Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Japanese Adjectives – An Introduction

No matter what ever languages you use, you definitely need some word to praise, blame, envy, etc, Some of the examples are Cute, Stupid, Smart, etc. Hence, like every other language, Japanese also has its own set of adjectives with appropriate rules and exceptions. We will be discussing about it in our today’s lesson.

What is an Adjective?

You all must already be knowing but still for the ones that are yet to know, Wiki says

In grammar, an adjective is a word whose main syntactic role is to modify a noun or pronoun, giving more information about the noun or pronoun's referent.
In simple words, an adjective is a word which modifies the nouns and pronouns.

English - “That is a book”
Hindi – Wo ek kithab hai (वो एक किताब है)
Tamil – Adhu oru puthagam (அது ஒரு புத்த‌க‌ம்)
Japanese – Sore wa hon desu (それ は ほん です )

This is a normal sentence. Here book (kithab/puthagam/hon) is a noun. Let us add “something” that can modify this noun.

Using adjective before the noun
English - That is a good book
Hindi – Wo ek achha kithab hai (वो एक अच्छा किताब है)
Tamil – Adhu oru nalla puthagam (அது ஒரு ந‌ல்ல‌ புத்த‌க‌ம்)
Japanese – Sore wa ii hon desu (それ は いい ほん です)
Using adjective after the noun
English - That book is good
Hindi – Wo kithab achha hai (वो किताब अच्छा है)
Tamil – Andha puthagam nandraga ulladhu (அந்த‌ புத்த‌க‌ம் ந‌ன்றாக‌ உள்ள்து)
Japanese – Sore wa hon ii desu (それ は ほん いい です)
Here “good” (achha/nalla/ii) changes the noun and it acts as an Adjective.

So, you must be clear by now that – "In Japanese, adjectives are placed either before a noun or at the end of a sentence which is the same case as in English

Types of Adjectives

In Japanese, they have two different types of Adjectives. They call it as
  • I – adjective (called as the 'true' adjectives) - Adjectives that end with an “I” sound
  • Na – adjective (called as the 'quasi' adjectives) -Adjectives that end with an “NA” sound
There is a third form as well which is the "noun + 'no' particle" form. Technically speaking, these are nouns but they are often used as adjectives. Do not worry a lot about this, I will disuss it in detail in further lessons. For now, understand that there are two types of Adjectives in Japanese and they are the i and na adjectives.

Why two types of adjectives?

Well, the answer to your question is, “Why two types of Kana exist in Japanese?”.

Yes, it is for the same reason. I-adjective have Japanese Origin while the NA-adjectives are mostly Chinese origin words.

Now, guess what type of adjective the below belong to…

TAKAI - たかい (meaning Expensive) – I adjective
SHIZUKANA - しずかな (meaning Quiet) – NA adjective.

That was really simple, wasn’t it? :)

Well, there are some exceptions too where not all i-adjectives have to end with I sound and not all na-adjectives have to end with a NA sound. Don’t worry about the exceptions now, we have just started, Let us take it slowly :)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Usage of small tsu - sokuon - Chiisai tsu

We already have seen the usage of Hiragana letter along with small ya, yu and yo. In today’s lesson we will see how to make use of the small tsu (っ). This small tsu is called Sokuon (written in Kanji as 促音). Small Tsu literally translated to Japanese gives us Chiisai Tsu (Chiisai means Small)

There are some vocabularies even in English which might need an extra stress to the letter. For example, consider the word, “button”. As you see here the extra stress is over the letter ‘t’. Such words are there in Japanese language too. For example,

Chotto meaning “little”
Kekkon meaning “marriage”

So, how do we write these letters? This is when the small tsu (っ) comes into picture. You need to use a small tsu right before the word which needs stress.

Consider the word chotto. Breaking down this word a little bit further down gives us

Cho-(t)to ちょっと
Cho is nothing but chi + small yo ちょ
To is と
As the stress on t is before the word to, we need to add a small tsu before to like ちょっと
Similarly, the words matte まって, kitte きって, kekkon けっこん, etc
(matte means wait, Kitte is postage stamp and Kekkon is marriage)

There are certain rules in the usage of this sokuon (促音). Wiki says,
The sokuon cannot appear at the beginning of a word, before a vowel kana (a, i, u, e, or o), or before kana that begin with the consonants n, m, r, w, or y. In addition, it does not appear before voiced consonants (g, z, d, or b), or before h, except in loanwords.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

How to introduce yourself in Japanese

We already have seen how to write Hiragana in our previous articles. In today's lesson we will learn how to introduce ourselves in Japanese.

Combined Hiragana Letters

We already have seen Hiragana Letters with Dakuten and Maru. In today's lesson we will see the set of Hiragana letters that are formed with combination of ya, yu and yo.

