You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘learning japanese’ category.

Mako in Episode 23 of Kill la Kill gives a speech where she exclaims, “But I can’t be beaten here! I have to protect this ship!” The visual accompaniment actually consists of a rapid-fire sequence of puns, which I thought I’d break down here.

1) “But I can’t be beaten here!”

Koko de taoreru wake niwa ikanai mon!


Taoreru can mean ‘”to be defeated” but it’s also used when saying someone has fallen ill or worse. Mako is posed as if she were a corpse.



Wake is broken up into its syllables: wa (輪) means ring, hence the loop made with her fingers, ke (毛) means hair.


Niwa is represented by Mako dressed as two birds because niwa (二羽) is how you count two birds.


Ika means squid (烏賊), a familiar pun for all you Squid Girl fans.


Nai is used as a negative conjugation in Japanese verbs, so we get the familiar image of Mako shaking her head. Ikanai means cannot, but more in the sense of “I musn’t.”


Mon is a way to emphasize one’s emotional investment. Mako is posing in the shape of the kanji 門, pronounced mon, which means gate.

2) “I have to protect this ship!”

Kono fune mamorenai to


Kono means “this,” Mako is pointing down at “this.”


Fune means boat, Mako is in a sushi boat, simple enough.



Mamorenai to means “have to protect,” which is split up into mamore, “protect,” and nai to, which is also how you pronounce “knight” in Japanese.

Hope you learned something!

In an effort to try and finally plug up the gaping holes in my Japanese literacy, I bought JLPT1-level kanji flash cards, i.e. the ones that should put me at official Japanese literacy. I’d gotten a ton of mileage out of my JLPT2 cards, even passing the exam in the process, so I know they do the trick. Right now I’m prioritizing reading over writing, so issues of being able to recognize but not replicate aren’t quite as big a deal for me.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s difficult to just memorize a kanji flash card. The ones I use, from White Rabbit Press, have all sorts of useful details on them. They have pronunciations (even more obscure ones), they have multiple examples of usage, and of course a picture of the kanji itself. The potential trouble lies in the fact that, not only are there varying pronunciations depending on whether the characters are being used in compounds or along with hiragana, but in many cases words will have very abstract and sometimes even contradictory meanings just from centuries of history and its influence on the language. The kanji 唐 (pronounced “tou” and “kara”) originally referred to China’s Tang Dynasty, but it can even refer to China itself or Arabic or just mean “foreign” in general.

Reading the characters in isolation also only helps so much, as you mainly encounter them in compounds and in sentences. As a result, I find that it’s more important to introduce myself to the kanji just to get their images in my head, and then to read as much as I can (manga counts!) in order to just get accustomed to recognizing them in the middle of a sentence or on a sign. One problem, of course, is that my reading material and the kanji I’m studying are not part of a greater package so I can’t just study some words and then read the relevant article which tests those abilities.

This is actually why textbooks and workbooks and especially a solid curriculum in a structured class can be so helpful. It immediately sees if you actually know what you just learned. Alas, I have no such materials to work with, but for now I’m content with what I have. Even if I don’t end up absolutely mastering these kanji, I know I’ll at the very least be in a position to improve.

PS: I know Joyo is being replaced, I just forget what the new one is called.

JManga, a 100% legal digital manga distribution site, is an interesting phenomenon. Good intentions mixed with a hodgepodge of titles and a bizarre pricing structure, which I can basically describe as paying the site to give you an allowance, have made it questionable as to whether or not anyone should try it out. Ultimately I decided to subscribe myself (the $10/month deal), and there are two major reasons for my decision.

The first reason is that it is now available in Europe. Up to only a few months ago, JManga as a service was restricted to the US and Canada, and so I wouldn’t have been able to use it anyway. With their roll-out into Europe, however, I wanted to at the very least support that decision. Even if I don’t get terribly many manga on there, I wanted to encourage the idea that regional restrictions for books in digital form is nonsense. Though I know that I’m only one subscriber, I also want other similar services in the future to follow suit.

