Tag Archives: Japanese

Learning to Read

My daughter is 5 years old. She’s in kindergarten, and she’s learning to read. A few months ago, she couldn’t read at all. But now, she knows the sounds of all the letters of the alphabet, as well as all hiragana. What’s that? It’s the main writing script for Japanese.

You see, my daughter also goes to a Japanese school, though not for much longer. She’s able to read both English and Japanese. Actually, she can read Japanese faster. It’s easier to learn to read Japanese than English. You might not think so, since English has 26 letters, while Japanese has 46 hiragana, 46 katakana, and thousands of kanji. It’s hiragana that she knows, and this is what’s needed to be able to read basic Japanese.

But why is it easier for her to read Japanese? Hiragana is phonetic. With a couple exceptions, everything sounds exactly as it’s written. English is a mess. There’s a meme going around:

If GH stands for P as in Hiccough
If OUGH stands for O as in Dough
If PHTH stands for T as in Phthisis
If EIGH stands for A as in Neighbour
If TTE stands for T as in Gazette
If EAU stands for O as in Plateau

Then the right way to spell POTATO should be: GHOUGHPHTHEIGHTTEEAU

I have no idea what the original source is, but this is everywhere. But you get the point, right? English spelling is stupid. I taught English for 11 years, but I managed to get children, including a 5 year old, to be able to read English reasonably well.

My point here is that if you can read English with no trouble at all, you’re doing pretty good. It must have one of the least strict rules for spelling.

I’m pretty good at spelling. When I was in grade 7, I tested at a university level for spelling. But there was one word that I had no idea how to read: paradigm. When I saw it, I thought, “paradiggum?” I knew the actual pronunciation. I’d heard the word before, but I’d never seen it spelled out. And then there’s “embarrassed.” How many r’s is it? Well, it’s two.  Don’t forget that!

What are some words you had trouble spelling or were pronouncing completely wrong?

The Multilingual Desire

Ever since I started using Duolingo to study languages, I’ve had a growing desire to learn multiple languages. There are many languages available on that platform, and it continues to grow.

My experience learning languages started in 1986 when I was 9 years old. I studied French in school until 1994, when I was 17 years old. I didn’t take French in grade 12, but instead challenged the final exam and passed it easily, getting full credit for the class. I was good at it. I had confidence that I could learn languages easily.

In university, I took a class in Japanese and enjoyed it a lot. I did very well in that class, and it helped me a lot when I moved to Japan in 2005. I had full intentions to learn the language and become fluent. I studied it on my own. However, I worked entirely in English. My interactions with Japanese people were with friends who spoke English well, coworkers who spoke English, students who I taught English, and people in shops. It was when I went shopping or out to a restaurant that I was able to use Japanese. As a result, I have no problem going shopping or ordering in a restaurant in Japan. My confidence in speaking Japanese didn’t grow at all. I didn’t speak well enough to have a conversation with my wife’s parents, or even with my wife. My listening improved, but my speaking did not. That’s my fault.

I started using Duolingo to relearn French. I also started doing Esperanto, since studying it has been proven to help people learn other European languages more quickly. I also started learning Spanish.

My studying has stalled recently. I’d like to get myself back into it. I’d like to focus on French and Japanese. French will be useful for future job prospects in Canada, while Japanese will be useful for me with my family and my in-laws. And since we plan to travel to Japan often, I can use it there.

But I don’t want to stop there. I want to get back into studying Spanish, as well as German, Norwegian, Russian, and Irish. My family heritage includes German, Norwegian, and Irish. My grandfather was born in Russia, so a lot of research into his family history has to be done in Russian. I think it would help. And I’d also like to learn Tagalog. I have some Filipino friends, and I think it would be fun to be able to understand what they’re talking about.

Are you using Duolingo? Are you studying a language? Let me know in the comments section below. Also, you can check out my Duolingo profile and add me as a friend.

Japanese School for My Daughter

At the moment, my daughter only has my wife to speak Japanese with her. But today, we met a couple families whose husbands are Canadian and wives are Japanese. Both families have several children older than my daughter.

One of the topics that came up was the Japanese school. There’s one here in Edmonton, and it apparently has around 130 students. We’d like our daughter to attend, so she can meet other kids who speak Japanese, and she can maintain her Japanese fluency. That’ll be very good for her, as she’ll be able to be fully bilingual. It’ll be great for her future. I hope she likes it.

Oh No, Jay Dee’s Doing Another Blog, a Food Blog

This is nothing new. I mentioned this sometime last year that I’d like to do a blog about Japanese restaurants in Edmonton. More specifically, I wanted to review restaurants and rate them taste and the atmosphere of the restaurant, but also focus on the authenticity.

Well, I want to expand that idea, since there isn’t a really huge number of Japanese restaurants in Edmonton. I decided I’d focus on the two kinds of food I love: Asian food and hamburgers. Odd mixture, isn’t it?  Well, for the Asian foods, I’d like to try out Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, and Indian restaurants. And at the same time, try out various hamburger restaurants. While I do this, there will be a feature about authentic Japanese cuisine in the city.

