Monthly Archives: March 2014

Japan’s consumption tax raises from 5% to 8%

Any of you living in Japan or keeping tabs on life there surely have heard about the raise to their consumption tax, but for those of you who are more focused on Japanese entertainment (manga, anime,etc.) I thought I’d write about it briefly.

Beginning April 1st Japan has raised their consumption tax from 5% to 8%. There is no gradual transition, just a sudden jump. In October 2015 the tax will jump again 2% to 10%. The 5% consumption tax has been like that since 1997 when it was raised from 3%.

I’ll admit that I’m not an expert when it comes to economics, or government in general, so I can’t speak on whether these drastic tax jumps are really worth it. But I’m sure in the short term it’s quite harsh, especially those for less income who are pinching pennies already.

Fortunately many companies are taking advantage of this opportunity to do sales or give out coupon vouchers that can be used starting today. And before the tax raise some companies were trying to convince consumers to buy their products with phrases like “By now before the tax raise!”. In some ways it reminds me of the year-end holiday season where both consumers and producers are majorly effected by a periodic event.

Will this deter me from living in Japan? At the moment I don’t have immediate plans to live there, but when/if me and my family decide to, I don’t think it will be a major factor. After all, the economic ecosystem of  producers prices, consumers buying habits, and even salaries should naturally adjust given enough time. I can’t think that this will have a major effect on the economy in the long term, though admittedly there is some faith on my part in the Japanese government.

One other side effect which even applies even to those living out of Japan is there will probably be some effect on prices for import products such as manga and anime. But it’s likely the fanboys and fangirls will be deterred by a a 3% raise in prices.

Note: The process of raising the consumption tax is called 消費税増税(しょうひぜいぞうぜい). 消費 means “consumption” and can also be used as a verb (消費する).


Blog statistics: Views vs Visitors and what that means about your blog [aside]

Statistics for WordPress blogs provide two important figures, “Views” and “(Unique) Visitors”, and in this post I’d like to discuss what these mean and how you can infer important information by comparing them.

First lets look how these are defined by the WordPress support page:

Views:  A view is counted when a visitor loads or reloads a page.

Unique Visitor: A visitor is counted when we see a user or browser for the first time in a given period (day, week, month).

Of course you want both of these two be as high as possible, but the ratio between these values also gives critical information which can be easily overlooked. Let’s use an example of two blogs with differing statistics:

Blog A: 

  • Views: 50
  • Visitors: 45
  • Ratio of Views/Visitors = 1.11

Blog B:

  • Views: 40
  • Visitors: 20
  • Ratio of Views/Visitors = 2.0

Some people might prefer Blog A since it has a higher number of views, but I prefer the stats of Blog B since it has a higher number of views per visitor. But why is this so important?

For Blog A, most people that find your site leave immediately without checking out of any the other articles. This could mean that theyfind your blog via a  search engine, but aren’t interested enough to read other articles. It could also mean that they are frequent readers and have already checked out past articles. You can use the number of referrers (also listed on the stats page) to help distinguish between these two cases. The more referrers from search engines, the more people are checking out your site for the first time and have not likely seen the other articles. Those who are your followers would not typically come in via a search engine reference.

Blog B, on the other hand,  has less total visitors but those that came to the site were interested in the subject matter enough to hang around, and on average each person looked at one other article. To me this says a lot about the content and quality of the blog in general.

The two above examples are actually roughly based on two of my blogs, with Blog B based on this blog itself. Blog A refers to a blog which I haven’t updated lately, and rarely gets new followers. Self Taught Japanese has less total views, but much more activity and higher rate of new followers. I’m hoping to increase the overall stats of this blog while maintaining, or increasing, the visitor ratio.



Review: “Arakawa Under the Bridge” (荒川アンダー ザ ブリッジ)

“Arakawa Under the Bridge” is a manga series created by Hikaru Nakamura (中村 光)  in 2004, which was eventually turned into an anime, TV drama, and movie. I’ve only seen the drama and movie so will be focusing on those in this post, though I imagine the story is much the same.

This story starts out with the main character (Kou Ichinomiya) falling off a bridge and being saved by a mysterious girl named Nino, who later claims to be from the planet Venus. She leads him to where she lives, a makeshift village which has the atmosphere of a circus and band of strange characters including the chief who wears a costume roughly modeled after a “kappa”, a green creature from Japanese folklore with green scaly skin. The chief is played brilliantly by actor Shun Oguri, who also starred in the great drama Rich Man, Poor Woman.

