Archive for June, 2011

When you go to a new country, you want to try new and interesting foods, right? Japan has an endless variety of food and while you are studying Japanese, it can be an interesting way to learn bits and pieces of Japanese culture. Japan has a very rich food culture that both stays true to it’s roots and embraces endless variety of foreign and fusion styles. In this series, I’ll talk about the eating and drinking aspects of Japanese culture.

The Meal

The most important thing to understand about food in Japan is that the concept of a meal is very different in Japan. A meal is supposed to have some sort of meat, some sort of vegetable and either bread, noodles or rice. Subtract one from the mix and it may not be considered a meal for some. I’ve seen Japanese eat endless amount of vegetables and meat and still claim to be hungry because there is no rice, but as long as they have all three, they seem to be satisfied whether it’s portion made for a monster or for a mouse. The main dish is considered to be the rice, bread or noodle part. Everything else is side dishes, even if it’s the smallest part and even if you are anticipating it the least. The nice thing about this is that most things come in sets and you can find some really cheap lunch specials.

The one time this “main dish” rule does not apply is when drinking with co-workers or friends in a party like setting (and these settings are very common in Japan). At izakaya (or a cross between a restaurant and a bar with private seating), people forget the rules of balance and often beer becomes their starch of choice while they slowly eat all kinds of side dishes and share everything.

Drinks

Ordering a drink is almost understood at a Japanese. Of course no waiter or chef will get angry with you if you don’t drink alcohol but since food is often set at very fair prices, a lot of places make their money from drinks so depending on the price of the meal, at a local place, you may want to consider ordering at least an ice tea or coffee to keep the place running. The soft drinks are often close in price to the alcohol so some people find themselves drinking a lot more alcohol, trying to get more bang for their buck. I am certainly guilty of this. I usually check the atmosphere first to see if I can get away with not ordering a drink. If everyone around me is drunk or in a group or if the food is dirt cheap, I take it as a cue to get a drink. If it’s all families or if the dishes seem priced to make a profit, I skip the drink. Since I live in cafe’s, I am often ordering a drink though. We’ll talk all about drinking culture and the Izakaya in a future article.

Portions

There is a common complaint among some foreigners that portions are too small in Japan. I think this is a matter of expectations and if you don’t compare it to your own country, you may find yourself quite satisfied with the portions. Remember, it is considered polite to finish your entire meal and a chef may even feel a little pinch of sadness when someone doesn’t, although you should never force yourself. It is also very uncommon to take leftovers back with you may even get a confused look if you ask. In contrast, in the States or on trips to China, I find many people leaving a good portion of their meal for the garbage can.

As you study Japanese, don’t forget to enjoy the culture in one of the most fundamental and primitive ways possible: eating.

Jun2011 29

The term ‘Japanese’, whether it refers to the Language, the People, the Culture or the
Technology, is simply ‘different’ from the others! This indigenous identity has acquired its
own status in the world for its uniqueness in all respects! And that is what attracts people from
other parts of the world to learn Japanese Language, to know more about Japan and to get a
feel of the culture, of course much more than just the taste of Sushi (寿司)!

This is important!

A foreigner in Japan would always feel this difference starting from the day he lands. If
he wants to catch a cab home, or get a train ticket at the vending machine, or ask someone
where a public telephone is, the international lingua franca may not be of much use! Most
of the Japanese people do not understand English, let alone the accent or the slang! Yes,
this is the biggest ‘difference’ an alien would face during the stay in Japan. So definitely he
should have done some by-heart exercises like “Ano sumimasen…” (Er… Excuse me…)
or “Arigatou gozaimasu” (Thank you) or the famous “Ginko wa doko desuka?”(Where is the
bank?), useful in routine conversations. He would usually not get any answer except for a
bland look when he asks “I want to buy a phone card”. I know what you might be thinking of
now – “Come on; this must be a joke! Are you saying that the Japanese won’t understand even
such a simple sentence?” . Unfortunately, this is not a joke; leave the sentence, they won’t
understand the word “phone-card” until you slow down and say “terehon kaado”(Telephone
card). I know of a first timer who purchased a lot of things at a kiosk and finally tried to ask
for a “calling card”. The lady at the shop searched in the dictionary as usual and humbly
presented her visiting card! Yes, the language makes the big difference and the difference
in usage complicates it! But one thing is simple; when in Japan, you need to use Japanese
language
.