What am I doing making yet another blog? Well, most of my other blogs are either on hiatus or retired. And this food blog won’t be updated as frequently as the blog you’re reading this on. I’ll update whenever I go to a restaurant, and that’s about it.

Comments are very welcome. What do you think of the idea? Let me know!

A New Year in Japan – Traditional Food for Lunch

When we arrived at the in-laws’, we got to have some lunch. It was mostly normal fare, but there was also osechi. This is a set box with traditional foods that are eaten at New Year’s. Here’s one osechi set.


And here’s my daughter eating renkon, or lotus root. She likes it! I’m surprised.


Next, it was time to go out for Hatsumode. What’s that? Find out in the next post. But before that, here’s a New Year’s display in the in-laws’ house.


Keep checking back. More to come before the day is over.

That “I’m in Japan” Feeling

When I came to Japan, I always had the “I’m in Japan” feeling. Everything I saw, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt was Japan. Everywhere I went, I thought, “This is Japan.”

A few months later, the feeling wore off. A few years later, that feeling just isn’t there.  I loved that feeling. I remember when I was a kid and we visited my grandparents on Vancouver Island, I had that “I’m on Vancouver Island” feeling. Then I lived there, and didn’t have that feeling anymore.  Occasionally, I’ll get flashes of these feelings whenever I’m somewhere somewhat familiar to me, but not often.

But I felt it again. After more than a week of sightseeing, I felt it again! But not where you’d imagine. I felt it while I was laying in bed this morning, hearing the sounds of everything going on outside. I suddenly felt, “I’m in Japan.”

Today, we’re going to a place that is very Japanese. From its tofu-filled shopping street to its Afuri Shrine, Mt. Oyama is a very old religious site in Japan. We’re going to climb it! And by climb it, I mean we’re taking the cable car. It’s a new cable car, too. I won’t live blog it, since I’d just say thing like, “here’s a tree, and some more trees” and “Check out this rock!” I will take video whenever we see something interesting, though.

So, my question for you today is a two-parter. First, the feeling that I’ve mentioned, do you get that feeling whenever you go somewhere new? And second, have you ever climbed a mountain? Let me know in the comments below.

You’re Japanese? My Daughter’s Future

We’re picking up my daughter’s first passport this week. It’s a Japanese passport. She has a Japanese first name, an English last name, and a face that shows mixed heritage, but brown hair. I’m sure she’ll get some second looks at the airport.

In Canada, she may get some curious looks when they see her passport, but otherwise, she’ll be fine. Canada is a multicultural country where Asians make up the largest minority groups. No one will think she’s not Canadian. She’ll be completely accepted. When she starts school, her mixed language of Japanese and English may raise some questions, but as she does understand English, she’ll quickly adapt. She has Canadian and Japanese citizenship, and dual citizenship isn’t uncommon in Canada. It’s Japan where she will encounter some issues.

I read an article on the Japan Times website by Debito Arudou, who is a naturalised citizen of Japan. He’s had issues with immigration and customs when they look at his Japanese passport and Caucasian face and has even missed connecting flights because they didn’t believe him. But what about my daughter? She’ll be able to use both Japanese and Canadian passports when we travel up until she’s twenty years old. In Japan, you cannot be a dual citizen after turning twenty. Will she be scrutinised?

In Japan, mixed kids are called haafu, or “half.”  Half what? There are many people in Japan who think of them as incomplete Japanese. They are not fully Japanese, merely half Japanese. Even if they’re born and raised in Japan, speak Japanese as a first language, and have Japanese citizenship, they’re still considered foreigners or at least not worthy of being called Japanese. They’re often stared at, thought of as novelties, and lots of people will ask if they can touch their hair, or say that their Japanese is very good. Of course their Japanese is good, it’s their native language!

Although my daughter hasn’t encountered this kind of thing yet, it’s quite likely it’ll happen in other parts of Japan. Kanagawa is one of the most multicultural areas in Japan, as it has three American military bases and lots of foreign residents, including Chinese, Filipino, Brazilian, and Indian. It also attracts a lot of tourists. But my issue is that she’ll always be considered only half Japanese, despite the fact that she is 100% Japanese citizen. There is no half about that. She’s totally Japanese by birth, language, and citizenship. She’s also 100% Canadian. But because of the European part of her ancestry, people won’t think of her as Japanese at all.

Well, she is Japanese. She is Canadian. She is both.

Bring on “Why?”

Language development is pretty interesting. Young children enter into a phase in which they always ask “What’s that?” My daughter’s been in that phase for a while, and often asks what something is. However, she just started a new phase this week.  “Why?”

Today, she’s been asking me “why” for every time I said “No.” The way she says it is funny. “Eh? Nande nande?” That’s Japanese for “Eh? Why why?” I explained to her every time she asked why. So far, she seems to be accepting the explanations.

Last week, she’d demand to eat something. It went something like this:

Her: Soda.

Me: No.

Her: Soda.

Me: No.

Her: Soda!

Me: No.

Her: Waaaaaahhhhh!

She cried every time she lost.  Today, it’s been like this:

Her: Soda.

Me: No.

Her: Eh? Why why?

Me: Because you just drank some juice. You don’t need to drink so much.

