Monthly Archives: December 2013

New Years Resolution: Why not learn a foreign language?

2014 is upon us, and I’m sure many of you are considering what to do for your 2014 New Year’s resolutions. The typical resolutions resolve around less vices (less drinking, smoking, calories, fast food, etc) and more virtues (more vegetables, exercise, volunteering, etc.). These are all great, but I’m here to recommend one that can be great fun and have the potential to change your life: learning a new foreign language.

A foreign language gives you more opportunities – to meet new people, see different places, and even learn more about yourself. In my case, had I not started learning Japanese I very likely wouldn’t have met my wife and would not be happily married now with an amazing son. I’ve also learned much about Japan’s culture, and been able to appreciate many works (novels, movies, etc.) in the native Japanese which is far better than reading subtitles. It’s a bit childish, but part of me still thinks speaking in a foreign language is ‘cool’, sort of like a special ability.

Personally I love the challenge of learning new things daily, and the sense of satisfaction that comes with gradual progress. But for those without such a penchant, just think of foreign language study as a way to train the brain, much like exercise trains the body. There is research that shows the brain holds up longer and better when giving frequently stimuli of different types – the so-called “use it or loose it” principle. If simple things such as brain puzzles show a positive effect on brain health, try and imagine how great of an effect learning a new language would have – learning new words, grammar, and pronunciation train different parts of the brain.  There is also some research that shows being bilingual can help reduce the onset of dementia approximately 5 years. Although this study focused more on people that learned the language when they were young, there is a good chance this also applies to learning a language when you are older. Two interesting points of the study are that a third language didn’t give any benefits over two, and fluency wasn’t required – just the fact that the person could express themselves in that language.

Though this blog is focused on Japanese, and of course I’d be happy to get one more person to benefit from reading my posts, any language that is not one you grew up on is fine. You probably have one in mind, but if not you can always find inspiration from the things around you – a favorite book, movie, or even just a coworker who was born in a different country. And remember there doesn’t have to be many (or any) native speakers of the language in your near vicinity. In fact, one of the main themes of this blog is that you can learn a foreign language without attending a formal class or living in that language’s native country.

If you are planning on learning a new language in 2014 please consider leaving a comment here letting us know. It might even inspire someone else to start learning that same language!

For the rest of us who are already learning a foreign language, let’s take a moment to reflect on all how far we’ve come, and promise to take our ability to the next level in 2014!



Japanese Anime Movie Review: The Garden of Words (2013, Blu-ray)

Japanese anime is great – it’s filled with enough action, fighting, emotion, and creative stories to make any fantasy lover do a double take.

I tend to like long running anime series (like the popular “Naruto”), but with a child now my time is limited, so I prefer shorter series or movies.

“The Garden of Words” (言の葉の庭)is a work perfect for those with little time on their hands, but looking to enjoy the best anime has to offer. It’s written and produced by Makoto Shinkai, well known for his movie “5 Centimeters Per Second” (among others). His movies are typically short, have beautiful visuals, and focus on romance or other emotionally stories.

This movie is no different, with top-class computer graphics supplementing traditional hand-drawn art. Much of the movie showcases breathtaking natural scenes, such as trees waving in the wind or drops of water on a lake. One of the only weak points of the movie, in my opinion, is the somewhat generic character design and the gap between the characters, which are mostly hand-drawn, and the CG backgrounds.

The music is also magnificent, with a stylistic solo piano piece reminiscent of a Hisashi Joe melody (he made much of the music for studio Ghibli movies).

The story is quite simple (and inline with his other works), but since it takes a backseat to the audio visual components this isn’t a major problem for me. But given the movie is under an hour I think they did a good enough job with the storytelling. The short length is the other movie’s weak points (especially if you you’ve paid around $19 for the Blu-ray), though it fits with the movie’s light, bittersweet motive, so it may not bother you at all.

