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)

learn-japanese-food-onigirazu
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)

learn-japanese-food-pakuchii-cilantro
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)

learn-japanese-food-mackerel
“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!

The Best Japanese foods to eat in Winter

Winter in Japan brings with it a whole host of seasonal dishes that often make for the ultimate comfort food. Having lived in the northern island of Hokkaido, I quickly learned that eating the right dishes were essential to surviving the long winter!

Here are just a few Japanese dishes that I recommend eating to keep warm in the cold season.

Nabe (鍋) – hotpot goodness perfect for winter in Japan

鍋 (なべ) itself means ‘cooking pot’, but is more generally used to refer to one pot dishes that are made in the pot, which are usually soups and stews – perfect for winter. These large pots are normally used to cook nabe dishes on top of a portable stove.

Ishikari_nabe_by_naotakem.jpg (800×600)
Ishikari (Hokkaido) style nabe with ikura/ fish roe. Source: naotakem CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Cooking nabe is often a very social event where a group of people gather around the table to eat. Everyone adds ingredients to the pot before enjoying their freshly cooked meal. If you have the chance to go to a nabe party, go – it is a great experience!

There are a few well-known types of nabe, including ちゃんこ鍋/ chankonabe (a hearty stew famously eaten by sumo), and 湯豆腐/ yudofu (a simple dish of tofu simmered in a konbu seaweed broth, usually served with ponzu sauce). Nabe also varies by region, such as the Ishikari (Hokkaido) style nabe featured above.

This post is going on focus on three of the most popular nabe dishes: sukiyaki, shabushabu and oden.

すき焼き Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki consists of thinly sliced beef and other vegetables, cooked in a broth made from a mix of soy sauce, sugar and mirin. Ingredients often used in sukiyaki are tofu, cabbage, mushrooms (shiitake, enoki) and spring onions.

Cookingsukiyaki.jpg (480×384)
Source: Kapichu [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Once cooked, the beef can be dipped into raw egg just before eating. At the end, udon noodles or mochi can be added to soak up the remaining broth.

Being a winter dish, it often makes an appearance at 忘年会 (ぼうねんかい bounenkai/ end of year parties).

しゃぶしゃぶ Shabushabu

Shabushabu might just be my personal favourite, and it is not just because of the name! Shabushabu gets its name from an onomatopoeic term referring to the process of boiling the meat and vegetables which constitute the dish.

It is important that the meat used is sliced thinly – this allows it to cook in the boiling water in a matter of seconds. You can then dip the meat in a sauce before eating: popular sauces include ponzu and gomadare (sesame sauce).

Chef Mako Okano explains shabushabu in this great video which showcases the types of foods that tend to be used.

A lot of places offer shabushabu 食べ放題 (たべほうだい/tabehoudai – all you can eat) for 60 mins or more for a good price. This makes shabushabu an economic choice in the winter, even for large groups of people.

おでん Oden

Being both filling and warming, oden is the perfect winter food.

Oden is one of the oldest nabe dishes, as it’s origins can be traced back to the 18th century. It is a dish consisting of boiled eggs and vegetables simmered in a soy flavoured dashi broth. There are regional variations, but the most common ingredients are daikon radish, potatoes, chikuwa fishcakes and konnyaku noodles.

The above video takes you through some of the many things you can add to your oden dish!

Oden can be eaten at specialist oden restuarants and traditional yatai stalls, but nowadays can also be found at convenience stores, supermarkets and even vending machines.

冷たーい_アサヒ生ビール_2016-12_(31507528706).jpg (4704×3136)
You can buy oden from a range of places, but it is hard to beat the traditional yatai food stall experience! Source: Keiichi Yasu [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Winter snacks to keep you warm

If you aren’t quite hungry enough for a whole meal, you often pick up other warm Japanese snacks at street stalls or convenience stores:

肉まん Nikuman

Nikuman are steamed pork buns – basically the Japanese version of Chinese baozi. The buns are made from a flour-based dough, and the filling is usually made with pork, spring onions and shiitake mushrooms. You can buy these cheaply from convenience stores, where they are kept nice and hot!

