How I Struggled to Read a Japanese Book a Day
I read a lot in Japanese. Whatever amount you’ve envisioned, double or triple that number. People that know me laugh because I never read a lot for pleasure in English, but for some reason when it’s Japanese it’s more fun.
Most people studying Japanese don’t read enough. When I was trying to motivate you to read more novels, as the typical average of just one a year just won’t cut it, I told you there was a time when I was reading a novel a week. Most people shouted this seemed too hard. I tried to pump people up with the recent novel blast challenge to read 2 novels in a month.
I have liked my average 1 book a week pace and have continued it for years. There has been no pressure. Some weeks I’ll read nothing. Other weeks I’ll read even more. Reading makes you a better reader and it really rounds out your command of a broad set of vocabulary. If you want to continually push your Japanese to higher levels than it was before, reading will do it.
In the logical jump to finding the hardest challenge possible (it’s what I like to search for…), I thought to myself:
“How about reading a Japanese book a day, every day for a year”
Yeah… How cool would that be? You can’t top that.
But is it possible?
I wasn’t sure. First I wanted to know if people have done that challenge in their own language. And they have. It’s quite high up there in terms of difficulty, but people have chronicled their experiences, and successfully pulled it off, while having a job and family. So it’s doable.
I have read entire Japanese novels in a day many times in the past. When you get into a story, that’s too good to not see it to the end, you can finish it in a day. I read everything on Kindle now, and there is a convenient feature that tells you the time to finish reading a novel. And it is usually at around 4-5 hours, assuming you just read it straight through.
This is an average speed for a native Japanese reader I’m assuming. And the 4-5 hours is based on a standard small-average book (think around 200-250 page paperback). That’s the length of watching 2 slightly long movies in a row, or binging on about 6 TV show episodes.
The timing wasn’t a huge issue. I can read while eating breakfast. I have an hour train commute each way in the morning and evening. A lunch break. Bathroom breaks. And some free time in the evening. Also I read fast. On weekends I have even more time.
So was I up for the challenge?
First I don’t like yearly challenges. They are too long, and usually are prone to failure. My favorite type of challenge is the 30-day challenge (the one you find here on Jalup).
So I decided to try and turn it into a 30 day challenge.
I did. Multiple times over many many months. And I failed. Every. Single. Time.
Here are the 3 issues I had trouble overcoming:
1. Weekdays vs Weekends
Weekdays are actually easier than weekends because they are structured, and since I’m commuting for 2 hours anyway, I am not distracted. I finish almost half a book just during that time. But weekends create a big problem with fitting in that schedule. It’s that strange but true phenomenon where you get more done when you are busy.
2. Finding books
I limit myself to Kindle, as it is the easiest and fastest way for me to read. There are plenty of books in the Japanese kindle store. The hardest part I find is picking out books that I’ll like and know that will give me the energy to read in a day.
I could have researched and bought 30 books in advance before I started, but for some reason this is a painful process. It requires mostly going through novel recommendation lists/rankings and just going through genres and reading the summaries of dozens of books. I notice that when I continually read summaries, I lose the excitement that I have when I just read through a summary and then immediately start through the book.
The second option was to pick out a new book every morning (or the night before) so that when I get excited by reading the blurb I can get right into it. But this took time to do, and occasionally I got stuck finding a book I want to read.
Both of these paled in comparison to my biggest obstacle
3. It became overwhelming too quickly
I had successfully gone through 3 or 4 days each attempt I made. Then I start to get tired. It felt like a chore. It felt like I had to rush. If my schedule changed slightly it became a major hassle to fix. If a book was longer than average it threw me completely out of sync. I was having a bad time.
So it didn’t work
I gave up the idea of trying to do it. The image of being able to achieve it was strong, and I was excited to say something motivational on Jalup like “hey check out what you can do if you really want it!” I had this awesome elaborate series of posts planned out. Those are all gone…
It was unrealistic for me.
So I failed. And I’m telling you that failure because not every goal works out, and there is no shame in aiming high and falling, as long as you learn from the experience. And I have learned.
The experience lead to a more realistic challenge for me. A book a day every day, even for 30 days just wasn’t doable, especially since Jalup takes up so much of my time now. While it doesn’t sound as cool, my new challenge was 2.5 books a week, or precisely 50% of a book every weekday. This takes my goal of reading more, puts it all in the week where my schedule is more balanced, and allows me to get a major portion of it finished with my commute and a little extra time.
And I won, finally.
While it wasn’t easy, it was doable, I had fun with it, and I feel the positive effects already. I didn’t feel constant pressure and could read at a more leisurely pace. I didn’t have to worry about choosing so many books, as I read through samples on the weekend and choose my 2.5 books for the upcoming week. And speaking of weekends, I didn’t have to think about the challenge at all on them while focusing on a multitude of other tasks.
Overall this challenge has allowed me to push my limits, gain even more reading confidence, and as a bonus will continue to increase the Jalup book recommendation guides. While I probably won’t continue this intense challenge past the month, the value it’s provided will last.
It’s okay to fail
Yes. It is. I do it all the time, even now. It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to set bad goals that don’t work, regardless of your level or mindset. Through work and effort, you figure out what can work for you. And who knows. Maybe one day one of you will be able to actually succeed at the book a day challenge where I couldn’t.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.
Wow, that’s impressive! I’ve managed to get through 2-3 books a week while doing Tadoku, but I’m not sure I’d have the guts to even try to attempt one English book a day, never mind one Japanese book!
I have fallen off the reading in Japanese bandwagon lately (I do a lot of (not fun!) reading in Japanese for work, but barely any in my free time) and hopefully this post will push me to actually pick up something in Japanese next! I do have a whole shelf of Japanese books waiting for me..
Time to walk over to that bookshelf!
I can’t wait to get started with reading Japanese soon! I used to be a really big reader in middle school, 2 books on weekdays and 3 on weekends, but now quit for some reason. I really want to get back, but I decided to postpone it till Japanese. Also, (in a non offensive way) it’s great to see that not even one of the grand masters can do super extreme goals. It shows that you are still human haha.
Haha yes, people have noticed I’m human.
But maybe one day you’ll do what I couldn’t…
I wanted to say that finishing one book a day even in my native language (Russian) sounds like something impossible to me (my reading speed really sucks), but than I rememberd that I’ve actually finished a 500-page Terry Pratchett book in one day once. It took me the whole day though, not 4-5 hours, and I didn’t really have other things to do, so I just stayed in bed reading. Nowadays a book can take me months, which is pretty sad.
But this post has somehow motivated me to take a challenge and try to finish one Japanese book in a week or two. Let’s see how it goes!
I limited my books to shorter paperbacks (as this is the type of book I prefer reading anyway), so this was definitely not a 500-page Terry Pratchett book every 2 days!
I think you’ll really enjoy trying to finish a Japanese book in one or two weeks, as it’ll show you that you are actually capable of it and it wasn’t so bad.
I decided to try for 1/month. I don’t enjoy reading as much if I don’t look up almost every word and research almost every phrase I don’t know, and I’m a slow English reader to start with. One Japanese book takes me well over 10 hours. It would be great to get to 1/week as I eventually don’t need to look up as many words.
1/day has a nice ring to it, but 2.5/week is still awesome!
Looking up every work and phrase definitely slows you down and changes the purpose of what you are doing it for.
But I’m happy to hear you decided to at least start with 1/month. Way better than 1/year, and you can always move your pace up as you get better.
I find posts like these really motivating and useful because they demonstrate setting ambitious goals, persistence at attempting to reach those goals, but also acceptance of limitations and handling failure gracefully.
Expect to see more as I show some more personal stuff in the near future.
Did you ever read any old Japanese texts like The Tale of Genji in the original version? Or is that Japanese too different to be understandable? It could be a good challenge :P
I’m really bad with classics. So I don’t know if I’d have the motivation to make a challenge like that. That and I have never bothered to really develop classical Japanese understanding past a basic grasp.
Would you recommend some titles for N4 level? I tried Japanese Graded Readers and I need more. Thanks.
Check out the Jalup book guides!
Start with 1 or 2 star difficulty level.
And just to start you off, a lot of people find 山田悠介 to write in a very simple (and trashy) manner
Awesome! I just saw your difficulty level guide of everything Japanese! Thanks so much! And oh, I’ve been enjoying my Jalup for 9 days now and even though my schedule is currently in a busy mode, I still see fast progress! (I’m honestly amazed.) I thought I was able to skip Beginner, but I actually still learn some interesting stuff from your materials. Glad to choose Jalup Max!
The tadoku contest at http://readmod.com/ is a great way for people to get motivated to read. This past tadoku in January I read my first book, and just finished my second yesterday. There is a short tadoku coming up on March 14-31, I’m planning to finish my 3rd book by the end of that. The whole point of the contest, where you are really only competing against yourself, is to set a goal and then keep track of how much you read while you build up a reading habit.
Yeah, I think that’s a great motivating challenge for a lot of people.
Though, I’m the type of person that when I decide I goal, I must absolutely start it right now, and unfortunately the world doesn’t match my timeline.
I feel the same way. If I don’t start today – right now – I probably never will. Also some of the excitement about a new and interesting goal will wear off quickly and something else is new and exciting the next day.
When you say you do all of your reading on Kindle, are you referring to Amazon.com or Amazon.jp? I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that Amazon.com’s selection of Japanese-language books was not very good.
A little googling should turn up how to do this pretty easily, but it does involve switching your kindle to japanese and the amazon.jp store completely.
First of all, thank you for a great website, which is a huge source of information and inspiration for me!
I am wondering about the massive consumption of books that you discuss in this article. During this fast reading process, do you ever sentence pick, or mark new words etc? Perhaps in your advanced case you rarely find new words, but for those learners that still encounter a new word or two on each page, would you recommend sentence picking? This would definitely slow the process down and perhaps ruin the benefits of consuming huge amounts of text over a month, but you would gradually increase your vocabulary this way. I am slightly confused about this aspect, especially with regard to this article.
With this challenge, I didn’t sentence pick or mark new words. It was just pure reading. Even at a fluent level, I will of course come across words I’m unfamiliar with (especially going through about 10 books in the month). But as I was reading for enjoyment, I didn’t interrupt myself to learn anything.
Here I talk about at my current level when I’ll stop to add stuff:
I think it’s good to separate this type of “study reading” and “enjoyment reading,” otherwise it always feels like you are studying. Especially if you engage in a challenge like this.
Thank you for your reply and link- I will take a look. I assume that the enjoyment reading will still have positive learning effects along the lines of “getting used to the language”, reinforcing knowledge you already have and allowing a little passive learning of vocab and grammar. For some reason I feel more “immersed” in the language when I’m reading a book (and am enjoying the story) as compared to watching a movie, some of which can wash over you when you lose focus. Its as if your mind is forced to concentrate on and adapt to the patterns and logic of the language in the book, more so than when you watch TV etc. I always come away from a reading session feeling slightly more “locked into” the language and a bit more fluent! After reading this article, I’m encouraged to try to up my slow reading pace and get through at least two books per month for a while!
Thanks and best regards.
Yes, enjoyment reading has many positive effects, so don’t ever think of it as something inferior.
2 books for the month sounds like a great goal. Best of luck!
Thank you for your awesome posts. I want to learn Japanese someday, your posts kind of motivated me, for now I’m learning Swedish and reading a lot in english, it’s not my first language so i gotta improve.
Definitely come back when you are ready to study Japanese. We’ll be happy to help here.