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.
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
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!
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).
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’)
ふわりとふわりと 青空の果から果を みんなみて、
それも飽きたら 雨になり 雷さんを 共につれ、 おうちの池へ とびおりる。
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?
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.
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.
Japan’s rainy season, or tsuyu (梅雨/つゆ) is nearly upon us, which means spring is over and summer is around the corner!
梅雨入り（つゆいり; tsuyu iri）
The start of the rainy season; usually early June
梅雨明け（つゆあけ; tsuyu ake）
The end of the rainy season; usually mid-July
The kanji compound for tsuyu is literally 梅 (うめ;ume) meaning ‘plum’ and 雨 (あめ; ame) meaning ‘rain’. There are a few different ideas regarding how these two kanji came to represent the rainy season. One popular reason is that the rainy season coincides with the time when plums become ripe. 梅雨 can also be read as ばいう (baiu) originating from Chinese, which is thought to refer to the humidity which allows mould to flourish.
Why does Japan have a rainy season?
Japan experiences this because winds from the Sea of Okhotsk north of Hokkaido comes into contact with warm winds coming up from the Pacific Ocean. This leads to the humid and often rainy period before summer begins. Despite the name, the probability of rain during this time is only about 50%.
Having said that, an umbrella or 傘 (かさ: kasa) is definitely a must – you can choose to buy a cheap clear umbrella from the convenience store, or invest in something more hardwearing. There is a wide range of clothes and accessories sold in shops that are both stylish and practical.
Tsuyu can be a troublesome time since the humidity makes it difficult to dry clothes. A dehumidifier/ 除湿機(じょしつき; joshitsuki) is necessary to stop mould (カビ; kabi) growing everywhere. This is also the time when food poisoning is a particular danger, so extra care has to be taken when storing and preparing food.
What to look out for during tsuyu
All of the rain and high humidity is annoying, but there are some interesting things to look out for during tsuyu:
Hydrangea flowers are known in Japanese as 紫陽花 (あじさい; ajisai). Hydrangeas grow in abundance during the rainy season and are therefore strongly associated with it. Places such as Meigetsuin Temple in Kamakura are particularly famous for their hydrangeas.
The rain generally puts people off travelling, so outdoor tourist spots tend to be quieter. Instead, indoor attractions like cafes, onsen, aquariums and museums are more popular. However, if you are happy to brave the weather, some places are just as charming to visit in the rain. Hokkaido is the best destination for those that hate tsuyu as the prefecture is lucky enough to avoid the rainy season!
Teru teru bouzu てるてる坊主
Making teru teru bouzu is a cute way to wish for clear weather. These handmade dolls are often made from tissue paper or cloth – it is best to hang them outside the day before. The verb てる (照る; teru) means “shining” and 坊主 (ぼうず; bouzu) is the name for a Buddhist monk. Young children usually learn to make them at school, and there is even a (rather sinister) nursery rhyme!
With all the rainy weather, rainbows 虹 (にじ; niji) are much more common during this time. I think this is one of the many reasons why tsuyu provides an opportunity to take some fantastic pictures!
This post was inspired by me watching an episode of Rilakkuma and Kaoru that was set during the rainy season. Although not explicitly stated, you can tell the time of year from things such as Kaoru wearing rainboots and making teru teru bouzu, as well as the appearance of mushrooms and a frog in her apartment. These things would be very familiar to Japanese people but less so to international audiences.
Have you got any tips for surviving wet weather? 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!
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 🙂
Following on from my post on Unseen Japan, I’m super excited to be publishing the first ever guest post on this blog, written by head writer Jay. This is a great post for foodies and Japanese learners alike!
One of the things I’ve learned over the years of studying Japanese is how much more rich and diverse Japanese food is than I first thought.
As an American, my primary exposure to Japanese cuisine is through the small subsection that’s become popular in America – namely ramen, udon, sushi (primarily 巻き寿司 (maki-zushi), or rolled sushi) and Japanese curry. So when I first arrived in Japan, I received quite a shock.
