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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Learning Japanese BECAUSE IT'S FUN!

Before you do anything else, please watch this video:

I made a previous post about finding ways to motivate yourself and since then I've come across a lot of useful videos and blogs on learning new skills, but this one blew my mind.

I know the statements he makes in the video are pretty simple, and are probably obvious statements to many of you. But I have a confession to make: even after 8 years of learning Japanese I've fallen into some of the pitfalls that have stifled my Japanese...

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Japanese - Where to Start II

"What do I do once I've learnt hiragana and katakana?"

In a post last year I advised that the first thing a person starting to learn Japanese should do is learn hiragana and katakana (Japanese - Where to Start). This post listed various resources you can use to study hiragana and katakana as each person is different in their study approach. It's important to learn hiragana and katakana as it opens up so many more opportunities for learning the language and helps with pronunciation and reading ability.

Since then I've seen a lot of people asking "what next?" It's difficult to pick a direction when you don't know where you're going or what you're doing.

So where do you go once you've learnt your kanas?

There are many different roads a beginner to Japanese can take. There are many different resources online that list all kinds of ways you can do and each person has their won method. Personally I find it SO much easier to pick just ONE resource to work from. Don't buy a huge pile of books, or sign up to all the websites and apps, because you won't have time to get through them all quickly unless you study Japanese 9-5 every single day.

It's therefore good to do some of your own research and think about how you learn, why you want to learn Japanese and what your priorities are. 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Anime Japanese - I & You

Different characters speak differently in anime, and the most recognisable ones are the differences between men and women. We will discuss the full extent men and women are characterised to speak differently in Japanese in a later lesson, but one of the most noticeable differences in anime is the way people refer to themselves and others.

Below is a chart of how some of these words are divided up. It's important to remember though, that although some are more feminine/masculine than others, personal pronouns used in anime are interchangeable depending on the character type (i.e a masculine girl or feminine boy). Some of these words, although common in anime, are not appropriate to use in everyday Japanese.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Anime Japanese - This, There, Where?

There are a lot of Japanese words that pop up regularly in anime and we are going to practice some of these using anime themselves starting with "this/there/where".

In Japanese how you say "this" or "that" depends on where you are in relation to the listener.


KO- is used to indicate that you are talking about something close to the speaker. The following 3 are very common uses of this found in anime and everyday life.

KORE - means "this" when you are not mentioning the subject. Such as in the picture on the right indicated to the bag, but without saying "bag" it's just KORE.

KONO - also means "this" but is used when you talk about the subject such as KONO PEN "this pen". Or as you can see in the picture KONO KABAN "this bag"

KOKO - means "here"

The following you will hear more in anime than in everyday life simply because it is very informal Japanese.

KOU IU - used to say "this kind of", such as KOU IU HANASHI which means "this kind of talk (conversation)"

KONNA - an informal form of KONO, such as KONNA KOTO is used a lot which means "this thing" or KONNA OOKI "this big". KONNA can also be used in a similar way to KOU IU and can mean "this kind of" and is sometime interchangeable.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Studying Anime Japanese - Basic Techniques

I mentioned last week that I was doing an Anime Japanese workshop at the University of Kent, UK. It turned out well and now I'll be following this up with a number of posts on the materials I covered in the workshop and more!

Basic techniques you can use when watching anime to learn Japanese

No Game No Life Anime Subs

Watch lots of anime!
This is a bit of a no-brainer. Watching lots of anime will expose you more and more to hearing the language used naturally, as well as to Japanese culture and customs. My listening has always been my strongest part of Japanese simply because I watch so much anime, and when I went to Japan for the first time instead of getting culture shock I got "oh my goodness it's just like anime!!!"

Useful customs and phrases anime can teach you include: entering someone's home and saying OJYAMASHIMASU which means "I'm sorry for intruding". Or saying ITADAKIMASU before eating and GOCHISOUSAMA DESHITA after you've finished eating.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Anime Japanese Workshop

There's no post today as I've been preparing for an Anime Japanese Workshop at a university this weekend.

But I will post all the information, and possibly more, along with videos after the workshop.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

A Lesson In English Grammar - The Basics

"Why do I need to know English grammar to learn Japanese?"

