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The earthquake victims would appreciate your help more than you'll ever know(more resources can be found here).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sowing the Seeds: Daily(or so) Drops of Info about Japan

One of the most important things I've learned about creating content for the online world is this: People(myself included) are given a torrent of new information every single day, and if you're not out there putting your best foot forward as often as you can, prepare to get lost in the tide. For me, this means giving people as constant a stream of valuable insight into the language and culture as I can without watering it down to match the standards everyone sets for their blog. With that, Sowing the Seeds was created, to help plant interesting new ideas about Japan and Japanese language while not bogging the pace down with getting longer form content just so. For your first taste of what's to come, here's an article interviewing Bilingual language teacher Kae Minami(from Japan Times). She discusses a good cross section of points about the country and it's language, including general pointers for those looking to pass their knowledge on(like myself), aspects of the language that make it unique-like the high level of context inherent in speaking it fluently-, and some advice for students/general life pointers. One of my favorites, and certainly full of info to help you on your way to building Your Japanese.

(special thanks to the article author, Judit Kawaguchi and the person who 1st tipped me off to it, Wendy Tokunaga)

Big Content Changes are a Comin'

Good to see you again! You may be wondering what big changes are coming, and to answer that, I would like to tell you a little bit about my experiences teaching Japanese and discovering what it means to teach well and with meaning. You know how they say nobody starts out perfect? That held very true for me when I first wrote my lessons up all those years, and didn't realize how patronizing and confusing they were until a few years and much more gained from my studies later. It hasn't been an easy road, and nothing worth while ever seems to be, but it taught me a lot about how to teach and presenting information in a manner easy to grasp. This is why you'll see some changes to the structure of the blog, such as lessons being categorized and little daily posts to shed some light on modern day Japanese culture. I'm certain they will help you strengthen your grasp on the language and culture, and perhaps show you a side of it you wanted to see more of, but didn't know it existed 'til now. Either way, stay tuned! You won't be disappointed, I assure you. In fact, here's a look at some of the subjects I'm doing research on for this overhaul:

Circle in the Square: Unstanding some of Japan's Inner-Cultural Workings

Sushi and Beyond: The Classic and Modern Flavors of Japanese Cuisine

A Divine Wind: The Japanese Role in Global Warfare

Everyday Magic: The Folklore and Fairytales of Japanese Culture

Wildstyle: An Introduction to Japan's Contemporary Culture

Naturythm: The History and Development of Japanese Entertainment

Slight of Hand: How to Speak Without Words

Across Oceans: Japan and it's Historical Intereactions with the World

Ordained by the Heavens: a Brief History of Feudal Japanese Society

Boys and Girls: Handling the Opposite Sex in Japan

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lesson 3.5: Bigger & Better Things(with iPhone app!)

The world is an expensive place to live in nowadays, and Japan is known wordwide for being especially pricey. As you spend, spend, spend on all the wonderful things it has to offer, you may see your bill climb into the 10's of 1000's of 円, so be prepared with the knowledge of these high scale numbers; then you'll be able to recite them perfectly to the Japanese speaking friend who yanks  ¥20,000 from your travel budget to buy some ripped jeans from a Japanese Abercrombie & Fitch store

一万いちまん二万にまん三万さんまん四万よんまん五万ごまん六万ろくまん七万ななまん八万はちまん九万きゅうまん(Can't read it?)
[10000, 20000, 30000, 40000, 50000, 60000, 70000, 80000, 90000]

For those of you with money to burn or those intending a longer stay in Japan than most, these are the kinds of numbers you'll see in, say, jewelry places or the TV departments of electronic stores. You'll also come across them when you come across reports counting a larger town's populace, magazines showcasing higher end clothing or accessories, or happen to have accounts stuffed with cash. (note: to express 100,000, 十万 are used together.  It's also expressed like this [10万]on occasion, for space purposes and visual distinction, so keep sharp.)

[100000, 200000, 300000, 400000, 500000, 600000, 700000, 800000, 900000]

Before I go on to the sky high number ranges, allow me a brief detour in the lesson to say this:  the Japanese language has a multitude of different counters, some which count months, days, others that count animals, and even some specialty ones, like the ones they use to count wins and losses in sports. Some of these even have special words for certain numbers, such as the Japanese word for 20 year olds, 二十歳はたち, which is important enough to be given it's own holiday and celebration. Again, take your interests to heart and learn them all well so you can communicate what you want to express, whether it's how many pets, cars or anything else you happen to own more than one of(This will be revisited in a future post, for more thorough analysis and usage notes). For a brief view at some of them, please look here(It's pretty good stuff from Koichi).

Now then, getting back on track, these kinds of numbers, unless you happen to be connected to someone with sizable accounts, are the kinds you'll only see in reports involving larges amounts of people, money and any combination thereof(including how much someone has spent on taxes that year, which is how they measure someone's wealth in Japan). If you happen to be rich and reading this, maybe you could throw some of it my way?(note: like with 100,000,it's expressed in a combination, this time of 百万, and can also expressed like this[100万])

[1000000, 2000000, 3000000, 4000000, 5000000, 6000000, 7000000, 8000000, 9000000]

These are similar, but on a much larger scale, and often appear in business reports and other things expressing extravagant cost, such as reading about how much money companies lost during the tail end of Japan's bubble economy, where everyone lived in absolute excess, and who's ideals were, and perhaps still are often embodied by this woman. Like the others it's expressed in a combination of kanji, this time 千万

[10000000, 20000000, 30000000, 40000000, 50000000, 60000000, 70000000, 80000000, 90000000]

When these numbers appear  together(such as in 18,970,000), 万 appears at the smallest point of the numbers presented here . If I wished to express a figure like 7964001, for example, it would be presented like this:


I'm sure you can figure out how to say the more intricate numbers by this point(if you haven't, go back and study more). While there are higher numbers to learn, do you honestly think you'll even see the numbers 10000000, 100000000, and 1000000000 in English in your lifetime, much less Japanese? If you think you will-and with the way the world economy is turning, it might come in useful down the line- seek the appropriate study materials and learn them well.

As a last bit of information around numbers, the basic sentence formula used to say you'll *verb* x amount of something is this:


EX: 切符きっぷ2枚にまいいたよ
(I bought us 2 tickets)

Small side note, を is read as お when used as a particle; more on this later. Also, if you're ever stuck on which counter to use, go with the -つ counter; it covers everything the others don't. Please note that that particular counter only goes up to ten, after that you'd use 十一じゅういち and the other combination of numbers you've previously learned to express quantities of 11 or higher.

For a full review of the vocab you've picked up, point your browser here.

If you happen to have an iPhone, you can even practice the numbers on the go, thanks to this app.(by a language teaching friend of mine, JapanNewbie.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lesson 3.4: Money, Japan and You

One thing you're gonna learn about Japan very quick is that getting around there requires a lot of knowledge of money numbers, along with having lots of traveling-around-buying-useless-crap-you-want money-which I always ration into my own trips and travels. With that in mind, let's begin learning the basic ways to talk about the bigger chunks of change you'll be using in your travels.

ひゃく二百にひゃく三百さんびゃく四百よんひゃく五百ごひゃく六百ろっぴゃく七百ななひゃく八百はっぴゃく九百きゅうひゃく(Can't read it?)

[100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700 ,800, 900]
This kinda money'll probably buy you a meal at a fast food joint or a neat little toy from some vending machine, but knowing the average person traveling to Japan what you desire will undoubtedly climb into the 1000+ or even 10,000+ yen range. Here are the kind of numbers you'll most likely come across as you roam around the various stores.


[1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000, 7000, 8000, 9000]

This is the most common range of numbers you'll see when you're shopping around the cities, and the only things I know more expensive than 9000 are specialty goods, collectors editions of stuff and so on(the stuff I know a lot of you want, but might not be able to afford without donating a kidney or first born child). Now, before we go higher up the ranks of spending, I think it's time for a bit of a break to review the money system, as well as how to recite our larger chunks of change.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lesson 3.3: The Numbers Game: Counting From 1-99 in Japanese

There are many things we learn as kids that, as we grow, we take for granted, one of those being the ability to count numbers.As I'm sure you can wrap your head around, this is also important in learning Japanese, so let's start with the numbers we learned when we were first in diapers, 1-10

いち[1]、 [2]、 さん[3]、 よん[4]、 [5]、 ろく[6]、 なな[7]、 はち[8]、 きゅう[9]、 じゅう[10](Can't read it?)

To help you remember them in Japanese, try counting them on your hands(or anything that can amount to ten, at this point). When you feel you have them down solid, count these numbers in Japanese:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Did you count them well? You did? Very good! Once you have those down pat, learning numbers 11-99 is a snap.

Making them is as easy as 十[number]for 11-19(IE 十+八=the word for the number 18, 十八じゅうはち) and [number]十[number] beyond that up to 99(IE 四+十+二= the word for 42, 四十二よんじゅうに)

To see this in motion, observe these examples:




Get the mechanics down and you'll know how to count up to 99 in Japanese in no time. Of course, as should be common knowledge by now, many things in Japan cost more than 99 yen. The question is, how much more?(short answer: a whole lot, and you'll some of see those numbers in detail next post)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lesson 3.2: Being Specific

If you've ever asked someone for directions when you have no clue what the place looks like, you'd probably get super pissed when they just point to something in the distance and say "Over there". Since I'm assuming you'll want a better understanding of your path, the knowledge of what it is in Japanese will be needed. To start, let's work on your general sense of presence:

まえ(Can't read it?)






If it helps, look around and point out each place in Japanese so it better sticks(or if you have a box, write the different directions on it). On the off chance, someone ever asks you for some directions, one helpful phrase may be:

[(direction) of the (place)]

So if you want to tell a friend you're in front of the McDonald's, you can say "マクドナルドの前"At times, however, there may be other words that may help you find the right distance between you and your desired destination:


[across the street]




[nearby(meaning you can see it, but not quite touch it yet)]

[right near(as in close enough to touch, or taze)]

[next to something different(like a piece of pizza near a small tub of ranch)]

[neighboring something similar(1 house near another, 1 seat near another, etc )]

間 is used when describing when a location is between two others. Take for example this sentence:

[(place)is between the museum and the station]

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lesson 3.1: Finding Your Way 'Round

Although everyone knows what happens when you assume, I'm sure many of you reading this many want to visit the island nation at some point in your lives so you can apply your knowledge of the language and culture, regardless of how much or how little you know. If you've ever traveled some place unfamiliar, like, say, a restaurant your friend said you gotta try that's tucked away among a mass of grey brick boxes and neon, you'll soon realize that a key piece of knowledge is how to ask for directions; for a place with as many grey brick boxes and neon as the cities of Japan, this is especially important to have with you.

Travel guides and phrase books do help, but I wouldn't rely too heavily on them, as they can and will get lost in the shuffle of going place to place to try and fit in as much as one trip allows. So if wanna you know which way leads to what you wanna see, set your pride aside, humble up and get ready to ask some directions. When the time comes, find someone friendly looking(gut instincts should be trusted on this part), approach and say the following:

失礼しつれいしますが 。。。(Can't read it?)
(Excuse me, but...)

To indicate you're looking for help, follow it up with this phrase:

(Could you lend me a hand with something?)
[Note: you can also use けて by itself to request assistance, such as when you see someone suddenly having a seizure/choking/going through other tough stuff, and need immediate help]

If you're not lucky, they won't know enough English/have the time to help you out and will either wave their hand in front of their face (like this) or say something among the lines of むずかしいけど。(It's a bit tough for me) or いそがしいけど。(I'm busy right now), or anything else, really, before they move on, implying that you gotta keep it moving and find someone else.

However, if they don't turn you down, ask one of the following:

 "(place) はどこですか。[note: since はis used as a particle in this instance, it's pronounced like 'わ'. More on this later]"
(where is [place]?)


[where is (place) at?]

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Lesson 2.5:促音(そくおん)Sokuon

In learning about Japan you've undoubtedly come across things and places with a double vowel in their name(One famous example being Hokkaido). How is that rendered in 仮名(Can't read it?), you may ask? With the help of a small つ 仮名, the term for it being 促音. It signifies a brief pause in speech while saying the word(Much like in the English words Poppa or Rabbit)-the technical term being a Germinate Consonant;the more proficient you are at speaking Japanese, the briefer it'll be  Let's take the name for an archetype in most anime-type stories as an example of how it's written:


*what a female is named, when they have a tough outer shell, but a tender inner being, closer to when we call a tough looking person a big softie*

It'll sound different depending on what 仮名 follows it(such as in the words 出席しゅっせき-the word for attendance-& ばっちり- used to express when something is done right or is right on the money), but the general principle is the same

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lesson 2.4: 拗音(ようおん) & 長音符 (ちょうおんぶ) Youon & Extended Vowels

Up to now I've been teaching that each 仮名かな(Can't read it?)is given it's own distinct voicing and intonation. In addition to that, a small や, ゆ, or よ-this usage being called a 拗音-proceeding a 仮名 signifies a whole new kind of sound. To show what I mean let's take the reading of two 仮名, き and よ and say them at regular speed. Now remove the pause and read this: きょ. Now you can say the other 拗音 仮名 without a hitch(if you feel it's not right, say it faster until it does). 

The 仮名 that utilize 拗音 would be き, ひ(including when either or  are applied to it),み,り,し(including when is applied to it)&ち. し. じ &ち are quite distinctive in that when paired with either 拗音 or a small え 仮名 they produce a whole new sound-those being しゃ(sha)しゅ(shu)しぇ(she)しょ(sho), じゃ(ja)じゅ(ju)じぇ(je)じょ(jo) & ちゃ(cha)ちゅ(chu)ちぇ(che)ちょ(cho). 

For futher assistance, here's a handy chart to the initial sounds and the brand new sounds

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lesson 2.3: Dakuten and Handakuten

When learning the building blocks of writing Japanese, another thing to keep in mind is 濁点だくてん「゛」(Can't read it?& 半濁点はんだくてん「゜」, also known respectively as てんてん(dot dot) and まる (circle) in informal circles. When applied to k, s, t and h 平仮名ひらがな or 片仮名かたかな, their respective sounds change-k becoming g, s becoming z, t becoming d and h becoming b(with the exception of じ and ぢ, which are both pronounced 'ji'). ゛ are also applied to the 片仮名 ウ to signify v sounds in the written language「ヴァ(va)/ヴィ(vi)/ヴ(vu)/ヴェ(ve)/ヴォ(vo), respectively」 

Allow me to present a sample chart of some of the various changes.

Now let's apply 濁点 and watch the the sounds change to this:

With the above exceptions, the rest of the applicable 平仮名 follow the same pattern of addition and change in sound. For all the uses ゛ has, though,゜ only has one known one with the h family of 仮名, changing them from h to p sounds. Kinda strange, but at least it's only one more thing to learn with it, and less is always more, with how much you gotta learn.

If you need a bigger helping to grasp the changes, please turn your attention to
this chart

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lesson 2.2: Loanwords

Katakana are for native Japanese words much like italics are for English, in terms of accenting and drawing attention to a certain word. They also, however, serve a secondary function for writing out words not native to their language(though sometimes you may also see them written out in Hiragana for style purposes, like here). Another thing to keep in mind regarding Katakana is despite what people-sometimes even native Japanese-may tell you, the word's root is not always English, as they have historically traded with and borrowed terms from many other countries, like France, Germany, Brazil, China, among many others, and the pronounciation should not assumed be as such.

Take for example the word they use for bread (パン(Can't read it?)[Pan]). If you were to assume the word was from English and thus pronounced it with an English accent, you'll undoubtedly draw stranger than usual stares, since other English speakers in the crowd might conjure up images of a cooking pan, or even a panning shot(both also what the word can refer to), instead of the bread you intended. Think about if someone pronounced the word Bologna as Bah-lone-yah (the approximate original Italian pronounciation) instead of how everyone who speaks English pronounces it (Buh-low-nee) if you want an idea of just how off putting that is. For anyone curious, パン's root in this context is actually Portuguese(pão), which is also where word for raincoat (カッパ[kappa]) oiginates from(capa).

So remember, when speaking with Japanese speaking friends of things outside their country, keep Katakana in mind and pronounce it through their accent-especially with mora in mind. This will also help you in getting what you want from Japanese establishments, even if how it's pronounced in Japanese seems nowhere near close to how it sounds in English-Vodka being pronounced as ヲッカ(wokka), for example. More on what the small つ(tsu) signifies in speech, as well as how to pronounce foreign words in through Japanese phonetics later.

Special note: steer well clear of outdated slang in your spoken vocab. You know how you look in pity at an old person that says, "Radical dude!" in an attempt to be with the kids? Unless you're trying to be ironic-which isn't impossible, but harder to do in a foreign language-that's how you'll look when you use super old slang, so be sure to keep your knowledge of it up to date by asking around before you pop in out in public. Also keep in mind slang isn't just limited to what everyone you know uses. You can also invent some of your own, the more you learn about the language, which I will cover in further detail later on.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lessons 2.1: Hiragana and Katakana

Imagine this scenario: you come into a country and can speak the language well enough to get around town. However when you need to read some of the signs, warnings, or various other important writings strewn around, you find you can't make out even the simplest of it's writing and find yourself confused and lost, trying to make heads or tails of what's in front of you. (take it from me: it's never a fun experience when you're actually looking for something)

Presumably you don't want this is happen to you, so you'll need to arm yourself with the building blocks of the written language; you need to learn how to properly read and write Hiragana and Katakana. A good place to start this process would be here- which will teach you how to install Japanese characters onto Windows, assuming you're using Vista or something like it- and here-which will show you the proper stroke order for each character. Practice writing them until you comfortable enough to do it from memory and be able to tell similar looking Hiragana and Katakana from one another, for that knowledge will come in handy when you get deeper into the language.

My personal recommendation? Get some grid paper and practice on it until it starts to resemble the examples. If it's a bit off, don't worry too much, as many Japanese natives have their own way to write them out, the same way people have different styles of handwriting in English. One way to help you remember them, outside of repeated writings until it becomes as natural as breathing, is associating them with their resemblance to every objects, such as in the cultural phenomenon Henohenomoheji

HOT TIP: the Katakana and Hiragana for Wi and We are pretty much irrelevant in modern Japanese society, so I wouldn't recommend putting too much effort into learning them unless you want to impress your Japanese speaking friends with obscure Japanese knowledge.

As for why one would need two different sets of the basic building blocks... (to be continued next lesson)