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

alone-beach-bench-1074535 (1).jpg

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.

Image result for game stalls japan

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:-)


Japanese thoughts, Movies and Dramas

Blue light Yokohama

….or should I say “bru raito yokohama”:-). Caught bits of this delightful song in the trailer of the movie “Aruite mo Aruite mo”. The movie’s title has been borrowed from this song.

“Aruite mo aruite mo, kofune no youni,

watashi wa yurete yurete,

anata no ude no naka”

The lines roughly mean, “As I keep walking, I sway like a boat, in your arms”.

This song  released in the year 1968, captures the romantic spirit of Yokohama. Strangely even after all these years, Yokohama still retains it’s charm as a romantic hangout making this song an evergreen tribute to the city.

Love this song for it’s simple lyrics.

Japanese thoughts, JLPT, Vocab and Grammar

Japanese not taught in classrooms

Most Japanese youngsters speak the kind of Japanese that is not taught in language school. The “masu” form of a verb is used only while speaking to superiors at work or probably while speaking to teachers at school. 80% of the time it is the plain form that is used while speaking to colleagues. Even if you spoke using “masu” form, your colleagues might still reply using slang and informal Japanese. Watching dramas is a good way to pick up spoken/ informal Japanese. Did you know that the site www.dramanote.com gives the complete dialogues of old Japanese dramas? So, when you hear a dialogue that you don’t understand, you can read the same in Japanese and look up the meaning “word by word” in a dictionary. Works similar to watching a movie/drama with Japanese subtitles. The site also gives a brief narration followed by a brief observation on the drama/movie. Definitely helps to pick up reading comprehension skills too.

night television tv video
Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com
Japanese thoughts

Clean lines and perfect angles in Japan

The Japanese seem to love them as is clear from the curve that they draw on the road to indicate the angle at which you make a turn to the right or left. Most roads are narrow and you can rest assured that by taking the turn exactly at that angle you will stay within your lane no matter how big your vehicle.

Even the randomly placed rocks at a zen garden have a certain aesthetic appeal to it. Apparently, the rocks at Ryoanji have been so arranged that viewed from any angle only 14 out of the 15 rocks are visible at a time.

The Japanese tea ceremony is another instance where you turn your tea cup at a particular angle, lift it and transfer it to another hand in a particular way. There is a certain way the teapot is held and tea is poured. So Zen..so neat!

The traditional Japanese bow is made at different angles depending upon the person you are bowing to. You’d bend 45° (Keirei) to show respect and 70° (Saikeirei) to show respect to the point of reverence:-). You would probably just mildly nod your head for someone who is junior to you.

Even Japan’s funkiest architecture seem well thought out – with clean lines and angles. Nothing ever seems out of place in Japan to the point where you begin to think the Japanese have some kind of “obsessive compulsive disorder” :-).


(picture source- wiki and trendir)