English grammar is a topic I could not get my head around easily when I was younger. I even tried doing an A level in English language so I could learn it! Still didn't work. But we speak English as native, we don't need to know grammar! Yuk! Weeeellll I would totally agree with you, but after learning Japanese I've realised how wrong I was. I really dislike Japanese for the same reason I dislike English grammar. I read things like "possessive noun" and "auxiliary verb" and "volitional form" and my brain wants to shut down. 

My approach to Japanese has mostly been from a vocabulary/kanji side but this has really impacted my Japanese ability. Although I have a higher vocabulary than some of my friends they have a better understanding of Japanese because they can understand grammar and can guess the vocabulary based on the context. One friend of mine who's N3 level Japanese is amazing at reading comprehension because of her grammar skills.

English grammar

So this post is as much for my own benefit as yours. We're going to look at English grammar terms and use Japanese examples to get a better understanding of Japanese grammar. 

NOTE: Japanese and English grammar do not overlap 100% and the Japanese will have different ways of saying one thing compared to English (i.e Japanese use particles where we use determiners like "a" and "the")

Because this is a pretty big topic I'm going to be splitting it up into different sections. So if you're a wiz at basic English and Japanese grammar you can skip this section to the next (when it's posted).

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Going to Conventions in Japan

I went to London ComicCon recently (aka MCM Expo to anyone that's been going for over 4 years) and it reminded me of the big differences between conventions in Japan compared to the UK and America.

You'd think that Japan being the "origin" of cosplay, and amazing technology and games, that they'd have a fantastic convention environment with a wide variety of cool stuff. But this debatably not the case. Or at least it's very different to how we experience conventions in the UK.

So below I'll discuss the differences between West and Japan, what to do and not do at cons, a list of conventions, how to find events and phrases you can use at events.

The difference between Western and Japanese conventions.

First of all conventions in Japan are called "events" エベント, when you say convention たいかい (大会) it literally means "big meeting" and makes people think of a official meeting with lots of people having formal seminars run by professionals about a topic, often business.

London ComicCon Basara Cosplay
Able to run up to strangers and take pics! Yay!
When I say "convention" in the West most people in the geek world think of anime/gaming/sci-fi themed conventions. These will be held in a large building with lots of stands selling official and unofficial merchandise (ranging from character themed tea to plushies, games, dvds etc), pannels run by fans who are passionate about a topic, or talks with famous people, and lots and lots of cosplay and people running around taking each others photos.

The big difference I've found with Japanese cons is they are normally dedicated to a single thing. Unlike in the UK and US where is a combination of anime, games, sci-fi, events in Japan are normally only game, only anime, only sci-fi etc. Sometimes there's a little bit of cosplay too but this is only at doujinshi events (see below).

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Beginners Japanese Grammar 2

Hello everyone! A little announcement as I've just made my Japanese Grammar 2 course on Memrise public! 

This is the second of a series of grammar courses for beginners, covering all the grammar points (except particles) for JLPT N4 level of Japanese. Even if you're not taking any of the Japanese language proficiency tests you can still use this course to learn Japanese grammar. The lessons are grouped together based on how the grammar is formed and assumes that you already know how to read kana and how to make stem, plain, て form, た form, ない form etc. If you don't or are a bit rusty it might be good to go over part 1: Beginners Japanese Grammar 1 (JLPT N5). Any new grammar forms that pop up will have explanations before them.
This course also tests you with kanji to English meaning. It uses kanji you should know for JLPT N4 but if you need to brush up here is the JLPT N4 Kanji course: JLPT N4 Kanji

JLPT N4 Grammar

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Japan Hacks - History Nerds in Japan

If you are a bit of a Japanese history fan there are a LOT of places in Japan you should go visit. Some of these might be obvious ones, and others probably not so much.

The following list is based on the most popular tourist destinations: Tokyo and Kyoto. I wish I could list all the amazing places in Japan based on historic events and people but I don't know them all. These are just the locations myself and friends visited on our last trip. If you know of any others please leave a comment so that other people might learn from your wisdom.


