Category Archives: Little Notes

PPAP and Kanji Learning!

PPAP kanjiAs you may know, PPAP is sweeping Japan like a forest fire right now. You can hardly see a CM (TV commercial) without the ubiquitous Piko Taro sticking pens into non-existent apples and pineapples.

If you don’t know what I am talking about just Google it and you’ll get more information than you probably wanted.

Curiously enough, the basic concept of PPAP is ideallly suited to showing how kanji fit together. While this tiny video (under a minute) may only be useful to beginners in seeing how kanji are constructed, I think it’s fun for everyone! In fact if you’re anything like me you’ll probably end up watching it over and over!

Don’t worry – like PPAP itself, this video is mostly English (or something like it).

Rikai for Android! Substitutes for Rikaisama / Rikaichan / Rikaikun

The biggest problem of doing anything Japanese related on Android is the lack of Rikaisama.

Not only can’t you instantly look up words as you browse the Web the way you can with Rikaichan, but you can’t turn new words into Anki cards with a single keypress the way you can with Rikaisama. Ok, we’re spoiled by the Rikai family, but we’d like to stay spoiled, even on Android.

Enter the Popup Japanese Dictionary  by Nifty Gnomes which was kindly introduced to me by Sadolit-san (see comments below).

This little-known free app amazingly brings Rikai-like functionality to your Android device – and not only in your browser. Wherever you can use the copy function you can use the Popup Dictionary for on-the-fly kanji-readings and word definitions.

Like Rikai it deconjugates words for you, though apparently this function is a bit hit-or-miss.

The biggest problem for me is that there are no Japanese-Japanese definitions and neither can you turn off definitions. As I like to stay in all-Japanese as much as possible this is a drawback, but for a lot of users it should be ideal

What it doesn’t have, however, is the  the Rikaisama direct-to-Anki function.

But it is possible to get something close to it with a free app named simply Jisho. For those wanting a J-E dictionary this is just about perfect. It has everything you might need including kanji lookup.

And for Anki you just need to press and hold a definition and it gives you the option to export it to Ankidroid (so long as that is on your device too). Select that option and you’re done. You have an Anki card ready-made.

So why do I say it is only “close to” the Rikaisama function? Well, for one thing there are no sound files, and more importantly, this is only a Japanese-to-English dictionary.

If your Anki set-up does not extensively use sound (mine does) and if your definitions aren’t primarily Japanese to Japanese (mine are) this Android dictionary app probably covers all your Japanese dictionary needs – at no cost! However J-J Dolly is still pining for her pasokon!

The app just goes by the generic name of “Jisho” so I am reproducing the logo here, to make sure  that you can find the right one.

For Japanese-to-Japanese dictionaries, the best free one I have so far found is the Weblio app. Not as good as Jisho and of course does not have the direct-to-Anki function or the on-page pop-up function, but is a usable and free J-J dictionary.

Android Text-to-Speech in Japanese

Since typing on Android and other mobile devices is a pain in the petunia, I have also been experimenting with Google Speech-to-Text. I am finding that it works fairly well.

Actually it is very clever. Most of the time it knows when I am speaking English and when I am speaking Japanese and transliterates my speech accordingly. However, in both languages it does make quite a few mistakes. It probably is fairly good for training one to speak clear Japanese (and clear English, come to that!)

An interesting note for those who still pronounce katakana-ized from-English words half-way as if they were still English words and think that is ok. On Android’s Google Search function I tried the experiment of saying:

“Smile Precure”

It correctly transcribed the words and then popped up a page of English-language results about Glitter Force (the unfortunate English language version of Smile Precure), introduced by an English-speaking synthesized voice.

I then tried saying.

スマイル・プリキュア
(Sumairu Purikyua)

Google search correctly transcribed the words in katakana and popped up a page of Japanese results about the real Smile Precure introduced by a synthesized Japanese voice.

So yes. Speaking katakana correctly does matter. Even an Android can tell the difference.

Fixing “Improved” Japanese input in Mac OSX

This is just a quick tip that you may find useful.

Recent versions of Apple’s  OSX have changed the way the Mac handles Japanese input by default. It is supposed to be an improvement, because it guesses what you want to type and changes your input to kanji on the fly rather than waiting for you to push the spacebar at the end.

The problem with this is that I find that it guesses wrong as often as not and it actually takes longer to undo its frequent well-meant guesses than to do it the old-fashioned way, which gives you a list of guesses as you type (so you still don’t have to type the whole word in many cases) rather than jumping to one of its own conclusions.

