Advanced learners

4 Podcast Recommendations for Japanese Learners

This is a follow up to a previous post, where I wrote about some Japanese language podcasts. I wanted to find some podcasts that were a little bit easier for those who might find some of the podcasts mentioned in my previous recommendation a bit too difficult to study with intensely.

These recommendations are almost entirely in Japanese, but have been produced by people who want to help others learn the language:

Nihongo con Teppei

Teppei speaks English and Spanish fluently and is a Japanese tutor on italki. His podcast is a conversational one in which he talks about aspects of his daily life and Japanese culture.  Teppei almost always speaks in Japanese with the occasional English word. He speaks casually but will explain any certain words and phrases in simple Japanese.

Each episode is about 20 minutes long which I think is a good length – he releases about 2-3 episodes a week. I recommend the podcast for beginner learners who want something of a listening challenge or intermediate learners.

You can download the episodes from his website, or find the podcast on platforms like Spotify and iTunes.

JLPT Stories

JLPT stories is designed to improve your listening skills, with bitesize stories written and performed by native Japanese speakers. Each episode is targeted at a different level of the JLPT and is usually about 3 minutes long. There are a few different narrators and there is a good mix of male and female speakers (Japanese listening material tends to be female dominated in my experience).

The content varies but is usually about everyday topics. The speaking is at a natural speed, but for the lower levels of the JLPT there are more pauses in speech to allow learners to follow it more easily. It might still take you a couple of listens to catch everything though!

Download the episodes from the JLPT Stories website, or find the podcast on Stitcher, iTunes and Spotify. The website has a transcript with an English translation and explanation of some grammar points for all episodes. This gives you quite a few options in how you can use this resource to study, which I really like.

Let’s Learn Japanese from Small Talk

This is another conversational podcast run by two Japanese girls who are currently living in the UK. The aim of the podcast is to provide casual listening practice for Japanese learners. Each episode has a main theme (normally an aspect of Japanese culture) although sometimes they go off topic!

Like Teppei’s podcast, they speak as Japanese people actually speak but will clarify any tricky words and phrases, usually in Japanese and English. As a British person, it is interesting to hear about UK-Japan cultural differences from a Japanese perspective!

Again this is best suited to learners who are learning how to speak more casually in Japanese. There are lots of useful little phrases which I have picked up from this podcast and their twitter account.

I’ve linked to the podcast on Stitcher, but it is also available on iTunes and Spotify. There are vocabulary lists for the episodes on the podcast’s blog page, but from what I can see this is something they’ve started doing recently.

Nあ Casual Nihongo

If casual forms of Japanese are something you find difficult, then this is the podcast for you!

Nあ Casual Nihongo is hosted by Dai, who decided to create the podcast after working as an assistant Japanese language teacher in Australia. This podcast is in Japanese but is aimed at teaching learners a more natural way of speaking compared to what you get in textbooks. Each episode follows the same structure:

  • Answer a listening comprehension question
  • 5 new Japanese phrases to learn (with explanations and examples)
  • Casual conversation (this gets repeated)

The conversations are a natural speed, which might take some getting used to. To make things easier, the podcast’s website also has a script for the conversation part of the episode, with the new phrases that are introduced highlighted for you. Clearly, a lot of hard work has gone into making the podcast accessible for learners who already have a bit of a foundation in grammar and vocabulary.

One thing – Dai is based in the Kansai area, so people interested in the Kansai dialect will find this useful!


I really like podcasts for listening practice – if you want to know how I use them in my studies check out this post.

Have you got any great podcast recommendations or tips on improving your listening? Please tell me in the comments.

Japanese words with a different meaning from their component kanji

As a Japanese learner, you’ve probably seen the news on Ariana Grande’s tattoo fail online. If not, I’ll briefly fill you in on what happened.


七 (seven) + 輪 (ring, circle) = 七輪 (barbeque grill)!?

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.

Pictures from Instagram: left is the original tattoo, the right is the revised version

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.

This is mostly the case for older loanwords, as newer loanwords are usually written with katakana.

