I really wish you could put your spare motivation into a bottle to use when you need it the most. Getting into a new routine is difficult sometimes, but I have seen making use of a new trick to boost my productivity: The 5 Second Rule.
The 5 second Rule is often used to refer to this myth that if you drop a piece of food on the floor but pick it up within 5 seconds, it is still safe to eat.
American TV host and motivational speaker Mel Robbins has written a book with the title The 5 Second Rule. The idea of the 5 Second Rule is simple, but if you are keen to get a feel for the book’s content I recommend checking out one this great summary video:
The gist of the book is that in order to develop better habits, you need to reduce the time you spend thinking about an action you might take. When you get an impulse to do something, you have 5 seconds to take action.
So if you find yourself thinking something like: “I should read an article in Japanese” “I should do my Anki reviews” “I should turn off the English subtitles”
…You need to actually follow up on that thought in 5 seconds or less. After that point, you will most likely hesitate for too long and think of an excuse not to do it, especially if it is out of your comfort zone.
This works for reinforcing good habits and getting rid of bad ones. In fact, Mel used this method to tackle her bad habit of using the snooze button too much in the morning.
Apparently, the brain is very good at picking up on these impulses to take action whenever we are in close proximity to certain stimuli. For example, if you leave your Japanese textbook on a table that you walk past every day, you most likely have an impulse to pick up the textbook.
Acting on these brief moments of inspiration can have an extremely powerful effect, especially if you are a big procrastinator like me. Most of the time, it is the getting started that is the hardest part of my study lessons. Using the 5 second rule makes you feel much more in control of your habits, helping to reduce stress as well.
I started using the 5 Second Rule with really small things which made things feel much less scary. Together with making other changes like putting my Japanese books in easy to reach places has made a big difference. So far I feel like I have been able to make more time for Japanese study, mostly grammar stuff which I rarely look forward to starting. The truth is that I am using my time more effectively that I now feel like I have a bit more time left to focus on other interests.
What one thing has helped you to be more productive recently? Let me know in the comments!
Tadoku Tuesdays are back! As I did in the last post (which was something like 8 months ago!), I am going to write about a couple of books I have been reading, as well as any new additions to my book collection.
The Novel I’m Reading: 君の膵臓を食べたい/ I Want to Eat Your Pancreas by 住野よる/ Yoru Sumino
I’ve heard a lot about this novel, not least because of its unusual title. I bought the book last year but I only started reading it about a month ago.
The main character (who I only know as boku) finds out that his classmate Sakura is suffering from a terminal pancreatic disease. This secret brings together two characters who are very different; whereas Sakura is sociable and cheerful, the boy prefers solitude. As they spend more time together the boy learns Sakura’s approach to life brings its own rewards.
I am only about a quarter of the way through the book, but unfortunately I haven’t been captivated by it just yet. I want to like this novel more but the idea that boku is an anti-social high school boy feels like a very familiar trope. I will finish the novel as I want to see if the story develops into something a bit more interesting.
The book has been pretty straightforward to read so far, especially as there has been lot of dialogue between the two main characters. Based on what I have seen, it seems pretty accessible for JLPT N3 learners.
There are also manga, live action film and anime film adaptations of the novel which I would like to watch when I have finished with the novel. The anime film seems to have a lot of positive reviews so I will probably watch this first.
The Novel I Recently Finished: 三毛猫ホームズのクリスマス by 赤川次郎/ Jiro Akagawa
This is a collection of short stories by famous author Jiro Akagawa. Every so often I find myself wanting to read a mystery, but I am not always interested in tackling a whole novel (especially if I am focused on reading another novel). Jiro Akagawa has written a huge amount of books, with the Calico Holmes series being the biggest and most well known. I happened to buy the book before Christmas and chose this one based on the title (only the last story is related to Christmas though).
Despite the title, we read the story from Yoshitaro Katayama’s perspective. Yoshitaro Katayama is a detective who probably isn’t a natural fit for the job – he isn’t good with dead bodies or talking to women.
Together with his sister Harumi, they often find themselves involved in some strange situations which call upon their investigative skills. Whenever the Katayama siblings are stuck, their cat Holmes usually helps point them in the right direction. There are also a few other returning side characters who also provide support as well as comic relief.
I enjoyed the variety of stories and the relationship between the Katayama siblings. Yoshitaro and Harumi often make up for each others’ shortcomings, even if they do bicker a lot. I was surprised that Holmes wasn’t really the main character but I think his role in the stories works really well. From a language perspective, the writing style is easy to follow too. I’d recommend this for JLPT N3 level learners who like mystery stories that aren’t too demanding.
I found out this week that there is a live action drama adaptation which I am interested in watching, although reviews seem to be mixed.
Books added to my To Be Read pile:
Again I am staying focused on my goal of buying fewer books, but I did pick up one eBook a couple of months ago as it was on sale – ペンギン・ハイウェイ/ Penguin Highway by 森見登美彦/ Tomohiko Morimi.
This novel was released back in 2010, however a manga and film adaptation was released last year. I know that the novel is about a boy who wants to find out why penguins have suddenly started appearing in his town. Since the main story is about a young boy, the language used seems to be pretty simple with short sentences.
I’m looking forward to reading it as it seems like an odd but charming story. I’ll probably follow it up by watching the anime film adaptation at some point too.
So that’s it for today’s post – you can take a look at these books on the ebookJapan website and read the previews (look out for the “試し読み” button) if you are interested in checking them out.
What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!
Following my post on 15 Easy Japanese Songs, I realised that finding Japanese songs from outside the country can be pretty difficult.
Unlike music from other parts of the world, the Japanese music industry is a little bit more old fashioned, and so it can be difficult to find some music online due to copyright issues. This is less of a problem with contemporary artists, which have generally been embracing more modern platforms.
I hope this post will help give you some ideas on where to find your next favourite Japanese song.
Places to discover Japanese music
The Oricon Music chart will give you an idea of what is popular in Japan right now. Although all in Japanese, the website is pretty easy to navigate. If you are into pop/rock or idol music, you will most likely find a couple of artists to listen to just from the charts alone.
No matter what genre of music you prefer, YouTube is a pretty great place to start looking. The YouTube channels for major Japanese record labels include:
There are plenty of user made playlists too – search ‘Japan’ or ‘Japanese’ to find them! If you are lucky to be based in Japan then you will be able to access a much larger library of music.
I’ve also tried Deezer which has also some Japanese songs (although I feel they are a bit trickier to find compared to Spotify). The user created playlists are a great place to start looking, though there are a few official ones too.
I noticed that on Deezer it is possible to view the lyrics to some Japanese songs, although it seems to be a Premium feature.
Japan Top 10 Podcast
Another place to keep up with Japanese music is the Japan Top 10 podcast. Japan Top 10 iis a regular Japanese music podcast showcases a variety of music. Their artist spotlight posts are a good way to find out about popular artists both past and present.
Where can you buy Japanese music?
Once you have an idea of what music you like, the next step is actually purchasing it.
I live in the UK, but I have found that you can often find Japanese music on most digital music platforms. If you prefer physical music then you still have a range of options (though I suggest you buy a few CDs at a time to make shipping costs more economical).
iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Play Music
iTunes is undoubtedly your best bet if based outside of Japan – it definitely has the widest range of Japanese music.
If you don’t have iTunes, it is possible to find some Japanese songs on Amazon Music and Google Play Music. Compared to iTunes though, this is often limited to artists who are fairly well known and may only be part of their discography.
For most of the artists I looked at, songs that are available on Amazon Music are usually available on Google Play Music.
There’s also a Japanese website called OTOTOY, which is Japanese music-focused but is also internationally oriented (you can view the OTOTOY website in English, Japanese, French or Traditional Chinese). There are interviews and news features on the website, although these are all in Japanese. Most importantly, you can download Japanese music digitally which can be paid for in a few ways including (international) credit cards and Paypal.
I’ve found the range of music includes a greater range of up and coming artists, although you can find music by popular artists such as Aimyon, Sekai no Owari, Greeeen and Shiina Ringo too.
The main downside to OTOTOY is that the costs of digital downloads is noticeably higher than what I pay for Western music. I normally pay 99p ($1.29) for one song, but OTOTOY charges 250 yen ($2.30/ £1.77).
Physical CDs are still super popular in Japan, and whilst brand new CDs can be expensive, second-hand CDs can be bought fairly cheaply.
I also recommend checking out Amazon Japan, CD Japan, HMV Japan and YesAsia (all links take you to the English language versions of their website). Buying in bulk is a good idea not just for shipping costs, but the potential import fees you may have to pay.
It’s always worth checking out eBay – you never know what second hand bargains you might find!
I have a Japanese Music Mondays series on the blog’s Instagram and Facebook pages, with the aim of introducing Japanese music to a wider audience. I try to cover different genres – if you have any suggestions please let me know!
ひさしぶり readers and apologies for the lack of posts/ responses to comments.
You might know from social media that I’ve had an impromptu break from the blog as I have been moving house. I was only planning on being away for a couple of weeks but I had some issues getting the internet set up. Thankfully these are resolved and I am mostly settled in my new place. I also took the opportunity to refresh the blog’s theme.
Being away from the internet for so long did give me a chance to reflect on my language learning. When I have had time to study I have been keeping things really simple.
I was appreciative of the break from the internet for the most part, as I realised that I spend so much time relying on the internet for just about everything. I certainly want to make more time for offline language learning in the future.
Naturally, as my daily routine has changed, my language learning routine is in the process of changing too. I have a longer commute which is ideal for Anki reps and podcasts. On the other hand, I have less time in the morning which is when I used to get in a lot of reading practice. I’m planning to spend more time doing some reading just before I go to bed to make up for it!
The great thing about moving is that I have my own desk for my study sessions. I definitely plan on hitting my JLPT textbooks more consistently going forward.
When I didn’t have the internet, the one thing that I definitely missed the most was the language learning community. Logging into Twitter and Instagram everyday is a massive source of inspiration for me (as long as I don’t spend too much time on it!).
This is a short post today but I want to end by saying thank you for your patience and expect some new posts very soon 🙂
Today’s post is about how to use grammar points てから and たあとで. Both てから and たあとで are JLPT N5 grammar points, used to show the sequence of two events.
A (verb) てから B
After A, B; B happens after A
A (verb) たあとで B OR A (noun) のあとで B
After A, B; B happens after A
Both of them allow you to link two phrases each other, although they require slightly different conjugations.
Let’s look at two actions that we want to link together in one sentence.
Action A is going to be 本を読みました/ ほんをよみました = I read a book
Action B is going to be 寝ました/ ねました = I went to sleep
With てから, you conjugate the verb at the end of action A into the て form and add the word から, and then add action B.
よみます (よむ in plain form) becomes よんで in the て form. Therefore the sentence becomes:
To use たあとで, you need to conjugate the verb into the た form and add あとで before adding action B. If you’ve mastered the て form, then the た form is super easy – just replace the て with た.
Action A can also be a noun, which can be linked to あとで by using the possessive particle の in between.
Using the same example above:
よみます (よむ in plain form) becomes よんで in て form and therefore よんだ in た form. Therefore this time the sentence is:
What is the difference between te kara and ta atode?
てから is used when the second action (B) is going to happen straight after the first (A). In a lot of A てから B sentences, action B is only possible after completing action A. For that reason, it is useful when you want to express actions that take place in a specific order, such as in your daily routine.
A good way to remember this is to think of how the word から can be used on its own to mean ‘after’, ‘since’ or ‘from’ in English.
たあとで on the other hand, contains the word あと (the kanji is 後) which means later, behind, or after. たあとで is used to show that action B takes place after A, but it might not be immediately afterwards.
Taking the example sentence we used before:
= I went to bed after reading a book
ほんをよんだあとで、ねました hon wo yonda atode, nemashita.
= I went to bed after reading a book (but between reading and going to bed I did other things, eg. brushed my teeth)
たあとで can also have the nuance of emphasising the fact that action B takes place after A (and not before). It’s good to remember that this grammar point uses the た form, which is the past tense in plain form.
For instance, there is a famous book/ live action drama/ film called 「謎解き（なぞとき）はディナーのあとで」(The After-Dinner Mysteries). Using あとで emphasises that solving mysteries only takes place after dinner.
食べる・たべる [godan verb] to eat
質問・しつもん question –> 質問をする to ask a question
高校生・こうこうせい high school student
習う・ならう [godan verb] to learn –> ピアノを習う to learn (how to play) the piano
勉強・べんきょう study –> …を勉強する to study…
謎・なぞ mystery –> 謎を解く・なぞをとく to solve a mystery
買い物・かいもの shopping –> 買い物する to go shopping
仕事・しごと work, job
I haven’t written one of these posts in a very long time – the last one was almost 2 years ago! I hope someone finds this useful. If you have any feedback, please let me know in the comments!
I see a lot of people asking: is Duolingo any good for learning Japanese?
From my perspective as a long time Japanese learner, I believe that it can be a useful place to start learning the language.
However, if you are serious about learning Japanese, do not make Duolingo your only resource. As great as the app is for allowing you to practice Japanese and many other languages, it does have some limitations.
About Duolingo for Japanese
Duolingo is a free app for learning various languages. The Japanese course is designed to help you learn the basics through a number of lessons. Each lesson covers a different topic and introduces relevant vocabulary.
People who are not new to the language can take a proficiency test to jump ahead to later lessons.
Duolingo has you practicing new words in a few ways. Often this is by translating them from Japanese to English or vice versa, writing or rearranging sentences and filling in the missing word.
Duolingo has a crown system. By completing all of the lessons within a topic, you level up a crown for that topic. As your crown level increases, the complexity of the sentences does too.
Advantages and disadvantages of Duolingo for Japanese
What I like about the Duolingo Japanese course
There are some obvious benefits to learning Japanese with Duolingo:
It starts from teaching Hiragana. Katakana and kanji are gradually introduced, and they doesn’t use lots of romaji, except at the beginning.
The audio is clear. You can repeat it as much as you need to, which is great for shadowing. There are also sometimes options to hear the audio a little bit slower if you need it, by clicking on the button showing a tortoise.
Vocabulary is introduced by theme. With a new language, the amount of vocabulary to learn can feel overwhelming at times (particularly with Japanese). Introducing words and phrases by topic gives learners a better idea of how to form sentences around that topic.
It encourages you to make language learning a daily habit. Doing a little bit each day is much more effective than once a week. I think the Duolingo streak is a fun way to try and stay consistent with your learning.
The Duolingo community is friendly and helpful. During lessons, you can click on the comments button to see discussions regarding sentence translations.
If you are competitive, it is easy to compete against friends or other learners on the Duolingo leaderboard.
What I don’t like about the Duolingo Japanese course
On the other hand, the disadvantages of the Japanese course as I see it are:
Grammar is not explained at all (in the app, that is). Duolingo relies on inference to learn grammar, ie. by seeing a sentence pattern repeatedly you will work out what it means. This is usually fine for languages with a similar structure to English. Unfortunately, Japanese grammar is so different from English that it is hard to pick up on the differences simply from observing phrases in two languages.
For example, when Duolingo gives you the sentence:
= I am American
I would want to know why the Japanese doesn’t include the word ‘I’.
Fortunately, the desktop version does have grammar notes, which can be viewed before you start a lesson.
I think that these explanations are clear and cover a lot of the basics. However, sometimes the sentence patterns change within the same lesson but lack any explanations on why this happens.
An example of this that is introduced in the Food lesson is the sentence:
ごはんは食べません= I don’t eat rice
I would be confused as to why は is being suddenly used rather than を. Even on the Desktop app, the notes prior to this lesson introduce を as an object marker and there is no mention of how は could be used at all. I think it would be particularly difficult to pick up particle usage from the course.
The comments section goes a long way in filling some of the gaps in grammar explanations.
Having said that, I would be a little wary of some of the comments. After all, they are from fellow learners who may unintentionally give out incorrect information.
This is why a lot of Japanese learners would benefit from using other resources for grammar alongside Duolingo.
When it comes to hiragana, katakana and kanji, the focus is on recognition. Together with the fact that most questions are multiple choice, it is easy to think that you have learned all the kana when you are not studying it on a deeper level.
The introduction of katakana and kanji feels abrupt without explanation (again, I am referring to the app). This would be very confusing to learners without any background on how the various writing systems work.
It would be good for the app to explain how the pronunciations of kanji can vary – for example, 何 kanji is introduced within the first few lessons, but it appears in example sentences as both なに and なん.
Similarly, some vocabulary needs explanations, especially since a lot of English words can correlate to a number of different words in Japanese. Sometimes water is 水, sometimes it appears as お水.
Example sentences and their translations can feel a little off.
Part of this is because some Japanese phrases do not have an English equivalent. I have seen a noticeable improvement in this since the Japanese course was first released in beta. This is because of the many people who have been reporting suggestions on what should be accepted, which Duolingo have then added to the course.
Of course, this is a tough issue to address, but Japanese learners should be aware that the phrase Duolingo tells them is not necessarily the definitive answer in all situations.
What I think Duolingo needs to continue improving on is giving greater flexibility when it comes to writing the right answer. Japanese can be quite ambiguous, so there are many ways to interpret even the simplest sentences.
Overall impressions of Duolingo for Japanese
Overall I feel that Duolingo is a fantastic starting point for those who are interested in learning Japanese. However in my opinion, the cookie-cutter format that Duolingo uses isn’t really compatible with the Japanese language.
By completing the whole tree, you are going to cover a lot of basic Japanese vocabulary, kanji and grammar. The sentences that you cover do increase in complexity but you will most likely reach an upper beginner level (JLPT N5) by the end.
This is great if you are thinking of travelling to Japan in the future. In fact, the last lesson on the Japanese language tree (at the time of writing) is about the Olympics!
If you like the style of Duolingo, but want to try something that addresses some of the issues I raised above, then I recommend checking out Lingodeer. Lingodeer is an app which has a similar format to Duolingo, but is more tailored to East Asian languages. I wrote about the app in my post on the best 7 Japanese learning apps on Android.
By writing this post, I do not mean to discourage people from learning Japanese if Duolingo is their only option. The more people study Japanese, the better! Japanese is a relatively recent addition to Duolingo and there are updates and improvements being made all the time.
I do however think it is important to be aware of the limitations of the course as I see it at the time of writing. At least you can be aware of what things you may need to be careful of or learn via another resources.
What to do alongside or after the Duolingo Japanese course
If you do have a long term goal of learning Japanese beyond beginner level, here are my top tips on making the most of Duolingo Japanese.
1) Use the Desktop version of the course
The desktop version of the course is going to help you understand the structure of Japanese much better than trying to guess grammatical rules.
I do think that it is best to study basic Japanese grammar from other resources where you can. Sometimes grammar makes more sense when you can see the same topic explained in different ways.
Speaking/ Writing – Italki, Hello Talk, Japanese classes, language exchanges and meetups
I want to end this post by saying that I believe that the most important thing in language learning is consistency in your studies rather than what resources you use (although some are definitely better than others!).
There is going to be an update to the Japanese course on Duolingo very soon (known as Japanese 2.0). This update will significantly increase the number of skills, kanji learnt and grammar that you learn. I look forward to giving it another try when it is officially released!
Duendecat is similar to Mainichi, which I mentioned in my first post on Chrome extensions. This extension will show a random Japanese sentence/ hiragana/ katakana/ word/ kanji when you open a new tab.
Extensions that allow you to study when you open a new tab are a great way to get in a little extra practice. I’m a big fan of studying Japanese through sentences, so I really like that Duendecat has this option as the default.
Initially, the sentence will appear in Japanese on its own. However, clicking on the Japanese sentence will make the English translation appear. I’ve found that there is a wide range of sentences covering various levels of formality.
As you can see, furigana is provided above each kanji. Hovering over the kanji gives you the onyomi and kunyomi readings as well as a short English translation. If you use Wanikani to study kanji, then this is even more useful. You are able to set the difficulty of the sentence to match your Wanikani level. To set this up, just go to the options and add in your Wanikani API key.
By the way, the Duendecat website works in a similar way to the extension. You can study a range of sentences that are within your Wanikani level.
I think that the extension is a good one for beginners as they master hiragana, katakana and move on to kanji. I highly recommend it if you plan on using Wanikani.
I am a big fan of the Rikaikun extension, but I have found it less and less reliable recently. Fortunately, there is an alternative, called Yomichan. Having switched to this, I can say that this is one of the very best Chrome extensions for Japanese learners to have installed.
Like Rikaikun, when the extension is enabled, you can hover over a Japanese word to get its furigana reading and English meaning. Yomichan requires you to hold shift and hover over a word.
You can then click on any of the kanji you look up to learn more about it:
If you just want to look up a word, you can use the Search function to look words up and get the same information.
Yomichan has a few additional features that set it apart from Rikaikun. Firstly, native speaker audio is available for a lot of words. Secondly, Yomichan offers integration with Anki (using a plugin called AnkiConnect), allowing you to instantly create flashcards from the words you look up.
For Yomichan to work you need to install at least one dictionary from their website which is very straightforward. JMDict is going to cover the majority of words you might need to look up, and is available in a number of languages besides English. There are other kanji, slang and name dictionaries available to download too. You can also import your own dictionary files using Yomichan Import.
Clearly a lot of hard work has gone into making this extension and it is an amazing tool for Japanese learners. It happens to be free but donations can be made via the homepage if you are able to.
Dual language subtitles are really useful because it allows you to compare the differences in structure between the two languages. I had wished that you could enable two sets of subtitles on Netflix, and now you can with LLN: Language Learning with Netflix. If you are familiar with Viki’s learn mode, then this is pretty similar.
Subtitles are given in your target language with a translation into English. There are a few other options which this short video describes:
LLN supports a wide range of languages. Unfortunately at the time of writing, the integrated dictionary available for other languages does not support Chinese, Japanese or Korean.
This leads me to my alternative recommendation, Subadub.
Subadub is a bit different from LLN since Subadub provides enhanced language subtitles for your target language.
The subtitles in subadub are readable text, which means you can copy and paste them. You can also use this in tandem with Yomichan to look up vocabulary and then add it to Anki.
The subtitles can also be downloaded in full if you like to make flashcards to study with. I think Subadub is a great resource for an intermediate level learner as a way of getting used to only having Japanese subtitles.
So those are my latest discoveries when it comes to Google Chrome Extensions for Japanese learners. Are there any extensions that you find useful (related to language learning or not)? Please tell me in the comments!
As you might know from the blog’s Instagram page, I took part in Langjam last weekend. I thought I’d do a little post about my experience, even though I didn’t make as much progress as planned.
What is LangJam?
Language Jam, (often referred to as Langjam) is a challenge where people interested in languages sign up to study a new language for a weekend.
When you sign up, you input the languages that you already know and are then randomly assigned a language from the list available from the challenge. There’s a real range of languages covering all continents and various writing systems.
The language I was given to study was Swahili, which I was very excited about.
There is a prep phase for your language in the run up to the Langjam weekend where you have time to gather resources, read up on the language and start learning new scripts if applicable.
This was much needed as I basically knew nothing about Swahili. My knowledge was basically limited to the fact that it is spoken in a few different countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, and that Hakuna Matata is a Swahili phrase.
In my prep phase, I learned some interesting facts about Swahili. I didn’t know that Swahili has links to Arabic: Swahili can be written in the Arabic script and share some vocabulary. I also learned that there are a few other Swahili words referenced in The Lion King:
Rafiki = friend
Simba = lion
Pumbaa = foolish, silly, negligent
Nala = gift
I decided to join Langjam near the end of the prep phase, so I didn’t have much time to gather resources. In the end, I mainly used SwahiliPod101 and Duolingo as my main resources. I have mixed feelings about Duolingo, but the Swahili course seems pretty good.
My LangJam experience
Unfortunately I ended up being pretty busy over the weekend and didn’t get much time to study anything in depth. On the other hand, it has been really fun to follow how other people have been getting on with the challenge via the hashtag #langjam.
Swahili is a fascinating language and I hope that one day I will be able to develop some proficiency in it. I will stick with the Duolingo lessons as they are short and sweet, but my focus will remain on Japanese for now.
Doing the Langjam challenge reminded me of one very important thing; the joy of discovering new things about a language. Learning new words and phrases, sentence structures, writing systems, pronunciation can all be a lot of fun at the start.
That feeling we get from all of these new discoveries is so important for sustaining motivated in your target language. Sometimes even though we are settled in our language learning routines, we can be lacking that little spark that keeps you engaged. This is something I have tried to embody in my learning since finishing the challenge.
I love discovering new Japanese music and getting engrossed in Japanese dramas, so I am now trying to dedicate a little bit more time to both of these fun activities (not forgetting the ‘boring’ stuff too!).
If Langjam sounds interesting to you, keep an eye on the website and the social media channels to be notified of the next challenge (it gets held a few times a year).
Have you started any new languages recently? How have you found it so far? Let me know in the comments!
The singer intended to get a tattoo meaning ‘7 Rings’ (the name of her latest single) in Japanese on her hand. She posted an image of her new tattoo on social media last week.
However she may have been relying a bit too much upon Google Translate, since the tattoo she ended up with doesn’t quite mean what she intended it to. It turns out that the kanji compound she opted for is read as shichirin, which is the name for the small barbeque grills you find at yakiniku restaurants.
Soon after being shared online, a lot of her fans were quick to look up the meaning of the tattoo and were pretty confused. Ariana then quickly got her tattoo changed to try and get the meaning closer to ‘7 Rings’.
Aside from not giving her future tattoo a quick search online, I think a lot of people studying Japanese may have seen the tattoo and not immediately thought of a barbeque grill.
Why does this happen in Japanese?
One reason for this is ateji (当て字). Ateji is the name given to words borrowed from other languages (mostly Chinese), where the kanji for that word were chosen based on their pronunciation rather than their meaning.
However, you may see it in relation to the names of various countries, particularly in newspapers. For instance:
Name in Katakana/ Romaji
えい / ei
イギリス / igirisu
ふつ / futsu
フランス / furansu
どく / doku
ドイツ / doitsu
せい / sei
スペイン / supein
ごう / gou
オーストラリア / oosutoraria
か / ka
カナダ / kanada
いん / in
インド / indo
い / i
イタリア / itaria
Sometimes these ateji readings are used in words in literature and TV to give them an artistic flair. If this is something you want to learn more about, I recommend checking out BuSensei’s social media feeds as he regularly posts about interesting kanji usage.
Another reason for this is that modern words are contractions of old sayings or idioms, which there are some examples of below.
Seeing the story about Ariana inspired me to look up other words which have a different meaning to the sum of the component kanji.
Here’s a few other words in Japanese which fall into this category.
馬 (horse) + 鹿 (deer) = 馬鹿 baka (idiot)
This is probably the most famous example amongst Japanese learners (although often written in hiragana), since we see it so much in the media.
The etymology of baka is contested, but there are two main theories. Baka could be a word derived from an old Chinese idiom (meaning ‘to point at a deer and call it a horse’, ie. deliberately misleading someone) or a loanword from Sanskrit.
Like baka, sushi is thought to have two different origins.
The first is that it comes from the word 久し (ひさし/ hisashi), meaning long lasting (as in 久しぶり). This is why the kanji compound is made up of the kanji for longevity and the kanji for servant.
The second (ateji origin) is thought to be from the word ‘酸し’, (すし, meaning sour) which refers to the vinegar mixed with rice to help preserve the fish it was served with.
皮 (skin) + 肉 (meat, flesh) = 皮肉 hiniku (irony)
The origin for this compound is said to come from a longer phrase 皮肉骨髄 (literally meaning “skin meat bones marrow”) attributed to Buddhism in ancient China. ‘Bones and marrow’ were thought to show essential understanding, in contrast to ‘skin and meat’ which represented superficiality.
Consequently, 皮肉 was used as a way to criticise those who were unable to understand the true nature of something. This then developed into its modern meaning of irony.
This word too comes from Chinese. There is a story of a man who was selling spears and shields. He said that the spear and the shield were the strongest of their kind; the spear could not be beaten by any shield, and the shield could not be beaten by any spear. One person then asked, “what happens when you use the spear against the shield?”, which the seller was unable to answer.
This Youtube video explains the origin of the Chinese word better than I can:
十八 (18) + 番 (number) = 十八番 ohako (one’s special talent, party trick)
There are a few different potential origins for this word, but one of the most popular is to do with kabuki. The 歌舞伎十八番 (kabuki juuhachiban, ”Eighteen Best Kabuki Plays”) were a collection of plays chosen by the famous Ichikawa Danjuro line of kabuki actors. These were stored in a box to keep them safe, which is where the modern meaning is said to stem from. The number of plays is significant as eighteen is also thought to represent ‘a great number’ of things.
I remember hearing this word in a variety show and having no idea what it really meant. At the time, I assumed it had something to do with karaoke as the artist being interviewed went on to talk about her go-to karaoke songs. It makes a lot more sense now that I’ve learned more about the word!
Again there are a number of different theories regarding the origin of this word. One is that the sound of a wheelbarrow moving is like a cat. Another is that wheelbarrows are long and thin, making them easy to move through relatively narrow spaces – something which cats are good at doing too.
Nowadays, 手押し車 (teoshiguruma) and 一輪車 (ichirinsha) are used as well as 猫車, which I think is a shame. The mental image of a cat wheelbarrow always makes me smile and sticks in my mind more easily!
I think that this reiterates to learners of any language that putting two words together may just end up referring to another word with an entirely different meaning. I’m not a fan of Google Translate but I find that Google Images can be really useful for double checking the meaning of some vocabulary.
I am a bit late to the party with this post, but this is something I wanted to write about anyway. It’s been really interesting reading about the origins of words like this, which also led me to the useful Japanese website Gogen AllGuide. I think that these words having such unusual component kanji actually makes them a bit easier to remember!
Have you struggled with this type of word before? Let me know in the comments 🙂
Today’s easy manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Silver Spoon/ Gin no Saji (銀の匙), a manga series created by Hiromu Arakawa.
Author: Hiromu Arakawa (荒川弘)
Genre: Comedy, slice of life
No. of volumes: 14
Recommended for: JLPT N3/ intermediate
Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime and live-action film adaptations
Yuugo Hachiken is a boy used to city life in Sapporo, Hokkaido. After failing to get the required grades for high school, he enrolls at a school called Oezo Agricultural High School.
At first, Hachiken immediately stands out from his classmates as he doesn’t have any real desire to work within agriculture. Not having farming experience, the early mornings and plentiful homework come as surprise to him.
As Hachiken gets used to life at the school, he learns about the realities of working in agriculture. His classmates become a welcome source of support and through this he realises the importance of strong friendships.
Why do I recommend the manga?
Hiromu Arakawa is probably best known for her manga Fullmetal Alchemist. After completing Fullmetal Alchemist she intended to challenge herself with a different type of story. Silver Spoon is partially based on her own experiences growing up on a dairy farm in Hokkaido.
I think the manga does a great job at being entertaining whilst introducing information on a topic that is not known by most people. Since Hachiken knows nothing about farming, we learn about a variety of things as he does. This is helped by the easy to understand explanations – perfect for tricky pieces of vocabulary!
Some scenes are hilarious to read and they blend in seamlessly with the informative and heartwarming parts of the manga. Silver Spoon is very much a coming of age story. Fortunately Hachiken is a very likeable lead character, always going to great lengths to help out his classmates. You can’t help but root for him as he adapts to his new way of life and how he grows as a person because of it.
I am a little biased towards Hokkaido but it was nice to see a bit of Hokkaido dialect in the manga (eg. the ~べさ ending). Fun fact – the name of the school is also a reference to Hokkaido. The word (Y)ezo (蝦夷) is a Japanese word which was the previous name for Hokkaido and refers to the islands north of Honshu.
Recommended Japanese language level
I would probably recommend this to someone about JLPT N3 or intermediate level. As there is a high school setting, it helps to be familiar with casual forms of Japanese. For example:
マジっか = まじ (です) か? You serious?
There is some specialist farming vocabulary (although a lot of it gets explained). Fortunately, there is furigana so looking up words is a breeze. As mentioned earlier there is some Hokkaido dialect but this is pretty easy to understand as Hokkaido-ben is pretty similar to standard Japanese.
You can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button.
The Silver Spoon anime is available to stream at places like Crunchyroll. There was a live action film released in 2014 – the Japanese trailer is below:
If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on the comments. I am always on the hunt for beginner friendly manga, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!