Japanese Culture

One of the important facts about learning a language that is sometimes overlooked by the language learner is that language and culture go hand in hand, each one shaped by the other.  Now, I have learned a thing or two about Japanese culture in my language studies, especially in Skype conversation with Japanese friends, but I know that there are some people who read the blog who live (or have lived) in Japan.

Any interest facts about Japanese culture that you want to share?  What seemed the most unusual to you when you first went to Japan?  Or what seemed odd to you after you left Japan?  What had you grown accustomed to?

Just curious.


A Matter of Focus

Here’s one of the things about taking a big test like the JLPT that can derail your studies:

Right now, I am focused on the test.  I finished the JLPT N3 vocabulary lessons on memrise and now just reviewing.  I finished the N3 grammar points on bunpro and am not just reviewing.  I am doing listening exercises and especially using nihongonomori, since that lets me get practice listening while also reviewing grammar, and why not do two things at once?

If there were time, I would review all of the N5 and N4 grammar points on bunpro, since the test is 19 days away (and counting) I think it’s better to focus on my reviews.

Now, here’s the point – everything I’m doing with Japanese right now is focused on the test, and then the test comes…and then what?

The thing I’ve been focused on has come and gone, and that you can leave you feeling a big letdown, and that can sap your energy and focus.  The next thing you know, a couple of days have passed since you did anything, and then a week and then two…

So, what will I do after the test?  I have a plan now, but, once that plan is completed, then what?

Get a new plan, of course.  So, after the test, I will do this:


And I already know what book will come after that one, thanks to my Cafetalk tutor.

And, then, of course, I will either be retaking the N3 or getting ready for the N2, one or the other.

I was talking to a Japanese friend on Skype the other day, and he said, “I guess learning English is now my life’s work.”  I know what he means!  He won’t be satisfied until he speaks English as well as he speaks Japanese, and that will take a long time.

So, after the test, not letdown for me.  The work will continue.


Ready?  Well…

I have my admission voucher for the JLPT and my hotel reservations, so the only thing not ready is my brain.  This will be a month of intense study – grammar, vocabulary, listening and practice tests.  I feel like, in order to be ready, I need about three more months, but, pass or fail, I’m taking the test.  If I pass, great.  If I don’t, I’ll be there next year.  Either way 大丈夫だ。

This is only tangentially related to Japanese, but there is a group called The Ventures.  They are an instrumental rock and roll group that has toured Japan nearly every summer for the past 50 years or so.  They were big in the U.S. through the sixties but have remained big in Japan.  They sparked the エレキ boom in Japanese music and have spawned countless tribute bands.

I’m a big fan but figured I would never get the chance to see them play live, since U.S. concerts are rare and usually way too far away from me when they do happen, but I lucked out.  They coming close enough to me that I can go, and I got my ticket yesterday!

The concert, by the way, happens some time after the JLPT.

To celebrate, here is a video of the Ventures in Japan playing a song first made famous by the great 加山 雄三, a very well known Japanese actor, songwriter, singer and musician.

And, what the heck, here’s the man himself playing his own song.



JLPT Coming Up

So, as of this moment (meaning “the moment that I am writing this” and necessarily “the moment you are reading this, since I have no idea when that moment will be, but you could probably figure that out on your own, meaning that I am making this extremely long parenthesis needlessly complicated) the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and I promise not to make this parenthesis and long and needlessly complicated as the last one) is just over 1 month away.  And, I might add, that I wish November had 31 days instead of 30, because I figure I could use the extra day to study more.

So, where am I?

I have finished this vocabulary course on memrise:

quick mastery of vocabulary - in preparation for jlpt n3- 1

which means that, for the next month, I will just be reviewing vocabulary.  That’s good.

I am making my way through the grammar on bunpro:


and, as you can see, I still have 47 grammar forms to learn.  I’d like to finish them with at least a week (preferably longer) remaining before the test, so that I can have as much pure review time as possible.  Considering that learning just 2 forms a day would give me a week of review, I’m figuring I can do better than that.

So, what’s left?  Listening practice.  There are various things on YouTube to listen to.  Over the last few days I watched Spirited Away in Japanese with no subtitles.  Sometimes I understand everything, sometimes I understood some, and sometimes I might just as well have had the sound turned off for all that I understood.  That’s how it goes.

Tonight I will be watching something else in Japanese without subtitles.  I don’t what yet, but something.  Also, I’m listening to my new Happy End cd and understanding more and more with each listen, which is nice.

Repetition, repetition and more repetition followed by using the language at every possible opportunity.


Breaking It Down

I was reading an article on News Web Easy this morning while eating breakfast when my head suddenly exploded.

This was the pair of sentences that did it:


So now I’m going to break this thing down to see if I can made sense out of it.

The article is about a new anime center in Tokyo.


このセンターでは – This center followed by the famous topic particle は

Okay, so we’re off to a good start…

アニメのキャラクター と – anime character followed by the joining particle と, so with anime character(s)

I admit that this one took a little longer than it should have.  I’m fine with hiragana, but I’m kind of weak on katakana because I simply don’t see the characters often enough when I’m reading.  My bad.

一緒に- together with

So, where’s the problem?  This is pretty easy so far…

写真を撮る – take a photograph

ことができます – to be able to

So, you  can get your photograph taken with an anime character at the anime center.  Fine.

And then…

昔- old time – this is the same word that starts off a typical fairy tale in Japanese

人気が – popular followed by our old friend the subject particle

あった – past tense of ある which indicates state of being for inanimate things

アニメ – anime

And here we run into one of those things that happens in Japanese which usually means I have to deconstruct the sentence to figure it out – a phrase serving as a noun or adjective.  When I first read this sentence, it just seemed to go on and on, piling words on top of words and making no sense whatsoever.

Now that I look at it, though,

昔人気があったアニメ – anime that was popular long ago

を  – particle indicating a direct object

作る – to make

ときに – time when

So 作るときに – a time when making

使った – past tense of つかう- to use

絵 – picture (hand drawn or painted as opposed to a photograph, right?)

を – particle indicating direct object

見る – to see

こともできます – also to be able

Ah.  You can also see drawings that were used when making anime that were popular a long time ago.

Hm.  Sort of an anticlimax, really, since, as it turns out, both sentence were pretty easy, although, when I first read it, the second one looked like a monster.  To be honest, when I break a sentence down like this, I almost always find out that it really isn’t that complicated after all.

See?  What’s so hard about Japanese?


Early Christmas

A friend of mine went to Japan recently and brought me back a few things.

First, candy!  Kit Kat bars, of course, because…Japan.


Even better, though, is the brand new still in the shrink wrap high definition CD:


Here’s how it looks playing:


I don’t know why I think it’s so cool to see Japanese in the media player, but I do.

Oh, and, better yet, it comes with reading practice!  It has a booklet inside with lyrics!


Yeah, that font is kind of really hard to read.

So, yeah, I’m excited.  I’m listening to the CD as I type this, in fact, because, why not?

Last night, my wife and I went to see Spirited Away at the theater.  Big screen, surround sound, what’s not to like?  Well, it was the English dub, but I’ll sit home tonight and watch it on DVD 字幕なし and see how much I can understand.  In the meantime, I’ve got some vocabulary and grammar to learn.