Created with Sketch.
The Ultimate Study Guide for the JLPT
17 minutes | Sep 16, 2015
JLPT BC 167 | Learning to take Breaks
This last month has been pretty rough on me to be honest. There was a lot of last minute planning for my vacation. And of course, right when you want to go on vacation, everything seems to need extra attention. More work to do at work. More fires to put out. I haven’t had as much time as I would like to sort my plan out. My new position has a pretty hefty learning curve. I have heard that this pretty common so I’m not too worried. But it has meant that I have a lot of late nights catching up things. I think that sometime in the future I’ll be happy with my decision to take on more responsibility. Sometime. But for now I’m getting an incredible amount of real in-your-face practice with Japanese so I’m not too worried about my skills going to waste. I’ve had to get used to a few slangy comments. My co-workers aren’t the most professional and Kansai has plenty of interesting dialects it seems like. It is making me sweat, but great practice. Fighting back the burnout Often times I tend to push my students like a coach would push his players. Constantly asking them about doing their homework and encouraging them non-stop to perform at the best level they can. More often than not they tend to push back, of course. No matter what the age, it seems everyone is allergic to studying hard. I have adult students that always talk about regretting not studying harder in school, but struggle to get regular practice in now. And I think a good regular routine is good for you, but you can also go too far. I try to stop short of just mindlessly doing language practice. Because let’s be honest if you aren’t focused on the task, you are really aren’t doing yourself any benefits. Recently, I’ve been feeling that I’m starting to border on the way too much territory. Of course, having a vacation on my horizon didn’t really help me any. But, as I have said before, motivation is pretty much the only thing you need to be successful with language learning. So, if you feel like you have reached the edges of burnout, it is good to take a step back and take a little mental vacation before you lose it completely. I think some people might think I’m pretty lazy with my studies, but I think if you purposefully use your time to take a break when you need it, you can focus a lot more and get a lot more done with your time when you are ‘on’. I’ve been flirting with doing more and more meditation lately, and I feel like putting in the 5 minutes or so a day to refocus has started to really pay off. It’s not that there is this sudden change, but an overall better ability to get stuff down and feel good doing it. Meditation can really help stop burn out from anything I think as long as you stick with it. Stop and look around It’s now the beginning of September and we are about 3 months away from the December JLPT (Dec 6th). It’s a good time to look around and take stock of where you are in terms of preparing for whatever level you want to take. If you are behind, you are going to have to put your head down and hold your breath to get through to the end. If you have been burning the candle at both ends, it is a great time to take a short break before you burn yourself out in this final stretch. I personally recommend giving yourself a little holiday before the main event. I wouldn’t recommend dropping all your studies at once, though. Keep up the habit of doing your vocabulary and your drill books, just might want to tone it down a bit and take some time out of your day to just relax a little and clear your mind. Taking the time now will definitely pay off when you start doing the serious studying. If you haven’t started, now is when you should start drafting a plan. Lay out what you want to get it done. Set some manageable goals for yourself to hit over the next few months heading into the test. What books do you want to finish? How many more words are you going to go through in that time? Be sure to leave yourself some wiggle room for a final reviewing and reinforcing session at the end of it all. Test or Not to Test Every test, I tend to get a lot of questions about whether I’ll take the test or not. I definitely want to make another attempt, but there are a lot of things that are holding me back. I have a pretty clear idea of what I need to do and what I need to work on to get to the point that I need to be to pass, but I just can’t make the time commitment to do it. I’ve bit off more than I can chew with the site to be honest. It has exploded with traffic and I love helping people with the test and just enjoying Japanese. I love hearing from my readers (sorry, I don’t reply to everyone, but I do try to reply to as many as I can). It’s great hearing from such a lively community and getting feedback on what is and is not working. I’ve learned a lot about effective studying and I’ve been trying to share it as much I can. I’m also getting significantly more real world practice, and I have been learning about the differences between standard language and jargon and kansai-ben. That has been a great amount of practice for me and I love it. I’ve always tried to make the point that N1 isn’t actually necessary to get a job or achieve your dreams of being a good speaker of Japanese. Getting N2 is arguably useful and should be something to strive for if you want to be a good speaker, but N1 is kind of like icing on the cake. Icing is totally awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t necessary. I actually know a good number of translators and other people working with Japanese every day that stopped at the N2 level, and don’t seem to be bothered by it. Now, of course, being a guy that blogs about the JLPT, I get steady pressure to take the test, and that is why I started the blog in the first place – so that I would have something/someone to push me to pass. And I will pass it someday, just maybe not this time. How about you? How are your JLPT plans coming along? Are you right on track? If you need some advice, check out Month 9 of the JLPT study guide for some tips on what to do now to be ready for the December test. Let me know in the comments if you have questions. Photo by Yuki Yaginuma
32 minutes | Sep 2, 2015
JLPT BC 166 | What a Rat Experiment might Tell us about Japan’s Population Problem
When I first moved to Japan loved the city. It was nice and compact and everything is in one place. As long as you are a decent walk away from a train station you can get anywhere pretty easily without the use of a car. If you needed to buy anything that can’t be found at a store, no worries you can just order something online and give them a 2 hour window to deliver it to you. You have to live in a shoebox, but that’s the price you pay for convenience. Japan is incredibly convenient because everyone lives so close to each other. There is actually a lot more space in Japan that people can live on. For example, Shimane prefecture is so desperate for people that they are giving away houses as long as you plan on living there for 25 years (kind of). So there is literally free space available for anyone that wants to live out in the countryside. And cities have been getting a lot of love lately. People are starting to see them as a solution for a lot of problems with the environment as well as just being the new cool and convenient way to live. In recent years, city planners have been making cities much more inhabitable. New York City is a shiny example of that. They have shut down a lot areas to vehicular traffic and making them people-only zones as well as introduced bus lanes and bike lanes to allow for easier transit. So living together is great for everyone, the environment, and life in general. People love the city. It’s almost like a little utopia. So, what could possibly go wrong with it? (queue ominous music) The Utopian Rat Experiment John Calhoun did an experiment where he gave rats plenty of food and water and enough space for a good number of rats to live. He eliminated disease, natural predators. Everything just kind of came to these rats without much effort. The idea was to simulate the ideal environment that we humans live in and see what would happen. Rat population initially grew at a fairly rapid pace after a few months of settling in. Rats were making love and getting down, chowing down on the free grub and generally enjoying life. It was a good time to be alive for the rats. Then, before the actual physical capacity of their little utopia had been reached the population started to level off. Keep in mind that they still had plenty of food and water. That wasn’t limiting them. The population just leveled off. Then after a period of a year or so of this leveling off, the population started to rapidly die off and finally went extinct. This was back in the good old days when killing off animals was no biggy apparently. During this leveling off, Calhoun noticed a lot of interesting behaviors that pretty much led to the population’s downfall. Mothers stopped caring for their young. Fathers would first leave their kids and then their mothers would leave them. Sometimes they acted as if they simply forgot the children existed. There were other rats that kept themselves immaculately clean, but didn’t do much else. They simply ate, slept and cleaned. They didn’t even get it on with other rats. And apparently they were pretty stupid as well. On top of all that, they were constantly fighting with each other toward the end, despite the fact that there was not that much to fight over. There was plenty of food and water to go around. The only thing in limited supply was space. But they blooded each other’s tails with bites. What about Japan So, is the same thing happening in well-developed countries like Japan? Well, it isn’t exactly a rat colony and there are a lot more complexities to the Japanese system obviously. The country isn’t a big box in someone’s barn or lab, but there are some alarming signs that similar behavior is starting to become more prominent. Child Abuse In the rat utopia experiment mother’s abandoned their kids. There have been a few sensationalized news stories of mother’s abandoning their children, but nothing statistically relevant. However, child abuse has been on the rise for the last few years. Or at least, reports of child abuse have been on the increase. Reporting of child abuse cases started in 1990. And good statistics weren’t really available until 2000 when it became a requirement for people to report cases of child abuse that they witnessed. Reporting has gotten better, but it is still believed to be under-reported for a variety of reasons. Corporal punishment used to be a pretty standard practice in Japan 20 or 30 years ago. Natives of my generation have told me of having to receive spankings on a pretty regular basis at school. There was a famous case a few years ago of a coach who would beat up on his team captains. And if you ask some conservatives in their 40s and 50s, a good majority believe that this should continue. That not having corporal punishment is making the next generation weak. I’ve personally seen a few minor cases of child abuse in public, a mother slapping their child for instance. It seems like for some of the population it is an acceptable way to discipline your children. A recent report found that child abuse costs $14 billion annually, about the estimated cost of loses from the Tohoku earthquake. It is a hidden problem that is just starting to get more and more press and exposure, but not nearly as much as it should. Metrosexuals There is a good number of metrosexuals in Japan. I see at least a few a week precisely positioning each of the hairs on their head in the bathroom on a windy day, only to leave the restroom without washing their hands (sorry ladies, more men than you realize do this, eck). They are definitely a unique bunch that I have a hard time relating too, but hey, to each their own. There is also another breed of men in Japan called herbivore men. They don’t even bother to search for a mate, but instead eat, work, watch porn, and sleep. A lot of Western media have reported that this means the Japanese population doesn’t have an interest in sex, sourcing a now famous annual survey that asks people about their feelings on sex. But, the porn industry is alive and well in Japan. In fact the Japanese market accounts for 20% of porn profits worldwide, more than double the States. The spend an estimated $157 per capita compared to a paltry $47 per capita in the States. Of course some believe this divergence is more due to Japan’s ability to get more people to pay for porn than to actual consumption. Being that the States apparently loves pirating everything porn. So with all the porn consumption going on, it is hard to believe that the sex drive of the average Japanese person has magically evaporated. It’s just that for whatever reason, they don’t feel motivated to work for it anymore. In the rat experiment, alpha males started to horde the ladies in their own little rat apartments, and the weaker rats simply gave up on the whole ordeal. That doesn’t exactly seem to be the case here though. I don’t know too many people in polygamous relationships unless there is some underground network somewhere I haven’t come across. Fighting amongst each other The rats also started fighting amongst themselves, constantly competing for a position in the colony. That doesn’t seem to be happening in Japan. There are definitely established positions in the society, but competition for them hasn’t quite become a bloodbath either figuratively or literally, yet, anyway. I think this is thanks to the relative modesty that most people in power try to show. However, lately, there has been more pushing in the political arena with the recent security bills that got shoved through. And this has been met with loud protest. This might be the start of something new, or just an anomaly though. Japan is Always the First Although the media loves pointing out this phenomena in Japan, it is definitely not unique to Japan. Media like to tout that Japan is the most crowded country in the world (it isn’t even in the top 10) or that its fertility rate is the second lowest in the world as I saw in one article (again, not even in the top 10). It just so happens to be the 3rd largest economy and everyone likes to look on because, well, it might be them soon. But, I think with the awareness of the fact that, if we act like a bunch of animals and give into our instincts we will be in for a lot of hurt, at least a number of people will realize that we need to look at the world a little differently. We need to start acting like intelligent beings instead of falling for our instincts. Because we are one of the only species who can successfully reject our inborn instincts and create a different path. I think there is still hope yet for Japan. I have met plenty of mothers and fathers that stand by their family through thick and thin. Yes, it is a lot rougher than before, but not unbearable. It just takes a different set of tools and lot more know how than before. I’ve heard the biggest problem facing Japan at the moment is people finding mates. I feel like this is due to a shift in values and roles of the sexes over the years. It used to be men provided all the cash. In a lot of ways, they still provide the majority of the cash in a relationship, but women don’t need their money to be happy. Men need to make women happy with their personality, i.e. be interesting people, and that is something some men find to be a mystery. Talking to a lot of my female friends, that is the number one complaint that keeps coming up – men are too boring. Yes, of course there is at least some concern about money. Can they provide for me and a family? But, there is a new requirement and a lot of men don’t spend a lot of time developing that. What do you think? This podcast went a little long this time. I’ll cut it off here, but I’d like to hear what you think of this experiment. Do you think humans are doomed to this behavior? Can we fight our animal instincts? Let me know in the comments below. Photo by Tatiana Bulyonkova
20 minutes | Jul 29, 2015
JLPT BC 165 | Speaking Practice with FluentU
I’ve always found summer to be a more active time. Despite the oppressive heat and humidity we have here in Japan, I still think the increased sunlight and ability to walk around the house in a lot less clothes just makes me do something more than keeping my nose in a book. People always ask me what my favorite season in Japan is. And I have to say that while I’m working, I love the winter. But when I’m off, I love the summer. I guess if I could wear shorts and a sports shirt to all my teaching gigs, I think I would feel a little differently. Who ever invented ‘dress’ clothes anyway? So while I’m still keeping my reading up of Harry Potter and slowly working my way through 1q84. I wanted to steer my studies towards something more, well, physical. Even if I can’t manage to arrange meet ups online, I want to challenge myself by doing some talking practice, specifically speaking incredibly fast so that I can get my comfort level up with the language and make it easier to listen to native speakers. And also, at my level, I just need to be really comfortable with native materials. I’ve been sitting through some meetings in Japanese lately. And like all meetings, they are pretty boring. Listening to upper intermediate Japanese of boring administrative gobbly guck can cause some serious headaches. I would prefer to digest the content a little more automatically. Overshot my Level So, to this end, I’ve been trying to work my way through one video on FluentU a week. The main reason for this is that I want to create a manageable new habit. Realistically, I probably should be consuming a lot more, but I don’t want to get hit by a hurricane and have to drop it all and then try to re-establish the habit. The idea here is to start small and scale slowly so that I can keep it from becoming overbearing. When I first started out, I overshot a little. I tried to go for an advanced video. And even though, I understood most of the video and vocabulary, I realized my ability to speak that fast and comprehend it at native speed, just wasn’t there yet. It was a news video on the Ginza Yanagi festival in Tokyo and it was chock-full of formal Japanese – things like おこなう and ひらかれます which I still have a hard time saying fast because well, I don’t use them that much. So, I downgraded to upper intermediate. The idea being that I can practice this foundation more easily and get through videos more quickly, making it more motivating to keep studying. Also, I want to be able to speak and listen fast, like really fast, like native-speed fast, and so that aspect makes even relatively easier material a good challenge. Also, I kind of feel like the ‘captions’ i.e. sentences taken from the video, are a little too long to practice word order exercises with at that level. Some of the sentences I was unscrambling were like 30 or 40 parts long. That made it immensely difficult to try to parse them all out. It was and is good practice because the N1 definitely has a few monsters that you have to untangle. However, now I want to improve speaking and comprehension speed. Typical Week So here is what I typically do to get through a video in a week. First, I watch the video without any help. No script of any kind (Japanese or English) and just try to pick up as much as I can the first time around. I might even repeat this once or twice to see if I can get some more details. The point here is to get some freebie listening practice before beginning your speaking practice with the conversation. Try to get the main idea of the video. If you are feeling really ambitious you can even take notes about key words. This is great practice for the N2 and N1 listening sections, bonus points if you can take notes in kanji/kana. I then download the transcript (a premium feature) and read it out loud a few times, without furigana at first. The idea here is to note any kanji I don’t know how to actually read. I might even circle a few that I have questions about or are unsure of the reading. Then I watch the video a few times with the English shut off, following along with the script. FluentU really shines here because the script, in a big font, follows the video as you watch it allowing you to easily follow what is being said. At this point, I try my best to try to read along with the conversation, but I might not be fast enough with all the words. The words or parts that stumble upon I circle. At this point I drill the points that I’m having a hard time saying. I also look up furigana for any kanji that I am still having trouble reading and couldn’t quite pick up from the video. I might read through a few times and try again reading along with the video. I do this until I fairly comfortable with it. And then and only then do I go to the English and check my understanding. Usually, I just watch the video with the English showing and nothing else to follow along and get a clearer idea. And then afterwards start drilling vocabulary and captions to really bring it all home. What does this Do? The main reason I try to keep away from English until the last minute is because I want to ‘break the crutch’ that English provides. I don’t want to be doing double duty, translating Japanese into English and then trying to comprehend it. I want to try to do it all natively. So, I don’t use it until I absolutely need to. I think focusing on just making the sounds, especially trying to do as fast as you can, tricks your brain into not thinking too much. This brings you closer to native speed with comprehension. And also pushing your muscles to work faster and faster breaks off that little safety latch that keeps stopping you from speaking at the speed you should be speaking. In general, it just makes you feel more comfortable using Japanese, and makes it easier for you to take that mental leap and just think in Japanese and instead of reverting back to English. Give it a Try Have you tried FluentU yet? Most units allow you to download the first sentence of a video, so you can practice a little bit and get a feel of how to use this technique. Let me know what you think in the comments. Be sure to also take a look at the JLPT Study Guide Plan month 7 for what to do to prepare for the big test in December.
