Guest Post: Learn Japanese Food Through Guru Navi’s Dish of the Year (今年の一皿)

Following on from my post on Unseen Japan, I’m super excited to be publishing the first ever guest post on this blog, written by head writer Jay. This is a great post for foodies and Japanese learners alike!

Learn about the beautiful diversity of Japanese food through some of its more recent variations.
Rights attribution: よっちゃん必撮仕事人 / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

One of the things I’ve learned over the years of studying Japanese is how much more rich and diverse Japanese food is than I first thought.

As an American, my primary exposure to Japanese cuisine is through the small subsection that’s become popular in America – namely ramen, udon, sushi (primarily 巻き寿司 (maki-zushi), or rolled sushi) and Japanese curry. So when I first arrived in Japan, I received quite a shock.

I wasn’t accustomed to the serving style of washoku (和食), where a number of small dishes are artfully prepared and presented. I didn’t realize that tofu could be prepared so many ways. I had no inkling of the numerous ingredients that were specific to Japanese cuisine – such as kamaboko (蒲鉾), a rolled fish paste, and konnyaku (コンニャク; 蒟蒻), a gelatin made from potatoes.

And I hardly knew just how popular Japanese takes on Western food were.

As diverse as Japanese food is, its diversity intensifies every year as creative food bloggers and restaurants invent new spins on old favorites, or adopt Western dishes to suit the Japanese palette. The smartphone app company Guru Navi (think of them as the Yelp of Japan) recognizes these innovations every December by naming a “Plate of the Year” (今年の一皿; kotoshi no hitosara).

In this article, I’ll give you, gentle reader, a tour of Japanese cuisine by way of some of its most recent innovations, as well as some of the tantalizing runners-up. Hopefully, this short introduction to Japanese cuisine will not only help you understand not only the richness of Japanese food, but some of the unique vocabulary associated with it as well.

2015: Onigirazu (おにぎらず)

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Making onigirazu is simple, and should appeal to the lazy person in all of us.
Rights Attribution: marrmya(画房マルミヤ) / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

This is one of my favorite past winners, if only because it’s such a great way to remember a Japanese grammatical construct!

Most Japanese learners who’ve been to Japan know of onigiri, a rice patty treated with sushi vinegar (寿司酢; sushi-su) and wrapped in seaweed (海苔; nori). The term itself consists of the honorific o- married to the noun form of the verb 握る (nigiru), meaning “to grip”.

Onigirazu is a variation on onigiri. The word is made by using the -zu grammatical construct, which means “without doing”. (E.g., the –zu form of 思う (omou), “to think”, is 思わずに, “without thinking”.) So onigirazu literally means “without gripping”. And that’s exactly what it is: a sushi “sandwich” made by lightly folding the nori wrapper around the sushi rice, and then cutting it in half like a sandwich. Some sort of filling – egg, meat, spam, or fish – is inserted into the rice to add flavor and nutrition, and to help the dish look pretty as all heck.

Guru Navi cites several reasons for choosing onigirazu for its 2015 winner. First, with an increasing number of tourists coming to Japan, onigirazu is a great way to get people talking by offering a new spin on a traditional favorite. Second, the popularity of onigirazu in 2015 spread beyond the Japanese home, and found its way onto various restaurant menus, making it a new culinary phenomenon. Third, with people in Japan eating less rice than ever before out of health concerns, onigirazu is a good way to encourage consumption of one of Japan’s oldest national food products.

2015 Runners-Up

Five other dishes were nominated for 2015, including but not limited to:

  • Japanese whiskey (ジャパニーズウイスキー). Thanks in part to clever advertising and the resurgence of the Japanese highball, the Japanese whiskey industry experienced a huge boom that continues to this day.
  • Nodoguro (のどぐろ). A well prepared fish makes for a great Japanese meal, and in 2015, the rare and expensive blackthroat seaperch was the culinary sensation of the nation.
  • Superfood (スーパーフード). Given Japan’s health conscious focus, it’s no wonder that foods such as goji berries and quinoa made their presence felt in 2015.

2016: Cilantro Cuisine (パクチー料理; pakuchii ryouri)

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If your taste buds hate cilantro, then I apologize for this picture.
Rights Attribution: マーボー / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

My Tokyo-born wife, who insists that cilantro (a.k.a. coriander) tastes like lukewarm dish soap water, was probably none too happy about 2016’s selection.

Once primarily a staple of ethnic food in Japan, in 2016 cilantro crossed over into mainstream cuisine. One of the most popular variations was the cilantro salad (パクチーサラダ), which can be made many different ways, but always features a big heap (山盛り; yamamori – “mountain-sized portion”) of cliantro as the main ingredient. But the ingredient also found its way into traditional nabe (鍋; hot pot) recipes, as well as into cocktails and even candy.

The word pakuchii is a loan word (外来語 gairaigo) from Thai (ผักชี). Part of its appeal is, not surprisingly, its influence on health and wellness: the Vitamin K and calcium in cilantro fosters blood coagulation and healthy bones. The ingredient gained such popularity in Japan that it spawned a neologism: パクチスト (pakuchisuto), or “Cilantro-ist”. There are still festivals (パクチーフェス; pakuchii fesu) celebrating the food. (Here’s a video tour by Japanese vlogger Ayano, just in case you think I’m pulling a fast one.)

Video: Vlogger Ayano takes viewers on a tour of a Cilantro Festival

2016 Runners-Up

Some of the 2016 also-rans include:

  • Japanese Wine (日本ワイン; nihon wain). Japan continued to booze it up in 2016, with locally produced wine finally finding respect in the marketplace.
  • New Style Gyoza (進化系餃子; shinkakei gyouza). What’s wrong with gyoza? Nothing! But in 2016 restaurants and home cooks began experimenting with new and unique ways they could make delicious bites with gyoza wrappers. Check out some of the deliciousness for yourself here.
  • Roast Beef Bowl (ローストビーフ丼; roosuto biifu donburi). The classic donburi bowl got a makeover in 2016 when someone discovered that piling it high with roast beef and topping it with a raw egg tasted as good as it sounds.

