Saturday, April 30, 2011

Just Another Week in Japan: Real Japanese schoolgirls and reviewing your life

Happy Golden Week to those in Japan (though for most of you it's fragmented this year)!

And so ends the last week of April, 2011 (4月第4週間目2011年). If you're planning on sitting for this year's JLPT, I hope you submitted your application by Thursday. If not, well...guess you're not taking it until December. Anyhow, here are this week's highlights:

Life in Japan

  • First off, a couple entries by a blog I just found this week, Adventures of the Directionally Challenged. Jana writes about her life as it relates to her travels around the world, including to Japan. And so here are her posts, "Why Labeling Sucks" and "(Real) Japanese Schoolgirls."
  • Here's the story of an English teacher who was arrested for grabbing the mic from one of those annoying politicians campaigning on the street corner and telling him to shut up; over at Japan Subculture Research Center. Dumb move...but well done.

Japanese Study



Please share any other cool thinks you found this week! Or if you're a blogger, what was your best post of the week?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Friendship Friday: Daily Bento

This week's FF features a website (blog?) called Daily Bento.


From Daily Bento's About section:

Daily Bento – A bento is a traditional Japanese lunch box that the majority of Japanese people will bring to their schools or companies. These convenient and tasty bento boxes can also be found in convenience stores throughout Japan. We all need our daily fill of whatever it is we need whether it’s watching our favorite TV show, having our daily coffee, etc. We want to fill your daily bento need which can vary from news, recent electronics, culture, entertainment, new products, and anything random to entertain YOU. We hope you’ll join us!

Why I like it

Daily Bento is good for little amusing tidbits and bite-sized entertainment. With few exceptions, DB doesn't post essays or long articles. It's mostly a collection of amusing pictures and videos, often (but not always) related to Japan.

Honestly I don't know much about DB. I'm not sure if it's run by one person or a group. Comments seem infrequent and there isn't really much of a community as far as I can tell. Still, it has its purpose and is a nice place to kill a few minutes and maybe have a chuckle, especially if you've never been there before.

So once again, please feel free to check out Daily Bento.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bye Bye Bacteria!?

I've been tending to agree more and more over time with the AJATT (All Japanese All The Time) philosophy, which basically says that total immersion is the best way to learn a language. Failing that, get as much exposure as possible, and make sure you have fun. If studying becomes a drudgery, you lose motivation and everything can go to hell.

Lately I've been feeling a bit lazy and have lost some ground on the JLPT textbooks and Anki usage. However, I have been playing a lot more (Japanese) video games, and I continue to try and do some reading in Japanese. That brings me to the topic of today's post. 

One of Khatzumoto's (of AJATT) recent tweets:

Yes! I'm going to approach that a little differently. Say you want to read some news (or just read something) in Japanese, and say your vocabulary and/or grammar are limited. Sitting down with your dictionary and a long article may really help you improve. If you have the time and motivation. But if not, is it better to just do something else? Maybe, but I'd say it's worth skimming. Look up key words and anything else that may strike your fancy, but otherwise just try to get the main idea of what's going on.

I took just that approach with a Yahoo Japan article about fluorine in toothpaste. I recommend aiming for something like this, which isn't too long, is written for a general audience (meaning no extremely technical terminology), and is relatively interesting (as this was for me since I like reading about health). 

I would also suggest that for these speed readings you use either the Firefox add-on Rikaichan, or for Chrome its brother extension, Rikaikun. They're useful for getting the readings and meanings of words on the quick, but just be careful not to get too used to them as crutches.

This piece took me all of 5 minutes and I walked away with two or three new vocabulary words:

フッ素 (フっそ) = fluorine
塗る (ぬる) = to coat
弾く (はじく) = to repel

For those of you who are interested in reading or skimming it for yourself, go on. I'll just wait here for you.


Ok, good - now that they're gone, let me summarize the article for the rest of you.

The article is about protecting yourself from cavities with simple fluorine care. It starts off by noting that the amount of fluorine found in commercial products and those in hospitals and dentists' offices are different. How, you wonder? That's what the article is aiming to explain.

First off, it seems that some people think using fluorine on your teeth coats them and protects against things like water and dirt or germs (like waxing a car). Actually, it doesn't have so much to do with protecting the surface of your teeth as it does with aiding the enamel in three ways.

1. It strengthens the enamel.

2. It promotes recalcification (repair; restoration of mineral, calcium in this case).

3. It slows down the bacteria that cause cavities.

Bye for now, bacteria!

Finally, what is the difference between commercially-sold toothpaste and the hospital-caliber stuff? The former is limited by law to 1000 ppm (.1%), whereas the doctors' toothpaste packs 9000 ppm (.9%). So if you're worried about getting cavities, you should see your dentist every 6 months for a cleaning with the good stuff.

There you have it.

By the way, I searched several oral care companies' websites but failed to find any fluoride content information. According to Wikipedia, however (the next best thing to solid research), most toothpastes (I presume in the West) contain about 1450 ppm. I guess that may be why we hear about Japanese toothpastes not being as effective - because they have a comparatively lower flouride content.

