Japanese Advice

A typical denshijisho

A typical denshijisho

Now a third-year University student, I have been studying Japanese since I was in middle school with only a one-year break during my senior year of high school. While I do not pretend to be the perfect student, I feel that other Japanese language students could potentially learn from the numerous experiences I have attained over the years.. Here are three tips for all of you studying Japanese out there:

1. Buy a “Denshijisho” (electronic dictionary)

Despite having studied Japanese since middle school, I did not purchase an electronic Japanese-English dictionary until this year. Now, I could not imagine studying Japanese without it. Where before I would spend time searching through paper dictionaries or even looking up kanji in the thick Nelson dictionary I was required to purchase for my University, I can now just type in words to my denshijisho or draw kanji on its electronic pad. While I admire those who have mastered the use of the Nelson and other Japanese-English dictionaries, I much prefer the instant results I get from my denshijisho.

One downside of  denshijishos is their cost, and this is what kept me from buying one over the years. A new one runs from $200-$300, and they are constantly being updated with new dictionaries and features. I bought one from Sharp’s last generation for around $160 and it works just fine. After finally pulling the trigger on this expensive piece of equipment, I am only mad that I didn’t buy one earlier

Some of my friends have told me that they get the same or better capabilities as my denshijisho from cheap apps on their smartphones or ipads, and one even purchased a denshijisho game cartridge for his Nintendo DS. If you already possess a smartphone, ipad, or DS, these devices, you could save a lot of money by pursuing one of these options.

2. Make Kanji Flashcards/Use Anki

I used to study kanji in list form, with the characters, furigana, and English definitions arranged in rows. While I could quickly memorize a fair amount of kanji, I found that I was only memorizing them in a specific order, and I was unable to identify them when they were taken out of this list format. From that point on, I began making my own kanji flashcards. It takes a fair amount of time to make the cards themselves, but to me it has been worth it as I can study kanji anytime, anywhere, and I can easily review kanji i learned in the past.

Kanji flashcards

Kanji flashcards

Recently, electronic solutions have made studying kanji flashcards even easier. For one thing, you don’t have to spend all that time making the flashcards. More importantly, you don’t have to make the hairy decisions on whether you are ready to put a flashcard to in the “completed” pile and move on to new ones. Instead, you can just press a button ranging from “easy” to “difficult” and the program will decide when to show you that flashcard again.

The most popular flashcard app among my ryugakusei friends is Anki. Anki allows you to either choose your own flashcard lists or download other people’s lists from the internet. While I am still running through physical flashcards I created long ago, I intend to make the switch to Anki once I finish studying them.

3. Talk to Japanese People

Out of the exchange students I know who did not speak any Japanese prior to coming here, there is a clear-cut difference in skill between those who have sought out Japanese conversations and those who have been too nervous to try. I urge those who are coming here to take every opportunity to practice their spoken Japanese, as I find it to be both more fun and more instantly gratifying than classroom learning. It is not a replacement for studying, as casual conversation cannot teach you proper grammar or kanji, but what it can do is increase your vocabulary immensely as well as your speaking and listening skills. Plus, it is a great feeling to converse with Japanese friends in their native language!

Japanese People

Japanese people

I hope you find my tips helpful. Nihongo no benkyou wo Ganbare!


Japanese advice n°5 – Sound words

Sound words are a very characteristic feature of speaking Japanese. They’re classified in 擬音語 giongo and 擬態語 gitaigo. Giongo are onomatopoeic words, that is, words that imitate a sound, whereas gitaigo are words that give a sound to something that doesn’t actually make a sound. The difference is hard to explain, but it’s not really important to understand that well. However, you must know the meaning of many of these sound words since they’re used in daily conversation more often than one would expect.

So, here’s a list of some common and useful sound words! Good thing about sound words is that they usually have no kanji, so it’s easy to write them quickly (at least this is a good thing for me).

1. ぺらぺら – Fluent

英語がぺらぺらだね! You’re fluent in English!

2. ぺこぺこ – Hungry

おなかがぺこぺこ。 I’m starving

ぺこぺこ is supposed to be the sound of a growling, hungry stomach. Saying this is actually considered cute.

3. いらいら – Irritated

あんな人と話したら、いらいらする。 I get irritated when I talk to people like him/her.

4. どきどき – Excited

彼女に会うと、どきどきする! I get excited when I see her.

どきどき describes the sound of an accelerated heartbeat.

5. にこにこ – Smiling

I really wonder who came up with a sound for the act of smiling, but it’s just adorable.

6. キラキラ – Shining

It doesn’t sound very useful, but it’s used quite often.

7. べたべた、ぬるぬる、ねばねば - Sticky

30分で散歩してから、汗をかいてべたべたする。 After walking for 30 minutes I got sweaty and sticky.

The humid Japanese summer is a perfect time to put these words into use.