Nikuman_Kagurazaka.jpg (5184×2916)
These nikuman are a bit more expensive than what you would find at the convenience store! Source: Japanexperterna (CCBYSA) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The nikuman pictured above are more traditional, but convenience stores often do special types of nikuman, including ピザまん (pizza flavour nikuman),  カレーまん (curry nikuman). Each store has their own unique flavours, so it is well worth visiting a few different places to see the many varieties available!

焼き芋 Yakiimo

Sometimes the simplest foods are the best ones, and yakiimo is a great example of this. Yakiimo literally means ‘baked potatoes’. Imo are Japanese sweet potatoes, which have purple skin and are sweeter tasting than their Western counterparts.

Supermarket's_Yakiimo_in_Japan_2010.jpg (821×1095)
Source: Kanesue [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In the colder months, there are usually street vendors and little food trucks that sell freshly baked yakiimo.

Not only are Japanese sweet potatoes delicious when baked, but they are also known for having many health benefits – I recommend trying them at least once!

焼き餅 Grilled Mochi

Mochi (rice cakes) are a popular snack all year round but is especially popular in the New Year period. They can be eaten in many forms, but a nice way to eat in winter is to grill it, which is known as yakimochi (meaning ‘grilled/ baked mochi’).

I became a little bit obsessed with yakimochi after I was first introduced to it. All you need to do is grill the mochi until it is toasted and has expanded. The gooey warmth of mochi when it is grilled makes it a lovely snack to warm you up in the winter!

I hope this post inspires you to try one of these dishes if you haven’t already. There are a lot of various Japanese ingredients mentioned in this post – if you want to learn more, I suggest checking out the following websites:

Japan Visitor’s Food Glossary

NHK World’s Japanese Food Glossary

Japanese Cooking 101

What is your favourite winter dish (Japanese or otherwise)? Please tell me 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!

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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 🙂

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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!

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!

You need to be careful with おまえ (omae) – the potential pitfalls of pronouns in Japanese

Japanese has a lot of first-person pronouns (‘I’) and second-person pronouns (‘you’) in particular, the choice of which is dependant on the relative status of who you are and who you are talking to. In English, we use pronouns all the time and when talking to a superior we tend to change our phrasing rather than vocabulary to show respect.

So when we hear words such as in Japanese TV shows and anime, it is easy to think that pronouns such as 私 (watashi) or 俺 (ore) for ‘I’, and お前 (omae) or あなた (anata) for ‘you’ are largely interchangeable.

A case that came up in the news recently goes to show why the choice of pronouns in Japanese is so important. The incorrect use of the pronoun お前 led to the resignation of Ryoichi Yamada, a superintendent in Niigata prefecture.

In June 2017, a boy committed suicide as a result of school bullying. On the 11th October, Mr. Yamada arranged a meeting with the boy’s family to offer his apologies and discuss what can be done better going forward.

Unfortunately, during this meeting he referred to the father as お前 when asking a question. He did later apologise for using the word, but the damage had been done and he tendered his resignation the following day.

Why was using お前 inappropriate?

お前 is a highly informal word meaning ‘you’. As you would expect for an informal word, you would only use it . Even so, a close friend could take offence at being referred to as お前. It is more often used used amongst males than females. With this in mind, it is not hard to see why there has been outrage over his choice of words.

In this case, Mr. Yamada had taught the boy’s father in the past. This is the reason why the superintendent may have thought using お前 would have been acceptable. However given the situation, one would expect the superintendent to be using extremely humble language, and so the use of お前 was highly insensitive.

I would be very wary of using words like this, especially as a beginner to Japanese. Part of the following video by Japanese Ammo with Misa explains from a Japanese perspective why learners should refrain from words like omae.

Note: the whole video is great, but I’ve set it to start from the part where she talks about Japanese pronouns.

Tips on using pronouns in Japanese

Pronouns are generally not used often in Japanese, as the context indicates who the topic of conversation is. For instance, if I say:

魚が好きです。

さかながすきです。

It is assumed that I am the one who likes fish even though I didn’t use the word 私(watashi).

Therefore, it is more natural not to use pronouns at all.

If you do need to refer to a specific person, it is better to refer to a person using their actual name:

小原さん、いつアメリカに来ましたか。

おはらさん、いつアメリカにきましたか。

Ms. Ohara, when did you come to America?

You can also refer to someone using their occupation or status.

Words can be used in this way include 先生, 課長, 博士:

先生はいつアメリカに来ましたか。

せんせいはいつアメリカにきましたか。

Teacher, when did you come to America?

お巡りさん、東京駅はどこですか。

おまわりさん、とうきょうえきはどこですか。

[Police] Officer, where is Tokyo station?

If you are interested in knowing the different words for ‘you’ in Japanese, this video on second-person pronouns explains the contexts in which you can and cannot use various words.

Pronouns are a tricky thing to get used to, and there are also gender and regional differences in usage too. I recommend sticking to the above tips until you’ve been exposed to the language enough to get a feel for when certain pronouns should be used.

The Best 7 Android Apps for learning Japanese

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.

top-android-apps-learning-japanese

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.

2) The best textbook app for Japanese: Human Japanese

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.

3) The best Japanese dictionary app: Akebi

Cost: free

I have tried a number of free Japanese dictionary apps available on Android, but Akebi is by far my favourite. Again, this is another app that I have written a post about on this blog.

How Akebi works

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!
  • Example sentences

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.

5) The best reading assistant app: TangoRisto

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.

Screenshot 2017-09-12 at 20.09.14

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 have a post reviewing TangoRisto which might be worth reading if you want to know more about the app.

6) The best app for vocabulary reviews: Anki

Cost: free; also available on iOS (for a price)

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.

7) Best app for Kanji: Kanji Study

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.

Honourable mentions

There are a lot of apps which are great alternatives to some of the apps on my top 7 list:

 

Hello Talk -> HiNative

HiNative is fairly similar to Hello Talk, but I find HiNative better for learning about the current trends or asking questions about the culture of your target language. You can read my full review of HiNative here.

Anki -> Memrise/ iKnow

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.

About Memrise

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.

About iKnow

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.

Akebi -> Tangorin

Tangorin is another free dictionary app available on both Android and iOS, which also works fully offline.

TangoRisto -> Mondo

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 🙂

Japanese Onomatopoeia for the Summer

At the moment, Japan (as well as a lot of other countries) is experiencing extremely high summer temperatures. Aside from the all too common 暑いですね (あついですね; It’s hot, isn’t it?), you might be struggling with ways to talk about the warmest season.

As I wrote in a previous post, onomatopoeia is a very important part of expressing yourself in Japanese. With this in mind, I have put together a list of my favourite summer-themed onomatopoeia:

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Feeling hot, hot, hot

Japan is well known for its 蒸し暑い (むしあつい; hot and humid) summers. The first group of words relate to the uncomfortable feeling of dealing with the heat.

The first, べたべた is generally used to refer to something sticky or gooey. It is a common word used in the summertime to describe the icky feeling of being sweaty and your clothes stick to you. You could also use the onomatopoeia だらだら, which when used with 汗 (あせ; sweat) has the meaning of sweating profusely:

Eg. だらだら汗(あせ)が出(で)る                sweat is pouring out

Another common phrase you might hear is 夏バテ (なつバテ), which is a combination of 夏(なつ) meaning summer and ばてる, meaning to be tired/ exhausted. It is used to describe that feeling of fatigue and lethargy you get when it it constantly hot outside. This SavvyTokyo article has some great tips on do’s and don’ts when coping with 夏バテ!

Staying cool as a cucumber?

With the heat and humidity, keeping cool by any means possible is essential. The word ひんやり can be used to talk about something which feels nice and cold, especially on a hot day. This covers things like cooler pads that you put on your bed or pillowcase, or the feeling of a cool breeze on a hot day, as well as food and drink.

There’s nothing better than a cold glass of juice or a bottle of beer on a summer’s day. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to describe that feeling with onomatopoeia in Japanese.

For instance, キンキン refers to a shrill sound, but it can also be used to describe something that is cold and refreshing.

Eg. キンキンに冷(ひ)えたジュース             ice cold juice

To stay cool, it is highly likely you would be regularly tucking into something しゃりしゃり or ガリガリ. しゃりしゃり indicates something is crunchy; summer foods often have a crunchy texture due to ice or crunchy vegetables – think of a slushie, a salad, a sorbet or かき氷 (かきごおり, kakigoori). Kakigoori is shaved ice topped with a flavoured syrup and sometimes condensed milk. Popular flavours include melon, strawberry and the Blue Hawaii (usually soda or ramune).

If you see a flag with the above kanji on, you’ve found a kakigoori stand! Image by Rog01 (Nara 2010) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

ガリガリ is often for someone who looks very skinny, but is also used for something that is hard and crunchy, eg. an ice lolly. There is a brand of ice lollies called ガリガリ君 (Garigari kun) which are a cheap treat and have been popular for decades!

Sights and sounds of summer

The last couple of onomatopoeia are those that really help to encapsulate summer in Japan.

Unfortunately, summer means plenty of bugs to contend with. The insect most strongly associated with summer in Japan has got to be the cicada (known as 蝉・せみ).

If you’ve been to Japan or watched any TV show/ film/ anime that is set during the summer months, the みーんみーん sound of a cicada is probably very familiar. The video below talks about cicadas in more detail:

Another iconic sound of summer in Japan is the sound of 花火 (はなび; fireworks).

A lot of festivals take place during the summer months, where there are lots of opportunities to play games and eat street food from a variety of stalls. Along with this, there are often 花火大会 (はなびたいかい; firework displays) which take place in the evening.

Fireworks have a long tradition in Japan and were originally used as a way to help ward off bad spirits. If you are in Japan in the summer, seeing fireworks is a must! The onomatopoeia どんどん or ドーン can be used to describe the sound of fireworks in Japanese.

This post could very easily have been much longer – onomatopoeia is such an interesting part of the Japanese language.

What is your favourite summer word (in Japanese or any other language)? Please tell me in the comments section!

Top 20 Japanese Verbs to learn for Beginners

When I first started learning Japanese, I had no idea which verbs to learn. With that in mind, I have put together a list of 20 basic Japanese verbs to study.

For each verb, I have tried to give a brief overview of how they are used. This isn’t intended to be an in-depth guide, so if you want to learn more I recommend the resources listed at the end of this post.

The list below shows the verbs in the polite (-masu) form, but I have given the plain/dictionary form below. One good thing about Japanese is that there are very few irregular verbs (which all happen to be in this list!), and I have indicated these verbs below.

 

います imasu

Meaning: to be; exist (used for animate objects, ie. people and animals)

  • Verb type: ichidan (て form -> いて ite)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: いる iru
  • Kanji?: 居る (note: the kanji is not often used and you will most likely see it in hiragana only)
  • Often used with the particle を or に

Example sentences:

ねこはへやにいますneko wa heya ni imasu

The cat is in the room.

にわにいぬがいますniwa ni inu ga imasu

There is a dog in the garden.

あります arimasu

Meaning: to exist (used for inanimate objects, ie. those not ); to have

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> あって atte)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: ある aru
  • Kanji?: 有る・在る (note: the kanji is not often used and you will most likely see it in hiragana only)
  • Often used with the particle が or に (definitely not を!)

Example sentences:

ペンはつくえのうえにありますpen wa tsukue no ue ni arimasu

The pen is on top of the desk.

ほんがみっつありますhon ga mittsu arimasu

I have three books.

します shimasu

Meaning: to do

  • Irregular verb
  • Verb type: ichidan (て form -> して)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: する suru
  • Kanji?: none (always used with hiragana)
  • Often used with the particle を

Example sentences:

きのう、ともだちとテニスをしましたkinou, tomodachi to tenisu wo shimashita

I played tennis with my friends yesterday.

まいにちにほんごをべんきょうしますmainichi nihongo wo benkyou shimasu

I study Japanese every day.

いきます ikimasu

Meaning: to go

  • (Slightly) irregular verb; see て form conjugation
  • Verb type: godan (て form -> いって itte)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: いく iku
  • Kanji?: 行く
  • Often used with the particle に

Example sentences:

きょうがっこうにいきますkyou gakkou ni ikimasu

I am going to school today.

らいねんにほんにいきますrainen nihon ni ikimasu

I am going to Japan next year.

きます kimasu

Meaning: to come

  • Irregular verb
  • Verb type: godan (て form -> きて kite)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: くる kuru
  • Kanji?: 来る
  • Often used with the particle に

Example sentences:

BABYMETALはよくアメリカにきますBabymetal wa yoku amerika ni kimasu

Babymetal often come to America.

ともだちがいえにきましたtomodachi ga ie ni kimashita

A friend came to my house.

なります narimasu

Meaning: to become

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> なって natte)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: なる naru
  • Kanji?: 成る (note: the kanji not often used and you will most likely see it in hiragana only)
  • Often used with the particle に

Example sentences:

もうすぐはるになりますmousugu haru ni narimasu

It will soon be(come) spring.

せんせいになりたいです。 sensei ni naritai desu

I want to become a teacher.

みます mimasu

Meaning: to see, look at

  • Verb type: ichidan (て form -> みて mite)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: みる miru
  • Kanji?: 見る
  • Often used with the particle を

Example sentences:

かのじょがテレビをみますwatashi ga terebi wo mimasu

She watches TV.

しゃしんをみてください。 shashin wo mite kudasai

Please look at the photograph.

はなします hanashimasu

Meaning: to speak, to talk to

  • Verb type: ichidan (て form -> はなして hanashite)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: はなす hanasu
  • Kanji?: 話す
  • Often used with the particle を or と

Example sentences:

でんわでははとはなしますdenwa de haha to hanashimasu

I speak with my mom on the telephone.

えいごとスペインごをはなしますeigo to supeingo wo hanashimasu

I speak English and Spanish.

あいます aimasu

Meaning: to meet

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> あって atte)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: あう au
  • Kanji?: 会う
  • Often used with the particle に

Example sentences:

あしたえきでともだちにあいますashita eki de tomodachi ni aimasu

Tomorrow I will meet my friend at the train station.

らいしゅうかれにあいたいです。 raishuu kare ni aitai desu

I want to meet him next week.

つくります tsukurimasu

Meaning: to make

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> つくって tsukutte)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: つくる tsukuru
  • Kanji?: 作る
  • Often used with the particle を

Example sentences:

ばんごはんをつくりますbangohan wo tsukurimasu

I make dinner.

ちちがわたしにドレスをつくりましたchichi ga watashi ni doresu wo tsukurimashita

My dad made me a dress.

つかいます tsukaimasu

Meaning: to use

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> つかって tsukatte)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: つかう tsukau
  • Kanji?: 使う
  • Often used with the particle を

Example sentences:

せんせいのじしょをつかいますSensei no jisho wo tsukaimasu

I use my teacher’s dictionary.

あねはくつにおかねをたくさんつかいますAne ha kutsu ni okane wo takusan tsukaimasu

My older sister spends a lot of money on shoes.

わかります wakarimasu

Meaning: to know, understand

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> わかって wakatte)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: わかる wakaru
  • Kanji?: 分かる (note: kanji is not often used, and you will most likely see it written in hiragana
  • Often used with the particle を or が

Example sentences:

にほんごをすこしわかりますnihongo wo sukoshi wakarimasu

I understand a bit of Japanese.

フランスごがわかりませんfuransugo wo wakarimasen

I don’t know/ understand French.

たべます tabemasu

Meaning: to eat

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> たべて)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: たべる taberu
  • Kanji?: 食べる
  • Often used with the particle を

Example sentences:

まいしゅうピザをたべますmaishuu piza wo tabemasu

I eat pizza every week.

ゆうべラーメンをたべましたyuube raamen wo tabemashita

I ate ramen yesterday evening.

のみます nomimasu

Meaning: to drink

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> のんで nonde)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: のむ nomu
  • Kanji?: 飲む
  • Often used with the particle を

Example sentences:

さけをのみませんsake wo nomimasen

I do not drink alcohol.

まいあさ、みずをのみますmaiasa mizu wo nomimasu

I drink water every morning.

かいます kaimasu

Meaning: to buy

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> かって katte)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: かう kau
  • Kanji?: 買う
  • Often used with the particle を

Example sentences:

スーパーでやさいをかいますsuupaa de yasai wo kaimasu

I buy vegetables at the supermarket.

しんぶんをかいませんshinbun wo kaimasen

I don’t buy newspapers.

かきます kakimasu

Meaning: to write

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> かいて kaite)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: かく kaku
  • Kanji?: 書く
  • Often used with the particle を

Example sentences:

まいしゅうかんじをかきますmaishuu kanji wo kakimasu

I write kanji every week.

しょうせつをかいていますshousetsu wo kaiteimasu

I am writing a novel.

ねます nemasu

Meaning: to sleep

  • Verb type: ichidan (て form -> ねて nete)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: ねる neru
  • Kanji?: 寝る
  • Often used with the particle を

Example sentences:

まいにち10じにねますmainichi juuji ni nemasu

I go to bed at 10 o’clock every day.

きのう7じにねましたkinou shichi ji nemashita

Yesterday I went to bed at 7 o’clock

ききます kikimasu

Meaning: to listen to

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> きいて kiite)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: きく
  • Kanji?: 聞く
  • Often used with the particle を

Example sentences:

せいとはせんせいのしじにききますseito wa sensei no shiji ni kikimasu

The pupils listen to the teacher’s instructions.

おんがくをよくききます。 Ongaku wo yoku kikimasu

I often listen to music.

かえります kaerimasu

Meaning: to return home

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> かえって kaette)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: かえる kaeru
  • Kanji?: 帰る
  • Often used with the particle に

Example sentences:

あしたイギリスにかえりますashita igirusu ni kaerimasu

I will go back to the UK tomorrow.

きのうごご10じにうちにかえりましたkinou gogo juuji ni uchi ni kaerimashita

I got home at 10 pm yesterday.

のります norimasu

Meaning: to get on, ride (eg. a vehicle)

  • Verb type: godan (て form -> のって)
  • Plain/ dictionary form: のる noru
  • Kanji?: 乗る
  • Often used with the particle に

Example sentences:

まいあさでんしゃにのりますmaiasa densha ni norimasu

I catch the train every morning.

どこでバスをのりますか。 doko de basu ni norimasu ka?

Where do you get on the bus?

20basicjapaneseverbspin

So this is my list – choosing just 20 is tricky, but I think with the above you will be able to practice expressing a variety of things in Japanese.

If you are just starting your Japanese journey, I recommend looking at the following resources to learn more about the different types of Japanese verbs and how they are conjugated:

New to Japanese? You might find my Japanese Resources Masterpost and How to Start Learning Japanese pages useful 🙂

Cultural Kotoba: Tanabata

cultural_kotoba_tanabata

Tanabata is just around the corner (in some parts of Japan anyway), and it might be one of my favourite celebrations in Japan.

Tanabata is not a national holiday, but it is widely celebrated around the country. To me, this festival is truly a sign that summer has arrived. I just love the colourful celebrations at Tanabata, so decided to write a bit about it today.

Where does Tanabata originate from?

One of the things I was curious about is why Tanabata is written in Japanese as 七夕. 七 is normally read as しち・なな (shichi/nana) and 夕 is normally read as ゆう (yuu), so where did the name Tanabata come from?

Actually, what we now know as Tanabata was a festival called Qixi originating in China and was brought to Japan in the 8th century. Tanabata is thought to originally refer to a special cloth (棚機・たなばた) offered to a god to pray for a good harvest of rice crops in a separate ritual. The timing of this offering coincided with Qixi, and so the two festivals merged. Once merged, the festival was still called tanabata but the kanji used was written as (七夕; meaning “evening of the seventh”) referring to the timing of the festival, which at one point was read as しちせき (shichiseki).

The timing of Tanabata is based on the traditional Japanese calendar; it is usually celebrated on the 7th night on the 7th month (ie. 7th July in the Gregorian calendar). However it can be celebrated during early August; during Japan’s transition from the Chinese lunar calendar to the current Gregorian calendar, the definition of the first month can vary by over 4 weeks and so August is sometimes treated as the 7th month in the calendar.

The Story of Tanabata

The Tanabata story is based on the Chinese folk tale “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”. Here is my rough summary of the story:

Orihime ((織姫・おりひめ), literally “weaving princess”) lives by the Milky Way and works everyday weaving fabric. Because of her work, she doesn’t really have time to meet anyone and so her father, the Sky King(also known as Tentei/ 天帝・てんてい), arranges for her to meet Hikoboshi ((彦星・ひこぼし), the cow herder) who works on the other side of the Milky Way. They fall in love immediately and get married, but they also begin to neglect their work duties.

The Sky King is angry about this and takes his daughter back to the other side of the Milky Way as punishment. Orihime is extremely upset and pleads with her father to let her see Hikoboshi. The Sky King then agrees that they can meet on the 7th day of the 7th month every year as long as Orihime works hard.

If you want to try reading the story in simple Japanese, you can find it on the children’s story website Hukumusume here.

The celebration is therefore of the one night in the year when husband and wife are allowed to meet. Having said that, it is thought that the star-crossed lovers can only meet if the weather is clear on July 7th!

How is Tanabata celebrated?

Laika_ac_Tanabata_Wishes_(7472067930)

By Laika ac from USA (Tanabata Wishes) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

It is customary to write wishes on small strips of paper known as tanzaku (短冊・たんざく) which are then hung on bamboo along with other colourful decorations. Bamboo is culturally significant because it is a strong and durable plant and therefore symbolises prosperity.

Other decorations include:

  • Paper cranes known as 折鶴 (おりづる・oridzuru) which represent longevity
  • 吹き流し (ふきながし・fukinagashi) – these are streamers meant to represent the threads that Orihime weaves.
  • 網飾り(あみかざり・amikazari) – decorations that represent fishing nets. These are used to wish for an abundance of fish.
  • Purse or pouch shaped origami to wish for good luck with money

TanabataFestival_-_Panoramio_55635202.jpg

By rinia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52729862

The city of Sendai in Miyagi prefecture is well known for its Tanabata celebrations, and lots of tourists flock there to enjoy the event. It is customary in Sendai to eat 素麺 (そうめん・soumen), a type of noodles usually served cold with a dipping sauce which makes it a refreshing meal in the summertime.

If you want to test your understanding of Tanabata in Japanese, JapanesePod101 have done a great video outlining Tanabata and its customs (recommended for intermediate learners and up!).

What is your favourite national holiday or festival (in Japan, or another country)? Please leave me a comment!