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March 03, 2008

A memorable short story set in Japan 

If you haven’t yet read Tom Doyle’s short story, “The Floating Otherworld,” then take twenty minutes and do so now.  

This is a macabre story, but it doesn’t really cross the line into outright horror. The story is set in Japan during the O-Bon holiday. The main character is a thirtysomething expatriate professional who has an office job in Tokyo. Many of you should be able to relate. This is not the sort of thing I usually feature on this site, but I think you’ll like it.


Robots and Shinto 

I have to admit that I am a bit fascinated by the whole robot thing, and robots are really taking off in Japan, as this article suggests. Apparently the idea of a robot is more palatable to the Japanese mindset, largely because of the country’s animist religion, Shinto: 

Japanese are also more accepting of robots because the native Shinto religion often blurs boundaries between the animate and inanimate, experts say. To the Japanese psyche, the idea of a humanoid robot with feelings doesn't feel as creepy _ or as threatening _ as it might do in other cultures.


February 28, 2008

Is Chinese easier than Japanese?


University of Auckland Chinese professor Paul Clark writes

Young (and not-so-young) New Zealanders are taking to the study of Chinese language with growing enthusiasm. They are discovering that the language is not difficult to learn and that it opens up a whole new world of knowledge and insight. 

Schools in Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch, and throughout the country are offering Chinese language instruction. Primary school children in Kristin School in Auckland begin their study of Chinese at about the same time as their formal English lessons start. 

We do have a precedent for this interest in Chinese. In the late 1960s, in what we could call the first flurry of interest in our Near North, first Indonesian and then Japanese took off in New Zealand high schools.  

New Zealanders who have been exposed to Japanese language at high school may be surprised to discover that Chinese is an easier language for English speakers to learn.

I’m not sure I can agree with that last line. Chinese does have easier grammar than Japanese. But Chinese pronunciation and aural comprehension skills take a lot of work.  

By the way, I think that both languages are worth learning. (I still plan to start a Mandarin tutorials section on this site.) However, students who switch from Japanese to Mandarin with the expectation that “Chinese is an easier language” are sure to be disappointed.


February 26, 2008

Tips for Learning Kanji

And here your faithful host addresses the age-old question: how to I learn kanji?




February 24, 2008 


Word of the Day 


肥満(ひまん) =  fat; obesity


The headline below indicates that middle-aged women in the U.S. are suffering more strokes, perhaps as a result of increased bodyweight.  



米女性の脳卒中、30‐50代で急増 肥満の影響か 



脳卒中 (のう そっちゅう) stroke

急増 (きゅうぞう) sharp increase

米女性 (べい じょせい) American women

影響 (えいきょう) influence





February 23, 2008


Word of the day 


"strong wind"



Usage Example:


It seems that the weather in Japan got a little out of hand recently:




日本海の低気圧が急速に発達しながら東に進んだ影響で…(continue reading here)




Supplementary Vocabulary:


大荒れ天気 (おおあれ てんき)stormy weather

地下鉄 (ちかてつ) subway

各地で (かくち で) all over, in every place

日本海 (にほんかい) Sea of Japan

低気圧 (ていきあつ) low air pressure

急速に (きゅうそく に) rapidly

発達する (はったつ する) to develop

東 (ひがし) east

進む(すすむ) to advance

影響(えいきょう) influence, impact




February 21, 2008 

Need inspiration? 

South African writer Rika Susan offers it in this piece entitled: 

“5 Money And Lifestyle Reasons To Learn Japanese Alphabets And Kanji Symbols” 

(I of course know that most of you don’t need encouragement; and not everyone learns Japanese for money. Consider this one to file away for the days when you do lack motivation.)



Word of the Day


衛星(えいせい) satellite


Usage Example (a headline from CNN.co.jp):





スパイ衛星 (スパイ えいせい) spy satellite

撃墜する (げきつい する) to shoot down

有毒燃料 (ゆうどく ねんりょう) poisonous fuel

破壊する (はかい する) to destroy 

Continue reading here.....


February 20, 2008 

Obama-mania and Japan 

Japanese123.com is generally a politics-free zone; but this article about the Japanese version of Obama-mania will be of interest to language students:

OBAMA, Japan — Just before the results of the big Feb. 5 round of primaries and caucuses reached this snow-covered fishing town hard by the Sea of Japan, a few of its most enterprising residents realized that a man who shared their town’s name could be America’s next president. (continue reading here…)


I think its safe to say that if the whole presidency thing doesn’t work out for Barack Obama, he will be more than welcome as a commercial spokesperson in Japan. 



Word of the Day


図星を指す(ずぼし を さす= to hit the bulls-eye; to hit the nail on the head 


Usage examples: 




Source: namonakihana.blog62.fc2.com/blog-date-200605.html




February 19, 2008

Origami planes in space? 

Well, it sounds a bit odd to me, but… 

In a bold bid to take the traditional art of origami beyond the Final Frontier, Japan is planning to release a huge squadron of paper aeroplanes in outer space.  

Don’t miss this one. Continue reading here


Word of the day 

へそまがり =  one who contradicts others just to be contradictory 

This word can also be used as an adjective, as in: 


Cat Language

Have you read "Cat Language" yet? This one gets a lot of internet links...


February 17, 2008

Instructor wows Tampa-area teens with Japanese grammar 

Here is an article from a Florida news site that covers a presentation about the intricacies of the Japanese language. The audience consisted of teenagers from the Tampa, Florida area 

You can the see University of South Florida instructor Ted Ohtani’s slide in the online photo. The slide introduces the multiple levels of politeness that are possible in even a very simple utterance in Japanese.  

I wonder if this inspired the kids to learn Japanese, or made them swear to avoid Japanese language classes at all costs? I’m going to be an optimist and bet on the former.



February 16, 2008

More Japanese by Example video....




February 14, 2008

For Valentines Day.....

A brief video from my YouTube collection: A few Japanese proverbs....



February 12, 2008

山陽新幹線博多開業30周年 新幹線の歴史

The History of San'yo Shinkansen

Here is a video that should be reasonable accessible for those of you have intermediate-advanced listening skills. Listen for the phrase:

大きな影響を与えました(おおきな えいきょう を あたえました)= it exerted a big influence




February 10, 2008

Studying Japanese in junior high...

Anime never really floated my boat, but a lot of young people around the world are really into it these days. Many of them are content to consume anime in translation; but others have been inspired to learn Japanese.

Inconsequential interests and events often prompt people to jump into foreign language study. In my book Why You Need a Foreign Language & How to Learn One, I describe my own journey towards Japanese studies about 20 years ago. My reasons for learning Japanese at the time were somewhat frivolous in retrospect. But Japanese turned out to be a great resume builder and career tool.

So, my feeling is: whatever motivates young people to study foreign languages, I'm for it. Here is an article about two Missouri teens whose love of anime led to an interest in Nihongo....

Students' trip offers chance to study Japanese language and culture

February 10, 2008 | 4:58 p.m. CST

Before they began taking Japanese in school, Brent Head and Jacob Abbott tried to write the language themselves. Fans of anime, a type of Japanese cartoon, the boys copied the hiragana characters as best they could — not knowing what they meant but utterly captivated by their mystery. (continue reading...)



February 09, 2008


Japanologist Donald Keene 

You may have read some of my earlier postings about the books of Jack Seward (Japanese in Action, etc.). Seward, you may recall, originally learned Japanese for military purposes during World War II, 

Donald Keene is another Japan specialist from the WWII generation. He has written about thirty books, including a book about Shinto that served as the English-language standard on the topic for many years. 

His next book Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan will be available in stores soon. 

Here is a recent article about Keene in Time, as well as his Wikipedia entry



Word of the Day





物事をおおげさに言う  to exaggerate things (in speech)