Good point, Eric.... my wife once made a comment to me about reading J vs. reading English which suggested that she thought that, while the J were "gestalting" the kanji images, that English readers were essentially scanning the letters of a word linearly left to right (albeit at high speed) and building up the words in their heads from that.
I had to tell her... um, NO
Your anecdote shows that not only do we view words in writing as whole visual units, but that the brain is amazingly good at high-speed descrambling.
While I'm here I'll make a recommendation to you: if you're serious about learning to read Japanese and are the type to sit and read dictionaries (guilty
), you should have a copy of The Modern Reader's Japanese-English Character Dictionary
, by A.N. Nelson. This fat book (known to many gaijin students of Nihongo affectionately as "Nelson") was like my bible for many years. And you can use it to impress your Japanese friends, who will flip through it and tell you "oh my g*d, I can't read half of these kanji"