The Ultimate Study Guide for the JLPT
Summary: The JLPT Boot Camp podcast covers tips and tricks for the JLPT or Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Every week I go over a different aspect of how to study and what to do for the test. I cover all the tests, N5, N4, N3, N2, and N1.
We are just a couple of months away from the July test here in Japan and I'm starting to look forward to it actually. I've started a slow change to the way I study and I'm interested in seeing if it makes a difference for better or worse. One dramatic change I've been working on is to cut down on my drilling time. I was doing 1 to 2 hours of drills a day with kanji and vocabulary. I never really intended it to get that out of hand, so I'm now trying my best to cut it back. I'm moving towards just doing a lot of reading and listening to build up my vocabulary. I try to read for at least an hour every day in Japanese. I feel like I have at least seen most of the vocabulary before, and I have a pretty good idea of what 90% of what the vocabulary means. Now, I just need to practice quickly understanding how all those words come together. I have been trying out some new blogs, my new favorite is LifeHacker.jp. Lifehacker is a very popular site in the States that basically details how to make your life better in every aspect, jobs, money, motivation, web tools, apps, etc... The cool part of LifeHacker.jp is that a lot of the articles are just translations of English articles. So you can read an article and then check your understanding of it by reading the English it was translated from. Of course, the articles don't match up word for word, but they do come pretty close sometimes. More Focus on Overall Language Ability I've been making N5 grammar videos and have started work on an interactive N5 grammar course. I wanted to make videos and cheat sheets that just go beyond giving you a simple English definition, but actually give you a real feel for the grammar point. So I set about doing some through research on the grammar points. And, when I look through some of the Japanese teaching books, and the Japan Times Grammar Dictionaries, it is really interesting. When I first learned these grammar points (about 7 or so years ago) I remembered just the simple meaning of them. But, of course, Japanese particles are a bit complex, and so it is interesting to go back now and read in detail about some of the nuances. I think being at a higher level is pretty exciting with a language because you can see the whole picture. There are some parts of the picture still missing, and a few parts are a little fuzzy, but you at least have a general idea of the overall mechanics, which is pretty cool. Cool because, now it is simply just a matter of filling in holes and cleaning up the fuzzy parts. July JLPT here I come! I have signed up for the Summer JLPT test (July 7th) again this year. I've been pretty busy with family things and looking around for a house but I have been making slow steady progress with my studies. For example, getting all my kanji study out of the way (although I'm still doing regular review). My primary goal is still my reading score. I'd really like to see that go up. I'm not entirely sure if I'll be able to pas the section (get 19+), but I'd like to try to get above 15. I know that these are pretty modest goals, but I've become a little more humble with my estimates since my December results. I will be trying a more traditional approach to doing the reading this time after my reading debacle last time. I'm actually really looking forward to taking the test this time to see if there is a difference. Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself to finish all my drill books and be ready for the big exam. I really wanted to pass and be done with it. This July though, I feel a little less pressured to pass and just want to take the test to see how well I do. Also, I want to see how my new study methods helped or hurt my score. How are you keeping going? I know the July test isn't available for some regions (e.g. most of North America) so if you can't take the July test, what are you focusing on now? Are you just having fun? Experimenting? Let me know in the comments. Photo by HomeSpot HQ
If you are going to be staying or living in Japan for any length of time. You want to make the most of it. The problem is there are a few things that the natives know that don't show up in too many guidebooks. Things that I found out about the hard way...