Neighborhood cats

There are a lot more "wild" cats in Japan than any other place I've lived. They aren't wild as in feral, but they don't have owners. Or, rather, they're often just neighborhood cats - they live in the area and are sometimes fed by the locals.

When I lived in Tokyo, there were a bunch of cats near my dorm that would meow at me as I walked by. I usually didn't have anything to give them. Here it's the same story, though I've thrown them some pieces of ham, on occasion.

There's this parking lot near my house that is usually empty save two or three cars; not really sure whose lot it is. Often I'll see a cat or two hanging out there, though they also frequent the gaijin traps in the area, too.

Today as I was walking home, I passed by the lot and saw this little gal (I'm just guessing because she had a high-pitched voice). I started talking to her and she meowed at me. I guess she's hungry, but I don't really have anything to give her (don't think she'd like a grapefruit or some veggies). Sorry, cat! Some of thems are more skittish than others, and I recognize a few of them now. Don't think I've seen her before, though. Next time I go to the store I'll look for a little something I can give a hungry cat.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Even Brittany

This is definitely one of the worse Western celeb commercials I've seen. Who the hell is that woman with the laptop?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

JLPT Deadline Approaches

All you Japanese scholars out there who will be taking the summer JLPT - remember to send in your applications soon! In order to sit for the test, you must have your application postmarked by 4/28, which is this Thursday. Don't put it off any longer!

I'll be taking 2級 once again, this time aiming to pass. Will be making some more study-related posts as we get closer to the test date.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Just Another Week in Japan: 1st Edition!

First of all, Happy Easter to those who celebrate it!

Today wraps up the third week of April, 2011 (4月第3週目2011年). This is the start of a new series, which I hope to continue weekly, of highlights that I found either important, entertaining, or interesting for this 7-day span. So here's what was going on this week:

Video Games
  • I found an interesting blog called Failthroughs. Apparently it's about the experiences of these two guys who play through Japanese games without any (or hardly any) understanding of the Japanese language. What caught my eye is that they're currently playing Romancing Saga 2, which I've been playing a bit myself recently. 
  • Earlier this week I wrote about a sim game for the iPhone/Touch that I found quite novel: Game Dev Story. As much as I hate to admit it, maybe the iPod is becoming a legitimate gaming platform.
Japanese Study
  • Rene at Shoujiki Shindoi featured another post on Japanese onomatopoeia, this time focusing on words associated with anger and agitation. 
  • Bobby Judo posted a video at the Daily Yoji, which has been struggling in recent months to come out with new content. Bobby talks about how many Americans have difficulty distinguishing between Asian cultures and races but also how the same thing happens in Japan. Worth a watch! (Bonus note: around 5:40, one of Rene's vocabulary words, イライラした, makes an appearance).
  • Moji Maki shared some recommended websites and Firefox plugins useful for supplementing your Japanese studies. I use Chrome, personally, but according to Google Analytics, many of you prefer the big FF.
  • On Monday Ashley of Surviving in Japan featured a guest post by yours truly on how to track pollen in Japan. Her site is useful for all kinds of Japan-related how-to's.
  • Chris of Confessions of a Badboy in Japan looks to be starting up a new site or network of sorts with the goal of linking all of the more "adult" Japan-related blogs out there. If you enjoy reading more mature content, this may be something for you to keep an eye on.
  • Kirk of Jamaipanese received 5000 yen from a fan, for the, uh...Send Kirk to Japan Fund. Someone has some quality fans!
  • Recently been reading a lot of posts over at Reviewz 'n' Tips, a blog about blogging. I've linked a thoughtful post about 5 things you'll need to succeed at blogging.

Have anything good to add? If anything comes to mind, please share what you consider to be some of the best posts/links of this week.

J-Word Play #16

This one is pretty good, but I found it a little difficult. So I've included an optional hint. Here's our riddle, anyway:


Hint: Don't think of the animal - think of the word.

(Edit: Oops, forgot to disallow comments. Sorry for the delete, Rene, but you'll get a kudos when I post the answers! Send your answers to blueshoe [at]

Friday, April 22, 2011

Oh, they know

The other day one of the Japanese English teachers I work with handed me this, laughing. It's a photocopy he made of the cover of a student's notebook. Some people here do get the hilarity of Engrish.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Friendship Friday: 1000 Things About Japan

This week's FF is another blog that I've followed for quite some time: 1000 Things About Japan.


1000 Things, a blog by Orchid, whom you may have seen in the comments section of this blog, is about the daily life of an expatriot woman living in Tokyo. More specifically, it's about the things that she will and won't miss when she eventually leaves Japan to return. Here's a little about her from her About section:

I was born in 1964 and I have lived steadily in Japan since 1989. I spent the bulk of my 20+ years in Japan working in a Japanese office for a small Japanese company that created and sold correspondence lessons. I consider my experiences in Japan rather unique compared to most foreigners for a variety of reasons.

Those reasons are here.

