The NEW 常用漢字 and why we shouldn’t give a damn

According to Wikipedia, revision of the 常用漢字 (Jōyō kanji) was first proposed in February 2005 and work began in September of the same year.


Three years later, there was news as recently as last month of a tentative list to be released in February of 2009. The new list is currently said to have removed 5 kanji and added 188 new ones, bringing the new total from 1945 to 2128 characters.



The new additions apparently also include the “controversial” character 「俺」. Personally, it seems crazy to not include it based on how often it’s used. And what is so controversial about 「俺」 anyway especially considering the fact that they’re adding kanji like 「勃」 and 「淫」? That’s just my opinion in any case and I think the difficulty they are having in determining the criteria for what goes in the list is indicative of fundamental problems with the whole idea behind the list in the first place.

Never let the 常用漢字表 tell you which kanji to learn or not learn

What is the purpose of the 常用漢字表 anyway? To tell you which kanji to learn? So I’m supposed to learn 「斤」, some obscure unit of measurement but not the kanji for the word “who” (誰)? That makes perfect sense, right?!

Also, why did they even have the removed characters (銑・錘・勺・匁・脹) in the first place? Was “pig iron” commonly used at some point in time? I mean, the list came out the year I was born and I don’t think I’m THAT old. And why haven’t they removed stuff like 畝 or 逓 yet? I don’t think they come even close to falling in the category of “common usage” no matter how you define it.

And now, almost 30 years later they’re finally going to add kanji for words like “smell” (匂い), “loose” (緩い), “nail” (爪), and “butt” (お尻) in 2010? What kind of crap list were we using all these years?

The list burned me personally when I bought my first kanji dictionary. It only had the 常用漢字 because after all, that’s all we need to know, right? Well, one of the FIRST words I encountered in my self-study was 「瞳」 and guess what, it’s not in the list! If I had known better, I would have never wasted money on anything that only covered the 常用漢字.

Thankfully, I later found an online dictionary that didn’t use the 常用漢字表 as an excuse to be lazy and saved me from quitting Japanese in frustration. For comparison, the 漢字源 in my Canon G90 has 13,112 characters, almost 16x what my first crap dictionary had.

Don’t fall into the trap of learning from a list

In my opinion, the worst problem with the list is that it fools innocent learners such as you and I into thinking we should use it somehow in our studies. The thinking goes, “Hey here’s a list of (supposedly) common kanji. I should make up some index cards and memorize them one by one.”

However, what many beginners don’t realize is that you have to be some kind of super-genius to memorize 1945 characters with absolutely no context. Even if you DID somehow manage to memorize them all, you’re not learning any real words, you have no idea which readings are used and when, and you have no sense of when and how it’s used. Where’s the reading material, vocabulary, and conversation practice? It’s like putting the cart before the horse AND sitting in the seat backwards.

The first character on the list is 「亜」 for crying out loud! For all you know, that’s the most useful character in the world when in fact I have never used it in all my years of study. Do YOU write 「アジア」 and 「アメリカ」 as 「亜細亜」 and 「亜米利加」? I sure hope not! I thought for a second that maybe it’s used in the word 「唖然」 but no, not even! If anything, 「唖」 belongs in the list much more than 「亜」 if you ask me. Obviously, they never consulted me (I was -2 months old at the time) and no, it’s not in the list.


I don’t know, maybe the list has some good uses for educators, policy makers, publishers, and whatnot. It’s certainly better to have an improved version over the crappy one we have now. But I can’t help but think it was overused throughout the years and caused more harm than good for people learning Japanese. Personally, I think we would have been better off without the damn list in the first place.

The bottom line is whatever new list they come up with and no matter how “good” it is (whatever that means), we should always think of it as a guide and never forget to use good ol’ common sense.

What’s the stroke order of 【龜】? Who cares?

This is yet another post that’s been picking up cruft in my draft folder for over three years.