Back in January I made a fool-hearty challenge to learn 550 kanji in about 3 months. I've been using iKanji for all my kanji studying. It is a very nice looking and simple kanji studying app for iOS devices. I've been tirelessly drilling myself with it. Sometimes spending a good 30 minutes or so, trying to get through all my kanji for the day. The journey has been quite tiresome to be honest, but I'm glad I ground through it. I'm happy to report that I have managed to learn all N1 and N2 kanji (and almost all the N3 kanji) listed in the app. If I had to do it again though I would try to take it a little bit slower to be honest. It just seemed to be too much drilling and not a lot of practical use toward the end. And studying all these kanji doesn't mean I can read and write each kanji perfectly. That will take a considerably more review before I've got that down. But, I can more easily discern between easily mistaken kanji as well as guess the meanings of new words in context. Just to give you an example of some of the not so often used kanji that I was studying 熙, a kanji meaning bright, sunny, prosperous and merry. These are all good things, but I don't ever remember seeing this kanji in the wild. I actually ended up taking a look to see what words it appears in and it seems to only be used for a an old, but famous Chinese dictionary (康熙字典). This leads me to believe that studying kanji at the N1 level is not quite as useful as it is for the other levels, where it is practically invaluable. But, I can at least read almost anything that is thrown at me now, which unlocks a lot resources. Re-learning Reading Comprehension My reading score was pretty low last time I took the N1, a paltry 9 which is really not that good at all. I've been trying to track down specifically what my problem is with getting this score up. Is it my vocabulary and grammar? My reading speed? Or something else? Last year, before the December test I did a final push to practice my reading skills as much as possible. I managed to complete both New Kanzen Master and So-Matome in 2 months and this didn't give me any more points. Some of the reason is because I made a stupid gamble and lost, but I suspect there was another reason for it as well. I think my reading comprehension skills need improvement. As in, I have a hard time putting together the main idea of a reading so that I can answer the questions about them easily. Sometimes I have to do a lot of guess work and as you can see from my test results, guessing is not my strong point. So, it's probably best to try to refine those skills some more. I've been combing through all reading material and making sure I understand every sentence, every phrase, every nuance. It is a bit of an intensive exercises that involves me asking a lot of questions, but I feel like I have made a lot of positive changes to my reading comprehension. I'm not entirely sure this will pay off completely this July, but it is worth a try. And it will benefit my Japanese overall, so I want to give it a try. It pairs well with my learning all the N1 kanji. I think it is important to have the foundation in place then crank up the speed. Speaking of July I am going to try the test again this July, but I am not nearly as focused on it as I was before. Work has gotten a lot busier and I want to spend time with family as well. I'm going to treat July as a progress check. In some ways, I think I might actually do better if I don't put so much stress on myself to succeed. I do really want to improve my reading score, which shouldn't be too difficult. 9 is such a low absymal score. I'd like to at least double it. Passing the reading section (getting 19+) would be a great goal to hit this time around. Of course, as tough as this level is, just moving up a few points can be an achievement. I see my busy schedule and hectic lifestyle as a challenge and not a handicap.
Japan gets a lot of flack for being a small and crowded place, but is it really that small? It all depends on your perspective of things. Yes, by land size, it is pretty small, roughly the size of California. But it definitely has a lot more variety than the Golden State. When I first started traveling I was a pretty typical tourist. I wanted to hit up the big attractions and snap a picture of them. It was like playing sightseeing bingo. How many touristy photographs can I get on this trip? But I think all that maniacal and systematic cataloging of sightseeing spots, which have been photographed a million times before, leaves you with a bit of a fractured picture. You start to have a sense that Japan (or wherever you are traveling) is pretty small. After all, let's face it, there are only a few big sightseeing spots in Japan. And almost all of them involve really old buildings of some kind. Japan is a little more unique than that, and it shows. There are way more things to Japan than just old castles and temples, which is something that took me a few years to realize. Food Everywhere Coming from America, I have to say that I didn't put a high value on food. Before I came here, Taco Bell was a treat to me, and I couldn't tell the difference between 'new rice', which is freshly harvested, and the regular stuff. Food was food, and when I first got here, food usually meant some form of instant curry. Japan loves food though. Not just sushi and tempura or okonomiyaki. They have somehow managed to create millions of variations of food from “sushi pizza” to raw horse. They're is a lot of variety to what gets consumed in Japan. If you don't believe me, read all about the different delicacies for each prefecture. I know now that I was missing out on the absolutely amazing variety of dishes out there. And now when I travel to a new prefecture, one of the first things people ask me is did I try the local food. And nowadays I try my best to give it a try whatever it is. (Yes, even raw horse, which is quite good and healthy apparently.) Mountains Everywhere Other than Mt. Fuji, mountains don't get a lot of love from the tourist brochures. Which is a shame because there are a ton of them in Japan. Actually most of the country is considered mountainous. That's why everyone lives on top of each other. So why not enjoy nature's bounty? I've done far more mountain-climbing in Japan than I ever did in the States. It's something that is quite popular with locals as well. It can be pretty surprising to see so many people on a popular mountain. On some days, there might be so many people that there is a traffic jam going up the mountain. I've also found that this is one of the best opportunities for conversation practice. I don't know what it is about the mountains, but it makes everyone friendly. I've met a lot of interesting people on mountains from high school students trying to show off their horrible English to the leather-skinned farmer that gave me a death-defying ride to the station. There are plenty of moments to be had that you just can't get playing “Tourist Spot Bingo.” Have you Found a Hidden Piece of Japan? What is something that tourists don't do, but should to experience Japan? Let me know in the comments. EDIT: This article has been picked up by Searchina.ne.jp, test out your Japanese by reading the summary. Photo by FuFu Wolf
Last month, I talked about the need to do some pruning here and there. I put that advice to action and ignored some of the words I had been studying on Memrise that I either knew pretty well, didn't see really helping me in the future, or I could recognize from context. This has reduced the 'stack' of words I need to work through every day, but it is still a little high. My overall goal is to try to keep my vocabulary and kanji drill time down to just about 30 minutes or less a day. Right now, it is way out of control, I estimate I spend almost an hour and a half drilling and that is way too much. The main reason for reducing this stack of words is that I find myself being anxious and want to just get through the drills so it is finished. I want to slow it down some and make sure I understand what I am learning not just get it done. I want to spend a little more time with each word and make sure I know it instead of just piling on the vocabulary. I'd also like to take some time to create some more mems, mnemonics on Memrise, for words that always trip me up like transitive and intransitive verbs. On top of that, I'd like to double-check if I can actually use the words in a sentence, which is obviously the whole point of learning the vocabulary in the first place. And with more free time, I can spend some time course-building which I learn a lot from as well. Mastering the Kanji I challenged myself to learn the remaining N1 kanji that I didn't know (around 550 at the time) by the end of April. I'm happy to report that I'm progressing pretty smoothly on that goal. I now only have about 255 more kanji to learn, which is pretty awesome. I've been struggling a little to keep up with the 40 or so kanji a week schedule though. This is a pretty brisk pace and requires frequent review to keep up, but so far so good. I think I can confidently finish by the end of April. That will be a great feeling to have all the N1 kanji done and gone. I'll still need to do regular review to make them automatic though. I'm trying not to get too impatient to move on to the next big thing, but stay focused and over-learn the kanji so that I can recognize them when I'm reading. Over-learning is critical for increasing your speed I think, but a little frustrating. I especially get a little frustrated on weekends when I need to do kanji practice. I just want to relax and enjoy my free time with the family, but I manage to squeeze it in between all the action. Still, I look forward to the day when it all becomes automatic and smooth for me. Almost there, just 2 months! Free Time I'm finding it a little more relaxing though to have just a little more free time. I think we sometimes feel like we aren't doing enough to study or to improve and so there is a tendency to stack on more and more, but you do need that clarity that only comes from doing absolutely nothing for a little while. I'd also like to devote some of this free time to making and cleaning up courses at Memrise. Already, I created a beginner course, N5 course, and N4 course, but I think they can be improved on and I will be putting some time into that on a regular basis. I'd also like to squeeze in some time for that deck of N3 words that a lot of people have been asking for recently. The longer I run this site, the more I'm growing to like teaching Japanese. I learn so much along the way and get a lot of feedback from everyone. My only problem is keeping up with all the requests. But, I'll keep doing it as long as I can find the time. Are you Pushing yourself too Hard? Are you doing a little too much drilling? Is it starting to affect your enthusiasm for Japanese? Let me know in the comments. Photo by audi_inspiration
I know I missed Valentine's day by a week, but it is still the 'love' season right? I thought I'd cover love in Japan for this cultural episode this month. It is something that not a lot of people talk about, but I'm sure a few wonder about before th...
