tadoku wrap up: tune your brain (plus, awards)

Try this experiment: I assume most of you have your pipe organ and your grand piano in the same room. Play a chord on the organ and hold if for a while – then let go, and listen to the piano. You didn’t touch the piano, yet there’s the same chord sounding. That sympathetic resonance is what extensive reading feels like. The more you read, the more Japanese-tuned strings in your head start to ring, the more you understand – not because you studied, but because you resonated.

This affects your brain in many wonderful ways, but the effect I noticed the most this go round was the jump in my listening skills. That’s right; listening – and that even though I spent far less time per day on active listening than usual. Most of my time listening this month was music, and that mostly background. But the hours a day of reading left enough of an imprint after only two weeks that I was hearing new words and phrases again and again in songs I’d listened to dozens of times.

Try it, you’ll like it!

This tadoku contest was almost all about manga for me. If you’re going to spend a hundred or more hours at something you’d best be very sure you pick something you enjoy, and as someone who is both very visually oriented (as a once and future photographer) and loves a good story, manga is perfect for me. Also helpful is that a volume of manga doesn’t take that long to get through, so you feel like you’re making swift progress. The final tally put me at just over 2600 equivalent pages, so around 13000 pages of manga – good enough for my first top ten result, and well over double my previous score.


Herewith some awards:

The Rembrandt Award for Best Art: 黄昏乙女xアムネジア

Not picking on the old Dutchman randomly here – めいびい’s art has powerful chiaroscuro effects that reminded me strongly of the Dutch masters. Backgrounds and scenes are moody and detailed, perspectives draw you into the page, and on top of all that, he is the absolute master of facial expressions. I’d recommend this manga even if you couldn’t read a word of Japanese. It came close to getting best story too, but among some strong albeit very different competition was:

Best Story Award: こばと

CLAMP are very good at setting up your heartstrings for maximum tweakability and this is a wonderful example. Truly one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read in years, in any language. Leaves you misty-eyed and smiling and hopelessly in love with the deeply real and human characters (even the ones that actually aren’t human, which is, well, the majority of them).

Rossi Award for Most Epic Single Volume: 神のみぞ知るセカイ volume 19,

the last in the long arc that starts around volume 9. Honestly, the pacing and tempo is excellent throughout the arc, but volume 19 turns up the intensity to nearly unbearable levels and keeps it there without missing a single beat right to the finish line. Like a good race, it hurtles along with utter inevitability and yet you aren’t sure right till the end exactly how it will turn out.

びっくり Award: この彼女はフィクションです。

I got this four-volume manga expecting nothing more than substance-less entertainment; and certain it is that there is rather a lot in here specifically designed to amuse middle school boys. Amazingly, though, somewhere under the dross and in the midst of the trainwreck is a really good story with surprising depth. What does a high school boy do when the ideal girl whose character he’s been writing for ten years appears in front of him? What if he’s already fallen for someone else? Can she change and grow now that she’s in the real world and not only his notebooks? The characters are certainly in a bizarre situation, and in the hands of a lesser storyteller would have been mere laughable paper cutouts, but you end up really feeling for these people – if that indeed is what they are. Even all the rubbish around the main storyline has the disconcerting yet fascinating effect of the reader never quite knowing at any moment whether the story is completely going off the rails, or working as intended as it lurches and crashes to its conclusion. Which leads me to –

がっかり Award: この彼女はフィクションです。

Same manga. Now, yes I just called it a really good story with surprising depth, but the absurdities and annoying irrelevancies are still there in abundance. This series would benefit immensely from a ruthless editor. Two volumes would have been sufficient. Alternatively, more back story and more exposition could have been added. Either way, this author is not to be trusted with his own pen. More importantly, the story comes so close to raising and dealing with some really very deep and interesting questions – significant among them that of “to what degree is a character a person?” – and yet every time it nearly gets there it veers off on some trivial tangent or some development seemingly designed to break your suspension of disbelief. I am neither recommending this manga nor saying to avoid it, just saying that as bad as it is it’s really quite excellent, and that as good as it is it’s still a trainwreck. Oh, it must be said, the art is very good, actually among the best I read this month. Characters are highly expressive, and very individual despite there being rather a lot of them.

Strawberry Cheesecake Award: ひよ恋

If you want cloyingly sweet fluff, this story of the highly improbable (yet absolutely inevitable, because this is shoujo after all) love between the tallest boy and the shortest girl in the school will satisfy the most romantic thirteen-year-old girl part of your heart. And yet as eye-rolling as it potentially could be, the writing is good enough and the characters are lovable enough that you get all the happy and none of the faintly ill feeling. As a bonus, the language is very easy. If you’ve just finished よつばと and feel like you’d like some romance, I do recommend this. Just make sure to have some espresso with it to counteract all that sweetness. Oh, I also like that each chapter has a column of hand-written commentary from the author. Her writing is quite neat and makes good practice for reading handwriting. She also seems like a really sweet person (surprise!).


The tadoku contest is designed to help you establish the practice of extensive reading as a regular habit. There is always a danger of going a bit overboard during the month and burning out, thus reaching the opposite effect. I was a little concerned that this might happen, but in the end I just want to keep reading. The world is full of wonderful stories, and the correct number to have read is always just one more.

RTK2 Anki deck update


Have finished making the deck, and decided to work through it to check for errors and decide on settings before releasing it. Have found quite a few typos and other errors, and have dispensed with most of my more experimental settings, so this is a good thing. I did get permission from Dr. Heisig to make it available. Unfortunately he did not want the primitives as part of the deck. So users will have to add that back in themselves.

I’m about halfway through, and Kiriyama who has kindly agreed to help proofread is a little further. So the deck will probably be ready in a bit over a month from now. I want to get this done because the portion of my day spent in Anki has gone completely out of control …

Remembering the Kanji volume 2 Anki deck – progress notes

I’ve been skipping out on a lot of things I’d like to do lately, such as readthekanji.com, memrise, and so on, and it’s all because of this RTK2 project. I’m convinced it’ll be worth it though, not only for myself but for everyone else who has ever looked at Heisig’s second volume and said something like “well that’s nice but what does one DO with this?” Honestly this project would be a great deal quicker if I actually enjoyed making the deck, but if anyone cares to explain how to enjoy copying a book into flashcards I’d be much obliged.

Here’s a sample of the cards:

RTK2 card

So as you can see, the target kanji is highlighted in red. For sets of cards with more than one reading (the “semi-pure” and “mixed” groups), the highlighting is green for secondary readings, and occasionally purple for tertiary readings. Then below that, there is the word again with the non-target characters replaced by their hiragana readings. Remember, only one piece of information per card! Below that, there is the signal primitive, for cards that use them. The answer has just the reading, word again, and a brief English definition. At first I was using Japanese definitions, but looking them up was adding a tremendous amount of time to an already slow process, and wasn’t likely to be terribly helpful anyway.

There is a another field as well, called “ReadingOnly”, which is used to match to what you are to type in to answer the card.

Right now I have 1182 cards made, which is a little less than halfway it looks like. I’m at the beginning of the “mixed” groups and that will be slow(er) going because a lot of frames have more than one word, requiring two cards per frame. Also, finding signal primitives can occasionally be time-consuming, though I don’t waste a great deal of time on that anymore. Often a signal primitive will be a Japanese character on its own, though sometimes a very rare one. Sometimes it will not be a Japanese character, but will be a Chinese one. If those two options fail I just indicate it as “right side of such a character” or something like that.

I don’t think I’m alone in considering learning the writing and meaning of the characters the easy part. The readings each have such a long and convoluted history that they seem random at first glance, and impossibly confusing. This should help. Onwards then we plod.

lucky 13

If Kanjius’ tadoku wrap-up post is half-assed this one won’t require more than a quarter …

At any rate. At the beginning of the month I set out a goal of 1000 pages, nearly double my previous best. This was according to the Saxon principle of making your boast first to make sure you follow through on it (which reminds me I need to find a Japanese translation of Beowulf). After the first week I thought that perhaps this could actually happen, and after I finished over a 100 pages over that goal I thought, well, should’ve set a higher goal! But at any rate I was pretty happy that I got as far as I did. More than that, was happy that reading things like みなみけ (which has no furigana, although pretty simple language generally) that I had hardly been able to get a start on the last time I picked them up, was actually quite easy now.

So of the stuff I listed previously that I had lined up to read, I did read:

  • Lucky Star – one volume only. There’s no furigana, rather a lot of text, and unexpectedly quite a lot of vocab I didn’t know. I’ll pick this up again in a little while.
  • Durarara!! – two volumes, which rocked, as expected.
  • Death Note – maybe two chapters. I just can’t get into this (I will resign myself to your disapprobation).
  • Yotsuba& 11 – so much fun.
  • イブの時間 manga – excellent, highly recommended.
  • The Hobbit – three chapters. Not as far as I expected. More about that in a second.
  • キノの旅 – four chapters. For my tastes and my current Japanese level, this is the absolutely perfect book. I will be spending more time with this one, and the succeeding volumes.
  • Gosick – most of the first chapter. This is not very good. Well … it’s actually pretty bad, in all fairness.

Additionally to this:

  • Lucky Star anime with subs, all 24 episodes. Fourth time through this, not the last. Yes it’s 萌え fluff, no that doesn’t stop me loving it.
  • Durarara!! anime with subs, 5 episodes. This was easier to follow the subs than Lucky Star, surprisingly. Not so much fast talking all at once I think.
  • Andalusia: Revenge of the Goddess movie with subs. Hopeless. I don’t think I caught even half of it. Maybe not even a third. Come back to this one in a year or so. It’s a good movie … I think?
  • The Abacus and the Sword move with subs. Again, this was difficult, and complicated by the old-fashioned language, but at least I could follow the story. This one I’m sure is a good movie.
  • 菊次郎の夏 movie with subs. Easy to follow, and both very funny and touching.
  • みなみけ manga, first six volumes, which is all I have, so far. The rest will be obtained in very short order. A chapter of みなみけ is like a happiness injection 🙂
  • Hidamari Sketch manga, about half a volume. Similar to Lucky Star in that there’s no furigana and a pile of text per page, so it was very slow going. Well, usually got through a page with no more than three or four kanji lookups, but still. It’s really enjoyable though.
  • 我が家のお稲荷さま manga, first three volumes. This is another one that absolutely baffled me not all that long ago, and was quite manageable now.
  • Assorted lyrics from a bunch of CDs that I got the last time I ordered from bk1.