Stroke order is one of those things that might seem difficult at first but actually comes quite naturally with a bit of practice. You just have to make sure you learn the the correct order of the most important radicals such as 口 and 田. You should also pay careful attention to radicals like 厂 that have more stroke orders than you would think. (Hint: it’s more than 1.)

Once you learn the stroke order for the most common radicals, you can figure out the rest for most kanji by yourself with general principles like the following.

  1. Stroke orders generally go from top to bottom and left to right (from the top-left corner to bottom-right corner).
  2. Vertical lines that go straight through are written last as opposed to those that connect (十 vs 土).
  3. Stuff that encloses something else gets drawn first but closed last (回 and 団).

When in doubt or for weird kanji like 必, you can always check the stroke order on the WWWJDIC by looking up the kanji and clicking on the SOD link. You’ll get a nice animated gif like this one.

However, the problem with these animations is that it only gives you the order and not the direction of each stroke. If you’re confused about stroke direction, another site you might want to try is gahoh, which has animated .mov files with the direction and order. Here’s one for .

Their collection isn’t as complete as the WWWJDIC but it is useful for odd or crazy and complicated kanji like . The request page in particular has some of the odder and trickier kanji like 凸、凹、飛、 and 卵 so you might want to check it out and double-check your stroke order.

So how useful is it to learn the proper stroke order of 龜? Not very but hey it’s fun times for everybody, right? Right? Hello? ………anybody?

Using 「とは」 to look up strange words

The edict dictionary is one of best online dictionaries available, better than any print E->J dictionaries I know of. It is also continuously being expanded from user submissions. Even in the rare instance that it doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you’re covered with the monster huge 大辞泉 and 大辞林 J->J dictionaries available for free at Yahoo!辞書. If you have the patience to work through the Japanese definition, you should be able to find a definition for every word in any print dictionary available to native speakers. However, with new words and slang being invented all the time, you might run into words that are not in any traditional dictionary. The good news is that a lot of Japanese people won’t be familiar with them either. Here’s a quick tip from me to easily find Japanese sites that explain and define words of this nature. In the process, I’ll also discuss a very special double particle.

The 「とは」 double particle

While you can guess the meaning of most double particles from the sum of it’s parts such as 「には」 (a target that’s also a topic), 「とは」 really has a meaning of its own. Simply put, it is a somewhat formal and concise way to define something. For example, try searching on Google for 「とは」 and you’ll get pages with titles like 「ITとは」 and 「WWWとは」. If you go to the site itself, it’ll give you a short definition of the relevant term.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. When I run into a term that’s not in the dictionary (which in my case is usually new expressions or slang too stupid to put in a real dictionary), I search the term in Google with 「とは」.

For example, when I was listening to 眞鍋かをり’s podcast titled あなたの周りのKYな人, I had forgotten what “KY” meant. Now, looking up a term like “KY” is usually very difficult because there isn’t a lick of Japanese in the “word” (and I use that term loosely). But all I had to do was attach 「とは」 and soon found this neat and in-depth definition in no time.




In fact, thanks to this search, I found the 「日本語俗語辞書」 with all sorts of stupid slang that I’ll probably end up wishing I’d kept to myself. Please don’t send me an email along the lines of, “Hey, after reading your blog, I called my boss an AY for fun and he actually knew what it meant! He totally MMed on me and now I’m out of a job. What should I do?”

Anyway, in addition to the regular KY語 (God, it’s turning into its own language now?), this tactic was also useful for looking up Internet slang when I wrote about 電車男. For instance, the first search result for 「ROMとは」 turned up this nice little definition.





So there you have it, a simple neat tip from me to you. I just wish I had better examples that won’t turn your cute little 「ます/です」 classroom Japanese to the dark side. Just don’t be using this stuff when you’re talking to me. You’ll totally get the hand and I mean that.


The Internet Chinese Text Archive

Here’s a Chinese resource that looks pretty cool: The Internet Chinese Text Archive.