Get Out and Learn These!

To a beginner, Japanese language may look like a series of complicated pictorial
representations
. In fact most of the beginners have a notion that Chinese and Japanese are
similar – just series of ‘complex pictorial calligraphy’! But unlike Chinese, Japanese has
alphabets or the Kana system of writing. While ‘Hiragana’ is used for native Japanese
words, ‘Katakana’ is used for writing words of foreign origin. But Japanese writing system
also uses ‘Kanji’, the Chinese letters that challenge most of the beginners who wish to learn
Japanese. This may be due to a prejudice that learning ‘Kanji’ is difficult. But actually,
learning Kanji is ‘different’, a great fun and a brain sharpening technique that demands just
a playful heart to enjoy it. At the same time, spoken Japanese is surely easier and is the most
powerful tool in making friends in Japan! In simple words, to learn Japanese is to have fun
with a feeling that is just ‘different’!

It may seem quite difficult to learn a new language at first, and that old adage, “It’s all Japanese
to me” has a whole new meaning when you first start studying Japanese. You may find yourself
leaning your head to one side trying, ‘to hear well’ but aren’t able to catch a bit of what was being
said. Even if you’ve put time in to learning the grammar and memorizing kanji, you still might
not be positive what the ladies at Takashimaya are saying to you. It’s frustrating to put in effort
and still feel like you’re far from enjoying the language, but it’s not your fault. Blame your brain
tissue. Literally.

Psychological Processing

Your ears naturally recognize a new language has something foreign when you first starting
listening to a new language. In order for your brain to process information conveyed in speech,
your ears have to adapt to hearing that language first, then you’ll begin to identify the sounds and
patterns within it. Once your ears grow accustomed to hearing words and fragments within the
speech, that recognition is sent to your brain and you can begin communicating with your mouth,
phew!

In an interesting look into language theory, Dr. Sulzberger points out in an article, “Neural tissue required to
learn and understand a new language will develop automatically from simple exposure to the
language—which is how babies learn their first language
.”1 So basically, if you want to speak—
be quiet and listen. Just like your mom used to say.

Simple Ways to Listen

For people already in Japan, you have a wealth of opportunities; you can just go out and ease
drop on conversations everywhere! Dr. Sulzberger’s research suggests that just listening to
the language without focusing on comprehension will help your brain adapt to the patterns, so
multitask away. Turn the radio on while you cook, leave the TV on while you clean, it all helps
your ears and brains adjust.

For those of you not in Japan, with no international TV, you are not without options. There
are plenty of short news clips, music videos, and game shows available on You Tube
so all you
need is a computer and the internet. Also My Exchange Language has been gaining
popularity. There you can chat with another from a different language. On the long commutes
to work you can finally make useof that train or bus ride—plus you don’t have to worry about any
side effects like car sicknessthat many people get from trying to study while commuting.

So, the next time you start getting discouraged because you just can’t seem to follow along,
remember: its not you, it’s just your neural tissue.

When an interest in certain aspects of Japanese culture, be it martial arts, Japanese food or esthetics, or
anime and manga, leads one to consider studying the Japanese language, the potential learner can be easily discouraged before even getting started. The complexity of the written form of Japanese, the lack of similarities with one’s own language, and a lack of opportunity to practice or be taught can lead to the conclusion that this is a linguistic mountain that can never be climbed.

However, while Japanese may indeed be very different from languages that one studied at school or one’s mother tongue, this difference should not automatically be equated with inherent difficulty. Many a Japanese person will tell you with great pride that it is surely the most difficult language in the world Nonetheless, when considering only listening and speaking, this is not really accurate, and it is possible to develop some real and useful skills in a short time, upon which you can subsequently build.

Getting Started

The very first thing to be aware of is the difference in sentence structure from many other languages. While the sentences of most European languages are generally arranged in the order of subject-verb- object (SVO), the typical format in Japanese is subject-object-verb (SOV), that is, the verb generally comes at the end of sentences or clauses within sentences.

