Learning Japanese with TokyoTreat!

こんにちは!Konnichiwa! What’s up, my 友達 (tomodachi — friends)? I’ve been meaning to start posts like today’s for a long time, but life has been quite busy. I’m getting it done today, though!

I wanted to share a method I’ve used for a long time to study languages: reading product packaging! I’m sure that doesn’t sound exciting, but especially once you get beyond the very beginning stages of language learning, deciphering packaging can be a very useful way to learn common vocabulary and grammar.

Before we go any further, if you’re studying Japanese, you really have to learn the two phonetic syllabaries — ひらがな hiragana and カタカナkatakana. There’s just no getting around it. Learning how Japanese is written is by far the best way to get your pronunciation and listening comprehension on point, in addition to the obvious reading and writing skills.

Japanese is not that hard to pronounce most of the time, but if you’re trying to use ローマ字 roomaji (“Roman characters” — or good ol’ English letters) to learn Japanese pronunciation, you’ll likely end up with a very strong accent at best, or at worst, you’ll be incomprehensible to native speakers. Learning the kana (the collective term for hiragana and katakana) will go a long way in keeping your pronunciation on track.

Chinese characters used in Japanese — 漢字 kanji — are also extremely important, but they can be learned over a much longer period of time, and as needed. Kana, however, should be learned as soon as possible once you’ve decided to study Japanese. It will take a few hours, probably, but they’re hours well spent.

When I was learning kana I used old-school flashcards made of paper! Nowadays, of course, there are tons of apps, computer programs, books, whatever you prefer. My co-contributor here, Thomas Typo, will likely make a post about the methods he’s currently using to study beginner-level Japanese, but I know you can easily find support for your preferred method.

I’m going into all this because if you want to study Japanese with product packaging, you really need to know kana at a minimum. Of course, being able to look up kanji you don’t know is also necessary, but if you don’t know kana, even a lot of Japanese dictionaries will be far less useful to you. Just learn ’em!

Now, I currently live in the Bay Area of California where we are blessed with several Japanese grocery stores and even two Japantowns! I’ve been loving that aspect of living here! But what if you don’t have easy access to Japanese products? Well, that’s where TokyoTreat can help. There are other similar subscription crates out there but this is the one I’ve tried and I’m happy with it so far. I wrote an introductory post about it here. I admit that I’m behind in even opening the boxes beyond January because I want to review each one at least a little bit in order and give each one the attention it deserves. That’s obsessive of me, I know. I’ll get to the new ones!

I wanted to share some bits I noticed from the January box.

The main words on the above package are chenjikoora shuwaboo sofutokyandi. The first and third words are very easy to understand — “change cola” and “soft candy,” very simple if you know English and can read katakana. The biggest word, written in big rainbow katakana, was one I didn’t know. I know that bou (pronounced with a long “o” sound — reminder that you need to learn kana so you won’t pronounce things as in English!) means “stick” and that part is self-explanatory since it’s a stick of candy. But what about shuwa?

The little blue dialog bubble next to the blue squid gives a clue. It says shuwashuwa paudaa. All right, some kind of powder. But I didn’t know what shuwashuwa meant. I went to one of my favorite Japanese dictionaries, Jisho.org, and looked it up. Success! It means “bubbliness (of a carbonated drink); sound of bubbles (of a carbonated drink); fluffiness (of a cake, souffle or whipped cream).

This candy is basically a stick of taffy (orange flavor and lemon flavor, as the red and orange bubbles say) with powder inside. The idea is that when you chew the taffy and it mixes with the powder, the whole shebang turns into cola flavor in your mouth! Personally, I’m not a fan of cola flavor in general — I’m a rare American who never drinks pop — and I’m not the biggest fan of lemon or orange flavors, either. So while I agree that the taste does change to resemble cola, I wasn’t a fan of this particular candy, just because of the flavors.

But even though I didn’t love this candy, I learned a new word! Japanese has tons of onomatopoeic words, and I know very few of them. This candy was not bubbly or fluffy as shuwashuwa would suggest, but I think they gave it that description because it’s supposed to remind you of the bubbly taste of cola.

I’ll mention one other small part of this package, the bit that is next to the brown squid. It says orenji + remon issho ni tabero to coora!? That explains the main draw of this candy, that if you add the orange and lemon flavors together with the powder, it makes cola. This little phrase reinforces that if you want to say something is together, you say issho ni — it reminds you that the particle ni is what goes with issho. It’s also an example of the construction of verb + to = result. If you eat the orange and lemon flavors, the result is a cola flavor.

Well, I’ll end here for this post, but I have lots of other TokyoTreat snacks to comment on! I want to make this a regular feature. Your Japanese level will determine how useful these posts are to you, but I hope that you can learn something from even the simplest package, as I did here. 読んでくれてありがとう!また今度いっしょに読んで勉強しましょうね。Thanks for reading! Next time let’s read and learn some more together, all right?

 

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