Nucular Weapons

The essence of learning Japanese is in the almost meaninglessly small things you do.

When you find something so small, so apparently meaningless that you think “that couldn’t possibly help”, but it’s something that puts you in more contact with Japanese, then that, my friend, is your sweet spot. Because you have found something that is easy for you to do. You have found an “atomic action”. Now, just take that atom…and do it. Then repeat. Make that chain (reaction) go…

We’re always trying to make work harder, we’re always trying to make things more complex. When, in fact, the real “work” is in finding these simple, tiny, almost unnoticeable building blocks, and then duplicating them. We all have an action that we can painlessly (and even pleasantly), thoughtlessly, absent-mindedly, effortlessly, automatically perform over and over and over again. For me, it’s…I dunno…mouseclicks.

Click your mouse, just on Japanese stuff.

Power is in the small (repeated). Power is in the subtle (noticed).

Sure, one atom is small. One seed is small. One push of the “play” button on your Japanese media is small. But if we ignore every atom, every seed, every second, every chance that comes our way because it is “too small”, then we are left with, as the Chinese say…bupkiss.

「海不辭水故能成其大,山不辭土故能成其高。」

「海は水を辞せず、故によくその大を成す。山は土を辞せず、故によくその高さをあらわす。」

The sea is deep because it doesn’t look down on water. The mountain is tall because is doesn’t look down on soil.

We’ll never light bonfires if we look down on matches and kindling. We’ll never make it to our roadtrip destination if we refuse to even walk to the car. People who look down on atoms as “too small to be worth the bother” aren’t going to make nuclear weapons.

Take what you have, wherever you find it. Have your tools at the ready. Have the mp3 player with you, have the manga in your bag, have the smartphone with all the menus set to Japanese. Your chances will come; they’re always coming. And they will be small. A 15-minute walk here, a 30-minute wait in line there. They’ll seem too small; they’ll seem too easy. Good. Take them. Let them be easy. Let life be easy.

When it comes to learning, I think people plan too much and do too little. All the time I get emails from people going: “Khatz, tell me what schedule I should have”; “Khatz, give me a day in the life of Khatz”. You don’t need a day in the life of effing Khatz. Screw that Khatz kid! And his schedule! And his couch!

All you need to know is that anything (and everything) you don’t have to do in English can be done in Japanese. Any (and every) moment that you don’t have to listen to English can be spent listening to Japanese. Any (and every) English book that you are not required to own or read can be replaced by a Japanese book. Any (and every) English song or data file…you get the idea. It really is that simple.

The habit of giving any spare moment (wherever you may find it) to Japanese is much more valuable than any plan. A habit, good or bad, will wipe the floor with any plan. A habit, good or bad, will trump any resolution. So, if you must, treat Japanese like cigarettes. One at a time. 90 seconds of song here, 90 seconds of SRS there. Tiny snippets of Japanese. Frequency over quantity. Don’t try to put 60 cigarettes in your mouth all at once just because these “cigarettes” are good for you…enjoy them one at a time…enjoy those tasty bite-sized pieces.

Finally, relax. Don’t get worked up and overwhelmed. Just do more than nothing. That’s all you have to do. Whenever you feel down, out, wasted and/or confused just do…one. Just do more than nothing.

OL2L: ハリウッド・セレブ・ニュース: when I said “be a couch potato and read trash, just in Japanese“, I meant it.


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  29 comments for “Nucular Weapons

  1. will
    June 15, 2010 at 00:50

    cracking quote! There’s also that old chestnut – 千里之旅始於足下!
    But in general the chinese love to 吃苦。no苦=no功。
    Take this cheeky saying – 書山有路勤為徑,學海無涯苦作舟. or even 學如逆水行舟
    I guess they hadn’t heard of the airplane (ie fun). It tends to get you there alot faster.

  2. will
    June 15, 2010 at 00:59

    having said that i do like a bit of 苦瓜。。。yumyum.

  3. パウラ
    June 15, 2010 at 01:51

    Yesterday, I watched the Formula 1 Canadian GP using Keyhole in Japanese…
    It was awesome.
    Besides, because I love F1, it was fun!

  4. June 15, 2010 at 05:09

    I have recently noticed that my greatest procrastionation from Japanese after i began reading this blog is…. well this blog. Ironc really.

