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.


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!