How to start writing in Japanese

One of my goals for November is to write in Japanese every day for a month. I have been thinking about how to write in a foreign language if you don’t have a native to correct you, and I thought that I would write about it today.

If you are like me, writing is not as much difficult than discouraging. You take the grammar and the vocabulary you know, build your sentences, and while you don’t really struggle to write, you end up full of doubts and incertitudes: “what I wrote does not sound Japanese”, “it sounds like an example sentence, but I doubt whether a native would say that”, “is it even correct?”, “why do I keep using the same grammar over and over again?” and so on.

A method to write in English

To begin with, I would like to present a book I find truly inspiring. Originally, it is a book for Japanese who learn English and is called 『Q&A Diary 英語で3行日記』. This book was translated into Korean for Koreans who learn English and this is the version I have and will talk about. Sorry if it is confusing, but the version I have does not matter, as it is the method described in the book that interests me.

(Reference for the Korean version: 하루3줄 영어 일기, ALC 편집부 (지음), 정은희 (옮김), 한빛비즈.)

The purpose of this book is to help you write in English every day for a year. The book has 365 pages of prompts:

This is how the pages look like. The prompts are very varied from “describe how your room looks right now”, to “what is your favourite book?”, “what surprised you the most today” or “what do you hate being asked?”. All in all, I find them inspiring enough.

On the page, you have the prompt in the form of a question, a model in English with its translation in Korean, and some vocabulary related to the theme that you could use for your writing.

In the introduction, the author explains how to use this book depending on your level:

  • Beginners: just copy the text given as an example. Take the opportunity to note down the vocabulary you didn’t know if there is any.
  • Intermediate: use the structure given in the example and change some words and expressions.
  • Advanced: write your own text.

The first image shows how you can just copy the example. The second one highlights the words and expressions that have been changed. The third one shows a completely different text. (sorry for the quality of the pictures)

(Note: If you can find the Japanese version of the book, I guess you could use it to write in Japanese instead of English, using the translation of the example as a starting point? I don’t know if the Japanese translations sound natural in Japanese or if they stay too close to the English.)

How to use this method for Japanese

The first thing to do is to find a text in Japanese that would act as the example given in the book. You could use any material like a book or a textbook. I personally recommend using content that is updated regularly, like a blog written in Japanese. For example, if you follow someone who updates their blog twice a week, you could also decide to write in Japanese these same days. Also, I recommend choosing a blog or anything else that is about one of your passions or sphere of interest.

(I personally use two sources:

  • First, I use the column that Shigesato ITOI writes every day on his site ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞.
  • When I find the column too difficult or I don’t feel inspired by it, I head to the Hobonichi store and read the news written by the team working on the hobonichi techo (it is called “手帳チームNews”). These articles are usually very easy to read and always a source of inspiration to me!

I use these two related contents because I always enjoy reading Shigesato ITOI, I love stationery, I love the hobonichi techo, and I could write about it every day.

More recently, I have discovered the blog 猫な日本語 by author Yumi SHIMIZU. Her blog is updated three times a week, it is about daily life, cats and Japanese.)

The text you found will replace the prompts. The idea is to write about what the text is about.

Then, just apply the method. You can start by just writing down the text as it is. In this case, don’t just copy it word after word, but try to remember the whole sentence so that you can write it down entirely without having to check it halfway. It will help you remember the structures and grammar pattern. While doing this may sound too easy, it has more benefits than you think. You will get familiar with the way that different things are expressed in Japanese, you will gain confidence and you will practice your kanji!

The second step is to re-write the text replacing words by others, then replacing a whole expression, or even a whole sentence. This will bring you to the point where you will do the opposite: you will write your own text and use expressions and words from the original text in your writing.

Another similar method would be to summarise the text, especially if it is long. Here again, start by selecting the most important sentences of the text and write them down. When you gain confidence, you can start linking these key sentences differently, and ultimately, write your own summary of the text.

Things to keep in mind

In any case, try to use in your writing the words, expressions and grammar patterns you find in the original text. This will widen the range of expressions ready at hand, that you can use without even think about it. Even if you copy the text as it is, underline the expressions you find useful and would like to use by your own later.

As I said in the introduction, one of the most discouraging things to me is the feeling that I always use the same vocabulary and grammar, I always say the same things, it seems that I am trapped in a sphere of limited vocabulary and expressions. Finding inspiration in others’ writing is the best way to get out of my sphere and collect, little by little, new ways of expressing myself. It takes time, and it is not easy to measure the progress, but copying natives will increase the number of patterns and words you feel confident in using.


The method described in the book is so flexible that anyone can start writing in a foreign language. No matter what your level is, whether you can or cannot have a correction, nothing stops you from starting right now, by simply copying a text written in your target language!

Impersonation and language learning

Today’s post is about speaking, which is rare on my blog! What triggered it is this video I found on YouTube:

It was a commercial, and for once, I didn’t skip it after 5 seconds. This Korean guy learns English by doing impersonations of Sherlock Holmes from the series by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.

I always feel excited to see how many different approaches and methods people use to learn a language. I never used this one before, in any language that I have learned, but it looks fun and effective.

I have heard about the shadowing method too but never tried it myself. If I understood correctly, shadowing means that you speak a text together with the original audio (?). What I did do, however, is to listen to a dialogue and repeat it alone, trying to get as close as possible from the original.

What this guy does is a little different. He does not only learn the text by heart and repeat it at original speed, but he also tries to impersonate the character, like an actor. This means that you won’t just repeat the text like a robot, but try to play it, with the right tone, the emotions and even the facial expressions of the actor. I think that this slight difference plays a big role in the effectiveness of this method.