21 minutes | Jul 15, 2015
JLPT BC 164 | You’ll always be an Outsider in Japan
I grew up in white bread America where the corn grows high and hills don’t. I spent most of my time in a city of a mere 10,000 where everybody knew each other (and who was doing what to who). It was not uncommon to go downtown to run some errands and run into a handful of your friends on the way. I met a girl, and thought I was in love. What was peculiar was that I never met her parents. In fact, her parents prohibited her from dating, which, of course, didn’t stop her from dating, but made things annoying for the two of us. You see her parents were 1st generation immigrants from a more traditional country. The dad was a cardiologist and the mom was a super intelligent housewife because that is what super intelligent women do in the old country apparently. What struck me as odd was that her parents were whole-heartedly planning to spend their whole adult lives in the States, but were going to retire to their home country. That to me, seemed like a bit of shame. You spend your whole life in another country longing to be somewhere else. I’d much rather enjoy life while I live it and not while I’m decrepit and my joints lock up so much I can hardly get out of the house. But, hey, that’s me. To this end, they didn’t go out. They didn’t come to community events. I rarely saw them at school functions. I only saw her mom once the whole time we were dating. And granted, back then, living in backwoods America, I wasn’t racist (although plenty of my peers were) but I just didn’t have the view of the world that I do now. So, it was very frustrating to see someone making their living in my dinky little city, but not actually living there if you catch my drift. In our city, like a lot of other small towns in the States, there were a lot of doctors and specialists from all over the globe. That was basically my main exposure to diversity. Most of them kept to themselves, while their kids tended to be incredible socialites, some of them being the most popular kids in school. It always struck me as odd that their parents were such outsiders while the kids tended to be the opposite. While I tended to know most of my friends’ parents quite well, their parents always remained in the shadows. “You’ll always be an Outsider.” There is a comment that seems to be battered about that goes something like “you’ll never fit in, in Japan.” And like a lot of things that seem to be attributed to being uniquely Japanese, I have always been a little suspect of this. I’ve never really felt this that much. On the contrary, some people I’ve worked with and hung out with have looked past a lot of my oddities and treated me as one of the gang, despite my awkwardness. Yeah, I’ve been laughed at for wearing toilet slippers where I shouldn’t have. I’ve went into the wrong bathroom once and got a few odd looks. I’ve found myself at the drugstore looking at a package for a few minutes before realizing it was an enema. I’ve been there and done that, sometimes very publicly, but my friends have stuck with me and given me the benefit of the doubt. Do I feel totally at home? Does everything come naturally to me? No, it doesn’t. So in that sense I do feel a little out of place, but then again that’s what I signed up for. Every day is a new adventure, and I inevitably learn something new, usually through painful failure, but I’m a guy that likes to learn things the hard way. The one thing I don’t feel is that I don’t fit in, or that I’m a trained monkey. Why? Because I try my best to fit in. I leave my house, socialize with non-English speakers, and mingle with the locals. I participate in my community as much as I can, sometimes begrudgingly, but I’m still there. In other words, I work hard to be here like any new resident of a place anywhere should. Even if you were to move to another part of your home country, wouldn’t you try as much as possible to meet new people? Yeah, sure you would. So why would being in a different country change that? When I think about the people that complain about ‘not fitting in’ I think back to my earlier days and my old girlfriend’s parents. They were working in the States for sure, but were they living there? Not really. Fitting in is something that you have to take an active role in. You are not going to be passively sucked into Japan. You need to take action and surround yourself with people that can help make that happen. This is not Uniquely Japanese People have problems fitting in anywhere. Maybe those immigrants in my old hometown felt too uncomfortable to fit into society. Maybe they felt like the culture was too radically different for them to really be able to expose themselves to it. But, the reason they didn’t fit in, at least at the root, was that they didn’t get out and try to mingle. They made up their minds that staying in America was only temporary. And there are a few people that are like that here. They never really planned to stay that long, but nothing enticed them to go back, and so they stayed on. But, they never laid the foundation to feel at home here. They keep to their English speaking friends, go to foreigner bars, do foreigner events, and still act like they just got here. I think, for some people, it’s fun to keep up that newness. But, that newness eventually wears off, and reality sets in. This is generally known as culture shock, and tends to happen about 3 months after you arrive. For some people though, it happens a lot latter. And they wake up and realize they don’t fit in, which does suck. Big City Problems I’ve found that like other things that Japan gets a lot of flack for, this problem is most apparent in Tokyo. The bigger the city, the easier it is to get lost in one of its small little corners. It is also a lot easier to find people with similar backgrounds, do activities that are very similar to what you did back home and generally isolate yourself from the culture. When I did my stint out in the backwoods of Japan. I felt more at home and a part of the group. There would be times when I would only see one other foreigner (a colleague) about once a week. It was actually the best experience I’ve had here. I made a lot of great friends. But, I had to move to the big city for a variety of reasons. The biggest one was to be able to fly to the States fairly easily. In the countryside, I would have to take an overnight bus after work to Osaka, sit around for a few hours (the bus would arrive ridiculously early), then grab a transpacific flight to my parents. It was a grueling 2 day ritual that would bookend any trip I took. Something I simply couldn’t sustain if I was going to stay in Japan for any length of time. Do you fit in? Is it easy to find your place in Japan? Let me know your experiences in the comments.
16 minutes | Jun 24, 2015
JLPT BC 163 | Chatting it Up
It’s a story you’ve heard several times – we don’t talk to each other like we used to. Because ya know, back in the good ole days we used to chat it up with our neighbors and everybody knew everybody right? It was always better back then. But these days, we tend to ignore each other. We aren’t as open to conversation as we used to be. Instead of striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to us on the train we choose to sit in silence. This is more true in Japan then probably most other places but you get the idea. There just isn’t as much communication going on. But we humans are social creatures. We like talking and sharing ideas with each other. We need to communicate to get pretty much anything done. And the better we are at communicating the better off we tend to be. Do you ever notice that the one guy that doesn’t do much in your office but can chat anyone up keeps getting promoted? There’s a reason. And one of the things I love about learning a language is that you have a very viable excuse to just start talking to random strangers. Nobody is going to think it’s strange. That’s kind of one thing I like about my job. I get to talk to people every day all day. Granted you sometimes meet people that are little too unique, but overall, it’s interesting to hear everyone’s different take on the world. How to Start doing Regular Chats A lot of people will recommend doing Skype sessions to get some practice with real life conversations and using ‘real’ Japanese with ‘real’ people. And I definitely think that is the best option for the majority of people. Before my daughter was born and my life was a little more scheduled, I was perfectly capable of scheduling Skype chat sessions and keeping to them. These days though, try as I might, I really have not been able to buckle down a regular pattern to my life. Even my sleep schedule has become a bit tentative in recent months. This has made me a master of being a little more portable with everything I do from blogging to emailing and checking in with friends and family. But even with all my time savings I’ve managed to hobble together, I’m still not able to consistently clear a block of time in my schedule to practice talking. So how can someone like me squeeze in some practice? Something that doesn’t really require that much of an ongoing commitment, but does provide regular practice so that I can practice and learn new vocabulary in a more natural setting? Well, I looked around for something to plug this hole. I thought I could get some practice in with Lang-8.com, which I have been doing a little more with, and it is a great service. However, I never really felt a compulsion to do a lot of writing. After all, it is only for me to read, and there really isn’t a whole heck of a lot of real communication going on. You just kind of shoot out a passage and get corrections back, but you aren’t really talking to someone. Introducing Hello Talk Eventually, after a little poking around, I found Hello Talk, a chat app for the iPhone and Android. And on the surface it is a basic chat app, kind of like a toned down Line or something similar. But, what’s cool about this little app is it is specifically designed for language learners to practice their target language. The app is basically free, with some of the handier tools available as a subscription service. But the base package allows you to tap and get a Google translation of what someone is saying. This Google translation isn’t the best thing in the world. But, it will give you the general meaning of what is trying to be conveyed. I really like the app because it is nice and simple. You just login and do some chatting. It isn’t complicated by a whole heck of other utilities. This makes it easy to pick up and do some chatting and then go about doing something else. And it’s key selling point for me anyway, is that you can have asynchronous conversations with people. Skype is great, but it can be difficult to squeeze in a chat session or find people that are free when you are. With asynchronous communication, both of you don’t have to be present at the same time. Of course there are other platforms to chat with like Line or Facebook. But, Hello Talk is designed with language learning in mind. I mean Line probably has more native speakers of Japanese but if you can’t read a particular kanji you have to copy and paste to get a definition. Hello Talk helps you out with a very approximate Google translation. Some hurdles to deal with I have had a few problems getting a few conversations going and keeping them going. This is partly my fault as I tend to start a few conversations and then get suddenly busy and I’m not able to respond to everyone I’m talking to. Also you can have a good conversation and then the other person just up and disappears. This isn’t that big of a deal because there are plenty of people using the system and you can just go back and look at who else is available. There also tend to be a lot of the usually suspects that you find on services like this. The overly ambitious talker that assaults you with long welcoming messages asking you to answer a list of riddles or shoving their Skype id in your face in hopes that you will suddenly call them up. But, their numbers are relatively few. Most of the people I met like to chat and keep a conversation going. The demographics, not surprisingly, skew young. There are a lot of college students majoring in English that have some free time to chat. But there are others from all walks of life. Some Quick Tips I’ve found that if you blast someone with a huge message, you don’t get a response more often than not. Another dead end to starting a good conversation is playing the interrogator – こんにちは？ 仕事は？ / しごとは？(What is your job?) どこに住んでいますか? / どこにすんでいますか？(where do you live?) etc… A lot of people ask these questions when they first meet someone and chances are there are a lot of people meeting people on a service like this. So anyone you message may have heard this a gazillion times already. So, my tip is to instead of bombarding them with the standard questions, ask how their day or week was – 今日の調子はどうですか？ / きょうのちょうしはどうですか？ (How is your day?) or 今週の調子はどうでしたか？ / きょうのちょうしはどうでしたか？ (How was your week?) These tend to get a variety of responses and then you can ask questions and talk about your week as well. Be sure to have some somewhat interesting story prepared. Even if you tell a story about something that happened at a different time, telling a story is a good way to introduce yourself that is more interesting than chugging through the standard questions. It also gives you good, real world talking practice. Have you Used Hello Talk or Something Similar? What is your experience like with conversation partners? Have you been able to maintain a good connection? Let me know in the comments below.