The second reason is that JManga actually has a feature that I have not seen on any other manga site, legitimate or otherwise. Sure, tons of scanlation sites exist and they provide easy access to thousands of titles, but JManga actually gives you the option to switch back and forth between Japanese and English. One click of a button and the page you’re on changes into the other language. For someone like me who wants to read more manga in Japanese but might have trouble with particularly difficult phrasings or unknown vocabulary, it’s a far simpler solution than constantly running to consult good ol’ Jim Breen. It’s even more convenient than owning the physical books in two languages in certain ways, though the load time between versions can be a bit long, and the interface itself still needs some work.

I’m well aware that this utility really only helps readers with strong (but not perfect) Japanese literacy skills, people who can read a manga in Japanese for the most part, people with a good grasp of kanji, who have a firm enough understanding of the grammatical structure of the language to know what specific part of the sentence in a potentially quite liberal translation corresponds to the original, and who can spot when a joke has been localized for the English version. For beginners, it may be too much of a chore to consult the Japanese versions, and for someone who’s fully fluent or even a native speaker, there’s simply no need to switch to English at all, unless perhaps that person wants to learn English. I happen to fall in that “sweet spot” though, and in that respect I’ve found it quite useful. If you do too, then maybe it’s something worth considering.

By the way, it seems like the most popular manga on JManga are yaoi titles, yuri titles, and Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru. Makes sense to me.

Recently I’ve been reading a Japanese book, Mangagaku Nyuumon, or Introduction to Manga Studies by Natsume Fusanosuke and Takeuchi Osamu. I won’t get into the details of what I’ve been learning from the book though, as the reason I’m mentioning this is that I find it to be a pretty good sign that my Japanese is getting better, at least in terms of literacy (speaking is another matter).

Prior to this, the only entirely Japanese book I’ve tried to read is the Genshiken novel, so my experience with non-manga texts is sparse and unreliable. This being an academic/informational text, I knew I was going to be in way over my head with a lot of kanji and terminology (and my Level 2 JLPT says I only know 1000 or so kanji out of the roughly 2000 that comprises official “literacy”), so I decided to just use a pencil to jot down on the pages themselves any words I didn’t know. If I already wrote down the meaning and pronunciation of a word previously but cannot remember it when the word appears again, then I write it down again. If I only know partial information, such as how a word is pronounced but not its meaning or vice versa, I only write down that which I do not know. If it’s a word I can only remember partially from having found its definition previously, then just the same I record only what I’ve forgotten. After that, I try and read through the whole chapter again, using my notes as reference.

The first chapter took me about 3 or 4 days to jot down all of the notes for untranslated words. Then it took me another day to read through it. Slowly but surely though, I found myself going through the chapters more quickly, and now I can “translate” and re-read through a chapter in less than a day, though it may take longer if there are more terms I don’t know. It feels good to see actual improvement in myself, and though I know that if you erased all of my notes I’d still be in a bit of trouble, I know that this progress I can take to the bank.

Let’s see if I can keep this up!

One of the most frustrating things in studying Japanese is coming across a kanji you swear you should know but still don’t.

Usually what will happen is that I’m reading something in Japanese, be it manga, article, essay, or book, and I’ll hit a particular word that I don’t know the meaning of, but still feel like I recognize it. Then it hits me that I’d seen this word previously, and I had been in almost the exact same situation, where I’d be looking at something and finding the kanji, this time determined to commit it to memory. Except I didn’t which is why I’m in that current situation in the first place. Ever break a promise to yourself and then forget that you did? It’s kind of like that, only I don’t ruin my friendship with me forever as a result.

A couple of recent examples include:

基礎 Kiso, meaning “basis.”

至る Itaru, meaning “to reach.”

Maybe if I just complain about Japanese enough, I’ll learn it.

