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A friend of mine and I often find ourselves spending too much money every time we visit the bookstore. We sometimes go together with the intention of stopping each other from buying more than we should, but we still end up buying a lot of stuff. Tonight we again went to the bookstore. Instead of just hanging around the Japanese language learning section, however, I showed her this section that I visit often: the Kids’ Book Section.

My first Japanese teacher was really good. He used to let me read Japanese kids’ books so I discovered early on that reading Japanese kids’ books was not only interesting it was also a good way to develop my reading skills. There’s actually a Doraemon comic book series that aids in school learning. There are Kanji dictionaries for first to sixth graders, kotowaza and yoji-jukugo books, and even Japan travel guides in the series. In addition to the really beautiful pictures in Japanese kids’ books, the language and the Kanji are also really easy to read. Most books have furigana, and easy explanations of things in Japanese. The best part is these books cost a lot less than Japanese language textbooks. The yoji-jukugo book cost me ¥630.

So, after buying four textbooks too many… my friend also bought kids’ books about World History and Kanji. Some book-buying-controller friend I turned out to be… Sorry G :-)!

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For those looking to take the JLPT this year, I’d like to suggest an early start. Last year, I started to study in about June, and very quickly regretted it. There were too many things to study, and there was too little time. I tried to study as much as I could, but as it turned out, I didn’t even have time to complete my JLPT reviewer, my reading comprehension and vocabulary book. I’ll still be reviewing stuff in them, but mostly in preparation for the next level of the exam.

I made the cut, and consider myself quite lucky, although I really did study hard. There are a few books I used that I found were very useful and would like to recommend:

1. Kanzen Master 2kyu Nihongo Noryoku Shiken Bunpo Mondai Taisaku (完全マスター2級 日本語能力試験文法問題対策)

This grammar compilation book was really useful for me. It did not provide me with English translations for the different grammar patterns but I found that more helpful actually. It had a lot of useful sample sentences.

2. Shin Kijun Taiou Nihongoso Matome Mondaishu 2kyu Goi (新基準対応 日本語総まとめ問題集 2級 語彙編)

I used this book for reviewing vocabulary words. It has a very comprehensive list of words that appeared in the test.

3. The Preparatory Course The Japanese Language Proficiency Test 読解編 実力アップ 2級 Reading Comprehension Text

This book prepared me well for the Reading Comprehension portion of the exam. A lot of the exam problems were similar to those found in this book. A lot of the stories are also quite interesting and I learned a lot from it. There is an accompanying grammar pattern book that could also be helpful but I did not own one.

4. ALC 予想と対策 日本語能力試験 2級受験問題集 A Compilation of Questions from the JLPT

I wasn’t able to complete this reviewer due to lack of time. I did review some of the Kanji and Vocabulary Questions and they were similar to those that came out in the test. I’d say any reviewer is good, though.

A lot of these books are in my Amazon aStore and you could purchase them from there (when it’s ready).

Preparing for the JLPT was really difficult. I spent a lot of time studying and I hardly left home on weekends, just reviewing everything I could, and cramming on grammar patterns and other things I did not even know about yet. I tried to watch as much Japanese TV as I could, mostly the more informative documentaries and news programs. Then I practiced on online mock tests as much as I could. I spent an average of 3 hours daily reviewing. These hours included studying with a teacher online as well. What I’d say is the most important is still Kanji. If you can master as much as you can, it would really help you a lot. Without Kanji, it would be very difficult to pass the exam.

With regards to levels and hours of study required, see the chart below.

Level

Hours of Study Completed

Kanji Mastered

Vocabulary Mastered

Notes

1

900

2,000

10,000

Advanced Level

2

600

1,000

6,000

Intermediate Level

3

300

300

1,500

High Beginner Level

4

150

100

800

Beginner Level

Good luck! 皆さん、頑張って下さい!

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Recently on the news, there have been reports about requiring Japanese ability for certain visas. I just read today that the law could be passed pretty soon. As I am an avid fan of Japanese, I have no problems with this new law, in fact, I welcome it wholeheartedly. The reason I do, is simply because it’ll push a lot of foreigners to study the language more. I’ve heard of so many foreigners who are hard up because they can’t speak the language or understand it, but when asked why they don’t try, they often use the excuse that it’s too hard or that they’re lazy. A high level isn’t needed I think, just basic conversation or something close to basic.

But talking about Japanese competence, the other day at work, I was trading stories with a Japanese co-worker about traditions and beliefs in my country. And when I couldn’t think of a word to explain something, I took out my dictionary and read out the translation… only to shock everyone in the office! It seems the word I used was horribly offensive and pertained to things totally beyond polite and proper. So I found myself in a truly embarrassing situation where in addition to giving everyone a nasty thing to remember me by, I also felt my Japanese was still far from perfect.

It’s probably going to take decades before I even get close to knowing enough about Japanese and Japan, but using this last episode with Japanese as my motivation, I want to try to at least get to a level where I don’t embarrass myself. For those who are really interested in Japanese, I recently discovered this site for beginners: Learn Simple Japanese. I hoped to make my site something like it in the beginning but I haven’t had the chance to put things together just yet. The lessons in this site though are basic and are really simple to learn. It has audio files for pronunciation practice, too. Check it out!