Why I like it

Although she is the first to admit that all of her views are subjective, I find myself agreeing with her observations quite often. Many times I'll read her posts and think to myself "Wow, that's exactly how I feel!" Though there have been a few times I've strongly disagreed. I suppose the one grumble I have is that her posts are sometimes so engaging that I wish 1000 Things allowed comments. But her decision is intention, probably to avoid the kind of heated arguments that would no doubt ensue.

Here are a few sample posts (see if any of these titles pique your curiosity):

Will Miss:
A Culture of Gaman
"Alien" Seafood
Neighborhood Freebies

Won't Miss:
Blaming Foreigners for Drug Sales
Blocked Videos
Dry Muffins and Cakes

Another nice draw is that all of her posts are intentionally bite-sized. They're easy to read and digest, even if you only have a few minutes to spare.

I also respect the fact that although her time is limited (she also works and runs another blog called Japanese Snack Reviews), she also finds time to comment on other blogs now and then, and at least on this site her comments are always well thought out and articulate, and great contributions to the topic at hand. She has also provided me with some much-appreciated encouragement and advice in the past.

So once again, if 1000 Things sounds like something that might catch your fancy, it bears the JADJ seal of approval. Check it out here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

There goes my life: Game Dev Story

The other day I finally broke down and bought an iPod Touch. I've been wanting one quite a while now, but kept telling myself I didn't need it (my old iPod Classic still works fine) or that I couldn't afford it. I still may have been right on both counts (only three paychecks left - scary thought). But in the end I convinced myself that being able to access Kotoba and Anki on the go would be worth the investment.

Ah man, look at me - plugging Apple links all over the place. I feel like such a prostitute. I'll never be an Apple fanboy, but I do find myself with a grudging respect for the work they do.

So I downloaded Kotoba and am working up the courage to pay $25.00 for Anki. Not that he hasn't earned it - I'm just loathe to pay for something that (a) is free on another platform and (b) is roughly 10-20x the price of most other apps in the Apple Store.

What I wasn't prepared for is the spate of actually good-looking games. I had a heated argument once with a friend about whether or not any iPod device could qualify in its own right as a "gaming system." As you can probably guess, I was arguing the negative. Maybe I was....wrong?

The past couple nights I've stayed up 'til around 2:30 despite the my body's protestations (shut up you - gaming is fun!). The culprit? None other than a little gem developed by a Japanese game company called Kairo Park. It's called Game Dev Story, or ゲーム発展国 in Japanese. Kairo Park seems to create all manner of cute little sim-type games, but they mostly appear on Japanese phones. Game Dev Story and Hot Springs Story (an onsen-building sim) are the only two I've seen for sale in the Apple Store.

I've long been a sucker for sim games, from the time I first got my hands on Sim City for SNES. But why build cities when you can make video games?

That's right, Game Dev Story is a game in which you take on the role of the president of a startup game development company. Yes, a game about making games (how meta is that, Joe?). You hire staff, whom you can train and level up as you gain money and research data points; handle advertising; decide what kind of games to develop and which of your employees will handle which game elements; and perform a number of other tasks. As you earn money and become more successful, you move to bigger offices and can take on more staff. As the years pass, new consoles and portables are released, and you can choose which to develop for based upon their popularity with gamers, development potential, and cost to buy a license to make games for them. You can even eventually develop your own gaming system.

I won't give away too much in case you decide to give it a try (it's only a couple bucks). Suffice it to say, there are a lot of little surprises, and the localization is great as well. The game comes with both English and Japanese versions, so all you have to do is switch languages on your iPod to play either one. Right now I'm playing through once in English and then will go back and play it in Japanese.

This game may go on forever, but I plan to keep playing until it looks as if all the scripted events are finished (appearance of special hireable employees and release of new gaming systems, for the most part) and then give it a rest and get my Japanese on.

Anyway, this may be a niche game, but if you find yourself intrigued and own an iPod Touch or iPhone, I say go for it. There are definitely worse ways to spend $4. Like natto.

Japan and My Tonsils: Celebrity Doctors and The Looming Surgery

Read part 1 and 2 here.

Part 3

A brief recap: After coming to Japan almost 3 years ago I somehow caught a nasty bug that would often leave my throat in pain and me having to waste my precious sick days on actually being sick. It finally got to the point where I decided I needed to get my tonsils out at the tender age of 25. Per the suggestion of a friend I decided to see a "celebrity doctor" who I was hoping could also be my surgeon.

Besides all the advice I had taken from Dr. Phil which would always backfire hilariously, I've had very little experience with celebrity doctors in my life. I found the doctors in Japan that were simply at the normal level of popularity weren't cutting it so I needed to take it up a notch. The ear, nose, and throat doctor I decided to see, who I will call Dr. Ninki, had been featured on a couple of news programs for being super-great. Or something. I don't know. In the morning I called his office to make an appointment for the evening. I was told by the perky receptionist that because of Dr. Ninki's enormous popularity they could not accept reservations for any time after four in the afternoon. Apparently that's the designated free-for-all time. I decided to just go with the hope that I wouldn't be stuck in the waiting room indefinitely.

