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Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 3: Don’t Go Looking for Items, Let Them Come Find You

This entry is part 3 of 11 in the series Secrets to Smoother SRSing


This is part 3 of a multi-part series on smoother SRSing.

“Khatzumoto, where am I supposed to find [good] sentences?”

This question is the most annoying sh…spiel. In the world. Double-u Tee Eff. IN JAPANESE STUFF, 呆(you)け( egit)! It’s there. It’s all freaking there!

OK, wait, I’m calm. Deep. Breath. Hippie friends who light incense. I’m calm. It’s all good. This wasn’t meant to be a rant about people who very kindly come to read this site but don’t bother to also turn their brains on.

I guess it’s a legitimate question, if by “legitimate” you mean pharking stupi…wait, OK, calm…incense…yoga…puppies…blood…death — argh! No!

What I’m trying to say is this. Don’t go looking for sentences. “What? Whaddyamean?”. That’s right, don’t go looking for them. [By the way, this is especially-though-not-exclusively aimed at people who have more than about 100-500 (ballpark figures) sentences in their SRS, rather than complete sentence beginners — complete beginners should be kanjiing it up or something anyhow — plus, when you’re first starting out, you’re just taking what you can and it all seems good, but very soon you get to a level where you can choose; it is at this level that you will spend the rest of your life and that’s why its crucial that you be selective]. So, yeah:

Do not look for sentences, let them find you instead.

“What the faux-Eastern philosophy are you talking about, かっちゃん(Khatzumoto)?”, say you. Look, I’m not trying to be deep here; I’m just telling it how it is. When that sentence is ripe and ready and wants to be found, it’ll come find you. It’ll be there. You’ll want that sentence so bad that there shall be no クエスチョン(question), no doubt, no uncertainty, no tergiversation about cracking open your SRS and putting that mother in. I’m sure you’ve all had this experience before; all I’ m suggesting you do is make this experience a pre-condition for entry into your SRS collections. It’s your SRS collection after all, so you be the bouncer. You don’t have to let items in because they’re “good for you”, any more than you have to let people into your house because it’d be “good for you”. Let in the ones you like, the rest can stay out…there’s an immigration joke in there somewhere, but I can’t be bothered to go looking for it. All I know is, those foreigners keep taking all our women and jobs.

Anyway, what’s really cool about this “you call me” pre-condition is that it seems to bias you toward watching and reading stuff that you actually care enough about to pick sentences from, which is really win-win. Doing more fun things leads to more time in target language which of course leads to fluency sooner; more fun items lead to more desire to SRS [within limits], which leads to more fluency sooner. You get more, all ironically attained by doing “less”, in a sense.

Thanks for reading. Check back soon for the next installment: part 4!

Series Navigation<< Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 2: FunSecrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 4: Collect ‘Em to Throw Away >>

  32 comments for “Secrets to Smoother SRSing, Part 3: Don’t Go Looking for Items, Let Them Come Find You

  1. September 3, 2008 at 20:09

    I’m glad you put that part in about beginners. I think there is a misunderstanding (by those who come and don’t quite get to the point where they’ve understood the layout of your blog-but-not-a-blog but have read “enough”. (Maybe they think the article on 10,000 sentences is enough.) Then from whatever point they are at in their studies, they take some of your advice that’s really geared for someone at a different level.

    When I first came to your site, I was a little puzzled by some of the method because it seemed way to difficult for where I was at the time. But you’re right, you’ve got to turn your brain on when you are reading this information. You’ve got to note which articles you are reading so that you know just WHEN that article will be applicable in your studies じゃなくて new Japanese life. As I read more and more and began making sense of it, I realized how your method made sense and what steps I needed to take.

    But I do remember thinking that it could have been made clearer who you were talking to. I think a lot of your advice regarding sentences is for someone at that 500 sentence mark or above. It can leave beginners a little puzzled.