I wasn’t accustomed to the serving style of washoku (和食), where a number of small dishes are artfully prepared and presented. I didn’t realize that tofu could be prepared so many ways. I had no inkling of the numerous ingredients that were specific to Japanese cuisine – such as kamaboko (蒲鉾), a rolled fish paste, and konnyaku (コンニャク; 蒟蒻), a gelatin made from potatoes.
In this article, I’ll give you, gentle reader, a tour of Japanese cuisine by way of some of its most recent innovations, as well as some of the tantalizing runners-up. Hopefully, this short introduction to Japanese cuisine will not only help you understand not only the richness of Japanese food, but some of the unique vocabulary associated with it as well.
2015: Onigirazu (おにぎらず)
This is one of my favorite past winners, if only because it’s such a great way to remember a Japanese grammatical construct!
Most Japanese learners who’ve been to Japan know of onigiri, a rice patty treated with sushi vinegar (寿司酢; sushi-su) and wrapped in seaweed (海苔; nori). The term itself consists of the honorific o- married to the noun form of the verb 握る (nigiru), meaning “to grip”.
Onigirazu is a variation on onigiri. The word is made by using the -zu grammatical construct, which means “without doing”. (E.g., the –zu form of 思う (omou), “to think”, is 思わずに, “without thinking”.) So onigirazu literally means “without gripping”. And that’s exactly what it is: a sushi “sandwich” made by lightly folding the nori wrapper around the sushi rice, and then cutting it in half like a sandwich. Some sort of filling – egg, meat, spam, or fish – is inserted into the rice to add flavor and nutrition, and to help the dish look pretty as all heck.
Guru Navi cites several reasons for choosing onigirazu for its 2015 winner. First, with an increasing number of tourists coming to Japan, onigirazu is a great way to get people talking by offering a new spin on a traditional favorite. Second, the popularity of onigirazu in 2015 spread beyond the Japanese home, and found its way onto various restaurant menus, making it a new culinary phenomenon. Third, with people in Japan eating less rice than ever before out of health concerns, onigirazu is a good way to encourage consumption of one of Japan’s oldest national food products.
Five other dishes were nominated for 2015, including but not limited to:
Japanese whiskey (ジャパニーズウイスキー). Thanks in part to clever advertising and the resurgence of the Japanese highball, the Japanese whiskey industry experienced a huge boom that continues to this day.
Nodoguro (のどぐろ). A well prepared fish makes for a great Japanese meal, and in 2015, the rare and expensive blackthroat seaperch was the culinary sensation of the nation.
Superfood (スーパーフード). Given Japan’s health conscious focus, it’s no wonder that foods such as goji berries and quinoa made their presence felt in 2015.
2016: Cilantro Cuisine (パクチー料理; pakuchiiryouri)
My Tokyo-born wife, who insists that cilantro (a.k.a. coriander) tastes like lukewarm dish soap water, was probably none too happy about 2016’s selection.
Once primarily a staple of ethnic food in Japan, in 2016 cilantro crossed over into mainstream cuisine. One of the most popular variations was the cilantro salad (パクチーサラダ), which can be made many different ways, but always features a big heap (山盛り; yamamori – “mountain-sized portion”) of cliantro as the main ingredient. But the ingredient also found its way into traditional nabe (鍋; hot pot) recipes, as well as into cocktails and even candy.
The word pakuchii is a loan word (外来語 gairaigo) from Thai (ผักชี). Part of its appeal is, not surprisingly, its influence on health and wellness: the Vitamin K and calcium in cilantro fosters blood coagulation and healthy bones. The ingredient gained such popularity in Japan that it spawned a neologism: パクチスト (pakuchisuto), or “Cilantro-ist”. There are still festivals (パクチーフェス; pakuchiifesu) celebrating the food. (Here’s a video tour by Japanese vlogger Ayano, just in case you think I’m pulling a fast one.)