Sengakuji (Temple) - This is a small temple right next to Sengakuji Station. This is where the 47 Ronin were buried.

Zojoji (Temple) - Just down the road from Sengakuji and near Tokyo Tower, Zojoji is where 6 out of the 15 Tokugawa shoguns were buried. It's also famous for its large amount of Jizo statues, which people go to to pray for the souls of dead children.

Yasakuni Shrine - Famous for being controversial, this shrine is a really interesting to see because of it's history enshrining the souls of people who have died in battle. Some of these souls may have been convicted of war crimes (hence the controversy), but most people go to pray for their own ancestors who died in battle. It also has a war museum.

Meiji Jingu - This is a really interesting shrine, not only because of it's giant tori, interesting architecture, and giant sacred trees, but because it's the shrine of Emporer Meiji and Empress Shoken. They were enshrined here before WWII when, in Japan, the emperors of were still considered to be descendants of the goddess Amaterasu. After WWII the royal family denounced their god-hood and no more shrines were erected to worship them.

Edo Tokyo Museum - Great for a general history of Japan and Japanese life in the Edo period (1603-1868) and after into the Meiji and Showa (modern day) times.


Honno-ji - Honnō-ji is most famous for the Honno-ji IncidentOda Nobunaga lodged there before his invasion of the west, but on the morning of June 21, 1582, Akechi Mitsuhide betrayed him, surrounded the temple and set it on fire. Knowing there was no way out for him, Nobunaga committed seppuku along with his attendant Mori Ranmaru

Nijo Castle - A 20min walk from Honno-ji, Nijo Castle is the palace the Tokugawa shoguns lived in during their rule when Kyoto was the capital. It's the most beautiful castle I've seen in Japan with wonderful wall art and a nightingale floor that dates back to 1601 when Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered it be built.

Mibu-dera - Just south of Nijo Castle (another 20-30min walk) is Mibudera where some of the Shinsengumi are buried.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Japan Hacks - What to do if you're sick in Japan

I previously did a post on being sick in Japan but that covered the differences between being sick in the West vs Japan, and phrases to use to get help if you know Japanese. This post is about when you're in Japan on HOLIDAY and you get sick, you don't know the language or what to do!

This happened to me on my most recent trip. A combination of jet-lag, only a few hours sleep in 48hours and unhealthy food almost took me out with a cold. Luckily I was able to get amazing Japanese cold medicine and it fixed it right up. (I had some comments from American friends that Japanese cold medicine doesn't work for them. I suggest trying it anyway if you're on holiday and are stuck).

This guide focuses mostly on if you have a cold and want to keep sightseeing rather than lying in bed for 3 days and missing Japan.

Things to do if you're suddenly sick in Japan:

Drug store - noticeable by the giant red 薬 on the side
  • Get help from local staff:
    If you are in a hotel there will probably be at least one staff member who speaks English. Go to the front desk and see if the will help you by going to a nearby pharmacy and acting as translator. They might not be allowed to leave work but Japanese guest services are amazing and they will do all they can to help. (This is easier in a big city, if you're in a small town there probably won't be any English speakers around).

Friday, 19 September 2014

Japan Hacks - Snacking in Japan

When sight-seeing in Japan you might find yourself walking A LOT and so it's very important to keep yourself hydrated and sufficiently fuelled for the day. You might think that you can just go to any restaurant or shop when you're hungry but what I found was that often there aren't always resturants or cafes where you're going, and if the place you're going to is particularly touristy you might not be able to get a seat right away (especially if you're with lots of people).

This post is about rationing food and the best things to eat from convenience stores when out and about in Japan.

If you'd like a look at Japanese restaurants see this post: Restaurants in Japan 

First of all it's good to know where the nearest convenience store or super market is to your hotel/hostel. Often breakfast won't get served at the place you're staying so you'll need to plan your breakfasts in advance. This is particularly important if you're going to be spending the day sightseeing. So once you locate your nearest convenience store it's good to stock up on some food for breakfast and to carry around with you for lunch.