Uploaded on authorSTREAM by g33kyf3m

Sunday, April 19, 2009

5 Myths about learning Japanese

I was chatting with my school day mates this weekend about our good ol’ days. Talking about what each one of us are up to in our own lives, I said that I am learning Japanese. Couple of my mates were like, “Err! What for?”. I did not answer them but questioned, “Why do you guys think I should not?” The majority of all the reasons they said was “Japanese is one of the toughest language. It contains way too symbols to remember… not like our 26 alphabets English”. Few others said, “Well speaking Japanese is cool but I don’t have time to spare”. We then moved over to other personal topics and parted after an hour.

It was fun but then it kept me thinking why do people think Japanese is the toughest language? To be frank, my mother tongue Tamil is really tough. If it were not my mother tongue I never would have been fluent in it. So are the other languages. How many people think French is the toughest of all for the numerous exceptions it has. I personally know people who consider German to be even tougher.

In my last class, my にほんごのせんせい (nihongo no sensei - Japanese teacher) was talking about the importance of being self motivated in learning Japanese. The conversation was like below:

Teacher: We will be having a mock test by Mid June so start preparing for the exam.
Student A: But sir, I am a college student and I got my semester exams coming up :)
Student B: For me too.
(There was a chorus, “yeah for us too”)
Student C: At times, I am working even on weekends. It’s really hard to find some time Sir.
Teacher: (with a smile on his face) Ah! Everyone seems pretty busy. Why did you all join the class then?
Student A: Sir, you should be appreciating us. In spite of this busy schedule we bothered to join this class and study.
Teacher: Let me correct you… “In spite of this busy schedule we bothered to join this class” and that is all you have done. (He then smiled and continued the class)
I was thinking about his words over and over. He was so true in saying that. Many of my class mates were so interested when they joined the class. I am not even sure if “interest” is the correct word or should it be “show-off”. Well, whatever it is. Remember guys – “Interest alone will not get us anywhere.”

I am interested in Speaking Japanese. I joined a class. I even attend all the classes without fail. Will I pass? NO if I don’t pay attention to the class. NO if I don’t practice what is taught in the class. NO if I don’t put effort to understand & exercise it on a regular basis. It is not only for Japanese. It holds good for anything and everything. Interest is just a motivating factor. It is a MUST to start off any task but it is NOT the only thing needed to achieve that task.

The series Japanese is possible have also discussed about the same thing. The below extract says the top five myths about learning Japanese.

Japanese is way too hard

After much study and talking to several people, I must say that Japanese is not "hard" or "complex", but "different". It's true that it is very different from English or Spanish. However, the grammar, spelling, etc. is very straightforward. Making sentences in the language, conversing, etc. can occur very early on. The pronunciation is very close to Spanish, although the accent is different.

I am too busy to learn Japanese

This is a common reason why many people aren't bilingual in Japanese right now. If you don't have a goal in mind, or guidance, you won't notice how much time is spent doing nothing.
If you take a look at your average day from an objective standpoint, you'll find many wasted hours and minutes. Look how much time is spent waiting. Waiting in line, waiting for someone to show up, waiting for the commercials to end, waiting for the movie to start, etc. That wasted time can be used constructively to inch you toward your goal of learning Japanese!

Learning Japanese means learning to write all those difficult symbols

Those "difficult symbols" are the Kanji, borrowed from the Chinese. There are about 2000 Kanji in daily use in Japan. While it is true that the Kanji are probably the most difficult part of Japanese, you can ignore them for quite a while and still enjoy the rest of the language. I will teach many of the beginning lessons in roman characters, so you will have nothing new to learn as far as reading the lessons. I will slowly make the transition to phonetic characters and perhaps in the distant future, I will teach you some Kanji.
To be able to write any word in Japanese, all you need to know are the 2 phonetic systems, "Hiragana" and "Katakana". They only have 46 letters each, and can be learned very easily in a matter of weeks. Plus, once you know how something is pronounced in one word, you know it for any word. It's completely phonetic. Don't you wish English was that way!

Japanese can be learned just by watching Anime

This is so WRONG! Check out what Tofugu have got to say about this. Be sure to watch out his video. It’s fun!

Japanese should be learned only in a formal class room environment

That is pretty easily shot down. I learned Japanese for three years before ever setting foot in a classroom (to learn Japanese, that is). When I finally had the opportunity to take classes, I placed into a Second-Year course in a very good Japanese language program. I've met people who took French and Spanish for three or four years in high school and couldn't place into their respective Second-Year courses. In other words, you don't need a classroom to learn Japanese, you just need to utilize your resources.

Taking a class works for many people. I know it has helped me. I certainly recommend taking a class if you have the opportunity in addition to following this column. You DON'T have to take a class to keep up with this column, though.
What is a classroom? A place of opportunity where you can learn. There are people who go to class and don't learn, and some that seize the opportunity. There are also people that master whole fields of knowledge without going to a classroom. A classroom is just one of the many ways to learn.

