Bradcat’s Place Focus… Yuzu

The hunt for authentic Japanese food has been a long an arduous task, but someone’s got to do it, eh? So with each restaurant I visit, I weigh up a variety of key components including, taste (obviously), price, atmosphere, and authenticity. Of all the places I’ve been to, many restaurants will tick 70% of these boxes, until I found Yuzu in Manchester which blew my checklist off the table.

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You’ll find Yuzu in the middle of Chinatown in Manchester, with its traditional entrance and hiragana on the doorway「ゆず」 . I stumbled across the restaurant whilst visiting friends and using a quick search on Google, I found Yuzu at the top of the list with amazing reviews. Normally with restaurants with these levels of reviews you’d expect to pay through the nose, however Yuzu offers an amazing selection of Japanese food at affordable prices.

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The restaurant isn’t huge, but it offers seating in a bench style for people eating on their own or in pairs, and also a few larger tables (which I’m assuming can be moved around) to accommodate larger groups. I pushed my luck a little bit and tried to get a table by walking in on Valentines weekend. I think our timing was just right as they were able to fit three of us on a table in the corner, however looking around it seemed the smart thing to do was to make a reservation as all the other tables were taken.

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The waitress was very quick to seat us and take our drinks order and returned promptly. The usual Japanese beers were on offer, Asahi, Kirin Ichiban and Sapporo. However the Yuzu drinks menu is extensive and offers a wide selection of plum wines, spirits, and sake including the International Wine Challenge silver medal winner Ura Gasanryu Huka.

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As always, the common misconception with Japanese food is that it’s all seafood. Yuzu tries to break this stigma by serving up some fantastic traditional Japanese dishes. “But Sean, why don’t they serve Sushi if they’re a Japanese restaurant?!” I hear you cry. Well, Yuzu are so humble in their preparation methods, that they say sushi should be made only by sushi masters, which they are not. (I’m not being snide here, further down this article they say this themselves!) I couldn’t agree more. I’ve tasted some fantastic sushi during my time in Japan, only to come home and taste some utter garbage sushi which is dry and flavourless. Their menu more than makes up for not having sushi. They offer some amazing udon, sashimi don and tempura dishes, but I opted for the teisyoku tonkatsu 「とんかつ」set (pork cutlet) which comes with rice, miso soup and garnish.

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I don’t know if it’s because Yuzu source their ingredients from local suppliers, or they add some sort of magical seasoning to their food, but with one mouthful I was back in Osaka. The smell, the texture, everything was perfect. I tried to explain to my friends how incredible it was to find such delicious Japanese food, but they were too busy slurping their noodles.

I was able to have a quick interview with Yuzu restaurant, so that I could get a better understanding of their preparation methods and secrets behind their success. Here’s what they had to say…

– With Manchester having a lot of Japanese restaurants, what separates Yuzu from the rest?
“We make everything from scratch – gyoza, kara-age, yakitori, ebi-katsu e.t.c. I guess that very basic thing separates us from others.”

– Yuzu is listed as being “authentic Japanese” on many websites. What does an authentic Japanese restaurant mean to you?
“It kind of overlaps with the above question. What we offer is not ‘Pan-Asian’ where other Asian food are also sold as ‘Japanese’. What we offer is a traditional food that has been consumed by the people of Japan for many generations.”

– What would you say to consumers that believe the common misconception that Japanese food is all fish, and all sushi?
“The very reason we don’t do sushi is because in Japan, sushi is made by sushi meisters who trained as apprentices for ten years and finally become sushi maestros. And we don’t have those meisters. We are not going to pretend that we can make sushi because that would be an offence to the Japanese culture.”

– Your Twitter feed often has photographs posted of fresh ingredients. Do you think this gives you an edge over the local competition?
“Not really. It’s a word of mouth that brings new customers.”