Jokin aside, the real culprit is obviously under-use, and if only I’d keep up my studies more consistently this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. I’m reading quite a bit of Japanese lately so hopefully more of it will be able to stick, at least reading-wise. Spoken Japanese is another matter entirely, and I can feel myself not developing in that regard as much as I should (and possibly even regressing a good deal). I have to reassert my conviction to learn, as I have every reason to do so.

Chapter 63 of Genshiken II is day 1 of Comic Festival, and some of the very best Genshiken chapters have been in that venue. This time around is no exception, and in fact it’s one of the most densely packed chapters ever in the manga. There’s a lot to go through, so let’s do a quick run-down first.

After finishing the second half of her debut professional work, Ogiue pulls an all-nighter to crank out an additional cheaper-quality doujinshi to complement her collaborative effort with Yabusaki. Unable to make it to Comic Festival before the afternoon, she sends Sue in her place, who naturally torments Yabusaki and gets along well with Asada the cat-faced girl, whose first name we discover is “Naoko” (We also get verification on pronunciation of at least the first half of Ogiue’s pen name: Ogino). As Comic Festival begins, a line begins to form at their table due to the popularity of Ogiue’s published manga, which leaves Yabusaki flustered.

I’m not sure if this is Yabusaki’s ComiFest debut or not, but it is Hato’s first time attending. This being Day 1 (the girl-oriented day), he crossplays as Yamada from Kujibiki Unbalance in order to make it less awkward for him to purchase his desired yaoi doujinshi, and in doing so continues the club tradition of Kujian cosplay. Managing to fool men and women alike, Hato ends up facing a dilemma when he’s confronted with having to hold up a large sign for the men’s bathroom, a situation he tries to avoid but is naturally inevitable. While Sue attacks from a fortified position through her signature obscure references (Kyuukyoku Choujin R), Angela brings the gaijin assault head on; when she’s not teaming up for a startlingly apt Panty & Stocking cosplay with Ohno, she’s grabbing Hato’s chest to verify his gender.

Ogiue meanwhile finally leaves her apartment, but at the same time over at Tokyo Big Sight, Nakajima, Ogiue’s old “friend” from her traumatic junior high days, visits Yabusaki’s table expecting Ogiue to be there, wherein the chapter ends on this cliffhanger.

Phew! And again, there’s still two more days of ComiFest left.

The last time Nakajima visited, it conjured up bad memories for Ogiue, who was already dealing with the inner turmoil of shame over her attraction to Sasahara and her fear of hurting him as she did her old boyfriend Makita back in junior high. Since then, Ogiue has learned to accept herself, start dating again, and has even turned her passion for drawing into a career, but when you think about it, she has still never directly confronted Nakajima. Prior to Genshiken II, we could only speculate as to whether or not this would ever happen. Now, short of meeting Makita again, this might very well be the true bookend to Ogiue’s growth over the course of the series, a way to decide her destiny, if you will. All of this has me giddy with anticipation, because while Genshiken II has been delivering so far, all of the fun and games make it easy to forget that this series also handles the dramatic incredibly well.

That’s not to say that the comedy of Genshiken needs to take a hike, as the chapter was hilarious and informative all-around. Hato’s plight is not one I can say I’ve experienced, but I can really feel for the poor guy. It’s interesting to remember that Hato drew a distinction in his mind between cosplay and crossdressing, and also to kind of compare it with Ohno’s own views on cosplaying, particularly that it’s wholly different from dressing sexily. There’s quite a bit of commonality between the two in this respect. And speaking of cosplay, I can’t help but to compare Ohno’s taste in older men to Stocking’s overall poor taste in men, as some would argue that the former is a case of the latter. I’ve also always seen Angela as being more sexually active than the other characters in Genshiken, though obviously not to the extent that Panty does. And if that weren’t enough, Ohno once remarked that her chest is bigger than Angela’s, a situation mirrored somewhat with the Anarchy sisters they’re cosplaying.

