times they are a’changin’

A lot happened yesterday, but I think that the most important thing was at the very end: the long discussion Evan and I had about our future. We have both decided that I will not be re-contracting with the Japanese Exchange Teaching Program (JET) for a fifth year, and so we will be leaving Fukuoka in August 2018.

Right now I feel a little bit like a goldfish that’s become too big for it’s bowl, and I need more space to swim around in. My role as Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) is beginning to plateau. I don’t feel like there’s anything left for me to learn as an ALT. These days I simply pass the time and get through work until my next big trip abroad or new experience here in Japan. Now that all those places and experiences on my list have been getting crossed out though… What do I have to look forward to? And is there anything actually tying me to this place any more?

After close to three years of teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), Evan and I are both able to say that it is not where our passions lie. It isn’t that we don’t love the people or the kids, or that we’ve grown tired of Japan, and we aren’t jaded exactly. We’ve just both come to realize that we have more to give to the world, and that we want more in return as well. What do I mean by “more”? Neither of us are really sure.

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memory palace 3: walk from rock climbing gym to art department


I step out of the Rec Center and into the sunlight. I picked up my walking stick. About to set out, I am thinking about how much this feels like the olden days. Before I can take another step, something (or maybe a thousand somethings) start bothering my tongue. I reach into my mouth and pull out a measuring. Actually, it’s a sake box filled with exactly one thousand needles. I place it into my left palm, then it slowly starts rising up, up, and up straight up into the sun. I say farewell and head off.


I can see the white sculpture staircase sculpture zigzagging on the green lawn. I stride towards it. As I get closer I discover nine very round, fat men sitting together on the sculpture. They are picnicking on tiny sandwiches they’ve balanced on their thick legs. After each sandwich they drink a measurement of precisely 10 drops of glue from an Elmer’s bottle. Their mouths are sticky and dripping.

I turn away and start toward the main campus, but a man stops me. “Just a moment!” He begins smearing large amounts of glue onto the lawn with his elbows (why that part of his body, I wonder), making an Elmer’s glue path for me all the way to the large stairs in front of the science building.


I am met at the stairs by a little green man. “Of the ten fields that I studied,” he says in a squeaky voice, “measurement is my specialty!” He pulls out a measuring tape and starts measuring each stair laboriously and writing it all down. I continue up and don’t wait for him to finish.

Finally the brick path opens up and I am heading toward the large Richard Serra sculpture. Oddly, it is painted with white polka dots and “Dr.” is written on one side of it. A man in a white coat approaches me and says, “My specialty is needles — I am an acupuncturist! Would you like to try a session?” I say sure and he lets me into the triangle sculpture ahead of him.


It’s dark inside, but then candles all over spring into light. The entire inside of the sculpture looks as if it has been outfitted by a fortune teller. Michelle sits at a table in the middle, a divining rod in her hands and tarot cards all laid out. “Interested in getting your fortune told?” I politely decline and step back outside.

I can see the Art Department now. I walk up the long set of stairs leading up to it. Upon reaching the green just in front of the building I see Harry Potter. He is standing in front of a canvas attempting to paint a live model en plain air. When I reach him he seems frustrated. “I am the world’s most eminent wizard because I started using a wand at an early age,” Harry says, “but I never learned how to paint! A paint brush is nothing at all like a magic wand.”


“You filthy mudblood! Stop complaining and just paint!” I look over. Indeed, sprawled on a chez lounge on the lawn posing for Harry is Voldemort. Although he is perfectly still he manages to shout derisive comments at Harry. The closer I get to him, the more I realize that the stink that has been growing fouler is in fact his very terrible morning breath. I recoil and head to the entrance of the Art Department building.

The kanji: 旧 白 百 中 千 舌 升 昇 丸 寸 肘 専 博 占 上 下 卓 朝 嘲

[Note] This palace was particularly visual for me, so I thought I’d add real pictures of the places I was imagining in my mind for all the little vignettes.

kanji progress

Today is day 5 of my 97-day kanji challenge. I am going at a pace of 20 new kanji a day, so today marks my first 100 kanji. As I mentioned though, I did come into the challenge with roughly 300 or so kanji under my belt already. I decided to look over what I’ve done thus far and the count shook out like this: sixty of the hundred are totally new kanji for me and forty of them are ones I’ve had memorized for a while.  All right, so only sixty new kanji in 5 days.

