The singer intended to get a tattoo meaning ‘7 Rings’ (the name of her latest single) in Japanese on her hand. She posted an image of her new tattoo on social media last week.
However she may have been relying a bit too much upon Google Translate, since the tattoo she ended up with doesn’t quite mean what she intended it to. It turns out that the kanji compound she opted for is read as shichirin, which is the name for the small barbeque grills you find at yakiniku restaurants.
Soon after being shared online, a lot of her fans were quick to look up the meaning of the tattoo and were pretty confused. Ariana then quickly got her tattoo changed to try and get the meaning closer to ‘7 Rings’.
Aside from not giving her future tattoo a quick search online, I think a lot of people studying Japanese may have seen the tattoo and not immediately thought of a barbeque grill.
Why does this happen in Japanese?
One reason for this is ateji (当て字). Ateji is the name given to words borrowed from other languages (mostly Chinese), where the kanji for that word were chosen based on their pronunciation rather than their meaning.
However, you may see it in relation to the names of various countries, particularly in newspapers. For instance:
Name in Katakana/ Romaji
えい / ei
イギリス / igirisu
ふつ / futsu
フランス / furansu
どく / doku
ドイツ / doitsu
せい / sei
スペイン / supein
ごう / gou
オーストラリア / oosutoraria
か / ka
カナダ / kanada
いん / in
インド / indo
い / i
イタリア / itaria
Sometimes these ateji readings are used in words in literature and TV to give them an artistic flair. If this is something you want to learn more about, I recommend checking out BuSensei’s social media feeds as he regularly posts about interesting kanji usage.
Another reason for this is that modern words are contractions of old sayings or idioms, which there are some examples of below.
Seeing the story about Ariana inspired me to look up other words which have a different meaning to the sum of the component kanji.
Here’s a few other words in Japanese which fall into this category.
馬 (horse) + 鹿 (deer) = 馬鹿 baka (idiot)
This is probably the most famous example amongst Japanese learners (although often written in hiragana), since we see it so much in the media.
The etymology of baka is contested, but there are two main theories. Baka could be a word derived from an old Chinese idiom (meaning ‘to point at a deer and call it a horse’, ie. deliberately misleading someone) or a loanword from Sanskrit.
Like baka, sushi is thought to have two different origins.
The first is that it comes from the word 久し (ひさし/ hisashi), meaning long lasting (as in 久しぶり). This is why the kanji compound is made up of the kanji for longevity and the kanji for servant.
The second (ateji origin) is thought to be from the word ‘酸し’, (すし, meaning sour) which refers to the vinegar mixed with rice to help preserve the fish it was served with.
皮 (skin) + 肉 (meat, flesh) = 皮肉 hiniku (irony)
The origin for this compound is said to come from a longer phrase 皮肉骨髄 (literally meaning “skin meat bones marrow”) attributed to Buddhism in ancient China. ‘Bones and marrow’ were thought to show essential understanding, in contrast to ‘skin and meat’ which represented superficiality.
Consequently, 皮肉 was used as a way to criticise those who were unable to understand the true nature of something. This then developed into its modern meaning of irony.
This word too comes from Chinese. There is a story of a man who was selling spears and shields. He said that the spear and the shield were the strongest of their kind; the spear could not be beaten by any shield, and the shield could not be beaten by any spear. One person then asked, “what happens when you use the spear against the shield?”, which the seller was unable to answer.
This Youtube video explains the origin of the Chinese word better than I can:
十八 (18) + 番 (number) = 十八番 ohako (one’s special talent, party trick)
There are a few different potential origins for this word, but one of the most popular is to do with kabuki. The 歌舞伎十八番 (kabuki juuhachiban, ”Eighteen Best Kabuki Plays”) were a collection of plays chosen by the famous Ichikawa Danjuro line of kabuki actors. These were stored in a box to keep them safe, which is where the modern meaning is said to stem from. The number of plays is significant as eighteen is also thought to represent ‘a great number’ of things.
I remember hearing this word in a variety show and having no idea what it really meant. At the time, I assumed it had something to do with karaoke as the artist being interviewed went on to talk about her go-to karaoke songs. It makes a lot more sense now that I’ve learned more about the word!
Again there are a number of different theories regarding the origin of this word. One is that the sound of a wheelbarrow moving is like a cat. Another is that wheelbarrows are long and thin, making them easy to move through relatively narrow spaces – something which cats are good at doing too.
Nowadays, 手押し車 (teoshiguruma) and 一輪車 (ichirinsha) are used as well as 猫車, which I think is a shame. The mental image of a cat wheelbarrow always makes me smile and sticks in my mind more easily!
I think that this reiterates to learners of any language that putting two words together may just end up referring to another word with an entirely different meaning. I’m not a fan of Google Translate but I find that Google Images can be really useful for double checking the meaning of some vocabulary.