However, you may see it in relation to the names of various countries, particularly in newspapers. For instance:

KanjiKana/ RomajiName in Katakana/ RomajiEnglish
えい / eiイギリス / igirisuEngland
ふつ / futsuフランス / furansuFrance
どく / dokuドイツ / doitsuGermany
西せい / seiスペイン / supeinSpain
ごう / gouオーストラリア / oosutorariaAustralia
か / kaカナダ / kanadaCanada
いん / inインド / indoIndia
い / iイタリア / itariaItaly

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.

寿 (longevity) + 司 (administer; servant) = 寿司 sushi

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.


(spear, halberd) + 盾 (shield) = 矛盾 mujun (contradiction)

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!


猫 (cat) + 車 (vehicle) = 猫車 nekoguruma (wheelbarrow)

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!

In closing…

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 🙂

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!

‘Appy Mondays: Ohayou App Review

Welcome to ‘Appy Mondays, my series of app reviews relating to Japanese language study. Today’s app review is of the JLPT listening practice app Ohayou.

Appymondaysblog

How the Ohayou app works

When you first log into the app, you have to create an account with an email and password or link the app to a social media account. I decided to go with the first option. Whichever you choose, the app should automatically log you in whenever you access it after this.

The listening tests are grouped by JLPT level, and on the far right there are non-JLPT specific listening exercises too. Each JLPT level has a number of tests, which have to be downloaded before they can be accessed. Fortunately, downloading is usually very quick.

There are various types of language questions, which correspond to the types of listening questions you will encounter in the JLPT:

The above table, taken from the official JLPT website, shows the different types of listening questions included at each level of the exam.

Depending on the level of the JLPT you are working towards, the types of listening questions you get in the exam will vary. Fortunately, the Ohayou app has pretty much all of the listening question types in the test. The non-JLPT listening exercises include practice for hiragana and katakana, as well as counting and calculations in Japanese.

Once the test has been downloaded, you can jump into listening practice. Each test has 20 questions which follow the format of the JLPT test, which are multiple choice. For lower levels of the JLPT the answers may be pictures, but they will be entirely in Japanese otherwise.

Clicking the ‘Check’ button after listening to the question show you if you answered correctly. You can then choose to listen to the question again or continue on to the next one. You can also rewind or fast forward 10 or 20 seconds using the arrows, which is really helpful if you need to hear a particular sentence again.

My thoughts on Ohayou

Ohayou is a very convenient app for JLPT listening practice and is a great app to help build confidence for the listening section of the exam. For all of the listening exercises I tried, the audio was very clear too.

One of my biggest tips for the listening section of the JLPT is to familiarise yourself with the format of the exam. The listening comprehension tests are the same as those you find in the JLPT so anyone preparing to take the test (especially for the first time) will find this very useful.

The non-JLPT exercises were a bit of a mixed bag for me. I thought that the hiragana and katakana tests were good – I would recommend them to those who had just finished learning the scripts and want to test their listening skills.

I tried the tests relating to counters, which I think are useful especially for reviewing common but irregular counters like ひとり and ここのつ, but the audio quality was not as good as the JLPT tests. It sounded as if the audio had been recorded from someone’s TV or perhaps had been recorded with the TV on in the background. Needless to say, this kind of distracting noise could just as easily happen in a real-life situation, but I found it a bit disappointing.

I need to mention that whilst the app is free to use, additional features can be bought with for money, although these features can be ‘paid’ for using points you gain by using the app.

Screenshot_20180923-112705_Ohayou

You can pay 400 points (US $2.99) to remove ads permanently, and 1000 points (US $4.99) to view all transcripts and access to one-click definitions of any word. For once, it is nice to come across a freemium app that does not require a monthly subscription!

Completing the tests for the first time earned me 2 points each, so at that rate earning enough points to unlock the premium features in full is probably near impossible without paying for them. There was also the option to earn 5 points by watching a video ad, but despite watching a couple of ads my points total never increased.

In the app’s defense, it is possible to purchase the transcript for individual questions or tests. So if there is a particular test that you are struggling with, you can spend 15 points to purchase the transcript. I would be wary about becoming overly reliant on transcripts for listening practice, as you will not have that benefit in the actual test. Generally, I found that if I got any answers wrong, listening to the question a couple more times made it clear where I went wrong.