  5. Brianna
    June 15, 2010 at 09:18

    I think I’ve read every post on this site, and this is my favorite so far. Up until now, the most inspiring and life-changing post for me had been ‘The African Way: Just Do It’, but it’s officially relinquished its crown as of 10 seconds ago 🙂 Well done. Just awesome.

    I briefly considered setting my browser’s homepage to this post, but then I remembered that my current homepage is Japanese Wikipedia – I’m a knowledge/trivia junkie, and putting off my SRS reps by procrastinating IN JAPANESE is just too awesome to give up 😀

  6. UnholyBurger
    June 15, 2010 at 12:04

    I seem to have a problem where I spend to much time doing things in japanese to the point where I dont ever study. Like, I could seriously just watch some guy on ニコニコ do a 実況プレイ for an entire day, and I have almost no idea what they are saying except for a few things. I don’t even really have the urge to go learn more to understand what they said… I guess I should do small reps or adds in between watching videos. (it’s a been a serious delay as it has been about 4 months since I started (maybe more) RTK and im only at 1600.)

    Well, I just finished my daily reps and now to try to add some cards…

  7. アメド
    June 15, 2010 at 14:22

    Ironically for me it isn’t putting in the time I’m worried about, b/c I already immerse myself plenty,srs plenty,write plenty,etc. Put I still don’t feel like I’m at the level where I want to be. Although it’s only been 9.8 months(yes exact time! thanks to the info from my srs sentence deck from anki).

    You know, I’ve just tried experimenting with the way I srs,etc.
    Currently this is what I do.
    3 decks. 1 is sentence deck, 1 is vocab deck and lastly is production deck(going from kana to kanji). I used to have more decks but I decided that, better make things easier on myself. So 3 decks is enough for that.

    I get plenty of immersion, but I think I need to spice it up with more new stuff,more music,more reading,more anime,more movies,etc.

    We all want results, but the truth of the matter is…If your not improving to the level you want. Just keep investing the time.
    One thing is, if you think your investing a good amount of time. I think all you need to do is keep doing the same thing, time will help you.

  8. フランク様
    June 16, 2010 at 18:13

    great post khatz. I really liked how you ended it.

  9. Magdalena
    June 16, 2010 at 20:51

    “Success is how you collect your minutes.” Norman Lear
    That is, I think, another way of putting it. 🙂

  10. さか
    June 18, 2010 at 06:35

    Wow, very thoughtful, yet straightforward post. Just do those small things.

  11. Cat Paws
    June 20, 2010 at 14:42

    I. NEED. HELP.
    I’m posting this here since it’s the latest posting on the blog, and i figure if Khatz doesn’t help then surely other readers will.
    Okay… my problem is this, i’ve been stuck on learning the kanji (meanings) for quite some time now, or rather, i try learning, and i… well… fail. as simple as that. now, before you go on about using “Heisig – Remebering The Kanji” know that i am. Of course now you’re wondering, ” how could you possibly fail with such an amazing piece of literature work!?” it seems i’m able to do so quite easily actually. I suppose i should start focusing my rant on what i need help with, so without further ado(?).
    My problem is simple; i simply can’t understand that book, or maybe the author… i dunno, i just can’t. under. stand. it. it’s like this, the man doesn’t seem to feel the need to point out, give proper instructions, point the the way with a golden finger and bright yellow light. I’ve looked through the introduction, and while it all feels rather poetic, in the end it’s all rather useless, too me anyway. i find myself spending what i imagine another person could do many kanji in the time that i attempt to do one, and poorly at that. i try, believe me i try. i think of the key word for the kanji and the “story” (seriously, i dunno about other people, but i really don’t see a story there) i let the controls loose on my mind and find i’m thinking of something completely else, so i erase my current thought/picture and head back. this time i seem to have erased too well because nothing pops up, all i see is darkness. so i sit and fume for a little bit, perhaps get a bit of a headache from trying too hard. i find i’m ‘trying’ to learn the same kanji over and over again, what ever i’m doing just isn’t sticking, i get annoyed i take a break (a few days or more) i go back. finding it still difficult i get further annoyed, the pattern continues. finally out of sheer desperation (read as boredom if i would be honest with myself) i start flipping pages. somehow i come accross something intresting, the prick gives instructions later on in the book! one might think that this would solve my problems… but no, a stumbling block on step one!
    “read the key word and take note of the particular connotation.”
    connotation… WHAT CONNOTATION!? I ONLY REMEMBER THERE BEING A KEY WORD!
    of course this caused me to look up the word “connotation” incase i understood it wrong… i didn’t. which of course lead me to ask, “am i supposed to come up with a connotation?” which is what it looks like too be honest, but i’m still unsure about that as it says there’s only one such meaning.
    “is there only supposed to be one connotation to a key word? rather like how there is only one key word and they don’t repeat (though i hear some are quite close to eath other in meaning and what not).”
    I sort of stopped trying to learn the kanji for a rather long time… I’m comming back to it since i see it as something i must do to become better at japanese. but i still don’t understand anything.