This month, I've been hit by a few setbacks. I caught a cold, which really isn't that bad, but I caught some kind of stomach bug for a few days while I still had the cold. I wasn't able to really do much for a good 2 or 3 days. This is quite a problem for people using SRS, spaced repetition systems. If you use Anki, or like memrise.com, you know that taking a break from it can be pretty difficult. For example, if you use SRS for around a half hour a day, and you take 2 days off, you'll come back to an hour and a half worth of studying to do. That's extremely de-motivating to see on your first day back from a vacation or after you just recovered from a nasty bout of the flu. I've gone over how to get back on track before and I followed a fairly similar method this time around as well. That is, do a little bit here and there throughout the day. Don't kill yourself in one big 3 hour marathon session, but study a little bit and give yourself a big reward afterwords. The important thing is to keep or re-establish the habit. Kanji Study Last month, I set a goal for myself to learn all the rest of the N1 kanji I needed to learn. I only had about 550 to go, so I figured it would be pretty easy to learn all the rest by the end of April. Well, I'm currently at about 450. I wish I had made a little more progress but, I think being sick slowed things down a little. I still feel confident that I will hit my mark by the end of April. I need to use better mnemonics and break up the kanji into radicals a little more, because the kanji are getting more and more complicated. The software I use, iKanji for iPhone (also available for Mac), sorts the list of N1 kanji by most simple to most complicated. Basically, the kanji toward the end of the list have more strokes in them and are generally more difficult to remember. It also seems that the more kanji I study the less useful the kanji become. It seems like by this point, if you have studied all your vocabulary with kanji and you've kept up with the kanji for the level of the test you are studying at, you've probably already seen the most useful of the N1 kanji. Especially, if you've read a lot of native materials. So, you might ask, why even take the time to learn all the not-so-useful kanji? Well, for me, it's so I know I can recognize and read anything that's been written in Japanese. I know I still need to study the joyo kanji (probably another 100 or so kanji), but for the most part after studying all the N1 kanji, I should be able to read anything and if I don't know I word I can easily look it up without having to deal with kanji look up. Pruning The one thing that getting sick really taught me was that I'm currently hoarding way too much vocabulary. If I take off 3 days, it's incredibly difficult for me to get back on track even if I pace myself. So, I think it is time to do something about that. Now, don't get me wrong, SRS is an incredibly powerful tool, and when used properly, can dramatically shorten the amount of time it takes to study Japanese vocabulary. But anything this powerful can also be misused with disastrous results. And vocabulary hoarding is something you do not want to do with your studying time. So, from time to time, I think you need to do some pruning to keep the amount of time you are drilling to a minimum. Ideally, SRS should make up only about 20~25% of your study time tops and that's if you are aiming to really pack on the vocabulary. So, I'll be going back through my cards and 'ignoring' all the words that I'm simply not going to use again. And try to eliminate the easier words that I see or hear every day. Hopefully then I'll have something a little more specific and I'll get more bang for my buck. How do you use SRS? How much time do you spend doing SRS every day? Is it too much? Let me know in the comments below. Photo by Vasenka
When someone mentions Japanese theater, the 1st thing that probably pops into your head is kabuki. Kabuki, of course, has a long tradition in Japan dating back to the early 1600s when shows were first put on for samurai. And the image you probably have of kabuki in you head is one full of traditional music played on a koto and weird dudes with white make up making strange faces. Something probably like this: Am I right? But, I digress. The thing that most often gets mentioned about kabuki is that it is all male. Females were banned from the theater in the early 1600s and never quite made it back on to the butai, although some attempts were unsuccessfully made. So, Kabuki is all-man show. Even the female roles are played by men. So, how about the ladies? It is the 20th century and all, so why can't they join the fun? The Birth of All-woman theater in Japan Well, in 1913, Ichizo Kobayashi, an industrialist, politician, president of Hankyu railways and just an all around cool guy wanted an attraction that would get more visitors on his railway. More people on the railway, more money for him without that much extra work. He considered kabuki to be too old and elitist so he pretty much created the exact opposite of kabuki, the Takarazuka Revue. Instead of all men playing the parts he had all women play the parts, which at the time was obviously pretty controversial. And if you know anything about people with money and controversial stuff, you know that it just makes them more money. Which is exactly what happened. The Revue was a huge success pretty much for the beginning. Of course the completely over-the-top costumes didn't hurt I'm sure. Also, pretty much every single production they put on finishes off in a chorus-line Vegas-like gala with big showy costumes. This true for Guys and Gals or Gone with the Wind. Some of the Facts As early as 1938, a troupe from the Revue toured Europe (Germany and Italy) and a year later toured America for about 4 months. They were obviously a big hit. I can only imagine what it was like to go to one of those shows way back then. 1000s of young women from all over Japan audition every year for the 40 or so spots to get into the Takarazuka Music School, where performers train for 2 years before taking the stage. Any performer that gets accepted to the school gets a 7 year contract to perform in the revue. After their first year, they are separated into feminine and masculine performers. Masculine performers, called otokoyaku, cut their hair short and learn to talk in a more masculine manner. The revue is broken up into 5 troupes that each have their particular style and kinds of performances they do. Hana (flower) is the most popular troupe, the so called 'treasure chest' of the revue. Tsuki (moon) performs more modern productions. Yuki (snow) performs more traditional dance and opera. Hoshi (star) is said to have the biggest stars. Sora (cosmos) is more experimental. Not so unsurprisingly, most of the fans of the Takarazuka Revue are women. Some say that 90% of the audience on any one performance is women. This has led some to criticize it as a negative lesbian influence. I encourage you to check it out if you are ever in the Osaka area. You can pick up tickets at their website.
