Monthly Archives: March 2015

Monocle’s special report on Japan

Monocle is a magazine whose cover design has caught my eye now and then at the local bookstore, though usually when I leaf through it the topics don’t quite match my interests, with stuffy topics like world affairs.

However, the cover of the most recent issue (#81) was a big picture of Doremon, the famous Japanese comic character, so I knew there was something in it for me. It’s a special edition on Japan spanning over 80 pages, with topics ranging from media, politics, craft cities, and fashion. Although I haven’t yet read through the entire thing yet, a few minutes of perusing through the pages told me that this was well worth the $12 USD at the Barnes & Noble where I picked it up. The Monocle website also says they do international shipping for prices staring 6 pounds (around $9 USD).

Some of the articles, like the one on foreign ministry, are still a bit out of my normal sphere of interest, but I’m hoping to learn some new things about Japan which I usually don’t have the opportunity to research. There is a small discussion on the comic industry, where I learned what the top-selling Manga of all time is (Hint: It’s an comic that has been crazily popular for over a decade).

One of the other interesting segments was the one on JAL (Japan Airlines) which showed pictures about the extravagant first class and linked it to the Japanese concept of “omotenashi” (hospitality). On one of the pages was an amazingly tasty looking bowl of Ramen soup – which also turned out to be something served on this surely expensive flights.  It was a great example of a cultural note which doubled as a effective advertisement, and providing interesting content which doubles as a money makes is the pinnacle of good magazine design.

I highly recommend checking out this issue for anyone into Japanese culture. You can see the issue on Monocle’s website here:


Japanese family terms which include birth order

In Japanese, differences in position, experience, and age are considered very important and are built into the language itself in the form of words that indicate where someone is with respect to others.

This concept is expressed in the terms 先輩 (senpai), which refers to someone older or with more experience, and 後輩 (kouhai),  which refers to someone with less. These terms can be used in school, work, or other places as well.

Another place where the hierarchy can be seen is in family-oriented terms. In English, as far as I know  there are few, if any, terms for which the concept of older/younger is included in the word. Instead, we have expressions like “younger brother” and “older sister” where we add the age separately. One can argue that this is just a syntactic difference and the meaning is ultimately the same, but I feel like the tendency to have a single word which indicates relative age (i.e.: 弟 ‘otouto’ – younger brother) is tightly connect with the Japanese concept of hierarchy.

Here is a list of a few of the words that fall into this category.

  • 弟(otouto) –  younger brother
  • 妹  (imouto) – younger sister
  • お姉さん (oneesan) – older sister
  • お兄さん (oniisan) – older brother
  • 長女  (choujo) – first born daughter
  • 長男 (chounan) first born son
  • 次男 (jinan) – second born son
  • 次女 (jijo) – second born daughter
  • 三女 (sanjo) – third born daughter
  • 三男(sannan) – third born son

Using the same pattern I think these names go up to at least 5th or 6th born, and possibly higher.

Interestingly enough, there are even some names which were traditionally used that indicated birth order. For example 一郎 (ichirou) was first born (長男), 次郎 (jirou) the second, and so on. I think these names are used less now a days the can still be found. For example, 鈴木 一朗 (Suzuki Ichirou), the famous Japanese baseball player.

Note: In this post I discuss how some of these terms can also be used to refer to non family members.


Japanese podcast review: “Oogiri Corner”

In a previous post I’ve talked about the NHK Japanese podcasts, which are freely available online for a variety of programs. I’ve jumped around listening to a few of these, but lately have really gotten into one called “Oogiri corner” (大喜利コーナー)that is billed as “The earliest in Japan” (日本一早い) and is part of the “Suppin” series.

Each episode has a topic (お題) which was announced at the end of the previous episode. It is is phrased as a question, for example “It seems like your next door neighbor just won the lottery. What made you think that?”. The two hosts of the show read all the responses to this topic which were received from listeners via Fax, Twitter, or postcards. These answers are usually funny, but sometimes deeply meaningful, or even touching.