To conclude, not only for learning Japanese but anything for that matter:
  • Don’t bother if you are not interested. Failure is guaranteed if you got no interest.
  • Interest alone will NOT get you what you want. It takes dedication, hard work and efforts to be put as well to succeed.
Now go and start practicing your にほんご (nihongo) :)


Japanese Onomatopoeia

Onoma… what? Is that a Japanese word?

Well, NO! Onomatopoeia is an English word meaning a rhetorical device i.e., the use of a language that creates a literary effect (but often without regard for literal significance). Simply put, it is using words that imitate the sound they denote.

In English, we have words like

Splash – The sound like water splashing
Woof – The sound made by a dog
Meow – The sound made by a cat
Buzz – Sound of rapid vibration
Ding – A ringing sound
We have such Onomatopoeia in my native language Tamil as well. As per the Tamil Language grammar they are termed as “Irattai Kilavi” and “Adukku Thodar”. Not trying to explain too much of Tamil grammar but I will at least have to quote some example:
Sala sala – the
Kaa-kaa – sound made by crow (kaakaa is also a noun in Tamil :))
Lol-lol – the sound made by dog
Meeaaw meeaaw – sound made by cat
Bak-bak – sound made by a hen
Kokkarako – sound made by a rooster
Sottu-sotta – more like the English “drip”
I can keep on adding to this list :) Not only English & Tamil but almost all the well established languages have Onomatopoeia. For the sake of quoting a few:

The sound of a kiss in
English - mwah
Malayalam or tamil – umma

Russian - chmok

Japanese - chuu

Filipino - tsup
The Frog croaking in
Ancient Greek - brekekekex koax koax
English - ribbet ribbet
German - quak quak
Russian - qvah qvah
Spanish - croac croac"
Swedish - ko ack ack ack
Filipino - kokak kokak
Hungarian - brekk brekk
There a lot like this which you can see varying across different languages. Japanese is also one amongst. Just to share a few interesting ones, check out:

A list of often used Japanese Onomatopoeia
Japanese Onomatopoeia Game (Requires Macromedia Shockwave Player)

I am in the process of collecting almost all the Japanese Onomatopoeia off of the WWW. I will share it with you all once it’s done :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

JLPT Study Guide

This is a decent site for the JLPT preparation. I appreciate the effort put into the creation of this JLPT Study site.
They also have a JLPT forum to answer your JLPT related queries.

Free Online Flash Cards

Check out Flash Card Exchange
Search for keywords like JLPT, Kanji, Kana, JLPT 4 vocabulary or whatever strikes your mind. You will find a bunch of Flash cards turning up for you to practice :)

FREE 500 Kanji flashcards

FREE 500 Kanji flashcards - Printable version is one of the best sites out there for testing or even learning Kanji. The printable version is available at
Have fun learning with the Flashcards!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Do NOT Hold Doors open for others when you are in Japan

Yes you read that right! I am a native Indian and I personally hold a door open for anyone no matter if it’s a man or a woman or an elderly person. That's just basic manners, isn’t it?

I was shocked when my teacher told me that the Japanese normally don’t do it. It is not discourteous or being rude or something. It is just not in their culture!
So, don’t be surprised if you ever happen to walk through a crowded area through a door. Just watch out for the door not to slap right on your face :D

Kanji Readings

In our earlier post, we discussed about what is Kanji and why do we need Kanji. In this article, we will see how to read Kanji. Almost every Kanji (not necessarily all though) can be read in two different ways. They are:

  1. Onyoumi – The ON reading
  2. Kunyoumi – The KUN reading
Theoretically, they say the On reading is derived from the original Chinese pronunciation whereas the Kun reading is the actual native Japanese pronunciation. Most of the books or websites or any other resources teaching Kanji will have the On reading written in Katakana and the Kun reading in Hiragana just for the differentiation sake and it don’t really have any other significance.

Knowing about Onyoumi and Kunyoumi is not really a big task but knowing when to use what is. As clearly defined by the Kanji site,

The "kun" reading is used when kanji are used on their own, either as complete nouns in their own right or as adjective and verb stems. The "on" readings are typically used when a kanji is part of a compound, i.e. written with at least one other kanji to form a word.

Let’s consider a very simple Kanji letter for example.

This Kanji means “person”. It doesn’t signify any gender if it’s a female or a male. It just gives the meaning, “person”.

The On reading for this letter is either Jin (ジン) or Nin (ニン) The Kun reading is Hito (ひと)

As per the definition quoted above, if the kanji 人 is used separately then it should be read with the Kun reading, Hito (ひと). This Kanji can be used as


How would read this now? America-hito? NO!!

Here the kanji 人 is used along with the letter アメリカ (America) and hence it should be read as アメリカジン (America-Jin) which literally means American.

Hence to summarize, when a Kanji appears in a sentence by itself then Kun reading is applied. If a Kanji is combined with two or more other Kanji/Kana to make a Jukugo (meaning compound word) then the On reading is applied. So, it is advisable to learn not only the Kanji but also both their readings in parallel.