The place was easy to find. It was in a shopping center near the train station to which I had arrived. After entering the building, I was a bit disheartened to see that the waiting room was completely filled to capacity. There were forty people seated on an extremely long couch that ran along every wall as well as a circular couch in the center. I talked to the receptionist, gave her my info, and was told to be seated and the doctor would see me momentarily. Momentarily, eh? We'll see.

I noticed that when the nurse would come out to call a patient's name, she would always call five people at a time. This seemed strange since I knew Dr. Ninki was just one, albeit famous, guy. After a relatively brisk 30 minutes my name was called with four other patients. We were taken back to another waiting area consisting of one small couch. We were told that as our names were called we should slide down the couch so the next patients could sit down.

Let me describe the sight I beheld:

The room was huge and very busy. Thirty patients were spread throughout while seven or so nurses darted around checking on them. To my right was a row of strange machines. Patients were seated in front of them, intently breathing into hoses. Through a doorway I could see another room with people lying down with IVs in their arms. Scattered throughout the main room were more people seated with IVs. Directly in front of me was a display that had screencaps of all the television news programs Dr. Ninki had appeared on. In the center of the room were two patients seated on reclining chairs. Between them was a table neatly covered with ten copies of every type of shiny metal ear, nose, and throat checking instrument. Next to this table stood Dr. Ninki checking one patient then the other while dictating notes to the nurse that stood by his side.

After five minutes my name was called and I sat on one of the reclining chairs in the center of the room. The doctor came up to me and looked pleased to have a foreigner to speak to. He started off in English asking me what was wrong. He was very charismatic. I explained how often I got strep throat and that the antibiotics I was taking weren't working very well. He nodded and looked at my throat with various instruments. Then he suddenly stuck a tiny camera in my mouth. He took a picture which appeared on a fancy TV screen next to my head. He pointed and explained that these were tonsils and that they were swollen. I knew this already but still couldn't help but be impressed. He said he'd give me an injection of antibiotics and that I should go with the nurse. The whole encounter with Dr. Ninki took under two minutes. I didn't have time to ask about surgery but I thought I'd see him again for the injection which I nervously imagined would go right in my throat.

The nurse led me to the breathing machines. The first one was for the nose and had a hose with two small nozzles on the end. The second one was for the throat and went in the mouth. They emitted some kind of mist. At first I thought I was supposed to inhale the mist but that just made me cough embarrassingly. The nurse told me to stop breathing it in. I wasn't entirely sure how to breathe with a tube in my mouth without breathing from the tube in my mouth but I did my best. I had a feeling that these machines were just to stall for time.

After that the nurse took me to the room which had IVs hanging from the ceiling connected to the arms of people lying down on beds. It reminded me of the scene in Inception at the opium den-esque cellar. I was given a bed and the nurse stabbed my arm with the IV. Me, still expecting an injection, asked what was in this liquid that was now flowing into my arm. "Antibiotics," she said. Oh, so this is what he meant by injection. I was glad the image I had of getting a needle to the throat was wrong.

Finishing the IV, I was ushered to the front desk where I paid and received my little baggy of antibiotic tablets. I was happy to see they were an exceptionally strong dosage. Though, I was sorry that I never got another chance to talk to the doctor about surgery.

On the train ride home I realized my throat was already feeling better. When I arrived at my apartment I looked in the mirror and my throat looked noticeably improved. It was then I realized that in those two minutes I talked with Dr. Ninki, he listened better than any doctor I'd had in Japan. He really does deserve the moniker of "famous doctor".

Despite my somewhat bizarre but successful experience with Dr. Ninki, I still knew that I should get my tonsils out. I called some hospitals and found a local one that did tonsillectomies. After getting a referral from a different hospital (a convoluted process) I was able to talk with a surgeon. He looked in my throat and agreed I should have them out ASAP. The surgery was scheduled in two weeks time.

And thus ends this edition of Japan and My Tonsils. Be sure to check back for the final chapter "Under the Knifu"!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Guest Post

Today I'm going to refer you to Ashley's Surviving in Japan (without much Japanese). I've written a guest post detailing how to track pollen counts in Japan. And right now I'm checking just about every day to see when my suffering will abate. If you're also a snuffly, sneezy mess, Ashley also has some guides to dealing with allergies in Japan that you can check out while you're over there. Be sure to tell her "hi" for me if you wind up leaving any comments!

Once again, the link is here.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Old Japanese chocolate commercial

Man...the video looks old as you'd expect, but I think the music is what really dates it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Friendship Friday: How to Japonese

This week's FF features one of the first Japanese language blogs I've followed: How to Japonese.


How to Japonese is a J-blog authored by writer and translator Daniel Morales, who apparently resembles Lupin III (Yes, a shady fellow, indeed!). Mostly featured are tips for studying, using, and translating Japanese, though Daniel also blogs occasionally about daily life. From the site's About page:

How to Japonese is a collection of the things I wish people had told me at different points in my Japanese studying career. Some posts are aimed at beginners, others at intermediate students, and occasionally I even come up with something for advanced students. I also end up writing a lot about Japan in general.

