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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Tomatazos Article Translation — Yukio Mishima and His Connection to Film

Hey, readers! I hope your day is going well when you read this. Today I’m going to translate an article written by a Mexican friend of mine, Ruben Martínez Pintos. As you can see by the link, he’s a writer for the Mexican branch of Rotten Tomatoes, which is called Tomatazos. Ruben is a serious cinephile and Japanophile, so I thought this article about Yukio Mishima would be a great one to translate. It combines two loves of mine: Japanese culture and Spanish language! I definitely learned some new info about Mishima that I hadn’t known before. Enjoy!


Yukio Mishima and His Connection to Film

The iconic author left his mark on cinema

On a day like today in 1925, Kimiate Hiraoka, better known as Yukio Mishima, was born. Writer, actor, director and political activist, he was a man of contrasts and contradictions. His life itself became part of his art and body of work. His coup d’état attempt — which culminated in his suicide by seppuku — was an act that in many ways marked his final artistic work.

Death and beauty combined in frenzied ways in all of Mishima’s work; he obsessed over both topics, as well as a tendency to challenge the conventional. Although a nationalist in favor of Japan’s militarization, he was unable to fight during the Second World War because of his health. He worked on his physique to modify his formerly weak constitution and when he rejected a promising professional career in favor of writing, his father gave only one instruction: become the best writer in Japan, or don’t try.

Artistic concerns brought Mishima to work in the Japanese film industry. He starred in director Yasuzo Masumura’s Afraid to Die, and also sang its main theme song. He also acted alongside Shintaro Katsu and Tatsuya Nakadai in Hitokiri, a tale about a samurai (played by Katsu) — uneducated but skilled with the sword — whose aptitude for killing turns him into a legendary as well as tragic figure.

Mishima directed only one film, Patriotism, shot in black and white and without dialog, where the author plays a soldier who decides to end his life after he is ordered to kill colleagues involved in a coup d’état. In spite of it being his only work behind the camera, the writer demonstrated a great eye for composition and great potential that was never exploited. All the copies of Patriotism were presumed lost after Mishima’s widow had them burned, but fortunately the original negatives were saved.

Both the left and the right in Japan repudiated Mishima, the former for his nationalist conservative ideas and the latter for his declarations against Emperor Hirohito, who Mishima said should have abdicated his position for failing in World War II. Even today he continues to be a controversial figure and it was a foreigner who first brought his work to the silver screen. Paul Schrader wrote and directed Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, which alternated scenes from the author’s life with passages taken from his books. Philip Glass frames the tale with incredible compositions while acclaimed actor Ken Ogata pours his all into a fully committed leading role from beginning to end. Schrader initially had the support of Mishima’s widow, but when the producer insisted on including a scene that showed the author’s homosexuality, the widow completely withdrew from the project.

Mishima’s life and works, always intertwined, are still being unraveled today. His impact on the arts is undeniable and the movies connected to the star are highly intriguing. Artists like him don’t come along all the time and that’s why we still remember him today.


Well, that was an interesting translation! I didn’t know much about Mishima other than the fact that he was a nationalist author who committed seppuku. Thanks, Ruben, for the lesson on Mishima and for permission to translate the article! I’m definitely interested in watching these movies now, and also in reading his writings. How about you?

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Malapropism Monday, Week 6 — Loose vs. Lose

Happy Monday, everyone! Well, for most of us in the US it may not be the happiest of Mondays due to the “spring forward” daylight saving time that stole an hour of our sleep this weekend!

Personally, I do enjoy having more daylight in the summer, but the clock change in the spring is tough, isn’t it? Even getting the hour back in the fall doesn’t work out so well when you have young kids as I do. Somehow their little bodies don’t get the message that we can all sleep in longer.

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Language Links

Hello! So it’s the weekend (well, here on the west coast, there is still a couple hours of it left) which means it is time for Language Links.

I’m going to be honest: I’m still working on our taxes (I want to say “chou baka taxes” which is something like “very dumb taxes,” but I don’t really know the right way to say taxes in Japanese nor do I want to bother Lee about it!), so I’m going to keep this short!

Yakuza 0 teaches Japanese board game culture.

Via Polygon. I love the Yakuza games (I’m sure a post on this blog is forthcoming) because even though they are Japanese crime dramas at heart, they have many lovely cultural details that would be difficult to experience, short of living in Japan yourself.

Google helps keep endangered Pakistani language alive.

Via Cnet.

Like I said, short and sweet. I guess I should say, “Sumimasen,” which is the Japanese way of saying “sorry.” Hopefully I’ll have my family’s taxes done and I’ll have more time for blogging!

“Thank You Day” and the Good and Bad of Japanese Customer Service

In Japan, today is “Thank You Day.” Today is 3/9 — well, it still is here in California, anyway.

Numbers in Japanese have several possible pronunciations, so there’s a lot of wordplay based on that. Business phone numbers will often reflect the business’ service in some way by combining the pronunciations of the numbers in a way that makes a phrase relating to the business. This page has a lot of examples.

Today is “Thank You Day” in Japan because one way to pronounce the numbers 3 and 9 is “san kyu,” or “thank you.” Isn’t that cute? The above picture explains it. It’s from the Facebook page 今日は何の日, which means “What Day Is Today.” The little sign says, “いつも見てくれてありがとうございます,” which means “Thank you for always looking (at this page/site).”


I saw a listing for a freelance job editing mystery shopper narratives and decided to apply. The application requires a short writing sample about a good or bad customer service experience, so I’m going to include it right here and let my writing do double duty! I don’t know if the job will be right for my circumstances, but it won’t hurt to write a short entry, as follows:

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I Think I’m Learning Japanese, Part II: Learning How to Learn

It’s Thomas again, or, rather: Watashi wa Thomas Typo, yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

That was: I am Thomas Typo, pleased to meet you!

I’ve been working diligently on learning Japanese in time for our trip in April,* and so far it is going well.

Here is an inventory of what I’ve learned so far:

  1. I’ve memorized maybe 50-70% of the hiragana, and a few katakana. A lot of work left to go, but it’s getting there!
  2. I’ve learned some basic phrases for introducing myself, and more importantly how to ask people how to say things in Japanese (so I can practice without going back to English when talking to Lee for practice).
  3. I’ve ditched what isn’t helping me right now, and I’m focusing what I need instead.

Let’s look at number 3 for a little bit. The first time I tried to learn Japanese, I made the mistake of trying to learn using just one method. This was bad. You probably need to use several different apps/books/tools if you aren’t paying for private lessons (which is in my opinion the best way to learn anything**). However, I was beginning to get the opposite problem: by trying to do too much, I wasn’t learning much of anything!

In my case, I turned off the writing module in the Learning Japanese app (which I continue to use and enjoy!). Writing is great, but it isn’t helping me now with my goals — to attain an ability to have basic conversations and to read simple things.

There is also the issue of finding time. I’ve set aside the hours of 9pm-10pm on most days for study (that is when our oldest daughter goes to bed, so it is a good time to study!). However, I realized that I have about an hour per day of commuting in the car to work. I should totally use that for study!

So to do that, I went shopping on Amazon for an audiobook, and found this one: Learn Japanese with Innovative Language’s Proven Language System.

What I purchased was a bundle for ten dollars that included their introductory boot camp, as well as the more in-depth lessons. What I like most about this audiobook is that it is not just a simple phrase-teaching book. They go into great detail on the culture and context of the language, and even have little pop culture quizzes that are quite fun! I feel like this is doing a good job of not just teaching me a language, but helping me to understand the overall culture better.

Here’s an example: there is an easy-to-remember word for “yes” in Japanese, called “hai” (pronounced like our “hi”). This is easy enough, but did you know that Japanese people will say this while listening to another person speak? You might hear a person say “hai, hai” throughout a conversation. In our culture, interjecting this way might be considered rude (imagine someone saying “uh huh” a lot while you talk: you probably don’t like that, and think they are brushing you aside or not paying attention). In Japan, however, it is the opposite: it’s considered weird to not say anything, and saying “hai” (and other interjections) is a way to let the speaker know you are following the conversation. That’s great to know!

That’s it for now — as I keep learning, I’ll keep reporting. I hope my ruminations are helpful and possibly a little inspiring! I can definitely say I’m having a lot of fun studying a second language!

*Obviously not mastering Japanese, but learning enough to feel like I’m not totally lost!

**I admit that I teach private guitar lessons, so I’m biased here!

Malapropism Monday, Week 5

It’s Monday again! Exciting, right? For today’s Malapropism Monday I’d like to bring up yet another writing and speech pattern that bugs me! I know you’re dying to find out about it.

Today’s topic is the use of “try and ____” vs. “try to ____.” Did you know that these are not interchangeable? People often say “try and ____” when they should say “try to ____.” Or, at least in my opinion, they should…

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Language Links

こんにちは! Or rather, konnichiwa or hello (yes, I am continuing to study Japanese, with Lee’s help!). Thomas here with this weekend’s language links:

Language:

Whale mimics human speech.

From the Smithsonian. My mother sent this in (thanks!) and says this is a sad story, so I avoided reading it 🙂 But I bet it is interesting!

Do the linguistic ideas in the film Arrival have any merit?

From the Smithsonian.

Grammar:

National Grammar Day.

From the American Enterprise Institute. Did you know March 4th was National Grammar Day? I didn’t, but this post from AEI outlines a treasure trove of awesome grammar-related resources!

Typo Terror:

Typo just about kills the internet for a day.

From Business Insider. Whenever something breaks on Amazon, it feels like my life is over. How spoiled we are! 🙂 😉

Blogs:

Getting beyond intermediate Spanish.

From Actual Fluency. Kris talks to Olly Richards from Fluent Spanish Academy.

Five fun facts about Brazil’s Carnival.

From Busuu.