Friday, 27 February 2009

Red Flag, White Flag

It seems that many things in Japan are depicted by the colours white and red. Currently, this blog's main colours are just that. This is not coincidental.

Take, for example, roadworks. Back home, we sometimes have workers directing traffic, but other times there are temporary traffic lights or temporary lanes for travelling slowly down. Here in Japan, there are always roadworkers assigned to directing traffic. Said roadworkers always have two flags: a red one and a white one. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if the red flag is out: you stop!

Look at the Japanese flag. It is only red and white. They say that Japan is the land of the rising sun (nihon literally means sun origin). I learned the kanji for that last week, near the beginning of my dedicated kanji learning. It is represented by the number nine (whose primitive is baseball) and the sun. I simply imagine a baseball being hit into the sun and I remember that it means rising sun.

The red circle on the white background is obviously the red sun, displayed in all its glory. The typical "gambarre headrag" worn by Japanese has a more distinctive sun, whose rays extend out in all directions. Incidentally, I also know the kanji for ray. Its elements are little and human legs, so I imagine tiny human-like dust creatures floating through the rays of the sun that come through the window.

At school, dividing students into teams is easy. Why? Because there already exist two teams: red and white. If you want to divide a class (or classes), simply tell the white team to stand in one place and the red team in another. The main purpose I have found for there being red and white teams is for school sports events. I'm sure there are other purposes, but it sure makes things handy for competitive activities in the classroom!

Too bad the Japanese football team wears blue. Red and white seem to suit this country well. Perhaps this is one change that will lead to others, politically, socially and educationally.

Red flag.


Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Continuing the Kanji

On the weekend I went into Kochi city to do some shopping. I bought some more speakers, which I set up on Sunday. I now have four speakers and a sub connected to my computer. The bass comes through a lot better now too, since I had to play with some settings to make the rear speakers work!

I still need to buy some new sunglasses, which was one of the things I wanted to get on Saturday. Still, I managed to scratch most things off my to-get list.

Monday saw me sitting in the office. It's nice to have no classes, but there isn't much to do in the office save for whatever preparation I can think of and Japanese study. Oh hey, there's always Facebook.

I am now at 126 kanji. I didn't manage to get the book or flashcards from a store but I did order them from Amazon. I unintentionally found out how to switch the website to English.

There are still plenty of kanji for me to imagine stories for before reaching the end of this first part of Heisig's book in PDF format. One thing I didn't find out is if the numbering on the flashcards I ordered matches the order of the kanji I am learning.

I figure that the more I learn, too, the easier it will be to equate images and sounds (yes, imagined stories can have sounds too) to the kanji. So far I am able to conjure up most of the meanings by accessing what I have imagined. Only time and review will tell how much I actually retain.

I can't think of anything interesting that is happening around here. It's just going to scheduled classes and living my monotonous life day by day. Here's hoping that I can make friends with a language partner, too. I really do need more structured conversation.


Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Starting to Remember the Kanji

The introduction and first part to Heisig's much famed book can be read here. I read through the introduction, absorbing his explanation. It opened my eyes a little. I then did the first two parts that are covered, with their primitives and key-words.

After covering the 15 primitives and 18 key-words covered in those two parts, I then explained each one briefly to Michael and told him what the meanings were. I just wanted to prove to myself that this method of visualisation through story-telling recognition worked. And I'm happy with the results so far.

It will be great to get hold of this book and start putting into practise the learning of kanji writing in earnest. Reading will come later. So long as I can associate kanji with what they actually mean, I will have the advantage of learning to read and pronounce them when the time comes.

My brain works in a certain way. As a writer, I have a rather vivid imagination, and so associating an explanation to ideograms such as Japanese kanji will work very well for me. It will also help me to develop my memory a lot more for learning vocabulary, and eventually Japanese grammar.

I will, of course, move at my own pace. My Japanese studies will continue as they have been, but the learning of kanji has taken on a new meaning for me. I look forward to seeing how much I can get into this and whether I actually can learn 2,042 kanji - at least their meanings - in less than a year. And whether in practise and review I will be able to sear the meanings into my long-term memory.

That website is really going to come in handy, too.



I didn't mean for yesterday's followup entry to sound so emo. But there was a sparkle of truth to how I feel regarding Japanese language learning. It is frustrating -- especially knowing that other people pick it up so much faster -- and being at a loss as to how to improve really doesn't help at all.

