Monthly Archives: April 2014

Poll Analysis: What would you like to see more of from this blog?

Recently I posted my second poll, “What would you like to see more of from this blog”, and was very delighted to get such a great response, with over 60 people chiming in on their opinions.

First let’s took at the most common answers:

  • Grammar constructs and usage, with example sentences [16% 10 votes]
  • Detailed study exercises for improving Japanese skill [16% 10 votes]
  • How I’m studying personally, day to day [13% 8 votes]
  • General posts about linguistics and foreign language learning [13% 8 votes]
  • Japanese cultural notes and thoughts [13% 8 notes]

When I started this site I had the impression there was a wealth of resources out there for learning Japanese grammar, as well as sites that have exercises galore  for eager students. So when posts about grammar and exercises came up as the top two answers, I was quite surprised.

Now I know these types of resources are really out there, not only have I seen them in other blogger’s posts, but I’ve mentioned a few myself. But I think the reality is that Japanese grammar really is hard, regardless of all the posts out there that say it’s not because of a simple set of tenses and conjugation rules (compared to something like Spanish or English). Verb conjugation is really just the beginning – Japanese has a seemingly limitless set of constructs needed for true fluency, as well as many slang abbreviations, different terms for politeness, particles embedded with tons of meanings, and the list goes on and on. And for people approaching Japanese as a way to improve the spectrum of entertainment they can enjoy (as I started years back with Anime and Manga), they don’t want to have to spend thousands of hours to learn basic grammar.

As my blog matures I have been writing more and more about grammar, and I hope to continue that trend going forward. Also I’ll do more posts on study exercises, and hopefully I can get some people actively participating in solving various questions I pose.

I was happy to see people were into general posts on linguistics and foreign language learning (13%), as I really enjoy those posts myself. So I’ll keep churning those out for the foreseeable future.

Now for the bottom of the barrel of answers:

  • Reviews of Japanese Manga, Movies, Novels, etc. [6% 4 votes]
  • Lists of vocabulary words by category [6% 4 votes]
  • Information about useful websites and apps [6% 4 votes]
  • I’d much prefer a video / audio podcast [1% 1 votes]

The first one (about reviews of entertainment products) was a bug shocker to me. I have already done quite a few reviews, and was hoping people were enjoying these. But it turns out it’s only a very small audience yearning for these. It makes sense in a way, since after all the title of blog is ‘Self-Taught Japanese’ and reviews is only peripherally relevant to learning Japanese.

The lack of interest about posts on other websites and apps was also somewhat of a surprise. Either people have already found those resources, or just want to get all their material about Japanese study here, which is fine with me.

I had also considered doing a video or audio podcast more than once, but with a 1% interest level I think I’ll be permanently putting that on the back burner (:

One final thought on this poll’s results is the difference between the most popular answers and the least ones (excluding the very lowest at 1%) is not that big, at only 10/4 = 2.5x. Based on this I don’t want to ignore the less common answers, only give them less priority.

Getting a few more answers would also make more valuable results, so if you are interested don’t hesitate to put your word in here.


Japanese adjectival clauses

One of the big grammatical differences between Japanese and English is the way adjectival clauses are formed, and getting familiar with this will help you on the road to better understanding of Japanese, and more advanced sentence creation.

The basic use of single-word adjectives is the same in Japanese in English, and the reverse in other languages like Spanish.

  • English: A clean city
  • Japanese: 清潔な町   (清潔=せいけつ)
  • Spanish: una ciudad limpia

Notice that in English and Japanese the adjective comes before the word it is modifying, whereas in Spanish it comes after the word.

But when you want to use a clause as an adjective, suddenly things in Japanese are reversed. If you’re not familiar with a term ‘clause’, it generally refers to a group of several words where there is one subject and a predicate, though in Japanese there doesn’t have to be a subject. You can think of a clause as a verb with optional subject or objects in front of it.

  • 僕が毎日観てる番組
  • The (TV) show that I watch every day.

As you can see from this example, in Japanese the same pattern is used in both a simple single-word adjective and longer adjectival phrase, but in English the grammar is changed to use a word like ‘that’, ‘which’, ‘who’, ‘where’, or ‘why’ after the noun, followed by the phrase itself. I have italicized the adjectival phrases in both sentences above so you can see where they lie. Note that the above sentences are not complete since they only have a subject, not a predicate. This was done for simplicity and I’ll give a more complex example next.

  • 僕は、君が好きゲームはしないよ。
  • I don’t play games you like.

Again we can see the adjectival phrase is before the noun (games) in Japanese, and after it in English.

Once you get the hang of it this, you can start to formulate your own sentences, though at first it may take some time to reverse things in your head.

The challenging thing is learning to do this process automatic, when speaking, reading, listening, or writing, such that you don’t have to ferry back and forth between Japanese word order and English word order in your head. In particular, when speaking you need to have the adjectival clause of the sentence prepared before the noun itself so you can speak it in that order. If you think in English first, you’ll find it’s difficult to do this smoothly. Also if the word ‘that’ or ‘where’ pops up in your head you’ll have no where to put it in Japanese, since there is no parallel or for it in that language in this case. In this sense I feel Japanese is a bit more efficient since it avoids this (mostly) unnecessary word.

As with most things, mastery of this aspect of the language will come with time. Good luck!


Special Na-adjectives in Japanese which are really not

As most of you studying Japanese probably know, the language has to types of adjectives: Na-adjectives (i.e. 素敵(な))and I-adjectives (i.e. 大きい). Each of these has different rules for conjugation into various forms.

There is a few words in Japanese that look like Na-adjectives that derived from a I-adjective. Here is a list of a few commons ones:

  • 大きな (Similar to 大きい)
  • 小さな       (Similar to 小さい)
  • おかしな(Similar to おかしい)

Even the way they are used (for example “大きな車”) is similar to Na-adjectives, but strictly speaking they are not.

The reason this matters in practice is because their usage is limited to the above pattern, and you would typically not use them in other forms as a true Na-adjective could be. Here are a few examples to illustrate this point.

  • 大きな人                     Correct
  • 大きだ                         Incorrect
  • 大きじゃない人  Incorrect
  • 大きくない人   Correct

I found a very interesting post in Japanese which discuss this in detail here. The Japanese is somewhat difficult, but the quick summary is that you should treat these words a you would その and この. In grammatical lingo they are called classified as 連体詞 (pre-noun adjectival).


Poll reminder: What would you like to see more of from this blog?

Last week I posted a poll about what sorts of things you are all looking for in this blog. I got many responders, but before I write an article to analyze the results I was hoping to get a few more people to add their feedback.

Please check it out if you are interested!

Japanese Vocabulary list: computer science and software development terms

At popular request, I’ve decided to make a list for computer science and software development terms. If you know of any ones not listed here that you use frequently please let me know in the comments!

Many of these words can be used as both a noun and a verb with する. For details check your favorite dictionary.

  • 実装(じっそう)- implementation
  • 設計 (せっけい)- design/architecture
  • テスト – test
  • 体験版 (たいけんばん) – trial version (of software)
  • バータ版 (ばん)- beta version (of software)
  • 技術 (ぎじゅつ) – technology
  • 機能 (きのう)-  function
  • ソフト (short for ソフトウェア) – software
  • 開発 (かいはつ)- development
  • 開発者 (かいはつしゃ) – developer
  • 開発環境(かいはつかんきょう) – development environment
  • 利用者 (りようしゃ) – user
  • データベース - database
  • 構造 (こうぞう) – structure
  • 管理(かんり) – manage (a system, etc.)
  • 納品 (のうひん)- delivery
  • 残業(ざんぎょう)- overtime
  • 入門(にゅうもん) – primer (when you begin learning something)
  • 設定(せってい) – setting(s)
  • コンピュータ – computer (more formal and used more frequently in software development than the word パソコン)
  • コンピューター言語 (げんご) – programming language (C,C++,Java, etc.)
  • 作成(さくせい) – compose/create (a list, an email, a game, etc.)
  • プログラミング – programming
  • 起動  (きどう)- startup (a computer,etc.)
  • 再起動 (さいきどう)- restart (a computer, etc.)
  • 画面 (がめん) – screen
  • 企画(きかく) – project, plan, planning
  • 企画書 (きかくしょ)- project plan document
  • プロジェクト – project
  • 出力(しゅつりょく) – output
  • ファイル – file
  • デバッグ – debug
  • 解説書 (かいせつしょ) – manual (a book or other document that describes how something works)
  • 依存性(いぞんせい) – dependency (a DLL, library, etc.)
  • 実行 (じっこう) – run/execute
  • コンパイル – compile
  • 関数 (かんすう) – function (i.e. void doStuff(int x))
  • 引数 (ひきすう)- argument, parameter (of a function)
  • 配列 (はいれつ)- array (like my_array[30])
  • 形式 (けいしき)- format (of a file, etc.)
  • 拡張子 (かくちょうし) – file extension
  • 担当者 (たんとうしゃ) – person in charge of something (a project, etc.)
  • 見積もり (みつもり) – an estimate (for a project’s cost, etc.)
  • 改善 (かいぜん)- improvement
  • 情報 (じょうほう) – information
  • 条件(じょうけん) – condition
  • 規模 (きぼ) – scale (of a project or plan)
  • 仕様書 (しようしょ)- specifications document
  • 保守(ほしゅ)- maintenance, maintain
  • 機器(きき)- equipment
  • ネットワーク - network
  • ハードウエア – hardware
  • 費用(ひよう) – expense
  • 処理(しょり) – process (like do a calculation, etc.)
  • 修正(しゅうせい) – edit
  • 要求(ようきゅう) – demand, request (from a customer, etc.)
  • 運用 (うんよう) – operations (of a data center, etc.)