I can’t really see the value of paying the $2.99 to remove ads – I didn’t think that the ads were intrusive enough to justify it. Having access to all transcripts for $4.99 could be useful, especially if you are planning on taking all levels of the JLPT in turn (and so would be using the app quite a lot).

If you are interested in checking the app out, it is available in the Apple store and Google Play store.

Have you tried this app out? Are you aware of a better alternative? Let me know in the comments!

Daily Writing Practice with the NVA Challenge

I’ve posted before about keeping a journal in your target language as a way of practicing your writing skills. However, I’ve always struggled to think of things to write about in my journal. This struggle was the inspiration behind the Writing Challenge I did last November.

Fortunately, there is another language learning challenge that helps solve this problem: the NVA challenge!

What is the NVA challenge?

NVA stands for Noun-Verb-Adjective: each day, the challenge provides you with one noun, one verb and one adjective to write a text with. The words are normally of a similar theme or complement each other in some way, which makes it easy to think of at least one sentence. In addition, the words used are words you would commonly use.

My experiences with the NVA challenge so far

I’ve been doing the challenge myself for a few weeks and have found it very useful for building a daily writing habit.

I find that once I’ve actually written one sentence, it is much easier to write a couple more sentences. Even on days when I am busy, I have been able to write down at least one sentence. It’s become part of my daily routine to write just before I go to bed, which I find quite relaxing!

Excuse the messy writing – I currently insist on writing the texts by hand (in pencil!), as sadly I am forgetting how to write quite a lot of kanji…

I certainly recommend this writing challenge, as I think it is very accessible no matter what your language level is. You might not find a word in your target language which corresponds directly to English, but that shouldn’t be your main focus.

With Japanese, I don’t force myself to use the exact translation of the words given in the challenge. Instead, I normally try to use a word which has a similar meaning. This also has the benefit of focusing your time on actually writing rather than looking up lots of lots of words in the dictionary.

Make sure to get your writing corrected

You can always get your sentences corrected on language exchange apps and websites such as Hello Talk, HiNative or Lang-8. Hello Talk and HiNative are best suited for sentences or short paragraphs. Lang-8 is better for longer texts (sadly Lang-8 is not accepting new memberships).

Find the NVA Challenge on Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram and Habitica. If you use Habitica there is a guild dedicated to the NVA challenge, where others in the community check each other’s sentences too.

Today’s post was a short one but I just wanted to write about this great challenge. I hope that it might help some other language learners out!

How do you like to practice your writing skills? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Tadoku Tuesdays (4) What I’m Reading (in Japanese) in Sept 2018

As I did in the last Tadoku Tuesday post, I am going to write about two books I have read recently or am reading. I’ll also include any new additions to my book collection. Both of the novels I focus on here happen to be by two famous contemporary Japanese authors, Banana Yoshimoto and Kotaro Isaka.

The Novel I’m Reading: 「アムリタ」 Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto

It’s a little bit difficult to give an overview of the plot for this novel, but I have tried my best!

Sakumi is dealing with two major events in her life; memory loss caused by an accident as well as the death of her younger sister Mayu. Prior to the accident Sakumi had been making ends meet with a part time job, but then realises that she wants to pursue a career in writing. Her little half-brother Yoshio then develops telepathic abilities. As her memories begin to resurface little by little, she begins to come to terms with the circumstances of her sister’s death and gains the courage to work towards what she truly desires in life.

My thoughts

I’ve previously written about another of Yoshimoto’s novels before, which had not been translated into English. This time I thought I would try reading one of her more famous novels, which on the whole has been well received.

I wouldn’t say that the plot is particularly enthralling, although there are some interesting characters which help keep the narrative engaging. There are lots of dream like passages, which give the novel a mystic feel and are vividly depicted. Despite this, Sakumi as a narrator feels very grounded and relatable, even though situation she finds herself in is not.

This is a fairly long novel that has been split into two parts. I have finished the first half of the book and enjoying it so far, but knowing that there is another 200+ pages to read I do wonder what developments are going to occur which will keep me interested.

Language level

If I had to estimate the book’s difficulty in terms of language I would probably put it at JLPT N2 level. Banana Yoshimoto’s writing style is on the whole quite straightforward, although at times there can be long rambling sentences that might take a bit of careful reading.

