Archive for August, 2011

japanese businessman

One cannot study Japanese for long without acquainting themselves with Japanese business culture. The business culture of Japan reflect many other aspects of the culture and is a part of many peoples every day life. The work hours in Japan are long and the a persons company is very important to them. A person who works at a famous company is almost automatically considered intelligent and worthy of respect by his or her peers. Work hours are long in Japan and the process of applying for jobs is quite different from most other countries.

 

The Company

For many years, companies have been a main pillar supporting Japanese society. There was an idealistic kind of dignity that was commonplace among both employees and employers. The main idea was that if you could prove yourself to the company and get hired, you would work for them until you retired. Rather than experience and skill, companies valued youthfulness, education and devotion and they rewarded it very well. This also made it hard to get hired if you quit your job. With much less people moving around, mobility was very low and to lose your job at 30 years old was (and for some still is) seen as a death sentence. This is still the case to some degree but due to countless factors this system is starting to become both more flexible and more unstable. It is no longer common sense that a company will take care of you until the day you die. Some say this is due to companies throwing away their morals and some say it just isn’t possible in Japan’s post-bubble economy. There are many more companies that fail and leave their employees jobless and there is a growing trend towards dispatch workers. At the same time, less security comes with more freedom and it is no longer uncommon to meet Japanese people who have changed jobs a few times although it is still much easier for someone in their 20′s to find a job.

The Salaryman

In the West, individuality is valued and so people are not afraid to stand out. When you ask someone what they do, many westerners will answer with a fancy, long, complicated title with many word relating to their area of expertise and their exact position in the company. In Japan however, just about everyone you meet below management is reffered to as a Salary Man. A salary man is just what it sounds like: a person making a salary while working for a company. While some people will tell you their exact position or department, when talking about others, just about everyone is referred to as a salary man. I’ve even met 10 year old kids who dreamed, not of becoming astronauts and basketball players, but asalary man. In a culture that values fitting in, this is many peoples dream. These salary man are all easily recognizable as they all wear the same white button down shirts and ties and commute at about the same time (8-9 AM and 6-9 PM). Almost any train station within an hour of a big city is flooded with an endless barrage of salarymen at rush hour.

Working as a Group

Going hand and hand with the concept of the salaryman and the ideal of not standing out is the overall Japanese approach to business. While In America and many European companies, work is sectioned off and each person has an individual task, Japanese are paired off in less specialized groups and keep in constant contact with each other through a countless amount of meetings. There are meetings about things that might seem like common sense or seem downright irrelevant to most non-Japanese. Sometimes there are even meetings about meetings. For people who have learned since birth not to disturb the peace of others, these meetings are very important, less for what is actually discussed and more for ensuring that everyone is filled in about anything they could possibly need to know. While productivity may not be maximized at every company, people know what is going on and are always on the same page as their superiors.

Working After Work

Zangyou or overtime is overwhelmingly common in Japanese companies. At most companies it is almost understood that you will be working one or two hours after your scheduled work time. This may be paid or it may be unpaid although companies are starting to reduce peoples hours after much criticism from various places. But work after work isn’t the only responsibility one has at a Japanese company. It is commonplace for coworkers to go drinking together and while you won’t be forced to go, don’t expect a promotion or the bosses favor if you don’t. Many people get very drunk at these Nomi-kai (or drinking parties), yet the next day, it is rare to hear anyone talk about the night before. In other words, what happens at nomi-kai stays at nomi-kai.

Superiors

In Japan, while not always as obvious as in some other Asian countries, there is a distinctive social ranking based around positions at the company and age. Position take priority over age and people often refrain from voicing opinions that go against their business superiors. However it is common for people to be given promotions based on age or time at the company. Someone working for the company for 20 years and in their 40′s sometimes has a better chance of advancing than a 30 year old with much more skill although this also varies between companies. People also use keigo (formal Japanese) or teinei-go (literally polite language but actually a combination of keigo and regular Japanese) with superiors or elders at work. Superiors on the other hand can speak in whatever Japanese they want although they tend to keep it somewhat business-like.

While distinct in many ways, Japanese business culture is quickly changing due to internationalization, modernization, recession and a variety of other factors so it will be interesting to see what business culture will look like in the future.

Aug2011 16

Learning new vocabulary is a necessity for learning any language. It also happens to be one aspect of acquiring functionality in a new language that proves daunting for many students. In large, this is due to the fact that learning and recalling information are two separate actions. While many people experience the differences between these two actions with a great deal of frustration, learning and retaining new lexical information doesn’t have to be a painstaking process.

