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Category Archive: Learning Japanese

Scholarships and Grants for Your Study in Japan Experience!

  • Posted by:
  • April 20, 2017

Dreaming of studying abroad but don’t have the means to support your wish? Check out some of the government scholarships and grants that may be available to you. Scholarships for study abroad may be awarded on the basis of personal attributes (ethnic or religious background, parents’ field of employment, children of veterans, descendants of immigrants from specific countries), or on academic focus, major, or career path.

KCP Flickr

You may find further scholarship and financial aid information at your school’s study abroad office. Here are some government funded scholarships and grants to check out to get you started:

Gilman Scholarship Program

The Gilman Scholarship Program is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, which fosters mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries to promote friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations. The Gilman Scholarship Program is an undergraduate grant program for U.S. citizens of limited financial means to enable them to study abroad, thereby internationalizing their outlook and better preparing them to thrive in the global economy. It is open to all U.S. undergraduate student citizens who are receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university to participate in study and intern abroad programs worldwide.

KCP International Scholarship

Offered by KCP International Japanese Language School, these merit-based scholarships are awarded to three eligible students each term who attend KCP, on a first come, first served basis.

The KCP scholarship is a housing discount: award amount varies with length of study and other factors.

KCP Flickr

Boren Undergraduate Scholarships

Boren Scholarships, an initiative of the National Security Education Program, provide unique funding opportunities for U.S. undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests, and underrepresented in study abroad, including Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Boren Scholars represent a vital pool of highly motivated individuals who wish to work in the federal national security arena. In exchange for funding, Boren Scholars commit to working in the federal government for at least one year after graduation.

Bridging Scholarships for Study Abroad in Japan

The Bridging Project offers scholarships to American undergraduate students participating in study-abroad programs in Japan. Funding from private foundations and major U.S. corporations, through donations to the nonprofit U.S.–Japan Bridging Foundation, makes it possible to award about 100 scholarships each year to assist students with the travel and living expenses they will incur while studying abroad in Japan for a semester or an academic year. Applications are accepted twice a year for Bridging Scholarships.

And KCP alumni Steven Trapani has some tips on applying for a study abroad scholarship at our blog site.

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Nengō: The Japanese Era Name

  • Posted by:
  • August 10, 2015

The Japanese calendar scheme is identified by two elements: the first is nengō or gengō (the Japanese era name) and the second is a number that indicates the number of years since an era began.

The nengō system was derived from the Chinese Imperial practice that dates back to 140 B.C.E. and was also common practice in East Asia. It was adopted by Japan in 645 C.E. during the reign of Emperor Kōtoku. The very first era name that was assigned was “Taika” which celebrated the political organizational changes from the great Taika Reform Edicts (set of doctrines established by Emperor Kōtoku). The regular practice of proclaiming era names was interrupted in the late 7th century but was reinstated in 701 during Emperor Mommu’s reign (697–707). Since then, era names have been used continuously: Japanese government offices usually require era names and years on official papers.

era name

era name2

Timeline of Japanese era names. (click images to enlarge)

Before the Meiji period, era names were chosen by court officials and were subjected to frequent change: a new era name might change within a year or so after the ascension of a new emperor. A new era name was often designated as well on the first (kakurei), fifth (kakuun), and 58th (kakumei) years of the sexagenary cycle (a cycle of 60 terms used for recording days or years) because they are believed to be inauspicious years in Onmyōdō (a traditional Japanese esoteric cosmology). They are collectively known as sankaku.

In historical practice (pre-Meiji period), the first day  of nengō  begins whenever the emperor wishes it to start, with the first year continuing on until the next lunar new year which marks  the beginning of nengō’s second year. In modern times, the first year of nengō starts as soon as the Emperor ascends the throne and end on December 31. The succeeding years follow the Gregorian calendar.

Emperor Akihito

The current era in Japan is Heisei. It began on the 8th of January 1989, the very first day after the death of the then reigning Emperor, Hirohito. He was succeeded by his son Akihito and in accordance with Japanese customs, Hirohito was posthumously renamed “Emperor Shōwa” on the 31st of January 1989. The four era names used since the end of the Edo period in 1868 can be abbreviated by taking the first letter of the Romanized names. (For example, Shōwa 55, S55, is 1980 C.E. or Heisei 22, H22 is 2010 C.E.) To covert a Western year after 1989 to Heisei era, simply subtract 1988 to any year after it (i.e. for 2015, 2015-1988= Heisei 27).