I am a bit late to the party with this post, but this is something I wanted to write about anyway. It’s been really interesting reading about the origins of words like this, which also led me to the useful Japanese website Gogen AllGuide. I think that these words having such unusual component kanji actually makes them a bit easier to remember!
Have you struggled with this type of word before? Let me know in the comments 🙂
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 🙂
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!
Longtime readers will know that I review language learning apps on this blog fairly often. However, in reality there are only a small number of apps that I think are the best for people studying Japanese. Many of them I wish had been around when I was a beginner! For that reason, I thought I would put together a list of the best Android apps out there for learning Japanese!
Choosing just 7 was quite tricky, but I have tried to include apps for studying Japanese vocabulary, kanji and grammar which are useful at any level.
The best thing is that these apps are either free or available at a low cost. As I almost exclusively use Android devices, this list was made with Android users in mind. Fortunately, many of these are available on the Apple Store too.
1) The best app to introduce you to Japanese: Lingodeer
Cost: free; also available on iOS
If you like the idea of using an app like Duolingo, then I recommend trying out Lingodeer instead. Lingodeer was initially aimed at those learning Mandarin, Korean or Japanese (French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Vietnamese are also available) and so the lessons are tailored towards these languages in a better way than Duolingo.
How Lingodeer works
Lingodeer starts by teaching hiragana and katakana, which makes it a great choice for absolute beginners. Like Duolingo, the app has many lessons increasing in complexity covering a number of different themes.
Each lesson starts out with some grammar notes (called ‘Learning Tips’), then a number of smaller topics covering a few grammar points and vocabulary under the given theme. You also have the ability to toggle the use of kanji, furigana and romaji within the lessons if you wish.
When it comes to the lesson quizzes, the app tests your understanding in a few different ways. Successfully passing the quizzes earns you XP, and allows you to move on to the next lesson. Similarly, there isn’t a heavy reliance on English for learning new vocabulary; instead, the focus is on using lots of images to convey meanings. There is a ‘Test Out’ feature which allows you to skip ahead if you can pass the tests.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using Lingodeer as a resource on its own, but I think it is a great way to supplement learning using another textbook. Alternatively, I think it is a nice app to use if you have taken a break from Japanese and perhaps want to review the basics before starting new material.
Cost: Human Japanese Lite is free, full version £8.99; also available on iOS
Speaking of apps for beginners, I would highly recommend the app Human Japanese. I think it is one of the best on Android for covering all aspects of Japanese
How Human Japanese works
This app has a textbook style app that takes you through hiragana, katakana and the basics of Japanese grammar. All aspects of the language are explained in a very clear and straightforward manner, imparting a lot of information designed to give as much context as possible to what you are learning.
The grammar lessons are also supplemented with relevant information on Japanese culture – you cannot understand the language without understanding the culture after all!
This short video gives you an overview of what Human Japanese is all about:
A lot of time and effort has clearly gone into Human Japanese – the quality of the app is great. All example sentences have crisp audio and example sentences have ‘ingredients’ which break down the sentence into its component parts, which is useful as sentences get more complex.
The full version of the app is not free and requires a one-off payment, but there is plenty of free content for Japanese newbies to work through to see if the app is appropriate for them before making a commitment. Looking at the content of the textbook, Human Japanese provides a solid foundation on which learners can continue to build on. I’ve written about Human Japanese in a previous post so I recommend checking that out if you would like to learn more.
The sheer number of features that Akebi has makes it a great learner friendly app. These include:
Inbuilt Japanese keyboard – no worrying about switching keyboards just to look something up
Detailed kanji information (including frequency, JLPT level, words containing that kanji)
Handwriting recognition and ability to search by radicals
Deconjugation – if you look up a verb in the te-form, it will find the verb in its dictionary form along with meanings and other useful information
Full functionality offline, perfect for when I am avoiding the internet during study sessions!
One of my favourite features relates to Anki; whenever I use the app to look up new words, I can immediately add them to a flashcard deck of my choice in Anki to review later.
Overall, I find that it has the right balance of user-friendly interface and powerful features that make it the perfect companion for Japanese learners at all levels.
4) The best app for practicing Japanese with native speakers: HelloTalk
Cost: free; also available on iOS
One of the biggest issues Japanese learners tend to have is lack of access to native speakers. Fortunately, language exchange apps like HelloTalk are the next best thing to address this issue.
How HelloTalk works
When you sign up for an account, you can select the languages you are interested in learning, as well as the languages you can speak. You can then post a message to native speakers of the language you are learning and find an exchange partner. When speaking with your language partner, you can post in your target language or record audio/ have a video call.
HelloTalk has expanded into a sort of social network for language learners. You can now post status updates on your profile called ‘Moments’, which other members can correct any language mistakes for you.
The above Youtube video by Reina Scully gives a good overview of how the app can be used to study Japanese.
