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

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Announcement - Introduction of Japan Hacks

A quick announcement from Japanese Talk Online!

I am currently in the process of moving to London to do an MA in translation studies! I will be continuing the blog but I've accidentally timed my move at the most awkward time as I also have a reunion in Japan right before term starts. So I'm moving to London Tuesday 9th, flying to Japan on Thursday 11th, flying back Saturday 27th and starting Univeristy Monday 29th.

Japan Hacks!

I did think of putting J-Talk on hold during this time, however I've decided to instead to a series of specials called Japan Hack. These will cover the culture of Japan, things to do when visiting Japan for two weeks and some basic useful phrases for people just visiting Japan for a short visit (which means romaji phrases)! So these specials will be over the next two weeks as often as I can while in Japan.

I will also be updating my other blog Niffer in Japan-Land with more day-to-day adventures of my own rather than Japanese lessons, if you're also interested in those.

Some other smaller announcements! I am currently working on the Beginners Japanese Grammar 2 (JLPT N4) course for Memrise. The Beginners Japanese Grammar 1 course has done really well and the second should be complete in October. I will also be following this up with more posts on beginners grammar.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A Cheap Way to Visit Japan - WWOOF

"I have no money, but I really want to go to Japan!"

The first time I ever visited Japan was in 2008 when I was on my gap year. I had worked at a shop for several months beforehand to save up enough money for the flights and a few weeks in a school, but I wanted to spend longer in Japan and WWOOF was the perfect option.

WWOOF stands for "World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms" and is basically what it says on the tin. It's an organisation present in about 99 countries where organic farms can sign up to receive volunteers who work on their farms in exchange for living with the farm family, getting fed and accommodation. And of course Japan is one of the countries on this list.

Japan's WWOOF site

To become a WWOOFer in Japan you have to sign up on their website (above), but it's not too expensive for a year's application, only 5500 JPY (which is about £32 or $53 on the current exchange rate).

Advantages of WWOOFing

  • Experience Japan in a way most tourists don't (each WWOOFing experience is unique)
  • You can spend up to 3 months in Japan without much damage to your wallet (90 days/3 months is how long you can stay in Japan on a tourist visa)
  • You can travel to multiple WWOOF locations
  • Several WWOOF options in Japan from Okinawa all the way up to Hokkaido
  • You can experience all kinds of farming (vegetable and animal alike)
  • Because it's home-stay you can experience Japanese family life
  • It's a great way to practice your Japanese (even more so if study in your spare time)

Disadvantages of WWOOFing

  • Still need the money for flights and travel/spending money
  • It's unpaid volunteering (and you cannot get paid on a tourist visa)
  • Need to know at least a little Japanese* (hello, thank you & please)
  • Not so good if you want to learn a lot of Japanese (they're farmers not teachers)
  • Locations are rural and you won't have much chance to visit large touristy places like Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto (unless you lived really really close and the family took you)
  • Need to get up early everyday (you do get days off though)
  • If you work on an animal farm you might have to help with dung and slaughtering (just warning you)

My Advice for WWOOFing in Japan

  1. Don't do more than 3 weeks at one farm (I found they lose their novelty and the work starts to drag after 3 weeks)
  2. Take lots of gifts from your home country for your hosts (it's is customary practice and considered good manners in Japan to take a gift to houses you are visiting, even if it's just for a day) 
  3. Do your research into the types of farms you'd like to work on and the areas you'd like to see (some people might prefer vegetable or fruit farms to animal) - Read other WWOOFers reviews
  4. If you're low level Japanese learner (or don't know any Japanese) check to see if they speak English or not (some places do!)

My WWOOFing Experience

When I went to Japan the first time I went with a friend who had found this course with Genki Jacs in Fukuoka where they taught you farming phrases and vocabulary and helped you get set-up with the WWOOF program (which they don't do anymore).

