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Japanese News: kanji of the year 北

You probably read or heard about it if you follow the news about Japan: the kanji of the year 今年の漢字 is officially 北・きた.

Link to the NHK article on the subject.

The 今年の漢字 is a kanji chosen at the end of each year by the Japanese kanji proficiency society 日本漢字能力検定協会 to represent the year that is about to end. It is revealed on December 12th in Kyomizu temple 清水寺・きよみずでら in Kyoto. During the ceremony, the chief abbot 貫主・かんじゅ of the temple writes the selected kanji on a large piece of Japanese paper 和紙・わし with a big brush.

I think anyone can easily guess why 北 was chosen. It’s true that concerns about North Korea 北朝鮮・きたちょうせん were very present in the news. Let’s read the article and learn some new words!

北?

北朝鮮

The first meaning of 北 in our context is North Korea. The article says that the multiple launches of ballistic missiles from North Korea have created a menace and anxiety.

  • A ballistic missile is “弾道ミサイル”. 弾道・だんどう means “trajectory”, “line of fire”, “path of a projectile”.
  • A “menace” is 脅威・きょうい which also means “threat” and “danger”. If you want to say that something becomes a menace, that something menaces or threatens something, you can say “脅威となる” or “脅威を与える”.
  • The verb 繰り返す・くりかえす means “to repeat”, “to do over again”. I think that this is a very useful word worth remembering. It is often used to say “repeat the same mistake”. The expression “繰り返して” is very useful, too, like in 繰り返して言う” “say over and over again”.

九州

北 also represents the North part of Kyushu that was devasted by heavy rainfalls this year. Even if Kyushu 九州 is in the South of Japan, the two main prefectures that suffered from the flooding were Fukuoka 福岡県 and Oita 大分県, both in the North of Kyushu.

  • 豪雨・ごううmeans “heavy rain”.
  • The article uses two words that I always mix up. It says that that two cities suffered big 被害・ひがい from the 災害・さいがい caused by the heavy rain. So, 被害 means “damage”, “casualties” and 災害 means “calamity”, “disaster”.

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

The baseball team from Hokkaido “Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters” 北海道日本ハムファイターズ, has drawn attention this year due to two major events:

  • 大谷翔平・おおたにしょうへい is a baseball player from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. This year, however, he signed to enter the Los Angeles Angels and thus plays in Major League next year. (Do Japanese rejoice that one of their top players join the American Major League, or do they feel betrayed?)
    • The Major League Baseball is called メジャーリーグベースボール in Japanese but is also often called simply “メジャーリーグ” or, like in our article “大リーグ”.
    • 移籍・いせき means “transfer” (to another team). I remember having learned that word when I read an article about Neymar’s transfer to PSG.
  • 清宮 幸太郎・きよみや こうたろう, another baseball player, joined the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters this year.

I had to ask the help of Wikipedia because I know absolutely nothing about baseball and the article was very concise on the subject.

Other candidates

The second kanji on the list was 政 because of the problems involving Moritomo Gakuen and Kake Gakuen and other scandals involving politicians. Well, I must admit that  I didn’t follow these scandals at all, so I think it is better to link to this article from the Japan Times that presents the Moritomo Gakuen scandal.

  • 不祥事・ふしょうじ means “an inauspicious event” but can be translated simply by “scandal”. A very useful word to know to read the news!

The third candidate was 不 because of the instability 不安定・ふあんてい caused by North Korea. Whenever I see this character alone, I can’t help but think of that photography from Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie where the character 不 is painted in red across his body. If they had chosen that character, it would have carried a very negative meaning (what character could be more negative in fact?).

Prime Minister Abe’s choice

The article then goes on, saying that the Prime Minister was asked what would be his kanji for the year. Abe’s answer was 挑 from 挑戦・ちょうせん (challenge). In 2017, there were several challenges to Japan Prime Minister like finding measures to face an ageing population and a low birth rate, the menace of North Korea and of course, the general election.

  • 少子高齢化・しょうしこうれいか means “a declining birthrate and ageing population”.
  • the general election is 総選挙・そうせんきょ
  • and finally, the verb 挑む・いどむ means “challenge sb” or “confront (difficulties)”.

Conclusion

It was a very interesting article I think! The first three selected kanji all carry a negative meaning… Last year, the 今年の漢字 was 金, to wish for a lot of gold medals for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Anyway, I have tried to find what kanji could represent the year 2017 from a French point of view, and it’s a difficult exercise!

On the video in the article, we can see that the Kyomizu temple is still under construction…

おしらせ: Next week is finally the long-awaited Kyoto trip (my second time in Japan). This blog will also take some holiday. There will be no new post next week and I will be back for the Wednesday post on December 27th.

Kyototrip3

Currently reading a magazine on Moomin and watching the series again

moe

Moe, 2017 dec. ムーミンのこともっと知りたい!

After my déconvenue at the JLTP, I bought this magazine even though I had no idea what it was about, just because I love Moomin. Moe turns out to be a magazine about illustrated books for children and you probably know Moomin, the main character of children books created by Tove Jansson.

 

As a child, I had an illustrated book of Moomin but I can’t remember which story it was. I just remember that I was a little afraid of Snufkin, who is now my favourite character! I think one can say that I had forgotten all about Moomin until I came to Korea. I don’t know why but Moomin is very popular here.

The first part of the magazine is devoted to this month’s theme: Moomin. I find it very interesting and it made me wonder why do some characters become so famous that they fascinate people all other the world when there are so many books for children and so many new characters created every year.

The magazine opens with an article about the new Moomin Museum in Tampere and a brief history of the publications by Moomin’s creator Tove Jansson. It also contains articles about Helsinki, other Moomin’s authors and even gives a  recipe of crêpe with blueberry filling.

The other half of the magazine is not about Moomin but it does contain interesting articles, that is, for someone interested in illustrated books. For example, there is an interview with the author of 「猫かるた」. The book looks very cute, but what is worth of interest is that I learnt about かるた which are Japanese playing cards. If I understood well, two players face each other and between them lay some cards. Someone reads the first lines of a poem and the players must find the card which contains the last lines of the same poem. The idea is to grab the card before the other player. Anyway, have a look at some competition of karuta on Youtube (競技かるた), it is interesting!

Let’s go back to Moomin! I enjoy reading this magazine because it has a lot of pictures and short texts. This is perfect to read some Japanese without really making an effort. I just skip what I don’t understand, enjoy the pictures and am happy to relax even while reading Japanese and I will definitively try the blueberry crêpe.

Reading this magazine made me want to watch the series 楽しいムーミン一家, a dutch and Japanese produced television series that started in 1990. I watched several episodes when I had just started learning Japanese and I was baffled to see that I could understand some parts of it. Now that I am watching some episodes again, I realise that I can understand almost everything they say! It is very encouraging and a great way to replenish one’s self-confidence.

Almost all the characters speak in a very clear way. To me, it is much easier to understand this series than any anime. The characters always use a very clean language, they do use all kinds of grammar (some that I saw only recently) but they only use easy words. An easy vocabulary associated with a clear pronunciation makes this series a treasure for Japanese learners. Even if you are a beginner, you will certainly be able to understand some bits here and there.

おしらせ: Next week is finally the long-awaited Kyoto trip (my second time in Japan). This blog will also take some holiday. There will be no new post next week and I will be back for the Wednesday post on December 27th.

Kyototrip 2

 

Collecting collocations: how to take notes to improve one’s writing skills

I am concerned about how to improve my writing skills and I have tried a method that seems to work well.

The idea is to thoroughly study an article in order to collect collocations and expressions that we can use for writing.

Until now, I have entirely relied on Anki to learn new words. This method works like magic to me, but I realised recently that Anki only helps me recognise the words and mainly allows me to improve my reading skills. Which is fine by the way. But the problem is that I don’t always know how to use the words I learn. I don’t want to enter too much information when I create a new card in Anki. First, it would take a lot of time to do so and second, I don’t want to spend too much time studying Anki and I am sure that I would not even bother reading the complementary information when studying my deck. That is why there are a lot of words that I don’t know how to use but it’s only when I started writing in Japanese that I became aware of this problem.

To remedy this problem, I have started to take vocabulary notes relative to articles I read. This is a little different from the news articles I have been studying on this blog because the goal of this was to be able to read the news more comfortably and I focused on understanding the words, not on how to use them. The difference is that, whenever I come across a word that I think could be useful for my (future) writings in Japanese, I spend some time in the dictionary and I note all kinds of useful information about this word: in which context it can be used, what are its different meaning, how it is used and so on. Of course, I don’t write word for word the dictionary contents, I select only information that I think might be useful to me.

Concretely, this is how it works (in blue, examples from articles I have studied so far)

  • First, choose an article not too long and not too difficult. I would say that an article about a social issue is a good choice, but it could be whatever you like. A blog post, an article found on the web about a subject that interests you, etc. I personally print it and stock it in a loose leaf folder.
  • On a loose leaf that I will place face to face with the article in my folder, I write down all the unknown words of the article. When I read something, I usually try to reduce the number of words that I am looking up and try to guess the meaning of unknown words. Here, on the contrary, we are studying an article, this implies spending time on it and be thorough. I write down the words with their definition in English, an A4 page is usually enough. I always let a margin on the left side of the leaf so that I can use “signifiers” before the words I am writing down. The concept of signifiers come from the bullet journal method: a mark that can be added to a task to prioritise it for example. I am using them a little differently to hierarchise my words. There are different types of words:
    • Very difficult or specialised words that belong to a certain field and that I will probably not use myself. I just write down the definition because if they are jargon from a field that interests me, I might come across them again later. But that’s all, I don’t try to remember them and I don’t draw any signifiers. In fact, to gain time, you could just skip these words. For example, I came across the word 加工肉・かこうにく which means “cold cooked meat”. I am not trying to learn it, but I still write it down because it helps me remember that I came across such words in this article, in case I happen to read them again or hear them somewhere (who knows). 
    • Words I think that I may have the opportunity to use when writing. In front of these words, I draw a triangle, it’s my signifier to say “this word is important and might be useful someday, don’t skip it when you re-read your notes”. For example, the word 肉眼・にくがん that I found interesting and funny. It means “the naked eye”. I also wrote down the expression 肉眼で見える. 
    • Words that can be used in any situation, that is, words not particularly specific to this article and its contents and that I will certainly want to use one day. They can be adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions or of course, verbs and nouns. For these words, I draw a star, which means “to learn and remember” and I devote a little more time to them. I don’t simply look for their definition and write it down, I also read through all the example sentences given in my dictionary. I write down 2 or 3 sentences that I think might be useful. It can be sentences that show how the word can be used or even expressions that I know I will use later when doing writing exercises. These words are the most interesting words so let me give two examples. The word 割り切る・わりきる appeared in an article I read last week, it means “come to a clear decision”. This is the definition I would write on my Anki card, but to be honest, it does not tell me how this word is used. That’s why I also wrote several example sentences like “仕事は仕事、遊びは遊びと割り切る” or “割り切った考え方” (a practical approach) or “割り切った態度” (a business-like manner). Another typical example is the word 倍・ばい. I have this word in my Anki, with the definition “double”… So this time, I wrote down sentences like “倍にする/なる” and even very useful expressions like 金が倍かかる (cost twice as much) or 時間が倍かかる (take twice as much time).
  • If I decide to enter some of these words in my Anki deck, I just underline them.
  • From time to time, I re-read this list, but only the words with a signifiers.