    I like that you are using this SRSing Advice Series to remind us that it’s about living a life in Japanese. It makes me wonder if the way you have your Phase 0-X links set up best represents your method. xxxCancel thatxxx I just went to your Table of Contents page. I feel like it looks different than the first time I saw it. That diagram showing how the environment is ongoing from the beginning beautifully illustrates what’s important. I do question it being placed on bottom though. Anyway, if people can’t read that page and look at those visuals and get it, then maybe they are pharking stupid.

    Nah, I really think the problem is one you’ve addressed somewhere before, but maybe concerning a different circumstance. Creating a life in Japanese isn’t easy, but it’s easy. It’s not easy when you say, “Ok. Goal – live in Japanese.” But once you are living in Japanese, it’s just living – same as your life before – just in Japanese. You might to think a bit to break into goals. “Step 1 – all English off my iPod – no exceptions. Step 2 – find interesting Japanese websites. Step 3 – etc.” Doing sentences is easy, but it’s not easy. It’s easy to say, “My goal is 10,000 sentences. So I’m going to find 25 today.” But then, when you get to day 30 (maybe even day 5), it gets boring and therefore hard, because it’s not just living and happening upon a sentence that works for you. It’s being on a search for sentences – worrying about the destination so much that you aren’t enjoying the journey. So anyway, people latch on to the 10,000 sentences and start that cause it’s easy to start and say they’ll work on the lifestyle changes as they go. Then they get stuck and come complaining.

    my two yennies, anyway.

  2. Rob
    September 4, 2008 at 05:39

    I thought I’d share a technique I recently thought of that helps out a lot when adding sentences. It is so simple I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before. Some of you may already do this but here it goes…

    I watch alot of Japanese TV on youtube and the cool thing about many Japanese shows is they often will write on the screen what people are saying. Often it is an important or funny line that they want to emphasize. So what I do now is when a sentence like that comes on the screen, I freeze the youtube video and then hit CTRL then the Print Screen key. Then I paste that screen image into the Paint program (any will do) then crop only the youtube video image. This should be a nice small image now to put in the SRS.

    This saves time from retyping it in and also puts an image along with the sentence to reinforce how it was used. Then what I usually do is rip the audio for that sentence and put that in the srs with it. So far it’s working out well and makes the SRS more fun.

  3. X3R0
    September 4, 2008 at 08:23

    Good idea Rob, I might try that. Although the ripping audio part seems めんどくさい.

    This is an off-topic question but do Western versions of Japanese games usually have a Japanese option or do you need to ship them from Japan?

  4. uberstuber
    September 4, 2008 at 10:59

    Most western versions of Japanese will ship with English only, or maybe Spanish.

    My problem is that if I don’t look for sentences I’ll watch an hour-long dorama and only pull one or two sentences out of it.
    It works great when I read though.

  5. Homebound
    September 4, 2008 at 11:16

    May I step in for かっちゃん and say that if you’re only pulling one or two sentences from a drama, then you’re doing it right. (Same goes for if you pulled every sentence or none). So long as the drama is fun for you to watch and it’s in Japanese, who gives a flying fizzle how many sentences you pull out of it? The point here is to not search for sentences, but be ready to recognise a suitable sentence when it comes along.

    If those one or two sentences are all you pull out, then that’s it. Don’t stress. Don’t go ‘mining’. Go do something else fun, which includes, if you want, rewatching the same episode. And if more sentences fall out because of that so be it.
    10000 sentences (to me) should be like an exploration, not a scavenger hunt.

  6. Benni
    September 4, 2008 at 11:57

    Hi there.

    First off, bottoms up to your great site.

    Here is my conundrum. Call it an attitude problem, taking things too seriously, having something shoved too far up my **# or what ever… but here goes.

    Language is a tool used to communicate WITH people. It should be fun and it should serve a purpose.

    Now call me crazy but 99.99999999% of the Japanese people who want to speak with me (non-asian caucasian) want to use English. One, because they have to study it in school. Two, because they may have an interest in foreign-stuff.

