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Archive for the 'Working in Japan' Category

Evil Spirits Out, Good Fortune In at Innovative!

Today, we bring you another blog post from Motoko, JapanesePod101.com lesson creator, host and Office Party Planner! Motoko will be sharing more bilingual posts on our blog, so check back often and leave a comment!

Hi all, Motoko here!

Today I’d like to tell you about the Mamemaki (“bean-throwing”) event we held on Setsubun. Setsubun falls on March 3rd. On the Japanese traditional calendar, the day after Setsubun (March 4th) is the beginning of spring.

However, it’s still cold in the modern calendar!

According to the traditional calendar, Setsubun falls on the day between winter and spring. On that day, people hold a ceremony to throw beans – usually roasted soybeans – at their homes.

In ancient times, people believed that oni, a kind of evil spirit, would come to their house between the two seasons. To drive the oni out of their houses, they would throw beans.

These days, a person plays the role of oni in these ceremonies, and people throw beans at them. In the Innovative office, one of our male team members played oni (see photo), and the other staff threw beans at him, and wished for good luck for the company this year.

After throwing them, people collect and eat the beans. It is believed that eating them brings good health in the year that follows. People traditionally eat, or should eat, as many beans as their age. For example, a 20-year-old person eats 20 beans, and a 30-year-old person eats 30 beans. So if you are 40 or 50 years old, it must be tough to accomplish this feat! In reality, people usually just eat as many as they want; it can be more or less than their actual age.
(2013 Feb.)

イノベーティブの鬼をおいだせ!

こんにちは。もとこです。イノベーティブではみんなで「節分(せつぶん)」のまめまきをしました。節分は2月3日です。日本の古いカレンダーでは、節分の次の日(2月4日)から春になります。でもまださむいです。

その冬と春の間の日が「節分」です。節分には豆(まめ:やいた大豆)を家にまきます。昔の日本人は季節(きせつ)と季節の間に「鬼(おに)」がうちに来ると思っていました。鬼はわるいものですから、豆をまいて鬼を家(いえ)のそとにだしました。
 
今では、一人が鬼になって、ほかの人がまめをまきます。今年のイノベーティブでは男性社員(だんせい しゃいん)が鬼になりました。
みんなでまめをまいて、会社の今年のしあわせをいのります。
 
また、まめをまいたあとはまめをたべます。今年も元気でいることができます。本当(ほんとう)は豆を自分の年(とし)の数(かず)たべます。20歳の人は20粒(つぶ)、30歳の人は30粒たべます。40歳や50歳の人はたいへんですね。

(2013年2月)

Making Soba and Picking Peaches

Today, we bring you another blog post from Motoko, JapanesePod101.com lesson creator, host and Office Party Planner! Motoko will be sharing more bilingual posts on our blog, so check back often and leave a comment!

Hi everyone, Motoko here! In the beginning of summer this year, the Innovative Language staff went on a day trip. Today I’d like to talk about that. We chose peach-picking for fun, and soba-making so that everyone could try a traditional Japanese food! We made soba in a wonderful nihon-kaoku, a traditional type of Japanese house.

Do you know what soba is? Soba is a famous type of noodle in Japan that is a greyish-brown color. It gets this color from a special type of flour called sobako that is used to make it. You dip the boiled soba into a dip called tsuyu made from fish broth, and eat it. Adding onions and wasabi to the tsuyu give it a more grown-up flavor. Soba comes in two types: cold zarusoba, and warm kakesoba, but this time we had zarusoba.

Soba is made from sobako and flour. First, you mix the two types of flour into a large bowl called a hachi. You can use chopsticks, but it seems like it’s more common to use your hands. Next, you add water. Then comes the hard part – you have to then knead the soba dough a lot. The teacher made it look easy, but it requires a lot of strength since the dough is not that soft. Apparently, the action of kneading the dough is an important step to making delicious soba. Once you’re done kneading, you flatten the dough with a rolling pin. Then, you place the soba on a wooden board called a komaita, and cut it with a special knife called a bocho. If you cut it thinly, you get great soba. If you cut it thickly, you get soba that looks like udon. (Which still tastes good…it just might be a little hard.)

Everyone worked hard at making soba, getting themselves covered with flour in the process. After making it, we boiled it and ate it ourselves. Because the noodles are raw, they take only a minute and a half to cook. Soon after boiling them, you do what’s called shimeru in Japanese. Shimeru refers to rinsing the noodles with cold water so that they don’t get too soft. When you do this, it gives the noodles a nice chewy texture. This isn’t done with Italian pasta!