HelloTalk has a couple of handy features for language learners. For example, as Reina mentions in her video, the Translate feature allows you to see translations from your target language by tapping any word or phrase. In addition, the Notepad feature also enables you to save a message or recording for later practice.
I think HelloTalk is a great way to find a language partner or even to practice your reading skills by reading other users’ Moments.
Cost: free, ad free version requires one off payment of £4.29; also available on iOS
Reading in Japanese can be a scary experience at first, but TangoRisto is a great app to build your confidence. TangoRisto draws together articles from NHK News Easy among other sources which you can read via the app.
As you can see from the screenshots, the interface is crisp, clean and very user-friendly.
How TangoRisto works
Once in an article, a quick tap of a word brings up its reading and meaning. Like Akebi, tapping a conjugated verb will bring up the dictionary form of the verb with a note to indicate the form it has within the text (eg. passive tense, past tense). You can then bookmark these words to revise in the Vocabulary Review part of the app.
I like the ability to only highlight and/or show the furigana for words at certain JLPT levels as chosen in the settings, as well as the ability to save articles for offline reading. There is also a Text Analyzer tool, where you can paste Japanese text into the textbox; by then clicking ‘Analyze’, you can click on any word to find its readings and meanings.
Considering that this app is free to use, it is a quality resource for Japanese reading practice. It is definitely an app that I wish had been around sooner, especially when preparing for the JLPT tests!
I haven’t always been a fan of Anki, but it is on my list because when used correctly it can be a very powerful tool. Whilst there is a free Anki app available on Android, Anki is available on a number of mobile and desktop platforms.
How Anki works
Anki (anki/暗記 is the Japanese word for ‘memorisation’) is a spaced repetition flashcard app that has a high degree of customisation. Putting together your own flashcard decks tailored to the type of Japanese content you want to study (ie. from your favourite TV show, video game or novel) is a great way to learn Japanese and stay motivated.
There is a bit of time required to experiment with what kind of flashcard set up works best for you. If making your own flashcard decks sounds like too much trouble, there are some great flashcard decks available for download via the Shared Decks. Some of my favourite shared decks are the Kanji Damage deck and the Core 2000 vocabulary decks.
This video by Landon Epps gives a nice overview of some of the features Anki has and how Japanese learners can use it to review vocabulary.
Anki is a great app because it can be used to help memorise all sorts of things, not just the Japanese language. If you like looking at data, there are all sorts of statistics you can look into regarding your learning and progress for each flashcard deck.
Cost: limited content is free, full app costs £11.99; older version of app available on iOS
If you are looking for an app to specifically help you with kanji, look no further than Kanji Study. I love the user interface, and there are so many features to help you customise your kanji learning experience.
How Kanji Study works
You can choose to tackle kanji in any order of your choice, but the default is the order in which Japanese children learn Joyo kanji at school. You can then break down each level into smaller groups of your choice. In the ‘Study’ mode, each kanji has its own page showing the stroke order, radicals, common readings, useful vocabulary and example sentences to help reinforce the meaning.
If you long press a word, you then get the option to add it to an Anki deck or look it up via another website such as jisho.org – both very useful features!
You can then choose to review the kanji via flashcards, multiple choice quizzes or writing challenges. These tests are highly customisable so that you can tailor your study sessions to focus on your weaknesses. The app also allows you to practice writing kanji. I like that the app uses a very readable kanji font which is much closer to how kanji would be handwritten rather than a typed font.
It is possible to set a daily study target, and you can set notification reminders to make sure you don’t miss a study session.
The beginner level kanji content is free, however access to all kanji requires a one-off cost of £11.99. All in all, I highly recommend this app because the quality of the app is top-notch.
There are a lot of apps which are great alternatives to some of the apps on my top 7 list:
If you prefer an app that makes use of spaced repetition with a more user-friendly interface, then I recommend checking out Memrise or iKnow.
Memrise has its own starter courses for the Japanese language, however, I cannot comment on their quality as I have not tried this out for myself yet. Instead, I like to use the Memrise app to study some of the courses created by other users for certain aspects of Japanese, such as JTalkOnline’s keigo course.
Recently Memrise has made it difficult to search for these user-generated vocabulary courses (via the app anyway – they are still easy to find via the website), which is a slight annoyance.
iKnow requires a monthly subscription (a free trial is available), but I think the Core 1000/ 3000/ 6000 vocabulary decks help build a good grounding in Japanese knowledge if you are not interested in making your own vocabulary flashcards.
Mondo is another reading assistant app aimed to help Japanese learners. Mondo tends to pull its reading content from different sources compared to TangoRisto, and there is some original articles and dialogues that can only be read on the app. I’ve covered how Mondo works in an earlier blog post.
So that is my list of the best apps available for learning Japanese on Android. Do you agree with my list, or is there a glaring omission? Please tell me in the comments 🙂