My journey towards Kanji Kentei level 1 began in 2008 with level 8. There, in a tiny room surrounded by elementary school student test takers, I passed my first test. And that was the beginning of the long road towards my goal.
Once I reached level 1, with my first attempt I just wanted to dip my toe in and see what kind of challenge I would be facing at the top level. My result: 7 points out of 200. As expected, the test completely destroyed me, but just having experienced it took away some of that mystique, making the goal seem somehow within reach.
After that, I tried a second time and a third time, but failed them both. However, to hold myself accountable and make sure I wouldn’t give up, I kept telling everyone that I would definitely pass, no matter what. I even tried writing to Yoshiko Miyazaki, a quiz show regular dubbed the “Queen of Kanji,” for any advice she could give.
※Spoiler alert: She never answered
And then, on the second run of the test in 2011, I finally passed level 1 on my 5th attempt.
If there’s anything that contributed the most to my study, it was persistence. Just seeing the material everyday, doing some problems, writing in the notebook — that daily reigimen was key. I had to put each character and each term into my head, one by one. It’s like the phrase: Pile enough dust, and you have a mountain. (In English we say, “Every little bit helps.”) Eventually, you will overcome that 6,000 kanji high wall.
When I passed, I felt really happy, of course. But, there was also something that bugged me. I felt like I was lacking that sense of accomplishment I had expected considering the years and numerous attempts I put in. And that’s when I realized that passing level 1 wasn’t supposed to be the end of my experience with kanji, but the start of a new beginning.