The holidays have come and gone. They were the best thing for me because I got to relax and spend time with family. But also the worst thing for my studies because it meant I ended up with very little time to study, which to be honest is okay. We all need time to relax I think. But time has become my biggest enemy lately. I wanted to do so many things during the break and only got about half of the things done. Well, time, and old fashion laziness. This winter has been just unbelievably cold for our area. That makes getting up and around that much harder to do. (There is no central 24 hour a day heating here at least for poor folk like me.) Of course, it is just going to get rougher on the road ahead. My daughter will soon be able to walk around and destroy things. And, I'll be actively shopping for the biggest purchase of my life (a house to move into with any luck). My goal is still to pass N1, but I have a feeling that it is not going to get the priority that it once did. Kanji Master A new goal that I've set for myself is to master all the kanji I need for N1 by the end of at least April (hopefully by the end of March). I only have about 550 more kanji or so more to master, so I figured I would do my best to get them all done before the next test in July. That way I can read anything without issues. 550 kanji seems like a huge chunk of kanji to remember in just 4 months time, but I feel like at this higher level it is a lot easier to learn and master kanji than at the lower levels. You start to really get used to how they look and also (more importantly) how all the kanji radicals look. Kanji radicals are critical to accelerating your kanji study. The sooner you learn them the faster and easier you'll remember kanji. You might have also guessed that kanji at the N1 level is not so important and it really isn't. I feel like if you know N2 kanji, you can pretty much read a lot of what is out there. It also helps if you have been drilling vocabulary words with their kanji (even if they are much more difficult kanji) from the beginning. For example, N1 kanji is full of semi-useful kanji for trees and animals, but then there are seemingly really common kanji in there too like 豚 (buta) for pork. I learned this kanji a long time ago when I first started grocery shopping in Japan. It almost seems strange that it is on the N1 kanji list. Right now, I'm using an iPhone app called iKanji, which I really like. Mostly because it is fairly simple to use and looks pretty stylish, too. It tests the writing of the kanji in a way that is useful to me; all I have to do is trace the outline. I really don't need to know how to write the kanji from scratch (starting with a blank screen). I'm just not going to be doing that much handwriting of kanji in my near future to warrant that. Learning about Houses At an advanced level of language learning it starts to get a little more difficult to find new material to learn with. Most standard Japanese textbooks take you to N4 or almost to N3, which is a good conversational level for the language. This is where a lot of folks stop learning a language for whatever reason. So it is trickier to find good material to use at the higher levels. The prep books for the N2 and N1 levels of JLPT are excellent resources, but let's face it, drill books aren't 'real' Japanese. And, that is probably why you started studying Japanese, so you can use real Japanese, right? I don't think you start studying so you can pass a test. Learning about your favorite hobby or even learning a new skill in Japanese is a great way to practice at a more advanced level. One big reason for this is that you can usually find a variety of books about the topic in Japanese. And since all of those books will be using a similar set of vocabulary to describe things, you can review the vocabulary over and over and see it used in different ways by different authors.
If you ask pretty much anyone in Japan what their favorite holiday is, they will usually tell you it is the New Year's holiday. Although New Year's is a huge party holiday to be spent with a friends (and occasionally family) in the West, in Japan it is more often considered a pretty big family holiday of the quite, rather reserved type. At first, this can be a little bit sad for some people that love to go out, drink a few cold ones, scream out the countdown and then kiss a random stranger, but after awhile you can start to appreciate the differences. I've started to look forward to the changing of the year and the whole physiological effect of doing away with the old year and starting anew. I find it to be a good time to reflect on the old year and remind myself of what I want to be doing with my life. The one thing I don't look forward to is the big cleaning, like spring cleaning in the States, that usually happens around the start of the year. It's just too cold to go out and wash windows. Bonnenkai – Forget the Year Parties During the month of December, there are numerous bonnenkai, which literally means 'forget the year party'. These parties are typically held by companies for their employees. The usual party is organized like an event with numerous welcome speeches, activities, and obscene amounts of alcohol. Businessmen usually end up going to several of them during this season. I know a few students of mine that went to 2 or 3 of them in one week actually. This makes the December season incredibly busy for a lot of people because they are sometimes hungover at work, and then can't work overtime because they have a party to go to. These parties are almost always compulsory as well and although they sound like a good time a lot of employees aren't real big fans. In a recent survey, only