Who doesn’t like comics?

So my last blog post really paid off because I got contacted by a very talented artist who offered to draw up some comics for learning Japanese! He’s been going full steam and I’ve been barely managing to keep up with the lines. It’s really hard to come up with lines for an interesting comic when, for example, you can’t use any verbs.

Here’s the first one but the rest are (mostly) in Japanese. They are scattered throughout the complete guide. Make sure to check out the hover text too.

Roumaji comic

The further along it goes, the easier it is for me to write because I can use more grammar but probably harder for Japanese learners. Which is kind of the point. I hope you like them! Also, check out Martyn’s site. He’s really good!

The 10 year plan

It’s been almost a month since the the grammar guide has been on Amazon and you’ve been buying at least one copy everyday! Thanks everybody for your support! I’m so excited that I’ve decided to take all the royalties and put it away along with the Paypal account to contribute back into the site.

I have lots of bold plans and very little time but hopefully I can put the money to good use to make it even easier for people to learn Japanese. Here’s what I’d like to accomplish in the next 10 years.

  1. Finish writing the complete guide. I’ve been making good progress on this recently.
  2. Make more Youtube videos. I’d like to get some native speakers for the examples so it’s not just me.
  3. Start a lecture series at a local library and post on Youtube.
  4. Get audio for all the dialogues in the complete guide.
  5. Add Yonkoma comics to the site. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no art skills.
  6. Put everything above together in a monster, awesome, interactive eBook for iBooks.
  7. Start a podcast show for Japanese learners. I have some ideas on how to make an awesome show.

Unfortunately, I have to do all this in my free time so if you want to help me out, here’s how.


  1. Make a link to www.guidetojapanese.org with the phrase “learn Japanese”. I want to be #1 on Google when you search “learn Japanese”.
  2. If you’re good at drawing, I’m looking for simple manga style drawings like あずまんが大王、ダーリンは外国人、 or even just stick figures like xkcd. Email me at: taekim.japanese@gmail.com
  3. For native Japanese speakers, anybody interested in contributing audio or co-hosting a podcast show, email me at: taekim.japanese@gmail.com

Buy the book (if you want one) or donate

I do not know what I’m going to do with the money specifically yet but it’s definitely going to be used to improve the site.

CreateSpace: It’s kind of hassle to order from and you have to pay for shipping but it will save about $5 on printing costs.

Amazon: They will take a bigger cut but you will get free shipping. Also if you like the book, I would love to see some reviews on Amazon.

Special thanks goes to Sven ($200), Sergey ($100), and Eric ($200) for their generous donations! (Eric bought the book too!)

It’s been about 10 years since I started this site in college and I hope to bring you more exciting stuff. Thanks for your purchases, donations, contributions, emails, comments, feedback, suggestions, and corrections. Here’s to another 10 years!

Review of Anki & SRS

I use iGoogle everyday so I was shocked and bummed to hear it was going to be shutdown. I have a bunch of new vocab sitting in my notes in iGoogle that I go through for my #JWOTD. Sure, the shutdown isn’t happening for another year but I thought it was a good excuse to finally try Anki and this whole SRS thing for myself. So below are my impressions and opinions on Anki specifically and SRS in general.

Anki Review

The user interface is pretty clunky especially for the Android version. For example, I have to download a deck for every client. If I synch, why won’t it grab all my decks? What’s the harm? Also “synch” is not an accurate term because if it detects changes on both sides, it forces me to pick one even if I just added cards on the PC and only reviewed it on the phone. There doesn’t seem to be a concept of merging. AnkiWeb is also missing a lot of pretty basic functionality such as browsing your deck. Given the advances of modern webapps, I personally would ditch the desktop client and focus purely on the web and mobile apps. It’s silly to have to install the program on every computer and launch it every time. I would much rather have a richer and interactive web version always open in my browser with tab synch on every machine.

Overall, gets the job done but a LOT of room for improvement.

SRS Review

So I discovered this SRS thing is not for me at all. First of all, it takes way too long to make the cards. Eventually, I just imported all my words using only one side. There’s really no point to filling the other side because I usually read whole web pages and articles to fully get the nuance of new words as people following my twitter account know. At this point, simple words like “car” and “doctor” are not really on my list.

