Monday, March 17, 2008


mne·mon·ics [ni-mon-iks] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation –noun (used with a singular verb) the process or technique of improving or developing the memory.

Or you could say, "How do you remember that?"

A discussion of kanji and the various ways that *I* remember them!

賛 as in '賛成' (さんせい). You will need to zoom in on this kanji (Rikaichan will work wonders in that department). When I look at this kanji, for whatever odd reason, the top part resembles sparkling eyes and the lower portion a smiling mouth. This is the face your father or mother might show you when they're happy about something you've done, and the kanji means something very close to this.

老 as in '老いる' (おいる). For me, the lower portion is all it takes to conjure up the correct meaning. The lower stroke curves down and right giving me the impression that this kanji is weathered with age. And funny enough, it means 'old, aged'.

誌 as in '雑誌' (ざっし). A three-part tear down for recognition: the left side is '言う' or 'to say', so we know this has to do with literature or speaking. The upper right is 土 for 'ground, soil, earth' giving us 'words on the ground' or 'words on the street'. The next is 心 for 'heart', but it means heart more in the metaphysical sense of 'emotional stuff' in this context. Put them all together: street words near to your heart. 雑誌 happens to mean 'magazine'. What better place to find a bunch of words sold on the street that are near to your heart? 誌 can mean 'magazine' on it's own in fact ~

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Here is another grammar point from my favorite book (not):


And an example sentence for kicks:


I can't find a good English translation for this. My best effort is:

The Shinkansen, along with all other forms of transportation, are stopped due to the snow.

My wife (bless her) explained it to me in using chocolate:


Which loosely can be translated as:

Girls like sweets, but chocolate comes first.

Or something like that.

If anyone has any hard translation for をはじめとする please comment and let's all learn!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Welp, I got my iPhone. Yay!

The first thing that I did was try to find some software applications or websites to help me study Kanji on the go.

One of my favorites for my old PDA was King Kanji from Gakusoft. That application kept me company on my 40-minute commute to and from work in Japan. I would draw the characters and take the little tests until my eyes bled. I passed though.

So what is a student of Japanese supposed to do without a stylus? However will we learn the stroke order without practice?

So far, I've been unable to locate any meaningful Japanese writing utility for the iPhone.

I did find the useful iChinese application posted on TUAW - but I'm not studying Chinese, so it's a step off to the left.

I contacted the creator of iChinese and asked him if it was feasible to create the same application with the 常用 set broken down into the various levels. I went a step further and said I'd pay him good money to come up with a Lookup-by-Kanji method for searching a dictionary instead of by radical. Now *that* would be useful.

He got back to me a couple of times with questions and I gave him all the links I could find. Hopefully he'll come back with something brilliant soon.

The most useful app for studying Japanese that i can find so far is Kanjiroushi. You should check it out. It leaves a bit to be desired from a navigation standpoint, and the mock-tests aren't very good for meaning, but it definitely helps you figure out the on-yomi and kun-yomi on-the-fly and has a fairly usable dictionary lookup utility.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Here is a grammar structure that I can't find a good English translation for. Perhaps the 3 readers who frequent this blog might help me shed some light on exactly what I'm looking at here:


"If you drink alcohol more and more you will get drunk, so you shouldn't drink too much."

That's essentially the translation, backed up by my super-slick wifetionary. However, I told her as I'm writing here, I don't get a clear translation from the 〜ば〜ほど structure. It's kind of rubbish to me.

Yes I can memorize changing the first verb to the conditional, adding ば, then changing the second to the plain form and add ほど. That part is easy. The tough thing is getting a better translation of the term than 'more and more'. This is going to wear on my nerves day in and day out.

Surely there is something more eloquent out there? Perhaps some readers could help out with comments?

I want an iPhone =(

I really really really want an iPhone. I hope that once the SDK goes live (SOMEtime this year guys...) someone will port my favorite Firefox extension to the iPhone (my fav is Rikaichan)

I also want a kanji practice program like I used to have on my PDA. But more than just drawing the kanji correctly and having the program give me the thumbs up, I want to be able to search by kanji drawn.

"Make the program yourself!" you say... if only... if only...

Here's looking forward to the iPhone SDK, the 3G version which will run on HSDPA and I'll be able to use on cell towers in Japan, and the unlimited family plan so I never worry about minutes again!

Monday, February 04, 2008


Today's interesting lesson has to do with increasing and decreasing.

My wife and I were trying to figure out the different between 減少、増加、上がる、and 下がる last night. In English:

減少: decrease
増加: increase
上がる: increase (go up)
下がる: decrease (go down)

Note: There are other words for increase and decrease in Japanese - but we're focusing on these four today.

Neither of us could really figure out a good explanation for why some things use 上がる and some use 増加 and vice versa. We though about it for a tick, and then I came to this conclusion:

When the subject is singular and the value increases or decreases: 上がる・下がる
When the subject is a singular word composed of many items and the value increases or decreases: 増加・減少

Here's the break down:

Temperature is a singular thing whose value can increase or decrease. You could say:


Because it will be Spring soon, the temperature will rise.

Population is a singular idea composed by the number of citizens in a given location. It's one from many. So you would say:


Recently, the population is decreasing.

My wife agreed this is the likely distinction. It's possible that some more highly educated scholar has already come to this conclusion and written a dissertation on it somewhere. If so - laud his brilliance. For the lay man, I wrote a simple blog entry about it so students who don't spend their time in the dissertation section of their university's library can pick up on this important distinction.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


I wrote to the Japanese instructor at a local college asking for advice on improving my Japanese. My greatest frustration between level 3 and 2 is that the path is murky and I'm drowning trying to find my way to the surface.

Some people can open a book and learn everything on their own. I guess I need a guide. I am motivated enough to bust open whatever resources are necessary to gain the knowledge that I require, but I need a guide to tell me which resources to seek and in what order.

She replied to me kindly today, and one of her expressions was new. My wife explained it really means "I'm really happy to hear that."

The teacher said:


何よりです? I looked it up - it means 'best, above all'. Ok, so my interpretation is:

Above all, continuing to do your best studying Japanese [is important].

Apparently I'm way off - my wife says 何より _really_ means 何より嬉しいです。

Whoa - whoa - where did this 嬉しい curve ball come from? So in Japanese, a contraction (for lack of a better term) means you can just LEAVE OUT AN ENTIRE WORD?! Well ok - pardon me for thinking that is complete and utter bollocks.

So instead of MY original understanding, the sentence really means:

I'm so happy to hear that you're still studying Japanese diligently.

I use 'diligent' for がんばる when the action is tedious and time consuming. So sue me.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Double Double

You've gotta love the Japanese. They like to exaggerate everything without really meaning too.

So I was studying my kanji flash cards this evening, and I came across a word that I knew, but didn't know that I knew when presented with the kanji for this word.

冷凍食品 - Frozen Foods.

Easy enough - you see it on signs in the grocery store, and if you suck at cooking, this aisle is Universally accessible. Grab something, throw it in the basket, microwave and dine.

But I didn't know that I knew the kanji for 凍る 'to freeze'. Let's break down the first two quickly:

凍る - to freeze

冷める - to get cold (冷たい is probably more widely known amongst students of Japanese - cold!)

So what do we have? 冷凍 'cold freeze'

Does that really make sense to anyone but a native? Why not just write 凍食品? Interpreted only by the kanji in play, don't we still get 'freeze eat things' ?

But that just wouldn't be enough emphasis on 'this stuff ain't warm'

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I know all the important words

No lengthy explanation this time. I have a very important word to bestow on you that you will likely not find in any textbook:


It means 'sex'.

If a chick whispers this in your ear - go directly to your room - do not pass Go, do not collect $200 dollars. 'Nuff said.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Bump for Analytics

This post tests Analytics.

See how easy Kanji can be?

I wonder why my Japanese teacher didn't slap us full in the face with Kanji right from the start?

The rational thinker in me suspects that certain students never intended to 'go the distance' and really become fluent in Japanese. 'Impossible!' you say, 'That simply can't be!' Oh yes - some students are down right lazy...

So the teacher wanted to go easy on us. Easy is learning it the right way once. Easy is taking 3 different forms of the written Japanese word and condensing the unnecessary into as small a space as possible. Cram it in. 詰める。

There are some words that you see right from the start that, rendered in Kanji the second time you ever saw them, would become second-nature over night.

Words like お願いします。

This is probably one of the first five words I ever heard in Japanese. But for the first two years, all I knew was it's hiragana half-bastard-brother: おねがいします。 Why not cut out the four play and get straight to the dirty? 願う means 'to desire' or 'to wish for'. I mean - that makes perfect sense! The Kanji doesn't muck it up right? Not at all.

Here's another word that I've heard thousands of times but find it's sequestered inside the kanji for Level 2: 缶詰。Canned goods. Ok this one is great: 缶 which is not only pronounced 'kan' but freaking _means_ 'can', but then we get the awesome 詰める which means 'to stuff into' or 'to cram'.

So we cram stuff into cans and end up with canned goods?! Are you freaking kidding me? Can it be this easy?!

Kanji is the way. I'm slapping myself every day for knowing words that I didn't know that I knew but didn't know... or... something like that.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Tricks of the trade

If you're a bit more advanced than, say, first semester Japanese classes, the path to success is really only copious amounts of the following two ingredients:
1. Building word power through reading, speaking, and listening
2. A lot of bloody time reviewing kanji (combined with reading - but sometimes flash cards are easier).

I find that the best way to accomplish building word power is to mimic the way I learned English - namely, reading really easy books suitable for my language level.

So now I'm carrying around a copy of ドラえもん (whatever edition) with me so that I can practice reading simple passages when I have down time. It comes faster and faster - just like when I was reading books in English as a kid!

Take the following:


That's actual text from the ドラえもん issue that I'm reading. The first word is rendered in kanji (obviously) - and reads ’ことり’ or 'baby bird'. So you might think 'wow - that kind of kanji is what they put in books for kids?'

Well - it makes sense doesn't it? Didn't we learn 'baby bird' when we were kids? So the question of 'where do I start with kanji?' is most simply answered by asking yourself 'what kind of words did I learn first?'

Japan and any other country aren't so different. Kids everywhere are interested in pretty similar stuff when it comes down to it.

So to break down the sentence fully in English, you might say:

Apparently there were baby birds and squirrels!


It seems that there were baby birds and squirrels!

Nobita-kun (our 'hero' in these books if you don't count ドラえもん), says more - but for the purpose of this blog, I'm trying to point out that cracking the kanji code is simply a function of regressing to your own childhood.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A bit of humor

Today is the 2nd anniversary of my sister's passing. She passed away in a freak car accident 2 years ago today in Louisiana (screw that state). So the best thing that you can do when remembering the past is think of something funny because the real heavy stuff in your head weighs you down.

So let me share a story about foreigners in Japan. This story features a friend of mine, and I tell the story with the utmost respect for his pain and chagrin on this fateful early day of his life in Japan.

I'm going to tell it like it was me though.

I got off the plane in Japan, green as a freshly chopped bundle of asparagus, thirsty. The only Japanese I knew was 'Nippon' because it was printed on the in-flight emergency brochure. The only recognizable aspect of this new foreign landscape? McDonalds.

So there I am, standing at the front of the McDonald's line, ready for the challenge of hurdling the language barrier.

All I want is a glass of water.

I order. 'Water'. Simple. Straight to the point. And completely freaking lost on cashier judging by the utterly blank expression on her face.

'Water. Water please. Water please? Wa-TER.' I start gesturing frantically. I make drinking motions throwing my head back with the satisfactory pleasure of taking down a tall glass of water on a hut summer's day. I punctuate the tall glass of imaginary water with a smiling 'Ahhhhhhhh'. Surely she gets the point.

Nope. Blank stare. I pause for a second. Is she still alive?



Ok - this isn't working. Let's take it to a _Universal_ level.

What distinguishes water equally in every country? Chemistry.

H2O. That's it. I'll lay it out to her with Chemistry.

I enunciate so there's absolutely no confusion.


'2' (I throw up the peace sign. I gesture to her and me to indicate 2 people).

'O' (I throw up the 'ok' hand sign to emphasize the O).

She screams and runs for the back of the store.

Before I know it, the manager has stormed up to the front counter with an aggressive yet cautious expression on his face.

'What want?' he says in perfect Japanese-English.

'Water' I reply. 'H2O'.

The metamorphosis of his face from 'angry manager' to 'poker player' should have been featured on a Discovery Channel short program.

’水’ he says to the employee (I know the kanji character now!)

'はい’ she responds, tiredly.

I get my glass of water, and drink it without the look of satisfaction I had been gesticulating only minutes earlier. I'm confused.


Months later, relating this story to a bilingual Japanese friend of mine, I was informed that in Japan:

H - means Hentai or えっち (sex!)

2 - is clearly 2 people (especially when emphasizing with pointing)

O - for 'ok?'

Leaves the clerk with the impression that I'm saying:

How about the 2 of us have sex? Ok?

I tripped on the language barrier and broke my jaw without even knowing it.

This language thing is trickier than I thought.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The path to success

Is paved with a whole butt load of kanji flash cards, kanji writing practice, kanji mock-tests, kanji recognition with on-yomi, kun-yomi, meaning tests, and tests for meaning (they aren't exactly the same).

I propose:

Monday: 90 mins of kanji
Tuesday: 90 mins of reading comprehension
Wednesday: 90 mins of kanji
Thursday: 90 mins grammar
Friday: 90 mins of review
Saturday: 90 mins of reading comprehension
Sunday: 90 mins of Flash cards, kanji recognition, or whatever I want to do to cram more stuff in my head.

Wish me luck. It's going down in December.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


After my trip to Japan over the holidays to visit relatives, I've returned with one unshakable omiyage: I've gotta move back.

It's something inside me that just won't be happy living in any other country. There is something in the water in Japan that I need.

So I'm dead-set on taking the Level 2 Proficiency test this year and passing. With that landmark achievement, I'll be prepared to get a job working in the IT industry at any number of larger Japanese corporations, or, if I can swing it, land myself a job at a hot little start-up or branch office in the area of VoIP or Network Engineering in general.

The Level 2 test is no joke. It's playing in the Major Leagues compared to Level 3's AAA farm club. Passing the Level 3 exam didn't seem possible before the event, but I suppose nothing seems possible before you've done it the first time.

The grammar section presents all kinds of new and interesting elements mine eyes have not touched before.

Take the following for example:


Because of too much pain, a tear fell (from my eye).

The way that I learned to say this runs more along the lines of:


They say essentially the same thing. It looks like 'のあまり’ appears more often in literature than in spoken conversation.

Just one more thing to commit to memory.

I'm going to pass this test, and I'm going to return to Japan. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Something funny

I probably learned this once before now - but I find that some things just don't stick in my head until the eleventeenth time I 'learn' them.

くんよみ ー Japanese reading

おんよみ ー Chinese reading

Why the heck I couldn't understand this very important distinction is beyond me even as I write this. I was trying to figure out why I could always say certain kanji in one way but not another. I realize now that I usually learn verbs the Japanese way and nouns the Chinese way (in Japanese - go figure).

What I'm blogging about at the moment is not very important unless you're studying for a more advanced Japanese level and you haven't had this drilled into your head until now.

Learn the bloody Japanese way first. Other teachers may advise the opposite - but I part with their wisdom for a very basic reason - we're learning Japanese.

Had I learned all the Japanese readings first, I wouldn't have these half-words in my head where I know 歩行者 in the 'my part of the road' sense, but couldn't read it in it's phonetic purity. All I could interpret was 'walk go person'. It's precisely because I can interpret these three kanji's meanings (from learning the Japanese readings first) that I know I'm a pedestrian, and yes, the white stripes parallel to the cars is where I should be stepping.

Once you've got the meanings down - then go back and learn how to say it. In this case, ほこうしゃ。 Afterall, buri to you if you can say the Japanese word but I won't get hit by the cars.

Meanings > readings.


The title is the main 'word' (because there's probably a more official term that I don't know) of my wife's family's Buddhist flavor. It is a word that draws a guttural groan from my smiling lips each time I hear it.

I'm all for freedom of religion. I have my beliefs and others are welcome to theirs. What I cannot tolerate is for any person to force their beliefs upon others to the degree that grown men and women must chant because their father commands it - especially when these people have expressed a clear contrarian position to that of the Alpha Male.

九州男児(きゅうしゅうだんじ)is how we refer to these men here in the South of Japan. Men more correctly identified as boys on a standardized word-association test. The infuriatingly smug way they say 'shall we begin?' as though everyone is looking forward to the moment with the same anxious anticipation barring a torrent of glee from spilling forward as water from an ancient dam.

No one is looking forward to it. Trust.

I don't take part in these pointless rituals because I have my own way to wander of course, but I can't even respect the act because the feet do not follow the mouth. They preach a cleansing of the soul through meditation and reverence for our ancestors and the creators of this world and all the life in it. They chant for an hour at a time scrubbing away at a day full of impolite words and actions heaped one upon another like peasants stacking bricks of mud around themselves and calling the atrocity 'home'.

九州男児 ー the category of the generation prior you hope dies off with the last living example. There's a word in every language.