Linguistically, the Japanese is pretty down-to-earth and has some phrases you can likely pick up for your own use. As is generally the case with Anime, the characters enunciate clearly so it’s easier to comprehend what characters are saying, as opposed to live action dramas and movies where it can be hard. There was one or two scenes where it was hard to hear the lines over the sound of rain, so be prepared to turn on subtitles if needed.

Overall, if you’re a fan of anime or a artistic mix of CG and hand-drawn art, I’d say this is a must-see. If you low on cash you might want to try and rent it somewhere, or borrow it from a friend since the price is a little high for the length of the feature.

Side note: The Japanese title of the movie (言の葉の庭) is a play on words in that it literally means something like “The garden of leaves of speech”, but when you put the two characters for “leaves of speech” together you get the word for “word”, hence the English title “Garden of Words”.



Say “yes” to a better understanding of the Japanese particle “no” (の)

Just like the particle は, it can take some time to get the hang of understanding and using the Japanese particle の。I’ll use what I’ve learned from textbooks, from experience, and from to illustrate the many uses of this important element of the language.

1)  Possessive or descriptive

This is by far the easiest to understand and start using yourself almost immediately. You’ve likely read about this use elsewhere so I’ll just give a quick example to summarize:

  • 僕の本をなくしました。
  • I lost my book.
  •  僕のをください。
  • Please give me mine.

2) Convert a verb or verb phrase into a noun

This use is also quite simple. Here の is added to the end of a verb to turn it into noun, which can then be used by another verb.

  • この映画を見るのを止めよう。
  • Let’s stop watching this movie.

3) Replacement for が

In an embedded clause, の can replace が. I feel that it de-emphasizes the subject before it compared to using が。

  • 彼の食べたバナナは腐ってた。
  • The banana he ate was rotting.

4) Assertion / Emphasis (のだ)

If のだ is added after a verb (or なのだ after a noun), it has the effect of emphasizing or asserting the statement. In spoken language these are often abbreviated as んだ and なんだ.

  • やってみせるんだ!
  • I’ll (do it and) show you!

Comment: Here the の (abbreviated as ん)is being used to show the speaker is insisting he/she will do something.

  • 負けたんだ。
  • I see they lost.

Comment: This usage is common when the speaker learns of new factual information. Here you can imagine he/she was watching TV and discovers their favorite football team lost. Depending on the tone used, it can imply resignation. A common expression with this is “そうなんだ” which is when you learn something new and acknowledge it, like saying “is that a fact?” as a rhetorical question.

5) For a question

の can be put after a verb in order to ask a question. In the first two examples below I feel that the sentence is more natural with の, but in the last one it can be omitted without any problem.

  • どうして行かないの?
  • Why aren’t you going?
  • 本当にいいの?
  • Are you sure its OK (with you)?
  • 彼女を信用していいんですか?
  • Is it (really) OK to trust her?

If you want to use this pattern with a noun or Na-adjective, you need to put a な before the の。

  • どうして犬なの?
  • Why a dog?

6) To explain a factual reason

When used with (だ)から, の can be used to explain a factual reason.

  • 赤ちゃんじゃないんだから。。。
  • Because (the fact is that) you are not a baby….

Comment: This phrase can be used to scold someone who is old enough to understand or do something properly.

7) To aggressively explain a fact to someone.

The form(な)んだよ can be used to forcefully explain that something is a fact to someone else. Use it with caution.

  • 僕だって頑張ってるんだよ!
  • (The fact is that) I’m also trying (my best) !

Comment: だって here is being used as an emphatic version of も.

  • これは一体なんなんだよ!
  • What the h*** is this!?

Comment: The first なん is from 何 (“what”), whereas the second is the short form of なの. This is a very emphatic phrase to be used when you are not happy about something.


There are a few other less common uses but I think the above covers most of the frequent uses.

The way I understand and remember usages #4, #5, #6, and #7  is that adding の/ん is like saying “it’s a fact”. Try thinking to yourself “Its a fact that….” or (for a question) “Is it a fact that….?” in order to get a better feeling for what の is trying to convey.

For advanced learners, I highly recommend reading the links in the references section below which show dictionary definitions and sample sentences of many of these uses, in Japanese.