    Me, myself, also having spent a lot of time studying the Japanese language, want to speak to Japanese people because I have an interest in Japan and I have learned the language.

    So here in lies my conundrum. If the Japanese people who want to speak with non-Japanese essentially want to polish up their English skills, and the English-speakers who have studied Japanese want to polish up on their Japanese skills, what the hell kind of fun is it to be constantly bashing heads together to show who’s foreign language skills are better?

    Give me some words of encouragement, and let’s be honest here!!


  7. Cush
    September 4, 2008 at 11:58

    What alot of you guy don’t realize is about the whole “10,000 sentences” thing is that not even the great( and i say that sarcastically) khatzumoto reached 10,000 sentences, he only hit 7500! But he somehow still managed to become fluent. Hmm interesting Huh? Maybe because he was doing other things in Japanese like reading manga,watching japanese movies etc and wasn’t as focused on sentences as alot of you guy are. So guys I have a new rule: No one, and I mean no one in this post or any other is to say or mention the phrase “10,000 sentences” Because If you’re focused on 10,000 sentences and nothing else(i.e AJATT) you are bound to fail. So guys, let’s get 10,000 sentences out of our vocabulary And focus on what really matters, please. Thank you and Good night.

  8. Daniel
    September 4, 2008 at 13:14

    Don’t worry, I think there are plenty of Japanese people who aren’t interested in speaking English who will talk with you, as long as you have something interesting to say. If you let Japanese people come to you, or find them on a language-exchange site, obviously you are getting a biased sample.

  9. vgambit
    September 4, 2008 at 16:37

    Rob. Yo.

    Rob. That’s amazing. I have something like a dozen episodes (half or so of which are HD) of Game Center CX on my computer, and they do that subtitle thing a *lot*. The problem is, I usually watch the episodes on my PS3, so pausing the video, then finding the same spot on my pc to make the screencap will be annoying. I guess to capture the sound I’ll have to figure it out in Sony Vegas…

  10. September 4, 2008 at 17:36

    Just pretend you don’t speak English. Learn a few German phrases or something. If someone tries to speak German with you, RUN!

    Sentences, hmm. I don’t actively mine for them, definitely not in video/audio media, but if I find a promising source of sentences (like Amazon reviews) then I’ll grab as many as possible and enter them. I’m quite selective with what I pick and what I don’t pick. “This is interesting” vs. “This is good to know.” The ideal is both, of course.

    Sounds like a plan

  11. nacest
    September 4, 2008 at 18:11

    very good idea, I’ll try it out.

    I agree, as a matter of fact I usually pull out the incredible amount of zero sentences from a drama or anime series. It’s a lot of fun, people should try it 😛

    I have the same problem! I’m desperately looking for Japanese people who don’t give a damn about English or my mother language…

  12. Chiro-kun
    September 4, 2008 at 20:41

    @Cush – It’s great that you pointed that out. People seem to have completely forgotten about that apparently insignificant detail.

    @Benni – あなたの言う通りです! ある賢者の言葉なのかも知れません 🙂

  13. Rob
    September 4, 2008 at 21:23

    For ripping the audio, I use this free program:

    It’s a simple program that basically just records any sound that comes out of your computer. I use it all the time to record the audio from movies, dramas, etc. to put in my mp3 player and also to record little snippets to put in the srs. It is a simple program -you can’t edit the file or anything, but it works well as an audio ripper. I’ve been using it for several months and never had a problem.

    There are probably several programs like this out there, this was just the first one I tried and it worked so I’ve stuck with it.

