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