The Novel I Recently Finished: 「神様の制度」 Kamisama no Seido by Kotaro Isaka

This novel is actually a compilation of several short stories, which all involve the same narrator. Our narrator is only known as Chiba and works as a agent of death (a Grim Reaper of sorts). As an agent of death, his task is to spend time with the person he is assigned to, and decide within seven days if that person should die.

My thoughts

This is the first novel I have read by Kotaro Isaka, and I really enjoyed it. Like Amrita, this novel also looks at the themes of life and death. Having said that, the tone of this novel is completely different. Isaka has written stories spanning many genres, and elements of this come into play in the novel. He somehow manages to infuse the variety of short stories with suspense and comedic moments in a very satisfying way.

Being a death god, there are a lot of ‘fish out of water’ moments where he is trying to understand human feelings and motivations. This provided a lot of humour that I was not expecting. There is a wide variety of characters presented in the stories and through the narrator’s eyes, we get to learn a lot about the people he is assigned to. I found it very easy to get engrossed in each of the stories.

Language level

In terms of language level I’d probably recommend this for JLPT N3 level learners. I think this would make an ideal choice for someone looking to read their first novel in Japanese!

I find Isaka’s writing style easy to follow; he tends to write in shorter sentences that still manage to convey a lot of information. Being a series of short stories, it is much easier to digest than attempting to read a longer novel in one go.

There is a sequel called 神様の浮力 “The Buoyancy of Death” which was released a few years ago. I would like to read this in the future, although the novel seems to have more mixed reviews from fans of the original.

I will certainly be reading more of his works in the future, although with such a large catalogue to choose from I will struggle to decide what to read next!

Books added to my To Be Read pile:

I am trying my hardest not to amass too many books (because then it gets even harder to decide what to read next!) and have only added one book to my collection recently:

「舟を編む」 Fune wo Amu / The Great Passage by Shion Miura

Mitsuya Majime is an introverted man with a passion for reading. He takes the opportunity to transfer from the sales division to the dictionary department, where he is under the guidance of the highly regarded editor Kohei Araki. Araki’s team is undertaking the task of completing a dictionary called “The Great Passage”. The book follows the team’s pursuit of making the very best Japanese dictionary.

This has been on my wishlist for a long time, so I was super happy to finally buy this book! Given the subject matter, this could be a bit of a tough read in Japanese. Fortunately, I also purchased the ebook version of its English translation (“The Great Passage”) which I can use to help me with any tricky parts. I haven’t yet decided whether to try and read both versions in parallel or not.

There’s also an anime adaptation and a live action film, so I think starting with one of these two to give me a grounding in the plot and characters will make reading the novel a little bit easier.

So that’s it for today’s post – you can take a look at アムリタ and 神様の制度 on the Amazon JP website and read the first couple of pages if you are interested in checking them out.

What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

Tadoku Tuesdays (3): What I’m Reading (in Japanese) in May 2018

tadokutuesdayMay2018

This post is going to be a bit different from previous posts (you can find my previous posts in this series here and here). Normally I write about 2-3 books that I have been reading recently. I really want to narrow down the number of books that I am trying to read at any one time so that I can focus on the books I want to finish. My aim is to read one book at a time, with a manga for the days when I want to read something a bit different.

So going forward, each post will cover is one novel and one manga that I am currently reading, and I will probably also touch upon a couple of books I’ve picked up and will be excited to read in the future.

 

The Novel I’m Reading: 「神様の定食屋」 Kamisama no Teishokuya by Satsuki Nakamura

The main character is 25-year old Tetsushi, who leaves his comfortable office job to help his little sister Shiho run the family restaurant after their parents suddenly die in a car accident. Not having helped out at the restaurant or had any experience with food, he struggles to adapt to this new way of life. One day, he makes a wish at a shrine for help which has an unexpected consequence. After leaving the shrine, he ends up sharing a body with the soul of a recently deceased woman called Tokie.

Tetsushi shares his body with the souls of different people, through which he not only learns about food but also about the importance of life itself. Despite the supernatural theme, there is something very realistic about the main character’s reaction to the situation he finds himself in. As he hadn’t been very involved with the restaurant previously, he quickly develops a greater understanding of his sister, his parents, and how important their little restaurant is to its patrons. There is a lot of time taken to describe some of the dishes served at the restaurant; the dishes themselves play in nicely with the theme of how food can bring people together.

