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.

Bradcat’s Japanese Culture Focus… CC Lemon Advert

Japanese TV has always been famous for it’s bizarre advertisements. I recall seeing a YouTube “mashup” of Japanese McDonalds clips which gave me nightmares for about three weeks. More recently it seems marketing teams are trying to be more creative, and have been taking heavy inspiration from YouTube artists.

Some of you might’ve seen a popular first person video on social media last year. It was during the height of parkour and first-person-perspective videos and featured a man in a getaway scenario. CAUTION: Contains strong language and violence, click here to see that video.

Well Japanese soft drink company CC Lemon (a product of Suntory) have clearly took inspiration from this and other videos to create this awesome advert, in which two high school girls… well… see for yourself…

There are subtitles for most of the video, the main thing being said frequently is “ちょっと待って!” or simply just “待って!” which means “Wait a minute!” or “Wait!” However there’s a few other parts which aren’t explained.

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Makibishi @ 1:30 = 撒菱 These are a type of caltrop which were used by ninja in feudal Japan. They were used to slow down pursuers.

Maruta @ 1:44 = 丸太 This is the Japanese word for wood, or log.

Musasabi @ 2:11 = 鼯鼠 This is a Japanese flying squirrel 

Kemuridama @ 2:20 = 煙玉 is a smoke bomb! It’s quite popular in the anime Naruto.

Yamori @ 2:22 = ヤモリ The Japanese word for gecko, a type of lizard that is well known for its specialised toe pads that enable it to climb smooth and vertical surfaces.

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CC Lemon is known for its yellow branding, with some adverts featuring The Simpsons, or anime characters dressed in yellow outfits. It’s a refreshing drink which claims to hold the equivalent of 70 lemons worth of vitamin C in the average 500ml bottle.

I think I’ll just stick to my tea for now…

Bradcat’s Japanese Word of the Week…Setsu

Bradcat’s Japanese phrase/word of the week (今週の言葉) is “setsu” (せつ) (節) which means “Save” or “Economise”. This links with my previous blog post about the word mottainai (もったいない)

It can be combined with the word “yaku” (やく) which means approximate, or roughly.

Therefore “setsuyaku” (せつやく) (節約) is a way of describing cutting corners, or to economise. 

Bradcat’s Personal Focus… Getting Around Japan – Places

I think it’s safe to say, that any topic I post about visiting Japan will be heavily biased, because I’d like you to see it all. However, with such a big place, and the average holiday only lasting two weeks, I’m here to share some of the best places I visited during my time in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. This way, if you ever have the opportunity to visit Japan, you know these places are the best of the bunch (That I visited at least)


Khaosan Tokyo Ninja – Tokyo

Myself and Bob with the crazy staff of Tokyo Ninja

Khaosan Tokyo Ninja was by far, the best hostel we stayed in during our three weeks. They were incredibly helpful when our plans changed last minute when we needed to change a date of check out. While most hostels (and even some hotels) would find this a pain to arrange, these guys made sure we were looked after.

As you walk into the hostel you have to remove your shoes (as with all homes in Japan) and announce “TADAIMA!” (ただいま) (Not if it’s after 10pm though, as some people may be sleeping!) to which at least one member of staff will shout back “OKAERI!” (おかえり) The main desk is almost always manned except for early hours of the morning, so if you encounter any problems or need to request to borrow something (e.g. a towel, or washing powder) there is always someone there to help. There is also a suite of PCs that can be used at any time.

A spotless shared bathroom, four sinks and three showers
The entire hostel is exceptionally clean, as they offer an exchange of accommodation for cleaning. So they always have a team of five to six people on hand, to help tidy the place, which is great with the volume of travellers they have staying with them on a daily basis.

You can rent a number of items from reception, from the basics such as a towel, to the more advanced personal Wi-Fi hotspot, which is handy if you’re trying to navigate around Tokyo. The hostel is located just three minutes away from the JR Sobu line, so you’ll find yourself being able to access most of the big areas of Tokyo with ease.

