Japanese Language Study Log: Splatted

TLDR: Studying for the December JLPT N1 and trying to build good routines into my life. This journal will contain discussion of study methods, what I'm studying, habit formation and the Japanese media I'm working my way through.

I've decided to start studying for the December JLPT N1 and thought a study blog would be a good idea. Although improving my Japanese and getting a qualification are things I want they are not the main reasons for doing this. What I really want is to learn self discipline, good habits and create a work routine that I can use as a basis for achieving other goals moving forward.

I've deliberately chosen a goal that I can comfortably fail because this will allow me to start slow and build things up in a manageable way. It seems to be a common trend with me that I pick important ambitious goals requiring difficult schedules I can't stick to. I don't think the problem is burnout so much as the insidious feeling that doing just one or two hours of work is equivalent to doing none. Any day on which I doubt my will to complete the whole routine I suddenly finding myself lacking the will to even start. Hopefully putting the routine first and the result second will help solve this.

Current level

I only do comprehension and can't speak or write well at all.

In terms of hard numbers I took the J-cat in may 2015 and got these scores:

セクション スコア
Listening 52
Vocabulary 70
Grammar 57
Reading 77
合計 256

Though this was a long time ago I doubt things have changed all that much since I haven't really been making an effort to improve. I'm going to retake soon but I wanted to post what I think my level is beforehand.

Speaking more practically I find my Japanese is very usable. I watch quite a lot of anime and never really expect to have any issues understanding them. Problem scenes are common but problem shows are rare. Reading is slightly harder but similar. In general I like to have a dictionary handy, and will look up quite a lot of words if given the chance, but most of what I consume is enjoyable without additional study.

Although I said problem shows are rare I think it's fair to say I'm not very adventurous with what I consume. Most of it is fiction designed to be fun and unchallenging (e.g. shonen jump manga) and my comprehension drops significantly if I try to step outside this comfort zone.

Starting routine

Wake  up
10 min housework
1 hr breakfast/recreation
30 min reading a Japanese novel
n/a Anki until completion  

I'm starting slowly with a morning routine designed to be basically as easy as possible. Anki is the only thing here because it needs to get done. I put something before breakfast to get the ball rolling before I have a chance to mull over how lazy I'm feeling. The reason it's short and easy is obvious but the choice of housework is also important because it has an immediate and visible effect on my environment meaning I will know I'll benefit from it even if I fail the routine as a whole.

The reading is just there because it's enjoyable. The point is to get myself in the habit of thinking "Breakfast is over. I have to do stop this and do [x]. I think it will be easier to substitute less appealing tasks once the timeblock is established.


I'm honestly unsure what materials I should be studying. Since I've not previously followed a syllabus it's likely that my knowledge is a patchwork of things from all levels of the JLPT and beyond, with gaps at all levels as well. It doesn't seem like going through the lower grades would be efficient but I also can't be confident that just the N1 materials will be enough. Perhaps start with N1 and work my way back?

What I am certain of is that I need to branch out in to reading news sites, do as many practice papers as possible and consume as much native material as possible

Current study materials

No textbooks currently, just native media. I discovered that has astoundingly low shipping prices and recently went on a manga buying binge, so I have a tbr consisting of Claymore, Akira, Tokyo Ghoul and volume 1 of Pluto.

The things I'm going through now are as follows:

[Novel] 死神の浮力 (Buoyancy of death)

This is the sequel to one of my favourite Japanese books, 死神の精度, however it's not really living up to that hype. It's enjoyable and I am still quite near the beginning, but I had such high expectations that I'm still disappointed. The main draw for me is the weird POV character (the titular 死神), however he feels like less of a focus this time.

[Anime] My hero academia

I'm rewatching season 1 for some reason. I don't find myself hugely invested in it but it is relaxing and fun. It's probably the perfect show for anyone who dreams of a marvel anime crossover.

[anime] Darker than black

I remember loving this when it first came out but somehow never ended up watching the second season. Starting again from scratch I'm enjoying it quite a lot.

[Manga] One Piece

I got sick of the poor anime adaptation and decided to read the manga from the beginning. Currently on volume twenty three and loving it more and more with each chapter. I would never have guessed from the anime that the art is so good!
Edited: Today, 7:52 am by ファブリス
It's been a little over a week and I have a better handle on what I want to do. My initial plan when creating a schedule was to make small incremental changes each week but thinking about how long it takes habits to form I've decided that larger less regular changes would be better. I think it's important that I feel comfortable with my current schedule before adding to it or every day will be a test of my willpower as I try to stick to an ever more  difficult routine and failure will be inevitable. Making less regular changes also gives me a clearer fallback point if I can't complete the whole thing.

With that in mind this is what I'm going to be doing for the next month or so:

Wake up
10 min Housework
45 min Breakfast
30 min Reading Japanese Novel
05 min Music Aural Practice
30 min Reading Japanese Novel
05 min Meditation
N/a     Anki until completion
N/a     Read 1 社説 & 1 news article

I seem to be averaging about 20+ new cards a day in anki which I guess is fine for now since reviews are still under 10 minutes. I think perhaps 30 mins seems like a good limit to set but that will probably be a long time in coming.