I hope this article helped to demystify some of the uses of の。


If I could only live in Japan…

Have you ever thought to yourself, “If I could only live in Japan, I’d become fluent in Japanese in no time”? If you’re struggling to learn this monster of a language, especially self-taught, then you likely have at least once.

There is no doubt about it, living in a country whose native language is one you are studying is clearly the best way to give a boost to your fluency. Being immersed in the culture 24 hours a day gives your mind a massive amount of data, and your liable to pick up on many new things without even trying.

But whether living in Japan (say for a year) will definitely make you “fluent” (or even close) – that’s another story.

I’ve spoken with several people who have lived in Japan for a year or so, and none of them are what I would consider fluent. Some of them taught English for most of the time (using only English), and one of them stayed in a dorm with other foreigners. Another one got quite good at daily conversation, but is extremely weak on reading. Regardless of their level, I’m sure all of them learned a great deal about Japan, it’s people, and had an awesome time.

I’m sure some people have stayed in Japan for a year or so and gotten quite fluent. How quickly you learn in such an environment depends on the following factors:

  • Your inherent language ability (which declines as you age)
  • Your experience with the language before you arrive
  • How ‘immersed’ you really are – are you forced to understand native Japanese and speak with those who don’t know English?
  • How much time you spend speaking English (and other things which wouldn’t improve your Japanese)
  • Your motivation and willingness to learn

If you have an opportunity to live in Japan, by all means do. Just don’t expect it to be a magic bullet for fluency. Study before you go, and plan on continuing to study while you’re there.

Some ways to help assure you get enough practice while there:

  • Try to find work where the majority of the people you will be interacting with don’t know English. Jobs teaching English are common but many of them involve a great deal of conversation in English.
  • Make a few online friends via pen pal sites, social sites, blogging sites, etc., and make plans to meet with them while you are in Japan. I recommend the site
  • Consider finding a place to stay that is farther from big cities like Tokyo, so that less people know English and you are forced to use Japanese. Be aware if the area has a regional dialect/accent since you will probably pick that up naturally.
  • If you travel with someone else, promise to each other that you’ll speak primarily in Japanese while you are there. That will give you more of an opportunity to try using new words you’ve learned, which helps cement them in your memory.
  • Keep a diary/blog of everything you’ve learned so you can go back and reference it later.

And for those who don’t have an opportunity to travel or stay in Japan for very long, make the best use of your time to polish your Japanese skills wherever you are.  You’d be surprised how much you can learn without being in Japan – with enough effort it can surpass the skill of some who have lived there. That’s really the main purpose of this blog – to provide help and information to all of us learning Japanese on our own.

Expressions for giving and receiving in Japanese (objects and actions) [intermediate]

One of the convenient and frequently used set of expressions in Japanese is those for giving and receiving, which can be used for both objects and actions. These are discussed in many basic Japanese textbooks, but since their usage is a little tricky I thought I would review them here so it might help others.

There are three basic verbs used for giving and receiving, and they are as follows:

  • あげる (When the speaker gives to someone else, or a third party gives to someone besides the speaker)
  • くれる (When someone else gives to the speaker)
  • もらう (When someone, possibly the speaker, receives something from someone else)

It’s easy to confuse the first two, because the verb for ‘giving’ changes depending on whether the speaker is doing the giving, or on the receiving end of the giving.

First, let’s use these verbs to represent giving a simple physical object.

  • アイスをあげるよ
  • I’ll give you some ice cream

Note that the person giving or receiving the ice cream isn’t specified, but because the verb is あげる you can assume the giver is the speaker, and the receiver is the person being spoken to.

  • お菓子をくれるよね?
  • You’ll give me some candy, right?

Here the verb くれる means “give”, but to the speaker. Because of this it’s clear the giver is the listener, and the receiver is the speaker. If あげる was used here, it would sound like the candy would be given to a third party (i.e. not the speaker).

Receiving is a bit more straightforward since these is no distinction between the speaker or someone else doing the receiving.

  • 手紙をもらった
  • I received a postcard.

Here as well the subject can be inferred to be the speaker, unless otherwise stated or implied by the conversation leading up to this.

Now the really great thing about these three verbs is that they can be used to express actions done for the sake of someone else. For example,

  • ともだちに本を買ってあげた。
  • I bought my friend a book.
  • おとうさんが手伝ってくれた。
  • My dad helped me.
  • おとうさんに手伝ってもらった。
  • My dad helped me. (I received help from my dad)

These last two have almost the same meaning, but the くれる one focuses on the dad giving while the もらう one focuses on the speaker receiving.

These three words can also be used when you want to offer to do a favor for someone, if when you request a favor from someone else.

  • 車を洗ってあげよう.
  • Shall I wash your car?
  • 写真をとってくれる?     (or …くれない?)
  • Will you take my picture?
  • 意味を教えてもらえる?   (or …もらえない?)
  • Will you tell me the meaning?

This last one is especially confusing because the potential もらえる is used instead of もらう. You can think of this as “Would you able to do ~ for me” as opposed to “Will you do ~ for me” which is more harsh and direct.

もらう can also be used in the sense of “have someone do X for me”.

  • 明日、先生に教えてもらおう
  • Tomorrow lets have the teacher show us.

There are several related words that are used in different situations.

やる: Same meaning as あげる, except it is more harsh and used mostly with animals or children, or if you are just trying to sound tough.

  • やっつけてやる!
  • I’ll beat you up!

くださる: More polite version of くれる.

  • 英語に訳してくださいますか?
  • Would you mind translating this into English?

This verb’s conjugation for command form is ください which as you probably already know means “please”. Just as with くれる, you can use this for an object or for a favor.

  • バナナをください
  • Please give me a banana.
  • 日本語を教えてください
  • Please teach me Japanese.

いただく: More polite version of もらう.

  • 日本語を訂正していただけませんか
  • Can you please correct my Japanese?

Just as  with もらう, we use the potential form of the verb here (いただける).

I hope this post made the usage of these three verbs a little clearer.

Questions for practice:

Translate the following into Japanese:

  1. I’ll teach you English.
  2. My dad loaned me the book.
  3. Would you help me?
  4. Please listen.

Manga review: 大奥 (Ooku – The Inner Chambers) by Fumi Yoshinaga, Book 1


I’ve been keeping an eye on this manga in Japanese book stores for a few years now, whose mysterious cover and title piqued my interest. During a recent business trip to New York, I finally decided on picking up the first issue at Book Off. (I have a review of this Japanese bookstore here.)

From the outfit shown on the cover, I had a feeling there was something “classical” about this work. It turns out I was right, as this story is set in Edo Japan, which is roughly between 1603 and 1867. Although I am no expert in classical Japanese history, both the clothes used and the language spoken seemed somewhat accurate to the time period. There is one major difference which is central to the story: nearly 75% of men has been wiped out by a disease, leaving a massive shortage of them. I won’t give away any of the store here, but just try to imagine how different society would be with such a different distribution of the sexes.

This man-shortage back story, plus the events which occurred in this first book were quite entertaining. That is, when I understood what was going on. That brings me to the downside of this work, especially for non-native speakers reading the Japanese version, like myself. As I mentioned, the language used is Japanese from the Edo period, which has many differences from modern Japanese, including grammar, pronouns, and other vocabulary. Unless you have studied this type of Japanese before, odds are you won’t know words like 某(それがし), which is a first person pronoun used throughout the book. I don’t mind reading furigana (text that explains the pronounciation of difficult or rare kanji) every now and then, but the font is so small that I have to strain my eyes to even have a chance of picking up the kanji readings. And knowing very little history about shoguns and other aspects of Edo-era culture made it even harder for me to follow.

This manga was made even harder to understand by frequent transitions in some sections, where all of a sudden there was a new scene without much notice. I have heard there are typically visual cues to help catch these jumps, but I still need practice to learn to recognize them.