about 33.5% of people polled were 'eager' to go to their companies' bonnenkai. All that heavy drinking sometimes takes its toll I guess. Bonnenkai are a kind of rite of passage for junior employees as well. They are the ones that have to organize the entire event from working with the boss's schedule to find the best time to dealing with restaurants and special requests. They have to do it all and then usually end up emceeing the event as well. New Year's Cards In the West, it is generally quite common to send out Christmas cards once a year to family and close friends. In Japan, people send out New Year's Cards. Typically people get them printed somewhere around the beginning of December and address them and write a short note on each one before sending them off to the post office. The post office then holds them until New Year's day and specially delivers all of them. If you get married or have a child that year, you should splurge a little and get some premium cards to send out. This usually involves full-color cards with multiple photographs on them. If you don't have any particular special events going on, a lot of people will send out more generic postcards or print them out at home on their printer. If there is a death in the family, you shouldn't send a New Year's card. Instead, the grieving family sends out special postcards to notify you of the situation so that you don't send them a card. Those are always a bit sad to get in the mail. New Year's Night And finally New Year's Night comes. Several big shrines have all night events. For example, at Chion shrine the monks ring a giant bell at midnight, which is quite a sight. And at Yasaka shrine, which is very close by, people gather to light a rope for the first fire of the new year. I celebrated New Year's this way about 3 years ago, which was a lot of fun. Just remember to put out your rope before you get on the train, haha. Also during these first few days of the new year people will 'refresh' their good luck charms. Good luck charms are only lucky for a year (or so the monks say). So,
All right, so the December 2012 test is over and done with. That was a bit of a big weight on my shoulder. I was trying to not put so much pressure on myself to study and pass this year because, well, I've got so much stuff going on, like say running a site and taking care of the little one, that attempting to pass N1 with just one year of study was going to be pretty tricky. And although the results haven't come back yet. I'm pretty borderline for passing, so I am not going to completely drop studying for the N1. It is going to take a back seat though, to some of the other things I'll be doing to study. Also, I'm just kind of sick of going through JLPT questions all the time. I want to, you know, practice using the language. So, I'm switching my study plan to focus more on fun, non-JLPT stuff. And although there is less 'bang for your buck' with some of these other methods of studying, I feel like you do need to step away from drill books and JLPT-specific books in general to really be able to easily pass the test and to use the language in general. I also have a lot of ideas for the main JLPT Boot Camp site and for the premium site as well that I just haven't had the time to implement, so I'm looking forward to working on that as well. And, I want to continue making awesome courses over at memrise, like the introductory course I'm still working on. Speaking Practice Since I've had my nose buried in drill books over the last 5 months or so, I really haven't done that much speaking practice except for occasionally during the day at work and running errands. I want to get more comfortable having general conversation. I've also noticed I started to lose my ear for Japanese. I need to warm up a little before I can understand what is being said to me. I'm going to return back to doing some work with JapanesePod101 to practice speaking a little more naturally. I feel like they have pretty conversational dialogs, as opposed to dialogs you see in textbooks that are a little too sterile sometimes. Also, Jpod101 has a massive library, so if I don't like something I can just practice something else. I would like to start up another exchange with some natives to practice general conversation skills, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to find the time with my completely unpredictable schedule. In my opinion, if you study the grammar hard and are good at conversation, just having a conversation partner is all you need to learn a language. I kind of want to try writing in Japanese as well, but that might be a tricky habit to start as well. I think that will have to be something I try to sandwich in somewhere :) Fun Reading Practice Yes! Believe or not reading can actually be fun, it doesn't have to be a dull experience. I really enjoyed pushing my way through the first book of Harry Potter. It actually had a lot of good vocabulary in addition to the crazy magic words I had to learn. The next book I'm going to attempt is a house-buying book. I'm seriously considering buying a house here in Japan sometime next year, and so I want to get the scoop on how to get a good deal on a house. Especially since houses here in Japan are quite different than they are in a lot of other countries. I'll also be continuing my constant daily review of vocabulary. I think it is really hard to walk away from studying vocabulary, especially at a higher level. It is also a great place to see smooth and measurable progress, so it is easy to stay motivated. Post-JLPT Thoughts Those are my thoughts about my future plans for Japanese. How about you? Are you going to switch it up? Let me know in the comments.