Just know that there are some Kanji which has only On reading. For example,

– Cha (tea)

There are also some Kanji which has more than one On reading. As we will see in our up coming lessons, exceptions are always there in each and every language.
PS: The word America is a foreign word with respect to Japanese and hence it is written in Katakana. Remember? That is what Katakana letters are for – to write foreign words in Japanese

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hiragana letters with Dakuten & Maru

We have already learned all the set of unique Hiragana letters with stroke order and pronunciation in our previous lessons. In today's lesson we are gonna see how to use a dakuten and a maru to form new Hiragana letters.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Practice Kana

This is a list of online sites where you can practice your kana :) Have fun learning!

Hiragana Timer
Hiragana Drag-n-Drop Exercise
Hiragana and Katakana Practice - Real Kana
Hiragana and Katakana practice
Hiragana Exercises - Tae Kim's Japanese grammar guide
Hiragana Practice
ChipChat Hiragana Drill
ChipChat Katakana Drill
Hiragana Typing Game

Waken Software

I recently downloaded Wakan and it looks quite OK. It seems to be one of the nice and useful tools I have found online. Try WaKan Complete Installer - 11 MB. It's FREE!

About Japanese

Everything about Japanese - Contains almost everything about Japanese right from the Kana through culture till jobs in Japan. I would recommend this site any day for the beginners! :) You would not believe if I say I started off my Kana from this site. Their charts are awesome!

What is Furigana?

It's not uncommon to see a kanji with its reading spelled out in very small kana, written just above it. Kana used in this way, to show you how to pronounce a kanji, are known as "furigana".

Image Courtesy: wikimedia

What is Okurigana?

Okurigana are nothing new. It is the same old hiragana characters accompanying Kanji. It shows the grammatical functions of the word.
For example, if a verb such as tsukau is written in kanji as 使う. Do you see the final hiragana letter u? It is Okurigana!

Okurigana can also be used for various purposes such as showing verb and adjective conjugations. They also help the reader to distinguish between various kun'yomi for the same kanji. Okurigana are normally written in hiragana.
What okurigana to use with what kanji is fixed by certain rules of disambiguation.
Read Wiki's Okurigana for more!

Image courtesy: wikimedia

What is Kanji? Why Kanji is still used?

As we already saw in Japanese Scripts, Kanji is one of the writing scripts of Japanese. It is the pictogram of representing things. It is a set of Japanese ideographs borrowed from China.

History of Kanji

History says that the inspiration of Kanji has come from the footprints of birds and animals in the ancient China. I am not really sure if it’s true or not but the reality is this – the origin of Kanji is during the Yin Dynasty (1700 – 1050 B.C). Check out Oracle Bone Sculpture which is the earliest Kanji specimen available today. It was told that this Oracle Bone Sculpture was written on tortoise shell & animal bones. This Oracle Bone Sculpture was followed by the Bronze Sculptures which were mainly used as decorative inscription on Bronze ware, swords, etc during the Chou Dynasty (1050 – 220 B.C.). It is also believed that Kanji has come to Japan from China through Korea somewhere around the fourth and fifth centuries A.D.

Why Kanji?

We already have Hiragana to write Japanese words and Katakana to write foreign words so why Kanji? Can’t we just express it all using hiragana itself?

Technically speaking, Japanese has so many homonyms that it would be utterly confusing just to read a word like "kouka", "shou" or "koutei" in romaji or kana, because they will have at least 5 or 6 (or even more) different common meanings. But these are merely examples, for almost all kanji compound in Japanese have several meanings and there is always a plenty of kanji for a given sound, all having of course a unique meaning. E.g., there are more than 30 ways of writing "kou" alone. So, even though the sound is same (kou), the way how it is written surely does vary based on what kanji written. In this way Kanji is a lot efficient than the Kana.

Well, I do not really care why the Japanese still have Kanji. There might be many reasons, but Kanji is what makes the language challenging, interesting, and beautiful. Imagine if everything were written in kana, Japan wouldn’t even look the same :)

Okay, so how many are they in number?

If you go behind the History, you can find that most of the Kanji were found during the Tang and Sung dynasties. A total of about 47,000 Kanji were recorded in the Kanji Dictionary (Kouki-Jiten) which was compiled in the Ching Dynasty. Around 3,000 to 4,000 Kanji were used in Japan until 1946. Then, the Ministry of Education (Mombusho) made an effort to simplify the writing system. They actually chose 1,850 of the most important Kanji used in various fields including Business, Newspapers, Magazine, Official documents, etc and named it collectively as, Tōyō Kanji (meaning Kanji for general purpose). It was 1981 when the Mombusho added 95 more additional Kanji to the Tōyō list and called it as Jōyō Kanji (Kanji for daily use). The 1,945 kanji in the jōyō kanji consist of:

  • 1,006 kanji taught in primary school (these are known as the kyōiku kanji)
  • 939 more kanji taught in secondary school

What is so tough about Kanji?

Kanji is ideographic & not phonetic! This means that each character represents a concept or idea rather than a sound. Let’s consider the shaded portion of the below picture:

How do you write it in English? – MOUTH
In Kanji –

Did you see the difference? The English word is phonetic. It helps you to read the word but it does not help you to know the meaning of it unless you already know what a mouth is :)

Where as, the Kanji helps you recognize that it is a mouth by seeing the picture but… How do you read it? That is NOT known unless and until you memorize it.

As we said, there are around 1,945 called as the Kanji for daily use (Jōyō kanji). It is really easy to remember how to write them as they are ideographic but to remember how they are read is what making Kanji slightly tougher!

To me, Kanji is beautiful and fascinating!

Reference on the history of Kanji is from Kodansha’s Kanji Guide

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hiragana ら to ん

In our previous lesson, we learned Hiragana ま to よ. In today's lesson we gonna see the next set of Hiragana - ら to ん . As we always say, please watch out for the stroke order and learn them the night way :)

Stroke Order Chart

Stroke Order Video

Audio file for pronunciation

Pronunciation help chart

Hiragana ま to よ

In our previous lesson, we learned Hiragana はto ほ. In today's lesson we gonna see the next set of Hiragana - ま to よ. As we always say, please watch out for the stroke order and learn them the night way :)

Stroke Order Chart

Stroke Order Video

Audio file for pronunciation

Pronunciation help chart

Next Lesson - Hiragana ら to

Hiragana はto ほ

In our previous lesson, we learned Hiragana な to の. In today's lesson we gonna see the next set of Hiraganas. As we always say, please watch out for the stroke order and learn them the night way :)

Stroke Order Chart
Stroke Order Video

Audio file for pronunciation

Pronunciation help chart

Next Lesson - Hiragana ま to

Hiragana な to の

In our previous lesson, we learned Hiragana た to と. In today's lesson we gonna see the next set of Hiragana - な to の. As we always say, please watch out for the stroke order and learn them the night way :)

Stroke Order Chart

Stroke Order Video

Audio file for pronunciation

Pronunciation help chart

Next Lesson - Hiragana は to

Hiragana た to と

In our previous lesson, we learned the Hiragana さ to そ. In today's lesson we gonna see the next set of Hiragana - た to . As we always say, please watch out for the stroke order and learn them the night way :)

Stroke Order Chart
Stroke Order Video

Audio file for pronunciation

Pronunciation help chart
Next lesson - Hiaragana な to

Sticking chopsticks in the bowl

We already say a few strange beliefs followed in Japanese. This is another such superstition associated with death relating to the incorrect use of chopsticks.

Japanese consider sticking your chopsticks into a bowl to be unlucky because a bowl of rice with chopsticks sticking out of it is placed on the altar at funerals. Also at funerals, after the body has been cremated, family members pass the bones from chopstick to chopstick into the urn. This is not something you should do when eating.

So, if you ever visit Japan remember not to stick your chopstick in your bowl and also not to pass food between chopsticks for they are done only during the funeral!

They also say that chopsticks made from certain woods are lucky in different ways. For a general luck charm, pine chopsticks will do. Cypress chopsticks are for hope

What is JLPT?

Most of the widely used languages have an exam to test the level of the language proficiency of the speaker or learner. If you consider English, there are exams like BULATS, BEC, etc. For Hindi, we have Hindi Prachara Sabha’s exam. For German, we have Zertifikat Deutsch, Großes Sprachdiplom, TestDaF, etc. Japanese is no exception to that! The Japanese The JLPT, Japanese Language Proficiency Test, is a Japanese language skills test for non-native speakers. It doesn’t really mean that the native speaker should not appear for the test but it is designed specifically for the non-native Japanese speakers :) The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test is conducted both in Japan and outside Japan. The test is administered by Japan Educational Exchanges and Services, inside Japan, and by the Japan Foundation, outside Japan. The JLPT was first held in 1984, the year when I was born :D Seems like there is a deep connection between us Lol

Various JLPT Levels

JLPT Exams tests the Japanese proficiency on four different levels ranging from 1 through 4 where 4 being the lowest level and 1 being the highest as well as complicated level. There is no such hard and fast rule that you should start only from Level 4 and end with Level 1. If you think you qualify the skill set of Level 3 or 2 or 1 you then directly can appear for that particular level. However, it is advisable for ay beginner to start with Level 4 and proceed through Level 1.

The Japan Foundation has revised the JLPT Levels and announced that it will be come in to action from 2010 onwards. As per the revised plan, there will be 5 levels.

How often is the JLPT Exam held?

Till last year 2008, the JLPT exam used to happen only once during the December first Sunday. However, this has been revised since 2009. From 2009 onwards, the JLPT is being held twice for Level 1 and 2. It is held only once for Level 3 and 4.

For this 2009, the JLPT is scheduled to take place on Sunday, July 5 and in December. In July the Level 1 and Level 2 test will be administered in Japan, China, South Korea, and Taiwan. In December all level test will be administered worldwide.
JLPT Exam syllabus

The exam content differs for each and every level. The exam for all the levels is made up of three sections: Writing-Vocabulary; Listening; Reading-Grammar. The contents and criteria of the test are as follows:

JLPT Results & Certification

It will take around two to three months to get your result. So, if you take up the exam by December 2009 you can expect your result by end of Feb or mid of March 2010. For Level 4, 3 and 2, the pass percent is 60 where as for Level 1 it is 70 percent. Once you got through the exam, you will be issued a certificate for the level which you passed. If you so badly want to know what does a JLPT Certificate looks like, browse through Google Images for JLPT Certification

I am longing for the day to hold my very own certificate in my hands :) "Level 3 certificate come to me" Lol

For all those who are preparing the JLPT, Ganbatte Kudasai!

Keep checking Official JLPT Site for latest updates

What is Rōmaji

Yes, Rōmaji it is… with a prolonged o sound. Many people spell it romaNji incorrectly. Rōmaji is the correct word meaning Romanization of Japanese. Apart from the three different system of writing Japanese, Romaji is also used to write Japanese. In fact, Rōmaji is the standard way of transliterating Japanese into the Latin alphabet. Wikipedia claims that all Japanese who have attended elementary school since World War II have been taught to read and write romanized Japanese.

Various system of Rōmaji

The Latin alphabet was first used in Japan in the 16th century by Portuguese missionaries, who devised a Romanization system based on Portuguese spelling. Later the Dutch introduced a Romanization system based on Dutch. By the 20th century, there were a number of different Romanization systems in use.. The three main ones are:

Hepburn Romanization
Kunrei-shiki Rōmaji and
Nihon-shiki Rōmaji

Variants of the Hepburn system are the most widely used. For example, let’s consider the name じゅんいちろう. This is written in Hiragana. To write this in equivalent English Kana characters - ju-n-i-chi-ro-u. If it was to be written in romanized version it would be - Jun'ichirō (as per Revised Hepburn Application of Rōmaji)

Why to use Rōmaji?

Romanization of Japanese helped big time to input Japanese into word processors and computers and other electronic devices that do not support the display or input of Japanese characters. When it comes to education field, Rōmaji was a lot helpful for foreigners to start reading Japanese faster. It is also helpful in academic papers in English (or other Western languages) written on Japanese linguistics, literature, history, and culture.

Finally, Rōmaji is not English

As everyone else, I was also under the misconception that Rōmaji is English but I was proved to be wrong when I read a document on ‘Rōmaji is not English’. Here is the extract of that document:

The great benefit of romaji is also the source of many problems: it looks like English. When Taro in fourth grade writes his name in romaji lettering, is he writing in English? Many teachers think so, and even instruct him to ‘Eigo de kakinasai’ (write it in English) when what they mean is ‘write it in romaji’. Written romaji may appear similar to English but in fact, several Kunrei-shiki romaji encodings do not follow standard English phonetic patterns.

When students confuse the phonic patterns of romaji as English phonic coding, they are mixing a syllabic language (Japanese) with its inseparable consonant-vowel pairs (ma-mi-mu-me-mo), with the sound patterns of English, which features distinctive vowels and consonants and abundant consonant clusters.
Download the complete document for further reading.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Strange Japanese beliefs

I am unlucky enough to not have a change yet to visit Japan :) but from what I have read and heard from other fellow Japanese learners and few native Japanese mates, I came to know that there are an umpteen number of strange beliefs prevailing in Japan.

These are a few –

  • Eating peanuts will make your nose bleed. – I need to know what the Japanese peanuts are made of Lol
  • Leaving a window open while you sleep will give you a stomach ache. – I think this makes sense. If you leave your window open when you sleep, you might be a victim of burglary which will make you poor over a night and the next day you will be starving which would cause stomach ache Lol
  • Leaving a fan on while you sleep will make you sick and may kill you.- I have no idea how this works. Don’t they have summer in Japan?
  • Drinking soda (especially dark ones) will melt your bones. – Exactly! Even the coke spoils our teeth, I have read it somewhere! Coke contains caffeine which uses up the calcium in the bones.
  • Leaving a bottle of water outside your home will keep cats away – Are Japanese cats scared of water? Or the bottle? :) Well, I guess they do it in the Ozzie and UK as well, yeah?
  • If you cut your nails at night, you will not be with your parents when they die. – What if I bite nails and not cut at night?
  • If you lie down immediately after eating, you will become a cow. – Yes you probably will! Just eating and sleeping makes everyone a lazy cow :)
  • Black cats crossing the street in front of you cause bad luck – Hmmm! Sounds like an imported belief to me.
  • Stepping on the threshold is a bad luck – why have a threshold then? :)
  • It's disrespectful to take pictures of tombs or even to point at them. There is a belief that it is disrespectful to the spirits of the dead.
  • They believe in the blood types – Refer Blood Types Culture in Japanese
I so wish I would have a chance to visit Japan and experience it all, at least once before I die :)

PS: This list might get added as I come across more such beliefs.