The main team of Mi-ne, Erina, Hiroko, Rico, and Yutaka are genuinely interested in hearing about your exploits while in Japan. Each morning we were asked what we were doing that day, and on our return we’d bring them a small omiyage to which they were incredibly grateful. They showed us fantastic hospitality (Omotenashi) (おもてなし) for which we were insistent on returning the favour if any of them ever visit England (Which Yutaka will be in August, so let’s make him feel welcome!)
2-5-1 Nihombashi Bakurocho,

Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Fuji Ramen – ラーメン藤 – Kyoto

Fuji Ramen is located in Kyoto on Gojo Dori. It’s a fairly small shop so it’s easily missed, however that doesn’t mean it’s not popular. Depending on the time of day, it’ll be either very quiet, or at capacity. It’s fantastic value for money because the chef is very generous with the portions. Speaking of which, the owners were very friendly and welcoming to gaijin (we were complimented on our Japanese speaking a few times)

I foolishly had eyes bigger than my stomach and ordered a large pork ramen and chicken karaage, which I couldn’t finish. It was easily one of the biggest meals I ate while in Japan! If you’re in Kyoto, be sure to visit this place.

ラーメン藤 (Fuji Ramen)
15-1 Gojobashihigashi 2-chome
Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0846
Website: Fuji Ramen

Chitose – ちとせ – Osaka

The award for the tastiest meal I ate in Japan, goes to Chitose restaurant in Osaka. The chef here serves some world class Okonomiyaki, as many Japanese celebrities have visited here over the years and signed his wall leaving messages of praise.

For those who are unfamiliar with Okonomiyaki, try to imagine all your favourite meat, and noodles, sandwiched between two giant omelettes, and topped with delicious sauces and seasoning. Also, leave those chopsticks at home, true Okonomiyaki is eaten straight from the hotplate using a small spatular and shovelled straight into your mouth.

Adding the seasoning…

Myself with the number one Osaka Okonomiyaki chef (spatular in hand of course)

I’m unsure if it’s just my Western expectation of portion sizes, but the chefs in Japan seem to be very generous for what you pay. This incredible meal set me back ¥750 which is roughly £4, and I’m not even exaggerating when I say it was one of the best meals I ate. Bob will back me up on this one, as he isn’t a fan of food with eggs, but he adored this meal.

The chef was very welcoming and spoke English very well, which is a sign he is accustomed to gaijins visiting him on a regular basis. The restaurant also has it’s regulars who will happily sit next to you and drink a beer. We encountered an elderly lady during our visit who announced herself as “Grandma” or “Obaasan” (お婆さん) and gave us some sweets, explaining that Grandmothers in Japan ALWAYS carry sweets.

The atmosphere was fantastic, using my broken Japanese I was able to ask if April was a busy time of year for him, with Sakura in full blossom and many people coming to see it. He laughed and said “Every time is busy for me!”

You may have a hard time finding this restaurant as it’s tucked down a few side alleys, however if you’re in Osaka, please take the time to find it!

ちとせ (Chitose)
Osaka City Nishinari Taishi 1-11-10
Website: Chitose

Rock Bar Cherry Bomb – Osaka

We had an awesome time in Osaka during the evening, many bars are open quite late including this gem which our friend Hana took us to; “Cherry Bomb”. It’s an American themed bar located on the fifth floor of a building just off of Europa Dori. It’s fairly small, it’s cozy, and most importantly, it’s awesome. Jesse and Monica, who are from California, set up this bar a few years ago, and it’s been going from strength to strength since with events like “Taco Tuesday” and “Fryday Fry Up” attracting lots of customers from around the world.

Because of it’s warm and friendly atmosphere, you’ll likely find yourself talking to a total stranger as though they’re your best friend. It’s like something ripped straight from the sitcom “Cheers”. You’ll find a mash of cultures in this bar, with Japanese people who want a taste of the American style bar, while at the same time, some Americans go here to feel at home. It’s a culture swap paradise, so there’s always someone to talk to.

Jesse and Monica

It might seem odd to some people to visit an American style bar when visiting Japan, however sometimes you just need a few hours break from the chaos of Osaka. The guys behind the bar are always asking if you’d like more drinks, so your glass is never empty. Because this bar is cash only, they will let you set up a tab and just pay at the end of your evening… providing you can still stand after all those White Russians…

Rock Bar Cherry Bomb
Chuo Ku Higashishinsaibashi 2-4-8 5f
Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0083
Facebook: Rock Bar Cherry Bomb

King Emon – きんぐえもん (金久右衛門 阿倍野ルシアス店)

We visited this ramen shop twice during our stay in Osaka, both times we received a friendly welcome and excellent service. This is actually a part of a small chain of restaurants dotted around Osaka. Like most ramen restaurants you order your type of noodle, broth, and meat, however from there, you can pay a little extra for your extras. I opted for more pork, and the serving was quite substantial, not to mention delicious. The pork was very soft, so you could easily separate the larger pieces with your chopsticks with ease.