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I like studying Kanji. It reminds me of my college drawing class, where we had to balance letterings and drawings, make them fit into boxes and stuff. When I started to learn Japanese, my teacher told me that if I wanted to be respected by the Japanese, I had to write Kanji (and Hiragana and Katakana of course) like a Japanese. He then drew a box, and made me balance the Kanji 日(read as にち nichi, ひ hi or bi, に, ni and じつ jitsu, which means sun or day) in the box for several minutes until I got it right. He’d been quite strict, and for that I am thankful. After his initial instructions, he left me to study Kanji by myself.

Since that time, all I used to study Kanji was my Basic Kanji 500, then later my Intermediate Kanji Book. I’ve stayed faithful to this series, I don’t believe in switching books or styles or all that. I don’t recommend jumping from book to book, because for one, Japanese books are costly. Another reason is you’ll accumulate too many books, there are literally dozens of books on Kanji. I’ve never really written on my textbooks, only on my workbooks and only in pencil. I always use notebooks, word cards and writing pads. I’d suggest though that if you were really serious about learning Kanji, you have to stick to what you’re used to, if it works.

Also, I took the Kanji Kentei this year, and I plan to do so again early next year. Preparing for it has helped me a lot in my understanding of Kanji. For this, you need to practice a lot, write, write, write, and write again. When I was studying for it though, I wasn’t looking up English meanings and all that, I was purely studying the stroke orders, Kanji word combinations, readings and radicals. Then when I went back to my Japanese studies, it seemed so much easier.

On a related note, there have been quite a few blog entries about the Kanji of the Year, 偽 (read as にせ, nise, meaning fake). These are the links to those posts:

Japan Probe: 2007 Kanji of the Year

3Yen: “Fake” best describes Japan this year

What Japan Thinks: Kanji of the Year 2007

Asian Offbeat: ‘Nise’ (Fake) Chosen as Japan’s Kanji Character of the Year

GlobalTalk 21: Do you know what the No.5 Kanji is in this year’s countdown?

Photo via: 3Yen.com

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I have a mixi account. I don’t have a lot of contacts but I blog there nearly everyday, about random stuff mostly but I use it mainly to practice my Japanese writing. I use a nickname and I use an avatar for a picture. Nothing personal is ever published, I get feedback from my Japanese friends and it’s been really pleasant.

Just today, I came across this article on Asian Offbeat about Japanese bloggers. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a Japanese friend. I was asking her how often she blogged on her mixi and if she read others people’s blogs. While she claimed to be really into her blogging, even checking her page several times a day on her phone, she hardly ever read stranger’s blogs. She said she kept to her network of friends, often commenting on their posts. It was a total breach of privacy to be reading a strangers blog, she told me. I wondered at that time if she meant just her, or Japanese people in general.

Update: There is also an article in the Japan Times about Japan being the number one blogger.

See Mobile phone-based blogging statistics from What Japan Thinks
Photo via: Asian Offbeat (Qullevek, +Oden+)

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Tomorrow is the big day! As a lot of us are heading to the test centers for the JLPT, I’d like to say Good Luck to everyone!

頑張って!ファイト!必ず勝つ!

Japanese Test-taking Tidbit:

A hachimaki (鉢巻) is a stylized headband (bandana) in the Japanese culture, usually made of red or white cloth, worn as a symbol of perseverance or effort by the wearer. These are worn on many occasions, for example, by women giving birth, students in cram school, office workers, expert tradesmen taking pride in their work, bōsōzoku (biker gangs) and even rioters. They were famously worn by kamikaze pilots in World War II. Japanese competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi wore a hachimaki for the Nathan’s hotdog eating competition.

They are generally decorated with inspirational slogans, typically the rising sun motif.

The historical origin of hachimaki is uncertain. One theory links the cloth to those worn by early religious ascetics. Another theory states that they originated in headbands worn by samurai that kept their helmets on, to absorb perspiration, and keep hair out of their eyes. “Hachimaki” translates as “helmet-scarf.”

Tying the hachimaki equals the Western gesture of rolling up one’s sleeves — getting serious and beginning to do the work.

Taken from: Wikipedia

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Three times a year, Japanese students can take a Kanji Aptitude Test (漢字能力検定試験 Kanji Nouryoku Kentei Shiken). This test is a measure of Kanji ability; being able to basically read, write, know the stroke order and recognize the different combinations of Kanji characters that form words. There are 12 levels: 10 being the lowest and 1 being the highest, with an additional pre-2 and pre-1 in between. I’ve met several foreigners who’ve taken levels 7 and 6. A lot of them were really good at Japanese.

One co-worker told me that if I wanted to pass the test, all I had to do was buy a review book and do as much of the problems as I could. I found that there are whole sections in bookstores dedicated to review materials. I checked out the books, they were all dated. It seems they come out with new editions every year. I chose to take Level 7, as it contained Kanji I was familiar with. I studied for maybe a month, and passed with only a few mistakes. I planned to take Level 6 the next time, but the test date didn’t match my schedule. I was able to study well for it though. Even if you don’t know the English meanings, you could pass the test. The trick is to memorize the patterns in the review books. The Kanji themselves don’t change, so you can just memorize and practice Kanji readings, stroke orders and combinations.

*Note: The Image is from Baka Kentei. Seems there are hundreds of Kenteis… There is a list of the ten strangest Kenteis on What Japan Thinks.

By the way, the next Kanji Kentei is in February. Deadline for applications is on December 19th. Application forms are sold at bookstores.

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