Tokyo Alice

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.

「ったく、ありすのやつ・・・」
暑い。
ともかく暑い。
最近まで不安定な天気が続いていたけれど・・・、ようやく本格的に夏がくるらしい。
時刻は正午。
太陽がオレの真上でぎらぎらと光っていた。
・・・暑い。

そう。
なんでオレはこんなくそ暑い中走っているかというと・・・、ありすのせいだ。
ありすってのはオレと同じマンションに住むクラスメートで
・・・幼稚園の頃から中学の今まで、ずっと一緒にいる。
単に幼稚園と小学校、中学が同じというやつは、そんなに珍しくない。
ただ、オレとありすのすごいところは・・・ずっと同じ組、同じクラスというところだ。
そう・・・小学校なんて6クラスもあったのに何の因果かずっと一緒だった。
奇跡だ。
もしくは呪いだ。
まあつまり、いわゆるくされ縁と言うか、幼馴染というやつなわけだ。

I will update this post with more if anybody is interested.

You can’t “learn” Kanji!!

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.

  1. Learn the meaning(s)
  2. Learn all the readings
  3. Learn the stroke order
  4. 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.

Get off my lawn!

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.

Japanese study 2013 recap

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 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!

手ずから
甲羅干し
順列
苗床
誓約
招集
陣容
たわわ
常春
餞別
簒奪
与する
素行
不埒
おためごかし
ひたむき
神々しい
潮干
へっぽこ
うわばみ
ひもじい
てんやわんや
くすねる
木箱
お払い箱
厚かましい
画期
人海戦術
要領がいい
曰く付き
ちゃんばら
方舟
見栄を張る
遠征
たわみ
灯台下暗し
錠前
希少種
えり好み
太っ腹
紆余曲折
上の空
優男
王太子
大目玉
縮図
果報
泣きじゃくる
空母
虐げる
早とちり
みそっかす
血眼
たらし込む
あだ討ち
晩酌
通せん坊
あぶれる
手向ける
運気
気弱
やっかむ
甘露
蹂躙
あか抜ける
慣わし
温床
矢先
不毛
硝煙
下戸
あしからず
くすぶる
口下手
力説
目まぐるしい
手酌
訝しい
熱りが冷める
直談判
鼻をあかす
かくかくしかじか
片手間
真っ只中
ねちねち
十把一絡
俄然
モルモット
受胎
見すぼらしい
味気ない
血縁
没個性
けばい
無理強い
空調
ゆめゆめ
灯火
謁見
尻ごみ
ほっぺたが落ちる
貞淑
臥薪嘗胆
おつむ
ほぞを噛む
端折る
尻に敷く
氾濫
雪崩を打つ
徐に
疎開
身ぐるみ
毛皮
黒点
中洲
童顔
潤ける
強か
一揆
謀反
処断
かたどる
内通
処世術
一心不乱
品評会
おあつらえ向き
報復
勝手口
お裾分け
焚火
落ち葉
どんより
洋梨
側近
いかだ
勇ましい
不躾
めげる
腰ぎんちゃく
宣う
勅命
据え置き
側近
山間部
物欲
速記
大詰め
布施
一房
ミーハー
ひがむ
住職
難聴
所作
気品
歪曲
さいなむ
品行方正
動悸
虚弱
仮初
茶々を入れる
切磋琢磨
切望
断裁
ひっぺがす
男女兼用
際限
耳年増
弾圧
倹約
相容れない
為政者
侮蔑
不仲
無節操
ないがしろにする
座右
淫蕩

