Looking Back: 2014

This is my 2014 Japanese review. Really I should have written this in August or September, because that’s when my language study suddenly took off and flourished. I could feel myself improving everyday, and was happy to sacrifice other pursuits in order to spend more time studying. I started watching Jdramas  without subs, though, I’m afraid, not my favorite one and none of my anime simulcast.


The instigator of all that new found momentum was Kawaii Japanese. in the beginning of August I read their post about HabitRPG and joined without blinking. I participated in their Japanese subtitle challenge, winning the first one and completely failing the second (but still attempting it, which was worth something). For the challenge I watched Nonbiri with Japanese subs open in a window next to it, and paused to enter sentences into Anki whenever there was one that seemed eligible.

This was basically every minute.

And entering the sentences meant breaking them down, word by word.


I have never watched a show so slowly before.


I didn’t translate the sentences into English on the cards, oh no. I went hardcore and made them JPN>JPN. Nonbiri turned out to be a good show to do this for. The girls all had a different way of talking, which meant I was exposed to various styles of Japanese (as a language with varying forms, mostly based on politeness, such variation is important). Not only that, it’s a rural, slice-of-life comedy, so the sentences I translated were often short and somewhat funny, while still containing those ubiquitous phrases that pop-up everywhere once you know them.

Here’s an example of one of my cards:

Front : まさか ウイルス感染で登場人物全滅とは


ウイルス→ ”バイワス”
感染(かんせん)→病気 (ウイルス方)



(Ah, going through these reminded me how fun it was, but also how completely unhelpful my cards would be to other people. I went a little out there on some of my “definitions!”)
That being said, the show made me want roll my eyes in a bad way, though I’m willing to consider that this might just have been the process, which took forever. As soon as the second competition was over I ditched it. In fact, as soon as the competition was over Nanowrimo was upon us, and as soon as that was over the holidays were here, and, basically, I did nothing but the bare minimum – put a podcast on in the background, listened to some songs, watched my (subbed) anime, and read 精霊の守人.


Ah, Moribito (守人), where do I began? Moribito has long been one of my favorite anime, I watched it over two years ago when Crunchyroll first put it up, and immediately re-watched with my brother. And then they took it offline and I couldn’t watch it anymore. Last summer I bought the light novel off of Amazon. It was ridiculously cheap for an imported item, about $11, and considering that it’s 340 pages of words, words, words definitely more bang for your buck than a manga (sorry Natsume). I dived into the book and, despite being completely over my head in incomprehensible kanji, found I could keep up with the story well enough thanks to the furigana and my familiarity with the plot and characters. I might not know exactly what was going on in detail, but I understood just enough to know where in the story people were. And then there were the times when I understood whole sentences. Magic.


Don’t let the past tense fool you, I’m still in the middle of this book. I’ve been “reading” it with minimal lookup since July. At first my reasoning was that reading near a computer is impractical. But with my iPhone loaded with imiwa this is no longer a valid excuse and I’m forced to admit that it just goes completely against my boar-headed nature to pause in the middle of reading. Looking up one word leads to looking up another, and soon I’m no longer reading, just word collecting (more on this in another post). Still, even with minimal word lookup, my reading ability has skyrocketed. From understanding unconnected sentences like, “チャグムの目がまるくなった,” to being able to follow conversations. To everyone out there studying: take heart and force yourself to stay exposed to multiple media even if it seems totally beyond you. Your mind was designed to learn language, you just have to give it enough materials. I really think that watching shows without subs reinforced my reading skills. It’s almost like I can imagine how the conversation sounds now even if I don’t know exactly what they’re saying.

Okay, we’re almost done. In 2014 I started cleaning out my podcast library. This has been done with far less enthusiasms than my other learning methods. A few years ago I went on a wild spree and downloaded something like thirty likely looking podcasts. I subscribed to some of these, but only listened to a few, and those only rarely. The result is that I had over 600 podcasts episodes waiting for me in August. I have taken that number down to about 550 . . . . My goal is to whittle that down to 0 (as best I can, some of them are still updating) and then delete them all and keep only my four or five favorites. I already know what the first four subscriptions will be: MHN (Music Hyper Market), Sound LIbrary, Kikudrama, and Udon Chururchuru. I have a few contenders for fifth place, and might end up with a sixth if I ever get the hang of listening.