The member of staff on “pot wash” was sporting a Steins;Gate t-shirt!
The staff speak a little bit of English, and also understand my terrible Japanese, so you shouldn’t have a problem communicating. We caught the attention of the one member of staff when we mentioned popular anime Steins;Gate (click for my blog post on this anime) and I flashed my personalised business card featuring the logo from the opening credits.

The restaurant is fairly small, but not cramped, though during busy times, don’t be surprised if you can’t sit next to your friend. Due to where we sat (right in the middle of the bench) a small group of high school boys played a game of janken (じゃん拳) to determine who would sit next to their friends and who would sit next to the gaijins due to the lack of seats, quite amusing.

Look at that bowl of golden deliciousness

The food is really good value for money too, with two big bowls of ramen with extra pork setting us back only ¥1,800 which is roughly £10. As I already mentioned, the pork is delicious, and the broth is nice enough to drink at the end without being too sickly. 

1-5-1 Abenosuji, Abeno Ward, 
Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 545-0052
Website: King Emon

So there you have it, just a small selection of my favourite places I visited during my three week stay in Japan. If you’ve visited Japan and would like to share your favourite place, please leave a comment below. Have you visited one of these places? If so, please share your experience!

Bradcat’s Japanese Word of the Week… Yōkoso

Bradcat’s Japanese phrase/word of the week is “yōkoso” (ようこそ) which means “Welcome!”

This is obviously used as a greeting. Let’s say for example you’re in the middle of a Japanese zombie apocalypse and you’ve taken a handful of survivors into your safe house. You could simply say “Yokoso!” as you let them in.

A safe house from Left 4 Dead

You’ve no doubt seen a similar phrase used in countless anime shows featuring maids, or even in real life maid cafés in Japan. This phrase is “okaerinasai goshujin sama” (お帰りなさいませ、ご主人様) and literally translates as “Welcome home master!”

totemo kawaii deshou?

Thanks to Bob Jones for today’s Japanese word. If you have a favourite word you’d like to see featured, please let me know in the comments!

Bradcat’s Japanese Word of the Week… Arigatou

Bradcat’s Japanese phrase/word of the week is “Arigatou” (ありがとう) which means “Thank you”

You’ve probably heard this phrase a million times in TV shows, movies, and songs. 
However most people pronounce it incorrectly. Similar to “Konnichiwa” where the emphasis is on the “N” being held which a lot of people miss, with “Arigatou” the focus is on the “R” which is more of a soft “L” sound. Try touching the roof of your mouth ever so slightly as you pronounce the “R” to make it sound a lot more natural.

There are also words you can add to change the meaning of the “thank you”:

Domo arigato (どうもありがとう) Thanks a lot.

Arigatou gozaimashita (ありがとうございました) To say thanks for something that’s been done for you.

Arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます。) A very formal way of saying thank you.

So let’s say for example you’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in Japan, and someone smashes a zombie’s head, just as it was about to take a bite out of your arm. You could turn round and say…

“Sore o koroshite kurete arigatou gozaimashita” which means “Thank you for killing it!”

Bradcat’s Guest Feature – Graphic Designer – Thom Baker

As a new feature on Bradcat’s Baka Blog, I’ll be taking the time to hunt people down who have experienced Japan first hand, from people who have visited, to people that live there. Hopefully this will give me an insight into how people view culture. My first guest is Thom Baker…

Tell us about yourself, who are you, and what do you do?

Hi, my name is Thom Baker, I am an independent graphic designer specialising in branding and typography.

Why did you visit Japan?

I was offered the opportunity to go to Tokyo with Staffordshire University on a cultural visit, which was great! I’ve always had an interest in the visual culture of the Far East, Japan especially – from the calligraphy and landscape paintings and Hokusai woodcuts to the manga, anime and modern graphic design. There’s this aesthetic prowess from Japan that I don’t think you find anywhere else.