    TL;DR
    see, my problem is that in theory i can understand it (i can understand how “imaginitive” memory would help learning the kanji) but i can’t seem to understand the practice of it.
    so what i really need from people, are really the steps on how they did this. everything you can think of, if humming and counting bellybutton lent helped you then by all means tell me about it.
    Sorry about the longness of this, it somehow turned into a large rant with a simple whateverit’scalled at the end.
    If for what ever reason you don’t want to post the ways and hows on this then please email me at ineedhelpwithkanji@gmail.com i truly do want to learn japanese but this… this seems to be a rather large stumbling block. thanks before hand for any help that you give.

  12. Cat Paws
    June 20, 2010 at 15:24

    I’d like to add a little more on what i need. basically, i know that i’m supposed to get from point A to B but i don’t know HOW to get there. so anything you want to add in correlation to the book “hints, ideas, possibly some example stories (i learn best when givin examples, rather like how the dictionary does it with example sentences i guess) and anything else.” i’d like to once again say that i really want to learn japanese but it’s highly annoying to be tripped up at the starting line. my guess is that… well, you know how some people simply can’t understand someting until shown a different way? (like what ever is being said simply isn’t reaching them) i seem to be like that in this. so any help would be greatly appreciated.

  13. Ren
    June 21, 2010 at 03:41

    @Cat Paws
    All the help you need is either in Heisig or has already been posted here at AJATT far more eloquently than I can put it. Read the site top to bottom if necessary. (Which, I’ll confess, is what I had to do.) You will find help.

    The only thing about your comment I can make note of is two things: one, when he says “connotation”, he means of the keywords and how you combine them. Ex: “Exquisite” is ‘woman’ + ‘few’. It’s pretty easy to see how those two words interact and make the new keyword; two, you’re having problems focusing. Turn off the TV. Close the door. Turn on white noise. If you’re too bouncy, get exercise. If you’re too low, eat something. Never try to learn with a brain that’s foggy. Never try to learn too many kanji at once. If you can only hold on to one or two at a time before your brain starts “slipping”, then stop with those and move. Better to remember something than nothing at all.

    Good luck!

  14. Peeled Cucumber
    June 21, 2010 at 10:44

    As you mentioned, the kanji have to be tackled at some point. And “at some point” for most AJATTeers is right at the beginning. However, “at some point” does not necessarily mean today, nor does it necessarily mean 5 months from now. If you find yourself frustrated or struggling, put them aside for now. There is nothing worse than to completely lose your drive to _ever_ learn the kanji just because of some initial trouble.

    Instead focus all of your efforts at building a rock solid immersion environment. Watch Japanese variety shows, dramas, and anime, listen to Japanese podcasts, radio shows, and music. Take everything you do in English now and turn as much of it into Japanese as you can. If there is a moment of silence, fill it with Japanese.

    Most health experts say it takes 3 months to really know whether or not one is able to realistically continue a particular diet. Treat this new environment like a new source of food. It will feel strange at first, but slowly you’ll come to like it, you’ll come to love it. Once you are accustomed to your immersion environment then start looking at learning the kanji.

    Remember, this journey to awesomeness takes _at least_ 18 months. Taking a short three months to get comfortable with the language, to cool off a bit, is not going to make the journey take any longer.

    When you’re ready, try giving these guys a visit:

    kanji.koohii.com/

    They’ll provide you with lots of invaluable help, and provide a clear blueprint on how to get from A to B. For now though, don’t worry about the kanji. Have some fun =D!

  15. kk
    June 22, 2010 at 04:56

    @Cat Paws

    If Heisig and the stories he uses are the problem, I think many other people have similar issues. So, you are not alone. I would try the site “Reviewing the Kanji”, link posted above by @Peeled Cucumber. There are a wide variety of stories for each kanji, and many helpful hints there. Check out some of the forums on that site.

    For the connotations issue, look at the keyword and think of three different situations in which you have heard the word used in your own experience. Then try integrating the primitives into one of those situations. That then becomes your story. I then write the story in the book after I come up with it, sometimes crossing out Heisig’s story entirely. I have found it is easier to work from my own particular experiences of a word back to the primitives rather than the other way around. Or to put it another way, when you hear the keyword, what is the first image/thought that pops into your mind? Try to relate that image/thought to the primitives used in the kanji.

    Lastly, people are different. Some people are more visual learners, others are more audible learners. The former learn faster when they can see a picture of a new concept or picture a visual image in their mind. The latter learn faster by hearing new information. The Heisig method works well for so-called visual learners. It is possible that you are more of an audible learner. If that is indeed the case, you may have more luck switching to some other system, or just focusing your energies on listening to Japanese materials.

  16. Amaiellu
    June 22, 2010 at 11:37

    @Cat Paws

    Maybe Heisig is not the right method for you. Experiment a bit, brainstorm, see if you can think of something that might work. How have you learned new information in the past? I kind of arrived at the Heisig method only after realizing that visualization worked for me.

    I’ll go through exactly what I do, in case Heisig is for you and you just don’t know it yet. I stuck pretty closely to the Heisig method because I found it was almost exactly what I needed, just a little bit of tweaking. Heisig’s explanation that kanji are built out of consistent smaller components was a huge breakthrough for me. Prior, I knew there were similar ‘parts’ cropping up in the kanji, but didn’t break them down in order to learn the kanji. Since you’ve been using the book, you know that he introduces a few of these components at a time. I tend to learn these components and their meanings as components simply by rote, though more complicated ones I might use a story. I write them on flashcards with the meaning on the back and review until I know them solidly. .

    Don’t get to hung up on trying to ‘see’ a story in the kanji, or ‘see’ where the story came from. I got stuck on that at first, but the truth is there isn’t really a story hiding in there. Also, I found Heisig’s stories too long-winded, and didn’t ‘stick’, probably because they weren’t something that came from my own head. I find condensing things into one simple sentence is much more effective for me. I just break the kanji down into it’s components, and then create a sentence which uses the meaning of the components and the keyword in it. So, for example the kanji ‘unique’ is built of the components ‘mouth’ and ‘paws’. My sentence is simply ‘Somewhere there is a very UNIQUE creature made of only a MOUTH and two tiny PAWS.” Or, Ren’s example of ‘exquisite’, made of the components few and woman– ‘There are FEW truly EXQUISITE WOMEN in the world’. Sometimes it helps for me to picture something– I have a very vivid cartoon image of a mouth on a pair of legs with a tongue lolling about for ‘unique’ that comes up everytime I review the card. I didn’t actively work on creating that image, it is just something I immediately pictured on learning the kanji and its components. I think the key is to use what YOUR mind automatically associates with it, rather than what Heisig tells you to.

    To actually review, I use three-sided cards in my SRS. First, I get the keyword. Usually I can remember my sentence and the kanji just from that. If I can’t remember the sentence, then I bring that up, and then it becomes quite apparent that the kanji is built from such and such components, and then I can write the kanji. Eventually, I don’t even remember my sentence anymore, b/c I’ve reviewed that card so many times that I don’t need to use it to write the kanji, and the memory of the sentence kind of just fades away.

    The whole idea for me is that, there aren’t as many basic components as there are kanji that you can make with them. By remembering the fewer components, you open the doors to remembering the much more vast number of kanji. The sentences/stories help you to connect which components make up which kanji.

    Anyway, that was much longer than what I thought it would be, and its not anything you probably didn’t get out of the book already, so I’m not sure it will really help at all. Good luck with your learning!

  17. June 24, 2010 at 14:51

    @Cat Paws
    If you are auditory – as I am – make sure you TELL yourself the story in very clear words. The movie/picture must have a strong sound track with it. When I see a Keyword, the auditory story starts to play in my brain. Later on, I just hear the various primitives’ names in my head. and the character pops up.

    I also found that really practicing the technique of memorization that Heisig gives is vital. In the “remembering the Hanzi”‘ book he tells you what to do if you run into various problems. Lesson 11. I found that if I tried to go too fast (as I first did), I didn’t “get” the characters. They didn’t stick. I would suggest you memorize a few characters very precisely, taking as much time as you need. If you can do it well with 25 slowly, you WILL be able to do it with all of the characters, faster and faster. Forget about the 2000+. Learn one at a time. Take it slow.

    If you are a kinesthetic (feeling) learner you have to feel the story in your body, imagine it while feeling it. Move around, move your arms, act it out physically. It is slower than making pictures, but the characters will stick. Be the Taskmaster killing the Snake ,burn the corpse or whatever.

    Get in the trenches with EACH individual Kanji.Do it with pictures, sounds and feelings. Forget the goal. Master ONE as you master the technique and it will unfold for you.

  18. NDN
    June 26, 2010 at 23:10

    Wow! VERY impressive post! Maybe it’s just me but when I read this post I felt the REAL power of AJATT.
    Correct me if I’m wrong but if I understood your post well it’s all a matter of a simple sequence of actions:
    1. Break the big thing into the smallest units possible
    2. Make each unit as fun as possible
    It’s incredible how something so simple and yet so powerful can be ignored in no time. And if one thinks that this is a general algorithm that can applied to any field related to acquisition of skills then yeah it’s VERY powerful.
    I had forgotten about this months ago and almost stopped learning/being Japanese. Fortunately there’s a key to remembering this simple concept. Whenever I become tired or bored I’ll know I’m doing it the wrong way. ありがとう、本当にありがとう。こんなに嬉しいのは久しぶりだ。 :D

  19. Tom
    June 30, 2010 at 05:47

    I think this entire post could be summed up in one word: Persistence. Khatz (Sorry I always refer to you as if you’re not here. I realize you probably read most/all of these comments.) always posts about keeping with it. Do one Kanji, just press the play button, do something, ANYTHING in Japanese. Just do something, even if it’s small.

    It’s the same with this. The small things make a difference if you’re persistent with them. As long as you keep doing even the tiniest of things in Japanese, you will eventually learn it. Depending on your frequency and your persistence it may take you two years or twenty, but it will be done.

    “A habit, good or bad, will wipe the floor with any plan. A habit, good or bad, will trump any resolution.”

    I’ve fallen off this Japanese boat probably around ten times now, but I keep going back to it. Every time I do I learn more; my general knowledge of Japanese increases. If I had been persistent with small things I would probably be a lot farther in my ‘studies’ at this point, but I am persistent with one thing: I always pick it back up.

    Even if you can do just that, you will succeed.

  20. July 4, 2010 at 15:50

    This is such a great post! Very inspirational and true. I once heard a story about one of the best piano players in the world who was asked, “How long do you practice each time you sit down at the piano?” He answered, “5 or 10 minutes. Never more. But every time I walk by the piano I play for 5 or 10 minutes”. Power is in the small things! Great post!

  21. Cat Paws
    September 14, 2010 at 17:26

    Hey, i realize it’s been a long time… (i lived with my mom for a month and then forgot, then remembered, then figured i’d post after actually doing something) so yeah… your posts meant a lot to me and got me all stoked for learning. at the moment i’m just past 100 kanji. a small step for most but a big one for me… it’s actually got me even more stoked. i dunno… i’m just taking it real easy at the moment. trying to… learn how to do it effectively? i guess it’s like learning how to ride a bike. it takes a few falls, crashes, bumps, and scrapes, but once you get the hang of it you get the hang of it. in any case, i’m finding it helps more to just make up my own stories (and i mean stories in the most literal since). i all ways have been a day dreamer, as in… at night, i have a hard time sleeping (sometimes) since i’m thinking of characters in different times or worlds and their plights and triumphs (i have like… a dozen of these stories in my head). so i could kind of understand how all this worked, since these stories were all in my head yet i wasn’t really forgetting them. however, i couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to get it in use for the kanji learning. it was sort of like trying to condense war and peace into 5 pages. it felt impossible so i gave up (some how i’ve always been for long things). in any case, i’m sorta making short stories now (a few sentences… somethign that conjures up an image) before this was just trying to let the images take some sort of shape in my mind but it was like the shimmer of oil and quickly as not it was gone. hence all my fustration.

    tl;dr But again thanks for your comments, they meant a lot when i finally found them and read them and i’m back at learning! (a few words of encouragment at the right time can be worth all the gold in the world)

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