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What Do You See?

Hello again! Welcome once again to Benkyō Blog. I was thinking back to when I first started studying Japanese, and I recalled a technique I used for memorizing some hiragana and katakana. I saw some of them like pictures or symbols of something else. These little picture devices helped me to remember what was what. Here are a few examples of what I came up with. While looking at my examples, think to yourself: what is it that I see? It’s like looking at clouds and describing what animal they look like. One person might see a duck, and another person might see a stegosaurus. Don’t just take my examples because they aren’t yours. Make up your own and they’ll really stick!

 - This little guy is the katakana for “ko”. To me, I see a backwards “C”. I know that it’s used in the word “kōhī”, which is the Japanified way of saying “coffee”. Coffee starts with a “C”. “Koohii” starts with a , which looks like a backwards C.

 - Does anyone remember the show “Digimon”? There was a Digimon called Tokomon. He looked a lot like this hiragana, “to”. Tokomon starts with a “to”, which looks exactly like Tokomon himself in Japanese!

This might seem a little profane, but when I look at this hiragana for “ho”, I see a scantily-clad woman standing next to a pole. You can guess from that description exactly how I remember this one…

う - The hiragana for “u” looks like an upside-down, underlined U. Anyone else see it?

ヨ - The katakana for “yo” looks like a backwards E. I don’t know why, but somehow this reminds me that it’s read “yo”.

When you look at the different kana, what do you see? Use your imagination! Trust me, you might surprise yourself by what you come up with. Ganbatte ne!

Story Time With Janna!

Youkoso! Welcome to the first “real” edition of Benkyou Blog. Gather ’round everyone, it’s story time. I’m going to tell you a little personal story about when I was a high school exchange student in Japan.

I am a very self-conscious person. I find I’m comparing myself to others often. So, when I and my fellow exchange students would get together for various functions, I was constantly comparing my Japanese to theirs. At first, I was proud of myself. I had the best pronunciation and least accent of anyone else in the group, and considering I’d had no formal Japanese education, I wasn’t half bad. Midway through our ten month stay, things were a little different.

I arrived at our little meeting for the Osaka exchange students and their host families expecting to be at the same level or even ahead of the others who had previously been struggling. Instead, I was unpleasantly surprised to find myself stuttering and using far less new vocabulary when we made our usual introductory, “how I’m doing” speeches. My confidence came crashing down, and only continued to crash as the day went on.

A few months later, we had yet another exchange student gathering. Since the previous meeting, I had gotten back up on my feet and studied madly to catch up. Sure, the period before the last meeting was plagued with culture shock and various other exchange student stresses, but I felt that was no excuse for being so far behind! So, despite my lack of confidence, I studied hard all through my summer vacation. While my classmates were out having a good time, I was spending hours a day practicing kanji and translating the lyrics to my favorite songs as practice. At that next meeting, I felt about even with everyone else. We had all seemed to level out, no matter what our previous Japanese exposure was or how fast we’d learned at the beginning. At the end of the day, we were all about the same.

The moral of the story? Don’t compare yourself to others!! If you know someone else studying Japanese, don’t expect to always be on the same page. You can use their efforts as a motivator, but never compare yourself because everyone learns new languages at different speeds. No two brains are exactly alike, right? So, no two people are going to study Japanese at the same pace. But, you’ll find in the end that you’ll end up on the same page. If you study hard, you’ll find yourself just as proficient. You may have to study more than someone else, or it may be more difficult for you, but don’t ever let that discourage you!

You’re headed to the same destination: proficiency in the Japanese language. Don’t follow in the path of another. Blaze your own trail and make it a good one!

Benkyou de ganbatte ne!

Benkyō Blog de ganbarimashō ka?

So, you’ve listened to the podcasts. You’ve looked at the lessons. You’ve tried to memorize the grammar and vocabulary. Still having problems? Looking for some tips on studying Japanese? Looking for someone to relate to so that you don’t feel like the only one struggling to learn this difficult language?

Hello everyone. My name is Janna, and I’m here to introduce to you my new blog series, “Benkyo Blog”, that will be the new addition to the JapanesePod101 blog. My job is simple: to make sure that you, the JapanesePod101 listeners, don’t feel alone. I have been studying Japanese for years, and much of that time was spent in self-study. I went to Japan in 2004, my sophomore/junior year in high school, as an exchange student. While there, I had next to no formal instruction nor did I have a specific “teacher”. I didn’t learn from a book. I learned primarily from real life experiences and conversation.

Not everyone has that luxury, and that’s where JapanesePod101 comes in – it’s there to help you learn this language through real life scenarios with vocabulary you’re going to actually use in daily Japanese life. Even so, no matter how good your materials are, studying a foreign language is difficult. Plus, you’re studying Japanese. It’s one of the most difficult languages in some respects, especially in regards to reading and writing. Not to mention it is unrelated to any other language. There’s good news, though: it’s not as tough to learn as you might think, and that’s what I’m here for.

My goal through these blog posts is to get you to be more comfortable with studying Japanese. I’ll be giving you little ideas for memorizing hiragana and katakana or learning new vocabulary, personal stories from my time in Japan, and even a few tips for studying. Soon enough, you’ll find that Japanese isn’t as difficult as people make it out to be. The grammar and pronunciation are simple enough that it almost evens out with the difficult of the reading and writing. Reading and writing can be tough, but once you’ve learned how to learn the kana and kanji, you’ll discover your speed and efficiency in studying increases significantly.

Plus, to make this blog a little more fun, I might throw in a little Osaka dialect mini-lesson here and there! What can I say? I’m proud of my Japanese home! I lived in Osaka while I was there and am anxiously awaiting my return. So, if you’re planning on traveling or living in Osaka, or you just find the dialect fascinating, you might find my occasional Osaka-style Japanese lesson interesting.

So, enough about me and all this boring stuff! I’d like to once again welcome you all, and it is my most sincere of wishes that you become a more effective student of Japanese through my posts.

Yoroshiku onegai shimasu! Ganbatte ne!

Japanese Names - Learn About Japanese Names with Kanji

Someone asked on a recent post at Japanesepod101.com what なつこ先生’s name was in 漢字. I said that it was 夏子. I’m pretty sure it’s 夏子, in all of the early PDFs, she is listed as 夏子.

Almost all Japanese people have 漢字 names, and all family names are 漢字. The last time I went to Japan, I was quite fluent with my 漢字 from my Chinese study, but I still found common Japanese names very interesting. Whenever I’d go into any shop, I’d make a point of reading the various workers’ namecards. I found the names fascinating.

To someone used to dry, uninteresting Chinese names, Japanese names are a breath of fresh air. They sound like they were made up by hippie parents. Take 夏子 for example (the name, not the lady!) The first character is ’summer’, the second, ‘child’. I often get a pleasant surprise when I hear about Japanese peoples’ names. Some which are so common seem so poetic.

田中・たなか: ‘Field’ and ‘middle’. Whenever I meet someone with the surname 田中, I always picture one of their ancient ancestors working hard in the field, and someone asking his surname. This was at a time when surnames weren’t so common, so the first 田中 took a long thoughtful look at his surroundings and thought, ‘well I’m standing in the middle of a field, so…’

Write Japanese - Better Japanese Through Posting in Japanese

Some of us don’t get the opportunity to use what we learn in Japanesepod101.com lessons; Japanese speakers just aren’t everywhere. But there is one avenue that we can take advantage of, one which is often overlooked. Our teachers mention it in almost every podcast. It’s the message board.

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a separate message board for every individual lesson at the Japanesepod101.com website. It is where users can post anything.

Recently, I have made a conscious decision to post something every day. It wasn’t easy at first, but it’s getting easier and easier.

One of my first problems was not a language problem, but what to post. But once you get your creative side working, it gets easier gradually. Also, after each lesson, someone usually thoughtfully puts forth a question for everyone to mull over. This is usually a starting point for a post. Or sometimes someone else posts something which I feel that I can answer to.