So, there’s 2014 in review, with a bit of a sneak peek into my 2015 plans. I spent more effort than usual in August and September and the result is visible enough to make me want to up my game a bit this year. Next time I post I’ll show you how I’m planning on using technology to make the most out of 守人. Until then,  またね!

July Notes

また会う、everyone. It has been a nice whille since I last sat down and looked at where my Japanese studies are. Registration for the JLPT opens up near the end of August and I have to decided whether I take level four again (80% chance of passing) or jump into level three ( 100% of tears). Last time I was relived to confirm that I really was more invested in having a set goal to look forward to than I was in passing said goal, and though this truth brings me mixed feelings it does fire me up to try something new and challenging instead of something, well, old and challenging. Why attack the opponent you’ve already lost to if you  can lose to a brand new opponent instead?

Funnily enough, I just beat Ni no Kuni yesterday. I was thrilled, (despite realizing that I now owe the world a review for it) but the happiest part of the whole thing, besides the beautiful animation and ending credit song, was that I now get to re-start on DQIX. I have startled myself by actually missing this game, and today I happily dived into it for the first time in months. Yes, this is a game I’ve already “beaten,” but there’s still so much more to do. Baddies to best, caves to conquer, jobs to juggle, and, dearest to my heart, recipes to be realized. Compared to Ni no Kuni it has less text, especially now that the plot is over, so I’m going to have to be extra diligent in looking up words in order to count it as studying.

The other cool thing that I did this summer? Discover some great Japanese songs. I’ve collected a small, small number in iTunes over the years, but even among these I have a hard time thinking of them as songs I like rather than songs that are Japanese. But somehow I stumbled across ToHo’s channel and so found Japanese versions of the gorgeous Les Miserables songs. Youtube then suggested I listen to 小さな恋の歌, which I offically love to peices. I even went so far as to translate the first two verses and the chorus. Song translation is one of my many good ideas that I have yet to fully intialize, so this was a major step forward. As if this wasn’t enough, I found some awesome music on Spotify too. Of course, I really, really dislike Spotify becasue it insists on playing the most explicit commercials possible, and, uh, no. I like feeling all self-righteous about getting things for free legally while supporting the artist, but I will totally quit you each and everytime you play that ad. All that to say, I don’t listen to Spotify much becasue, despite its increasingly delicious variety of songs, I can’t relax whille it’s on. However, like I said there are a lot of good songs on it. Some artist I enjoy are Miyako Hasegawa, All That Jazz, and Mint Julep (who is actually already a staple on my iPod).

Reading-wise I haven’t made any new progress. Of course I’ve been picking up Natsume and reading a few panels here and there, but I know the stories a little too well for me to sit down with it and read them for real, and I’m not sure how useful it is as a study aide. I’d like to get a different manga series, like maybe Youtsuba!, but honestly, I have so many other sources of Japanese fiction avaiable I feel kind of bad about purchasing one more.

As for listening, Summer was a dry month for me as far as anime went. I did watch a procedural cop show on Viki without any subs at all – and discovered the ubiquity of the police procedural trumps even culture – but the only anime I watched consistently was Chihayafuru, and yes, I was naughty and left the subs on. The new wave of shows has just started in Japan and I’m hopping to find at least two enjoyable enough to watch. Of course, if it’s too enjoyable I’ll end up watching it with subs anyway – maybe I should be hoping for something bland with good animation?

