Listen, listen, listen

Why I don’t listen to enough Japanese

I have always considered the listening skill to be the easiest one to improve while self-studying. It does not require a professor and it is easy to find listening material on the internet. I also think that listening a lot, even without making special efforts to understand everything, is enough to progress. In this regard, listening should be easier than reading, which requires effort and concentration.

So the question is: why am I totally at a loss when it comes to understanding what I am listening to? The obvious answer is: because I don’t listen to enough Japanese on a daily basis. Then comes a new question: why not? why not listen to some Japanese every day? I can’t even answer “because I’m lazy” for the reason that listening does not require much effort.

After thinking a lot about it I came to the conclusion that

  1. I don’t know what to listen to, maybe because there is so much choice I don’t know what to pick or I start listening to a little of everything and persevere in nothing.
  2. I try to force myself to listen to material that does not interest me. It’s the same for reading. At the beginning, when I still thought that a novel would be too difficult, I forced myself to read easier material like magazines articles. But the fact it that I don’t enjoy reading magazines. I never read magazines in Fench. So how could I enjoy reading magazines in Japanese? I really made progress in reading when I struggled my way through my first novel in Japanese. It was a detective novel, a genre that I like very much. Of course, it was much more difficult than reading a magazine article but I didn’t have to force myself to go back to my book (compared to all the magazines left untouched) and I really wanted to know what would happen next. The conclusion is that when we pick a material, out taste should prevail upon the difficulty level (I mean, be reasonable). Why I haven’t applied this principle to listening, I still don’t understand. But it is never too late, and I will start now.
  3. I am too lazy to search for an audio when I have time to listen to Japanese. Let’s say it’s time to cook, I know that I will have between 30 minutes and one hour before me when my brain will be available to listen to some Japanese (cutting vegetables does not require all my concentration). So I should start a podcast and there we go. The problem is, that I don’t have a favourite podcast and looking for it will take too much time so I just give up. Having material close at hand should resolve this problem.

What I have to do

Obviously, I have to select material I want to listen to and make it easily accessible. After a week or two, I will see what works (ie what I listened to a lot) and suppress what doesn’t work from my list. Here, I hear myself make an objection: Shouldn’t I listen to as many different formats as possible in order to get used to a lot of speaking contexts: narration, dialogue, radio, anime, and so on. But if I do so, we come back to our problem number 1 and 2: too much material to listen to and contents that I don’t like. And anyway, listening to just one type of material is better than what I am doing now, which is almost nothing. Wanting to do too much, often equals to do nothing. So even if listening to a lot of different things would be optimal, let’s begin with a reasonable range of things that I like.

In my case, what I want to listen to are audiobooks and if possible, from novels. I don’t mind buying 2 or 3 audiobooks that I really like and want to listen to, even if a lot of material can be obtained for free. As I said before, I tend to be discouraged when facing tonnes of contents that don’t interest me. Let’s go for a small amount of carefully chosen audiobooks. And of course, they will have to be accessible from my phone, so that I can listen to them anywhere.

The advantage of audiobooks is that there is nothing else than a narrator talking in Japanese. I have a lot of audio tracks from textbooks which all start with 1 minute of jingle and unnecessary explanations about how you should listen to the text and repeat or answer the questions. It really is irritated. Sometimes, I say to myself that I should take a textbook CD (for example, a JLPT N2 CD) and edit the tracks to keep only the text. But I haven’t taken the time to do it yet…

So what I am going to do is:

  • Find an audiobook I want to listen to and put it on my phone.
  • Have a look at the podcasts that I can find and, if I find one or two that seem interesting, follow them.

It’s not much, but it won’t take too much time and it’s a good start.


Those were very personal thoughts but I think it can apply to other Japanese learners, too (or any language learner). I will come backs with a list of things that I listen to, there may be interesting titles in it!


いつもなんどでも・いつもなんどでも is the ending song of Spirited Away. It is sung by 木村弓・きむらゆみ Kimura Yumi. It is certainly one of the most beautiful songs that appear in Ghibli films. The melody as much as the lyrics embody the melancholy that lingers at the end of Spirited Away, the feeling that you left the magic behind.