嫡子
奸計
がさつ
卑猥
慟哭
お熱
誑かす
言い負かす
大儀
所以
法度
時化
結納
こき下ろす
ひしゃげる
空前
復元力
ずらかる
試供品
デッサン
釘を刺す
あらまし
ほのめかす
袋小路
耳打ち
うなじ
風見鶏
知能犯
根絶やし
メリハリ
玉の輿
舞踏会
異な
そこかしこ
おめおめ
悪食
眷属
馬子にも衣装
筆舌に尽くし難い
発破をかける
殊勝
きな臭い
唐変木
逆上
破魔矢
蟷螂の斧
古今東西
しきたり
生き字引
首っ丈
見掛け倒し
とんぼ返り
ひづめ
抵触
背に腹はかえられない
朴念仁
猫を被る
憂さ晴らし
不本意
放心状態
しからば
シュプール
好敵手
あやかる
不適合
万遍なく
ピアニカ
背徳
一家言
清々しい
猿ぐつわ
鎌をかける
阿鼻叫喚
藁にもすがる
癒着
ほのめかす
諸説
玉砕
おもむろに
たぶらかす
ジト目
これみよがし
聞こえよがし
蛇足
虫の息
どぎまぎ
満身創痍
ほの字
ひとりよがり
無知蒙昧
いまわ
とび蹴り
荒くれ者
鼻息が荒い
手負い
かんざし
ふてぶてしい
あっぱれ
かいつまむ
うらぶれる
むざむざ
大甘
極めつけ
腹をくくる
ほざく
素知らぬ顔
不承不承
居直る
絵空事
のらりくらり
オウム
紙ふぶき
恩恵
堂に入る
闇夜
顔負け
上げ底

日の丸
ふさぎこむ
したたか
活路
殴り書き
謝辞
反古
弘法にも筆の誤り
息急き切る
変質者
見境ない
肺活量
こそすれ
狩猟
ひた走る
よじ登る
踏みしめる
四肢
鋭角
非対称
ちぐはぐ
光沢
目測
優に
然とした
夜目
件(くだん)
まやかし
初夜
波及
せしめる
爆散
親和性
重き
触手
顛末
湿る
宮仕え
醸成
帳消し
亘る
触腕
無量大数
挿絵
円錐
えげつない
反骨
わりかし
通信簿
食傷気味
醸す
魂胆
海千山千
老獪
わきあいあい
痴れ言
好事家
爛々
眼福
目の正月
かぶりつき
じゅるり
去来
面構え
詮無い
淡白
咀嚼
まがりなりにも
僥倖
鉄アレイ
美味
一縷
比肩
鑑別所
辛気臭い
もこもこ
勘ぐる
のろし
ならず者
裁量
咽び泣く
すぼめる
河岸を変える
悦に入る
胸中
患う
見境
にわかじこみ
あべこべ
間隙
野方図
捻れる
長大
木霊
声帯
起死回生
謄本
坪数
覿面
炸裂
のたうち回る
根性焼き
陰湿
墨汁
賭する
琴線
年端も行かない
みぞれ
たゆたう
移ろう
輝度
凄む
無窮

Essential Japanese Grammar Review

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.

Introduction

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.

Part one

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

600 Basic Japanese Verbs review

Tuttle Publishing sent me 600 Basic Japanese Verbs: The Essential Reference Guide for review so here we go again.

Introduction

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?

Conjugation Chart

WWWJDIC conjugation chart

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.

Conclusion

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.

My first book of Japanese words review

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.

Author’s Preface

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?

Conclusion

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…

Japanese Kanji and Kana review

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.

Introductory Chapters

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.

Conclusion

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…

Games in Japanese (Updated x3)

One of my favorite games of all time is Parasite Eve. The story, scary atmosphere, combat, weapons, abilities, everything about it was awesome. So naturally, I was super excited to play the sequel, which I bought off eBay in college. I got the Japanese version because I was studying Japanese and was kinda hoping it would work on my Playstation (of course it didn’t). So I held onto it for years until I finally bought a PS2 while living in Japan. Man, what a let down. The worst part of the game was the awful Resident Evil style movement. The only other game with a sequel almost as inferior is Chrono Cross.