Being hugely interested in Japanese language and culture, I have no problem learning about the Edo period’s linguistic differences. But I’d prefer to do after I consider myself truly “fluent” in contemporary Japanese. After all, the Edo terms and grammar aren’t applicable to daily conversational Japanese, and I’d rather spend my effort reading and speaking modern-day Japanese. Also, my tendency to try and understand each and every sentence completely before I move on (including pronunciation) caused this book to take much longer to finish that I hoped.

The good news is that this manga has been translated to English and that is the form I suggest all non-native speakers to enjoy it in, unless you are well versed in Edo Japanese or have a lot of patience.

For these reasons, I don’t see myself reading the second book in Japanese anytime soon, and I doubt I’ll spent the time and money on the English version. But I heard there is a live action remake, which I hope to watch as soon as I get my hands on it.


Self introspection and correction: critical skills for learning a foreign language [Intermediate/Advanced]

In my time studying Japanese I’ve been fortunate enough to have several pen pals and conversation partners who have corrected my grammar mistakes, and in some cases pointed out more natural phrasing. Unfortunately, experiences like that are few and far between, not only because it can be tedious and time consuming to correct someone’s language mistakes, but also because explaining why something is incorrect can be quite difficult. Add to that the fact that correcting someone mid-conversation can disturb the flow of the discussion, leading to frustration on both parties.

The farther you travel on the road to true fluency, the more you realize that self introspection and self correction are really two of the most important skills required. Its always amazing how children acquire language at such a breakneck pace, but if you watch them carefully you’ll realize they made all sort of mistakes from wrong pronunciation to bad grammar. This is one of the secrets behind their accelerated learning – they use a relentless process of trial and error to polish their language skills. I’ve even read in some books on education that its best to not directly correct children by saying “That is wrong!”, but instead simply repeat the proper phrase back to them nonchalantly and they will figure it out for themselves eventually. This is the linguistic version of the common proverb “teach a person to fish…”.

Besides diligently going over my Japanese emails with a fine tooth comb to look for mistakes and awkward phrasing, I found it’s also good to try and keep a mental note for things I said that I was not comfortable with. Usually what happens is I manage to communicate with unsure or unnatural phrasing, but then later on I end up hearing a similar phrase that is the natural way to say what I tried to convey. At that point in time something clicks in my head, and I can easily remember the proper phrasing, so that next time I need to say something similar I just repeat it back.

The most important thing is that you aren’t afraid to try and say whatever comes to mind given your limited knowledge, even if it’s unnatural, grammatically incorrect, or just plan wrong. Without the “trial” step, when you hear the proper phrase spoken by someone you probably won’t care as much and odds are it won’t stick.

If you’re still young, or linguistically gifted, then you might already be doing these things without any problem. But as we get older, we loose some of the plasticity of learning new languages, and need to compensate by keeping good habits like this.

I find that pronunciation is one of the more difficult things for me to refine since I don’t pay as much attention to it while I am speaking. So occasionally I try to record my speech and listen to it carefully. It’s usually quite embarrassing at first, but in the end it gives me more confidence about what I am doing right and pointers to where I am going wrong. Often when I am reading a novel or manga book I’ll also read dialog lines out loud slowly, focusing on clear, natural pronunciation.

And by all means, keep up the search for those who will do detailed correction of your Japanese. Just don’t expect most people to be able to put in the requisite time and thought required to do it properly.  If you have a pen pal whose English grammar you are correcting in exchange, you’re more likely to get detailed feedback on your mistakes.

Common Japanese abbreviations [Intermediate / Advanced]

In this post I’ve decided to list a few of the commonly used colloquial abbreviations and transformations in Japanese. Keep in mind that many of these are slang/informal (くだけた言い方)and would typically only be used in conversation with someone you are close to, or very informal writing like a blog. This list isn’t complete and I’m sure there are some I’ve missed since I’m just listing those I have heard used in my own experience.

I’ve broken these two into two categories, the first which I’ve seen or heard used in polite speech (敬語)and the others which I haven’t.

The great thing about this kind of abbreviations is they typically occur for frequently used phrases, so you likely to hear them often and eventually find opportunities to use them yourself.

This list is generally safe to use in polite speech or formal writing, and in some case the abbreviated version is more frequently used.

  • の → ん
    • Ex:   無料なのです → 無料なんです
  • では → じゃ
    • Ex:   上手ではありません → 上手じゃありません
  • (verb)ている → (verb)てる
    • Ex:   歩いている → 歩いてる
  •  (verb)て頂けたら(幸い、いい)と〜 → (verb)て頂けたらと〜
    • Ex:   手伝って頂けたら幸いと思います → 手伝って頂けたらと思います
  • (verb)ては → (verb)ちゃ
    • Ex:   カンニングしてはいけません。 → カンニングしちゃいけません
  • (verb)ておく → (verb)とく
    • Ex:   やめておきましょう → やめときましょう
  • (verb)ていく → (verb)てく
    • Ex:   お店よっていく? → お店よってく?
  • (verb)てしまう → (verb)ちゃう
    • Ex:   負けてしまいました → 負けちゃいました
  • (verb)でしまう → (verb)じゃう


  • Ex:   負けてしまいました → 負けちゃいました

The remainder may not be safe to use in polite speech or formal writing, so use with caution:

  •  (verb) るの → (verb) んの
    • Ex:   本当にやるの? → 本当にやんの?
    • Ex:   何しているの? → 何してんの?
  • (verb) ない → (verb) ん
    • Ex:  くだらない  → くだらん
    • Ex:  変じゃない  → 変じゃん (This abbreviation something like 変だ and is only used when trying to affirm/declare something. If the speaker meant “not weird”, then this abbreviation wouldn’t be used and intonation would be different)
  • (verb) ない → (verb) ねー
    • Ex:   知らない → しらねー
  • (verb) れば → (verb) りゃ
    • Ex:   そうすればいいのに → そうすりゃいいのに
    • Ex:   行かなければだめ → 行かなきゃだめ
  •  〜れは → 〜りゃ
    • Ex:   それは → そりゃ
    • Ex:   これは → こりゃ
    • Ex:   おれは → おりゃ
  • (verb) ても → (verb) たって
    • Ex:   そんなことしても何も変わらない → そんなことしたって何も変わらない
  • (verb) ようか? → (verb) よっか?
    • Ex:   帰ろうか → 帰ろっか?
  • 〜になる → 〜んなる
    • Ex:   日本語、上手になったね → 日本語、上手んなったね
  • 〜と言う → 〜ちゅう   or  ~つう
    • Ex:   なんていうか。。。 → なんちゅうか。。。(なんつうか。。。)
  • なんて言った? → なんつった? [The first つ here is pronounced very quickly, such that you release a tiny bit of air and then stop it with your tongue]
  • わからない → わかんない
  • とても → とっても  [Used for emphasis]
  • すごく → すっごく         [Used for emphasis]


We learn language best from our peers

During my study of the Japanese language, oftentimes I cannot help but think fundamentally about how humans learn a foreign language, or any language for that matter.

Some years back when I was more actively studying linguistics, I read a very interesting book called “The Language Instinct” by Steven Pinker (see wikipedia page here). As you might expect from the title, the central premise of the book is that our brain is hard-wired to learn languages.

Since it was some time ago and I read through it fairly quickly, I’ve long since forgotten the finer points of this book. But there was two things that really stood out and left a lasting impression on me:

  • Young children will spontaneously generate a grammar if given a language without defined grammar rules, but only if they are below a certain age
  • As children get older, they learn a majority of their native language from their friends (their peers), not their parents

In this post I’d like to focus on the latter of these. At first it was very surprising to me that children would not have a larger linguistic influence from their parents – after all they will likely spent a greater portion of their waking time with their parents, listening to their native language spoken around the house. But when I thought about it some more, a teenager’s instinct to rebel from his or her parents, and be more like their “cool” friends seems like it could cause similar shifting of influence regarding language.

