Tag Archive: learning Japanese
“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
Mary Alania, a former student, shares her experience and valuable insights about KCP. She immersed herself in the program and the Japanese culture and way of life.
When I first went to Japan in January 2009, the only knowledge I had of Japanese was how to write and read hiragana and katakana. My vocabulary was little to none, and I could barely read 20 of the most common kanji. Once I arrived at KCP and was (quickly and accurately) placed in level 1, I realized that my knowledge really was next to nothing and felt a little intimidated. It wasn’t long until I was comfortable, though, thanks to my fellow classmates and the KCP teachers who were truly enthusiastic about teaching.
I studied at KCP for a total of 1½ years and completed levels 1 through 6 in that time. Each level represented a new challenge; I continued to realize that I didn’t know as much as I thought. Constantly learning new things motivated me to work hard.
It isn’t easy to succeed at KCP, and I struggled a lot through every test in every level. This only made me want to push myself harder; I took my books with me everywhere so that I could study a bit extra, should the opportunity present itself. (My friends made fun of me quite often because I would even study in the pub when we’d go out for drinks.)
A Typical School Day
I’m not sure I could use the word “‘typical” to describe a day in Tokyo. Every day was an adventure in its own right, and I shared many adventures with fellow classmates, now fast friends.
During my last 6 months in Japan, though, my school schedule was fairly regular. It looked like this:
6:15am–wake up, shower, eat breakfast.
7:20am–leave the apartment by to catch the train; go to the local 100-yen store near the school and buy a snack for lunch.
8:30am–arrive at KCP; study for an exam or talk with my friend on the outside bench.
12:15pm–have my snack/drink.
12:30pm–extra co-curricular class starts.
1:15pm–return home, study for about 3 hrs, shower/eat, and then head out again to teach English lessons privately. (I had permission to work that I had applied for earlier.)
9pm–back to the apartment, continue my studies for another 1 to 2 hours.
During school breaks and on weekends, I would have the opportunity to go out with my friends. These excursions often varied, but our most common activities were karaoke, purikura, shopping, and drinks/food at local places. There is no such thing as a day with nothing to do in Tokyo.
1.) KNOW your Hiragana and Katakana BEFORE you go. It will help you out a lot and you won’t find yourself desperately struggling to keep up.
2.) Dedicate yourself to your studies. Do take some time to explore, but also remember that if you don’t study and involve yourself in class, you’re missing an enormous opportunity to grow and learn with your classmates.
3.) Kato-sensei’s English support classes are truly life-saving for levels 1, 2, and 3. Make sure you take advantage of the support classes and ask questions if you have them. Kato-sensei is a wonderful teacher and knowledgeable resource.
4.) Use the new vocabulary/sentence structures/etc. that you’ve learned in class, the same day! It really is true that if you don’t use it, you lose it. Plus, the feeling that you get when you use it correctly is quite satisfying.
5.) Ask questions in class if you’re confused. Chances are someone else has the same question, and you’re not only helping yourself by asking, but others as well.
All of my classes were filled with many highly motivated and inspirational people. My teachers and classmates made my learning environment one of the best. | KCP at Flickr
This program is extremely valuable to students who are open-minded, motivated, and willing to work hard. If you really give this program all of your attention, chances are you’ll succeed. Being dedicated to your studies and turning in ALL of the homework is also very important. Don’t just throw it away once you get your corrected works back, either. In my experience, there is something to be learned from every corrected paper.
While I have not found employment to use my Japanese yet, I have already received several offers for jobs once I graduate from university due to my experience abroad and knowledge of Japanese. For the time being, I am using my Japanese daily by writing letters & emails to friends/teachers, reading Japanese books, and talking via Skype with my friends from KCP. I have also volunteered to be a teacher’s assistant for the Japanese classes at my local college.
Overall, I rate my time in Japan as off the charts. I met people from all walks of life and was able to learn, mature, and grow in an environment completely different from what I had known. KCP represents an opportunity to educate yourself, grow, and have fun–a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Tokyo street scene | KCP at Flickr
Tokyo is a beautiful, modern city of dramatic contrasts. Dignified shrines and temples stand quietly in the shadows of massive skyscrapers. Tokyo’s modern, fast-paced urban life is tempered by the charm of its parks and the courtesy of its people. Both graceful and energetic, Tokyo is the gateway toJapan’s fascinating culture.
Brilliant Tokyo twilight cityscape. | KCP Flickr
Tokyo, with about 100,000 international students, boasts the biggest concentration of universities, theatres, corporate offices, museums, and financial institutions in Japan. All of this translates into unparalleled opportunity for overseas study.
| KCP Flickr
Here are the top reasons why you should learn Japanese in Tokyo:
- As a global finance center with a GDP of about $1.35 trillion, Tokyo is an awesome location to pursue an internship, especially for those with a keen interest in international business.
- Tokyo has a near perfect literacy rate and puts huge emphasis on its educated workforce.
- Discipline, cooperation, and creativity are essential educational ingredients.
- Tokyo offers rich opportunities for individuals who are interested in the Japanese culture and who want to gain a modern international perspective.
- This modern megalopolis offers cutting-edge technological facilities.
