Thursday, February 25, 2010

5 Top Manga Reading Techniques

Enhance your enjoyment of reading manga 5 ways.

Thank you to everyone that came to the learn to read manga session I held recently on eduFire with Natuskigirl. It was a raging success. Many thanks also to readers that contributed to the development of the class through their comments and suggestions. I realise this blog has had a bit of manga mania over the last couple of weeks, things will return to normal soon I promise.

Before things do get back to normal I'd like to share with you the top 5 tips for enhancing your enjoyment of reading manga. These tips work just as well for reading things in Japanese other than manga, so please give them a shot. Let me know how well these techniques are working for you in the comments.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Learn to Read Manga with these 5 Essential Tools

5 Essential Tools for Learning to Read Manga

When I first wrote about learning Japanese through manga in April last year I included a list of tools that I used off-line. Since then I realise that even though I read manga off-line, many of the tools I use to augment my study of manga are online. Here I'd like to expand upon that list to include the online tools as well.

Reading Manga...
Reading Manga... by hawkexpress, on Flickr

Everyone has their own preferences of course, and there are probably tools you use that I haven't mentioned. If you think there is something that should be included please comment and let me know what you would recommend. I won't talk too much about how to incorporate these tools into a study session revolving around manga. I'd prefer to keep the techniques for another post where I can go into more detail.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How to Source Authentic Japanese Manga

Where to start your manga journey

The thousand mile journey starts with a single step. Even if you are just getting into manga through scanlations and anime through fansubs, it's a start. Beware though, if you really want to experience Japanese culture you'll have to experience it first hand and one of the best ways to do that is through reading.

super happy tentacle hentai
super happy tentacle hentai by mugley, on Flickr

Let's look at some ways to source authentic Japanese manga (on dead trees) and then, while you're waiting for your shipment to come through the snow, some online manga to keep you entertained.

Urban Myths to Reverse Chocolate Valentines

February 14th Link Post - Happy Valentines Day!

There must be something in the water that J-bloggers are drinking this week, and it's not Eromanga. Pink Tentacle offers up another Japanese urban myth that the small South Pacific island of Eromanga (Iromanga?) has sunk beneath the waves. While you and I both know Eromanga is a small town in South West Queensland, in fact the furthest town from any ocean.

One for all the music lovers, Yonasu shows us how to use the Japanese interface of iTunes, opening up functionality not normally seen in the US version. I'm not an iTunes user myself, but every time I mention iPhone apps for Japanese on Twitter my clicks go off the dial.

Kirk used his blog Jamaipanese to promote efforts to raise relief funds for Haiti through a moving music video "Rise Again". Kirk has donated money and a couple cases of water through the office where he works, good on you mate. Make sure you chip in this year to help make his savings targets for Operation Visit Japan.

Define expat. Define successful. Alex raises all sorts of interesting questions about what it means to be non-Japanese in Japan with his list of top 10 successful expats in Japan. At least it does show the changing face of Japan. To put a slight twist on it Curzon on the Mutant Frog Travelogue shows us some white faces with Japanese names. I'm not confused, I'm an Australian who speaks Japanese at home, in Oz.

Happy Valentines Day, I was looking forward to a home baked chocolate cake but my son likes apples so I got trumped. All's good though, there was absolutely no mention of reverse chocolate.

Thanks for following, I mean that!

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Manga That Altered My Perception of Japanese Culture

4 Top Manga Titles from my Bookshelf

Last week I blogged about 7 reasons you need to get some real Japanese input through reading manga. It was really good to see comments from people with their recommendations on which titles to read and how to source them. There is so much ground to cover, so much so that I'm not going to be able to answer all your questions in a single post. I will get around to them though.

"Tomodachi" in Paris!?
"Tomodachi" in Paris!? by Mayu ;P, on Flickr

Today I want to introduce you to four manga that have not only made me a better reader, but have influenced my understanding of Japanese culture.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

From Friendly Demons to Eromanga in South West Queensland

Sunday, February 7th Link Post

It might  have been fitting for the week of the Japanese festival setsubun that j-bloggers explored the demonisation of foreign populations. Deas posted a photo of a protest placard denouncing unwelcome American bases in Guam, Okinawa and Japan. It seems people have short memories. Japan was a brutal occupying force in Guam, not to mention Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula.

Japanese xenophobic policies persist even today, with Japanese born children of foriegn-born parents being expelled from the country. In an excellent guest post on LoneleePlanet Scott Jeppesen explored a time when the shoe was on the other foot for Japanese in Peru. Perhaps we should be welcoming our demons in!