Then we got on the bus to go peach-picking. Is it common to go fruit-picking in your country? In Japan, there are a lot of opportunities for fruit-picking that change with the seasons. Cherry-picking, peach-picking, grape-picking, and pear-picking are some of the well-known ones. You go to the field to pick and eat a lot – depending on the place, there may be a limit to how much you can eat. The place we went had an all-you-can-eat deal that lasted for 40 minutes. For 40 minutes, you can pick and eat as much as you want. Apparently, the good peaches are at the ends of the branches, so everyone tried hard to get the highest ones.

The person who ate the most was a family member of one our Innovative Language staff. They ate seven peaches in 40 minutes! As for me, I ate three. The peaches I chose were big, so even after just three, I was really full!

Readers, you should definitely try your hand at making Japanese food – not just eating it. I had never made soba before, and I’m Japanese! It’s sure to be a memorable experience.

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桃狩り&蕎麦打ち

こんにちは、もとこです。今年の夏のはじめにイノベーティブのみんなで日帰り(ひがえり)旅行に行きました。今回はその報告です。日本の伝統的な食べ物に挑戦するために蕎麦打ち(そばうち)を、みんなが楽しめるようにと桃狩り(ももがり)を選びました。素敵な日本家屋(にほんかおく・伝統的な日本の家)で蕎麦打ちをすることができました。

蕎麦(そば)は知っていますか。有名な日本の麺(めん)で、色は灰色や茶色です。「蕎麦粉(そばこ)」という特別な粉を使うので、この色になります。魚でとった出汁(だし)としょうゆで「つゆ」を作ります。ゆでた麺をその「つゆ」につけて食べます。長ねぎやわさびを少し「つゆ」に入れると、大人の味になります。蕎麦には冷たい「ざる蕎麦」と温かい「かけ蕎麦」があります。今回は「ざる蕎麦」でした。
蕎麦は蕎麦粉と小麦粉(こむぎこ)で作られます。まず蕎麦粉と小麦粉を鉢(はち)の中でまぜます。鉢は日本のボウルです。お箸(はし)を使ってもいいです。でも手を使うほうが一般的みたいでした。次に、お水を入れます。大変なのがその後の作業。蕎麦の生地(きじ)をたくさんこねなくてはいけません。先生たちは簡単そうにこねていました。でも生地はあまりやわらかくないですから、力が必要です。この「こねる」作業がおいしい蕎麦の大切なポイントなんだとか。

こねおわったら、生地を「麺棒(めんぼう)」でのばして、たたみます。そのあと「こま板(こまいた)」という板で生地をおさえて、「そば包丁(ぼうちょう)」という特別なナイフで切ります。細かく切ると、素敵な蕎麦になりました。でも、幅広く切ると、うどんっぽい蕎麦になります。(うどんっぽくてもおいしいです。でも少しかたいかもしれません。) 

みんな、粉だらけになりながら、蕎麦打ちをがんばっていました。打ち終わった後は、もちろん、ゆでて自分たちで食べました。生の麺ですから、ゆでる時間はたったの1分半。すぐに水でしめます。「しめる」とは、麺が柔らかくなりすぎないように水で洗うことです。こうすると、コシのあるおいしい食感になります。イタリアのパスタはあまり「しめ」ませんよね。

次にバスで桃狩りへ。みなさんの国では果物狩り(くだものがり)はありますか。日本では季節ごとにいろいろな果物狩りがあります。さくらんぼ、もも、ぶどう、なし、などが有名です。果物(くだもの)の畑に行って、たくさん食べることができます。畑によっては、食べられる数が決まっています。今回行った畑は40分食べ放題(ほうだい)。40分の間だったら、いくつ食べてもいいです。おいしい桃は枝の先にあるそうです。だからみんながんばって、高い所の実を取りました。

ちなみに、一番たくさん食べたのはイノベーティブスタッフの家族でした。40分で7つ食べたそうです。ちなみに私は3つでした。大きい実を選びましたから、3つだけでも、お腹いっぱいでしたよ。

みなさんも日本食を食べるだけではなくて、作ることにも挑戦してみてください。日本人の私ですら、蕎麦打ちはしたことがありませんでした。絶対、いい思い出になりますよ。
(2012年夏)

A Trip to the Baseball Game

Today, we bring you another blog post from Motoko, JapanesePod101.com lesson creator, host and Office Party Planner! Motoko will be sharing more bilingual posts on our blog, so check back often and leave a comment!

Hi all, Motoko here.

Today I’d like to tell you about the baseball game the Innovative Language team went to at the end of September. But before I do, which sports are popular in your country? And do you know which sports are popular in Japan?

The answer is: soccer and baseball.

Soccer came to Japan because it was popular in Europe. Baseball, on the other hand, can be written in kanji (野球), and that’s because it was introduced to Japan much earlier than soccer was. In fact, it came to Japan in 1872. It is said that it started when an American man taught some Japanese college students how to play baseball.

Of course, playing baseball is quite popular, but also people young and old love watching it. Stadium tickets come in two types; one is “reserved seating” where you can choose where you’d like to sit ahead of time. Another is “non-reserved seating”, where you can choose where to sit on game day. The second kind is cheaper. Spectators drink beer, eat snacks, and watch the game. Throughout the game, staff (mostly ladies) carry beer tanks through the crowd, so you can easily get more beer without leaving your seat!

The game was held at Meiji Jingu stadium, which is close to Shibuya. The seating areas are divided among the two teams. In this stadium, the seats on the first-base side were for Yakult Swallows supporters, and the seats on the third-base side were for the opponent’s (Chunichi Dragons), supporters. So, if you’re cheering for the Swallows, you need to have a seat on the first-base side.

Speaking of cheering for the teams, we found some unique supporters’ gear to help us do just that. Some people had pairs of miniature plastic megaphones and made loud noises by beating them together. Other people had little umbrellas and danced with the cheering groups. Each baseball team has their own mascot. Tsubakuro is the mascot of the Yakult Swallows – “swallow” is tsubame in Japanese. Actually, the first baseball team ever to have a mascot was from Japan. Did you know that?

(Sep, 2012)

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野球観戦

こんにちは。もとこです。

今日は9月下旬(げじゅん)に会社で行った野球(やきゅう)観戦(かんせん)についてお話します。

みなさんの国ではどのスポーツが人気がありますか。日本ではどのスポーツが人気がありますか。みなさんは知っていますか。

正解(せいかい)はサッカーと野球です。サッカーはヨーロッパで人気ですから、日本でも人気になったと思います。野球は「野球」と漢字の名前がありますから、サッカーより野球の方が日本に来たのは早かったです。1872年に初めて(はじめて)野球が日本に来ました。アメリカの人が大学生に教えたそうです。

野球をするのはもちろん人気ですが、見るのは老若男女(ろうにゃく なんにょ)問わず(とわず)人気です。チケットには席の場所を決めることができる「指定席(していせき)」と当日に席を選ぶ「自由席」があります。自由席の方が安いです。みんな、ビールを飲んで、ごはんを食べて、試合(しあい)を見ます。試合中に男の人や女の人がビールを売りにきますから、おかわりもしやすいです。
 
今回は明治神宮球場(めいじ じんぐう きゅうじょう)というスタジアムに行きました。渋谷(しぶや)に近い野球場(やきゅうじょう)ですね。ここでは1塁側(るいがわ)が「ヤクルトスワローズ」の席、3塁側(るいがわ)が「中日ドラゴンズ」の席とわかれて座ります。つまり、ヤクルトを応援(おうえん)する人は1塁側に座って応援します。
 
応援には特別なグッズがありました。ひとつは筒(つつ)で、たたくと大きい音がでます。もうひとつは傘(かさ)で、応援団(おうえんだん)の人と一緒におどります。それぞれのチームには「マスコット」がいます。例えば、ヤクルトスワローズのマスコットは「つば九郎(くろう)」です。ちなみに、初めてマスコットを作ったのは日本の野球チームだそうです。知っていましたか。
 
(2012年9月末)

Japanesepod101.com Tokyo Office Visit

Today, we bring you a blog post from Motoko, JapanesePod101.com lesson creator, host and Office Party Planner! Motoko will be sharing more bilingual posts on our blog, so check back often and leave a comment!

Hi everyone! Motoko here.

Today’s blog is about the concept of off-kai. At the beginning of this month, two JapanesePod101.com listeners came to visit us at the office. Apparently we often used to have listeners come and visit us, but for me it was the first time, so I was really excited.