After remembering this basic rule, the memorization of some vocabulary could be a good starting point, since no language learning can be completely devoid of this. One advantage of Japanese for beginners is that the way that words sound can be generally deduced from the way they are written (read the words Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Mitsubishi to a Japanese person and they will understand you, but the same cannot be said in the case of Chinese, or indeed in English: who could read and then correctly pronounce rough, though, bough, and cough without learning them beforehand). To start with, you could learn, say, 30 of the most common verbs (to be, to do, to go, etc.), 100 useful nouns (for example, related to travel, eating out, accommodation, family members), and 20 adjectives (good, bad, tasty – which is a very important word in Japan). Already you are developing the capacity to say thousands of alternative sentences when following the SOV rule, especially with a basic understanding of the use of prepositions (wa, ga, ni, o, etc.) between these main words in simple sentences.

The range of things that you can say can be further expanded by learning to change verb forms, such as into the past tense. Another advantage of Japanese for beginners is that there are only two irregular verbs (compare with the hundreds in French, Spanish, and English) and that the future tense is the same as the present tense. Add the ability to make questions by adding the term ka to the ends of sentences or phrases (in polite situations), then learn some key phrases (hello, goodbye, thank you, I’m lost), and you are on your way.

Obviously, there is no substitute for the use of textbooks, lessons, online learning aids, and speaking to people in order to progress along the long journey to competence in Japanese, and learning to read hiragana should also be a main goal early on. However, these steps involving self-study can enable you to express yourself in basic situations, show you that the task of learning Japanese is not insurmountable, and give you a base on which to build.

When choosing a Japanese textbook or software program, there are several factors students should consider. Although it’s not the only factor, a good textbook can be an important part of the Japanese learning process. There are some things to look for when choosing one, but at the end of the day the best one is one you enjoy.

Japanese Textbook Types

There are several types of Japanese textbooks available that are marketed toward different types of learners. There are textbooks geared toward busy people that tend to cover a lot of topics quickly and in small bites. Even though at first glance, this type of textbook may seem a bit shallow, they can be great for people reviewing the grammar, for people interested in a casual and fun Japanese learning experience, and for people who supplement them with other materials such as vocabulary books or private tutoring. These and other conversation oriented texts can be a good way to study independently or review things you have already learned and forgotten.

Other textbooks are designed for classroom teaching. They are generally more expensive than other types and are meant to be done in a classroom with supplementary drills or instruction from a teacher. These classroom type Japanese textbooks are not well suited to independent study and often lack good drills or writing space. These are really best for use in a classroom with a qualified teacher. Overall just mind that certain textbooks are meant for different teaching settings.

Another type is designed specifically to help students pass Japanese language exams. The most common exam is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Drill books can be found to assist students with all levels and question types up to the extremely difficult Kanji and Reading Comprehension sections of Level 1. These texts are not very good for students hoping to learn conversational Japanese or use the language on a trip or with friends. They are generally geared specifically toward the types of questions and content found on the JLPT.

Romaji Textbooks Versus Japanese Character Textbooks

Some people recommend Japanese textbooks written in “romaji” often also incorrectly called “romanji”. Romaji is the use of the English or Latin alphabet to render Japanese. People who recommend romaji for learning Japanese are generally more concerned with mastering the language, especially for conversation, without too much concern for the written language. Learners who learn Japanese this way may also choose to return later with some knowledge of Japanese grammar and vocabulary to tackle the written characters.

More commonly however, students may choose to learn the written language along with the associated grammar and vocabulary. The advantage of this type of textbook is that the learner can get a taste of all aspects of the language at the same time and keep their skills consistent. It can also help people to develop a healthy love and appreciation for the unique writing system employed in Japanese which will help at intermediate and advanced levels when the number of Kanji one is expected to know increases.

Choosing a Japanese Textbook that’s Right for You

There are plenty of different types of Japanese textbooks available, and more than enough to fit the needs of a variety of learners. The bottom line is that the best book for you will be one that fits the time you have to study (Japanese for busy people versus a classroom textbook), the circumstances under which you will be studying (independently or with a teacher), and the level of proficiency you hope to read in either spoken or written Japanese or both.

The most important thing however is to be consistent, do your best, and have fun learning.

In the early stages of learning any foreign language it is absolutely necessary to practice
as often as possible. This seems needless to say, but within the busy pace of modern-
day life, it’s not always convenient to keep a regular study schedule going. Due to
the fact that Japanese is one of the more challenging foreign languages for an English
speaker, this time-honored concept of regular re-enforcement should be held as an
indispensable motto in the quest to master Nihongo (Japanese).

From a personal point of view, the hardest period of my own Japanese learning
experience was the “the point of departure.” Where do I begin? What sorts of study
materials do I need and where do I find them? What is useful and what is a waste of
time? Of course, asking friends who’ve been down a similar path is always a good place
to start. After much deliberation and plenty of dead ends, I decided the best route to
travel was through online resources.

Ask anyone who has taken it upon themselves to really attack a language. The majority
of “tech-savy” individuals will point you in the direction of online resources.

Thankfully, there are a plethora of useful online resources to take advantage of for the
common beginner, and advanced students alike. Of course, it is important to find the
tools that work the best for you as an individual, because (as we all know) everyone
learns at a different pace and through different methods.

You’ve heard it before, but tools like flashcards are undeniably helpful when it comes to
absorbing vocabulary and the memorization of kana and kanji. Regardless of how busy
we are, it is not impossible to set aside 15 minutes a day. Below are some tools that I
(and scores of others) have used to keep my skills sharp and growing.

Anki

Anki is one of the best dowloadable flashcard programs available. The word Anki is
Japanese for memorization. The program is so helpful because it uses algorithms
to employ spaced repetition, so the viewer practices the cards he or she has trouble
remembering the most. One of the most useful perks of the program is that the “decks”
of cards are created by users, so there is an almost infinite amount of different resources
to access through the program. I use Anki to practice Japanese vocabulary, kanji
and useful Japanese phrases.

Rosetta Stone

Maybe the most popular program used worldwide for studying Japanese (and other
languages), Rosetta Stone is a useful computer software program that teaches using
a method similar to “the way in which humans learn languages naturally.” Rosetta
Stone software uses something called “Dynamic Immersion method” which promotes
memorization without drills or explanations. The user is subjected to words, characters
and grammar with a difficulty level that raises as the student progresses. Rosetta Stone
can be purchased online at or at one of its many vendors, world-wide.

Japanesepod101

Japanesepod101 is a Japanese language podcast that has recently picked up a lot
popularity due to its affordable price and easy to access podcasts offered online and
on itunes. This website uses daily podcasts with textual supplements to offer its users
a good blend of materials. One of the most impressive things about Japanesepod101
is that its podcasts offer the viewer a helpful dose of casual Japanese and cultural
information
that really comes in handy when traveling to Japan and meeting Japanese
friends at home and abroad.

Podcasts, flashcard software and highly sophisticated computer programs are just the
tip of the iceberg when considering online resources to study Japanese. Use the web as a
tool to find what’s best for you.

Regular re-enforcement and practice everyday with one or more of the above tools will
undoubtedly improve a students Japanese ability and keep one’s (previously acquired)
skills heightened and improving.

Jun2011 22

One of the most difficult hurdles to cross when studying Japanese is a lack of confidence. Japanese is rated one of the most difficult foreign languages for a native English speaker to learn, but its also a very simple language to communicate with.

A Stressful Venture

Japanese is a language through which a lot can be said with a limited vocabulary. In everyday conversation the Japanese tend to use as few words as possible to get their points across. This may be contradictory to what one may think of polite Japanese, which seems to utilize an unneeded amount of verbal posturing and vocabulary to express simple, everyday concepts.

As a foreign speaker studying Japanese, it may seem daunting when considering the vast mountain of material that must be studied in order to reach a desired level: Kanji (Chinese characters), Hiragana, Katakana, Japanese pronunciation and English meanings…the list goes on and on.

At the beginning it is important to remember that learning Japanese is no easy task, but with the right mindset, amazing strides can be made and it can be a lot of fun.

Learn a Small Arsenal and Polish it

If you are living in Japan, or you just want to practice in your own country for future use, the best way to begin is by starting with a few extremely common and useful words and phrases that will give you the confidence to speak.

For example, one might ask you “Do you like it?” and you might answer “Yes, I like it.” Easy enough, right? Well it is even easier in Japanese. Here’s what the same conversation might look like in Japanese:
“Suki?” (Do you like it?)
“Suki.” (Yes, I like it.)

To ask the question, simply use rising intonation and to answer, use a flat or falling intonation.

It is that simple. In casual Japanese, one word answers and questions are not only accepted, they are seen as natural and efficient. In Hiragana, Suki is seen with two sounds: すき.

To give yourself a kick-start, let’s look at some other phrases which might be helpful in a similar situation.

If somebody shows you something that you think is great, or amazing you might think to tell them how it makes you feel or that it is really interesting or cool. For one to express this in Japanese it is very simple. One of the most common phrases heard when walking around Japan is Sugoi, which simply means “cool” or “that’s great!” It is very common and the word is made up of three simple sounds: すごい.

More Useful Words

*Genki?   げんき
-This word can mean “energetic” or “full of life,” but when used as a question, it simply means “How are you?” To answer, simply say yes and repeat the word: “Hai, Genki desu.”

*Daijoubu? だいじょうぶ
-This word when asked as a question means “Are you OK?” To answer simply say “Hai, Daijoubu desu.”

It would be impossible to list all of the common and useful words one might see or hear in Japanese, but it is important that the individual learner find the words with which he or she feels most comfortable. Practice them everyday and remember that Japanese can be challenging, but it can also be very fun if you look at it from the right perspective.

A fun way to improve your Japanese speaking is by trying it and using it with friends who already speak
the language. If you live in Japan, making friends with native Japanese speakers should not be too hard.
There are still a lot of people in Japan who are interested in doing language exchanges, or just having
the opportunity to hear the opinions of people from a different country or background.

Benefits of Learning Japanese from Friends

Aside from being a whole lot of fun, there are a lot of other benefits to learning Japanese from
friends. The type of vocabulary that someone will use with friends, or hear from friends can be a great
supplement to whatever is learned in a textbook or classroom. A lot of Japanese teachers are averse
to teaching too much slang
or informal Japanese, even to students whose primary purpose in studying
Japanese is to be able to make friends and communicate informally.

Some of the other benefits of learning Japanese from friends can come from the fact that friends tend to
share similar interests. Friends who are native speakers of Japanese can recommend books, magazines,
manga, anime, and TV shows as well as pop, enka, and children’s songs that can be great learning tools.

Learning from Japanese Friends

When learning from friends, there are a few things to keep in mind that can ensure that the experience
is all that it can be.

First, be sure to remind friends not to be shy about correcting you. When doing language exchanges or
learning in casual environments, the priority can sometimes come to be placed on understanding each
other instead of speaking correctly. At the end of the day however, it is important to learn the correct
vocabulary and proper grammar. Having set times or circumstances under which the friend will correct
you can be a great way to keep things fun, while learning.

Second, it’s important not to get frustrated when using Japanese with friends, or even when friends
correct you. A large part of learning a new language is making mistakes, making mental notes, and trying
to break those habits.

Another thing to keep in mind is that as important as learning Japanese can be, the friendship is the
most important thing, so it’s certainly fine to throw the textbook out the window and relax sometimes.

Japanese Grammar is Important Too

Lastly, although friends can be wonderful teachers and exchange partners, they are not professional
instructors. As people may know from their own struggles explaining the rules of their native language
to others, there are times when you know what’s correct but can’t adequately explain it. This will also
come up when learning from friends so it can be useful to have a good Japanese textbook, dictionary,
and grammar book nearby for times dedicated to serious learning. It can also be a good idea to keep a
running memo of what’s covered in the lessons so friends can do a little studying of their own to better
explain it.

All in all, learning from friends can be a great way to pick up new vocabulary, avoid letting the process of
learning Japanese from getting too stale, and learn how to speak the way people actually speak instead
of the stiff impersonal stuff of textbook sample sentences.

When learning Japanese, it is one thing to know words and be able to form sentences. It is another thing,
however to be able to converse in a culturally correct way. A good conversation requires good listening
as well as good speaking, and many cultures have certain traditions or common ways that to hold a
conversation. It is important for language learners to at least be aware of these.

Japanese Culture and Conversation

One important concept in Japanese culture that can be good to know when learning Japanese is the
practice called “Aizuchi wo Utsu”.

The word Aizuchi is made up of the kanji for togetherness and the kanji for hammer. “Utsu” means to hit.
The name implies the act of hammering together in harmony.

This idea is very important to conversational Japanese. While one person is speaking, the other person is
expected to respectfully show interest. In the West, this is often done with body language, nodding, or eye
contact. A person might even occasionally say something to show interest in the conversation. “You don’t
say?” or “How about that!” are common ways to do this in English.

Good conversation in Japanese requires this in all its forms, and the spoken aspect is used even more in
Japanese than in English. Without it the speaker might feel discouraged from talking too much. Believe
it or not, a big part of making good conversation in Japanese is speaking while listening. For people
from the United States or other countries in the West, some of these interjections can sound almost like
interruptions! However, when talking in Japanese, they are encouragements and an integral part of good
listening skills.

As a speaker just learning Japanese, it may be hard at first to ignore the “aizuchi” and keep talking
when the listener suddenly pipes in with “Ehhhh, honto desuka?” or “Ohhh really?” In fact, some native
Japanese listeners may just grunt, or vocalize short words at frequent intervals. Other people may spend
their whole time listening nodding their heads and saying “Hai, hai” or “Yes, yes” constantly. This can
be disconcerting for Americans who may be more used to a listener who is silent or only occasionally
vocalizes when listening.

If a Japanese learner having a conversation stays completely silent the whole time, it can sometimes
seem to imply that the listener disagrees, is bored, or maybe even that he or she is upset. When speaking
in person, a nod or smile can be enough to encourage the speaker to go on and reassure him or her that
you are listening.

When speaking on the telephone, however, it’s very important to say something to show the speaker that
you are listening and engaged in what he or she is saying.

Useful Japanese Expressions

“So desune” which is similar to saying “That’s right”

The question form of that is “So desuka?” meaning “Is that right?” and can also be used.

“Naru hodo” is comparable to “I see” in English, and a very polite way to show interest.

“Honto-ni” or “Honto desuka?” meaning “Really?” or “Is that true?” is also a must-know phrase in
Japanese.

Listeners can also say “Hai” or “Mm, Mm” while listening.

The common interjection “Ehhh” can also be used to express a variety of emotions to match what the
speaker is saying from a calm “Yeah, yeah” to a very surprised “Oh my!”

This “Aizuchi wo Utsu” style of listening is one aspect of Japanese linguistic culture that students of any
level should try to understand.

Using mnemonics and tricks is a great way to learn Japanese faster. You may learn these from a friend or a teacher or you may come up with your own but there are all kinds of tricks to help you along the way. This can make the painful process of learning Kanji go much quicker. The whole purpose of this article is to help you enjoy learning Japanese. With these tricks it shouldn’t be that hard to learn your first 100 kanji in a week. If you push yourself I think it’s do-able in about 3 days. Some of these tricks are strange, some are a stretch, but these are a few of the ideas I used to help me learn characters quickly and effectively. Some of these characters have multiple pronunciations so make sure to stick to the pronunciation that fits the context (mostly stand alone words) and worry about other pronunciations later. (Note: make sure you are writing down the pronunciation with these characters). Once you learn many simple Kanji, you realize that the more complicated ones are made up of the more simple ones. This will give you a good base.

The Tips!

1. 右 migi、左 hidari- (left and right) – Write them on your hands! This may feel ridiculous but it works. You may want to write it on your palm so no one thinks your memory is THAT bad.

2. 北 kita、南 minami、東 higashi、西 nishi (North, South, East, West)/ 上 ue、下 shita, 中 naka (up and down, middle) – Make a compass on your notes. Keep doing it and it will stick.

3. 一、二、三 etc. – count to 10 everywhere, these numbers stick really quickly. You might as well learn 100, 1000 and 10000 while your at it. Write dates or make lists.

4. 鼻 hana,舌 shita、耳 mimi、口 kuchi、目 me (nose, tongue ears, mouth, eyes / 唇 kuchibiru, 髪の毛 kaminoke – Draw a face using kanji for corresponding parts. This will look ridiculous but if you enjoy yourself it’s more likely to stick in your head. Be creative. You can draw a tongue inside a mouth or just use the one you are having a hard time remembering. Write the pronunciation on the bottom of the paper and test yourself.

5. 手 te 、足 ashi、胸 mune、お腹 onaka, 顔 kao, 膝 hiza, 腕 ude, 首お尻 oshiri (hand, foot/leg, chest, stomach, face, knee, arm, butt) – Same as the above. Some of these are hard and if you can only work in the basics for now that’s fine. Studying Japanese has never been more ridiculous.

You’ve already learned more than 30 characters!
6. 木、林、 森 - If those aren’t easy to understand I don’t know what is. Tree, Woods, Forrest. The more trees, the more trees.

7. 日曜日 nichiyoubi、月曜日 getsuyoubi 、火曜日 kayoubi、水 sui、木 moku、金 kin、土 do (day, sun, moon, water, wood, metal, dirt)– A great way to learn 7+1 kanji are to write the day of the week. These correspond to different elements but these characters also come up in planet names similar to English days of the week. Keep in mind that 日 means both day and sun and that 月 means both month and moon. This may be confusing but it makes sense.

8. 青 ao, 赤 aka、黄色 kiiro、黒 kuro、白shiro 緑 midori 紫 murasaki – (Blue, Red, Yellow, Black, White, Green, Purple) – Learn colors in color! Draw these in the corresponding color or make some kind of art project of your own with this. Come up with something crazy like a paint by character.

9.大きい、小さい、暑い、寒い、嬉しい、悲しい、Learn things in pairs or in categories– big and small、hot and cold, happy and sad. I find that you recall these things quicker when you put them in pairs and group them in categories like emotions or physical characteristics.

10. 中国 chuugoku、日本 nihon, 韓国 kankoku (China, Japan, Korea) – Make a map of Asia! Many other countries have characters that were once used but now they are almost exclusively written in Katakana. China is the center country. Japan is the origin of the sun.

11. 東京、長崎、京都、広島、横浜、福島、大阪、沖縄, 新宿、渋谷、原宿、秋葉原 (Tokyo, Nagasaki, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Yokohama, Osaka) – Make a map of Japan. Some of these characters are very common (島 – island, 大 - big, 広 -wide、長 – long, 秋 – autumn、新 – new) and some are not but come up in some place and people names (福 for example). These will help you get used to some alternate pronunciations that will show up in compound words rather than stand alone words. Sadly quite a few Japanese places are famous for natural disasters.(Note:Some of the romanizations miss and extra o or u sound. Tokyo is actually Toukyou and Osaka is actually Oosaka for example)

12. 寿司、刺身、お好み焼き、お茶、酒、焼肉、焼き鳥、丼 (Sushi, Sashimi, Okonomiyaki, Ocha, Sake, Yakiniku, Yakitori, donburi)- Learn the food you love! These stick quick! Some are more useful than others. Sushi, Sashimi, and fish names are often written in Hiragana but you will come across them in Kanji from time to time. Some characters like Udon and Soba are so uncommon that you may never feel the need to learn them. You may have fun learning fish names because they all have a common radical (鮭、鮪、鯵、鱸、etc). These will come up at SOME sushi restaurants but not many.

13. 侍、漫画、津波、布団、相撲, 空手、着物、忍者 (Samurai, Manga, Tsunami, Futon, Sumou, Karate, Ninja, Ninja) – We have quite a few words and concepts in English that come from Japanese. You will remember these characters quickly because you already understand the concepts. Make sure you don’t pronounce them in with an English accent. If you say Futon in English people may not understand you (in this case the concept is a little different as well).

14. –  鈴木一郎、夏目漱石、村上春樹、渡辺謙、宮崎、浜崎 (Suzuki Ichiro, Natsume Souseki, Murakami Haruki, Watanabe Ken, Miyazaki, Hamasaki) – Names are a part of the language too. Some of these characters will come up a lot in words, some will come up a lot in names and some will barely come up at all. Learning author names will help you browse around in a book store and singers names in a CD store. Try to learn the characters of the people you know though. There are a few Japanese names that are very very common and will come up almost too much and it pays to know them. 田中、加藤、山本、高橋 (Tanaka, Katou, Yamamoto, Takahashi) to name a few. Learn your friends names. This stuff tends to stick easy despite often being very difficult.

15. 上海、北京、香港 (shanhai, pekin, honkon) – These are atypical pronunciation because they are more directly based off Chinese or Cantonese pronunciation but it will be useful to know how to read these as Chinese cities are often mentioned. They will also help you memorize the meanings of the characters (North Capital is Beijing, Above the Ocean is Shanghai).

If You’re In Japan

16. Practice words you see on the street.

17. Learn the characters of the subway lines and some stops. This will help you get around as well.

18. Study the menu. If you ask for the menu and the waiter sees you studying it like a textbook, he may even start a conversation with you. Maybe. If he’s an old guy at a local place, I’d bet on it.

Some of these may work for you, some may not. Think of your own! Come up with as many as you can.