To a Japanese learner, this podcast is a real gem for several reasons. First of all, there is a consistent pattern that is repeated over and over again – reading the “theme” followed by one of the listener’s responses. If you miss the theme the first time, odds are by the 5th or 6th time you’ll probably have picked up most of it, and be able to guess it’s meaning from the context of all the responses you’ve heard.

Second, the commentary of the two hosts after they read each response is generally natural and unscripted, and makes for good listening practice. Many of the phrases they use seem like things you could pick up and use in your own daily interactions. If you are used to listening to scripted dialogue this may be challenging at first, but it’s definitely worth your time. Also, unlike some other programs, the female lead here says more than basic Aizuchi (“Yes!”, “That’s right!”, etc.) and contributes much to the discussion.

Finally, if you listen long enough you’ll start picking up cultural aspects scattered here and there. Though  many of the responses are not based on real events, they are funny or meaningful because they somehow connect to real life in a deep way. My most memorable of these was in response to the above question (“What made you think your neighbor won the lottery?”). It was “夢を語らなくなった”, which roughly translates “They stopped talking about their dreams”.

One final linguistic point – the male host (Kawashima) speaks in a Kansai (Osaka) dialect for part of the show. What is interesting is how he turns it off and speaks roughly Tokyo-dialect when talking serious or in ‘announcer’ mode, and how he turns it on when being more conversational or joking around. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I feel that exposure to multiple dialects at an early stage in learning can be confusing, but a little bit won’t hurt much. If you’ve been studying for awhile it’s fun to try and pick up pieces of the dialect when he switches it on. Don’t forget that Osaka dialect is more than just different words (like ちゃう), it is also a whole different set of intonations which are often completely opposite to those of Tokyo-dialect.


You can check the program’s site out here, which contains a link to the iTunes registration:



Easily mistaken Japanese word: 病院 (byouin)

As we all know, one of the best ways to learn a foreign language is immerse yourself in an environment where it is beneficial, even necessary to communicate in that language. One of the pitfalls of this type of situation is that there is always the chance of miscommunication, either because you make a mistake when speaking or because you misunderstood what is said.

Even though I live in the US, I am fortunate enough to use Japanese for the greater part of communication within my immediate family, so occasionally I have these such misunderstandings. One memorable example involves the word 病院 (pronounced “byouin”), and I’d like to briefly tell that story here.

I don’t remember the exact details, but in some conversation the phrase “病院にいく?” (Should we go to the ‘byouin’?)  came up. I had learned this word meant ‘hospital’ in one of the first textbooks I studied from, so I interpreted this as meaning “Should we go to the hospital?” I of course reacted to this as I felt appropriate, by becoming concerned about this sickness/condition which was serious enough to go to the hospital.

What followed was a confusing conversation, but by the end I realized I had misunderstood what was being said. I later looked this up in a dictionary and confirmed my mistake: the word 病院 not only meant ‘hospital’, as in a large facility where serious illness are treated, but also a smaller scale ‘clinic’ or ‘doctor’s office’, where things were decidedly less serious. I also learned that 診療所 (‘shinryoujo’) was a word that more specifically described the latter smaller-scale places.

As it turns out, there is actually a second way that the word 病院 can be confused. It’s with the word 美容院, which is pronounced ‘biyouin’, and means something like a beauty parlor or hairdresser. If you are new to Japanese you might get confused on these two words, which at first seem nearly identical. The trick here is to remember that typically each letter is sounded metronomically, with an even beat. Reading the word in romaji (i.e. “biyouin”) makes things even worse since it isn’t always clear where each letter begins. (Yet another reason to learn hiragana as soon as possible!).

If we spell out these two words letter by letter we can see the difference:

  • 病院 (hospital):           BYO – U    – IN
  • 美容院 (hairdresser): BI     – YO  – U   – IN

In ‘hospital’, the ‘byo’ is a single syllable, whereas in ‘hairdresser’ the ‘bi’ and ‘yo’ are separate syllables

With enough time all of these misunderstandings will get worked out naturally, but until then it’s best to try and keep calm and verify what is being said before over-reacting (:



Expressing interest in Japanese

In Japanese, you can use the word 興味 (‘kyoumi’) to talk about interest in something. It is typically coupled with the が or は, plus the verb for inanimate existence, ある (‘aru’), or some derivation of it (negative form, polite form, etc.). Let’s start with a simple example:

  • それは全然興味がありません。
  • I am not interested in that at all.

