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 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…

laying the groundwork: goal 2 of 30

After perusing my 30 before 30 list, I want to address five of my goals and how I plan on reaching them. Let’s start with the one that inspired this entire train of thought…

Goal 2 of 30: Pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N3

So you should all know by now that I failed the JLPT N4 I took in July. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the JLPT, N4 is a step down from N3. According to everyone I’ve spoken to it’s a pretty sizable step at that. N4 is described as a test for high beginners, whereas N3 is the midway point of fluency. At N4 level you’re able to survive living in Japan, travel domestically without getting lost, and make small talk. At N3 level you’re living fairly comfortably, expressing your opinions, and having more complex conversation. Here are some specific differences according to JLPT Boot Camp:

  • Grammar… N4: Passive voice, basic verb conjugations and basic conjunctions // N3: More nuanced grammar points and more complex conjunctions
  • Kanji… N4: Approximately 300 of the most basic and well-used kanji // N3: Approximately 650 (including the previous 300), or the first four grade levels of kyoiku-kanji (the official system for teaching kanji by the Ministry of Japan)
  • Vocabulary… N4: Aproximately 1,500 words total // N3: Approximately 3,500 total
  • Resume-worthy?… N4: No // N3: Yes

Putting all the differences in plain sight like this is actually a real eye-opener for me as far as what a true undertaking this goal is. I mean, the folks over at JLPT Boot Camp say that passing the N3 requires 450 hours of studying, which is roughly three years of college Japanese classes! So far I have been happy to just soak up whatever Japanese has conveniently come my way, but that’s just not going to cut it to reach N3.

So what am I going to do?

Step One: Retake and CRUSH the N4 on December 4, 2016

How? Here’s the game plan.
  1. Start going to Evan’s Japanese class once a week on Thursdays starting the first week of September. This will give me the structure and accountability I need to start improving and, more importantly, start good study habits.
  2. Use White Rabbit kanji flashcards. I am thinking about giving myself weekly kanji goals, adding new ones to my stack every week, and drilling them until they stick. After doing the math, I need to do 20 kanji every week until December. Luckily I have a handful of kanji already under my belt, so I can start in right away on the new and/or shaky stuff and still have at least a couple weeks in November for pure review.
  3. Go through the entire 日本語500問 book. The book is laid out so that you answer 15 questions every day for 4 weeks straight. Each question and its answers are explained thoroughly so that you can pinpoint the exact grammar, vocabulary or kanji that is stumping you. The difficulty ramps up from N5 at the beginning to N4 by the end. I am really hoping this book helps me catch those outstanding loopholes in my Japanese skills before they catch me yet again in December. Once I finish 日本語500問 I am going to switch to another textbook (maybe Genki 2?) and create a study plan for that too, so be sure to check in 4 weeks from now!
  4. Take advantage of my commute time to and from work to practice kanji and vocabulary. On days that I go to work I spend 50 minutes on the train (25 minutes there and 25 minutes back). That’s 250 minutes in a typical work week of hands-free sitting on the train — more than 4 hours! Right now during that time I usually bumble about on social media, fiddle with my Neko Atsume or Pokemon Go, or simply close my eyes and nod off. I have this lovely gift of super convenient public transportation (thank you, Japan), and here I am wasting it! What better time is there to cram those kanji flashcards or hop onto that Memrise app and blast through some vocab? So that’s what I am going to do, for at least one leg of my commute every day I go to work from now on.

Step two: Begin climbing that N3 mountain

After I pass the N4 in December, I have about 7 months to study before the next JLPT test date in early July. Can someone actually go from N4 to N3 in such a short time? I really don’t know, but I am going to try like hell because the next available test date isn’t until after my 30th birthday!

But before I get too far ahead of myself and start saying exactly what I plan on doing to prep for the N3 like I just did for the N4, I want to wait and see how my study habits form, what methods work and what don’t, and how much I really am able to self-study and progress between now and December. Using that information, I intend to work out my N3 game plan in the week or so following the N4 test. That way I can jet off to Laos and Myanmar for my winter vacation adventure worry-free and with a map laid in place for a fresh start when I return in January!

I am hoping that with the support of the people around me, especially Evan, Vicki, and Ayame-san (aka. the people I will be forcing to be my study partners), this groundwork will not have been laid in vain!