Cultural background knowledge and foreign language learning

I’ve mentioned in a few posts how background knowledge on a certain subject will make comprehension, and acquisition of new vocabulary words much easier when reading or listening to foreign language content related to that subject. For example, if you are very familiar with biology and read a Japanese biological journal, you’ll be able to quickly fill in the blanks with your knowledge, even if you originally learned biology in a different language. This is an important thing to keep in mind since it will help you keep motivation, select proper study materials, and know what to expect when reading something new.

However there is one area which is particularly difficult to get adequate background knowledge of, especially if you are living in a country which doesn’t use that foreign language. It’s the societies culture itself, both current and historical. Take watching a Japanese variety talk show where celebrities chat about almost anything that comes to mind. There are frequent references to famous people (celebrities, government figures, actors, musicians, etc.), songs, current events, or other societal trends. If you want to be thorough and look up each unfamiliar reference you can (assuming you can pause the video), but you may need dig to understand more than so-and-so is a comedian from the 80s, and even research into which of his jokes or routines were famous.

In my study of Japanese I’ve found this to be one of the most difficult problems, though on rare occasions I’ve been able to connect different parts of Japanese culture. For example, when the phrase “倍返し!” was mentioned in a podcast, I knew it was referring to the popular TV show Hanzawa Naoki which I had seen in its entirety. But these are few and far between.

Someday I’d like to live in Japan for at least a short period of time, but I feel that that would only help for a fraction of these references since many go back 20 or more years.

I’ve learned to not get too frustrated when I’m clueless about entire portions of a conversation, and listen for keywords mentioned several times so I can look them up later. Also I’ve found that reading newspapers is helpful for learning new words, though for Japanese several hundred Kanji are required knowledge for this to be a smooth process, otherwise you have to look up each character stroke by stroke which can be quite tedious.

The other thing is that I much prefer fantasy works over real-world stories in many cases, not just because of the smaller background knowledge required but because they are more interesting to me. So in some ways it’s a self-inflicted weakness (:




Japanese ふりかけ (furikake) – a nutritious and tasty condiment

There are some aspects of Japanese culture you aren’t likely to come across until you live with a Japanese family – whether that is in Japan or elsewhere.

One of those is ふりかけ (furikake), which literally means “sprinkle” and is a Japanese condiment which is commonly sprinkled on top of rice. There are many varieties with different mixtures of ingredients, but some typical ones are dried fish (including salmon), sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, shiso, and even vegetables. This list is not too surprising since the Japanese diet consists largely of vegetables, fish, and other products of the sea.

While some types of furikake contain sugar and/or salt, others contain neither of these. It’s surprising how great furikake tastes, and considering it typically has a mix of many nutrients, I feel it is one of the best condiments you can use – especially compared to things like pure salt or ketchup which have a huge amount of sodium. However the furikake which contain MSG I’d try to stay away from if you are health conscious.

If you’re pressed for time or lack ingredients for cooking, you can make a simple meal with white rice (which ideally is pre-prepared and sitting in in your rice maker (炊飯器) and an egg or two). This is way healthier than any american fast food and contains a good amount of protein, carbohydrates, and other nutrients, and is low in salt and fat.

My son has gotten to love furikake so much sometimes he’ll only eat white rice topped with it, to the point where it’s as he wants rice with his furikake. One of his favorites is okaka, which contains bonito flakes and soy sauce. There is even ふりかけ themed after children’s characters, like Anpanman.

Furikake is available in many asian food stores in the U.S., and I highly recommend trying one of the flavors. Like my son, you just might get hooked!


(Featured image from:

The art of パラ読み (parayomi) in a foreign language

パラ読み – a quick perusal of written text – is an important skill that we take for granted with our native language. We can slow down and analyze word by word when trying to grasp content fully, and speed up when we just want to grasp the basic concepts.

