Japanese thoughts, JLPT

Learning to write Kanjis


As we know, Japanese language has three scripts – Hiragana and Katakana which are phonetic and are similar to English alphabets and then we have around 2000 Kanji characters.  Native Japanese can read and write all the 2000 plus Kanjis by the time they finish school.

But what about us foreigners? Remember feeling really disappointed when I was told by my Japanese teacher that I wouldn’t be taught to write Kanjis. Since JLPT exams don’t have a writing section, for most of us foreigners writing Kanjis is mostly self taught. While I can read, I can not really write Kanjis with any amount of confidence – even really simple ones like say the Kanji for “natsu” 夏(summer):-)

Even if you lived in Japan, it is perfectly possible to get by without knowing to write Kanjis. If you’re working you’d be using a computer where you would just have to type – there is no need to worry about stroke order or stroke count there. Even in the rare instance of filling out medical forms or an application form there is not really much writing involved.

So since there is no need, there is somehow no pressure or motivation to learn to write Kanjis. For a brief while I tried practising Kanjis using “The Kanji Learner’s Course Green Book” on a daily basis. I then purchased “genkou youshi(原稿用紙)” or practice sheets and toiled on a daily basis. But, I just had to give a small break of a week for my stroke order and even stroke count to go completely haywire.

The only way to master writing Kanjis is by keeping at it day after day and not let minor setbacks let you down. After all, as foreigners we have to make up for the 12 years of school life that Japanese kids spend internalizing Kanji characters.

Japanese thoughts, Vocab and Grammar

Hansei (反省)or Self reflection

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It is that time of the year when all of us are in a self reflective mood – What did I set out to do? What  have I accomplished? Am I at least on the right track?

In the Japanese context “hansei” or “self reflection” is something that is encouraged right from childhood. School kids could be asked to write a passage (hansei sakubun) reflecting on a bad deed. At home too a child could be told “hansei shite kudasai”  meaning “reflect on what you just did”. Works similar to “take a good look at yourself” I suppose:-).At the corporate level regular team meetings (hansei kai) are held to reflect on failures and sometimes even successes. While after failure “Hansei kai” is held to analyse how and why things went wrong, “hanseikai” after success is held to objectively identify areas of improvement. In this sense “Hansei” is something that reminds one to constantly strive to improve and better oneself.

In these ever changing times, what could be more relevant than “hansei”? You think you did well? – don’t let it get to your head.. “hansei” to get better. There is so much room for improvement. You think you didn’t do well – “hansei” again. There is always a next time!



Japanese thoughts

Japanese Matsuris

No matter what time of the year it is, there seems to be a “matsuri” or “festival” going on in some part of Japan. “Matsuris” can be broadly classified into two – seasonal and religious. It is during the religious festivals that a “palanquin” or “Mikoshi” is taken around the surrounding area of a Shinto shrine. Some local shrines allow kids and foreigners too to participate in carrying the “Mikoshi”. At least in cases that I have seen the whole exercise seemed like a huge community activity. At the end of it, the kids who helped are given snacks and sweets. “Mikoshi” pulling is so similar to the  “Temple car” pulling that we do in Tamil Nadu – the difference being that in Tokyo it seemed less religious and more community driven.

Both “seasonal” and “religious” festivals have rows and rows of food stalls and game stalls – think choco bananas, takoyaki and yakisoba stalls jostling for space with “sakana sukui” (fish scooping),Shiyateki(target shooting),Wanage (ring tossing) stalls. Cheerful and noisy youngsters dressed in Yukatas add to the overall festive flavor. “Taiko” drums can be heard well into the night.

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The morning after the festival, one suddenly notices that the stalls have all been cleared. The roads are clean with no sign of the previous days festivities – the whole area is enveloped in eerie silence interrupted now and then only by the clickety clack of an office girl’s/salary man’s heels as they’re rushing to the station….leaving one wondering if all the noise and revelry of the previous evening was just a dream.



Japanese thoughts, Movies and Dramas

A super fun way to learn Japanese

…is watching cooking programs in Japanese. It helps beginners-intermediate level students to check if they can follow simple instructions, pick up vocab and grammar points too. If the program is hosted by someone like Rola, the learning experience becomes all the more fun:-)