I’m no linguist, but I’ve tried to apply this concept to my own learning of Japanese. I have noticed that I tend to copy the Japanese I hear more people I am close to or respect, especially if they are a similar age. This isn’t exactly the same thing as comparing parental vs peer influence, but it does relate in the sense that peer influence is stronger than non-peer influence.

For example, I can watch Japanese dramas all day long and try to memorize and use the expressions I heard in my conversations, but I’ve found thats very difficult to do. I feel one of the reasons is a lack of trust or respect with the speaker. Do I really know what meaning was meant by this phrase? Could it have been used as sarcasm or is it an uncommon expression with connotations unknown to me? Sometimes I can use these expressions as a joke to someone I am close with, but using them with a stranger makes me uncomfortable.

On the other hand, if I hear someone I respect speaking a certain phrase to me in person, I am more likely to trust and (instinctually?) copy what they say if such an opportunity comes my way.

So how can you use this to benefit your foreign language speaking? First of all, in situations where can you choose your conversation partner (pen pal, for example), look for someone near your age and possibly the same sex. Second, try to nurture longer relationships with a select few, as opposed to a lot of “surface” acquaintances – whether they are net friends or those you meet in person. The more you trust and understand the other person the more likely you are able to pick up useful phrases and learn to apply them in your own speech. You can even try to steer your selection of fiction works (dramas, novels, etc.) to those which have situations close to real life, and have characters you can respect and identify with.

It’s amazing to me how the brain processes language, and I hope to continue to study this as I work to improve my Japanese.

Manga book review: 映画篇 1 (“Movie Version 1”)

Manga, along with Anime, is one of the biggest forms of Japanese imports to America for entertainment. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were many people who started learning Japanese after they became interested in manga. (My situation is a little different, but I’ll discuss that in another post.)

As I’m sure all of you know, manga is a great resource for learning Japan’s language and certain aspects of its culture. I tend to gravitate more towards novels than manga (in both Japanese and English), but I try to read manga once in a while to change things up.

I picked up 映画篇 1 (Eiga-hen or “Movie Version”)on a recent business trip to New York when I happened to stop by Kinokuniya for a few hours (see my review of that bookstore here), where there is a huge manga section. I selected this book because of the beautiful cover art, interesting story description, and the relatively low price (around $12).

This book is the first in a serious of manga rewrites of the novel with the same title, written by 金城 一紀 (Kazuki Kaneshiro) who happens to be a Japanese citizen with Korean ethnic background. The art for the manga was drawn by 遠藤 佳世 (Kayo Endou).

The entire novel has 5 short stories, each titled after a movie, and the first manga book has two of these.  One of the stories is titled “太陽がいっぱい”, which refers to the 1960 French film titled “Purple Noon”, based on the novel “The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith. Many of you are probably familiar with the 1999 adaption of the same novel, starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

I’m not one to give plot spoilers (ネタバレ in Japanese), so I’ll just say that this was a satisfying read with an emotionally touching story, a step above most other manga I’ve read.  I highly recommend it.  One of it’s central themes is how stories can profoundly affect the lives of others, so if you’re into a field related to storytelling (movie production, novel writing, etc.) than this book will likely catch your interest. Another element is the challenges of Korean descendants living in Japan, which is surely based on in part by the author’s own experiences.

The main drawback of this work is that it doesn’t appear to have been translated to English (yet), so you’ll have to read it in Japanese or hope it gets translated eventually. Linguistically there is a lot of dialog between males, much of it using very masculine, “tough” tone. Except for a few poetic lines, much of the dialog is not unlike real everyday conversations, so you might be able to learn some useful phrases from it. (Ironically, one of the expressions I learned from it isn’t particularly useful in daily life: “一心不乱” which means something like “be completely absorbed in”.)

My tastes in art are such that I don’t enjoy many of the more generic, simplistic drawing styles used frequently in manga, or in American comic books for that matter. This book is an exception, with many scenes drawn with a style and level of detail I can appreciate.

Although there aren’t any particularly explicit scenes that come to mind, the themes and some of the events in the book would best be read and appreciated by an adult (something along the lines of PG-13).