Christophe was from Switzerland, and said that he tries to come to Japan at least once a year. It was really clear to me that he loves Japan! This time he visited our Tokyo office with his friend, who is also a JapanesePod101.com listener. This friend is currently employed at a Japanese company! Isn’t that impressive?

By the way, have you ever heard of the Japanese word off-kai ? Off-kai is used to describe a meeting in real life between people who have got to know each other over the internet. For example, if you were to go to Disneyland with someone you had met over Facebook, then that would be an off-kai. We call being connected to the internet being ‘online’, right? Well, in this case because the internet is not involved, it’s ‘offline’. An ‘offline’ (off) meeting (kai ) = off-kai. Japanese people really like to abbreviate words, don’t they?

off-kai.JPG
We took a commemorative photo together with another JapanesePod101.com host, Jessi.

If you ever come to Japan, please definitely drop in to our Tokyo office for a visit!

みなさん、こんにちは。もとこです。
今日はオフ会についての報告です。今月の初めにJapanesePod101.comのリスナーさんがオフィスに来てくれました。以前はリスナーの方がよくオフィスに遊びに来てくれていたそうです。私は初めてだったのでドキドキしました。
クリストフさんはスイス出身で、年に1回は日本に来るようにしているのだとか。日本が大好き!という雰囲気がとても伝わってきました。今回は友だちと一緒に東京オフィスに遊びに来てくれました。お友達もJPODリスナーで、今は日本の会社に勤めているそうです。すごいですね。
ちなみに、みなさん「オフ会」という言葉を知っていますか。オフ会というのはインターネット上で知り合った人が実際に会う集まりことをいいます。たとえば、フェースブックで友達になった人と一緒にディズニーランドに行くのはオフ会ですね。インターネットにつながっていることを「オンライン(online)」といいますよね。インターネットを使わないので「オフライン(offline)」。
「オフライン」の会 = オフ会
日本人は言葉を短くするのが好きですよね。
[photo]
スタッフのジェシーさんと一緒に記念撮影をしました。みなさんも、日本に来る時は、是非東京オフィスに足を運んでくださいね。

Our ‘Farewell, Pim! Welcome Back, Kim!’ Tea Party

Today, we bring you a blog post from Motoko, JapanesePod101.com lesson creator, host and Office Party Planner! Motoko will be sharing more bilingual posts on our blog, so check back often and leave a comment!

On the 17th of April here at Innovative Language Learning, we had an afternoon tea party.

Although Kim (a member of our Business Development Team) moved to Hong Kong, last week she came back to Japan for a brief visit, so it was her ‘welcome back’ party. Meanwhile, Pim (host of ThaiPod101.com) is going back to her home country to have her baby, so it was her ‘farewell’ party.

We all ate pastries, chatted, and enjoyed ourselves.

pimkim2.jpg

There was a choice of pastries: strawberry, green tea, custard… It was really hard to choose!

pimkim3.JPG

By the way, everyone, do you know what a shikishi is?

It’s a plain piece of card that measures roughly 20cm by 20cm. Actually, because it’s quite thick – about 3mm – it might be better to call it a board. It usually has a piece of Japanese paper pasted to one side of it. In Japan, when there’s a celebratory occasion, or someone is leaving, everyone writes a message on this piece of card. At ILL, too, when someone has something to celebrate or a staff member is leaving the company, we present them with a shikishi.

First of all, we write the name of the person in the middle. This time, it’s Pim. Then, so that the person we’re giving it to doesn’t see it while we’re writing on it, we put it inside the Secret File.

shikishi1.JPG

Everyone in the office then takes it in turns to write a message along the lines of ‘Congratulations!’ or ‘See you!’ before passing the card to the next person. Of course the company president also writes a personal message.

shikishi2.JPG

When everyone’s finished writing their messages, we decorate the card and make it cute and colourful.

shikishi3.JPG

Finally, we give it to Pim! She seemed really pleased with it.