It also messes up some other functions. For example, Rikaisama’s native-audio saving only started working properly again after I reverted to the older input style.

So if like me you find this live-changing more trouble than it is worth, what can you do about it? Fortunately the fix is easy. Go to System Settings > Keyboard > Input Source (入力ソース) and you will see this:

mac-osx-japanese-input
If your Mac is in Japanese, the setting you want is ライブ変換 (live conversion, ringed above). It will be in the same place in English. It is checked by default. Uncheck it and your Mac will go back to behaving like a useful tool rather than a mama-knows-best robot!

PS – Seeing the above screenshot, someone noted that I have Japanese as my only input language. The reason for this is not that I never type in English, but that I use the romaji character set from the Japanese IME rather than an English IME. And the reason for that is that I can then assign it to caps-lock within the Japanese IME, so that when I want to switch to typing English I only have to hit the caps-lock key.

If English is your default language you may want to do it the other way around, but I can confirm, should you want to try it, that not using a “real” English IME has no adverse effects that I have noticed on English input.

Tadoku Read More or Die Contest

Tadoku-read-more-or-die-contest
Read (more) or Die

This doll is entering the Tadoku Read More or Die contest for June 2015

The idea is to read as more Japanese in the course of the month than the other contestants. This doll will lose. She is a very slow reader even in English. But of course it is really more of a self-challenge.

The contest takes place via Twitter so it would  be fun to follow the other contestants, though as they all seem to tweet in English, I can’t. My Eigo circuits take a long time to recharge so I have to take them out and leave them on the charger except when they are absolutely necessary. Since my Japanese is poor, that might be considered taihen. But I reflect that most dolls can’t talk at all (or have those silly circuits that repeat the same few phrases). So I know that I am very lucky.

Fortunately the contest allows anime subtitles (Japanese of course) and visual novel style games. I am not sure if one could use a text-heavy rpg on the same basis. This is good as my access to books is currently a bit limited.

My reading isn’t as wide as it should be. One problem is that once one gets to high school stories the emotional level is a bit above me. I don’t mean the language, and I don’t mean the intellectual level. I mean that the material starts to deal with feelings and reactions/motivations that I can’t really process in any language.

It is probably an unusual problem among humans, but it is actually worth bearing in mind that if you can’t process something in English you won’t be able to process it in Japanese even if you can handle the language. Also you may have the semi-illusion of processing it in English just because the words are familiar, even though you don’t really know what they are talking about. In Japanese you very likely won’t have that illusion.

If you have a similar problem (possibly in other areas) I think the best advice is to look for exceptions. For example I can process most of Aria even though it is at a grown-up level. And – this is probably the only time you’ll ever hear me even half-recommending English subtitles – if you can understand the words but really can’t process the meaning, it might be worth using them just to find out. If you can’t process a story in English, you really are muri wo shite iru attempting it in Japanese. I don’t use English subtitles for this myself, but I have a fair idea of my own limitations, perhaps because they are rather glaring.

But I digress monsterly. I was talking about the Tadoku Read More or Die Contest (if I recall rightly). The rules are pretty complex (英語は難しいね)though they start making a bit more sense when you realize that they are codes to tweet on Twitter and the machine will then handle everything. Really very clever!

If you want to join in, take a look here.

You will need a Twitter account. If you don’t already have one (or want a different one for this), why not make it Japanese-only. If you do that I will follow you. Just tweet me (@CureDolly).

I also started a thread on the Forums where we can chat about the contest in Japanese.

So when you put down your Japanese book, you don’t need to tweet about it in “normal language”. You can make Japanese your Normal Language.

You know it makes sense.

If you have questions about the Tadoku Read More or Die Contest you can use the comment form here. I don’t promise to know the answer but I’ll try to find out for you!

japanese‐forums

Kurisumasu no ongaku – Japanese Christmas Music

hatsune-miku-christmasIn response to Cure Yasashiku’s small dilemma about not wanting to fill her head with Eigo I am happy to present some Japanese Christmas music.

This video contains nearly half an hour of kurisumasu no ongaku by various vocaloids including the sugoku yuumei Hatsune Miku. If you don’t mind vocaloids this should suit everyone’s purpose. Personally I like to see some songs sung by dolls and not just people but I guess I’m prejudiced.

If you want to extract the sound for your iPod you can use one of the many online youtube to mp3 services, or better (if you do it often) install an instant-mp3-download button via an addon to your browser (more details in the KawaJapa Japanese Resources List).

There are a very few English phrases (like “Jingle Bells”), and White Christmas is sung in (very Japanesey) English. Apart from that it is all Japanese – with translations of several traditional carols. If you do pick up any English, at least it will be with a heavy Japanese accent! (Actually if anyone wants I can do a quick audio-edit and cut out White Christmas).