When you speak a foreign language, don’t you sometimes feel like you are acting, playing a role that is not really you? To be more precise, don’t you feel that you need to be acting in order to speak well? This is how I feel. Being just me, I would speak in an inaudible voice, mumbling grammar points and vocabulary and turn red at my accent. But if I tell myself that I am just an actor playing the role of an English native speaker (or any other language), I can get rid of my inhibition, or at least, a part of it.

Also, I think that impersonating a character you like is the best way to get a good intonation and speak like a native speaker. Maybe not as well as a native speaker (you might still have an accent), but with the mimics, the particularities of a native speaker. This is what Lindie Botes explains in her video (at 4:30):

Her imitation of French! Haha.

So if you want people to tell you that you speak like a native speaker, you need to imitate the native speakers’ mimics and intonation. But if you are inhibited like I am, it will be hard to do it. This is why impersonating film/series characters can be a good start. By practising this exercise over and over, it will certainly become easier and easier to speak like a native speaker.

Speaking is not my focus with Japanese right now, but I found the first video inspiring and motivating and it made me want to try the same with a Japanese movie. I am not aiming at perfection, and I don’t really want to improve my speaking, but I think it could be fun. Through it, you also learn vocabulary and practise grammar, and improve your listening too, so why not? Last but not least, it allows you to vary your language learning routine with a fun exercise that doesn’t feel like studying at all.

My new study method: the One-week challenge/immersion!

I think I got it at last! The method that suits me best to learn a language. Learning Japanese on my own has been a mess of trials and errors, of abandoned study plans and seemingly revolutionary but unrealistic study methods. But somehow, it has been fun trying different things, and designing study plans is definitely one of the reasons why I love learning things on my own.

But at last, I think that I have found a method that I can stick to, and that will help me improve my Japanese while being entertaining enough to not feel like hardcore study.

One-week challenge/immersion study method

My problem is that I regularly come up with things that I want to do on a daily basis, and of course, if these daily tasks pile up, it becomes impossible to do them all every day, and I end up dropping some of them.

As a result, I am always a little anxious because I feel that I am not doing what I should be doing. If I focus on reading, I think that I should work on grammar instead, and if I read the news, I think that I should be writing in Japanese instead…

Working on a weekly basis instead of a daily seems to suit me better: I decide on Sunday what will be next week’s topic and I stick to it during the week. I don’t need to worry about the other tasks, because they will get their week sooner or later.

Concrete examples

It might be difficult to set oneself challenges and difficult or boring tasks every week. But you can alternate challenging weeks and immersion weeks, as long as it is linked to your target language.

Examples of one-week challenge/immersion

  • Read one news article per day (translating it can be optional)
  • Read … pages in Japanese per day
  • Study 2 or 3 grammar per day
  • Write a page of a diary in Japanese
  • Watch … minutes of Japanese TV
  • Listen to 20 minutes of a podcast
  • Play a game in Japanese and write down new words you learn from it
  • Make translation exercises
  • Learn a text by heart by the end of the week (work on it every day)
  • Translate Japanese recipes and cook what you have translated
  • Talk in Japanese for … minutes and record yourself
  • Read one blog post per day on a topic you like

Instead of trying to do everything every day and end up panicking because I can’t, I will assign each task a week and record my progress in a notebook for personal accountability.

I see several benefits in this method:

  • First of all, it is not boring because each week is different from the others. The problem with doing tasks every day is that I am motivated during one or two weeks, and then every day looks the same. Focusing on a different thing every week allows your study to always feel fresh.
  • If you focus on one skill/material for one week, you will progress in this area. I mean that one week is enough to start feeling improvement. Maybe not much, but if you write in Japanese every day for seven days, you will find it less daunting by the end of the week. The quality of your writing might not have improved yet, but the act of writing in Japanese will be less intimidating and less difficult.
  • You need to focus on the task you chose for the week and stop thinking about all the other things you are not doing. If you think you should be doing another activity instead of the one you picked, just program it for the following week and free your mind from it.
  • If you write in a notebook the theme of the week and what you did each day, it will become a precious collection of your efforts and an invaluable history of your language journey. Also, your notebook works as a partner for accountability, and it will help you to not skip a day.
  • This system is highly customisable. Depending on the time you can devote to your language study in general or during a particular week, you can adjust your weekly challenge. It can be reading one page per day in Japanese as well as reading 40 pages.
  • You should not skip a week and make sure that you are always doing something in your target language. However, some weeks can be more relaxing than others. If you come from a challenging week, you can devote the next to playing games in Japanese for example. If you know one week will be particularly busy, you can focus on listening to a podcast every day while commuting or eating breakfast.

But what about building new habits?

Unfortunately, what this method does not do is helping to build new habits, because one week is not long enough. However, I am convinced that it helps to get used to doing a particular thing in our target language. If I have been reading the news in Japanese for one week, it will become something less intimidating to do, and it will be easier to open this news website in Japanese. If I spent the whole week listening to a Japanese podcast, the next time I open my app, I will be more tempted to listen to a Japanese podcast than an English one.

A word about my last Monday’s challenge

Last Monday, I tried a one-week challenge focused on reading and translating one article (mostly editorials) by Mainichi Shimbun every day. I stuck to it even if the last two articles (Saturday and Sunday) were a little too long for me.

