Comments closed on this blog until I can figure out the errors that are occurring.
東京アリス is a free visual novel by 郷愁花屋. It’s supposed to be pretty short, just a few hours in length so I thought I’d try it out. Here are the first few lines of text, in case you’re interested in using it as reading practice. Copy+paste as needed and have fun! Post a comment if you need help with a certain sentence.
I will update this post with more if anybody is interested.
One of my pet peeves is when somebody says the phrase “learn Kanji” such as, “I learned 100 Kanji in one week!” Kanji has way too many parts to simply say that you “learned” it. Saying you learned Kanji is like saying “I learned computer!” or “I learned a car!” What does that even mean? Let’s break down the concrete things you can learn with Kanji.
- Learn the meaning(s)
- Learn all the readings
- Learn the stroke order
- Learn how to write it
Now, let’s see how useful all these possibilities are for learning Japanese.
Learn the meaning – Useful
Learning the meaning of a Kanji is great if it’s a word by itself. For example, 「力」 is also a word meaning “strength” so the meaning directly translates into a word you can actually use. However, you can also argue that since 「力」 is also a word, you are essentially saying that you learned the meaning of a word. So in the end, this is really the same as learning words and doesn’t really count as “learning Kanji”.
Having said that, knowing the meaning of a Kanji is certainly very useful for simpler words and concepts. Kanji such as 「続」 or 「連」 will definitely help you remember words such as 接続、連続、and 連中. In conclusion, there’s nothing wrong with learning the meaning of a Kanji and something I would recommend.
Learn all the readings – Waste of time
To put it bluntly, learning all the readings of a Kanji is a complete waste of time. Yes, as a general rule of thumb, Kanji compounds use the on-reading while single characters use the kun-reading. However, this rule is nowhere consistent enough to make it more than a good guess (this is particularly true for 大 which we can’t seem to decide to read as おお or だい).
In addition, many Kanji have multiple readings kun or on-readings such as 怪力(かいりき or かいりょく?), 外道(げどう or がいどう?), or 家路(いえじ、うちじ、やじ?). Even if you guessed the correct reading, it might be voiced or shortened such as 活発 and 発展. Also, Kanji such as 生 have so many readings, it’s completely pointless to memorize them because you won’t know which one will be used in a word such as 芝生、生ビール、生粋、and 生涯. Not to mention the various words that only use the Kanji for the meaning while completely ignoring the reading. These words such as 仲人、素人、and お土産 are literally impossible to guess the readings for. At the end of the day, if you see a new word, you always want to look up the reading to make sure you learn the correct combination. In addition, the readings will be easier to remember in context of real words that you can actually use. Essentially, memorizing the readings by themselves is a complete waste of time.
Learn the stroke order – Essential at first
I’m not going to go into all the reasons why memorizing the correct stroke order is important. Without going into detail, of course you want to make sure to remember the correct stroke order. However, you’ll find that once you’ve mastered all the compounds, stroke order for most Kanji are consistent and easy enough that you no longer need to look it up. Every once in a while, you’ll run into odd Kanji such as 飛 or 鬱 where you’ll want to check the stroke order. So yes, definitely look up the stroke order and make sure you’re not developing any bad habits until… you don’t need to look them up anymore. That happens sooner that you might think.
Learn how to write it – Depends
This is going to be a controversial stance but nowadays, technology has progressed to the point where we never really have to write anything by hand anymore. Yes, it’s embarrassing if you’re fluent in a language but can’t write it by hand. This is an issue even for Japanese people.
By “writing Kanji”, I don’t mean just 2,000+ characters based on keywords. Unless you know which combination of Kanji to use for any given word with the correct okurigana, that is a useless parlor trick.
Being able to write any word in Kanji is an extremely time-consuming goal that may not have much practical value. If your daily life requires writing a lot by hand such as teaching Japanese, I feel that necessity and practice would naturally lend to better writing ability. In other words, if you don’t need it, it’s extremely difficult to keep up your memory of how to write Kanji by hand.
Conclusion – Learn words with Kanji!