– Also posted on your Twitter feed are a range of Japanese beers and sake. Are these available to customers? If so, how do you select the drinks to buy in?
“We select interesting looking, good quality sake from suppliers’ lists and sample them. If we like them, we put them on the menu. With beers, it’s quite limited in choices but we do stock Hitachino ale range now which are proving to be very popular.”

Thanks to all the staff at Yuzu for taking the time to answer my questions, and for serving up the most delicious Japanese meal I’ve had since returning from Japan.

ありがとうございました!

If you’d like to visit Yuzu, you can find their websites here:
Yuzu Official Website
Yuzu Facebook
Yuzu Twitter

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Bradcat’s Japanese Culture Focus… Japan Sweets Nom

A few months ago I posted an article on Tofu Cute, a UK based company which delivers Japanese sweets to your door. However they aren’t the only company in this market. Fairly new on the scene is a company called Japan Sweets Nom.

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The company came to fruition when the creators spend a month backpacking around Japan. Upon trying some of the kawaii sweets on offer, they found themselves unable to discard the beautiful and fun packaging. They realised that Japanese sweets had something special about them. As they state on their website, “Kawaii Candy” is somewhat of it’s own cuisine these days.

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The company has a comfortable presence on Twitter. While they may not be oozing followers, they take the time to respond to their customers, and even go out of their way to interact with customers that they follow (Myself included with a recent compliment on my Twitter header). From their responses, you get the impression that this isn’t some big, heartless, money grabbing corporation, but that it’s a handful of people trying to share delicious Japanese treats, at affordable prices in the UK.

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My personal favourite is Watapachi (わたパチ) which is a candy floss based sweet, with more consistency and popping candy thrown into the mix. It isn’t overly sticky, so you can hold it and tear pieces off in comfortable mouthfuls. Because of how light it is, you’ll find it dissolves in your mouth, leaving behind bursting grape flavour. Grape is a very popular flavour in Japan, you’ll find it in Hi-Chew sweets (also called Puccho which Japan Sweets Nom sell) and various drinks from vending machines.

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Speaking of vending machines, they also stock the drink which kept me energised for three weeks in Japan, BOSS Café au lait. You’ll find this inside almost all vending machines in Tokyo and Osaka, and best of all? It’s piping hot! Many people question why you’d bother getting a small can like this, rather than waiting to get home and making a brew there instead. But when you get the urge, and you need that caffeine fix, this hits the spot like you wouldn’t believe. Obviously if you purchase this from Japan Sweets Nom,  it’ll be cold. It can be enjoyed cold, but it can also easily be heated up. Boil a pan, take off the hob, drop the can into the boiling water for a minute or two, and hey presto, authentic vending machine Japanese coffee!

Japan Sweets Nom have a wide selection of sweets at great prices. There’s even a bargain section where you can pick up sweets for as little as 70p. Delivery costs depend on your location, but in the UK it’s £3.99. So make sure you pack your order with plenty of sweets!

You can find Japan Sweets Nom here: http://www.japansweetsnom.com

And also on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Japan_nom

 

Bradcat’s J-Music Focus… Dempagumi.inc (でんぱ組.inc)

Dempagumi.inc (でんぱ組.inc) are a Japanese pop idol group who formed in 2008 performing daily on Akihabara’s DearStage live bar. Dempagumi are; Nemu Yumemi, Ayane Fujisaki, Eimi Naruse, Risa Aizawa, Mirin Furukawa and Moga Mogami. They are currently signed to MEME TOKYO.

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Idol groups in Japan are huge, that’s obvious. There’s even a Wikipedia-esque website that has a full A-Z of every idol group in Japan. Many idol groups follow the same format and can often find it difficult to break away from the mould. However Dempagumi.inc have kicked up somewhat of a storm in the last two or three years. I think it can mainly be attributed to their attempts to appeal to the otaku crowd, with each member specialising in a particular otaku genre (they’re also colour coordinated for easy identification). They’ve all expressed in previous interviews about being shut-ins and that the music has been a way for them to break out of their shells. What better way to connect with the modern hikikomori generation?

