In case you don’t live in Japan, you might never have seen a 文庫本 – a small format paperback book.  I had never seen one until my new Sherlock Holmes book arrived today.  In case you’re interested, here is a photo with a pen next to it for scale:

Holmes 1.jpg

Well, it’s definitely small enough to carry around conveniently!

Here’s another picture:

Holmes 2

Yep.  小さい.

Just looking at it to see if I can read anything…the title of the first story is

ボヘミア王のスキャンダル – The Bohemian King’s Scandal.  The actual English title of the story is A Scandal in Bohemia.  And, in the second title, I can see 赤毛 which mean’s red hair so I can guess that the second story is The Red-Headed League, even though I don’t recognize the second half of the name in Japanese.  And here we can see the advantage of reading something in Japanese that you are very familiar with in English.

Mind you, this is a normal Japanese book, so there are no learning aids of any kind.  I’ll have my work cut out for me with this one.  I won’t tackle it until I finish Spirited Away, though.  Of course, at the rate I’m going, that could be in the next week or so.

We’ll see if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

Try to bring stuff you enjoy into the new language when you can.  If makes it more fun.

FYI, the book is well made, brand new, and was less than $13.00 including shipping from Japan to the U.S., so, it was a pretty good deal, I’d say.  That was why I was willing to go ahead and get it despite concerns that it might be above my level.





Maggie Sensei

I just want to give a nod to


You can find her site here.

Do you ever have a desire to learn Japanese from a French Bulldog?

No, neither did I.

Until I checked out the site (which I found from a link on Bunpro).

This is a great site.  It is filled with extensive grammar explanations with lots of example sentences and explanations that are thorough but easy to understand and follow.  This has become my go-to site when I want an explanation of a grammar point.

The site is also fun to look to it, which is always a good thing, and it it still being updated.  She also takes questions if you have a grammar point that she hasn’t covered.

Head on over and check it out.





Reading, Reading, Waiting, Reading

So, here I am in a place where there is no one I can practice Japanese with on a daily basis.  Oh, I could speak Japanese, certainly, but no one around me would understand a single thing I was saying, so it would be a little counter-productive.


I just learned the さえ~ば structure this morning, so I’m not going to guarantee that I used it correctly in the above sentence, but I figured I should try to work it in.

My lack of people to speak with is why reading is so important, and therein lies the problem.  Reading that is waaaaaay to hard is not helpful.  Reading that is too easy is certainly worthwhile, but it isn’t very helpful.  The problem is that stuff written in normal Japanese (too hard) or for beginners (not hard enough) are easy to find.  It’s the in-between stuff that is difficult.

I have found a few bilingual books, but, good golly are they boring!

Which brings me back to Spirited Away.

After two abortive attempts, I now appear to be at a pretty good level for reading this book.  Yesterday, I had to take someone to a doctor’s appointment.  Knowing that this would involve a lot of me sitting around in the 待合室, I brought Spirited Away and, of course, my phone with the Jisho app on it, and I was able to read another 10 pages while I waited.

Now, I didn’t exactly breeze through it.  I had to look up a fair number of words, and there were a couple of sentences that I really had to work my way through, but I could do it.  It was hard enough that I know I’m learning but easy enough to be fun.

And, of course, there is a whole series of similar books that I can dig into.


And, just in case this is a new word for anyone, let’s work through it:

待合室 (まちあいしつ)

待 – from  待ち – waiting

合 – together or meet

室 – room

So, a room where we all get together and wait.  A waiting room.

This is why learning Kanji is good.  You can make sense out of new words and get some meaning from them (whether you can pronounce them or not!).

The more words you learn, the easier it gets to learn more words.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go online and buy a book.



The Word of The Day

No, I’m not starting a “word of the day” feature.

First all, a word a day is too slow for me.

Second of all, when other people are picking out the words for you and feeding them to you so slowly, how long will it take to learn the words that are useful to you?

However, if you subscribe to a word-a-day site and it works for you, go for it.

But, I digress.

I do that a lot.

Though I do intend to start a grammar section.

See?  That was another digression.  I told you I do that a lot.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah.

The word of the day today is 薄暗い.

The reason that this is the word of the day is that I learned it in a vocabulary session on Memrise a while back and then it popped up in Spirited Away twice in the first fifteen pages.  (I read another five pages yesterday.)

Words made of multiple Kanji are great, because you can often break them down.

薄 (うす) = pale, light, faint

暗い (くらい) = dark

And, what would be a good word for a pale darkness?  How about dim or gloomy, which is exactly what 薄暗い  means.

However, because it’s Japanese, we should expect a curve ball, and it rears its head in the form of euphony, which basically means pleasant sound.  The Japanese ear does not like the sound of うすらい, so the word becomes うすらい.  You get used to that sort of thing eventually.

Cool word, though, huh?

Oh, and, in reading a blog a few days ago I once again encountered my favorite Japanese word: 朝飯前.  I enjoy the word and like to encounter it.

Look for the fun.  It’s in there, buried among all the study!


What’s That Word?

Well, I think it’s finally time!

I have made a couple of attempts to read Spirited Away and abandoned it because it was simply too far above my level.  The last time, I was printing out pages and writing notes all over them, and I made it through page 5 very slowly.

I am all in favor of trying to read, but it is important to find level appropriate material.  It is better to ready stuff that is too easy than to not read anything at all.  Stuff that is way to hard to read, however, can be demoralizing.  If you’re having to look up every other word, I’m not sure how much use it is.

That’s just what works for me.  If working your way through stuff that’s way above your level works for you, then go for it.

