Category Archives: Japanese

Life in Japan: Learning Kanji

After 10 years in Japan, you’d think I’d know the 2000 main kanji, right? Well, I only know about a quarter of that. But is it really important to know kanji in Japan? How has knowing only 500 kanji affected me? Here’s my answer.

I Read Encyclopedias for Fun

There are three writing systems in Japan: hiragana (ひらがな), which is the main phonetic set of characters; katakana (カタカナ), which is the phonetic characters used mainly for foreign words; kanji (漢字), which is used throughout Japanese, and is taken from Chinese. It’s this last one that gives a lot of people trouble. It’s extremely important to know how to at least read kanji to be able to read a newspaper or book in Japanese.  This week’s question comes from Ellen Hawley.

I had friends who lived in Japan, and even after years reading Japanese (not the phonetic alphabets but the characters) remained a problem. Have you been able to learn enough to manage well? If not, how does that affect you?

Chinese_characters_logoI’ll begin by saying that I love kanji. It’s fascinating to me, but the biggest problem with it is that I often forget how to write them. But that’s…

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Filed under Japan, Japanese

Studying Japanese: Should you do it?

I’ve been in Japan for more than 6 years, and while my Japanese isn’t conversational, I can get by doing some essential things.  However, I cannot describe symptoms to a doctor, nor can I understand the financial terms used in banks.  Amanda at “Whoa…I’m in Japan?” made a post recently about being discouraged from studying Japanese.  What’s the reason?  Because it’s impossible for foreigners to learn Japanese.  What makes Japanese impossible to learn?  Well, in reality, nothing.  It is entirely possible to learn Japanese well.  I’ve heard that what’s impossible to learn is keigo, which is the skill of communicating in different formal situations.  I wouldn’t say that’s impossible, either, just difficult.  And I’m sure many Japanese people don’t even have a good grasp on keigo.

My reasons for studying Japanese are personal.  It’s not for business (although it will be useful in the future for me), it’s for being able to communicate with those around me.  My fiancee is Japanese, and we’re expecting a baby in January.  Our baby will grow up to be bilingual.  I will speak English, my fiancee will speak Japanese, and when we speak with each other, it’ll mainly be in English.  However, even though I’ll be able to speak to my child in English, I can’t do the same with my fiancee’s family.  Her parents, sister, grandparents, most of her cousins, aunts and uncles can’t speak English.  Most of her friends can’t speak English, either.  I need to be able to speak with them in Japanese if I’m ever going to communicate with them.  I can’t rely on my fiancee to translate everything.  It’s important for me to learn Japanese.

There’s another situation that many Japanese speaking foreigners encounter.  When ordering food at a restaurant, the foreigner orders in Japanese, and the waiter/waitress looks at the Japanese people with the foreigner to confirm that he/she is actually ordering that.  When I eat out with my fiancee, I get the same thing.  I say my order, and the server doesn’t say anything.  My fiancee repeats what I said and the server confirms with her, as if he/she was completely ignoring what I said.  When I order food alone when I’m by myself, I have no problems, though.  It’s when I order food while I’m with Japanese people that they always confirm with the Japanese people that I really ordered what I said.  It’s quite annoying.  I ordered in correct Japanese, yet they behave like I was speaking English.

Have you had annoying encounters with people while speaking Japanese?


Filed under Daily Life, Japanese

Japanese study online resources

Since I live in Japan, I’m studying Japanese.  As I’m not taking Japanese lessons, I study on my own.  It’s not the easiest thing to do.  But I have found 4 resources online that have helped me study.  Please take a look at them if you’re also studying Japanese.

Lang-8 – This is a very useful website.  This is where you can find many other people studying languages.  All you have to do is write a journal in the language you’re studying.  Native speakers will then correct any mistakes you’ve made.  You can also help people who are studying your language.  It’s a very active community of language learners, and there are many languages being learned.  Highly recommended. – If you want to improve your vocabulary, this is the place to do it.  The iKnow application is an excellent and enjoyable online flash card system.  It frequently reviews words you’ve studied before, so you don’t forget.  It also helps you with kanji, but the focus is on vocabulary.  You can also study dictation, which will help you improve your listening skills.  Definitely give this a try.  This supports many languages, so you can study most major languages.

KanjiBox – This website is specifically for kanji and vocabulary.  It helps you remember the kanji, the kanji readings, and vocabulary.  You can study based on the JLPT levels, or even the kanji that are studied in each grade in school.  This is also a flash card style system.  You’ll need Facebook for this one.

Rikaichan – This is a Firefox add-on that is great for reading Japanese websites.  When it’s turned on, you just move your mouse over kanji or words you don’t know, and it’ll tell you the reading, as well as what the word means.  It even works with colloquial language, which is great for natural, casual Japanese.

Do you know any other resources?

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Filed under Japanese

Kanji studying

Lately, I’ve been getting myself to study Japanese.  I’m doing some review right now of kanji I’ve studied before.  I’ve studied about 150 kanji in total.  In the last 2 weeks, I’ve reviewed 72 kanji.  And here they are:


There.  That’s the kanji I’ve been reviewing.  I’ve known them for some time now, but it’s good to review.  So, for all of you students of English, reviewing even the simplest English can be helpful.

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Filed under Japanese