2017: Chicken Breast Cuisine (鶏むね肉料理; tori mune niku ryouri)

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In 2017, health-conscious Japan fell in love with lean chicken breast.
Rights Attribution: NikDonetsk / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Sometimes I think the Japanese are just smarter than us Americans. Exhibit A: chicken. While chicken has been a staple of the Japanese diet for years, Japanese cuisine traditionally uses the chicken thigh (もも; momo), which contains fat and, you know, flavor.

In 2017, however, Japan caught up with the West and began introducing chicken breast (むね; mune) into dishes in a big way. As usual, of course, Japan put its unique spin on the ingredient.

Chicken breast by itself tastes about as inviting as a cardboard and sandpaper sandwich. Additionally, as anyone who’s cooked it knows, it’s easy to dry out. Japanese chefs overcame this problem through various techniques, such as marinating the breast in shiokouji (塩麹). Shiokouji is a pickling solution that’s a variation on the traditional sagohachitzuke (三五八漬け); whereas sagohacitzuke uses salt, rice malt, and rice in a 3:5:8 ratio, shiokouji uses just rice malt, salt, and water.

Others took a play from another popular American trend and used sous vide – cooking in water in vacuum sealed bags – to cook the meat evenly without drying it out. And still others just fried the stuff, karaage style – which definitely takes it out of the realm of health foods, but puts it in the realm of firmly delicious.

2017 Runners-Up

  • Japan Tea Sweets (日本茶スイーツ; nihoncha suiitsu). Some clever bastard discovered that sencha, matcha, and houjicha taste wonderful when combined with sugar, fat and flour, and it was off to the races.
  • Neo Sake (Neo日本酒; neo nishonshu). Once facing extinction as a drink of the past, distilled rice wine got a shot in the arm from young sake makers who weren’t afraid to try new twists on old recipes.
  • Cheese Ribs (チーズタッカルビ; chiizu takkaribu). That’s just what it sounds like: barbequed ribs dipped fondue-style in cheese. This South Korean delicacy became a hit in Japan for 2017 for reasons that, I must confess, escape me.

2018: Saba (鯖)

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“You can’t eat me! I’m ADORABLE!”
Rights Attribution: masa / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

As an island nation, it should be no surprise that Japanese cuisine is rich in seafood. But Japan is also an island plagued by natural disasters. And 2018 was a particularly trying year: from the killer heat to deadly floods, from the Hokkaido earthquake to Typhoon Jebi, it seemed like the Land of the Rising Sun had become the Land of the Sinking Ship.

This year’s disasters inspired Guru Navi’s choice of mackerel, or saba (鯖), as its Dish of 2018. Beset by disaster, people in Japan became more concerned with stockpiling canned foods that would last even if the power were out for a long time (as it was last year in Sapporo after the earthquake, and in the Kyoto area after the floods). Saba is also something of a natural culinary treasure – one that Guru Navi is hoping can be disseminated outside of Japan as well. There are no less than 20 major national brands of saba. Additionally, many small coastal towns are selling their own saba in hopes of helping revitalize areas that have seen their young move off to major cities.

The selection of seafood for 2018’s Dish of the Year is especially poignant in light of the historic shuttering of the Tsukiji Fish market, which just a few months ago moved to its new home in Toyosu. With so much attention on the Japanese fishing industry, it’s an ideal time to remind the world just how amazing Japanese 海鮮料理 (kaisen ryouri; seafood) can be.

2018 Runners-Up

  • High-End White Bread (高級食パン; koukyuu shokupan). If you haven’t eaten white bread made at a Japanese パン屋さん (panya-san), you just can’t understand.
  • “Numbing” Cuisine (しびれ料理; shibire ryouri). Featured in the show The Solitary Gourmet (孤独のグルメ; kodoku no Gurume), available on Netflix, Japanese foodies went wild this year for this side of Szechuan cooking (Japanese: shisen ryouri; 四川料理) that’s so spicy, it literally numbs your face.
  • Made in Japan Lemons (国産レモン; kokusan remon). Tired of eating lemons coated with anti-molding agents used to help them survive the trip, people in Japan helped quell the summer heat this season with lemons grown primarily in Hiroshima Prefecture.

Conclusion

Guru Navi’s award winners are an interesting mix of foreign influence, variations of traditional favorites, and a re-discovery of classic recipes. Even the 16 food and drink items mentioned here, however, barely skim the surface of Japanese cuisine. As you expand your Japanese skills, try diving into a few Japanese restaurant website menus online, and accustom yourself to the unknown terms and kanji you’re sure to encounter.

About the Author:

Jay Andrew Allen is the head writer and publisher of Unseen Japan. He holds an N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and is currently studying for Level 3 of the Kanji Kentei. Jay lives in Seattle with his children and his wife, Aya. 

Have you tried any dishes mentioned above? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

Of the dishes I have tried, I really like onigirazu which I first learned about from reading Cooking Papa!

Difficult Japanese words (for me to pronounce)

It is said that Japanese pronunciation is easy for native English speakers, but I think that this can make them complacent. Whilst a lot of sounds in Japanese also exist in English, there are still lots of differences between these sounds. This means that there are still quite a few difficult words to say in Japanese.

After reading this SoraNews24 article on the hardest Japanese words to pronounce, I had a think about the Japanese words that I find difficult with. My list is as follows:

暖かい あたたかい/ atatakai = warm 

笑われた わらわれた/ warawareta = was laughed at 

現れる あらわれる/ arawareru = to appear 

恋愛   れんあい/ ren’ai = love, romance 

範囲 はんい/ han’i = extent, scope 

全員 ぜんいん/ zen’in = all members 

婚約 こんにゃく/ kon’nyaku = engagement 

雰囲気 ふんいき/ fun’iki = mood, ambience 

遠慮 えんりょ/ en’ryo = hestitation, restraint

旅行 りょこう/ ryokou = travel 

料理 りょうり/ ryouri = cooking, cuisine 

This was actually a useful exercise for me, because it got me thinking about the types of sounds I need to keep working on to improve my pronunciation.