How long did you spend there?

Just under a week with traveling. Actual time travel going on there, got in the plane Friday, got out on Sunday after traveling for 12 hours and then got back a couple of hours after we left (I may have exaggerated this slightly).

During your time, what was one thing which stood out the most to you?

The contrasts, between the very old and traditional and the very modern and mad. Near Harajuku one side of the street was crazy, neon lights, big screens cute characters and loads of people and colour. The other side was a massive park with a Shinto shrine and a tea house of the Empress. Both stunning in completely different ways and a two minute walk from each other.

What cultural differences surprised you the most?

The simple respect there seems to be there. There’s no litter anywhere and bikes left unlocked on really busy streets in the middle of the city. It felt extremely safe and relaxed despite how busy everywhere was.

What was your favourite place to visit?

Many places for different reasons. The cat cafe was just bizarre, none of the cats are actually interested in being pet, so to get their attention you buy a little tub of chicken – they’re all you’re friend then! Shibuya junction just blows your mind, there’s just so many people, the Shinto Shrine, the themed restaurants. They were all great but some of my favourite places were just being there, on a normal street, with people going about their daily lives. I’ve always wanted to see a tea ceremony too, just the thought and care taken in every act is beautiful, to see and take part in that was wonderful. I haven’t really answered your question! Tokyo was my favourite place when I visited Tokyo – does that count?

What was the best thing you ate or drank during your time there?

All the food was great. Two things really stood out.

We went to one of the older parts of Tokyo where it was more residential, really had a Bladerunner look about it with narrow streets and filled with neon signs and stuff. We went into a proper noodle bar which was full of locals – had some absolutely brilliant noodles, everyone was really helpful, with the staff and locals helping us order and explaining what things were.

Another one was a Bento box in this massive market, it had sushimi and miso and tempura. Really good stuff!

Would you go back, and why?

I would definitely go back! It would be great to live and work there for a bit, properly experience life there. It’s such a vibrant and colourful culture – but as I said, theres a quiet respectfulness that runs through everything. It truly is a beautiful place! I love Tokyo!

You can see Thom’s work on his website which can be found here. While he was in Tokyo, Thom was kind enough to bring some gifts back for me, including the last SCANDAL album, some green tea, and a few Yen coins! Thanks for the gifts Thom, and thank you for your time for this interview.

More guests on Bradcat’s Baka Blog soon…

Bradcat’s Personal Focus… Cultural Care Package

When I started learning Japanese in November last year, I signed up for a lot of language exchange websites. This was mainly to help my own learning, but found myself inundated with messages from Japanese people wanting to learn English on a causal basis. I only really stayed in contact with those who were willing to help me if I helped them. I needed someone who had a decent grasp on the English language, but also wouldn’t mind taking the time to explain the things I was learning.

This is how I met Mami! She was incredibly helpful in explaining phrases and defining key words for me. We’d also chat about cultural differences between England and Japan, such as education, food, and music. Whilst chatting one day, I suggested that I’d like to send her a “British care package” as a thank you for taking the time to help me out. This is what I sent to her…

Included in my package:

– Bone china tea cup and saucer
– Lots of Earl Grey tea
– Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Buttons
– Robinson’s jam
– Selection of sweets (Yes, I know Maoam aren’t British, but they’re very popular)
– A two pence coin from the 1930’s
– A CD of British musicians spanning 1970’s – present

Luckily the package made it to Mami chan in one piece. I was particularly worried about the tea cup! A week later I received a message from Mami on LINE to say she’d received her goodies and would like to send me a care package too. Incredibly flattered by her generosity I obliged, and she designed a package based around things I love. Sure enough, a week later, this arrived…

Inside the box I found a small note letting me know which songs Mami enjoyed the most from the CD I’d put together, along with an contents list:

– Instant ramen noodles
– Chocolate koala snacks
– Crisps
– A Steins;Gate plastic art sheet (You can read about Steins;Gate here)
– A bottle of Ramune (Because I’d mentioned I’d seen them in a YouTube video)
– Scandal’s latest single “Kagen no Tsuki” (Which I featured on my blog a few weeks ago) which came with a Haruna (my favourite member) art card

Hopefully there will be more of these packages in the future! Mami chan, hontou ni arigatou gozaimasu! (本当にありがとうございます)