The idea is really to create a stock of expressions that are ready to use when I need them. This is the best way that I found so far to start collecting colloquial associations. As I saw them either in the article that I read or in my dictionary (in the example sentences) I am sure that they are correct and I can use them with confidence when writing. I don’t know if it applies to everyone but knowing that one expression, one use of a word is colloquial makes me happy and helps me attach some value to what I wrote.

That’s it, I think it’s time to me to leave the comfort zone of passivity to start using the knowledge I have accumulated so far and become able to produce something in Japanese, not just understand it. (I am only speaking of my personal resolutions here, I do consider that understanding a language without speaking it or being able to write it is a highly praisable goal in itself).

おしらせ: Next week is finally the long-awaited Kyoto trip (my second time in Japan). This blog will also take some holiday. There will be no new post next week and I will be back for the Wednesday post on December 27th.

Kyototrip 1

Japanese News: Emperor Akihito will retire on April, 30th 2019

You may have heard that a date was finally set last week for the abdication of Emperor Akihito. I think it is time for me to try reading political articles, but I will start with a very short one.

Link to the article. (😲😨😱 As I check this link again, I realise that they completely changed the article in the meanwhile. When I studied it, it was a very short one… I am very sorry for that, but as this post is mainly focused on vocabulary, I think it is still okay…)

This article published on Asahi does not bring much information but given that I can’t read the title, I think it is a good material to study some vocabulary.

Let’s start with the title:

天皇陛下退位「2019年4月30日」 政令を閣議決定

To me, this is typically the kind of sentence that I can understand because I know the meaning of each kanji, but I could not possibly read it out loud with confidence. The only two words I already knew for sure are:

  • 天皇・てんのう Emperor
  • 決定・けってい decision (to say that something is set, settled, fixed, determined)

The other words are:

  • 陛下・へいか His or Her Majesty. This word is often seen together with 天皇. The two together can be translated as “His Majesty the Emperor” or “His Imperial Majesty”, though I think that English spoken news simply say “the Emperor”.
  • 退位・たいい means “abdication”. This is the kind of word whose meaning can be easily guessed with the context and if you know the word “退職” or “退院”.
  • 政令・せいれい means “a government ordinance” or “a cabinet order”. Here again, knowing both 政府 and 命令 helps a lot.
  • 閣議・かくぎ a cabinet meeting or session. Here again, I think that most people know 議 from 会議. We only need to remember that 内閣・ないかく is the word for “cabinet” or “government”. We find this word in the official appellation of Japan Prime Minister 内閣総理大臣・ないかくそうりだいじん.
  • Together with 決定, 閣議決定・かくぎけってい means a “cabinet decision”.

The article does not give really new information. It simply gives the retirement date and says that the new era name will be published next year. The government will also have to think of the form that the succession ceremony will take, with maybe some reference to the last Emperor who abdicated in Japan, 200 years ago. I guess that the difficulty is to set up a “succession” ceremony and not only an enthronement ceremony. The previous Emperor being usually dead when the new Emperor takes up the throne, I imagine that they never organised such succession ceremony before (that is, not for 200 years).

Through this short article, we can learn some words relative to the Japanese imperial system:

  • 皇太子・こうたいし Crown Prince.
  • 即位・そくい enthronement
  • 元号・げんごう an era name. It is still often used to state the year. For example, 2017 can be referred to as 平成29年. 平成・へいせい is the name of the present era, it started in 1989, when the actual Emperor, Emperor Akihito, acceded to the throne. The name of the era is also the posthumous name of the emperor.
  • 皇位継承・こういけいしょう means “succession to the Imperial Throne”.

Other relative words not used in the article but worth remembering:

  • 皇族・こうぞく the Imperial Family
  • 皇室・こうしつ also means “Imperial Household” and is used for example in “皇室典範・こうしつてんぱん” which means “Imperial Household Law”. The actual Imperial Household Law was established in 1947 and states that the succession should take place when the actual Emperor dies. “天皇が崩じたときは、大喪の礼を行う”.
    • 崩じる・ほうじる to pass away (for emperors)
    • 大喪・たいそう Imperial Mourning
    • 大喪の礼・たいそうのれい the Rites of an Imperial Funeral
  • 宮内庁・くないちょう the Imperial Household Agency, which is in charge of state matters concerning the Imperial Family
  • 皇居・こうきょ the Imperial Palace
  • 皇位・こうい the Imperial Throne
  • Another word that might appear in articles relative to this question is the word “摂政・せっしょう” which means “Regency” or “a regent”. “Set up a Regency” is said “摂政を置く”.

I found these words in the book “Asahi Keywords 2018” 「朝日キーワード2018」published by 朝日新聞出版 in 2017. (If you are interested in buying this book, I recommend to wait until the beginning of 2018 as they will certainly publish a new edition then).

asahi keywordsThis book presents in short and “easy” articles, the main issues that made the news in 2016 and 2017. Each article is a double-page long and explains political and social issues. As the book aims at Japanese, the articles can be said to be easy, that is, well explained, but it is still a challenging book for Japanese learners. Personally, I find it easier to read than news articles, and it is a good way to learn some vocabulary relative to a certain matter. For example, with only the above-cited words, I can understand the entire article (not all the words, of course, but still well enough) devoted to the Emperor’s abdication in this book (p.22-23).

To wrap up this article, a simplified family tree of the Imperial Family. You can easily find some on the web, but I wanted to make mine with English, kanji and furigana. I did it for my own purpose because I am sure that there will be a lot more articles about the Imperial Family to come next year. After doing it, I think I know who is who and what are the issues relatives to the succession. As it might be helpful to others too, I upload it here, but I may have made mistakes and I am still confused about the different appellations that exist in Japanese and English…

Male members of the family are in red, women are in green. In bold, the previous and actual Emperors and the Crown Prince. Both Prince Masahito and Princess Sayako are married but as they have no children and as I ran out of space, I didn’t write the spouse’s name. Princess Sayako married a commoner, so she lost her royal status. (pdf version: japan imperial household)

imperial family

Currently reading: パラドックス13 by 東野圭吾

One of my good resolutions for 2018 is to read more books by Higashino Keigo. This is not a very hard resolution to keep as I love this author. I have decided to take a break from the Kaga series that I am currently reading and chose a relatively recent and long novel: 「パラドックス13」(read: パラドックス サーティーン)

This is the longest novel that I have ever read in Japanese, 562 pages. But it seems to be as easy as the other novels that I have read so far. Flipping through the book also allowed me to see that the most part of it consists of dialogues.

As for the story, it seems to be very different from the other crime/mystery novels by Higashino Keigo. To sum up the beginning, on March 13th, at 1:13 p.m people mysteriously disappear from the surface of the earth. We learn from the cover that only 13 people remain. It does not really seem to be a science-fiction story, nor a crime or mystery novel. I still have no clue how the story will evolve, but the beginning is very intriguing and exciting.

To be honest, the first chapter took me aback. It figures Japan Prime Minister (a fictional one), scientists from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and a bunch of ministers. If you start this novel, you might think that it is a challenging one just because the first chapter is a little frightening. I read it twice to be sure I wasn’t missing anything and once I had made my way through the name and function of each character, there was nothing particularly difficult left. In fact, this first chapter’s main point is to talk about the “paradox 13”, a phenomenon that will occur on March 13th, but no real scientific explanation is given. The Prime Minister even says 「理論を理解する必要はないよ (…) 正直いって、私もよくわかってないんだ。だから、こういう現象が近々起きるということだけ了解してくれればいい」So, if even the Prime Minister doesn’t understand it all, we, readers, don’t need to worry too much about it.

The story really begins with chapter 2 (p.16) and it becomes much easier to follow. For now, I can say that there is nothing particularly difficult in this novel. The only point that gives me a headache is to remember all the Japanese names. Thankfully, there should be only 13 people in this story but the name of most of them is introduced at the same time and I just can’t remember them…

As the novel does not seem to present any laborious part, I won’t do reading notes, but I have created a page called “東野圭吾~パラドックス13: list of characters” where I will note all the characters name. I do it more for my own sake, but if anyone wants to read this novel, it might be useful, too. It’s not  I will, of course, add information to this page as I come across them in the novel.

 

 

JLPT 2017 second test and beyond

Yesterday was finally the second JLPT test of the year. As I prepared a lot for it, I cannot but give my impressions on the test.

Disappointed 😫

To be honest, I went to the test with a decent amount of self-confidence. I was particularly afraid of the grammar part so I worked a lot on it and when the day of the test finally came, I felt ready. But sincerely, I am not even sure to have made a better performance than I did in July.

Surprisingly, the grammar part was not at all difficult. Of course, there were some tricky questions but I had the impression that the test was easier than the mock tests I had practised. On the contrary, the vocabulary part was quite difficult to me. But I guess that rather than saying that it was difficult, it’s better to say that I was unlucky. It’s hard to tell which words will come out and I feel that I just run out of luck.

The reading part was okay I would say. Not easier, not more difficult than what I had expected. It was the same level of difficulty than the mock tests I had made. The texts were not particularly challenging but as always, some questions are really tricky.

The big disappointment was the listening part. I worked a lot to improve my listening skills and I always had a good score on the listening part of the mock tests I have made. There were always 2 or 3 questions that I couldn’t answer because I didn’t understand the dialogue well enough but that was it. Yesterday, however, I found that there were a lot of very challenging dialogues or monologues. There was even one question where I could not figure out what they were talking about! This kind of thing usually never happens. There were also several questions were I had no clue what the answer was because the dialogues were filled with unknown words. Maybe I was just tired and couldn’t concentrate…?

Anyway, today I had the occasion to hear other people say that the listening part was difficult, in their opinion. I am a bit relieved. Maybe it really was so?

To sum up, I totally messed up with the listening part and the vocabulary part. I am not at all mad about the vocabulary part because I kept learning new words every single day for the past few months, and I feel that I gave my best. For the listening part, however, I am very disappointed. As for the grammar, I certainly have made some mistakes but overall, I am happy with what I did. And finally, I don’t think that I can reach the full mark with the reading section (as I did when I passed the test in July), but it should be okay.

But happy it’s over 😀

I have embarked on this JLPT journey and even though I am very glad that I did, I am also very glad that it is over.

My results at the test do not really matter because I don’t need to pass the JLPT, I am doing it just to evaluate my level and get some external source of motivation. Even if I am disappointed by my performance, what counts is that I studied hard for the past 4 months and it did bring me a lot. Not only have I increased the number of words I know but I also have reached a point where I feel more or less at ease with the N2 grammar. Not that I would be able to use it, but understand it is already a great step. This is not something that I would have been able to achieve without the perspective of the test.

Now that it is over, I feel free to do all the things I wanted to do but couldn’t because the JLPT preparation was taking all my time. I already posted about my future plan and since that, new ideas have come to my mind. For example, I thought I could add cooking to my list. I hate doing the everyday cooking stuff, but sometimes, I do enjoy spending a little more time, follow a recipe and cook something new. So I bought a very simple and basic cooking book in Japanese (it’s called いちばんやさしい料理のきほん, with the subtitle はじめて料理をする人でも、失敗なし! so I guess that even I can do it!). This is also a good opportunity to learn some cooking relative words and post about it.

I may open new categories on this blog like “cooking” and “films”. There could be an extra post on weekends concerning either a recipe with cooking-related words or a film review. I hope that I can watch at least two Japanese films a month.

Anyway, I am very excited by all the things that are to come, and I hope you’ll have an inspiring Winter too!

 

Japanese News: 「九十歳。何がめでたい」

I have found an interesting article this morning. Published on Asahi, the article’s title is 年間ベストセラー発表 1位は「九十歳。何がめでたい」.

Link to the article

The title would not have caught my attention if I hadn’t read recently an article about the “アラハン” (around hundred) phenomenon in Japan. I read about this in the magazine 일본어 저널, which is a Korean monthly magazine to learn Japanese (see my review here).

I find it to be a very interesting topic, so I will first write about アラハン and then move to the Asahi article.

アラハン

Source: 일본어 저널, 2017 November, p.74-75.

The term アラハン comes from “around hundred”. Recently, many women around 100 have published books where they look back on their lives and transmit something to younger generations, especially women who could be their daughters and grand-daughters. Even if they lived at a time when women didn’t work, these women all pursue diverse activities, among which, writing books.

It seems that these books’ main readers are women in their 40’s or 50’s. The article says that they want to learn from their “senpai” how to lead a healthy life, even at a great age.

Here is some vocabulary found in the article:

First, アラハン is not the only term used to describe a group of person around a certain age. We also have:

  • アラサー around thirty
  • アラフォー around forty
  • アラフィフ around fifty
  • アラカン around sixty. This word comes from 還暦・かんれき which means “one’s sixtieth birthday”.

All these words are 呼び名・よびな, that is “an alias” or a “popular name”. Giving a name to someone or something is called 名付ける・なづける. I thought that this word was only used to say “giving a name to a baby”, but it is not, obviously.

The books written by アラハン women sell well, which in our article is said: 売り上げも好調のようだ.

  • 売り上げ・うりあげ the sales.
  • 好調’な・こうちょうな good, favourable, satisfactory.

There is a term that I have always found strange. It is 専業主婦・せんぎょうしゅふ which means a “full-time” housewife. I guess that it refers to housewives who don’t have any other professional activity besides looking after their home and children. The アラハン our article is about have not been 専業主婦 but they had other activities.

Finally, an expression worth remembering is “looking back on one’s life” which in Japanese is “自分の人生を振り返る”

  • the verb 振り返る・ふりかえる means “to look back” but it can have a concrete meaning like “look over one’s shoulder” and a figurative one like in our article “think back”, “recall”.

「九十歳。何がめでたい」

The 일본어 저널 article said that books from アラハン women made good sales, but only looking at the Asahi article’s title, we know that it is more than that. The book 「九十歳。何がめでたい」written by 佐藤愛子・さとう あいこ is the best best-selling book of 2017.

This book was published by 小学館 in August of last year and more than 1 million copies  (105万部) were published. Since September of last year, that is, one month after it’s publication, the book has been ranked among the 20 first bestsellers for 63 weeks in a row.

Asahi’s article then cites a rather long word from the author 佐藤愛子.

She says that she finds it strange that her book should sell so well, because she started it when she was experiencing melancholy or depression ウツ病・うつびょう, or to write it in kanji 鬱病. This was after the publication of her previous book called 「晩鐘」which she thought at the time would be her very last book, or to be more precise, she meant it to be her last book.

  • 晩鐘・ばんしょう  means “the evening bell” or the “curfew bell”.

She also says that she does not understand why reading her book has given courage to her readers. She already has written a lot of books and she says that she has always written her own way, as she pleases. This last book is not different, but she remembers having been frowned at for this before. Now, the same writing style arises courage and vitality among her readers. As she says, the times have changed and Japanese people have changed, too.

She uses interesting expressions like:

  • 勇気が湧く・ゆうきがわくwhich can be translated, I think, as “inspire someone with courage” or simply “be filled with courage”.
  • 顰蹙を買う・ひんしゅくをかう be frowned at, invite frowns of disapproval.
  • 悪し様に・あしざまに is an adverb that means “ill”, “unfavourably” like when you say “speak ill of somebody” (悪し様に言う).
  • 好き勝手・すきかって just as one likes, as one pleases, as the fancy takes one. In my dictionary, this expression is linked to another one with the same meaning: 好き放題・すきほうだい.

Conclusion

It is maybe not that surprising that such a book should be ranking among the bestsellers, but I would not have expected it to be the first bestseller of 2017. Even if I am not going to read Mrs Sato’s books, I like to know what books are popular in Japan at the moment. I also liked this CM from the publisher to promote 「九十歳。何がめでたい」:

Book review: 嘘をもうひとつだけ by 東野圭吾

「嘘をもうひとつだけ」is the 6th book of the Kaga series 加賀恭一郎シリーズ by Higashino Keigo. If you are not familiar with this series, it features detective 加賀恭一郎 Kaga Kyoichiro and is composed of 10 books. The first novel of the series was one of the first novels written by Higashino Keigo (「卒業」was published in 1989*) and the last one 「祈りの幕が下りる時」is very recent since it was published in 2016.

Why I love this series

I really like detective Kaga because he is very different from other contemporary detectives that all seem to share the same flaws: bad temper, tobacco or alcohol problem (if not worse), a haunting past, very disagreeable manners and tone, conflicting relation with hierarchy, impossible personality and so on.

Kaga Kyoichiro is, on the contrary, described as a very polite person, always using the most beautiful honorific language. To be honest, as every Japanese learner maybe, I have always been unwilling to learn the honorific verbs and expressions. But, reading several books featuring Kaga somewhat made me see the honorific language as something cool and something I want to master.

The fact that Kaga has been a kendo champion also plays on his personality. He is always calm and composed, observes the opposite party and asks relevant questions. His investigation is very thorough. If he sometimes seems to know everything, it is the result of a careful and methodical investigation associated with some logical deduction.

Another point that makes detective Kaga different from other police detectives is that he is often seen from the point of view of another character. As a consequence, it is difficult to know what he thinks, what conclusions he has reached and who he suspects. This is even truer given that we often see Kaga, not from the point of view of a colleague, but from the point of view of the suspect or one of the suspects. This is to me the most interesting feature of the series. The reader finds himself or herself on the side of the suspects and Kaga’s appearances, questions and deductions are quite frightening.

Why you can start by 「嘘をもうひとつだけ」

As I said in the introduction, 「嘘をもうひとつだけ」is the 6th book of the series. However, if you want to read one book of the series without really wanting to read all the novels, this one is a good choice.

First of all, 「嘘をもうひとつだけ」is not a novel but a collection of short stories. They are not supposed to happen before or after the other stories, even though the first short story hints at the second novel of the series by saying that Kaga is familiar with the world of the ballet. But this is just a detail that does not matter at all for the understanding of the story. Therefore, you don’t need to have read the other novels to read this collection of short stories, and nothing in it will spoil the previous cases.

Furthermore, these short stories are a great presentation of detective Kaga. To me, they could be trailers for the series, showing how Kaga works and providing a condensé of the most exciting moments of a detective novel: the discovery of the crime scene, the interrogation of the suspect, the final confrontation, etc. In fact, I think that you could read this book to see whether you like or not this style and if you do, go on with the other novels.

Why 「嘘をもうひとつだけ」 is easy to read for Japanese learners

I already said that some novels by Higashino Keigo were relatively easy to read. It is even more applicable to「嘘をもうひとつだけ」because it has the advantage of being short. The whole book is only 269 pages long, and each of the 5 short stories is around 50 pages long. They are mainly composed of dialogues, which makes them even easier to understand.

Another thing that greatly facilitates the understanding is that they are all structured more or less in the same way, with very little characters involved. Either the story is entirely composed of a long dialogue between Kaga and another character (the first and the last short stories), either the story follows the same pattern: it opens with one character confronted with a murder, and detective Kaga will appear several times, resulting in the story being composed of several dialogues, flashbacks and some short narrative parts.

Conclusion

The reason why I loved 「嘘をもうひとつだけ」is because they really feature detective Kaga. Even if he is not the central character of the stories, he is very present, contrary to the 5th and 6th book of the series. The cases were very intriguing too and even if I do prefer reading long novels, reading this book was very entertaining, and I highly recommend it!

* The publication date is the one from 講談社文庫

Things I want to do after the JLPT and planning for next year!

These last months have been almost entirely devoted to preparing for N2. I am very happy that I did it because it helped me improve my vocabulary and grammar knowledge with the result that I can read books in Japanese more comfortably now than I could this summer. I also worked a lot on improving my listening skills because the listening part of the test that I took on July (JLPT N2) made me aware that listening was my weak point.

But now, I am very glad that all of this is almost over. I don’t plan to study that much this week because I feel that it won’t change anything anymore. Instead, I am more focused on what I will do after the JLPT. I won’t try N1 because I really want to do something else than preparing for a test. I think that sometimes, I just don’t know what to study next and feel like I don’t have any concrete goals. At these moments, deciding to sit the JLPT is a great booster that gives me a clear line to follow without asking myself why I do it. But sometimes, I feel that, on the contrary, I am full of ideas that I want to concretise, that there are hundreds of things I want to do to study Japanese in my own way. This is exactly how I feel right now.

When I was a child, I always thought of New Year’s resolutions as something to be done on January 1st. I would sit down at my desk and write in my journal some stupid things I already knew I would never achieve. That’s why I stopped making any resolutions on January 1st. In fact, if good resolutions are taken out of nowhere just because today is the day when you feel everything start fresh and new, no wonder that I should soon give them up. Instead of deciding on one day what my plan for the next year will be, I will give myself the whole month of December to think about it. As December will mostly see me preparing our Winter trip to Kyoto, I think that it is a perfect moment to take some distance from my studies and do some preliminary investigation concerning where to go next. Instead of talking about “resolutions” I would rather see it as “things I want to achieve”, or simply “things I want to try”.

  • First of all, I want to read more in Japanese. There are two lines I want to follow:
    • I want to read a lot of Higashino Keigo’s novels or short stories. I have bought a new book which is called 「パラドックス13」and is very long. I feel that if I can read a 562 pages novel in Japanese, I already have achieved what was my first goal when I started learning Japanese. Next year, I also want to finish the Kaga series, I still have 4 books to go.
    • I also want to try reading more challenging books. I have some titles that I want to read next year. Among them, books by Mishima Yukio (The Temple of the Golden Pavillon), Kawabata Yasunari (The Old Capital) and Dazai Osamu (No longer human) and Natsume Soseki (Kokoro). I may not be able to read these novels at all, but trying it is one of the things I want to do in 2018.
  • I also want to write in Japanese on a regular basis. Writing had never been a concern to me before, but in November I participated in the Kotobites writing challenge. Through this, I realised three things: 1- writing in Japanese is much easier than I thought, 2- writing every day is much more difficult than I thought, 3- the benefits of writing are worth the effort. I already have an idea about a writing planning that I could set for myself. I think of writing a structured text about a social issue once a week. This would mean writing a little, maybe not every day, but several days a week, and try to really work on it by looking for specific vocabulary and use at least up to N3 grammar points.
  • I want to read the news and be able to also read articles about politics. This implies to get a little familiar with Japanese political state, which I am not. One of the most difficult things when reading about another’s country politics is that, even after having gone through all the difficult words, I sometimes just don’t know who is who, who they are talking about and why it is important. I have a book called 「朝日キーワード2018」that I plan to study as soon as the JLPT is over, I am sure it will help!
  • Speaking is not a priority for me because I don’t live in Japan and anyway, I am not a very social person 🙄, but I hate having a French accent, it ruins all my confidence. Sometimes, I rather say that I don’t speak English at all because I am ashamed of my pronunciation. I don’t want this happening with Japanese too, that’s why I want to work on pronunciation and a little on speaking.
  • As for listening, here again, I would like to follow two paths:
    • First, do more listening exercises, with materials aimed at Japanese learners
    • Try to understand “real” Japanese by watching more films and dramas. I really want to watch more Japanese films but I don’t know where to start. Making a list of dramas and films to watch can be a good plan for next year.
  • I want to read about Japanese history, especially the 19th and 20th centuries.

These are things I have been thinking of lately. I don’t think that I will be studying much in December so I still have time to plan all of this more concretely. For example, make a list of the books I want to read or think of how I will write in Japanese. Also, I would like to link everything to this blog. It should be easy given that I post about books on Wednesdays and I usually post about reading a news article on Friday. I think that maybe I could post a writing subject every Monday and post my writing on Sunday. Not that I think that it interests anyone but, you know, for accountability.

Anyway, this was my draft of next year’s plan. I don’t except sudden progress but I do hope to see a difference between the beginning of 2018 and the end of 2018. Language learning has to be considered in the long-term! Anyway, I don’t think that it is too early to start making plans for next year and doing this definitely boosted my motivation! 😄

Japanese News:

Today, I will study an article published on NHK News Web about the Zama 座間市 murder case in which Shiraishi Takahiro 白石隆浩 killed 9 people.

In fact, I heard this report this morning, on the site NHK Radio News (report from the 24th November, 9:00 to 9:05). It appears that what the journalist said on the broadcast is the exact same contents than this article. I tried to understand as much as possible by only listening before reading the article.

Link to the article

I find this article easy to understand, even by only listening to it. It talks about the youngest victim of  Shiraishi Takahiro 白石隆浩, a high-school student of only 15. The article explains how the police could retrace her last known movements. We know that she bought a new tee-shirt, entered a station and probably changed to her newly bought black tee-shirt in the toilet while throwing her belongings (phone and IC card) away. It seems that she was told to do so by Shiraishi Takahiro to prevent the police from finding her living place.

Name and places

I always find that names and places are the most discouraging thing when reading an article in Japanese. I can’t pronounce them, which means, that even if I know the name because I read about it in the English Newspaper, I sometimes won’t be able to recognize it. Names and places are not words I want to memorize and I will certainly not put them on my Anki deck so it seems that the problem won’t solve itself. Maybe I should put some efforts to remember at least common family names and Japan prefectures…? I feel that knowing at least the kanji and pronunciation of the 都道府県 would make it easier to read or listen to the news.

  • 神奈川県座間市: かながわけん ざまし: Kanagawa prefecture, Zama city. This is where Shiraishi Takahiro lives and that’s why he is often referred to as the Zama serial killer.
  • 群馬県: ぐんまけん: Gunma prefecture. This is where lived the youngest victim, a 15-year-old high-school student.
  • 白石隆浩: しらいしたかひろ: Shiraishi Takahiro, still referred to as the “suspect” 容疑者 in our article.
  • 八王子市: はちおうじし: City of Hachioji. This is the city of one of Shiraishi’s victims.
  • 相模原市: さがみはらし: City of Sagami. This is a city near Zama city. This is where the high-school student bought the black tee-shirt.
  • 小田急電鉄の片瀬江ノ島駅:
    • 小田急電鉄: おだきゅうでんてつ: this is the name of a railway company, Odakyu Electric Railway.
    • 片瀬江ノ島駅: かたせえのしまえき: Katase-Enoshima Station. This is where the high-school student got off.

Some words worth remembering

Police related words

  • 捜査関係者: そうさかんけいしゃ: 捜査 means “criminal investigation” so the “persons related” to the investigation can be called, I think, the “investigators” in English.
  • 取材: しゅざい means “data collection” and is often used to describe the work of journalists gathering information.
  • 疑い: うたがい is a word that appears more than once in our article. Its first meaning is “doubt” but here it means “suspicion”.
  • 警視庁: けいしちょう is the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department
  • 容疑者: ようぎしゃ a suspect

Other words and expressions

  • to say that someone is missing, there is the expression 行方がわからない. The word 行方・ゆくえ means “sb’s whereabouts”.
  • 家を出た際の服装. The clothes (she was wearing) when she left home.
    • 際・さい is an N2 grammar that means “at the time…”, “when…”, “on the occasion…”. When I heard the report, I didn’t recognize it because I am used to hearing it combined with に: 際に.
    • I think that contrary to 出掛ける, the expression 家を出る means leaving home definitively, for example, when you turn 18 and go to university or when you get your own apartment. I guess that this meaning is implied here, that is, that the girl didn’t have the intention to come back. The article does not say anything about her intentions though, only that she certainly followed the instructions of Shiraishi.
  • 防犯カメラ・ぼうはんかめら: security camera. 防犯・ぼうはん means “prevention of crimes”

That’s it for this article, it was relatively easy to understand, I found. This whole affair is very shocking, I am not really following the progression of the investigation but when I see or hear some news about it like I did this morning, I try to understand what is said. Social issues are much easier to understand in Japanese than political ones.

Currently reading: 噓をもうひとつだけ by 東野圭吾

Even if I am still struggling with Mishima’s Temple of the Golden Pavillon 「金閣寺」 that I am reading in Japanese, I just couldn’t resist the temptation to start a new book by Higashino Keigo.

I was missing Higashino’s universe, and I was eager to read the next novel of the Kaga series 加賀恭一郎シリーズ. Also, I wanted to read something easy and relaxing. In the Temple of the Golden Pavillon, the protagonist has befriended Kashiwagi, who is a real stumbling block to me. Kashiwagi’s long and cynical speeches are leaving me behind and I felt a little demotivated to read this book lately.

Anyway, I had to order 「噓をもうひとつだけ」, the 6th book of the Kaga series, because I couldn’t find it in any bookshop. I was afraid this might mean that this book was not very popular. I finally received it, and as far as I can tell, it is by far the easiest book I have read in Japanese so far (excluding books for children or manga).

「噓をもうひとつだけ」 is not a novel but a collection of 5 short stories, all featuring detective Kaga. I have already read 3 stories, and the reason why they are so easy is that they are mainly composed of dialogues. Each story is about 50 pages long, so there is no time for long descriptions. They are very similar too, all structured more or less the same way. This makes the whole book very relaxing to read.

I usually do not like short stories, but as I want to read all the books of the Kaga series in publication order, I could not skip this one. Now I can tell that I am very glad I didn’t.