On this blog I released the slides from my most recent eduFire class on how to ace the JLPT, while people were celebrating (or comisserating) their 2009 results on Twitter. Now it's time to get your read on, and learn how to put the fun back into your study. Self paced learning is the way to go, over the next few months you'll hear lots from me on putting your social network to work for you. Meanwhile pick up a few tips about quality items for your SRS from Liz.

The demon really is outside, and he’s huge!

You ought to be thinking about quality learning techniques, because as this post shows, you can never rely on machine translations. As they say, the only constant is change, what you learn today might be out of fashion in 10 or 20 years so please don't stop learning. It really would be tough to be dumped from your job in eikaiwa and forced to live in a blue tent, but maybe it's just that kind of immersion you really need to accelerate your Japanese.

At least you can read about it, and I'll be exploring these themes in the lead up to my learn to read manga class on edufire with natsukigirl. Don't get the wrong idea about eromanga though, Eromanga is really a town in South West Queensland. Follow me on twitter. Who knows, I may be able to trade my twitter follower count in for a discount on ramen next time I'm in Japan.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

7 Reasons You Need To Start Reading Manga Today

Put down that textbook now and get some real Japanese input

If you're reading this blog I think it's fair to say you are probably interested in learning Japanese. I would hope also that you want to know more about Japanese culture, because the two things really do go well together like rice and raw fish. I wonder though, how many of you are getting enough authentic input.

Tazer v.1
Tazer v.1 by KayVee.INC, on Flickr

Learning a language is all about devouring massive amounts of authentic Japanese, through books, websites, audio and video, and in conversation with people speaking Japanese. If you're not living in Japan, some of these things might be harder to do than others, but I imagine you are doing your best with what you have. That's OK, we can work with that.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Your Guide to The Ultimate Setsubun Party

Scattering Beans and Eating Ehomaki to See in Spring

The Japanese Festival of Setsubun celebrates the coming of spring. Each year about the 3rd or4th of February people gather to ward off evil spirits and invite good fortune into their lives. Like most festivals in Japan there is a fair amount of superstition and some ritual involved, but it's all good clean fun, especially for kids.

Day 034 / 七福恵方巻き食べた。 February 03 by [puamelia].
七福恵方巻き食べた。 by [puamelia]. 

The tradition of eating specially prepared rolled sushi (恵方まき | ehomaki) while facing in the new years lucky direction originated in Kansai. This year the direction to face is a little to the right of West, So'West. (2010年の恵方は「西南西」). It is customary to eat the whole roll in one go while making a wish.

The special ritual to ward off evil spirits is called mamemaki (豆まき | bean scattering) and is usually done by the toshiotoko (年男 | senior male) or the male who was born in the current chinese calendar year. Beans are thrown in the direction of a less fortunate member of the family wearing a demon mask.

Follow a few of these simple steps and you could have Setsubun party to remember for your household or your neighbourhood.

Preparing your bean scattering party

Make a demon mask: Oni-no-men (鬼の面 | Demon mask) are easy enough to make out of paper or card. If you're the creative type you can get a few good ideas from a Google image search for 鬼の面. You can you print out this paper craft oni-no-men on the Kids goo site to colour in later, or save time by doing it online. There's even a full craft set for setsubun with instructions. I'm going for a slightly scarier mask from Yamaha paper craft for all seasons.

Prepare ehomaki: Preparing sushi needn't be just for the foodies, and rolling it yourself always brings satisfaction, for me anyway. There are stores that prepare special once a year ehomaki, for which people queue for hours before dawn, but you don't need to go to any extremes. If you're game try this ehomaki recipe from cookpad, Japan's most popular recipe site. Or for a comprehensive look at tips and techniques for making maki sushi at home visit the Sushi Faq.

Throwing the party, eating sushi and scattering beans to see in Spring

Decide who your demon is going to be before things get underway, the element of surprise is most important if you're going to have the most fun. The party begins with the customary scoffing of the ehomaki. Stand facing a little to the right of West So'West, this year's lucky direction, to eat your sushi while making a wish. Make a big wish because it could take a while, it's important to finish the whole roll without stopping.

During the rest of your meal, which might be something as simple as sardines on rice, count enough roast soybeans for each year of your age plus one for good luck. The surplus beans are gathered up and placed in ceremonial cups (paper will do) in preparation for scattering. As you eat your beans take time out for reflection. Once you're done pick up your paper cups and head towards a door or open window to begin the bean scattering ceremony.

It is usually at this time that the demon appears and the chant rises up to cast out evil and bring in luck. Toss your beans at the demon while chanting "Oni wa soto, Fuku wa Uchi!" (鬼は外! 福は内! | Out with the Devil! In with good fortune!). In the Fukushima region family members yell "Oni no medama buttsubuse!" (鬼の目玉ぶっつぶせっ! | Demon's eyes, crush crush!). You may want to choose your own local version too!

