Category Archives: Japan

Japan

Japan!

Japan, Japan, Japan. I really enjoyed my time in Japan; it really was (and is!) a lovely country, but, of course, there are a few things that can get on your nerves just like anywhere else. I wanted to give you all some tips about traveling in Japan!

So, starting with Osaka, If you’re into anime or manga whatsoever, Den Den Town is full of shops to fit your fancy; there’s also an interesting (perhaps country-wide?) caveat of having the top floor of stores, especially manga bookstores, being for ecchi or hentai doujinshi. One notable store like this is K-BOOKS, easily found in the northern part of Den Den Town.

You can find world-to-Japan converters, adapters, and laptop transformers (that thick thing that’s on laptop cords and changes the voltage across countries properly so your laptop doesn’t short out) in large (and some small) electronic stores, such as Yamada Denki in the Namba station mall and on the back shelf in the shop called Den Den Town located in, well, Den Den Town.

Money comes in a few denominations: ¥1, ¥5, ¥10, ¥50, ¥100, and ¥500 coins, and ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥5,000, and ¥10,000 bills. The coins are honestly quite a large hassle. I went to the grocery store and bought ¥2,300 worth of groceries…and paid for it entirely with ¥500 and ¥100 coins! This is annoying because there’s so much money contained in such a heavy and inconvenient currency as coins. Though I wasn’t a big fan of Korea, it definitely didn’t have this problem. Also, most Japanese stores do include the tax in the prices they show (unlike the US), but they also show the untaxed price just above that.

Unlike in Korea, pornography is legal in Japan, and the government doesn’t try too hard to stop its citizens from acquiring/viewing it. This is quite a good thing, as suppressing the populace only leads to repression that itself leads to a general societal frustration. However, there’s of course a bit of another side, and I can see why some girlfriends would be a bit worried about their boyfriends being disinterested in them here in Japan: waifu material to drool over and cover one’s walls with is quite easy to find.

The Japanese are incredibly orderly, and could possibly win a competition of who stands in line most often to get on the subway instead of pushing and shoving (very different from Korea). There is also a rule in Osaka that, if you’re on an escalator, you stand on the right, and walk on the left (much like in England), which is common in big cities. However, this is reversed in Tokyo, and you walk on the right side!

If you want to grab some foreign food, I recommend going to La Cave de Yamaya in the Osaka City Air Terminal (OCAT) building just west of the Namba subway station; here, I found hard taco shells (yes!), pickles (gherkins), olives, pasta sauce, Pringles, Quaker oatmeal, and other various foreign foods. The selection isn’t huge, but I was definitely happy about what I did find. There’s a bit pricier of a place on the basement second floor of the Yodobashi Camera, as well as the basement second floor of the Daimaru (the 13th floor of this building is a medium-sized Pokemon Center!), but I wasn’t as big a fan of these because they were expensive. The other import store I like (which also has taco shells!) is on the second floor of the humongous Osaka Station City train station, just a wee bit southwest of the also-gigantic Umeda subway station.

Unfortunately, when you go to any of these stores – as well as any other stores in Japan – you get a ridiculous amount of plastic wrapping and packaging with your purchase. The plastic is usually pretty strong too, and definitely not as easily ripped as US or European plastic, so it’s not rare for you to need scissors to open things. One time at a bakery, three items I bought were put into three separate plastic bags, then put into a bigger bag, and then taped (because the Japanese need to tape their bags, for nicety’s sake or something). Combine this with the Asian lack of public trash cans, and it often means that after buying something, you have to carry around the plastic leftovers for awhile, sometimes at least an hour if you’re not near your house.

Fortunately, however, the Japanese are very nice, especially when it comes to customer service. They’re also endlessly talkative, though, and will basically narrate every action they’re doing when scanning your groceries or ringing up an order. This is largely a good thing compared to my time in Korea, however, as I haven’t seen a single person here look at me with dead-bored eyes while serving me. I do have to say, though, that the subways announcing each stop sometimes three times gets quite a bit grating.

The food portion sizes in Japan are very disappointing, especially for their price, and most fancy dishes are just bowls of rice with only a small portion of what you actually wanted (meat, etc.) on top. If you’re a big eater like some of my friends, Japan will likely be fairly expensive for you, and nearly anytime you eat out, you’ll get a ridiculous amount of rice, whether you want it or not! The expense of tiny portions of food is likely my biggest pet peeve with Japan.

One thing that’s annoying is that Japan seems to have a lot of solicitors. If you rent a place or have an Airbnb here in Japan and you don’t think you know the person knocking, just ignore them; it’s probably a solicitor, or someone coming to ask the owner of the place to pay for their television channels. Let the landlord know and have them handle it. 🙂

Subway phrases

Here are some of the phrases heard quite often on the Tokyo subway, as well as others around Japan.
Mamonaku (station name). Yamanote sen, Asakusa sen o norikae desu. = This station is (station name). You can transfer to the Yamanote and Asakusa lines here. (lit. “Soon (station name). Yamanote line, Asakusa line transfer is.”)
Tsugi wa (station name). = Next is (station name).
Ichi ban sen doa ga shimarimasu. Tsugi no densha o go riyo (?) kudasai. = The line 1 doors are closing. Please use the next train.
Gochuui kudasai. = Please watch out.
Ashimoto ni gochuui kudasai. = Please watch your step.
Abunai desu kara, kiiroi sen made o(?)imasu. = For your safety, stay behind the yellow line. (lit. “Dangerous is thus, yellow line behind stay.”)
Mamonaku ichi ban sen mairimasu. Gochuui kudasai. = Line 1 is arriving. Please watch out.

Choices in learning Japanese

Japanese is a Japonic language associated with ridiculously unique people, interesting shows, and world-renowned video games. The language has two alphabets (hiragana and katakana, collectively called kana) and one expansive set of characters (kanji). It can sound a bit intimidating, but don’t be daunted by this; you have a choice of just how fluent you want to be. For my personal learning, I wish to be able to associate any set of characters with any other set of characters I want, so in Japanese, I work on nearly all of the combinations, both ways:

  • Associate the kanji with the kana
  • Associate the kanji with the romaji
  • Associate the kanji with the meaning
  • Associate the kana with the kanji
  • Associate the kana with the romaji
  • Associate the kana with the meaning (not actively worked on)
  • Associate the romaji with the kanji
  • Associate the romaji with the kana
  • Associate the romaji with the meaning
  • Associate the meaning with the kanji
  • Associate the meaning with the kana (not actively worked on)
  • Associate the meaning with the romaji

For example, associating the kanji with the meaning involves things like tying what the kanji looks like to the idea it represents, like the kanji for cat (猫) and a picture or story of a cat. Associating the kana with the romaji would be a simple task of learning which hiragana or katakana corresponds to which romaji letters. By now, I know the kana well enough to be able to skip the kana vs. romaji combinations and treat them as if they were one, which cuts down on the separate matching that kana or romaji would make with kanji individually.

This form of learning gives me a solid foundation to understanding Japanese no matter its form or how it’s written to me, whereas – and there’s no harm in doing this if this is your preference – some people may choose to do this condensed version instead:

  • Associate the kanji with the meaning
  • Associate the meaning with the kanji

“But romaji is bad!”

Some people advise new learners to skip romaji. I absolutely do not recommend this. Being able to write Japanese in a form easily pronouncable and clear to non-Asians is a hugely useful skill.

I think the take-home idea of what people are trying to communicate when they say “don’t learn romaji” is this: don’t rely on only romaji to learn Japanese by, as kana and kanji are ridiculously important and 100% cannot be avoided if you truly wish for spoken as well as written fluency in the language. I do advise saving learning how to -write- kanji for really advanced learning, if even then, as even many Japanese can’t remember from scratch how to write many kanji, as shown in this video.

If you’re going to be reading a lot of Japanese material, the important focus is of course to learn how to recognize characters, not write them from scratch! Besides, unless you’re writing a job application in Japanese with no computer or outside help whatsoever, if you don’t know how to write a kanji, you can always just represent it with hiragana. While the Japanese can read their language in romaji, kana is of course preferred.

Don’t be afraid of the writing system. Besides, with so many resources available as well as so much interesting media, Japanese is a great language to learn, and learning the kanji gives you a fantastically solid head start if you want to learn Chinese later!

My Japanese resources

Here’s the Japanese equivalent for my Korean resources, my Swedish resources, and my Norwegian resources, in order from most to least used and helpful:

  • Memrise: Vocabulary building via flashcards. Used all the time during any stage of learning Japanese, or any other language, for that matter. Using Memrise is like using flashcards, but a lot more beneficial since it utilizes not just repetition, but spaced repetition. That means it checks how long ago you learned a word and reminds you to revisit the word at a time when you’re most likely to be about to forget it. It often has (user-created!) mnemonic devices to help aid the recall process even further. I wholeheartedly recommend Memrise to anyone who’s learning any language. You can even create your own deck to help other users practice! Here’s a detailed deck I made myself for Japanese that splits words into categories like godan verbs, na-adjectives, and more. 😀
  • Guide to Japanese: The Japanese Guide at Guide to Japanese is extremely helpful, and is the number one source I use to build my grammar.
  • Tanoshii Japanese: Tanoshii Japanese, while it’s a fantastic Japanese to English (and vice-versa) dictionary, also has hiragana, katakana, kanji, and vocabulary lessons, and will teach you kanji immediately before showing you some words containing the kanji you just learned! It also has extremely helpful games you can play, and you can tie your progress to your account. I absolutely recommend this site, as it’s basically somewhat of a Japanese-specific Memrise, catering specifically to ways that would help one test their hiragana, katakana, kanji, and vocabulary knowledge.
  • Lingua Junkie: Lingua Junkie gives a fantastic breakdown of many different ways to say the same thing, which means it’s a fantastic way to build your vocabulary and stop saying things the same way every time. For example, there’s an article about 22 awesome ways to say how are you in Japanese, and one for 22 ways to say I agree in Japanese. I definitely recommend these, and there are plenty more on the site!
  • JREF’s Japanese Slang article: Great for learning Japanese slang, the value of which cannot be understated if you want to learn real-world Japanese!
  • Tangorin: Like Tanoshii Japanese, Tangorin also serves as a great Japanese to English (and vice-versa) dictionary, and is incredibly helpful with the meanings of different kanji. Because of the extra features (and the more attractive interface), however, I like to use Tanoshii Japanese more often.
  • Hotarun: Like a hybrid of Tanoshii Japanese and Verbix, Hotarun will explain what a kanji means or conjugate verbs for you, among many other things!
  • Learn-Japanese.info: The vocabulary and grammar lessons here are very simple and to the point!
  • The Japanese Page: Over at The Japanese Page, there’s a great section called Fast Track: 100 Grammar Points that is just glorious in jump-starting your Japanese grammar knowledge. It teaches you 100 short grammar snippets on how to use words like “about”, “for example”, “this”, “that”, “that over there”, and more.
  • PuniPuniJapan: PuniPuniJapan definitely wins points for being adorable. It’s a fabulously colorful website that really makes Japanese learning cute and fun, and it teaches vocabulary, phrases, and grammar for free.
  • Japanese Professor: Japanese Professor has great lessons in order to learn Japanese!
  • Daiu International: Daiu International has a bunch of vocabulary lists to suit your fancy, whether you want to specifically learn more adjectives, pronouns, or even some Japanese proverbs.
  • Nihongo Ichiban: There are some grammar lessons here, and also some survival Japanese lessons if you just want to get your feet wet and no more. If you’re serious enough about Japanese to take the JLPT (general Japanese proficiency test) or BJT (business Japanese proficiency test), though, it also helpfully contains lists for vocabulary you’ll need to know for J5, J4, and so on.
  • Jonsay.co.uk: Like Daiu International, Jonsay has great vocabulary lists like this one for different categories such as computers, directions, and even the Japanese words for dinosaurs! They have vocabulary lists for other languages, too, not just Japanese.
  • Japanese websites about interests: For example, if you’re interested in anime, why not trying to read some words off of animeanime.jp once you have some kanji and vocabulary under your belt? Or maybe read some articles in English about some cool stuff Japan has going on and practice reading the Japanese around it.
  • Verbix: I use this verb conjugator for pretty much any language I’m learning!
  • Japanese Verb Conjugator: With a slightly easier to understand format than Verbix, this “Ultra Handy Japanese Verb Conjugator” is a great way to find out how to conjugate a Japanese verb if you’re at a loss! However, even though it has a prettier format than Verbix, the conjugations are automatically generated.

Continue reading My Japanese resources

Stereotypes of countries around the world

Keep in mind these are tidbits and/or very generalizing and playful stereotypes I’ve come up with by going to these countries and meeting people from them.

Americans:
– Blunt as a knife.
– Describe distances in driving time.
– Describe time in numbers (5:50 is most times “five fifty”, not “ten to six” or “five after quarter to six”).
– Devout (comparatively to other [especially European] countries).
– Friendly.
– Loud.
– Main exports are obesity and friendliness.
– Mediocre drivers due to medium-priced driver’s tests and licenses.
– Notable music genres include rock and jazz.
– Out of shape.
– Patriotic.
– Slogan: Add sugar to everything!
– Tip most everyone.
– Use big adjectives generously (“Wow!” “That’s great!” “That sounds awesome!”).
– Use the imperial measuring system, often leading to confusion with the metric system.

The British:
– Clever.
– Crazy about gardens, just like the Dutch.
– Cynical.
– Pessimistic.
– Sarcastic.
– Sardonic.
– Tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.

Continue reading Stereotypes of countries around the world