Want to see the mountain I am trying to climb? BEHOLD! The hundred I learned this week are in bold.

一 二 三 四 五 六 七 八 九 十 口 日 月 田 目 古 吾 冒 朋 明 唱 晶 品 呂 昌 早 旭 世 胃 旦 胆 亘 凹 凸 旧 自 白 百 中 千 舌 升 昇 丸 寸 肘 専 博 占 上 下 卓 朝 嘲 只 貝 唄 貞 員 貼 見 児 元 頁 頑 凡 負 万 句 肌 旬 勺 的 首 乙 乱 直 具 真 工 左 右 有 賄 貢 項 刀 刃 切 召 昭 則 副 別 丁 町 可 頂 子 孔 了 女 好 如 母 貫 兄 呪 克 小 少 大 多 夕 汐 外 名 石 肖 硝 砕 砂 妬 削 光 太 器 臭 嗅 妙 省 厚 奇 川 州 順 水 氷 永 泉 腺 原 願 泳 沼 沖 汎 江 汰 汁 沙 潮 源 活 消 況 河 泊 湖 測 土 吐 圧 埼 垣 填 圭 封 涯 寺 時 均 火 炎 煩 淡 灯 畑 災 灰 点 照 魚 漁 里 黒 墨 鯉 量 厘 埋 同 洞 胴 向 尚 字 守 完 宣 宵 安 宴 寄 富 貯 木 林 森 桂 柏 枠 梢 棚 杏 桐 植 椅 枯 朴 村 相 机 本 札 暦 案 燥 未 末 昧 沫 味 妹 朱 株 若 草 苦 苛 寛 薄 葉 模 漠 墓 暮 膜 苗 兆 桃 眺 犬 状 黙 然 荻 狩 猫 牛 特 告 先 洗 介 界 茶 脊 合 塔 王 玉 宝 珠 現 玩 狂 旺 皇 呈 全 栓 理 主 注 柱 金 銑 鉢 銅 釣 針 銘 鎮 道 導 辻 迅 造 迫 逃 辺 巡 車 連 軌 輸 喩 前 煎 各 格 賂 略 客 額 夏 処 条 落 冗 冥 軍 輝 運 冠 夢 坑 高 享 塾 熟 亭 京 涼 景 鯨 舎 周 週 士 吉 壮 荘 売 学 覚 栄 書 津 牧 攻 敗 枚 故 敬 言 警 計 詮 獄 訂 訃 討 訓 詔 詰 話 詠 詩 語 読 調 談 諾 諭 式 試 弐 域 賊 栽 載 茂 戚 成 城 誠 威 滅 減 蔑 桟 銭 浅 止 歩 渉 頻 肯 企 歴 武 賦 正 証 政 定 錠 走 超 赴 越 是 題 堤 建 鍵 延 誕 礎 婿 衣 裁 装 裏 壊 哀 遠 猿 初 巾 布 帆 幅 帽 幕 幌 錦 市 柿 姉 肺 帯 滞 刺 制 製 転 芸 雨 雲 曇 雷 霜 冬 天 妖 沃 橋 嬌 立 泣 章 競 帝 諦 童 瞳 鐘 商 嫡 適 滴 敵 匕 叱 匂 頃 北 背 比 昆 皆 楷 諧 混 渇 謁 褐 喝 葛 旨 脂 詣 壱 毎 敏 梅 海 乞 乾 腹 複 欠 吹 炊 歌 軟 次 茨 資 姿 諮 賠 培 剖 音 暗 韻 識 鏡 境 亡 盲 妄 荒 望 方 妨 坊 芳 肪 訪 放 激 脱 説 鋭 曽 増 贈 東 棟 凍 妊 廷 染 燃 賓 歳 県 栃 地 池 虫 蛍 蛇 虹 蝶 独 蚕 風 己 起 妃 改 記 包 胞 砲 泡 亀 電 竜 滝 豚 逐 遂 家 嫁 豪 腸 場 湯 羊 美 洋 詳 鮮 達 羨 差 着 唯 堆 椎 誰 焦 礁 集 准 進 雑 雌 準 奮 奪 確 午 許 歓 権 観 羽 習 翌 曜 濯 曰 困 固 錮 国 団 因 姻 咽 園 回 壇 店 庫 庭 庁 床 麻 磨 心 忘 恣 忍 認 忌 志 誌 芯 忠 串 患 思 恩 応 意 臆 想 息 憩 恵 恐 惑 感 憂 寡 忙 悦 恒 悼 悟 怖 慌 悔 憎 慣 愉 惰 慎 憾 憶 惧 憧 憬 慕 添 必 泌 手 看 摩 我 義 議 犠 抹 拭 拉 抱 搭 抄 抗 