Bonus : The True Face of ILL

pimkim1.JPG

ピムさんまたね&キムさんお帰りなさい ティーパ-ティ

4月17日イノベーティブランゲージラーニングで午後のお茶会をしました。

香港に引っ越したキムさんが一時来日したので、「お帰りなさい」パーティ
新しい家族を迎えるためにピムさんが帰国するので、「またね」パーティです。

みんなでお菓子を食べて、おしゃべりをして楽しみました。
お菓子には選択肢もあります。いちご・抹茶・カスタード・・・どれにしようか迷います。

ところで、みなさんは「色紙」を知っていますか。

20cm×20cmくらいの無地の紙です。でも3mmくらいの厚さがあるのでボードと言ったほうがいいかもしれません。たいてい和紙が表に貼ってあります。日本ではお祝い事やお別れのときに色々な人みんなで色紙にコメントを書きます。ILLでもスタッフが会社を辞めるときやお祝いの時に色紙を贈ります。
まず真ん中に送る人の名前を書きます。今回はピムさんですね。そして本人にばれないように秘密のファイルにはさみます。

一人ずつ「おめでとう」や「またね」などのコメントを書いて次の人に渡します。もちろん社長も直筆で書きます。

みんなが書き終わったらデコレーションをして可愛く華やかにしましょう。
最後にピムさんに渡しました。よろこんでくれたみたいです。

【おまけ】 ILLの本性

The Best Japanese Phrases - Learn Your Japanese Teacher’s Favorite Phrases

This lesson Will teach you some of the most commonly used and most hopeful expressions in Japanese.

sō ieba (そういえば)

  • “speaking of which” or “now that you mention it, and you use it when you are reminded of something and want to talk about it.

toriaezu (とりあえず)

  • A handy phrase that means, “in the meantime” or “for now.”
  • Use it to talk about some kind of action you take or decision you make “in the meantime” because for now, you feel like it’s better than doing nothing.

ryōkai desu (了解です)

  • Ryōkai is a word that means “comprehension” or “consent.” It is often used as an exclamation in the following ways: by itself (ryōkai!), with the copula desu (ryōkai desu!), and with the past tense verb shimashita (ryōkai shimashita!).
  • These are all used to show that you have understood and will comply with what someone has told you.

tekitō ni (適当に)

  •  an adjective that literally means “suitable” or “relevant.” When the particle ni (に) is added, however, it becomes an adverb.
  • the original meaning was that the action was done properly, but recently it has started to mean that the action was done “half-heartedly” or “without much care.”

tashika ni (確かに)

  • The phrase tashika ni (確かに) is often used as aizuchi, interjections that we say in response to someone who is speaking, When you use tashika ni after something that someone has said, it means that you agree with them on that point, even if you don’t agree with them on other things.

“Top Five Tips for Avoiding Common Mistakes in Japanese “

In this lesson, we’ll offer tips to help you overcome some common errors that learners of Japanese make.

Don’t Attach -san to Your Own Name!

  • One of the first things English speakers learn in Japanese is name suffixes used when addressing other people. The most common one is -san, which we attach to people’s first or last names to show respect.
  • Because we use -san to show respect for others, you should never use it to refer to yourself.

Watch Your Politeness Level!

  • One of the unique aspects of Japanese is the varying politeness levels that change according to a number of factors: age and status of the speaker and listener, the speaker’s relationship with the listener, and so on.
  • It is important to remember to speak formally to one’s teachers, elders, and anyone else who follows under the category of senpai, those who are of higher status.

Watch Your Gender!

  • In the Japanese language, the speaker’s gender plays an important role in determining word choice, tone of voice, and the types of expressions used.
  • Non-native male speakers in particular should be careful about the kind of language and intonation they pick up from female teachers as well as female friends or girlfriends.

Learn Your Long Vowels Now!

  •  In Japanese, there is a big distinction between long vowels and short vowels. In fact, the distinction is so big that the length of a vowel can change the meaning of a word!

Watch Out for Similar Sounding Words!

  • Because there are a relatively small number of possible sounds in Japanese, many words are exactly the same or almost the same but with different meanings.

Top 5 Phrases Your Teacher Will Never Teach You

The focus of this lesson is teaching you some very common Japanese expressions you might not learn from a Japanese teacher.
すごい

  • (Sugoi) - An adjective meaning “wow,” “amazing,” or “great.” This word is commonly heard and is often used when one hears or sees something interesting or unusual.

バカ

  • (Baka) -  A noun meaning “idiot” or “fool.” When used as baka na (バカな), it becomes an adjective meaning “stupid.” This word can either be insulting or playful depending on how it is used.
  • When used in a serious manner, it can come across as a strong insult, so it’s better to exercise caution with this word.

うそ!

  •  (Uso!) - literally means “lie,” but when used as an exclamation, it corresponds to “No way!” or “Really!?” in English.