This is a book that I bought on a bit of a whim from Bookwalker a couple of months ago and started to read fairly recently. I like how the themes of food and family are woven together, and the souls that Tetsushi meets are nicely fleshed out characters with interesting stories of their own. I am excited to see how this book ends!

If I had to estimate the book’s difficulty I would probably put it at JLPT N2 level, as the vocabulary used can be quite tricky and more literary in tone than most stuff I read.

 

The Manga I’m Reading: 「のだめカンタービレ」 Nodame Cantabile by Tomoko Ninomiya

Megumi Noda (nicknamed Nodame) is a talented although eccentric pianist. She crosses paths and instantly falls in love with Shinichi Chiaki, the top student at the music college she attends. Shinichi finds it hard to appreciate Nodame’s sloppy approach to music playing at first, due to his perfectionist tendencies. They both have their own musical challenges to face, but ultimately have a positive influence upon each other as time passes.

I saw the drama adaptation of this manga some time ago; in fact, it was probably one of the first Jdramas I watched (it is available to watch on Crunchyroll if you are interested). I absolutely loved the drama version and now that I am reading the manga, I can tell that the adaptation has been pretty faithful to the source material.

The main characters Nodame and Chiaki are great together and it is interesting to see how their relationship develops. I am not particularly musically minded, but I still love the musical setting of the manga and how music is used to bring people together.

In terms of language level, I’d probably put this at JLPT N3 – musical terms aside, the vocabulary isn’t too tricky, but the lack of furigana increases the difficulty a little bit. I believe that there are bilingual versions of the first few volumes available.

You can read a sample of the manga here.

 

Books in my To Be Read pile:

There are two physical books that I have purchased recently:

  • 「ホームレス中学生」 Hoomuresu Chuugakusei by Hiroshi Tamura

I’ve wanted to read this book for a very long time, so I was really excited to find this book on eBay a few weeks ago. I know that this novel is based on a true story, where the author (now a famous comedian) recalls his experience of finding himself homeless as a young teenager. The book was very popular when it was first released in 2007, and there were a drama and film adaptations made soon after.

  • 「ステップファザー・ステップ」 Steppu Fazaa Steppu by Miyuki Miyabe

I’ve only recently ordered this book and it hasn’t arrived yet, so I can’t really comment in much depth on this one. I’ve never read anything by Miyuki Miyabe before (and she has such a huge body of work!) so I will be excited to read it when I finish my other books.

As convenient as it is to buy ebooks, it is nice to sit down with an actual book when I get the time, so I am very much looking forward to reading them!

 

So that’s it for today’s post! What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

Appy Mondays: Beelinguapp Review

Welcome to my series of app reviews relating to Japanese language study. Today’s app review is of the Japanese version of the foreign language audiobook app Beelinguapp.

 

appymondays

 

Beelinguapp is a reading app aimed at helping language learners to improve their reading skills. The apps allows you to read a number of stories available at Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced level. Besides Japanese, Beelinguapp is available for French, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Chinese, Hindi, Turkish, English, Arabic, Italian and Korean.

 

How Beelingua works

The app is host to a range of stories available for you to study. The selection is mostly fairy tales and well-known children’s stories, although there are also some non-fiction articles on topics including culture and science. Not all articles are available for free, as indicated by the currency signs in the top right corner.

 

 

Click on an individual story to download and add it to your collection. Opening up the story from your collection then brings up the text in two languages of your choice (I was using Japanese-English, but you can choose any two languages from the ones I listed earlier).

The story comes with full audio which can be adjusted for speed to your liking. In the Karaoke Reading mode, the sentence being spoken is highlighted as you go along, making it very easy to follow. You can click on the sentence to hear that specific sentence on its own.

 

 

There are also a number of ways to customise your reading experience:

  • Option to toggle English translation on or off if you wish. You can also set the app so that the target language is in one window, and the English is in the other (known as Side by Side Reading).
  • Ability to adjust text size
  • Change reading screen to Night Mode

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By long pressing a word or phrase, you can choose to add it to your Glossary for viewing later. There isn’t a dictionary in the free version, but you can add your own notes alongside each word (so you could, in theory, look up the words separately and add the furigana readings and English translation yourself).