Although there is a serious side to this story involving Kou’s relationships between his father, Nino, and the other characters, as well as his father’s company and the village of the weirdos, it’s the quirks of each character and interactions between them that really makes this show unique. To give two examples: there is a character Sister, who dresses like a Nun and carries a machine gun everywhere, and Hoshi (star) who is a self-proclaimed superstar and talks about Rock frequently. The dialog and story itself is so weird that you can tell it was first written as a manga, and the way the characters seriously act out these crazy personas really makes it something special.

The TV drama has 10 episodes, but to see the entire story you have to watch the movie, which includes all drama episodes plus over an hour of extra content that finishes off the plot cleanly.

Overall, the story and characters are very fresh and creative, and that is coming from someone who has seen way too many cheesy Japanese dramas. I highly recommend it!


“ikizurai” and (improperly) using the -づらい (-zurai) suffix in Japanese

There are several verb suffixes used in Japanese which are used to represent something is easy or difficult.

  • [verb in “pre-masu” form]  +  づらい    => hard to do “verb”
  • [verb in “pre-masu” form]  +  にくい    => hard to do “verb”
  • [verb in “pre-masu” form]  + やすい     => easy to do “verb”

To make the “pre-masu” form, simply conjugate the verb into the polite 〜ます form, and then remove the ます。For example:

  • 食べる => 食べます=> 食べ
  • 歩く => 歩きます=> 歩き
  • 話す => 話します=> 話し

Here are a few example uses of the above:

  • この肉、食べづらい
  • This meat is hard to eat.
  • この靴、歩きやすい!
  • These shoes are easy to walk in!
  • これはちょっと話しにくい話題ですけど。。。
  • This is a difficult topic to talk about.

When you have a noun that is used together with する, you need to make sure you use し as the correct pre-masu form of する。

  • 勉強しやすい授業だね。
  • This is an class that’s easy to study.

This is all setup for a funny story which happened to me recently where I wanted to say “Because of my allergies it’s hard to breathe”. How would you say this?

I ended up saying the following:

  • アレルギのせいでイキヅライ

Here I said ‘ikizurai’ in katakana to emphasize the sound of what I said, as opposed to my intentions. I meant 息 ( いき/breathe) + づらい, but if you followed the above example you’ll see that this would correctly be 息しづらい, since 息する means to breathe.

Normally a mistake like this wouldn’t be a big deal, but unfortunately イキヅライ means something very different, 生きづらい, which roughly translates to “hard to live”, and uses from the verb 生きる (いきる/to live)

My innocent mistake of omitting a し gave my utterance a much more extreme meaning such that my allergy was making it hard to continue living.

I think my confusion was because in some cases verb endings can have a similar meaning even without the し. One such case is -はじめる, which means to start doing an action.

  • 勉強(を)はじめる。
  • 勉強しはじめる。

Both of these sentences are grammatically correct and mean “I will start studying”.

But as a general rule this is not the case, so to avoid embarassment make sure you use the proper pre-masu form when using verb endings.




Learning a foreign language and aging

You probably have heard that humans have a certain ‘window’ of time, where once we get past a certain age it’s much more difficult to learn a second, or third language. While this is still an area of science where there is many unknowns (like how long this window is), you’ve probably noticed that people who learn a foreign language later in life tend to have a thicker accent and stumble more grammatically, at least on average. If you tried learning a foreign language for the first time in your 20s or later, you may have noticed that you don’t pick things up as fast, and the older you get the more challenging things become.

I can think of many reasons for this to be the case, for example:

  • Physiological differences in the brain which contribute to slower response time and worse memory.
  • A lack of a really ‘necessity’ to learn a language. When we are young we are forced to learn our native language to communicate with our parents, friends, and teachers.
  • We have a lot more on the mind than when we were young – job, money, maybe a wife/husband and kids.
  • Our free time is drastically reduced so the time to dedicate to studying is lessened as well.

The good news is that many of these can be overcome to a certain degree, with proper mindset and studying techniques. Even the physiological differences are not black or white such that our brain stops learning exactly at a specific age. Rather there is a gradual decline as we get older.

I was thinking about aging and foreign language acquisition and had an epiphany, or least what I would call as a pretty important thought that I wanted to write down. Now that I’ve set up the background I can delve into the main part of this post.

It’s funny that we can through our daily lives, sometimes for decades, and really not run into anything that is as intellectually challenging as learning a foreign language. (Of course, there are those of us that are really into our profession, or a certain hobby, and put our brains through the wringer on a daily basis). Depending on our chosen major and university, college may be hard, and maybe even the first few years of a job, but typically we get into a grove where things become easier. This speaks of two things: one, that we’ve successfully grown accustomed to nearly all common activities in our daily life, and two, that we aren’t really challenging ourselves to anything as difficult and complex as a foreign language.

The key insight that I had was that the difficulty of foreign language learning at a later age doesn’t so much represent the fact that languages are tough, but rather how much we have mentally declined, and are a good way to measure and train our thinking, reasoning, and memory capacities in general. So I could just quit learning foreign languages and stick to something ‘easy’, but then I would be depriving my brain of needed stimulus to stay in tip-top shape. As they say, “use it or loose it”, and if you apply that principle here you end up with foreign language being a critical part of your intellectual diet, which  is a way of saying it will keep your mind young.

So I’ve decided to not give up the fight against foreign languages (Japanese at present, and maybe others in the future), and use language study as a way to help stave off the gradual mental decline that naturally(?) occurs as we age.  I hope you’ll continue this journey with me, whether it’s Japanese or some other language your into.


Programming Podcast – a fresh look at Japanese conversation between everyday people

A common theme of this blog (as well as my personal studies) is how to experience “real” Japanese in all its forms, without actually living in Japan. By “real”, I mean not just watching Anime or reading Manga, but rather experiencing Japanese that an everyday person would be using.  Focusing on too many fantasy-oriented resources won’t give you an adequate vocabulary for living in real life.

Podcasts are a step in the right direction, but many podcasts are heavily produced and feature professional commentators or celebrities, so you won’t necessarily get to hear what an everyday Japanese person sounds like.

Recently I found a great podcast which has virtually no production and a great example of everyday Japanese. It’s simply two guys talking over Skype about software development and other related topics. You can get it here on Podcastle, a site I reviewed the other day.

Off and on I’ve used Skype to speak with Japanese people to practice my conversation skills, and hearing this podcast reminded me of those sessions. This was not only because of the degraded voice quality particular to Skype, but also because of the down-to-earth attitude of the speakers. There is little feeling of speaking for an audience – It’s as if somebody just happened to secretly record their conversation.  Their speech has pauses, self-corrections, sentences which change midway through, and other aspects of natural conversation that are all good to emulate in your own speech, especially if you’re talking in a similar environment where you are on roughly even ground with the other person.

The other reason I love this podcast is because software development is a topic I’m very familiar with, so I can pick up on the flow of the conversation easily. There are also many loan words, or names of things spoken in Japanese which you probably heard in English before (like パール or モジュール), and that helps with comprehension.

Even if you don’t know much about programming I’d recommend listening to this for a few minutes just to pick up their tone and speech patterns. As far as I can tell neither of the speakers has an accent and speaks typical Tokyo-dialect (標準語).

I highly recommend everyone to search for Japanese podcasts about topics they are familiar with, regardless of their experience or ability. You’ll pick up many new words quickly and the connection between what your existing knowledge base on that topic will help motivate you to continue studying.

Another thing I learned from this podcast is that the speech recognition engine of Podcastle isn’t as good as I originally thought, since when listening to this podcast there are many mistakes. One of the reasons is probably the high frequency of loan words, some of which are not likely in a Japanese dictionary. Nevertheless, roughly 50-75% of the transcription is correct, so I won’t change my stance on Podcastle being an extremely useful tool.



(Featured image of headphones downloaded from here:

Different ways to express “Again” in Japanese

In this post I’d like to go over a few days to express the idea of “again” in Japanese language, keeping in mind the particular nuance of each.

1) “また” is a simple way to say “again”, and is pretty well known by even beginning Japanese learners due to some common expressions it is used in:

  • またね   (see you again)
  • また明日 (see you tomorrow)
  • また今度 (see you later)

These are sometimes prefixed by “じゃ” which translates to something like “Well…”.

You can use また in sentences to mean “again”, but sometimes this word can have a negative connotation and isn’t particularly polite.

  • またやったの?
  • You did it again?

また or または can also be used to mean “also” in more formal Japanese.

2) If you’re speaking polite Japanese or you want to use a slightly more formal expression, you can say “改めて” (あらためて)  which comes from the verb 改める, meaning “to renew or change”.

  • 改めて自己紹介をします。
  • I’ll introduce myself again.

3) “もう一回” literally means “one more time” and can be used in the same sense as “again”. This word doesn’t have the rough connotation of また and is a little safer for general use.

  • もう一回言ってください。
  • Say that again please.
  • 頭からもう一回練習しようね。
  • Let’s practice once more from the beginning.

You can replace もう一回 with もう一度 without any change in meaning.