Video: Vlogger Ayano takes viewers on a tour of a Cilantro Festival
Some of the 2016 also-rans include:
Japanese Wine (日本ワイン; nihon wain). Japan continued to booze it up in 2016, with locally produced wine finally finding respect in the marketplace.
New Style Gyoza (進化系餃子; shinkakeigyouza). What’s wrong with gyoza? Nothing! But in 2016 restaurants and home cooks began experimenting with new and unique ways they could make delicious bites with gyoza wrappers. Check out some of the deliciousness for yourself here.
Roast Beef Bowl (ローストビーフ丼; roosutobiifu donburi). The classic donburi bowl got a makeover in 2016 when someone discovered that piling it high with roast beef and topping it with a raw egg tasted as good as it sounds.
2017: Chicken Breast Cuisine (鶏むね肉料理; tori munenikuryouri)
Sometimes I think the Japanese are just smarter than us Americans. Exhibit A: chicken. While chicken has been a staple of the Japanese diet for years, Japanese cuisine traditionally uses the chicken thigh (もも; momo), which contains fat and, you know, flavor.
In 2017, however, Japan caught up with the West and began introducing chicken breast (むね; mune) into dishes in a big way. As usual, of course, Japan put its unique spin on the ingredient.
Chicken breast by itself tastes about as inviting as a cardboard and sandpaper sandwich. Additionally, as anyone who’s cooked it knows, it’s easy to dry out. Japanese chefs overcame this problem through various techniques, such as marinating the breast in shiokouji (塩麹). Shiokouji is a pickling solution that’s a variation on the traditional sagohachitzuke (三五八漬け); whereas sagohacitzuke uses salt, rice malt, and rice in a 3:5:8 ratio, shiokouji uses just rice malt, salt, and water.
Others took a play from another popular American trend and used sous vide – cooking in water in vacuum sealed bags – to cook the meat evenly without drying it out. And still others just fried the stuff, karaage style – which definitely takes it out of the realm of health foods, but puts it in the realm of firmly delicious.
Neo Sake (Neo日本酒; neo nishonshu). Once facing extinction as a drink of the past, distilled rice wine got a shot in the arm from young sake makers who weren’t afraid to try new twists on old recipes.
Cheese Ribs (チーズタッカルビ; chiizutakkaribu). That’s just what it sounds like: barbequed ribs dipped fondue-style in cheese. This South Korean delicacy became a hit in Japan for 2017 for reasons that, I must confess, escape me.
2018: Saba (鯖)
As an island nation, it should be no surprise that Japanese cuisine is rich in seafood. But Japan is also an island plagued by natural disasters. And 2018 was a particularly trying year: from the killer heat to deadly floods, from the Hokkaido earthquake to Typhoon Jebi, it seemed like the Land of the Rising Sun had become the Land of the Sinking Ship.
This year’s disasters inspired Guru Navi’s choice of mackerel, or saba (鯖), as its Dish of 2018. Beset by disaster, people in Japan became more concerned with stockpiling canned foods that would last even if the power were out for a long time (as it was last year in Sapporo after the earthquake, and in the Kyoto area after the floods). Saba is also something of a natural culinary treasure – one that Guru Navi is hoping can be disseminated outside of Japan as well. There are no less than 20 major national brands of saba. Additionally, many small coastal towns are selling their own saba in hopes of helping revitalize areas that have seen their young move off to major cities.
The selection of seafood for 2018’s Dish of the Year is especially poignant in light of the historic shuttering of the Tsukiji Fish market, which just a few months ago moved to its new home in Toyosu. With so much attention on the Japanese fishing industry, it’s an ideal time to remind the world just how amazing Japanese 海鮮料理 (kaisenryouri; seafood) can be.
High-End White Bread (高級食パン; koukyuushokupan). If you haven’t eaten white bread made at a Japanese パン屋さん (panya-san), you just can’t understand.
