My First Japan Trip

20170310_101127

It’s insane to believe that my first trip to Japan has already come and gone. Last month, I traveled to Tokyo and Kansai for 9 days and although there were a few complications, I had a great time. I wanted to share my thoughts and reflections on this trip, which had been a dream for over 5 years, since first starting this blog.

I wasn’t sure how to organize the post since I have so much to say, so I will go prefecture by prefecture and share my itinerary and highlights of each.

Background Info

Just wanted to provide a little info about how I planned the trip overall. It was just me and my mom on the trip and I went through an online travel service that is known for small tour groups. I wanted the freedom to plan my own itinerary, so we went for an individual tour instead, where we traveled solo but met up with guides along the way. I received an info pack with travel details and tips and we were mostly left to our own devices. When I return to Japan, I think I’ll have enough information to book everything on my own for cheaper, but I loved the idea of tour guides and plan to book some for any of my trips in the future.

Itinerary

  • Day 1 – Land at Narita Airport, free day in Tokyo
  • Day 2 – Tokyo – 4 hour private guide
  • Day 3 – Hakone – Ryokan stay
  • Day 4 – Kyoto – Gion Night Walking Tour
  • Day 5 – Kyoto – 8 hour private guide
  • Day 6 – Kyoto – Meet up with friends
  • Day 7 – Kyoto – Day Trip to Hiroshima In bed sick ūüė¶
  • Day 8 – Osaka – Izakaya Tour with private guide
  • Day 9 – Travel to Narita airport

Tokyo

20170307_111746

I didn’t get enough time in Tokyo to form a solid opinion, and I knew this going in, but I experienced a lot in a short time. Upon arrival to Narita, a private driver was waiting and took us to our first hotel. Check-In was a breeze as everyone who worked there seemed to have a near perfect command of the English language.

On the first night, I followed the advice I had read about jetlag and forced myself (and mom) to stay up until the late evening. I had my first convenience store onigiri¬†for lunch and for dinner we ventured out to Sarashina Horii, a soba restaurant featured on Anthony Bourdain’s tv show.

20170306_180713.jpg

Our first dinner in Japan – Soba at Sarashina Horii

After getting some much needed rest, the next morning we met our tour guide in the lobby of our hotel. She took us on a 4 hour tour, which took us to both traditional and modern areas of Tokyo.¬†We visited the grounds of the Tokyo Imperial Palace, Asakusa, and finished off in Harajuku. I didn’t anticipate how much I enjoyed Sensoji temple in Asakusa, given how crowded it was. Of course the temple and its history was fascinating, but I also got to try lots of traditional sweets and did some souvenir shopping.

Given that I was only in the city for 2 days, I missed out on the major tourist spots like Shinjuku and Shibuya, but since I had such little time I’m glad I spent it where I did. I would love to come back and spend more time here in the future.

Hakone

20170308_144427_001.jpg

One of my bucket list items was staying in a ryokan with a private bath, and my tour agency¬†managed to book one without gouging my wallet. The building was quite old, but beautiful and I had the full experience of the onsen bath and traditional meals, which were served in a dining room. The surrounding town was also fun to explore and the people were notably friendlier than in Tokyo, which was to be expected in a small town. It was a nice change of pace, although this was the first day I got terribly ill with laryngitis. It wasn’t very comfortable to sleep in a somewhat drafty room on futons while being in this state, but I know I wouldn’t have minded otherwise. I also wouldn’t recommend the kaiseki meals to picky eaters. It was tough getting my mom to eat anything, but I was in heaven.

Kyoto

20170309_195112.jpg

Yes, a real maiko!

We took a 2 hour bullet train from Hakone to Kyoto and this is where we spent the next 4 days of the trip. After getting settled in our hotel (which was in an amazing location btw) we walked over to Gion to begin our private night walking tour. I’m very interested in geiko and maiko culture, so I learned a lot. We planned the trip to Japan so we would arrive during the sweet spot right before cherry blossom season and having empty streets to ourselves in Gion wouldn’t have happened otherwise. We were also lucky enough to spot 2 maiko on their way to appointments and I caught up to one long enough to take the photo above. It was a magical experience and one of my most memorable.

This night also included my favorite meal of the trip. When I tell Japanese people, they’re usually surprised as I believe the place where I had it was a¬†small restaurant chain, but it’s definitely a local favorite. It was Tenkaippin’s¬†kotteri ramen, which had a very rich and thick chicken broth that was unlike any other ramen I’d tried before. I couldn’t quite experiment with ramen in Japan since my mom is not into soups, but this place served other items so we were both happy.