Often the particle に (or more formal “に対して”) is used before the object of interest, as in:

  • スポーツに興味がある。
  • I’m interested in sports.

Instead of using ある, the verb 持つ (“motsu”, to hold) can be used after 興味. The particle for indicating direct object を (‘wo’) is usually placed before 興味.

  • スポーツに興味を持ってる。
  • I’m interested in sports. (literally: “(I) am holding an interest in sports”).

You can use the past tense of 持つ, which is 持った (“motta”) in order to describe gaining an interest in something.

  • 日本に興味を持ったのは、高校の時だった。
  • I become interested in Japan in high school (literally: “The time that I gained an interest in Japanese was in high school.”)

Alternatively, you can use some form of 持ち始める (“mochihajimeru”, to begin to hold).

Another expression with a similar meaning is 興味が湧く, where 湧く(“waku”) means “to gush out”. (“waku” can also mean “to boil”, but that is written “沸く”.)

  • アキラを見たら日本語に興味が湧いてきた。
  • When I watched Akira I gained an interest in Japanese.

The phrase 興味津々 (“kyoumi shinshin”) is used to express great interest in something.

  • ゲーム会社に勤めるなんて興味津々だよ。
  • I’m really interested in working at a (computer) game company.

If you wanted to express absolutely no interest in something, the phrase ”どうでもいい” (“dou demo ii”) would be appropriate.

  • 家事なんてどうでもいい。
  • I have no interest in chores.

Finally, the word 関心 (“kanshin”) can be used interchangeably with 興味.

  • これは関心ある。
  • I’m interested in this.

“kanshin” also can be used to mean “admire” or “impress”, though that usage is written as “感心”。


Japanese manga review: “Dog House” (いぬやしき) Issue 1 by Hiroya Oku

Recently I happened to stop by Kinokuniya, one of the better Japanese bookstores in San Jose. I wanted to buy a few things there to read, but since I had done practically no research before arriving I ended up picking up the first issue of Hiroya Oku’s “Dog House” base only on the cover art and some text which said something about robots (not shown on the featured image). Judging from the detailed art style on the cover, the mysterious title, and a connection with robots, I had a feeling this wasn’t a typical manga.

As you probably know, manga series like this can run from tens to hundreds of issues, so it’s hard to judge much about the character development and plot in a single issue. However, the two things you can get a feel for is some of the major characters and general story concept, along with the quality of the art. In “Dog House”, while you aren’t told a whole lot about the main characters, you do learn the basic premise, which was pretty unique and interesting to me. I read this first issue with almost no foreknowledge which I think heightened my enjoyment, so I won’t give away any hints here.

I was also extremely impressed with the art style, especially the extremely detailed backgrounds. The characters are fairly well drawn as well, though some of them seem a bit visually typecast. In several Japanese comics I have read, especially those with light or comedic stories, there is typically less attention paid to the art, but here it’s clear a huge amount of effort was spent on it. The first few pages are full colored and are particularly impressive, almost photographic.

It turns out that Hiroya Oku is also the creator or the hit series Gantz. From what I have seen of the Gantz anime (just an episode or two), “Dog House” shares with it a unique setting as well as a liberal take on violence. Just to be clear – neither of these are good for younger children. I’ve also been told the art style of these two series are very similar.

So far, it looks like a English version isn’t available yet, so if you can’t read Japanese you’ll probably have to wait for awhile. This is an added bonus if you do know Japanese, because you’ll have the privilege of reading before the average English-speaker does.

