Japanese For The Busy

A guide for busy people who want to learn japanese

"The young, the old, the extremely aged, even the sick and the infirm obtain perfection in Japanese by constant practice. Success will follow him who practises, not him who practises not. Success in Japanese is not obtained by the mere theoretical reading of sacred texts. Success is not obtained by wearing the kimono of a Japanese or a monk, nor by talking about it. Constant practice alone is the secret success. Verily, there is no doubt of this"


This is Bernie's guide to Japanese for busy people. It is destined for those that want to understand spoken and written Japanese. This guide should not be followed word by word, you can/should tweak it as you like so it fits your needs, way of learning, schedule... Think of it only as a guiding hand. Feel free to contact me on discord if you find any errors or just want someone to talk to: bernie#6224.

The three pillars of Japanese

There are three pillars in Japanese that you need to have in order to succeed in your journey to fluency. They are: Vocabulary, Grammar, and Kanji. You can try to acquire Japanese with only Vocabulary and Kanji study, it's totally possible, but conscious Grammar study is one of the only shortcuts we have as English-speakers to grasp the structure of Japanese phrases quicker and easier. You can also try to learn Japanese with Vocabulary and Grammar study only, and that's also a reasonable choice if your only goal is to understand and communicate in spoken Japanese. But you won't be able to read books, novels, websites, and any other written media since Japanese relies heavily on Kanji. That is why, if you want to become fully functional in Japanese, it is recommended to have a solid foundation in these three pillars

The role of SRS in acquiring the three pillars

If you are not familiar with what an SRS is, you can read about it here We will be using Anki since it is one of the most popular and efficient SRS software out there. Since we are working with a tight study schedule, SRS will be a great way to learn Japanese with because 1) You will memorize more things in less time 2) Be able to use anki on your phone, enabling you to review cards on your commute, lunch break, bathroom 3) It's quick.

SRS will be used to: learn over 10k vocabulary words, all of the Joyo kanji, and over 600 grammar cards from complete beginner to advanced Japanese grammar.

Pillar 1: Kanji

Kanji isn't as hard as most newcomers to Japanese think. They are composed of different components that, to the untrained eye, might look like a bunch of scribbles. In the JFBP guide, we won't focus on kanji production. Just think of it, when was the last time you wrote something in English by hand? You can learn the stroke order if that is your goal, but I suggest spending your time on it only after you finish the two stages of the first pillar: radical and kanji study. Keep in mind that, before starting studying kanji, I suggest getting a solid base in Kana. There are no secrets to it, it's not that hard. There are lots of guides teaching Kana on the internet and you should get it done in less than 5 days.


Radicals are the basic components of kanji. For example, the kanji 新(new) is composed of 3 different radicals:斤(axe),立(rise) and 木(tree). If you choose to study them before diving into real characters, you may find it easier to memorize kanji since they can be broken down into different components. There are around 200 radicals that form most of the Japanese kanji. You can start by learning them and then moving on to the next stage. For studying radicals, I recommend using this deck: Kanji Radical (Primitive). It only contains 214 cards, so if you do 20 a day, you'll finish it in 11 days.

Kanji readings

After finishing your radicals, we will start to study real kanji. Keep in mind that, like any other deck, you still have to review your radical deck after you finish it. We will be using a deck based on the Joyo kanji list ("The jōyō kanji (常用漢字, literally "regular-use Chinese characters") is the guide to kanji characters announced officially by the Japanese Ministry of Education. Current jōyō kanji are those on a list of 2,136 characters issued in 2010. The list is not a comprehensive list of all characters and readings in regular use; rather, it is intended as a literacy baseline for those who have completed compulsory education, as well as a list of permitted characters and readings for use in official government documents") The deck is also based on a book called "Kanji in Context" and contains all of the Joyo kanji characters and their combinations. The deck has 9285 cards so if you do 20 a day, you can finish it in 465 days, if you do 35 a day, you can finish it in less than a year (266 days). Keep in mind that to reach 99% Kanji coverage would require 2000 characters. If we subtract the number of single Joyo kanji characters (2136) from the 9285 total kanji, we are left with 7149 words that are formed by the combination of two or more kanji. To reach 99% vocabulary coverage would likely require 20,000+ words. 95% would require ~10,000 words. So, after finishing the Kanji in Context deck, you will be able to generally understand around 93-95% of what you read and hear (This may vary depending on the content you consume. If it has lots of specific jargon like in a medical or police drama, the number can be lower). Don't try to rush it, language learning takes time. If you do too many cards a day, you won't be able to keep up with your reviews and you will forget most of it anyways. Here is the link to the deck: Kanji in Context: Revised Edition . Please consider supporting the author of this book if you can.

Pillar 2: Grammar

Grammar study is something that will vary from person to person. For some it can be something extremely boring, for others, something to look forward to. If you don't have the time to sit down with a book or learning material and study, I suggest using the DoJG deck. The deck is based on the book "Dictionary of Japanese Grammar" and has exposure and cloze deletion cards. You can tweak your Anki settings so during your reviews you only see cloze deletion cards and during your new cards you only see exposure cards. You can also add TTS to your deck since it contains many example sentences, which is something I highly recommend. If you don't like the deck, there are other ways to study grammar. Cure Dolly's video series on Japanese grammar is a good option for visual learners. Those that prefer textbooks can go with popular choices like Genki. But if you can, I highly suggest doing the DoJG deck since it extensively covers most of the Japanese grammar. You can find the DoJG deck here: DoJG Anki Deck

Pillar 3: Vocabulary

Vocabulary study is of extreme importance in order to comprehend messages in your target language. We will study vocabulary with one of the most famous vocabulary decks in the Japanese language learning community: Core 10k. This step is optional but we highly recommend it: if you haven't studied any Japanese before, do the Tango N5 deck. It is one of the best vocabulary deck out there for beginners and will give you a good introduction to Japanese words. You can find a free Tango N5 deck here. There are higher quality ones like MIA's, but you have to send them proof of purchase of the Tango book. If you contact me on discord I can try to send you the Tango N5 deck but I can't guarantee I'll be online every day. After finishing Tango, you are ready to go to Core.

The "Japanese for Busy People" approach to vocabulary acquisition values listening immersion and comprehensible input. In other words, we use Core to mine audio. Essentially, there are two ways of doing that: you can follow the traditional order of the deck doing the vocabulary cards and then immersing yourself with the audio from the sentences you studied. In your Anki folder, you can find all of the audio files for all decks, so you just need to copy and send them to your Google drive/audio library. The other approach to this would be to suspend all of your cards in the Core deck, get some native content with text and audio, write down all the words you don't know as you read it, and unsuspend those words from your Core deck. For example, you are reading a book and encounter the word "pineapple". You will then go to your Core deck, search for the word "pineapple" and unsuspend it, studying it during your Anki reps. After you add every unknown word from your study material to Core, you can add its audio to your immersion playlist. Either approach will provide comprehensible input for you to listen to in the background which is something important if you want to consolidate your vocabulary and improve your listening comprehension.

Pros and cons

Mining from Core

Mining from Native Content

The important thing here is not how you make the audio comprehensible but to have comprehensible audio to listen to in the background. There are other options too, like using SubsToSRS decks with morphman, using another pre-made vocabulary deck... Choose the one you like the most and stick with it. You don't need to understand every single word but a comprehension of over 80% of what's being said is a good number. You can listen to the audio you mined passively while doing other things, like working, running, cooking... Try to get over 2 hours of listening everyday.


According to the linguist Alexander Arguelles: 10,000 words constitute the active vocabulary of native speakers with higher education. After comparing the Core 10k deck with the Kanji in Context deck, I arrived at 9,744 unique words from both decks. If you sum that number with the number of words that appears in both decks, you will arrive at 14,298 unique words. So, if you finish both decks, you will have the active vocabulary of over 14 thousand words. Now here are some analyses of the number of cards per day and the time it will take for you to finish the JFTB path. Observation: the number of cards per day is for each deck. So if you're doing 3 decks, 20 cards per day would mean 60 cards in total. I assumed that you would do Radicals + Grammar, and then move on to KIC + Core + Grammar.

Note that the more new cards you do a day, the more time you'll have to spend on reviewing. You can calculate how many cards you should do by getting the time you can spend studying (60 minutes), divide by the time you spend on each card (7s) and divide the result (514) by 6 (=85 new cards a day).


Why should I listen to audio that I mine?

Listening to your target language is the best way to improve your listening ability. When you listen to audio you understand, that is, audio you mined, such as Core sentences, audiobooks… you are consuming comprehensible input. The only way to acquire a language is through understanding messages. That’s why, if you listen to something you don’t understand, you won’t be acquiring anything. Listening to audio with words you studied will also reinforce said words as well as their pronunciation, making it easier to pick them up in a different context. You should listen to that audio passively (while doing something else) and focus your active time on Anki.

When will I start understanding things?

If your goal is to watch TV, around the 6k words mark is where you will start to understand things comfortably. Now, if you want to read books comfortably, you’ll need a higher repertoire. Keep in mind that, even if you finish the 14k words in the JFTB path, you still need to look up some words once in a while.

What about Output?

You can use iTalki to practice your speaking skills but I suggest doing that only after finishing JFTB. After you complete the guide, you will be able to consume Japanese content with a decent comprehension. According to the language acquisition theory, output comes naturally when your brain is exposed to thousands of sentences. Basically, your brain is a pattern-finding machine. The more it sees a word being used in a sentence, the better it will get in applying it in a different context. That process occurs automatically, that’s why you don’t have to think much about verb conjugations or vocabulary when you’re talking in your native language. So, the more you are exposed to comprehensible input, the better your output will be. If you're on a tight schedule, listening to podcasts and casual conversations might be benefitial to making your output more natural.

Is there anything after JFTB?

Of course! You can consume loads of Japanese content and start adding words you’ve never seen to your Anki deck. You can also study Japanese grammar with books aimed for a Japanese audience and etc. There is a lot to learn.