A handy feature is that you do not need to have the app fully open if you just want to listen to the stories; you can happily use your phone for other things whilst listening to the audio. At the end of each story, there are reading comprehension quizzes in the target language to test your understanding.

Like most apps nowadays, Beelinguapp is a freemium app. The Premium version has no adverts, new texts added weekly and the ability to translate individual words. For these extra benefits, Premium membership costs £13.49 for the year, or £3.09 per month (the first month is often discounted).

 

My thoughts on Beelinguaapp

There are a lot of things to like about Beelinguapp, namely:

  • There is a nice choice of stories/ articles on offer – even for the free version of the app, there is a fair amount of variety.
  • The design of the app is excellent – it is very sleek, colourful and user-friendly
  • Audio quality for Japanese is extremely good
  • Ability to test your understanding at the end of each story with quizzes

You can tell that the app was made with language learners in mind; the app itself is a joy to use.

On the other hand, the main problems for Beelinguapp for me are the difficulty of the texts and the lack of furigana.

I’m not sure how the difficulty levels were decided on as the ‘Beginner’ texts were pretty tricky (at least for Japanese) in terms of vocabulary and grammar. To some extent, this is down to the content of children’s stories not always being everyday language. Having the audio and English translation helps, but with the English translation not being literal, it would be very tricky for beginners to parse sentences.

I think that in order to improve the reading experience for Japanese learners of all levels, the ability to turn furigana on alongside kanji would be necessary. Without furigana, I feel that the learning curve for the content available is just too steep for beginner learners in particular. Japanese learners who are already at an intermediate level might find this app sufficient for practicing their reading, especially if following the tadoku method.

When it comes to Japanese study in particular, Beelinguapp suffers from the same issue as the Drops app I reviewed previously. The same app is available in different languages, but due to the different writing system and word order, this one-size-fits-all model of language learning app doesn’t work for Japanese as well. I suspect Beelinguapp would work better for languages that are more closely related than English and Japanese.

The dictionary being behind a paywall is a frustrating choice, as for me, the benefit of using reading apps like Tangoristo and Mondo is that you can use the app to study without having to have a dictionary with you to look up the words you do not know. Ultimately, if you are looking for an app to practice your Japanese reading, I would recommend these two apps over Beelinguapp (some of Mondo’s articles come with audio too).

As an audiobook app, I think it does work quite well for those who like to practice dictation or shadowing thanks to the clear audio. I do not know of any other audiobook apps that are aimed at language learners, so I do feel that it goes some way to filling a gap in the market.

Overall, the free option is sufficient in variety and features to be a useful app for listening practice – just be prepared to have a dictionary at hand!

If you are interested in checking the app out, it is available in the Apple store and Google Play store.

Have you tried this app out? Are you aware of a better alternative? Let me know in the comments!

Places to legally watch Japanese dramas online for free

If you are a fan of Japanese dramas, then you will know that finding places to watch them legally is much more difficult (compared to Korean or Chinese dramas anyway).

Netflix is working on expanding its range of Japanese dramas, which is good news for international fans. However if your budget cannot stretch to a Netflix subscription, there are other options out there. I personally use the following two places to get my J-drama fix for free (or very cheap)!

Crunchyroll

Crunchyroll has been established for some time as the go-to place to watch the latest anime, and to a lesser extent manga. Crunchyroll has evolved over the years to provide a wide range of Japanese shows in an on-demand format. This includes a pretty good range of Japanese dramas; whether you enjoy suspense dramas or romcoms, you will find something you enjoy here.

crunchyrolljapanesedramas

Crunchyroll (like the others on this list) operates on a ‘freemium’ model, meaning you can watch most of the content in standard definition for free with adverts interspersed in each episode (usually at least 4 ad breaks in a 45-minute drama episode). To get rid of the ads and stream in HD, you need to pay a subscription cost of £4.99/$6.95 per month.

Pros:

  • Can install the Crunchyroll app on a variety of platforms: iOS, Android, pretty much all video game platforms
  • Broad range of dramas to watch

Cons:

  • Annoying adverts (on the Android App, you tend to get 2-3 ads at the same time which are not skippable at all)
  • No options for Japanese subtitles

Being mostly interested in Japanese dramas, I’ve listed the Jdramas you can watch for free (further content is available if you have a subscription).