With a foreign language, the process can be extra difficult, because of the amount of time required to process words and sentences. When reading in Japanese, I like to read very slowly such that I understand every word’s meaning, pronunciation, grammar structure, and any nuances hidden in the sentence. But when it comes time for パラ読み, sometimes it’s difficult for me to speed up and skip all the words I don’t quite grasp 100%. But this is a critical skill even more so with a foreign language,  since often there isn’t time to read an entire work or even a chapter due to time constraints.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit New York again, and spent many hours at the two excellent Japanese bookstores there. After hanging out for a few minutes it occurred to me this was the perfect opportunity to sharpen my quick perusal skills. Not only were there thousands of books to choose from, but there was only a small amount of time to read each of those I put my eyes on.

Regardless of your level in Japanese (or whatever foreign language you are studying), I think browsing through a foreign language book store like this is an excellent exercise to increase your quick reading proficiency. I typically first gravitate to sections I am interested in, like popular novels or children’s books, and just pick up whichever book catches my eye. My main objective is to figure out what the title means and what general type of content I can expect within. Unlike reading random text on the web, you have a wealth of contextual extra information to help fill in the blanks about words or phrases you don’t understand: the cover of the book, the genre, the table of contents, plus any marketing material which has been put on the book. Of course you will also want to do a quick flip through some of the pages to catch any illustrations or other text that stands out. By the way this is where the word パラ読み (parayomi) comes from: “パラ” is the sound of pages flipping (sometimes written as パラパラ)and 読み is the act of reading as a noun.

Usually after a minute or two I can get a good feel for what the book is about, and sometimes I’ve learned new words or expressions on the way. Another good part of this exercise is you get to experience many different types of fonts and decrypt what the mean. If you can’t pick out certain letters you can always try and find the title written somewhere else (like on the side or inside the front cover), written in an easier font. And the whole process has a certain necessity to it which improves your focus and retention (as I discussed previously here).

By going through this exercise you also get good exposure to other aspects of the foreign culture you might otherwise have been missing (unless you live in that country in which case there may be nothing new to you). For example when I was reading through the children’s section in Book Off in NY I saw many books about middle school and high school entrance exams, which highlights the importance and difficulty of these tests for many Japanese children.

Another great thing about foreign language bookstores is you can quickly find the section with books you are interested in. For example if you are into politics, you can jump to that section and start perusing those books. Odds are you will have background knowledge on that subject to improve your comprehension, and can maintain interest for a longer period of time.

While there are no formal rules for parayomi, here are a few things I suggest to make things go smoothly.

  • Know your genre – Understand what section the book is in and also think about the audience. Is it written for adults or children, women or men?
  • No dictionaries – Pulling out a dictionary (or an app on your mobile device) and searching for words on the spot really slows down the process. Focus on speed and general understanding, not details. Even if you don’t understand part of the title, the table or contents and any illustrations should give you enough hints to figure it out.
  • Avoid translated works – This guideline stems from my personal dislike of reading works translated from other languages, especially my native one. If you’re going to practice reading in a foreign language you want to read text written by a native Japanese person who was thinking in Japanese at the time. For Japanese books you can tell pretty quickly if they are translated because the author’s name is in katakana, and you can look for the  訳 (やく) word which means ‘translator’ or ‘translated’. Of course you can make an exception if the original work is from an author you’re a big fan of.
  • Limit yourself to a few minutes – Spending an hour decoding a book ruins the point of parayomi. Keep it to a handful of minutes, at five at most. If you still find yourself wanting to read more, consider buying the book for a deeper read at home.



Japanese suffix ーがる (-garu)

The Japanese suffix ーがる is one of those things you aren’t too likely to learn about in a beginner Japanese course. You may have seen it in a advanced textbook if at all.

I understand the reason for not introducing this expression until a student has more experience with the language’s fundamentals. After all you won’t hear ーがる all that often and it isn’t critical to get by in day-to-day life. However, like most grammar constructions that be used in many different situations, the earlier you get a handle on this expression the more ways you can express yourself.

ーがる can be used after i-adjective (whose final い is  removed), and occasionally after a na-adjective (with no な in between). In both cases it turns the word from an adjective to a verb which expresses feeling like or looking like that adjective. It’s important to note that がる in this case is conjugated like any other verb (がって/がった/がらない/etc)

  • ジョンは一人で部屋で寂しがってた
  • John was in in room by himself feeling lonely.
  • 恥ずかしがらなくていいよ
  • You don’t need to be embarrassed. (lit: “It’s ok if you aren’t embarrassed”)
  • 赤ちゃんはお菓子をほしがってる
  • The baby wants the candy. (or “The baby looks like he/she wants to candy”)
  • 犬はお客さんをいやがってる。
  • The dog looks like he doesn’t like the customer.