Japanese Strawberry Farm
We were at Genki for 4 weeks before our first farm which was near a town called Kurume south of Fukuoka, this was also 4 weeks long. It was a pick-your-own-strawberry farm and farm shop called Kudamono Mura. We lived in a room above the barn which had 2 beds, a sofa and a washing machine. We worked on the farm weeding the strawberries; planting plumb trees; cutting grass; making furniture and helping out in the shop. Our Japanese was really bad back then but despite our broken Japanese and their broken English we managed to communicate enough to get by. Although we slept separate from the family we would eat and work with them. I actually visited them again last year (5 years after I'd last been) and they still do WWOOFing! Not only that but their son was married and had 2 kids!

Japanese duck farm and goose
The second farm was further south in Oite-ken in the mountains of Aso National Park next to an active volcano (not Mt.Aso)! This one was called Owate and was a traditional Japanese rural restaurant which the guests could sleep in and experience rural food a foraging. Not only that but they had a large duck farm which was about a 10min drive away. We lived in the house with the family, ate with them, helped them walk their dog, and went to onsen with them. The farm work was harder than the strawberry farm, we would collect duck eggs in the morning (fighting off an evil goose) and wash them; help to kill, gut and pluck ducks (yes helping to slaughter animals might be an option if you decide to work on a farm with animals); forage for food; prepare bamboo shoots to eat; milk goats; prepare the rice fields and plant rice. Towards the end a group of about 20 Japanese school girls came to stay on the farm which was great fun. Although this farm had a lot of hard work they also played hard and it was great fun.

As I mentioned the farms began to become mentally tiring after the 3rd week, so if I were to do it again I'd stay on a far for 3 weeks and then move onto another. It's a fantastic way to experience Japan in a way most people normally don't. Yes the temples of Kyoto and city life of Tokyo is pretty cool, but that's stuff anyone can do when they have lots of money but not much time. WWOOFing really is a unique experience, I just cannot explain how fantastic it was to do.

I hope I've convinced you! Feel free to ask any questions below if you have any and I will do my best to answer them.

*Also, If you're worried about your Japanese level don't be! Although I advice you know basic Japanese I can say that you can get by without it, as 2 of my friend's have recently done as they WWOOFed up Fukuoka and the south of Japan recently without any knowledge of Japanese besides "please" and "thank you"

Here are some (out of the 4000+ I took) photos from my WWOOFing experience (many of these pics are of my friend as I took the pictures):

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Keigo IV - Word Beautification

"I find it really hard to remember Keigo"

I have previously gone over sonkeigo (respectful keigo)kenjogo (humble keigo) and even covered some general rules for using keigo. But there is one large aspect of keigo that I missed out which is "bikeigo" 美敬語 or "word beautification".

omiyage posterBikeigo is something even beginner Japanese learners have probably come across with words like おかね, おちゃ, おなまえ, おさけ, ごはん, all of these basic words can be said without the お or ご at the front of the word, such as かね or ちゃ but then the word becomes harsh, crude and if said taken as being quite rude. Bikeigo takes nouns and adds お or ご to the front to make it sound more polite. These words tend to be items that would belong to or are related to the other person, so if you were in correspondence with someone you wouldn't say あなたのてがみ but おてがみ, or if your partner has a question you would say ごしつもん. You also wouldn't beatify 'foreign' words like "ゴルフ".

As a general rule if a noun uses onyomi ("chinese" reading/older word) you would add ご and if it has kunyomi ("Japanese" reading/modern word) you would add お. So when you have a word that uses a combination of characters like 返事 (that has the onyomi for 返) you would use ご, as opposed to 返し (which would be the kunyomi) which would use お. Another sign that a word uses お is if it's a word was made in Japan, which is hard unless you're told it is, but often these will be words related to the modern era (but not foreign katakana words).

Here are some common nouns which use bikeigo:

bill, cashier
bill (2)
courtesy, compliments
change (i.e. money)
a trip
hold back
be careful, watchout
neighbourhood, vicinity
last name

You can learn all of these and more keigo on the J-Talk Online Complete Keigo Memrise Course

Sunday, 17 August 2014

JLPT N4 Memrise Course

I am pleased to announce that I have completed the JLPT N4 Vocabulary and Kanji courses on Memrise.

Unlike the JLPT N5 course the N4 courses are separated between vocabulary and kanji. This was because of the large number of kanji and kanji based vocabulary in comparison to the N5 one. It's a lot easier to learn kanji through vocabulary which have been grouped together so you can see the different uses and readings, which is what I've tried to do. Not only that but the kanji course focuses more on being able to read the kanji, it does this by testing you on the kana with the kanji as a prompt. The English meaning is also present when you learn the word and when you answer a kanji correctly (at least on the computer version).

The vocabulary course only tests using English and kana so that the vocabulary itself is learnt. This is because I find that often people learn vocabulary by recognising kanji rather than through learning the word itself. Such as 公園, if you know the readings for the kanji you can guess the meaning, rather than just knowing the word for park is こうえん.

Because of the way I've set up the courses it's easier to learn the vocabulary first and then the kanji. I've laid out the courses so that the vocabulary will take about 2 months to learn and the kanji 1 month with regular breaks for review. Setting people vocabulary lists to work on everyday should encourage people to practice regularly too where they might not have done previously. At least I hope so! I know I certainly work better if I have daily or weekly tasks to work through.

(Note: Apologise for the slow updates. I'm working a lot on the Memrise stuff while away on holiday, planning on moving house, and preparing going to Japan for 2 weeks before I start a postgraduate course.)

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Reading Practice for Beginners

When you start learning Japanese you learn the hiragana and katakana along with vocabulary and grammar, but if you're teaching yourself you won't often get much reading practice to combine all those skills together in a useful way. So how do you practice?

It's good to start reading soon! It not only allows you to practice your vocabulary and grammar but also your understanding of Japanese sentences. This is particularly important at the higher levels where 80% of what you're exposed to will depend on your comprehension of the language.

The following are suggestions for beginner JLPT N5/N4 level learners.

Reading Methods

I've said this many times before but it's generally good form when you start reading something in Japanese to read it out loud (just like when you were little learning English). This will help with your comprehension as your brain works harder to be able to understand what it's just read, whereas reading in your head can cause  your brain to be lazy and start skim reading. If there are any words you don't understand write them down and look them up. Then read through the section again out loud. This is important as you have now looked up the words you didn't know and it will help your brain remember them. If you have the time put them into a flash card program like memrise and learn them and review them, this will make later readings on the same topic easier. Not only that but reading the same passage over and over out loud will help your reading speed (try to time yourself and improve on this time) and comprehension (the more you go over a section the more your brain will understand).
To sum it up:

  • Read out loud
  • Make notes of words/kanji you don't know
  • Learn new vocabulary (using programs like memrise)
  • Re-read passages over and over

These techniques apply to all the following resources.

General Reading Practice:

NHK News Web EASY - A brilliant site someone recently directed me towards. All articles are short with the furigana (small text above the kanji to show you how to read it), and sound/videos which acompany the text. It also has certain words highlighted which you can see the definition for in Japanese, further improving your Japanese understanding as you learn to recognise words through similar Japanese words and phrases.

Practice JLPT readings:

I recommended using these even if you don't intend on taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Tests (JLPTs) as they're designed to be for beginner levels.

The official JLPT website has sample questions for all levels covering all aspects including JLPT N5 reading and JLPT N4 reading (answers are at the bottom of this page along with the other practice exams)

Books - Light Novels for Beginners

There is such a thing as light novels for beginners, these are normally books written for Japanese elementary school students. These are a bit harder to get hold of outside of Japan though because they are physical books rather than online resources. One great series is Aoi Tori Bunko by Kodansha (Blue Bird Books, distinct because of the blue bird design on the covers/spine) which if you go to any book shop in Japan you can find (or if you have a friend in Japan you can get them to send one back). Otherwise there are some Japanese stores in the UK and US that will sell these books. Unfortunately I haven't found any good resources online that will sell a variety of these books.

Avoid Manga!

The reason I suggest avoiding manga is not because of the vocabulary, in fact manga normally has furigana which makes it easy to read, but the grammar is a higher N3 level, making it hard for beginners to understand. This is because when people start learning Japanese they will use the polite form, but manga is written in informal/colloquial Japanese which requires a higher level of understanding.

If you have any other suggestions please let me know! Especially if you've found anywhere online to buy light novels with furigana!