When I go into the city this weekend I will try and find a bookstore that stocks kanji learning devices. There are actually two specific resources that I am after, having done a little research online. I even read an interview with the author of the book I wish to acquire, which documented how he formulated his method of learning kanji.

The book I want to get is titled Remembering the Kanji, Vol. 1: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters, and it is written by Prof. James W. Heisig. There is also a website I found that takes his book and expands on it, by providing an electronic form of a flashcard learning tool that assists with the practise and long-term memorisation of kanji.

The website is Reviewing the Kanji; obviously an homage to Heisig's learning series, Remembering the Kanji.

The second resource that I need to check for is a set of kanji flashcards. The best one I have found is Japanese Kanji Flashcards, Vol. 1 (Third Edition), by Max Hodges.

Both of these resources are available from, but it pretty much requires you to have a credit card, and international shipping costs are heinous. also has them but they are much more expensive than buying through the American-based website and I would have to receive help in setting up a new account.

So I will check around in K-city to see if I can get hold of these. If not, then it looks like I will have to try and get them either through or wait till Spring Break when we go to Osaka.

I wasn't able to get a Japanese credit card upon application for one. They never gave me a reason why it was declined, but I assume there is a stand-down period. Maybe when I've been here for more than a year then, huh. Sure would make things easier.

It's time I delved back into the text book that I brought over with me, too. If I work through that, I am guaranteed to improve my understanding of grammar and to build more vocabulary. I can also review the kanji that it introduces, in lieu of having the resources that I want.

Still, I will wait until this weekend passes to see if I get the resources I want. Chances are very slim, knowing K-city. So little is available here, even in the major centres.

I am determined to succeed. But I seriously do need a language partner in order to progress. Kanji memorisation is something I must do alone. But improving my understanding of the language and having a hope of ever being able to communicate in Japanese will require that I dedicate time to speaking with someone who can really help me to improve.

I think the people in my office, upon indication of my desire to practise with a native speaker, haven't thought beyond physically meeting. And so in all this time, nothing has advanced past my requests to find someone suitable to practise speaking with. I'll gladly speak to someone online regularly if that works best -- and in fact, it probably will. If I can find someone, that is.

「にほんごを れんしゅう したい」


Tuesday, 17 February 2009


I added three new links to the sidebar:

Danny Choo - Portal to Japan and Akihabara News are in the Links and Downloads section, and I put Really Cute Asians in the Blog List (insert "The Todd" innuendo here and proceed to high-five anyone within arms reach).

I like Japanese girls. It's no secret. I'd love to meet a cute Japanese girl that was happy to spend time with me. At least that way it would make learning the language interesting; and a whole lot more productive.

My skillz is lacking, yo. Language frustrations continue. At least I've started focusing a little more on learning necessary kanji. That will take time also, but it is all a process. I just hope that once I've been here for a year I will be at the point where I can actually put words together into a coherent sentence and will actually be able to think of something to say to people.

You see, my biggest problem is not being able to phrase what I want to express. We are spoilt in English with our vast range of vocabulary and having to compile everything into its appropriate contextualisation. The thinking behind how to structure what you wish to express in Japanese still eludes me; as do these notorious particles.

Learning various forms is all very well, but when one thing goes in, it seems that two things go out. I may learn the informal way to command someone to do something, but the next day I learn another way of doing it and so what I learned previously is no longer there. At all.

And so it seems that all of the study I have done these past four months has amounted to my learning a bit more vocab and just confusing myself on when to use which particles. I cannot as yet put a coherent sentence together, even though my studies have gone over how to do so multiple times.

Perhaps the futility of it all is just really wearing me down. As I said, it's frustrating not being able to think of anything to say to people. At all. Sure, I could say something like: kono neko ha oishii desu ne (this cat is delicious, huh), but it would probably freak people out.

I'm not worried about making mistakes. I just don't have a single thing to say to people that would be relevant to anything at all. The conversation would consist of my opening with a sentence I had painstakingly constructed - most probably completely butchered anyway - and then if someone responded I would just stare at them blankly and wonder if what I said meant what I thought, or if they were asking me a question in response.

It's a dilemma and not one that I see any form of solution to. I do try talking to people at school, but it often ends in neither one of us being able to express enough of either language to form a complete understanding. General conversation in English is hard enough for me. When a foreign language is introduced, I'm just at a complete loss for words.