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I first heard of Dempagumi.inc when browsing YouTube for cover versions of rock music, believe it or not. This was attributed to their *ahem* unique cover of Beastie Boys – Sabotage which Daniel Robson of “It Came From Japan” also mentions in his recent MTV article. Since 2008 the girls have gone on to become one of the biggest exports of Akihabara. Not to mention, a force to be reckoned with in the fashion world, with many of the members featuring on the front cover of magazines such as KERA. Let’s take a closer look at the members…

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相沢梨紗 Aizawa Risa (Leader)
Nickname: りさちー Risachi
Team Colour; White
Date of Birth: 1986年8月2日
Otaku Genre: 90’s anime songs
Trivia: She’s good at making sweets!

furukawa

古川未鈴 Furukawa Mirin
Nickname: みりんちゃん Mirinchan
Team Colour; Red
Date of Birth: 1987年9月19日
Otaku Genre: Video Games
Trivia: Originally a solo idol, and an avid gamer

nemu

夢眠ねむ Yumemi Nemu
Nickname: ねむきゅん Nemukyun
Team Colour; Mint Green
Date of Birth: 1988年7月14日
Otaku Genre: Fine Art
Trivia: Also DJs under “DJ Nemukyun” and models

naruseemi

成瀬瑛美 Naruse Eimi
Nickname: えいたそ Eitaso
Team Colour; Yellow
Date of Birth: 1988年2月16日
Otaku Genre: Anime and Manga
Trivia: She was previously in another idol group called “Mizutama Online”

moga

最上もが Mogami Moga
Nickname: もがたんぺ Mogatanpe
Team Colour; Purple
Date of Birth: 1989年2月25日
Otaku Genre: Online Games
Trivia: She’s good at Ikebana, and she won the “Next Gravure Queen Battle” in 2013

ayane
藤咲彩音 Fujisaki Ayane
Nickname: ピンキー!Pinky!
Team Colour; Blue
Date of Birth: 1996年2月25日
Otaku Genre: Cosplay
Trivia: She used to upload dancing videos to Niconico before joining Dempagumi.inc

You can find out more about Demagumi.inc via their:
Official Website
YouTube Channel
Twitter
Facebook

Bradcat’s Place Focus… Tofu Cute

One of the things I miss about Japan, is the ability to pop to the local konbini (コンビニ) after a long day exploring and grab a handful of snacks to take back to my hostel to see me through the night. Luckily upon my return to England I quickly discovered that all was not lost, as I could still get my hands on these delicious snacks. How? Enter “Tofu Cute”

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“Tofu Cute” is an online store which specialises in Japanese (and also Korea, Taiwan & Hong Kong) sweets and snacks. They also offer a range of cute (or Kawaii) accessories along with a host of other goodies.

I first used “Tofu Cute” long before I actually left for Japan, as a taster of what was to come. I went a little bit over the top, which is easily done as the prices are very reasonable, and ordered what can only be described as enough Japanese sweets to feed a small army. The web-store is easy to navigate, as I found myself adding pocky sticks after pocky sticks to my basket. They also accept all payment types through the website, including PayPal if you’re one of those sorts who doesn’t like to enter their credit card details into websites.

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Tofu Cute also make many appearances at conventions and exhibitions, including one I attended this weekend (Birmingham MCM) where once again, it’s very easy to get carried away. The helpful Tofu member of staff (whose name I didn’t catch, sorry!) handed me a small pink basket to put my items in, which lead to me stacking even more sweets in!

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If you can’t make it to one of the expos, don’t panic. Ordering from their website is just as fun. The best news is that standard UK delivery for orders under £20 are only £2.50, and orders £20 or more are free delivery!