It also has nice clear subtitles so you can learn the words.

For a llittle bonus, here is a not so traditional but charming Christmas song, all in Japanese (other than the words “Merry Christmas”)

PS – I viewed one Japanese Christmas music kinnie that didn’t quite make the cut – but it had the immortal words: Ichi ni Santa!

Keeping Up Studies During the Holidays (or other Busy Times)

Like many people this time of year, I am busy with holiday preparations.  I am much further behind on my gift knitting/crocheting than I would like to be, and we are hosting the family holiday dinner this year.  I have started decorating, but there is still quite a bit of decorating (and cleaning) to do.  With all of this going on, it is tempting to back off on my Japanese studies during this time.

vlcsnap-2014-04-15-11h31m26s209This being said, I think that this is a temptation to avoid.  I have gotten into a rhythm with my studies that I do not want to interrupt.  Also, with language learning, I think that it is really easy to lose ground.  I have noticed that even after one day using mostly English, my Japanese is worse the next day.  I can only imagine what would happen if I interrupted my studies for a few weeks.

Still, there is only so much time in a day, and holiday preparations are important.  Luckily though, there are ways to adjust my study schedule to accommodate the holidays.  While I have less time for active study, I have many more opportunities for passive learning.  It is quite easy to knit and crochet while watching Anime, and I can listen to Japanese while I am cooking, cleaning, and decorating.

For myself, I find that it is extremely important to use a time management tool, especially busy times.  I continue to use HabitRPG as my tool.  Without such a tool, I find it too easy to get distracted by my 気分 (kibun, or feeling or mood).  As is so clearly illustrated in the kanji, one’s mood is often the spirit (気) of the moment (分).  During busy times, my spirit of the moment is usually stress and nervousness, making it a really bad time to be making decisions about what I should be doing when.  Without a time management tool, I find myself running about in circles feeling busy, but often not really accomplishing anything.  It is quite likely that in the spirit of the moment, my Japanese studies would be the first tasks to get lost.

Instead, with the advice and guidance of my senpai, I made decisions about my goals during this season of busy-ness, which I then recorded on my HabitRPG.  This way the decisions are already made, and I do not have to worry about them while I am stressed and busy.  I can simply follow the schedule that has already been set.

HabitRPG is set up in such a way as to make it quite easy to readjust my schedule during this time.  I chose not to eliminate any of my active study dailies; however, I did make many of them due fewer days of the week.  I increased my daily minimum for passive study tasks, such as Anime watching and listening.  I used the checklist feature to do this.  I also increased my daily minimum for handcrafting (knitting and crocheting).  I have positive Habits of extra watching, listening, and handcrafting.  This makes a nice combination as handcrafting and watching/listening go well together as multitasking activities.  If there are times when I have met my handcrafting requirement but still need to do more watching/listening, I might do extra handcrafting while watching/listening (and vice versa).

Because of the added listening requirement, I spend time listening to Japanese, rather than holiday music in English.  On my HabitRPG, listening to music in English is a reward that I have to pay for.  I considered relaxing that during the holiday season, but I chose not to.  I am working on keeping my mind in Japanese, and the last thing I need is catchy holiday music (in English) crowding out the Japanese.  I have not yet found Japanese holiday music (although I would like to).  I did borrow some holiday music in Swedish from my grandmother, and my spouse found music in Latin for me, which I can listen to if I have met my Japanese listening requirement for the day.  While it is not Japanese, my Japanese is far better than my Swedish (of which, at best, I know a few words and phrases), and I do not know any Latin at all.  As a result, neither of those languages are likely to crowd out Japanese, like English would.

I hope that some of these ideas are helpful, and please feel free to comment on your own strategies for maintaining your studies during busy times, such as the holiday season.

Creating an Immersion Environment Using HabitRPG

habit-rpg3As my studies have progressed, I have found that immersion has been a very effective tool.  Using Japanese is a very important supplement to active study.  It can be difficult though.  In many ways, it is so much easier to take the path of least resistance and do things in one’s native language, rather than struggle through with the language one is learning.