EDIT: Adding few more such superstitions

  • If you play with fire, you will wet your bed - Should have been said to keep the kids away from fire
  • A cold mid-section will cause diarrhea - Sounds biologically correct :)
  • The first dream of a new year will come true - Now I wish I could remember what my first dream of this year was! :(
  • Breaking a comb or the cloth strap of a “geta” wooden sandal breaking is an omen of misfortune - Interesting!
  • Stepping on the cloth border of a tatami mat brings bad luck - Got no clue why though?
  • If you go to a funeral, you should throw salt over yourself before entering your home - Well, the same is done here in South India as well but we use turmeric dissolved water instead of salt. It is for the sake of cleansing, I believe.
  • You should never write a persons name in red ink - I have done it umpteem number of times. Nothing scary seem to have happened for them.
  • If you catch a crow's eyes, something bad will happen - The South Indian version of this superstition would be, "If you see a dark black fat crow (called as Andankaaka in Tamil), it is luck!" or "If a crow flies just above head then it is a bad luck"
  • If you see a spider in the morning, it means good luck so you shouldn't kill it, but if you see one at night, it means bad luck so you can kill it - What ever! I hate spiders with all my soul and heart

Whistling in the night

Image courtesy:

I was never told by my grand ma or anyone to not whistle during the nights. That is mainly because I don’t know how to whistle :) Seriously, there are some superstitions prevailing here in India (not on the urban areas though) that if we whistle during the night time, a snake will come and bite you! How funny!

We don’t need an Animal planet to come and tell us that Snakes don’t have ears to listen you whistle. It did not surprise me when my Japanese friend said that this same belief (or should I say superstition) is prevailing in Japanese as well :)

I used to think how lame it is until I came to know that even Japanese believe this crap. Now that Japanese believe it too, Considering how closely packed the houses are in Japan, it may have just been a convenient way to scare the kids into silence at night. I think well it’s cool :D
I am so in love with you, Japan - all is fair in love & war :)

Japanese Lucky Numbers – 7 & 8

Japanese culture considers 7 & 8 to be their lucky numbers. Well, 7 is not only the Japanese lucky number but a universal one. If you see, there are many great things related to the number 7. To list a few, Seven Wonders of the World, Seven Deadly sins, Seven Virtues, the seven seas, seven days of the week, seven colors of the rainbow, Seven swaras in the Indian classical music, the seven dwarfs, Seven Samurai, and a lot more to mention.

When it comes to 8, the Japanese culture calls it lucky because of the shape of the Kanji for the number 8. This is what the Kanji letter for the number 8 looks like:

If you observe it, you could see the two strokes are wider at the bottom. Japanese consider that this suggests a better time or better things to come in the future!

Japanese Unlucky Numbers – 4 & 9

As we all know, 13 is considered as the unlucky number in almost all cultures. It is called as the number of the Beast. Many people try to avoid the "unlucky" number 13, a fear of which is called "triskaidekaphobia”.

Likewise, the Japanese people consider 4 and 9 to be the unlucky numbers. There are many hospitals that don't have these numbers as the room number or even the floor number. There are no seats with numbers 4, 9 and 13 on passenger planes of the All Nippon Airways. The Japanese also dislike Friday the13th, though many of them are not Christians.

Before we see why 4 and 9 are considered as unlucky numbers, let’s see how to pronounce 4 and 9 in Japanese. The number 4 can be pronounced as shi or yon. The number 9 is pronounced as kyuu or kuu. The pronunciation shi" shares the same pronunciation as death and the pronunciation "ku" shares the same pronunciation as agony or torture. Hence the Japanese people consider 4 and 9 to be unlucky numbers!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

“MaJa – Learn Japanese the easy way”

The word MaJa is an acronym to “MAsti JApanese”. The word masti means a lot. To mention a few, it can be said synonymous to excitement, happiness or simply having fun. I believe, learning Japanese is having fun… to me at the least :) Hence the name MaJa. On the other hand, MaJa is the name of a South Indian movie which my most favorite actress Asin acted in :)

What MaJa is all about?

MaJa series will help you learn to write/read and speak Japanese. MaJa is targeted towards those who are totally new to the Japanese language and those who are in the beginner’s level of learning Japanese. So, if you are an intermediate or advance level Japanese speaker, then do not expect much out of this series. As of now and also for the next few months, MaJa will only cover basic level of Japanese. Once I feel I have covered everything a beginner should know, I might then move on to the Intermediate level. MaJa will also concentrate on the JLPT 4 & JLPT 3 exam aspects but it will take quite some time to reach there, as I first need to lay strong foundation for my readers to start with Japanese.

Why MaJa?