You can check out Tofu Cute via their:

Official website
Facebook
Twitter

Bradcat’s Japanese Culture Focus… Julien Blanc is coming to Japan, let’s stop that happening

My blog has always been light hearted, so I apologise in advance that this may upset some of you. This week something was brought to my attention (via YouTube J-Vloggers, Victor: Gimmeaflakeman, Ben: Dochi Hoko, and Rachel: Rachel & Jun) which made me so sick to my stomach. An infamous “pick-up artist” named Julien Blanc is heading to Japan. I’m going to throw you all into the deep end with a quote from a, quite frankly, vile and pathetic excuse of a boy (I refuse to call him a man) before I go into depth on this topic…

Julien Blanc, misogynist extraordinaire

“When you go to Tokyo….if you’re a white male, you can do what you want. Just grab her, pull her in. She’ll giggle. Just say PIKACHU or POKEMON or something to take the pressure off. I’m romping through the streets (of Tokyo) just grabbing girls and it’s like (motions) head on dick (pfft) head on dick, yelling ‘PIKACHU’ with a Pikachu shirt on….Every foreigner who is white does this. When you see that one foreigner in the crowd in Tokyo and your eyes will lock and you know that he knows and he knows that and it’s this guilty look like you both fucked a hooker or something.” – Julien Blanc, Real Social Dynamics.

As you can see from the video for yourself, his methods include grabbing women and forcing their heads into his crotch. Towards the end of the video, he’s clearly seen harassing a retail clerk by wrapping his arm around her neck and pulling her over the counter. He’s taking advantage of his white privilege, playing ignorant to Japanese customs and furthermore, dehumanising Japanese women. (The video above was uploaded by “msdoom99” as to avoid giving this scumbag any “click$” on his YouTube videos.)

Firstly, the fact he’s labeled as a “pick-up artist” is disgusting. Straight away it signifies that we’re dealing with someone who doesn’t view women as people, but as objects for his own gratification and sexual amusement. In September he released a video titled “White male f-cks Asian women in Tokyo (and the beautiful methods to it),” which went viral. While Blanc (25) isn’t short of fans, however the backlash from the people disapproving of this video, far outweighed the supporters of these quite frankly, criminal acts.

We can see in the video clear examples of patriarchy, white imperialism, and sexual assault all rolled into one vile human being. Whats worse, is that there is an entire room of pathetic excuses for men hanging on his every word. I, for one, won’t stand for this. How dare he group us together with the statement Every foreigner who is white does this“?! So what can we do to stop this pathetic sociopath from entering Japan, and furthermore stop him from giving these sick lectures?

If you want more insight into the kind of person we’re talking about, check out this Tumblr link which shows his exploits on dating website/app “Tinder”

Thanks to Twitter activist Jennifer Li we now have a hashtag #TakeDownJulienBlanc which we can use to target venues, and cities in which he plans to host events.If you don’t think this will work, allow me to show you just THREE tweets I sent out this week to make the venues aware of what they were supporting. Firstly the Como hotel, who were then closely followed by the Marriott hotel, in shutting down the planned events. Also ticket distribution website Eventbrite were soon quick to remove the event from their website once discovering the true nature of the event…

 

 

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What can you do? Below is a list of simple things (taken from Anonymous) you can do to stop this company from poisoning the minds of broken men who believe the answer to happiness is their sexual gratification.

1.) Sign This Petition: Cancel Julien Blanc and RSD’s Seminars.: https://www.change.org/p/the-como-melbourne-hotel-cancel-julien-blanc-and-rsd-s-seminars-takedownjulienblanc

2.) Information on venues and action is due to change so keep up with the hashtag #TakeDownJulienBlanc on Twitter

3.) Twitter Report

Help ban Julien Blanc from twitter by posting the information below here: https://support.twitter.com/forms/abusiveuser

Account: @RSDJulien

Tweet: https://twitter.com/RSDJulien/status/529273058465296385 (if he deletes this tweet, select any of his others)

Report Script: This user is posting information on how to harass and abuse women sexually, in the tweet attached he is encouraging his followers to attend his seminars to gain knowledge on how to ‘harass’, ‘molest’, and ‘abuse’ women. This targeted abuse is not only sexist and violent, but also racist. I implore you to please shut down the @RSDJulien account to prevent further harm to any other individuals by this man’s twitter followers and actions.