  14. Zarxrax
    September 4, 2008 at 23:43

    I disagree with part of the advice of this particular article. I see absolutely nothing wrong with adding sentences that are “good for me” into the SRS. If I can take sentences from some structured book that will let me learn lots of important kanji readings, vocab, or grammar in an efficient way, then why not? This has absolutely nothing to do with the “fun” aspect of the whole thing. Of course I still watch anime and dramas and other stuff. I wouldn’t even be studying Japanese if I didn’t care about all the awesome Japanese media out there. But when it comes down to reviewing stuff in my SRS, I want *good and useful* stuff in there. The whole SRS thing isn’t exactly going to be “fun” no matter whether you take your sentences from the latest Naruto or from a legal contract. Now I don’t hate doing SRS reviews everyday, in fact I don’t even mind doing them. I actually get quite a bit of enjoyment from the simple fact of knowing how much I’m learning every day. And besides, I’m pretty lazy, so its a heck of a lot more “fun” for me to just take premade sentences that I think will be useful than to do through all the trouble of trying to copy something out of a drama.

  15. Alyks
    September 5, 2008 at 02:38

    I think a textbook or one of the community sentence packs can be useful, but only if you’re at that beginner stage. If you’ve finished a textbook like Understanding Basic Japanese Grammar, or Japanese for Everyone, sticking with learning resources is just redundant and will hold you back. Khatsumoto is right about textbooks being bad.

    But if you can open up a manga and figure out what the sentences mean in a reasonable amount of time, stick with real Japanese stuff.

  16. nacest
    September 5, 2008 at 03:30

    if adding “good and useful” sentences into the SRS makes you feel better, then in my humble opinion that falls into Khatz’s “fun” definition, and it’s fine.
    This seems like a very simple matter of common sense to me. A no-brainer. You do what you feel is rewarding to do. You use an SRS because it makes you remember stuff: that’s rewarding. But you don’t do it too much, because you have things more (strictly) fun to do: that’s rewarding. And rewarding is “fun” in a (general) way.
    That was just my take on this.

  17. Kaba
    September 5, 2008 at 06:24

    Something that’s been working for me lately to make SRSing more fun is focusing more on handwriting quality (I’m not saying this will work for everyone or that it’s an especially important thing to focus on). If I write a character nicely and make it look as if a native Japanese person had written it, I get a thrill out of it and actually get pumped up to see what kanji I’ll be writing in my next card. I used to rush through writing kanji to get the job done quickly, but I find that if I take my time and use more deliberate handwriting, it’s enjoyable to see pretty things appear on the paper as I’m writing. For each sentence a write, I ask myself, “Would a native think a native wrote this?” Of course, it doesn’t have to look perfect or anything, but I like to pride myself in the fact that I think it does~ It makes SRSing go by quickly and more enjoyably for me.

    However, sometimes I’m not always in the mood to write pretty, and I get bored with the SRS. Sometimes I leave thee SRS and go off to do something fun, but I have this uncomfortable feeling of not having things done, knowing my number of due cards will increase. It’s a feeling of relief to leave the SRS with a nice blank slate 0 due cards. I actually get a good deal of pride from seeing that “Congratulations!” message (笑)

    Does anyone here have the same thing going on?

  18. Madamada
    September 5, 2008 at 09:02


    I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that if you want to have Japanese friends with who you speak soley in Japanese then you have to start out speaking Japanese and just stick to it. If the other person keeps coming back in English and there is no other compelling reason to stay in contact with them, then cut em lose.

    There can be a period of clashing heads as you so aptly put it, and that’s when you just have to dump the humble foreigner-guest-in-the-country routune and stick it out.

  19. September 5, 2008 at 22:19

    Or you could not be a dick and let them talk in English and you talk in Japanese. Then help them with their English and watch as they magically help you with your Japanese. It’s amazing.
    Sometimes I think some people take this All Japanese All the Time thing a little too literally. It is fundamentally impossible, especially if you live in non-Japan. The idea is to drastically increase your Japanese input, not be assholes to other people.

  20. September 5, 2008 at 23:05

    In Japan there are plenty of people who don’t care about learning English. And they don’t mind being your friend, as long as, as someone said before, you’re interesting or you share common interests. And there are plenty of people who put on wanting to speak English, but as soon as you are in a group, as long as the group is made up of mostly native Japanese speakers, the conversation goes to Japanese pretty quickly, with the occasional foray into “How do you say that in English?” tangents since you the foreigner are present. (I’m hoping that goes away eventually. Maybe once my J-skills are up to par.)