My gamer creds

My gamer creds

Anyway, now that I can read Japanese, I’m thinking of replaying classics like Chrono Trigger and ones I missed like Mother 2 (Earthbound) in its original form. However, figuring out what game is available and in what language is a big chore and often times confusing.

For example, the JP version of Chrono Trigger for the DS has both English and Japanese. But apparently, they removed the Japanese in the US version. Yes, they went out of their way to remove something already in the game for the US release. I guess because of the strong yen?

Nintendo loves to region lock and everything is locked down except for handhelds up to the DS lite. Unfortunately, that was too consumer-friendly so the newer handhelds such as DSi and 3DS are now region-locked. I guess it makes sense because their last region-free system did terrible (ie, fastest-selling handheld game console of all time).

Thankfully, Sony has seen the light as their products starting from the PS3 and PSP are region-free, which means you don’t have to buy one for each region. However, they have really started to lock down digital content on the Vita, a worrying trend. One annoying problem with Sony is that they switched the X and O buttons around for the US? WHY??? Sometimes with a Japanese game on a US console, you have to press X to confirm until you start the game. Then you have to switch to O until you go to save or quit. Then you have to switch back to using X. Argh!!!

Even with region free systems, while some games support both Japanese and English, unfortunately for the most part, you still have to import the game to play it in Japanese. Some games have dual audio options but don’t allow changing the text which is bizarre to me. In the end, it’s a big and confusing mess so here’s a list of some games you can play in Japanese WITHOUT having to import it from Japan.

Games with full Japanese support

If you have any games that have Japanese language option, please let me know! I like to play games in their original language (English games in English) so I’m more interested in games made in Japan that have dual languages.

Free!

  1. Phantasy Star Online 2 (PC)
    F2P MMO with an option to pay for items. Fans have been clamoring for a US release forever but not a problem for us since we want to practice Japanese! You need to register for a Sega ID and go through all that hassle (or good reading practice if you’re thinking positively). But once you’re signed up, there’s no region lock so just download (takes forever) and play!
  2. 真・女神転生IMAGINE
    If you’re a SMT series fan, you should definitely try this free MMORPG.
  3. X・A・O・C ~ザオック~
    Another F2P MMO with an option to pay for items. Haven’t tried it myself yet.
  4. sweet ampoule (Android/iOS)
    This developer has a bunch of Visual Novels on Android and iOS for free (yay!). I’m not sure what’s in it for them as I’ve played one (briefly) and haven’t seen any ads or anything of the sort and the reviews look good.
  5. True Remembrance (PC)
    More free visual novels. You can download TRUE REMEMBRANCE and 送電塔のミメイ for your PC.
  6. Imaginary Range

    And also Imaginary Range Ep.2. This is a free interactive comic with various mini-games and items hidden inside the comic. You can change the language to Japanese by changing your phone’s language to Japanese. If your phone doesn’t have Japanese as an option (mine didn’t), you can install this app to force it.

    Not sure about the iOS version. Let me know if you’ve tried have it to verify.

  7. Tokyo Alice

    Another free visual novel. Haven’t tried it yet. Will update with more details when I get around to it.

Not free (shucks)