20170309_200755.jpg

Kotteri ramen – my favorite meal in Japan

On the next day, I had almost lost my voice, but was still excited for the 8 hour tour guide we had booked. We first visited the Kyoto Imperial Palace, where I took one of the most beautiful photos I’ve ever taken of the royal garden (see first photo above). People still don’t believe it’s something I took, but no skills or fancy camera was needed for something so breathtaking.¬†¬†After the palace, we headed over to Arashiyama. I had previously planned spend a full day there, but I cancelled plans to meet up with a friend the following day. I was pleasantly surprised when our guide gave us the option to visit, even if just for a few hours. Arashiyama is definitely a must-visit for the bamboo forest alone, but everywhere you look when you’re there you’ll find something worth seeing. The gardens, temples and shops all make it a worthwhile time and I could have definitely filled a whole day with activities there. We left Arashiyama to have lunch and visited our last 2 sites of the day, which were Kodaiji temple and Nishiki Market. Kodaiji was a beautiful temple and with an interesting history and Nishiki was a good experience but much too crowded for my liking. We were returned to our hotel a little early since I just didn’t feel good at all. It was a great day and I powered through my sickness, but I fell asleep in the early evening and didn’t get to experience anything else that day.

20170310_113302.jpg

A garden at Arashiyama

As terrible as I felt, I was very excited for day 6 since I had a friend coming to visit. I scheduled my mom a much needed massage appointment¬†while my friend and I headed out to explore the surrounding area and eat the food my mom wasn’t adventurous enough to try. We had sushi at a conveyor belt sushi food chain and Kyoto-style crepes at a small crepe stall. My voice was almost completely shot so we had to skip karaoke, but she did take me to used bookstore Book Off where I bought about 6 cds in great condition for a great price. In the evening, we met up with one of her Japanese friends and we reminisced about seeing our favorite group Girls’ Generation in past concerts over some delicious tonkatsu.

20170311_190213.jpg

Day 7 was very uneventful. I had planned to take the shinkansen to Hiroshima to see the museum and memorial park as well as have some Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. I was feeling so ill that I just wasn’t up for it, so spent the entire day sleeping and only had a small snack. It really was a shame that the antibiotics killed my appetite in Japan of all places and I didn’t get to eat as much food as I usually do!

Osaka

20170313_163718

Our final full day in Japan was spent exploring the Dotonbori and Nanba sections of Osaka city. After hearing mixed reviews on Osaka, I decided to book a private guide myself to make sure I got the best out of my time there. The tour agency did not book us a guide here and I went through another site. I booked the Izakaya pub tour and it did not disappoint! Our tour guide was an older retired teacher and he first took us to explore Shinsekai, a charming part of the city that was previously built to be a representation of a modern Japanese city in the early 20th century, but today is just a relic. We then went to 3 different pubs where we tasted lots of quality¬†sakes and tried¬†adventurous pub foods. My mom couldn’t eat much of it, but she still had fun and said it was her favorite tour. The sumo championships were going on at the time, so it was a uniquely Japanese experience to sit at a pub, sipping sake with the locals while they cheered their favorite wrestlers on the screen. I especially loved the standing pub, which I thought I would hate since we were standing the entire time, but the atmosphere was so fun and people were friendly. For the first time since we had arrived, strangers were trying to make conversation with us. I’m sure the alcohol had something to do with it ūüôā It was a great evening and both the tour guide and I ended up drunk.¬†It was such a small taste of Osaka nightlife and I’d definitely come back and do another tour or bring some friends and make a night of it.

Final Thoughts

My trip to Japan was great, but of course there are things I would do differently. If I were to do this trip again, I would add at least a few days, book the travel myself now that I’m more familiar with where to go, and not try to fit as much in. I would spend more time in both Kyoto and Osaka and now that I’ve stayed in a ryokan, I think I’ve gotten it out of my system. I really did like Tokyo, but I’m thinking I would set my homebase in either Kyoto or Osaka and stay in only 1 hotel or 2 tops if possible. Now I know it’s quite easy to travel via¬†the bullet train. Both Kyoto and Osaka are near each other, and day trips to places like¬†like Himeji, Kobe and Hiroshima are doable from there. Also, I originally chose the length of my trip so that I could help ease myself back in with the jetlag, but honestly there was no easing in as the whole week back at work was tough. I could have sacrificed¬†a few more days for some more unforgettable experiences. Another thing to remember is to choose your travel partner wisely! My mom was not up for all the walking and not a big fan of a lot of the food. Next time, I’ll be taking a fellow Japan foodie whose prepared for the long days.

Oh and I almost forgot! This is a language blog right? I did get to practice some Japanese, but for the most part I learned it’s not really needed for tourists to enjoy their experience. I got a lot of people talking to me in English when I tried practicing, but did get to have a few simple conversations here and there. I also¬†got a TON of listening practice in though, both in person and by watching Japanese variety. ¬†It was great¬†being surrounded by the language 24/7, and I could see myself picking it up a lot faster if I were ever to move there.

So, that was about it for my first trip to Japan! Have you ever been? Have you been dying to go for the first time like I was? Leave any questions or comments below.