All-in-all I’m passivly-giddy about my Japanese progression. I’m not really studying it at the moment by even the loosest definition of the word, but I’m still constantly being exposed to it and it’s exciting to see myself become more and more comfortable with it in general. My main goals are, as always, to increase my vocabulary becasue I have a terrible memory and a bad habit of just nodding and moving on if I don’t understand something (this spils over into all areas of my life. It’s a habit I got into when I was quite a new reader and it has morphed into a kind of patient-apathy towards ignorance). My goals have shifted slightly in that I suddenly find myself wanting to know more about grammar, and of course as my vocab increases my need to study kanji increases too. I plan on using imabi for all three of these goals, and I have started as any good procrastinator would by making an Anki deck out of the first few posts and then forgetting about it completely. Yes, I expect great things for autumn.

Rabbit Trails (兎の道): in which the author digresses

I love a good aside, a footnote, an afterthought. A scrawled comment written in the margins. Something too good to be left out, slipped between two commas (or crammed into parentheses when commas can’t contain them). This is my favorite way to learn too: randomly.

I learned a word from a Jdrama a few weeks ago (yes. There are legal places to watch Jdramas now). It stuck out because the scene was so funny. A grade student asked a high schooler to help him with his kanji homework. He asked her how to read this:


The high schooler’s (internal) reaction was, “they teach kanji of this level to middle schoolers?” which was funny enough all by itself. Out loud she said “It’s read うさぎ に つの (rabbit (to) horn).” What followed was a beautiful, if shockingly rude, put down where the kid told her how it was really read (tonikaku→ とにかく) and then went and used it in his very next sentence. You know, as if she might not even know what it means.

Since I saw this episode I’ve been noticing this phrase everywhere. It’s very common, since takes the place of “anyway, in other words, generally speaking . . . ” and a handful of other vague, but  apparently polite enough, transitionals. I finally got around to looking up the kanji today, and sure enough, they mean rabbit and horn respectively, even though their reading is different (for the phrase they use their Japanese readings). I was delighted, and then delighted again when I saw how many variations there were on the phrase. Take out the にand you have 兎角, “various things”. Or it can can mean rabbit horns, which is exactly like hens’ teeth, and comes from a Buddhist proverb: 兎角亀毛, horns on a rabbit and fur on a turtle. 

Knowing this we come back to 兎に角with a different perspective. It’s not some grammatical problem we have to memorize, its plain idiom (which, yes, we still have to memorize).{{1}} [[1]] It’s neither here nor there, but there is nothing funnier than wathcing other nations use their own idioms. Imagine the tense faces of serious men saying “the beans have been spilled sir, Agent X let the cat out of the bag.”  [[1]] Horns to a Rabbit. “Forgetting what was just said as irrelevant to what I’m about to say . . . . 兎に角終わりましょう.”




JLPT for Fun

December 2nd was the JLPT. I’ve taken it before, back when there were only four levels, and failed it pretty impressively. I remember going to Chuck E.  Cheese (my “clique” in high school was really into the dance pad*) and knitting while my friends studied. It wasn’t until talking to one of the other “testees” that I realized this was over five years ago.

Okay, seven.

It’s kind of cool to know that I have lived long enough to start something half-heartedly, let it flag nearly out of existence, and then revive it with pure and mindless determination. It’d be cooler if I had felt confident enough to take something higher than the N4, but as my results haven’t come back in yet I can’t even say for sure that the N4 was the right level. The testing was fun, though. Goodness, I have missed tests. There were quite a few places where I had no idea what the question was, let alone the answer, but these were balanced out by times where the answer was so blindingly obvious I had to blink a few times to make sure I was reading it right. And of course the environment was a lot of fun too. Dozens and dozens of people my age, mixed with nine-year olds and a few gray beards. There was one study group of children, and they gathered in the hall with their sensei. The first of them to arrive were these completely Anglican blond girls, with their parents and younger sister and a whole host of lunch boxes and electronic gaming devices. Then the Japanese moms started coming with their kids. Seeing the girls I had felt an almost jealous pang of regret, because by my competitive way of thinking they were ahead of me, but for some reason when I found out that the rest of their class was composed of kids with Japanese speaking parents I felt much better*. I’m not sure exactly why this comforted me, maybe it made me realize that we all have different resources to tap into. I know that mine haven’t even begun to dry up yet, so why should I worry about another’s?

The results for the JLPT don’t come out until the end of February, but I’ll be starting back up with my studies before then. I really would like to beat DQ9 before March so that  I can start on 二ノ国. And Anki, and, and, and . . . .

But that’s all later. After Christmas. For now, I’m taking a short break. No anime, no DS – only the books and music that  I would probably be interested in anyway. I’m looking forward to starting January with renewed vigor. Watch out grammar, here I come!

________________ Socks off _____________________

*My clique being composed of my mom, my sister, my best-friend-since-forever, and so on. At one point in my life our familys went to Chuck E. Cheese every week. We were on a first name basis with the manager, and when I heard them playing  “kiss me” on the radio a few months ago I nearly caused a traffic incident. The orange arrow, the green arrow!

** When the Japanese moms started coming in you could almost feel the rest of the room straining to catch their words. The very air seemed to scream “Real Life Example!”

The Joy of Winning

You may remember from a previous post that I’m not particularly found of flashcards.

I might have come across as bitter.

Well, yesterday I passed the first of ten tests in Nazotte No Oboeru (なぞってのおぼえる大人の漢字練習), and, happy as I am to finally win something, I’m getting even giddier thinking about the new kanji I’ll now be able to add to my Anki deck. The cockles of my heart are enjoying a toasty sensation, I believe is the phrase.

I was not thinking this kindly towards なぞってのおぼえる a few weeks ago. I got it around the beginning of September, but was busy “vacationing” with Theo and didn’t really look at it. After she left I sat down and vowed to pass a test a week.

Three weeks passed.

Part of the problem was that I just didn’t play it, so of course I wasn’t able to learn the kanji properly. You know, repetition, repetition, repa- *yawn*. I was avoiding it because I’m a bad sport  I seemed completely unable to tell when 石 should be read as “ごく,” as in 加賀百万石, when it should be read as “せき” (偉人の石像), and of course, when it was finally used as “いし” (石焼き芋). Even if I could remember that 石 had all three of those readings, figuring out which one the program was asking for was taxing my brain to an embarrassing extent. For each question that tested my ability to write a kanji based on a given reading, I was reduced to guessing which of the 80 or so characters I was studying could be read the way they wanted.

Obviously this was the wrong way to go about things. The game (I use the word without sarcasm now) was meant for Japanese adults who want to brush up on their kanji readings. When this target audience goes to read “春のなな草,” they will know what the sentence means (the game provides furigana over all the kanji, so they really have no excuse). Knowing what it means, do you think they will be trying to match kanji readings to find out what “なな” is? Of course not, they’re going to think “what is the kanji for seven?” and then plug it right in. My vocabulary is worse than my kanji reading*, and maybe that’s why it took me a while to realize that I was going about the whole thing wrong. But I did, finally, about two weeks ago, and now I’m putting sentences from the game into Anki with their translation. Doing this, it makes sense that “石” is read differently when in the compound 加賀百万石.  Normally it’s the kanji for stone, but here it’s being used as an ancient unit of weight, a “こく.”* Suddenly, I’m not failing when this question comes up.

So yes, I’m happy now that I’ve passed level one with a 92%, missing 4/50 kanji. I’ve got about seven more weeks to get through the rest of the levels if I want to beat the game before the JLPT in December. Buy hey, I figure with Anki I’ll not only be able to read the kanji by that time, but use them too.

_____________________________ Socks’s Off _________________________________

* I may know more words than kanji, but the way I look at it, I have way more words left to learn than I have kanji to study.

* How funny is it that stone has been used to measure weight in both the west and the east? Seriously though, look this compound up and then google the bits that still make no sense and you’ll see why I’m now motivated to study. The phrases they use in なぞってのおぼえる range from mundane, to colloquial, to archaic. Translating them often feels like opening the door on an advent calendar. 49 more days to Christmas . . . .