What are my other four goals I will be dissecting? Stay tuned to find out!


a lesson in humility, complacency, and waking the fuck up

Some of you may recall that I participated in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level N4 earlier this summer. The results were just announced yesterday, and I found out that I did not in fact pass. The passing overall score is 90/180, and my score was 87. I missed passing by three points! Now I realize that my goal shouldn’t be to barely scrape by, but come on, universe — throw me a bone! Three measly points?! This is such a bummer.

The other thing that I find totally confounding is how my score this year compares to my score on the same test in summer 2015. So again, this year I got 87/180. In 2015 I got 77. Are you telling me that in a year’s time I only managed to improve my score by ten points? What does this say about me? Did I seriously reach a plateau already? Am I incapable of improvement??

I know I am being a bit over-dramatic. It’s probably impossible to not improve at all in a year’s time living in the country where the language you’re trying to learn is natively spoken. And in fact, I really do feel like I have improved my listening and speaking a great deal. But I think therein lies the problem, the root of which I have nurtured with my own complacency.

You see, I never study. I guess I decided that I would live in Japan and just “pick up” the language. [insert snap of fingers here] Just like that. Word to the wise, it doesn’t work that way. Yes, my listening and conversational skills have improved from my daily interactions with Japanese speakers, but that doesn’t mean I’m actively learning Japanese. And it certainly doesn’t mean I’ve prepared myself to take a proficiency test, which has been made embarrassingly clear by my test scores. When I compare my scores it is actually kind of comical. The extra ten points I got this year compared to last year, all of them were gained in the listening section. My reading and grammar sections are exactly the same in both 2015 and 2016! それ,やばくない!?

The bottom line is [drum roll, please] I am lazy, my lack of discipline is ridiculous, and I should really be ashamed of myself. I wish I could tell you why I act as though I deserve to simply receive, without turning a page, picking up a flashcard, or showing any initiative whatsoever, what other people work so hard for. But really, I can’t. It is dawning on me now that this isn’t the first time I have exhibited such absurd behavior and expectations too. I think I act this same way, to varying degrees, about making art and being creative, being a good teacher, getting healthy, and generally becoming a successful person. I assume that’ll all just happen. Because I’ve done pretty well so far, right? And besides, I deserve it. Right? As someone who is quick to criticize entitlement in others, I sure am a hypocrite.

To those of you reading this now: I know the stuff I am saying is pretty damning. It is meant to be. But this isn’t a cry for your sympathy or a reaching-out for your approval. Probably, on some level, everyone needs and wants both of those things, but I didn’t write this post to garner either from you.

Maybe I am airing out my dirty laundry a bit too obviously, but I feel like this all has to be said in a public sphere because I need to take responsibility for it out in the open and not just brush it under the rug. Facing those dark parts of myself head on, that has always been hard for me. That is probably where a large part of my complacency comes from: my inability to see the truth about who I am and what I really need to do, regardless of how unsavory it may be.

This post is meant to be my wake-up call, pure and simple. A warning to myself that if I stay satisfied with my current level of achievement then I may as well just give up on passing the JLPT N4, or completing that 30 before 30 list I made, or any other goals I may make in the future, because it will all just be posturing.

What is it about all the people whom I admire? It really isn’t their talent or their success that I should be applauding so much as their drive and ambition, two characteristics I seriously lack. Reflecting now on the things that I have some innate skill in, like drawing, Japanese, or even teaching, I shudder to imagine how much better I could be at this very moment at any one of them if I had only mustered much earlier some small amount of that ambition and drive I seem to be missing. But rather than regretting and wallowing though, as I am wont to do, I must simply stop and make a change.

When I started this post I thought it would be a succinct paragraph -oh woe is me I didn’t pass a test blah blah- and done, but clearly it’s become much more than that. So really I am thankful for those three measly points for giving me a long-overdue mirror into which I could see my true reflection. And even if this post has become too pseudo-poetic and self-indulgent for you, especially that last line, I won’t apologize. Because sometimes a girl’s just got to fail a test and then bitch about it in an over-dramatic and poorly-written blog post before she can finally turn that corner.

PS – Congratulations to my studious husband for passing the N4! Hopefully I can join your ranks sooner rather than later!