Have you experienced Setsubun before? Do you plan to do anything this year? Post some photos of your favourite demon mask on the Rainbowhill Facebook Fan Page and join in the conversation.

Setsubun images courtesy of

Monday, February 01, 2010

How to Pass the New JLPT in 2010

The JLPT has a New Level but Test Taking Strategies Remain the Same

I've just run my second JLPT preparation course on eduFire. I thought I would share some of what we covered with you as it was the first session since December when new sample tests for the JLPT were released. Here are the slides, an explanation follows on below.

Even though the test has changed the things you have to do to pass it have stayed the same. If you plan on doing the test this year now is the best time to get started.

How the new JLPT compares

The old JLPT only had four levels, so there was a large jump in the amount of kanji and vocabulary you were expected to learn between levels 3 and 2. With the addition of a new level N3 in between the old 3 and 2 there is a smoother transition to the more advanced levels.

The decision by JEES not to publish a test content specification may seem to some like a spanner in the works, but with a few simple assumptions it is easy to see a way forward. Looking at the graph you can see that mid point for assumed kanji/vocabulary knowledge between N4 and N2 provides something to aim for. On closer inspection N3 matches the fourth grade of the kyōiku kanji, for which there are many resources available. N2 matches the full 1006 character kyōiku kanji and N1 the 1,945 character jōyō kanji.

There are lots of past tests for the old JLPT and none for the new N3 so this does pose a small challenge for people who fall some between the old 3 and 2 in finding appropriate practice material. A closer look at the Executive summary shows you that the kinds of questions you can expect and the time allotted to each section is similar to N4 and N5.

So although the test has changed the things you need to do to pass it remain the same: Do plenty of study, Do past tests and Be specific.

How to pass the new JLPT in 2010

The five steps to Ace the JLPT I've covered before, but here they are again in a nutshell.
  • Know yourself: To borrow a euphemism from cycling "racing is the best training". This is the priniciple of specificity as it applies to language study. Benchmark yourself now under test conditions and you'll have something to measure your progress against. So where to get the tests? Online you can get the sample tests at the JLPT site. You may want to purchase test booklets for N1/N2/N3 and N4/N5, which also come with a CD of the listening section and a courtesy translation of the executive summary from White Rabbit Press.

  • Know the terrain: Doing sample tests will give you a better idea of what to expect on test day. Checking the guidebook however will give you more than enough information to chart a course of study. Perhaps there is too much information. The most important things you need to know are the Composition of Test Items, Test sections and Test time. The missing pieces of the puzzle are your answers to the practice tests. Once you know these things you can start to tailor your study to be more effective.

  • Train your weaknesses: Small gains in your weak areas can result in big gains elsewhere when you do the hard yards. Doing a sample test will identify your weaknesses so you can target them with specific exercises. I listen to Japanese being spoken everyday, and past results tell me that listening is not going to let me down. It would be pointless to spend time listening to podcasts when I know that my reading comprehension has slipped.

  • Race your strengths: By doing practice tests you know where your strengths are. There is no point hammering out repetition after repetition in your favorite SRS if you know all the kanji for your level when your grammar is still broken. Do enough maintenance for your strengths but don't let them distract you from the much harder work of addressing your weaknesses. Use your strengths to power through plateaus, don't rest on your laurels.

  • Stay fresh: Many people burn out in the early stages of preparing for the JLPT because they don't have a plan and try to do too much too soon. Remember it's just a test and the ultimate aim is fluency in Japanese. Take time out to communicate in real Japanese, exchange tweets with friends on twitter. Log your progress on tumblr. Have someone correct your grammar on Lang8 or post an introduction to YouTube for the Japanese speaking community there.

The New JLPT Official Guidebook with Executive Summary and Sample Tests

White Rabbit Press (I'm an affiliate) have sample tests for N1/N2/N3 and N4/N5 of the New JLPT. The volumes include a CD and script for the listening section of each test. The Official Guidebooks and Executive Summary are written entirely in Japanese so White Rabbit Press provide a print out of the English version.
The sample tests are the same as the ones that are available on the official JLPT site, but the CDs can't be found anywhere else than with the Official Guidebooks.

If you found this post helpful sign up for the Rainbowhill Language Lab Newsletter to get the best tips for the JLPT. Subscribers also get discounts on private lessons in Japanese on eduFire.

5 Steps To  Ace The Japanese Language Proficiency Test At Any Level 5 Steps To Ace The Japanese Language Proficiency Test At Any Level is a Free Online Seminar at eduFire