28 minutes | Jun 10, 2015
JLPT BC 162 | 5 Things to Know to Become an Ukiyo-e master
Ukiyo-e, if you are not familiar, is a Japanese art form that was popular from 17th century to 19th century Japan. It basically consists of woodblocks used for mass production of pictures. Ukiyo means floating world, and e means picture, so they were literally “pictures of the floating world.” They generally depicted daily life, landscapes, and beautiful people. Ukiyoe prints are some of the most famous pieces of artwork from Japan. Almost everyone has, at one time, seen Hokusai’s “Big Wave” print featured above. And portraits of the kabuki actors tend to crop up whenever a Japanese themed picture is needed. The sharp contrasts of the images have a distinct style and have probably done a lot to influence manga artists of today. 5. How to pronounce it Okay, so it may seem like a simple word to pronounce, but it really isn’t. You have to give it a few tries before it really rolls off your tongue. So try it a few times, quickly. If anything it is a great work out for your tongue. Here is a native saying it courtesy of our good friends at Forvo.com: 4. Some Ukiyo-e had Bewbs Erotica wasn’t as big of a taboo in Japanese art as it was in Western art. Although not often displayed in museums around the world, erotica was a part of ukiyoe art. And these drawings were not just for dirty minded pervs looking to get their kicks. They were actually quite common. The style of ukiyoe depicting erotica was called shunga. And there are records of everyone from samurai to housewives purchasing and carrying shunga with them. Although not completely openly accepted (despite Western commenters attempting to portray otherwise), it wasn’t completely against any religious morals like in the West. Almost all of the major ukiyoe artists at one time created some kind of erotica. Even Hakusai, arguably one of the most famous woodblock artists created a series of prints that depicted a story of a woman making love to an octopus, which of course would never see the light of day in the 19th century West, and to be honest is a bit shocking to see in this modern era, even as art. 3. The major periods Early Ukiyo-e (1670~1740) Before around the 1670s, art was mostly limited to the nobility who had the kind of money to commission works of art, much like in the West. Patrons usually liked to see pictures of things that reminded them of their wealthy, like wealthy people doing wealthy things. But, once Japan was united and the Edo period began. The merchant class found themselves making some serious yen, and there started being an interest in art, especially art that depicted every day things. This merchant class had money, but it seems like they weren’t exactly swimming it, so being able to mass-produce artwork with woodblocks, made prints cheaper and more affordable. These first pieces of work were mostly in the style of what had come before. They characterized by their use of only one color, typically black, and showed limited use of prospective, usually just sticking to 2D. A lot of them focused on the human figure and ideals of beauty. Beginning of Color Prints (1740~1780s) Starting in the 1740s, ukiyo-e prints started to be printed with multiple woodblocks each using a different colored ink. This somewhat complicated process led to more flexibility in creating different images. Landscapes and more complicated scenes became more popular. During this time, due to influence from the West, paintings started to take on more geometrical prospective. The paintings, in particular Masanobu’s works appeared a lot more 3 dimensional, something that we take for granted today, but was actually a major breakthrough back in the day. The Peak and Popularization of the Genre (1780~1804) This era brought on some of the greats like Utamaro and Sharaku who placed more emphasis on beauty and harmony. Portraits also began to focus more on the head and torso of someone as opposed to the whole body. Some of the popular woodblocks were of famous kabuki actors and every day beautiful women. A lot of the faces look very similar due to the emphasis on harmony and perfection. Move toward Landscapes (1804~1868) Due to the Tenpo Reforms of 1841 to 1843, printmaking of kabuki actors, geisha and courtesans was banned. Artists turned away from people as the subject matter of their prints and focused more on landscapes. This is the area when a lot of the major prints that are famous today were created. Prints like the Big Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai as well as Hiroshige’s more subdued prints. There were still scenes of villagers, but there was less emphasis on beauty and perfection of the human form. Artists and the Japanese government didn’t want to focus on decadence. Instead, artists seemed to look for beauty in the every day life and nature that surrounded them. 2. The major artists Moronobu was one of the first woodblock artists. He did a lot to popularize the art form and get it started. Although he wasn’t the first, he formalized and refined the art style. Sukenobu was famous for his shunga, or erotic prints. He published at least 30 volumes of erotica. Being based in Kyoto, which was rather rare for ukiyo-e artists of the time, he tended to focus on beautiful women going about their hobbies and daily activities in beautiful kimonos. Masanobu came to prominence during the second era of ukiyo-e artists when color printing became popular. He is best known for employing geometrical perspective in his prints to give them a depth that hadn’t been seen before. He used multiple colors to give his prints a tremendous amount of detail. Harunobu was a pupil of Sukenobu and was believed to be the first artist to use multi-colored printing or nishiki-e, sometimes called brocade printing for his works. In 1765, he and a group of poets published a deluxe edition of calendar to be distributed amongst friends. This calendar eventually brought him fame and he went on to create around 600 prints in 6 years before his untimely death at age 45. He was famous for his expressive and creative designs. Shunsho is famous for creating portraits of kabuki actors that were more true to life. The portraits allowed viewers to not only recognize the character, but also the individual actor playing the part. Although famous for his woodblock prints of kabuki actors, he was also a versatile painter that painted several images of beautiful women, bijin-ga, as well. Kunisada was a giant in the woodblock industry, producing well over 20,000 prints in his lifetime. He created prints that often did not follow the norms of the day. Just looking at a few of his prints you can see his bold use of color and composition that was completely different from the previous norms. Kiyonaga painted idealized female forms in the latest fashions. Despite being of humble origins he managed to capture an air of aristocracy. His female forms were said to be fuller and more mature than his predecessors. His prints portrayed scenes very plainly not idolizing them in any way. Utamaro is said to replace Kiyonaga as the go to guy for bijin okubi-e (large headed pictures of beautiful women). His women tended to be even more fuller and mature. Although they were far from being realistic. Most of the women in his prints were tall and slender, their faces long with small eyes, which were apparently coveted at the time. Sharaku was a mysterious ukiyo-e artist that appeared in 1795, made prints for about 10 months and disappeared shortly there after. His artwork was met with disapproval at the time, but they are now some of the more iconic images from that time. They showed a lot of expression due to the contorted expressions on the kabuki actors faces. Hokusai is arguably the most famous ukiyo-e artist. He was famous for prints with sharp contrasts and hard edges. His print the Great Wave off Kanagawa is probably the first image that comes to mind when you think of ukiyo-e prints other than the countless portraits of kabuki actors and beautiful women. He had a personal obsession with Mt. Fuji and painted several views of the mountain in his lifetime along with a lot of other studies of nature. Hiroshige is famous for his The fifty-three stations of the Tokaido which portrayed the sights he saw on his trip to Kyoto from Edo. During the Edo period, tourism was booming, making his prints very popular. Although he made good use of color his prints tended to be more realistic and with more subtle colors than Hokusai. He was also known to paint flowers and birds, which up until then hadn’t been a popular subject of ukiyo-e prints. 1. Further Resources I’ve just given you a small glimpse of the massive world of ukiyo-e artwork. If you are interested in checking out some more prints for yourself, I encourage you to visit ukiyo-e.org, which has a massive library of prints from around the world cataloged and named for you to sort through. I consulted it several times for some good prints for this article. If you’d like to be able to identify some of the great’s artworks, I put together my own short ukiyo-e course on Memrise. There you can learn to identify some prints created by some of the great ukiyo-e artists. There is also a course that walks through Hiroshige’s 53 Stations of Tokaido. Also if you are interested in doing some further reading, be sure to check out Japan Journeys (JPN), which a nice book that arranges some select ukiyo-e prints to show what some of Japan’s greatest cities used to look like. Andreas Marks also has another beautiful book, Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers and Masterworks: 1680 – 1900 (JPN), if you are looking for something large format to enjoy these prints. Another small primer of ukiyo-e history is Ukiyo-e: An Introduction to Japanese Woodblock Prints (JPN). It is a short and sweet 96 page intro to the art form. What do you think of Ukiyo-e? Who is your favorite? Let me know in the comments.
17 minutes | May 27, 2015
JLPT BC 161 | Doing it the Hard Way
In school, I always had a hard time paying attention in class. The teacher would lecture away and we were suppose to be taking notes, but to be honest I could never proper filter out what was important and what wasn’t. Half the time I left the class knowing that I had listened to something interesting, but not having any clue as to what the main points were. And there are a lot of classes out there that are just teacher lectures, students take notes, read the required material, and there are periodic tests or papers to check everyone has a pulse. It is the same rhythm. A lot of English classes are set up like this. There are certain steps that I go through every class. They tend to be boring for me and boring for my students. And it seems like a students aren’t retaining the material as well as they should be. So, why do we do it? Because it is easy to organize, it is measurable (with tests), and we can clearly ‘see’ students ‘learning’. But, are they really learning? Mmm, maybe. The good and focused students are. But, that isn’t your average student. In our effort to make everything streamlined and measurable, we seemed to have forgotten how to learn. Doing it the Hard Way Last month, I talked about moving away from digital and being slightly more analog in my study approaches. I’ve been trying to do a lot more unplugged as well as make things just a little more interesting for myself. Part of that has been working on an improved vocabulary notebook system. I’ve been so willy nilly about keeping a vocabulary notebook in the past. I’ll start off taking good notes and with good intentions only to abandon it a few weeks later, so I want to build something that is easy to stick to, but hard to do. Let me explain. Memrise and Anki, they are my best friends. They have seen me through some tough spots and have accelerated my vocabulary learning immensely. I don’t think I could have gotten through all the vocabulary words you need for N2 and N1 without their assistance. But, there comes a point where this regular pattern of learning just causes your brain to shut off. Much like my classes back in high school and college that followed the same formula day in and day out. Show up, take notes, go home, go over notes, take quiz/test, rinse wash and repeat. Without variation or any surprises, my brain just kept going to sleep. On the other hand, if you give me a piece of software to learn or a computer to fix, I can get it done in a day or two. Part of that is because learning software or fixing things is a lot more interactive, giving you feedback on whether you are doing the right thing or not. And that definitely plays a huge role in learning a language. You really need to have interaction with someone so that you can get that instant feedback. But, another part of it is that every time I went to fix a computer it was just a little different. There was always something a little different about what was wrong. The same with learning a new piece of software, it was something new for me, so my brain could soak it up. So the more new something or how different it is to what you are used to, the easier it will be to remember it. Your brain tends to take note of things out of the ordinary. If you do the same hum-drum every day, it isn’t going to pick up on anything. I also failed a lot and made (sometimes expensive) mistakes. When the stakes are higher, you also tend to pay more attention as well. That’s why it is kind of a good thing that the JLPT costs ~$50, because you are going to study a little harder knowing that if you fail, you have just lost $50 (kind of, I mean you do get feedback on how your studies are progressing). All of this reasoning is driving my design behind trying to put together a good, maintainable vocabulary notebook. It is a bit hard work to keep notes and look up extra words and definitions, but I’m already starting feel a difference. It’s still not really ready yet though, so stay tuned. Fluent U A couple of month’s ago, one of my readers suggested that I start studying with FluentU, a new website for learning languages. At the time, I kind of just thought of it as yet another ‘learn languages with our patented, proven, super-duper system’ kind of site. The internet seems to be packed with these. But, FluentU is a bit different. They take YouTube videos and help you along with the script as well as the translation. They then slice up the vocabulary for you to practice with. They also build out handy flashcards (complete with pictures). What I like about their system is that they give you scrambled sentences to help you practice word order. This is great practice for the JLPT. Right now, I’m testing out their iPhone app, which is due out at the end of May. It’s pretty handy to have and gives me a good counterweight to the Memrise app. The FluentU system isn’t focused on a particular list of vocabulary, which is handy if you are going for a good background of vocabulary. Instead, they dissect one video, which typically has around 100 words or so, and give you context for each word. This scatter-shot approach is great to be honest. I think if you stick to the lists, which aren’t technically accurate anymore, you are selling yourself short, and probably boring yourself to death in the process. They are still in their infancy, but they have around 300+ videos for Japanese so far, and it takes a surprisingly long time to get through one video. I’ve yet to feel the need for more material, even at the more upper intermediate/advanced level. Definitely worth the few minutes to check it out. How are your Studies going? Have you tried studying the ‘hard way’? What do you do? Have you tried FluentU yet? Let me know in the comments below. Photo by Tambako the Jaguar
24 minutes | May 13, 2015
JLPT BC 160 | BSing in Japan, Honne vs. Tatemae
A few years back, I was working at a school and we were trying to arrange a farewell party for one of our fellow teachers. One teacher found a great Indian restaurant that wasn’t too far away from the school. It seemed like a great place. It had a big room to accommodate everyone and it was something different for us, since we usually go to Japanese restaurants for these kinds of things. The problem was that the restaurant only had the typical ‘all-you-can-eat/all-you-can-drink’ deal for large groups like ours on weekends which is when we wanted to go. The grand total of which was Y4000. Not too bad if you like to drink yourself blind, and, to be fair, the usual price for this kind of party. Some people grumbled a bit about the price, because, well, we’re teachers and are perpetually broke. Another more generic, slightly farther away Indian restaurant offered ‘all-you-can-eat’ plus order/pay for your own drinks for just Y2000. And this was offered up as a better option. I was a big fan of this option, because I hardly drink nowadays. However, another foreign teacher objected because the other restaurant wasn’t so nice and farther away. The Japanese staff listened politely and then it was decided that we would ‘think about it’. Well, we thought about it long and hard. But, nothing ever came of it. In the end, we went back to our old friend, the izakaya, a Japanese-style pub. The other foreign teacher threw up his hands in frustration wondering why we couldn’t have come to an agreement on the Indian restaurant and the Japanese staff found excuses to look away and change the subject. So what happened? Well it turns out that the problem is that about half the staff really had no desire to drink and didn’t want to pay the premium for ‘all-you-can-drink’. Did anyone really expressly say that or explain it to my foreign colleague? No. I hadn’t made the conclusion myself to be honest. I just didn’t want to spend more money. I think us Westerners expect there to be a thorough discussion about these kinds of things. And that everyone’s opinions should be heard, weighted, and sorted. And after all that, a proper decision should be made. But, in Japan a lot of these arguments need to be implied from the situation. In the above situation, the Japanese staff didn’t want to cause conflict by outright disagreeing. And they probably felt uncomfortable structuring their arguments in English, so they just kind of gave silent resistance to the argument. This is a common situation that has led to many an expat getting frustrated and throwing a fit. But, in Japan it is an every day thing, and even openly accepted and appreciated. It is seen as being polite in some ways. Tatemae The Japanese staff in the situation above were showing their ‘tatemae’ or outside face not their true feelings ‘honne’. This a key part of Japanese society that most people believe helps everyone get along in such a crowded country. Basically, it is a way of being extremely indirect in conveying a sometimes uncomfortable message. It is considered polite to do so, even though you are essentially lying to someone’s face. It can also mean doing something that you really don’t want to do, but are obligated to do. For example, for Valentine’s day, women are expected to give male co-workers and their boss chocolates (called girichoco – obligation chocolate) even though they really don’t want to. They also give chocolates to romantic interests that they would like to see more of. Girichoco tends to be of the rather cheap kind that you can buy at the supermarket. Not exactly a plain old candy bar, but one small step up from that. On the other hand, for those they hold most dear, they will go to the department store and get special chocolates. And this is not necessarily seen as a negative thing even though it is pretty obvious that people are just doing it out of obligation. This is in contrast to the Western idea of being true to yourself and being honest with others. That’s not to say that people in the West don’t, from time to time, do things they are obligated to do. It seems like the higher you go in society in the West the more obligations you have to uphold. We’ve all heard of the suburban mom who keeps track of how much everyone spends on presents so that they can give an appropriately priced gift in response at a later date. Or the sudden need to wash one’s hair when someone makes an unwelcomed advance. I think we in the West tend to also use a tremendous amount of sarcasm to soften our blows and achieve the same purpose of tatemae. But, sarcasm is noticeably absent from Japanese culture. It’s actually quite amusing to hear someone try to use sarcasm in Japan. It usually ends up being way to blunt or way too soft. It is a tough skill to master, not unlike tatemae. But, people will sometimes appreciate hearing your true feelings in the West. As a matter of fact, it is seen as a brave and respectable thing in some situations. And people in Japan, may often be shocked and not be able to really deal with true feelings. I have seen many a foreigner explode with frustration, and the shocked expression on someone’s face, puzzled as to how to deal with it. I’ve been the foreigner sometimes when I’ve had enough with some sales rep monopolizing my time and I’ve tried to politely brush them off with some ‘arigatou gozimasu’s and ‘sumimasen’s. Softbank has recently taken this to new extremes with their incredibly long walk through of all the add on services that you could possibly need. I just need an iPhone with a data plan please. I sometimes feign ignorance of Japanese at this point and keep repeating what I need until they give in and let me sign the contract. Or my favorite “chotto jikanganainode…” which seems to hurry along most people and force them to make their point. Honne Honne, of course, is the opposite. Instead of hiding your feelings or adhering to social norms, you are staying true to your feelings. This is usually limited to close friends or family. But, like anything else there is a spectrum of people that are on the edge of tatemae, and others that are completely honne. A lot of those that have a hard time fitting in in Japan, tend to look abroad and to English to be their way of expressing themselves. What this means is that the people that you meet from Japan that are fluent speakers of English tend to be quite Western and quite honne. Some people can be quite brutally honest. I have been around more than a few people that have blown their top in an epic explosion of anger or frustration. It is pretty rare, but it does happen. Another thing that kind of happens is that some people don’t carry their tatemae filter with them into English. One time an acquittance, that I hardly knew, poked me in the belly and said “metabo” (short for metabolic syndrome, basically calling me fat). I wasn’t really offended but just surprised that he would do that. Another time, I was out with an all male cadre of sales reps that I had been teaching for about a year. And even before the drinks started really poring they were asking about how my wife was in bed. Their boss lucky cut them off and redirected the conversation, but it just seemed kind of a funny thing to ask. I mean when is that ever acceptable? But, I think speaking another language (they had asked the question in English) tends to shake off those inhibitions you have when using your native language. In America, we also tend to hold back on true feelings. For instance, breaking down and crying in the office is not going to get you a promotion any time soon. Neither will violent outbursts. So, its not unheard of that some people in the West keep their true feelings hidden. Affects the Language This desire to keep everyone happy by not saying too much extends into language use of course. There are more than a few phrases that are meant to never be completed. For instance, you can complain about something politely by just saying ‘chotto…’ and leaving it hang. For example, if you wanted to complain about someone’s shoes, you could simply say ‘sonokutsuwa chotto…’. Some N1 essays and listening questions prey on this and leave a lot unsaid because it is implied. It is one of the toughest skills to master when learning Japanese. Reading between the lines can be difficult even in your native language, but adding in the difficulty of reading Japanese at a rapid pace, this can be a huge hurtle to passing the N1. That’s why, as frustrating as it can be sometimes, I always ask questions to try to get a little more information and fish out what people are actually trying to say. This can be true even if they are speaking in English. And there are more than a few people that have gotten frustrated with me because I just didn’t get it. But, hey, at least I’m trying. What is your experience? Have you gotten a little frustrated trying to see through the fog of tatemae? Are you a master of the BS? Let me know in the comments.