The chapter also reveals quite a bit about Sue’s development, specifically in regards to her growing language skills. When Sue first appears, she speaks purely in anime and manga quotes. When she makes her second visit to Japan, she shows that her listening comprehension has grown dramatically. By the time she began studying abroad at Shiiou University, her vocabulary had expanded to the point that she could communicate without the use of otaku references. Now, Sue takes the next step.

It’s not evident in English versions of the Genshiken manga (or at all in any of the anime), but one of the features of Sue’s Japanese is that it’s written primarily in katakana to represent her foreign accent. In this chapter though, some of that katakana has begun turning into hiragana, the script used primarily for non-loan words, indicating that her Japanese is reaching an even greater point of fluency. Personally speaking, I made my greatest strides in my Japanese language skills while studying in Japan, and to see the same happening with Sue brings a smile to my face.

And you wouldn’t believe how glad I am that Kio’s finally told us how to pronounce at least some of Ogiue’s pen name. I’ve even made the appropriate correction to her Fujoshi File.

In any case, I’m probably more stoked for the next chapter of Genshiken II than I’ve ever been. Comic Festival, it always delivers.

Born and raised in the US, having studied in Japan about 5 years ago, and currently living in the Netherlands, I consider myself quite fortunate to have been on three different continents for long periods, enough to say that I wasn’t simply a tourist. The benefits have been many, but the one that is perhaps most important to me is that I’ve gained a bit of perspective on how things work differently from country to country. As an otaku, this of course applies to my pursuit of anime and manga as well, and so I want to just talk about my own firsthand experiences in this regard.

Before I go into detail though, I think it’s important to highlight a few points about myself:

First, my English is my native language, and I have studied Japanese for a number of years and am reasonably fluent in it. I cannot read any other languages to any decent extent, and I can only understand one other when spoken.

Second, my available “access points” varied from place to place, meaning television, internet, etc. Also, I was in Japan before streaming anime became a big deal, whereas currently I am living through the age of the official streaming simulcast alongside everyone else. Well, sort of, but I’ll get into that later.

United States

Now because I’m native to the United States, I’ve seen my fair share of how anime/manga and its surrounding fandom and industry have changed over time, but as I’m not looking to make this a history lesson I’m going to mainly focus on the state of obtaining anime from about 2005-2010. In that period, whether it was in college or back home, I had cable television and high-speed internet, as well as the fortune of living in a city with Japanese book stores (or at least a Japanese grocery when it came to college). I used the TV and internet to varying degrees to satiate my desire for anime, and as my Japanese improved I was encouraged to start buying manga in Japanese as they tended to be less expensive even with import mark-up, especially if they were used books.

Even ignoring the untranslated titles, anime and manga have been quite accessible, whether it’s through downloading, Cartoon Network’s (increasingly sparse) anime line-up, or just going to the Barnes & Noble to pick up a volume of something. Companies are currently trying to increase their internet presence, with more and more titles, including older ones that are no longer available otherwise, being streamed on sites such as Hulu and Crunchyroll. The genres available were and are surprisingly diverse, particularly when it comes to manga, though they don’t cover everything Japan has to offer, just because some things simply do not sell in the US (and some titles that were released certainly did not either).

It’s important to note that anime took quite a long time to get big, and it was only really with the advent of Pokemon that it became such a big deal. While it’s come quite a long way, it’s still considered quite a “niche” thing, and a lot of works which can survive in Japan based on overall higher readership there will most likely tank in the US. Anime as “anime” is still quite young compared to the rest of the world. Anime and manga are definitely accessible in the America, it just takes a bit of effort to really sink yourself in, and although it takes a while to feel the limitations in genre, you may eventually feel it. Also remember that the US is big, and that my experience can be quite different from someone living in, say, the Midwest.