批 招 拓 拍 打 拘 捨 拐 摘 挑 指 持 拶 括 揮 推 揚 提 損 拾 担 拠 描 操 接 掲 掛 捗 研 戒 弄 械 鼻 刑 型 才 財 材 存 在 乃 携 及 吸 扱 丈 史 吏 更 硬 梗 又 双 桑 隻 護 獲 奴 怒 友 抜 投 没 股 設 撃 殻 支 技 枝 肢 茎 怪 軽 叔 督 寂 淑 反 坂 板 返 販 爪 妥 乳 浮 淫 将 奨 采 採 菜 受 授 愛 曖 払 広 勾 拡 鉱 弁 雄 台 怠 治 冶 始 胎 窓 去 法 会 至 室 到 致 互 棄 育 撤 充 銃 硫 流 允 唆 出 山 拙 岩 炭 岐 峠 崩 密 蜜 嵐 崎 崖 入 込 分 貧 頒 公 松 翁 訟 谷 浴 容 溶 欲 裕 鉛 沿 賞 党 堂 常 裳 掌 皮 波 婆 披 破 被 残 殉 殊 殖 列 裂 烈 死 葬 瞬 耳 取 趣 最 撮 恥 職 聖 敢 聴 懐 慢 漫 買 置 罰 寧 濁 環 還 夫 扶 渓 規 替 賛 潜 失 鉄 迭 臣 姫 蔵 臓 賢 腎 堅 臨 覧 巨 拒 力 男 労 募 劣 功 勧 努 勃 励 加 賀 架 脇 脅 協 行 律 復 得 従 徒 待 往 征 径 彼 役 徳 徹 徴 懲 微 街 桁 衡 稿 稼 程 税 稚 和 移 秒 秋 愁 私 秩 秘 称 利 梨 穫 穂 稲 香 季 委 秀 透 誘 稽 穀 菌 萎 米 粉 粘 粒 粧 迷 粋 謎 糧 菊 奥 数 楼 類 漆 膝 様 求 球 救 竹 笑 笠 笹 箋 筋 箱 筆 筒 等 算 答 策 簿 築 篭 人 佐 侶 但 住 位 仲 体 悠 件 仕 他 伏 伝 仏 休 仮 伎 伯 俗 信 佳 依 例 個 健 側 侍 停 値 倣 傲 倒 偵 僧 億 儀 償 仙 催 仁 侮 使 便 倍 優 伐 宿 傷 保 褒 傑 付 符 府 任 賃 代 袋 貸 化 花 貨 傾 何 荷 俊 傍 俺 久 畝 囚 内 丙 柄 肉 腐 座 挫 卒 傘 匁 以 似 併 瓦 瓶 宮 営 善 膳 年 夜 液 塚 幣 蔽 弊 喚 換 融 施 旋 遊 旅 勿 物 易 賜 尿 尼 尻 泥 塀 履 屋 握 屈 掘 堀 居 据 裾 層 局 遅 漏 刷 尺 尽 沢 訳 択 昼 戸 肩 房 扇 炉 戻 涙 雇 顧 啓 示 礼 祥 祝 福 祉 社 視 奈 尉 慰 款 禁 襟 宗 崇 祭 察 擦 由 抽 油 袖 宙 届 笛 軸 甲 押 岬 挿 申 伸 神 捜 果 菓 課 裸 斤 析 所 祈 近 折 哲 逝 誓 斬 暫 漸 断 質 斥 訴 昨 詐 作 雪 録 剥 尋 急 穏 侵 浸 寝 婦 掃 当 彙 争 浄 事 唐 糖 康 逮 伊 君 群 耐 需 儒 端 両 満 画 歯 曲 曹 遭 漕 槽 斗 料 科 図 用 庸 備 昔 錯 借 惜 措 散 廿 庶 遮 席 度 渡 奔 噴 墳 憤 焼 暁 半 伴 畔 判 拳 券 巻 圏 勝 藤 謄 片 版 之 乏 芝 不 否 杯 矢 矯 族 知 智 挨 矛 柔 務 霧 班 帰 弓 引 弔 弘 強 弥 弱 溺 沸 費 第 弟 巧 号 朽 誇 顎 汚 与 写 身 射 謝 老 考 孝 教 拷 者 煮 著 箸 署 暑 諸 猪 渚 賭 峡 狭 挟 頬 追 阜 師 帥 官 棺 管 父 釜 交 効 較 校 足 促 捉 距 路 露 跳 躍 践 踏 踪 骨 滑 髄 禍 渦 鍋 過 阪 阿 際 障 隙 随 陪 陽 陳 防 附 院 陣 隊 墜 降 階 陛 隣 隔 隠 堕 陥 穴 空 控 突 究 窒 窃 窟 窪 搾 窯 窮 探 深 丘 岳 兵 浜 糸 織 繕 縮 繁 縦 緻 線 綻 締 維 羅 練 緒 続 絵 統 絞 給 絡 