Japan's geography doesn't quite get as much love as the other interesting aspects of Japan. For whatever reason, talking about wildlife and animals just isn't as sexy as the fast-paced, sleek urban landscape of Tokyo, but you'll find a lot of hidden gems on the many little islands that make up Japan. Japan is, a big surprise here, an island country made up of 4 main islands (hokkaido, honshu, shikoku, and kyushu) and around 3,000 little islands. These islands can range from small completely uninhabitable pieces of rock to relatively large islands with medium-sized cities. This unique situation has allowed things to develop independently, giving Japan a one-of-kind patchwork of cultures and interesting wildlife. If you are nature-lover, Japan has numerous little nooks and crannies to explore. Okinawa Culture Okinawa was originally its own kingdom, called Ryukyu. Since it was situated between Japan and China, it prospered as a trading center between the two nations during the 15th and 16th centuries. It then became a tributary to Japan in 1609 (it had been in a tributary relationship with China since 1372). In 1879, the islands officially became a part of Japan. Although, the islands are now Okinawa prefecture, the culture of the islands has an obviously different origin than the culture of mainland Japan. A lot of the beliefs and rituals that still take place on the islands today are very different than that of traditional Japan. For example, one of the famous drinks you can get in Okinawa is awamori, a very strong drink (sometimes up to 120 proof), that is distilled from rice. Sake, on the other hand, is brewed from rice. This gives it a unique taste and it is famous across Japan as being that 'strong drink from Okinawa.' Another unique feature of Okinawa culture, are the turtle-shaped tombs that can be found on some of the islands. These tombs are more like burial vaults where several generations of a family are laid to rest. They can also be quite large – somewhere around 150 square feet in some cases. Culture isn't the only Thing Some of the islands are home to small unique populations of wildlife that can not be found anywhere in the world. These living treasures can be a little hard to find, but are worth the effort for the true eco-tourist. For example, one island of Okinawa, Iriomote, is home to a critically endangered subspecies of leopard cat. The aptly named Iriomote Cat is a house-cat sized version of a leopard. Their short, stocky build allows them to jump a lot higher than most cats. Since they are nocturnal, they can be pretty hard to spot though. Another island, Yakushima, is also known as a popular eco-tourism spot. It has a unique species of deer and monkey that live exclusively on Yakushima, but the highlight of the island is Jomon Sugi. Nobody is quite sure how old the tree is. Although most scientists will agree that it is at least 2,000 years old, some believe it to be over 7,000 years old. Tashirojima This final island is located farther north near Sendai, and it is also known for its 'unusual' wildlife, but for a different reason. Tashirojima, or Cat Island, is a place where the cats out number the residents. Originally, islanders raised silkworm to make silk on the island. Mice are natural predators of silkworm, so to keep the mice population down on the island, the islanders used cats. Later, during the Edo period, the area became a popular stop over for fishermen. The cats would come to the inns where the fishermen were staying and beg for scraps. The cat population grew over time and now the island has a large cat population. Dogs have been virtually banned from the island as well. Which Island do you Want to Visit? If you could visit any of the more remote islands of Japan, which would it be? Or if you've had the chance to visit an island in Japan, I'd love to hear your story! Let me know in the comments below. Do you like videos with slides? Great!
I have been pretty much preparing for this big test in December all this year. I have studied at least an hour every day and usually a lot more. That time has not been wasted as I can truthfully say that my reading and listening comprehension have no...
When you think of Japanese food, what do you think of? Chances are one of the first things that pops into your head is sushi. You might also think of tempura, tofu, udon, or possibly miso soup that comes with every Japanese home cooked meal. And all of those foods are incredibly delicious, but there is one dish that doesn't seem to get much press abroad. And that is okonomiyaki, a dish that is pretty popular in the Osaka region, which happens to be my next door neighbor. If you are unfamiliar with the awesomeness of okonomiyaki, it is sometimes described as a 'Japanese pizza.' But, I prefer to use the literal translation of '(stuff) I like fried.' because that describes it a lot better. How to Make Okonomiyaki Okonomiyaki is made with flour, eggs, and shredded cabbage. They also usually include green onions and tenkasu (little rice crispy looking things). Then, you pretty much add anything you want to cook up to it. Some of the more popular okonomiyaki recipes include a good mix of seafood, but there is also kimchi okonomiyaki and things like mochi (pounded rice cake) and cheese okonomiyaki. Once you've decided all the things you want to clog your arteries with cook up, you mix it all together and throw it on to the nearest hot surface, preferably some kind of hot plate or griddle, but a sidewalk on a sunny day might work as well. Then, wait a few moments for it to get all golden brown underneath and attempt to flip it. This is usually an epic moment, where a person's total worth is judged by their ability to flip okonomiyaki. If you flip it too early, it will fall apart. If you flip it too late, you will get an extra crispy okonomiyaki. After you have performed a perfect flip of your okonomiyaki, it's time