There are a variety of techniques that are useful for learning new vocabulary, and this article is written with the intent of spreading knowledge of these techniques.

Language Learning Psychology

Fundamentally, retaining new vocabulary is a process that hinges on a student’s ability to create strong neurological highways; this is because, before converting knowledge to long term memory, the human brain first must retain information as short term memory. Short term memory, if reflected upon enough, is eventually converted into long term memory, and stored within gray matter, a vast network of nerve tissue in the cortex analogous to a kind of mental file cabinet. Much in the same way that pulling information from a file cabinet is made easy or difficult by the organization of said cabinet, pulling information from long term memory depends on the organization of that knowledge. When we create memories, they are organized by association within our brain; for this very same reason, the processes of learning and recalling new vocabulary are made simple through well organized, methodical acquisition.

What this ultimately boils down to, put simply: information stored effectively is information easily retained and recalled. The most effective way to learn new vocabulary is through association. For example, reading through a dictionary and picking—at random—words that speak to a students interests will always result in a lower rate of retention than learning words with related meanings, similar kanji, or general subject matter.

Allow me to use the example of organizing new vocabulary in terms of Kanji.

Examples of Japanese Word Association

The kanji, 気 (ki—spirit, air) is very common; in fact, without learning such a kanji, or any words containing such a kanji, it is highly unlikely that a student of Japanese would ever be able to obtain even a low degree of fluency. Naturally, this character is often times one of the first that new students of Japanese come to recognize. What most people do not, however, realize initially, is that this character provides a wealth of potential for learning new, common vocabulary.

For example:
気(ki—spirit, feeling, intention, mind, atmosphere)、気味(kimi—feeling, sensation)、気質(katagi, kishitsu—temperment, disposition)、気合(kiai—yell, scream, fighting spirit)、気圧(kiatsu—atmospheric pressure)、気管(kikan—windpipe, trachea)、気軽(kigaru—carefree, lighthearted)、気候(kikou—climate), 気勢(kisei—vigor)、気絶(kizetsu—faint)、気が遠くなる(ki ga tooku naru—to become dizzy)、気体(kitai—gas, vapor)、気分(kibun—feeling, mood)、気楽(kiraku—ease, comfort)、気付く(kizuku—to notice)。

Because all of these words share the common element 気, it is much easier to remember them if grouped in accordance to their association.

Another way to group words together so that they can be learned by association is to learn words that relate to a given subject.

For example, nouns that refer to items found in a kitchen:
棚(tana—shelf)、冷蔵庫(reizouko—refrigerator)、オーブン(oobun—oven)、台所(daidokoro—kitchen)、テーブル(teeburu—table)、椅子(isu—chair)、フライパン(furaipan—frying pan)、なべ(nabe—pot)、包丁(houchou—knife)、石鹸(sekken—soap)、蛇口(jaguchi—faucet)、流し(nagashi—sink, drain).

A final technique that can prove useful for grouping words is to choose those that follow a predictable shape, form, or grammatical category. For example, there is a (rather large) set of adverbs in Japanese that follow a very set phonological pattern: (C)VCCVCV ((consonant)-vowel-geminate consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel). These are native Japanese adverbs, those that have survived from ancient Japanese, through classical and middle Japanese, and continue to persist in modern Japanese.

Some more examples:
はっきり(hakkiri—clearly, distinctly) 、しっかり(shikkari—firmly, solidly, steadily)、そっくり(sokkuri—entirely, altogether)、ぴったり(pittari—neatly, exactly)、がっかり(gakkari—disappointed, feeling let down or drained)、ぐっすり(gussuri—soundly of sleep)、ゆっくり(yukkuri—slowly)、たっぷり(tappuri—ample, full)、すっきり(sukkiri—cleanly, nearly, thoroughly)、すっかり(sukkari—completely) 、びっしょり(bisshori—saturated, completely soaked).

Japan is rightly known for the superiority of its trains (densha, 電車; ressha, 列車). This refers to not only the speed of the bullet train (shinkansen, 新幹線) but also the coverage of local trains, as well as trams (romendensha, 路面電車), within the major cities. With Tokyo’s urban sprawl making long commutes a daily ordeal for many salarymen, foreigners who find work there will also have to get used to this taking up large parts of their day, and to try and use this time effectively.

Learning Japanese by Traveling

Taking the train in Japan on a regular basis, having to deal with the various situations that arise, and getting travel information will involve you being exposed to a lot of new words, phrases, and kanji. Japan has clearly made a large effort to make its transport network more accessible to non-Japanese speakers, with English explanations and translations frequently available in road and rail systems, which is also expanded into Chinese, Korean, and others on the airport links. However, you can still be faced with rail maps written only in kanji in Tokyo subway stations, station staff who can only communicate in Japanese, and stations on train lines in Tokyo at which the platform signs are only written in hiragana and kanji. There is excellent information in English about all possible facets of train travel in Japan online, but you will still need some language skills to get by.

