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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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!

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.

UGH.

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!