Linguistically, there was little direct narration with relatively simple dialogue throughout. There is some slang used by younger characters, but the bigger challenge is one of the characters which uses a regional dialect, Akita-ben. Having said that, you can probably guess you way through it if you keep in mind that the two tick marks (also called “dakuon”, like those in “が”) are sometimes added to words. For example いmight change into い, and だら into だら. Also the particle に is sometimes written using さ, and the word まだ is written as まんだ。 There is much more to this dialect, but this will help you get started.

Unfortunately, even if you can read Japanese, there are only a few issues published so far so you’ll have to play the waiting game either way. But it’s definitely a series to keep your eye on.


1) I have not seen an official English translation for the title so I am using “Dog House” for the time being. However, the title is arguably literally closer to “Dog Mansion” so when the English version comes out it may be written this way.


An overview of confusing Japanese loanwords

In previous posts I talked about a few theories about why Japanese has so many loanwords, especially from English. This time I’d like to discuss some of the specific words themselves.

Once the Katakana alphabet is learned, loanwords become a great help as many of them can be understood by English-speakers by simply sounding them out without having to resort to a dictionary. However, in many cases the word’s meaning is changed, sometimes drastically. Some of the words come from other languages such as Portuguese and German, and those will still require lookup.

I’ve chosen to give an overview of a few words that are particularly confusing. This list is by no means complete, since loanwords increase day by day. In many cases the Japanese version of these words can be used to mean the same meaning as the original word (often in English), however there is a different meaning that is used more frequently. I won’t be giving all the meanings of these words, only the ones I feel are important or confusing.

マンション (manshon)

This is the first word I remember learning many years back whose meaning was quite different than the English one. マンション actually means something like a unit in an apartment complex, which is quite the opposite of “mansion” in Engilsh, which is that of a massively large, expensive stand-alone house.

ネック (nekku)

According to the dictionary this word can be used to mean “neck”, as a part of the human body, but I have mostly heard it used to mean “bottleneck” – something which is limiting the flow of a larger system, like a broadband internet bottleneck.

パンツ (pantsu)

This one actually refers to “underwear”, which is quite confusing since “pants” in English refers to shorts (outerwear).

インフラ (infura)

I heard this one quite recently in several Japanese podcasts, and it seems to be catching on as a popular term. At first I thought it meant “inflation” (Japanese ‘ら/ラ’ sounds somewhat close to ‘la’) but eventually I figured out it stood for “infrastructure”. For example, something like a road that acts to facilitate other activities such as business, and everyday life.

ボンネット (bon`netto)

This word sounds like “bonnet” (a type of hat), but can also refer to the trunk of a car. I think it came from a similar German word.

マフラー (mafuraa)

After reading the last word, you might feel this is related to a car (“muffler”). However it is also used to mean “scarf”, like the one you wear around your neck when it’s cold.

 ポイント (pointo)

Although this word can also have a similar meaning to English “point” in referring to a though or concept (ex: “Thats a good point”), in Japanese sometimes the word can mean “main point”, as in the main/important point of a discussion.

 スルー (suruu)

Though I’m pretty sure this term came came from “through”, it can be used in Japanese to mean “pass through” (as a verb with する) or also for “ignore” or “pay no attention to”

 ワンシーン (wan shiin)

This one clearly comes from “one scene”, but it can used in places where just “scene” would be sufficient, like a single scene in a movie. Another word with “wan” in it is ”ワンパターン” (wan pataan), which means someone who predictably does the same thing over and over again.


This word clearly came from “follow”, though it can be used in a few different ways in Japanese. The one I have heard the most commonly is when it indicates someone covers up or goes along with the actions of another in a social sense. Like if I made a mistake and said someone’s name wrong at a party, someone could フォロー me and correct my mistake in a tactful way without me looking bad. I’ve heard this used in the form “フォローになってない” which means someone is not properly “following” in this sense.

シール (shiiru)

I’ve heard this word mostly to refer to what in English we call a “sticker”, like stickers for children which can be removed and stuck to a picture book.

フック (fukku)

You might at first mistake this word for something else but if you remember the Japanese “fu” sound (ふ) sounds a bit like “hu”, this one will be easier to remember – “hook”, a place where you hang things.

プッシュ (pusshu)

Although this may be used to mean “push” in the normal sense of physically pressing/moving something, I have heard it mostly in reference to a “marketing push”, or spending effort to advertise and make someone’s (like a musician’s) name known. I haven’t heard this one in a few years though so it may be less common now.


Fortunately, this one does sometimes mean what you would expect – a sweet, delicious confection. However you should be careful not to confuse it with “けいき” (景気), as in the phrase “景気がいい”, which means “business is good”.


Though this word clearly comes from English’s “fight”, I’ve heard it used before to mean something closer to “頑張って” (ganbatte), or “do your best”. However I haven’t heard this usage in a few years so not sure if it’s popular anymore.

 プラスアルファ (purasu arufa)

Though this word seems to derive from “plus alpha”, I’ve heard it used to mean simply “plus”, so I wouldn’t worry about the “alpha” part too much. For example, imagine the new features of a updated version of a game or other program.

 ルーズ (ruuzu)

I’ve heard this word, which comes from “loose”, to mean something like “lax”. For example, “時間にルーズ” (jikan ni ruuzu) means not being strict about time.

マンツーマン (mantsuuman)

This word is quite close to English “man to mean”, meaning when two people talk about an important matter one-on-one, although in Japanese it is more generic and can apply to women as well.

ピンチ (pinchi)

This word means a difficult or troublesome situation. I think this same meaning exists in English but it isn’t very commonly used anymore. A related expression is “チャンスはピンチ” (chansu wa pinchi), which means each problem is a chance to profit or do something good.

スマート (sumaato)

This word can be used in reference to someone’s body to mean “slender” or  “good looking”. It can also be applied to things like clothes to mean “stylish”.

メイク (meiku)

While this word seems like it comes from “make”, it’s actually a shortened version of “makeup”, like the kind you put on your face.

マスク (masuku)

Besides facial masks which are used to avoid catching a cold (which are very popular in Japan these days), this word also can refer to a material put over the front of a car to protect it, what in America we would call a “car bra”.

スーパー (suupaa)

Another one of the first few loanwords I learned, this one is actually a shortening of “supermarket”.



Spoken language vs written language

When learning a foreign language, it’s usually assumed that in addition to spoken language studies (listening and speaking) there will be a focus placed on written language (reading and writing). At first you might think the only difference is learning characters vs sounds, but there is much more involved. As a result there are some differences in how we learn these two aspects of a language.

Clearly, there is much in common between spoken and written language, in particular grammar, vocabulary/expressions, as well as some culturally related things. In informal spoken language there is typically deviations from “proper” grammar including changes in word order and omissions of words, but the fundamentals are the same. This is one reason I am a big proponent of a grammar-heavy study program, especially for beginning students. After all, I think it would be more acceptable to speak in “too perfect” grammar as opposed to misusing slang and informal expressions in writing.

But this is where the similarity between these two types of language stops. Besides the obvious visual and audial differences, written language typically uses a much wider set of words, longer sentences, and more advanced grammar. Some languages may have polite or formal expressions which may be more commonly used in writing.

For example, in Japanese there is the word “である” (dearu) which grammatically has a similar function to “だ” (da), which parallels to “is/are” in English (also called the “copula”). However, “dearu” has a certain formal tone and isn’t used very commonly in spoken language. To me, when I read this word in a book I get the feeling of “literature”, or serious writing. In English we have words like “notwithstanding” or “aforementioned” which are mainly used in written language, although I could see a professor or lawyer using one in a conversation.

In writing, one also has to be concerned with things like punctuation and paragraph boundaries. Depending on the language, there can be several tens to several thousands of characters that need to be memorized. In Japanese, the number of characters is complicated by the fact that each character can have several pronunciations (including irregular ones), and you can write a single word in several different ways. For example, “shokuji”, which means “food or “meal” can be written as 食事,しょくじ、ショクジ, or 食餌  (in order of decreasing frequency of use).

Spoken language also has the challenge that you must be able to comprehend and respond in real time (unless you are watching a recording which you can rewind). Pronunciation itself is also one of the most difficult things to master in a foreign language, especially for older students.

Besides the content differences between written and spoken language, what I feel is even more important is the different learning processes we use for each.

Conversation is most easily picked up in an immersive environment where communicating in that language is forced by circumstances. For example, in order to buy groceries, go to the doctor, joke with friends, or even earn a living one has to learn to comprehend and speak efficiently. I can guarantee that nearly anyone who is put in such a situation for 5-10 years will become quite skilled at spoken language, though grammar and pronunciation may suffer because neither of these have to be perfect in order to get your point across.

Reading and writing, on the other hand, cannot be learned naturally without significant effort of explicit studying, even in the most ideal immersion environment. This is evidenced by the fact in any culture there are always those who never learned to read or write properly, and even native speakers need many years of schooling to even begin to master written language. Becoming fluent in reading literature or some other special domain may take even more years of effort, involving reading tens to hundreds of books.

But enough of the academic talk. How does this knowledge of the spoken/written language dichotomy help a foreign language learner?

First, make sure you have appropriate focus in all areas (reading, writing, listening, and speaking), since it’s easy to have one or more weak areas, especially when studying on your own. Don’t think that listening to audio podcasts all day will help improve reading, because except for some grammar and vocab learned it will have little impact.

Second, grammar, grammar, grammar! I advocate memorizing as many grammar rules and structures as early as possible as these things will apply to all four areas. You can try to learn grammar naturally, hoping to pick up the meaning of something without directly looking it up, but unless you are linguistically gifted (or very young) that will leave holes in your understanding. Instead, actively search out things like grammar-heavy textbooks and grammar dictionaries, and look up patterns you aren’t familiar with during reading. Always make sure you can use what you learned in a sentence yourself, instead of just a “I think it means something like this….” vague comprehension.

Finally, be realistic about what you can master given your situation. If you are a self-studier of a language which is not a major language of the place you live, odds are you’ll never become a master of conversation. Rather than using this as an excuse to give up, instead try and find opportunities to converse more with native speakers, whether that means using an online service like Skype or on long-distance vacations. Consider using things like blogs as a study aid, since they typically have a conversational tone and sometimes phrases learned there can be applied to your own speech.

Conversely, don’t underestimate how far you can go with written language just by sitting at home and doing a massive amount of writing and reading. With enough diligence, you can feel proud to know there are probably some people using that language on a daily basis who don’t have the same reading/writing skills are you.

If you want to be truly native-level fluent in a foreign language, you’ll want to live in that country for a few years, speaking the language on a daily basis while you attend a college, work, or do both.







Japanese Novel Review: Manazuru (真鶴)by Hiromi Kawakami (川上弘美) 

A friend of mine told me he had heard of someone who was making an attempt to read one novel from each country in the world. This sounded like a pretty fun project, but of course my first instinct was to ask “so which novel was picked for Japan?

The answer to this question was Hiromi Kawakami’s “Manazuru”, published in 2009 in Japanese and translated to English in 2010.

The novel’s title revers to a small coastal city in the Kanto region (Kanagawa prefecture), which has only around 8,000 people. Kei, the book’s main character, is a woman whose husband Rei has been missing for some time. She on occasion has the feeling that she is being followed by someone or something, and is mysteriously drawn to Manazuru, which seems to have some inexplicable connection with her lost husband.   [Update: fixed mistake of ‘Shinagawa’ prefecture to ‘Kanagawa’ prefecture based on a reader comment]

I’ll avoid discussing the details of the storyline as to not ruin the suspense and mystery, and just say that I really enjoyed this book’s dream-like, surrealistic atmosphere, which was interspersed with scenes from everyday life. Certain parts reminded me of classic movies including InceptionWhat Dreams May Come,  and The Sixth Sense.

I typically have a hard time imaging scenes of a novel like this, but for whatever reason I found the descriptions just detailed enough (with being overbearing) for invoking the sights, sounds, feelings, and smells experienced by the main character. Certain parts of the novel (I almost wrote movie here) were very memorable and I feel they will stay in my mind for quite some time. Within the category of Japanese novels I’ve read (either in English or Japanese), this is definitely in the top ten, possibly five.

