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.

Japanese reading: Shiranami Gonin Otoko (白浪五人男)

Oh my, this was fun to put together!


The town where I lived in Japan is home to an amazing wooden theatre house that was constructed in the Meiji-era (Korakukan theatre in Kosaka, Akita).  I can’t remember if it is the oldest of its kind, but it’s certainly a unique treasure for the community.   In addition to the professional performances that went on every year, they also had a wonderful annual tradition of having kids perform kabuki scenes (Kodomo Kabuki).


At the time, a work colleague suggested that I learn this passage (弁天小僧菊之助たァ!); shortly after that conversation, someone else gave me a copy of 声に出して読みたい日本語 (the book I read from for this video).  Opening the book, the passage that my colleague had recommended was the *very* first item included in this collection of Japanese gems that are truly meant to be read aloud and treasured.  I was inspired to learn the passage, but I never followed through until I recently put my mind to reciting it.

At the time (pre-youtube era), I remember thinking “This book is great, but what I really need is an audio recording of some kind to practice with!”.  Coming back to it now many years later, I was able to find a few examples on Youtube that I could use as a base.

If you want to see the scene this is taken from, check out the second video– the last video (from youtube channel kikunosuke81) is the one that I used (extensively) to practice for this project.

I thought it would be fun to do this as a ‘finger paint karaoke‘ and tried putting myself in front of the camera.

I look forward to sharing this with my old colleague if our paths cross this summer!

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?

Continue reading

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.

If you were held to the same standard as English learners….

The other day I got to thinking of the standard to which English language learners in my community are held every day.  I wonder how well I would measure up if the shoe were on the other foot?

Regardless of your performance on standardized tests, If you’ve developed some competency in another language, do all of the following describe your level of comfort in that language?

1. Able to write coherent text, explaining somewhat complicated circumstances? Able to do the same verbally, over the phone.
2. Able to persuade, teach or train?
3. Able to calm a tense situation?
4. Aware when you are being misunderstood, and able to get conversation back on track?
5. Develop professional rapport with someone who initially doubts your abilities?
6. Write a comprehensive report?
What makes a few of these difficult (I’m sure there are better examples), is the cultural context in which they rest. Added to that, the consequences of ‘getting it wrong’ tend to rattle your confidence and, over time, it get’s harder and harder to step out of your comfort zone.
Which part is ‘hardest’ will be different for everyone; however, in terms of being able to think on your feet in a professional context, I think the fourth one is especially valuable— and probably the one over which you have the most control (or at least practice).

What works for you?

So many arguments about ‘the best way to go’ for language learners at different levels…

The tricky part, of course,  is that what works for one person might be totally off-base for you.

Ultimately, we can only really judge ‘what works’ for ourselves—if you find yourself arguing, it’s probably a sign that you should try something different…… conversely, what works for you may not work so well for someone else…..  “learn and let learn” I guess.

The designers of most language tests (DELFJLPTHSK, etc.) are trying harder and harder to make test scores reflect real world communicative ability; are you aiming beyond standard language tests (that really only mark the beginning of the next stage of learning)?

As you consider your goals (however broadly), what works for you?

Passed JLPT N1 一級を合格したぜ〜!!

Just got the results from last December’s Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and I was delighted to discover that I had squeaked out a pass on the new JLPT N1!

I consider the JLPT ‘hard’ simply because  the bulk of the test concentrates on my main weak points.  (No chance to talk!).  It’s surreal to have finally bested the legendary “Level 1”, especially since Japan seems quite ‘far away’ from my work and surroundings these days.

I’ll most likely take it again this year, but it will be a relief to have ‘passing’ out of the way—- my current score follows a familiar pattern: high points for listening, but reading could benefit from some more attention.

I’ll leave study strategizing for later—today is definitely a happy day!