The first thing to learn is obviously the names of stations and lines. In fact, the station names are an ideal source for kanji practice, as they are usually written in English, hiragana, and kanji, so you can learn the correct readings of many kanji symbols. Indeed, many of the simpler kanji are used in station names, so for example, a trip around the Yamanote Line (山手線, kanji meanings: mountain, hand, line) in Tokyo will see you stopping at Shinagawa (品川: goods, river), Meguro (目黒: eye, black), Shinjuku (新宿: new, lodging), Mejiro (目白: eye, white), and Ueno (上野: up, field). Therefore, a great kanji starting point can be learning the characters on signs when your train stops at the same platforms every day on the way to work.

Studying Japanese while Traveling

Not only can the signs, sounds, and chances to communicate that are involved in train travel be used to boost your language skills, but the actual time spent commuting can be used for direct study. The average of 68 minutes for a one-way commute in Tokyo can be perfect for a study session before or after work, as long as you prepare the necessary study aids and can maintain your concentration while being crushed and having to keep your balance using only a handle suspended from the ceiling. You can see many Japanese practicing English on their commute, using textbooks or quietly repeating English phrases delivered via an mp3 player.

Listening practice using headphones may be the best option. You can drown out the frequent announcements and improve your ability to understand spoken Japanese, and the need to concentrate can also make your journey pass much more quickly. There are many podcasts available from iTunes for example, and many of the main Japanese textbooks come with CDs full of conversations, which can be downloaded onto an mp3 player with little difficulty. You could also record your own word lists as a way of boosting your vocabulary. Alternatively, kanji cards are another portable option, easy to use in a secluded space, but sure to attract a few inquisitive glances from your fellow sardines. It just requires the determination to study while still dozy in the morning or tired after a full day on the go.

Aug2011 12

An inherent quality of any culture or language is its uniqueness. To be classified as a separate entity, a culture or language must possess characteristics that differentiate it from others. So, while the commonly heard claim that Japanese language and culture are ‘unique’ is self-evident, this claim is often really intended to mean that Japanese and Japan are ‘uniquely unique’. This is mirrored in the use of the popular term ガラパゴス化 (Galapagos-ka), whereby the cultural and linguistic results of Japan’s previous isolation and its island nature are compared with the results of millions of years of biological evolution on the isolated islands on the other side of the Pacific.

How does Japan’s uniqueness rank?

However, these claims of absolute uniqueness should not be taken at face value, and one should certainly not believe the associated implication that this uniqueness makes Japanese culture and Japanese language, at some level, fundamentally incomprehensible to non-native Japanese. In fact, when comparing Japanese to the Académie française’s ongoing attempts to defend the French language against Anglicization or the official substitution of foreign loan words for new words based on Old Norse or Old Icelandic and the continued comprehensibility of 800-year-old texts for modern speakers of Icelandic, or indeed the nature of language isolates like Basque (France and Spain) or Ainu (Hokkaido, Northern Japan), then Japanese seems like an open-minded and adaptive global citizen.

In the case of the Japanese language, there are many footholds that speakers of other languages can find thanks to the influence of other languages upon Japanese. The most evident of these is the use of logographic Chinese characters in the form of kanji, which also shows considerable overlap with the hanja characters in Korean. This gives Chinese and Korean speakers a distinct advantage when starting to learn to read and write Japanese. Furthermore, Japanese is often grouped with Korean, along with the Ryukyuan language of the southern islands of Japan, which indicates that there are patterns of grammar and sentence structure that show some overlap between these.

Katakana and foreign words

The major feature of the Japanese language that speakers of Western languages will find as potentially some help (but sometimes not) isがいらいご (gairaigo, 外来語) or loan words from foreign languages written in katakana. Although many of the newer introductions of this kind come from English, and American English in particular, the early contacts of Japan with Dutch and Portuguese travelers and settlers, and later with French and German culture, which was particularly important in the fields of Law and Medicine, have left some imprint on the language.

For example, ズボン (zubon) and バカンス (bakansu) are from the French jupon and vacances for trousers and holidays, respectively, アルバイト (arbaito) refers to part-time work as associated with the German word arbeit, and マルモット (marumotto) is related to the old Dutch word for guinea pig.

However, while the above examples show that knowledge of other languages can provide some, albeit not much, help when learning Japanese, some of these connections can be rather difficult to understand or obscure, as a result of the need to adapt certain pronunciations to the Japanese range of syllables. So, バブル (baburu) refers to the ‘bubble’ economy, ノートパソコン (nooto-pasokon) refers to a notebook personal computer, ワンピース (wanpiisu) refers to a dress (one-piece), and ビッグバン (bigguban) refers to financial reform.

I always stand by the idea that the best Japanese study is centered around a good textbook, program, or class. But making some small changes in your life can make the learning process go even quicker. If you are like I was and want to learn Japanese and quickly as possible, it’s important to always look for ways to maximize your study time. Here are a few ideas that worked for me and expanded my study time beyond the hours at a desk with a textbook and homework.

Install the Japanese language

There are a countless number of ways you can use the internet to aid you as you study Japanese. The first step is installing Japanese onto your computer. This is free and doesn’t even require you to download anything from the internet; it should exist on your computer already. From here you can find a Japanese pen-pal, join a Japanese chat or message board, or keep a diary. All of these things can aid you as you study Japanese.

Name everything you see

One way to keep your mind running in Japanese mode is to constantly name everything you can in Japanese. When you are in your room or crossing the street, try to name everything you see. You will realize there are some words you don’t understand and some you need to study harder and when you get a chance you can check these words and review them.

Carry word lists/flashcards everywhere

This method added an extra hour or two of review to my Japanese study every day. At night I would make a list of new words (20% review) and during the next day I would take it out and look at it about 500 times a day. I took it out while I ate, on the train, while I was walking to class, while playstation was loading, in the doctors waiting room, at red lights (be careful), and even in the bathroom and the shower. If you can stay motivated and remember not to substitute your serious study time, this can be a brilliant way to expand your vocabulary. Try making use of it while you study Japanese. Here’s a start for beginners!

Think of words you want to know

This might seem obvious but thinking about doing it and actually doing it are two different things. Think of things you might want to say and then find out how to say them in Japanese. Write it down and study it along with your regular study plan. You will tend to learn these words and phrases rather quickly because they are things you can use in daily life.

Use your own methods

Every person has their own way of studying and so you should be able to come up with your own ways to maximize your time studying Japanese. Try to make good use of your time and find studying methods that fit your individual lifestyle.

One of the hardest things about studying Japanese is understanding politeness levels. While English has polite words and phrases, there are entire grammatical forms on top of vocabulary that make a sentence more or less polite that you need to remember when you study Japanese. It is important to study all levels of politeness because whether or not you use them, you are going to encounter all different politeness levels. Some curriculum teach the plain form (ru, da) first and some teach the polite form (masu, desu) first.

Politeness Levels

It is difficult to say which to start from. The plain form is much more casual and often sounds awkward without proper use of ending particles (like yo, ne, na). On the other hand the plain form includes the base form of verbs which is used grammatically even in polite speech and which makes conjugation easier to understand. While some people worry about using the plain form out of fear of sounding not polite, it is necessary to learn when you speak Japanese and you may find yourself using it very often.

The polite form is, however, the most “safe” way to speak Japanese. You can speak politely to your boss, your best friend, a stranger, a family member or a kid. It is the fool proof way to avoid offending people. That doesn’t mean it is always the most natural way to speak. Many people who study Japanese rely too heavily on it and their Japanese tends to sound less natural. Sticking to masu and desu all the time can sound very rigid.

Mixing the Politeness Levels

I find myself using a mix of the polite and plain form in most conversations. With my close friends I use about half and half. I find it really difficult to make a joke and mess around using the polite form all the time. With older people or strangers and coworkers I tend to keep my use of the plain form down or use a lot of more complicated cushion words (such as deshou, nan dake do, etc.). I do not eliminate my use of the plain form though because as a casual person it allows me to be myself a little bit more. The best thing a Japanese student can do is first to listen to how certain kinds of people talk to other kinds of people and imitate the people they feel the most similar to. It is also important to take into account what kind of person it is you are talking to. If your boss is a really casual kind of guy, it might be better to relax a bit with him/her and worry more about being understood than about desu and masu. On the other hand, if you are talking to someone who is very proper and businesslike, you might want to stick to as much polite language as you can, even if you meet them in a drinking environment.

Honorific and Humble verbs which you will hear sometimes, should generally be saved for business situations excluding one on one conversation. You will probably only need to use them when talking to clients or customers, giving a formal speech or at a serious business meeting.

Learning how to use politeness levels, while not necessary in order to be understood, is crucial to sounding natural when you speak. As you study Japanese, please pay close attention. This is one of the ways that a new language can give you a new outlook on communication so enjoy it as much as you can while you study Japanese.

Translation provides a myriad of opportunities to learn japanese, as well as to improve one’s level of fluency and comprehension. This is largely due to the fact that translation requires a great deal of reading, which exposes a student of a language to a vast amount of vocabulary in a short amount of time; additionally, translation demands of a student a significant amount of critical thinking, as transforming a line of text from one language to another first requires that student to process the information present in the source language (the language in which a text is originally written, in this case Japanese), before rendering into a target language (a language to which a translator translates, English for the purpose of this article).

Concerning translation, it is widely known within the practice that two generalized techniques exist for effectively translating discourse. These techniques are literal translation (直訳), and loose translation (意訳).

Literal Translation

Literal translation refers to rendering an utterance or sentence in the target language accurately, and–well–literally. Naturally, this requires a strong sense of vocabulary and grammatical nuance to effectively employ. This method is primarily useful when the target language lacks a rough approximation of the original sentence’s nuance or meaning; it is also useful should a translation that approximates meaning loses too much of the original sentence’s weight, charm, or character. Lastly, literal translation is appropriate given the condition that a literal translation–one that is direct, neat, and without conflict with the original sentence–simply conveys the original meaning of the sentence well.

Take for example the sentence:
「ここだ、ここだ。ちょうどその柳の根の所だ。」
This is probably best translated with a literal technique to something such as: “Right here! Right here! Right by the roots of that Yanagi cedar tree.”

The reason for this is simple: this sentence lacks any constituents that disagree with English grammar or manner of speaking; additionally, “yanagi” is a species of cedar that is not indigenous to any English speaking culture; it is endemic to Japan, and therefore has no English approximation.

The above example is not to suggest that literal translation is not without fault. Clearly, it does provide for some blind spots, namely that Japanese is a very different language than English, and a direct approach does not always result in a translation that appropriately conveys meaning.

Take for example,
「襖のえは蕪村の筆である。黒い柳を濃く薄く、遠近とかいて、寒そうな魚夫が笠をかたぶけて土手の上を通る。」
This sentence would be rather poorly translated, were it to read. “The painting on my fusuma is the pen of Buson. Black Yanagi painted thick and faint, over here–over there. A cold looking fisherman tilts his umbrella and passes above the bank of the river.”

This is where loose translation comes to the rescue, making better sense of this sentence, so that it looks something like:
“Buson painted the mural on my sliding paper door, black Yanagi ceders painted here and there–both bold and faint-a lonely fisherman battling the cold, unfurling his umbrella as he ascends the river bank.”

Loose Translation

Loose translation proves to compensate for times when literal translation tends to make a mess of things. Loose translation also has the perk of always sounding natural, as all sentences translated loosely ultimately end up becoming rough approximations of the source sentence; however, loose translation techniques also run the risk of sounding contrived, deliberate, and insincere. It’s very easy to take liberties that should not be taken with literal translation, and it can sometimes be difficult to see where to draw the line.

Thus, translation can ultimately be seen as a delicate balance between both techniques–between sincerity and accuracy, and natural wording and flavor. To effectively translate any body of text, a translator must put both skills to the test.

The final translation provided seeks to exemplify this balancing act:

こんな夢をみた。
六つになる子供を負ぶってる。たしかに自分の子である。ただ不思議な事にはいつの間にか眼が潰れて、あお坊主になっている。自分が御前の眼はいつ潰れたのかいと聞くと、なに昔からさと答えた。こえは子供に相違ないが、言葉つきはまるで大人である。しかもたいとうだ。

“I had a dream that went something like this:
I was carrying a six year old child on my back, evidently my own. The strange thing was, at some point in its life it had lost its sight and all the hair was shaved from its head. When I asked, “Child, how long have you been blind?” He responded with, “well, I suppose it has been some time.” His voice was undeniably that of a child, but he spoke to me as if he were an adult; moreover, he spoke to me as if he were my equal.”

*All of the Japanese text in this article is lifted from Natsume Souseki’s series of short stories, 夢十夜.

Aug2011 05

When taking standardized tests, needless to say, mastery of the subject matter… in this case, Japanese language, is of utmost importance, however there are always some hints that are good to keep in mind when learning Japanese and studying for the exam that can help improve your overall results.

1. Understand the question types on your test
All of the JLPTs from level N1 to N5 have different question types. If provided only 1 hint for passing the test, this would be it. Some of the questions, especially at the intermediate and advanced levels require a certain type of studying and thinking. Being aware of what will be asked before taking the test can go a long way toward helping you direct your study in the final
weeks before the test.

Example: Some of the kanji questions on level 1 ask you to read an item containing a sentence with hiragana in place of kanji, then look at four answers. The answers also contain hiragana in place of kanji… all of which have the same reading as the kanji in the test item. This tests your knowledge of the usage and meaning of different kanji homophones.

2. Study out loud
One study method a lot of students neglect is to read aloud. This can be especially useful for practicing kanji. When reading Japanese silently, it can be easy to glide over kanji for which you know the meaning. Thanks to kanji, speed reading is not that hard to do in Japanese. However when taking a test such as the JLPT, the pronunciation, or how the kanji is read in a given usage or combination, can be just as important as the meaning. Therefore reading aloud prevents you from taking the easy way out, and if you are in a study group or working with a Japanese tutor, you can get the correction immediately and begin making a vocabulary list based on your frequent mistakes.

3. Use flash cards
Flash cards work for a lot of the things on the JLPT. If you are studying for some of the beginner levels, flash cards can be great ways to practice instant recognition of hiragana, katakana, or some simple kanji sight words. At higher levels, kanji combinations or exceptional readings of common kanji characters can be reviewed with flash cards. In addition to all this, the actual process of making the flash cards is a study session of itself. Hand writing the cards as neatly as possible can be a great way to remember things, especially for students who use a lot of technology to study.

4. Know the words used for graphs
Knowing the appropriate words used for graphs or other visual illustrations of data can be a great way to guarantee some points on the test. There will be a question or even series of questions making use of terms such as “increasing”, “growing”, “decreasing”, “shrinking”, and other terms that might refer to data trends. Each level has increasingly difficult and specific ways to talk about these things so familiarity with your age appropriate terminology is key.

5. Look ahead at the listening test drawings when possible
Some students out and out cheat by looking through the listening section before it is actually allowed. I personally don’t condone this, and there’s no sense in jeopardizing your entire test for a few seconds’ glance at the listening. However there will be opportunities to legally glance ahead and give your brain a chance to recall some of the pertinent vocabulary or keywords that might come up in a section. Many of the listening section items use drawings, and just a glance can be a great preparation for a particular section.

6. Prepare by studying for long periods of time
Normally, studying should be done when a student is mentally prepared, interested and alert, however the JLPT is an endurance test. Test-takers who have never sat at a desk and stared at kanji for hours, or who have never listened to Japanese for over 30 minutes straight may run into a bit of endurance trouble when taking the JLPT, especially at the higher levels. Reading this much Japanese in a quiet but high pressure, high stakes atmosphere can be tiring. It’s best to come prepared with the necessary stamina.

7. Sleep well before the test
Sleep has the ability to drastically change your testing performance. Testing conditions will vary greatly, even at different sites within Japan. Some will be in overly heated or under air conditioned lecture halls. It is easy to get sleepy in a warm room with nothing but pages and pages of hiragana, katakana, and kanji to keep you awake. Some of the long reading passages seem designed to be endurance tests against boredom instead of the fun, interesting essays found in practice textbooks.

8. Turn off your cell phone, or leave it home… also, check the alarm
Some cell phone alarms are designed to go off whether the phone is on or off. Many people have stories about being kicked out for using a cell phone. Because of cheating scandals involving smart phones on the university entrance exams and other standardized tests, please don’t be surprised if the proctors are asked to be especially strict.

9. Bring something to eat
Unless you are familiar with the test location and are sure that you will be able to get something to eat, I would recommend buying something to eat for lunch in the morning, or packing something from home. For test locations in Japan, even if there are convenience stores or food shops in the area, they may be crowded and stressfully filled with other test takers. It’s also important to bear in mind that the test schedule varies by level, so when you are finally getting your lunch break from the N2 test, the N4 test takers may have already bought all of the bentos in the shop.

10. Study until the last minute
The JLPT is the kind of test for which a last minute glance at a kanji or grammar form can put it into your mind for just long enough to be useful on the test. Some people do sample questions before the test, but I recommend just glancing through some textbooks or notes. Keep it light, the test is long enough without spending an extra half hour doing test questions before the test itself.

11. Be ready for standard Japanese
If you are learning in a place, or from a Japanese teacher who speaks with a regional accent or dialect, be prepared for the Japanese to be based in standard or Tokyo style dialect. Although I have heard of listening or short passage conversation questions using a bit of Kansai dialect, for the most part any slang or casual language will be Tokyo based. It should not really affect your ability to answer the questions correctly, but may be a distraction if some unfamiliar terminology is used.

12. Remind yourself of all the multiple choice question techniques you have learned
The JLPT is multiple choice. There are several techniques for approaching multiple choice questions. The important thing is to find the type of approach that suits you best. Needless to say the ideal situation is if you look at a question and the answer choices and instantly know the correct one. For the few questions that don’t fit that mold, however, multiple choice techniques such as cancelling out items that are obviously incorrect, trying to spot similar but slightly different answers, or focusing on the answers themselves, noting differences among them and working backward to the question can be a great help.

13. Do practice tests
The JLPT test makers use what works. As a result, they tend to use variants of questions from past tests. It can be an advantage to go over some of the tests from the past in the months before your own exam because you may see similar questions, or similar topics covered again. Many of the practice tests are harder than the tests themselves which can also go a great way toward making test-takers comfortable and confident during the ordeal. Also trying the sample questions can provide hints at what is to come.

14. Time yourself
As mentioned in the above example, doing JLPT practice tests can do a lot for your score. When doing practice tests at home or on your own, it’s easy to be loose with the timing of the test. It is important however to do timed tests when possible because the real test will be strictly timed, and pacing can be important. One important thing about pacing is knowing when you have time to work on harder questions and when you are running late and begin to start guessing and moving on. The best way to get experience with this timing is to know about where you should be at a given time during the exam.

It may surprise some people to hear this, but I believe timing the listening test is very important. The JLPT employs a type of question in the listening test that they refer to as “quick answer”. This basically means that the next question will begin very quickly leaving little time for test-takers to respond. It puts test-takers in a “know-it or guess-it and then move on” type of situation. In these cases it’s good to have had a little practice with the “quick answer” listening test problems.

15. Trade tips and suggestions about the JLPT and learning Japanese in general with fellow test-takers
There will be people at the JLPT tests from a wide variety of educational, linguistic, and philosophical backgrounds. Trading tips with people who have been around the test can be a great way to gain a few points and confidence. Some of the people may have failed the last test by just a few points and be ready with a full report on what to expect. Others may be able to offer up tips and hints from different teachers for new ideas. At worst, it can be a great place to make friends who share a common interest and spend hours each week to learn Japanese.

Conclusion

It is important for people trying to learn Japanese to remember that the JLPT is not the “end all be all” of Japanese language studies. It is a useful tool for gauging levels, determining proficiency, proving proficiency, and having something to show for all the time put into to learning this language. Sometimes studying to pass the test and studying for fluency can seem to be at odds, however the JLPT is a well-made test, and time spent working on it will not be wasted, especially for people who intend to study or work in Japan in the future. For those of you looking to take the exam this winter or summer, I hope that some of these hints will take some of the pressure off or make the test even more enjoyable.

When you go to a restaurant in Japan, there is a different culture depending on the type of restaurant. Some of them have a ticket system – mostly soba/udon/ramen noodle or “don”s (e.g., beef bowl), Japanese versions of fast food. At those places, you usually purchase tickets at the vending machine before or at the entrance, and give them to the server or cook. You have almost no conversation at this kind of restaurants. Most of them don’t have English menus but if you want to try, as your buy tickets you may want to ask, “Sumimasen, osusume wa?” (“Excuse me, what do you recommend?”) Anyone will kindly help you to select a ticket matching the recommended dish!

Seating at a Japanese Restaurant

In a regular restaurant, you will wait to be seated by a waiter/waitress at the entrance. Their first question is usually about how many people you have in your group. If you want to answer in Japanese, say hitori (by yourself), futari (2 including you), san-nin (3 people) etc., and it is helpful to show how many with your fingers as well. If you prefer not to say anything, you can just show your fingers and they will understand you.

After being seated, you might want to check if there is a button/bell on the table or a phone to call waiters (if you have a private room, they might have a phone). Restaurants like izakayas (a Japanese restaurant and pub) or family restaurants (e.g., Denny’s) usually have a button/bell system. If that’s the case, simply push the button and someone will quickly come to your table to take your request. In case of phone, you just pick up the phone then it will connect to the server.

If your table doesn’t have those devices, you will get to use your Japanese to flag a worker down. To get attention from a waiter, you call out loud saying “Sumimasen (or Suimasen)”, meaning, “Excuse me!.” Suimasen is more casual than Sumimasen, and it’s easier to say it when you have to raise your voice. Please don’t be shy to say it loud, so that they can hear you. Raising your hand and try to make eye contact helps too. If nobody comes to you, it’s most likely that your voice was too soft. Simply do it again with a louder voice – almost coming to a shout at times. That’s the Japanese way – Don’t be shy to say it loud since it’s not considered rude.