Why I like it

As I mentioned, How to Japonese was one of the first blogs about studying/using Japanese that I started reading regularly. If you haven't checked it out yet, there's about three-years worth of quality content waiting to be browsed. I especially enjoyed his posts on video game Japanese and Japanese word play.

As a sample, here's one from a while ago about using special icons with Japanese input. He writes:

I wrote previously about how こめ can be switched to ※ with Japanese input systems. Well, I’ve discovered through a friend at work that there are a number of other tricks you can do with 変換.
Arrows – Type in やじるし and you can get these: →, ←, ↑, ↓.
Circles – Type in まる and you can make these: ○, ●, ◎, ◯, ◉. (The third is called a にじゅうまる, maybe the fifth as well.)
Triangles – Type in さんかく and you can get: △, ▲, ▽, ▼.
Squares – Type in しかく and you can get: □, ■, ◇, ◆.

Additionally, I give him kudos for engaging his readers and some other members of the community. He does reference other blogs or websites from time to time, and has linked JADJ on one or two occasions (half the time to point out errors, which is great! Making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn!).

How to Japonese was one of my early inspirations for blogging, and I continue to enjoy its posts and articles about Japanese. Thanks, Daniel!

Once again, you can visit How to Japonese here, and follow Daniel on Twitter here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why English Teachers Should Study Japanese

 This article is an entry in the April 2011 Japan Blog Maturi, hosted this month by Nihongoup. Thanks to our hosts! For more information, visit the Japan Blog Matsuri FAQ page.

If you're working as an English teacher in Japan, you should probably study Japanese. I know, crazy stuff. Sounds like a reasonable assertion, but I've known people who come to Japan to work and have zero or little effort to learn. I'm not writing this as a finger-wagging at them, though I definitely think it's a good idea to learn the language of the country you're living in. I'm writing this because it will make you a better teacher.

According to the US Foreign Service Institute, Japanese is one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn. This is because on many levels they are very different. Knowing more about these differences will help you better understand the difficulties and challenges that your students may face.

Augmenting your lessons

Japanese doesn't use articles, like "a," "an," and "the." Similarly, there are few ways to distinguish between singular and plural nouns, aside from context. But you don't need to study Japanese to know that. Let's go a little further.

The Japanese language lacks certain sounds, so English pronunciation (both speaking and listening) can be very difficult. The combination of "l" and "r" is pretty widely known. Japanese also lacks a "th" sound. In Japanese "f" and "h" are blended. There is a "wa" sound, but no "wo," "wi," "we," or "wu." And since Japanese characters (with one exception) always end in a vowel, one of the biggest challenges is getting students to drop that extra letter. We call this "katakana-izing" a word. For example, "what" becomes "what-oh." "Name" becomes "Name-oo."

Japanese uses many loan-words from other languages, including English. But upon adoption, many of these words undergo a change in meaning. ジュース (juice) doesn't mean "juice." It means "soft drink," which includes juice but also soda and other beverages. パンツ (pants) generally doesn't mean "pants."* It mean "underwear." And you don't チャレンジ (challenge) yourself to do something; you challenge a thing.

例:   難問にチャレンジする。

While a native English speaker might look at this and think "Challenge the difficult problem," it means "Tackle a difficult problem." チャレンジ doesn't exactly mean "challenge."

* (Update) Good and Bad Japan points out that in the UK "pants" is underwear. I guess the 3 days I spent in England didn't teach me that one! So when in doubt about an English loanword, the meaning may be from a different form of English than you're used to (American English in my case). For example I recently found out that the Japanese OB (stands for Old Boy) is used in Australia.

The more you know about the differences between English and Japanese, the more you can tailor your lessons to avoid these pitfalls and potholes along the road. If there's a particular vocabulary word or grammatical expression that is very dissimilar in the two languages, you can be prepared to explain a certain way or spend more time on that point.

Easing communication

When I was a kid, sometimes when I asked my dad what a particular word meant he would tell me to look in the dictionary. As much of a hassle as that was at the time, I see the value of that now, especially when studying a foreign language. Be that as it may, dictionaries have their place. Writing an essay, doing homework, research - all great times to use an aid.

But when you're trying to speak, it can take too much time and interrupt the flow of conversation. For this reason, I think it's nice when a student can ask a teacher "What is ____ in English?" Of course even if you're studying Japanese you may not know the answer, but there's a much better chance you help the student continue with their flow of thought and save them from getting bogged down for one or two minutes looking through a dictionary while you (and maybe the rest of the class) wait.

Students wait while little Takeshi searches for "pants" in the dictionary. This could have been avoided!

Setting and example

Studying Japanese is an important way that you can show your students that (a) you're interested in them and their culture and (b) you're not just all talk. To them, it shows that you're not only good at making them do challenging classwork and homework, and speak in a language they'll never use; you can walk the walk, too, and learning actually has real, tangible application.

In conclusion

Do you need to study Japanese to be a good English teacher in Japan? Certainly not. In fact, not studying Japanese also has its benefits. You can honestly claim ignorance when students try to speak to you in Japanese, for one. If they don't get frustrated and give up, they'll be more motivated to study English so they can communicate with you.

And if you do decide to study, I'm not saying you have to plunge in and aim to pass the JLPT level 2 within a year. Even learning the basics of hiragana and katakana at a leisurely pace has its benefits.

But I will say that I believe, without a doubt, that studying Japanese will make you a better teacher to Japanese students.

What do you think? For all you English teachers out there, do you study Japanese? If not, do you wish you had or plan to start in the future? Why or why not? I want to pick your brains!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Advice for my successor #4

As the days pass I'm becoming increasingly aware of the fact that I don't have much time left here. As of this post, about 3 months. Wasn't it just recently I was telling myself I had half a year left? I guess I'll be finding out about my successor one of these days.

  • This probably isn't the first or last time you'll hear this, but value the time you have here. I don't know you yet, so I don't know if living in Japan will be comparable to anything you've experienced in the past, but chances are it'll be a very memorable part of your life and may very well affect how your life turns out after JET. Whether you're here for one, two, three, more years - it passes very quickly in retrospect.
  • Always go out to lunch with your coworkers when invited. It may cost a bit more than going to the cafeteria, but it helps build a rapport and makes you "part of the team."
  • Even if your Japanese isn't that great, don't be afraid to go into interesting-looking restaurants. If you hesitate, you may finally go in months or years later and realize you've been missing out all that time.
  • Explore. Even small little nothing streets sometimes hide cool shops or restaurants.
  • In class, only use English with your students. Outside of class talk to them in Japanese now and then.
  • Try new foods. Except shirako (白子). Don't try that one.
*Source: Rakuten

Monday, April 11, 2011

Learning from Burger King

Last week Tokyo Five briefly mentioned the new promotional Burger King sandwiches, which are available now exclusively in Japan (lucky us): the All Heavy Whopper and the Meat Monster Whopper. I don't think these are getting as much coverage in the blogosphere as McDonalds' Big America burgers (probably because there aren't a whole lot of Burger King locations in Japan). They've had some interesting offerings in the past, though.

Man, looking at these things I'm kinda glad there are no franchises in Kansai. If there were I might be tempted to try one out.

While these beastly burgers don't do most of us any good, I noticed a few interesting and useful kanji in the above advertisement that I thought I'd point out. Yay - real kanji in everyday life action!

At the top of the poster, kind of hiding a little behind the All Heavy, we can see a splatter mark containing the kanji 「増量 無料!」Let's break that down:

増量 (ぞうりょう) = weight increase
無料 (むりょう) = free

It's funny because they really are offering you free weight gain, though I assume in this case they're referring to the weight of the extra toppings. 無料 is an absolutely pivotal word to know and recognize. You definitely want to understand when you're being offered something for free!

Next let's look at the Meat Monster's splatter. It reads 「追加自由!」.

追加(ついか) = addition(al), supplement(al)
自由 (じゆう) = freedom

So I guess here they're saying you're being granted even more freedom to have it your way. Wow, what a swell company. 自由 is another one that you'll want to be familiar with. One place you'll see it is on the Shinkansen. 自由席 = unreserved seat

This lesson is brought to you by Burger King, apparently.

Just Another Manga Monday #8

Shojo Showdown!

I picked two random series off of my shelves to read and compare. The two selected were MeruPuri and Tail of the Moon.

MeruPuri is a short series consisting of only 4 volumes and written by Hino (also author ofVampire Knight). Tail of Moon is quite the opposite in length, comprising 15 volumes.

There were three main factors I considered in this Shojo Showdown! - plot, characters, and X factor.

MeruPuri- A girl who is a descendant of magical royalty from another world carries an old heirloom mirror as a necklace. Little does she know that this necklace serves as a portal to another world. In dire need, a young prince uses this mirror as an escape and winds up with our young heroine. Placed under a curse, the young prince turns older when he is exposed to darkness. In his new form, he is attractive to our heroine and she does not know how to deal with her new crush.

-Tail of the Moon-- The heroine, Usagi, lives in a ninja village and is far from qualifying as a ninja. She is finally given an assignment to travel to another village so that she may wed and give birth to the children of a well-respected ninja named Hanzo. She immediately falls in love with the man, but is rejected just as quickly. He refuses to marry anyone, especially a bride-elect who is unqualified as a ninja. Usagi must train hard to qualify and also try to thaw the heart of Hanzo.

Bottom line: It's a tie. Both manga have interesting storylines and a theme of love.

-MeruPuri-- The main characters are Airi, the story's heroine, and Aram, a prince. Over the course of the series, they develop enough for the reader to develop an understanding and empathy for these two characters. Because the series is so short, though, the other characters are not as well-developed. There is an older brother to the prince (comic relief), a servant to the prince, another prospective love interest for Airi, a fairy, the queen and others who play minor roles, but nothing like the main two. The author does a good job in developing the relationship between Airi and Aram, and raising the level of romance as the prince gets older.