20 minutes | Apr 29, 2015
JLPT BC 159 | Analog vs. Digital
I’ve been taking it pretty easy with my studies recently due to some re-prioritizing of my time. I’m chugging away on Hirugao and Harry Potter but I’m giving myself a little more time to digest things. I felt a bit rushed of late trying to get through study sessions and I’m finding that is not the way to go. In addition to toning down my reading and watching, I’m trying to get my vocab binging under control. I just feel like I have a hard time with long term retention of vocabulary when I practice it purely through SRS. I’m trying to shift my studies a little bit in order to fix that problem. There is a lot of new research out there that is starting to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of using electronics in order to study and retain material. It turns out that it isn’t quite time to throw out all your dusty drill books quite yet. With all the things on my plate recently, a new assignment, along with being busy helping my family, I’m going to have to make a change to my priorities. Something is going to have to go. But, don’t worry the posts will keep coming. Current Studying So, as I wrote last month, I’ve been watching Hirugao, a scandalous jDrama about two housewives and their adventures into having affairs. It has some interesting and somewhat poetic lines of dialog at times. Overall, the language they use is pretty common (not limited to a certain industry or certain age group). I haven’t really spent much time or effort writing down and reviewing new words. I already have too many word lists to chew through, so I’m treating it as more of a fun side project. I think it helps to keep your ear ‘tuned’ to Japanese, so that it is that much easier to focus. I’ve also been taking it more slowly with Harry Potter and taking the time to go back and review the material until it is automatic for me to understand. The audiobook is absolutely priceless in the sense that I can practice while I’m walking or doing the dishes or something. It’s great to go back now to the first few chapters and be able to listen to the audiobook at double the speed and not have any real issues with understanding. Another reason why I’ve slowed down with Harry Potter is that my vocab bulking had been getting out of control. I finished off the first stage of Harry Potter that I had created. And now I just want to get my study time under control. I think it is a bad sign when you are consistently beating your friends on the leaderboards by a significant amount. It’s great to be competitive, but when you are studying twice as much as the average, it’s a bit overkill. So, I switched to simply reviewing vocabulary and building up mems as much as I can to keep everything from spiraling out of control with Memrise. If SRS makes up more than about 10 to 15% of your overall studying, it can lead to an unhealthy balance. You really need to get out there and use it (writing or speaking) or consume words in context (reading or listening). Pondering a Switch to Analog Electronics and the digital revolution is amazing. To be able to hold literally thousands of books on your tablet and be able to read them anywhere you go at anytime, that is incredible power and convenience. And programs like Memrise and Anki make memorizing things a cinch with their proven learning algorithms, cool graphs of stats, and points to make you feel like you are in a game. But new research is finding that digital is not always better, especially when it comes to retention. According to a recent study, writing notes out is better for long term retention. The study basically concluded that when taking notes on laptop you are more likely to take notes verbatim instead of critically thinking about them. As if that wasn’t enough bad news for digital, there is another study that focused on overall retention using paper books and digital books using tablets. The study focused on plot reconstruction and not vocabulary retention, but it does give us a glimpse into some of the problems that can arise if you rely too much on digital. I’ve tried note taking before, but found it to be a bit cumbersome for me to keep and maintain. I also had a hard time scheduling reviewing and keeping things sorted. But, lately I’ve had some serious issues retaining abstract words that I’ve been studying off a particularly popular N1 Memrise list. My list of Harry Potter words is a lot easier because I had context and I review the material on a regular basis, and the words aren’t quite as abstract and more colorful. So, I’m going to try to develop a new note taking system that provides a better experience and something that I can keep up with instead of letting it just drift away. I’m not a particularly well-organized person so I need to make something fairly fail-safe and doable. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on what I come up with. My Future Studies Currently, I have 4 forces pulling me in different directions for my time – my family, my new position, JLPT Boot Camp, and my goal of passing N1. All of these are things I’d like to achieve and would be useful for me to achieve. However, 4 is just too many things to keep managing. My family is in need of my time more than ever. My new position is taking up more of my time as I learn the ropes and try to get everything organized. Not to mention that I need to put in a few more hours to keep up on all my new responsibilities. JLPT Boot Camp has been growing by leaps and bounds and so has Memrise, which is great. I’ve gotten so much great feedback, as well as great questions and suggestions on what to do and improve. And the thing is, I love building courses and doing research about Japanese and making it easier for people to learn the language. And I’m a bit disappointed in myself for not being able to keep up and help everyone out. So many people are asking for updates and help and I love trying my best to deliver that (and learn a lot in the process). What about N1? Well, I really don’t need it as much these days. I got the position I wanted to get without it. And yes it is good to have for job security but what is more important is making sure I do my current job well, which will help my job security. And that, at the moment, doesn’t depend on me taking the test. So I’ll be taking a break from it for a little while. This means more support for Boot Camp and less stress for me, which should be good news for everyone. I’ll be gaining enough real world practice with Japanese in the future, that when I do turn my focus back to the test it should be a lot easier and I’ll be a lot more comfortable with it. Anyway, I look forward to writing and creating more for you all. And organizing what I have done already so it is easier to access. I hope to get some upgrades out to you as soon as I can. How about you? Do you prefer digital to analog? Do you still use a notebook? If you are studying for the test, be sure to check out Month 4 of the JLPT Study Guide to help you with what you need to do to prepare. Photo by Terry Madeley
29 minutes | Apr 15, 2015
JLPT BC 158 | Divorce in Japan
I should start off by saying that I’m not getting divorced. I’m still happily married and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Some of my fellow expatriates and Japanese friends haven’t been so lucky though. Which, to my naive self, seems a little surprising. Don’t get me wrong, I come from a divorced family and pretty much everyone in my family has gotten divorced at one time in their lives. I know it exists and is out there. I just didn’t think it was all that common in Japan. The divorce rate (the red line in the linked article) is in line with a lot of other developed countries and it actually peaked around 2001, and has been slowly drifting down, but it didn’t use to be like that. Some people believe that this slow drift down is due to the lower marriage rate in Japan. As you can see from the linked article, Japan’s marriage rate is also on the decrease (it’s the blue line in the graphs). People are also getting married older, which has been shown to lead to happier more successful marriages. However, Japan, pre-2000s, was known for its low divorce rate. You may even heard that it still has a low divorce rate. There is a general perception that people get married for life and that’s that, much like the lifetime employment system that Japan supposedly has. But, like that lifetime employment system, the old ways of doing things are finally giving in to modern problems. So, what happened? Why was it relatively low in the first place? The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Getting divorced in Japan is a simple matter of filling out the paperwork to do so. There really isn’t that much fuss to be honest. More often than not lawyers aren’t called in. Instead, counselors at the city office help sort things out. This is probably in part due to the fact that assets are generally not held jointly by the couple. For instance, people usually don’t have joint bank accounts in Japan. I’m not even sure if you can have joint accounts. Divorces don’t generally tend to be the all out blood bath that can result from some divorces in the States. And the whole process won’t cost you, financially speaking, that much. Just a few processing fees. There are even divorce ceremonies where the former betrothed get together to smash their wedding ring and symbolically let it go. The trend supposedly started here and has spread to other countries. I’m not sure if I could possibly go through anything like that to be honest, but many report a feeling of closure. The divorce rate is currently 0.18%, which sounds really small, but what that means is that 0.18% of the population, every year, is getting divorced. Considering only about 0.52% of the population is getting married every year, that is a pretty high rate of divorce. And there is still a pretty strong stigma against it. A lot of woman have found it difficult to get a job. Although, Junichiro Koizumi, Prime Minister of Japan from 2001-2006, was a divorcee that never remarried. Another sad fact about divorce is that there is no joint custody system in Japan. This means that one parent, usually the mother, retains sole custody of the children. Any visitation is arranged informally and can not be enforced by the courts. In some cases, children never see their father again. Prime Minister Koizumi, has two children from his marriage that he has custody of, but a third child, born after the divorce has never met his father. It doesn’t always end that way of course. I have a friend that did not have custody of her kids, but is able to see them on a regular basis. She even went on a few vacations with her ex-husband and his new wife to be with her kids. But, of course, that has to be a fringe case. Preparing for divorce I recently read an article in Aera, a weekly newspaper, that detailed a roadmap to getting divorced. It even had a trendy looking infographic about how to prepare for the big event, detailing tips like keeping a diary on all the negative interactions that you can use in your favor to argue for divorce. The article went on to talk about a handful of horror stories about woman that weren’t able to escape from a marriage and how to avoid the same fate. A Japanese friend of mine recently confided in me that he had found his wife’s journal that detailed every argument they ever had. The date and time and what was discussed. And, at least from my prospective, he just seems to be a regular hard-working guy with 2 kids that he worries about a lot. I find it hard to imagine living in the same house as someone that is planning and making arrangements to get divorced. But, actually, another, much older (60s) Japanese friend of mine, told me about how him and his wife had made plans to get divorced in a few years so that he can start work overseas, and she could get his full government pension. It seems a little odd to me, but in a country where men are still the major, and sometimes only money maker in the family, it is a reality that sometimes plays out. About a year ago, I was leaving the house to go to work and a distraught woman buzzed my doorbell. When I stepped out I saw a huge moving truck parked in front of my house. Apparently, she was a friend of our neighbor’s and they were moving out that day. It seemed a little odd to me because we had just talked to her and she didn’t mention anything about moving out despite the fact she was the hancho (neighborhood leader, and yes that is where the phrase ‘head honcho’ kind of comes from). And then *poof* she was gone. The husband is still there. The sad thing is they had 4 kids, which is positively nuts, but I haven’t seen them since either. So, she hit the road, took the kids with her, and didn’t look back. At first it seemed a bit odd, but through a long, roundabout neighborhood connection, we later found out it had been a case of DV – domestic violence. So, I hope her and her kids are living a better life somewhere. My Two Cents So, from all these anecdotes, you might think that I’m pretty pessimistic about marriage, or at least terrified of getting divorced. But, I always try to think positively, and although my wife and I are going through a bit of a rough streak (for non-relationship reasons, sorry long story), I feel like we are good for the long haul. In my humble opinion, I think we have a few advantages to our marriage that keeps us together through thick and thin. First, I think a lot of people in Japan have a communication problem. Men and women think and act fairly differently. They tend to be motivated by very different things as well. And in Japan, a place where men and women live pretty different lives, that gap is even more pronounced. In the West, communication skills are learned through the tough and sometimes unforgiving social interactions that arise from junior high and high school through countless nervous first phone calls to awkward conversations sitting in cars to timid requests for a dance. That proving ground doesn’t really exist in Japan. There are no dances, there is not a lot of pressure to ask a date to a dance. There is no prom, where everyone that’s anyone must have a date. There is no engine for forced interaction between the sexes. This of course keeps everyone focused on their studies, but does little to develop their emotional intelligence. I know a lot of people, in their 30s, that have only had 2 or 3 boyfriends/girlfriends in their lives. I’ve also met others on the other end of the spectrum, but I would say on average, people here just don’t have that many boyfriends/girlfriends. How can you know who you want to marry after dating only a handful of people? And that communication problem used to be solved by a very simple machine of arranged marriage and lifetime employment. That machine brought post-war Japan to the forefront of the world. And people got married, the man worked his tail off in the office, the wife worked her tail off at home cleaning, cooking, networking with neighbors, and helping kids with homework. Love grew out of simply being together a lot like brothers and sisters end up loving each other even after all the fighting with each other. Society kept the couple together because you had two whole families (not just two people) interested in keeping the union together. This by the way is not ‘traditional’ Japanese culture. Before new Meiji regulations came into effect in 1899, the divorce rate in Japan was sky high, higher than the current rate in the States. It wasn’t until the government started making changes to the law to help make the country more stable that this new cultural norm was created. Now of course, Japan is facing all the modern craziness that other developed countries are experiencing. There is a rapid urbanization of the population that separates kids from families. Individuals are being transferred all over the country away from family that could enforce the social norms of keeping a marriage together. The perpetually sagging economy that can never quite take off coupled with worker inefficiency keeps people working late hours and away from being able to just sit and have a decent conversation with their spouses. These are all factors that make keeping a marriage together pretty tough. What is your experience? Do you have any anecdotes you can share? What is your experience? Let me know in the comments. Photo by Marc Hatot