  1. Killer is Dead
    The language is shown as supporting both text and audio in Japanese.
  2. Resident Evil Revelations (PC/3DS)
    In the PC version, text and audio can be changed to Japanese in settings. 3DS as well though it is region-locked. Haven’t confirmed other platforms.
  3. Asura’s Wrath (PS3)
    I just got this game so I can’t say much about it except that it does have full Japanese voice and text. But I read somewhere that you have to pay extra (DLC) to get the true ending…. ugh…
  4. Resonance of Fate (PS3)
    The text will be in Japanese if your console’s language is set to Japanese. You can select the language for voices between English and Japanese.
  5. Star Ocean: The Last Hope International (PS3)
    Allows choosing between English and Japanese voices, as well as, a larger list of languages for the game text. I just started playing and it looks good for the price. My first annoyance is that ship has too many screen transitions so it takes forever to get around.
  6. The Last Remnant (PC)
    The PC version (not Xbox 360) has both Japanese voice and text options. I only played the very beginning. The graphics are pretty good but the dialogue seems slightly out of synch. Might be just a config issue. You can probably get it for a great price if you wait for a steam sale.
  7. Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy and the sequel Half Minute Hero: The Second Coming (PC)
    Called 勇者30 and 勇者30 Second on the PSP. I got the first one on sale for $5.99. The Japanese text uses too much Hiragana for my tastes (no spoken dialogue) but it is strangely entertaining.
  8. Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3)
    Need to set your console’s language to Japanese. It took me forever to beat the first boss so I haven’t touched it in a while but can’t hurt to get it for the price.
  9. Resistance (PS3)
    Need to set your console’s language to Japanese. This kind of game is better in English anyway given the setting and genre but I listed it anyway. Have not tried 2 and 3 yet.
  10. Soul Calibur IV and Soul Calibur V (PS3 & Xbox 360*)
    I have the PS3 version of Soul Calibur IV and it has full Japanese support. According to a comment, the same goes for Soul Calibur V.

    *For XBox 360, according to play-asia, only the US version is region free. So don’t buy the Japanese or Asian version and expect it to work on a US console.

  11. BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger (PS3)
    Has Japanese audio/text if the console’s language is set to Japanese.
  12. BlazBlue: Continuum Shift (PS3)
    This game apparently hasJapanese audio and 4 options for the text: English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. The limited edition is cheap on Amazon so might be worth checking out.
  13. Tekken 6 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (PS3 & Xbox 360?)
    Continuing with fighting games, Tekken 6 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 has Japanese subtitles if you set your console’s language to Japanese at least for PS3. (Not sure about XBox 360 version though it’s likely the same).
  14. Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PS3 & Xbox 360*)
    Lets you change both the text and audio to Japanese via options.

    *For XBox 360, according to play-asia, only the US version is region free. So once again, avoid the Japanese version unless you have a Japanese console.

  15. Vanquish (PS3)
    This game has options to change both the voice and text. Sega in generally has been awesome in this regard. Thanks, Sega!!
  16. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (PS3/Xbox 360)
    This game doesn’t have full Japanese support but it does allow you to change the voice and subtitles to Japanese for the cut-scenes. The option to change subtitles is at least better than most other titles.

    I only have the PS3 version so not sure about the 360 version.

  17. Recettear (PC)
    This game can be configured to run in Japanese by right-clicking and selecting “Properties” from your steam library. You will then see a tab labeled “Language” where you can set it to Japanese.
  18. Chantelise – A Tale of Two Sisters (PC)
    Steam shows this game to have Japanese for both the interface and full audio.
  19. Fragile Dreams (Wii)
    The Wii is region locked but if you have one already for the US-region, this game apparently has both Japanese audio and text.
  20. Pokémon X and Y (3DS)
    Though the 3DS is region-locked, if you already own one anyway, you might want to pick this up for Japanese practice as it apparently supports 7 languages. However, it doesn’t use a lot of Kanji as it’s targeted for kids.
  21. Persona 4 Arena (PS3/Xbox 360)
    I almost didn’t want to list this on principle because it’s the ONLY region-locked PS3 game. I mean, like the ONLY ONE. It’s lame that they decided to use region-lock but the small consolation is that they didn’t feel scared about putting full Japanese support thanks to the region lock. The content is identical across regions so as long as you buy the game to match your console, it will have full Japanese support.
  22. Square Enix titles on Google play (and maybe iOS?)

    I was able to get Japanese on several Square Enix titles by changing my Android’s phone language to Japanese including Final Fantasy 5 and Final Fantasy Dimensions. (Chaos Ring also has a language option right in the game). The same might be the case for iOS but I don’t have one to test. Let me know if you happen to have a copy of any Square Enix games on iOS.