Second, the whole review thing seems backwards to me. If I review a word that’s completely new, I pick “Hard” and then it shows up again right away. For me, seeing a word I don’t know over and over again does not help me. I need new words to bake over time. If I know the word, I want to delete it, and if I don’t know it at all, I pick “Easy”. If the word looks familiar to me, I pick “Hard” so that I can see if I want to delete it the next time.

If you are just starting out, given all new words you would need to learn (and quickly), I would not recommend SRS. Given the additional time it takes to make the cards and the time wasted reviewing words you already know, it’s not worth it. If you know a word, you don’t want to hide it so that it comes back in 8 days. You want to get rid of it and move on. You have thousands of new words waiting for you to waste any more time on ones you already learned.

I personally recommend the “firehose” method of dumping your brain with TONS of interesting content. This means plowing through pages of books and manga, hours of dialogue, and conversation practice forgetting more words than remembering them. Don’t sit around wasting time entering and reviewing what you’ve already seen, just get more, more, and MORE STUFF!!! You’ll be surprised at how much just seems to stick somehow like osmosis. Some people feel this is not effective because they end up forgetting so much stuff. They don’t realize that the fact that they even remember forgetting it means they’re learning it.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just weird…

The VOCALOID phenomenon

There was a story a while back on NPR covering the live concerts with virtual characters, which is pretty interesting but I didn’t realize how cool Vocaloid really is until recently. It has basically opened up song writing and singing to the general public. With sites like ニコニコ動画 and koebu, anybody can write songs with Vocaloid and singers online can cover them. It basically splits up the parts of creating songs so that people online can collaborate to create regular songs. Aspiring song writers or singers can just get started online anytime and may even get picked up by record labels or get their songs used for animes. Yamaha, the creators of Vocaloid is plainly aware of this phenomen since it’s explained in a video right on their homepage.

Really cool, it’s like the open-source version of music.

Sound more Japanese with interjections

When I tutor Japanese, I try to correct non-Japanese interjections whenever possible, the most common one being “umm”. Even the most skilled speakers including native speakers sometimes need to fill the air with fillers to buy a little time to collect their thoughts. But it doesn’t sound very Japanese to say, 「私の趣味は umm サッカーです」. I also suspect it taps your English part of the brain and makes it difficult to stop thinking in English. That’s why I gently remind my student to say 「ええと」 instead of “umm”. It’s a simple change that can instantly make your Japanese sound more natural. Have you been saying “umm” while speaking Japanese? If so, a quick tip from me, replace it with 「ええと」.

Here are some other interjections to practice:

  1. ええと – Err, umm
  2. あのう – Umm (usually to get somebody’s attention)
  3. あれ? – huh?
  4. えっ – eh?
  5. あっ! – Oh!, Ah!
  6. こら! – hey!
  7. うーん – hmm (wondering/pondering)
  8. へえ – really? (surprised/impressed)
  9. いたっ – ouch
  10. よいしょ – when exerting effort such as picking up something heavy

LOL – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

Before I decided to start making videos for learning Japanese on Youtube, I first looked to see if there was anything good on there already. If there was something I liked, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Much to my surprise, I could not find a single channel that went over ALL the sounds in Japanese including voiced consonants, long vowel sounds, etc. Sure, there were many videos that went over the Hiragana characters but that was usually the end of it.

I put a lot of thought into how I would structure my videos and how to fix what I didn’t like about many of the existing videos on Youtube.

Keep it short. Don’t try to be funny.

A lot of videos fill up a lot of time by trying to make things funny and interesting. Unfortunately, not everybody find the same things to be funny and frankly, a lot of the videos I saw were just not funny to me. One of the disadvantages of video vs text is that it’s harder to skim through so I try to keep things as short as possible. Look, you’re probably busy and I know I’M definitely busy. Let’s not waste each other’s time with my poor attempt at humor and just get straight into learning Japanese.

If I want to try to be funny, it’ll be in the Japanese examples. That way, at least, you’re learning something in the process and it may make you more interested in learning the Japanese instead of listening to me ramble on with some stupid joke in English.

Why would you want to stare at my face while you’re trying to learn?

I know Youtube started out as people recording themselves on their webcam but do you seriously need to stare at my face for minutes at a time while trying to learn Japanese? I’m not exactly Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp. I’ve even seen videos of people giving lessons on tiny whiteboards while they take up most of the shot! That’s kind of like sharing a word doc by printing it, scanning it, and emailing the scanned image.

I know watching mouth and body gestures help in learning a language but unfortunately, I don’t have resources to create scenes with staged dialogues. I would love to if I could though.

Cover everything step-by-step

I wanted to have a set progression where a person with zero knowledge of Japanese can start from the first video and learn by watching the videos in order. Too many videos just start kind of in the middle without really going over everything before it in full. I know it’s an ambitious project but I figure no matter how long it takes, the next wave of Japanese learners can benefit with whatever I get done.

As far as I knew, there were no videos for learning Japanese as I just described when I started making them. So today, I saw this video published 4 months after my first video. LOL.

Wow, it’s defintely more professional than my lame Powerpoint slides. And they have more than just one guy (me) that can read the Japanese examples! I’m so jealous. I’m just this dude making videos from my house with a cheap USB mike.

I applaud the “new” format but unfortunately, the grammar explanations suck! 「AはBです」 pattern means “A is B”??? No no no no no! Bad boy! You can’t learn Japanese with sentence patterns!! What are you, an American Japanese linguistics grad student from the 60s?? Please watch my latest video or let me make your slides so I don’t have to spend all my time trying to make these videos by myself. Argh!

Learning new vocab for new situations

When I’m in a new situation, it really reminds of of how convenient immersion is as you can learn all sorts of words without even realizing it. It’s even more noticeable when you’re NOT in a immersion environment.

Since I’m no longer living in Japan, I’ve been trying to learn baby-related words mostly on the internet. Since just looking up words in the dictionary almost never works if it’s from English to Japanese, I learn by reading sites like this one. It helps to be prepared in case I want to talk about my baby in Japanese.

Wow, Japanese sure is dependent on Katakana.
ベビーカー – stroller
ベビーベッド – crib
ベビー布団 – baby futon
ベビーチェア – baby chair (seems like mostly high chairs)

はいはい – crawl
伝い歩き – cruise
子守唄 – lullaby
つみき – building blocks

Somehow I don’t need to have a real baby to know all the English words. Just goes to show how great immersion is.

A gentle introduction to Kanji

Posted on my Facebook group (which in facebook’s ultimate wisdom requires you to login to view, lame).

Ok, let’s learn some Kanji today! You’ll see that it’s not so scary!

口【くち】 – mouth
Just picture an open mouth except um… more square. This box shows up ALL THE TIME in Kanji so MAKE SURE you get the correct stroke order.

五【ご】 – five
I guess it kind of looks like 5 with a line on the bottom

日【ひ】- sun; day
Similar to mouth, it’s a circle made into a square with a line in the middle to represent sun rays or something.

木【き】 – tree
Pretty much exactly how I would draw a tree (my drawing skills are terrible)

本【ほん】 – root; book
The Kanji itself means root. As you can see it’s a tree with a line on the trunk bottom to emphasis a root. It’s also the word for book as in “books are the root of all knowledge”. Quaint, ain’t it?

日本【に・ほん】 – Japan
Root of the sun, you know, the “Land of the Rising Sun”? It would be pretty hot over there if it were really the case.

言う【い・う】 – to say
言 is like four lines of dialogue or sound waves on top of a mouth (notice the first top stroke is slanted). Easy!

語【ご】 – language
Combine the radicals for “say”, “five” and “mouth” and you get the single character for language. To say with five mouths, I guess it kinda makes sense. It’s not a word by itself but you can just tack it onto countries to describe that country’s language such as スペイン語 = Spanish. Cool!

日本語【に・ほん・ご】 – Japanese (language)
Just tack on the character for language to the word for Japan to get Japanese as mentioned above.

Ok, let’s make a sentence with KANJI!

What is this called in Japanese?
lit: As for this, what do you say in Japanese?

Replace これ with whatever you want to know the Japanese word for.

Hopefully this will give you an idea of how to make up mnemonics for memorizing Kanji.

MAKE SURE to practice after checking the stroke order which you can see here: