Monday, July 26, 2010

Expo '70: Tower Of The Sun

A Journey To The Tower Of The Sun

I had a vague idea to visit the sight of the 1970 Osaka World Expo while I was in Japan last month, but not much of plan before I went. On the express train it's almost a 2 hour journey from the in-laws place, so I took with me one of my favorite manga, 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa. One the advantages of a month of holidays is the time to read and wander aimlessly. I was almost to the end of the series, so it was a good opportunity to finish the last two volumes.

There were posters advertising 40th Anniversary of the 1970 Osaka World Expo at the station when I arrived at Namba. After a quick bento I studied the station map and jumped on the subway to the North of the city and the monorail which connects Senri Chuo station with Expo Commemoration Park.

In Japanese Expo '70 is known as Ōsaka Banpaku (大阪万博). The theme was "Progress and Harmony for Mankind." This was the first World's Fair held in Japan and one of the most well attended world fairs in history with almost a third of Japan's population visiting it over a 6 month period.

There are only a few remants of the expo remaining, including Tarō Okamoto's remarkable Tower of The Sun, which dominates Senri hill. As you approach from the west the tower is visible from a great distance. Okamoto was member of the Paris avant garde in the 1930's and had a deep fascination with the occult. Perhaps you can see this in the totemic style of the three external faces of the tower.

太陽の塔: The Tower Of The Sun

The Dark Side of the SunOn the front you see the present flanked by red thunder. The golden disk at the top represents the future. On the back is the black sun of the past. The interior was once open to the public, who could rise to the full heigh of 70 metres on an elevator and moving staircases. In the centre of the tower was another artwork callled the tree of life, and in the basement another face, the sun of the underworld.

The park was planned by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, and the structures contained within represented the peak of human engineering acheivement at the time. Highlights included early mobile phone prototypes, local area networking and maglev train technology.

Take for example the United States pavilion - extraordinary for not only the technical and architecural innovation it embodied, but for the low cost of construction - made from only four materials for less than half a million dollars. The long span cable stiffened pneumatic dome, the first of it's kind, became the model for the majority of sports domes in existence today. All that is left of the United States' pavilion is a plaque commemorating the place where it stood and the hugely popular moon rook that it housed.

The expo is situated in time between the uncertain post war years and boom years of the later part of the century. Embued with an optimism for the future, Expo '70 undoubtably had a lot to do with inspiring Japan to become the advanced technological nation it is today.

A brisk walk around the park takes two hours and is well worth it, with a wide variety of gardens and sculptures along the way. In July it was 32 degrees celcius in the shade, so not too many people were around. Though I probably wasn't allowed, I took the opportunity to cool off in a stream in the middle of a secluded forest.

Through the forest runs an elevated observation pathway, which at it's furthest end stands a massive observation tower. The tower is onstructed entirely of wood and reminded me of the traditional architecture found within Japanese castles, only without an exterior facade.

AR大阪万博 by GORIMON, on Flickr

For many people I imagine a trip to the Expo '70 commemorative park is either to remember their first visit or some retro-futurism tourist jaunt. I wasn't there for an architectural tour or nature walk however, I was there to take a trip through the world imagined by Naoki Urasawa in his epic manga 20th Century Boys. It was a bit of of a manga geek trip, manga tabi if you will.

Expo 70 was a central to the story of 20th Century boys. First in 1970 as the ruse used by a young Fukube while he was writing the book of prophecy that would herald the bloody new years eve 2000 and he coming of a global government at the end of the world.

On that bloody new years eve, Kenji scaled the robot that was bringing death and destruction to Tokyo and came face to face with the tomodachi who stood on top of a gruesome replica of the Tower of The Sun.

The Tower of The Sun featured during the last stages as the place where the tomodachi plotted the assaination of the pope. The tomodachi then staged his own resurrection in front of the masses, becoming immortal in the process.

It was place that Kanna brought the people together for one final concert before the end of the world, and where Kenji roused the people of Tokyo to revolution.

Urawasa's epic work pulls together a whole host of post modern themes, bio-terrorism, mateship and betrayal, in a coming of age story that spans three generations. To wander around the park, which is dominated by the Tower of The Sun at the centre was to put myself in the picture. When you are culturally aware, the world seems an altogether different place.

Whatever your goals are for reaching fluency in Japanese, they must be accompanied by vision and imagination. You really need to be able to see yourself doing the the things you dream. And really, the book is much better than the movie.

You might also want to read other posts on this blog about manga:
If you really want to get into to manga, but don't know where to start read my free guide to manga. It'll show you how to get over the initial hurdles of reading in Japanese.

Thanks for reading, I mean that. You are what make this blog such fabulous place to learn about Japanese language and culture. Thank you for the support and the ongoing conversation on places like Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Edo Period Japan Comes Alive At Okage Yokocho

Take A Step Back Into Japanese History At Okage Yokocho

Taking a trip to Okage Yokocho (おかげ横丁|おかげよこちょう) is sometimes like stepping back in time to an Edo Period village. Okage Yokocho, is a shady side street of Oharaimachi just before you reach Naiku, the inner shrine of the Grand Shrines of Ise. In recent times it has experienced a bit of a revival. The narrow streets and restaurants are usually very crowded at new years when many people make a visit.

みたらし団子: Mitarashi Dango

Mitarashi Dango

We went in the middle of a Summer downpour on a Saturday and it was still hard to find a car park. The streets look empty here, but under every eave and doorway there were crowds of people waiting for the next break in the rain so they could make it to the next stall or performance. The store here was our second stop for Mitarashi Dango, you can see the sign just above the Tanabata decorations.

Japanese Drums

和太鼓: Japanese Traditional DrummingThe Japanese Drum (和太鼓|わだいこ) performance happens once every hour, and it always draws a big crowd. Somewhere amongst the forest of umbrellas is furious example of traditional drumming. The musicians have arms as think as tree trunks and deep burning gaze. I should have been much closer. It was enough though to stand back and enjoy the energy and enthusiasm of the performance.

Paper Play

As the large crowd dispersed there was a small gathering forming closer to the back of the main stage. There was a paper play (紙芝居|かみしばい) just about to begin so we took our seats. The performer, in yukata and geta, told the story of Shiro-kou, a dog from the Gunma prefecture.

In Edo period Japan it was quite popular for people from all over the country to make a the pilgrimage to Ise, and in the space of as little as 50 days over 3 and a half million people would arrive. Most of them on foot. Those that couldn't make it due to illness or injury would send some one in their stead to retrieve charms, some times they would send their dogs. Shiro-kou was one such dog.

The style of story telling reminded me of Rikimaru Toho, the manga reading busker from Tokyo whom I've written about before. What I didn't realise was how Rikimaru was simplying bringing a modern touch to a traditional form of entertainment.

In this new media era of television, internet and games, the paper play seems a rather archaic and simple form of entertainment. Compared with books, the history of kami shibai is still rather shallow, but story telling goes much deeper. The oral tradition is so important to the maintenance of culture. It's not just simple entertainment, but more importantly it conveys Japanese culture in a way that I'd like to see continue. You can see some of the performance in this video.

Okage Yokocho In The Summer Rain  

When you speak a second language you become part of a new socio-cultural group. What I've noticed about people who can tell a good story is that they tend to accelerate in their ability to speak Japanese. Do you have any good stories that you could tell in Japanese? You don't have to tell me right now, but when you speak Japanese you should have a story ready to go ;) I'll be here in Japan until Monday, and I'm looking forward to getting back into a routine with my blogging. I'll plan on bringing you more of my trip in future posts, including that crazy little fish shop at the end of the video. Until then Jyaa mata ne! P.S. If you like a little bit of story telling you should pick up my newsletter, you'll also get a great free guide to manga. P.P.S. If you like to keep you story telling short follow me on Twitter @rainbowhill.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

SHIRO Cheers System

This really made me smile today so I thought I'd share it with you. It has so many elements that I love put together in a seriously lighthearted way. You'll notice the references to the Pythagoras Switch and other low tech devices that are all about sharing the love.

From the description on YouTube;
This is a promotion movie of a Shochu, "Shiro" by Takahashi shuzo.
When we say "Cheer!", the happiness is born between two people. And it spreads to others like a chain reaction and grows bigger and bigger. We hope the Japanese Shochu "SHIRO" can bring people bit closer and happy by making them "Cheers!".
If you feel like to say "Cheers!" with friends even a little after watching this movie, we are pleasure to hear so.
My time in Japan this year is about to come to an end, so let me propose a toast, to all the things you love about Japan. May your dreams be light and fluffy!

I'll be back very soon, with some more good stuff to share!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Great Flutterscape Experiment

From Nijigaoka With Love

Alright I'm going to be in Japan until mid July. I'm also going to have a lot more time on my hands. So while I'm not hooking into my manga and preparing for the JLPT, I'll be shopping for unusual and exciting products from Japan.

You can join in the fun also. Let me be your personal shopper for a month. If there is anything you thought you would like from Japan but never knew how to get then now is the time to ask. I've started up a Flutterscape account under the name nijigaoka (that's Japanese for @rainbowhill)

What is Flutterscape?


Flutterscape is a social shopping service that helps people outside of Japan get what they want from their own personal shopper. Plenty of you have wanted to know how to get authentic manga and other products from Japan, now is your chance to ask me to find it for you.

Here is how it works.

  1. Sign up for a Flutterscape account: You can use your Facebook login if you like. If you are anywhere other than Japan then you will be given a buyers account.
  2. Browse for goods: You can browse through the gallery of over 3000 items that people have posted for sale in nearly 20 categories. You can also find the newest, top favorited, most discussed or best seller items.
  3. Post a request: If you can't find what you are looking for make a request. You might have a request that know one else has thought of. There might be something special for an obscure hobby or interest you have.
  4. Make your purchase: At the bottom of each item on offer you'll find the big red "Oh, I want one!" button. The price is right next to the button in your currency, you can also view shipping fees before you add the items to your cart.


How does it get from Japan to your place?

When the transaction has been confirmed on Flutterscape, I pack the item for you and run down to the Post Office. The folks at Japan Post ship it to Flutterscape's logistics partner who then forward the package on to you.

Flutterscape aim to make shopping safe and fun, they take care of all the shipping and transaction processing so you don't need to worry about a thing.
"Unlike traditional marketplaces, FlutterScape brings sellers and buyers together in a fun, casual and collaborative way that allow sellers to share a real narrative of their product discoveries and buyers to expose to an adventure and obtain unique products from abroad."
I had a brief exchange with Takehiro Kakiyama (on Twitter @hirrro), Co-founder and CEO of Flutterscape just the other day and this is what he had to say;
"we want to focus on more social side which is to share your product discovery"
For me this works both ways, I get a chance to share the things I discover in Japan. You get the opportunity to shop for things that would normally be out of your reach.

P.S. If you are happy to buy stuff from friends on Facebook, I'll be posting this stuff there too. You'll also notice that the Flutterscape fan page is huge!

P.P.S. If all you need to know about a product can be summed up in 140 characters you can follow me on Twitter.

P.P.S. I've also set up a Tumblr From Nijigaoka With Love to give you a bit more background on each product, mixed up with other random stuff.

Thanks for following, I really mean that!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Top 10 Motivational Mistakes Every Japanese Learner Makes

To learn Japanese make sure your heart is in the right place first

Koichi wrote a great piece on finding your Flow in learning the other day. Flow is all about putting yourself in the place where the challenge meets and extends your abilities. Too much challenge and you can lose the motivation to continue. Not enough challenge and you easily risk losing interest. In this third post in the three part series "Top 10 Mistakes Every Japanese Learner Makes" we look more closely at motivation. You can catch the first and second posts here and here.

Harajuku graffiti
Harajuku graffiti

Choosing to learn a language is a challenge, but you wouldn't expect to master Japanese in a few days any more than you would expect to become a professional golfer overnight. Developing the stick-to-it-ive-ness required to learn Japanese involves being able to choose the right challenges and commit to making progress in small ways every day. Once you build up the momentum then everything else will flow.

Top 10 Motivational Mistakes Every Japanese Learner Makes

  1. Choosing the wrong goals: Why do you want to learn Japanese? To impress the girl in your Japanese class? To understand anime and gain credibility in geek forums on the internet? These goals won't provide you with any kind of enduring motivation in the long run. Winners motivation - performance - doing the next thing in front of you to the best of your ability.

  2. Being motivated by extrinsic factors: Closely related to the first mistake, this operates in the short term. If you are focused on competition and good grades, rather than self mastery then you risk discouraged when things don't go your way and the rewards are removed. Again focus on mastering the language and being in control of your own performance.

  3. Not balancing input with output: Too often we fall into patterns of over consumption, not only with food but also with information. When we never have the chance to become completely absorbed in something then we lose. Learning is about shifting our focus to creative output. Focus on production.

  4. Having too much garbage input: Not all information has the same quality. A lot of what determines the quality of information is how easily it is transformed by your understanding into knowledge. For this to happen you need to be active in your consumption of it.

  5. Not reflecting on what is being learned: It is said that Archimedes discoved the relationship between volume and density when he was filling his bath, and was so excited he ran through the streets naked. Newton aslo discovered gravity half asleep under an apple tree. To let your mind wander, you need to find a quite time and place with no distraction. The glass must be empty before it can be filled.

  6. Not putting it into practice: You may have heard of the 7 P's, in sport these are "Perfect Prior Practice Prevents Piss-Poor Performance". I wish I could attribute this quote to somebody because it is pure genius. Practice isn't just thinking about it, it's doing it, on a daily basis. Just going through the motions each day is not enough. You must be comitted to making your practice perfect so, that when the opportunity presents itself to perform, you are fully prepared.

  7. Not making time for learning: Make time now. The one thing that separates successful people from unsuccessful people is how they devote time to what is important. You decide wether language is important to you or not. Make sacrifices if you have to, but make the time. Can you harness the power of saying no today?

  8. Procrastinating: Do it now. There is not time like the present. You have heard these platitudes before, probably said you were going to do something about it too. What are you going to do about it now?

  9. Listening to the negative self-talk: Your mind is like a garden. You have flowers and tress that will bear succulent fruit. But only if you keep the pests and weeds out. Be the gardener of your your own mental orchard.

  10. Believing you will find a silver bullet: If what you are using hasn't worked thus far, may be you haven't given it enough time. Perhaps you are just inches from gold. There are no silver bullets, only hard work will pay off in the end.

It was a little tougher to follow on from the previous post, ironically because some of you found it inspirational. I'm glad you did. Now can you go out there and show someone else how it's done? Can you lead by example?

I'm off to Japan for four weeks rest and relaxation. I'll be able to give my family the attention they deserve 24/7. Beyond that posts to this blog may be a little more erratic, as I focus on immersion and one other project the subscribers to the newsletter would know about.

Follow me on Twitter for despatches from Summer in Japan. じゃあまたね!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Top 10 Conceptual Mistakes Japanese Learners Make

Getting your head straight to learn Japanese

Once you get over the initial hurdles of learning Japanese you might find yourself in a situation where flawed thinking sets you off on a tangent from your goals. Making sure you have your head screwed on straight is often more about what you choose to ignore rather than what you pay attention too. In this 2nd post of a 3 part series we take a look at erroneous thought.


Top 10 Conceptual Mistakes Japanese Learners Make

These 10 common mistakes could easily apply to any language or be extended to any field of learning. One of the joys of learning a language for yourself is that you are in fact learning how to learn. When you grasp that meta, then there is really no limit to what you can do.

  1. It's difficult to learn Japanese: Yes it is, but no more difficult than any other language. Nothing worthwhile doing is ever easy. Enjoy the process of learning, it's better than nothing. Lesson: Get started now.

  2. You have to find the best method and stick with it: There is no one method that is best. Everyone is different and as you progress some things will work for you better than others. Lesson: Find what works for you and experiment.

  3. You can do it by yourself: I don't know how truthfully I can say I am self taught. Sure I have done the hard yards in selecting the learning material and putting it into practice, but everyone who has cared to speak to me in Japanese has been my teacher. Language is about community, and as you become part of the Japanese speaking community you will find many teachers. Lesson: Keep an open mind because you can't learn in isolation from others.

  4. You know everything there is to know about Japanese: You might as well give up now! Go on, nothing I could say is going to change what you think. Lesson: Keep the beginner's mind.

  5. It is possible to learn Japanese without being interested in the culture: That's like saying it's possible to learn how to surf without getting wet. It doesn't work, and anything you do learn while distracted by this illusion will be a charade. Lesson: Adopt parts of the culture as your own, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

  6. That you won't change in other ways: Not every one becomes a yukata wearing, tea sipping, brush artist and archer, but to think that you won't be changed slightly by the experience of embracing another culture is naive. Sure you may not notice it now, but a couple of years from know you'll be slipping the odd えっと into your sentences. ("etto", is kind of like an English "um"). Lesson: Be open to change and personal growth.

  7. Someone will teach you: Are you waiting for the right teacher? If you don't take responsibility for your learning, no one else will. There is an old Buddhist saying that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. Are you ready, primed for learning? Lesson: Be receptive to learning first.

  8. You won't improve: Some times improvement happens more slowly than moss forming, sometimes it comes like a torrent from the skies. The idea is to vary your learning enough to unlock hidden areas of potential. We are all capable of learning a second language, just as we are capable of learning the first. Lesson: Notice the small improvements first, and improve upon them.

  9. You can learn Japanese through reading/watching/listening alone: Every one learns different ways, some by sight, some by sound, and others by movement. It isn't until you hear yourself speak, see yourself talk and feel your mouth make the movements that create speech that you are capable of closing that feedback loop. Lesson: Move into production as soon as humanly possible.

  10. It's enough to learn the spoken language without learning how to read and write: This is only half true. You're not getting the whole story. If you only believe half of what is read and even less of what is said, how can you come to "know" anything? Lesson: You already knew this, because you're reading my blog. Learn to read and you won't have to take my word for it.

I hope you enjoyed that minor rant from me. It wasn't directed at anyone in particular, except maybe the person who thinks none of it really applies to them.

You really have to own your thought patterns, be disciplined in your thinking if you ever want to improve and create. I welcome alternative viewpoints in the comments. Is there somewhere you screwed up along the way? Was there some failed way of thinking that set you back as a beginner? I'm sure someone reading this could benefit from you sharing.

In the next post in this 3 part series we tackle motivation head on.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Japan Foundation Under Attack Over New JLPT Format

Publishers drop reference to the JLPT from their products.

As you probably know from reading this blog, a big part of what I do is helping people prepare for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test through my lessons on eduFire and newsletter. You would also probably know that toward the end of last year The Japan Foundation released details of the new format JLPT to be held in 2010, minus the test content specification. At the time there was an uproar from bloggers and test hopefuls. Behind the scenes also publishers were scrambling to establish their relevancy in a rapidly changing test environment.

When Deer Attack, Miyajima, Japan
When Deer Attack, Miyajima, Japan 

As an affiliate of White Rabbit Press I was able to gain a small insight into this struggle from independent publisher Max Hodges, who was kind enough to share an email exchange he had with a representative of The Japan Foundation Center for Japanese-Language Testing. Here for your benefit I have redacted the conversation.

It starts with Max expressing his disappointment in October 2009 with the decision by the Japan Foundation not to publish the test content specification.
As a producer of Japanese language learning materials, we are very disappointed by the upcoming changes to the JLPT. In past years, a "test contents specification" was produced, which allowed educators and publishers to create content designed to prepare people for the JLPT. But since the Japan Foundation has now decided to keep the contents a secret, we can no longer say that our products "provide preparation for Level X of the JLPT" for example.
Books specifically targeting preparation for the JLPT are among the most popular books on White Rabbit Press and stores like the The Japan Shop. White Rabbit Press' Japanese Kanji Flashcards series is also the top-selling product of its kind in book stores across Japan and in markets like White Rabbit Press have now redesigned their Flashcard series removing any reference to the JLPT. Max explains;
The reason is because without a test-contents spec, we no longer have any confidence that our material provides appropriate preparation for any specific level of the JLPT.
Max also argues that without reference to the JLPT on his products and and similar materials from other publishers the Japan Foundation loses a valuable source of free advertising and good will.
I think it is a disservice to educators and publishers like me, who now lose the ability to confidently prepare people for the test, and it's a disservice to the students who will now have a harder time structuring and prioritizing their limited study time. Also, as I mentioned above, I think it will hurt the popularity of the JLPT itself.
In reply nearly 5 months later the Japan Foundation copied sections of the FAQ (QA8 and QA9) from New Japanese-Language Proficiency Test Guidebook: An Executive Summary.
The new JLPT is to measure communicative competence required to perform tasks. In the new test,“communicative competence” stands on both practical Japanese communicative competence AND knowledge of the Japanese language.
Though we don’t publish “Test Content Specifications”, we offer enough alternative information to prepare for the new JLPT. “New Japanese-Language Proficiency Test Sample Questions” has all the types of test items for all the levels. Even “Test Content Specifications”, past test items will still do as the former test levels (KYUUs) and the new levels correspond to each other.
Seeing both sides of the argument

I would argue that a paper test really doesn't offer any measure of communicative competence. I can clearly say that 4 out of 5 test levels bear some resemblance to former levels. Those of you that are preparing for the N3 have the difficult task of deciding what to study between the two extremes of the old levels 3 and 2. I don't believe the Japan Foundation offers enough information for people attempting this new level, nor any specific information about test content for other levels.

For me this seems counter-productive. I thought one of the main reasons for providing a new intermediate step between the old 3 and 2 was to bridge a very difficult gap for intermediate students. It certainly doesn't make things any easier for people who are considering moving on to more advanced levels of Japanese.

I can appreciate Max's position, having taken the decision to redesign his products without reference to the JLPT. I can also see that the Japan Foundation may have acted without any consideration of the impact it would have on publishers, and the good will that they had shown up to this point. What do you think? What impact on test popularity do you think this going to have if publishers no longer carry any reference to the JLPT on their products?

How does it affect your approach to test preparation?

As a test taker and educator, it has made things a little more difficult for me. I have decided to see the problem as an opportunity in disguise and apply some creativity to my approach. You can find out more about it in my newsletter.

Tell us what you think about the the lack of content specification in the comments. Perhaps you have a view that differs from mine. How have you found test preparation with out a test content specification?

If you'd like to ask the Japan Foundation about their decision to keep the test content specification secret their email address is

Top 10 Technical Mistakes Every Japanese Learner Makes

Getting off on the right foot when you start to learn Japanese.

To err is human. I've had a lot of people ask me recently about how to get started learning Japanese. And when you're a self paced learner getting the right kind of feedback about the mistakes you're making can be kind of difficult. There's no need to cut yourself if you're making any of these errors, even the most seasoned Japanese learner can lapse sometimes.

Chopping off my little finger
Chopping off my little finger

It's hard sometimes to see things with the beginner's mind, so I took the opportunity to ask some of my friends on Facebook and Twitter what they thought the ten biggest errors every beginner makes. I got such a good response, that pretty soon the list of 10 mistakes I had ballooned to over 30. Today I'll cover the top ten technical errors everyone makes, before moving on to the more cultural or conceptual in the next post and finishing off with something more motivational.

Top Ten Technical Mistakes Every Japanese Learner Makes:

The following 10 mistakes fall into the technical category because they are mostly concerned with what you say and how you say it when you speak Japanese. They are the type of mistakes that if captured early present no real difficulty to overcome, but it left alone they persist and make things much more difficult later on.

  1. Particles: The most common type of error you're likely to make when just starting out revolve around the correct use of particles. It's important to remember that there are no equivalents in English. Take the difference between は and が for instance, which are sometimes referred to topic and subject markers respectively. If you try to define 'subject', and compare that with 'topic' you've just hit the edge of a very slippery semantic slope. You're better off learning how they are used in the context of a Japanese sentence than applying rules from your first language that don't fit. Grab a good book, like Sue A. Kawashima's A Dictionary of Japanese Particles, or Koichi's Japanese Particles Cheatsheet.
  2. Word Order: Contrary to popular belief this does make a difference, if not to the meaning of your message, then the impact it has on the listener. It also goes hand in hand with particle use, you can't expect to manipulate word order with any skill if your particle use is inaccurate. Take the stock standard これは美味しいです (this is tasty!) compared with 美味しい!これは。。, forget the は which dangles tantalisingly on the end of the sentence and you risk sounding abrupt. Use any other particle and you end up confusing your dinner partner. Would you believe there are only 3 Japanese sentence types? Naoko Chino explains how to use them and their variations in A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Sentence Patterns. Tae Kim's Japanese Grammar Guide is another awesome free resource.
  3. Pronunciation: There aren't many sounds in Japanese that pose a problem to English speakers. The Japanese "R" is one, and つ (tsu) is another. The best way around these is to use appropriate model of a native speakers voice and to sound out each character as you learn hiragana and katakana. Other problems with pronunciation stem from the lengthening of certain vowel sounds and the sing-song rythm that results. Japanese conversationalists refer to 相槌 (あいづち) as the sound of a good conversation. We call them listener responses, but they are literally the sound of hammers meeting the anvil. Use's Hiragana and Katakana goals to hone your pronunciation, and then move on to sentence length models in the NHK Japanese Podcast.
  4. Intonation: English is characterised by a wide range of intonation which changes the meaning of certain utterances, even when they contain the same words. Japanese however is a pitch accented language where different words with the same morae (sound units) are identified by shifts in pitch. Take はし (bridge) and はし (chopsticks), for example. The mistake most beginners make is to vary pitch unnecessarily. Practice makes perfect, and in much the same way as pronunciation must be modelled on authentic sources, preferably longer than sentence length.
  5. Vocabulary: It's not just a matter of learning enough words, real word power comes from learning how to use words in the right way.You may have heard of core vocabulary, essentially in any language there are about 1500 words that make up 80% of the most commonly spoken words. Learn these words first, but also learn them in context. may give you a strong foundation, but it largely lacks context. Contextualise your vocabulary by delving into your interests.
  6. Politeness: Japanese is a highly contextual language, so how you speak and the words you choose depends very much on who you are speaking to. Good speakers are able to quickly make an assessment of their position in respect to the listener and choose the most appropriate level of politeness required.You can make yourself understood by selecting dictionary forms out a phrase book, but you won't endear yourself to people without an understanding of social heirachy and a good choice of words. Err on the side of caution and learn polite forms from the beginning.
  7. Talking too much: Japan is a society with values the harmony of the group over the needs of the individual. It is also a society with high power distance between individuals in any interaction based on heirachy. A westerner sensing silence in a meeting takes it as a bad sign and attempts to fill it with sweetners and small talk. The Japanese sees this as arrogance and an attempt to rush negotiation before a business relationship is established. The Japanese are much more comfortable with silence than you might expect. Silence can express more than words sometimes.
  8. Starting every sentence with 私は(watashi wa): Western culture is individualistic so we are always leading with what 'I believe' and responding to others with 'self' expression. Japanese culture seeks the harmony of of the group and talking about yourself too much is discouraged. Once you have opened conversation it is best to keep this to a minmum. Listening for what others are talking about, and add only when you have something valuable to add to the group topic.
  9. Hesitation devices: In Japanese hesitation devices are used both to prepare the listener for the next utterance and allow the speaker time to compose their thoughts. Without knowledge of these hesitation devices beginners often lengthen the sounds of the last word spoken unnaturally. Hesitation when used well can provide you with the time to get your sentences straight, while maintaning the interest of the listener. Watch some comedy (お笑い) where timing is everything.
  10. Using romaji: Romaji is not a logical stepping stone to reading hiragana and katakana. Romaji fell out of favour with educators about 20 years ago and it's rare to find book published recently that still uses it. Cut straight to authentic input with hiragana and katakana. Use mnemonics if you have to, whatever you do, commit the kana to memory now.
Now I can't even pretend to have all the answers here, and I'm sure that some of you might disagree with my choices here. If I'm leaving anything out please tell me. There'll be someone reading this for the first time and you just might be able to point them in the right direction. In the next post in this series we'll look at the conceptual errors every beginner makes, so don't go too far.

If you think I could describe these errors in less than 140 char, follow @rainbowhill

If you like this and give it the thumbs-up, join in the conversation on the Rainbowhill Language Lab Facebook Page.

Now for a little light relief. Pakkun Makkun demonstrate how important it is to be able to laugh at yourself as a beginner.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Learning Japanese Through Music

How Listening To Pop Music Can Save Your Japanese

A guest post by Lauren A.

One of the most effective ways of learning a language is listening to music in the language you are studying. It is not only fun, but sets up the correct atmosphere in which language acquisition can occur. If you engage in some of the techniques outlined in this article, you will find yourself learning lots of Japanese quickly.

Pop Music Saved My Life
Pop Music Saved My Life

People that study language acquisition agree that language is best acquired in the context of meaningful, real-life situations. Since song lyrics are usually written on a single theme, and written based on the events and emotions that are experienced in real life, learning through music provides an excellent opportunity for language acquisition to occur. Songs are not a made-up dialogue in a textbook created to teach you a specific grammar point, but rather individual emotional accounts of the human condition, available in a wide range of topics.

The language found in song lyrics is the real language used in everyday life, not the stale language taken out of a textbook designed for foreigners to learn. Idiomatic and slang expressions are frequently employed, along with plain and expressive forms. Learning through songs is not your basic これはペンです (this is a pen) language learning experience. This is the kind of language learning that one can hear in real conversations. Beware of using it in formal situations!

Emotional Involvement and Active Listening

The more you like a song, the higher the chance that you will acquire the language used within the song’s lyrics. When you become emotionally involved with a song, the task of figuring out what its lyrics mean and the grammar behind it becomes an exciting quest for meaning.
  • You listen to the song again and again creating the repetitive listening “input” required for language acquisition.
  • You sing along with the song, creating the speaking “output” required for language acquisition.
  • You learn new words by figuring out their meanings based on context.
You learn new words by figuring out their meanings based on context. Because it is so fun, your brain does all the hard work without you realizing that you are actually learning. In a short time, you are remembering and using the vocabulary and grammar infused within the songs you are “studying.”

Before now, you probably already knew that learning a language through listening to music was a great method. But how can you do so in the most effective ways possible? It’s possible to passively listen to music without thinking about it and acquire a language, but this takes a very long time to reap results. To achieve the most benefit, you must actively listen to a song’s lyrics, thinking about the words as they are being used in context, and in what manner they are being used. Here are some suggested activities for actively learning Japanese through music.

Eleven Essential Activities for Learning Japanese Through Music

  1. Choose a song to study: Choosing which song to study depends on what you would like to accomplish. You can choose a song that has meaning for you, such as your favorite song, the one from your favorite show, or the one that you heard while on the train to Tokyo. You can choose a song that has a particular educational goal, such as one with a particular verb tense you would like to practice, or one based on a specific theme in which you would like to increase your vocabulary. You can choose a song based on length and/or difficulty level, such as a short and easy children’s song or a more longer and difficult ballad or rap. Ultimately, however, it really does not matter which song you choose; you will acquire language no matter which one you study.

  2. Find the lyrics to the song: Search for the lyrics online, preferably in Kanji. Choosing a song whose lyrics have already been translated will be less challenging to study than one that has no translation available.

  3. Look over the song’s lyrics: After choosing a song to study, look over the lyrics and point out all the words you already know. This serves to reinforce the vocabulary you already have acquired and helps to seal the vocabulary you have up until now only partially acquired. Listen to the song a few times and list the words you recognize from listening to the song. Say the words out loud for speaking practice. Look at the grammar being used in the song. Point out to yourself the concepts you already know well, as well as the new ones that you have not seen before, and are curious about. See if you can figure out the meanings of unknown vocabulary and grammar based on their context within the song.

  4. Study the song’s lyrics: Look up all the words that you don’t know the meanings of with a dictionary. Identify the different grammar points by performing a search in books and online. If you are using a set of lyrics with a translation, use it to see if you are using the correct definition for a word or phrase. Identify idiomatic expressions and phrases that are not translated directly from one language to the other. Create a list of the new vocabulary and grammar learned from the song for referencing and studying later on. Do this with as much of the song or as little of the song as you feel driven to do.

    Rikaichan ( is a pop-up dictionary plug-in for Firefox that works really well for looking up song lyrics. You can hover your mouse over the Kanji, and the program identifies the definition, the part of speech, and which form is being used along with its plain form. You can also copy and paste the definitions that you find while searching.

  5. Study the meaning of the song’s lyrics: As you are looking up the words to the song, analyze the non-literal meaning of the lyrics. Observe the way the words are ordered in each sentence and how they are being used to convey their overall meaning. If you are using a set of lyrics with a translation, use it to compare how things are being said in Japanese versus how they are said in your language. Use more than one translation of the song to verify the meanings, and if you speak another language, it is helpful to look up the lyrics’ translation in that language too. Notice the cultural differences between how each language expresses different ideas.

  6. Learn to sing along with the song: Listen to the song while looking at the lyrics, and learn to sing it out loud. Singing is a form of “shadowing,” a process whereby you acquire language quickly by repeating what a native speaker says at the same velocity. Have the vocabulary and grammar list you created available for the words you need to learn nearby to look up when you forget what something means. Listen to the song over and over, until you eventually learn to sing the song without looking at the lyrics.

  7. Sing the song again and again: Speaking output and repetition are the keys to acquiring a language, so sing along to it whenever you can. Bring the song with you on your personal music player when you travel outside of the house, and rotate it in with all of your other favorite songs. Enjoy your newfound ability to sing along with many parts of the song. Do not expect to remember the entire song the first time you sing it without the lyrics. You will need to listen to it many more times before you learn the whole song. Actively try to remember the grammar and vocabulary you studied while singing the song’s lyrics.

  8. Study more: Realize that acquiring a language is a gradual process. Some words need to be heard and recognized in different contexts many times before they are acquired. Periodically go back to your list of vocabulary and grammar from the song and look it over. Put the words you want to remember in a spaced-repetition system like Anki ( or Make new sentences with the words and grammar from the song that you still need to learn, and have them checked by a native speaker on Use whatever study method works best for you in order to move things into your long-term memory.

  9. Study with friends: Since the goal of language is communication, studying language makes more sense when done socially. Study song lyrics together, sing karaoke together, and speak to each other using the new words. Attend classes online with others, such as the “Japanese Through Anime Music” class found at, where you can learn to sing a popular Anime song together with a wonderful group of Japanese-learners.

  10. Listen for newly acquired language in other places: When hearing Japanese outside of the song you studied, such as listening to other songs, watching TV programs, or hearing native speakers’ conversations, try to actively listen as much as possible. Bring the language you are hearing to a conscious level, where you are listening to the individual words being used, recognizing and figuring out their meanings, analyzing the grammar being used, and trying to understand their meanings on a holistic level. As you do this, you will start hearing the words you learned in the lyrics of the songs you have studied prior. When hearing specific expressions, you will most likely be able to remember exactly from which song you learned it, since the brain is designed to remember things it experiences relatively and emotionally.

  11. Be creative: Realize that this article’s proposed methods are only suggestions. Be creative in coming up with your own method for studying though music and you will be learning lots of Japanese in no time! A. is a formally trained language teacher with over two years teaching experience on eduFire. Her much loved classes, Japanese Through Anime Music : 皆さんの一番好きな音楽 are always well attended and free! Follow her on Twitter (@Vircocha1) or check out her profile on eduFire.

Do you listen to any Japanese music? Do you have any recommendations for good music to study with? I'd like to hear it! (ed)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What Are You Anyways? Exploring Multiracial Identity With Jeff Chiba Stearns

One man's story of growing up mixed-Japanese in rural Canada.

It's funny how you can think you know a lot about a subject then all of a sudden something pops into to view that makes you look at things in a completely different way. This is just how I felt when I stumbled across the work of Jeff Chiba Stearns, a Canadian animator using his inimitable talent to explore issues of culture and identity.

His short film Yellow Sticky Notes (2007) seen here, is a reflection of this tunnel vision. When you are slave to your own productivity devices, to-do lists and buckets you become oblvious to the bigger picture. Jeff's classically animated traditional film was hand drawn with black pen on over 2300 yellow sticky notes.

Yellow Sticky Notes is winner of 11 awards including the Prix du Public Labo at the 2009 Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, 2009 Best Animated Short at the Beloit and Victoria Int. Film Festivals, 2008 CAEAA for Best Animated Short Subject, Best Animated Short Film at the Calgary International Film Festival, and Golden Sheaf for Best Animation. The film also qualified for the 2009 Genie Awards under the category of Best Short Animation.

In his directors notes he gives us an insight into the painstaking process of combining fresh illustration and stream-of-conciousness with to-do lists he had compiled over 9 years of trying to get his animation career of the ground. Perhaps unwittingly during that time Jeff has also become a champion for multiracial issues, having lectured around the world on topics of identity, cultural awareness, filmmaking, and animation.

His short film What are you anyways?, winner of the 2006 ELAN for Best Animated Short Subject, expands upon the themes of growing up half Japanese, half Euro Mutt (his words) in rural Canada. As the father of two Hapa (mixed Japanese kids) I was encouraged by the sensitivity and courageous style Jeff employed in telling his story of growing up. When my kids are old enough to be conscious of their differences from other kids his film will be required viewing.

Jeff is now working on a feature length documentary called One Big Hapa Family, about children of mixed Japanese decent and the high Japanese-Canadian interracial marriage rate. On his mother's Japanese side of the family her six sisters married white men, much to his grandfather's chagrin. I expect bigs things from Jeff, and from the comments on his Facebook page I suspect so do his followers.

Do you belong to the One Big Hapa Family? How do you broach these topics of culture and and identity with your kids? Please watch some of Jeff's short films and share how you feel about them in the comments.


Thanks for following, I really appreciate your time here.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Japanese Language Coach Brett Fyfield, At Your Service

Why you should hire me as your Japanese Language Coach this Summer 

Are you looking for a Japanese course this Summer? Do you have real goals that you want to achieve with your Japanese? Do you want to make sure you are fully prepared for the JLPT well ahead of time? I'm just about to take time off from full time work for summer in Japan so this presents an unprecedented opportunity for you to accelerate your Japanese study.

"9-2-4-10-5-1" - Yokohama
"9-2-4-10-5-1" - Yokohama by Sushicam

How can I help you achieve your goals in Japanese?

I can offer you a fresh perspective on Japanese that will help you make changes which ultimately lead to more effective learning. After a few hours with me you'll have much better answers to the 'how' and the 'why' that most others take for granted. You'll be able to approach your own learning with much more flexibility and creativity.

Because the focus is on real communication with Japanese, you'll be able use the same innovative techniques to improve your ability outside of the classroom too. You'll break through those plateaus that have been holding you back from acheiving real fluency in Japanese. Before we look at the statistics you might want to know why you should learn Japanese from a non-native speaker.

Let's take a look at the statistics.

Some people like facts and figures when they're making a decision. It's not the only thing you need to think about when finding a Japanese language instructor, but helps to get some background.

In the 2 years I've been teaching Japanese, I have:
  • Completed over 60 hours of personalised one-on-one coaching in Japanese.
  • Completed over 300 hours of group sessions for Japanese students of all abilities.
  • Worked with over 65 full-fee-paying students to improve their Japanese.
  • Featured on the homepage of eduFire as a Rockstar teacher.
  • Had my class workbooks downloaded over 2000 times.
  • Been one of the "Top 5" ranked Japanese tutors on eduFire.

Don't take my word for it, hear what my students are saying.

About my Japanese Language Coaching:
Avatar_256x256_thumb_75"Brett is a great tutor who always comes up with new innovative ideas on how to teach Japanese in a fun, yet effective, way."
Philip Seyfi, New Media Designer and Developer

Björn A "Brett is an excellent teacher and he makes his lessons interesting every time. I've learned quite a bit in the few classes I have taken."
Björn A., Hopeful Exchange Student in Japan

Photo_4_thumb_75"He is flexible, engaging and expressive. He in just one lesson connected well with me and tried to understand what I wanted to accomplish. And we laughed a lot. Great tutor."
Allen Thomas, Interested in culture and communication

About my JLPT Prep Coaching:
"Good information so you can do your best on the test."
Rilitsa B.,
"Very nice teacher, and useful tips for the JLPT !"
Clear M.,
"Good tips on how to focus your study for any level of the JLPT. Lots of answers to general questions about the exam process."
Kara C., Japan Traveller

Elsewhere on the interwebs.

I've been in this J-blogger game for quite some time now, and I never tire of bringing you my unique perspective on Japanese culture. Here are some other places you can check before you make a decision.
I am offering two types of one-on-one Japanese coaching sessions.

1:1 Japanese Language Coaching

Tailored to your needs, these sessions to help you master conversational Japanese. Each session comes with a pre and post-task to help you incorporate sophisticated learning strategies into your daily study. Request a session via eduFire now or go direct with PayPal.

1:1 Japanese Language Coaching

1:1 JLPT Prep Coaching

I’ve spent a lot of time developing and applying the best study techniques for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. With a highly focused 1:1 session you’ll feel more organized and confident about facing the mountain of self directed study you need to do to succeed at the JLPT, no matter what your level. Request a session via eduFire now or go direct with PayPal.

1:1 JLPT Prep Coaching

A Note About Booking 1:1 Sessions: Please give yourself at least 24 hours to find a suitable time. Because of the time difference between where you are and where I am in Australia, I’m probably asleep when you decide to book. Chances are if you leave it too late I’ll miss your request. I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.

All 1:1 Sessions are $60 per hour, unless you're a subscriber to my Japanese Language and Culture Newsletter. We can do them via Skype or via eduFire, whatever you are more comfortable with. Calls can be recorded on request so you can listen later.

Subscribers to my Japanese Language and Culture Newsletter get discounts on 1:1 Japanese Coaching Sessions and special insider tips on passing the JLPT.

What's holding you back from reaching your goal of fluency in Japanese?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Free eBook: Learn to Read Manga with Rainbowhill

Would you like to learn how to read authentic Japanese manga?

I'm happy to say that my e-book, Learn to read manga with Rainbowhill is finally finished!

And yes this e-book is totally free. It's my way of saying thank you to all the people that have come along to the edufire classes I run.

If you have never come along you can get a better idea of how much fun we have when you sign up to receive your free copy. There are some extra bonuses in there including class slides and a link to a recorded session.

When you enter your email below you'll also get a subscription to the Rainbowhill Language Lab newsletter, where you will always hear first about new live video sessions on Japanese language and culture. There are even special discounts for one to one coaching in Japanese so sign up now!

Learn to read manga with Rainbowhill
Enter your name and email below to get Free Instant Access to the most comprehensive guide available on how to start reading manga today.

In addition, you'll receive a Rainbowmail, an irreverent and irregular newsletter about Japanese language and culture filled with tips that you can't find on the blog.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Review: White Rabbit Press Kanji Flashcards

How to Use Kanji Flashcards to Boost Your Japanese Vocabulary

No secret, you need to have a decent vocabulary if you want to be proficient in in Japanese. Despite all the hype about the latest iPhone apps and Spaced Repetition Systems, using Kanji Flashcards is still one of the best ways to memorise large amounts of vocabulary. I'll show you how.

