Discussion on: Working in Japan: Myths, Realities, Compensation, Culture (By A Software Engineer)

maruru profile image
Marco Alka

Wow, that's an awesome article! I loved reading it a lot 👍

Personally, one of my big goals is to have worked in different countries around the world for at least a year or two. One of them definitely is Japan, and I am working on my Japanese skills (though they are more around N5 haha). Reading about having the skills and the language being enough to land a regular job encouraged me a lot to further pursue my language studies, thank you!

I have a few pending questions, though:

  • Why do you work in Japan instead of anywhere else? What's your story? Did you grow up in Japan, or just moved there and stayed?
  • What's your tip or trick to learn Japanese (and Kanji...) self-tought, outside of Japan, alone in a fun and inspiring way, in order to get to at least N3?
  • What's your favorite food 😁
rob117 profile image
Rob Sherling Author

"Personally, one of my big goals is to have worked in different countries around the world for at least a year or two."

Absolutely 100% do it. If you have the chance and the means, it can be a fantastic experience. If it doesn't work out for you, you can always just leave. As long as you don't need to give something up (sell a house, for example), it's a surprisingly low-risk decision.

I'm really pleased that I could inspire even one person to chase their dream. It's entirely possible.

For the questions:

"Why do you work in Japan instead of anywhere else? What's your story? Did you grow up in Japan, or just moved there and stayed?"

I went to Japan for some pretty complicated, unusual reasons, but the short version is that I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life. One day my Japanese teacher at university (more on that in a second) told me that "my accent wasn't very good and if I didn't go to Japan no one would understand me." I took that as inspiration to get out of my hometown and go do something new. I studied abroad for a year and learned a little in school and a lot in bars.

The full story absolutely deserves its own blog post, but I don't know if it's something that is dev.to appropriate because it has nothing to do with development, really. Thanks for asking though, I'd love to write about it someday and if I do I'll drop a link here.

After that year of study abroad I went home, finished my degree, and came back.

"What's your tip or trick to learn Japanese (and Kanji...) self-taught, outside of Japan, alone in a fun and inspiring way, in order to get to at least N3?"

I sucked BIG in school. I took Japanese for three years -one of them in Japan!- and only knew a few hundred kanji, got a D in my last kanji class, and spoke like a woman because I learned too much from my girlfriend from studying abroad. Here is EXACTLY what you want to do -

First rule: If it isn't fun, you're wasting your time. Consistency beats effort, and consistency needs fun. TV? Good. Textbooks? If you enjoy them. 17th-century Japanese plays about the joy of rice? If it means consistency, live that dream.
Second rule: AJATT. Google that, read some of his classics. Essentially - do as much in Japanese as you can, and that anything done in Japanese counts as study, so go wild. Movies, Games, anything, as long as you keep learning when you use it. You want to hoard media like a dragon hoards gold, and you want to be selective about what you keep. My rule of thumb was that all new media had between 2-5 minutes to impress me, or it went in the trash.
Third rule: Do Heisig's Remembering the Kanji. Get the latest edition. Do not get volume two, or rathe, only read the first and second sections (Radicals that always have one reading, followed by radicals that have two readings). The rest is not an efficient use of your time. Volume three is good for party tricks and remembering some name Kanji easier, so only do it when you both have time and need to satisfy a kanji craving. Doing Heisig should feel like meditation - I put on music, sound of rain, got a notebook, and studied. I did something like 50 kanji a day that way and finished in 6 weeks. It's really, really enjoyable. After that, either do the first parts of volume two like I recommended or just go read what you want (I strongly recommend manga that actually interests you because it's easier to digest).
Fourth rule: If it was worth learning, it was worth reviewing. Make a flashcard right then whenever you learn a new word. It takes about a minute, and then you have the word forever.
Fifth rule: Use Anki flashcards. I've been working on a managed, much faster, much better solution for Anki for a while now. Anki is free, and it's great, but you get what you pay for - it takes a lot of time and has a steep learning curve. I'm building an app - hoping to launch this year, and the prototype for the app took my flashcard making time from 2 minutes for an unknown kanji with sentence and translation to 14 seconds.
Last rule: Anki core 6k. Be resourceful and track that deck down - it should still exist out there in the corners of the internet. Incredible find. Do this while / after doing Heisig. I promise you that if you finish this deck, the first parts of volume two, and heisig that you will CRUSH the N3 and be ready to get the N2 grammar book and then crush that two. Do 50 kanji a day (work up to it, do what you're comfortable with, and never push yourself too hard because some guy on the internet said so with no proof), then do 30 words a day (same), and in about 200 days I would bet a goofy amount of money that the N3 would be childish for you.

Really lastly: Skype Japanese people you can meet online for language exchange sites to practice speaking. It's a good time. Be brave, talk fun - in short, try your best not to ask about the weather and boring things like that. Ask the things you want to know.

Wow, sorry for the long paragraph. I really tried to condense a ton of info and years of experience there - I could write a blog post easily the size of this one on how to do it and make it fun. I loved it.

Favorite food:
This one is a struggle. I'm gonna saaaaay.. Okonomiyaki. Really easy to make, even outside Japan. The trick is to chop the cabbage thin - almost (or even) shredded. Then get Okonomiyaki powder or make some from scratch. Make sure to cook the whole way through, and if you don't have the sauce for it don't even start because it makes the dish. Shrimp (mild allergy, but worth it), beef, pork-strip mix with sauce and mayo.

Thanks for reading that whole huge response, hope I answered everything. If not, let me know.

maruru profile image
Marco Alka

wow, thank you for writing so much! I'd love to read your article, if you ever create one. The condensed info here was more helpful than reading lots of the forum discussions I found.

I should have Heisig at home (learned the Kana from his book easily and got the first two Kanji volumes), but switched over to WaniKani, because I love how it makes reviews easy (in the beginning). Though I hate how I tend to forget Kanji and vocab which don't come up anymore... and how it piles up stuff to review up to hundreds of items a day. Probably one of the reasons why I started to do it irregularly and forgetting everything along the way.

I never really gave Anki full credit, because it became tedious to fill and everyone seems to have a favorite deck of varying quality. I will take a look at Anki Core 6K, though, and see how I can tweak Anki to my needs.

Also, AJATT. What are you doing to me? This site is like a (good) virus invading my brain, thank you 😂

Oh, and ping me for the app. You seem to create what you need and know what you do, so I want to give it a go.

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rob117 profile image
Rob Sherling Author

I have no idea where I would post that kind of article - I feel like Dev.to probably wouldn't want random non-programming articles on it. Maybe Medium?

The only three anki decks that I think are any good -
core 2k (not necessary if you have 6k as it's included) for just doing the basics and then leaving it at normal conversation level
core 6k for advanced conversation
Heisig RTK because it's GOLD and takes out the card creation process.

AJATT is so, so feel-good. And you need that, sometimes. The motivation that it brings will carry you through the parts of your study where you don't feel like you're progressing.

Will ping for the app when it's done - I'm trying to do the front end part, and I am way, way worse at it than I am with the back end, so I'm kind of dragging my feet. :(

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