit of a red herring, in other words. It’s not really what you should be aiming for.

            I believe this has changed the way I view learning language.

            I’ve always had a set of goals in my language learning journey, but now that I think about it, it must be kind of hard to break language down into milestones. Maybe it’s like building a ship. It’s great when certain aspects are completed, but it’s not going to be able to sail very far until its hull is high and watertight.

            1. Well, I do think you can still have milestones. They just have to be clear and quantifiable. Learn 1000 words. Then how many can you use in a sentence? Learn 100 verbs. Then how many can you use to construct sentences in the past tense? Those are testable items.

              One thing that hampers language learning, and Education in general, is a lack of clear standards and goals. Terms like “fluency” are needlessly vague. We don’t ask if a person is fluent in carpentry. We just ask them to build a birdhouse. Language is the same. Everyone’s birdhouse is going to look different, but you can tell pretty clearly when someone knows what they’re doing.

              One problem is that testing for language is poorly implemented. You can only do so much on paper. Face-to-face conversations are important, but they’re time-consuming and expensive to conduct on a large scale.

              Testing also tends to utilized punitively, rather than as a way to identify strengths and weaknesses. Grading people makes things worse.

              Finally, even the idea of “knowing” something is complicated. Sometimes I’ll use a word, and a moment later, when somebody else uses the same word, I can’t recall what it means. And they’re like, “It’s your word! You just used it!”

              Because of this, I think it’s easy to throw up your hands and just say, “Well, testing doesn’t work.” And it’s at that time that people start to use vague terms like “fluency.” But testing does work. We just aren’t using the right tests in the right way.

              Anyway, not to get too deep into this, I still encourage people to set clear, measurable goals, and to work toward those goals. Just because there are many different ways to get there doesn’t mean we should navigate without a road map.

        2. I agree with Ken. Vocab is king. Comprehension is the starting point for being able to properly participate in the society, and nothing is more important for comprehension than a huge vocabulary. Many native speakers cannot write very well, do not have good rhetorical skills, can’t tell a joke, and wouldn’t be able to recall the way to write down xyz difficult kanji. But they understand. They know a lot of damn words. That has to be the goal of a serious learner too. Once you get to that point then you can worry about stretching yourself a lot in little ways to gain all those bonus skills.

          1. Thanks Danchan, what you say makes sense. I was going to ask if you felt vocabulary was more important than recognizing patterns in language, but I guess “comprehension” covers both. 😛

    1. Seriously, if you study Japanese for 7 years, you’re gonna be ahead of about 99% of the people who start out to learn the language.

  9. Hi, I’m Andrew, and I’m a Japa-holic..

    [group] “Hi Andrew.”

    Actually, can you call me Shinichi-san?

    “Andrew, we go by a first name basis here, and secondly, is that even your real last name?”

    no, but it’s pretty close to how it’s pronounced in Japanese, like one vowel off- you know what, yeah, just call me Andrew. . . ehhh maybe Andoru.

    Anyways…

    I’ve been slightly interested in Japan from a young age, mostly because of Japanese vehicles; I’m what you might call an ‘Auto Otaku’. It was into my teenage years that my interest in Japan grew, respectively proportioned to my growing interest in cars. all the cool things the Japanese built over there, the epic winding roads, and the street racing (which I know has died down substantially since the 90s). video games and car sites did nothing but to romanticize Japan for me.

    I guess it’s not all about the cars, but also the skiing; I heard Hokkaido gets belched on by Siberia. Being Canadian, I actually like the winter and used to brutally cold winters… Like -30 Celsius at its worst.
    okay, I also did find Japan’s culture to be rather interesting, probably because, like it is for many other Westerners, it is just so different from my own. The more I learned, the more engrossed I became with anything Japanese. One thing led to another, and as of last year I started down the path to learn Japanese.

    [group] Oh my…

    Yeah, yeah, I know, but I figured if I was going to learn any language, it might as well be the most ass backwards one from my own; it sure as hell wasn’t going to be French, which I dropped like a watermelon from a three-story building (because that’s our 2nd language).
    that is I’m researching some of the better ways to learn Japanese, I stumbled across this blog here: Japanese rule of 7. thanks to Mr. Ken Seeroi, I got to have a non sugarcoated look into life in Japan. I used to want to move to Japan to become a permanent resident, but now I think I’d just like to stay for maybe 2 years tops. I realized my life in Canada is pretty good, and that no matter where I went in the country had never have to work the ridiculous one of hours a Japanese person might have to. I used to want to a Japanese girlfriend, but now I’m not so sure after hearing how Japanese girls are. I’d probably have better luck finding a domesticated model or one that is more worldly; I’m currently communicating with my importers to try to work out a deal. I’m still studying Japanese, but just a little less intensively. to be super easy to just drop the whole thing and do some other hobby, but for some reason it just annoys me to be one of those people falls within Ken’s statistic of those who start to study Japanese then quit after a year. That’s the kind of interesting, and Anki helps keep me on track by poking my brain with a long stick.

    I must thank you, Ken Seeroi, for what you do. You’re both entertaining, and informative. Slowly but surely, you are helping me get over my Japa-holism. We can do this together!

    1. As Japan is helping cure me of my own.

      I don’t think I’d be alone in charting my interest in Japan as a bell curve. Seriously, the first six months here were awesome. It was the most interesting and enigmatic place on earth. Then somewhere around month seven it peaked and started a slow descent. After about two years, it leveled off to be about on par with my home country, the U.S. In short, nothing stays exotic forever.

      And in what’s perhaps a terminal case of grass-is-always-greener, I’m sometimes envious of foreigners who speak no Japanese. It seems like by retaining that foreign-ness, and not trying to fit in too much, they’re happier.

      Once you start speaking the language, eating the food, and following the customs, you start thinking you’re like everybody else, and that you can be treated like a normal person. But madness that way lies.

      1. Maybe its because people who get serious about learning the language are generally shut-ins to begin with, but it also strikes me that people here who don’t speak that well are much more social because they are still culturally existing in that relatively optimistic English bubble and can enjoy being a kind of medium to the Japanese for that attitude or outlook. It’s like English speaking foreigners can play home even when they are away. Even the Japanese are cheering for them. But if you speak Japanese and work/study in a Japanese environment, you get to experience more of the fatalism and reservation that makes English speakers attractive to begin with. Seriously, like, after nearly four years away my own country is striking me as exotic.

      2. I think I’m reaching the top of that bell curve, and I haven’t even left my home country yet! And I think you make some good points, I’ve now made it my game plan not fit in if I ever do go visit. No one has my Canadian swagger!

        However, I also hope that Japan changes its attitude in the future towards foreigners. More are only going to come, so eventually that will probably happen. Until then, I’ll just look at the country from afar, and maybe one day visit for a brief period…maybe just ski bum it in Hokkaido for a season…who wants ski lessons? I have CSIA level II!
        I now try to advise people that appear to have an overly romanticized image of Japan that just like their home country, there are pluses and minuses to living there. Keeping your head in the clouds for too long can only lead to a rather harsh crash landing when reality kicks in.

        Also, I just want to apologize for any contextual errors I made in my previous response, I use a text-to-speech program to type, and unless I speak rather slowly, it’s only about 90% accurate. But I mean, who wants to actually press buttons one you can just look at your screen, speak into a microphone to convey what you want into text in half the time, and take vodka shots? That actually might account for the errors, Dragon NaturallySpeaking was getting drunk with me!

  10. I’m seriously addicted to anki as well…The worst is when people ask what my hobby is and I realize that studying Japanese basically negates all of my free time outside of karaoke and bars…

    That and occasionally watching TV dramas, if you consider “watching” to be reading the closed captions and scribbling down vocabulary or phrases you don’t know…

    1. If I were a doctor, I’d say you’re exhibiting all of the symptoms of Japanese Addiction. It’s a degenerative disorder, so it needs to be carefully monitored. Have you noticed that you used to study for 20 minutes a day, and then it became 30, and now even a couple hours of Japanese isn’t enough? You may need to seek medical help.

