Four years of Japanese studies

My Japanese studies calendar 2014

Click image to enlarge.

It had to come at some time, and it came during my fourth year of Japanese self-studies: The break. It lasted from March through July 2014 – almost half a year. I didn’t study actively at all during this period. However, I did read some manga, watched anime and gamed a bit. And occasionally met Japanese friends. But all in all, it was a long break from studying.

Why did this happen? I think an important reason was that I had come back from my three months in Japan, which in many ways were like the final battle of my early Japanese studies. I had “cleared the game” and lost my motivation to continue. As I’ve written before, I have no reason to why I study Japanese. There is no concrete goal, but my internship at a Japanese magazine probably worked as one. So naturally I lost focus after completing it. I also came to realize something when I lived in Japan, namely that I don’t want to live in Japan. Not long-time, or at least not now. I’m perfectly fine in Berlin, and prefer my intense shorter trips to Japan and my heimat Akihabara.

But now it’s that time of year again. The air is getting colder, crispier. The children will soon start school. And I’ve just started to study more structured again, by way of text books, apps and tandem partners.

Here is how I studied during my fourth year:

Life in Japan

My autumn in Japan was obviously the highlight of the last year, but it doesn’t belong to the last half year, so no need to dwell on it. Short recap in the 3,5 years post, and except for that, there are 114 blog posts describing my life there, mostly in pictures. All in all, lots of Japanese speaking with old and new friends, colleagues at the publishing house and freelancers at the co-working space I frequented.

Text books

In Japan I bought the text book “An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese” and its accompanying workbook after having decided not to attend the language school that I had looked up before my arrival. I like the books very much, but am only on chapter 5 or 6 (not that structured at the moment). My tandem partners correct my answers in the workbook.


I also bought two books to practice for JLPT N3: One for vocabulary, the other one for reading comprehension. I liked them both, especially their covers.


My Iknow membership ended 3rd March 2014, so I haven’t used the service since then. My status then was:

  • 4019 items started (last year I was at 3598)
  • 3915 items mastered (last year I was at 3146)
  • 310 hours studied

In other words, I’ve mastered 769 items during the last year (down from 936 words during the year before) – but that happened almost exclusively in August and September 2013 during my most intense Iknow period ever.

I quit Iknow because I preferred Memrise and disliked the way the Iknow website and engine were developed (lex “animated green circle” – longtime Iknow users know what I mean). Also, after getting used to giving answers in full kanji on Memrise, I disliked the kana of Iknow (even if the word is shown in kanji, the answer you give to Iknow is in kana, which feels unnatural).

But despite the things I dislike with Iknow, I must say that it probably helped me quite a bit with learning vocabulary in a simple way. I can feel the absence of Iknow during this last half year, so I’m thinking of signing up again. Especially since I still have many courses to conquer in the Core 6000 series that make up their Japanese course.

Tandem partners

As you can see in the graph, I had daily sessions with Kohei in January and February. Then he found a job and became increasingly busy, and my Japanese learning hiatus began.

Since just a week I’m meeting a new tandem partner, also daily.


As I also wrote in the 3,5 years post, I wrote a practice test for JLPT N3 in Tokyo in November 2013 and passed the real JLPT N3 (also in Tokyo) in December 2013.

Kanji training

I started out boldly drawing one kanji a day but lost interest pretty soon.

I’m using the flash cards that I apparently bought in August 2012 – two years ago! What a shame that I haven’t made more progress in the kanji department.

But mainly I rely on Memrise, where I’m still taking the N3 Kanji course. I’ve done it for so long that I’m on the third place out of 660 users on the all-time high score list.

Kanji is still the area where I lack behind the most, and what hinders me the most in my understanding of written Japanese.

Manga, anime & games

I’ve read 7 manga books and 2 manga doujinshis during the last year. In general, I did a close-reading of the doujinshis (which are shorter), whereas I didn’t look up many words in the books. Instead, the challenge there was to get some flow and understand the story despite not understanding every single word.


Yowamushi Pedal is the mainstream sports manga that premiered as an anime while I was living in Japan. (Unfortunately I didn’t have a TV, so I had to watch it when I came home to Europe!) I found it accidentally at a book shop in Ueno in December 2012 if I remember correctly. Or “it found me” as I often say about such occasions, you know, when a cover starts speaking to you and you fall in love.

Yotsuba-to is the extremely sweet children’s manga with perfectly understandable Japanese. (It’s often recommended as suitable for Japanese learners.) I love it and look forward to buying further volumes on my next Japan trip, whenever that will be.

Usotsuki Gokuoh-kun is probably directed at elementary school boys, as is the Duel Masters manga.

Kokoro Button was the last manga I opened and read (now in August 2014), after having found it randomly at Haruya Books in Nakano Broadway last autumn. (I stocked up on lots of manga then, which I’m now enjoying at a slow pace. A piece of Japan that will last long.) It’s a girls’ manga about romance between a girl and a boy at a high school. It’s fun to read a girls’ manga that is not BL/Boys Love for once! And it’s really sweet, I like it.

Last but not least, two bicycle doujinshis by Akira Yomoyama, whom I met at Comitia 106 in Tokyo in October 2013.

Summary of what I read during the last year:

I’ve watched quite a lot of anime during the last year, but, with the exception of Akira, only with English subtitles. My anime habit is more pleasure than studies, but I do pick up more and more. Anime started as a weird side interest for me, a way to get to know the Japanese culture better. I kept repeating that it wasn’t my kind of art form, just like opera isn’t. But then something happened and I got stuck.

As for games, I did a close reading of Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter back in January 2014 and started playing Youkai Watch only some days ago. And for some time, i played Tomodachi Collection daily. Except for that, I’ve played lots of Taiko no Tatsujin, Mario Kart 8 and other Japanese games – but that’s just for fun.

Newspaper articles

I tried to read some newspaper articles together with my tandem partner Daisuke at the beginning of this study year, back in August 2013, but it was very hard.


Previous study reports

Just the landmark posts:

It’s now August 18th 2014. Let the fifth year begin!


MARIO KART 8 downloading to my Japanese Wii U







それに、友達は「茄子 アンダルシアの夏」をおすすめした。あのアニメも面白そうだね。



一緒に走ろう!Let’s ride on a bicycle together!

イナズマイレブンGO vs ダンボール戦機WのBD!

アニメイトによると、僕は盛岡市で見た映画のイナズマイレブンGO vs ダンボール戦機のBDが二ヶ月間ぐらい後に発売しそうだ!買うつもりだよ。



映画の前に「NO MORE 映画泥棒」が見せられた:





Stepping up to Intermediate Japanese

Yesterday I finished the second volume of Elementary Japanese (unpacked here). One of the last spreads looked like this:

So now I have a foundation of elementary Japanese grammar. The word lists in EJ were so so to be honest, but for vocabulary I use Iknow anyway.

It’s time to level up. I’m now intermediate. There don’t seem to be any good intermediate Japanese textbooks around though, but I ordered this little gem, Reading Japanese with a Smile, by Tom Gally:

I just finished the first story, and I must say I like the book. It dissects every part of every sentence in the news stories, pretty much like I did myself with this story, though I could only do it with the help of my tandem partner Daisuke. So this book is perfect for self-studies of authentic Japanese texts. My only objection is the romaji that accompanies the kana. Todesstrafe! But at least the author is aware of the controversy of romaji use and argues for it.