My life is far from boring. I just don't have anything worthwhile to talk to Japanese people about. Yet.


A Bird in Hand

It's been a rather slow week.

Valentine's Day in Japan is where girls give guys chocolate. It's their own take on the whole thing. Of course, I was never one to put stock in the day at all -- and barely ever noticed it back home. Being handed chocolate cake and chocolate hearts from people that you know is pretty awesome though. I like Japanese Valentine's Day.

Reciprocally, White Day happens in May where guys give girls chocolate. We'll see if I feel like a nice person on the day and want to give anyone anything. The romantic side of the two days is lost, I think. And that's just fine with me!

On a slightly different note, check out this trailer for Scorched Earth on drugs. Seriously, that game was freaking awesome, and now there is a realtime multiplayer version that has been revamped for the 21st Century. The terrain doesn't look destroyable, but it still looks pretty damn fun!

Also, an artist and Guile fan went the extra mile in creating this amazing 3D rendition of his favourite Street Fighter character. I was blown away at the detail. Imagine this sort of modelling in-game. Oh, the future is coming, folks!

Ah, I am a geek at <3. I have to otaku my blog from time to time!

People have been getting their JLPT* test results back this week. Actually, I think that everyone who sat it last year received their results on Monday. Michael passed his level 3 test, so to celebrate we ate out last night at our favourite izakaya. There doesn't need to be an excuse to go out and eat, but when there is one it's worth taking up. Not cooking from time to time is beneficial to my mental health.

We intend to go into the city this weekend. I have a handful of things to get from K-town on the way through (or back through). It will be good to go into the city, anyway. It might be time to hit up Quantum of Solace, if it is still screening.

Just recently I have started getting dried, cracked fingers. I think it might have been overexposure to cleaning products when I scrubbed my bathroom down on Sunday. A little uncomfortable, but I have started using a cream from the pharmacy. I'll try and get my hands on some moisturiser when we head into the city, and will definitely wear gloves to clean from now on!

Wanna see something really cute? The Korean girl group, Girls' Generation, have a song called "Gee". posted up two versions of the music video. Did I mention how cute this was? Now try getting it out of your head!

Wish I could just download Korean and Japanese into my head. It sure would make things easier.

And remember: with great innovation comes great impact!

*Japanese Language Proficiency Test.


Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Trailers, Towbars and Trucks

I've been in Japan for more than six months now. In that time there are some observations I have made. There are also some things that may have registered sub-consciously, but that I have just never really thought much about.

I've mentioned before that there are two types of cars here: white-plates and yellow-plates. Yellow-plate cars are also called k-cars. The k stands for karui, which means light. I guess it could also stand for ki-iro, meaning yellow -- the colour of their number plates.

And they are small cars. I sometimes feel like I could kick a k-car across a parking lot and watch it pinball between any white-plates that are placed strategically for such an effect to take place. Sometimes I wish I could.

One thing that I was thinking about today was that in all my time here, I have not once seen a car towing a trailer. Even out in Nakamura, which is near the seaside, I don't recall anyone even towing a boat around.

I also noticed that not a single car has a towbar! You really don't take notice of the absence of something like that unless you really think about it. So: no trailers and no towbars. I guess that's why there are so many light trucks around? Moving services must make a killing!

Because I have tomorrow off and I finished school early today (lunch-time), I decided that I will take the last two hours off. Nenkyu it is, and so I will go home soon and relax. Public holidays are great. ;)


Sunday, 8 February 2009


I've been quite busy this last week, with meetings five days in a row.

On Tues night, I had my regular Prayer and Bible study group. Every fortnight we do a study, and this was one of those weeks.

On Wednesday night, I had an impromptu guild leaders' meeting for World of Warcraft. Having recently been appointed Guild Master, I am now responsible for overseeing the entire guild in game.

On Thursday night was our monthly JCF (Jet Christian Fellowship) leaders' meeting. As the librarian, I didn't have much to say, although I did convert a lot of the documentation to spreadsheet format earlier that day. I also posted off a Bible to someone upon request.

On Friday I had scheduled a full guild leaders' meeting. We talked for around two hours about where we stood and what proposals needed to be put forward regarding our progress and enjoyment in the game, as a raiding guild.