But I digress.

Yesterday I had some time alone at home after work, so I pulled out Spirited Away again and read the first 10 pages with some difficulty but not too much.  I had to look up some words, but I could get the sense of every sentence.  I was also able to skip looking up some words, figuring I could get the meaning from context.

So, it’s time to really read Spirited Away at last.


Now, here’s the important question:

Should you look up every word that you don’t know?

Answer #1:

Yes.  You want to learn as many words as possible.  You also want to make sure that you have the meaning of the words correct.  Also, you are a completist and it just annoys you not to be certain of the exact meaning of each new word you encounter.

Maybe that last one is just me.

Answer #2:

No. You should be able to figure out words from context, and looking up every single word slows you down too much and makes reading less fun.  Besides, you don’t have to know the meaning of every word.  If you can get the sense of the sentence, that’s all you really need.

For my money, the correct answer is #2, but, I have to admit, I have a hard time following my own advice.  I really want to look up and definitively know every single word, so I have to force myself not to use the dictionary so much.

For example, I ran across the word 足もと.  (Which is really 足元 but the book writes it 足もと just because.  These things make life more difficult!)

Now, I know that 足 is leg or foot, so I just went with something happening around the leg or foot and moved on.  Then the same word popped up again on the next page, and it seemed likely from that context that it was something like underfoot.  At that point I went back to the first sentence and underfoot was clearly the perfect word.

So, I kind of got the word at first, but, when it popped up a second time, I was able to nail it down.  The trick (for me) is to be willing to put up with a degree of uncertainty, which is something that I don’t like doing.

Well, back to work.



Some More Deconstruction

Here is a brief conversation from Spirited Away:

「ほら、あれが小学校だよ。けっこう、きれいな学校じゃない?」お母さんいいましたが、千尋は, ちらっと、まどの外をみて、ふてくされたように、つぶやきました。


So, the first thing that I notice about this is that the use of Kanji vs hiragana is a bit…shall we say…eccentric.  I am guessing that it is based on the order in which school children learn Kanji.

For example, まど instead of 窓 and みて instead of 見て.  This is actually kind of annoying to me.  I would recognize 見て immediately, but it takes me a second to recognize みて.

There are also some words that I don’t recognize and had to look up, such as ふてくされた (to become sulky) and つぶやきました (muttered, grumbled).

ほら、あれが小学校だよ  –  Look, there’s the elementary school!

けっこう、きれいな学校じゃない – That’s a very pretty school, isn’t it?

お母さんいいましたが – mother said.  (Really?  She’s going to try and interest a child who doesn’t want to move in how pretty her new school looks?!  Good luck with that one!)

千尋は, ちらっと、まどの外をみて – Chihiro caught a glimpse of the school outside the window

ふてくされたように、つぶやきました – became sulky and muttered

前のほうが、いいもん – “The old one is good.”  (And…mom’s gambit didn’t work out so well…not much surprise there)

I’m going to take a closer look at a couple of these sentences.


けっこう – splendid, nice, wonderful, sweet,

きれいな – pretty

学校 – school

じゃない – informal version of ではありません – it is not

And we then get a question mark instead of the question marker か, so we assume that the fact that it was a question was implicit in mom’s tone.

The addition of けっこう is what makes me translate it as That’s a very pretty school… instead of just That’s a pretty school…  I don’t imagine that mom actually said, “Sweet!  That’s a pretty school!”


前 – previous, before, in front of,

の – particle that shows possession

ほう – direction, way, type, indicates one side of a comparison, law, method and lots of other things

が – subject particle

いい – good

もん – shortened form of もの.  At the end of a sentence it indicates a reason and, in casual speech, indicates dissatisfaction.  In this case, it seems clear that, by tacking it on to her sentence, Chihiro is indicating (as if her sulky manner and grumbling didn’t!) that she is not happy.  This is one of those thing that doesn’t come across as strongly just from the words alone, so a translation doesn’t quite capture the full flavor of her discontent.

In this case, 前のほうが indicates that Chihiro is comparing the new school to her old school, and いいもん indicates that she likes the old school better.

Isn’t Japanese fun?










After a very long week, during which it seemed like life was determined not to allow me to study any…I finally finished the short story I was reading.  It was really entertaining.  It was a mystery story than managed to pack a lot into just 4 pages.  In case you want to read it, here it is.  It was a tough read for me because there were a lot of Kanji in there that I didn’t know.

The target for this week – do a couple of things from Chapter 7 that of 中級へ学ぼう that I didn’t manage to get to last week, at least make a good start on Chapter 8 (the last chapter!) and find something else to read.  Maybe it’s time to go back to Spirited Away now that I know a bit more Japanese than I did before.

The, of course, there are the usual things – review and learn new vocabulary on Memrise and study grammar on bunpro.  I went ahead and got the lifetime membership to bunpro while it was on sale.  Basically, if you like the site and think you’ll still be using it three years from now, the lifetime membership is ultimately the cheapest way to go, especially right now while everything is on sale.

Of course, now that I’ve paid for the site, I’m using it more than I did when it was free!

In case you’re curious about bunpro, here’s a video:

I don’t make any money off of anything that I refer you to, by the way.  We’re all in this together, so, when I come across a website or app that seems helpful to me, I post about it.  After all, it might be helpful to someone else.

I do, however, make a little money if you buy my novel, which you can do here if you’re so inclined.  (Very little, since the price of the ebook is only $2.99.)  (Or 328 yen if you buy it from amazon japan.)

Enough shameless self-promotion.  It’s time to get back to studying some Japanese.