In addition to having Dailies of listening to Japanese and watching Anime in Japanese, I have found that Habits and Rewards are also effective tools.  My own HabitRPG is set up such that my entire day is governed by it.  If something is not an activity that is a Daily, a Todo, or a positive Habit, it is something that I have to pay for as a Reward.  While in some ways, this might seem a bit kibishii, it really is quite effective in tipping the scales away from English in favor of Japanese.

https://i2.wp.com/38.media.tumblr.com/1f293e3d9522d4110a8e023aba1cf4fd/tumblr_n7spq1JLh81sb4cpyo2_1280.jpg?resize=231%2C173&ssl=1The basic theory is that using Japanese gives me bonuses via positive Habits, and I have to pay to use English using Rewards.  I started this with video games, but I have extended this to other areas as well.  I can play a game for a half of an hour in Japanese for 5 Gold pieces, and I can get one to three “pluses” under my positive Habit of “extra Japanese,” depending on how much Japanese I had to use in the game.  In a role-playing game, such as Dragonquest IX, I can get 3 “pluses” if I have to get through a long plot line or a talk to a lot of people in a town to find out what to do next.  I only get one if I spend the entire time fighting monsters in a dungeon, and I get two “pluses” for anything in between.  To play a game in English, it costs me 30 Gold pieces to play for the same half of an hour, and there are no available rewards for doing so.  So, I can play a game in English if I really want to, but…

I have extended this to many other areas.  I now have to pay to watch any television or videos in English or with English subtitles (even if it is with my spouse, who is not studying Japanese), while at the same time having a Daily requiring a minimum amount of Japanese Anime watching, with positive Habit of extra Anime.  I also have to pay to listen music in English or to talk or chat in English with my Nihongo senpai (who are also dear friends).  I actually recently had to raise the price of talking in English with my Nihongo senpai because I got into some rather bad habits surrounding that.

In order for this to work well, I think it is important to keep the Habits and Rewards very specific, and decide what they really entail.  For example, I first started with a negative Habit of unnecessary English, but that did not work at all.  What is “unnecessary”?  Creating costs for specific defined uses of English was far more effective, at least for me.  The ability to create a combination of bonuses for Japanese and costs for English has really helped me to ganbaru in Japanese, much more than I would do otherwise.

Shiritori – A Japanese Vocabulary Word-Game

shiritori japanese vocabulary gameThe Kawaii Japanese Habit RPG guild (Japanese Deep Cave Adventurers) has a ongoing Shiritori game, so I thought we should have an explanation of the game and how we play it here. Also, since one of the rules of the Deep Cave Adventurers is that we use no English in the Guild, this may be helpful for newer learners.

Shiritori is a popular game in Japan. The name means “taking the end”. 尻 shiri is the same shiri as in oshiri, which you probably know means sit-upon, rear-end or backside. As with those latter English terms it can also mean the back or end of something. 取りtori means taking of course, the noun form of 取る toru. The word shiritori is usually wriiten in hiragana.

Gameplay is very simple. The first player  begins with a word, say:

しりとり(shiritori

The next player must follow with a word that begins with the kana the first word ended with, say:

リス(risu, squirrel)

The game then proceeds like this:

砂浜(すなはま sunahama sandy beach) →ま

枕(まくら makura, pillow) →ら

ラッパ(rappa, trumpet) →ぱ、ば、は

As you see from this last example, one can use all forms of a kana so if the word-ending kana can take a ten-ten or a maru you are allowed to use it with or without them regardless of what the last player did.

So ラッパ(rappa, trumpet) could be followed by パンダ (panda) バラ (bara, rose) or はいく(haiku).

Shiritori rules

Shiritori at the Deep Cave Adventrurers' Guild
Shiritori at the Deep Cave Adventrurers’ Guild

The rules of shiritori are few and simple, and we are very relaxed about them. The idea is to have fun together and practise Japanese, not to play a cut-throat game of shiritori, so we don’t worry too much about rules. But let’s discuss them so we all know where we stand:

1. Words ending in ん. One shouldn’t really play a word ending in ん. This is obvious since no Japanese word starts with ん, so it can’t be followed. In a proper game a player who plays an ん-ending word is eliminated. Don’t worry though. If someone does it by mistake, we will just start again with a new word. No one gets eliminated in our game!

2. Nouns. In traditional shiritori only nouns can be played. However, in English shiritori (shiritori played by Japanese people to help their English vocabulary) all words are allowed. We follow the same rule. There is a tendency to use nouns as somehow they feel “right”, but any word is allowed. If you are a beginner, play anything you like. And whoever you are, if you have an interesting word you feel like playing, 遠慮しないで — go ahead.

There is only one thread at the Guild, so shiritori mixes freely with chat. If you want to talk about the word you’ve played, please do. In Japanese, of course.