The biggest problem with the site is it doesn’t set the proper encoding information!! So you have to manually set the encoding to “Chinese Simplified” very time. It’s really, really annoying. I’ve tried everything on the browser such as setting my preferred language to Chinese with no luck. Ugh… One trick I came up with is to mouse over each link and just read the url on the bottom bar of the browser. It’ll tell you what you’re looking at (in English no less) without having to reset the encoding every time. Then you can finally set the encoding when you get to the text you want.

Anyway, while this site looks cool, the material is far too advanced for me to make any recommendations. I thought I’d try to tackle some short stories first but it’s slow going.

Ooh la la, the 色情性爱 category looks interesting. Could be a good motivator to study Chinese.

Any good suggestions for people like me learning Chinese? Preferably something interesting, not too difficult, and as modern as possible.



Yahoo! ポッドキャスト

I was recently informed about Yahoo! ポッドキャスト and added it to the links page. I just started listening to various podcasts there during work and am having a gay old time. I thought I’d share some of my favorites so you can too.

What I’m listening to

In particular, I’ve been enjoying 眞鍋かをり’s podcast, which is talk radio about random topics such as 「こんなものに、はまっていました。」 I like 眞鍋さん’s voice as it’s bright and clear without being too girly. If you visit the show’s blog, you can also read an intro to each show, participate on various アンケート, and send messages that might even be read on the show. You may want to skip the first 3 or 4 minutes which is the Proactive promotion section of the show.

In addition, I’m also enjoying humor shows, in particular the aptly named JUNK podcasts and their 下ネタ(しもねた) about sex and what-not. There are even some semi-sexy shows that are pretty interesting. Who says the Japanese are conservative?

Now that I’m living in the States, I find these podcasts great for maintaining my listening comprehension and vocabulary. I’ve also been learning new vocabulary here and there by looking up words that I didn’t recognize.

Too hard? Try the reverse approach

If you find that the all-Japanese podcasts are too difficult to understand at your current level, you might want to try a reverse learning approach by listening to Japanese shows for learning English. It’s still a bit advanced but at least you’ll have some English to give you some clues and you’ll still get the learning benefit of listening and getting accustomed to real spoken Japanese. For the less advanced, I recommend ECC 英会話 because there’s quite a bit of English in the show itself, most of which is interpreted by the Japanese speaker. In addition, there’s 毎日ちょこっとリスニング特訓~podcast~ and melody.の『Oh!カンチガイ ENGLISH』 was also interesting for learning strange カタカナ usages (unfortunately, that show is already over). In any case, I suggest you browse through the list of popular podcasts and find what looks interesting to you. Here’s also a list of podcasts related to English.

Oh, and here’s a tip for navigating through the Japanese interface. Click the button that say 「聴く」 next to each podcast to listen. That’s it!

Does anybody know a similar site for Mandarin?

A (late) intro to the original 電車男

I was looking through my old blog for fun and ran into a post about 電車男. Though the post is over 2 years old and the height of 電車男’s popularity is long past, the original story (with some commentary) as it unfolded in the 2ch BBS is archived and still around for anybody to read for free (on a geocities account no less).

If you’re not familiar with the immensely popular 2ちゃんねる BBS, it’s basically an non-threaded forum where everybody posts anonymously. There are no “fancy” features like registration and passwords. You can put whatever name you want, so most times, you have no idea who is saying what. This and the crappy UI from the 90s makes for an experience I’d like to call “craptastic”. Fortunately, the archived version of the original content has been edited and neatly organized for us.

In this post, I’ll take a quick sneak peek of the beginning to introduce you to the story. Before you decide to read it for yourself, I should warn you that it’s full of internet slang that would probably be useless anywhere except… the internet. Ok then, let’s look at the first section!

Mission.1 めしどこかたのむ

731 名前:Mr.名無しさん 投稿日:04/03/14 21:25



It begins with a cryptic message from Nameless-san on a random thread in March 2004. It’s impossible to know what he’s talking about without the previous messages but we can discern that he betrayed something somehow (裏ぐる is apparently internet typo/slang for 裏切る). The commentator helpfully adds that it was just an “ordinary thread with nothing special” anyhow.