4.) If you see any signs of him planning an event in your country, or city, please do your best to make your countries embassy and local venues aware.

We need to stop this guy from being able to hold these lectures and spread his vile messages. We need to stop him from not only entering Japan, but ANY country he tries to gain access to, as to stop the promotion of rape culture.

Bradcat’s Japanese Game Focus… Akiba’s Trip

There are plenty of Japanese games which fall into the stereotype of the “bizarre Japanese” realm. I’ve seen them all; button bashers to make a squid explode, fighting games involving school girl ninjas obsessed with their underwear, and life simulators which involve entering another dimension via a TV. Akiba’s Trip falls straight into the same category as all of these.

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Players assume the role of a young man who is lured into applying for a new job (the payment being rare figurines, as in every otaku’s fantasy) with a company which turns out to be ran by evil vampires AKA “Synthisters”. The player is then turned into a Synthister but saved by drinking the blood of a Synthister hunter named Shizuku, turning the player into a strange hybrid with the intent of saving Japan’s electric town of Akihabara. The player is then informed that these monsters can be defeated by stripping them of their clothes, exposing their bare skin to daylight, vanquishing them forever.

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Players are able to wander the streets of Akihabara, and partake in all the activities one might indulge themselves in, including; visiting maid cafés, buying figurines, trying on new clothes, eating in various restaurants, and loads more. The game has painstakingly recreated Akihabara on a street to street level. While some names of companies have changed for legal reasons, the logos remain the same and feel true to life. I felt incredibly nostalgic going to different areas I’ve been to in the real Akihabara…

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Left; Me in front of Akihabara station, Right; Nanashi stood in the same spot

Akiba’s Trip is by no means a perfect game. Many game review websites have criticised it for being a tasteless brawler. But you have to take the game with a pinch of salt. This is by no means a hardcore RPG with immersive battles, it’s a quick, fun, adventure game which offers a huge fan service for people that love the wacky side of Japanese culture. The combat feels very fluid (there’s the occasional annoying camera positioning) and over the top, with the ability to chain “strip combos” allowing the player to strip multiple enemies in quick succession. Players can customise their avatar in a range of outfits and accessories, and can upgrade them back at their secret base, giving the game a bit of variety.

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The audio is great as the passive sounds of Akihabara are captured brilliantly. The hustle and bustle of shoppers, and shop keepers shouting “いらっしゃいませ!” feels authentic. There are video billboards which display adverts for various products, shows and artists, one of which I actually watched in Akihabara known as the “Alice Project” which is a nice touch.

If you’re a fan of silliness, modern Japanese culture and want a bit of over the top fun, then this game is perfect for you. Just make sure no one is watching over your shoulder when you have it on, or they might wonder what the hell it is you’re playing…

Bradcat’s Personal Focus… How do I study Japanese?

The most frequent question I get asked when talking about Japanese culture is; Can you speak Japanese? To which I usually retort with “にほんごをすこしだけはなします”  (nihongo wo sukoshi dake hanashimasu) meaning “I only speak a little Japanese”. Having studied Japanese for almost two years, it’s clear to me that unfortunately there is no easy method to learning the language.

I used to watch Japanese movies, and listen to Japanese music and not understand anything that was said, but I wanted to know. So I wondered, how I would go about accomplishing this. Back in high school, I spoke French quite well, it was easy for me to pick up and understand in just a few months. Sadly, the Japanese language would not follow this path…

The first thing I did was the same thing anyone of the “Internet generation” does these days, and turned to Google-sensei. I scrolled through pages of websites to find topics including “How to learn Japanese quickly!” and “Speak Japanese fast!” Alas, these were all methods which gave the illusion of being “quick and easy” but soon unwound into incoherent useless “tips” such as: “Try watching anime without subtitles, some of it will stick!” Useless.

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I’d heard good things about Rosetta Stone software from people I knew that had studied languages such as French, Italian and German. Luckily there was a Japanese program available. For roughly a year I used Rosetta Stone as my primary learning tool, with podcasts and teaching CDs coming in a close second. The techniques used by Rosetta Stone are the same as when you studied a language back in high school. It shows a picture of the item, says the word in the language you’re learning, and asks for you to repeat. The voice recognition software is VERY forgiving, often it would totally ignore my gross misinterpretation of a word, giving me a nice big green tick. But this basic “drilling” technique is very effective, the phrases and words taught do actually stick with you. However, I’d say 50% of what does stick with you, is useless. For example; when will I ever need to say “This is a book!” or “This is a pen!”?

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This is when I realised I needed other options. I turned to the website “Japanesepod 101” which offers weekly podcasts, interactive online worksheets and forums of people ready to help (all for a cost of course). Depending on how intense you’d like to get into learning the language, they offer a number of packages, and regularly send out discount codes to new subscribers. There’s also an app to go with the website where you can organise your selected podcasts and organise your own learning planner. My only issue with this learning method, was that nothing would stick. My ability to recall anything taught in Japanesepod 101 was almost none existent. I understood what was being said, which is something to take away from this resource at least.

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After over a year of studying Japanese at this point, I felt I was ready to engage with actual Japanese people. There are a handful of websites available for this, my favourite being “My Language Exchange“. There are people out there who want to learn the language you’re speaking right now, but can’t afford a personal language tutor, or are just looking for someone to practice with. As with Japanesepod 101, there is a small fee to pay which allows the exchange of messages between members, but during that subscription period you can send unlimited messages. This is how I met about 70% of the Japanese friends I have now, and had people to meet up with when I finally visited Japan.

It was around this time that I realised perhaps it’s not the materials I’m using, but rather the way in which I was using them. I started to look at how to improve my memory, and also researched into learning techniques. My advice is for you to figure out what type of learner you are; Auditory, Visual, or Kinaesthetic. Then use the materials to their full effect. I’m a mixture of visual and kinaesthetic, so techniques such as spaced repetition work wonders for me. That is, practicing a topic, trying to recall it the following day, and then the following week, and so on. There are websites you can use to determine which type of leaner you are.

Coming back to the Japanese language, here are some short tips:

– Get stuck into written Japanese as soon as possible! Start with hiragana and katakana, don’t worry too much about kanji for now. Once you start to decipher your friend’s posts on Twitter, or signs you see in photos, you’ll get an awesome sense of accomplishment.

– Focus on Japanese that’s relevant to you. When I visited Japan, it was only then that I realised I’d wasted my time learning how to say things like “私は医者でわりません” (I am not a doctor) (Thanks Rosetta Stone) rather than learning numbers. Numbers are obviously everywhere, times, prices, addresses, and loads of other places, which makes them more important than describing someone’s profession.

– Study every day! The moment you fall behind by a day or two, is when you start to forget things you’ve learnt. Repetition is the key, and as exhausting as it might be initially, and you say to yourself “I’ve been studying this topic for days!” just keep at it. This way, you’ll be able to recall what you’ve learnt mainly because you’re sick of saying the same things repeatedly.

– If you have a smartphone, download and instal an international keyboard. iPhone users are lucky because under the “Keyboards” tab, there is a romaji and kana option. Use these whenever you can instead of resorting to Google Translate. Which brings me to my next tip…

– Don’t rely on Google Translate! It’s a great tool, but it’s a computer program. It doesn’t understand the complexities of language and grammar. There have been times I’ve dropped some Japanese text into it, and it comes back as total gibberish. It can be used as a dictionary (on occasion) but don’t rely on it.

– Listen to Japanese music, if you hear a word of phrase that you want to understand, look it up and the song will help you recall it. There are times when I can’t remember how to say something I want to say, then suddenly I remember a lyric from a song, and it comes back to me.

Hopefully this blog post has given you some idea where to start learning Japanese. If you have any of you own tips, or if you’ve found my suggestions helpful, please leave a message in the comments.