Yesterday, Michael and I met Martin in K-town. He teaches at high schools in Nakamura, so it was about a 45 minute drive for him to meet us. We all took Michael's car into Kochi city.

Martin and I attended a meeting to plan a Kochi JET website. I'll be sure to mention this again over the next few months as things begin to form. When we have something workable and it goes live, I will be sure to make it a permanent link from this blog.

Martin, another JET, Cal, and I will be working on the design and coding side of things. We hope to get a few layouts done for review and will most probably adopt a CMS (Content Management System). Images and content will be created and provided by other people who attended the meeting. Most of the regional specific content, such as events and local attractions will have to be contributed by all the JETs around our prefecture.

After the meeting, I went and got my hair cut at a place called 29, run by a guy called Mic. The little bat on the website splashscreen is also on the CD cover for a music CD that he gave me. He did a good job of my hair and it feels much better. Communication was a big issue but we worked everything out eventually!

The three of us went to Aeon mall after that to do some shopping. I bought a blender, and various foods, like Thai curries and Korean noodles.

We ate dinner at the Indian restaurant we always go to, Masala's. After the obligatory Starbucks visit and my grande-sized Caramel Macchiato, we plotted our course back home, dumping Martin back at his car in K-town on the way.

This week will be a sweet relief from the tiring strain of last week and its meetings. I have no school tomorrow, and then Wednesday is a public holiday.

Michael and I will probably sort out accommodation for when we go to Osaka during Spring break (very end of next month). Martin will be coming with us. We have a few ideas about what we will do. Of course, more on that when we actually go!

Time to update my World of Warcraft blog. ;)


Monday, 2 February 2009

Terminology and References

Considering that I sometimes use Japanese terminology in my blog posts and that there are often references to people and places that my life involves, I have compiled this list to inform readers and to offer more insight into the content of my blog posts.

A note on pronunciation:
A+I is pronounced "eye", as in "fine".
E+I is pronounced "eh", as in "day".
O+U is a long "oh" sound, as in "holy".
A is always long, as in "barn".
E is always short, as in "bet"; even at the end of a word.
I is pronounced "ee", as in "mean".
O is usually short, like in "hot".
U is always "oo", as in "moon".

The romanised form of a word can have different spellings, depending on how people have chosen to represent that word. Even if in Japanese a word has a long "o" sound (because the "o" is followed by either another "o" or an "u"), in English it may only be written with a single "o". Eg. Osaka (大阪) should be transcribed as Oosaka; but to avoid confusion of the English "oo" sound, it is not.

I have sometimes chosen to write an extended vowel sound without adding the extra vowel; but in most cases, such as "chuugakkou", I have romanised the word exactly as it should be.

There are a few other rules, such as an "n" sound changing depending on what follows (eg. "enkai" is said "engkai" and "senpai" is said "sempai"). But this blog is not about learning how to pronounce Japanese, and so I have kept kept this linguistic input as minimal as possible.

~nensei (~年生) - grade / year.

Aisatsu (あいさつ) - greeting.

Anime (アニメ) - Japanese animation.

Chuugakkou (中学校) - junior high school: the three mid-level years.

Doubutsu (どうぶつ) - animals.

Enkai (えんかい) - a work party.

Gaijin (外人) - short for gaikokujin (外国人): a foreigner.

Gomen-nasai (ごめんなさい) - an apology.

Hanko (はんこ) - a personal seal / stamp.

Heisei (平成) - the current imperial period. See: Renshu.

Hentai (へんたい) - literally: pervert. Refers to pornographic cartoons.

Ichiba (いちば) - market.

Jikoshoukai (じこしょうかい) - introduction.

Kaimono (かいもの) - shopping.

Kaitenzushi (かいてんずし) - sushi on a conveyor.

Kanji (かんじ) - Chinese characters.

Komin-kan (こみんかん) - Board of Education.

Manga (まんが) - Japanese comics.

Matta (まった) - again.

Nenkyu (ねんきゆ) - annual leave.

Nomikai (のみかい) - a drinking party.

Omakase (おまかせ) - to entrust; to leave up to someone.

Shashin (しゃしん) - photos.

Shitsumon (しつもん) - question.

Shougakkou (小学校) - primary school: the first six years.

Yuki (雪) - Snow.

Yuki-daruma (ゆきだるま) - Snowman.