“Numbing” Cuisine (しびれ料理; shibireryouri). Featured in the show The Solitary Gourmet (孤独のグルメ; kodoku no Gurume), available on Netflix, Japanese foodies went wild this year for this side of Szechuan cooking (Japanese: shisenryouri; 四川料理) that’s so spicy, it literally numbs your face.
Made in Japan Lemons (国産レモン; kokusanremon). Tired of eating lemons coated with anti-molding agents used to help them survive the trip, people in Japan helped quell the summer heat this season with lemons grown primarily in Hiroshima Prefecture.
Guru Navi’s award winners are an interesting mix of foreign influence, variations of traditional favorites, and a re-discovery of classic recipes. Even the 16 food and drink items mentioned here, however, barely skim the surface of Japanese cuisine. As you expand your Japanese skills, try diving into a few Japanese restaurant website menus online, and accustom yourself to the unknown terms and kanji you’re sure to encounter.
About the Author:
Jay Andrew Allen is the head writer and publisher of Unseen Japan. He holds an N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and is currently studying for Level 3 of the Kanji Kentei. Jay lives in Seattle with his children and his wife, Aya.
Have you tried any dishes mentioned above? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
Of the dishes I have tried, I really like onigirazu which I first learned about from reading Cooking Papa!
Winter in Japan brings with it a whole host of seasonal dishes that often make for the ultimate comfort food. Having lived in the northern island of Hokkaido, I quickly learned that eating the right dishes were essential to surviving the long winter!
Here are just a few Japanese dishes that I recommend eating to keep warm in the cold season.
Nabe (鍋) – hotpot goodness perfect for winter in Japan
鍋 (なべ) itself means ‘cooking pot’, but is more generally used to refer to one pot dishes that are made in the pot, which are usually soups and stews – perfect for winter. These large pots are normally used to cook nabe dishes on top of a portable stove.
Cooking nabe is often a very social event where a group of people gather around the table to eat. Everyone adds ingredients to the pot before enjoying their freshly cooked meal. If you have the chance to go to a nabe party, go – it is a great experience!
There are a few well-known types of nabe, including ちゃんこ鍋/ chankonabe (a hearty stew famously eaten by sumo), and 湯豆腐/ yudofu (a simple dish of tofu simmered in a konbu seaweed broth, usually served with ponzu sauce). Nabe also varies by region, such as the Ishikari (Hokkaido) style nabe featured above.
This post is going on focus on three of the most popular nabe dishes: sukiyaki, shabushabu and oden.
Sukiyaki consists of thinly sliced beef and other vegetables, cooked in a broth made from a mix of soy sauce, sugar and mirin. Ingredients often used in sukiyaki are tofu, cabbage, mushrooms (shiitake, enoki) and spring onions.
Once cooked, the beef can be dipped into raw egg just before eating. At the end, udon noodles or mochi can be added to soak up the remaining broth.
Being a winter dish, it often makes an appearance at 忘年会 (ぼうねんかい bounenkai/ end of year parties).
Shabushabu might just be my personal favourite, and it is not just because of the name! Shabushabu gets its name from an onomatopoeic term referring to the process of boiling the meat and vegetables which constitute the dish.
It is important that the meat used is sliced thinly – this allows it to cook in the boiling water in a matter of seconds. You can then dip the meat in a sauce before eating: popular sauces include ponzu and gomadare (sesame sauce).
Chef Mako Okano explains shabushabu in this great video which showcases the types of foods that tend to be used.
A lot of places offer shabushabu 食べ放題 (たべほうだい/tabehoudai – all you can eat) for 60 mins or more for a good price. This makes shabushabu an economic choice in the winter, even for large groups of people.
Being both filling and warming, oden is the perfect winter food.
Oden is one of the oldest nabe dishes, as it’s origins can be traced back to the 18th century. It is a dish consisting of boiled eggs and vegetables simmered in a soy flavoured dashi broth. There are regional variations, but the most common ingredients are daikon radish, potatoes, chikuwa fishcakes and konnyaku noodles.
The above video takes you through some of the many things you can add to your oden dish!
Oden can be eaten at specialist oden restuarants and traditional yatai stalls, but nowadays can also be found at convenience stores, supermarkets and even vending machines.
Winter snacks to keep you warm
If you aren’t quite hungry enough for a whole meal, you often pick up other warm Japanese snacks at street stalls or convenience stores:
Nikuman are steamed pork buns – basically the Japanese version of Chinese baozi. The buns are made from a flour-based dough, and the filling is usually made with pork, spring onions and shiitake mushrooms. You can buy these cheaply from convenience stores, where they are kept nice and hot!
The nikuman pictured above are more traditional, but convenience stores often do special types of nikuman, including ピザまん (pizza flavour nikuman), カレーまん (curry nikuman). Each store has their own unique flavours, so it is well worth visiting a few different places to see the many varieties available!
Sometimes the simplest foods are the best ones, and yakiimo is a great example of this. Yakiimo literally means ‘baked potatoes’. Imo are Japanese sweet potatoes, which have purple skin and are sweeter tasting than their Western counterparts.
In the colder months, there are usually street vendors and little food trucks that sell freshly baked yakiimo.
Not only are Japanese sweet potatoes delicious when baked, but they are also known for having many health benefits – I recommend trying them at least once!
焼き餅 Grilled Mochi
Mochi (rice cakes) are a popular snack all year round but is especially popular in the New Year period. They can be eaten in many forms, but a nice way to eat in winter is to grill it, which is known as yakimochi (meaning ‘grilled/ baked mochi’).
I became a little bit obsessed with yakimochi after I was first introduced to it. All you need to do is grill the mochi until it is toasted and has expanded. The gooey warmth of mochi when it is grilled makes it a lovely snack to warm you up in the winter!
I hope this post inspires you to try one of these dishes if you haven’t already. There are a lot of various Japanese ingredients mentioned in this post – if you want to learn more, I suggest checking out the following websites:
To be honest, I had been putting off joining Instagram because I thought it was too hipster and filter heavy for me. However, I recently decided to join the platform on a whim. Fortunately, I have found it to be a great resource so far for learning Japanese.
Instagram has over 800 million users, and from my experience so far, the language learning community on there is very active and friendly. In the short time I have been using the platform, I’ve have been able to:
learn about new language resources
get Japanese manga and novel recommendations
learn or revise helpful Japanese phrases
find daily motivation for my language learning motivation
…amongst other things. You can also change the language to Japanese if you want to immerse yourself a bit more!
How can language learners use Instagram?
Learn and revise vocabulary
Being a highly visual medium, I think that Instagram is particularly good for learning vocabulary. Using images alongside vocabulary is a great way to help memorise them, which is of course where Instagram shines. Instagram allows you to do short videos, which you can use to practice your speaking skills too.
Find posts on topics that interest you in your target language
The heavy use of hashtags on Instagram can be considered annoying, but you can use hashtags to find people and posts that relate to topics you care about.
Make sure to get involved!
Moreover, the Instagram community is all about engagement – commenting is a great way to practice your language skills and maybe even make friends! There is also a translate feature if you get stuck understanding a post or comment.
A word of warning though… Instagram is very centered on aesthetic and it is easy to waste time looking at the many pictures of cute stationery, cups of tea/coffee and grammar textbooks. Don’t let scrolling through Instagram become a replacement for other types of study!
With that said, here are 10 Instagram accounts that I highly recommend to those studying Japanese.
1) j_aipon – Particularly helpful for Japanese newbies
This account is run by a Japanese girl who likes to post content for beginner Japanese learners. Her posts are mostly simple sentences covering key grammar points and vocabulary. Some of these posts have audio of example sentences too.
All of her posts have romaji, so if you have just finished learning hiragana and katakana, this is a good place to start (until you feel more comfortable reading kana – which can take more time than you think!).
Her Youtube channel has some videos on learning kana, as well as simple Japanese listening practice too.
If you want to brush up on your Japanese slang, then this is the account for you! Each post covers a slang word in Japanese with the English meaning.
I like that each post has explanations of the word/phrase in both Japanese languages, along with examples and a fun image. This gives you a range of options on how to study, especially if you like to make your own flashcards.
As the name suggests, posts from this account are all to do with kanji vocabulary. Each word include furigana, romaji and English translations. The images that come with the vocabulary are all from anime, which is another plus if you are a fan!
Yoko is a Japanese person living in Portland, Oregon in the US. Yoko illustrates casual but useful sentences in Japanese and English (with furigana and romaji too!). These sentences are written in a very natural way in both languages. I love the illustrations a lot too!
7) Kisslingo – Great for JLPT and writing practice
The Kisslingo account covers useful Japanese words, phrases and grammar. If you are working towards the JLPT, I would look out for their JLPT question practice posts too.
I particularly like their writing prompt posts where they share a picture and ask you to describe what is happening in the photo in Japanese. This is a great way to practice your Japanese writing, no matter what your language level. What’s more, someone from the Kisslingo team will correct your Japanese for you!
Like Yoko mentioned above, Aya posts illustrations of phrases in both Japanese and English pretty much every day. The posts are aimed at Japanese people learning English – but since she includes furigana, Japanese learners can also use them to study.
For more advanced Japanese learners (no furigana used here), following this account allows you to read short comics based on everyday life. I find these little comics both relatable and funny, and the images help fill in the context of any words or phrases I am less sure of.
So that’s it for today’s post. Please follow the blog’s Instagram at @kotobitesjp if you do use the platform!
Do you use Instagram for language learning? If so, how? Let me know in the comments 🙂
I strongly believe that studying with sentences is an effective way to learn new vocabulary. If this is something you are interested in, I recommend checking out Clozemaster – a website and app that is built around this concept.
What is Clozemaster?
Clozemaster is designed to complement the use of other sentence based language learning apps like Duolingo. There are a huge variety of language pairs available, with new ones being added all the time!
The “cloze” of Clozemaster relates to a cloze deletion test, where you are given a sentence with a missing word and you need to identify what the missing word is. Cloze tests are therefore a great method of learning to use words and grammar in context.
How does Clozemaster work?
Each language has its own bank of sentences, the number of which does vary depending on the language pair. For many of the popular languages, you can follow the Fluency Fast Track, which is designed to cover the most frequently used words in that language. In the free version, clicking ‘PLAY’ will start a round of 10 sentences to review.
As I mentioned above, Clozemaster is all about filling in the correct missing word from a sentence.
For example, you are given a sentence in Japanese, and with a specific word missing. The clue for the missing word will be in the English translation of the sentence.
You have the option of multiple choice or text input before you start each round. If you are in text input mode and get stuck, just click on the “?” button to the right of the Japanese sentence to view the 4 multiple choice options.
Writing the correct answer earns you points – the closer you are to mastering the word, the more points you earn. Text input gives you twice as much points compared to multiple choice, so this is what I choose unless I only have a very short time to practice.
At the end of each round, you get some quick stats on how you did:
As you can see from the image above, you can set yourself a daily points target and email reminders to get in your daily practice too. My daily goal is 200 points currently, but I normally aim for 500-1000 depending on how much time I have.
Studying using the Play button is for learning new words (although some words that you have encountered before will appear too). For words that you have seen before, you will want to click on Review instead.
The Review function is based on spaced repetition intervals like those used in Anki and Memrise – the more often you answer correctly, the longer it will be before you see that same sentence again. Reviews tend to earn you a lot more points than studying new sentences.
Cloze Listening – listening practice with sentences
Clozemaster also has a listening practice feature called Cloze Listening, as shown above. To access this, click Play and then choose “Listening” from the drop-down menu (the default is vocabulary). Cloze Listening is where you hear the sentence first, then have to fill in the missing word in the sentence.
I think this makes for great listening practice as well as for learning vocabulary in context. Unfortunately, having a free account only allows you to do one round of 10 sentences to do every day.
Leaderboards and levelling up
The points you earn from your study sessions allow you to level up. Every time you do level up you get a fun little gif as a reward, which never fails to put a smile on my face! There are two types of levelling up – one for your whole account and one that relates specifically to each of the language pairs you study.
Every language pair has its own set of leaderboards, where you can try and score the most points for that week. I didn’t think that I would care about scoring highly on the leaderboard at first. However, if there is someone I am close to overtaking, I will do the extra reviews to move up the leaderboard!
The Clozemaster App
I tend to use the web version of Clozemaster, but there are apps available for iOS and Android. I have used the Android app and I do not have much to say about it. I mean that as a good thing – because I have not had any issues using it at all.
The fairly plain style of the website translates well into an app, and having the app is really convenient for a quick study session. It is synced to your account, so it is easy to switch between the website and the app if you need to.
Make sure you have some sort of Japanese keyboard installed so that you can type in Japanese. From what I can see, there is no support for romaji in direct input mode when using the app.
Clozemaster Pro comes with extra handy features
Clozemaster is another freemium site – it is free to sign up and practice any language. However, you need the Pro version to do things such as:
Customise the number of reviews you want to do in each session and control how often you review new words.
Get unlimited access to cloze listening practice
Download the Fluency Fast Track sentences or sentences you mark in your Favourites for offline study.
View more stats related to your study sessions
The ability to click on any word and search for the meaning using Google Translate
Get access to additional features such as Cloze-Reading, Cloze Collections and Pro Groupings.
Cloze-Reading is designed to help you boost your reading skills. This is where there are several missing words from a native piece of text in your target language which you then need to fill in.
The Cloze Collections function is in beta currently, but allows you to curate your own bank of sentences. This can be a mixture of sentences from within Clozemaster and sentences that you add yourself. I think this would be especially useful for language pairs that do not have a large number of sentences already on Clozemaster.
Pro Groupings allows you to break down the large bank of sentences into smaller ones. For Japanese, Pro Groupings gives you the ability to focus your learning on words from different levels of the JLPT.
Pros and Cons of Clozemaster for learning Japanese
After using the free version of Clozemaster for a couple of months, I have found it to have more pros than cons:
A huge range of languages to choose from
Sentences use words in order of frequency, so you learn important words first
Able to expose yourself to a range of sentence patterns
Can practice both reading and listening skills
Review intervals are spaced to help you retain vocabulary
If you’re competitive, the leaderboard will motivate you to get your score as high as possible
Japanese sentences and English translations are taken from the Tatoeba database, which is known for not being 100% accurate.
You have to type most vocabulary in kanji (as opposed to hiragana), which might be difficult for complete newcomers to Japanese.
No audio for Japanese within the vocabulary review section yet (this does exist for the most common language pairs)
I’m sure that the cloze deletion sentences can be replicated in something like Anki easily, which is what I would recommend to people who like a high degree of customisation. There are also excellent websites such as Delvin Language and Supernative which are specifically for Japanese and do have audio to go with their sentences.
However, for me Clozemaster is great because of the gamification aspect, as well as the fact I can practice on the go via the app. I would also give Clozemaster a go if you are learning (or maintaining proficiency in) a number of languages, as it is super simple to switch between languages and track your progress in each.
I really like Clozemaster, but I am not sure that for Japanese the features are fully fleshed out enough for me to justify the subscription cost of $8 per month at the moment. Having said that, there are new features being built into Clozemaster all of the time and I will certainly keep an eye out for any which might change my mind.
The good thing about Clozemaster is that you do not even have to sign up to try out the site – just choose a language pair and click Play to get started (which is what I did for a few days before even signing up)!
Whether you find that Clozemaster is useful for you or not, one thing I recommend checking out is the Language Challenge of the Day (or LCOD for short). These little challenges are fun ways to use your target languages in different ways every day.
Do you use Clozemaster? Do you find the website/ app useful? Please let me know in the comments!