呼んでいる 胸のどこか奥で
いつも心踊る 夢を見たい

  • 呼ぶ・よぶ to call, here in the form ~て いる, meaning “calling”
  • 胸・むね chest
  • どこか means “somewhere”
  • 奥・おく inside
  • 心躍る・こころおどる which literally means “the heart dances” means “to be excited”.
  • 夢を見る・ゆめをみる means “to dream”, literally “to see a dream”. Here it is used in the form “masu-たい” which means “to want to”.

悲しみは 数えきれないけれど
その向こうできっと あなたに会える

  • 悲しみ・かなしみ sadness, sorrow
  • 数える・かぞえる to count, to enumerate. It is used with the grammar “masu- きれない” which means “being too much or too many to finish or complete”.
  • 向こう・むこう opposite side, other side, over there, far away
  • きっと almost certainly
  • 会う・あう means “to meet” and 会える is the potential form meaning “being able to meet”.

繰り返すあやまちの そのたびひとは
ただ青い空の 青さを知る
果てしなく 道は続いて見えるけれど
この両手は 光を抱ける

  • 繰り返す・くりかえす to repeat, to do something over again
  • あやまち fault, error, faux pas
  • そのたび each time
  • ただ only, merely, just, simply
  • 青さ・あおさ the -さ ending is used to nominalize the adjective 青い.
  • 果てしなく・はてしなく eternally, interminably
  • 続いて・つずいて comes from the verb 続く・つずく to continue. I think it means that the road looks like it continues eternally.
  • 両手・りょうて both hands
  • 抱ける・だける is the potential form of 抱く・だく to embrace, to hold in the arms.

さよならのときの 静かな胸
ゼロになるからだが 耳をすませる

  • 静かな・しずかな quiet, calm
  • からだ means “body” but I wonder if it could not be understood as “soul” here.
  • 耳をすます・みみをすます to listen carefully. Here again, we have the potential form “すませる” of the verb “すます”

生きている不思議 死んでいく不思議
花も風も街も みんなおなじ

  • 生きている・いきている is the form “ている” which means “to be doing something” or describes a state.
  • 死んでいく・しんでいく uses the grammar “ていく” which is hard to explain but includes some kind of movement away from the speaker. Like “dying away”?
  • 不思議・ふしぎ can mean “wonder”, “miracle”, “mystery”.
  • 街・まち can mean “town” and “street”
  • おなじ means “same”, “identical” and is usually written 同じ・おなじ


呼んでいる 胸のどこか奥で
いつも何度でも 夢を描こう

  • 何度でも・なんどでも means “several times”, “again and again”
  • 描く・かく to draw. The ending おう means “let’s…”

悲しみの数を 言い尽くすより
同じくちびるで そっとうたおう

  • 数・かず number, amount
  • 言い尽くす・いいつくす to tell all, to give a full account
  • より here it means “instead of”
  • くちびる lips, the kanji is 唇
  • そっと softly, gently, quietly
  • うたおう here again, the おう ending of the verb 歌う・うたう to sing, express the will to do something, the act of willing, and can be translated as “let’s…”

閉じていく思い出の そのなかにいつも
忘れたくない ささやきを聞く
こなごなに砕かれた 鏡の上にも
新しい景色が 映される

  • 閉じる・とじる to close. Here again, we find the grammar ていく. I must admit that the meaning is hard to grasp, at least to me. Maybe, if memories (想い出・おもいで) are closed, they get away from me, they tend to fly away?
  • 想い出・おもいで memories
  • 忘れる・わすれる to forget. It is here in the form 忘れたい which means “to want to” (masu- たい) but in the negative form. The negative form of this grammar is the same as an i- adjective. Just drop the “i” and add くない for casual form. 忘れたいくない means “don’t want to forget”.
  • ささやき means “whisper”, “murmur”.

It confirms, I think, the idea that the memories are “closing away”, fading away because they are closed, meaning that they are past memories that nothing reactivate, that don’t come to life anymore. But inside those fading away memories, there is this whisper the singer hears and don’t want to forget.