I will write a review of this book when I finish it, certainly next Wednesday. All I can tell by now is that reading this book is very resourceful to me. Just before the JLPT, it makes me gain self-confidence and allows me to relax while still doing something in Japanese. As I start being used to Higashino’s writing style and am more and more familiar with detective Kaga’s way to track down a suspect, I feel a lot of self-confidence whenever I open a book of the series. I think it’s important to have something to return to when you feel demotivated, something you love and can understand easily.

 

Some last listening exercises before the JLPT

x9788927710165The Korean publisher Darakwon has an interesting series to practice the listening part of the JLPT. It is called 新일본어 능력시험 청해 콕콕 찍어주마. It exists for every level, but N4 and N5 are grouped in the same series. I only have the N2 book for listening, which is called: 新일본어 능력시험 청해 콕콕 찍어주마 -N2 대비-, this is the book I will present in this post.

Two weeks before the JLPT, I am mainly revising grammar points and doing practice tests. Even if the grammar is my weakest point, I am most worried about the listening part. I think that, concerning grammar and vocabulary, I will either know the answer or not. It’s more about knowledge than performance. But to me, listening is all about performance. There are almost no unknown words in the listening scripts of N2 to me, but sometimes, or even often, I just don’t recognise things that I know.

As a consequence, I feel like I need to do some extra practice concerning the listening part. This is where the Darakwon book comes in handy.

Contrary to Japanese series like the Shin Kanzen master series or the So-matome series, both structured in lessons, the Korean series published by Darakwon is focused on training. Concerning the listening book, both the Shin Kanzen and the So-matome books provide you with progressive lessons, exercises that focused on a particular skill, advice and so on. In the Darakwon book, you will only have a series of exercises as they appear in the JLPT. This is the structure of the book:

  • Question type 1: 9 questions
  • Question type 2: 9 questions
  • Question type 3: 9 questions
  • Question type 4: 29 questions
  • Question type 5: 11 questions
  • 2 complete listening tests (50 minutes each)

Of course, you are provided with the Japanese script of each audio. There is also a Korean translation of the script and some vocabulary Japanese-Korean.

The advantage of this book is to have so many exercises. It gives a lot of material to study, even for those who don’t prepare for the JLPT. Having both a dialogue and its script offers a lot of different ways to study, from listening to pronunciation exercises or even writing (listening to the audio and try to write down the dialogue).

If we exclude the questions from question type 4 (all very short), the book contains 76 dialogues or monologues (38 in the exercises and 19 in each test).

I am both studying this book for the JLPT and for general improvement. I am doing every question, but after having answered and corrected myself, I also use these audios to do some further exercises. I usually listen to it several times, until I am able to understand every single word. I also try to repeat each phrase without looking at the script. I am convinced that doing pronunciation exercises helps improving one’s listening skills. Many people say that learning to write kanji will help you recognise them. Well, I think that the same is true concerning what we hear. Actively producing something (either a kanji that we write or a sentence that we repeat) will higher the probability that we will recognise it later.

I don’t know if publishers from other countries have this kind of book, that is, a collection of exercises in a given field. In any case, this is a link to Darakwon website where you can see the series 新일본어 능력시험 청해 콕콕 찍어주마 for each level. This series also covers the other parts of the JLPT. There is a book for vocabulary, grammar, kanji and reading, too. But given that they are a little pricey for their contents (15000 won), I find that the listening book is the most worth it.

Reference:

新일본어 능력시험 청해 콕콕 찍어주마 -N2 대비- (1 MP3 CD), 다락원 Darakwon publisher, 2010. 15000 won. ISBN: 9788927710165

 

Japanese News: Tokyo Olympics countdown in Ginza

This is an article published on Asahi website yesterday evening about the Tokyo Olympics countdown clock.

Link to the article

I don’t know why the clock was unveiled yesterday, that is, 981 days before Tokyo Olympics. The article does not say whether this date was strategic or not.

Anyway, let’s see what words I can learn from this article!

The countdown clock カウントダウンクロック made its appearance 登場・とうじょう on November 16th. The clock that is 3 meters high was designed and built by the brand Omega. Omega is the official 公式・こうしき timekeeper タイムキーパー of the Olympics. The clock represents the Japanese flag 日の丸・ひのまる and can be seen before the Omega shop 店舗・てんぽ in Ginza, Tokyo.

The unveiling お披露目・おひろめ ceremony セレモニー featured Chad le Clos, London Olympics Gold medalist in the swimming race 競泳・きょうえい and the actress Nanao who said:

2020年へのカウントダウンが始まってわくわくしている。皆さんが素晴らしい結果を出してくれるよう祈っています

source

I am excited that the countdown for 2020 has started. I am praying for everyone to get fantastic results. 

(I wonder if the presence of くれる allows us to translate that she is speaking of Japanese participants or hoping for good results for Japan)

Omega has been the official timekeeper since the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932. It has been decided that Omega will stay the official timekeeper until 2032.

Omega has introduced technologies such as false start フライング detector 検知器, touchpad タッチパッド for swimmers to stop the clock and high-speed cameras.

discover japanOur article ends here, but I would like to add some information that I found in the magazine Discover Japan, issue of September 2016. This issue was all about Tokyo Olympics. They presented the Olympic partners, among whom, Omega.

I found similar information about how Omega has been the sole 単一・たんいつ official timekeeper 公式時計 of the Olympics since 1932. Their technology has a 正確無比・せいかくむひ, an unrivaled accuracy. “正確な” means “accurate” and is used to say “an accurate clock” or “the correct time.”

Omega has also actively 積極的 introduced 導入・どうにゅう innovative measurement techniques 計測技術・けいそくぎじゅつ. Among them, a camera system that was more accurate than the human eye 目視より正確な (目視・もくし means “visually”) or electronic starter pistols that provided the runners with both a visual and sound signal: 閃光と音で知らせる. I have learned the word 閃光・せんこう last week while listening to a Tenniscoats song!

In 1932, Omega was the only brand to produce watches with technology such as スプリットセコンド機能 and to offer a high level of reliability concerning the accuracy: 正確で信頼度の高い. Since 1932, Omega has polished 磨き上げる・みがきあげる the precision with which we can record Olympics’ performances. For example, the touchpad for swimmers that was also mentioned in our Asahi article has been introduced by Omega during the London Olympics in 2012.

Finally, Discover Japan says that we can expect new exciting systems by Omega for the Tokyo Olympics:

東京大会においてもオメガらしい、ワクワクするような時計システムを編み出して、大会を盛り上げてくれそうだ。

Discover Japan, September 2016, p.77

 

Book review: 日本語能力試験、模試と対策 by ASK Publishing

If you are learning Japanese, you may have come across ASK Publishing’s books more than once. They have published a lot of material to study Japanese, with some really good methods to take the JLPT. Their most famous series is certainly the So-matome series, which prepare test takers for any level. They also published 多読ライブラリー, which a fantastic series to start reading Japanese, even at a beginner level.

Today, I would like to present two books, which are 日本語能力試験、模試と対策, volume 1 and volume 2.

Each volume is composed of two complete tests, so if you buy the two books, you have 4 practice exams to do.

Structure of the book

jlpt vol1

cover of volume 1

First, each book comes with a “how to use this book” section. I don’t know why, but I really appreciate this kind of introduction. It makes me feel that the authors of the book really had a progression course in mind and want you to use their book as it was intended to. The explanations are available in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean.

Understanding the JLPT

Then, each volume takes you through the type of questions that will be asked during the exam, with sample questions. Again, the explanations are given in 4 languages. In volume 2, the explanations are more detailed, with more sample questions and strategic advice, including things you should particularly pay attention to, how you should proceed and in which order do things and so on. In volume 1 similar advice are given at the end of the separate booklet.

Two tests

jlpt vol2

cover of volume 2

Each volume provides you with two tests. If you have trouble managing your time, I recommend practising with one of these books. The book tells you what amount of time you should devote to each type of question. This is a very good way to see where you are losing time and check if you are quick enough on the “language knowledge” questions to be sure to have enough time left for the “reading” section.

The book also has a “tag” system to easily find a part or know where you are when taking the practice test.

Listening script, answers, score, explanations and answer sheets

Note: In volume 1, the listening scripts are provided at the end of the book. In volume 2, they are incorporated in the answers’ explanations, in the separate booklet.

Each book has a separate booklet with answers, explanations and a table to calculate your score. I like to be able to calculate my score for each part because I can compare it to the results I got when I took the JLPT N2 in July and see if I made progress or not.

Then, the booklet goes through each question with detailed explanations. To me, this is by far the greatest advantage of these books. There is nothing more frustrating than to check the answer, see that we did wrong, but not understanding why. The explanations provided in these two books are clear and go to the point. I never had difficulties understanding why my answer was wrong after reading them. I also appreciate having these explanations in English (they are also written in Japanese, Chinese and Korean) because even if I could understand them in Japanese, it would take me more time and maybe even discourage me from reading them at all. After studying with the Shin Kanzen series, where everything is in Japanese, reading English explanations is quite a relief!

Finally, advice and strategies are given at the end of the separate booklet in volume 1, whereas in volume 2, similar advice was integrated into the part that presented the different question types.

I almost forgot, but each book comes with 2 audio CDs, one for each test. They are not mp3 files, which I find convenient because I can play them directly on my CD player without using my computer. It may sound strange, but I feel more in “exams conditions” in this way. I can remove my phone and my computer from my desk, play the audio and resist the temptation to play a track two times.

Conclusion

books_n2

JLPT Official Practice Workbook N2

If you are looking for practice exams, these two books are a good choice because they provide detailed explanations for the answers. On the website of the JLPT, you can find references for JLPT Official Practice Workbooks. Their advantage is to have a decent price, but if you can afford one of the two ASK books (1,600 yen each), I would opt for this choice because the JLPT Official Practice Workbook has no explanations whatsoever relative to the answers. It’s useful to test yourself and see what score you can achieve, but without explanations, it is hard to understand one’s mistake and thus, progress. Plus, having two tests instead of one allows you to see if you progressed or not.

As for which one to pick, I would say that the contents are the same but I find the structure of volume 2 a little more practical. It’s best to have the strategies and advice together with the questions presentation and the listening script together with the answers’ detailed explanations.

JLPT practice exams and drills

The more I study for the JLPT, the more I feel that I already gained a lot by studying all the Shin Kanzen series books (almost finished!) and that this reward is more important than actually pass the JLPT.

But passing the JLPT with a good score (did I say “perfect” at the time? 😳) was a goal I set for myself in August, so I am still working hard to achieve it.

Now that I have almost completed all the Shin Kanzen books, I can focus on practising. I use several books, all by ASK publishing, the publisher of the So-Matome series, another very good series to prepare for the JLPT. There are 4 practice books that I recommend for N2 (links go to the publisher’s website):

The first two books are composed of 30 sessions of “drills”, that is, typical JLPT questions concerning the “vocabulary” part for the first book, and the “grammar” part for the second book.

The last two books are each composed of two complete tests with answers and detailed explanations.

Benefits of practice

The first reason why I bought practice exams was to get used to the JLPT structure and questions type. But in fact, the benefits are much bigger than just getting prepared for the test.

Grammar

Grammar is my weakest point. (I thought it was listening, but it is grammar). I still have to study a lot because if I were to take the test today, I would score enough in the grammar part to pass, but not enough to be proud of myself.

There are still a lot of grammar I mix up. Typically, grammar points that look similar, for example, those with either こと or もの. My strategy was to read regularly example sentences for each grammar of N2. But I realise that doing practice tests is less boring and more efficient. This is how I practise the grammar drills of the book listed above:

  • First, I do the exercises without help and see how many questions I can answer with confidence.
  • Then, I go through the questions for which I wasn’t sure again, but this time I can use my grammar book. I note my new answer under the first one.
  • I check the answers. Usually, if the first answer was wrong, the second is right (the one I picked while looking at my grammar book).
  • If answers are still wrong, I correct myself with the grammar book.

You might say that there is no point in making drills with the grammar book available. But I am still learning while practising. Because I had to actively look for the grammar point in my book to answer a particular question, I tend to remember it better than by just reading it again and again.

Vocabulary and Kanji

I always think that there is not much to do about vocabulary. There is a certain amount of words one can remember per day. Then, it is just a question of how many days remain before the test.

I tend to have a Confucian attitude concerning vocabulary, what I know, I know, and what I don’t know, I don’t know. And the day of the test, there is nothing I can do against it. I don’t know a lot of onomatopoeia for instance, but so it is. Anyway, every time I come across a word I didn’t know in an exercise, I add it to my Anki deck.

Reading

I feel confident with reading. At least, I feel confident that I will understand what I read, but I am sometimes puzzled by the questions and the choice of answers provided.

For example, one question was “what do you need to reserve the meeting room?”. The right answer was the one with the documents one needs to provide when making a reservation. But the text also stated that only such and such persons could make a reservation. Among the answers was one which contained the documents need + being so or so (namely, the requirements to be able to use the room). I picked this one because to reserve the room you have to be either so or so. But it was the wrong answer.

Listening

I improved myself considerably in this area! I am very happy because I did put some extra efforts on listening and I feel that it paid off. I already made a complete test in more or less real exam conditions. I was surprised to see that I could understand quite well the audio but there is still a big problem concerning the listening part: I can’t concentrate. I can concentrate well when reading for a long time in a foreign language, but definitively not when listening. Only hearing 男の人と女の人が話しています makes me feel drowsy. As I am sure that the heater will be turned on to the maximum in the classroom where I will sit the exam, it won’t help.

I also must underline that the Shin Kanzen book helped me considerably to take notes while listening. It was a challenge at first, but I got used to it and I could answer the last questions of N2, which I usually fail because I could not take notes properly. For example, I found the last question impossible to answer. The last question of N2 is a long dialogue: First, someone presents 4 different things, for example, 4 different menus in a restaurant. Then a boy and a girl discuss what menu each of them will take. The question is always, what will take the boy, what will take the girl. Because I couldn’t take notes quickly enough, I was never able to answer this question. Now I find it very easy, just because I can take notes more efficiently.

Conclusion

If you are preparing for the JLPT, don’t neglect the benefits of practising tests. I think that one should do at least one complete practice exam before the test, just to get familiar with the JLPT question types and see how to manage one’s time. But, if you can, I recommend doing more exercises, particularly for the parts that are the most difficult to you. I, myself, will go on practising, especially grammar of course, and make the best of the three remaining weeks!

 

Japanese song: Baibaba Bimba by Tenniscoats

Today is a cloudy day, with big grey clouds crawling over grey buildings. It looks like a perfect day to listen to Tenniscoats’ old songs and feel both melancholic and creative.

There are not much lyrics, only a few lines:

ある暖かい閃光の上
その匂い瞬くんだ
足元かける
またでかい水蒸気なんだと

I had to check three words because I didn’t know their pronunciation. 閃光・せんこう is a glint of light, 瞬く・またたく means “to wink” and 水蒸気・すいじょうき is “vapour”, “steam”. I think she sings “いい匂いして” or something like that, instead of what is written above.

When she drums on the guitar, the guitarist says something that could be マイクが入っているよ…?? I am really not sure, I should stop watching YouTube videos and do some listening exercises for the JLPT 😫! But I find this kind of calm and repetitive song perfect to listen to while studying, especially on a cloudy November day.

Anyway, I will not venture in a translation of these lines and leave you with the images or feelings it evokes to you.

Reading notes: 舟を編む, part 3

These are my reading notes for the third chapter of 舟を編む with the new characters appearing in this part.

I have started reading Yukio Mishima’s Temple of the Golden Pavilion before beginning this third chapter and I must say that, compared to Mishima’s work, 舟を編む seems incredibly easy! I remember saying that it was a challenging book to me, but compared to the efforts I must do to read Mishima, reading 舟を編む has become a relaxed activity!

In part 3, we will follow Nishioka and learn more about him. (Part 1 was focused on Araki and part 2 on Majime).

Characters

四日市洋子・よつかいちようこ

Yoko is working at the sales department of the publishing house. She is a friend of Nishioka and the first to mention Majime to him.

三好麗美・みよしれみ

Nishioka’s girlfriend. They have a loose relationship.

愛人弁当の教授

A professor specialised in Middle Ages. He provides Nishioka with specialised words related to Medieval literature.

 

Notes

p.125 天パ

I knew the word 天然パーマ which means “naturally curly hair” but I could not figure out what 天パ was, although the characters were talking about Majime’s hair! Sometimes, it’s best to take a break and come back to the book with a rested head.

p.129 こだわり

Nishioka remembers being scolded by Araki concerning the word こだわり which should not be used other than with a negative meaning. こだわり means “obsession with sth”, “fixation about sth”. This is a pejorative meaning. But, my dictionary also gives another meaning, positive this time: “a determination to get things right”, “care”, “concern”. Concerning this second usage of the word, Araki acknowledges its existence but says that it is a wrong usage 誤用・ごよう (misuse). To Araki, こだわり’s original meaning is 拘泥・こうでい, which means “worry too much”, “be overscrupulous about”.

I have no doubt that Araki is right, but the second meaning (the positive one) of the word こだわり did enter the dictionary at some point…

p.131 おませ and おしゃま

おませ and おしゃま both mean a “precocious child” but おませ can be used both for a girl and a boy whereas おしゃま is used only for precocious girls.

p. 158 西行・さいぎょう

One of the words provided by the professor specialised in Middle Ages literature is about 西行・さいぎょう, a renowned Japanese poet of the Heian period. The professor evokes the poem 願わくは花の下にて春死なんそのきさらぎの望月のころ, which I found on the English Wikipedia page of Saigyo. As you can see, there is a slight difference between the version found in my novel and the one on the Wikipedia page. I don’t know enough about ancient Japanese poetry to explain this difference.

 

p.163 – 168

Further discussing 西行 Majime and Nishioka evoke several words related to 西行. 西行 first meaning is obviously the poet Saigyo. But Majime and Nishioka ask themselves if this word can also have other meanings and be used as a noun rather than a name.

As I have recently posted about having an electronic dictionary, I would like to note that the different meanings of 西行 were present in the 日本語国大辞典 that I have on my device. This is an example of how useful it can be to have a good dictionary when reading a novel with literary contents or references.

富士見 and 不死身

不死身 and 富士見 both share the same pronunciation: ふじみ. 富士見 means “looking at Mont Fuji” and 不死身 means “immortality”. Because of the paintings 絵姿・えすがた representing Saigyo looking at Mont Fuji (富士見をしている西行さん), the word 西行 can mean “immortality” (“不死身”をしている西行さん).

遍歴する人、流れ者

Because Saigyo travelled to various provinces 諸国・しょこく,  the word 西行 is used to describe someone who travels around 遍歴・へんれき, a wanderer, an itinerant 流れ者・ながれもの.

The meaning of these two words derived from Saigyo’s name is explained by Majime, but I have also checked my electronic dictionary, and more precisely the 日本語国大辞典, just to be sure. What is funny is that Nishioka, who didn’t know these meanings, checked the same dictionary in the novel and has to admit that Majime is right.

タニシ

According to Majime and the 日本語国大辞典, the word 西行 has the meaning of “タニシ” which means “river snails”. According to the dictionary, this comes from Saigyo’s habit of walking around 歩き回る.

西行桜・さいぎょうさくら

西行桜 is the name of a piece of Nogaku 能楽, a form of traditional Japanese theatre.

西行被・さいぎょうかずき

This word comes from the picture representing Saigyo watching the Mont Fuji. 西行かずき means wearing one’s hat on the back of one’s head. The “hat” is, in fact, a 笠・かさ here, a conical straw hat. In fact, there is another word to say “wearing one’s hat on the back of one’s head”, namely: 阿弥陀被り・あみだかぶり. This word comes from  Amida (Amitabha). One can also say (帽子を) あみだにかぶる, using に as if it were an adverb.

西行背負い・さいぎょうじよい

Carrying a furoshiki 風呂敷包み diagonally across one’s back.

西行忌・さいぎょうき

This is simply the anniversary of Saigyo’s death.

But, as Nishioka remarks, from all these definitions, only the first two should enter the 大渡海. Both 西行被 and 西行背負い’s meaning can be easily guessed or understood. Same for 西行忌. As for 西行桜, it can be understood from the context because it will surely appear in a conversation about Nogaku. タニシ cannot be guessed, but as Nishioka says, nobody uses the word 西行 to say “snail” anymore.