I will be posting something in Japanese after every lesson and invite other students of all levels to do the same. Posts need not be very interesting, witty, inciteful, or even gramatically correct, but the most important thing is to write something every day.

I’m sure everyone can do it! Even if you’re not sure, just put something, anything down. In a recent post, 美樹先生 asked us about what we mail order. I answered:

僕は、たまにeBayで買い物をします。探しにくい物をeBayで買うことができます。クレジットカード必要ですけどね。
でもeBayと言うのは通信販売じゃないかもしりませんね。
Boku ha, tamani eBay de kaimono wo shimasu. sagashinikui mono wo ebay de kaukoto ga dekimasu. kurejitto kaado hitsuyou desu kedo ne.
I sometimes buy things using eBay. You can buy things that are hard to find at eBay. You need a credit card though.

Even one sentence would do. A recent lesson mentioned Yakult. I posted:

子供の時に、ヤクルトは大好きでした。
Kodomo no toki ni, Yakuruto wa dai-suki deshita.
When I was a child, I liked Yakult very much.

Maybe if you can think of an interesting question that the jPod might enjoy posting about, you might also post that. In a recent post, I wrote:

私はブBulldogsの大ファンです。
watashi ha Bulldogs no dai-fan desu.
I’m a huge fan of the Bulldogs.

Subsitute ‘Bulldogs’ for another sporting team to show your support for your local side.

This prompted others to show their support for their teams, and introduced us non-Americans to Red Socks, White Socks (something to do with teams’ uniforms I think), and a celebrity listener.

Posting not only helps you writing but helps you find mistakes you don’t realise you have made. In a recent post, Akihiro先生 helped a student who introduced himself with the polite suffix ’san’. Akihiro先生 mentioned that:

自分の名前に「さん」はつけないので、気をつけて下さいね。
Jibun no namae ni ’san’ wa tsukenainode, ki wo tsukete kudasai ne.
Don’t attach ’san’ to your own name, so please be careful.

…in very polite Japanese.

Finally, I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to Bloglines.com . It’s an RF reader, which means that it automatically compiles posts/articles from any site you specify, so that you don’t have to visit them yourself. It means that to read every new post on all 500 or so JapanesePod101.com lessons instead of having to click on every message board, scroll down and check by hand, you can have them all automatically compiled for you. With the help of Bloglines.com, I am able to read every post on JapanesePod101.com, almost as soon as it is written.

That’s going to do it for today!

What Are You Doing?

Poking around youtube, as I am often of wont to do, I came across ピタゴラスイッチ1, a kids TV show. The main demographic of ピ・ス seems to be Japanese first graders, which suits me fine, as my Japanese is at about that level. I found a series called 「なにしてるの?」2 Each short clip is only a minute or so, and I have learnt something from every single one.

In each one, three boys are seen in a playground. One notices an adult doing really weird exercises, and is heard to remark 「何してる」3. Eventually one succumbs to the others’ badgering of 「聞いて来いよ」4, wanders over and asks 「おじさん、何やってるの?」5 He explains the weird procedure he is going through, and a clip explains it a bit better.

I discovered the verb which 愛香6 explained to me as the verb ‘to spray’, a new way of eating noodles, and a game involving snatching cards.

These clips not only help me learn vocab, but appeal to my Monty Python sense of humour.
The vocabulary is explained in such a unique way (a guy in a tracksuit acts them out in a playground) that I’m sure I’ll never forget these words. And I haven’t even seen all the episodes yet!

So if you’re interested, head to youtube and search for 「なにしてるの」 if you’re interested!

Do you have any youtube clips that help you learn 日本語?

1Pitagorasuichi, or in English form, Pythagoras Switch.
2Nani shiteru no? What are you doing?
3Nani shiteru? What are you doing? Almost the same meaning as 2.
4Kiite Koi yo. Go and ask him.
5Ojisan, nani yatteru? Old man, what are you doing?
6Aika, my girlfriend.

Samurai Theologian in Tokyo: O-Hanami at Canal Café

Canal Cafe Pic

Daniel here. Reporting for JapanesePod101.com.

お花見 (おはなみ), or cherry blossom viewing is one of the more pleasant seasonal traditions in Japan. The flowers are stunningly beautiful and change the landscape much like snow can in Winter. People wait in anticipation for their arrival, and the news forecasts 満開 (まんかい • full-bloom) predictions like they do coming rainfall and rising temperatures.

In addition to their beauty, 桜 (さくら) are short-lived. Almost as soon as they bloom, wind, rain, and budding leaves conspire to force the lovely pedals off their branches. Just as quickly as they achieve their full majesty, they depart and make way for Spring.

As a side note, this phenomenon is very apropos for Japanese culture which seems to delight in short-lived beauty. This can be seen in how Japanese female singers and actresses skyrocket in popularity only to fade into obscurity in their mid-twenties and in the careers of sumo wrestlers.

My wife and I are among the masses who check the forecast to catch Sakura at its peak. Last year we went to 国立 (Kunitachi, Tokyo) where there is a street lined with Sakura trees. It was quite lovely. This year, however, we went with people from our church to the Canal Café in 飯田橋 (Iidabashi).

Canal Café is found close to Iidabashi Station on the 東西線 (Tōzai Line) and also on the 総武線(そうぶせん). You can see it while riding on the 中央線 (Chūō Line) overlooking the 神田川 (Kanda River), but the 中央線 does not stop at 飯田橋駅 (Iidabashi Station). Although 神田川 is a river, it has been reshaped by construction to where it looks like a canal, thus the name Canal Café.

The café’s entrance is from the street that parallels the river. The entrance and gate has the look and feel of a yacht club. Usually, there is no wait to get into the café, but during お花見 season, there is usually a long wait to get in. This is not because of the lack of seating available, but because you have to first purchase drinks and food before entering. For some reason, this seems to take quite a long time. It took us nearly one hour to get in.

It was worth the wait, however, as the view is quite nice. The food is adequate, but I wouldn’t recommend the café based on the food alone. So, if you don’t mind the wait, I recommend the Canal Café during お花見 and any other time of year, you should be able to get a seat right away. Even when the flowers have fallen off, the Canal Café should be a suitable way to spend a sunny afternoon in Tokyo.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Be sure to leave a comment.

Until next time, さらば.

Wii On!

As part of my ongoing immersion into all things Japanese, I have bought a Wi console, made by company Nintendo.

If you didn’t know already, Nintendo is one of the biggest manufacturers of video games in the world. The Wii is their latest machine, and it has an interesting interface method: instead of pressing buttons with your fingers, you hold two controllers, or リモコン and wave them around in front of your TV. You really have to try it to understand it; the feeling of having two controllers in your hands and frantically flailing them about makes the whole experience much more enjoyable.

I’m currently battling my way through a game called Rayman Raving Rabbids. In it, a group of crazy ラビッツ try to take over the world, and challenge you, レーマン to a series of challenges to prove your worthiness. These take the form of a series of minigames, or single challanges. These may be races, dancing competitions, shootouts with hordes of rabbits out for your blood, or navigating through mazes. Admittedly the game doesn’t have a very solid plotline, but it is still enjoyable. Nevertheless, sometimes the screaming ラビッツ get on your nerves, and I have taken a break to write this blog entry.

I have somehow ended up with the Japanese version, and besides brushing up on my カタカナ, I have had to learn some new words to get through the game. Each minigame is different to all the others, so before you play, instructions on how to complete the challenge come up on the screen. As I have the Japanese version, I have to say… everything… out… loud… slowly… to… understand…, or fire up Firefox and use Rikachan to work out what I’m meant to do. I tell myself that all my hours spent on my Nintendo Wii counts as Japanese study time.

I have always had a fascination with ニンテンド, from when I was young enough to wrap my little fingers around a Nintendo Entertainment System control pad. You might even say that ニンテンド, and their rivals Sega first seeded my interest in all things Japanese. That and the fact that Japan was the only place I knew where grown ups read comic books.

I wouldn’t go so far to say that I’ve come so far with Japanese exclusively because of video games, but I guess they have been a factor in my childhood interest in Japan. Like so many young kids, I played a lot of video games, and was amazed to find out that almost all of my favourite games came from a small island country off the coast of mainland Asia. Although my interest in video games has waned, my interest in Japan has only grown stronger. So many unique things have come from Japan: not just Nintendo and Sega, but 侍, 盆栽, the Walkman, automatic toilets, ドラえもん, not to mention everyone’s favourite podcast.

I know people often end blog posts with a question. You see, we bloggers aren’t always sure people are listening, so a question is a little bit like a to prod our readers to see if they are really there. But this time I really am interested (not that I wasn’t interested before, but you know what I mean!): what made you want to learn Japanese? It’s a question that a lot of Japanese people ask me, and I’ve never been able to give an answer to my satisfaction. I meant to attempt an answer in this post, but I can’t get it across. I hope that my fellow jPod listeners, of all people in the world, will know what I mean when I talk about my interest in Japan.

Maybe you find it hard to answer too. If you feel like it, leave a message!

I’m going back to blasting screaming bunnies with a toilet plunger (really!)

A Naughty Word

Besides listening to jPod and blogging, my other online pastime is Magic: the Gathering Online. Magic is a collectible card game, and was the first. I realise that not everyone will realise what this means, so I’ll give you a quick rundown: you buy packs of trading cards, which instead of having sportsmen on them, have pictures of fantastic monsters and wizards blowing each other up. Below this picture is a small box of text. You make up your own deck of these trading cards, find a friend, and play game of Magic with him/her.

If you’re still not sure what Magic is, this article on the official Magic site entitled “WHAT IS MAGIC?” might make it clearer.

Magic is quite popular in Japan actually, so much so that tournament reports (yes, there are regular organised tournaments) are usually written in both English and Japanese. The four semifinalists from the most recent Grand Prix (yes, we have a Grand Prix) were named Kurihara, Osawa, Tsumura and Hron. All except one are 日本人 (I’ll let you work out for yourself which one). The world champions (yes, there is a world championship!) for the last two years have both been 日本人. In 2005, the World Champion, World Team Champion and Player of the Year were all from Japan. The only other country with such a record is the USA, which invented the game.
I guess that Magic appeals to the Japanese psyche; the diligence that goes into 盆栽 and the discipline of 武士度 melds together to make some damn good Magic players. Or maybe I’m looking too deeply into it. Let’s just say that before every tournament, the commentators (yes, we even have commentators) always mention the Japanese players, and speculate on what lethal innovation might lay waste to their opponents.

Recently there was an entire set of cards based on Japanese mythology: Kamigawa was another plane where Ninja, Samurai and other warriors would fight each other. There was a tribe of warrior human/foxes called Kitsune, and killer rat-samurai known as Nezumi. I mean, the race was called Kitsune, and the rats actually called themselves the Nezumi, in both the English and Japanese versions of the game. A little difficult to explain, as the Japanese word for fox is Kitsune. Some of the monsters had cool names: 夜の星、黒瘴 (Kokusho, the evening star), 深き刻の忍者 (Ninja of the Deep Hours), 激憤明神 (Myojin of Infinite Rage) and so on.

Magic also has an online version: instead of holding cards in your hand and putting them on a table, they come up on your monitor, and you just point and click. This is usually what I’m doing if I’m online, and an engrossing game is often the reason I must listen to jPod lessons 3 or 4 times before understanding the dialogue.

One can also chat during a game of Magic, much like instant messaging programs like ICQ or MSN messenger. If I notice someone’s online name is Japanese, I usually try to coax some converstion out of him/her. Sometimes this is difficult though; some people like to concentrate when they play.

Conversation is sometimes difficult for other reasons too. Some people with Japanese aliases aren’t actually Japanese, and the program doesn’t allow for ひらがな so everything must be typed in plain looking Romaji. I chanced upon another weird problem the other day.

Tanaka_the_Destroyer was my opponent, and he was making a complicated play. I wondered what he was up to. I had to ask. 「何しっていますか」 was my question, transcribed into Romaji as “Nani shite imasuka”. But my message came up as “Nani _____ imasuka”.

I was intruiged, and tried again. Same result. The present progressive form of the verb する () was coming up, as a big blank. I tried many more times, but to no avail. Annoyed, I wrote a message to one of the Adepts, who are online helpers. It also had strange blank spaces:

“This ____ thing isn’t working properly, there are blank spaces everywhere and it’s really ________ me off.”

Eureka. I had it. The Gaelic slang word for ‘faeces’ and the present progressive of the Japanese verb ‘to do’ when written in Romaji script are exactly the same. The program was censoring something it saw as a naughty word.

Eventually I got the question across to Tanaka_the_Destroyerさん by using the less polite “Nani yatte imasuka”. He answered my question by hurling a 20 point fireball at me. I never even saw it coming. He had been toiling away diligently on the other side of the table, building up resources slowly but surely, before striking only once, but lethally.

I wasn’t too peeved about being beaten, but the fact that I couldn’t communicate properly with my opponent did annoy me a little.

Samurai Theologian in Tokyo - IC “Smart” Commute Cards

Suica Card

Daniel here. Reporting for JapanesePod101.com.

Japan, and especially Tokyo, is full of commuters; people going from the outside parts of Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures to work in the city, and students moving in all directions. Just this month, many of these commuters have had their commute habits simplified with the event of Pasmo, an IC (Integrated Circuit) card which can be used on most trains and busses in Japan.

Japan’s transportation system is one of the most convenient in the world. Trains, subways, monorails, busses, ferry boats, and taxis can get you to your destination wherever that might be in this archipelago nation. Most people can get along fine without owning a car. While I do own a car, I mostly use it to go shopping at Costco.

When I first started living in Japan, I would either buy a ticket for each ride on the train, or I would buy a pack of eleven tickets for the price of ten for a specific route. These are called 回数券 (かいすうけん). There was also a prepaid card called the Orange Card. With this card, one could quickly purchase a ticket at the ticket machine without using cash. However, this process still took time.

I remember one time I went to see U2 in concert. The friend I went with insisted we buy return tickets before the show because he rightly understood there would be ridiculously long lines after the show. That was a smart move.

Then, a number of years back, the iO (pronounced イーオ, ee-oh) Card was introduced for JR (Japan Railways) lines. This is also a prepaid card. But this card could be inserted into the wicket which would automatically update the balance as one enters and exits stations. This card really increased efficiency, saving passengers a trip to the ticket-selling machines and reducing lines. Commuters could also purchase passes between two set destinations at a reduced rate. With the event of the iO card, these passes could be used in the same wicket card readers.

Then came the Suica IC card about 5 years ago. With this card, if one’s commute was on the JR train lines, one could not only avoid the ticket-selling machines on their commute, but they could also pass through the wicket gates without taking their pass out of its case or their wallet. IC sensors were placed on the top of the wicket gates and people could simply put the card near the sensor and it would update the balance or check the route without being inserted into the wicket or even being removed from wallets, cases or purses. This card can be used as a 定期券 or as an iO Card, or both.

The problem for many commuters and other passengers is that they need to use a combination of JR, private lines and subways to get to their destination, and could not use the Suica Card on these other lines. Most of these other lines, and even some busses and ferries could use a card just like JR’s iO Card called Passnet. However this required carrying separate cards and the Passnet card did not have IC capabilities.

Now, at last, there is an IC version of the Passnet called Pasmo. And in addition to adding IC, this card is compatible with Suica system on most routes. The Suica Card also works with the Pasmo system. The card and the reader automatically charge your card for the rate between the two systems. Now, when I go to the JapanesePod101.com offices, I can do it with only my Suica Card. べんりですね!

I hope you enjoyed this post. Be sure to leave a comment.

Until next time, さらば.