I know how you feel, “Yet another Japanese online lesson? Same old crap!” Well, I initially did not want to have a series like this as there are hell a lot of resources available in the net teaching Japanese the best way and professional way! I then thought, when every non-native Japanese speaker is trying to contribute something to the ‘World of Japanese Students!” why should I not? I am preparing for JLPT 3 this year December 2009 and hence my knowledge in Japanese will not be as fluent as you think but still I have my own learning and my own stuff to share. In MaJa I will share my personal tricks & tips which I used and using to learn the Japanese scripts the easy way. I will also share some self-recorded audio files, documents for my readers. I also will share list of other resources which I referred and still refer to enhance my Japanese knowledge. Intermittently I will also share some interesting facts about Japanese and Japan .


Interest to learn Japanese and English fluency are the two things needed to follow MaJa series. Yes, you need not know even the ‘ABC’s of Japanese. I will get you started!


If you would like to contribute articles to MaJa then please drop me an e-mail at (remove that NOSPAM when you mail me :))

Watch out Masti Japanese for more! Let's spread the love for Japanese! :)

じゃ また!

PS: If you find some time, check out my other blog Cyber Drop

HIragana さ to そ

In our previous lesson, we learned the second set of five Hiragana. In today's lesson we gonna see the next set of Hiraganas. As we always say, please watch out for the stroke order and learn them the right way :)

Stroke Order Chart

Stroke Order Video

Audio file for pronunciation (さ to そ)

Pronunciation help chart

Hiragana か to こ

In our last lesson, we saw the first set of 5 Hiraganas, Hiragana あ to In today's lesson we gonna see the next set of Hiraganas. As we always say, please watch out for the stroke order and learn them the right way :)

Stroke Order Chart

Stroke Order Video

Audio file for pronunciation

Pronunciation help chart

Next Lesson - Hiragana さ to

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hiragana - あ to お

As already said in Japanese Scripts post, Hiragana is the Japanese script which is used to write Japanese words. It basically contains 46 different letters which we will be discussing shortly. No matter if you are writing Hiragana or Katakana or even Kanji, the stroke order is very important in writing Japanese.

Stroke Order Chart

Stroke Order Video

Audio file for Pronunciation

Pronunciation help chart

Next Lesson: Hiragana か to

Friday, March 20, 2009

Japanese Script

Every language needs a script for it's written form. Japanese is not an exception! To write in Japanese, two different scripts can be used namely Kana and Kanji. This Kana is further sub divided into Hiragana and Katakana. Kanji is the script that was inherited from Chinese centuries ago.

Hiragana & Katakana - Why two?

It's enough to learn just 26 letters to master English Script (also called as the English Alphabets). When it comes to Japanese, there are about 46 letters both in Hiragana and Katakana. Combination of two kanas can produce a new sound which we will see in our lessons. You should know that the letters both in Hiragana and Katakana share the same pronunciations.

If they have the same pronunciations then why two different scrips? Well it's not only you but any person starting to learn Japanese will wonder why should Japanese have two different kanas. Well, the reason is clear and simple. To justify, let me tell you some example -

How do you write the word 'Determination' in English?
Determination - yes, you will write it as it is because the word Determination is an English word.
Now, let's consider a non-English word. Say, नमश्कार. This is a Hindi language word which translates to Welcome in English). So, now how do you write this word in English? You will transliterate, yeah? Hence it will be Namashkaar!

This same rule applies to Japanese as well with a little twist. Unlike English which uses same script for both English and foreign words, Japanese use Hiragana to write Japanese words and Katakana to write foreign words.

The word Nihon (meaning Japan) is a Japanese word so it should be written in Hiragana where as this site name, MaJa is a non-japanese word and hence it should be written in Katakana.
Note: As we move down the lessons, you will also find that Japanese words that can be written using Hiragana can also be written using Kanji's.

Kanji? Say what?

Kanji are the symbolic representations of a word i.e., pictogram! As said earlier, these script are inherited from Chinese over centuries. Kanjis have different readings (pronounciations) and meanings depending on how they're combined with other kanji. As everyone else say, it is not really that hard to learn Kanji as long as you practise. However it is really challenging to remember their stroke order. Don't get confused with the word stroke order. It just means the sequencial order in which a Kanji should be written.

Japanese FAQ claims that there are about 50,000 Kanji but you need not learn them all! Think that you are fluent enough in English. Does that mean you know all the letter in English? Not really! The same logic holds good here. To understand, write and speak Japanese fluently, it is more than enough if you know about 1,000 Kanji. It is said that the Japanese Ministry of Education declared 1,945 characters as "Jooyoo Kanji", which are the most frequently used characters.

When it comes to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, they require you to know some amount of Kanji's depending on your JLPT level as shown below:
Level 4 - Around 100 Kanji
Level 3 - Around 300 Kanji
Level 2 - Around 1,000 Kanji
Level 1 - Around 2,000 Kanji
However, if you are beginner you should first be starting it with Hiragana, Katakana and then Kanji parallely learning vocabularies. That is how I started mine :)