His first message saying he can’t say how he betrayed [whatever] because he has not talent in literature gets people wondering what happened. One person asks whether he got a girlfriend. He replies no but it’s a big chance. He’s obviously flustered because he then retracts his earlier statement and says he needs to calm down.

733 名前:Mr.名無しさん 投稿日:04/03/14 21:28


734 名前:Mr.名無しさん 投稿日:04/03/14 21:28


737 名前:Mr.名無しさん 投稿日:04/03/14 21:33


738 名前:Mr.名無しさん 投稿日:04/03/14 21:35

ごめん。よく考えたら大チャンスじゃなかった…_| ̄|○

Finally, somebody tells him to give all the details. キボン is internet slang for 希望.

739 名前:Mr.名無しさん 投稿日:04/03/14 21:36


  詳 細 キ ボ ン

Finally, he reluctantly agrees to write about what happened. Because he has been only 「ロムる」ing, meaning “Read-Only Member” or what we call a “lurker”, he asks that he not be laughed at.

740 名前:731 投稿日:04/03/14 21:38


At this point, he isn’t even known as 電車 and is writing as 731, the number of his first post (remember they’re all anonymous).
Here’s how the story begins.

749 名前:731 投稿日:04/03/14 21:55





766 名前:731 投稿日:04/03/14 22:23




772 名前:731 投稿日:04/03/14 22:37



もっと気の利いたこと言えよ俺。_| ̄|○

疲れた…_| ̄|○

Whew! And that’s how he first met the person we’ll only ever know as エルメス. I think that’s enough for now so I’ll end it here. But to sum up, at the end of the incident she asks him for his address and later sends him a thank-you gift for his braveness and chivalry. More importantly, the receipt for the delivery has her number on it! What will you do 電車?!!


I think it’s really cool that parts of the original threads are still available for free online especially since I believe there’s a book out as well. If you don’t mind weeding through internet slang and banter, I’m sure there’s a lot of good primary reading material here. Otherwise, be sure to check out the drama and/or movie. I haven’t watched the movie but the drama was pretty good. They sure did pick a nerdy guy for the main character.

電車男 is one of those perfect nerd fantasies where the main character meets a beautiful women in a chance encounter and through luck and perseverance ends up 「ゲットする」ing the girl. What makes this story special is that it was originally told on an internet forum and with input from regular netizens along the way. Plus, it’s real as far as I know. I think we’re all curious about what エルメス looks like!

In addition, the time and effort people put into cheering 電車 on is very touching. The graphics are simply amazing as well! Who says you need fancy features like image uploads or BB code?!

Let me know what’s going on now!

Japan is a country where everybody goes from one crazy fad to the next such as ヨン様 (ugh…), Hard Gay, and 涼宮ハルヒの憂鬱. 電車男 was certainly a media phenomenon in its day spawning a book, movie, drama, manga, and even appearing in theater.

I haven’t been in Japan in over a year and I’m a bit out of touch so please let me know about any new fads going on!

Run Forr^H^H^H^H メロス!

I’ve known about 青空文庫 for quite a while but never really had the time to look over it. It’s a large collection of free Japanese text online. The only problem is most of these writings are quite old (old enough for the copyright to expire) and to put it politely, a bit… dry.

However, I finally took some time to read a story called 「走れメロス」 by the famous author: 太宰治. You can find the version updated to modern Japanese (新字新仮名) here and also read it directly online here.

I don’t want to give too much away but 「走れメロス」 is a rather touching story about loyalty and trust. It is required reading for most Japanese students (in middle school I believe) so it’s certainly good stuff to know for cultural reasons as well. Here’s the first few lines to get you started.


かの: I haven’t run into this word before but it is apparently used to refer to something or someone else similar to 「その」. See here for more details.