The next step will be to start going through some textbooks. I've got the N1 Drill & Drill grammar and Listening/Reading books + a book of 3 mock tests. I was put off by the price of buying the N2 books as well. Even what I did get was over 80 pounds and I can't justify spending more than that.

New J-cat score

セクション スコア
Listening 83 (+21)
Vocabulary 62 (-8)
Grammar 58 (+1)
Reading 52 (-25)
合計 255 (-1)

This result surprised me a lot because there are some massive shifts in the sub-scores. I mentioned in the j-cat thread that this could be due to me doing less reading and more listening recently but the change is so extreme that I'm not satisfied with that explanation. A 25 point loss in reading seems like something I couldn't help but be very aware of but I don't even feel rusty.

A more plausible explanation may be that I messed up on exam technique. I kind of panicked after timing out the first vocab question and started jumping around skimming random bits of the questions and answers and failing to read either. I did eventually calm down and realise I had time to read everything but there's no way it didn't affect my score. This would go against my prediction of not having improved since I last took the test but thinking in terms of sub-scores I think that makes sense because I do feel like I've improved my listening skills without much progress elsewhere.

[Novel] 死神の浮力 (Buoyancy of death)

I take back what I said about this being disappointing. 50% through the story has really picked up and the dry humour greatly amuses me.

Edit: Newspapers:

Forgot to write about my attempts to read newspapers. I've mostly been reading political articles on Asahi and occasionaly NHK. Tbh they're really quite difficult and I often feel I don't understand them as well as I would like. This seems to be largely due to the subject matter as I don't know anything about Japanese politics and unknown words often reference unfamiliar concepts, meaning I can't just slap a new label on some old knowledge like I normally do.

Articles, such as this one, about more everyday topics are generally much more manageable. I feel challenged but also like I understand what I read.

P.s. If you register as a free member with asahi you can read 1 "paid" article a day.
Edited: 2017-05-20, 11:08 am
I intend to write about my learning history and methods like others have done, as that is always interesting to me, however there are a few things I want to touch on before that. The first of which is meditation, because I've recently come to the conclusion that it is a very powerful tool that everyone should be using. I am a complete beginner so can't speak with any authority but I would like to share what I have heard that has driven me to take up the practice.

Why Meditate?

Meditation is often viewed as a purely spiritual exercise, however it actually has some very practical applications and can be approached in a manner devoid of spirituality if you so wish. Thoughts are as habit driven as behaviour, and no one has only good habits, but it is no simple task to recognise let alone alter these habits. I view meditation as a training regime designed to allow the practitioner greater understanding of their own mind, control of that which can be controlled and acceptance of that which cannot.

Training concentration

This is the focus of an exercise you may already have heard about. To do it you simply sit and focus your attention on your breathing for a set amount of time e.g. 5 mins. No matter how advanced you are you will find it impossible to stop your mind wandering, but that is well and good because the real focus of this exercise is to notice this wandering and willfully bring yourself back to task. I've heard it likened to lifting weights in the gym, where each cycle (focus > distraction > awareness > refocus) is equivalent to a weightlifting rep. You don't get frustrated every time you lower a weight so don't chide yourself for losing focus.

Meditating on negative experiences

This is a somewhat unpleasant but undeniably useful exercise. To me it seems to provide three things:

  1. Acceptance of discomfort - By exposing yourself to negative emotions/sensations in an environment devoid of success and failure you allow yourself to become comfortable feeling them and thus better able to deal with them in real life.
  2. Recognising the signs of distress - You might think that if you don't notice it it doesn't matter but this is not true. You will still be influenced by your emotions whether you notice them or not and recognising that your reflexes are being guided by an emotional reaction allows you to reassess them from a more balanced perspective.
  3. Identifying the causes of distress - I think this one is pretty self explanatory, but knowing what is causing your problems is what allows you to take actions to alleviate those problems.

Meditating on positive experiences

This is much the same as the negative one. I think it can be used to identify what you value in life and help you steer things in that direction.

Beating Procrastination

This is something that the emotional meditations seem to help a lot with. I can't think of a better way to explain this than to give a somewhat embarrassing personal example. My housemates and I have a regular cleaning rota the deadline for which was yesterday evening, by which time I had yet to finish my bit. Upon remembering the task I immediately decided I was too tired and resolved to do it early the next day, but then I stopped and examined that decision.

I quickly realised the obvious, that much of my aversion was due to an ingrained habit of procrastinating on unpleasant tasks, however I was more surprised to realise that much of the negativity I felt stemmed not from the task itself but rather from it not being done. Add to that an acknowledgement that the thing I was going to do instead was more of a time waster than something I actually wanted to do and I was shocked to realise not just that I could do the cleaning, nor even that I wouldn't mind, but that I would actually prefer to do it.

Closing thoughts

Meditation isn't just about turning yourself in to some kind of productivity machine but rather is a tool that can be used to enrich all areas of your life. Whether you want to pay better attention to that movie you're watching or you're trying to decide whether to have a lie-in or go for a walk, meditation can help you with that.
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