Maybe I am giving too much meaning to the grammar ていく, maybe it does convey the idea of moving away from the narrator…

  • こなごな砕く・こなこなにくだく “to smash to pieces”. “こなごな means “in very small pieces” and 砕く・くだく “to break”, “to smash”. Here, the verb 砕く・くだく is in the passive form: 砕かれる・くだかれる: to be smashed (to pieces), in the past tense.
  • 鏡・かがみ mirror
  • 景色・けしき scenery
  • 映す・うつす to project, to reflect. Here again, it is the passive form 映される・うつされる that we have: to be reflected.

はじまりの朝の 静かな窓
ゼロになるからだ 充たされてゆけ

  • はじまり beginning, origin
  • 朝・あさ morning
  • 窓・まど window
  • 充たす・みたす means “to fill”. Here again, the passive form: 充たされる・みたされる “to be filled”. As for the ending “てゆけ”, I am not sure, but my guess is that we have the grammar “ていく” once again, but the “い” is pronounced “ゆ”. The ending in “え” is certainly the imperative form. So, we would have something like “be filled (again) and go away”, meaning that her empty body (that became “zero”) will be filled again and go on living, go on with life. (?)

海の彼方には もう探さない
輝くものは いつもここに
わたしのなかに 見つけられたから

  • 彼方・かなた beyond, across, the other side
  • もう used with a negative verb means “not anymore”
  • 探す・さがす to search, to look for. In the negative form.
  • 輝く・かがやくto shine, to glitter, to sparkle
  • 見付ける・みつける to discover, to find. Here in the passive form 見つけられる・みつけられる “to be discovered”.


From page 241 to 256.

I must admit that every time that I start a new chapter, I am secretly hoping for a focus change, thinking that the narration will turn to Detective Kaga, like it did in 悪意・あくい…  But it didn’t in chapter 5.

If any fan of Hercule Poirot is reading this, you certainly know what it feels to buy one of your favourite detective’s story and wait desperately for him to make an entrance to finally understand that he won’t appear until the second half, or even worse than that, like in The Clocks… (I was traumatised by this Poirot-less Poirot story). In どちらかが彼女を殺した I am facing the same kind of deception, but it is okay since we know that Kaga is investigating, too, and we glimpse now and then his progress. Also, the fact that he works more or less against, and not with, the protagonist Yasumasa makes it much more interesting.

Anyway, here we go to a new chapter with Yasumasa!

  • 取り澄ます・とりすます to look unconcerned, to assume a composed look
  • 敷く・しく to spread out, to lay out
  • 氷解・ひょうかい melting
  • 上の空・うわのそら inattention, absent-mindedness
  • やたらに randomly, recklessly
  • 啜る・すする to sip, to slurp
  • 渋い・しぶい bitter
  • ぼそぼそ whispering
  • 目を剥く・めをむく to open wide (the eyes)
  • 幻・まぼろし phantom, vision, illusion
  • 嫌悪・けんお disgust, hate, repugnance
  • 面食らう・めんくらう to be confused, to be bewildered, to be taken aback
  • 爪先・つまさき tiptoe
  • 狙い・ねらい aim
  • 探る・さぐる to investigate, to search for, to look for
  • 合点・がてん consent, assent, understanding, comprehension
  • かきむしる to tear off, to pluck, to scratch off
  • 妄想・もうそう wild idea, delusion
  • 垢抜け・あかぬけ refinement, style
  • 堕ろす・おろす to abort, the dictionary says that it has a negative nuance
  • 念仏・ねんぶつ Buddhist prayer? I guess that here it means something like an incantation, repeating, again and again, the same phrase.
  • むっつり taciturnly, silently, gloomily
  • 見越す・みこす to anticipate, to foresee
  • 襟首・えりくび nape of neck
  • 鷲掴み・わしづかみ grabbing hold, eagle grip, tight hold.

That’s it for the beginning of chapter 5!