I then came across the following video by JapanesePod101 which brought up a lot of similar sounding words to my list.

I’m assuming a lot of these words are trickier for those that only speak English. However, I think 暖かい -> 暖かくなかった would be on most people’s lists – I can never remember if I have said enough た’s!

That word aside, I can pretty much characterise my difficult Japanese words into about three rough categories:

Words which mix w- and r- sounds:

  • 笑われた わらわれた was laughed at
  • 現れる あらわれる to appear

As a child, I always used to struggle with differentiating w- and r- sounds in English; for instance, I remember pronouncing “rainbow” as “wainbow” by accident quite a lot! This is quite common with young children and you usually grow out of it.

For some reason when it comes to Japanese I get tongue tied when I have to quickly switch between w- and r- sounds!

Words that have ‘n’ as a consonant in the middle

  • 恋愛 れんあい love
  • 範囲 はんい extent, scope
  • 全員 ぜんいん all members
  • 婚約 こんやく engagement
  • 雰囲気 ふんいき mood, ambience

‘N’ often sounds like its English counterpart, but depending on its position within words it can sound more like a ‘m’ or a ‘ng’.

This difference in sound reflects how the Japanese ‘n’ is more nasalised following certain sounds.

In addition, the other thing that I find difficult is not blending the sounds together when ‘n’ is followed by a vowel. For example, ‘renai’ should be pronounced so that the sounds ‘ren’ and ‘ai’ are separate – unfortunately it often comes out as ‘ren nai’ or ‘re nai’.

Words which have lots of r sounds, especially include ‘rya’/ ‘ryu’/ ‘ryo’

  • 旅行 りょこう travel
  • 料理 りょうり cooking

My pronunciation of the Japanese R has improved with some practice, but I struggle a lot with the ’rya’ and ‘ryo’ sounds in particular.

Words with ‘n’ followed by ‘r’

  • 遠慮 えんりょ reserve, constraint

Further examples – 心理 しんり/ state of mind, 管理 かんり/ management, control

The word 遠慮 combines two of my biggest pronunciation difficulties! Fortunately, Dogen explains how to pronounce this particular sound combination in this clip from his excellent pronunciation course.

Tips for tackling difficult Japanese words

As this is very much a work in progress for me, I am still looking at various methods to improve my pronunciation. There are a couple of things that I think are helping so far.

Train your ears and your mouth

Firstly, I’ve been reading about how I should be making the sounds in terms of mouth shape and tongue movement. When I listen to spoken Japanese now, I pay more attention to how the sounds are made, especially for difficult Japanese words.

I think that this ear training is an important first step in making your pronunciation more accurate. Dogen’s course mentioned above covers this in a lot of detail and is helping me a lot. I’ve also been dedicating some time to shadowing, which I am intending to write about in another post. I’ve been using Japanese tongue twisters as a warm up exercise!

Record myself and listen back to it

One thing I might do more often is to record myself speaking – as embarassing as it feels to do this, it is much easier to pick up on your own mistakes this way.

I’ve been learning Japanese for a relatively long time and so these bad pronunciation habits are probably ingrained into how I speak. For this reason, I am not expecting quick results and intend to focus on developing a regular pronunciation practice routine in order to improve how I sound in Japanese.

Remember, just because you find certain words difficult now doesn’t mean that you will never be able to pronounce them more accurately!

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I imagine that a lot of these words will be much easier for speakers of other languages. I often hear that Japanese pronunciation is easy for Spanish speakers.

Which words do you find difficult to pronounce? Do you think the languages you already speak help you with Japanese pronunciation? Let me know in the comments!

New Year, Same Old Blog (sort of)… A Quick Update

This is the first post of 2019, so I will start by saying Happy New Year/ あけましておめでとうございます, or あけおめ for short!

You might have noticed that the blog is looking slightly different. I have migrated the blog from WordPress to my own self-hosted site. I’m in the process of doing exciting things like fixing broken links which will take a little while but I think the end result will be worth it.

In related news, I have written my first ever guest post over at Unseen Japan! My article is about the history of colours in the Japanese language. I’ve done my best to put in some colour related words and phrases which will be useful for Japanese learners at any level. There will be an article for Unseen Japan making its debut on this blog later this month, so stay tuned.

I hope everyone’s 新年の抱負 (しんねんのほうふ/shinnen no houfu = New Year’s Resolutions) are going strong!

2018 Year in Review: Lessons Learned and Looking Ahead

2018 has come and gone in what feels like a very short time. I thought it would be fun to look back on the year in terms of my Japanese learning, which will help inform my goals for 2019.

I didn’t want to make this post too long and boring so I have chosen to write about two things that I think have gone well this year and two things that I need to work on for next year.

The Good: Developing a better Japanese reading habit

I am slowly working my way through a pile of Japanese novels that I have on my bookshelf, which is a very nice feeling. I try to pick books that are manageable for my current level, as I use the tadoku approach to learning. You can see some of the books I have read this year from my Tadoku Tuesdays posts:

I use Bookmeter (basically the Japanese version of Goodreads) to track the books I am reading/have read/ want to read, which has been very helpful.

I’ve also picked up some helpful tips and book recommendations from other bloggers such as Inhae’s blog Inside That Japanese Book. This has really kept me motivated to keep reading (and more importantly, finishing) books.

I feel that reading more has generally helped me with all aspects of Japanese, but mostly with learning to recognise grammar and vocabulary in a wider range of contexts. Reading speed is really important for the JLPT and obviously reading more has helped with that too.

Reading physical books, in particular, is a great way to wind down at the end of the day, and more importantly means I am not staring at a mobile phone/tablet/computer screen. This is definitely something I want to keep up next year.

Rediscovering Japanese Music

I used to be really interested in Japanese music but I have been listening to way more podcasts than music in the last couple of years. I spent some time this year catching up with the artists that I used to listen to a lot, which was a lot of fun 🙂

I can’t believe I forgot how catchy this song is!

There’s a lot of great Japanese artists that can be hard to find beyond the idol stuff, especially if you are new to the language. This is what inspired the 15 Easy Japanese songs post, and later the Japanese Music Mondays series on Instagram and Facebook.

It’s so important to have fun with the language you are learning, and I think music is a highly accessible way to do just that. This is definitely something I will write about next year. In fact, I am already working on a couple of follow up posts about Japanese music for next year as well. Another benefit of this is that I have spent more time on Japanese websites reading about new artists and new music releases.

The Not-So-Good: Kanji kanji kanji (and writing in general)

Improving my Japanese writing was one of my aims for the year, but I haven’t been as good at writing consistently. I have struggled the most with kanji since I fell off the Anki bandwagon a few months back. Because I read regularly, my kanji recognition is OK but when writing in my journal I spend a lot of time looking up how to write kanji which I used to know.

My aim for next year is to make sure I stay on top of my kanji practice. I am making a new set of physical kanji cards and review a smaller amount of Anki cards daily.

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The act of writing kanji helps me remember them more effectively so I will be doing more kanji writing practice. I recently found my Kanji Kentei game for the 3DS (an educational “game” aimed at Japanese people reviewing their kanji) so I have been using that to revise kanji too.

Scheduling Japanese practice

This year has been fairly busy, which means that I have had to work harder to make sure I am getting my daily Japanese practice. As a result, I have become much more interested in productivity and habit-forming, which I have written a few different posts about:

The Pomodoro technique has been incredibly helpful in getting stuff done, especially when it comes to writing blog posts. I have also found tracking my progress on an app (I use Habitica) has helped keep me accountable too.

Unfortunately, there have been some days when I realise as I am falling asleep that I haven’t done anything Japanese related at all. Of course, those days are inevitable sometimes but I want to make sure I can have as few of these as possible. 2019 is looking to be an even busier year for me, so I want to make the most of it!

I have been doing some research into timeboxing and how I can use this to make sure I am working towards all of my goals, not just language learning.

Looking forward to 2019

I am planning on some changes to the blog in the very near future, so watch this space. The plan is to keep posting on a weekly basis, and potentially a bit more often if time allows.

I haven’t yet finalised my Japanese learning goals for 2019, but so far I want to read at least one novel a month, and to sit the JLPT N1 by the end of the year.

Have you decided on your language goals for next year? What are they? Please tell me in the comments!

PS. As this will most likely be my last post of 2018 (and my 100th post!!), I want to end this post by thanking everyone who reads this blog. At the start of this year, I had only been posting for a few months and I had no idea how many more people from all over the world would be reading, liking and commenting on the blog. I am genuinely thankful and will keep working hard!

PPS. Happy Holidays 🙂

Kickstarting a new language learning habit

We are almost at the end of 2018 – can you believe it? It is naturally the time of year when we reflect on the last 12 months, and set our goals for 2019.

If you haven’t quite met your goals for this year, now is the perfect time to reset for next year. And what better way to do so than in the form of a language challenge?

Why do a language challenge?

Language challenges are a great way to develop new habits, which is ultimately the best way to achieve your goals. I like language challenges because they offer what often feels like an easier way to start a new habit. When you know that you only have to stick to something for one week or one month, it doesn’t feel as hard to get the motivation to keep going.

I think it’s a great way to get back into language learning if you’ve had a break for whatever reason (sometimes a break can be more beneficial than we think). There is also a sense of community around people doing the challenge at the same time, especially on social media.

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There are many types of language challenges out there. Some focus on developing a particular skill (eg. speaking), and some are more focused on exposing yourself to a language in some way every day. It’s worth having a look around to see if you can find a challenge that tackles one of your weak points.

You could always make up your own language challenge tailored to the skills/knowledge you want to work on. For example, you could set yourself a challenge to:

  • Learn x number of words
  • Watch x number of films/ episodes of a TV show
  • Speak for x minutes every day
  • Read x pages in your target language every day

How to make the most of your language challenge

Normally the first couple of days of a language challenge are super exciting, but as the reality of following the challenge hits it can be tricky actually complete them. These are some of the things that have really helped me with past language challenges:

  • Think about when you are going to dedicate time to complete the challenge

Have a think about the best time of day for you to dedicate to the challenge. It is very easy to start a challenge and then give up because you are too busy to actually finish! Take a look at your schedule and try to identify any so-called ‘dead time’ in your day, which could be spent more wisely on completing the challenge.

There are going to be certain days when you are busier than others. If there are any large events coming up, have an idea of how you might be able to work around it. There’s no harm in missing a day here and there should you not have the time – just add them on to the end of the challenge.

  • Think about what you want to achieve

This could simply be getting to the end of the challenge, which is absolutely fine!

Getting to the end of the challenge is can be the beginning of something bigger. I do think that pursuing a challenge is to bring about some sort of change in your way of thinking.

With languages, it could be something like getting the confidence to speak your target language, or getting a deeper understanding of the culture(s) that the language is connected. These are most likely going to be your motivators for actually getting to the end of the challenge.

  • Find a way to track your progress

I am really keen on tracking my progress with challenges in some way. This could be in the form of a bullet journal, crossing dates off in a calendar, or using an app. Having that visual representation of the challenge in front of you can be an extremely powerful thing for your motivation!

  • Keep in touch with others doing the challenge.

Social media hashtags provide a really good way of finding out how everyone else is doing. Sometimes it is that little extra push we get from seeing others in the same boat that helps you stay on track.

It is important to say that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others too much – ultimately your journey will be different from others, and there are some things that others may find easier than others and vice versa.

Even if you don’t quite make it to the end of the challenge, don’t beat yourself up. Always focus on the positives and if needed use the opportunity to think about approaching things differently next time.

List of Language Challenges

Here is a list of language challenges out there that I know of:

General Language Challenges

Eurolinguiste Language Learning Challenge (general language learning challenge)

Joyoflanguages Language Diary Challenge (speaking)

Lindsay Does Languages Instagram Language Challenge (speaking/writing)

30 Day Record Yourself Challenge (speaking)

Italki Language Challenge (speaking/ tutoring)

Noun Verb Adjective Challenge (writing – I’ve written about this challenge here*)

Japanese Language Specific Challenges

Manga Sensei’s 30 day Japanese Challenge (for complete beginners)

LearnJapanesePod’s 5 day Japanese Self Introduction Challenge

JapanesePod101’s 10 day Hiragana Challenge and 10 day Katakana Challenge

JTalkOnline’s Improve Japanese Reading Challenge (2-week challenge)

Kotobites 30-day Writing Challenge (writing, but you could use it for speaking too!)

