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Remembering the Kanji, Again

Hi. This post will explain why I did RTK for a second time, how I did it, and what I think about how long it took. You can learn from my mistakes to not do that.

Why Would You Do That To Yourself

In order to pass the JLPT N4, I had to make some sacrifices for short term gain. Notably, focusing on vocabulary and grammar books (Tango N4), and sentence cards.


When I started Tango N4, I had just finished RTK with about a 67% maturity rate, so I still had a number of cards that were appearing every day. The review from RTK and my new decks, which I had an average of 20-some new cards a day, was not feasible.

To try to combat this, first, I limited the reviews to 20 a day from RTK. Which is [known] to not be a good idea–the majority of reviews just go un done, and you may as well throw the deck away. But I figured it would be better than abandoning the deck outright. Which is what I still ended up doing anyway.

When I pulled off my blindfold and faced the room-elephant, my review count was in the thousands, nearly the whole deck. Trying to tackle it from Anki only, I found I knew almost nothing–it was mostly all gone. I knew the incremental structure of RTK, so I knew the foundation of the house was gone, so even if I knew some bits of broken roof and walls, it simply would not have been a good long-term move to try and brute force the deck.

Besides, at that point, the effort required to re-learn essentially now-random kanji is the antithesis of the method RTK preaches, which I take seriously. I would have tried to force on an out-of-context approach to kanji, and I would honestly have risked my long-term Japanese ability.

The only option was to reset all my cards in the deck, and crack back open RTK.


My progress was faster because I had already been around the block, and had time travel knowledge.

  • I remembered pitfalls and issues I had with my first run, such as making double-sure to give connotations to words
  • I knew what kanji were coming, so this time around didn’t make bad or later-would-be-ambiguous stories.
  • Made sure to focus on the kanji that were used in many other kanji
  • And importantly: I just had more worldly knowledge. I saw more things, talked to more people, changed jobs. This was all ammo I didn’t have before to make new, better, more varied stories out of instead of overusing old scenes, which leads to ambiguity.

I usually managed more than 20 a day, which was my benchmark from last time. Turned out I remembered some stuff, like long-lost stories and keyword associations. Sometimes I could push 40-50 a day, going through a set of kanji that just clicked one after another, but sometimes struggled to get 20 as some kanji are still just more difficult.

Affecting the N3 Timeline

As it currently stands, I may not be passing N3 this year because of this move.

Then again, without this move, I might not have passed anyway. I had to make a short term move to pass N4, sacrificing long term, then had to re-do RTK, which is a long term move which is sacrificing short term.

Looking back, maybe I would have saved time overall by just accepting I might not pass N4 last year to avoid the above entanglement. But, with my timeline of moving to Japan, I don’t have infinite time to do well on JLPT levels.


The first time through, around 1800 kanji I really started to feel the burn, instead of excitement. This time, it happened around 1600 kanji. But the cool thing is, I’m sure as hell never letting what happened the first time happen again.

I’m sure as hell not doing it a third time. I wouldn’t make it.

Was it worth it?

Yes, of course!

The cool thing about RTK is after completing it, learning vocab is much easier. I’m on my journey to N3 now, through An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese and I’m able to have an idea of what all the “good to know” kanji are. Well, I think a lot of that comes from other sources like immersion, but RTK is a masterpiece.

I’ve stuck to my reviews this time, and sit around a 95% maturity rate. The reviews are now quick to tackle each day.