I hate the phrase “learn Kanji” because almost every time someone says that, they don’t realize that they haven’t really learned anything that’s directly applicable to Japanese. Compare “learning Kanji” to learning a word. In order to learn a word, you obviously need to learn the definition, reading, Kanji, and any Okurigana if applicable. There is no question of what you learned and whether it’s useful for Japanese. And yet the idea of learning 2,000 Kanji is so attractive that we can’t seem to get away from that broadly undefined notion.
I don’t consider a Kanji as being learned until I know the most common words using that Kanji with the correct readings and can write those words randomly months after I initially memorized it. Unfortunately, given that standard, I probably know about 100-200 Kanji but hey, we all need goals, right?
Whatever cool method to “memorize Kanji” someone tries to peddle you, at the end of the day, you still have to do lots of reading and memorizing tons of vocabulary. This involves daily struggles starting with remembering that 「き」 in 「好き」 is okurigana and continuing with which Kanji to use for 真剣 vs 試験 vs 検査 vs 険しい, or constantly forgetting which kanji is for net vs rope （網／綱）. You may be thinking, “Wow, 2,000 is a lot!” But don’t worry, it pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of words that an adult has memorized in her lifetime. And believe it or not, having a fixed set of characters with mnemonics and compounds actually helps with the much bigger job of learning vocabulary. Once you’ve learned a new word in seconds based on characters you already know, you’ll know what I mean. Trust me.
So almost 5 years ago, I wrote a blog post about not understanding twitter. Well, I get it now. I also get why Google killed Google Reader.
Writing a long, informative blog post is a lot of work and something I obviously haven’t done in a while. There was a golden age where people shared information on platforms with great interoperability and open standards. You could easily aggregate information via RSS/Atom and it was very easy to export, migrate, and generally own your blog data.
But controlling and managing your own data is also a lot of work mostly because of the ever increasing onslaught of spam. So it’s easier to give all our data to facebook and google for free while they try to sell us to advertisers. You can’t consolidate anything from facebook, google, or twitter because of course they’re competitors and would never share their (ie your) data with each other. You can even’t retrieve all your tweets and instagram tries to block you from downloading YOUR OWN PICTURES albeit with some cheap and simple filter effects.
And now I’m considering shutting down the forum. Yes, I’m part of the problem. Apparently, I need to get off my own lawn.
So another year has gone by which means I’ve been studying Japanese for around 13 years now. In 2013, I encountered a little over 400 words I didn’t know while playing games, reading books, and watching TV shows. That’s more than 1 word a day! The highlight in my study materials this year for me would definitely be 逆転検事2, one of the best games I’ve played in a while. There’s still a few weeks to go before the year ends so I’m sure the list will grow a bit more before 2014 arrives but here are some highlights from my #JWOTD (Japanese word of the day) tweets.
Some funny gifs with Japanese captions
Song by popular Korean Pop group
A really good Anime series
Really racy girl’s talk
Cool song about losing touch with cellphones
Cats (of course, it’s the internet after all)
The truth behind “Heros” stealing your stuff in RPGs
Tense relations between China and Japan as usual
And here’s the full list which is pretty much useless to anybody else since you’re not seeing it in context but whatever. If you already know these words, congratulations, you knew more Japanese than me! But don’t slack off, I’m catching up!
Ok, the last book Tuttle Publishing sent me for review is Essential Japanese Grammar: A Comprehensive Guide to Contemporary Usage so let’s dig into it.
According to the book’s Preface, this book is “intended to be a thorough grammar reference and self-study guide for language learners who wish to study Japanese seriously or refresh their understanding of the language”. It’s split into two major parts, the first being an overview of Japanese grammar while the second goes into a more detailed look into the usage of particular words.
The first part goes over various aspects of Japanese grammar. For example, it goes over Accents, then goes over Adjectival Nouns, followed by Adjectives, and so on and so forth. The information is pretty solid though it does tend to use a lot of grammar terminology such as “Sentence-conjunctional words”. It has lots of example sentences and is generally understandable once you wade through the linguistics jargon. I especially like that they cover accents and accurately describe word order. Many books about Japanese incorrectly describe Japanese sentence order as SOV. This book doesn’t fall into that trap and gives a good explanation.
In general, the information in this book is detailed and doesn’t try to “baby you” like other books do by using only romaji and ignoring the dictionary form. My only complaint about this section is that it’s organized like a dictionary, not an overview. The topics are arranged in alphabetical order and feels disjointed if you read it from beginning to end. For example, it covers “Honorofics” before “Verbs” only because well “h” comes before “v” but it certainly isn’t the order you want to learn them! Really, you should look at the table of contents first and choose a topic that interests you instead of reading it in order.
Part two is simply a dictionary of various grammatical phrases such as 「らしい」 or 「つもりだ」. Honestly, the two parts do not mesh together AT ALL. For example, the first part has a completely unhelpful two-page section on “Requests” that says here are some ways to make requests with some examples. It doesn’t have any explanation on when to use 「くれる」、「もらう」、 and 「あげる」. Then the second section starts by describing 「あげる」 (because it starts with an “a”) and has a note “(→ See kureru and morau.)” Essentially, the topic of requests is completely broken up into 4 sections scattered throughout the book.
Yet another example is the section on “Comparisons” in part one with notes to see 「方」 and 「どちら」 in part two. In general, this book is filled with these “（→ See XYZ）” notes which force you to flip around the book to even learn about a single topic.
Overall, the actual information in this book is very thorough and informative. Unlike the other two books Tuttle sent me for review, this book isn’t made up of mostly filler material as each page has lots of information and examples. However, I find that this book has a kind of identity crisis. The grammar topics are covered in alphabetical order and overlapping topics are split between parts one and two. In my opinion, this book should have either stuck with being a grammar reference such as “A dictionary of basic Japanese grammar” or focused on comprehensively covering each aspect of Japanese grammar.
What purpose does this book serve? I think if you are already using something else to learn Japanese and you want to learn a bit more information about a certain topic, you can’t go wrong with this book. If you can get past the linguistic mumbo-jumbo, the explanations are pretty detailed with plenty of examples. However, you may have to skip around a bit between part one and two. For example, take a look at how the book describes 「なら」.
Nara can directly follow (adjectival) nouns (with particles), but it also follows a clause followed by no or n. (→ See nara for more details.)
The authors are very knowledgeable but I think they took the wrong approach in organizing this book. If you want a detailed and a bit technical reference guide to Japanese grammar, this book is not bad. It’s certainly a great book if you want to learn about grammatical terms such as “Conjunctional particle for clauses”. Perhaps you’re a Japanese linguistics major. In conclusion, I think there’s lots of great information here, it just needs to be organized better. The preface claims it’s a “thorough grammar reference and self-study guide”. It might be a grammar reference but it’s definitely NOT a self-study guide and I think it hurts the reference part by trying to be both.
Tuttle Publishing sent me 600 Basic Japanese Verbs: The Essential Reference Guide for review so here we go again.
The book’s introduction starts by saying, “Fluency in a language cannot be attained without a solid understanding of that language’s verbs and their usages”. According to the book, the introduction is used to “help students learn both the conjugation and the usage of Japanese verbs”. For a fairly short introduction, it does a good job of going over the various verb forms. It tells you how to separate the verb into 3 groups and the conjugation rules for various forms such as the volitional and conditional with plenty of examples. After the short introduction, we go into what makes up the bulk of the book.
The verb list
The rest of the book lists one verb on each page with various conjugations and example sentences.
Much like the “Japanese Kanji and Kana” book I reviewed previously, I really don’t understand the purpose of this portion. The rules for verb conjugation are not as complicated as other languages that have a TON of irregular verbs such as Spanish. So really, a simple computer program can do what this book does for any number of verbs not just 600. In fact, there happens to be just such a tool online at WWWJDIC. Just look up a verb in the dictionary and click the [V] link. Not only is it free, it’s far more complete compared to the book and works for almost any verb you’ll ever learn not just 600. Also, this book doesn’t even reach 400 pages including the introduction. I didn’t count each verb to verify but if my math is correct and each verb takes up one page, how in the world does this book have 600 verbs?
The tool impressively even conjugates obscure exceptions such as 「問う」 and 「請う」 correctly. Neither of these verbs are even in the book. The only verb so far the tool doesn’t conjugate is 「ある」 because the negative for 「ある」 is an exception to the regular conjugation rule. This brings me to the core flaw in this book.
Memorize the dictionary approach
While the first 28 pages describing various conjugations are informative, it is far from comprehensive. It doesn’t cover tricky conjugations such as 「なさそう」 and it doesn’t highlight important exceptions such as the negative form of 「ある」. It also completely ignores the fact that Japanese is unique in that while the state-of-being is not technically a verb; nouns and adjectives are conjugated just like verbs to express state of being. You are missing a huge chunk of Japanese grammar if you don’t cover state-of-being. In fact, it doesn’t even cover the conjugation rules for the negative, past, or negative-past for any verb. Instead, it only describes a slight change for negative of verbs that end in “u” without actually talking about what the regular rule is. I’ve looked and I can’t find it anywhere.
The book’s introduction is not nearly enough to fully teach you how to conjugate any verb. I get the sense that it only tries to give you a rough idea of how to conjugate and instead expects you to use the rest of the book to look up each individual verb as you encounter them. This approach might work fine for some languages that have tons of irregular verb conjugations such as Spanish but is ill-suited for Japanese. It would have been much more effective to fully teach you the regular conjugation rules and highlight the small number of verbs that have exceptions. In other words, the two sections of the book should have been reversed with the verb lists being 28 pages and the rest of the 350 pages devoted to explanations.
Otherwise, you’re just looking up the conjugation per each verb when the rules are the same over and over again. Also, it’s hardly likely that the verb you’re looking for will be in this extremely short list of 600 or I’m sorry, ummm… 305? verb list. And then when you hit a crucial verb that have exceptions such as ある, you just have to know to pay attention somehow.
Let’s consider these two questions once again for this book.
1) What purpose does it serve?
2) Can something else do it better and/or cheaper?
This book’s purpose seems to be for giving you a general idea of verb conjugation. It tries to fill in the holes with a list of individual verb conjugations and plenty of example sentences. While I like that there’s lots of examples, I just don’t agree with this methodology. Let’s say you see a new verb you’re not familiar with. First, you need to look up how to read it using dictionaries NOT in this book. Once you figure out the reading, you need to convert it to romaji to find it in this alphabetized list of verbs. Finally, there are 3 possible outcomes. The first most likely outcome is that the verb won’t be in this short list. The second is that it’s in the book but it follows the same conjugation rules as every other verb in the language. The 3rd is that it’s a verb with a rare exception that you have to notice even though the book doesn’t highlight it at all.
Either way, the critical flaw of this book is that it doesn’t really teach you how to conjugate verbs yourself. The book’s introduction describing verb forms should have taken up most of the book with a small list of verbs that highlight important exceptions to take note of. And then perhaps exercises to help you practice conjugation. Now that would be a book I would recommend though there is a free website that already does this (you might have heard of it if you’re reading this blog). As it is, this book lists out conjugations for verb after verb that follow the same rules, something a simple and free computer program can already do online.
Unless you can’t use the internet, I would not recommend buying this book. Ironically, most of the introduction, which I see as the only valuable part of this book, is available to preview on Amazon. The rest of the book is not very useful.
Tuttle Publishing sent me My First Book of Japanese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book by Michelle Haney Brown for review so let’s take a look.
The author’s stated goal of this children’s book is to “introduce young children to Japanese language and culture through simple everyday words”. I’m not a children’s book expert but the pictures and content look pretty good. My two year-old wasn’t really into it but I can never tell what she’s going to like or not and why.
Don’t use it for its Japanese
If this book gets parents and kids remotely interested in the Japanese language, great. But the book itself won’t teach you much about Japanese. For some reason, the author decided to use the English alphabet instead of the Japanese syllabary. This means some pages with no words such as “X” have an awkward, “Japanese doesn’t have this sound so here’s the Japanese word for Xylophone”. Also, I have some nitpicks like ライオン for 獅子, which people might mistake as the actual reading and かっこう for 学校 which looks like a misprint.
As for how to pronounce the Japanese words, it has a short pronunciation guide for the five vowel sounds and G, R, and F. Not exactly the most comprehensive but it also says to go to www.tuttlepublishing.com to listen to the words in Japanese. That’s the main website for the entire publishing company and I can’t find what they’re talking about. Can’t they put at least a more specific link or maybe even a CD?
