Category: Learn Japanese


How Grocery Shopping Can Improve Your Japanese Ability!

Introduction

When people ask about culture shock when I move to Japan, I talk about grocery shopping. I don’t know about you but I’m a very committed grocery shopper. I take my grocery shopping very seriously. I have very specific products or brands that I want to use for my cooking or baking. If there are a few different options for one type of product, I’ll make sure to do my research before deciding on one.

I can’t speak for all of you but I bet there are some out there who are the same as me. And when you move to another country — especially one that speaks a foreign language like Japan — your whole routine falls apart. How does one even get the appropriate ingredients when your Japanese language ability is not even up there?

Well, why not use it as an opportunity to improve it? It might sound insane but it is actually possible if you do it the right way. Find out how grocery shopping can improve your Japanese ability — tried and tested myself!

Is It Difficult To Grocery Shop in Japan?

From my personal experience, it wasn’t that easy adjusting from my home country to Japan when it comes to grocery shopping. The language barrier was the initial problem — every sign, sticker and label is in Japanese! For someone who, at that point in time, was only at a beginner level, my grocery shopping experiences weren’t all that smooth sailing.

Another key problem that I faced was that a lot of the time, especially in local supermarkets, you won’t really find international brands. Even if you do, they cost two or three times more than a locally branded one. I initially forked out a couple of extra yen just to get the exact brand that I want, but in the end, I caved into buying the Japanese branded ones because of the price. True, the flavours may be different, but at least I saved a few yen, right?

Long story short, you do get used to the changes in grocery shopping in Japan. I wouldn’t say it’s the most difficult thing in the world, but it wasn’t the easiest. If I knew the challenges I faced, I would’ve done some stuff differently. One thing’s for sure though: grocery shopping did and is still helping me improve my Japanese ability!

How Can Grocery Shopping Improve My Japanese?

You might think that it’s silly how a normal activity such as grocery shopping can improve Japanese language ability, but it’s not at all! It’s because of the very fact that it’s a common routine you have to go through once every few days that help it. You’ll be facing the ultimate key to learning a new language: repetition.

Let’s take a look at the other ways grocery shopping can help improve your Japanese language ability!

Kanji Recognition

As I’ve mentioned before, everything in a local Japanese supermarket is in Japanese. You’ll be lucky to see any sign, label, or sticker in English. Because you’re kind of forced into reading the Japanese language, you will likely be picking up the kanji characters that you see around all the time.

It doesn’t even matter if you look up the kanji or not. After being faced with the same kanji over and over again, and based on context, you’ll end up recognising the kanji and linking it to the product or pick up the meaning. 

Till this day, I’ll always forget the pronunciation of the Japanese word for “protein” (タンパク質), but I can recognise the combination of characters all too well to figure out how much protein one product has.

Bump Up In Vocabulary 

Because of all the repetition of the same products that you are buying — onion, garlic, milk, juice, etc — you’re more likely to remember the words for them in Japanese.  

The other situation is where you’ll end up having to search up a couple of words, especially when looking at the list of ingredients in a certain product. You’ll come across a few new words as well as ones that are already familiar to you. Even though you’re not consciously aware that you’re drilling the words in your brain, you actually are — meaning and pronunciation both. That’s the beauty of having only the Japanese language at supermarkets.

Confidence Boost

This one is entirely up to the individual when it comes to progress. At the start of my time here in Japan, I would never dare to go up to a Japanese staff and ask them anything in Japanese — I was too afraid and insecure about my language ability that I didn’t even bother trying.

After a couple of setbacks finding products that I want and wasting time walking around the supermarket countless of times, I picked up the courage to go up and enquire about what I wanted to ask. This could be anything from “where is this product?” or “do you have this?”

Even though I was using basic Japanese phrases, it did build up my confidence when the staff could understand me and that I could understand what they were saying back to me. I bet your experience will be the same — if not better — as mine when it comes to grocery shopping being a confidence booster.

Key Words And Phrases To Get You By Grocery Shopping

Of course, what’s an article about grocery shopping and improving Japanese without a brief list of words and phrases to help you get started with your grocery shopping adventures in Japan? Here are the common words you’ll likely to need while grocery shopping:

Beef  — gyuuniku 牛肉

Chicken — toriniku 鳥肉

Fish — sakana

Pork — butaniku 豚肉

Dairy products — nyuuseihin 乳製品

Milk — gyuunyuu 牛乳

Egg — tamago

Gluten — fushitsu 麩質

Oil — abura

Onion — tamanegi 玉葱

Garlic — ninniku にんにく

Vinegar — su

Sugar — satou 砂糖

Salt — shio

Soy sauce — shoyu 醤油

Wheat — komugi 小麦

Here are some Japanese phrases that will definitely cut some time down your hunt down the aisles of the Japanese supermarkets:

Where is _____?

______どこですか? ( _____ doko desuka?)

Do you have _____?

______ありますか? ( _____ arimasuka?

Conclusion

Don’t knock it until you try it — grocery shopping can definitely help with your Japanese ability! If not, at least you’ll memorise the words that are sufficient to keep you going steadily during your grocery shopping adventures. Whichever the case, you’re bound to learn some new Japanese words or phrases!

Various Ways To Say Thank You in Japanese

Introduction

Similarly to learning how to say hello, how to thank someone is one of the top phrases one would learn when picking up a new language. In English, there are various ways of thanking someone. It also depends on where one is from; someone from the UK may use “cheers!” as a thank you as well as a kanpai (カンパイ).

It’s no different in Japanese. There are also a few different ways to thank someone. In fact, saying “thank you” in Japanese is not as straightforward as you might think. There are a few things you need to consider before picking the most appropriate phrase for a thank you — all within a second or two. 

One of the most important aspects is social status — it’s pretty significant in Japanese culture. Depending on the social status you’re in, you have a different response and way of speaking to others. There are phrases that you can use only with friends, and others that are better off using in an office setting. 

A lot to take in? Don’t worry, I’ve done the job of compiling the top 10 ways to say “thank you” in Japanese that covers a wide range of situations.

1. Arigatou (ありがとう)

The first and foremost on the list is definitely “arigatou” (ありがおう). If you have picked up even the slightest bit of Japanese — or have travelled to Japan — you would already know this phrase. It’s the most basic and simplest way of saying thank you. You’ll quite often hear this, anywhere from the streets and among groups of people to Japanese shows and anime.

“Arigatou” is used more casually, similar to “thanks” in English. Most of the time, you can use this with family members, partner, friends and people who are the same age or younger than you. You can also use it to thank strangers like restaurant and hotel staff.

That doesn’t mean it eliminates the phrase from using it with higher-ups. This phrase is quite flexible. You can also use “arigatou” to express your thanks to people older than you — you just have to make a few small changes. Switch it to the polite form: arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます).

A step higher is “domo arigatou gozaimasu” (どもありがとうございます) to express your deepest appreciation. It generally translates to “thank you very much”.

2. Doumo (どうも)

If you think that “arigatou” is a bit too much, cut the expression short and use this form of thanks: “doumo” (どうも). It will do just the trick. If you haven’t noticed already, this way of thank you actually derived from the previous phrase “domo arigatou gozaimasu” — but only taking the “domo” part and binning the rest.

This phrase is even more casual than “arigatou”. It has an extreme light tone and is often used with people who are of the same social status level as you as well as lower, like your friends or younger siblings. Saying it to strangers like restaurant and cashier staff are okay, too.

A fair warning: do not — I repeat, do not — use this with your boss or people of higher social status than you. It’s considered extremely rude because the other party may get offended because you didn’t take the time to thank them in the proper way.

3. Sumimasen (すみません)

If you have a little bit of Japanese knowledge already, you might be wondering why is “sumimasen” (すみません) — a form of apology — is considered a way to say thank you. Actually, this phrase is used quite often to express gratitude. Even though it’s usually used as an apology or “excuse me”, it can be used to say sorry and thank you.

Confused? Don’t be. In Japanese culture, it’s common to apologise to the person you’re grateful to instead of thanking them as it acknowledges the fact that the person has gone through the trouble just for you. This is deeply rooted in their custom culture of politeness.

A perfect example is when you drop something and a kind soul behind you picks it up and catched up with you just to hand it back to you. You can use “sumimasen” to both apologise and thank them for the trouble and help.