On the contrary, both the meaning of 不死身 and 遍歴する人、流れ者 cannot be guessed from the word 西行. The only way to know these meaning is to look up the word 西行 in a dictionary.

Conclusion

I enjoyed reading this part very much.  As the focalisation was not on Majime but on Nishioka, I found this part to be very different from the previous one. In part two, we get to know what Majime thinks and how he sees Nishioka. Here, we learn who Nishioka really is, how he thinks, and how he sees Majime. Changing point of view confers a deepness to the novel that was not present in the film (mainly focused on Majime). It’s great to see the making of a dictionary through different protagonist’ eyes.

And if you are curious about the painting 富士見西行 (source):

How I chose my electronic dictionary and why I love it

The idea to buy an electronic dictionary never crossed my mind until I read this post from Kotobites some time ago. I knew that electronic dictionaries were popular in Japan and I even had one Casio when I was studying Chinese.

What is strange is that, although I still hadn’t found a satisfactory dictionary app to use on my phone, I never considered acquiring an electronic dictionary…

Anyway, after considering the pros and cons of an electronic dictionary, I knew that I needed one. It took me a lot of time to make my way through the extensive choice of dictionaries available in Japan. As I owned a Casio years ago and was very satisfied with it, I decided to go for a Casio this time too and didn’t even bother checking the other brands.

This is a review of my dictionary and how I chose it. Since I bought it, I am using it all the time and never consulted any other app or online dictionary.

Note: This post is long, but I wanted to note all the information I would have liked to have myself when I began searching for the best dictionary. There was a moment when I thought I wanted to buy an electronic dictionary, but I wasn’t sure whether I would really use it or not. I was afraid to put a lot of money in it and finally continue using my phone and the Internet. I had this concern because I couldn’t find detailed explanations about the practical use of the device (even Casio’s commercial video were not convincing to me). Was it really so handy? Could I buy one without the lower screen to write kanji? etc. If you feel like you need an electronic dictionary but still have doubts, I hope this can help you.

How I chose it?

Step 1: English reviews

Once I realised that I needed an electronic dictionary, I read what I could find about electronic dictionaries online, and the most important information I drew out from my research was: the best Japanese-English dictionary on an electronic device is the 新和英大辞典 edited by 研究社. I confirm that this dictionary is very complete and useful.

Step 2: Casio website

Then, I headed to Casio homepage, and that’s when I got my first source of consternation: so many choices? And they launch new models every year? It took me some time, but I compared the models I thought might suit me and decided which dictionaries I wanted to have no matter what. This is the list I made:

  • Japanese-Japanese:
    • 広辞苑 第六版
  • Japanese-English:
    • 新和英大辞典第五版
  • English-English:
    • オックスフォード現代英英辞典(第9版)Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

And then, I saw that some dictionaries had:

  • オックスフォード類語辞典(第2版)Oxford Thesaurus of English
  • オックスフォード連語辞典 Oxford Collocations Dictionary
  • オックスフォードイディオム辞典 Oxford Idioms
  • オックスフォード句動詞辞典 Oxford Phrasal Verbs

And I knew I had to have them all!

As I continued my research, I came to the conclusion that the best dictionary was the “professional” model, which is the most complete, I think. Models for high-school students were good candidates too, but they were packed with TOEIC training material and dictionaries about school stuff that I would not have used and had fewer choices regarding the Japanese-Japanese offer.

So, the dictionary I was aiming at was the XD-G200000 (2017 version)… but, you don’t get to see the price on Casio’s website!

Step 3: Amazon Japan

As I am not living in Japan, I thought that the best way to get an electronic dictionary was to order it via Amazon. That’s when I realised that the XD-G20000 was not only very expensive but also not shipped to my country… I thought I had to start from scratch again. That’s when I realised that the last year “professional” model (XD-Y20000) was available on Amazon and could be shipped via Amazon Global. Other good news: it was 100 dollars cheaper than this year’s model.

I checked for 2016’s model on Casio website and could see almost no difference between the two models (last year’s and this year’s). I also read almost all the comments posted on both dictionaries on Amazon. As they were all written in Japanese, I took it as a good opportunity to train my reading skills. It appeared that some criticism concerning the 2017’s model was motivated by the fact that only minor changes were added and that it didn’t differ much from last year product (apparently, some people do buy a new electronic dictionary every year…).

I found a very negative critic concerning last year’s product, and it scared me a little. But reading the comment in details allowed me to exclude it as irrelevant to me.

Note: I don’t know how Amazon works but I have just checked out the page, and my dictionary is now 48,000 yen but I bought it for 35,000 yen some months ago… Maybe you should frequently check out the prices as they may vary depending on the seller.

About the device

No lower screen to write kanji?

What really made me think twice before buying the 2016’s product is that it had no lower screen to write kanji. In fact, Casio has removed entirely this feature from all its recent models. This means that if I wanted to have a lower screen I had to buy an older model. I considered it for some time, but I couldn’t find a dictionary that would suit me and could be shipped internationally.

I knew that one could write kanji directly on the upper screen, but I was worried it might not be as functional as the lower screen.

However, if Casio had suppressed this feature altogether, it might be as well to trust the maker.

Now that I have been using my newly acquired dictionary for some time, I can say that the disappearance of the lower screen is nothing to worry about. Here are some reasons why:

  1. You can write the kanji on the upper screen in every dictionary with Japanese entries. You can even write kanji on the “home” page, which will do a cross search through all dictionaries.
  2. It recognises the kanji I write almost all the time, and I am using the Chinese stroke order, not the Japanese one. They are slightly different, but it does not discomfit my dictionary (you do have to trace it stroke by stroke, though, don’t try your calligraphic skills).
  3. There are two “boxes” so you can start writing your second kanji in the second box while the dictionary is computing the first one. Then, you can use the first box again, which emptied itself while you were using the second box, to write a third kanji if needed. When you finish, just click some kind of “okay” button. ⭐If you realise that, for example, your dictionary got the first kanji wrong, but you have already written your entire word of 3 or 4 kanji, you don’t need to erase the whole word! Just touch the wrong kanji with your pen and your dictionary will present you similar kanji from which you can choose. No matter if it is the first, second, last kanji of the word. This is a fantastic feature that allows the user to save time and avoid frustration.
  4. I was afraid that one may have to select the writing panel every time one wants to write with the pen. It would have been a minus compared to the lower screen that was always available. But here again, a wonderful feature: ⭐ the dictionary remembers that you used the panel and will automatically propose it whenever you return to the dictionary. Turning off the machine won’t erase that memory.
  5. The panel to write the kanji is big enough, it takes half of the screen. This is a good point compared to the lower screen which is smaller.

Conclusion: I would say that the lower screen is a little more comfortable because it is more stable (from what I remember from my previous Chinese dictionary). But writing on the upper screen is not as uncomfortable as one might think, and the bigger panel makes up for the lack of stability. Personally, I don’t mind writing kanji on the upper screen, and the various features listed above makes it even easier to use.

Other cool features that I am using

There are a lot of features in this dictionary, but the ones I am really using are:

Start typing your research while still in a word’s “card”

When you do a research, you are presented with a list of results. If you want to get a closer look at a word, you can select one result and enter this word’s “card”. Now, if you want to search for another word, you don’t need to go back to the “search” screen, just type your new word while still in the old word’s definition card, the search will begin automatically.

Cross-search

This is the greatest feature of the dictionary to me. Instead of selecting one dictionary, just enter your word on the “home” page. It will give you the result for all the dictionaries installed on your device.

I am using it to slowly get used to consulting a Japanese-Japanese dictionary. If I were using my phone, I would never do it. The reason is simple: I know that there is a big probability that I would not understand the definition in Japanese. With my phone, it would mean making two different types of research in two different apps.

Having an electronic dictionary solves the problem. If you cross-search a word, first look at the definition in Japanese and, in case you don’t understand it, scroll until you find an English definition.

⭐ In fact, you don’t even need to scroll until you find an English translation. When cross-searching, the first results will be the main Japanese-Japanese dictionaries. I first look at these definitions. Then, you can use the shortcut button at the top of the keyboard to directly go to the Kenkyusha New Japanese-English dictionary. You don’t need to enter the word again. It also works in the other direction. If you choose to look up a word in a dictionary and then think that you would have liked cross-search results, just press the “home” button without re-entering your word.

Jump function

When reading a word definition, if there is a word you don’t understand, you can easily jump to this word’s definition. Of course, you can return very easily to your first word.

This function is useful when trying to read a Japanese definition, but if English is not your mother tongue, you will find it even more useful. When I look up a Japanese word that I don’t know in a Japanese-English dictionary and that I realise that I don’t know the English words given in the English definition… it really ruins my day, I can tell you.

⭐ You can choose a “priority” dictionary for the jump function. I chose the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary because I mainly use the jump function to look up English words.

Words deck

You can take notes, save words in a deck, attach post-it and do memorising cards. The only feature that I frequently use is the possibility to save words in a deck. When I read a novel and see an interesting word worth remembering, I won’t stop my reading to enter the word in my Anki deck. I only save it for later in the deck provided by my dictionary and check it once a week to add these words to my Anki repertoire.

Easy search

From the menu, I can access an “easy search” area where I can enter up to 3 Japanese words to find example sentences in English. This is mainly aimed at Japanese who want to know how to express things in English by searching through the example sentences of their dictionary. But I found a very useful way of using this feature, which is when I am looking up idiomatic expressions. For example, if I want to know the meaning of 心が広い, I would have to decide whether I search for 心 or 広い and then, scroll through the whole definition (which is quite long for words like 心) to find the expression. By using the “easy search”, I enter both 心 and 広い, and I will get all the example sentences in Japanese and English that contain both words.

Other little things that I like

You can personalise the home page with 5 favourite dictionaries. I put there the whole Oxford family because I use them often.

When the dictionary turns off, it doesn’t lose any memory or history. When I turn it on, it automatically starts where I stopped. Even if I was in the middle of a “jump” activity, I can go back to the previous word. It’s more like a “sleeping mode”. It may be a detail, but it makes using the dictionary very much pleasant

Among the shortcut button on top of the keyboard figure the Kenkyusha’s Japanese-English dictionary, which is the dictionary I use more often. I am glad they put it in the shortcuts! Another button devoted to English can be personalised. I configured it with my beloved Oxford Thesaurus ❤

As the dictionary aim at Japanese learning English, there is a fantastic feature concerning pronunciation: whenever you are in a definition in English, you can press the “voice” button and select any word or combination of words that will be read out loud. I am aware that this feature does not interest English native speaker, but for people like me (to whom English pronunciation is the most esoteric thing in the world) it can be very helpful!

Bonus

Having an electronic dictionary allowed me to definitively expelled my phone out of my desk. Before, I had to keep my phone, because it was my dictionary. I used the “traditional Chinese handwriting input” of my iPhone to look up kanji words on the internet (why they have a handwriting input for Chinese and not for Japanese, I would like to know). Then, you certainly know what happens. You reach for your phone to look up a word and realise you got this notification… without knowing how it happened, 20 minutes have disappeared and the time you had to study is almost over.

When I want to read a challenging novel that requires efforts, I know that my mind would be more than willing to escape this strain if my phone solicits me, so it’s best not to have it around.

About the dictionaries

新和英大辞典第五版

I am massively using the 新和英大辞典第五版 which is one of the best Japanese-English dictionaries according to many.

Online dictionaries and apps are so popular, easy to use and often free that I forgot the undeniable superiority of a dictionary edited by a renown publisher. Now that I am using the Kyudansha dictionary, I really can tell the difference, and I am still baffled, every time I use it, by its quality.

The definition is very thorough, the dictionary gives English equivalent words for every situation in which the word can be used. With a less complete dictionary, you may have only two or three equivalent English words, when in fact, the Japanese word you are looking up can have more meanings depending on the situation in which it is used.

Another thing that is worth noting is the presence of Japanese definition among the English one to clarify the context in which the word can be used. For example, the word 見込む’s first meaning will be:

予想する expect, anticipate, calculate; 算出する estimate; 勘定に入れる allow for (damage) (…); 当てにする rely on…

This is just an extract of the definition, but it shows you how Japanese words are included in the English definition. I guess it helps Japanese to understand in which context the word can be used, but to us Japanese learners, it is a way to start reading Japanese definition.

Last but not least, the example sentences are very useful. They are not just random sentences that contain the word you are looking up and that are picked up from the web, they show how the word is most widely used. I often come across the same kind of sentences in my dictionary and my JLPT books.

Using Japanese-Japanese dictionaries

I really felt the need to use Japanese-Japanese dictionaries when I started reading challenging book like 舟を編む or 金閣寺. These are the kind of books that contain words unknown from an English-Japanese dictionary. Moreover, an English-Japanese dictionary will usually show the kanji that is or are used nowadays. But if you read a novel that was written 50 years before, the kanji used at the time may be different. This is the case for Yukio Mishima’s Temple of the Golden Pavillon. The Japanese-Japanese dictionaries always give all the kanji that can be used for a given word.

English dictionaries

If English is not your mother tongue, you will certainly make the most of these dictionaries. I have the Oxford series which contains a dictionary for collocations, one for idioms and one for phrasal verbs. Needless to say that they are extremely useful to any English learner.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is, I think, present in most Casio dictionaries. I use it all the time, and I configured it to be the first result when I use the function “jump” in an English definition.

But most of all, I love the Oxford Thesaurus. I would certainly not need it if I weren’t writing my blog in English. To anyone who is writing in English (even English native speaker), the Thesaurus can really become your best friend. The Thesaurus provides you with an impressive list of synonyms for any word. Here again, you can use the “jump” function to verify the meaning and way of using a word in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.

Conclusion

I have been using my electronic dictionary for some time now (I already changed the battery twice) and, emphatically, I want to say that it changed my life 🤩

Something recently struck me about buying devices that can be easily replaced by your phone. I read several times, on different WordPress blogs, that bloggers who take photographs were more than happy to have bought a professional camera. For someone who only takes pictures occasionally, the camera of any smartphone is more than enough. I would certainly not feel the need to buy an extra camera when my phone can take such gorgeous pictures. But I definitively understand why some people do.

Buying an electronic dictionary is similar to buying a camera. Apps and internet dictionaries are more than enough for casual use, but if learning Japanese is your passion and if you read a lot of novels in Japanese, buying an electronic dictionary is not superfluous, in my opinion.

Thank you for reading!

Japanese News: Looking for suicide partner on Twitter

You probably have heard of Takahiro Shiraishi and the murder case that stroke Japan this week. Takahiro Shiraishi killed 9 people, among whom persons who were looking for a suicide partner on Twitter. Far from committing suicide with his victims, he killed them and hid their bodies in his apartment.

Today’s news article is a rather long one, published on Asahi this morning. I will only study some parts of it and try to focus on information less generally conveyed in English sources.

Link to the article

First of all, some vocabulary relative to suicide that I found in the article.

  • 自殺志願者・じさつしがんしゃ: 志願者 means “candidate”. 自殺志願者 means someone who wants to commit suicide.
  • 自殺募集・じさつぼしゅう: 募集 means “recruiting”. 自殺募集 is a hashtag on Twitter for people looking for suicide partners.
  • 自殺仲間・じさつなかま: suicide partner
  • 自殺未遂・じさつみすい: suicide attempt

The article mainly focuses on the case and on how people who want to commit suicide 自殺を望む人 use Twitter to find partners, through the hashtag 自殺募集.

This problem didn’t appear with Twitter. In 2005, a man killed three people he met via a “suicide website” 自殺サイト. The murderer was sentenced to death: 死刑が執行されました (死刑・しけい: death penalty), and the police reinforced the suppression 削除・さくじょ of harmful information 有害情報 enticing 誘引・ゆういん people to suicide. Even if the number of reports concerning such misleading information sites decreased, it seems that people tend to use Twitter instead, where they can escape other’s notice 他人の目が届きにくい.

Another point of interest mentioned in the article is that posting 投稿・とうこう any tweet hinting at ほのめかす suicide goes against 違反 Twitter’s rule. When a tweet suggesting a suicide desire is discovered, Twitter Japan will usually contact the specialised organisations 専門機関 to get the author of the tweet assistance. But it is hard to examine the huge mass of tweets, and there are restrictions concerning direct messages.

Takahiro Shiraishi created 開設・かいせつ his Twitter account in September. He used to send messages to people looking for suicide such as:

縄の結びさえ間違えなければ、未遂にはならないでしょう

source

さえ is a grammar which means that if this condition is fulfilled, the rest should not be a problem. It is often used with the verb form ば, which is used to express conditions. We can translate Shiraishi’s tweet literally as “as long as the rope’s knot isn’t incorrect, it would not be a failed attempt”.

He also tweeted about people holding the painful thought of failing one’s suicide and how he wanted to be the force of those people.

This case gives a lot to think about… the fact that people are ready to follow a complete stranger met on Twitter to not die alone is quite disturbing…

Korean resources: “日本語ジャーナル” by publisher Darakwon

As you can imagine, Koreans have a lot of different materials to learn Japanese. Books of course, but also radio programs and even magazines. In this article, I would like to present a Korean monthly magazine published by Darakwon and entitled: 일본어 저널 or in Japanese 日本語ジャーナル.

I sincerely don’t know how one can buy this magazine outside of Korea, but I think that it can be ordered via Gmarket. I saw that some issues were available for international shipping, but I never tried it myself.

Magazines to learn languages seem to be a little outdated, with all the resources one can find online. Nevertheless, I love 日本語ジャーナル and buy it every month. I like the contents, the presentation and having new material coming every month is an excellent reminder to study.

Some features of the magazine

日本語ジャーナル is aimed at Koreans, so some contents are in Korean. I would say that about a fourth of the whole magazine is written in Korean. It mainly concerns articles about Japanese travel destinations.

The rest of the magazine is composed of articles written in Japanese with different level of difficulty. They are provided with a Korean translation, and some difficult words are also given in Korean at the end of each article. No need to say that, if you are learning both Korean and Japanese this magazine allows you to kill two birds with one stone.

Among the rubrics in Japanese that come back each month, you will find an article about:

  • One aspect of Kyoto
  • A Japanese belief or superstition
  • Illustrated words around a different theme each month
  • A film extract
  • A traditional Japanese tale (to be continued on several issues)
  • A trendy topic in Japan
  • One Japanese festival
  • One Japanese mascot
  • Two keywords

There is also a whole part of the magazine devoted to learning Japanese. You will find all sorts of materials, including grammar, kanji, onomatopoeia, JLPT tests, etc. to study Japanese pleasantly.

Why I love this magazine

The magazine comes with a CD, and even though all Japanese articles are not provided with an audio version, many of them are. It’s a great source of listening material.

The contents of the articles allow me to know more about Japanese culture and contemporary topics, it is especially valuable for people like me who are not living in Japan (and never have).The section “keywords” and the “trendy topic” are particularly interesting because they present some notable, strange or interesting things like “死後離婚”, “歩きスマホ事故”,  “一分動画” or even “プラスチップの盆栽”.

There are different levels of difficulty, but even the “easy” articles are interesting and bring worth remembering words and expressions. I personally enjoy reading every article, no matter the level. In each article, the furigana are given only the first time a word appears.

Every issue comes with a film extract. To be more precise, there are several extracts from the same film. On the CD, you will find extracts of the film itself (not just the script read by someone). To me, this is by far the most difficult and challenging part. Without reading the script, I could not understand what is said. Working with these extracts is the first step to understanding Japanese films without subtitles. It also gives ideas concerning films that just came out in Japan that you may want to see.

Conclusion

More than anything, I think that the regularity, the assurance to have a new magazine every month is the greatest feature of interest in a monthly magazine. It helps boost my motivation by giving me fresh and new material to read on a regular basis.

I don’t know if there are other similar magazines to learn Japanese published in other countries. I heard of “Hiragana Times”, but I think that the purpose of it is different, though I am not sure. Don’t hesitate to let me know if you know of any other magazine to learn Japanese!

In any case, magazines have a big potential when it comes to language learning: they provide you with new contents every month, and each new issue brings a whole pack of motivation, inspiration and energy!