You can look inside the book on Amazon to check out the pictures. If it looks good to you as a children’s book, I would say go for it. But don’t expect to teach your kid any Japanese. Personally, I would recommend ショコラちゃんのあいうえお or any of the tons of あいうえお children’s book, none of which are sold here in the States. I wish somebody would publish a real book to teach kids あいうえお here instead of this…
Tuttle Publishing sent me four books to review so without further ado, here we go. The first one on the list is Japanese Kanji and Kana by Wolfgang Hadamitzky & Mark Spahn.
According to the preface, this book is useful as “both a textbook and a reference work” and it “serves beginners as well as those who want to look up individual kanji”. So let’s take a look at what purpose this book serves.
The first 68 pages have some interesting information about the Japanese writing system. It describes various aspects of Kana, Kanji, and punctuation. I found this to be the most helpful and informative part of the book. In particular, the 17 structures of Kanji and the rules for writing Kanji were particularly helpful.
It also has all the information you need to teach yourself Hiragana and Katakana. However, I wouldn’t recommend using this book to learn Kana because it has no audio resources to hear the pronunciations. In addition, there are so many better tools online to learn Kana for free, that you don’t really need to get a book anymore to learn it.
You can actually check out most of this information yourself by looking inside the book on Amazon although there currently appears to be an issue with all the Japanese showing up as dots.
Jouyou Kanji List
The bulk of this book from pages 71-376 contain the list of Jouyou Kanji. Each character has the stroke order, radicals, readings, meanings, example words, you know, the usual stuff. This edition has the complete list that was recently revised and even kept some of the really useless ones that were removed such as “pig iron” （銑）. (Why???) This brings me to my major complaint. What is the point of this book?
Is this a textbook or dictionary?
If this is a textbook, how am I supposed to use this to learn kana and kanji? There are no pronunciation for Kana, no practice sheets to write with, and no reading material to learn Kanji in context. There are a few tips on exactly two pages such as “Learn the kanji in order”, “Learn compounds with known kanji”, and “Review, and train yourself to read quickly”. However, I don’t see how the contents of this book really help accomplish those goals. And really, learn the kanji in order? Are you kidding me? Might as well start telling people to start learning by memorizing the dictionary. I don’t see how this books helps with learning kanji except as an incomplete and functionally obsolete kanji dictionary. Which brings me to my next point.
The end of this book has 3 indexes to look up Kanji with: radicals, stroke order, and reading (in romaji, ugh). This is how we used to learn Kanji back in the old days when I had to go to school uphill both ways. If you ran into a word you didn’t know, you needed to take EACH character in the word and look it up in a Kanji dictionary by going through a long list of Kanji with the same stroke order or guess which radical was picked to be THE radical. Then try different combinations of multiple on and kun readings in a regular dictionary and hope you got lucky. Basically, for words like 仲人, you didn’t stand a chance in hell of figuring out how to read the word or what it meant.
In today’s world where you can get FREE kanji dictionaries that can do combined multiple radical lookups, stroke order ranges, and even handwriting recognition on any number of devices such as your phone, computer, tablet, and even a Nintendo DS, there is really NO point in having a paper Kanji dictionary. This is especially true for one as inferior as this one with only 2,141 characters. I’ve already written about the trap of “Learner dictionaries” and how the Jouyou Kanji list completely undermines the importance of Kanji outside the list. This dictionary falls into both categories and is likely to fail you pretty early in your studies as soon as you run into a non-Jouyou Kanji as you frantically try to find the missing character and then realizing you need to buy ANOTHER REAL dictionary or silly you, there’s a bunch of free tools online that’s way better and you just wasted your money.
In reviewing any book, you need to ask yourself two questions.
1) What purpose does it serve?
2) Can something else do it better and/or cheaper?
This book can be used to teach yourself Kana and act as a Kanji dictionary. However, both of these tasks can be done with superior tools that are free such as jisho.org and kana courses on memrise.com. I assume you have some device that can browse the internet because you’re reading this. If so, chances are, there are better tools out there for your device than what’s offered in this book. The first 68 pages have some useful information but you can also find it elsewhere online for free such as Wikipedia or even my website.
If you want to enjoy the pains of learning Japanese back in the day when we had nothing better, then go for it. Otherwise, I would suggest saving your money. Unless you’re going to a place with no internet and electricity and feel like learning some Japanese. I suppose that’s always a possibility…