Learn Standard Japanese in Tokyo
There are plenty of dialects spoken in other parts of Japan. Among them are Okinawa-kotoba, Kansai-ben, Tugaru-ben, and Kanto-ben. Dialects are mutually intelligible except for geographically separated dialects like the Kyuushuu and Touhoku variants. Dialects differ in terms of particle usage, pitch accent, vocabulary, verb morphology, and pronunciation.
KCP students with their Japanese professors. | KCP Flickr
Standard Japanese was developed after the Meiji Restoration from the language spoken in the higher class areas of Tokyo as a communication necessity. Standard Japanese is taught in schools and used in national television and in official communication. As a student, it is key that you learn the language from teachers who speak standard Japanese.
Any intensive Japanese course includes study of the Hiragana and Katakana. Also known as the Japanese syllabary, Hiragana is a primary component of the Japanese writing system (along with kanji, katakana, and the Latin alphabet). Pronounced hee-ra-GA-na, it is the most useful and the simplest to write.
Writing Basics Hiragana are parts of words and sentences (like “and” or “is”), and they are used in kids’ story books. Japanese children learn Hiragana first, then moving steadily through Katakana and kanji.
The 46 Hiragana letters are sounds that make up syllables. For instance, the first 5 Hiragana letters are A, I, U, E and O. The remaining letters are built from the first 5 vowels. As soon as you master the vowels, the pronunciation of the rest of the letters will follow the same pattern. For example, the next 5 letters are ka, ki, ku, ke and ko.
Hiragana are usually arranged in groups of 5. Although Ks are constant, some groups aren’t. The 3rd group, for instance, is sa, shi, su, se and so. Shi is obviously different: a Japanese letter for Si doesn’t exist. This can be confusing and intimidating at first, but with constant practice, you’ll remember them easily. Some other inconsistencies:
- Ta, chi, tsu, te and to. Tu and Ti don’t exist.
- Ha, hi, fu, he and ho. Hu is not a letter.
- The W (only wo and wa) and Y (ya, yu, and yo) groups
N, the last letter, is the only one that doesn’t have a vowel. In Japanese writing, all words end N or a vowel.
Practice, Practice, Practice! There are other rules for writing Hiragana. If you plan to enroll in an intensive Japanese course, learn one Hiragana letter daily and practice writing it thoroughly. Get used to writing these Japanese characters and you will become a pro in no time.
Here’s an intriguing idea to get you up to speed on your Hiragana and Katakana. Has anyone tried it? I’d like to know what you think.
Kana Match Card Game, www.kanamatch.com
Jim Story, the creator, says, “Having had to memorize the Kana myself while studying Japanese, I know what a difficult and boring, yet essential, task it can be. But everyone likes playing a game. I thought, ‘How can I turn this dull and difficult task into a fun game, so that people can learn the Hiragana and Katakana while having fun?’
‘So I invented the Kana Match card game, a fun and easy way to learn Hiragana and Katakana. I played it with kids and they liked it, too! I hope you or your children or students find it both fun and educational.”
The 46 basic Kana are covered, and the cards are available in 3 versions: (1) Hiragana and Romaji, (2) Katakana and Romaji, and (3) Hiragana and Katakana. There is also a Solitaire version for the serious student–a great way to both learn and test yourself.
Yellow cards are Hiragana on one side and corresponding Katakana on the other. Green cards have Romaji on one side and the corresponding Katakana on the other. The cards are designed to be played as a game–when two people sit across from each other, each can see the character or letters.
July 25, 2010
I’m trying to cope with advancing my Japanese production quality, especially when I talk. Almost every sentence that comes to my head is always in a “(A) is (B)” or “(A) does (B)” structure: very basic structures that are, as KCP deems, “Level 1.” I am “Level 2.” So I need to speak like it.
[photo Boryune, wikimedia commons]
I can write like it fine because I can think about what I’m going to say, and listening to it isn’t that hard anymore. A little background–complex Japanese modifiers (or subordinate clauses) tend to appear first, *before* what they modify (and as far as I know, they *must* do that). English is a lot more direct here, and we use it based on convenience and context.
(Level 1) That guy is wearing a red shirt.
(Level 2) The guy wearing a red shirt is walking east.
Japanese sentence structure converted to English, to demonstrate difference:
(Level 1) As for that guy, a red shirt he is wearing.
(Level 2) Wearing a red shirt guy towards east is walking.
So basically, whereas I’m always used to describing things after I’ve mentioned them, I need to start thinking about it the other way around. Even though these sentences listed are trivial, I’m having trouble generating them when speaking because I think of the noun first. When writing I can be deliberate and figure out the right subordinate clause. Listening to it used to be hard, but you get kind of used to it: it’s like Yoda-speak– you can understand it, but it’s just weird.
Maybe the difference is to focus on the first thing my senses take in–the red shirt–rather than on the “static” person, place, or thing.
Read more of Zach’s adventures in Japan at http://peculiarpuffin.com/wordpress.
Here are some photos from the students in Tokyo at KCP International. They cover 2 events–making chicken curry and the Tanabata festival.