Translating can double the benefits of a reading session

At least, this is how I see it after one week doing this exercise. Translating forces you to look up every unknown word and be sure you understood the grammar and the pattern correctly. More than that, you have to understand the implications of the sentence, what the author is hinting at, what he really wants to say, and so on.

When I only read, I focus on the general meaning of a paragraph, I want to be sure to understand it enough to be able to move on to the next paragraph without being lost. But I miss a lot of nuances or even sometimes, undertone, sarcasm or humour.

So not only does this exercise boosts your vocabulary, but it also improves your reading abilities in general, the faculty to understand more than what is said, make connections and so on.

One week was the perfect format

Instead of trying to read the news every single day of my life and end up reading fast, without looking up words and without understanding completely what I am reading, I really studied the articles I read during this challenge. This was time-consuming, and at the end, I was glad that the week was over. But I stuck to it and I did it seriously because I knew that it was only for one week.

I wonder if doing something thoroughly for one week, with dedication and care, is not more effective than doing it every day but roughly and without really commit oneself to it. If I tell myself that I want to read the news every day, I will be tempted to pick an article that looks easy. If I choose a difficult one, I will start reading it, find it too difficult and give up, with the satisfaction of having tried and completed my task for the day. But I am not sure whether I really can make progress like that.

So yes, I will give up the idea of doing something every day (apart, of course, from studying Anki), and focus on weekly challenges.


I still need to try this method in the long-term, but I already feel very excited about it. We all have different ways of learning languages, and a good method for someone might not be suitable for others. I think that a lot of people like to feel free and just study what they want to study when they want to study it. As for me, I need some structure and a study plan to be effective. However, any rigid environment or routine usually wears my motivation down. This weekly challenge/immersion method might be the pivotal point between structure and freedom. It is also a good way to combine my desire to do a lot of things to learn Japanese and the lack of study-time in one day.

I’ll try to use this method for several months to see how it works!

Back to study mode!

I am back, after a two-week break from writing my blog. Even though I promised myself that I would continue learning Japanese, I almost did nothing to learn or be immersed in Japanese during these two weeks…

Some say that taking a break from time to time is not a bad thing and some say that you should not take a complete break and continue to be in contact with your target language. I tend to think that a complete break is not the end of the world in itself and can even have positive effects. However, because it is hard to get started again, it is maybe best to avoid such complete breaks, just to be on the safe side.

But as I did a two-week break anyway, I don’t have another choice than to get started again. I gathered some tips that help me get back on track:

Look for emulation

First of all, I read blogs or watch YouTube videos by people who write/talk about language learning and how to stay motivated and so on. In fact, I often already know what they are going to say, and I don’t really learn something new from their contents. But simply reading or watching what other people say on these matters is extremely motivating.

If I follow some language learners, seeing that they continued to be active while I was enjoying myself encourages me to jump on the train again.

You don’t have to necessarily look for people who learn the same language as you. For example, I always find a lot of motivation in watching videos of artists who show their sketchbooks or people who show their journal where they doodled or wrote on every single page. Reaching a high level of drawing or keeping a diary are two activities that require regularity and consistency. This is why watching such videos encourages me to work on a daily basis.

Look for things you would like to buy

Ideally, I would be sitting at my desk for the sake of Japanese only, without needing to boost myself with consumption greed. But having a list of things that I would like to acquire, things to look forward to or that could serve as a reward, greatly encourages me. It might be things I will never buy because I don’t really need them or they are too expensive anyway, but they serve as a booster anyway.

For example, I haven’t drawn much during these two weeks. But then, I heard about a series of 500 colour pencils called “500色の色えんぴつ Tokyo Seeds” by Japanese company Felissimo. Of course, I don’t need 500 colour pencils, but I spent a lot of time dreaming on their website, and it made me want to pick my own colour pencils again and try to improve myself.

To come back to Japanese, I came across a list of books from the publisher 新潮文庫 called “徹夜本, books that are so interesting they will keep you awake until the morning. Of course, I need to read them all. Looking at this list of books and selecting the ones I would like to read first makes me want to go back to reading in Japanese and finish the books I already have to be able to buy some of this list.

Keep a language journal

Keeping a journal where you record everything relative to your language studies can be very useful to find the necessary motivation to start again after a break.

In my own journal, I write down the things I did to learn Japanese and a little text about how I feel about it. Sometimes, it is only just a line like “I didn’t feel like studying at all today”, but sometimes I feel very motivated and write down ideas, new goals, things I want to try, how much I enjoy learning Japanese and so on. If you tag these positive entries, for example, you can re-read them when you need a motivation boost.

A journal also helps because it is a collection of all the things you have achieved until now. Looking at it will give you a sense of satisfaction. It is hard to measure our progress by our Japanese abilities because it takes a lot of time and a lot of work before we start feeling the result in our use of the language. But recording your study activity, even loosely, can offer an immediate reward and sense of satisfaction. Not because you are progressing in Japanese, but because you are working towards it.

Try new things

There are infinite ways to learn a language, and there are always new things to try. If you don’t feel like going back to your old study routine or if you feel tired of studying at all, why not try something new? A new app, a new textbook or a new approach. You can also try to work on areas that were not your focus before. For example, if you only learned to read the kanji but had no real interest in writing them, why not give it a try? It can be fun and a good way to get started again.

Personally, the skill I have completely ignore is talking. So I think that I will focus more on that from now on. Not because I want to improve my talking but because I think it can be fun and make me want to study Japanese again.