邪智暴虐: While not a phrase with much practical use, examining the Kanji for the two words 邪智 and 暴虐 gives you a very good idea of its meaning: Evil+Knowledge and Violent+Tyrannize. The kanji itself are useful to know for words like 「風邪」、「邪悪」 (used in the same paragraph)、「暴力」、and 「残虐」. 「智」、 another version of 「知」 is also a great character to know for many names.

王を除かなければならぬ: The 「ならぬ」 is an old-fashioned version of 「ならない」. You’ll see a lot of 「ぬ」 instead of 「ない」 in this story since the text IS old. 「除く」 is a creative use of the word “remove” here. I leave it to the reader to interpret exactly what is meant by “removing the king”.

人一倍(ひといちばい): This is an interesting expression to me because it means “more than others” but the math doesn’t seem to add up. If 二倍 is double, shouldn’t 一倍 be exactly the same as the original amount? Well if you consider that 一倍 is one share and 人一倍 as an extra person’s share, I guess it makes sense. It’s an expression anyway so who cares right?

Have fun with the rest of the story because it is quite long. If anybody knows of other good literature in the free 青空文庫 collection, please let me know in the coments with links!!!

φ(o_o ;)うーん How do I make Japanese emoticons?

I don’t know how other people make those cute Japanese (or Korean? …whatever) emoticons. This may sound shocking, but personally I just copy them from another site.


This site should be a good start to get you on your way to making the most basic emoticons.


If you’re excited now, let me tell you about 顔文字ナビ, a site with a HUGE collection of emoticons. The only problem is that it’s all in Japanese and finding the smiley you want might be a bit difficult.


Now now, don’t get upset. This could be a good opportunity for some simple vocab practice. Unfortunately, I can’t link directly due to the stupid frames so I’ll have to walk you through it.


Let’s start with the standard happy smileys. Go to 「よ」 and select 「喜ぶ」. You’ll get all types of happiness such as 「わーい」 (Yay) or 「キャー」 (Omg!).

(^-^) ワ~イ


You can even get smug smileys under 「自慢」 -> 「えっへん」. Aren’t you so cool?



Another common one is for sadness or crying, so let’s look at 「な」 for 「泣く」. You can get the standard crying emoticons as well as some more specific ones like 「クスン」 (sniff) whether you’re crying from just a little bit of sadness or at the end of a good cry.

(/ _ ; )クスン


Another common scenario is saying you’re sorry. You can find those smileys under 「こ」 for 「ごめん」 or 「あ」 for 「謝る」. Instead of going for the standard bowing apology, try putting your hands together for a less serious apology.

(^人^;) ゴメン

There’s obviously a lot more emoticons to play with so go to the site and look around to up your online expressiveness AND increase your vocabulary.



I remember when I was trying to get a computer job in Japan, I tried to learn some computer terminology worried that I wouldn’t understand any of the technical words in Japanese. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find such a site on the Internet. And so, in an effort to improve the usefulness of the Internet by .00001%, here’s an informative post (hopefully) for the up-and-coming programmers wanting to work in Japan.

General Terminology

オブジェクト指向 (しこう)- Object-oriented
継承 (けいしょう) – inheritance
カプセル化 (か) – encapsulation (black box programming)
抽象クラス(ちゅうしょう) – abstract class
変数 (へんすう) – variable
固定値 (こていち) – constant
値 (あたい) – value
閾値(しきいち) – threshold (often used in validation, program limits, and the like)
関数 (かんすう) – function
メソッド – method (java/c# functions)
引数 (ひきすう) – parameter
戻り値(もどりち) – return value
文字列(もじれつ) – string
配列 (はいれつ) – array
スレッド – thread (no it’s not a sled)
マルチスレッド – multi-threaded
同期(どうき) – synchronous
同期化(どうきか) – synchronize
非同期(ひどうき) – asynchronous
静的(せいてき) – static
動的(どうてき) – dynamic
実行する(じっこうする) – to execute

Design-related Terminology

定義書 (ていぎしょ) – a document that defines something (ex: XML定義書)
クラス図 (ず) – class diagram
基本設計 (きほんせっけい) – basic design (broad level)
詳細設計 (しょうさいせっけい) – specific design
仕様 (しよう) – specifications (what your program is supposed to do)
仕様書 (しようしょ) – written specifications
要件 (ようけん) – requirements
見積もる (みつもる) – to make an estimate
見積もり (みつもり) – estimate

If there are other terms you’re curious about, just let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Bet you didn’t know it even existed, well… it doesn’t

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic ever since I first purchased the book 「日本語教科書の落とし穴」, which I first talked about over a year ago. (Wow, time does go by fast!)

Chapter 9 in the book talks about a very interesting topic that I had never really thought about before: the empty particle or 「無助詞」 as it’s called in the book. Like every other chapter in the book, this chapter begins with a small dialogue between the teacher and a student that illustrates the problem.


Have a hunch where the problem lies? (The bold font is a clue.) The book makes a distinction between particles that are simply left out (primarily in spoken Japanese) with situations where you leave the particle out in order to avoid the nuances of particles. In the case of 「これ召し上がってください。」, because the 「を」 particle has a distinctive function of making 「これ」 into a direct object, the sentence has a very strong emphasis on eating 「これ」. The book describes the nuance as 「これだけを召し上がってください。ほかのものは食べないでください。」 In other words, it essentially sounds like, “Please eat this,” which sounds kind of desperate when you’re offering someone something to eat.

Ok, so you might think to try the topic particle instead: 「これ召し上がってください。」. But again, this doesn’t work because the 「は」 particle also has its own function of making 「これ」 into the topic of the conversation as if you were saying, “As for this, please eat it”. The book describes the nuance as 「ほかのものは食べなくてもよいけれども、これだけは何としても召し上がってください。」

The most natural thing to do in this case is to not use any particles so that you can talk about something without any of the nuances and meanings that go along with 「は」、「を」、and 「が」.

Here’s another example from the book.


Again, there is no suitable particle for 「コーヒー」 in this sentence if all you want to know is whether there is any coffee left. 「コーヒーまだある?」 sounds like you want start a conversation about coffee and 「コーヒーまだある?」 sounds like, “The coffee! There’s still some left?” Any time you want to call attention to something minor without making a conversation out of it is a good candidate for the empty particle. Situations such as realizing you’re out of cash at the cash register and asking your friend, “Hey, do you have money on you?” (お金、持っている?) or flipping through an album with someone and saying, “Hey, look at this.” (ねえ、これ、見て。) are good examples.

Another great example is when there is no strong relationship such as, 「誕生日、おめでとう」. You don’t want to say, 「誕生日おめでとう」 (As for your birthday, congratulations) or 「誕生日おめでとう」 (Your birthday is the thing that is congratulatory) because there’s nothing specific or particular about the birthday that you want to congratulate. You just want to say, “Hey it’s your birthday. Congratulations.” without any specific relation between the two.

Based on the context, if all the particles add a meaning or emphasis that you don’t want, you’re better off not having any particle at all.

Debunking yet another myth

Students often ask their Japanese teacher, “Sensei, I noticed that in real life people leave out particles a lot. Is that Ok to do?” Whereupon the teacher will always reply, “Yes grasshopper, people leave out particles sometimes but you are not ready for that yet. You should use particles every time because it is more proper and correct.”

Actually Sensei, you obviously haven’t thought enough about the empty particle because sometimes it is not correct to insert a particle. Ahhh, I love the sound of myth debunking in the morning.


It is interesting to think about the empty particle, and when you can and cannot use particles. But as I mentioned in the beginning, I didn’t even think about the empty particle until I read this book. Ultimately, omitting particles is something that naturally comes with conversation practice and doesn’t require deep analysis to get right. What it all boils down to in the end is getting a firm grasp on what each particles mean so that you know not to use them when they say something you don’t mean.