Her: Ehhhh? Wakatta (I understand).

Kind of surprising that she responds that way, but not always. Sometimes she still demands.

A couple other developments in language include a couple things. First, she’s been using full sentences more often in Japanese. Not in English, though. Secondly, she’s been using more English when I say what she said in Japanese, but in English, and she repeats the English word. That’s good. With us moving to Canada next year, she needs to be able to speak English. She understand what I say, she just uses whatever language she’s used to, and that’s Japanese.

My sister is coming to Japan in October. I hope she’ll use English then.

Life in Japan: Learning Kanji

There are three writing systems in Japan: hiragana (ひらがな), which is the main phonetic set of characters; katakana (カタカナ), which is the phonetic characters used mainly for foreign words; kanji (漢字), which is used throughout Japanese, and is taken from Chinese. It’s this last one that gives a lot of people trouble. It’s extremely important to know how to at least read kanji to be able to read a newspaper or book in Japanese.  This week’s question comes from Ellen Hawley.

I had friends who lived in Japan, and even after years reading Japanese (not the phonetic alphabets but the characters) remained a problem. Have you been able to learn enough to manage well? If not, how does that affect you?

Chinese_characters_logoI’ll begin by saying that I love kanji. It’s fascinating to me, but the biggest problem with it is that I often forget how to write them. But that’s a common problem for Japanese people, as well, since most people now use computers or cell phones to do all their writing.

I know around 400 to 500 kanji right now, and that’s helped me immensely. I often look around and recognise a lot of kanji, and I can understand what signs are saying most of the time. I’d say I understand a lot of the most commonly used kanji.

It’s a constant struggle to learn them, though. They can easily be forgotten, and there are many that look similar to others. I often get confused. I may know the meaning, but I might not know how it’s pronounced. Most kanji have more than one pronunciation, which can get confusing.

Although I’m not proficient in kanji, it doesn’t affect me very much. I get by fairly easily, as I know how to do pretty much everything, and a lot of my communication is spoken, rather than written. There are times when I’m at a disadvantage, such as with forms in banks or instructions on machines that are in Japanese only. I can figure out the cooking instructions on a package most of the time, but not always. I wouldn’t want to make a mistake!

Although I’ll only be in Japan for another 10 months, I’m redoubling my efforts to study Japanese and kanji. I won’t have the exposure in Canada like I do in Japan, so I don’t want to forget. And besides, my daughter speaks mostly Japanese. I need to make sure I understand her, at least until she begins speaking more English.

Thank you for the question, Ellen.

If you have any questions about living in Japan, please see the original post and leave your questions in the comments.

A Japanese Language Barrier Just Shattered

Something just happened a few minutes ago that has me quite surprised. But I’ll get to that in a moment.  First, a little background.

I started studying Japanese when I was in university in Victoria way back in 1997. I took just one class, and I thrived. I learned hiragana and katakana in just two weeks and could read and write fairly well within a month. I seemed to have a knack for it. I also had a very good teacher who supported us extremely well. By the end of the term, I could give someone a tour of a house. I was tremendously pleased with how quickly I learned. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take the second class because of schedule conflicts.

Fast forward to 2005. I arrived in Japan and was like anyone who’s traveled to a foreign country for the first time, completely enamoured by the sights and sounds of Japan. I was happy to notice that I could still read hiragana and katakana and recognised some of the kanji, too.  I bought textbooks, and I intended to study and start speaking with people.  What happened was different. I spoke English all day at work. I spoke English with my friends. It seemed I only spoke Japanese with shop staff when I was shopping, and that was very limited.

In 2007, I challenged the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level 3, which is survival Japanese.  I studied hard for 3 months before the test, but it wasn’t enough.  I failed, but just barely.  A year later, I studied furiously for 3 months and passed the test with a huge improvement in listening.  Why exactly was my listening so good while everything else was just mediocre? TV. I watched a lot of TV, and that helped my Japanese comprehension a lot.  At that point, I could understand the topics people were talking about, but not the details.

After that, my Japanese studying stagnated.  I still used English all the time at work. There weren’t many opportunities for me to really use Japanese.  When I met my wife in 2010, I still spoke English. When I met her family in 2011, I tried my best to speak with them in Japanese, and still do to this day. However, I felt like my Japanese never improved, and that was because I just wasn’t trying to use it as much as I should have. I couldn’t really at work, because it’s an English language environment.  And with my daughter around at home, I only use English because I’m the only source of fluent English for her to hear.

Everywhere I go, I still hear Japanese. My wife speaks Japanese with my daughter and quite often with me. And I’m always telling myself that I need to study. I need to try.

But something happened tonight that amazed me. I was watching a video where someone was interviewing people on the street about what is great and not so great about Japan, and I suddenly found myself understanding. Not just the 10 or 20% that I’d been understanding of people around me.  But it was more like 75% understanding! I was listening to them speaking and I knew what they were saying! It just suddenly came naturally. Such a strange, yet wonderful feeling.

I’m hoping this feeling happens more often. It’s given me a bigger push to work on my Japanese. I hope by the end of this year, I can have decent conversations with people, especially my wife’s family.