As part of my long-term effort to improve my Japanese reading skills and appreciation for Japan’s literature, I chose to read this novel in the original Japanese. Though I consider reading Japanese texts one of my stronger points (with conversation being somewhat weaker), it still took considerable effort to make it through this book to the end. Unless you are quite comfortable with reading in Japanese (with something like at least 3-5 years of experience) I’d say it’s probably best to stick with the English version.

One of the challenging things is the way dialog or a character’s thoughts is sometimes threaded throughout a paragraph. Topics can change mid-paragraph, and since subjects are frequently often omitted in Japanese it makes it even harder to follow. Some of the dialog uses proper demarkation with the traditional 「」quotation marks, but some is just floating out there in a a sentence. Here is a example (page 205):

  • 行かないで。よびかける。

Typically I would expect something like the following.

  • 「行かないで」とよびかける。

Sometimes the quotation marks are used but と omitted, sometimes not. You can get used to this after some time, but it takes extra effort to follow what is going on.

There were also some expressions I had never seen before, like  「noun + ~だのに」 (I had thought only 〜なのに was correct, but 〜だのに appears to be a more classical expression).

The average level of the vocabulary isn’t that bad, but there was usually a few words per page I didn’t know or hadn’t seen in some time. A few examples: 峻別(しゅんべつ), 祠 (ほこら)、蕊(しべ), 悪阻(おそ), 古希(こき) 、倦む(うむ), 辟易(へきえき), 鬢(びん), 漲る(みなぎる). I’d be very surprised (and impressed) if any self-study of Japanese knew of all these words’ readings and meanings. Furigana coverage was so-so for unusual characters but a few times I was clueless on a Kanji and had to resort to radical lookup. Having said that, if you don’t know at least a few thousand common characters you’ll find yourself constantly looking up Kanji.

Though typically Japanese found in literature is quite different from what an average person would speak on the street, there is a quite bit of daily life dialog in this book which may help you learn a few phrases to use in conversation.

All in all, I highly recommend this book as a work of serious Japanese literature, whether you choose the English or Japanese version. At times I felt it was a masterpiece, and others was disappointed, but without a doubt it is a very worthy read. In fact, this book is on my list of books to re-read 5 or 10 years from now when I can hopefully read at a faster pace, and read even deeper into the meanings of the various story elements. After all, it’s the type of story that you can easily miss things the first time around.

Oddly enough, I was disappointed to hear this book had already been translated to English, having dreamed of how much fun it would be to do it myself (:


Japanese consanant verbs that end with eru/iru

Japanese has two verb types, consonant (godan) verbs and vowel (ichidan) verbs, each with their corresponding conjugations. Here is an example of each with conjugation into the past and -masu forms.

Vowel (ichidan)

  • 食べる (taberu) – to eat
    • Past: 食べた (tabeta)
    • ~Masu (polite): 食べます (tabemasu)

Consonant verb (godan)

  • 分かる (wakaru) – to understand
    • Past: 分かった (wakatta)
    • ~Masu (polite): 分かります (wakarimasu)

The vowel verbs typically end with eru/iru, however there are some verbs that end in eru/iru which are consonant verbs. These can be looked up in a dictionary, but I’ve listed some of the most common ones below.

  • 走る (hashiru) – to run
  • 帰る (kaeru) – to return (home)
  • すねる (suneru) – to pout
  • 要る (iru) – to need
  • 喋る (shaberu) – to speak, to chat
  • 切る(kiru) – to cut
  • 知る (shiru) – to know
  • 蹴る (keru) – to kick
  • 散る (chiru) – to scatter
  • 焦る (aseru) – to hurry
  • 握る (nigiru) – to grasp
  • 弄る(ijiru) – to fiddle with
  • 入る (hairu) – to enter

Supposedly there are roughly 100 of these in total, and if you want to see a bigger list check here.