In Japan I had television but no reliable internet, and while I hear that most otaku in Japan use a Tivo, I unfortunately did not own one, which meant that I had to follow the official schedule in order to keep up. While it could be trying at times, there was a certain thrill in planning my days around the TV broadcasts. The fact that Futari wa Pretty Cure Max Heart and Zoids: Genesis ran simultaneously on two different stations meant I had to choose, which is something that has never really been an issue with anime fandom in the US, at it was rare that two stations would be showing anime at the exact same time. I myself didn’t have to deal with this since the days when Pokemon would chase Digimon out of its time slots. If there was a show on late at night that I really wanted to catch, say, Glass Mask, I would go to sleep early so that I could wake up at 1 or 2am, watch it, and then go right back to sleep. I also remember getting home from a trip to Akihabara, pedaling hard as I could so that I wouldn’t miss the beginning of Gundam SEED Destiny. That also reminds me of when I had faith in Gundam SEED Destiny. Those were innocent times.

(By the way, I chose Pretty Cure).

Manga though, it’s hard to live in Japan and not see comics available for sale. In addition to larger bookstores and specialty shops, you could find the latest manga magazines in convenience stores, your Jumps and Sundays and such. While those stores didn’t carry everything, you could still find some surprising titles; it was through a convenience store that I found the Hulk Hogan manga. The ubiquity of manga was especially advantageous for just sheer exposure: by buying just a few magazines you could get a pretty wide range of works, from good to otherwise.

One unique advantage I had while in Japan was that I had access to the library of the school at which I was studying abroad, which meant access to their extensive collection of anime on DVD. Nowadays it’s not that hard to go online and find all these obscure titles, but back in 2005 this library’s DVD collection went well beyond what was fansubbed (and probably still does today), with series such as Zambot 3 and Tetsujin 28 in their entirety. I know I just picked two robot titles too, but trust me when I say there was more.

So when it came to anime or manga, despite my internet situation I probably had more titles available to me than I ever had before or since. The only trouble of course is that it’s all in Japanese, and while my Japanese is good I’m still not comfortable with it, let alone comfortable with it five or six years ago despite the rapid improvement that living in Japan itself caused. In any case, the main point to take away here is how easy it was to just be surrounded by the stuff.

The Netherlands

A few months ago, Irish anime podcaster Eeeper wrote this letter where he pointed out the difficulties in being a European anime fan, particularly in this current age where anime is officially streamed. Before I arrived in Europe, I could see his point and could agree, but it was only after I actually started living here that I could really feel it.

Having high-speed internet but no TV here, online is mainly how I watch things. When it comes to the streaming of anime, Europe seems to get left out pretty often. The entirety of Hulu is off-limits save for a single, terrible-looking show (not anime in case you’re wondering). Funimation’s video site automatically redirects to a generic company page. This is something I previously only really experienced when I couldn’t watch the official Japanese-only episodes of Bakemonogatari on their official site. It’s not all bad, as some shows on Crunchyroll work just fine. However, others do not, and you get these really odd situations, like how Naruto Shippuden is available for me to watch but the original Naruto is region-blocked. The fact that I just came from the US, where I recently watched all of Kekkaishi and Slayer Revolution (and Evolution-R) on Hulu, makes me very aware of this disparity. That said, internet here is quite fast and what I can watch I get in a flash.

Manga is a bit of a different situation. In terms of the internet, no official sites as far as I can tell have blocked their manga from European access. In terms of actual physical books, comic stores aren’t amazingly common in the Netherlands, but cities are generally small enough that you don’t need too many, and cities with more comic stores are only a short train ride away. Going to Amsterdam takes about half an hour, which is longer than it took me to get to Manhattan, and the selection of manga (as well as European comics) can be surprisingly extensive, usually taking the form of English-translated titles  imported from the US or Dutch-language books. One interesting thing to note is that some titles get translated into Dutch before they are translated in English, possibly owing to the fact that manga and anime have had a strong presence in Europe way before the “anime boom” ever hit the United States. In fact, a friend told me that Urasawa’s works were available in Dutch way before they were in US bookstores. It might also have to do with the proximity to Belgium, which has its own rich comics history and influences the regions around.