[Image- MeruPuri, entrance of Aram's older brother/comic relief]

-Tail of the Moon-- Usagi and Hanzo are very well-developed (especially Usagi). By the end of the series I felt like I knew her personally. Other major characters include Usagi’s sidekick Mamezo (she raised him), other possible love interests for Usagi, other possible love interests for Hanzo, political figures, and family members. This series is about ninjas and the reader gets to experience training as well as assignments.

Bottom Line: -Tail of the Moon- wins. The characters are developed a great deal more than in MeruPuri-.

X Factor (that extra something):
-MeruPuri-- For me, the X factor in -MeruPuri- was the mental creep out. Airi is 15 and falls in love with a 7 year-old. He transforms into the body of a 17 year-old which is fine, but still has the mental capacity of a child, which, as I said- creeps me out!

-Tail of the Moon-- Ninja training!! It was awesome reading about ninja life, training and assignments. It makes you feel like you are there. Also, the ending! I’m conflicted about the ending of this manga. Maybe it’s because I didn’t want to see it end after 15 volumes, but I did not like the way it was concluded, though at least it’s memorable. I can’t remember how half of the manga I’ve read terminate.

[Image- Tail of the Moon, Usagi is on a ninja assignment]

Bottom Line: MeruPuri -…definitely loses in X Factor. -Tail of the Moon- wins.

Winner: The winner of Shojo Showdown! is -Tail of the Moon-!
It's such a fun read! I could read the series over and over again.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Tea Dance Commercial

Recently I've been trying to consume less sugar. I didn't realize how difficult it could be until I started looking for beverages with low or no sugar. Seems mostly I'm limited to water and unflavored/non-sweetened tea. Anyway, so yeah, tea...segue into this!

I like how in the first commercial the people around her are all like "W...what the hell?"

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Friendship Friday: Super Happy Awesome Fun Time

This is the first post in a new series that I've decided to start writing. If you're a Twitter user, you may have seen the hash tag #FF floating around on Fridays, along with what seems like a tweetful of spam. The #FF stands for "Follow Friday" and is a trend that entails choosing a bunch of your friends and/or followers and tweeting their names in the hope that some of your other followers may start following them. I think it's a nice gesture but ultimately a little too spammy for me.

But in the spirit of #FF, I'd like to begin highlighting blogs or websites that I enjoy reading. They may or may not actually be friends to me or JADJ, but they are, in my opinion, deserving of some additional attention. Not all of these blogs will come from my blogroll, as that mysterious amalgamation of links doesn't 100% reflect my like or dislike of a site; there are other top secret criteria that are applied during the consideration process. 

Our inaugural FF features a relative newcomer to the Japanese blogosphere; one that I've been following for a little while now and have enjoyed reading: Supper Happy Awesome Fun Time.


Supper Happy Awesome Fun Time is a blog run by former presidents of Otakorp Alice (who is a fellow JET) and Sean. Its stated goal is to "explore all the cool/crazy/awesome there is to see and do here in Japan!"

Why I like it

It's the only website I know that can be acronym-ized as "SHAFT." One of these days I have to ask if that was intentional.

SHAFT has a nice blend of tales from daily life, pictures, thoughts about interesting products, and tips about Japanese language and culture. The blog is still a little young (as of this posting SHAFT has been around for about 4 months and change) so it doesn't yet have an overabundance of content, but I've enjoyed reading Sean and Alice's content and can honestly say that I look forward to Super Happy updates. A good sense of humor goes a long way.

Additionally, though I haven't interacted with Sean much to my knowledge, Alice is very friendly both on Twitter and in comments, so I encourage you to engage her if you see a post or tweet that strikes you. 

So if you have a few minutes, I recommend clicking over and checking them out

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Let's Enjoy Japanese: きれい, not just a "pretty" word!

Generally the word きれい (kirei) is learned as "pretty" or "beautiful."

(Eg: She's rather pretty.)

While it certainly can be used this way, don't be pigeonholed into using this one function of the word! You may not see it used differently in textbooks often, but actually in real life it quite often is.

I was at the dentist yesterday, and he asked me if I had braces as a kid. I said no and he seemed a little surprised and said:


Though I have no doubt that there must be some dentists out there who can really appreciate the true beauty of teeth, he wasn't telling me that my teeth were really pretty. In this case, きれい meant something closer to "well-ordered" or "neat," though I think it's a little difficult to translate exactly into English. He was telling me I had nice (straight) teeth.

Finally, きれい is also the opposite of 汚い (きたない;kitanai; dirty or messy). So it can be used to mean "clean" or "tidy."

Last week the teachers were cleaning their desks in preparation for moving seats or changing schools, and one nearby guy with a messy desk exclaimed at one point:

"Look, it's finally starting to look tidy!"