ひょっこりひょうたん島~じま is a television program for kids broadcasted by NHK every evening from 1964 to 1969. In the film Only Yesterday, we can see the protagonist watching this TV show at home. Later, she starts singing in the street the TV program’s song that she knows well. She puts her frustration in this performance after having suffered an injustice and I really like this scene as much as I like this song, even if it’s a song for children 😁


波を ちゃぷちゃぷ
ちゃぷちゃぷ かきわけて
(ちゃぷ ちゃぷ ちゃぷ)

  • 波・なみ wave
  • ちゃぷちゃぷ splish-splash
  • かきわける to push one’s way through

雲を すいすい
すいすい 追い抜いて
(すい すい すい)

  • 雲・くも cloud
  • すいすい smoothly, unhindered
  • 追い抜く・おいぬく to pass

ひょうたん島は どこへ行く
ぼくらを乗せて どこへ行く
ウーー ウーー

  • ひょうたん島・ひょうたんじま is the name of the island where the character of the program evolves
  • ぼくら means “we”, used by men.
  • 乗せる・のせる to pick up, to help on board, to take on board
  • 行く is pronounced ゆく as in most songs.

丸い地球の 水平線に
何かがきっと 待っている

  • 丸い・まるい round, circular
  • 地球・ちきゅう the earth, the globe
  • 水平線・すいへいせん Horizon
  • きっと surely, undoubtedly, almost certainly
  • 待つ・まつ to wait

苦しいことも あるだろさ
悲しいことも あるだろさ

  • 苦しい・くるしい painful, difficult
  • ~だろさ expresses the probability, possibility that something occurs. “There is/will be probably painful moments…” This grammar is usually written “だろう”
  • 悲しい・かなしい sad

だけど ぼくらは くじけない
泣くのはいやだ 笑っちゃおう

  • だけど but, however
  • くじける to be crushed, to be broken
  • 泣く・なく to cry
  • いやだ means “detestable” and is used to say that you hate doing something
  • 笑う・わらう to laugh. It is used with the grammar ~てしまう:わらってしまう which is contracted into わらっちゃう and means “doing something completely”. The ending is “おう” which means “let’s do…”. The formal way of writing this verb would be: 笑ってしまおう but the contraction form is 笑っちゃおう.
  • 進める・すすめる means “to advance” and is used here in the imperative form.







From page 221 to 238.

This is the last part of chapter 4 and it begins with a rather difficult description of Yasumasa’s work. I must admit that I was too lazy to search for the vocabulary because this part was not directly related to the case 😅

As for the rest:

  • 日常茶飯事・にちじょうさはんじ everyday occurrence
  • 洋館・ようかん western-style house
  • 恐縮・きょうしゅく feeling obliged, grateful, thankful
  • 面識・めんしき acquaintance
  • 不審・ふしん incomplete understanding, doubt, distrust, suspicion
  • 顔のアップ・かおのあっぷ  close-up of a face (photo)
  • ワイドショー talk and variety show
  • 静止画像・せいしがぞう background image, static image
  • 特撮・とくさつ special effects
  • 絡む・からむ to entangle, to entwine
  • 疎い・うとい poorly informed, unfamiliar, ignorant
  • 予め・あらかじめ beforehand, in advance, previously

In this part, there was a discussion about transforming a picture to add, for example, a false background. It had to be explained through an artificial discussion between Yasumasa and his colleague because it was still relatively new and not widely known 20 years ago when the book was written. I guess that writers who wanted to incorporate new technologies into their plot had to find a way to describe and explain it to the reader. Even though characters from the first book of the Kaga series never use a smartphone, I always tend to forget that the first four books of the series were written between 1986 and 1996. But every time Higashino Keigo introduces some “high technology” to his stories, I am abruptly brought backs 20 years earlier 😄

Notes on the JLPT

I took the first JLPT of the year (2017) on July, 2nd. It’s been almost a year now since I’ve started learning Japanese (with some previous knowledge of kanji thanks to Chinese that I learned years ago) and I have decided to challenge myself with the N2 level. I don’t really care about succeeding or failing at the JLPT so I thought that a higher level would be more attractive and encouraging. Here are some personal thoughts about this session.

The N2 session is divided in two. The first half contains the vocabulary, the grammar and the reading part. The second half is only the listening part.