結 終 級 紀 紅 納 紡 紛 紹 経 紳 約 細 累 索 総 綿 絹 繰 継 緑 縁 網 緊 紫 縛 縄 幼 後 幽 幾 機 畿 玄 畜 蓄 弦 擁 滋 慈 磁 系 係 孫 懸 遜 却 脚 卸 御 服 命 令 零 齢 冷 領 鈴 勇 湧 通 踊 疑 擬 凝 範 犯 氾 厄 危 宛 腕 苑 怨 柳 卵 留 瑠 貿 印 臼 毀 興 酉 酒 酌 酎 酵 酷 酬 酪 酢 酔 配 酸 猶 尊 豆 頭 短 豊 鼓 喜 樹 皿 血 盆 盟 盗 温 蓋 監 濫 鑑 藍 猛 盛 塩 銀 恨 根 即 爵 節 退 限 眼 良 朗 浪 娘 食 飯 飲 飢 餓 飾 餌 館 餅 養 飽 既 概 慨 平 呼 坪 評 刈 刹 希 凶 胸 離 璃 殺 爽 純 頓 鈍 辛 辞 梓 宰 壁 璧 避 新 薪 親 幸 執 摯 報 叫 糾 収 卑 碑 陸 睦 勢 熱 菱 陵 亥 核 刻 該 骸 劾 述 術 寒 塞 醸 譲 壌 嬢 毒 素 麦 青 精 請 情 晴 清 静 責 績 積 債 漬 表 俵 潔 契 喫 害 轄 割 憲 生 星 醒 姓 性 牲 産 隆 峰 蜂 縫 拝 寿 鋳 籍 春 椿 泰 奏 実 奉 俸 棒 謹 僅 勤 漢 嘆 難 華 垂 唾 睡 錘 乗 剰 今 含 貪 吟 念 捻 琴 陰 予 序 預 野 兼 嫌 鎌 謙 廉 西 価 要 腰 票 漂 標 栗 慄 遷 覆 煙 南 楠 献 門 問 閲 閥 間 闇 簡 開 閉 閣 閑 聞 潤 欄 闘 倉 創 非 俳 排 悲 罪 輩 扉 侯 喉 候 決 快 偉 違 緯 衛 韓 干 肝 刊 汗 軒 岸 幹 芋 宇 余 除 徐 叙 途 斜 塗 束 頼 瀬 勅 疎 辣 速 整 剣 険 検 倹 重 動 腫 勲 働 種 衝 薫 病 痴 痘 症 瘍 痩 疾 嫉 痢 痕 疲 疫 痛 癖 匿 匠 医 匹 区 枢 殴 欧 抑 仰 迎 登 澄 発 廃 僚 瞭 寮 療 彫 形 影 杉 彩 彰 彦 顔 須 膨 参 惨 修 珍 診 文 対 紋 蚊 斑 斉 剤 済 斎 粛 塁 楽 薬 率 渋 摂 央 英 映 赤 赦 変 跡 蛮 恋 湾 黄 横 把 色 絶 艶 肥 甘 紺 某 謀 媒 欺 棋 旗 期 碁 基 甚 勘 堪 貴 遺 遣 潰 舞 無 組 粗 租 狙 祖 阻 査 助 宜 畳 並 普 譜 湿 顕 繊 霊 業 撲 僕 共 供 異 翼 戴 洪 港 暴 爆 恭 選 殿 井 丼 囲 耕 亜 悪 円 角 触 解 再 講 購 構 溝 論 倫 輪 偏 遍 編 冊 柵 典 氏 紙 婚 低 抵 底 民 眠 捕 哺 浦 蒲 舗 補 邸 郭 郡 郊 部 都 郵 邦 那 郷 響 郎 廊 盾 循 派 脈 衆 逓 段 鍛 后 幻 司 伺 詞 飼 嗣 舟 舶 航 舷 般 盤 搬 船 艦 艇 瓜 弧 孤 繭 益 暇 敷 来 気 汽 飛 沈 枕 妻 凄 衰 衷 面 麺 革 靴 覇 声 眉 呉 娯 誤 蒸 承 函 極 牙 芽 邪 雅 釈 番 審 翻 藩 毛 耗 尾 宅 託 為 偽 畏 長 張 帳 脹 髪 展 喪 巣 単 戦 禅 弾 桜 獣 脳 悩 厳 鎖 挙 誉 猟 鳥 鳴 鶴 烏 蔦 鳩 鶏 島 暖 媛 援 緩 属 嘱 偶 遇 愚 隅 逆 塑 遡 岡 鋼 綱 剛 缶 陶 揺 謡 鬱 就 蹴 懇 墾 貌 免 逸 晩 勉 象 像 馬 駒 験 騎 駐 駆 駅 騒 駄 驚 篤 罵 騰 虎 虜 膚 虚 戯 虞 慮 劇 虐 鹿 麓 薦 慶 麗 熊 能 態 寅 演 辰 辱 震 振 娠 唇 農 濃 送 関 咲 鬼 醜 魂 魔 魅 塊 襲 嚇 朕 雰 箇 錬 遵 罷 屯 且 藻 隷 癒 璽 潟 丹 丑 羞 卯 巳

I don’t know why, but looking at all 2,200-ish kanji in a group like this makes them seem less intimidating. Memorizing them all in 3 months feels doable when I have them all in front of me and can check them off one by one, ya know? Let’s see if I still feel this way after a few more hundred brand new characters…

Oh and also, I don’t think I am going to continue posting my memory palaces anymore. I know I’ve only posted two of them, but I feel like maybe it’s too much like when you’re friend is trying passionately to tell you some wild dream they had last night but you really don’t give a shit because in the end it’s not real and has nothing to do with you whatsoever. I’ll probably still write them out like stories and post them here privately, but don’t worry, dear readers. I won’t subject you to them anymore! Although I may at some point down the road make a list of the places I’ve turned into memory palaces. I will eventually make 56, and it was an interesting process picking out the places I know well enough from memory to transform into sanctuaries for my kanji ramblings.

That’s all for today. Will write again in a few!

memory palace 2: the rock climbing gym

I am standing behind the front desk of my college workplace, the rock climbing gym on campus. The door swings open and a very frail old man struggles in. His muscles strain as he pulls his own tombstone behind him. It says the name Martin and is leaving a deep gouge in the tiled floor.

As I start towards him, all my five senses are taken over. It starts with the smells. Italian herbs, rich tomato, pungent cheese, and fresh baked bread all start wafting into my nostrils. I look to my right, and there on the desk is the biggest and most beautiful pizza I’ve ever seen. I can even hear a sort of heavenly song as I walk toward it. Finally, when I take my first bite I am inundated with how delicious it is.

After having eaten enough pizza for five people, I go into the middle of the rock climbing wall floor and lay out on a crashpad. I gaze up at the window in the ceiling and start staring directly at the sun. This is far too risky for my eyes, I think, and so I look away. That’s when someone approaches me. I see his shoes first and then look up. He is a very pale young man, dressed all in silver gray and with gray hair. “Hello. I would like a companion to climb with, but I am afraid I have no moon friends,” he says.

“How about a sun friend?” I hear from behind me. A young woman strolls in, hair bright blonde and dressed all in yellow and orange. He gasps when he sees her, then rushes forward, gathers her in his arms, and they share a deep kiss. As they grow more passionate they start emanating an incredible bright light until suddenly they disappear.

I decide that I should do some climbing. I walk up to the bouldering wall and start doing a route. Halfway up and tucked up into the hardest part of the overhang, I begin to struggle. That’s when I hear my coworker Justin. “Come on, Maryann,” he yells, “send it!” From all around the rock wall I hear the words “send it” being chanted, and I continue upward.

I can see the final hold in the route above me. It is shaped like a large diamond, and it sparkles like one too. In a final surge of effort, I reach up and grab it. While I am still hanging from the top of the wall, confetti rains down and there’s a chorus of applause. “You’ve done it,” a man in a suit strides out holding three large boxes. “You’ve won three boxes of the best darn goods in the world!”

Unable to hold on any longer, I drop down from the bouldering wall and onto the ground. On impact, I can feel two vertebrae in my spine slide out of alignment and I crumple. I can’t move. As if from nowhere, Spock and his two sons (they look just like him; does Spock even have sons?) lift me up gently and place me on the bench to the left of the bouldering wall beneath the stairs. “She lived long and prosperously,” they say in unison. Wait, am I dead?

“Too early, you assholes. She’s not dead yet!” I look to my right, and there on stop of the bouldering wall is a group of talking, walking sunflowers. “I oughta kill you, ya–” The sunflower is cut off by a light in the middle of the hallway between up. It is a rising sun, and in the middle of it is the yellow woman who had disappeared with Moon as well as a group of young boys who look just like a combination of him and her.

“These are my nine sons,” she says, “and they are the next generation of rock climbing. They will be the smartest and strongest climbers of all time. Show her why!” Her sons all lift up their shirts. There nestled against the flesh of their stomachs are their brains. “You will teach them how to climb until night breaks and I rise again!” And away she went, leaving me with her kids.

We climbed from that moment on for 24 hours straight, from sun down to sun up, a very long span of time if you ask me. The boys were absolutely terrible boys. They never wanted to listen and made such a ruckus. I felt incredibly bitter that I had been left with such a task. And then I started to taste something very bitter too. It was a rush of bile coming up from my gallbladder and filling up my mouth.

The kanji: 古 吾 冒 朋 明 唱 晶 品 呂 昌 早 旭 世 胃 旦 胆 亘 凹 凸

[Note] Jeez, these stories are turning out way more graphic and crazy than I anticipated.

memory palace 1: my first college dorm room

I sit up in my bunk bed, bottom level, in my very first dorm room. I hear crying and look over to see my roommate (let’s call her Z) sitting on the floor. She is bawling because her poster of a vampire girl that she had hung on the back of our door has been cut into seven pieces. The pieces are laid out on the floor. Realizing that I am awake, she stands up. “You did this,” she says angrily, and she takes a step toward me.

Before I can react, an entire baseball team barges into our room and surrounds Z. They hold out their arms as if to grab her. From nowhere Z brandishes ten very long needles, five in each hand. “Stand back!” she yells. Their mouths hang open in shock and the baseball players are backed into the far side of the room, all nine of them squashed between our desks and up against the window.

As if taken over by some strange compulsion, all nine baseball players stick out their tongues simultaneously. Their tongues begin wagging violently outside of their mouths, saliva dripping and lips twitching.

Z seems just as nonplussed as I am. Then, in an absurd act of defiance, she begins fumbling at her trouser zipper. “You can’t phase me!” she cries just before she drops her pants, bends over, and gives everyone a view of her full, fleshy, full moon butt.

The baseball team is so startled that Z’s butt blows their brains. I mean this literally. Their brains actually explode with a bright light. It’s so bright that it hurts. I close my eyes. There’s no sound. After a moment, I open my eyes again and find myself in my bunk bed in the middle of a rice field.

The kanji: 七 九 十 口 日 月 田 目

[Note] I knew all the kanji in this first grouping, including these ones. But I made a palace anyway though for a couple reasons. Firstly, I felt it’d be good practice using familiar kanji in an incredibly new mnemonic that I’ve never really used before. Also, I was not aware of the alternative meanings (known as “primitives”) of some of the kanji, so I placed them in this palace to memorize those.

2,136 kanji in 97 days

There are 2,136 “regular use” Chinese characters in Japan and they are commonly called joyo kanji. This is not actually a comprehensive list of all the kanji used regularly in Japan, but it is a literary baseline for compulsory education and does compromise all the permitted characters for use in official government documents. 1,006 of these are taught in primary school and the remaining 1,130 are taught in secondary school.As of this moment I probably know a grand total of between 3- and 400 kanji. That means my current Japanese literacy is roughly in line with a Japanese elementary third grader.


I have never really been good at self-study. I think it comes down to having a lot of trouble motivating myself to keep putting one foot in front of the other without someone breathing down my neck and checking my work every step of the way like I had all through school. Getting some grit and resilience is just something I have to work on.

I believe kanji are beautiful. Frankly, each one is a piece of art. That’s why I thought that writing them over and over again would be a fun and relatively easy way to memorize them. It only took a little while to realize that doing that really didn’t help me. Although the stroke orders make sense to me, the way the kanji is written combined with its meanings and the different sounds they make feel straight up arbitrary. I would spend a ton of time writing something repeatedly while chanting all its parts out loud, and then a couple days later it’s as though none of it ever happened.

It can feel defeating to work so hard and not get any results. I started getting pretty salty and avoiding studying altogether. I can’t tell you how guilty I feel for having wasted so much time in Japan without actively learning and practicing Japanese in a disciplined way. That’s why I decided that it’s time for me to sit down and find a way to make sense of all these damned kanji.

I hit the internet and found loads of different study techniques. One article in particular got my attention though. The title read Hacking the Kanji: 2,200 Kanji in 97 Days. Pffffffft yeah right – there’s no way! But it had peaked my interest. Before I knew it I was well into a very detailed and long step-by-step breakdown of how to learn all the joyo kanji in less than four months. I won’t go into all the details, but Niko at Nihongo Shark basically whittles it all down to systematically using a set of tools in a set process every day until all the kanji are finished. The tools are:

  1. Anki flashcards (to keep us from forgetting what we learn)
  2. Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji (to break the kanji into parts)
  3. Using mnemonics, mainly memory palaces (to solidify the kanji and all their parts into our brains)
  4. Reviewing the Kanji (to get inspiration for when we have trouble making our own mnemonics)

A lot about Niko’s process really drew me in. I love how he explains practically every detail of it, from the why’s to the how’s. He doesn’t sugarcoat. He says it’ll be hard and frustrating at times, but could it really be more frustrating than all the wasted hours I’ve put in already? But what really got me was the really thorough explanation and application of mnemonics and memory palaces.

For any of you who’ve watched Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch, I am sure you’ve got a general idea as to what a memory or mind palace is. While watching Sherlock I didn’t get the sense that anyone aside from some sort of autistic genius or savant could actually create a working memory palace but watching Joshua Foer talk about memory and the history of mnemonics in this TED Talk convinced me otherwise.

I am a highly visual person, and I love telling stories, especially ridiculous ones. This is when I realize that Niko’s method just might work with me. Of course, I have been making short stories about each kanji to help me remember them, but the problem is that each story stands completely alone. They aren’t tied together in any way, much less tethered to a real place that I can conjure in my mind’s eye. And I am a real sucker for a highly planned out and regulated system. Why not combine my silly imagination with a strict learning regimen and really give this a shot?

The biggest hole in Niko’s method for me is how he focuses 100% on memorizing the meanings of the kanji only without any time spent on how to actually say them in Japanese. According to both him and Heisig, once you can see and recognize the meanings of the kanji, the way they are read and how they are used in vocabulary comes like second nature. I am still a bit suspicious of this. But at this point, any progress at all is good progress, not to mention this is the first time in a long time I’ve actually felt excited to study kanji. That has to count for something!

So here starts my journey deep into the recesses of my mind and the joyo kanji. I plan on writing out and posting the memory palaces I make and the kanji they are linked to in the hopes that the more often I think about and jot them down the better I will remember them. I have no clue how this will really turn out so…. Wish me luck!

transitioning into winter

After getting back from Kyoto, all I thought about was slamming some content for classes together and, more importantly, studying for the JLPT test (which was on December 4, Sunday)! While Evan and I were roaming to, around and from Kyoto/Osaka I didn’t do nearly as much studying as I intended. And before then? I was memorizing some kanji using the White Rabbit flashcards I bought a while ago, and I also wrote down a collection of grammar points geared toward the N4 level and started using them in my own original sentences. After getting back from the trip, kanji and grammar are what I mainly crammed. The day before the test I tried out a couple vocabulary, reading, and grammar practice tests, and I am really glad I did. They really got my head in the game as far as how the test is formatted and what type of questions I would have to answer.

How’d the test itself go? It’s hard for me to say with certainty if I passed or not, but I feel much more confident and optimistic after finishing the test this time than last summer, that’s for sure. Last summer I felt like I frequently went up against questions that I couldn’t even make an educated guess about, but this time those popped up way less frequently. I felt good about the reading section this time around too. Last summer I felt very rushed (almost ran out of time, actually) and was often uncertain about the meanings of texts or even the questions themselves. This time I got through the reading part quickly with time to spare to check my answers, and I never felt stumped as to the meanings of both the texts and the questions. Last summer I felt pretty good about the listening part and it was by far my highest score. But this time? I’ll be honest, and I hope I am not making an ass out of myself when I say this, if I get less than 90% of the listening section correct, I will be really shocked. It felt like such a breeze. Every answer seemed really clear and obvious, and there was never any doubt in my mind while I filled in those little bubbles. God, I hope I wasn’t totally delusional or in some alternate dimension during that section of the test though… because if I get my results back next month and see I bombed the listening I will feel like such an idiot, hah.

Regardless of how I end up doing, so glad that test is over with! I am going to officially put studying Japanese on the back-burner until after winter vacation, and then I want to push really hard to memorize kanji like mad! But, like I said, let’s not continue this conversation until January rolls around.

In the meantime… so much stuff on the horizon! I am going to make myself a list of it all here and now, just so that I can see it in one place:

  • Start my newly-crafted Hot Hiker Body Routine (explanatory post to come) TONIGHT so that I don’t die while hiking and traveling over winter break
  • Get new glasses because the ones I have now are scratched to hell and the perscription is over two and a half years old
  • Go shopping for Christmas presents and ship them to the folks they belong to
  • Celebrate Fiona’s birthday with drinks and karaoke this coming Friday and/or Saturday
  • Double-booked bounenkai next week 12/16 Friday, oh no! I have to choose which one to go to… Ariake Shinsei High School’s party or the Miike English teachers’ party
  • At least one more preparations and logistics meeting with Fiona and Kohji to square away packing, money, documentation and day-of departure plans for the big trip
  • Get through two more weeks of classes with all my ichi-nensei (sophomores) and san-nensei (seniors), which means making some sort of Christmas lesson…. and I have no idea what to do yet, so I have to plan that!
  • Clean the apartment so that we don’t return to a total mess after 15 days of crazy filthy backpacking and planes rides
  • Actually pack for the trip!
  • Something small but sweet to celebrate Evan’s birthday on 12/24
  • Happy Day’s big all day Christmas Party on 12/25
  • And FINALLY on 12/26 take off for Myanmar and Laos with Evan, Fiona and Kohji!

Ya know, seeing it all in a simple list like this makes all this stuff seem much more manageable. Let’s hope I can actually get all of it done in a sensible and stress-free way though, shall we? Updates to come…