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 :)