I’ve been putting the standard “jōyō kanji” in my collection of items to memorize, adding seven a week; this week, I finally reached the end of the list. I’ve skipped the occasional week, but not very many; that suggests that it’s probably taken me about six years. Long enough, in fact, that the list was updated once during that time period, adding an additional 196 characters.

The book that I’ve used as reference for this is Hadamitzky and Spahn’s Japanese Kanji and Kana, and I highly recommend it; I actually own all three editions of it (I got it when I was flirting with learning the language back in grad school, and it’s been revised as the list has expanded), and it’s very solid. It’s a good presentation of the basics of Japanese writing (not just the kanji list, but also information about kana, punctuation, radicals, etc.), it presents all the characters cleanly (including stroke order), it gives a nice selection of readings and definitions for each character without overwhelming you with possibilities for either.

And I will say: it’s a little odd for a six-year project to come to an end! Nice to have evidence that I can stick with something like that, though. But of course the project of learning Japanese as a whole hasn’t come to an end: which raises the question of what, if anything, I should replace this with?

One possibility is: more kanji! I have another dictionary around; it looks a lot larger, but there are only 5446 characters in it. And I already have learned some number of characters that aren’t in the standard list, so I’m probably around halfway through the book already, maybe more. Another possibility would be to go back through the standard list, but this time focusing on writing: you don’t really know how a character if you can both recognize and produce it, and even if you only care about reading, if you can’t write a given character, it’s easy to mistake other similar characters for that one.

I think, though, that I am not going to pursue either of those paths. Memorizing is all well and good, but I should focus on using the language, not learning for the sake of checking off boxes. So I want to spend more time reading, and have my memorization driven by that. I’ll add vocabulary words as they come up and seem important, and I’ll probably go more out of my way to add individual characters in compounds if I’m not already familiar with them, but I should really be spending time putting as many sentences in front of my eyes as possible. (I probably should be spending time speaking, too, but for better or for worse I’ve decided not to go back to lessons for the time being.)

I’m actually trying to dial back the memorization in other ways: in particular, I flirted with learning Chinese starting three or four years back, and while I won’t say that was a mistake, it’s also not something that I want to spend more time on beyond listening to podcasts a few days a week. And I’m a lot less solid on Chinese vocabulary than Japanese vocabulary, which means that they show up rather more often in my memorization quizzes than I’d like; so I’ve started deleting almost all of the Chinese words as they show up. (I’m leaving in core Chinese vocabulary, numbers and a few other basic words/expressions, but getting rid of everything else.)

Instead, reading. I’m over halfway through Hikaru no Go; really enjoying that (enough that I sometimes read some after I come home from work, not just over weekends), and it’s at a good level for me. I also found two bilingual collections of stories that look good, I have high hopes for them. (I’ve just started the first one.) I’m not entirely sure what I’ll replace Hikaru with once I’m done with it; maybe Buddha? (I picked up a copy of the first volume on the trip, we’ll see how the reading level is.) I expect I’ll stick with books where I have an English version readily available for some time (though I have hopes that maybe I’ll be able to read Twelve Kingdoms well enough that I’ll eventually be able to make it beyond where the English translations run out, but who knows.

It’s been a fun trip.

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