Communicating in Japan

Coming to Japan for the first time can be a thrilling and exciting journey; but, like any new experience it can present numerous new – and sometimes unexpected – challenges. Whether you have studied Japanese for years, in your home country, or you’ve only recently started, mastering communication will likely be one of your most difficult tasks. As with any language, Japanese has an almost limitless number of ways in which one can express him or herself, and considering the sheer number of words and phrases in Japanese, having gaps in one’s knowledge of vocabulary or phrases that pertain to new experiences can be common, making even something like ordering food, for the first time, a bit of a challenge.

Only eight months ago, having just arrived in Japan – despite studying at my university in the US for roughly three years – this was my experience. Being at an upper-intermediate/lower advanced level, I could easily hold conversation with friends and discuss what I needed to in my classes. Because of that, something as simple as ordering take-out, paying bills, or even going to the doctor’s seemed like an easy task – one that I didn’t need to think about or prepare for. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Like many students who are traveling abroad for their first time, I never actually learned the vocabulary that was necessary to deal with these everyday situations, and having a gap in knowledge of vocabulary, I found myself constantly needing to consult my dictionary and even rehearsing what I was going to say, in order to avoid the confusion and frustration that I was afraid would occur if I didn’t.

The first time I came to understand this was going to McDonald’s and having the sudden realization that I could talk about history, culture, or even basic psychology, but had no idea how to say that I wanted to order my meal as carry-out. Having just been asked “店内で召し上がりますか (Will you be dining in?)?” Being my first time ordering take-out in Japan, I had no idea what the common word for take-out was in Japanese, and being afraid that she would just assume that I didn’t actually know the language, I quickly blundered, “いいえ、外で食べます (No, I’ll be eating outside.).” Had it not been early September, this may have been sufficient; however, likely assuming I was planning on sitting at one of the tables which was out front of the store to enjoy my meal in the warm summer sun, she promptly grabbed a tray out for me and handed me my receipt. Noticing that she misunderstood what I was trying to say, I quickly apologized and explained that I was planning on eating at my dormitory. Thankfully, there was nobody waiting behind me, and listening patiently, she asked something along the lines of “あっ、持ち帰りですね (Ah, take-out, right?)?” and everything worked out pretty well. A bit embarrassed by the whole experience, however, I avoided going back for more than a month (which wasn’t difficult, considering how many amazing restaurants there are nearby).

Looking back, that was probably one of the most educational experiences I’ve had, since I began studying Japanese. It taught me that as important as it is to be able to engage in fun, interesting conversation with a wide variety of people, it’s also important to prepare yourself for the less frequent, but equally important interactions which will occur during your time in Japan. Whether it’s memorizing something as simple as the word 持ち帰りmochikaeri (take-out) or something more difficult, like 糖尿病tounyoubyou (diabetes), be sure to prepare for your trip abroad, by studying vocabulary related to things like paying bills, getting a cellphone contract, talking to the doctor about health problems or concerns, or even words that are necessary in case of a natural disaster. You might not use them very frequently, but they”ll be worth it, in the few cases where you’ll need to use them in daily life.

Daily practice is key, when learning a new language.

Daily practice is key, when learning a new language.

Most importantly, however, just be sure to have fun! Although there’s going to be a lot of things you don’t know, and there will be the occasional difficult moment, you’ll make great friends and create memories which will last you a life time!

"Friendship has no boarders."

“Friendship has no boarders.”



Job hunting in Japan (part II)

Hello! Last week I wrote about the basics of finding a job in Japan and this time I would like to tell you about this unique job-hunting system in the case of foreign students.

First of all, the general scheme is the same. Foreign students should start attending job fairs and similar events during their junior year and do their best to secure a job by the time they graduate.  Starting after graduation is not a good idea. However, since many Japanese companies have recently started to show interest in hiring グローバル人材 gurobaru jinzai “global capable people”, many recruiting companies decided to organize job fairs for foreign students only. This is a good thing for current and future foreign students in Japan since, according to many graduates from my university, as recent as 4 years ago these fairs were unheard of; nowadays they make it to the news because even the Japanese society seems to be amused by this trend. Especially since huge Japanese companies, such as Toyota, the Sumitomo group, Rakuten, Toshiba, NEC and others are joining as well as small companies. Also, recruit sites have started to write articles about job-hunting in Japan in many languages (usually Chiense, Korean and English) and made new sections in their websites made especially for non-Japanese students and companies interested in hiring them. The hunt for “global talent” is already on its way.

A very large job fair for international students only held last year

A very large job fair for international students only held last year

How different are these job fairs from the “standard” others? Besides the fact that companies that go there are willing and looking forward to meeting foreign students who have experienced and learned about Japan for a few years, the style is pretty much the same. Everyone is expected to wear black or navy blue suits, visit booths of the companies they are interested in, submit their “entry sheets” and bring many copies of their resumes (for foreign companies, it’s a good idea to bring resumes in English too) and by the end of the day, be ready to receive plenty of e-mails from companies informing them about their upcoming “informative sessions” 説明会、screening results, tests and interviews. Students must be ready to answer calls from these companies in Japanese.

Company booths, where human resources staff tell soon-to-graduate students about their business and more.

Company booths, where human resources staff tell soon-to-graduate students about their business and more.

From my experience, I can tell you that what concerns foreign students the most is, naturally, the required Japanese language ability. Luckily, most companies attending those job fairs make this requirement public in the job fair website or in the hand-outs given the day of the event. Some companies will ask for a very high proficiency, whereas many are fine with just conversational level. In a few cases, they only require willingness to study Japanese as long as you are fluent in the languages from the countries they are targeting! I saw some companies looking for Bengali, Thai, Burmese and other native speakers regardless of their Japanese language skills. In general, my advice is not to worry too much about this. They won’t expect you to use perfect grammar and sophisticated words when asking questions during their informative sessions or even their interview. What most of them will consider is your ability to fluently and effectively hold a conversation and make your point. Unfortunately, you cannot get away without an at least intermediate Japanese level and of course, the higher your level, the better since competition is getting harder and harder.

I will finish this article as I progress on my own job-hunting with details about job interviews and 内定、the famous “early job offers”.

Eduardo H.

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: Idioms

Oh Japanese idioms. One would think that these don’t make sense at all, but actually we have to keep in mind that idioms never make any literal sense in any language. For example, see this English idiom:

“Ed kicked the bucket.”


This isn’t exactly what I had in mind, but okay.
Now, take the following Japanese idioms:

尻に火がつく (shiri ni hi ga tsuku):


As you may have guessed, translated, it means “my butt is on fire.” What it really describes though, is the pressure you feel when something urgent is approaching, say a deadline for example: “So much pressure! Feels like my butt is on fire! I gotta finish this blog post before the deadline!“
腕に縒りをかける (ude ni yori wo kakeru):


A very painful-sounding idiom, it literally means “to twist one’s arm,” but it’s used in a similar to頑張る (ganbaru). It kind of means to put your best effort into something: “I will do my best at this just like professional wrestlers try their best to break people’s arm by twisting them.”
And finally, 腕が鳴る (ude ga naru):


Terry Crews making sounds and music with his biceps? Yes, the literal translation means “to make sounds through one’s arm.” But again, it means something totally different than its literal translation; it’s a bit difficult to explain, but it roughly means to be excited or hype about something you will do: “I am so hype about watching Terry Crews in the movie White Chicks tomorrow!”
Like most idioms, these three are seen most often in writing. Only 腕が鳴る though, is a common staple in anime as well:


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!

Welcome to the world of Ryugakusei!

What’s your image of Japan?

Souvenirs in Tokushima prefecture

I am sure that sushi, anime, manga, Jpop, kawaii culture, bustling metropolis, crowded trains and more will pop into many of your minds.

But, have you ever wondered what is it like to come to this country as a university student? Not everything here is as crazy as it looks or maybe it is?

Before we get started, a self-introduction is mandatory! Since Ryugakusei Town has more than one writer, we’ll introduce ourselves taking turns.

Eduardo H.

Outside Nagoya Castle.

Eduardo outside Nagoya Castle

Hello everyone! My name is Eduardo Higginson and I am one of the writers here at Ryugakusei Town. I am currently a university student. I am originally from Lima, Peru and I’ve been living in Japan for 3 years so far.

I am a bit of a foodie, a bit of an otaku and a bit of a traveler. I like talking about food, whether it is Japanese, Korean or Mexican! Also discuss weird news, kawaii culture, university life, drinking, game centers and more.

The first Japanese thing in my life was a Game Boy with a Super Mario Land and Pokemon games. I am still in love in Nintendo, but not as much as I used to be. I do hit the game centers often, though.

My favorite cities in Japan are Tokyo and Nagoya. Tokyo is just so vast, full of dining, entertainment, concerts, trains and so on I can’t get enough of it. Nagoya is also a big city, but has wider roads, delicious regional food and an amazing castle, to name a few.

As cliche as it might be, my favorite Japanese dish is the quintessential sushi! I go to sushi train restaurants (回転寿司) once a week on average!

Please, comment my posts anytime! Every kind of reaction would be appreciated. See you soon!