Words used by young people:

  •  超(Chō) - a slangy adverb that usually comes before adjectives to emphasize them, making this word the equivalent of “very,” “so,” or “really.”
  • や ばい(Yabai) - a very slangy word that has a few different meanings. When used as an exclamation (yabai!), it usually indicates that something is wrong and roughly means “oh no!” or “shoot!”
  •  When used to describe something, it can have both a good meaning and a bad meaning depending on the context.
  • マ ジ(Maji) - similar to chō in that it often comes before adjectives to emphasize them. When used as “maji de?!”(マジで?!), it becomes an exclamation meaning “Really?!” or “Are you serious?!”
  •  す げー(Sugē) - a colloquial version of the above-mentioned sugoi. In young people’s speech (and particularly in young male speech), the “-oi” and “-ai” word endings turn into an “eh” sound.
  • あいづち (Aizuchi) - frequent interjections listeners make during a Japanese conversation that show the listener is paying attention to and understanding the speaker. They can include things such as:
  •  そうそう/だよね~(Sō sō/Da yo ne~) “Yeah” or “I know~” (expressing agreement)
  •  うんうん (un un) “Okay” or “Yeah”. Sometimes used just to show that you are listening.
  • へぇー(Hē) “Whoa!” or “Oh!”. This is often used to show that you are impressed or that you didn’t know something.

Top 5 Classroom Phrases in Japanese

In this lesson, we’ll teach you the top five useful classroom phrases in Japanese, and then some!

“Please say it.” / “Please repeat.”

  • Itte kudasai (言っ てください) means “please say it.” As a variation, you might also hear ripīto shite kudasai (リピートしてください), which means “please repeat (after me),” when teachers want you to repeat exactly what they have said.

“Please look.”

  •  Mite kudasai (見てください) means “please look,” and when an object comes before the phrase, it means “please look at (object).

“Please read.”

  •  Yonde kudasai (読んでください) means “please read.” You can expect to hear this phrase if a teacher wants you to practice reading some word, phrase, or passage.

“Please write it.”

  •  Kaite kudasai (書いてください) means “please write it.” Teachers may use this phrase when they want you to practice writing some hiragana, katakana, or even kanji!

“Do you understand?”

  •  The most direct translation is wakarimasu ka? (分かりますか?).
  • Other variations Japanese teachers often use include daijōbu desu ka? (大丈夫ですか?) and ii desu ka? (いいですか?) which both literally translate to “Is it/everything okay?”
  •  they might also ask shitsumon arimasu ka? (質問ありますか?), which means “Are there any questions?”

We hope that these phrases can help you get a head start in the classroom! please check out our other lesson series at JapanesePod101.com for more great usefull phrases!!

Top Five Tools for Learning Japanese

This lesson offers a few tools to help you learn Japanese. Some of these great tools to aid in your Japanese studies include the following:
Rikaichan

  • a popup dictionary extension for the Firefox Internet browser that translates Japanese into English, German, French, or Russian. With this extension installed, you can easily look up the meaning of Japanese words that show up on webpages by simply hovering the cursor over the word. A box will instantly pop up with the reading and definition of the word.

http://www.polarcloud.com/rikaichan/

Rikaichan Kanji Dictionary

  • Hover the cursor over any kanji, whether it is part of a compound or by itself, and press the Shift or Enter key to toggle between the word, kanji, and name dictionaries.
  • The kanji dictionary gives detailed information that include the kanji’s meaning, all possible readings, radicals that make up the kanji, number of strokes, and more.

http://www.polarcloud.com/rikaichan/

Eijiro Dictionary

  • an English-Japanese/Japanese-English dictionary with an extensive database of translations and sample sentences.
  • You can buy Eijiro online at the ALC Online Shop website in the form of a CD-R or a downloadable dictionary file, and a free online version of Eijiro is available through the SpaceALC Japanese website portal.

http://shop.alc.co.jp/top/ (free version http://www.alc.co.jp/)
Anki

  • a flash card program that lets you review vocabulary, kanji, or both!
  • This kanji and vacabulary practice is based on a theory called spaced repetition, which means it presents the learner with flash cards at certain calculated intervals.

http://ichi2.net/anki/index.html

Lang-8

  • a Social Networking Service (SNS) created for the purpose of language exchange and international communication
  • Once you register, which is free, you can write a journal entry in the language you are studying, and other users who are native speakers of that language can correct your entry.

http://www.lang-8.com/