17 minutes | Apr 1, 2015
JLPT BC 157 | Back to jDramas
I’ve been spending (or wasting depending on how you look at) with keeping my streaks up on Memrise. I think it is great to have that daily goal, but I have busy days and not so busy days and it can make it hard to keep up with keeping a good streak going. This has lead me to ‘learn’ a lot of words, only to score 50% on the tests afterwards. This can get a little frustrating. Other than bulking up on vocab, I picked up a new jDrama, Hirugao, which literally means afternoon face. It is a pretty risque drama about two women involved in affairs during the day, hence the whole afternoon face. So far it is pretty interesting and has some interesting phrases. Although I hope I won’t need so many of the vocabulary words. And finally, I’m back to doing some translation. Although translating is not communicating at all, and isn’t the best form of practice, it helps get me some reading practice while getting paid at the same time. Studying during work is really important, as any new father will tell you, and it’s been great to get back into doing it when I can. I hope I don’t get buried again. Memrise Streak Contests So recently Memrise has held a few contests on their platform. In January, they held a contest to see who could learn the most words in a month. And in February, they had a competition that asked participants to meet their daily goal for a particular course for at least 12 days straight. These competitions have come under a little fire on the site because a lot of people feel like this is just encouraging people to ‘over-game’ and use Memrise simply to get more points so that they can win prizes. And in general, they teach bad study habits because users don’t develop a slower, more thoughtful process of absorbing vocabulary. And I would have to agree that yes it does encourage some bad behavior. Especially if they kept the contests up for an extended period of time. But fortunately, they just limited these competitions to the first two months. And I think these little spurts of focused study can be good for you. It helps you create ways to cope with !unpredictable schedules and prioritize your studies. After you’ve established the study habit, you can modify it, scale it down or up to fit your lifestyle. I found the February streak contest a bit of a blessing and a curse. It forced me to make time for studying, and I scored a tremendous amount of points, but it also forced to push through study sessions a little faster than I would have liked so that I can score my points for the day and move on. I personally slow way down on the weekend because I spend a lot of time with my family and just doing the usual errands that you tend to only get done on the weekend. However, during the week, I can be incredibly focused, especially during my morning and evening commutes, and traveling between teaching locations. I love having nice trains that I can sit on and get work done on, instead of sitting in a car. Watching Risque jDramas I was interested in picking up a new jDrama to watch and I ended up doing a Google trend search just to see what was really popular these days since I hadn’t heard of too many mentioning one particular series. Google came back with Hirugao, which was apparently wildly more popular than other dramas. And it is easy to see why. The series is a scandalous story of one married woman who was having an affair recruiting a complete stranger to help her cover up her lies. And trouble ensues from there, complete with edgy scenes and implied nudity. The end credits are barely suitable for prime time TV. Hmm, I wonder why it is so popular? So far, it has some useful dialog with some good daily expressions. This can be a bit hard with jDramas because they are often set in some particular industry with its own yougo or jargon that makes the phrasing not so useful. Although it is fun to quote some things from Hanzawa Naoki from time to time, it didn’t have a lot of reusable material. I also find the series a little interesting culturally speaking. The series focuses on the plight of the two women and the husbands aren’t shown in the best light. The story plays a lot on the fact that the affairs are just ways to get the attention that they aren’t getting from their neglecting husbands. The characters are still somewhat 2D and stereotypical. The handsome smart teacher guy, and the brooding troubled artist are the two characters that play their love interests. Not exactly ground-breaking stuff. Translation Work I took a bit of a break from translation because I got busy with a lot of other work, but have now managed to pick up a few little gigs here and there to get the ball rolling again. I think translation helps expose you to the wide variety of material out there that is in Japanese. It seems I get everything from personal emails to legal documents thrown at me, which makes for interesting reading. I don’t think translation is for everyone, but for me, I really do like to piece things together and see how the puzzle fits together. Translation is like writing but you don’t have to come up with ideas and the topic. You can just focus on how it all comes together. I’m not sure if I could do it for 8 hours straight, but the occasionally gig here and there is a good little break from teaching. I should say that translation isn’t actual studying. In truth, when you do translation, all you are really getting good at is well translating. Although you do pick up a few words here and there, I don’t find it to be the most efficient way to study. However, I have learned how to decipher some pretty tricky messages through translation though, which comes in handy for comprehension. Translation is paid per Japanese character you translate, which means some cheapskates will attempt to write the shortest message possible and hope that you get their full meaning. Often times I’ve had to make my best guess, and later I double check my work with a native, and they didn’t even know either. How are you Faring? If you are studying for the JLPT this July or December, be sure to check the 2nd Month of the JLPT Study Guide for tips on what to do this month. Have you changed your study routine? What is working for you? Let us know in the comments.
34 minutes | Mar 18, 2015
JLPT BC 156 | The Realities of Living in a Foreign Country
There seems to be a small subsection of the expat population in Japan, that likes to shower the world with negativity and tell you about how horrible it is to live in Japan. Some of them came over seeking the easy profits and seemingly easy lifestyle of teaching the language that they grew up natively speaking. When they grow older, they start to realize that Japan, like pretty much everywhere else on the planet, requires some hard work for you to get ahead and move into a position of comfort. A perfect example of this type of character is Arudou Debito, who likes to rant on about the terrible reality of Japan, while he sits in Hawaii, who published a diatribe about the brutal reality of Japan awhile back. Japan Times subsequently published the praising comments, while ignoring the objections like the ones expressed on Reddit. Now, there is a need for a ranting political activist that brings up the key issues of racism and all the other problems that Japan faces today. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, that is the whole point of freedom of speech. I just thought I would add my two cents to counterbalance the lopsidedness that tends to crop up in the discussions on the realities of Japan. So, does the bubble really need to be burst? Is that the true reality of Japan? Should you forget about your dreams of living in Japan? Well, first let’s provide a little background for you to get a clearer picture of what it is really like here. Everyone has a different experience Living abroad, beyond anything else in my opinion, really helps you identify who you are at your core. There are so many values, concepts, ideas that you think are apart of you, but are actually a product of your ‘personal’ culture. This culture being created by your upbringing, where you were raised, your parents, the friends you had when you were younger and impressionable. All those factors impacted you to shape your identity into the unique individual you are today. When you spend time in another culture, you really start to see and pick out the little parts of you that you just picked up and internalized without ever really realizing it. You can start to identify what little extra pieces of you are from somewhere else, and what is actually you. It is a bit mind-blowing if you really get into it. The great part about all that exploration and discovering is that the experience is different for everyone. There is nothing I can write or say to you that will make you have that experience. You just have to experience it. Some people might come out more awakened with a better sense of purpose. Others take ideas back with them and share them. And being fluent in a language and living in that country and being able to understand most of the things around you, just gets you that much deeper where you can really see the depth of all the little intricacies that different cultures have. There are times when I sit around with friends and we can talk for hours about the little nuances and observations that we make about what it is like being here. For somebody like me that is interested in the wonders and complexities of cultural diversity, its a great experience that everyone should do at least once. I remember one blog post a travel blogger wrote a few years back about the ‘Top 10 Reasons you Should Travel.’ In it, he simply narrowed it down to just one ‘You are going to die.’ Which is so true. Traveling and living abroad are the two best ways to find yourself, and wouldn’t it be a shame if you went through such a hard life and never found yourself? To go through this process you really need to let go of a lot of the things you might feel are a part of your identity. This can be a huge hurtle for some. There are some ideals that you might think are just and perfect, but they just don’t hold the same value in a foreign country. Are the Cards Stacked Against Us? Racism is still alive and well in Japan. Just when you think steps have been made in the right direction, some 80 year old lady expounds on how great it would be to have apartheid in Japan. And the real shocker was that it was published in a major newspaper. And that is just one of many signs that racism is still around. Here is another example of something that really shouldn’t be a thing anymore, anywhere. But, many Japanese have spoken out against it, and it is for the most part a feeling shared on the fringes. I’ve never personally been discriminated against. And 98% of the time in Kansai, nobody even cares I’m a foreigner. I think the worst that has happened to me was occasionally nobody will sit next to me on the train. This seems to be especially true about men, they don’t like to sit next me. And I’m completely fine with this. Women can sit next to me anytime. When I went to get an apartment for the first time, the rental agency I worked with never gave me problems. When I choose my apartment, the only hiccup I had as a foreigner was the landlord said he was nervous because I was the first foreigner he rented to. But I think that was more the fact that he knew no English than me being a white dude. He was a great landlord and fixed anything and everything I ever complained about. Has it affected me in job prospects? I can’t really speak to that too much because I’ve stuck a lot to teaching English, but I’ve been able to move up in the system and have never felt like I got held back because I was a foreigner. And I know more than a few folks that have found their way in companies here and there. They were more multicultural companies that already had staff from different countries though, not the massive pillar companies of Japan. But, one could argue that this is because those conservative companies typically hire straight out of college, and for life, so it is hard to penetrate them after that time period even for Japanese. Living abroad Anywhere Living abroad in any country means you will have to interact with a variety of new social systems that are unfamiliar to you and the rules for which are not written down anywhere. You just have to either know or have a good mentor that can hold your hand through the process. To get a good job in your home country you probably had a pretty hard time at first, but you learned from your mistakes and eventually punched through the market and got the job you wanted. To get a more mainstream job (not English teaching) a foreigner needs to navigate through that system just like anybody else. And you will make mistakes at first as you pile through all the mishaps that will inevitably come up. This will be complicated by the fact that the basic logic of the system is, well, foreign to you. It makes zero sense to me, an American, that companies would hire someone straight out of college before they even graduate. That makes little business sense to me, but that is the system. And their are tons of little quirks like that you will have to learn. You also have to do a lot of networking and maintaining contacts to get any job that is going to pay well and feed your family. But, this really isn’t all that different from the States. You are not going to find a great job in a classified listing, it just doesn’t happen that way anywhere. Chances are pretty good that you will fail at this process a few times, and it is going to be rough and scary. But, failing is good, it means you are stretching yourself farther than what you are now capable of. And you need to stretch to grow. Falling flat on your face hurts, but it teaches you what not to do. Ask for it There are plenty of opportunities out there though. All you have to do is ask for them. A lot of my teaching gigs and contracts have come from me simply asking someone or a group of someones if they can give me a job. And sometimes those people are other foreigners, and sometimes those other people are Japanese. In both cases, they have waved me on without issues. Teaching jobs do exist if you do the time and you have a masters in linguistics. You will probably have to network a good amount. You will have to submit a few papers for publishing from time to time. And you will probably have to look for a new job every 3 years, but you will be in the system. I know plenty of people teaching English for good wages. And I also know a lot of world-class English professors that have done amazing research in linguistics. You really just need to ask and try. Don’t assume that it is impossible just because someone else tried and failed. That is true for a lot of things here. People are often too scared to ask, or they expect there to be some kind of track they can get on to get ahead, but you need to strike out on your own and network like your life depends on it. And you might be the first foreigner to do that, and that is okay, as long as you are polite and not demanding, I’ve never run into too many obstacles. Overall Living abroad is not for everyone. It is not an easy life, but that is why it is so fun and rewarding to give it a try. If you are looking for an easy way to get through life, it isn’t here, it really isn’t anywhere. If you like people, like unexpected things, and are slightly weird, living abroad is for you. If you can’t deal with new things, and confusing new systems that you need to figure out, then you should probably stay home. Sorry, living abroad might not be for you, but by all means come for a visit. I apologize for this post ending up as a bit of rant, but I just think it is important for people to know that living abroad is challenging but it can be truly rewarding in so many infinite ways that are just aren’t possible any other way. Sometimes that challenge is painted in a wash of negativity, but it can be a pretty positive experience. What is your experience? Have you been living in Japan? Do you think it is too tough to get ahead? Let me know in the comments.