8. どんどん、だんだん – Gradually

どんどん英語になるはずだ。You are supposed to become better at Japanese gradually.

9. わくわく – Happily

Another cute one. Make sure to have some わくわく time while in Japan.

10. おろおろ – Nervous

I say this word quite often and always get some funny reactions. I wonder why.


All in all, there are so many giongo and gitaigo it’s difficult to come up with with a short list. However, try to use this one as an introduction only and then find more on your own.


Eduardo H.

Kanji Tips

Learning Japanese really isn’t that difficult. Hiragana and Katakana can be learned in a day, speaking comes from having Japanese friends… but then there’s kanji. Kanji is perhaps the (seemingly) most difficult aspect of the language. There are several ways of making Kanji-learning easier.

The traditional way of learning kanji—repeated writing until it is etched into your brain—is a simple, but boring and somewhat inefficient method of kanji memorization. This method is only really good in the beginning, when you are first learning how to properly write kanji, that is, where the strokes go, how to write quickly, etc. Most people will have to go through this initial phase since it is important to have a type of kanji-writing muscle memory.

Having learned the basics though, other methods may be introduced to complement your learning:  Kanji radicals (the building blocks of kanji) and mnemonics. Learning the radicals is very important; this way, even if you do not know the meaning of a kanji, you’ll still have a rough idea of it. For example, the kanji for “rest” is made of two radicals: person (亻) and tree (木). To remember it, we add a little bit of mnemonics: “The person resting by the tree (休).”

Whatever you do, don't get a kanji tattoo. Sporty Spice meant to write "Girl Power." Instead, the kanjis read more like "Woman Strong."

Whatever you do, don’t get a kanji tattoo. Sporty Spice meant to write “Girl Power.” Instead, the kanjis read more like “Woman Strong.”

Remembering the Japanese readings requires a bit more effort of course. Again, there is rote memorization. If you are in Japan, this will usually suffice since you’ll be seeing kanji just about everywhere—after all, the best way to learn how to read is to read. There are websites and apps for more systematic learning, of course.  Kanji Damage (“where you learn kanji with yo mama jokes”) is one the better ones: their way of learning the onyomi (Chinese reading) reading for 休 (kyuu) is this mnemonic sentence: “The CUTE (kyuu; キュウ) person rests against a tree.”

It will also help if you learn if in addition to the reading, you learn a few words associated with the kanji: know not just 休 but also its associated verb, 休む (yasumu: to rest).

As you may expect, motivation is very important. There aren’t any shortcuts; you’ll just have to study a little bit every day, but hopefully these simple tips will aid in the journey to kanji fluency.

Japanese advice n°3 – Be ready to be amused by waseieigo 和製英語!

Japanese advice n°3

Be ready to be amused by waseieigo 和製英語!

Waseieigo are terms that originated from English words, but English-speakers might not understand them because of different reasons. These words tend to differ too much from its original meaning, have a different connotation in Japanese or just be odd abbreviations. As an English-speaker, you gotta think about these words twice every time you hear as you might misunderstand what the other person is trying to say.

Let’s see some peculiar waseieigo terms!

マイブーム – My boom
This term refers to something that has caught our attention lately. For example, if you have recently become crazy about Korean Food and eat it very often, you can say マイブームは韓国料理だ!

バージンロード – Virgin road
This one is just hilarious! A “virgin road” is the carpet used in the aisle of a wedding ceremony, on which the bride will walk towards her broom in front of all the guests.

スマート – Smart?
A “smart” person is not someone who boasts a great intellect or cleverness, but someone who has a fit body. Pay a visit to Wendy’s in Japan to find the スマートバーガー (smart burger), a burger that has lower calories than the others!

リモコン - Remo Con
This abbreviation can be a bit hard to get, but it simply means remote controller. It comes from リモートコントローラー and many Japanese people may mistakenly use it when speaking English.

ガススタンド – Gas Stand
Gas station or Petrol station.

セクハラ – Sex Harra
This abbreviation means Sexual Harassment. I know it’s not a word most of us want to hear or use, but oh well…

トイレ – Toilet
“Toilet” in Japanese refers, most of the time, to the whole bathroom or restroom.

マイホーム – My home
This one is easy to understand. It merely means “my house”.

ホーム – Form?
Unlike the ホーム in マイホーム, this word comes from the “-form” in “platform”. It is used at every train station. E.g. “2番ホームに電車がまいります” A train is coming to platform 2.

アパート – Apart?
アパート means “apartment” and it comes from the first 2 syllables of this word “apart-”

マンション – Mansion?
A “mansion” in Japanese is not a big, wealthy house, but an apartment building that has bigger, nicer apartments, as opposed to アパート, which has smaller, not so fancy apartments.

And I could keep writing this list forever, but I will stop for now. Do you know any other funny waseieigo? Feel free to tell us about it on our Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/Ryugakuseitownpage