Mr. & Mrs. PumpMr. & Mrs. Pump by David Clow - Maryland

The systematic use of Kanji Flashcards is based on the premise that repetition of word-item pairs at regular intervals improves memory retention. Sure, Spaced Repetition Systems like take the hard work out of organising your repetitions for you, but they shouldn't be the only tool you use.

I've recently been increasing my work-rate on because it's fast and progress is measured, yet I still carry my White Rabbit Press Kanji Flashcards with me everywhere I go. Let me explain why.

Like most 30 something city dwellers, I carry too many gadgets. There's my cell phone, my Nintendo DS, my mp3 player sometimes an extra camera or my notebook. Leaving the house without them has a liberating effect. When I am in study-mode I can't leave the house without my kanji cards.

Kanji Flashcards help you focus on the task at hand and unlike cell phones they won't interrupt you. They work even when you are out of a mobile service area.

How to make flashcards work for you.

Having a set of flashcards isn't going to give you jedi skills automatically, you have to put the cards in to use. Here some quick tips you can use right now.
  • Be consistent: Just as with any study technique to see results you need to be consistent over time. Regular use of Kanji Flashcards should be a part of your daily routine. Your daily routine needs to include a variety of study activities, like reading for pleasure. Carry your Kanji Flashcards with you everywhere you go, and pull them out in the in-between moments you create for yourself thoughout the day.
  • Manage your repetitions systematically: Spaced Repetition Systems work so well because they use an algorithm that schedules the repetition of learned material just when you might be about to forget it. The algorithms are constantly being refined, but they were first used over a hundred years ago by obscure European scientists. You don't need to be an eccentric genius however to implement your own system. I recently described how set up my own analogue Spaced Repetition System with a Leitner box.
  • Introduce new material gradually: To avoid burnout make sure you don't put too much pressure on yourself early on. Five new items a day is a good rule of thumb, you may want to increase this to ten or twelve once you have some momentum, but any more is counter productive.
  • Use a deck that suits your learning goals: The first 900 odd cards I used came from Tuttle, and they've been good for me, to a point. Looking more closely at them now I realise perhaps they weren't the best choice for my learning goals. I'll go into more detail in a moment.

The enemies of any study routine.

  • Apathy, and laziness: No matter what study tools you have at your disposal, they all amount to nothing if you don't use them to craft yourself a new language. Get to work!
  • Disorganisation: Don't know what to do next? Constant switching between study modes could be stopping you from developing the focus and discipline you need to master Japanese. Get a plan!
  • Bad habits: Get into the habit of success. Getting into good habits takes time, and it's not something that happens the moment you decide to change your behaviour. Along with your commitment to modifying your behaviour comes a constant effort to stay on track.
  • Interruption: Learn to identify the critical and eliminate the trivial. Easier said than done, but I'm becoming a master in the art of polite refusal and cultivating the "don't mess with me, I'm studying" mask.

In a nutshell.

To make your flashcards work for you, be disciplined and use a system for organising your repetitions. Carry them everywhere you go. Gradually increase the rate at which you are introducing new material.

How do the White Rabbit Press cards stack up against the others?

As I mentioned before I've known two sets of cards. My first two boxes were Tuttle Kanji Cards. Now I carry both and I'm happy to endorse White Rabbit Press Kanji Flashcards over Tuttle for a whole number of reasons.

The presentation and finish of the WRP Kanji Flashcards is excellent. The cards won't go yellow as quickly because of their varnished surface. This, and the rounded corners make it easier to hold them and flip between them. At first I was clumsy with them because of the landscape orientation but I'm steadily becoming accustomed to them.

Each card has six word/phrase items compared to the four on the Tuttle cards. Each item is complete as an example of usage, rather than an abstract pattern. The front of the cards have fewer distractions on them, as there are no references to common dictionaries or kanji grade on the front of the card. The are examples of look alike kanji, something that is important if you are studying for a test that contains lots of multiple choice questions with similar looking kanji (hint hint).

If you are studying Japanese over at textfugu, then you'll know how much of an emphasis Koichi puts on learning radicals. The White Rabbit Press Kanji Flash Cards clearly identify the radical on the face of the card. The focus is clearly on the structure and use of the kanji, not the clutter.

On the back of the cards each kun and on reading is written in kana, all the Japanese is in Japanese, which makes a lot more sense. Everyone knows that romaji is a crutch. This is by far and away the most important point for me in preparation for the JLPT this year. Reading Japanese on the front and the back of the card means that I don't have to make the cognitive leap from Japanese to English and and back again each time I flip the cards over. For this point alone you should buy the WRP Kanji Flashcards.

There are other benefits to these cards, including the extensive support and documentation available at the White Rabbit Press site.

Visit White Rabbit Press to get more to get more details, including information about which cards you'll need for the New JLPT.

My disclosure and a confession to make.

Joseph Tame from White Rabbit Press generously offered me Volume 3 of the Kanji Flashcards to test drive in January. I would have paid for them but they came just at the right time as I was at the point of making a decision to continue with the Tuttle cards I'd been using up until then. I'm glad I made the switch.

Joseph interviewed me a while ago on the Japan Podshow, long before he became involved with White Rabbit Press.

The biggest confession I have to make is that I've been sitting on these for so long. First, I wanted to consolidate my knowledge of the first 1000 kanji, which I did with the Tuttle Cards. Second, I didn't feel I could endorse them as well as I do know with out using them consistently for a few months. I've been meaning to review them for ages.

You'll notice that I'm rather particular about the things that I recommend on my blog, now just seems to be like the right time. I don't have the first two boxes, though I probably should put in an order just to round out my set.

Do you use Kanji Flashcards? Which ones? Do they work for you?

Thanks for making this blog such great place to learn about Japanese language and culture. Thank you for the 'like' on Facebook.

If you want to find out more about the cards from people that are using them check out the White Rabbit Press fan page on Facebook. They are also on Twitter too (@WhiteRabbitJpn).

White Rabbit Press Kanji Flashcards

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pros and Cons of Using a Japanese Electronic Dictionary

Are you still lugging dead tree bilingual dictionaries?

Nintendo DS Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten Jedi Skills for Japanese
I'm trying to carry less.

I used to think using a traditional paper dictionary had a lot more going for it than an electronic dictionary. I'm now starting to believe that electronic dictionaries may be more useful. There are still a lot of pitfalls if you are just starting to learn Japanese, so I'd like to outline some pros and cons to help you decide what might be best for you.