I know that the above list is only scratching the surface of the many challenges out there. If there are any cool language challenges you have come across, please let me know in the comments so that I can add them to the list!

YouTube spotlight – 2 channels to watch if you’re learning Japanese

I’m always on the lookout for YouTube channels that are useful for Japanese studies. This post is a follow up to other posts I have written about Youtube channels for Japanese study:

I wanted to put together a quick post about a couple of channels I have found recently that I think are particularly good for Japanese learners.

Great for beginners: Nami Ohara

Nami Ohara is a Japanese teacher based in Newfoundland, Canada. I discovered her videos some time ago and strongly recommend them to Japanese beginners.

I am a big fan of her videos which help introduce different aspects of Japanese culture and traditions. In these videos, two young children called Kyoko and Kenta ask their teacher (Ohara sensei) about the topic of the video.

The videos are all in Japanese but have furigana readings and English meanings for the vocabulary and phrases used in the videos. I think these are a great way to practice your Japanese listening and learn some new words at the same time. The speech of these videos is much more natural Japanese than what you might encounter in textbooks, so you get used to Japanese as it is actually spoken.

If you are studying towards the JLPT, then you might be interested in her JLPT listening practice videos. These are in the same format as the listening questions you will encounter in the final exam. She currently has listening practice videos for JLPT N5 up to and including N2.

Besides the JLPT specific videos, there are a number of listening quiz videos aimed at beginners too. Each video is based on a different theme such as nationality and age.

If you want to learn some children’s songs, there’s plenty to be found on the channel too!

Clearly, a lot of effort goes into her videos, and I hope that by posting about her channel more Japanese students will discover her content.

Japanese grammar explanations in simple Japanese: Sambon Juku

Sambon Juku is a YouTube channel mainly run by Akkie, a Japanese language teacher. I first learned about this channel through a video collaboration he did with YouTuber Kemushi-chan. After checking out his channel, I can highly recommend it to Japanese learners!

Akkie has a number of videos covering various topics relating to Japanese study. Most of his videos are explanations for different Japanese grammar points. Akkie’s videos are all in Japanese but he explains everything in a very clear manner and is very easy to understand.

If you are an upper beginner and above, I think you will find the grammar videos particularly useful. Having said that, videos on this channel all have subtitles in both English and Japanese. This means all Japanese learners can understand the explanations whilst getting some listening practice.

For example, the above video on the differences between は and が is wonderful and probably the best I have come across on this topic, summarising the key differences in usage with plenty of examples.

The channel also has a growing number of videos covering JLPT grammar points for levels N3, N2 and N1. If you like the channel Nihongo no Mori, then you will likely enjoy this series as well.

I always like to look at different explanations of the same grammar point. Sometimes the way one textbook or website describes things can be unclear, or not have enough example sentences to understand certain nuances.

JLPT videos only have Japanese subtitles, but there are normally two sets (one with kanji and kana, one with kana only) which allows you to find the readings for any words you want to look up.

It just so happens that the two channels I’ve covered today have JLPT specific content, but I really think anyone studying Japanese can find some value in the videos!

What are your favourite YouTube channels? Let me know in the comments!

10 Instagram Accounts to follow if you’re learning Japanese

To be honest, I had been putting off joining Instagram because I thought it was too hipster and filter heavy for me. However, I recently decided to join the platform on a whim. Fortunately, I have found it to be a great resource so far for learning Japanese.

Instagram has over 800 million users, and from my experience so far, the language learning community on there is very active and friendly. In the short time I have been using the platform, I’ve have been able to:

  • learn about new language resources
  • get Japanese manga and novel recommendations
  • learn or revise helpful Japanese phrases
  • find daily motivation for my language learning motivation

…amongst other things. You can also change the language to Japanese if you want to immerse yourself a bit more!

How can language learners use Instagram?

Learn and revise vocabulary

Being a highly visual medium, I think that Instagram is particularly good for learning vocabulary. Using images alongside vocabulary is a great way to help memorise them, which is of course where Instagram shines. Instagram allows you to do short videos, which you can use to practice your speaking skills too.

Find posts on topics that interest you in your target language

The heavy use of hashtags on Instagram can be considered annoying, but you can use hashtags to find people and posts that relate to topics you care about.

Make sure to get involved!

Moreover, the Instagram community is all about engagement – commenting is a great way to practice your language skills and maybe even make friends! There is also a translate feature if you get stuck understanding a post or comment.

A word of warning though… Instagram is very centered on aesthetic and it is easy to waste time looking at the many pictures of cute stationery, cups of tea/coffee and grammar textbooks. Don’t let scrolling through Instagram become a replacement for other types of study!

With that said, here are 10 Instagram accounts that I highly recommend to those studying Japanese.

1) j_aipon – Particularly helpful for Japanese newbies

This account is run by a Japanese girl who likes to post content for beginner Japanese learners. Her posts are mostly simple sentences covering key grammar points and vocabulary. Some of these posts have audio of example sentences too.

All of her posts have romaji, so if you have just finished learning hiragana and katakana, this is a good place to start (until you feel more comfortable reading kana – which can take more time than you think!).

Her Youtube channel has some videos on learning kana, as well as simple Japanese listening practice too.

2) You Know Japanese – Learn katakana words

Loanwords can be surprisingly tricky for Japanese learners, but I think that overall words in katakana are a quick and easy way to acquire vocabulary in Japanese. This account will help you get to grips with the many, many words written in katakana that are borrowed from English.

If you have just finished learning katakana, these posts are a good way to practice your reading (there is romaji if you get stuck too)!

3) JapanesePod101 – Learn themed vocabulary and useful phrases

JapanesePod101’s podcasts are a fun resource (although they come at a cost). You may not know that their Instagram page is full of cute images with useful and practical phrases for Japanese learners.

I really like the posts where the vocabulary is centered around a specific theme, which is nice for short and sweet study sessions.

4) NihongoLingo – learn Japanese slang!

View this post on Instagram

まさか | No Way! 😭😪😍 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• 意味 | Meaning: Something you cannot believe, 信じられないこと。 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• *Apologies in advance for the long post* 😯 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• ちょっと長いメッセージを乗せてごめんなさい。😌 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• I want to thank YOU for following this Instagram 😭. I post these photos because I want to change the way that English or Japanese is taught. I think that learning native-level slang is essential to sounding and interacting like a native-level speaker. I started this project 5 months ago, but I know I’m helping you guys grow, because you’ve told me. Your support goes a long way, and for that I am always grateful. This weekend we are releasing something VERY special, and I hope you are looking forward to it 🙂 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• このページをフォローしてくれてる皆さん、本当にありがとうございます。5ヶ月前にこのプロジェクトを作ったばかりですが、英語や日本語を勉強してる人のためになっていれば嬉しいです。アカウントを作った理由は自分の経験から、どんな言語を勉強していても、その言語のスラングを習うことは必要だと思ったからです。いつもサポートしてくれてありがとうございます。今週末ぐらいに特別なことをreleaseするからストーリーで見てくださいね。😊 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• Be sure to watch our stories for updates (^-^) ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• #igersjp #igersjapan #lovejapan #instajapan #nihongo #learnjapanese #studyjapanese #Japanese #Jepang #JLPT #english #nihongo #nihongoclass #japaneselesson #learningjapanese #sensei #japaneselanguage #日本 #日本語 #英語 #先生 #学生 #ญี่ปุ่น #японский #Nhật #japonais #일본어 #nihongolingo

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If you want to brush up on your Japanese slang, then this is the account for you! Each post covers a slang word in Japanese with the English meaning.

I like that each post has explanations of the word/phrase in both Japanese languages, along with examples and a fun image. This gives you a range of options on how to study, especially if you like to make your own flashcards.

5) Daily Kanji – Daily kanji vocabulary

As the name suggests, posts from this account are all to do with kanji vocabulary. Each word include furigana, romaji and English translations. The images that come with the vocabulary are all from anime, which is another plus if you are a fan!

6) Yoko.illustrations888888 – casual phrases in Japanese and English

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今日のひとことはこちら!(4枚あります) 1. Maybe I’ll have a beer.(メイビー アイル ハヴ ア ビア) ビールを頼もうかな(びーる を たのもう かな/BI-RU O TANOMOU KANA) . 2….. . 3….! . 4. Actually on second thought I’ll just have a soda.(アクシュアリー オン セカンド ソウト アイル ジャスト ハヴ ア ソーダ) でも やっぱり ソーダにしよう。(でも やっぱり そーだ に しよう/DEMO YAPPARI SO-DA NI SHIYOU) . Actually on second thought(アクシュアリー オン セカンド ソウト)は、 「(でも)やっぱり🙄」という意味です。 . 最初に考えていたことを考え直して、 「でもやっぱり〇〇にしようかな」と言いたい時に使います。 . ちなみに会話文では省略して、 ”Actually…..” だけでも、 ”on second thought…. “だけでも、 「やっぱり…しよう!」という言い方に出来ます。 . ただ、文章で書く際は、Actually on second thought と、両方書くようにしましょう。 . ちなみに今日の文章は、私がポートランドで主催する、日本語と英語会話の練習ミートアップで、アメリカ人のメンバーの方に教えていただきました😇(ありがたや〜) . よくアメリカ人は会話の中で、 “…..though.” (ゾウ/even though とか、although の略) を文末に付けるんですが、未だにこのthoughが使いこなせないので文章例などを教えてもらいました🤫 . 『これ使えると格好いいのになー🤤』と個人的に思ってるので、いずれマスターしたらイラストにしたいと思います。笑 . そしてついでにこの”on second thought “も教えてもらいました。(上の文あんま関係なかった🙄) . 文章をメモしてきて、あとで家でイラストを付けたんですが、結果4枚にもなってしまいました。見づらかったらすみません😵個人的には楽しかったです😇 . さて、いよいよ本日の投稿で1週間連続して投稿した(はず)なので、これからはぼちぼちマイペースで投稿していこうと思います😎 . イラストを描くぞー!😙と意気込むと、意識して英語のフレーズを吸収しようと頭が働くので、これからもあまり間を空けずに描いていこうと思います🤯 . いつも見てくださって本当にありがとうございます!😇 これからもどうぞよろしくお願いいたします!🤗 . #onsecondthought #actually #though #japanesephrases #japanese #nihongo #penguin #japaneseart #manga #bar #animal #英語 #カッコいい #アメリカ人 #ミートアップ #meetup #ポートランド #日本人 #留学 #語学学校 #語学留学 #留学生 #visitjapan #ハリウッド映画 #洋画 #海外ドラマ #ビール #動物 #モブ #漫画

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Yoko is a Japanese person living in Portland, Oregon in the US. Yoko illustrates casual but useful sentences in Japanese and English (with furigana and romaji too!). These sentences are written in a very natural way in both languages. I love the illustrations a lot too!

7) Kisslingo – Great for JLPT and writing practice

The Kisslingo account covers useful Japanese words, phrases and grammar. If you are working towards the JLPT, I would look out for their JLPT question practice posts too.

I particularly like their writing prompt posts where they share a picture and ask you to describe what is happening in the photo in Japanese. This is a great way to practice your Japanese writing, no matter what your language level. What’s more, someone from the Kisslingo team will correct your Japanese for you!

8) Kannoooaya – daily Japanese phrases

Like Yoko mentioned above, Aya posts illustrations of phrases in both Japanese and English pretty much every day. The posts are aimed at Japanese people learning English – but since she includes furigana, Japanese learners can also use them to study.

9) Nihongo Flashcards – Japanese onomatopoeia

I’ve written before about how important onomatopoeia is in Japanese. If you are looking to improve your knowledge of these words, this account is for you.

I love the cute illustrations. The words also have explanations and example sentences which help to show how the onomatopoeia is used!

10) Everyday debudori – short comics on everyday life

For more advanced Japanese learners (no furigana used here), following this account allows you to read short comics based on everyday life. I find these little comics both relatable and funny, and the images help fill in the context of any words or phrases I am less sure of.

So that’s it for today’s post. Please follow the blog’s Instagram at @kotobitesjp if you do use the platform!

Do you use Instagram for language learning? If so, how? Let me know in the comments 🙂

japanese_study_instagram_accounts

Clozemaster Review

I strongly believe that studying with sentences is an effective way to learn new vocabulary. If this is something you are interested in, I recommend checking out Clozemaster – a website and app that is built around this concept.

What is Clozemaster?

Clozemaster is designed to complement the use of other sentence based language learning apps like Duolingo. There are a huge variety of language pairs available, with new ones being added all the time!

The “cloze” of Clozemaster relates to a cloze deletion test, where you are given a sentence with a missing word and you need to identify what the missing word is. Cloze tests are therefore a great method of learning to use words and grammar in context.

How does Clozemaster work?

Each language has its own bank of sentences, the number of which does vary depending on the language pair. For many of the popular languages, you can follow the Fluency Fast Track, which is designed to cover the most frequently used words in that language. In the free version, clicking ‘PLAY’ will start a round of 10 sentences to review.

As I mentioned above, Clozemaster is all about filling in the correct missing word from a sentence.

For example, you are given a sentence in Japanese, and with a specific word missing. The clue for the missing word will be in the English translation of the sentence.

You have the option of multiple choice or text input before you start each round. If you are in text input mode and get stuck, just click on the “?” button to the right of the Japanese sentence to view the 4 multiple choice options.

Writing the correct answer earns you points – the closer you are to mastering the word, the more points you earn. Text input gives you twice as much points compared to multiple choice, so this is what I choose unless I only have a very short time to practice.

At the end of each round, you get some quick stats on how you did:

As you can see from the image above, you can set yourself a daily points target and email reminders to get in your daily practice too. My daily goal is 200 points currently, but I normally aim for 500-1000 depending on how much time I have.

Studying using the Play button is for learning new words (although some words that you have encountered before will appear too). For words that you have seen before, you will want to click on Review instead.

The Review function is based on spaced repetition intervals like those used in Anki and Memrise – the more often you answer correctly, the longer it will be before you see that same sentence again. Reviews tend to earn you a lot more points than studying new sentences.

Cloze Listening – listening practice with sentences

Clozemaster also has a listening practice feature called Cloze Listening, as shown above. To access this, click Play and then choose “Listening” from the drop-down menu (the default is vocabulary). Cloze Listening is where you hear the sentence first, then have to fill in the missing word in the sentence.

I think this makes for great listening practice as well as for learning vocabulary in context. Unfortunately, having a free account only allows you to do one round of 10 sentences to do every day.

Leaderboards and levelling up

The points you earn from your study sessions allow you to level up. Every time you do level up you get a fun little gif as a reward, which never fails to put a smile on my face! There are two types of levelling up – one for your whole account and one that relates specifically to each of the language pairs you study.

Every language pair has its own set of leaderboards, where you can try and score the most points for that week. I didn’t think that I would care about scoring highly on the leaderboard at first. However, if there is someone I am close to overtaking, I will do the extra reviews to move up the leaderboard!

The Clozemaster App

I tend to use the web version of Clozemaster, but there are apps available for iOS and Android. I have used the Android app and I do not have much to say about it. I mean that as a good thing – because I have not had any issues using it at all.

The fairly plain style of the website translates well into an app, and having the app is really convenient for a quick study session. It is synced to your account, so it is easy to switch between the website and the app if you need to.

Make sure you have some sort of Japanese keyboard installed so that you can type in Japanese. From what I can see, there is no support for romaji in direct input mode when using the app.

Clozemaster Pro comes with extra handy features

Clozemaster is another freemium site – it is free to sign up and practice any language. However, you need the Pro version to do things such as:

  • Customise the number of reviews you want to do in each session and control how often you review new words.
  • Get unlimited access to cloze listening practice
  • Download the Fluency Fast Track sentences or sentences you mark in your Favourites for offline study.
  • View more stats related to your study sessions
  • The ability to click on any word and search for the meaning using Google Translate
  • Get access to additional features such as Cloze-Reading, Cloze Collections and Pro Groupings.

Cloze-Reading is designed to help you boost your reading skills. This is where there are several missing words from a native piece of text in your target language which you then need to fill in.

The Cloze Collections function is in beta currently, but allows you to curate your own bank of sentences. This can be a mixture of sentences from within Clozemaster and sentences that you add yourself. I think this would be especially useful for language pairs that do not have a large number of sentences already on Clozemaster.

Pro Groupings allows you to break down the large bank of sentences into smaller ones. For Japanese, Pro Groupings gives you the ability to focus your learning on words from different levels of the JLPT.

Pros and Cons of Clozemaster for learning Japanese

After using the free version of Clozemaster for a couple of months, I have found it to have more pros than cons:

Pros

  • A huge range of languages to choose from
  • Sentences use words in order of frequency, so you learn important words first
  • Able to expose yourself to a range of sentence patterns
  • Can practice both reading and listening skills
  • Review intervals are spaced to help you retain vocabulary
  • If you’re competitive, the leaderboard will motivate you to get your score as high as possible

Cons

  • Japanese sentences and English translations are taken from the Tatoeba database, which is known for not being 100% accurate.
  • You have to type most vocabulary in kanji (as opposed to hiragana), which might be difficult for complete newcomers to Japanese.
  • No audio for Japanese within the vocabulary review section yet (this does exist for the most common language pairs)

Overall thoughts

I’m sure that the cloze deletion sentences can be replicated in something like Anki easily, which is what I would recommend to people who like a high degree of customisation. There are also excellent websites such as Delvin Language and Supernative which are specifically for Japanese and do have audio to go with their sentences.

However, for me Clozemaster is great because of the gamification aspect, as well as the fact I can practice on the go via the app. I would also give Clozemaster a go if you are learning (or maintaining proficiency in) a number of languages, as it is super simple to switch between languages and track your progress in each.

I really like Clozemaster, but I am not sure that for Japanese the features are fully fleshed out enough for me to justify the subscription cost of $8 per month at the moment. Having said that, there are new features being built into Clozemaster all of the time and I will certainly keep an eye out for any which might change my mind.

The good thing about Clozemaster is that you do not even have to sign up to try out the site – just choose a language pair and click Play to get started (which is what I did for a few days before even signing up)!

Whether you find that Clozemaster is useful for you or not, one thing I recommend checking out is the Language Challenge of the Day (or LCOD for short). These little challenges are fun ways to use your target languages in different ways every day.

Do you use Clozemaster? Do you find the website/ app useful? Please let me know in the comments!

Easy Manga Recommendation: Tsuredure Children

Today’s easy manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Tsuredure Children/ Tsuredure Chirudoren (徒然チルドレン), created by Toshiya Wakabayashi. This is a very funny but heartwarming manga which those who are upper beginners and above should be able to enjoy!

Manga Quick Facts

Author: Toshiya Wakabayashi (若林稔弥)

Genre: Romantic comedy, slice of life

No. of volumes: 12

Recommended for: JLPT N4

Furigana: Yes

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, an anime

Picture Source: ebookJapan website

Plot Overview

This 4-panel manga is a series of short stories involving different students at a high school. The stories are usually to do with romance, mostly relating to awkward confessions of love and first dates. They often remind you of how hard it can be to show your feelings for someone as a teenager. Some stories follow the same characters and are loosely connected to each other.

Tsuredure Children started as a webcomic when it started in 2012, which was then serialised in Shonen Jump magazine.

Why do I recommend the manga?

The premise is really simple, but the manga is genuinely amusing and accurately portrays all of the awkwardness and excitement of high school romance. The cast of characters come across as a bit wacky but ultimately charming and relatable for the most part. You really do come to root for a happy ending when reading these stories! I think that the 4-panel manga format is effective in telling these stories – they are just the right length for them to be entertaining and engaging.

Recommended Japanese language level

Thanks to the straightforward plot, this manga is very easy to follow. There is furigana for all kanji and speech tends to be short and not too grammatically complex. On the other hand, the characters are in high school and speak casually.

On this basis, I consider this manga to be appropriate for JLPT N4 or upper beginner level and above.

As always, you can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website to get a feel for its difficulty by clicking the white ‘無料立ち読み’ button.

The webcomic is actually available online to read for free on the official website – the only difference is that this version does not include furigana.

There is an anime adaptation of this manga which is available on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

If you do try reading any of my recommendations, please let me know how you get on the comments. I am always on the hunt for beginner friendly manga, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!

I’ve written a few different posts on easy manga to read (check out the posts under the manga category). If you do like this recommendation, you might also like:

Happy Reading!

I failed with Anki (again)…my new approach to Anki reviews

As the title suggests, my relationship with Anki has its ups and downs. I haven’t been using Anki for Japanese vocabulary reviews on a regular basis for a couple of months, which I have been feeling guilty about recently.

The main reason for my guilt is that when I am consistent with Anki, I retain so much more information. Unfortunately, the problem I have is that I always end up falling off the bandwagon.

A few months ago, I was doing a pretty good job of keeping up with Anki reviews. I felt that I was retaining more vocabulary, especially in conjunction with daily tadoku reading. At first, I could get my reviews done in 20 minutes or less, which felt achievable even on a busy day.

But then I realised that I was spending more and more time reviewing cards – my review sessions were now at least 40 minutes. I began to dread opening up Anki and seeing how many minutes it would be until I finished my reviews, especially if I had missed a day. I stopped reading in Japanese as much because I felt that I needed to prioritise flashcards instead.

It seemed as if my Japanese study was being entirely dictated by Anki reviews and not any of the more exciting stuff. So at that time, sticking with Anki didn’t feel like the sensible choice and I stopped using it.

For the record, I do like Anki (and similar spaced repetition programs) a lot, but I find that after a couple of months I get burned out and have to take a break. This is probably the third or fourth time I have been in this situation, so I thought I would take a step back and think about how to be more consistent.

On reflection, here’s where I think I was going wrong:

I was learning stuff that was not important to me

I was using shared decks, which can be great, but it meant that there were words I was learning that I didn’t have any real interest in learning. I usually add interesting words I come across directly from Akebi (a wonderful free dictionary app) into Anki, which I find easier to learn because I discovered them in a context that interests me.

Eventually, I want to transition to making all of my flashcards myself but thinking more carefully about what vocabulary I want to learn is a good first step.

I was trying to do all reviews in one long session, rather than breaking it down into smaller chunks

Using the Pomodoro technique could work, but as I find it difficult to focus solely on flashcard reviews for 25 minutes at a time, I will change the time spent a little bit. I think I should be looking at focusing for 10 minutes at a time, perhaps at different times of day (eg. 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes during my lunch break, 10 minutes in the evening).

I wasn’t balancing flashcard reviews with the fun stuff

Flashcards are not a replacement for reading, listening and speaking the language. For every 10 minutes I spend in Anki, I want to be spending another 10 minutes practicing Japanese in another way that I enjoy (such as reading, or watching TV shows).

The limit on the number of new cards was too high

If you miss a day, the number of cards that I had to review the next day was very disheartening. Going forward I will experiment with how many cards I can comfortably review in about 20 minutes, and set a limit accordingly.

I wasn’t being honest with myself about whether I had actually learned the card or not

It is very easy to conflate recognition of a kanji with knowing how to write it, which doesn’t help me in the long term. So following on from my previous point, I want to limit the number of cards I review, and then I can spend more time reviewing each card in more depth.

There are a lot of ways to customise Anki, and I think that making better use of these will help me stay engaged with my vocabulary reviews.

It’s going to be a bit tough getting back into the rhythm of daily Anki reviews again, but I hope my new approach means I can keep an Anki habit for longer!