JP: 平家物語 Heike Monogatari

Another reading from “声に出して読みたい日本語” (others here and here)– this is 平家物語 from page 22.  If you pay close attention, you can see blips where my phone appears to check the stroke order of a few characters.  I’m sure there are a few apps (both mobile and desktop) that would do the trick, but I’ve been happy with this app called KanjiQ.

I have no connection to the developer, but I think I’m going to pay for the add-free version.

Typing in Japanese (TJM Yuta)

After commenting on the utility of handwriting practice, and how typing practice can help bring Japanese learners face to face with unfamiliar or misunderstood kanji (i.e. 訂正云々 ), I thought it was timely to see Yuta’s most recent video, explaining how Japanese typing works.  If you’ve ever wondered how you could type thousands of kanji with a regular QWERTY keyboard, then this is a perfect intro.

The video is only 5 minutes long, but he gives a really well-rounded explanation of what is involved with the typical way of inputting Japanese into a computer— I could *totally* relate to his comments about keyboard shortcuts behaving strangely when you are using another keyboard.

If you’re new to Japanese, I can understand how the prospect of typing in this way might seem intimidating; however, I can assure you that it starts to feel quite intuitive with some practice.

I made a video of typing Chinese for a post last year— if you look closely, you can see that the process of converting the input (i.e. following pinyin reading) into Chinese characters is quite similar to what Yuta is describing here for Japanese.

訂正云々 is not Teisei Denden

It looks like Prime Minister Abe misread some of his speaking notes this week.  The Japanese internet is abuzz with his (minor) slip up with a kanji (Japan Times).

I thought it was worth sharing because this is exactly how Japanese learners (obviously just a slip of the tongue for the prime minister) make mistakes with reading.  This is why there is value in the kind of printing and typing practice that I alluded to in a recent post.

For context, here was my comment:

You can do the same kind of practice with your computer (i.e. retyping things); however, beyond improving your typing dexterity, the focus of the practice actually shifts towards reading. This will seem counterintuitive if you don’t understand the way Japanese works, but the reality is that it’s not that hard to recopy an extremely challenging passage by hand, but if you can’t *read* it, retyping it will be almost impossible.

So, using Prime Minister Abe’s mistake as an example, if I gave an intermediate Japanese learner the task of writing “訂正云々” by hand, it wouldn’t be unmanageable. Even if a courageous beginner to Kanji didn’t understand the meaning of 訂正云々, or wasn’t familiar the characters, my guess is that they could produce something legible; these characters aren’t that complex, and don’t present any rare stroke patterns.

Having said that, if you were an intermediate learner trying to type these words and you guessed “Teisei Denden” (ていせいでんでん), your computer wouldn’t easily display “訂正云々”—it would only appear smoothly if you input the correct reading of “Teisei Unnun” (ていせいうんぬん). In my ‘typing practice mode’, this would be an opportunity to stop and figure out the correct reading of the characters before moving on.

All of that to say that typing and printing practice can help to focus our study of written Japanese, BUT CLEARLY, the most important takeaway from this story is that if the Prime Minister of Japan can make a Kanji-reading boo boo, SO CAN YOU!

Take it easy on yourself– reading Japanese is tricky business!

Message on the bottle: Mind Game Moments for language learners


Someone gave me a free (swag) water bottle the other day–looking at the picture on the box, I could see that the design was one that seems to be pretty popular these days. With a somewhat subdued design that wasn’t dominated by a corporate logo splashed everywhere (hidden here), it seemed like a keeper. Before throwing out the box, however, I thought it would be a good idea to check if I was going to be able to wash my water bottle in the dishwasher.

That’s when it happened– I picked up the box and….found myself looking at the French version of the description and instructions.  The language learning mind games had begun.


As someone who likes to speak French sometimes (still a rusty B2), I was essentially faced with a question: read the French, or take the easy route and flip over to the English?

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Old tunes and textbooks…ナウくない 音楽や大学の教科書

A friend asked me what I’d been doing to try and get back into things with Japanese and I listed off a few things that didn’t surprise him: listening to ナウくない Japanese music on the way to work (Mr. Children, Dreams Come True ), watching one of my favourite Japanese movies (Love Letter) and youtube videos here and there (really neat mini-documentary on棒倒し/ Bo Taoshi, which I had never heard of).  One thing that caught my friend by surprise was my comment about simply practicing lettering and typing.

I don’t know if other people agree, but I’ve always found it quite useful to simply ‘copy’ a passage a few times and note some of the patterns that get used. This was one of the main ways that I practiced when I was in university— yes there was the studying of vocab lists and wrestling with grammar explanations etc., but I always found it useful to simply copy the text a couple of times and try to print/write the characters so that they look presentable.  We were often assigned passages to practice until we could recite them smoothly in class, and I found that being able to recopy the passage smoothly helped me prepare.

For example, I went back to my university library and found another one of my old textbooks (Modern Japanese, A Basic Reader, Harvard University Press); I took a passage (see above) and simply copied it out 2-3 times.  It seems to be an effective way to tap into muscle memory– it didn’t take long to feel comfortable writing again (my characters are nothing to brag about, but I think they’re acceptable).

I still have a couple of pads of 原稿用紙 from my university days– I’d never been able to bring myself to throw them out, so it’s been neat putting them to use.  Lettering practice also has the additional bonus of being very easy to do in small bursts– I can do it for ten minutes and feel like I’ve accomplished something.



You can do the same kind of practice with your computer (i.e. retyping things); however, beyond improving your typing dexterity, the focus of the practice actually shifts towards reading. This will seem counterintuitive if you don’t understand the way Japanese works, but the reality is that it’s not that hard to recopy an extremely challenging passage by hand, but if you can’t *read* it, retyping it will be almost impossible.

Put another way, if you understand the basic mechanics of the way Kanji are put together, you can reasonably reproduce an unfamiliar character by hand; however, if you don’t know how to read a particular kanji, you won’t know what keys to press in order to have it appear on the screen.

Anyway– all that to say that both typing/keyboarding and printing practices can be a challenging in meaningful ways.

As an aside to this post, I also took out the companion grammar guide to (Modern Japanese, A Basic Reader). I’ll have to write a separate post another time because the author of the grammar guide was actually our very own Japanese professor, who was an expert in *English* grammar.  Keeping up with his interpretations/explanations of Japanese was sometimes challenging, in the sense that he had a much more precise understanding of English grammar than we did:)

One exciting bit to note this week– Nicholas and I have our new passports!   I told him that the Pokemon he loves so much are from Japan and he is getting more excited about our trip in the summer.

My first Japanese textbook from way back when…


I was wondering where to start with getting back on track with Japanese; instead of being a hero and starting with challenging texts, I thought it might be fun *and useful* to skim through some of the things I remember studying to get back in the swing of things.

I actually have a very clear memory of the very first thing that my teacher said to us: “Learning Japanese is not difficult; it will just be a little challenging for your spirit, and you’ll need to work hard!”.

True to her promise she didn’t let us off easy– it was a challenging but fun class.  I was in the intensive version of this class, so it was the equivalent of doing a year-long 6 unit course in a single semester: we had 10 hours of class time every week, mandated practice time in the language lab (they gave us a *punch card* so we could punch in and out of the lab), as well as in-person lab time with a TA.   The pace of quizzes, vocabulary tests and unit tests was relentless and kept us on our toes!  The next course followed the same pattern so we essentially finished all four volumes of this series over an academic year.  Class was 8-10am, Monday to Friday.

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te-shimatta “I couldn’t help myself”

One more point on the Mayor who promised to build the ‘spamusement’ onsen amusement park if their video hit 1 million views— the phrase that got picked up by the news is a handy pattern that shows up pretty often: “yatte shimatta” (top right of image)



For te-shimatta, I always think of someone who simply couldn’t help themselves and went and….. (insert verb here). So, if you think of someone who meant to bring a box of donuts into the office, but got stuck in traffic and ended up eating the whole box.  Japanese could say (食べて)+しまった

You can do the same thing with virtually any verb (飲んでしまった、等)but you can cover many situations by using やってしまった。

The beauty of the internet being what it is, there is really no shortage of examples of things online– not just using Google News (searching for やってしまった), as I suggested the other day, but you can easily find comments and suggestions from other folks who are learning Japanese.  For example,  I found a page on Quora on this topic:

I couldn’t find a link to someone using Pandora’s Box as an example for this pattern (ie 開けてしまった or  見てしまいました), but I think it would be another good example of this pattern.

*[edit] locksleyu wisely left a comment (see below) to point out that this pattern ( ってしまう) is bigger than the example I’ve raised.   Indeed, this pattern can capture a few different nuances! The challenge for English speakers is that none of the English translations will ever roll off our tongue quite as smoothly as the Japanese.

Thinking of another example, I remember I was once moved to tears (happy tears) after the one and only time I had ever flown in a helicopter—a Japanese colleague, seeing that I was embarrassed, used this form to note the moment: “感動しちゃった”.

Spamusement Park Project lands Beppu Mayor in Hot Water

A couple of weeks ago, this clever and funny video from Beppu, in Ōita Prefecture, appeared on youtube.   The whole thing is pretty tongue-in-cheek, showing a clearly fictitious amusement park that is one big hot spring ‘in motion’– picture roller coasters with a hot tub in each car.  Just the idea of it was funny.

The video takes an interesting turn at the end though– the Mayor of Beppu appears and convincingly promises “if this video gets 1 million views, we will make the Spamusement park a reality!”

After the video hit 1 million views in just four days (not really a stretch for a popular video nowadays), people started asking questions of the mayor– was he serious?  Is this something they can really pull off?  Is it practical?  Even if he’s dreaming of making it a reality, many folks have doubts.

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