This is what the top 3 convenience stores in Japan (konbin) look like:

konbini family mart

konbini 7 eleven
For people who live in the USA: Japanese 7 Elevens are very safe and very good!

konbini lawson

Monday, 15 September 2014

Japan Hacks - Asking For Directions

You might get lost in Japan (actually you probably will get lost) and not all Japanese people know English (in fact hardly any do), so it's always helpful to be able to ask for and understand directions.

Who should I ask?

If you try to ask just anyone on the street they will probably not understand you or brush you off and run away. Some of the best people to ask for directions are people in convenience stores, post office staff, policemen, and train station staff.  These people are unlikely to be able to speak English though, so you might need to ask them in broken Japanese and trust on hand gestures (which work most of the time).

If you're too scared about asking in Japanese or not being understood then you should try a large train station where they will likely have tourist information and someone who speaks some English. They will often have maps and guides of the local area in English as well.

What should I say?

If you do get stuck and want to ask someone in Japanese where something is the simplest sentence to use is:

sumimasen, _____ wa doko desu ka? = excuse me, where is the ______?

Useful places to ask directions for:
train station = eki
bank = ginkou
convenience store = konbini
toilet = otoire OR otearai
police station = koban

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Japan Hacks - Dealing with Long Flights and Jet-lag

If you are flying to Japan from Europe or the Americas you're going to have to travel a long way. We've managed to position ourselves so that Europe, North America and Japan are almost 1/3 of the world away from each other (depending of where you are in North America because that is a fat continent).

What is Jet-lag?

For those that don't know jet-lag occurs when you travel through over 2 or more time-zones and throws your natural body-clock out of whack. You feel tired and hungry at weird times of the day, and it can really impact your travels.

This is because your internal clock or "circadian rhythm" (which is when our body tells us when to eat and sleep) becomes desynchronised with the external clock. So although it might be 10pm in Japan and you should be getting ready for bed and sleeping, your body (if you're from the UK like me) thinks it 1pm and you should be wide awake and eating lunch.

It can take you up to day to recover from just 1 time zone (1hr) difference, so when you travel to Japan that could take about 9 days to recover! And THEN you have to go home and do it all over again!

How to Reduce Jet-lag

  • Begin to Adjust Your Time to Japan/Home
    Prepare to get prepared at least a week in advance! If you're travelling east to west start going to bed later, changing the time you go to bed by 30mins every night. And if you're going west to east, go to bed earlier.
  • Change Your Clock on the Plane
    Once you're on the plane and heading over there change your clock to match Japan's time. If it's day time try to stay awake, but if it's night try and sleep! Even if they're serving food this is very important and it will help you in the long run. (I've tried this and really does work! Although it does mean you miss out on some good in-flight movies).
  • Drink Lots and Lots and Lots and Lots of WaterCabin pressure on planes can cause dehydration, making jet-lag, and general health, a lot worse. Make sure you buy a bottle of water in the airport before you fly (after security) to take with you on the plane. They do hand out cups of water on the plane but you will need to drink lots of water and the cups they hand out isn't very much. Make sure you drink plenty before, during, and after your flight! (I do this every time I fly and it does make a difference).
  • Move AboutWhen you have to stay awake on the fight try and move about to keep your blood circulate. But don't exercise before you sleep (even after the flight) as this can stop you from sleeping. Boeing has some good in-seat exercises. (I've used this trick and it does help reduce jet-lag and makes you feel better, although they might look silly, it's worth it.)
  • Give Yourself a Day to Adjust
    This isn't just from jet-lag but for getting used to the area, where things are, how things work in Japan. Don't jump straight into travelling and sight-seeing and running around, you don't want to make yourself sick.
There are other guides on the internet with a lot more suggestions. These are a mix of those and my own personal tips.

How to Not Get Bored on a Flight

I am amazed at the number of times I've been on a flight and people haven't brought anything besides a fashion magazine. Then they have to sit there for 2hours+ doing nothing! Often short connecting flights won't have movies, or you might not find any movies you want to see. In that case I suggest you pack in your hand luggage:
  • A book or two (think about the return flight)
  • Portable video game (not your phone)
  • Small laptop/tablet with films/TV you want to see
  • Music
  • Japanese study (Memrise can be used offline if you download the course beforehand)
  • Note pad and pen/pencil (for drawing/writing)
Just be aware that there might not be any charging ports on the plane, and probably not at any connecting airports (unless you're lucky). So always bring something that doesn't need to be re-charged (like a book)!