Emperor Akihito.

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Japanese study tips: train time to your advantage

  • Posted by:
  • August 30, 2014

When you’re in Tokyo, immersed in Japanese all the time, it’s natural to be swept away on the current of novelty and excitement that surrounds you. But riding the waves on its own won’t bring you the language mastery you’re there for. KCP faculty members are known for their willingness to help you learn and work with any confusion you have; but you need to kick your mind into gear.

The secret is to use your time well. Here is a collection of ideas and suggestions from other KCP students.


time1Your most basic tool is memorization: Japanese involves LOTS of it. But memorization takes time, in small, steady increments, every day. How do you work it in?

  • If you don’t know Japanese yet, wake up your memory muscles by learning basic kana on our kana page. You might try for complete mastering and recall of one practice sheet each day, reviewing the previous sheets as well. This builds stamina.
  • As you memorize each day’s new characters, visualize situations to use them right away, and do so.
  • Make flash cards and study them on the train during your commutes—an excellent way to turn those commutes into productive time.
  • Get a study buddy and test each other.
  • Don’t plan on cramming. Cramming is not a strategy; it’s an avoidance tactic, and it seldom works, especially when memorizing a large amount of material.

Work and Play

  • Build time in to your daily schedule—2 to 4 hours—for homework and study. Probably best to do it at the same time each day.
  • Know your priorities for your current activity, and don’t get sidetracked.
  • time2For best retention of material and best study attitude, break up those 4 hours into two chunks, with an hour or so of lively recreation in between. A walk to (or in) a park or place to eat with friends can make all the difference. Exercise really helps too.
  • Light-hearted fun with friends or host family when not studying, make the study go better. There are several parks near KCP, and many others (and shrines, stores, museums, eateries) in Tokyo alone.

Spare Time

  • Arrange to see some of Tokyo (and the surrounding region) on your own or with friends. Getting out of town is wonderful for gaining perspective.
  • Choose your friends well. You’re all in this together; if you have friends who share your study priorities, it’s a win-win.
  • Each day, make a point of using the Japanese you just learned to those you deal with in shops, etc.


  • time3If you’re not getting it, or falling behind, tell your teacher or student coordinator. Everyone is very eager to help you.
  • KCP’s small-group sessions outside of class are the perfect places to hone your mastery of what got taught in class or work on your own sticking points.
  • So your brain will perform at its peak, get enough sleep!


If you can make these ideas personal to you and follow them not only will you shift your Japanese into high gear; in learning to sustain your focus, you will have gained a skill that will help you throughout your life.

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Aizuchi: Japanese Interjections for Polite Listening

  • Posted by:
  • June 9, 2014

Aizuchi (相槌) is the term for interjections in Japanese. In a Japanese conversation, it is customary and polite to make frequent phatic (social task) expressions to indicate that you are actually listening.  It reassures the speaker that the listener is actively participating in the discussion. Non-native speakers of the Japanese language often misinterpret Aizuchi as the listener fully understanding or agreeing with what the speaker is saying but it is not always the case.

aizuchi1Aizuchi can be compared to the English words, “got it”, “yeah”, “go on”, “uhuh” and the like but are said in a more pronounced and engaging manner.

In an article in Journal of Pragmatics (2007) by S. Kita, and Ide, entitled “Nodding, aizuchi, and final particles in Japanese conversation: How conversation reflects the ideology of communication and social relationships” (page 1251), we find a description of aizuchi:

KCP Flickr.

“Its etymology goes back to a technical term in Japanese traditional sword making. To make a sword, the master and the assistant hammer the iron alternately with a regular rhythm. The master, with a small hammer, sets the pace and instructs the assistant with a big hammer where to hit next. The assistant’s blows physically shape the sword out of a lump of hot iron. Aizuchi originally referred to this assistants’ blow, which must carefully follow every master’s blow and yet plays a major role in shaping the sword.”

aizuchi2Just like when practicing aizuchi, the listener acknowledges the speaker by grunting or exclaiming in forms of verbal utterance, at times accompanied with nods to indicate active listening. When conversing in the Japanese language, interjections make the conversation go a lot smoother. In fact, two-thirds of the conversation in Japanese is composed of utterances and grunting which overlap with the speaker most of the time. This is thought of as the proper and polite way to converse in Japanese.

KCP Flickr.

Some examples of aizuchi:

“sō desu ne” = I see
“honma” =  Really
“hai”, “ee”, or “un” = Yes
“sō desu ka” = Is that so?
“So nan da!” = Oh, that’s right!

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Getting to Know the Japanese Language

  • Posted by:
  • April 28, 2014

The Japanese language is known as Nihongo (日本語). Chinese documents record the existence of some Japanese words as early as the 3rd century, and texts clearly appear during the 8th century. The Chinese language had a significant influence on the phonology and vocabulary of Old Japanese during the Heian period (794-1185). Changes to the language from around 1185-1600 included some European loan words. The early 17th century in Japan saw the change of the standard dialect from the Kansai region to Edo (modern day Tokyo).  By the end of Sakoku, Japan’s self-imposed isolation in 1853, there was a noticeable proliferation in loan words from English and European languages that made the Japanese language quite similar to the Nihongo of today.


The spoken and written forms of Japanese may not be as difficult to learn as some may think.  Here are some basic facts to keep in mind about the Japanese language.

There are three sets of characters in written Japanese—Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. It may sound intimidating at first but kanji (with about 2,000 characters), once mastered, will allow you to understand most of the words in Japanese. Hiragana consists of a mere 46 compared to Kanji. The characters are very simple two to three strokes of a pen. Katakana is mainly used for foreign loan words and also has 46 characters, very similar to Hiragana. Once you master Hiragana, Katakana will be remarkably simple to learn.

Hiragana. | Lezer

The Japanese language has neither a future tense nor a past tense. This allows you to completely rethink the grammar rule of tenses. This may seem quite confusing, but when learning a new language, it can be a blessing.  Without past or future tense, the Japanese language is a lot more straightforward than other languages. By omitting this one rule, the context of what the speaker is implying comes out clear.


Spoken Japanese is intensely tonal. Changing your stress of pitch does not change the meaning of a word.  It also has only about 46 phonetic characters with a single possible pronunciation. This makes Nihongo fairly easy to speak compared to English. Even if it only has 26 letters, the various letter combinations give so many options for pronunciation to words that speaking it is more complex.

Katakana. | Pmx

Japanese language studies is an advantage for numerous reasons. Japan is one of the top countries with the largest economies, and knowing how to communicate in Japanese opens doors for business and career opportunities and helps build stronger rapport.  Learning the Japanese language is also a possible gateway for you to understand other Asian countries, whether for business purposes or getting to know their cultures.

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5 Tips for Language Study Abroad by KCP Student Hector Santiago

  • Posted by:
  • March 11, 2013

KCP Fall 2012 student Hector Santiago shares some effective tips on language learning in Japan. Thanks for your wisdom!

Since I’ve been back in the States, I’ve received emails from students going abroad and currently abroad asking for advice in how to survive in Japan, how to meet people and make friends, and so on. Today, a student asked me how to study in Japan to make learning easier.  This made me think back to how much trouble I had when I started learning Japanese, and the methods I developed to help make learning this new language easier. So, without further ado, here are my tips for learning a new language.

classTip #1 – Take notes

Of course you take notes in class, but when I was abroad,  buy a small pocket notebook to carry around with you at all times. Throughout the day, every time you  hear a word you don’t recognize, wrote it down, find the definition, and studyd it. Doing this will greatly help you increase your vocabulary .

KCP Flickr

Tip #2 – Drill

This method works for some but not others, depending on one’s preferred style of study. Rote memorization is a useful tool when learning vocabulary. It teaches us to quickly associate a foreign word with its English equivalent. Some teachers may not like this method because they want you to learn to think in that language, but that can be a bit more difficult for students who are not already multilingual.

Tip #3 – Get a partner

Having someone who is more fluent or even a native in the language, who can correct your mistakes and maybe even teach you new ways to remember things, can only benefit you while you’re in a new country. Take advantage of any and all help that is available to you.

Tip #4 – Study often

It’s hard to want to study more than you have to sometimes, but putting forth that extra effort is going to get you extra results. Don’t settle for just passing your classes. Develop a connection with your host country by learning to communicate properly.

Tip #5 – Immerse yourself

This can be much easier said than done for some people. Some may not have the social skills, the confidence, or the desire to completely come outside their comfort zone and be around people they can’t communicate with. However, being in a foreign country, the more exposure you have with the language, the easier it is to pick up. This method may take time, but it definitely helps.


You can also visit Hector’s online travel journal to read about his other study abroad experiences. If you have a question for Hector about his language learning tips, please ask him.

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KCP Offers Second Set of Kanji Textbooks (with CD)

  • Posted by:
  • February 29, 2012

KCP is proud to announce the publication of a second set of a series of books on kanji!

The first set was 1 nichi 15 hun no kanji 1 and 2 for Levels 1, 2 and 3. These two new ones are for pre-intermediate to intermediate Levels 3, 4 and 5.

KCP Japanese language instructor with the kanji books. | KCP Flickr

The new books contain lots of illustrations that will bring fun images to learners. All example sentences and questions were developed through our Japanese instructors’ careful consideration of the students who will be studying with the books.

KCP kanji textbook set (with CD). | KCP Flickr

These new kanji books come with a CD for an auditory learning experience. This may be the first “kanji” textbook set that is accompanied by a CD! Students can listen to the example sentences that include all the kanji introduced in the books. Practicing those sentences also helps them memorize vocabulary.


Open kanji textbook | KCP Flickr

The KCP kanji textbooks can already be found in various book stores, such as big ones like Kinokuniya. They are sold for 2100 yen, including tax.

A previous KCP publication, Virtual Hiragana Course in One Week, also available through Kinokuniya, is a great basic option.

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KCP Offers Japanese Anime and Manga Summer Program

  • Posted by:
  • February 14, 2012

Japanese anime and manga are deeply ingrained in Japanese pop culture. Their influence and popularity have reached other parts of the world, including the United States (e.g., Astro Boy and Dragon Ball Z).

The term “manga” refers to Japanese drawings or comics, many of which were created hundreds of years ago and remain popular to this day. “Anime” refers to Japanese animated cartoons. These are usually heavily influenced by manga themes and drawing styles.

The appearance of anime and manga characters is very distinct and recognizable. Humans are portrayed to have overly large eyes, tapered chins, and tousled hair. Anime and manga are so popular that they have inspired a variety of TV series, films, action figures, cosplay costumes, toys, and other forms of merchandise. Kotobuyika, a toy manufacturing company, makes exquisite action figures based on anime and manga characters.

Various Kotobuyika products:

At KCP, we have held several anime and manga seminars such as the manga drawing seminar last August. Now, we are pleased and excited to offer the Anime/Manga Summer Program, which focuses  not just on the Japanese language but also on the impact of Japanese anime and manga on everyday life.

Visit our site at KCP Student Life to learn more about Japanese anime and manga or our main site to inquire about the Anime/Manga Summer Program.


Copyright information for Kotobuyika images :

(C) 高橋和希 スタジオ・ダイス/集英社・テレビ東京・NAS

(C)2005-2012 Nitroplus/HOBIBOX


TM & © DC Comics.
WB SHIELD: TM & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (s12)


TM & (C) 2012 Marvel & Subs.


(C)1997-2012 FromSoftware, Inc. All rights reserved.


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Keigo: Respectful Japanese

  • Posted by:
  • December 9, 2011

The word “keigo (敬語)” generally means “respectful Japanese.” It is one of the three general levels of politeness used in Japanese speech, namely: colloquial, polite, and honorific. These are all differentiated by verb endings and certain words or expressions, and keigo refers to the honorific level of speech. It means speaking very humbly of yourself and addressing the other person formally with the utmost respect and esteem.

Japan has distinct social classes; the way you speak to someone depends on who you are talking to. For those with a higher social status, such as teachers and elders, use keigo speech. For example, a young lady would converse with her grandparent in keigo, which extremely respectful, while the grandparent does not have to do the same to the grandchild.

Types of Keigo

Sonkeigo (尊敬語) – also called “respectful Japanese,” this is only used to address others, such as customers and those with a higher social status. It is not used when referring to yourself.  Lengthy and well-mannered expressions typify sonkeigo speech. Verbs and nouns can be altered into respectful forms of the words. For instance, a verb can be modified by adding a prefix and a polite suffix. The verb “yomu” which means “read” changes to “o-yomi ni naru.” The prefix o- is added to the verb’s i-form (yomi) and the verb ending “ni naru”.

Kenjōgo (謙譲語) – also called “humble language,” it is used to refer to your own or your group’s actions when assisting someone higher in status than yourself. It is similar to sonkeigo in that verbs are often modified by adding a prefix and a polite suffix. For instance, “motsu” which means “carry” is turned into “o mochi shimasu”, which is what a Japanese would say when offering to carry something for someone.

Teineigo (丁寧語) – also called “polite language,” can be used to address other people and your own actions. This type is generally taught first to foreigners who are still learning Japanese. Teineigo speech makes use of the verb ending “masu” and the sentence ending “desu.”

Usage of Keigo

Keigo is vital in business where respect and esteem is held in high regard. It is challenging to learn but essential when interacting with Japanese society. It can be tricky because if you do not speak with adequate politeness, you can be deemed rude. But if you overdo it and speak too politely, you may be considered mocking. Japanese children use informal speech but are expected to know keigo by heart by the time they become adults. For foreigners in Japan, varying standards of polite Japanese are applicable.

Manual Keigo

Manual keigo (マニュアル敬語) is a controversial version of standard keigo. It is usually found in manuals which fast-food restaurant and convenience store employers give to their employees, such as cashiers and servers, to be used when addressing their customers. These employees are often young and not very familiar with keigo speech. Manual keigo makes use of expressions that are lengthier and not as clear as standard keigo expressions.






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Japanese Language Basics: Kanji, the Japanese Writing System

  • Posted by:
  • November 18, 2011

Kanji” is Japanese for the Chinese hanzi characters that Japan has adopted as part of its modern writing system. Over 100,000 of these logograms, or visual word symbols, exist but only about 5,000-10,000 are in common use today. Memorizing the still enormous number of kanji is a big challenge. In 1981, the Japanese government decided to implement the jōyō kanji hyō, or List of Chinese Characters for General Use, in their documents and publications. The list contains 1,945 regular characters and 166 special characters reserved for people’s names.


KCP students practicing writing kanji. | KCP Flickr

Before kanji, the Japanese had no written language. Chinese characters were introduced to Japan through imported articles, and it is believed that Chinese immigrants wrote the first Japanese documents. Over time, the Chinese writing system evolved to accommodate the rules of Japanese grammar and linguistics, and became a system known as “kanbun.”

Kanji makes up part of the modern Japanese writing system, which also includes the kana syllabaries, hiragana and katakana. Each of these systems have specific purposes, For example, kanji are used when writing nouns, verb stems, and adjective stems; hiragana are used to represent particles, inflected verb and subject endings; and katakana are used for certain plant and animal names and onomatopoeic words.

Chart of common Kanji characters | Beheim

Here are some types of kanji:

Shōkei-moji (象形文字) – pictograms that visually represent the meaning of a word. For example, the kanji character “木” means “tree” and also resembles a tree.

Shiji-moji (指事文字) – simple ideograms that represent abstract concepts. An example is the kanji character “上”, which means “up” or “above”.


Kanji for “strong” | Amazing_Japan

Kaii-moji (会意文字) – compound ideograms: a combination of two or more pictograms. An example is the kanji “峠” (kokuji) which means “mountain pass.” It is a combination of  “山” which means “mountain”, “上” which means “up” and “下” which means “down.”

Keisei-moji (形声文字) – the most widely used in modern standard lists of kanji. These are semantic-phonetic characters generally made up of two components: meaning and pronunciation or sound. An example is “茎” which means “stem” or “stalk.” It is composed of “艹” which means “plant” and “圣” or “straight.”

Kanji on Japanese lanterns. | credit_00


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