    If your Android phone doesn’t have Japanese as an option (mine didn’t), you can install this app to force it.

  23. La-Mulana

    Interface labeled as supporting Japanese. Appears to be text only.

  24. One Way Heroics

    Interface labeled as supporting Japanese. Appears to be text only.

Here’s some more I haven’t verified from this link

Battlefield 1943
Devil May Cry 4
Home
Little Big Planet
Lost Planet
Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2
Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
Resurrection
Street Fighter 4

Digital releases

Digital releases that are download-only don’t come with any physical packaging and so require almost no distribution costs. So we should be able to buy all sorts of stuff from Japan right? After all, it’s just virtual 0s and 1s that speed across intercontinental fibre optic cables. Not so fast. Turns out companies still want to control distribution channels across regions, virtual or not. So here’s the breakdown of the usual jumbled mess of various policies and schemes.

  1. Steam

    Here are the list of games that have some degree of Japanese support. Steam now has a very helpful matrix that tells you whether the game’s interface, audio, and subtitles are in a certain language so make sure to check for full Japanese support by looking at both the interface and full audio. What’s baffling are games that were made in Japan like Ys I & II Chronicles+ have absolutely zero Japanese support (though you can hack some of them by messing with some files). Shame on you, XSEED.

  2. Playstation Store
    While the consoles are region-free, your PSN account is not. You must select Japan as your region when creating your PSN account and it cannot be changed. You also cannot buy games on the Japanese store without a Japanese credit card or Japanese PSN cards. You can buy the latter on various sites but expect to pay extra for the service.

    However, once you purchase a game, you can play it on your console for any user on the PS3 and PSP. So for example, I have a US and Japanese PSN account on my PS3 using two different email addresses. Once I purchase a game on one, I can install and play it on the other. However, oddly enough, avatars are tied to the PSN account so even though I downloaded some cool free avatars on my Japanese account, I can’t use it for my US account. There’s no way I’m paying money for those things so oh well…

    The one big exception is the PS Vita which Sony has started to really lock down via updates. What you purchase from PSN has to match the account on the Vita and you can only switch accounts by doing a system reset on the machine. It’s really just unnecessary hassle which you can get around so I really don’t see the point of all this.

    There are also some imports you can buy directly from the US store!

  3. Nintendo eShop

    The advantage of region-lock means that if you have a Japanese 3ds or Wii U, you can buy Japanese games using a US credit card. Buyer beware though, Nintendo’s DRM policy is apparently very strict and you can only have ONE copy of the game on ONE system. So you know how you can play PSN classics on either the PS3, PSP, or PS Vita? So like, wouldn’t it be cool if you can buy a digital copy of Mother 2 on the virtual console and play it on the 3ds? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Some crazy stuff is brewing…

It’s hard to imagine but as a kid, the internet didn’t really exist for us common folk. We still had to write letters the old-fashioned way and played with sticks and rocks for entertainment (slight exaggeration here). It’s hard to imagine what it would be like growing up nowadays where your social life’s fate hangs in the balance on closed social network platforms designed to encourage exposing every aspect of your private life so that companies can data mine and monetize you for stock holders. (Yes, I’m getting old and cynical) We now live in a world where a single wrong tweet or photo on facebook can ruin your job prospects or even land you in jail.

But we ain’t seen nothing yet. Governments want to monitor our formerly private but now online lives and intrude on people’s privacy more than ever before and in secret. Massive cyber wars and espionage are now taking place online domestically and abroad. 3D printers are able to print guns and high security keys. Glasses with video cameras will able to record what we see at any time. Shit is going to get real.

You know, I was looking forward to colonizing stuff in outer space, self-driving cars, and cheap, renewable energy, not this social media crap. Yes, all those are being worked on but I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime. At least I have the Oculus Rift to look forward to.