Candice - a first-year JET in Kubokawa; Californian.

Hayashi-san - my supervisor at Taisho's Board of Education.

Igei-sensei (Miki) - the Japanese English teacher at Tokawa chuugakkou.

Laurel - a CIR in Kubokawa; Kiwi.

Michael - a third-year JET in Taisho; Californian.

Mizobuchi-sensei (Kousei) - the Japanese English teacher at Shouwa chuugakkou.

Nakawaki-san - an English speaking Japanese woman at Taisho's Board of Education.

Nare/Narae - a Korean language teacher who lives in Kubokawa.

Akaoka - a town near Kochi city.

Akihabara - the "electronics capital" of Tokyo.

Chiba - a city located in the greater Tokyo area. The Tokyo Game Show is held there every year.

Ginza - one of Tokyo's nicer suburbs.

Haneda - Tokyo's domestic airport.

Hirome (Ichiba) - a foodcourt in downtown Kochi city.

Iejigawa - a small settlement along the Shimanto river.

Kitanokawa - a town along the Shimanto river.

Kochi-ken - the lowest prefecture on Shikoku island, Japan.

Kochi-shi - Kochi prefecture's largest city.

Kubokawa (K-town) - the nearest large town to where I live, in south-west Kochi.

Kyoto - a major city south of Tokyo.

Nakamura - a city on the coast, in south-west Kochi.

Narita - Tokyo's international airport.

Obiyamachi - a shopping arcade in central Kochi city.

Roppongi - the "gaijin capital" of Tokyo.

Shibuya - a suburb of Tokyo with lots of shops.

Shikoku - the smallest of Japan's four main islands.

Shimanto-cho - Shimanto town incorporates multiple towns and settlements in south-west Kochi prefecture and is known for its famous Shimantogawa -- the Shimanto river.

Shouwa - a small village where I teach.

Taisho - my town: Taisho-cho, Shimanto-cho, Takaoka-gun, Kochi-ken, Japan!

Tanono - the main part of Taisho town, where I live.

Tokawa - a small village where I teach.

Towa - Shouwa + Tokawa.

Tokyo - the capital of Japan and its largest city.

Wakaigawa - a small settlement along the Shimanto river.

Yamada Denki - the main electronics chain around these parts.

Yokohama - a town south of Tokyo that sports a US Naval base.

Please inform me if anything is missing or unclear. Also, for the People section, I eventually intend to have thumbnail photos of everyone.


Four Weeks Till Twenty-nine

In less than four weeks I will be 29. That leaves just one more year of my 20s. I'd better make the most of it! It still surprises people to learn that I am 28. Something about a youthful appearance or good skin or whatever. I guess we are just blessed -- my family, that is.

Attitude, habits and worldview have something to do with it too, though. It is my belief that you can maintain vivaciousness and vitality through decisions that you make regarding all manner of inputs. Low stress levels, less chance of cancer and a greater regard for meaningful things occur as a result. Appearing youthful is just a God-given bonus.

Not much to report on the school side of things from last week. I have been asked to prepare the entire first years' lesson for tomorrow. Having no school today will easily allow me to do that, though. I continue to avoid using Japanese at shougakkou; and it continues to work out well.

On Saturday night, a number of JETs converged on K-town to attend a Taiko concert, of which Candice and Laurel were a part. The whole thing played out well, and was very cool to watch. The children were amazing. It was a great cultural experience overall.

After the concert, we met at a yakiniku joint to eat, then crowded into Candice's place to sit around and enjoy each other's company. Michael and I crashed at Laurel's house, and everyone else stayed on at Candice's.

I attended church on Sunday morning. It was part of my plan in staying overnight in K-town. It will be a while yet before I am able to afford a suitable car, so I continue being resigned to missing a lot of church services, due to the inconvenience of travelling between Taisho and Kubokawa.

However, the future is always bright and full of promise. There will come a time when I don't need to purchase anything else of note for my comfortable Japanese living. At that time, all that will remain is paying my student loan off completely. Then, I will be free of all financial burden.

If I do consent to pursue post-graduate study this year, then that is another cost that will be loaded onto anything else. Travelling does take a chunk out of your salary, but if one was to not travel at all, one would solidify into a state of stagnation and crumble into dust and debris with the passing of time and the scouring force of howling winds.