On that note, one big difference with the Netherlands and Europe more generally is that everything is more packed together. While traveling by train in Japan is somewhat comparable to doing so in the Netherlands, Japan is still an island, while going from where I live to Belgium, an entirely different country, is a mere 3-hour train ride. Europe also gets a good deal of titles that the US does not, but they’re mainly for people who speak French and alas neither I nor Eeeper (I assume) are capable of this feat.

Final Thoughts

So there’s a bit of my anime experience across three countries. I of course cannot speak for every anime fan who has lived in the countries I have, let alone the countries where I have never set foot, but I hope that this post helps to bring a bit of understanding to fans around the world, to see the varying circumstances that affect our fellow fans. If you want to chime in with your own experiences for any country/area that I did not cover, feel free.

When you learn Japanese, inevitably you have to hit the wall that is “kanji.” For an English speaker, having entire words comprised of one or two semi-complex symbols can be an unfamiliar and daunting prospect. On top of that, unlike Chinese, Japanese kanji have multiple pronunciations, depending on which words they’re being paired with or how they’re being used. English simply doesn’t do this.

But in time, as you familiarize yourself with kanji more and more, your mind starts to connect the words to the characters, and when you hear a new vocabulary word, your brain may start to try and figure out the kanji behind it. Kanji can hint at the meaning of a word, even if you’re not sure what it is. And even the vocabulary you’ve learned previously starts to look fresh and new, as you realize that they too have kanji behind them.

At this point, it’s time to play a fun new game: creating your own kanji compounds.

A kanji compound is any word consisting of multiple kanji. One that most people might know is 日本, or Japan, pronounced as “Nihon.” 読む, or “yomu,” to read, 書く, or “kaku,” to write, each have kanji in them. When you take the two kanji together, they become 読書, or “dokusho,” reading as a noun.

My favorite imaginary kanji compound is 光線欠, or “kousenketsu.” It means “lack of lasers.” Use it well in your daily Japanese studies. And then try it yourself! See what you come up with.

I’ve been studying Japanese for a number of years now, and often times I worry about my Japanese ability slipping. When it comes to language, it”s true what they say about using it or losing it, and as I do not have many opportunities to regularly converse in Japanese for extended periods, I think about the possibility that my Japanese is getting less potent.

But even as it risks fading into a less than satisfactory state, I am reminded that I have spent a lot of time and effort into learning Japanese. In fact, I have recently been using it to great effect in my jobs, and even if my capacity isn’t perfect, that I’m able to accomplish a task on account of my Japanese fluency is almost a reward in itself.

I also know that my usage of keigo is severely lacking, but I think they forgive me because I’m clearly not a native speaker. That’s one barrier I intend to pass someday.

If you’ve been paying attention to my Twitter, you’ll have noticed that I’ve been doing some vocabulary study over the past few days, and that I have been distinctly anime and geek-themed in constructing my example sentences. For example, yesterday I wrote that Jagi fomented Shin’s decision to take Yuria from Kenshiro.

Good laughs for all, this anime vocabulary buildup, except I am conscious of the fact that it is actually helping me to study. I think that says more about my mind and my anime obsession than anything else, and I worry a little about my future sanity.

I’ve used a similar method for memorizing other things, including rules of Japanese grammar as well as vocabulary, but when I try to explain these mnemonic devices and such to other people they just look at me blankly. “That doesn’t help!” they might say. In short, I’ve created a study system that works only for me because I’m a huge anime nerd.

You might be asking, “Why are you sending these sentences to Twitter?” And to that I say, I’m not entirely sure. It’s definitely not because I want it to be noticed however. I think I just concentrate and remember better when I feel like my example sentences have some kind of target or purpose, and sending them online into the great Twittering Beyond kind of accomplishes that.

Official sources for Genshiken Second Season




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,527 other followers

%d bloggers like this: