Japanese language

Decade Challenge: Japanese Learning Resources Edition!

It’s 2020 – あけましておめでとうございます!

The previous decade seems to have gone by so quickly, and so many things have changed. Whilst I haven’t been studying Japanese intensively for some time now, I can still confidently say that my Japanese is much better than it was 10 years ago! 

I first started looking online for Japanese study resources in about 2007, although that was still a while before I became serious about learning the language. By 2010 I had a few go-to resources that I used before, and just after I started to study Japanese at university in 2010. I thought it would be interesting to look back to the start of the decade and look at what resources I found useful. At the time, I was probably an upper beginner (probably JLPT N4 level) in terms of vocabulary and kanji with an admittedly shaky knowledge of Japanese grammar.

Funnily enough, all of these resources still exist in some form today! So in no particular order, here are 10 resources I was using 10 years ago.

1. Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese Grammar

This website hardly needs any introduction to Japanese beginners. Unlike the textbook I was using at the time, the clear explanations of Japanese grammar just clicked better when reading Tae Kim’s guide. I was also a big fan of the mini vocab lists and example sentences which saved me having to consult a dictionary every 5 seconds. I still highly recommend this website to beginner learners.

2. Basic Kanji Book

I had to use Basic Kanji Book volumes 1 and 2 as part of my university Japanese classes. Each volume teaches you 250 essential kanji split over 20 or so chapters, with stroke order, common compounds, and radicals. I found Basic Kanji Book easy to follow and its clear layout gave me a good idea as to how to structure my kanji learning when I moved on from the books.

Sadly, I’m not sure if this book is still in print now. There are of course many more kanji learning resources out there today; this is not a flashy book by any means but I still look back on my time using it with great fondness.

3. Oxford Learners Japanese-English dictionary

Sometimes larger dictionaries contain too much detail and are simply overwhelming. This dictionary was recommended to me as a supplementary resource to use for simpler explanations aimed at Japanese learners. Unlike other Japanese dictionaries available to me at the time, this dictionary uses hiragana/ katakana rather than romaji.

For an A5 sized book, this dictionary packs in a lot of content. Aside from dictionary entries, there is also a grammar section including a verb conjugation table and notes on Japanese culture.

4. Coscom

Before I knew about NHK News Easy, this was my go-to website for simple Japanese reading practice. Not all content is free, but the stuff that is available is still very useful for beginners, especially if you are interested in the news. 

Each article has audio and it is possible to toggle between romaji, kana or kanji & kana. There’s also sentence by sentence breakdowns and vocabulary lists too. The website does look a bit dated, especially 10 years later but the quality is still there.

5. The Japanese Page

This may have been one of my favourite Japanese learning websites 10 years ago. I particularly liked the easy Japanese grammar explanations and vocabulary related posts such as this one on Thanksgiving. I don’t use it now but there are some useful articles for beginners.

6. iKnow

Studying with sentences was a relatively new concept to me back then, and iKnow was my first introduction to learning Japanese in this way. iKnow is a website designed for Japanese learners where you learn new vocabulary with sentences and pictures. I learned a great deal of vocabulary by studying for a few minutes every day.

In 2010, iKnow was a free service but soon after this it became a monthly subscription service. There are free alternatives out there (namely Anki) where you can import the Core 2000 decks.

7. Lang-8

Ten years ago, Lang 8 was the place to get your writing corrected by native speakers. I tried to keep a weekly diary on Lang 8 but I stopped when I had my own essays to write at university. The community on there was great and I always got quick, useful feedback from other users.

Whilst Lang-8 is still around, the no longer accepts new account registrations (the company has pooled its resources into HiNative instead). Nowadays HelloTalk is probably the best alternative out there.

8. Japanesepod101

The in your face advertising was and still is offputting, but the content on the JapanesePod101 website was extremely useful to me 10 years ago. I used to like listening to the podcast on my MP3 player for grammar points covering aspects that I found tricky. The short episodes meant that the lessons were engaging without getting information overload. 

JapanesePod101’s YouTube channel remains a useful resource for all sorts of things relating to learning Japanese.

9. JMDICT, aka Jim Breen’s J-E dictionary

This online dictionary doesn’t have the slick interfaces that we largely expect nowadays, but it is definitely one of the best quality Japanese to English dictionaries on the internet. Jim Breen’s was my go to dictionary when I began to read online, which I found really useful for names in particular. The dictionary was made at a time when it was a struggle to display Japanese on Western computers, something that I like many other learners have probably never thought about before. I am very thankful that Jim managed to build this essential resource!

10. Rikaichan browser add on

As useful as JMDICT is, Rikaichan was truly a game changer for me. 

Rikaichan allows you to look up the meaning of a Japanese word just by hovering over it.  10 years ago I used Firefox as my main internet browser, and Rikaichan was an add on that you could download and use for free! It made reading any sort of material online a much easier and more enjoyable process, which I will always be grateful for.

When Firefox upgraded to Firefox quantum a couple of years ago, a new add on called Rikaichamp was created to replace it. I use Google Chrome now, and use a similar browser extension called Yomichan for the same easy lookups.

How has your approach to language learning changed (if at all) since you first started? Let me know in the comments!

Yasashii Nihongo – help or hindrance?

Japan is seeing an increased influx of foreigners, both to work and visit for events such as the recent Rugby World Cup. In order to meet these needs, Japan has been working on ways to communicate important information for visitors. With a number of natural disasters like Typhoon Hagibis, やさしい日本語 or yasashii nihongo has been highlighted as an essential lifeline for non-fluent speakers of Japanese in Japan. 

Some places have used pins like these to encourage the use of yasashii nihongo (the left is for foreigners and the right is for Japanese people)

What is yasashii nihongo?

Yasashii Nihongo is a form of Japanese that caters to people who come to Japan but are not fluent in the language. Many people will try to learn some of the language before travelling or living in the country, but the Japanese language has a few hurdles which make the language difficult to understand even if you know the basics.

As it happens yasashii nihongo is a pun since it can be interpreted in two ways (regular readers will know that I appreciate a good Japanese pun!). The word やさしい has two separate kanji, which have separate meanings.

優しい Kind, gentle, nice

易しい Easy, simple, plain

The following Youtube video is aimed at Japanese people but is a nice introduction to yasashii nihongo: 

The benefits of simpler Japanese are obvious in emergency situations, but it can play a positive role when it comes to other areas such as the workplace, healthcare and tourism. As you might expect, local governments are playing a leading role in helping their new citizens live more comfortably.

As outlined in the video, the three main differences between standard and easy Japanese are:

  1. Speak concisely
  2. Speak in complete sentences
  3. Don’t use keigo/ honorific language (use polite desu-masu form instead)

Essentially, yasashii nihongo aims to convey information in the shortest, simplest way possible. 

Speaking in complete sentences with frequently used words eliminates the ambiguity that the Japanese language tends to have. In particular, the use of honorific language is a huge barrier for people learning Japanese – it is generally something you learn once you have a solid foundation in the language but is used in a lot of common situations.

Other ways to simplify Japanese often include:

  • Adding furigana to all kanji used 
  • Putting the most important information at the start of the sentence
  • Not using loanwords or onomatopoeia*
  • Avoiding double negatives
  • Only one piece of information per sentence

Japanese learners may already be familiar with NHK News Easy, which are newspaper style articles written in yasashii nihongo

Types of yasashii nihongo

Yasashii nihongo comes in many forms. You can see this in how different cities and prefectures in Japan publish official information for visitors.

On the one hand, the City of Yokohama writes using common kanji with furigana, and defines more difficult words in brackets.

In contrast, some prefectures only use hiragana with spaces between words, such as in this tweet from Nagano prefecture:

Why is it controversial?

The truth is, one version of yasashii nihongo does not fit all, which has caused some debate in the wake of typhoon Hagibis.

Some groups will find certain types of yasashii nihongo easier to understand. For example, the use of loanwords written in katakana might seem like a good idea – however some loanwords are false friends* or pronounced so differently in Japanese that it would not be easily understood. On the other hand, heavy use of kanji would help someone with knowledge of Chinese, but would likely be a disadvantage to others.

Similarly, depending on your current language level, certain types of yasashii nihongo may feel more difficult to read than others. Having spaces between words might really help newcomers to Japanese, but more experienced learners may find that the spaces disrupt their flow of reading.

In my opinion, any form of Japanese that avoids keigo and ambiguous language would make a huge difference for learners. However just looking at the examples I found above, there is so much variation in what is considered ‘easy’ that some yasashii texts might be just as difficult as standard Japanese! 

After the typhoon, I saw a lot of people online who were annoyed at some prefectures’ use of all hiragana. I found this strange, since ultimately in emergency situations, information needs to be made as simple as possible so that it benefits the greatest number of people.

What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Favourites: November 2019

After a 3 month break from blogging (oops), I wanted to switch things up a little bit and talk about resources or Japanese media that I enjoyed last month. You might find them useful!

A Podcast: 4989 American Life

This podcast had been recommended to me a couple of times, but I finally got around to listening to it.

The podcast is hosted by Utaco, a Japanese woman who now lives in the USA. She talks a lot about her experiences moving countries and seeing American life and culture from a Japanese perspective.

It’s a good choice for Japanese learners since she speaks very clearly and at a comfortable pace (not too fast, not too slow). I feel that the podcast’s casual conversational vibe is a nice way to relax, or listen to whilst doing chores.

Note: the name of the podcast is interesting – the ‘4989’ could be read in Japanese as shiku hakku (4 = shi, 9 = ku, 8 = ha(small tsu), 9 = ku), or 四苦八苦 which is a 4 character compound (yojijukugo) meaning ‘to be in a lot of distress’.

An Anime: ハイキュー!!/ Haikyuu!!

A couple of weeks ago, I realised that Haikyuu!! (taken from the Japanese word for volleyball, usually written in kanji as 排球) had been added to Netflix’s growing collection of anime shows. Haikyuu follows junior high student Shoyo Hinata who dreams of becoming a volleyball player despite his short height. His first official match goes horribly, but he is still determined to take his team to the top.

I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of volleyball at all, but I found myself hooked after watching the first episode. This is very typical of the shonen genre but that is not intended as an insult. Haikyuu’s message of friendship and hard work is helping to keep me motivated with my Japanese studies!

Although there are obviously some sporting and volleyball specific terms, the language used in Haikyuu is pretty straightforward. 

A Novel: ぼくたちは神様の名前を知らない by 五十嵐貴久

Takahisa Igarashi writes across a variety of genres, from romcom to horror and suspense. Some of his works have been adapted into dramas, including a Freaky Friday style drama called パパとムスメの7日間 which I watched over 10 years ago! Even so, this novel seems to be quite a departure from his other works but I am still finding the novel an engaging read (I am almost finished reading it).

A group of friends meet up in Hokkaido upon hearing that a member of their group has died in strange circumstances. It turns out that the friends were all connected to the March 2011 earthquake disaster, and all ended up being separated from each other as a result. The novel explores how the disaster affected each character but also how we change in our teenage years. The plot reminds me of Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (Japanese title あの日見た花の名前を僕達はまだ知らない), which I have also been reading recently in manga form.

Language-wise, it is fairly easy to read, given that the characters are all middle schoolers. You can find the novel in eBook format in the Amazon Kindle Store (at least in the UK) if you want to read a sample.

PS. I’ve always thought Igarashi (五十嵐) was a super cool family name – literally ‘50 storms’! 

What resources or media have you enjoyed recently? Let me know in the comments!

Easy Japanese Manga Recommendation: Yuzu no Doubutsu Karute/ Yuzu’s Medical Records of Animals

Today’s easy manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Yuzu’s Medical Records of Animals/ Yuzu no Doubutsu Karute (ゆずのどうぶつカルテ), a manga series created by Mingo Ito.

Quick Facts

Full title: ゆずのどうぶつカルテ〜こちらわんニャンどうぶつ病〜

Author: Mingo Ito (伊藤みんご)

Genre: Comedy, slice of life

No. of volumes: 7

Recommended for: JLPT N4/ upper beginner

Furigana: Yes

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: No

Plot Overview 

Yuzu Morino is a young girl who has to move in with her uncle, Akihito after her mother is hospitalised. Akihito is a veterinarian who runs the town’s animal practice. Yuzu is not really a fan of animals and so doesn’t enjoy staying with Akihito at first. But her experiences of helping at pets (and their owners) soon begins to have a positive effect on her.

Why do I recommend the manga?

This is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a shoujo manga, but I don’t mean this in a negative way. Together with the art style, this makes for a nice enjoyable read which is well suited for Japanese learners.

There’s a good balance of drama and comedy: both Yuzu and her uncle have their comedic moments. However, even from the very beginning, the manga doesn’t shy away from more serious topics like bullying, illness, and loss. 

The volumes are split into four separate stories, each focusing on the story of a pet and their owner who visit the veterinary practice. Whilst all pets get a diagnosis and appropriate treatment, the manga is more focused on the relationship between animals and humans. It’s interesting to see what Yuzu learns from her various encounters as the manga progresses.

Recommended Japanese language level

I would probably recommend this to someone about JLPT N4 or upper beginner level. 

There are some animal and medical terms that you may need to check in a dictionary, (but the vast majority of it gets explained). Fortunately, you have furigana over the kanji so looking up any word should be straightforward. Overall this manga is easy to follow. Yuzu is only in her first year of middle school so whilst there is some slang used, grammar tends to be pretty simple.

Side note: カルテ is a loanword from German (Karte) meaning medical record or patient chart – always a useful word to know!

This manga is pretty recent (the first volume was released back in June this year), but I think it’s worth a read. There is also a novel version of the story if you prefer that format.

You can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button – at the time of writing, the first volume is available for free!

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 🙂

Happy Reading!

Punctuation in Japanese

Since there are no spaces between Japanese words, punctuation  (Japanese: 約物/ やくもの “yakumono”) is a really helpful way of breaking sentences down. If you’ve mastered hiragana or katakana, then you’ll already have come across some important symbols that affect pronunciation (such as and ). This post is more focused on the punctuation and symbols used in the written language.

Fortunately, it seems that generally, Japanese punctuation is pretty similar in usage to English. This is likely because punctuation wasn’t used in the Japanese language at all until it was imported from the West during the Meiji era.

However, there might be a couple of things you encounter when you first start to read Japanese that may be unfamiliar.

Most Common Punctuation

Full-stop/ period (Japanese: 句点/くてん or 丸/ まる)

Unlike English, the full stop is a little circle (hence the word まる, literally ‘circle’). The full stop sits in the bottom left; despite being so small it still takes up the width of a regular character due to the space that comes after it.

Comma (Japanese: 読点/ とうてん – note the reading!! or just 点/ てん)

The comma is at a different angle to English, but is pretty much used in the same way.

In my opinion, the comma gets used a lot to add a pause in sentences (and that’s coming from someone who is quite fond of using a lot of commas).

Interpunct (Japanese: 中点/ちゅうてん, 中黒/なかぐろ)

This is used to separate words written in katakana, particularly for foreign names (for instance John Smith would be written as ジョン・スミス). More generally, it is used to separate items in lists.

Question mark (Japanese: 疑問符/ ぎもんふ)

No explanation needed?

Exclamation mark (Japanese: 感嘆符/ かんたんふ)

No explanation needed!

Ellipses (Japanese: 三点リーダー/ さんてんリーダー)

If you are familiar with anime or manga, then you’ll know that this is used a lot to indicate silence.

Quotation marks (Japanese: かぎ括弧/ かぎかっこ)

Like in English, you have single quotation marks (「」) and double quotation marks (『』). Double quotation marks are usually used to indicate the name of a book, TV show or film.

Brackets (Japanese: 括弧/ かっこ)

This includes the various types of brackets including curly brackets ({},中括弧/ ちゅうかっこ) and ([], 角括弧/かくかっこ).

Wave dash (Japanese: 波ダッシュ/ なみダッシュ)

The wave dash is interesting since it can convey a few different things.

  • Similar to a normal dash in katakana words, the wave dash can be used to elongate the preceding sound. For example, ですよね〜 has more of a colloquial or whimsical feel compared to ですよね.
  • I’ve often seen the wave dash used to show a range, such as opening times 5時〜6時 which would be read using から (and まで).
  • Japan seems quite fond of using the wave dash in the titles of songs, TV shows and movies. In this context, the wave dash is used to indicate a brief synopsis or summary.

Other Punctuation

There are a few other punctuation marks that you might come across. I’m not certain if these have official names in Japanese, so I’ve given them my own names:

Iteration marks 々 andゝ

There are two types of marks which indicate this: and. Simply put, this symbol indicates that you repeat the previous sound. Some examples are:

  • 時々 (ときどき) sometimes
  • 様々 (さまざま) various 
  • 人々 (ひとびと) people

As you can see from the above, the repeated syllables often have a sound change.

I mentioned the second one of these in my post about the author Kaneko Misuzu (written as 金子みすゞ), which is more uncommon.

Small katakana ‘ke’ ヶ

Confusingly, this is a small katakana ‘ke’ but is actually read as ka (or ga). This is most commonly used when counting a number of months, eg. 四ヶ月 よんかげつ

You might also see this in place names too:

関ヶ原 せきがはら Sekigahara

自由が丘 じゆうがおか Jiyuugaoka (the name of a neighbourhood in Tokyo)

Emphasis mark (Japanese: 傍点/ ぼうてん, ‘side dot’)

One piece of punctuation of sorts which you are likely to encounter in novels looks a lot like a comma. 

I see a lot of people asking about these marks online. They are used to show emphasis in the same way we might use bold or italic font. 

Book Review: Making Sense of Japanese by Jay Rubin

I have a lot of Japanese related books on my bookshelf, and Jay Rubin’s Making Sense of Japanese (2002) is one I have been meaning to read for some time. Well, I finally put some time aside to read it and I am glad I did.

Jay Rubin is an American academic and translator, who is probably most famous for his translations of Haruki Murakami’s works into English. Rubin intended this book for Japanese students who are just beginning to read native materials, as a way of helping them better understand the Japanese language.

The book is a series of short essays which each focus on an aspect of the Japanese language. The topics covered include:

  • は vs が
  • Verbs used for giving and receiving (くれる, もらう, あげる)
  • Passive form, causative form and the passive-causative form
  • から, わけ, のだ sentence endings
  • 知る vs わかる
  • ため
  • つもり
  • ある vs である
  • How to tackle Japanese sentences

Over the course of the book, he busts a few myths about Japanese and takes the view that Japanese is not actually a vague language at all. He makes an important point about pronouns – when it is obvious what the subject of the sentence is, the pronoun is omitted.

What I liked about the book

Near the start of the book is an explanation on は vs が, a particularly sore point for Japanese learners. I must say that this a particularly strong essay – not just because the subject matter is so important for understanding Japanese, but because I think the differences between the two particles are explained in a way that is easy to understand. This essay, along with most essays, is backed up with lots of example sentences to help illustrate his points.

The other essay that was a highlight for me was the one regarding how to tackle sentences in Japanese, particularly longer sentences that use plenty of relative clauses. The method Rubin describes is very similar to what I was taught when I formally studied Japanese and has been extremely useful to me ever since.

I feel that the book builds a strong case for why the grammar-translation approach can be effective in learning how to tackle reading in Japanese. His approach in these essays is highly focused on comparing Japanese and English and the nuances that learners need to be aware of when translating or simply trying to make sense of Japanese.

What I disliked

The main drawback of this book for me is the use of romaji. This might be a dealbreaker for some, but almost all Japanese in the book is written in romaji. At first, I thought that this might have been due to some sort of publishing issue, but then the last essay mixes romaji with kanji and kana when writing in Japanese. I found this a little bit distracting and felt that had the same sentences been written in kana (with furigana and romaji readings), I would have been able to understand them more easily. I know that the book is intended to be accessible to people with varying levels of Japanese, but the inconsistency in the use of romaji seems like a really odd choice to me.

With the book being a collection of essays, there are a couple that feel weaker than others. For example, there is a short essay which is about how being able to read something in Japanese does not automatically make it a good piece of writing. I think that this is a very valid point, but I couldn’t help but feel that this essay stood out as being less relevant and of practical use compared to the others. It was also the one which felt overly anecdotal

Overall thoughts

The book covers a range of topics that Japanese learners commonly struggle with, but are not covered in textbooks. I found his approach to these topics both informative and engaging, thanks to the relatively lighthearted tone of Rubin’s writing.

I highly recommend it to learners of Japanese who are at an upper-beginner level (about JLPT N4 or so), but I think learners at a higher level may also find it useful as a refresher due to the wide range of topics covered. I personally wish I had read this sooner, as there are quite a few things I could have learned from this book instead of from trial and error (nothing wrong with that of course!).

I don’t necessarily think this is a book that needs to be read from start to finish. The book is very short at just 130 pages, and most of the essays are pretty short. I think it makes a great reference book and you can always go back to read the essays that are most relevant to your current studies.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Let me know in the comments 🙂

The many uses of かける in Japanese

かける is one of those verbs that seems to have an endless number of uses. I remember looking up this verb in the dictionary when I first started learning and just feeling utterly overwhelmed. 

This is a screenshot from Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC:

With verbs like this, you might read the dictionary definition and stress about having to learn all of the individual meanings. 

Fortunately, the best way to deal with verbs like this is to break down the various meanings into easier chunks, so let’s do the same here.

Breaking the verb down by kanji

Firstly, as you can see from the above, かける has different kanji indicating different meanings.

欠ける to lack, to be insufficient, be broken

駆ける to run, dash

賭ける to gamble, bet on

However, this post focuses on かける which has the general meaning of ‘to hang’. This is normally written in hiragana but can be written in kanji a few different ways, usually 掛ける.

シャツをハンガーにかける = to hang a shirt on a hanger

Common collocations with かける

It’s important with words like this not to assume that the only English meaning of かける is ‘to hang’ as you will see. The following are some of the most common set phrases that use かける, which I’ve split into different groups:

To put on, put on top of something else:

  • 眼鏡(めがね)をかける to wear glasses 
  • ネックレスをかける to wear a necklace
  • 腰(こし)をかける to sit down, take a seat (literally ‘to hang one’s hips [on a chair])

To engage something mechanical:

  • 電話(でんわ)をかける to make a phonecall
  • アイロンをかける to iron (something)
  • エンジンをかける to turn on an engine
  • ラジオをかける to put on the radio 

More figurative uses:

  • 声(こえ)をかけるto greet, call out to; get in touch with
  • 迷惑(めいわく)をかける to cause trouble/ inconvenience for someone else

Other closely related verbs

かかる is the intransitive version of かける and works in much the same way:


to take time

Finally, you might see かける as part of a compound verb such as 出かける (でかける/ to go out) and 話かける (はなしかける/ to start a conversation). This generally adds a nuance of ‘to be about to, to start doing something.

So that is a very brief overview of the common verb かける. I have far from covered the verb’s many meanings. The English meanings given here are only here to give you a rough idea of how the verb is used (although if anything is clearly incorrect please let me know!).

My tip for verbs like this is to learn the general meaning of the verb to start with (ie. that かける generally means ‘to hang’). Then focus on learning the specific meanings of certain phrases/ collocations as and when you see them in context. For example, learn アイロンをかける rather than アイロン and かける separately. I also prefer this method as you also learn what particle you should use.

If you know the general meaning, you might well be able to guess the correct meaning from context anyway.

Have you got any tips for tackling tricky verbs? Let me know in the comments!

Author Spotlight: Misuzu Kaneko

Misuzu Kaneko (金子みすゞ*・金子みすず) was an author I’d never heard of until recently. Unfortunately, it seems that I wasn’t the only one.

Born Kaneko Teru in 1903, Misuzu grew up in a book-loving family and continued her education until age 18, a rare achievement for women at that time. She began to write poetry for children when she was 20. She sadly committed suicide at age 27, the day before her ex-husband was due to gain custody of their young daughter.

Her works were forgotten until the original manuscripts were rediscovered in the 1980s. However, it wasn’t until the March 2011 tsunami disaster that she gained popularity; her poem “Are you an echo?/こだまでしょうか“ was played in TV public service announcements.

Her works are not on Aozora Bunko, but a quick Google search will enable you to read some of her poems. In particular, this link has a lot of Misuzu’s most popular works. Having read quite a few of them, I think she is a good poet for Japanese learners to be aware of. In terms of language, I’d recommend her poems for JLPT N4 learners and above.

There is one caveat: you might find that her poems in their original form are in a style of Japanese that is sometimes different from the modern language. Fortunately, the above link has the poems in modern Japanese.

As I usually do, I have a few recommendations for you to read. I’ve posted the poems below with a brief vocabulary list:

こだまでしょうか (aka ‘Are You an Echo?’)

Obviously, this has to be the first on this list! The following is a reading of the poem as featured in a commercial from 2010.







Her most famous poem is typical of her style; expressing important messages in a really simple way. It reaffirms the importance of treating others as we would like to be treated – no wonder it was chosen as a poem to support Japan in the wake of the tsunami disaster. In terms of the language, this poem is pretty easy to understand, even if grammar such as 〜っていう isn’t too familiar (it is another way of quoting something, like 〜という).

Vocab list

  • 遊ぶ/ あそぶ = to play, hang out with
  • 馬鹿/ ばか = idiot, silly
  • さみしい = a misspelling of さびしい, ie. sad
  • 誰/ だれ = who
  • こだま = echo

雲 (Kumo – ‘Cloud’)





A lot of Kaneko’s poems reference the natural world, usually animals. I guess this would be a good poem for remembering how the water cycle works?

Vocab list

  • ふわり(と) = softly, gently, lightly 
  • 青空/ あおぞら = blue sky
  • 果/ はて = extremity, end, limit
  • お月さん/ おつきさん = the moon
  • 鬼ごっこ/ おにごっこ = children’s game known as ‘tag’ in English
  • 飽きる/ あきる = to get sick, bored of something
  • 雨/ あめ = rain
  • 雷/ かみなり = lightning 
  • 供/ とも = companion
  • つれる = to take someone with you, to go along with, to be accompanied by
  • (お)うち = home
  • 池 いけ = pond
  • とびおりる = to jump down, to jump off

私と小鳥と鈴と (Watashi to kotori to suzu to – ‘Me, the little Bird and the Bell’)




This is another of my personal favourites. The poem very simply illustrates how we all have our own strengths, particularly the last line. 

Vocab list

  • 両手/ りょうて = both hands
  • 広げる/ ひろげる = to spread, expand, broaden
  • 飛ぶ/ とぶ = to fly
  • 小鳥 / ことり = little bird, small bird
  • 地面/ じめん = ground, earth’s surface
  • 速い/ はやい = fast, quick
  • 走る/ はしる = to run
  • ゆする = to shake, jolt, swing
  • 音/ おと = sound
  • 鈴/ すず = bell
  • 唄/ うた = song (another form of 歌)
  • 知る/ しる = to know 

A bilingual book of Kaneko’s works was published in 2016, which has some beautiful illustrations to go with it. It is also available in ebook format on Kindle. I’m glad that poets like Misuzu have had their works gain popularity a long time after they were written. 

Who is your favourite poet? Let me know in the comments!

*PS. You might be wondering (as I did) what theゞ symbol means. It turns out that ゞ is just a symbol used to repeat the previous syllable. As the dakuten is also used to change the sound, we know that the name should be read as misuzu rather than misusu.

Decluttering and The Path of Least Resistance

The idea of having fewer ‘things’ has been on my mind a lot lately. This is mostly to do with the fact that I have moved house recently. However, this has also coincided with me finally watching Marie Kondo’s TV series on Netflix.

I thought that Marie Kondo was already fairly popular, but this show seems to have got a lot of people talking about decluttering. I believe that the Japanese word for decluttering is 断捨離:

断捨離 (だんしゃり/danshari)


Marie Kondo and her method might have a lot of critics, but it is obvious from watching her show that having fewer things makes her clients so much happier.

I’ve been on my own personal mission to declutter, which was very difficult at first but has gradually been getting easier. The vast majority of my Japanese books have survived my latest round of decluttering. Nevertheless, going through this process has got me thinking about why decluttering is a good idea both in general and when it comes to language learning.

The Power of Decluttering

I was watching a TV show about a Japanese minimalist called Fumio Sasaki (佐々木文雄). He realised that he needed to make a change in his life and decided to drastically remove the number of items he had. Through this process, he discovered that having fewer things improved his life in many ways. He’s since written a book about his experiences called ぼくたちに、もうモノは必要ない (the English title is Goodbye, Things).

His example is rather extreme but it did get me thinking about how decluttering can be beneficial.

Decluttering helps you create room for the most important things in your life. When you have fewer things, making decisions becomes much easier. It also means you have fewer things to worry about – for example, having fewer clothes means less laundry to do.

The Path of Least Resistance

I recently read about a theory called the Path of Least Resistance. In short, the path of least resistance means us humans will always do the things that it is easiest to do.

Let’s say I have some chocolates near my sofa and some fruit in the next room. I am more likely to eat the chocolate as it is physically closer to me, even though I know that eating the fruit is better for me. This concept applies to all areas of our lives.

It sounds like a very negative thing, but it is possible to use this aspect of human nature to our advantage. Going back to the food example, if I place the fruit near my sofa and lock the chocolates away in the next room, I am more likely to eat the fruit instead of the chocolates.

Ultimately, decluttering helps you to take advantage of the Path of Least Resistance. Fewer things to distract you means you can program yourself to make better decisions more easily. If I don’t buy any chocolate at all, then I no longer have to make the choice between chocolate or fruit – I can only eat the fruit.

How does this apply to language learning?

There are so many different resources out there for Japanese. Truthfully though, I think a lot of people (myself included) would make more progress if we restricted the number of resources we used. Choice is a wonderful thing, but just like when we have too many things it reduces our ability to focus on what we really want.

If you have this many Japanese books, then you should definitely be decluttering!

Most of the time our progress is not dependent on what resources we use, but how we use them. What habits do we have in place that help us learn the language? I’ve explored this idea before when I wrote about ways to simplify your language learning routine. I now challenge you to declutter your language learning resources!

Decluttering for Language Learners

  1. Take stock of the resources you use. Marie Kondo likes to get her clients to put all of their clothes in a huge pile before sorting through them. It’s a bit harder to do this with language learning resources (especially digital ones), so I write a list of all of the websites/ subscriptions/ apps that I am using.
  2. Ask yourself a few questions about each one. Do you use it? Do you like using it? Is it helping to move you towards your language goals? If the answer is no, then you probably don’t need it anymore.
  3. If you find it hard to identify which resources are holding you back, stop using one or more of them for a couple of weeks. If you didn’t really miss using the resource during this period, then it might not be as useful or helpful as you think.
  4. Sell/ give away/ unsubscribe from the resource.

The resources you have left should be the most effective in helping you make progress. What’s more, it should be easier to jump into a study session without having to spend time deciding what to use!

I write a lot about various resources on the blog, but in reality, I only use 3-4 at one time. If there is a resource that no longer serves a purpose, I stop using it. You should use the resources that are best suited to your goals. However, our goals and priorities can change, so our language learning should adapt to these changes too.

Sometimes I stop using something, only to go back to it later – I think this is perfectly fine to do. Whilst I believe that consistency is important, I focus on consistency in my habits rather than consistency in the resource I use.

Have you decluttered recently? Do you think it has had a positive impact in your life? Let me know in the comments!

My Mid-year Language Review

The end of June is near, which means we are nearly halfway through 2019 already. I honestly feel like it has flown by! Now feels like a good time to review how much progress you have made so far.

My birthday happens to be in June so this is the time I naturally think to myself “what is it that I want to achieve by my next birthday?”. A mid-year review is probably familiar if you work in a corporate environment, but over the last couple of years I’ve tried to do a personal review. It’s really easy to think that you can only set and revise your goals at the start of the year, but of course you can do this whenever you want!

In my case, I don’t really need to do a long review to know that I need to make changes. I have fallen behind with my goals for learning Japanese and the blog, but I am making steps to get back on track. I wanted to share how I have conducted my own language audit this year. If you’re not sure how you are doing with your languages, this post might give you some ideas.

How to carry out a mid-year language review/ audit

1. Look at your goals for the year. Do you need to make any changes?

  • Are your goals still relevant?
  • Have you added new goals since the start of the year? Try to be as specific and realistic as possible

I briefly wrote about a couple of goals in a blog post last December. My two goals were to read 1 book a month and work towards sitting the JLPT N1 in December. I was doing pretty well until March, which is when I moved house and my priorities had to change a bit. Not having the internet for a while had a bigger impact on my study than I initially thought!

2. Evaluate your progress

  • How much progress do you think you’ve made?
  • What do you think has contributed the most to your success or lack of progress?

The benefit of setting clear, measurable goals is a lot more obvious when you have to review them. You can use quizzes and tests from textbooks or online resources to judge your progress.

Having said that, even if you have set smart goals it can be difficult to assess yourself, so you might need to take a different approach. Have a look back at the types of things you were studying at the start of the year. Have you developed a better understanding of grammar points? You can also ask the people that you practice your target language with if they have noticed a difference in your ability.

Work backward from your end goals. What steps do you need to take to get there?

  • Are you studying regularly enough?
  • Are you covering the right amount of material in each study session?

Knowing what your priorities should be is important to making progress. It is always tempting to focus on your strengths, but this isn’t necessarily going to get you closer to your goals. Being uncomfortable is part of the process!

Are your habits aligned with the steps you need to take to make progress with your goals? Are there any particular areas that you need to focus on?

  • Is your routine focusing on your weak areas?
  • Do you need to introduce some variety into your routine?

Sometimes it isn’t what we are doing but how we are doing it that needs improvement. If you were taking a proficiency test, then you might realise at this point that you need to accelerate your learning. You always want to schedule time to revise what you have learned too.

If you haven’t progressed as much as you hoped, It’s important not to beat yourself up too much and try to think of some positives to keep things balanced. You can’t change what you did in the past, so focus on what you can do now and in the future to improve.

On the other hand, burnout is a very real thing and you should take care not to push yourself too hard. Making time in your schedule to relax is essential.

What I’ve learned from my review

My mid-year review has made me aware of a few things:

  • I’ve covered a fair bit of my grammar textbook, but when I tried a mock test recently I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped. I have realised that I need to spend more learning the difference in nuances between similar sounding grammar points. I am going to drill grammar every 1-2 weeks so that I can review gaps in my knowledge more regularly.
  • As I read a lot of fiction, I need to start reading more non-fiction as I feel that my reading skills are slower outside of novels (this could be due to a lack of vocabulary too)
  • Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with how much I still need to learn, which hinders my progress. My aim is to focus more on what is directly in front of me, whether that be my Anki reviews or grammar note taking.

One positive I can say is that I’ve managed to finish 4 books that have been on my to be read like for months (even years!). I’ve also started reading a book that I bought years ago – the last time I tried to read I couldn’t make any sense of it (lots of relative clauses).

I’m not sure whether I will be able to take the JLPT in December, but I will keep working on my grammar and vocab and see where I am in September. My listening skills have stayed fairly consistent as I listen to podcasts in Japanese pretty much every day.

I found this a really useful exercise and it has definitely boosted my motivation. If you have any tips or resources for me then I’d really appreciate it!

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