3. Combined kana. We like to keep play options as open as possible and this is also traditional in Japanese play, so:

りょ、ぎゃ etc can be followed either by themselves or by よ、や。So 遠慮 (えんりょ, enryo) could be followed by 料理 (りょうり ryouri) or ヨーグルト (yogurt)

Long vowels can be either shortened or the last kana used. So 自由 (じゆう jiyuu) could be followed by 雪(ゆき yuki) or 海 (うみ umi).

4. Repeated words: It is best to avoid repeating words (you can use your browser’s page-search function to see if the word has been used before recently). Words with the same kana but different kanji are fine. Traditionally a player who repeats a word is eliminated, but we don’t do that, so if you accidentally repeat a word, 気にしないでください— don’t worry about it.

Shiritori is very easy, so even if you are a beginner, please feel free to join in if you are on Habit RPG. If anyone has any questions (including new people and established members of the Guild, of course), just pop them in the comments below.

Japanese L and R sounds: Eating Remons and Linging Bells

Misora Hibari
Misora Hibari — if you don’t know her, you should!

It is well known that Japanese speakers can have trouble distinguishing L from R in European languages. Even when they can pronounce both sounds perfectly, they are prone to eat remons and ling bells. I remember the wonderful Misora Hibari singing a Gershwin song (I think it was Gershwin) in perfect English except for the word “rove” — which did not mean wandering, but rhymed with “glove” and meant ai (or koi if you want to carp).

This is perfectly natural as Japanese makes no distinction between the two sounds, and part of the way we learn language is that at a very early stage we learn to distinguish signal from noise in language and discard whatever is not signal. This is a necessary part of learning to hear and speak efficiently.

In Japanese one thing that gets discarded is the L/R distinction. In Japanese that distinction is just noise. Studies have shown that at 12 months Japanese children can still hear the distinction and by 18 months they can’t.

Don’t laugh. You have thrown away a lot of sound distinctions too. An Arab would be amazed that you can’t tell the K-sound in cap from the K-sound in keep, which are two distinct sounds in Arabic* (though they have a hard time telling pat from bat). Fortunately Japanese doesn’t have many subtle linguistic distinctions that we have discarded, though many Western speakers have a lot of trouble pronouncing the Japanese R.

Part of the steep learning curve in hearing a new language is getting the brain to retrieve some distinctions from the “noise” discard area and restore them to the “signal” category. This applies (probably more importantly) to things like stress and rhythm as well as pronunciation.

The L/R non-distinction can lead to curious transliteration problems. The famous early space shooter game Gradius is one interesting example. Why “Gradius”? The name means sword in Latin, or rather the Latin word for sword is gladius. You know it, actually. One reason that Latin-based languages are relatively easy for English speakers is that just about every Latin word exists somewhere in English. You may never have called a sword a gladius, but you know the sword-flower gladiolus (plural gladioli) and you have certainly heard of gladiators.

But it isn’t only Japanese people who make these L/R slips. in Pretty Cure Splash Star a very important villain is called キントレスキ. This is routinely transliterated as Kintolesky or Kintoleski by Western sources. It sounds kind of Russian and is probably supposed to, but…

"Kintolesky"? What's that got to do with muscles?
“Kintolesky”? What’s that got to do with muscles?

The name does actually have a meaning. In Japanese 筋トレ kintore means body-building. It is short for 筋トレーニング kintore-ningu, literally muscle-training. And Kintoreski is obsessed with exercise and body-building, so the name is very appropriate.

To make its meaning clearer キントレスキ could be written 筋トレ好き Kintoresuki “likes body-building”, “body-building fan”. The name is also intended to sound Russian, hence the look of the mustache and hair. There is also another pun here:  金 kin means gold and Kintoreski’s body is gold-colored.

However, the tore part of the name is clearly a regular Japanese shortening of English “training”, so tlansriterating it as Kintolesky — which makes it tole→tlaining — lleary doesn’t make sense.

___

* The k-sounds in cap and keep are different in English as well, of course, but only accidentally, depending on the juxtaposition of different vowels. English speakers can’t hear the difference or make the sounds independently. Interestingly (and related to this) the Japanese hear the English KA sound so differently from the Japanese KA sound that they write it キャ instead of カ。

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu acquired her first name as a nickname in school “because she seemed so Western-like”. Something that may puzzle actual Western people since kyary is not an English or other-Western name. I think the point was that the キャ kya sound (as in Kyatherine) which Japanese people hear when English speakers say “ka” is considered archetypally Western. It is not a sound that exists in Japanese. か is a different sound, though most Western speakers can’t hear the difference.. She liked the name but added Pamyu Pamyu to make it more kawaii. Which just shows how (thankfully) Western she isn’t.