    Not sure what you are basing your idea of beauty on. But if you look at how people actually write kanji, it doesn’t look anything like the typeface kanji that you see on computer screens. If you know stroke order and (more importantly) stroke direction, you have a chance of figuring out what kanji it is. Beyond that, good luck.

    That brings me to a question. Are there any resources that collect actual Japanese handwriting samples for purposes of being able to figure out what the hell they are writing? Even with the Heisig method which allows me to pick out details in kanji very easily based on the stories and elements, I have trouble reading handwritten kanji. And these are kanji written by teachers in a classroom. Anyway, yeah something I’ve been wondering.

  21. Rob
    September 6, 2008 at 03:06

    Just to backup what Jadpan said, in terms of keeping it in Japanese, groups settings are the way to go. Just like if we were all in a room together, invariably we would all have different levels of Japanese ability and probably wouldn’t feel comfortable having a conversation in Japanese only. When I lived in Japan it would happen all the time, a person would have no reservation about speaking English if I was the only person there, but as soon as other people came you’d never hear a word.

  22. toadhjo
    September 6, 2008 at 04:58

    I also agree with the group theory, especially if you can be in a group that is all/mostly Japanese people besides yourself. Even if they sometimes address you in English, they will most likely speak Japanese amongst themselves, and that means you can at least listen to their conversation, and join in if you desire (in Japanese, of course!)

  23. nest0r
    September 6, 2008 at 08:54

    Hey Rob, thanks for the tip (didn’t realize you could take screenshots of YouTube videos, for some reason, and I’ve been looking for an audio recording program like that), what shows are you talking about, if you don’t mind my asking? I’ve never encountered a scene where they write in Japanese subs what they’re saying for emphasis or whatnot.

  24. Rob
    September 6, 2008 at 09:20


    Here is a link to an episode of one of my favorite comedy shows. They use subs all the time. You can find many episodes by doing a search in youtube of “gaki no tsukai” or ガキの使い。

  25. Jason
    September 6, 2008 at 15:09

    Hi, just came to this site this week and although this may not be the right section to post these questions, it seems the newest blog so figured this is where I should; sorry in advance. As I just came to this website this week, I also started Hiesigs RTK1 as well. Mon/Tues/Wed I went through the book and basically just read the story and wrote down the kanji once and went onto the next one for a total of 125 kanji. Thursday comes around and I found the Kanji.koohii; So I go through with the reviews. Basically if I missed one I would write it down a couple times thinking of the story. However a lot of the time when looking at the word I would remember the kanji immediately and not the story but still proceeded to hit “yes” i was right, and one other thing, my kanji writing is terrible… or well sloppy terrible. As for the questions (I always seem to drag things out.. )

    Should I still be content if I don’t remember the story behind the Kanji and click the “yes” i know it, or should I make sure to know the story as this may play into remembering the kanji longer?

    As I said my Kanji writing is horrible, should I also consider the the answer wrong or right if perhaps i had the right symbol in mind but I didn’t make one of the strokes quite long or curved enough? you can still see i thought of the same symbol, but it definitely looks different because of it. (However I am making an effort to make my Kanji writing better)

    I know I shouldn’t be trying to compete with others on how fast they went through the hiesigs RTK, however if I’m not mistaken people made it through that book in 1-3 months. Right now I’m not having problems with the motivation or anything (enjoying it very much), but it took me till just a little while ago to get a 99% out of the 125 Kanji I embarked upon this week, should i be aiming for more kanji per week, even if i haven’t put the others fully into my head or should I only move onto more once I have a 90% or more on the reviews for the kanji i have?

    And Lastly, thank you very much for this website, before running into this site I didn’t know where to start for learning Japanese, I had found out about Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana but 2-3 weeks ago and the JLPT list words. So I had taught myself Hiragana to start off with, then moved onto translating the JLPT words that were in kana and memorizing about 200 of those. I had no clue if i was even on the right track or not. Now through your website I now have a view of how to go about some of it, and I love the motivational speaks. Thanks again!


  26. vgambit
    September 6, 2008 at 19:23

    Rob, the second dude from the left in the beginning of that show looks familiar to me. I think he was also on another Japanese game show where the contestants all sit around a table, then shuffle a bunch of cards. Each contestant picks a card, and whoever pulls the card with the X has to be the victim/do whatever the next page of the book on the table says they have to do. Also, they had to keep quiet, because it took place in a library.

    There was also another show where they would sit around while people randomly came in doing random funny things, and anyone who laughed had to pay some amount of money.

    There’s also the show where these people would go into the room and make them laugh, but anyone who laughed got spanked afterward.

  27. vgambit
    September 6, 2008 at 19:33

    I found the third one. Looks it was part of the same game show you linked to.

    The end of part 1 is just too funny.

  28. nest0r
    September 6, 2008 at 22:25

    Cool, thanks.

  29. Rob
    September 7, 2008 at 02:14


    Everything you mentioned is those guys show: ダウンタウンのガキの使いやあらへんで!!. The cool thing about it is every week they do something different so you never know what it’s going to be about. They have some recurring stuff they do like the Silent Library and the 7 changes and the no laughing batsu games. That show is the longest running comedy show on TV there; it’s been on since 1989 or so I think. I got hooked on it back when I lived in Japan in the 90s. They post the new episodes every week on d-addicts if anyone is interested in watching it in normal TV quality.


    I think it’s okay if you don’t remember the story but remember the kanji, in fact, that is eventually what you want to happen. The stories are really just tools to help you remember, in time the stories will all fade and you’ll just remember the kanji. The good thing about using the SRS on the website is if you do ever forget the story or kanji it will be there if you miss it.

    I definitely recommend taking the time to write out each story on the Reviewing the Kanji website and record them. When I started I didn’t do this and later had to go back and do it.

    Actually the main piece of advice that I wish someone had given me when I started RTK would be before getting to far into it, go through all the most common radicals like water, finger, person, thread, soil, etc. and choose an easy mnemonic for each. It makes it sooo much easier to make stories and remember them later on if you use something like Spiderman for the thread radical instead of just plain ol’ thread or string.

    Also I think it’s better to not get in a hurry. I know there are stories galore about how people did the whole RTK in one or two months, but I think slowing down, concentrating on writing the character right and taking the time to review is better in the long run. What I did after I finished the first thousand was stop and do nothing but reviews for a month until they were all solid in my head and then I did the second thousand. I can’t say if that way is better than just blazing through it, but when do my daily reviews I have about 90-95% retention rate.

  30. Jason
    September 7, 2008 at 04:17


    Thank you very much, i’m still new to it all so still figuring out the details 🙂

  31. NDN
    September 10, 2008 at 02:07

    Well, what I’m going to say is most probably not new but anyway, if you meet a really difficult kanji and you’re REALLY stuck, try making ABSURD images out of the given primitives, for example: for tree you would imagine a tree of gigantic dimensions. I hope it should help in such cases. 🙂

  32. vgambit
    September 14, 2008 at 18:47

    I finally downloaded a good amount of that Down Town show. It’s amazing.

    Also, I bought the first DVD Box set of Game Center CX from (a total of $75 for 7 “challenges,” not even entire episodes). A few days after it arrived, I found a veoh user profile that had almost every single episode uploaded. I’m not buying Japanese DVDs anymore. Definitely not if I’m paying $28 in shipping. From now on, instead of spending money on media, I’m just gonna look harder for the downloads. Now I want to watch stuff like Prison Break with Japanese dubs, but I can’t find stuff like that anywhere.

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