 

List of Japanese Dramas available on Crunchyroll:

99 Days with the Superstar

Akagi

Always the Two of Us

Angel Heart

Anohana: The Flower We Saw that Day

Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files

A Taste of Honey

Biyou Shounen Celebrity

Crazy for Me

Death Note (live action drama)

Desperate Motherhood

Detective vs Detectives

Dinner

Doctor’s Affairs

Dr Coto’s Clinic

Forget Me Not

Frenemy ~Rumble of the Rat~

Future Diary: Another World

Galileo

Ghostwriter

Gokaku Ganbo

GTO/ Great Teacher Onizuka

GTO: Taiwan Special

Happy Boys

Hard to Say I Love You

Hero (2014)

High School Entrance Exam

I’m Mita, Your Housekeeper

Iryu: Team Medical Dragon

Last Cinderella

Liar Game

Life in Additional Time

Mischievous Kiss – Love in Tokyo

Mischievous Kiss 2 – Love in Tokyo

Mr. Nietzche in the Convenience Store

Mooncake

Nobunaga Concerto

Nodame Cantabile

No Dropping Out ~Back to School at 35~

Onna Nobunaga

Ordinary Miracles

Power Office Girls 2013

Rebound

RH Plus

Shiratori Reiko

Switch Girl

The 101st Proposal

The Perfect Insider

Time Taxi

Ultraman 80

Ultraman Gaia

Ultraman Ginga

Ultraman Leo

Ultraman Max

Ultraman Mebius

Ultraman Nexus

Ultraman Orb

Ultraman X

Wakakozake

Wild Mom

You Taught Me All the Precious Things

 

Viki

Viki is a website that is a subsidiary of Japanese online retail giant Rakuten. The website has a large collection of Korean, Mainland Chinese, and Taiwanese dramas in addition to Japanese dramas. The collection of Japanese dramas is relatively small but there is some variety in terms of genres.

Screenshot 2018-04-03 at 16.55.29

What I like about the website (and app) is that it is very easy to use. It is easy to filter by Japanese dramas and if you create an account, you can save a list of dramas you want to watch later. You can read drama reviews by other members, and it is possible to turn on live comments showing reactions from other users whilst you watch the drama too which helps foster a sense of community.

For language learners, you usually have the option to switch subtitles in the options between English, Japanese, and many other languages. Viki members help with the translations, which helps make the dramas accessible to many people around the world.

Viki is free to view, but ad-free and higher quality videos require a Viki pass, which has a subscription cost of $4.99 per month.

Pros:

  • Sense of community
  • Japanese subtitles available for a lot of dramas
  • App is very slick and easy to use

Cons:

  • Limited selection of dramas
  • Annoying adverts (slightly better than Crunchyroll in that they are usually skippable)

 

List of Japanese dramas available on Viki:

A Doctors’ Affairs

A Heartfelt Trip to Fukushima [TV show]

All About My Siblings

Blue Fire

Clinic on the Sea

Dear Sister

Delicious Niigata in Japan [TV show]

Dokurogeki

Festival: Pride for Hometown [TV show]

FLASHBACK

Galileo

Girls Night Out [TV show]

GTO in Taiwan

Hakuoki SSL: Sweet School Life

HEAT

Hello! Project Station [TV show]

Hirugao: Love Affairs in the Afternoon

I am Reiko Shiratori!

I am Reiko Shiratori the Movie

Juho 2405

Juho 2405 the Movie

Kakusei

Kimi wa Petto (2017 remake)

Koinaka

Lady Girls

Last Cinderella

Leiji Matsumoto’s OZMA

Let’s Explore Fukushima

Love Stories from Fukuoka

Murakami Grand Festival 2016

My Little Lover

Mysterious Summer

Nogizaka 46 Meets Asia [TV show]

Painless: The Eyes for Signs

Phoenix [Movie]

Railway Story [TV show]

Rainbow Rose

Ramen Loving Girl

Real Horror

Second to Last Love (Season 1 and 2)

Sendai Iroha Zoukangou [TV show]

Switch Girl Season 1

Tabiaruki from Iwate [TV show]

Tales of Tohoku [TV show]

Teddy Go!