to let it cook a little bit more. Then, slather the top with okonomiyaki sauce (basically a little sweeter thicker Worcester sauce) and mayonnaise. You can also top it with nori, seaweed flakes, and benito flakes that dance when you put them on top. Different Strokes for Different Folks Okonomiyaki comes in several different varieties. The two main styles are Osaka and Hiroshima style okonomiyaki. The key difference between these two varieties is that Osaka style means you just mix everything up in a big bowl then throw on to the hot plate or griddle. Like so: For Hiroshima style, you layer the whole okonomiyaki. You start with the batter and make a small crepe, then layer the cabbage on top and the ingredients. Like so: There is also a variation of Osaka style called modanyaki, which is where yakisoba noodles are added to the okonomiyaki. This adds a lot of volume to the okonomiyaki and is quite filling. Monuments to Okonomiyaki Hiroshima has a special thing for okonomiyaki. They are quite proud of their unique style of making it and have even built an entire 'food theme park' full of okonomiyaki restaurants. The park boosts 26 different restaurants, each with their own style of okonomiyaki and ingredients. Don't get too excited though, it is only a building in the middle of Hiroshima. This isn't an actual theme park with rides and ever-smiling costumed characters. I know, a bummer, right? I was very disappointed that I wasn't able to meet Flippy the Giant Spatula. Oh, well, maybe next time. Not to be out done by Hiroshima's monument to okonomiyaki greatness, Osaka added giant spatulas to the railing around Ebisu bridge. If you ever make it to Dotonbori (the dining district in Nanba) be sure to check it out. Take a Bite What do you think of okonomiyaki? Have you tried it before? Would you like to try it? Have you seen it outside of Japan? Let me know in the comments. Do you like videos with slides? Great! Check out the video below then. Photo by Joey
We are heading into the final stretch before the main event in December. As always, I feel like there are not enough hours in the day to get all the things I want to get done, but I have managed to (barely) keep to my 5 month plan I laid out in July. It has been a little rough recently when the entire family got hit by a cold, but it was luckily just a speed bump. November is for Reading October and November are my reading months and in some ways I wish I had started reading a little earlier so I could do more of it. I only scored 9/60 on the July test in this area and I have a lot of catching up to do. My biggest issue is just comprehension which I talked about in the last update. I've finished off the So-Matome N1 Reading book (I'll try to get a review out soon). This book took me a little by surprise mostly because a lot of the So-Matome books follow the same pattern for their reading comprehension books. They start off with a dialog and then one reading passage. I never quite understood the usefulness of this approach, but it did make the books easy to get through. The N1 book on the other hand goes for a different approach. Each day focuses on a particular skill, like reading for conclusions or looking out for certain key words or phrases. It then walks you through problems that start simple and get more complex. Still not quite as difficult as the test, but it is a great book to walkthrough a lot of the skills needed. I especially loved the last week where they go over how to mark up the long passages to make it easier to answer the questions at the end. This is a pretty powerful technique that I will need to practice more to make full use of before the test, but I have a feeling it could boost my score a bit. Abandoned Sticky Study, Keeping Memrise.com In my quest to absorb as much vocabulary as possible before the test, I've had to drop Sticky Study at least for now. I do feel like Sticky Study is pretty handy app if you have the time, but I simply have been too busy to spend a regular amount of time with it every day. To make matters worse I haven't used it for awhile so there are a lot of reviews that I have to go through just to learn new words. I might have to end up resetting my count. I've switched to primarily using memrise.com to review for a couple of reasons. I feel like you can be a lot more intimate with the vocabulary at memrise than you can with your typical flashcard setup. What do I mean by this? Well, for memrise, you have to be exactly correct because you have to type in the right answer, so you can't cheat, which is something I sometimes do with Sticky Study just because I want to get done with the day's vocabulary practice. Since you have to be exactly correct with memrise, I'm more apt to build up what they call mems, basically mnemonics to help you remember the word. This forces me to get my hands dirty to make sure I properly understand the word. I think with some automated systems it almost becomes to easy to say, 'Well, I was close enough, it'll catch on later.' and then it never seems to catch on. Finishing Off Harry Potter I'm literally a few pages away from completing the first book in the Harry Potter series that I have been reading for the last 5 or so months. It has actually been a pretty good book to read while studying for the N1, easy enough to read without having to look up every other word, but difficult enough that I managed to add 1000+ new words to my review list. I'll try to put up a word list on memrise as soon as I finish the book. After I get Harry Potter done though I'm going to switch to using that free time for simply reviewing and making everything more and more automatic. I figure I only have a month and a half before the test, so I should be able to not bore myself to sleep on the train studying every possible moment. My review time will essentially be me going back through my reading and listening books with a fine tooth comb,