  11. A very well written and humorous post as usual! Having taken my Japanese studies more seriously this year (meaning learning new things and/or reviewing almost every day), I do start to feel dread when I miss a day or two.

    I want to say thank you as well because you and your blog are one of the reasons why I decided to give learning Japanese a serious go. I really was on the fence about it because of the significant time commitment, and never-ending journey. But having read your posts, and your kind comments and words of encouragement to others, I felt inspired to do it. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve learned far more than I thought possible, including (so far) just over 450 kanji. I even imported a Japanese video game for the PS3 – Tales of Vesperia – so in a way, I have committed to this. I at least want to be able to play ToV with an 80% understanding or better. I know it’s going to take me years and dedication, but this is one of those things that if I don’t give it a serious attempt, I’ll look back later and regret not having done so.

    1. I think that’s awesome, particularly the kanji study. Most people have never memorized 450 of anything in their lives, and the great thing about kanji is that they build upon themselves, so the more you keep studying, the more you see the interrelations between words.

      There is a point at which everything starts to come together, when you have enough of the pieces of the puzzle, that you can infer the overall meaning of what you’re reading or hearing without getting swamped in the details. If there’s a goal in language learning, I daresay that’s it.

      Once you reach that point, you can begin to learn new information naturally, and to refine the points you already know. Then it’s simply a matter of learning, well, everything.

      Japanese is a large part of my life at this point. It’s rewarding, if time-consuming. Mostly it’s strange to note how an almost arbitrary decision to study this language has in many ways come to define my life. But maybe that’s how life is. You gotta be careful who you fall in love with.

      Anyway, you’ve got the right mindset and you’re making great progress, so keep up the good work!

      1. Thanks Ken! I’ll certainly stick with it, and see where I end up. I took some of your excellent advice about learning 100 different things instead of one thing perfectly and how some of that 100 should stick (paraphrasing here). Kanji is the biggest challenge since there are so many to learn, so I’ve been devoting a lot of time to that, but also learning grammar and vocabulary, getting listening practice, watching Japanese TV on Niji, reading Japanese websites geared at the beginner level, etc. In particular, I LOVE sumo and really enjoy watching NHK’s coverage of the sumo tournaments. Because I know a lot of sumo vocabulary, I can understand a fair bit of the commentary.

        The discouraging part is that I am starting this journey rather late, as I’m already 34. Let’s say that it takes me 10 years to be able to read/write/speak Japanese well enough to be able to work at a Japanese company… by then I’ll be 44-45 (yikes!) and well, old! I sometimes wonder what my ultimate goal is because I don’t really have one right now. I do have others mini-goals that I want to achieve, like playing Japanese video games, watching Gaki no Tsukai without English subtitles, travelling in Japan as a tourist and being able to read Japanese menus, signs. etc. But as to what I really want to accomplish by learning Japanese, I’m not sure. In the back of my mind I think, wouldn’t it be nice to be “fluent” in three languages (English, French, and Japanese), which would open up a lot of opportunities in the translation field, or other businesses were multiple languages would be an asset. I just don’t know how realistic that is for me, starting this journey at such a late age.

        Re: arbitrary decisions, I think that applies to almost all young persons who embark on a field of study in university. I mean, aside from a select few who really find their passion/calling early on in life, how many 18-19 years-olds truly know what they want to do with the rest of their lives? And yet, they’re expected to pick a major and make a career out of it. I’m glad to hear you found your path rewarding.

        1. I love sumo too, although my vocabulary in the sport is quite limited. I was fortunate to see it live once a few years back, and it was predictably awesome.

          Yeah sure, 34 is a bit old, but whatever. People who are 24 wish they’d started when they were four. And it’s not like you’re going to be 44 and suddenly be like, Well, that’s all I ever need to learn for the rest of my life. Glad I got that taken care of.

          Like, at every age you’re gonna be learning things, whether it’s Japanese or not. And at every age, you’re going to wish you’d started earlier. Maybe when you’re 54 you’ll suddenly decide you want to be a drummer or something. Then you’ll wish you’d started that way back when you were 34.