I think that the vocabulary part is a straightforward one that does not require a lot of thinking and time: either you know the word, its kanji, its pronunciation and how it is used, either you pick an answer randomly. You really can’t afford to lose time for the vocabulary.

I wasn’t good at this section, and there are two reasons, I think:

Not enough words

First, I don’t know enough words. You may have heard that N2 requires around 6000 words. The problem is that nobody knows what those 6000 words are. Each preparatory book presents a set of words that the author considered to be the more relevant, but it is only a guess. Even after completing the vocabulary book of the So-Matome series, you still can feel like a complete idiot during the test. I guess that the only way to prevent this is to know more words than required. The more words you know, the less you have to rely on luck.

My goal: add 1000 more words until December, when I sit the JLPT N2 again.

Passive knowledge vs active knowledge

Second, I know my vocabulary only passively. I really thought that it was okay because the JLPT is only testing passive knowledge. There is no writing or speaking test. BUT, concerning the vocabulary, it is not entirely true. In fact, I think that the vocabulary part is not just a question of passive knowledge. Being able to recognise a word or guess the meaning of an unknown word from its kanji is not enough. It is sufficient to read a book but not to pass the JLPT.

I will give an example from yesterday’s test. You had to complete a phrase with the appropriate word. The phrase was about a weather being neither cold nor hot and without rain or wind. You had to choose between 4 words that all could describe that kind of mild weather, but only one is actually used in this context. One of this word was 穏やかな・おだやかな that I learnt only as “calm”, “gentle”, “quiet” for a person. Now, let’s supposed that I read in a novel something about a 穏やかな気候・おだやかなきこう, I would not have previously known that 穏やかな is used to describe a mild climate but I would have guessed the meaning of this expression without a problem. But during the JLPT, it’s not about recognising and guessing, it is about knowing or not. If you don’t know which word is colloquially used with climate expressions, you have to pick randomly or try some perilous guess like I did. (In French, the word “clément” which describes a person, is also used to describe a mild weather, so I thought, why not in Japanese, too?)

I guess that’s why someone who reads novels could fail the JLPT vocabulary part.

My goal: learning more expressions, either by learning them from a preparatory book (the Kanzen Master series seems to be a good choice for this purpose), either by completing my Anki notes when I encounter a known word in a new context.


The grammar part was okay to me. Contrary to vocabulary, having gone through the grammar book of the So-Matome series is enough to go through the test in confidence. That seems natural, as there are only a certain number of grammar points of N2 level. If you have had enough time to study them all, it should be sufficient.


I was really happy and satisfied with myself concerning the reading section. I didn’t specifically study the reading part for the JLPT but my main goal in learning Japanese was to be able to read novels. As a consequence, I have been focusing on reading for a year, and my efforts paid off!


I completely failed in the listening section. I know that my listening skills are not good but to that extent… 😨 The thing is, if I read the script of the listening part, I will understand everything. Even without reading the script, if I can listen again and again to the same audio, I will eventually be able to catch everything. The diagnosis is simple, the problem is not the content, it is the listening process.

How to fix it?

I will have to set myself new goals in order to improve my listening skills. I guess that listening to a lot of Japanese media is the best and simplest way to do it. But even if I know that I should listen to at least some minutes of Japanese every day, I am not doing it and I don’t even know why. It does not require much effort, like reading. It does not take time as one can listen to anything in Japanese while commuting or cooking or getting ready in the morning. So I really don’t know why I am so lazy 😫.

Maybe, one reason is that I don’t know what I should listen to, or the material is not readily available. So my goal is to: 1- define a list of materials I want to listen to (finding a nice podcast for example), 2- make all my listening materials easily accessible, 3- take the habit of listening to Japanese every time I do something that let a part of my mind available, 4- walk my way through Japanese movie by watching more Japanese films. (Sometimes I wish I could be an anime fan…)


I don’t take the JLPT because I need it, but because it’s like making an X-ray of my current level. I know that it does not truly capture one’s Japanese abilities because it is such a formatting test, but for someone who self-study a language, it remains a good indicator. Now I know that I have to work more thoroughly my vocabulary instead of just relying on kanji I remember from Chinese and more importantly, I have to listen to a lot of Japanese.