*Update: Tokyo Five adds an interesting tidbit in the comment section -

When speaking to small children, mothers will often use the baby-talk and say "Kirei-kirei!♪" ("Clean up" or "Wash up").

You can also verbatize きれいきれいにする - to clean, clear, tidy up.

例: お母さんは来週に来日するからアパートきれいにしなきゃなぁ。
Eg: My mom's coming to visit Japan next week, so I guess I need to clean my apartment.

Monday, April 4, 2011

J-Word Play #15 [Answer]

Last week I posed the question "When is Meat Day in Japan?" Though it's a pun, this one is actually applicable to life in Japan, as some supermarkets will run special sales on meat for this day.

[Update: Sorry folks! I messed up big! Received a number of replies about this riddle, but had a mix-up with my email accounts. I honestly thought I had the blog's official email address forwarded to my personal email address, but looks like that option wasn't enabled. Again, my apologies to everyone who submitted! Below are some kudos, followed by the correct answer.

- Kudos to Alice of Super Happy Awesome Fun Time for getting the answer right. Check out her up-and-coming website for more Japan-related content.

- Kudos to Ali of Haikugirl's Japan - have a look at her latest post on sakura!

- Kudos to reader and Japanologist Theresa for her special answer*.

- Kudos to Renee of Shoujiki Shindoi. Still time left to participate and read about Project Hitori Jyanai on her blog!

- An additional kudos to Tokyo Five, another J-blogger; writing about his life in Tokyo with wife and kids.

- Nod and a wink to Chris, who shares a birthday with my mom.

Now on to the answer! Highlight below to check out the answer.

February 9th. This is because the Japanese for "meat" is 肉 (にく; niku). に = 2 and く = 9. Therefore "Meat Day" is 2/9.

Won't see any of this, though.

* Theresa's answer was delicious and punny, and must be shared. "Meat day" as ひにく (皮肉; meaning "sarcasm" or "irony"), because if you're just looking at the readings of the kanji, you might swap the 皮 for 日 (same pronunciation, but meaning "day"). Clever!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Noise pollution in Japan

Japanese people in general tend to value peace and quiet. For this reason, it's not unusual for people to complain about noise caused by neighbors, which I guess is understandable. One thing I'll never get, though, is why despite this fact, there seem to be no laws against using extremely loud noise for public announcements.

Sometimes garbage collection trucks will drive by with a recording blaring from an attached loudspeaker, but that's not what I'm specifically referring to, because those announcements tend not to be too loud. What I'm mainly talking about here are political campaigning messages. I've never seen this kind of advertising in any other country, and it reminds me of the way propaganda vans drove around the Soviet Union.

Basically they just drive around yelling "Vote for so-and-so! Thank you very much!"

I can't be the only one who finds this kind of noise pollution extremely annoying.

The true meaning of the word

Damnit, Kansai - I'm gone for less than two whole days and you get cold again.

So I was away visiting Yoshie in Saga this weekend, but my enjoyment of the trip was severely hampered by 花粉所 花粉症 (かふんしょう). And you know, my recent experience has really made me think about that word.
Mmm...enjoying that spring air?

In Japan, I've come across quite a few Japanese English speakers who have translated 花粉所 花粉症 as "hay fever." I always found that a bit odd, as back where I grew up in New York, I don't remember ever hearing anyone ever call it that. It was just "allergies."

Did you catch a cold? Nah, it's just these stupid allergies.

The idea of "hay fever" seemed weird, since there's usually no fever. And it's caused by all kinds of pollen; not just hay.

I haven't thought a whole lot about it, though, because although I do have allergies some years, they've been relatively mild in Japan. Until this year. The past two or three weeks have been pretty bad. I've never been affected by allergies so intensely for such a long period of time. Sometimes I'd get them for a couple weeks in the spring or summer, but they would manifest themselves mostly in brief "allergy attacks." I'd sneeze a bunch of times and maybe have a runny nose for a while, but nothing too crazy.

This weekend was horrible. I had an itchy, runny nose almost nonstop. Had to have tissues on me at all times, and went through like a whole box of'em in one day. Yes, I could see this being called "hay fever."

This morning I went to a pharmacy and got some medicine, which stopped the nose symptoms...but since taking it I've just felt zonked and listless, with little appetite or energy. And this stuff is supposed to be non-drowsy. I think I'll take a sick day tomorrow to go consult with a doctor, because this is gonna be no good if I'm still suffering like this next week when classes start up for the year.

Update 4/4 - An update from Doctor Mom:

"Hay fever is the colloquial term for autumn allergies, ironically to goldenrod mostly, not hay.  In the spring, the term is rose fever, although I don't know of anyone with a rose allergy.  Probably because it is time for the roses to come out.  Early spring is for tree pollen and late spring is grass pollen.  I never used either term with you because 1. Hay fever is incorrect for us spring sufferers, and 2. Hardly anyone has heard of rose fever so most people won't know what you're talking about.  I grew up with calling it hay fever, though.  You and I have always had spring allergies, not fall."