Also, as talking is my weakest skill, it is also the apter to bring immediate reward. The better you get in a language, the harder it is to feel rewarded by your work. For example, the first 100 words you learn mean a lot to you, but once you know 7000 words, 100 more won’t make a big difference and you won’t be able to feel the benefit of knowing these 100 words. But if you take your weakest skill, it will be easier to feel the progress, especially if you start low like me.


That’s it! That is what I think of doing now to get back on track. If you have tips to go back to a learning routine after a small break, please let me know!

I now have to open my Anki deck that I left untouched for two weeks… 😅

Read in Japanese: self-improvement books

I am mainly talking about novels on my blog, but I am also reading some non-fiction books. I realised some time ago that self-improvement books were surprisingly easy to read in Japanese and can be a good start for anyone looking for easy reads.

Of course, I haven’t read enough books of personal development to state it as a general rule, but I would be prepared to bet that most writings in this domain are relatively non-challenging. Based on the books that I have read or am reading and the ones I have flipped through in bookshops, I found some characteristics that make these books easy to read in Japanese:

Easy to read for Japanese too

I think that these books want to reach a wide public, including people who don’t particularly like reading novels or complicated writings. Many of these books are designed for people who work a lot and don’t generally have the time or the energy to engross themselves in long reading sessions. As a consequence, the interior layout of the books are generally following these rules:

  • The book is well structured with short chapters and a lot of subchapters.
  • The writer uses short sentences and short paragraphs
  • The style is casual, it looks like the author is talking to us directly.

Clarity is the key

These books want to convey a message and, if possible, convince the reader. Usually, when you want people to understand and adhere to your message, the best thing is to state it as simply and clearly as possible. This results in:

  • The author does not use complicated style, sentences or kanji. It is not a novel, so the author does not try to “write well” but keeps it simple.
  • The same things are often repeated several times, to be sure that the reader understood them.
  • There are no unclear implications or underlying messages. The author does not imply things, he just states them clearly.
  • At the end of the chapter, we often find a short recap.
  • There are often concrete examples and anecdotes.

Publishers also participate

To make the book even more agreeable to read, publishers usually adopt a certain design:

  • These books are often sold in a rather big format, not like novels.
  • Contrary to novels, there is a lot of space on each page. It is perfect to take notes and write down vocabulary (if you don’t mind writing in your books)
  • The chapters are often divided into small subchapters (sometimes only 2 or 3 pages), which is perfect to make small reading sessions.
  • Some sentences that convey the main message are often written in bold or colour. This means that even if you did not quite understand what the author said before, understanding these sentences is enough to understand the main point. It is somehow comforting when one reads in a foreign language.
  • Some books have colour, graphics and drawings that help the comprehension.

It is not a story

The problem with reading novels in a foreign language is that the miscomprehension is cumulative. What I mean is, if you don’t understand a passage and move on, you may miss a key element for the story. Chances are that you won’t understand the next passage neither because you missed something previously. And so on. As a result, reading becomes more and more difficult until we finally give up.

Even though self-improvement books also convey a message, I never felt that one has to have read the first chapter to understand the second one. It seems that each chapter focuses on a different point. Inside each chapter, I also feel that there is a lot of small points that can be understood separately. As a result, not understanding a passage does not prevent you from understanding what follows. And anyway, the main points are often repeated several times or written in bold. Understanding only that is enough to move on.

Gratifying reads

Finally, self-improvement books are written for Japanese adults so that reading them is more gratifying than reading books for children or books designed for Japanese learners.

Contrary to children books, they talk about what adults know well: studies, work, relationships, self-esteem and so on. Moreover, the message they convey is never hard to grasp. They generally tell you how to improve yourself, trust your own choice, gain self-esteem or things like that. This means that it is never hard to guess what the author wants to say.

Last but not least, these books’ contents are generally very motivating!

My personal experience

I never read self-improvement books before reading in Japanese, it is not my favourite genre. The reason why I started reading such writings was to read something relaxing in Japanese. It is very gratifying to me to be able to turn the pages so quickly (because it is easy to read and because there is not so much text written on each page!). Especially when I am reading a difficult novel that gives me the impression to have made no progress at all, having such a book as a second read is very comforting.

There are usually very few unknown kanji to me so that I can do two things:

  • looking up words in the dictionary (something I don’t do when there are too many unknown words or while reading novels)
  • read out loud without stumbling much across words I can’t pronounce.

And now, I start appreciating self-improvement books for themselves (not just for studying Japanese), they are a source of motivation and positiveness.

3 books that I can recommend

The first book I read was 「自分を操る超集中力」by メンタリストDaiGo, published by かんき出版. Compared with the other books, this one is the most challenging regarding vocabulary. But it also has a lot of illustrations (I am not good at taking pictures, I know):


pages 95 and 71

As you can see, the main argument is marked in blue, and even if you don’t understand everything that is written, the drawing makes it clear!

As the title says, this books is all about concentration and willpower. I found some interesting ideas in it.

The second book is 「無意識はいつも正しい」by クスドフトシ, published by ワニブックス.


pages 67 and 68

Here again, you can see that some sentences are in colour, others are in bold. (the page on the left precedes the one on the right).

I find this book very easy to read. The subchapters are very short, the author does not use any difficult words, he gives a lot of concrete situation and examples to illustrate his point. I feel that the author always wants to be sure that the reader is following him. He takes special care in repeating the important things and dividing his speech into small bites.

As for the contents, there were things that convinced me, and others less, but it is overall an interesting and motivating read.

Finally, 「好きなことだけして生きていく」by 心屋仁之助(こころや・じんのすけ), published by PHP:


page 91

Here again, colour and bold to mark the important thing. As you can see, the sentences are very short and the author just start a new line with every new sentence!

As I said before, you can start reading this passage and understand what the author wants to say, even if you haven’t read what was before.

This book is maybe the easier of the three. The author talks about his own experience too, which makes it interesting. I was not convinced by everything he said, but there are also things that I adhere to. I would not say that I learned much, but I am always grateful when I can read something in Japanese without much effort!


I can’t say for sure that all self-improvement books are easy to read, but the two last titles I gave as examples are really easy. It looks like the authors had written their book following the rule “write your book using less than (number) kanji”.

All three books are published by different publishers, but all share the same layout characteristics.

There are a lot of books in this genre with the most attractive titles in Japanese!

Learning Japan Prefectures

Since I started reading the news in Japanese, I am telling myself that I must learn Japan prefectures. I have finally taken the first step by doing my own map with furigana and English.

Why learn Japan prefectures and region?

I suppose that Japanese learners who studied Japanese at school or university have gone through Geography classes and have a good overview of the country’s layout. The problem with self-learning is that nobody forces you to learn what you don’t like. And me, I don’t like Geography, so I have never taken the trouble to learn Japan’s regions, prefectures and main cities, though of course, I do know some of them.

But then, I was very limited when it comes to reading the news. Every time I saw a prefecture name in an article, I had to copy-paste it in Google to find its pronunciation and see where it was. With all the unknown words I have to struggle with in any political article, it just added an unnecessary difficulty. Worse, I sometimes wasn’t able to recognise a prefecture’s name as such, particularly in titles where the kanji 県 is often omitted.

In novels too, I hadn’t a clue when a prefecture was mentioned. Contrary to reading the news (where I have my browser opened so that googling something does not take much time) I would not interrupt my reading a novel to look up a prefecture name in Google, I could not even copy-paste it. So I would just ignore the information. I knew that a prefecture was mentioned, but I could not tell which one or where it was.

And of course, the same goes for films, culinary specialities, festivals, famous places, people and so on. In fact, knowing a country’s geography is important…

japan prefectures - kanji only

My goal

I want to be able to:

  • know approximately where a prefecture is on a map. At least, I would like to be able to associate a prefecture to a region
  • read without frowning and sighing any prefecture names in kanji when I see one.

How I will proceed

I have decided to not use Anki and try a more natural learning system.

To remember where a prefecture is and associate images with it:

First, what I will systematically do is look up a prefecture on my map whenever I hear or read about one. I think that this is the best way to remembering, the problem is that it will take ages before I learn the 47 prefectures. But then, why not? I am not in a hurry.

What I will also do is to write down somewhere any information relative to one prefecture. The idea is not to look for information relative to a prefecture on Google but to collect information that I am coming across during my other activities. For example, if I read a magazine with an interesting article about a festival or any other particularity linked to a region, I could write it down. When I read the news, I will associate events to prefectures. For example, 愛媛県・えひめけん is strongly associated with the Kake Gakuen scandal in my head because I see the prefecture’s name in almost every article I read on the subject.

japan prefectures - kanji and furigana

To be able to read the kanji of the prefectures:

While doing the maps, I realised that reading prefectures’ name is not as daunting as it looks like. A lot of pronunciation can be deduced like 秋田・あきた, 愛知・あいち or 徳島・とくしま.

To remember the pronunciation of the kanji, I will use the maps that I have printed. I made my own maps using other maps I found on the Internet and crossing information to have both English and kanji on the same map.

I will use the map “kanji only” to try to read the prefectures out loud and check with the English or furigana map. I also made a “map only” version in case I am able one day to place every prefecture on the map.

japan prefectures - kanji and English

PDF link to the maps, please feel free to use them!


I am glad that I have taken some time, at last, to start studying the prefectures. I think that I can learn relatively quickly how to read the names when I only have the kanji, and this will be an immense improvement. It will take me a lot more time to be able to place all the prefectures on the map and start associating them with images of their own, but maybe this could become a new 2018 goal.

My method for the JLPT reading part

Last week, I got the results of the second session of the JLPT (December 2017), and I was happy and relieved to see that I passed with 156 points!

I thought that I would pass because, after the test, I felt that my performance was similar to what I did in July 2017, when I took the N2 for the first time. But precisely because my performance seemed to be the same, I was anxious. I thought that the four months I spent working with the Shin Kanzen Master series between August and November of last year were maybe not worth it…

In this post, I am going to see what these 4 months brought me and then give my personal tips to pass the Reading section (the only section where I feel entitled to give advice).

A year of JLPT N2

A year of JLPT

I started studying for the JLPT N2 at the beginning of 2017. I used the So-Matome series, which I really appreciated. I had time (6 months), and I didn’t really stress myself with the JLPT. As you can see, I achieved the full mark in reading, but I was not satisfied with the Language Knowledge (vocabulary and grammar) section. As a consequence, I decided to sit the test one more time in December. This time, I studied the Shin Kanzen series.

Worth it?

If my goal had been to pass the JLPT, then studying the So-Matome books would have been enough. But the JLPT is not as much a goal in itself as a way to stay motivated, create a deadline and help me boost my vocabulary. Studying the Shin Kanzen series helped me do all these and I don’t regret for one second having spent so much time on it. This being said, I can’t help but think that 14 and 11 points are not much in comparison with my efforts to finish the books of the series… Of course, I am glad that I improved my score. If I hadn’t, I would have been so cast down… studying more to achieve less… But I feel like extraordinary efforts (to me) have brought a not-so-extraordinary result.

Grammar, Vocabulary and Listening

To dig a little deeper, I would say that the real improvement was in the grammar section. I did feel more at ease in December than in July, and I would not be surprised if I had got the 14 points thanks to the grammar only.

On the contrary, I didn’t feel at ease at all with the vocabulary. There were still a lot of words I didn’t know. From my experience, completing the Shin Kanzen vocabulary book does not guarantee a full mark at the vocabulary section.

As for the listening section, I think that there are 3 things at stake here:

  • Language knowledge (how many words one knows)
  • Listening competence (the ability to recognize the known words and fill the gap of unknown words. In other words, the ability to understand a text or a dialogue even with unknown words)
  • Note taking

My language knowledge certainly improved a little but what really made the difference is my capacity to take notes. In July, just the idea that I had to take notes paralysed me and I was not able to take notes while still focusing on what I was listening to. Thanks to the listening book of Shin Kanzen series, I learnt to take notes rapidly. In July, I could not answer the last questions because I hadn’t taken notes properly. In December, the last questions have not puzzled me so I might have won my points there.

As for the listening competence, I don’t think that it is something that improves through studying a textbook, no matter how good it might be. It comes from listening to a lot, which I don’t do enough.

The reading section

As I have been steady in my results for the reading section, I feel that the method I use works well for me and I will apply it when (if) I try myself at N1.

To pass the reading section, I think that one needs three things (like the listening part):

  • Language knowledge, particularly kanji. There is no secret concerning improving one’s vocabulary: you have to learn new words regularly. But, recognizing kanji is something that can be improved a little every day. When you read in Japanese, try to pay special attention to kanji. You don’t have to know how to write them, just being able to associate them with a general meaning can save you the day of the test. Even being able to say if this kanji has a positive meaning or a negative one can help understand a whole sentence or avoid a counter-sense.
  • Reading competence. Again, this is the competence that allows you to understand a text even when it is full of unknown words. The best way to improve this competence is to read a lot. Not just JLPT material, but anything you can find in Japanese. This is something that builds itself on the long-term.
  • A method to apply the day of the test. This is what I want to talk about here.

What follows is the method I applied both time I sat the JLPT. These are just personal tips that may not work for everyone.

Start with the Language knowledge part but rush through it.

Use the language knowledge section as warm-up exercises

I don’t know if it concerns all levels of the JLPT, but for N2, you have a common amount of time allotted to do the language knowledge part and the reading part.

As time is an issue, a good idea would be to start with the reading section. By doing so, you are less stressed by the clock and can read all the texts. I tried this method once when I was doing a mock test and it didn’t work at all for me. Even though the first texts are supposed to be easy, I could not understand them and had to read them twice. At the end of the test, I had 5 minutes left that I used to go back to these “easy” texts. Half of my answers were wrong and I was able to correct myself, thus winning some points.

Why did it not work?

I need some time to adjust myself and pass in “Japanese mode”. If the reading section texts are the very first thing I do, I am still not focused enough and I have difficulty understanding them. Maybe it is just me, but I feel unprepared like if my brain needed some time to really start working.

On the contrary, after having been through the whole “language knowledge” section, my brain is warm enough to attack the reading part. I take the “language knowledge” part as warm-up exercises for the reading section. Our body needs warm-up exercises before doing an intense activity, our brain might not be different after all (or maybe I have a particularly slow brain? 😐)

Don’t lose time on vocabulary

As time is still an issue, we want to gain time on the language knowledge part. I think that you should rush through the vocabulary questions. Most of the time, either you know the answer or not and if you don’t, reflecting 5 minutes on it does not really help you get nearer to the answer. I would even say that your best intuition is often the right answer. This intuition comes necessarily from somewhere, maybe you saw this word in the past and, even if you cannot remember it clearly, one answer seems more natural than the others.

The same applies to grammar too, even if some questions do require time and reflection.

The best thing to do is to know exactly what minimal time you need to go through all the texts of the reading part. The day of the test, try to devote this amount of time to the reading part, no matter what.

Don’t watch the clock once started

This is just my personal method. Please do check the clock if not knowing the time should stress you more as knowing it!

Once you know that you start the reading section soon enough to be able to finish it, there is no need to look at the clock anymore. Of course, this requires knowing exactly how much time you need and be confident about it. The only way to know it is to have worked through at least two mock tests at home. If you can trust yourself to go through all the texts of the reading part in x minutes, then looking at the clock will only bring stress and a sense of urgency that will ruin your concentration.

To understand the long and difficult texts of N2 I really need 100% of my concentration. If 20% of it is busy thinking of the time left, I will have much more difficulty understanding what I read.

One can also say that if you are not going to finish the reading section, knowing it won’t change anything. Or if it changes something, it might make things worse. If you know that you won’t be able to finish, it’s not 20% but 80% of your brain that will be devoted to time. You will be tempted to read faster, thus missing information and end up having read a text without understanding it… resulting in having to re-read it and losing precious minutes.

Be a reader, not a test-taker

These are advice that helped me a lot. It might seem too simple to be useful but it changed everything to me.

Read slowly

Reading too fast is the best way to miss a piece of information here and there and end up accumulating gaps that will lead to a misunderstanding of the whole text. Sometimes, failing to recognize what is the subject of a sentence can blur the meaning of a whole paragraph.

Reading slowly does not only mean reading at a slow pace but also implies that one should not hesitate to re-read a sentence if needed. In other words, I don’t move to the next sentence if I don’t understand the one I am reading. I prefer to take the time to re-read the problematic sentence before moving on.

Before applying this method, I used to read the text until the end, no matter how good I understood it. I wanted to believe that something would help me grasp the meaning of the text, or that the end would be so enlightening that understanding the last paragraph would be enough to understand the whole text. But it rarely works this way. What systematically happens is that comprehension gaps will get bigger and bigger. If you don’t understand a sentence, there are chances that you won’t fully understand the paragraph. As paragraphs are often constructed in relation to one another, you compromise your comprehension of the whole text.

So what happened when I finished reading the whole text without having understood it completely? I would read the questions, have no clue what the answers are and would have no choice than to read the whole text again.

In the end, if I compare reading the text slowly and reading the text twice or more, reading slowly wins.

Don’t read the questions before the text

I know that most textbooks tell you to read the questions first and this is what I have been doing for a long time. The problem is that I am too focused on the pieces of information I need to answer the questions. Sometimes, I have the impression that a paragraph is not useful to answer the questions, so I tend to read it very fast and not bother if I don’t understand it. Then, two problems may arise:

  • I realise that this paragraph was indeed useful to answer a question, and I have to read it again.
  • Not understanding this paragraph makes the comprehension of the next paragraph more difficult.

Moreover, a part of my capacity to focus is busy recalling what the questions were while I am reading, and this left me with less concentration power to make my way through the text.

What I would advice to do, is to ignore the questions and read the text slowly. When I started reading the text slowly, I realised that I knew the text well enough to be able to answer the questions without having to look at the text a second time. Or, if I really needed to check something, I would know exactly where to find what I was looking for. So what I do is:

  1. Read the text slowly. This does take time, but the idea is that I read the text only once. I will not need to go back to the text to answer the questions.
  2. Read the questions and answer them without (most of the time) having to look at the text.
Note: the last exercise of N2 is the only time when I read the questions first. You have to find relevant information in a notice or information board and knowing what information you are looking for is the first step. So, in this case, reading the questions first is the best strategy.

Make sure you want to know what the text is about

The idea is to become a reader who really wants to know what this text is about. You have to fake a sincere interest in the contents of the text. Forget that you are reading the text to pass an exam and read it for the contents it has to offer. If the author talks about his own experience, try to feel empathy for what he says or link it to things you yourself experienced. If the text explains something, feel interested in its contents, as though you decided to read it because you wanted to know what were the results of this survey or what were the social trends or latest scientific researches the text presents.

Having this kind of attitude boosted my comprehension of the text and my capacity to fill the gaps when too many unknown words showed themselves in the same paragraph. Forgetting everything about the test, in other words, ignoring both the time and the questions, and reading the text for itself, for its contents, boost our ability to guess what the author wants to say.


Even if I feel confident when starting reading a text in Japanese, there are times when I come to the last line of it and have no idea what it was about. What happened when I took my first mock tests was that I would read the questions and the answers, try to find the information in the text, look frantically through it, be unable to find the good paragraph, end up re-reading the whole text, re-read the answers I had forgotten, panic, look at my watch, draw a sharp breathe, skip this text and go to the next one.

To avoid this situation, I found my own method which can be summarized like this:

  • Use the Language-knowledge part as a warm-up exercise
  • Don’t lose time on the vocabulary part
  • Know the time you need to finish the reading part, so that time pressure does not kill your focus
  • Read slowly, don’t read questions first, and try to care about the text.

To summarize, the best thing is to have one’s own personal method to apply the day of the test! As you can see, my method is very different from the usually recommended ones. So my recommendation would be to not blindly follow other people’s tips (including this blog post!). Finding one’s own method is the key.

Daily Log and Willpower

Bullet Journal: daily log or how to spare willpower

Even if I have a lot of things I want to do, I often end up spending most of my time wondering what to do next,  overwhelmed by the multitude of materials to study. Every time that I have time to study Japanese, I think that I should make the best of it but I don’t know what to pick. If I read a novel, I feel like I haven’t studied at all, but if I don’t read, I feel that I am not on the main track anymore (my main goal for 2018 being to read one novel in Japanese per month). I end up doing a little of everything without really progressing in any field. At the end of the day, I feel both guilty and frustrated because I had time to study Japanese but didn’t use it properly.

This is where the bullet journal helps me, but I understood its real benefit only recently when I associated it with what I learned through the book 「自分を操る超集中力」by メンタリストDaiGo. Having to make choice consumes our willpower and thus, affect our capacity to concentrate. One way to spare willpower is to reduce the number of choices we make each day. This is where the daily log of the bullet journal’s method is handy.

Every morning, I start the day by writing down things I want to do for Japanese this day. I adjust it depending on the day and the amount of time I know I can devote to study. I also write the things I want to do in order of priority.

Writing my daily log takes me no more than one or two minutes and this is the only time of the day when I think of what I am going to do and what material I am going to use. Then, all I need to do is to follow my instructions without thinking twice about it. Even if I doubt whether an activity is worth it, I don’t take the time and energy to think about it now, I just do the task because it is written in my daily log. Thinking about the worthiness of this task will be tomorrow’s job when I sit at my desk in the morning and write down my log of the day. The idea is really to stop thinking about the things to do once the daily log is written.

These are two benefits I gained from this method:

  • First, I don’t lose energy or willpower every time I complete a task, asking myself what I should study next. More than that, I do not lose myself anymore in pursuing ephemeral goals. A typical example would be, that I suddenly feel that I should improve my listening skills and listen to something in Japanese. I would then spend half an hour (or more!) looking for a drama to watch even though I do have a lot of material to listen to already. Looking at different reviews would consume my willpower and I would end up looking maybe half of the first episode because I would already be tired. The next day, I would certainly have forgotten about this drama and won’t watch it again or won’t use it for study. If watching a drama is part of my plan, then I can add an entry “look for a drama” in my daily log for the next day.
  • While doing an activity, I don’t have to worry about the other things that I am not doing at the moment. This is something that happened to me a lot before. For example, I would read a novel but won’t be able to concentrate on it because I still haven’t started writing the post I have to publish on the same day. With the daily log, it never happens because I write things attached to a deadline or important things that need to be done at the top of my list. This means that when I come to other activities, all the things that could rob my attention are already completed. Especially when it comes to reading in a foreign language, concentration is essential. Sometimes, I read a chapter and don’t understand at all what it is about. I read it again sometime later and understand everything. My Japanese ability has not changed, but my concentration level has. I saw how true it was when I worked for the JLPT. Every time I looked at the watch and saw how little time was left I would understand nothing from the texts of the reading part and had to read some parts twice or more. This is because I was focused on the time, not on what I was reading. My strategy was then to stop looking at the time when I start the reading test. I could concentrate on what I read and understand all the text after reading them once. In a way, I could say that using the daily log helps me read better in Japanese!

Shall I write tasks that I want to do every day anyway? 

Writing every day the daily log can sometimes feel very repetitive. For example, let’s say you want to listen to NHK radio news every morning or listen to Japanese songs or an audiobook in the metro when you go to work. This will happen every day of the week, so why bother writing it down every morning? Personally, I find that writing down the same thing every day helps me considerably. First, it doesn’t take that much time. Second, being able to mark this task as “done” is a great source of self-satisfaction. And last, this repetitive system helps me turn this task into a habit. However, if a daily task has acquired the same status as “brushing your teeth” or “drink coffee”, you don’t need to write it. To me, this is true only for “studying my Anki deck”, so I don’t need to write it in my daily log… but I do it anyway because I feel rewarded when I draw the “completed” mark in front of it!

What happens if I can’t finish the list?

To be honest, I almost never come to the end of the list. This is not a problem at all, as I wrote my things to do in order of priority. The important things and the things attached to a deadline (for example, writing this blog’s posts) are all at the beginning of my list. I don’t feel like I failed to do my entire list, I just feel like I planned too much this morning. Seeing how far I was able to get helps me adjust for the next day. I also see what tasks are constantly being left behind. If they are things that I really want to do, I can try to put them at the beginning on my list at least once a week.


I used the daily log until the JLPT of December and it worked well. After December 3rd, I took some break, made a trip and thus, stopped using this method for a while. When I got back to study I felt completely overwhelmed by all the things that I wanted to do. I lost precious days that I could have devoted to studying. Not being productive for one or two days is not a big deal, but if we don’t decide how to use our time and stick to it, the weeks go by and then a whole month is over and we don’t know where it had gone. At the end, saying “I am learning Japanese” would not make any sense anymore, it would only be some kind of state I am in, but not something I actively do.

I really want to have made progress by the end of the year. I really want to be able to read any “mainstream” novel (I mean not Soseki or Nobel prices authors for example), and the Japanese news. These are the two things I want to achieve the most, and I hope that I can post an article at the end of 2018 and say that I achieved these goals. But I could also be posting that “the year is already over and I haven’t studied enough, time definitely goes fast and so on”. So now that we are still at the very beginning of the year, let’s do everything we can to make the best of it!

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

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, but I never thought of acquiring one, even though I was not entirely satisfied with the dictionary apps I had tried.

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. I decided to go for a Casio and didn’t bother to look at 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 an 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. Before making the purchase, I wasn’t sure whether I would really use it or not. I was afraid to put a lot of money on it and finally continue using my phone and the Internet. 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 thorough and useful.

Step 2: Casio website

Then, I headed to Casio homepage, and that’s when I got my first source of consternation: so much choice? 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 devices 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 comprehensive, I think. Models for high-school students were good candidates too, but they were packed with TOEIC training material and dictionaries about school stuff 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 “professional” model (XD-Y20000) of the previous year (2016) 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 the 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 review 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 overseas.

I knew that one could write kanji directly on the upper screen in the recent models, 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 most of the time, the dictionary still recognise the kanji (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 select 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 looks more comfortable because it is more stable. 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 make a search, 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 word’s definition card, the search will begin automatically.


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. 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. As long as your word figures in the “search” bar, you can look it up in all the dictionaries that have a shortcut button. It is extremely easy and quick to switch between Japanese-Japanese to English-Japanese dictionaries!

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 with the “jump” function. 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 (one for Japanese words, one for English). I chose the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary because I mainly use the jump function to look up English words. As long as you don’t change the battery, the dictionary will remember what is the dictionary you want to use for the jump function.

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 buttons on top of the keyboard figure the Kenkyusha’s Japanese-English dictionary, which is the dictionary I use the most. I am glad they put it in the shortcuts! Another button devoted to English can be personalised. I configured it with the fantastic Oxford Thesaurus.

As the dictionary aims 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!


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 handwriting input for Chinese and not for Japanese, I don’t 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


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 comprehensive 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 in which situation and context the word is mainly 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 books like 『舟を編む』 or 『金閣寺』(I have given up this last one!). 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 novel. Thankfully, 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, 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.


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, if they are serious about photography, if it is their hobby or their work, if they want or need more functionalities and more influence of the results they get…

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!