Monthly Review: May

May has been without a doubt a month of drawing and journaling. These two activities have found their place in my daily schedule by replacing what used to be an ineffective “Japanese study.”

For months now, I have been thinking about how to continue learning Japanese without taking classes nor preparing for the JLPT. I haven’t found many concrete things to do or materials to study, and I was often left with a guilty feeling because I was no longer “studying Japanese.” As a consequence, I clung to all sorts of resources I had, because it gave me the impression that I was still on tracks. And then, the post “Keeping it simple: tips for simplifying your language study routine” by Kotobites helped me to understand that, sometimes, less is more.

Simplifying my study routine is exactly what I have done this month. I am now accepting the idea that reading novels and the news is the core of my “study” and that I don’t need to feel bad about the things that I am not doing. This turn of mind has had three consequences:

  1. I got rid of some “studying” materials that I was not working with but kept because I thought I had to hold on to textbooks.
  2. I am more focused on reading and renewed my habit of reading several books at the same time.
  3. Finally, I use the time that I used to spoil on useless thoughts like “I should be studying Japanese” on other activities, namely journaling and drawing.

My reading habits

I have been very thorough with my reading challenge until now. Back in December 2017, I took advantage of a trip to Japan to buy several novels and challenge myself with reading a book per month. And until May, I had read one book at the time, picking up a new one from my list when I had finished reading the previous one.

It all exploded in May because I went to a bookshop, bought three books and started them all the same day! Why I did that, I don’t know. I must have been frustrated or something like that, haha. The books are:

  • 「在日」by姜尚中・カン サンジュン (still working on it, will post my reading progress regularly)
  • 「ヒーローズ(株)!!!」by 北川恵海・きた がわえみ (will post my review soon!)
  • 「のほほん絵日記」by さくらももこ (reading it slowly, to relax)

So now I am reading several books in parallel, and I will probably write something about it next month.

English books

I finished reading The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, and I loved it so much! It was hard to put it down, once finished. I love Sarah Waters’ writing style; the story was gripping until the very last page and the novel extremely good documented. I don’t know much about London of the 20’s, but I could feel every beat of it through Waters’ descriptions. I found that the second half of the novel had a real historical interest because, even if the story is entirely fictional, it felt incredibly real.  I will read other of her books, but I have a long list of authors to discover before! (namely, all the authors cited in this article).

I thought it would be best to read as many different authors as possible before reading a novel by an author I had already read recently, but I could not resist the temptation to read The Remains of the Day, although I read Never Let me Go not long ago.

I first read Kazuo Ishiguro some months ago, and at the time I wanted to start with The Remains of the Day. I had never read Kazuo Ishiguro before, and therefore, I consulted several internet sites to see which book one should read first. There was some sort of consensus about Never Let me Go being the ideal title to discover Ishiguro. This is why I started with this novel, but in some corner of my head, the desire to read The Remains of the Day was still there, so here I am, starting it!


I got into journaling through the bullet journal and even though I dropped the method in the meanwhile, I continued using the notebook I bought for the occasion for a broader purpose. Thanks to it, I got into the habit of writing and taking notes on a daily basis. This month, I completed my notebook and started a new one! (I have started and let so many notebooks unfinished before, that this is an achievement worth recording to me).

This notebook has three main purposes. I write a journal about how I feel, if I want to study or not, if I feel like I am making progress or not, what interests me and so on. I also got into the habit of taking notes relative to the books I read. I don’t know why, but I tend to forget things very quickly, and I could not say much about the books I read last year. This is why I now take notes while reading, note citations and even vocabulary sometimes. And finally, I also use the notebook to brainstorm ideas for this blog.

This month, I also spent far too much time watching YouTube videos about journaling and pricey Japanese stationery such as Midori Travelers Notebook or Hobonichi. I was so much into all this that I also read two books on the topic, though none convinced me:

인생이 두근거리는 노트의 마법 (전 세계 노트왕에게 배우는 기록의 정석 20)

(a loose translation could be: The magic of taking notes and how it can spice up your life, let’s learn from great note takers around the world).

171168784.jpgThis is a Taiwanese book, and I got the Korean translation. This book collects 20 “cases” of people who keep a diary. They are interviewed about their writing/drawing habits, the material they use, what writing means to them and so on. But the main attraction consists of several pictures of their notebooks. Some have beautifully decorated journals, and I found almost all the insights to be both impressive and very inspiring.

However, I felt that the 20 cases were somehow repetitive and that it did not differ much from what you can see on YouTube or Instagram… for free. This being said the book was still interesting and inspirational in itself (it also provided a good read-in-Korean exercise).

「頭のよさはノートで決まる」by 齋藤孝・さいとう たかし

51xBKMokjxL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_This is a 200 pages self-improvement book. I must say that the contents of the book, though interesting, are not really what I was looking for. It is business oriented with efficiency and productivity in mind. There are some parts devoted to a more creativity oriented approach of notetaking, but the main argument of the author still lays on efficiency at work.

The pieces of advice about how to take notes to be efficient are things that I have heard many times at school. As a result, I haven’t the impression to have learned much from this book.

I am not as much looking for efficiency as trying to be creative, express myself and have fun doing it. So this books is definitely not the kind of writing I was looking for.


Drawing, as much as playing a musical instrument, is something that I dream of doing for as long as I can remember. But for some reason, I have always thought it was out of reach to me, both activities being labelled as “art” and thus, or so I thought, requiring “talent”. Even though I am the first to claim that anyone can learn a foreign language without taking classes, without living in the country in question and at any age, I was paralysed by the idea that “drawing” required taking art classes, having started soon and having a natural talent. As a consequence, I was very satisfied with my being able to draw a circle with a 人 in it and a square under it, but it prevented me from learning further.

monthly review may 2018 - 2

If I were to narrow down this month to one single discovery, it would be without hesitation Alphonso Dunn’s Youtube channel through which I learnt a lot. I realised that you don’t need art classes or talent to start drawing, all you need is to know some simple techniques, to have the right mindset and to be willing to practice a lot.

Thanks to his videos, I already made some progress (that’s the advantage of starting from zero!). This is what I would have drawn in response to the prompt “draw a tree” some time ago and now:

monthly review may 2018

I also realised that the tips Alphonso Dunn gives to draw every day or to understand why we are not making progress can apply to anything, including Japanese learning. The first time I listened to his video about 5 reasons you’re not making progress and tips to help I could relate it to language learning and found it both energising and encouraging.


The month of May was a very exciting month to me. First of all, I stopped worrying about the Japanese resources I was not using, and this alone freed me from unnecessary thinking. I am reading more, and I finally fulfilled an almost lifelong goal: writing every day. Keeping a journal is really something that I want to do for a long, long time, and I feel confident in saying that I got into the habit of daily writing now. And of course I started an entirely new activity: learning to draw with pen and paper!