Remember ーがる changes an adjective from simply defining a state, feeling, or condition, into something that is actively being felt by a person, or the impression that they are feeling something. There is always an implicit subject, stated or otherwise.

This ending can be used for all sorts of adjectives, though as always it’s best to listen for whatnative speakers use and emulate that in your own speech and writing.

A commonly used word with a slightly different nuance is the word 可愛がる, which though literally means “to feel something is cute”, extends beyond that to meaning someone treats the object as if it is cute. The English translation differs case-by-case, but sometimes can be expressed as “pamper”.

  • トミーはいつも親に可愛がってもらってる。
  • Tommy is always pampered by his parents.

In rare cases, ーがる can instead mean “to act as if”, as in the word 強がる which means to act tough or strong.

  • 彼女は好きな男の子と一緒にいると強がってしまう。
  • She acts tough when she is with a boy she likes.

ーがりや (sometimes written がり屋) is a related expression which means a person who is apt to act or feel a certain way. Sometimes it is followed by さん.

  • 恥ずかしがりや   ー   Someone who gets embarrassed easily
  • 寂しがり屋 さん          ー   Someone who gets lonely easily

A final use of ーがる is when it is added to the end of a verb in the ーたい form to make ーたがる. This means that it seems like someone or something looks like they want to do a certain action.

  • 鳥が虫を食べたがってる
  • It looks like the bird wants to eat the bug

You may have noticed that all of these examples are when talking about a third party. If you were speaking about yourself, you wouldn’t say “I look like I want to eat” since you know whether you actually do or not. So it is natural to say 食べたい regarding yourself instead of 食べたがらない which would be awkward.



A Phenomenology of Shadows (影の表現学)by Kawai Hayao(河合隼雄)

In many ways studying a foreign language is like an adventure – besides the many new words and phrases one encounters, there is the content itself which usually comes from a foreign culture. So you never know what to expect, except that your experience will be different than things written or spoken in your native language.

Some time ago I had an opportunity to browse a Japanese store/restaurant in South Florida, and they had a section of used books. Most of the books there were either at least 15-20 years old, works translated from English (something I *never* plan on reading), or stories with boring synopsis on the back cover.

One book caught my eye due to its mysterious title and cover illustration. Turning to the back cover the blurb further caught my interest, while further confusing me. Here is portion of it, plus my rough translation in English.



That which we call a ‘shadow’ exists for each person,  constantly shifting in size and tone as they accompany them. This can be seen as “another self” that lies deep within our consciousness. 


At the time I was totally lost as to what this book was about. Was it some strange fictional story about shadows, or a paranormal account? The fact that I couldn’t even tell if it was fiction or non-fiction made me curious enough to buy it, plus the fact it was only $3.50 for a new-looking book.

The first few pages of the book discuss a tale called “The Man Who Lost His Shadow”, written in 1816 by Adelbert von Chamisso, a German poet. The premise of the story is a man sells his shadow to the devil, only to later discover how valuable it was after it’s too late. Later there are some other stories mentioned where a person’s shadow plays a major role, and some ancient traditions or superstitions of tribes which involve shadows. There is even a reference to a scene from Shakespeare’s MacBeth.

The book then moves onto discussing Jung’s concept of a shadow, and how that relates to dreams. There are a few patients’ dreams analyzed and interpretations are given.

You’ve probably figured out by this point that the book is a non-fiction work about philosophy and psychology, about a pretty abstract and deep topic. I admit that this discovery made me loose some interest, as I was initially expecting more of a mysterious fiction novel.

The Japanese is very serious, very formal, and very academic. Also there are many words that I have never come across before. Here is a list of a handful from the first part of the book.

  • 憩う(いこう)- take a rest
  • 忌み嫌う(いみきらう) – to detest
  • 同定(どうてい)-  (psychological) identification
  • 有形(ゆうけい)- having a form (有形の – tangible, material)
  •  遊離(ゆうり)- separation
  • 霊魂(れいこん)- soul
  • 人身御供(ひとみごくう)- human sacrifice
  • 雄鶏(おんどり)- rooster
  • 犠牲(いけにえ)- sacrifice (to a god)
  • 影法師(かげぼうし) – shadow/silhoutte

I’ve read about 35 pages so far, and debating whether I should stop or read a little bit more.  I doubt I’ll make it all the way to the end (~300 pages), though each page does give some satisfaction when I eventually figure out what the author is trying to say.

I can’t recommend this book for everyone, but if you are looking into studying academic Japanese or psychology, this book may interest you. One cool thing about it is that there is apparently no English translation, so you get the great feeling that you read something which would otherwise be impossible in your native language.

The book’s original Japanese version is available here on Amazon.