26 minutes | Mar 4, 2015
JLPT BC 155 | Intensive Reading and Memrise Update
I’ve been trying to keep my studying pretty steady over the last couple of months and not really piling on and changing anything. This has a lot to do with me just having way too much going on for me to focus on going in a different direction. I’m also not entirely sure where to go from here. At the moment, I’m tooling up for a new assignment that is requiring me to use a lot more Japanese. Specifically, listening and speaking a lot in Japanese. Since the JLPT doesn’t exactly test speaking, it is not very useful for me to pour over literary phrases and grammar that I may hardly use at this new job. So, I’ll be shifting more towards speaking practice once I get few more things sorted out. That’s not to say that I am abandoning JLPT Boot Camp. I love interacting with everyone and I love pushing out the updates to the N5 Grammar guide and study guide. It is a huge motivator for me to hear from so many people and read about their success stories. I’ll be continuing to do my best to help everyone I can to pass the test. I have, though, been doing a lot of vocab bulking and taking a different approach to my studies where I try to get perfect scores every time I go through a vocab test. If I don’t, I’ll work on a new mnemonic or way of looking at the word in order to keep it locked down and not floating off. Ed Cooke recently wrote an excellent post on some quick tips about how to use Memrise to learn words fast that encourage anyone that uses Memrise to check out. Other than that I’ve been trudging through Harry Potter at a pretty slow pace. This is mostly so I have time to practice and review the vocabulary in each chapter. I’ve also been doing some editing to the Harry Potter course at Memrise due to some of the definitions being a little off. I’m trying to add all the audio as well, but I’m not going to promise anything. Adding audio to a Memrise course can get a little tedious at times, but well worth it I think. Closer Focus on Vocab One of the small changes I’ve made is tweaking how I learn vocabulary. I’ve been trying my best to slow down and build a stronger link with new words that I encounter. This may involve taking a good amount of time to build a nice mem, or simply trying to act out a situation using the new vocabulary word. I think it is important to engage all of your senses when learning something new. And also, just getting up and moving a little keeps you awake when you are drilling through hundreds of vocabulary words. I’ve also been making a point to just run with my curiosity instead of trying to digest as much vocabulary as I possibly can. So, if my mind goes on a tangent with some word and I really want to take some time to look up some phrases here and there to see what I can do with it, I don’t worry about taking a bunch of time to do a little more investigating. As long as I have some time to do so. One example of this is jyumoku, which is a word that popped up in a N1 deck that I am currently studying. In the deck, it had the English translation as ‘tree.’ Now, if you’ve been studying Japanese for any length of time, you’ll know that the word for ‘tree’ is usually ki. Or at least, that is what usually comes up first when you do a dictionary search. So, what is with this jyumoku? Well, just as we have a myriad of words to describe things like a place we live (lodge, cabin, house, hut, shelter, etc…) so does Japanese (go figure). And each of those words I mentioned before conjure up a different image in your head right? A lodge is different from cabin in your head. The same is true for jyumoku and ki. They kind of have the same meaning, but they are slightly different. It turns out jyumoku has more of a written or academic tone to it. It is more often used in writing or in some kind of prepared presentation, not in regular conversation. And it is used more to talk about trees in general and not a specific tree, like ki is more often used for. jyumoku has another translation as ‘arbor’ and can be used in such words as tree husbandry (樹木の栽培管理). Of course, these distinctions are little blurry and you still need to read through a few examples to get a feel for how it is used. I feel like this is why, the higher you get the more reading and using of the language you need to do to really learn all these little nuances that can come up. You can’t just drill everything and hope for the best in other words. Intensive Reading with Harry Potter When I first read through Harry Potter, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of it and that I picked up a lot of vocabulary. But, in reality I had looked up a bunch of words, temporarily put them in my head and then moved on. It has been a great experience to go back over things in detail and learn some of the quirky little words that come up. I’ve been drilling them using my deck and trying them out with friends and co-workers for laughs, especially some of the words that can be hard to work into a conversation. For example, I picked up the word usunoro, which means half-wit or knucklehead. I obviously can’t use that with too many of my friends or co-workers in a regular situation, but I’ve been joking around with them and trying out new phrases and vocabulary. I’m still reading through the elementary school newspaper and it has been pretty interesting so far. In general, it is pretty easy for me to understand, although a lot of the vocabulary is not automatic for me. I may understand the meaning of each word, but comprehending it all put together has sometimes slowed me down a little, so I think it is a great piece of material that is just at the right level where I understand most of it and can practice and get faster with a foundation of useful words and over-learn it all. Memrise Premium Updated It is always a good thing when you are able to set little mini goals for yourself as you work towards your big goal. It keeps big goals from seeming so unattainable. I go into a lot of detail about goal setting in the JLPT Study Guide Kit, because I think it is something that a lot of people overlook when going to set out to study. But, it is critical that you set goals for yourself. Memrise does a great job of gamifing the whole process of learning with points and charts to show your progress. And this has helped a lot in setting goals and being able to track how well you are doing as well as allowing you to compete with your friends for some motivation. But now they have taken the process one step further and allowed you to set points goals for each of your courses. This is a good way to keep you focused on trying to learn a particular number of words each day. And of course, since it is Memrise, everything is beautifully presented to you in a little chart for you to fill up. To make things simpler, Memrise has simplified the process a bit by limiting you to only 3 choices – 1500, 6000, or 9000 points a day. This can make things a bit trickier, because I think about 3000 per course is a good goal if you are split between two courses that you are actively studying (like me), but hey simpler is better. How about you? How have your plans changed? Are you new to the site? You might want to check Month 1 of the JLPT study guide to give you an idea of what to do this month in preparation for the July or December test.
21 minutes | Feb 18, 2015
JLPT BC 154 | Big Hero 6 vs. Baymax
A couple of weeks back I had some free time to take my family to Baymax (US title: Big Hero 6). It is a cute little movie about a boy, named Hiro, who befriends his brother’s robot and ultimately goes on to fight the bad guy and save the day with his trusty team of friends. In general, the plot is pretty standard with only a few minor surprises. But that doesn’t stop it from being a great movie. There were plenty of moments where I laughed out loud and had a genuinely good time. It was also the first time we took our 2 year old to the movie theater, and she performed beautifully. No crying and breaking down in the middle of the movie, no fidgeting or yelling out. It was great. One thing that I noticed though was the mismatch of the titles. In Japan (and apparently Germany?), the movie is known as ‘Baymax.’ But, the US title is ‘Big Hero 6.’ Now, generally speaking Hollywood movies usually don’t have the same title in Japan as they do in the US, and sometimes it seems like they have put little to no thought into making them, like ‘Karate Kid’ becoming ‘Besuto Kiddo’ in Japan, which still baffles me. But, I thought it odd that they named the whole movie after the robot, when usually they would just make some more generic name like ‘Big Robot.’ Obviously, Disney had put a little more thought into it then simply slapping a generic moniker and hoping it flies, because, well, they’re Disney. I started to wonder why they would have different names, when both seem to be pretty generic. I mean, what is big hero 6? Unless you happen to read the Marvel comic of the same name (but set in Marvel’s world, and with a very different Baymax), you wouldn’t really have any idea what that is about. Heck, I didn’t even know there was a comic until I saw the post-credits scene, a hallmark of pretty much every Marvel movie. So, why would they have different names? Names don’t change anything about the movie’s content; they essentially just a change in packaging, which you might not think is so important but a change in packaging could persuade a few extra movie goers. More movie goers, more money. Essentially a movie title is used for marketing. After all, you would never go to a movie titled “Big Boring Bunch of Heros.” or maybe you would out of curiosity. Who knows? Big Hero 6’s Marketing Movies are marketed through trailers; those 2 minute action-packed clips they show before the movie you came to see. They tease you to come back at a later date to see another movie. They often times tease you with the most enticing bits of the movie to get you hooked. The Big Hero 6 trailer looked like this: It really puts a lot of emphasis on the hero, named Hiro, his robot and his helpful friends. It presents you with your typical hero story. There is a good guy and a bad guy, they fight and good guy wins. Presumably along the way Hiro has to overcome some obstacles and this is sprinkled with some comedic moments to keep the pace of the movie manageable, and keep the whole thing from getting too serious. Your typical Hollywood flick. You could almost say it is an animated version of a lot of Hollywood’s recent blockbusters that are essentially superheros fighting some world ending force, like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” just to name a few. In other words, Disney’s other movies. They happen to make a lot of money, so I guess they have a pretty good formula going for them. But this is very American, right? Hero overcomes all odds to save the day, maybe falls in love on the way. It makes millions, and will make millions for years to come. Baymax’s Marketing Baymax, as Big Hero 6 is called in Japan, has a slightly different trailer. It still features some of the same clips, but there is a little difference in the focus of the main elements of the film. Take a look at it: Did you see the difference? There is bigger focus on the relationship between Hiro and his big brother Tadashi. As a matter of fact, the Japanese trailer was the first to reveal that Tadashi is ‘gone.’ And we see more of the relationship between Baymax and Hiro. And just for good measure, the Japanese trailer adds Ai’s ‘Story’, the classic tear-jerker of a song played at weddings (including my own) across Japan. The scene where Hiro equips his team with new outfits and gear is reduced to a short blip. Even the volume on the first superhero anthem seems to be a little softer. The Baymax trailer tries to play up the human relationships of the movie, and plays down the hero overcoming the bad guy side of the story. It’s still there obviously, I mean that is the primary plot after all. But, it isn’t what Disney choose to entice its movie goers with. Why People Go to the Theater: US vs. Japan I think a lot of people go to the theater to escape reality. Yes, home theater equipment has advanced by leaps and bounds, but going to the theater still allows me to escape out of my humdrum house and jump into another world. That’s why I think nothing will ever beat the movie going experience, no matter how good and cheap TVs and speakers get. In the States, where cynicism has seen a strong revival, a lot of people want to escape to a place where people have super powers and anything seems possible. I think a lot of people in the States are either looking for a hero or want to be that hero in the spotlight. They want to overcome the bad guy. In contrast in Japan, where relationships are more visible and sometimes strictly enforced, a lot of people find escape in experiencing other people’s relationships. Not romantic relationships necessarily, but human relationships in general. One of my Japanese friends commented that people in the States go to the movies to see a hero, but people in Japan go to the movie theater to cry. I think either out of sheer dumb luck or marketing genius, Disney managed to create a film that could be highly marketable in two big markets – Japan and America. As I mentioned earlier, Big Hero 6 is actually based on a Marvel comic with some very noticeable differences. Disney basically made a whole new group inspired by the Marvel comic, going so far as to removing them from Marvel’s world (Earth-616) and putting them in the imaginary city of San Fransokyo, which is absolutely beautiful by the way. I heard that Disney was trying to base the story in Japan without letting the setting overpower the story. And by doing this, they made the city both American and Japanese in a way. The characters have been removed from a lot of the traditional American superheros and placed in a very cool Pacific hybrid city. I really hope that this is a start of a new world with some interesting new characters. I would like to see the return of this setting and characters. What do you think? What do you think of the movie? Do you think it is a good combination of two cultures? A bomb? Let me know in the comments.
22 minutes | Feb 4, 2015
JLPT BC 153 | The Inevitable Catch Up Phase
December in Japan is always unbelievably busy. There is the Christmas/Bonenkai party season. Then, you have New Year’s cards to design and write. And finally, the big cleaning where you throw out as much of the old as you can to make way for the new. Then after New Year’s, you have your first visit to the shrine, first visits and formalities to all your business contacts. And if you still have enough energy, New Year parties. Needless to say I got way behind with my studying. The graphic above is taken from my Memrise account. The red line is the number of words I forgot, and the green line the number of words I know. It took a beating over the holiday break, and I am just now starting to get it under control and add new words to the stack. Getting back on track is always a game of patience. If you try to go too fast, you just start mindlessly punching in words and not retaining that much. You go to slow and you risk getting buried under the inevitable review that comes. I think I am managing a lot better than last year at this time when I basically took two weeks off from studying and came back to about 600 words I needed to drill through. New Job So, I recently got a new job, or more specifically, a new contract that requires a lot more Japanese than what I usually need. I kind of took on the contract hoping I would be able to use my Japanese a lot more since I really haven’t been getting any kind of natural practice other than some eavesdropping on the train and a little small talk with some mothers when my daughter is taking some gym classes. The use of Japanese is going to be a little limited, but I’m still a little nervous about it. I used to be pretty confident about my ability to start up a conversation with someone and keep it going, but those days are gone. There are going to be a few staff meetings I’ll be sitting in on that require some good focus, which I’ve started to lose. Anyway, I’m excited to actually be using Japanese on a regular basis again and using some old muscles that haven’t seen that much exercise lately. I’m just hoping that it doesn’t eat up a lot of my time with reports and such. I’d like to maintain some semblance of a work-life balance. Passing N1 I’ve been getting a lot of questions from readers about how to pass N1 recently. Although I have yet to pass the N1, I have been in contact with a lot of folks that have. I’ve been trying to pick their brains as much as possible to try to tease out what separates someone from an N2 level and an N1 level. Some key points that I have seen come up time and time again is the need for immersion in the language. You don’t necessarily have to be living in Japan. A lot of people outside of Japan, have passed the exam through some hard work. But, you do have to strive for automaticity with the language. Automaticity is basically what it sounds like, everything should come to you automatically. If you have to still take some time to translate things to understand them, you haven’t quite reached that level yet. I admit, there are times when I have to take a step back and translate a passage piece by piece before I can get a good understanding of what it is about. I don’t have this problem with most common materials – letters in the mail, notices, advertisements and such, but if it is something more abstract and indirect, I really need to take a step back and try to understand as much as I can by doing a little translation in my head. Also, at this level, you need to really take a genuine interest in reading and listening to Japanese a lot. You’ll need a lot of bulk input in order to bring your vocabulary up to level that is needed for the test. Using SRS, like Anki and Memrise, can only get you so far. You will have to go out and really see and hear those words in context a few times in order to really get a good enough grasp on the language and make it automatic. I think drill books are still useful at this level, and give you a decent idea of what to expect on the test, but don’t expect them to fully prepare you for the real thing. Kanzen Master is a really useful series, but I found their reading book for this level was far too easy to prepare for the real exam. It’s a good start, but try not to get a false sense of security from it. The same goes for mock tests. They try their best to make these tests on par with the real test, but a lot of times they fall flat. How about you? How are your studies coming along? If you are studying for the N1, what are you doing to prepare?
30 minutes | Jan 14, 2015
JLPT BC 152 | 5 More Things I Wish Japan Had
Last month, I ranted on about 5 things that I think Japan could import from other countries. One thing that I missed on that list, and this list as well, is a work-life balance. Japan definitely doesn’t have anything resembling a work-life balance, and with the recent belt tightening, it has only gotten worse. I’ve heard stories of a few people taking on the job of two and burning a lot of midnight oil to keep their jobs. I could probably write an entire blog post about work-life balance (and probably will at some point), so I’m not going to discuss it in too much detail here. Instead, I’d like to give the next 5 things that I’d like to see in Japan: 5. Education reform Okay so this is a horse that has been beaten bloody way too many times, but as a father of a 3 year old that will soon join the education system, I think it is important to at least mention the state of education in Japan. The problem has multiple facets that need to be addressed in order to really build more efficient system. As a matter of fact this probably another topic I could write a full post on, so I’ll just go over the key points here. First, every public school across the nation follows pretty much the exact same curriculum and exact same books. This would be a good system if the people at the top were perfect and could write accurate and truthful textbook. But, of course no one is perfect, and so I encounter students on a regular basis who are stunned to find out that we pronounce the word ‘the’ pretty much the same even if it comes before a vowel sound. And why students regular respond to ‘How are you doing?’ with ‘Yes.’ The list goes on and on, because the same wrong textbook was used. Second, is the immense amount of time and energy that goes into shoveling raw facts into kids’ heads. This raw information without any critical thinking applied is next to useless in an age of Google and on-demand information. The way things are going, we are already searching for things using voice, and it is not unthinkable that we will have the ability to search for things with our thoughts. With that instant connection to information why is there such a focus on memorization? Now, knowing facts about the world is important, don’t get me wrong. You can’t, for example, have an effective discussion on the effects of the cold war on current policy if you are spending half the time looking up facts on Google. But, learning of facts is a lifelong process. And to make use of those facts you need critical thinking. 4. Unique Women Heros Legally speaking, women have a lot of rights in Japan. There, in theory, are no obstructions to receiving equal pay and equal opportunities in the workplace. However, women still occupy considerably small portion of the leadership workforce. Most of the women working in companies today are forced on to a cleric track that, at best, will allow them to be executive assistants to the president. But, this seems to be a huge misuse of resources to me. The problem is incredibly difficult to solve due to a lot of entrenched cultural norms. The Economist has an amazing article that captures almost every angle of the problem that I encourage you to give a read if you are more interested in this topic. But, just to summarize, the company culture in Japan is still set to men are the leaders, women are the clerics. I’ll just give you one example. In the States, I worked in sales for a large B2B company. At least half of the sales reps were women; women tend to be good sales people in my opinion. Anyway, I’ve taught a few corporate lessons to sales staff here in Japan and the entire team is men. In sales, this is a tough problem, because sales staff usually take buyers out to hostess clubs and such, which obviously female staff would have a hard time doing. There are other ways of doing business of course but this is the usual way. Another problem is that some women simply don’t want to work. And to be honest, I can’t really blame them. I have more than a few friends that are married to doctors, execs, etc… and they live a life of luxury. They are still busy and working hard to raise their kids, but they also typically go on a weekend trip once a month and a long (sometimes up to a month) trip once a year. Meanwhile, the husband puts in long hours, barely sleeps, and is maybe rewarded with a week long trip a year. If you have that going for you, who wants to work outside the home? Japan is slowly changing though. More woman are interested in working and staying employed their whole lives (instead of simply quitting after getting married or having a baby). This change is a bit too slow, though. So, I propose my own weird solution, unique women heros. Okay, so the right word to use here is role model, but I hate that word because it has too much of a school guidance counselor feel to it. Hero sounds so much cooler. And that is what is needed really. It needs to become popular and cool to break from the norms. 3. Audiobooks For whatever reason, I was always a poor reader in school. I read way too slow, and just didn’t really enjoy it. These days, I have a lot better time with audiobooks. It is a lot easier for me to listen while I’m walking, cooking, cleaning, or doing some other kind of physical activity. I have been able to ‘read’ a lot more material than I ever would if I simply read books. And audiobooks are a great resource to learn languages because you get listening practice in as well as reading if you put the audio together with the text. It is especially helpful in Japanese where you are sometimes unable to actually read the language because you don’t recognize the kanji. That’s why it is a little sad that there is an utter lack of good audiobooks in Japanese. Most of the audiobooks that do exist are short, self-help type books from what I’ve seen. Luckily, the first two books of Harry Potter were recorded as audiobooks, but that is where they stopped. Obviously audiobooks aren’t as popular in Japan as in other places. I’m not sure why this is. It seems like it would be pretty convenient as well as discrete to listen to an audiobook on the train to work instead of having to open up novel on the train. 2. Buyer’s Market for Jobs Why is it that companies hire employees almost a year before the even graduate college? Then keep them on for years, even when they obviously aren’t a fit for the company? I could understand if there were shortages of good employees, but their aren’t. There are always people looking for jobs, so why do you need to hire people that you barely know, and haven’t even completed the basic requirements of graduating from college yet? Nobody wants to lose their job obviously, and everyone likes job security. But, sometimes in life you make the wrong decision about your career and it would be helpful to be able to turn that around and work somewhere else, but you can’t so easily. And keeping on unmotivated, uninspired workers is draining to a companies efficiency. If those employees could jump ship to somewhere that motivates them more, everybody wins. The new company gets a happy new employee, the old company can hire a new hopefully more motivated employee. 1. Las Vegas of Japan There is some buzz going around about the possibility of building ‘integrated resorts’ on par with those in Las Vegas and Macau. The bill recently got shot down due to some political scandals in Abe’s cabinet, but I would like to see it be revived. I have personally never been to a casino, and probably won’t be frequenting one anytime soon, but I think it would be a good boost for the economy. Some were suggesting that the resorts could be built in Osaka bay, where a large section of land lays relatively vacant waiting for some Olympic games that will probably not come anytime soon. And although that could be a good use of space relatively close to a large international airport, I think it would be better to revitalize a rural section of the country that is dying out like Tohoku or Chuugoku (no not China, the section of Japan between Kansai and Kyushu). My reasoning for this is simple. A lot of anti-casino lawmakers are against the bill due to concerns of gambling addiction, which is a valid concern. So, how about putting it in a place that is a little hard to get to? Much like Las Vegas in the States, it can isolate the casinos and make it more difficult for individuals to make a regular habit of going there. And we get to have a lot of nice cheap hotels and shows like Las Vegas. Is that all? What else would you like to see in Japan? Let me know in the comments.
17 minutes | Dec 30, 2014
JLPT BC 151 | Vocab Bulking through Reading
I celebrated Christmas a little early again this year. The 23rd is a holiday here in Japan. (It’s the Emperor’s Birthday). It is the one day that we officially have off and get paid for it, so it tends to be the day my family and I celebrate Christmas. Yes, I know it is a little bit of a bummer to not have Christmas off, but that is one of the things you have to deal with when you live in another country. I could ask for the day off, but I’m greedily hoarding my days off for much larger vacations. Christmas in Japan is usually a lover’s holiday, which is why if you go out with your family to a “Christmas Dinner” you’ll most likely be surrounded by young couples. I used to do this a lot with friends actually until, yeah know, I got married. And the thing you are suppose to do if you are married with a family is get a great big bucket of fried chicken from KFC or as it is called here “Kentucky.” This seems to be a bit of a thing in Japan, where major trends are created by a company to drum up business at certain times of the year. KFC happened to be lucky enough to fill in the gap for Christmas, earning them big bucks every year I’m sure. Anyway, I’m really looking forward to getting some hard earned time off this year. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go to the States for Christmas due to money and time not really working out for us this time. But it looks like we will be making our way across the Pacific sometime next year instead. This year, I’ll be doing the traditional Japanese thing of sitting around with family for New Year’s. Read and Listen to Review So, I have been working my way through Harry Potter. This is the second time I’ve tackled it and I can pretty easily get the main idea of what is going on and only get tripped up in a few minor spots. But this time, I want to absorb all the vocabulary instead of simply just having a brief notion of what things mean, I want practice them a few times and overlearn the material. The theory being that this will make it easier to read and over-learn the next book and the next book until reading any book becomes a cinch. The biggest problem is keeping up with Memrise at the moment. And I’m trying to decide whether or not I should care about that or not. Should I just keep re-listening/re-reading material to understand all the vocabulary or should I drill to death? Do a combination of the two? At the moment, I’m trying to do both, which is working out quite well if I had the time to feed the drilling beast, but my free time to study is so patchy it is hard to maintain a regular pattern. Anyway, what I like most about this method is that I get to study while I am walking. At first, I couldn’t be bothered to listened to Japanese day in and day out. I was tired after work, or tired in the morning and just wanted to listen to music or listen to one of my favorite podcasts. But, after listening to it a few times, my brain relaxes a bit and it has become a lot easier to follow everything while I’m walking. If my mind does start to wonder, I can pretty easily get back on track, because I’m so familiar with the book at this point. In some parts I know it so well that I can mouth the words as I listen, kind of a walking dictation practice. This is great but what about material that doesn’t have audio? I started reading a paper for junior high students. At first, I thought it would be really easy to get through, almost too easy. And there are some articles that are below my level. But, a lot of them are written to be just difficult enough for me to learn some valuable new vocabulary. It doesn’t seem to suffer from being dumbed down too much like NHK’s web easy news. It contains a lot of useful facts and articles about interesting, topical stuff like Ebola or space. The biggest problem, again, is that I don’t have much ‘sitting-down’ time. I’m usually walking somewhere or sitting on the train. When I am home, I have a variety of stuff to do with the family, so it can be hard to get some quiet time alone when I can read and I am not too tired to concentrate. So what to do? Well, my current method is asking my wife to record the articles that I want to read, so then I can listen to them while I’m walking to and from the station to go to work. This allows me to review while I’m doing something I have to do every morning – walk. For some reason, I have a pretty easy time of staying focused while I’m walking. Reading this newspaper and reading Harry Potter has led me to start stockpiling a ton of vocabulary. I’m currently adding about 100 to 200 words a week and I’d like to do even more. What has been a big boon is the whole new app available for Memrise on the Android platform, which I’m sure will get ported to iPhone pretty soon as well. The new app allows users to practice any course, big or small. This is great practice. Before I had to do my big courses at home, but now I can do any course on the road. I have a feeling I’ll be racking up a lot more points with this new app. I hope it makes it too iPhone soon as well. SRS is not a cure all SRS, Spaced Repetition Systems, can be pretty addictive. They are easy to just plunk down in front of and start drilling away and you can easily see the number of words you know, some systems even give you detailed reports of how well you are doing and your efficiency of studying. Memrise adds gaming to the equation with points and weekly/monthly/all-time leaderboards. All of this can keep you studying and digesting more and more vocab, but it isn’t a cure-all. You aren’t finished with it, if all you do is drill the words. You need a little something more. You need context in order to really glue those words in and keep them glued in. Context can also provide you with extra information that you really can’t learn from a flashcard like the connotation of the word or its appropriateness in certain situations. Reading gives you a great context for the use of these words and provides something meaningful and interesting to consume instead of lists and lists of words. In my opinion, it also helps you remember it more, because you can see the object or action taking place in the story, instead of just some dead word on a list. I’m hoping that this winning combo of reading and SRS pushes me through to the higher level of the test. Reading through the comments from the first reactions post a few weeks back. It seems like reading interesting native material is a big key to absorbing sentence patterns, grammar and vocabulary and using and understanding it automatically. Have you been doing some reading lately? What are some good books to read to practice Japanese? What some good manga that you have read in the past? Let us know in the comments.
23 minutes | Dec 17, 2014
JLPT BC 150 | 10 Things I really Wish Japan Had
Japan has a lot of great things to love about it. There are convenient train systems, relatively low crime, and 24 hour vending machines. These all make life extremely nice for us all, but if I may I’d like to add some tweaks that might make it a little better. And of course these are completely biased and based on my sole opinion, but I thought I would just get them out there in hopes others will help me campaign for their existence. 10. Good Mexican fast food Japan secretly likes Mexican food. I know because every chance I can, I take someone to a Mexican restaurant so that they can taste the wonders that Mexico has to offer. And a lot of people in Japan say they would like to have a good Mexican place to go to eat Mexican food. So, why is it not so popular? Why can’t we get a stinking Taco Bell over here? (I’m not saying Taco Bell is the best, just has the most marketing power). Well, they tried in 1988, and failed. My opinion is that they tried a little too early, and there was a bit of branding issue as well. See, the word taco to most Japanese people means octopus as in takoyaki (fried octopus balls, a famous delicacy of the Kansai region). In Japan, takosu means tacos as in the food from Mexico. So maybe they should have called it Takosu Beru or maybe American Tacosu House? Apparently, it is important that it is Western sounding. When they shortened Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC, sales dropped for the famous fast food chain. Now, everyone just calls it Kentucky. So, if you happen to be from Kentucky, this why everyone might be offering you fried chicken all the time. But, anyway, I think this is a great time to reintroduce it. Tacos and tortilla shells are becoming more common place, and there has been more of an interest in foreign things. Also, McDonald’s recently took a huge hit from the whole tainted chicken meat fiasco. I think Taco Bell could sneak in and grab some of the market. I should also note that Taco Time did have some locations in Japan up until about 2012 or so, but they seem to have all closed up. 9. Entrepreneurial Culture America is lucky in the sense that it seems to attract all those who want to create something new and make a lot of money. It has attracted some big name stars like Elon Musk (of Paypal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX) as well as some home-grown stars like Steve Jobs. These tech giants have gone on to fund smaller tech companies which generate more money and those companies beget more tech companies, and so forth and so on. Even though we’re not in the heyday of the Internet, there is still a lot of money being thrown around at people that have brilliant ideas and just need some fuel to power it to the next level. There is a lot of know-how concentrated in Silicon Valley that can help take a small idea and make it concrete, churning out more and more things every year. And these have even spawned off smaller communities in other parts of the country that create the new gizmos and software platforms we can’t live without. But, this has not really come to Japan. At least on the scale that it really needs to be to effect some change to the market. This is even more odd when you consider Japan leads the world in granted patents (but is #3 in patent applications). They are ranked second (behind South Korea) for number of patents per capita. So with all this patenting going on, they have to be creating a lot of new things, just not new products I guess. Whatever happened to the ingenuity that gave us the Walkman or CDs, DVDs and BluRay Discs? It seems like engineers and creators in Japan aren’t hungry like they once were to create something new, which seems like a bit of a shame. I’m still rooting for the underdog company that comes out of nowhere to create the next big thing, and with the new found capital begets more little gizmos for us all to use. 8. Anti-ageism laws Every other week, there is some newspaper article about the insurmountable problem of Japan’s aging population. People tend to get older when you have one of the best healthcare systems in the world, and people have good genes to boot. It just tends to happen. The healthcare system is so good that people still have plenty of energy and vigor at age 60 and 70. They take up new hobbies and travel the world living it up. So this is obviously the perfect time to fire them from their jobs. I mean it makes great economical sense to let go of your most experienced workers at age 60 for no other reason than they had their 60th birthday. At least that is what most major companies do in Japan. They force retirement at a certain age, usually 60. The kicker is that these same companies will take on those same former employees as consultants. And then everyone stands around with the hands in the air wondering what we could possibly do to have a bigger workforce to support the aging population. They are baffled as to why there are so few workers earning a salary, paying taxes, and paying into the national pension. How can this problem possibly be solved? Easy, make it illegal to fire (and hire) people based on age. Make it based on their abilities not some arbitrary number. Do the same for women. There you go, you probably just doubled the workforce. Is there something I’m missing here? 7. Saying Thank You Okay, so I know it is a cultural thing, and it is just how things are in Japan, but I’m tired of everyone saying ‘sumimasen’ for absolutely everything. If you hold the door for someone, instead of a polite ‘arigatou’ you are inevitably treated to a ‘sumimasen’ and a bow of the head in embarrassment showing that you made the other person uncomfortable by your act of kindness. I’d much rather have a smile and a thank you. And, I’ve even heard from a few people living in Japan that they would like to see this, too. But, unfortunately like a lot of things in Japan, it just exists because it exists. But, I like doing nice things for people and that making them happy. I like making people happy. Is that so wrong? So, I say let’s try to make the change ourselves. The next time someone picks up something you dropped in Japan, look them in the eye and say thank you and give them a great big smile. Together we can make a change for the better. 6. Banking for the Little Guy Okay, so I can’t really speak for banking products in countries other than the States, but Japan for being such a big company seems to have abysmal banking options. Now granted if the interest rate in your country is so low that you are advertising returns of 0.1% as the next big thing, you are going to have a slight problem getting people to do some banking. But, is it not possible to setup some kind of automatic saving program? or make it a lot easier to invest in the stock market? Yes, there are options out there for the little guy, but they seem to be a bit confusing and investing in stocks doesn’t seem to be what your average Joe does here. Whenever I ask about buying and selling stocks people seem to think you have to be very rich in order to do anything. But, you don’t really. And Japan needs people investing there money to boost the economy and get the money out of savings, which is pretty big drag on the economy at the moment. So if the best you can do by letting your money sit in a bank account is 0.1%, then isn’t worth a little risk to do some trading? I mean companies have to be growing at least slightly better than that. What’s Missing? What would you like to see in Japan? Let me know in the comments below. Photo by Hiroaki Maeda
16 minutes | Nov 26, 2014
JLPT BC 149 | The Harry Potter Method
It has been an incredibly busy couple of weeks. I was incredibly busy with Halloween and the little one. We were actually able to go trick or treating twice. Trick or treating is not yet a standard thing to do in Japan but we always arrange a small trick or treat event in our neighborhood for the kids. It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of busy work. Also, the website has been going through some minor growing pains lately. The site has grown by about 25% in terms of visitors since last year, which means my hosting company is starting to strain a little bit. I had to do some late night research to make sure the whole thing keeps going and doesn’t get crushed under its own weight. But, by all means please keep visiting the site. I love having lots of visitors! So this December I will not be taking the test as I usually do for a variety of reasons. The one big reason was that I’ve just been trying to do way too many things at once. Having a 3 year old and juggling a few jobs can weigh you down a little bit. This resulted in one of my worst scores ever on the last test because I was just not in it when I took the test back in July. So, I have had some time to change some things around and see if a different strategy might suit me better for passing the test. I’m still not sure if it will make a difference or not. Right now it is just good to be able to get so many things done that I’ve been putting off for way too long. I’ve done my best to abandon drill books. Although I will probably revisit them again in the future, I’m letting them gather dust and instead doing more immersive learning. Or at least, that is what I’m trying to do. It seems like lately there have been far too many emergencies to deal with, but that is the game of life, and I know I’m not the only one. Harry Potter So, I recently made it out to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, usually shortened to just USJ. It has grown quite a lot since I was there about 3 years ago. One very new addition was Harry Potter land. Now, I wouldn’t really say I’m that big of a Harry Potter fan. I thought the whole series was pretty good, but nothing phenomenal. However, I am a bit of theme park nut and I had to visit it to see how the whole place was setup. Anyway, after walking through the land and taking in the shops, I suddenly remembered the Harry Potter audiobook that I had bought awhile back and had done nothing with. I had been saving it for when I could go back to ‘fun’ studying. You know, after I had chewed through all the JLPT stuff. I had been trying to read Game of Thrones in Japanese and was having a heck of time with it because of the rather complicated vocabulary and some expressions. And about every 3rd or 4th word I looked up was a word that I had seen in Harry Potter before but just forgot how it was used. And being that I have hardly made it through the Harry Potter course I made on Memrise, I figured I would revive my efforts to master the book. Harry Potter is kind of unique in a way because it is one of the only books that has been translated into Japanese and also has an audiobook to help with listening. Audiobooks, for whatever reason, are not as popular in Japan as they are in other places. For instance, you can get every one of the Harry Potter audiobooks (all 7) in Polish, but only the first two are available in Japanese. And even those are hard to come by because they were released on CD and never digitized. They have actually stopped making new copies. Instead, you have to snatch up the used copies while they last. I ripped the CDs for personal use on my iPhone (still legal in Japan by the way), and then slowed them down so that I can listen to them more easily when I was walking to and from work. This is especially helpful for the first chapter which is a little overwritten (like most first chapters of books), so it is difficult to understand the first time you go through it. I should say that I have read the entire book once before, so this should be review. But, I’ve noticed I missed a lot the first time through, so I have been adding more to the Harry Potter course as well as picking up even more expressions and sentence patterns. The point of practicing this book again is too really master it this time. The first time I went through I was just striving for comprehension and kind of passively picking up a few things here and there. But now, I’m going to read and reread, as well as listen to the audiobook several times until it becomes automatic for me. The goal is stop thinking or working to understand what is being said but for it to just come to me automatically. So far I feel it working out quite well. I can, of course, understand the Harry Potter audiobook quite well after a few listens, but my overall listening skills are starting to improve. I feel that my head doesn’t ‘reject’ Japanese as often as before. It seems to take a lot less effort to concentrate on what people are saying. I’m hoping that this will improve my reading as well. Although, I often don’t have enough time to sit down and read along with the audiobook. The goal here is to get so comfortable with the set of vocabulary in the first and second book that I can cut through the rest of the books in relative ease. I still wish there were audiobooks for the rest of the series. That would make my life a lot easier because I spend a lot more time running around than sitting down, but I guess I’ll take what I can get. Memrise Premium Memrise has recently made a premium version of their web app available that I have been test driving since the very early days. It has been interesting to see the stats develop and mature to something that is really useful to use for focusing your studies on those nasty words that seem to never quite catch on. What I especially like is the difficult words option where you can drill and practice just the words that you have been missing a lot. Already, if you miss a word during a study session, you will be prompted a few more times again with that word. But with this is new feature I can go through a round of the words that I have been missing a lot lately in order to give myself one more look at it in a different session. I have found that this has really driven home the words and made them very automatic for me. It also gives me a chance to spend some extra time with them and create some nice mems (mnemonics). Often times in a regular session you have a lot of easy prompts that you sail through and then get hung up on a few difficult ones. Personally, I get a little frustrated having to spend extra time on the tricky words. But, if you are specifically drilling them, you are more focused and ready to try to remember the definitions. There are also some really interesting stats if you are stat nut that covers how long your learning streak is, how much time you spend on each course, and how many words you forgot that day, as well as how many you learned. These can be really motivating if you like to see stats of how you learning. How are you doing? Have you ever tried to tackle the Harry Potter books or any native materials? Tell us about them in the comments. Photo by Karen Roe
26 minutes | Nov 12, 2014
JLPT BC 148 | Living in Groups in Japan
At one time, I used to teach an English class to some public servants. And it being a government sanctioned event, everything had to start incredibly early, 8am to be exact. This was not a normal time for me to be up and around, needless to say the life of an English teacher usually doesn’t start that early. But, the one thing that struck me as odd was there were hardly any women on public transit, at all. Instead, just rows and rows of businessmen in black suits perfectly lined up, awaiting the arrival of the massive Midosuji subway train to whisk them away to wherever they worked. Like clockwork, the train came to a stop, the lines split apart to allow passengers off and then everyone filed in. Eventually the last few poor souls had to smash themselves into the human blob contained inside the subway car. This is probably the stereotype you might think of when it comes to Tokyo rush hour – millions of like-dressed drones marching to their stations. And although things are moving away from that, at a snail’s pace, it still persists – the uniformity of Japan and Japanese life. You might have heard the famous saying “The nail that sticks out, gets nailed down.” And you can see plenty of examples of that at work in Japan. Most people wear black or if they are really edgy, grayscale, most cars you see are also some variation of this, white or a darkish gray. Doing what everyone else does and staying in line is important in Japan. You have to be a part of the group. And being born and raised in America, where individualism is celebrated, at first it seemed a little annoying to have all this conformity, but over time I just got used to it. Also, for the most part, foreigners are exempt from conforming because we are just different, and that is okay I guess. Big City, Big Crowds I think some of this group think comes from the fact that you have to deal with massive crowds of people in the city. So many people actually that your brain kind of switches off to the fact that they are actually people. You almost have to or you would easily get overloaded by everybody you see just walking around the mall. I’ve had to learn to do this myself. When I go to a crowded place, I no longer look at faces or think on my own, I just follow the person in front of me. Often times this leads me the wrong way or I end up taking longer than it needed to be because I took a path everyone else is taking. At the office, some people work 60, 70, even 80 or more hours at their jobs and so are surrounded by their workmates. And then, after work, they might go out for drinks with their co-workers. And this would seem fun, but I often hear complaints from my students telling me they have to go drinking again. They can’t just go home and relax. This is probably the key reason why people are not getting together, getting married and having kids. They simply don’t have enough free time to do it, in the city anyway. A lot of people end up marrying someone from work (myself included) because you don’t have the free time to just meet people naturally. And all this is being driven by the perpetually so-so economy. People tend to tow the line and keep working for the same company because they are scared to lose their jobs, and changing jobs is difficult in traditional careers. If you are some kind of skilled professional (like a nurse, IT tech, etc…) it is a lot easier, but then again they tend to work some long hours as well. Standing on the right side of the escalator But, Japan isn’t just one big glob of people doing the same stuff. There are actually regional groups that have their own thing going on as well. Osaka and Tokyo often come up as good examples of regional differences since they tend to do things a little different. In some ways, they are exact opposites. In Osaka, people stand on the right side of the escalator and walk up (or down) the left side. In Kanto (the nebulous cloud of people that hovers around Tokyo), it is the opposite – stand on the left, walking on the right. No one came to this decision mind you, but the division still exists. And actually, in Kyoto, which is pretty close to Osaka, they follow the Kanto way. So, just Osaka seems to stick to this unwritten rule. There are language differences as well. For example, baka in Kanto and aho in Osaka mean “silly” in a playful way. But if you switch them around, saying aho in Kanto and baka in Osaka, you are saying “You f**king idiot!” Obviously a difference you need to keep in mind. There are a lot of other differences to other everyday words too like chou for “super” or “uber” in Kanto, but meccha in Osaka has the same meaning. Not to mention kansai-ben, which almost sounds like another language. Even the power grid is different between the different halves of Japan. The east half uses 50hz, while the west uses 60hz. This is a bit of a problem for disaster relief. In the aftermath of the Great Tohoku Earthquake, there was a power shortage due to nuclear power plants being brought offline in that region. The ability of Western Japan to assist with this shortage was greatly reduced by the fact that in order for the East to use the power, it had to first be converted to 50hz. TV shows play up this difference. A particular show that I like to watch, モニタリング (kind of like Japanese candid camera), likes to invent situations for unwitting participants and see their reactions. A running theme is to see the difference in reactions between Osaka people and Tokyo people. The American Perspective I think a lot of people when they first come to Japan find this grouping restrictive and annoying. And there are definitely some aspects that still bug me. For example, I have a Japanese friend that worked for his family’s company his whole life, but now the company went bust (not his fault) and he is out looking for a job. He is over 40, which is the invisible age barrier here in Japan. After 40, you apparently can’t learn anything new. So, he is falling through the cracks at the moment. He is having a really hard time finding a job that he can do that will help him feed his wife and two kids. The system works perfectly if you adhere to the system of the husband working all the time (sometimes literally) and making a lot of money and the wife staying home and raising kids, but if you don’t stay in that track you don’t really have a lot of help. But, conformity is not necessarily all bad. It does keep people fairly disciplined and upright and proper so to speak. The fact that their is practically zero crime in Japan is a great selling point for conformity. I mean the biggest national news story the other day was the fact that someone used $600 or so worth of counterfeit money at some convenience stores. I wouldn’t really call that a dangerous place. Of course the low crime rate might also be contributed to the fact that Japan has one of the lowest rates of income disparity in the developed world, in sharp contrast to America that has one of the highest, and one of the highest violent crime rates to go with it. But, maybe that is just some weird coincidence. I do have to work pretty hard to keep up with the Tanakas, but it is a small price to pay to know that my wife and daughter are pretty safe. It might seem a little boring to be apart of the same group all the time, but there is plenty of room to wiggle around in. Life is what you make of it after all. Do you like group life? If you are living in Japan does the conformity to the group bother you? Do you need your freedom?
Terms of Service
Do Not Sell My Personal Information
© Stitcher 2022