Do you have your own advice for long flights? How do you get over jet-lag? Please leave your comments, thoughts and experiences.

Previous Japan Hack - Preparing for Japan

Next Japan Hack - Sightseeing in Tokyo - Where to Go & What to Do

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Japan Hacks - Preparing For Japan

This is the first instalment of specials called "Japan Hacks" which is about how to prepare and visit Japan if you are a first timer only going for a few weeks. These will be posted as I'm in Japan on my own short holiday and experiencing it as a tourist. Because of this they will be short and to the point.

Plan Your Trip

First you need to ask yourself some pretty important questions:

  1. Why do you want to go to Japan? What do you most want to see?
    Is it Japan's history, or art, or popular culture that you want to see? Make a list of what interests you the most so you can plan your trip around that.
  2. When do you want to/can you go to Japan?
    Are you better suited for cold or hot weather or neither? (Japan can have very extreme summers and winters.) Or perhaps you're more interested in festivals, in which case you can look up when certain festivals are
  3. How long can you/do you want to go?
    I always recommend at least 10-14 days. It's so far (from most English speaking countries) and there's so much to see that any less wouldn't be enough, even 10 days is rushing it.

October Aki Matsuri Korea Town OsakaOnce you have a general idea of what you want to do and where you want to go do your research. You can easily google most of this stuff and read about other people's experiences and advice. Although keep in mind that although everyone might have gone to Kyoto to see the Gold Temple, it might not be your cup of tea. 

Don't feel like you have to somewhere just because everyone else does. Some of the best experiences I've had have been off the beaten track and some of the more spontaneous and less well known events and locations. Such as Korea Town in Osaka, where they hold an Aki Matsuri, or Autumn Festival in the fall, which is now one of my favourite locations and favourite events, but also one of the least well known ones by foreign tourists.

Some Advice for Keeping it Cheap
  1. Book your flights and accommodation at least 6 months in advance. And on a Tuesday.
    Needless to say the sooner you book your flight the better. It will be cheaper and you tend to get better deals. Use a compare website such as expedia or skyscanner as well.

    But why a Tuesday? Well it's apparently one of the least likely days that someone will book a holiday on, meaning most prices will have dropped to encourage people to book things on Tuesdays. I don't know how true this is but from my experience, it works. That, or at least NOT a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday, when prices are increased.
  2. Travel with someone and split the accomodation costs.
    Travelling in a group of 2-3 people makes visit Japan a lot cheaper, at least when it comes to accommodation. It also makes things more interesting. You can travel in larger groups but I'd suggest using Airbnb...
  3. Airbnb
    Airbnb is a company a friend recently pointed me to (and what we're using on this trip). They're a lot nicer and cheaper than using hotels, at least within the larger cities like Kyoto and Tokyo.
  4. Buy food from the supermarket rather than convenience stores
    Eating dinner out is standard when you go on holiday, but often breakfast and lunch might be on the go. Rather than going to the nearest "conbini" (which are everywhere) and picking up a sandwhich, go to the supermarket and stock up on supplies for breakfast and lunch. It'll be easier and often cheaper (especially in the big cities), although will require forward planning to find out where they are.

Essentials to Pack:

  • Passport
  • Money/Card to get money: It's often cheaper to withdraw cash in Japan, but do your research and let your bank know when you're going!!!
  • Appropriate clothes for the weather: spring might be warm in your country, but in Japan it can get cold, so don't forget a coat. Likewise, there's no point taking a coat in the summer when it's very hot.
  • Sensible shoes! You will almost definatly be walking a lot. So take good shoes, not heels.
  • Wash things and deodorant: Japanese people are biologically different to westerners, so you might want to take your own wash things rather than buying any out there which have been specially made for Japanese bodies.
  • Space in your suitcase for presents and souvenirs.

Do you have any of your own tips for preparing for Japan? Please leave a comment/your thoughts.

Previous - Introduction of Japan Hacks

Next Japan Hack - Dealing with Long Flights and Jet-lag