I’ve now hit the 200 kanji mark in my quest to memorize all 1945 Joyo Kanji. Where by “memorize” I mean that, if my memory is working well (which it usually is), I can write down the first 200 characters (actually, the first 217 characters: I’ve been procrastinating on writing this blog post) in the order given by Hadamitzky and Spahn, in correct stroke order.

I don’t claim to have the readings and meanings memorized as reliably for all of them: they’ve all gone through my flashcard box (as have several hundred other kanji), but sometimes I forget. Still, I’m doing pretty well there, and at least it’s a line in the sand: if I run into evidence that I’ve forgotten a meaning of one of those characters, that’s a sign that I should take the corresponding card out of the box and put it back into my daily vocabulary drills.

But the point of memorizing isn’t really to memorize the meanings: it’s to make storage locations in my head where I can later put the meanings. I never get different English words confused, even if they’re unfamiliar to me, whereas, most of the time, when I “learn” a new kanji, if I see a kanji that looks kind of like it in an unfamiliar setting, I’m not sure if it’s that kanji or a different one. (Or I might not even recognize that kanji as familiar at all!) Whereas I can now reliably tell those 217 kanji apart from each other and apart from the thousands of kanji that I don’t have memorized. (The Joyo list is far from a complete list of all kanji that are used.)

So I’m pretty proud of myself! But I still don’t really believe that I’ll make it through the whole book. I memorize a page at a time (7 kanji per page; a side benefit is that I’m better at recognizing multiples of 7 than I once was…), adding one or two new pages a week. Say that averages out to 10 kanji a week (and it’s taken me more than 22 weeks to get this far); if that holds up, I can do about 500 a year, so I have three and a half years ahead of me. Which is a pretty long time; a lot can change between now and then.

I’m also not sure how the review process will scale. One reason why I’m sure I have them memorized is that I periodically go through the whole list and trace them all out with my finger. But it takes a long time to do just 217 of them; pretty soon, I’ll only rarely have time to write down the whole list. (I certainly don’t have time to do that most days today.) I break them up into groups of 70, and go through one or two of those groups at a time (a small enough chunk that I can do it most evenings after putting down my book but before falling asleep), but I think it’s important to periodically rotate through the entire list. Hmm, I guess I could do that in multiple settings? E.g. every night go through the current group and one other group where I cycle through the other groups in order?

The other Japanese-related thing I’ve done recently is place my first order from Amazon Japan. I’m still not particularly fluent with entering Japanese text using the computer, but I could do it well enough to muddle through. For the curious, my order consisted of a few volumes of Hikaru (I now have the first five in Japanese), a few puzzle books from Nikoli (we’ll be going on vacation in a few weeks, and I wanted some nurikabe puzzles to work through, which was actually the impetus for the order), an art book from Okami (which I felt a little bit silly about ordering, but which turns out to be totally beautiful; Miranda likes it a lot, too), and two DVDs: a pre-Ghibli Takahata movie and a Juzo Itami movie. (Most of his movies are almost as out of print in Japan as they are in the US, alas.) Comics are a lot cheaper there than here; DVDs are a lot more expensive, which I wasn’t expecting.

The most fun part was receiving the “your order has shipped” e-mail and realizing that I could actually make sense of most of it. (It, of course, helps that I’ve received hundreds of those from the US branch…) And then I went to the “your account” web page to track my order, was confronted with a drop down with five characters (four kanji and one kana), and I knew that they were pronounced “saikin no chumon” and meant “recent orders”. (Not “open and recently shipped orders”, as the US site says.) So that was pretty cool! Since then, I’ve tried to look at Japanese text in other contexts, and realized that my being able to piece that together was very much an aberration, but it was a pleasant one.

They only have one shipping rate for orders to the US; it’s pricy if you’re just ordering one thing (about 29 bucks), but the incremental cost of extra items isn’t too high. (A little less than 3 bucks each.) And the good news is: that shipping rate is fast. I placed my order on Monday night (US) and they arrived on Friday. So I didn’t need to order so far in advance of the trip after all! I’ll definitely do more of this in the future.

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