The Hours of My Life

The Sanjo Great Kite Battle [TV show]

Torihada

Upcoming! [TV show]

Vampire Heaven

Visiting Sacred Places of the Tohoku Region

 

 

Other sites that stream Japanese dramas

*October 2018 update* Now that Dramafever has suddenly shut down, I have changed this post to include some other sites I believe stream Jdramas. However, as they are not available to me in the UK, I have not been able to try them myself. If any of these are incorrect, please let me know and I will update the blog post.

Here is a list of sites that I believe are free to use:

  • AsianCrush (mix of Japanese animated and live action films available, not available in every country – I know it is available in the US and Canada)
  • Viu (streams a number of Japanese dramas; available in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar)

More options are available, but come at a cost (usually less than the cost of Netflix though). If you are able to pay for a subscription, it might be worth checking out the following sites:

  • dTV (Japan only – requires a subscription, although the first episode of some dramas can be watched for free)
  • Hooq (available in Thailand, Singapore, India, Indonesia and the Philippines)
  • Hulu (United States only). Japan does have its own version of Hulu called Hulu Japan, but this is only available in Japan and will only have Japanese subtitles.
  • Iflix (available in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Jordan. Kuwait, Lebanon, The Maldives, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, Vietnam, Zimbabwe)

 

So that is my list of Netflix alternatives for Japanese dramas. I will keep updating this post as and when I find new sites!

The post I wrote on Netflix has some tips on how you can use TV shows in general to study Japanese.

Are you a Jdrama fan or not? What are your favourite dramas or TV shows to watch in Japanese? Let me know in the comments!

Manga Recommendation: ダーリンは外国人 / My Darling is a Foreigner

Today’s manga recommendation post for Japanese learners actually contains pictures from one of the physical volumes of the manga (thanks to eBay!). I normally buy my manga digitally but do own some physical volumes, which I might cover in another post someday.

Quick facts

Author: Saori Oguri

Genre: Slice of life

No. of volumes: 6

Recommended for: JLPT N3

Furigana: Yes (mostly)

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, a live action film.

Note: There is also a volume of the manga in English

20171114_112811

 

Plot overview and my thoughts on the manga

This manga is about the author (who is a manga artist) and her husband, Tony. Tony is an American who came to Japan in the 1980s and is a bit of a language geek. The manga centers on their daily life and relationship, usually from Saori’s perspective. In some ways, Saori and Tony are very different to each other, and not just because of the language difference. Later volumes of the manga focus on how the couple adapts to having a baby and moving to Germany.

I was initially a bit apprehensive about reading this manga, as I thought that perhaps the manga would fall into the common trope of ‘a foreigner struggling to adapt to or understand Japanese culture’. However this is not the case – there is no dumbing down to explain things to Tony as he is fluent in the language (the target audience is Japanese after all). The general tone of the manga is lighthearted and whilst it does mention their cultural differences, it is never done in a way which implies a certain way of thinking is more superior than the other.

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As you will see from the photos, the art style is not typical of most popular manga. I think that this only adds to the charm of the manga. Both Saori and Tony as central characters are interesting to read about, as they have their own quirks and it is their interactions which make normal situations quite humorous. The manga reminds me of the Korean webtoon “Penguin loves Mev” which is also about the daily life of a Korean/British international couple.

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Language level

In terms of language level, I would put this at JLPT N3. There’s quite a lot of slang as it is mostly dialogue – having said that, the language used is usually everyday level. Whilst there is furigana, the manga has a mix of printed Japanese and handwritten Japanese (the handwritten Japanese parts usually reflect Saori’s thoughts as opposed to what she says out loud). The handwritten parts do not come with furigana and therefore may be trickier to understand.

There is also a live-action film starring Mao Inoue as Saori. I’m not really a fan of the film, having watched it sometime before I actually read the manga it was based on – I didn’t feel like the film was able to convey the couple’s personalities enough. You should be able to find the film on YouTube if you do wish to check it out.

As always, you can read a sample of the manga on the EbookJapan website.

Happy Reading!

If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on the comments.

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