We all love curry, so this is a good dish to learn. We’re cutting vegetables here–something most of us have done before.
Cooking rice is not as simple as you’d think. The Rice Master bestows his wisdom on us.
The best part is eating the curry. We all went back for more, and there was none left when we were done.
Tanabata (七夕, Evening of the seventh) is a Japanese star festival. It celebrates the meeting of Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair). Legend says the Milky Way, a river of stars, separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.
The celebration is held at night. People write their wishes on a piece of Tanabata paper (strips of colored paper) and hang them, usually on long bamboo branches.
This student’s wish is a secret! (Are all wishes secrets? Are all secrets wishes?)
The Summer 2010 session at KCP International Japanese Language School is going on right now. Here are some shots of life at KCP in the summer–the academic side.
Class time–group work.
A one-on-one session really jump-starts this student’s ability to speak Japanese. The luxury of a real back-and-forth with a native speaker!
A gift from KCP students to the staff. Everyone there works very hard!
In the hotel during a KCP overnight trip. Even during a fun excursion like this, students study hard. When we’re all together in a new place, though, it has a festive feeling–and we’re often learning things we’ll use right away.
No question: kanji is difficult. One of the payoffs is calligraphy class.
Every second works for you! On the bus during this KCP trip, teachers lead students in activities and games that use Japanese.
Omikuji, Japanese fortune telling paper. Students are usually interested in good luck in love and learning.
In 2007, the talented staff at KCP created this book/DVD–
Virtual Hiragana Class in One Week (published by Bonjinsha).
A fun yet educational text gets you up to speed with some basic Hiragana characters in one week. This bilingual workbook includes romaji for basic pronunciation, but it mostly uses visuals to help you remember the phonetics when you see each character.
The course teaches pronunciation and writing of Hiragana by showing their appearance and using simple sentences. Each of the 8 units consists of an on-screen lecturer teaching the Hiragana individually, explaining stroke order, common errors, pronunciation, and more. The workbook has clear, short explanations, written practice, and simple fun tasks. Visual associations aid in memorizing each character. You’ll also pick up basic vocabulary through the quizzes.
It’s not widely available in the U.S. Prices top out at around $52, but the Kinokuniya Bookweb has it for under $30. When you click the link below, choose Bookweb USA and type Virtual Hiragana into the search box. Much of the info is in kanji, but click a shopping cart symbol at the right of the page to see the order form. Click “In English” just above the form. The site figures your nearest Kinokuniya branch store, or you can have it mailed (and pay the shipping cost).
To buy the virtual class–Kinokuniya
(Company info–Kinokuniya Company Ltd., founded in 1927, is the largest bookstore chain in Japan, a leading importer of information products like books, journals, and electronic databases, and the operator of a Yahoo award–winning online bookstore.)
If you want to get closer to the Japanese language–and to Tokyo–this is a fine start that’s not too spendy.
A great way to “explore” Japan, and to explore your own feelings about going there, is to read about it. These books may be useful to you in your exploring. They link to Amazon.com, so you can buy the books for low, low prices–as low as $2, in some cases. Also included are excerpts from reviews. Enjoy!
The one book you NEED to come to Japan
After spending about 3 weeks in Japan with this as my only guide book, I can honestly say you NEED to buy this book before traveling to Japan. It also serves as sort of a mini-travel dictionary in a pinch as well as a quick guide to cultural practices.
Better than Frommer’s
I recently bought both this book and Frommer’s most recent edition of its guide to Tokyo. I think the Lonely Planet guide is much better than its rival. Lonely Planet’s is shorter, but the information in it is much more useful–especially for my situation as a student with a place to stay and food being taken care of (though Lonely Planet does have information on hotels and restaurants for those who need to know).
Indispensable Atlas for a Traveler in Japan
I travel to Japan every 5th week or so to sell my company’s semiconductors to various manufacturers spread out all over Japan. This bilingual atlas is terrific for English-only speakers like me, as it has all the Japanese characters next to the English names, which is essential when navigating the train stations off the main lines. This Atlas has good city maps, too.
Innovative and upbeat, not your usual guidebook.
This is definitely not your average guidebook. Rather than just a listing of the usual tourist destinations, Tokyo for Free gave me insight into what living in Japan would really be like.
Having lived in Japan for the past 6 years, I’ve had the opportunity to use all of the major guidebooks (and quite a few of the minor ones as well), and without a doubt, the most useful and informative guidebook is this one. Of course Lonely Planet has lots of information about restaurants and hotels, but what you really want is a purpose to visit the places that you are visiting. This guidebooks tells you the history of each place, so you can understand why each place is important.
Outstandingly beautiful book, yet information-packed.
If you glance through this book, you’ll immediately be stunned by the top-notch scenery shots of today’s Japan. National Geographic’s long experience in joining excellent information with outstanding images has given us a great look at Japan and its culture. I’m now planning a trip there for next summer!
Real-size images of Japan and Japanese
I’m a Japanese living in Japan. I bought this book to check if it’s worth recommending to my friends–and yes, I recommend this book. It’ll tell you real-life Japan and Japanese without exaggeration. It covers Japan from the inside–the life of ordinary Japanese people.