4. Sankyu (サンキュー)

I hope it already sounds familiar to you even before the explanation. Sankyu (サンキュー) is the Japanified version of the English “thank you”. Sound it out — almost the same, right? Since it’s a borrowed phrase, the writing is in katakana (カタカナ) and not hiragana (ひらがな) or kanji (漢字).

This phrase for thank you tops any of the rest I’ve already mentioned previously in terms of casualness. I personally would use this phrase with my friends and people that I’m already familiar with. It’s best to avoid using this to your higher-ups, and even people you’re not so close with.

5. Kurete arigatou (〜くれてありがとう)

You probably recognised half of the phrase — the “arigatou” part. “Kurete arigatou” (〜くれてありがとう) is just an extensive version of the casual phrase “arigatou”, but with a little bit more expression of gratitude. You don’t use it on it’s own; it has to be connected to another word — particularly a verb.

For example, your friend did you a solid by helping you finish up an assignment or project. To convey your deepest appreciation for their assistance, you can say “tasukete kurete arigatou (助けてくれてありがとう) which translates to “thank you so much for helping me”.

Remember how we can change “arigatou” to the polite form to use for higher-ups? Similarly, “kurete arigatou” can be changed into “kurete arigatou gozaimasu” (くれてありがとうございます) for an extra formal tone.

6. Kansha shimasu (感謝します)

This new phrase, “kansha shimasu” (感謝します) has quite a polite tone to it. Unlike the other phrases before, this way of thanking someone is more often used for writing rather than saying it. You’ll usually see it in a business setting like sending emails or letters.

A lot of them can start off with “itsumo sapotto shiteitadaki, kansha shimasu” (いつもさーポッとしていただき、感謝します). The sentence translates to “thank you for your continued support”. So next time when you send a work email, you can consider using this phrase for a touch of politeness. 

7. Osoreirimasu (恐れ入ります)

Another phrase in the formal mix of the thank you phrases in Japanese is “osoreirimasu” (恐れ入ります). You don’t really hear this a lot — not every day casually, not even every day in the office. In fact, out of all the thank you phrases on this list, this would have to be the most formal one of them all. 

This form of thank you pops up in the most formal situations like meetings. It’s quite comparable to “sumimasen”, but with a few level-ups. “Sumimasen” can be used to apologise but “osoreirimasu” cannot — it’s only used to acknowledge the trouble someone has gone through for you. 

Best not say it to your friends or family — reserve it for your customers and bosses. Use it sparingly, I’d say, so you can impress them when the time comes.

8. Azasu (あざす)

In the other category of thank you phrases, we have the slang ones. “Azasu” (あざす) is definitely classified as that. Try saying “arigatou gozaimasu” fast enough and you’ll get this slang phrase. 

Just like any of the other slang phrases, keep it among your friends and family. It has quite a casual and light tone — I’d say it’s the most casual. Younger crowds use it more often. Definitely avoid using this with your boss or colleagues, even — maybe if you’re close with them and of the same social status, then it’s probably fine.

9. Sumanai (すまない)

The previous phrase is the slang version of “arigatou gozaimasu”. Of course, we need to have a slang version of “sumimasen” — and that’s “sumanai” (すまない). More often than not, guys are the ones using this phrase to express their thanks. It’s not really a gendered phrase, but usually, if a girl uses it, they’re perceived to have a slightly harsher tone.

10. Otsukaresama (お疲れ様)

Last but definitely not the least is “otsukaresama” (お疲れ様). This phrase doesn’t have just one meaning — it’s extremely flexible. One of the ways people use this phrase is to thank someone, especially to thank them for all the hard work they have done. This phrase is great because you can use it with anyone — friends, family, superiors and co-workers.

It’s usually said at the end of a long day of hard work, kind of like a subtle pick-me-up for the other party. Sometimes this can be used as a greeting by acknowledging their hard work before starting a conversation.

Conclusion

And there you have it — the top 10 ways to say thank you, covering all sorts of situations from the casual to the formal. Who knew the Japanese have various phrases for different settings. So next time when your first reaction is to say “arigatou”, quickly run through this list of Japanese phrases and pick the one that’s best for the situation — and impress everyone!

5 Best Animes to Help With Japanese Learning

Introduction

Learning a new language, especially the Japanese language, doesn’t have to be all work and no play. It doesn’t have to be boring and dry at all! Professionals everywhere agreed that using other forms of media like animation and graphic novels improves motivation for the learner to study the language. What’s more, it adds the cultural and artistic aspects of language learning.

Japan is full of popular culture entertainment that is taking over the world by storm — one of the biggest ones being anime. This Japanese animated media has reached whole new levels of heights in terms of entertainment as well as education. Why not make use of it yourself? 

Don’t believe you can use such a fun and leisurely activity for learning Japanese? Well, read on to be convinced — everything from the ways you can use anime for language learning as well as the best ones to get you on your merry way.

How To Use Anime To Learn Japanese? 

It’s actually not that hard to use anime to learn Japanese — it’s quite similar to using Netflix for language learning! 

The first and foremost tip is to not be too hard on yourself. It’s completely normal to have things you wouldn’t know in the shows. After all, you are still learning the language — it’s only natural to have some gaps in your knowledge and understanding. Take these gaps as learning opportunities instead; rewind and figure out what part was getting you off your game, then look it up.

It’s also good to know that some animes can have quite an unusual language. The way the characters speak in anime might not be like how native Japanese people do. So, if you’re having trouble understanding, chances are it’s not your fault — it’s just the anime and you probably won’t need to know it for conversation, anyway.

Another tip is to have your subtitles on. It’s best to have it on in Japanese so you’re able to test your kanji comprehension ability as well. Don’t worry if you need to switch to English subtitles once in a while — especially when the audio and subtitle doesn’t make sense to you. At least with the English subtitles, you have a chance at deciphering them.

Have a notebook with you, too! Take notes as you watch — whether it is new words or grammar points. You’ll be surprised at how many new things you have at the end of each episode! Be sure to look them up and revise them; if you don’t, it’s pretty pointless.

Last but definitely not least, pick a genre of anime that you enjoy. What’s the point of using an anime to improve your Japanese when the anime doesn’t even interest you? The anime should be a motivator for you, not bore you to death and stress you out even more.

Now that you’ve got the tips on how to use anime to learn Japanese, let’s take a look at the top 5 animes that are best at helping with Japanese learning!

1. Shirokuma Cafe (しろくまカフェ)

At the top of the list is Shirokuma Cafe! This is, without a doubt, one of the most popular anime series to learn Japanese! This anime, made into animation from a manga, is about a few different animals living peacefully with normal humans in the society — they have jobs, use public transportation, wear clothes and makeup, and have their own houses.

Shirokuma Cafe is great for Japanese language learners because the language used in the anime is designed for a younger audience and also has language that is used in everyday conversations in Japan. There are so many learning opportunities in this anime — the characters are really fond of puns and gags that will always have visual accompaniments; the anime has different settings like at work or at home and introduces vocabulary and phrases related to that. 

If you’re not convinced by the learning aspects, wouldn’t cutely drawn animals living day-to-day lives be reason enough to binge-watch this show? 

2. Tsuritama (つり球)

Tsuritama is an anime with a great mix of action, drama, sports and slice of life — even with a tad bit of sci-fi. What’s not to like about it? The main theme of the anime is about fishing, which brought about four extremely different young guys together. Throughout the series, you’ll follow the adventures of this group of guys conquering bigger problems like moving to a new town, making friends and even saving the fate of the world! 

What makes Tsuritama a great anime to learn Japanese is because of its use of simple Japanese language. There’s an introduction to the different levels of politeness, usage of everyday grammar as well as slang and irregular terms. You’ll pick up more than what you can from a Japanese learning textbook! Even though the scenes are wrapped around the fishing theme, situations are explained straightforwardly and relatable for all.

If you’re not sure what genre of anime you like, give Tsuritama a try — it has a mix of different genres in one!

3. Pokemon (ポケモン)

If it didn’t occur to you to try watching Pokemon to help with your Japanese learning, then you ought to get right into it! Most people forget that Pokemon is actually a Japanese production and the original Japanese anime is an amazing series to use to learn Japanese! What’s more, for some of us, we are already familiar with the setting of the Pokemon world — and loved it!

There’s a perfect balance of work, adventure and play in this anime. On top of learning more than three hundred names of the Japanese Pokemon, you’ll also be able to easily comprehend most of what’s being said as the language used in this anime is designed for the youngins — so no big words (maybe stuff like “laboratory” but once you have that drilled in your head, it won’t be any problem).

Who can say no to Pokemon? It’s everyone’s all-time favourite! Be productive while binge-watching the series by using it for your language learning.

4. Detective Conan (名探偵コナン) 

Go on mysterious adventures and thrilling quests with the most famous detective in Japan, all while improving your Japanese language ability. One of the most popular and well-loved anime in Japan is Detective Conan. This anime is based on the famous Sherlock Holmes, with one difference: the main character is a high school sleuth. 

This anime is great for Japanese-learning beginners as there is quite a focus on vocabulary with repetition, so you’ll be able to remember the new words you heard by the end of the episode. Detective Conan has a mix of formal and informal language, giving you opportunities to practice both levels of conversation. 

Don’t worry about running out of material to learn from — there are over 900 episodes to this day, with movies as well as live-action TV shows if you’re really into it.

5. Death Note (デスノート)

Last on the list, but don’t for a second it’s any less than the rest, is Death Note. This is a classic anime in general, language learning or not. This anime follows the story of a teenage genius who stumbles upon a dark notebook that has the power to eliminate anyone who has their name written in it. The teenager uses the notebook for good to change the world and rid it of dangerous and evil people.

Death Note is an anime that is best for intermediate to upper-level Japanese learners as there are bigger vocabulary words including those related to law enforcement and police work. It’s great for those who are looking to learn new kanji as well — just switch on the subtitles!

If you love the storyline, Death Note has a few live-action adaptations — they’re great for language learning too, packed with action scenes and amazing graphics!

Where To Watch Anime? 

Now the question is: where can you watch the anime? There are a few websites out there but I would personally recommend Crunchy Roll and Kiss Anime. These two sites are reliable when it comes to anime streaming, especially being up-to-date with the newest anime episodes! 

You can even create your own account and save the anime listing in your favourites section so you won’t forget about the other animes you’d like to watch. I have dozens of them already lined up in mine!

Conclusion                               

Put down your textbooks and exercise books — choose an anime from this list instead to improve your Japanese. It’s without a doubt one of the more effective ways to go about learning Japanese. Put it to the test and try it for yourself!

 

Complimenting in Japanese

Introduction

The road to flattery is basically customary in Japan. In every aspect — from friendship to business — it is especially important to give compliments here and there, whenever and wherever you can. The Japanese are known for their politeness; if anything, the compliments are just part and parcel of their nature.

When travelling or living a foreign country, especially one as unique and special like Japan, the best thing one can do is dive straight into getting a hang of the local ropes. Why not start off on the right foot with nailing down the complimenting culture in Japan?

Complimenting in Japanese Culture

The Japanese word to praising someone or giving compliments is homeru (褒める). Compliments can come in all shapes, sizes and forms — everything from praising the act to the person itself. For some of us who come from cultures where compliments are taken as a romantic gesture or someone with an ulterior motive, we might be surprised that the Japanese give them out generously. Well, that’s the Japanese for you: generous.

For the Japanese, it’s pretty simple; you don’t have to give compliments at all, but it doesn’t hurt to give them either. They are not tools to build good relationships with people — whether it is for business or personal — even though it can help. The Japanese give compliments genuinely and without malicious intent; they’re all pure-heartedly given.

Everyone loves being praised and getting compliments. If you think someone’s shoes are pretty or they have done something nice to you, why only say “thank you” when it takes less than five seconds to attach a compliment after? It makes your day better, it gives the air a gash of positivity and it sheds a good light on the person giving the compliment — win-win-win! 

Let’s take a look at the various ways you can give compliments and the best phrases that you can use for such situations.

 

Complimenting People

Complimenting people is probably the most common compliment category — and the most important, in my opinion. You meet people on a regular and daily basis. They are the easiest kinds of compliments to give; these are the ones that can just come out of your mouth without thinking!

For the Japanese, complimenting one another is mutually understood. Some of them can burst out compliments without thinking they wanted to; they come so naturally to them! Let’s take a look at the best compliments to give to people in Japanese.

かわいい !(Kawaii!)

The most popular, well-known and common compliment to give to people is, of course, “kawaii” (かわいい). This translates to “cute” but it’s used for almost everything — things, actions and people. Most of the time, this compliment is used for anything that has some sort of lovable charm. 

Some of us have the idea that cute is the image of someone that is feminine, adorable and endearing — we use the English word “cute” that way. In Japan, the cute word “kawaii” is not limited to that. It’s such a generic word that it can be used like “pretty” or “beautiful”. 

Isn’t the flexibility of the usage of the word great?

かっこいい!(Kakkoii!)

While you can compliment a boy or man “kawaii”, it does have a feminine note to the word. If you’re looking to praise a guy’s looks because he is handsome or attractive, the best compliment you can give them is “kakkoii” (かっこいい) which means “cool”. But you don’t really use it the way the English word “cool” is used. While in some situations you can, kakkoii is usually used to compliment someone’s form or looks. 

If someone looks like they’re well put-together, polished and refined, go up to them and compliment them with a “kakkoii”. It can also be used to mean “handsome” — more or less, it has the same nuance. 

If you watch anime, Japanese shows or movies, you would definitely have heard this compliment one way or the other. The most common one would definitely be a group of girls squealing “kakkoii” when talking about an attractive and cool guy.

優しい (Yasashi)

The first two compliments are more about what’s on the outside; this one is more about what’s on the inside. When someone is generally a compassionate and considerate person, say to them “yasashi” (優しい) which means “kind”. 

This compliment has the same nuance as the English compliment “you’re so nice”, but with ten times the genuine factor. Some people don’t like being called the “nice guy” or “nice girl” because of the saying, “nice guys finish last”. Well, it’s completely different from “yasashi” guys and girls; the English saying doesn’t apply.

似合ってる!(Niatteru)

This compliment is my personal favourite; nothing beats a compliment that says something perfectly matches me. “Niatteru” (似合ってる) comes from the word “niau” (似合う) which is used to express harmony, so by complimenting someone with “niatteru”, you’re saying that whatever that person has on them extremely suits them, so much that it’s practically made for them!

This compliment is often used for things like clothes and hairstyles. If your friend comes with a new haircut or a fresh new suit and it looks extremely good on them, give them a “niatteru” compliment — it’ll definitely make their day!

Complimenting Acts & Works

On to the next section on complimenting, and that’s how to compliment someone’s actions and works. It can be any type of action — whether it is to you directly or just in general, it doesn’t matter. 

If you have done a great job on something like a presentation at your job or a sports match, it will feel even better if you got praised for them. Why not be the one that gives these praises? Who knows, you might get some in return the next time! After all, what goes around comes around.

上手!(Jouzu!)

This is the best compliment you can give to anyone when it comes to their work or actions. “Jouzu” (上手) has the meaning of “skillful”. If you’re a foreigner and speak to a Japanese person in Japanese language, there’s almost a 100% probability of them complimenting you with “Nihongo wa jouzu desu!” (日本語は上手です!), which means that your Japanese is very good.

Other times you can use this compliment is whenever a technique or action showed is presented perfectly or excellently. It can also be used to describe a person directly as well.

頑張ってるね (Ganbatterune)

After a long day of working so hard that you’re on the brink of exhaustion, what better way to get your spirits back up than a compliment that recognised your efforts?

If you’re meeting some friends after work or at the office with some colleagues, why not praise them with a “ganbatterune” (頑張ってるね) which translates to “you sure are working hard”. This compliment acknowledges the fact that the person is doing their very best despite the setbacks and problems. 

Compliment Phrases That Can Be Used For Anything & Everything!

Here’s a tip: there are a handful of compliment phrases that are so flexible, you can use them for almost anything! I personally use them all the time — every day, in fact. They’re extremely convenient and easy-to-give compliments that are great practice to get you on the complimenting culture in Japan. Let’s take a look at the top two.

いいね!(Iine!)

I have to say, this is the one compliment you’ll hear every day. “Iine” (いいね) translates to “that’s good” and is a simple yet powerful compliment. It can be used for anything from people themselves to their actions. It’s like the Instagram and Facebook “like” button!

If someone is describing a situation or experience and you think that is something that exceeded the standards of good, you can reply with “iine” — in that case, it’ll translate more to “that’s nice”.

すごい!(Sugoi!)

A level up from “iine” is “sugoi” (すごい) which means “amazing”. Similar to the previous one, you can use it to compliment people and actions — basically anything and everything. It’s like a super like button if there is one.

, it’s used to describe anything that’s extravagant and surprising. When someone told you a superb story or a situation where it’s positively unimaginable, you can go “sugoi!” — it’s like saying “that’s so amazing!” 

Returning Compliments

Now here’s the tricky part — what about the other end of the stick? If you got a compliment, what do you do? Simple: return the compliment. Receive compliments make you feel good, but returning them makes them also feel as good as you, so why not?

But how?

There are a few ways to reciprocate a compliment. It goes without saying that a thank you “arigato” (ありがとう) and maybe a small bow is the ultimate response, but you can definitely add a little extra. 

Be humble about it. A response like “sonna koto nai desu” (そんなことないです) is a good one; this translates to “that’s not true” or “I don’t think so”. 

Express your happiness for getting the flattery. “Ureshii desu” (嬉しいです) has the same meaning as “that made me happy”. It’s quite a normal response to compliments; sometimes even combined with the phrase for being humble (sonna koto nai desu). 

Of course, you can definitely compliment them back. If you received a “kawaii” or “kakkoii” compliment, respond with “anata koso!” (あなたこそ) or “anata mo!” (あなたも!)which has the connotation of “you too!” in English. 

Conclusion

By this point, you’re a complimenting master! It takes zero yen to be nice to someone — what better way to do that than giving out compliments wholeheartedly? It spread such a positive vibe from you, and everyone loves a vibrant and yasashii person. So go out there and spread the love — and compliments!

10 Easy Phrases To Know At A Japanese Restaurant

Introduction

Going to restaurants and ordering food are essential activities in our daily lives, regardless of which country we are in. Especially in a country where the native language isn’t English, it can prove to be rather difficult to get your foodie desires across to the waiter. 

In Japan, the first language of the country is Japanese. Even though the locals are taught English in school, don’t count on them being anywhere near fluent; they’re more on the level of easy and basic words. Going to a Japanese restaurant with little to no idea on how to communicate your order in their native language can be an issue.

To make your Japanese restaurant visit a more seamless experience, why not learn a few easy phrases? It’s a great step to immerse yourself in the culture during your Japan trip. For those looking to or are already learning Japanese, they’re perfect to get the language learning ball rolling. 

What are you waiting for — read on for 10 easy phrases you need to know when you visit a Japanese restaurant!

1. Sumimasen (すみません)

One of the first few things you will need to do when in a restaurant is getting the waiter’s attention so he can make his way to your table and take your order. What do you say during that situation in a Japanese restaurant? The Japanese equivalent of “excuse me” is sumimasen (すみません)

Just like how you would raise your hand up in the air and call out to your waiter, instead of saying “excuse me”, try saying “sumimasen” instead. This word is extremely versatile — it can be used in numerous situations, just like English’s “excuse me”. 

Other than to get your waiter’s attention, you can also use it when you need to get across a bunch of people to go somewhere or even when you accidentally bump shoulders with someone. Basically any situation where you can use “excuse me”, you can use “sumimasen”.

2. Kore kudasai (これください)

You’ve decided what you want to order. You’ve got the waiter’s attention. Now all you need to do is to order from the menu. What do you say in that situation? Easy enough — just point at the item you want and say “kore kudasai” (これください) which translates to “this, please”. 

If you’re looking to order more than one item, just add “to” () in between each item, or “kore” (これ) in this situation. For example, if you have three items, point at each one and say “kore to kore to kore kudasai” (これとこれとこれください). 

You can even say it like how you would in English — by pausing at the commas; so it would be “kore, kore to kore kudasai” (これ、これとこれください). Isn’t that as simple as ABC?

3. … wa arimasuka? (。。はありますか?)

Want something but you don’t see it on the menu? Ask the waiter if they offer it at the restaurant you’re dining at. How, you ask? Well, simply add the item name before “wa arimasuka” (はありますか) to ask “Do you have …?”

For example, you’re craving for coca-cola but the drinks menu only has juices and cocktails. Ask the waiter, “koka kora wa arimasuka?” (コカコラはありますか?) He’ll either respond yes or no, and you’ll be able to figure it out based on the body gestures. For reference, yes is “hai” (はい) and no is “iie” (いいえ).

A bonus tip: if the waiter says that they do have the item you enquire about and you would like to order it, respond with “jaa, koka kora onegaushimasu” (じゃあ、コカコラお願いします) to order your refreshing glass of fizzy sweet drink.

4. Tennai de (店内で)

Some might argue that you won’t need this phrase, but I personally have been in quite a few situations where I have to use this. Especially for cafes and bistros — not so much dine in-only restaurants — the staff that greets you at the door would ask if you’re eating in or getting takeout. 

To dine in, use the phrase “tennai de (店内で) which literally translates to “in store”. This means that you’re going to be in the store while you savour the food you’re ordering. Another way of saying it — a less common way but still understandable — is “koko de tabemasu” (ここで食べます) which means “I’ll be eating here”.

Of course, if you’re taking out, you can just say the Japanese way of pronouncing “take out” which is “teku outo” (テークアウト).

5. Dorinku wa tabemono no ato de kudasai (ドリンクは食べ物の後でください)

In Japan, you’ll always be given a choice of getting your drink served before your main meal or after. The staff will more often than not ask for your preference. Usually, drinks are served after so that you’ll be able to enjoy them freshly made instead of it being diluted (if you ordered iced) or cold (if you ordered a hot drink).

To request to have your drink served after the main dish, just say to the waiter “dorinku wa tabemono no ato de kudasai” (ドリンク食べ物ください). This roughly translates to “serve the drink after the meal, please”. 

If you would prefer to have the drink before your main dish, switch the “ato” () out with “saki” ().

6. Omizu kudasai (お水ください)

In Japan, you will always be served with complimentary water. I personally love this aspect of customer service. What’s more, you’ll get free refills! Most of the time, the waiter that goes around checking on the guests are the ones refilling the cups of water automatically when they see any empty, but there’s also a chance of them missing yours out.

In that case, call out to the water and say “omizu kudasai” (おください) which translates to “water, please”. You can also use this phrase when the restaurant doesn’t automatically serve water to you at the start. Don’t worry, they’re almost always complimentary, even if it’s not served at the start.

7. Osusume wa nandesuka? (オススメはなんですか?)

If you’re like me, you’ll always want to order the chef’s recommendation menu item or the most popular one — especially if it’s at a restaurant I haven’t been to before. I wouldn’t want to spend on something that’s second-best; I want the best!

Get the waiter’s attention and ask what he would recommend on the menu. To do that, say “osusume wa nandesuka?” (オススメはなんですか?) which means “what are your recommendations?” Don’t be taken aback when the waiter replies in all Japanese — simply gesture him to point at the menu. Most of the time, they will.

8. Okaikei onegaishimasu (お会計お願いします)

After your delicious, hefty meal, you’re satisfied and full — and it’s time to get going to your next adventure in Japan. If the bill isn’t already on your table (the Japanese tend to have a system of billing the customers before they even have a bite), ask for it. Call out to the waiter, “okaikei onegaishimasu” (お会計お願いします) which translates to “bill, please”.

Once you’ve got your bill, there are two ways to pay them: either the waiter comes to you with a bill holder or you’ll be given a slip to hand it to the cashier who’s usually at the entrance of the restaurant. Most of the time, it’s the latter situation.

9. Betsu betsu de haraimasu (別々で払います)

When you’re eating out with a group of friends, splitting the bill can get rather confusing. Who ate what, how is it splitting, tax-calculating, having exact change and payment method — there are so many things to consider. It’s supposed to be a leisurely meal, not a calculating episode.

Don’t worry, Japan has got you covered. Almost all of the restaurants and other eateries have gotten the system of splitting the bill set up. Simply tell the cashier “betsu betsu de haraimasu” (別々払います) to mean “we’re paying separately”. Then, tell the cashier what menu items are yours and they’ll key in the exact amount, including tax, for you. It’s as easy as that! No hassle about calculation — it’ll all be done for you!

10. Gochisousama deshita (ごちそうさまでした)

You’ve had a wonderful time at the restaurant and enjoyed the delicious meals and the high quality of customer service. You’d want to show your gratitude and appreciation. However, unlike in other countries, Japan has no tipping culture. How does one do it then?

Before you go out the door, turn back and say “gochisousama deshita” (ごちそうさまでした) to whichever staff that is sending you off. This phrase has a few different meanings, but it roughly translates to “thank you for the food”. It’s a common saying after a meal in Japanese culture to show appreciation to the person or place that provided your meal.

Conclusion                               

And there you have it; you’re on your way to ordering like a pro at any Japanese restaurant! Don’t worry if you don’t remember all the phrases or any helping vocabularies — the pointing technique usually works for most. It does take a while to get used to, but rest assured that by the time you’re ordering food at your tenth restaurant, you’re more than capable. Who knows, you might even know more than what is on this list!

Japanese Writing Systems: How Significant Are They Individually?

Introduction

Those of us who have learned or are still learning Japanese would be aware of the various writing systems in the Japanese language. Some of us were even taken aback and overwhelmed by the number of characters in just the hiragana writing system, let alone all three! At one point during our studying period, we probably wondered if it’s even necessary to learn all three of the Japanese writing systems. I mean, surely a language wouldn’t need that many characters.

I bet we go back and forth with ourselves on whether or not it’s worth memorizing every single hiragana (ひらがな), katakana (カタカナ), and the infinite kanji (漢字) characters. How significant are each of the Japanese writing systems, actually? Let’s find out!

The Japanese Writing Systems: Hiragana, Katakana & Kanji

The Japanese writing system sounds very technical, doesn’t it? Well, the term is unavoidable — it is the very basics of the Japanese language. In English, there is only one script: the Latin script. In Japanese, they have three: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Technically four, as the romaji (ローマ字) is also a kind of writing system but the Japanese don’t use them as often as this system is just the Romanisation of the Japanese language.

Hiragana and katakana writing systems are native to Japan. The characters for these scripts are syllable sounds. Kanji, on the other hand, is borrowed from China and is made up of logograms where each character represents whole words instead.

In just one sentence, you’ll see all three of the writing scripts. Just by introducing your name in a sentence like “私の名前はアズラです” (this translates to “My name is Azra”) already has hiragana, katakana, and kanji in it!

Bonus point: the combined name for hiragana and katakana is called kana (仮名).

Hiragana

Let’s take a look at the first Japanese writing system, the hiragana. The system has 46 basic characters and each one of them has its own sound. The main vowels are a, i, e, o, and u — similar to the English language. They’re written as あ, い, え, お and う.

The hiragana was created by the women as a simpler alternative to the kanji back in the 8th century. During those days, only the men were allowed to be educated in reading and writing. Kanji was also the only writing system back then. After a while, the men realized that the hiragana is based on sounds rather than logograms, so they took up this writing system as well.

Hiragana is mostly used for particles, adverbs, postpositions, auxiliary verbs, function words, and Japanese origin words. Sometimes they are used as a replacement for kanji characters when there is no kanji for it, or even when the kanji is too high-level to be read by others. There’s also the time when hiragana is used as furigana (ふりがな), which is a Japanese reading aid where the hiragana characters are above the kanji characters to help with pronunciation. 

The word sumimasen (すみません), translating to “excuse me”, is fully written in hiragana because its origin is Japanese. This is also the same for the word yokoso (ようこそ) to mean welcome.

Katakana 

Just like the hiragana, the katakana is also a native writing system of Japan based on sounds rather than logograms. The katakana has a more angular shape compared to the hiragana which are more rounded and cursive. The katakana writing system also has the same vowels of a, e, i, o and u, but they are written as ア, エ,イ, オ and ウ. If they’re so similar, why the need for another writing system?

The katakana writing system has a similar history to the hiragana writing system — both stem from how difficult kanji is and hence the birth of these new alphabet systems. The difference between hiragana and katakana is that the katakana characters are just simplified versions of the kanji symbols themselves. After a while, they were standardized to become an alphabet. 

Back then, they were a companion to the kanji characters. Now, they are used to write words of foreign origin, modern loan words, slang, and colloquialisms. Words like kohi (コーヒ, which is coffee in Japanese) and keki (ケーキ, to mean cake) are all written in katakana as they are foreign loan words.

Kanji

Here comes the arguably hardest writing system of all of the Japanese writing system: the kanji. It is the first writing system introduced in Japan in the 4th century. The Japanese had their own spoken language but not a written one. 

The kanji characters are logograms, which means each character is like a picture that represents words or even an idea. Sometimes, one kanji character can contain various symbols, each with their own meanings! There are about 50,000 kanji characters in existence — don’t panic just yet, studies showed that 500 of the most common kanji can account for 80% of the entire kanji in a regular text script like a newspaper.

While they are loaned from the China language, the pronunciations of the kanji characters are quite different. The Japanese took the characters of the Chinese kanji and matched it to the same word in the Japanese language. The Chinese pronunciation is still used to this day, however. So there are two ways of pronouncing just one kanji: the Chinese way which is the onyomi (音読み) and the Japanese way which is the kunyomi (訓読み).

Take the kanji to mean “mountain” for example. A Japanese person will look at it and pronounce it the kunyomi way, “yama (やま)”, but a Chinese will look at it and pronounce the onyomi pronunciation, which is “san (さん)”.

Kanji characters are used when there are content-heavy words — nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives are all possible to be written in kanji. Because of that, you’re more likely to see kanji characters than kana characters in Japanese texts. 

Are All Of Them Significant in Japanese Writing?

So the question remains: are all of the Japanese writing systems significant in the language? The answer is: yes! 

Having all three of the Japanese writing systems in a sentence creates easier readability, especially the kanji characters. They create natural pauses and breaks in a sentence for the reader to separate which ones are nouns and which are verbs. Having a hiragana-only sentence is like having an English sentence without the spaces — extremely difficult to read and more-than-borderline confusing!

The katakana adds an extra specialty to the Japanese sentences. In my opinion, it adds that unique notion — sometimes the katakana words look classier and more modern, don’t you think? 

Conclusion

It might be easier to convince yourself that one (or two) of the Japanese writing systems is not significant enough to include in your Japanese studies — I mean, one can pull off a full sentence with just hiragana alone, right? However, why put in half the effort into the Japanese language learning when you can hustle just at the start by memorizing a couple more characters and have it easier later on — especially now that we know all three of the Japanese writing systems are extremely significant individually and together!

Is Kanji Important in Japanese Language?

Introduction

The Japanese language has three writing systems: hiragana (ひらがな), katakana (カタカナ) and kanji (漢字). In one sentence, you can have all three! How amazing is that! However, for those who are considering picking up the language, it might be intimidating as three writing systems seems like a challenge — some might have the mentality that one writing system is hard enough to master!

Out of the three, kanji is usually the writing system that Japanese learners have difficulty in getting used to. Each character looks so complicated and there are so many characters that it seems like there is no end to them! Because of that, some even drop the kanji and focus on the other two writing systems, hiragana and katakana.

This brings up the question: how important is kanji in the Japanese language that one can just not study it? Does one really need to know the kanji to be fluent in Japanese? Let’s take a look at the importance of kanji and how it plays a role in this culturally rich language!

Kanji As One of Three Japanese Writing Systems

Kanji characters in the Japanese language are basically the Chinese characters. The Japanese adopted the kanji from them, however, there is no direct link between the two language families other than using the same characters. In fact, there are even differences between how the Chinese pronounce their characters and how the Japanese pronounce their characters. This is known as the onyomi (音読み) and kunyomi (訓読み). The onyomi is the Chinese-style reading based on the sounds of the ancient Chinese languages. Kunyomi is the native Japanese reading.

An example is the kanji . The Chinese pronunciation, the onyomi, is “sou” while the Japanese pronunciation, the kunyomi, is “kusa”. The kanji on its own is pronounced in kunyomi, but when it is connected with another kanji, both words are pronounced in the onyomi way most of the time. For example, if the kanji 草 joins with the kanji 食, it becomes soushoku (草食) to mean herbivorous. 

How cool are the flexible changes of kanji in the Japanese language?

The Importance of Kanji in the Japanese Language

You may not want to believe it, but kanji is extremely important in the Japanese language. They are so significant in interpreting the meanings of the sentence and words. There’s not only one way that the kanji is notably useful in the Japanese language — there’s quite a few. Let’s take a look at some of them!

Prediction of meanings

While it’s best to know the pronunciation of the kanji characters, even if you don’t, you can somehow guess the context if you know the meaning of the kanji character. Once you can recognize kanji characters individually, you can definitely recognize them when they’re joined together.

For example, the word for anthropology in Japanese is jinruigaku (人類学). Even if you don’t know the word in Japanese and how it’s pronounced, you can guess what the word of combined kanji characters based on the individual meaning. The kanji refers to “human”, the kanji means “kind” and the kanji has the meaning of “study”. All of these kanji characters are basic to lower-intermediate. If you combine all of them together, you can guess that the combined kanji characters refer to the study of humankind. 

This technique can be applied to most, if not all, of the kanji characters in the Japanese language.

Distinguish homonyms

In the Japanese language, there are tons of homonyms, which means that there are so many words that have the same pronunciation and sound. One pronunciation can have over 50 different meanings! The Japanese differentiate them from the kanji characters. 

A simple example is the pronunciation of “kanji”. Even this pronunciation has at least two different meanings. One is kanji (漢字) which refers to the Chinese characters, and the other is kanji (感じ) which has the meaning of “feeling”. These two words have totally different meanings but the exact same pronunciation! If one uses just the hiragana which is かんじ, people reading it wouldn’t be sure what it’s actually referring to, but with the kanji characters, they’ll be able to.

Another example is the pronunciation “kigen”. It can mean a few things: origin (起源), deadline (期限), mood (機嫌), and era (紀元) are just a few examples.

Radicals

Radicals refer to the components in a kanji character. Some kanji characters are made up of a few other kanji characters squished together into one character. For example, the kanji refers to “wood”, but it is also a radical in a few other kanji characters like branch (), cedar (), root () and forest (). On the left side of the kanji character, you can identify the 木 kanji. Similar to predicting the meanings of a word consisting of kanji characters, you can also predict a kanji character based on the radicals made up of other kanji characters.

Another example is water (). You can find the radical of water in these words: liquid (), sea (), pond (), lake (), teardrop (), waterfall () and so many more!

Some radicals are not always on the left side. They can be on the right side, upper side or even lower side. The kanji , is a radical in a few of these kanji on the upper side: flower (), strawberry (), tea () and potato (). All of the kanji characters with the same radical are related to the same thing, and in this case, they’re related to plants.

Why Should We Learn Kanji?

It might be easier to just stick to hiragana and katakana. Maybe starting out, it definitely is more convenient, especially if you’re trying to grasp the basic vocabulary and grammar. But if you’re looking to advance more, kanji is definitely essential.

If the importance of kanji in the Japanese language is not convincing enough to learn kanji, then here are other reasons why we should all learn kanji when learning the Japanese language:

Kanji gives meaning to words

Without kanji characters, one would just have to guess the meaning based on context, like in English. But with kanji characters, it gives the words meaning and assists the reader. It’s easier to differentiate one meaning from the other with the kanji characters. On top of that, it gives the word some character and personality. Once you get the hang of the kanji characters, you’ll realize the kanji characters reflect the same essence of the meaning. For example, has the meaning of love, and in that sense, the kanji gives off a warm embrace.

Kanji makes sentences easier to read

You wouldn’t believe it, but kanji makes sentences far easier to read than if it were just made up of hiragana. It makes you a faster reader in the long run. Once you are super familiar with kanji characters, you’ll end up sprinting through a book in minutes (that’s an exaggeration, but you know what we mean).

Let’s use an example:

きょうはすしをたべにいきますか?

Kyou wa sushi o tabe ni ikimasu ka?

It is arguably harder to read than when there is kanji involved. Here’s the sentence with kanji:

今日寿司食べに行きますか

Sometimes, some people can even skim over the recognized kanji instead of sounding out each hiragana character in their head. It’s like recognizing a picture — your mind understands it and grasps it well but doesn’t have to sound it all out. Similarly, you’ll be able to understand the meaning of a sentence just by recognizing each kanji one by one instantly.

Kanji takes up less space

One kanji character can have two to three (or even more) syllables. If you’re writing a sentence with only hiragana, you’ll be using a lot of space for each syllable, whereas if there are kanji characters involved, you’re basically compressing some syllables into one space. Instead of a 10-page paper, you’ll end up with a 7-page paper with the use of kanji because it takes up less space, making it very efficient and even neater.

Useful Kanjis To Know

With all this talk about kanji, here are some really useful kanji characters to know that will help you with future kanji characters that might be more complicated and confusing:

— enter

— entrance

— exit

— station

— car

— left

— right

— electricity

The Wrap-up

Kanji is just as important as the other two writing systems in the Japanese language. While it is a bit more of a challenge compared to hiragana and katakana, you’ll not only be thankful that you learned it because it’s so widely used in Japan but also proud of yourself for mastering this writing system. Ganbatte (頑張って), you can do it if you put in the effort!

Pick Up Calligraphy To Improve Your Japanese!

Introduction

Don’t jump to any conclusions about calligraphy just yet. Whatever it is, this article will change your mind! It doesn’t matter if you’re the last person on Earth to be doing any sort of art. You’re not doing calligraphy for art, but for learning Japanese!

There might not be a direct link in your mind just yet. Books are for learning — how can an art form be useful in terms of improving your Japanese? Well, just like how Netflix can improve one’s Japanese ability, so can calligraphy! Both are unorthodox ways of language-learning, but if you do it right, you will beat the norm of language education and master the fun methods of going about them!

 

Enough talk about if calligraphy will help and move on to how calligraphy will help improve your Japanese! Let’s take a look at what calligraphy really is, how it relates to Japanese culture and ways to go about making calligraphy work for your Japanese language-learning!

What is Calligraphy?

Before we get into it, let’s break down what calligraphy actually means. Calligraphy is a visual art form, particularly related to writing. It is more of decorative handwriting usually produced with a broad-tip tool like a pen or brush. 

Just like how every individual’s handwriting gives the one writing a unique insight into their personality, calligraphy is like giving these standard characters and alphabets a special form in a more elaborate and expressive manner.

Calligraphy has its roots in ancient history. Dozens of cultures, not only the Japanese culture, have some form of calligraphy in them. Because each culture’s calligraphy form differs from the other, it’s easy enough to figure out which calligraphy is whose. That’s the beauty of this art form.

Even being an ancient practice and art, calligraphy has remained a strong influence in today’s modern society. Calligraphy is present in all sorts of things, everything from the modern designs and paintings to preserving the ancient craft with classes educating on them. 

Calligraphy in Japanese Culture

Even though calligraphy is present all throughout the world, it has a special significance in Japanese culture. To the Japanese, it is not only an art form but it is also a means of communication as well as a Zen practice — evoking wisdom and harmony just like the entirety of Zen itself. Japanese calligraphy is known as shodo (書道), translating to “the way of writing”. 

Calligraphy skills can be passed down from generation to generation, preserving the authenticity and skill from the first generation when it was first introduced in the sixth to the seventh century. Even though the practice of calligraphy in Japan originated in China, just like how the kanji (漢字) characters are borrowed from them as well, the Japanese calligraphy developed their own unique touches throughout the centuries.

The basics of Japanese calligraphy are with the use of a bamboo brush dipped in sumi () ink — a type of ink made from perfume, animal glue, and pine tree soot. There is an emphasis on beauty and balance in Japanese calligraphy. Each brushstroke is like a meditative and spiritual offering, similar to other aspects of Japanese culture like the Japanese tea ceremonies and Japanese flower arrangement art.

Styles of Japanese Calligraphy

Under the broad category of Japanese calligraphy, there are various styles of calligraphy included. The three basic styles of shodo are: kaisho (楷書), gyosho (行書) and sosho (草書).

Kaisho style of calligraphy is the regular, block-style script. The “kai” () in “kaisho” holds the meaning of “correctness”.  Those who go to shodo school (a school specializing in educating the Japanese calligraphy) start off by learning this style of calligraphy. The block style is known as the basics of Japanese calligraphy — much like a foundation. There is an order for every stroke and has to be perfectly executed. 

The second style of calligraphy is the gyosho, which is the moving style — a perfect description of the technique used for this style of calligraphy. Gyosho is more of a semi-cursive script and is less formal than the kaisho, focusing on the fluidity and free motion of the brushstrokes. Once the brush touches the paper, the calligrapher won’t leave the paper until the very end. It’s all in one stroke with the intention to continue to the next character. This style of Japanese calligraphy often opens up more creative expressions for calligraphy artists. 

Last but definitely not least, there is the sosho calligraphy style which is the cursive Japanese calligraphy. This is arguably the most difficult style of calligraphy. The literal translation of sosho is “grass script” and this style has the effect of grass blowing in the wind where the characters flow into each other. Don’t be surprised to see some strokes eliminated from some characters — that’s to create the smooth writing. You can sosho calligraphy in abstract Japanese art, especially Zen art, where energy is transmitted into the works.

How Can Calligraphy Improve Japanese?

How can an art form such as Japanese calligraphy help in one’s Japanese language ability? Well, there are a few ways calligraphy can improve your Japanese solely because it’s an art form! Here are the top ways calligraphy can be your ultimate language learning aid for your Japanese studies!

Exposure

If — and when — you pick up calligraphy to improve your Japanese, there will be numerous times where you are faced with words and kanji characters that you have not seen before. Naturally, you’ll get curious about it and its meaning, and then look it up. At the end of the day, you’ll be exposed to more Japanese words and kanji characters just through picking up Japanese calligraphy! 

Visual Learning

There’s the saying “a picture speaks a thousand words”. Japanese calligraphy art creates pictures and visuals of various Japanese words — be it in hiragana, katakana or kanji, that doesn’t really matter. Your brain is more prone to absorb and process information through a visual form like pictures, and you’re more likely to remember the new things you learn because of the visual learning aspect of Japanese calligraphy! 

Repetition in Writing

Of course, no one starts off as an expert. When you first get into Japanese calligraphy, you’ll find yourself repeating the same characters and words over and over again to master the brushstrokes and form. There’s this notion of repetition, and we all are aware that repetition is key when it comes to learning something new. Through calligraphy, you’re bound to memorize the ways to write a kanji character and eventually recognise it when you’re out and about in Japan. Imagine doing that for quite some time for a lot of Japanese words and kanji characters — you’ll be a pro in no time!

Conclusion

Who would’ve thought that something as intricate as calligraphy can be a fun way of improving your Japanese! You don’t have to be an artist to take up Japanese calligraphy as a hobby, especially if your main intention is for it to be a learning tool for your Japanese language learning. Look at it this way: not only will your Japanese language ability improve, but you also picked up a new skill that you wouldn’t normally do. That’s a win-win, in my opinion!

10 Interesting Facts About the Japanese Language

Introduction

We can all agree that Japan is a wonderful country with a rich culture and beautiful traditions. People from all over the globe dream to travel to the Land of the Rising Sun at least once in their lives. Everything from arts and literature to religion and language in the Japanese culture is intriguing. There’s always something more to ponder on even after thousands of questions already answered.

The Japanese language is not short of its own intriguing facts. Those who have learned or are learning the language will figure out that there is some stuff about the Japanese language that is unique to itself and no other language has it. Here are the 10 — even though it’s not limited to only these — interesting facts about the Japanese language!

1. There are multiple ways to say “I”

It might sound unusual for some of us who only have one way of saying “I” in their native language. In Japanese, there are so many ways to say “I” that you’d lose count after 10! In fact, there are over 20 variants of “I” in Japanese — how cool is that? Here are the top 5 ways of saying “I” in Japanese that you’ll hear more often:

  1. Watashi () — This is the most common way of saying “I”. Foreigners who are learning the Japanese language will probably be familiar with this first than the rest. Watashi is used both casually and formally, which is what makes it so special. 
  2. Boku () — This way of saying “I” is less formal than watashi. It’s more often used by males. Even though watashi is ranked higher in the formality ranking, it is still acceptable to use boku during formal occasions like meetings.
  3. Ore () — Similar to boku, ore is only used by males. However, in terms of formality, it’s the total opposite. Ore has a harsher tone than most, and sometimes it can even be considered rude. 
  4. Jibun (自分) — On top of “I”, this word can translate to “myself” as well. In a way, jibun is used to refer to yourself as a second person which can make things confusing. Regardless, the Japanese still use jibun for “I”. 
  5. Atakushi (あたくし) / Atashi (あたし) — These two have a fine line to differentiate them. They’re both used by females only, and it’s often used in informal situations like speaking to a familiar friend or junior.
  6. Ware () — This is one of the higher ones in terms of formality. You won’t hear this word to refer to “I” outside of a speech or business meeting, but it is still commonly used. The plural form of this is wareware (我々).
  7. Washi () — This way of saying “I” is more often than not heard in the Kansai region. You won’t really hear it being used other than by the people from Kansai (they are known to have an interesting dialect in the Japanese language in general). The older men and women are the ones using it.

2. One pronunciation, various characters

In the Japanese language, there are three writing systems. One of them is kanji (漢字). What’s amazing about kanji is that multiple characters that look significantly different from each other can have the same pronunciation. Let’s look at an example of how one way of reading or pronouncing can have various different characters with different meanings:

Pronouncing “shin” (しん) can be for:

— true

— new

— believe

— stretch

— god

— heart

— parent

— advance

All of the above kanji is pronounced as “shin”. Even with 8 mentioned, there are still countless other kanjis that have the same pronunciation!

3. One character, various pronunciations

The opposite is also true. The above shows that one pronunciation can have many characters, so it’s also possible for one character to have various pronunciations. Let’s take a look at one example of such a situation:

The kanji character for “person” is . This specific character has various ways of pronouncing it. It can be read as hito (ひと), jin (じん), tari (たり), to (と), ri (り) and (にん). While all of the pronunciation relates to the original meaning of person, the exact meaning depends on the context. How it’s pronounced is also based on that. Hitori (一人) refers to “one person”, and has the “ri” pronunciation for the kanji character. Therefore, depending on what it’s attached to and the overall meaning, the pronunciation of the kanji character will change accordingly.

4. Romaji roots are in Christianity

One might think that the romanisation of the Japanese language was created when Japan had trade relations and interactions with the European countries in the 16th century. That’s not exactly how romaji (ローマジ) came about. Its roots are actually in Christianity!

In the 1500s, a Japanese Catholic wanted to promote the Jesuit religion in Japan to the European missionaries without having them learn the complicated ways of the Japanese language. He created the romaji to ease the process. 

The first-ever Japanese-English dictionary that made use of the romaji was published by James Curtis Hepburn in the 1800s. Because of that, the Japanese romanisation is now also known as the Hepburn Romanisation!

Romaji now is used to aid non-native Japanese learners when it comes to studying the language. As Japanese sounds are clear and pronounced, the romaji reading is quite accurate for these learners to sound out the Japanese characters.

5. Japanese verbs have no conjugations

You might think that picking up another language is hard because there’s so many complications to languages. Take a look at English — there are so many conjugations of just one verb. The verb “see” can be conjugated to “saw”, “have seen” and so on. But in the Japanese language, there’s no such thing. The language is pretty straight forward, making it easier to learn! All the learner needs to memorise the main verb!

6. There are no articles

Another feature that makes the Japanese language easier to learn than most languages is that there are no articles in the language! In English, there are articles like “an”, “a” and “the”. But in the Japanese language, there’s no way to differentiate the difference as there are no particles. That’s why it’s much easier for English speakers to learn the Japanese language as it is for the Japanese to learn English, because for them, there is much more to learn.

7. Japanese is one of the world’s fastest languages

How does one measure the speed of languages? Well, there are ways to go about them. There are such things like syllabic rate, informational density and information rate. These are all confusing, so let’s explain it in easier terms. 

There have been studies that compare the various languages. Even though with proper research, testing languages for their speed and information density can be a bit hard to measure. Languages have their own dialects and the speed is affected by the various personalities of people. But these studies take the average speakers to do the testing.

From it all, it is found that the Japanese is the fastest spoken language in the world! It has at least eight syllables per second, beating French, Italian and Spanish!

However, even though the Japanese language is the fastest, that doesn’t mean it delivers the most information. In fact, the Japanese language delivers the lowest amount of information based on their information density per second. In other words, even though a lot has been said, not a lot of information is being given. That’s not surprising though — it takes all eight syllables in the Japanese language to say “not”. 

8. Japanese is not a tonal language

Compared to the neighbouring countries’ languages, it’s surprising that Japanese is not a tonal language. A tonal language is one where the tone is relied on to convey the meaning of words. There are fewer distinct syllables and use the inflection to differentiate between similar words.

Mandarin, Cantonese Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese are just some examples that rely on tone. All of these are in countries in East Asia where Japan is at as well, making it surprising that the Japanese language isn’t a tonal one.

This is not a bad thing, though! For those of us who are trying to learn Japanese, this comes as a relief. Tonal languages can be harder to learn and get used to. However, just like every other language, the Japanese language does have a certain rhythm and flow. That’s pretty easy to catch if you’re exposed to the language speech enough.

9. There is no plural form

This may come as a surprise to some but the Japanese language does not have plural forms! In English, to differentiate if it’s a single item or multiple items, we can add “-s” at the end of the noun. The sentence structure changes as well. It goes from “this is a book” to “these are books”. In the Japanese language, however, for both of the English sentences above, it is just “これは本です”. 

The form of the word doesn’t change, whether or not it’s singular or plural. While there are counters to explain the quantity like takusan (たくさん), one has to usually take a guess or assume the quantity based on the first sentence.

10. Japanese has no relations to other languages

A popular belief is that the Japanese language is related to the Chinese language. While the Chinese characters are used as one of the Japanese writing systems, there is no genetic relation to the Chinese language family. In fact, the Japanese language is one of the most unique languages in the world! There is no direct derivative language that makes the Japanese language. It is unique, just like every other aspect of the Japanese culture.

The Wrap-up

Who would have thought that there is so much power in the Japanese language. With so many ways to say one thing as well as one way to refer to multiple things, it’s a unique language that is not at all difficult to pick up. After all, there aren’t any articles, verb conjugation and plural forms of nouns. That just cancels out a whole chunk of grammar that one would have to learn if it were English. If you were considering whether or not to learn Japanese, these interesting facts are definitely deciding factors for you!

Japanese Honorifics: What Are They?

Introduction

Whether it’s from an anime or Japanese drama that you watched, a manga you read, or from learning Japanese, you’ve bound to come across suffixes that are used to address people. These are called Japanese honorifics and they’re just like our version of “sir” and “ma’am”.

It’s quite a big deal in Japanese culture — the use of honorifics indicates the kind of relationship you have with the person, conveys formality and respect, and is a form of politeness. There is an honorific suffix for every situation; both informal and formal honorifics exist. That just goes to show how important they are in the culture.

The list of honorifics can go for as long as one can imagine, but here we’ll take a look at the most common ones that you’ll hear quite frequently in Japanese shows and movies, mangas and even on the streets of Japan!

Honorifics in Japanese Culture

Before anything else, let’s talk a bit more about honorifics in Japanese culture. For us as English speakers, we might not be so familiar with the concept of honorifics. While we don’t have such an extensive range of honorifics, we do have some terms like Mr., Miss, Mrs., and Dr. The difference is that, for us, they’re prefixes rather than suffixes.

In Japanese culture, the hierarchy factor is quite significant. Honorifics play a huge role in understanding the complexity of the unique communication system of the Japanese. Different honorifics are used based on criteria such as age, social status, a field of work, job title, and your place (whether it is superior, inferior, or neutral) to the other person. Depending on these, they’ll reflect in your conversation with the other person — with some people, you’ll have less of a formal language while with others, it can get quite formal. 

Japanese honorifics are attached to the end of the person’s name, and it’s usually the last name. It’s not that common in Japanese culture to call a person by their first name unless you’re extremely familiar with that person. Another thing to note that it’s also extremely rude to call someone just by their last name without any honorifics, so let’s try not to offend anyone!

There are also occasions where you shouldn’t use honorifics: when talking about yourself, when the other person asks you to not use them (in Japanese, it’s called yobisute 呼び捨て), when talking to someone from your family or inner circle (uchi, ), and when talking to someone from your outer circle (soto, ) about someone from your inner circle. 

Sometimes, you can also drop the “o” (お) prefix to make it more colloquial. For example, you can drop the “o” お from “oka-san” お母さん to be “ka-san” 母さん. It’s like a jump from saying mother to mum. Take note that you can’t do it for all — sometimes it can come off as rude, so check with your Japanese friends first!

There are tons of honorifics in Japanese culture — how does one know which and when to use them? Let’s take a look at the common ones and the situations we can use them for.

-san

The most common honorific is -san (さん) and it’s on the higher end of the formality spectrum. It can loosely translate to Ms. or Mr.. Most of the time, this suffix is used among colleagues at work, fellow students at school, and also acquaintances that you’re not so familiar with — regardless of age or gender. 

This Japanese honorific is probably the one you can use confidently without offending anyone but at the same time without going overboard. When you’re unsure of what Japanese suffix to use, go for -san — it’s the safest bet. The worst response you’ll get is the other person telling you to not be formal and drop the suffix; in that case, that’s a win for you!

-sama

A step higher from the -san suffix is the -sama (), and it’s the most formal honorific of them all. This Japanese honorific is used to refer to deities like God (kamisama, 神様), royalty (ohime-sama, お姫様) and in extremely specific situations towards people of higher status. 

A most common one you’ll hear in Japan is okyakusama (お客様) which refers to the customers. In Japan, customers bear a sense of social superiority, hence you’ll often be referred to with -sama attached to your name if you’re at a store. It’s similar to “Mister” or “Madam” in English, but twice the formality.

You can also try to use -sama to flatter people casually or be sarcastic. For example, you can add -sama to the slang male term for “I” (ore, ) to make ore-sama (俺様), which is like “my royal self”.

-kun

This Japanese honorific is most often used for younger men and male teenagers; like a male classmate or younger brother. Occasionally, it can be used to refer to young women, but that doesn’t happen as frequently. The suffix -kun () has the same kanji as kimi (), which is an informal way of saying “you” — so the formality level of this Japanese honorific is not as high as the other two mentioned earlier.

This Japanese honorific is usually used by people who are seen as superior, like when a person of higher status talks to a younger person. The rules aren’t as strict and straightforward for this one though; sometimes it can be a casual reference to a cute boy.

-chan

The female version of -kun is -chan (ちゃん). This Japanese honorific has an endearing tone to it and is mostly used for children. It doesn’t limit to just that though — most of the time, grandmothers are called oba-chan (おばちゃん) and other female members of the family use the -chan honorific as well.

While it’s mostly used for girls, some boys also use -chan. Rather than it being a feminine honorific, it just adds a sense of cuteness to a person’s name. It also indicates that you’re familiar with the person. 

Because it’s an informal honorific, be careful not to use it for people you’re not familiar with. It might come across as rude and uncalled for. 

-senpai

I bet you’ve heard of the phrase “notice me, senpai”. This Japanese honorific, -senpai (先輩) is used for people of higher status or higher up the hierarchy chain. This term is usually used in school, at work and in other similar situations. There’s a level of respect attached to this honorific, as it is someone that’s above you.

The opposite of a senpai is a kohai (後輩), which means junior, but you don’t usually use it as an honorific or suffix. 

-sensei

Last but definitely not least is the -sensei (先生) honorific. Sensei actually translates to “teacher” on its own, but as an honorific, it can be used for any authority figures like teachers, doctors, politicians and lawyers. There’s a level of respect attached to this suffix as it acknowledges that the person has achieved a certain level of mastery in a skill.

Conclusion

And there you have it, the most common honorifics in Japanese culture! While there are quite a few more, they’re not as common and not as flexible to use as the ones mentioned above. Plus, we can go through life in Japan with just these honorifics without ever touching the other ones, so why bother? Get accustomed with these suffixes and try using them with your family and friends first — who knows, they’ll end up calling you -chan by the end of it!