Some of this material had no furigana, some had full furigana, some had a lot of kanji and some had very little. This of course made a big difference to the reading experience, since I’m still no more than intermediate level when it comes to kanji readings. I found that when reading material without furigana, I would very frequently be second-guessing myself, especially when it came to words like 後 that could have multiple readings any one of which could be considered correct. My solution to those sorts of things was to not worry about them, which has the potential to lead to ingrained errors pretty easily. With furigana the opposite problem can occur, where I read just the furigana and find myself (not often, but it happens) gliding right over the kanji, hardly noticing them. That doesn’t really help the cause either. Then there was Hobbit, which has no furigana, but also has very, very few kanji. This proved surprisingly difficult to read. There’s no indication of word endings and beginnings, and no indication of possible meaning to help you work things out from context. I think this approach to writing is probably quite common for younger audiences, since they will be completely fluent in the language itself but the less common kanji will still be troublesome. Well, I could still get through it quite easily, with comprehension greatly aided by being so familiar with the English original. I haven’t read it for several years though, so I think what I might do at some point is reread the English version to refresh myself and then go straight through the Japanese version. For now the best was キノの旅, which doesn’t shy away from kanji but (in volume one at least) has furigana on everything.

Next, then: finish キノの旅 volumes one and two (and order more), reread みなみけ and 我が家のお稲荷さま (and order more). I’m also going to give Learning With Texts a serious go, starting with some lyrics probably, and キノの旅.

Thanks again to LordSilent for hosting!

tadoku list january

For someone who advocates extensive reading as much as I do, the last couple contest results have been pretty embarrassing. So I was happy to see that this time goals have been implemented. Should be a good opportunity to embarrass myself further! So I set a goal of 1000 pages – modest by many people’s standards, ridiculous by mine. But ridiculous awesomeness was never achieved without ridiculous goals! They laughed at little Alexander the Not-Yet-Great too. At least I’m assuming they did.

Forthwith, what’s on the shelf this go round:

  • Lucky Star (never actually read this yet. shocking.)
  • what I didn’t finish of Durarara!!
  • Death Note (started this, kind of not sure I actually like it. low priority)
  • Yotsuba& 11 (nice warmup snack)(does anyone else constantly type “tu” when attempting romaji?)
  • Eve no Jikan manga (loved the anime, looking forward to this)(there’s a light novel too which I also have, but it looks like a bit too high-level zone)
  • The Hobbit (this is the main project)
  • Kino no Tabi vol. 1 (won’t likely get this far but it’s there if I need it)


scattered thoughts

Which is kind of what it’s been like lately.  Sorting out what works and what doesn’t is half the challenge of this game, of which more anon.

I’ve finally given up completely on the long-form incremental reading; while effective, it’s just too easy to make excuses for.  The most common are “don’t feel like reading this story again” and “don’t have thirty consecutive minutes right now” which is of course kind of lame because everyone does have that amount of time if the desire is there to use it.  But if the desire isn’t there sometimes it isn’t even worth questioning why not.  Just move on to something you do want to do.

The shorter variety though, is going superbly.  I’m mixing it with audio now to improve listening comprehension, with very good results.  Right now I’m just working through Miki’s blog from japanesepod101.com, reading the blog first and then listening (have the audio on the cards).  If anyone wants this Anki deck let me know and I’ll give you an address to download it.

After a very rocky upgrade, readthekanji.com is working pretty well again, and I’m well into the JLPT1 list.  It’s odd how much you get good at what you just focus on doing regularly.  Kanji readings are going from a weak point to a strong point (well, relatively!), so much so that I quite often can easily read a word without having any clue what it means.  That’s OK though; that’s for tadoku to sort out.

And speaking of which that starts in a couple of days, doesn’t it.  This round I’m going to worry about my score even less than last time, and especially am not going to drop everything else the way I did.  I’m basically done digging out from under my vocabulary deck after adding all 800+ words at once that I collected the last tadoku month, and I have no intentions of going through that again.  So new words will be added immediately, readthekanji will continue, incremental reading and listening, etc.  I want to reread quite a bit of what I read last round, expecting the 50% score to be roughly balanced out by faster reading, and more importantly solidifying what I learned.  Also, I want to finally finish Alice in Wonderland, probably read through Death Note and Durarara!!, and, well, play it by ear pretty much.

You know, if you’re exploring an unknown sea, it hardly even matters which way you’re going.  There’s so much unknown territory, you can hoist sails and go whichever way the wind blows and you’ll discover things everywhere.  And at some point, the parts you’ve seen before often enough become familiar, and once enough of the sea is familiar, then maybe it’s more worth your trouble to seek out specific areas, but until then 風任せ 🙂