          So that feeling—and I have it too—it’s a real thing. But it’s also kind of a fallacy. There is no age at which you’d be glad you started at. Because if you’d started learning Japanese at the age of 4, sure, you’d be fluent in Japanese. But then you’d be trying to teach yourself drums or something now, and be all like, “Oh, why didn’t I start this when I was four!”

          1. Hey Ken, have you been watching the September sumo tournament? It is shaping up to be a very interesting and exciting basho! You have to watch today’s matches – newcomer Ichinojo is going to fight Yokozuna Kakuryu!

  12. Great article! I feel your pain….

    Just because I learnt 300 new vocab words this month it doesn’t make me any better at Japanese, but it feels like too much of an investment to just give up now. It’s like the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know! It certainly feels like Sisyphus pushing shit up a hill to have it roll back down again.

    Why do we torture ourselves!? I want to be able to go to the post office one day without getting nervous.

    1. Never fear, that day will come. At which point you’ll go to the post office and just feel insulted. So it’s kind of a never-ending battle.

  13. Great blog. Good stuff for someone who’s been “studying japanese” on and off for the last decade or so with mediocre results. Btw, Is there a picture of you somewhere? Got interested in seeing your pic, because you write hilariously a lot about being turned down by “homely girls” 😀 It certainly can’t be because of your verbal skills so is it your looks or what?

    1. Not a native English speaker here. By that “someone who’s been ‘studying'” I meant myself, of course. Just clearing that out 😀

    2. You mean my giant hump-back and penchant for ringing the tower bells of Notre Dame? Actually, it probably has more to do with value systems.

      Generally speaking, Japanese girls want to marry Japanese guys. If you think about it, there’s no surprise there. Buffy wants to marry Biff. People tend to stick to their own kind.

      When it comes to casual dating, there are women interested in going out with a “foreign” guy. Especially considering English lessons are upwards of 30 bucks an hour. So if you want to be a hit in Japan, first step is to ditch the Japanese. Stay fresh off the boat and you’ll be just fine.

  14. You think Kanji is a waste of time, that you should quit learning, you feel bad for investing so much ? You may find theses words interesting : “Perhaps you and i were born to late to explore the world, and to early in history to explore the stars. But we were born at just the right time, wich is pretty much, all time ever, to explore language. To explore what can be said.” – Michael, Vsauce

    It may not be reaaaaaly related, but i think, in a way, it’s a good enouth reason to keep learning japanese or any other thing. Even if it feels useless, in a way, you are helping the world to be a smarter place, and you know, deep inside, that you are not even doing it for the other, but just because life is too short to lay on the sofa and complain about everything. You learned a new thing ! Yay ! Champagne ! Be prouf of you, doing far better than theses japaneses folks who are asking you to speak ur native language, what are THEY doing for you ? Nothing ! The other white dudes don’t even bother with japanese ? They’re looking happy about it ? But when they’re going to fly back to home, or when death is at the door, what are they going to say ? I sincerly think investing and gowing inside is the key to be happy when looking back. Cause all that matter is not the thought you have now, but the last one 🙂

  15. a Great Article!!!
    Seriously , I Searched ” Japaholics Anonymous ” The Results Were Something Close To … Well…Terrifying…I’m Questioning Myself Now !!
    There’s Something About Learning Japanese , Exactly As You Said Nothing is Enough , It’s Nothing Like Learning English Or German , There Was a Point Of Satisfaction In English But Not in Japanese.
    It’s Disturbingly ( in a Rather Pleasant Way!!! ) Addictive.
    I Stopped Learning Once Or Twice But I Relapsed In Less Than a Week. Unbelievable!

  16. & I Forgot To Say This , Somewhere In The Comments Above You Said :”I think that’s awesome, particularly the kanji study. Most people have never memorized 450 of anything in their lives, and the great thing about kanji is that they build upon themselves, so the more you keep studying, the more you see the interrelations between words.”

    Oh , The Interrelations !! So Beautiful !! A Major Factor in Japaholia ( They Must Put This In The Dictionary !! )

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