4) You can also express the idea of “again” with the suffix “〜直す” (〜なおす). You simply add this word after the pre-masu form (i.e. “ね” for the verb “ねる”).

” 直す” literally means “to fix”, and accordingly this grammatical construction has the connotation of fixing something. For beginner students I would recommend just sticking to some of the more common forms and eventually experimenting with this suffix on other words once you get comfortable hearing it.

  • 寝直す  (go back to sleep)
  • やり直す    (redo)
  • 言い直す    (restate, correct)
  • 考え直す    (rethink)
  • 読み直す    (read again, re-read)

One mistake I’ve made is to say something like the following:

  • 映画をもう一回見直したい。
  • I’d like to watch this movie once more.   [incorrect]

The Japanese sentence isn’t technically incorrect but the English translation is. A better translation would be:

  • I’d like to rewatch this movie once more.

Now you can see this implies watching the movie at least for a 3rd time, which is not my intention. I should have said one of these phrases:

  • 映画をもう一回みたい。
  • 映画を見直したい。

5) 再, pronounced さい,  is a prefix which means ‘again’. However I have only seen it used with a few words, for example:

  • 再挑戦 – challenge again
  • 再確認 – recycle
  • 再利用 – recycle (“use again”)

6) If you want to use “again” in a negative sense, as in “I’ll never ~ again”, you can use this pattern:

  • もう + [verb in negative tense]

For example,

  • 僕はもう船に乗らない。
  • I’ll never ride a boat again.

You can add 二度と after もう if you want to make a stronger statement.

Tate’s Comics: One of the best shops in South Florida for all your comic needs

As I confirmed with my poll the other day, one of the major reasons people are studying Japanese language is because of their attraction to modern Japanese culture, in particular Manga and Anime. In keeping with that, this time I would like to talk about one of the best comic shops in Florida, Tate’s Comics in Lauderhill. (There is another store in Boyton Beach, but I’ve never visited there so I will be focusing on the Lauderhill location)

Tate’s comics has been around since 1993, and I’ve been visiting it for at least 10 years. In fact when I visited there a few years ago, I found a comic on display which happened to be from of my good friends from college. I ended up purchasing it and getting in contact with him after that, and we have seen each other at least once every several months since then.

This store boasts 6,000 square feet of goodness, filled with comics, figures, and related items. The store claims it sells “toys” but there aren’t too many toys like you would find in a typical toy store, with comic and other figures dominating. The comic collection definitely has a bias towards American comics, but there are a few shelves of Asian manga as well, and even a few DVDs (a few years ago there was a much bigger Anime DVD collection, but they seem to have given that up recently). When I stopped by a few days ago one of the big sets of shelves was empty and being renovated, hopefully they’ll put more DVDs or manga there.

To be honest, this shop has very little manga or other items written in Japanese, and shouldn’t be compared to a Japanese bookstore like Kinokuniya. If you look around you can find a few, such as Hobby Japan and sometimes an occasional Manga or art book in Japanese. To make matters worse, in the last few years many of the products sold here don’t quite fit with my tastes, being somewhere between “weird”, “eerie”,  and “dark”. For those a little sensitive to this type of stuff you might want to keep away from the second floor loft, which contains some extra strange trinkets and some pictures of women wearing provocative clothes. It’s clear the owners are trying to stock up on hard-to-find niche products, and the weird faces displayed in the front window bring home that point. But whatever their strategy it’s definitely working, as they have been gradually increasing the size of their store (see their history on the web page here).

Having said all that, odds are any lover of Japanese culture will find at least something of interest here, from Books on Ghibli history to stuffed animals of the “Cat Bus” from Totoro, Final Fantasy posters to asian art collections you won’t likely find elsewhere. There is also a nice collection of Japanese drinks and snacks, including classics like Pocky. There is also a section of independent comics where on occasion local comic artists sell their wares, like my friend did in the past.

For several years now Tates has held at least one or two events a year, where they stand up a large tent in the parking lot and sell products at a discount. The next one happens to be next month, you can check out the schedule here.

Anyone interested in comics or any sort, or fantasy, should definitely check out Tate’s Comics if they happen to stop by South Florida.


Japanese honorific prefixes お and ご (‘O’ and ‘Go’)

In Japanese, the prefixes お  and ご are used to add a feeling of politeness or respect to a word. The usage of these two prefix is defined as follows:

  • お : used for words with the 訓読み(”kunyomi”), or Japanese reading. It is sometimes written in Kanij as 御.
  • ご : used for words with the 音読み (“onyomi”), or Chinese reading.

It would be great if it were that simple, but there are some tricky things about this pair which I’ll go over now.

For example, you can’t just arbitrary add these prefixes to any word, and some already have them ‘built in’. I’ll break it down into a few categories, with an example or two in each.

1. Words that work either with or without honorific prefixes

This is the simplest class where a word can be written normally, or with the appropriate honorific prefix for additional politeness.

  •  すし/ おすし
  •  しごと / おしごと

2. Words that change meaning when the honorific prefix is added

  • なか(中)= Inside
  • おなか (お腹)= stomach or abdomen
  • にぎり = a type of sushi where a slice of raw fish is placed upon an elongated rice ball
  • おにぎり = a rice ball, often triangular shaped, with nori on the outside and something inside (fish,

3. Words that change nuance when the prefix is added

  • ゆ = hot water
  • おゆ = hot water, but has a connotation of being more ‘clean’ and is probably water that is meant for drinking
  • はな = can be mean nose (鼻) or flower (花)
  • おはな = only used to mean flower

4. Words that typically use a honorific prefix but aren’t particularly polite or respectful

  • お尻 = butt
  • おなら = fart

You’ve probably noticed all of these examples used お, not ご. This is because these words are generally more frequent in Japanese, at least in my experience. One example of ご usage you’ll see commonly on online message boards is ご質問.

Actually, in some cases Japanese themselves can get confused whether ご or お should be used, and if you do a search in Japanese you’ll find several people asking on forums how to distinguish between these two. One case is お返事 vs ご返事. Technically speaking, ご返事 is correct since 返事 (へんじ) uses a chinese reading, but the word お返事 has become widely used. You can see this debate discussed here.

A related usage of お is to make a verb more polite. You can use the following pattern:

  • お + [verb in pre-masu form] + します

Here is an example of it’s usage using the verb 手伝う (てつだう, “to help”).

  • お手伝いしましょうか?
  • Shall I help?

One expression you’ll hear frequently on radio or podcasts is お送り[おおくり]します, which is used to mean “broadcast”.

As a general rule, don’t arbitrarily add these prefixes, only use them in cases where you’ve heard/seen a native use them. Using お or ご with a word where they are not typically used will sound unnatural, and in many cases it’s safe to just use the word without these.


(Featured image of nigiri taken from Wikimedia Commons:

Placing blame or fault in Japanese with せい (sei)

せい is a word in Japanese which can be used to express blame or fault. I’ll go over a few related uses of this word.

1) Explaining something occurred because of someone or something’s fault. This is similar to using (だ)から in the sense of ‘because’ except it usually has a negative connotation.

Pattern: [reason for something] + せいで + [What happened as a result of that reason]

  • 疲れたせいで考えがまとまらない
  • Because I’m tired I can’t organize my thoughts.
  • 手が小さいせいでピアノがうまく弾けません。
  • Because my hands are small I can’t play the piano well.

The way it is used grammatically changes slightly depending on the word used. Here are the general patterns:

  • With a verb in the normal (する), past-tense (した), or continual (してる/してた) forms: Verb + せいで
  • With a na-adjective: Adj + な + せいで
  • With a i-adjective: Adj + せいで
  • With a noun: Noun + の + せいで

If you want to express uncertainty in the reason, you can replace せいで with せいか

  • パソコンを落としたせいか、立ち上がらない。
  • My computer won’t start up, possibly because I dropped it.

2) Explaining a reason for something directly without talking about what happened as a result.

Pattern: [reason for something] + せい   (+ だ/です)

  • 日本語が下手なせいだ。
  • It’s because I’m bad at Japanese.

3) Directly blaming someone for being the cause of a negative consequence.

Pattern: [reason for something] + せい + にする

  • 君のせいにするよ。
  • I blame you.
  • 人のせいにするんじゃなくて、ちゃんと自分で責任をとりなさい。
  • Take responsibility yourself, don’t blame other people.

If you wan’t to express something caused a positive result, you can use おかげ(お陰)in a similar way. This has the nuance of “thanks to ~”.

  • 先生のお陰で、試験を合格しました
  • I passed the test thanks to (my) teacher.

The expression おかげさまで derives from this same おかげ and is used to give thanks to those around you, or in a spiritual sense. It is often used when talking about one’s health.

  • おかげさまで風邪が治りました。
  • Thankfully my cold has gotten better.

Finally, both せいで and おかげで can be used after その to refer to something that was just discussed.

  • その日、道路がぬれてたんだけど、そのせいで転んじゃった。
  • That day the roads were wet and because of that, I slipped.