Ordering at a Japanese Restaurant

Some restaurants have English menues. If you would like one, you can ask by saying “Eigo no menu (ga) arimasuka (Do you have an Engish menu)?” Most of the Japanese restaurants have menues with pictures so it’s easy to see what you are ordering, even with a Japanese menu. When you order, you can point at the picture on the menu, and say “Kore onegai shimasu (This one, please).” Hitotsu is one, and futatsu is two. If you want to order two of the same thing, you can say “Kore futatsu onegaishimasu” and show two fingers. If you know the name already, you can just say “… onegaishimasu.” Ordering one beer would be “Biiru hitotsu onegaishimasu” (notice sentence order – what you want, how many, please).

Here are other useful phrases: When you want to ask what the things are, you can say “Kore wa nan desuka?” for “What is this?” Make sure you point at the name or the picture of the food/drink when you say this so that they will know which “kore (this)” you are talking about. For vegetarians, you may say “Bejitarian no tabemono ga arimasuka?” (Do you have food for vegetarians?). One notable thing about vegetarians in Japan is that they don’t consider fish as meat, so if you don’t want fish either, you may say “sakana mo dame desu” (fish is also no good). If you are vegan, you can use the words like “tamago” (egg) or “gyunyu” (milk) as well.

When you thank them for their service as you leave, you can say “Arigato” (Thank you) or after eating “gochiso-sama deshita” for “Thank you for the food” (literary meaning, it was a feast). Japanese people will appreciate when you use Japanese, so don’t be shy and use these phrases. You will have even a better time when you dine out!

Note: At high-end restaurants, the manner is the same as the western culture – You do NOT want to call the waiter out loud.

There have been quite a few memorable moments throughout my time studying Japanese; realizing I had conquered 100 kanji, successfully remembering 200 words in a day on a JLPT study binge, failing the JLPT, passing the JLPT, reading my first novel. These are all notable events. In one moment, however, the Japanese language became significantly less intimidating and I began to study Japanese with much more enthusiasm.

Denki Jisho

The moment I bought a Denki Jisho, or electronic dictionary, I felt like I could read anything. In the few seconds it took to draw a few lines, almost any unfamiliar word would be translated for me. I jumped into novels right away. I looked up characters I saw on the train or on the street. I thought of all kinds of English words I wanted to know how to say in Japanese. I never turned my Denki Jisho off. I felt like my time studying Japanese had been a waste without it.

But if you’re thinking that you can just pick one of these up and benefit from it fresh out of learning kana, you might find yourself wasting a lot of money. Not only are Denki Jisho expensive but they also take a fair amount of knowledge of kanji before you can even start using them efficiently. One way to search for words is typing in the pronunciation. This might work if you hear a word that you don’t understand, but if you see one you don’t understand, it won’t help at all. The better Denki Jishos have a function to compensate for this; a touch pad where you can draw characters. Some of my friends, after a few months of studying Japanese, tried to pick up my electronic dictionary and type in a word but the wrong character would keep popping up. They were ready to dismiss the machine as a piece of garbage when I told them that you need to use the proper stroke order. It takes some time to get used to proper stroke order. You may need to study 300-400 kanji before you get a hang of all the common radicals and how to draw them properly. Until you study Japanese long enough and have a solid background with kanji, a Denki Jisho might end up being less convenient than a simple paper one.

Paper Japanese Dictionary

A paper dictionary also has its merits. During the time it takes you to search a word, you are actively thinking about it throughout the process. When you find it, the sound of the word will echo in your mind much more than if you type in a few unfamiliar sounds. There is also a certain kind of diligence which you will practice and become accustomed to with a paper dictionary. That diligence may also bring you to write down unfamiliar words and study them harder.

For a long time, I found myself relying too much on my Electronic Dictionary. I’d bring it out with me when I hung out with friends and I’d end up pushing pause on the conversation so I could look up a word that I could have easily understood from context. After 3 or 4 novels with a Denki Jisho, I realized that half of my time was spent dissecting the book and I wasn’t really enjoying the story much. It was hard to focus on what was going on and I wasn’t even remembering most of the words I looked up. I understood everything but I was not interested anymore. Once, when I couldn’t find my Denki Jisho, I started reading a book without it. There were a fair amount of words that I didn’t understand, but for the first time, I felt like I was actually reading. I couldn’t put the book down and I finished it in less than a week. While I did look up a few reoccurring words, I was focused on enjoying the story. I realized my Denki Jisho had become a crutch as it does for many people studying Japanese. Denki Jisho can become a powerful tool to aid you as you study Japanese but it’s important to wait until the right time and not become too reliant on it.