L

Posted in Culture | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

J-Drama Review: We Married as a Job

tokyohive_1475427950_01

So this drama was recommended to me by one of my Japanese tutors after I told her I enjoyed romcoms¬†like Hotaru no Hikari and Last Cinderella. She said it was really popular and another friend in Japan confirmed that this drama was everywhere. This made me extremely curious and I devoured it¬†in less than a week, which is quick for me as I don’t usually marathon shows. It was fun, had a charming cast, and I could totally see why Japan was in love.

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Year: 2016

Starring: Aragaki Yui as Moriyama Mikuri and Hoshino Gen as Tsuzaki Hiramasa

Frequently Used Vocabulary:

  1. Kekkon Suru¬†(ÁĶźŚ©ö„Āô„āč) ‚ÄstTo marry
  2. Shufu¬†(šłĽŚ©¶) ‚ÄstHousewife

screen-shot-2016-11-24-at-8-38-02-pm

Synopsis: Moriyama Mikuri graduated with a degree in Psychology from a prestigious University but still can’t find a job. Her dad finds her a part-time housekeeping job with an acquaintance so she can make some money in the meantime. The acquaintance is Tsuzaki Hiramasa, a 35 year old single man living alone who appreciates a meticulously cleaned home. Unforeseen circumstances force Mikuri to make a tough choice and she proposes a contract marriage ¬†to benefit both parties.

Review:¬†As a cynical adult, I feel like you have to have some awareness of Japanese culture and where they’re at right now in terms of social progress and gender equality to truly appreciate this drama. Yes, this drama has tons of your standard bubbly romantic cuteness, but I think that alone would not have been enough for it to capture the hearts of Japanese viewers.¬†Not only are there tons of great pop culture references and scenarios (K-drama fans: think Hong sisters), but they present characters from different walks of life and¬†their struggles with¬†love.

The¬†contract marriage trope is standard fare in Asian romcom, but it really did¬†a lot to push this relationship along in a way it never would have had the characters met in a more conventional way. The leads had a business like approach to every aspect of their contract marriage, including things like physical affection, which made for hilarious set-ups. At times their progress was painfully slow, but this is just something I’ve come to expect from some Japanese dramas (Hotaru no Hikari, I’m looking at you.) The male lead, Hiramasa, was¬†indeed an extreme character, but a lot of the comedic relief came through some of his relatable, but exaggerated characteristics. The female lead was adorable, and although at first¬†she gave off the overly perfect¬†J-drama girlfriend vibe, the drama dealt with her character flaws and growth very nicely I think. Both characters could be frustrating, but ultimately endearing.

afc8d0985022746caaca31786f2273d7-md

The plot moved in a satisfying direction for me, both for the leads and side characters. While the focus was on the main pair, there were great moments from a supporting cast that was diverse in both age and marital status. I found myself inevitably sighing somewhere midway about how unrealistic some of it was, but by the end I appreciated the drama for what it was. This was a world where characters with extreme personalities were put in extraordinary situations and the aftermath was an entertaining drama with some identifiable aspects. I read some comments from younger viewers lamenting the fact that towards the end of the drama it went in a more realistic direction. Personally, found that even more fun as the leads tried to apply their crazy business solutions to an average lifestyle. Although I feel like this drama would appeal more to married couples, I still really enjoyed it. I would have appreciated the pop culture references even more if I was Japanese and had watched the shows they parodied, but those were still fun regardless as well.

img_20170213_142932

What I learned about Japanese culture: That apparently herbivore men are an actual thing.

If you’ve watched this one, let me know what you think!

L

Posted in Dramas, Reviews | Leave a comment

The Study Gamble

Time is closing in on me as I have just under 40 days left until my trip to Japan. I did little to no studying during the holidays, which as a result did not make my online tutoring sessions as worthwhile. When it comes to motivating a¬†śÄ†„ĀĎŤÄÖ (lazy person), extreme measures must be taken. So for the past 3 weeks I’ve been placing bets on how well I study each week. Literally. Luckily I have a roommate who is not afraid to take me up on this and will gladly give me a kick in the ass if needed.

So here’s how it works. First, I set up a list of language-learning activities and assigned a point value to each one¬†depending on how beneficial or time consuming they are. Something like reviewing Anki vocab is beneficial but takes less than 15 minutes, so I assigned it one point. Likewise, entering new vocab from a new chapter into Anki is usually quite time-consuming, but not beneficial right off the bat so I assign it 1 point as well. Most items get assigned 2 points (Genki textbook activities, iTalki tutoring sessions, etc.) and the big whopper is a 5 minute Japanese vlog, which gets 4 points. I set a current weekly goal of 15 points while keeping in mind that I can miss 1 or 2 days of studying if needed and still make the goal.

pts

My current point system saved to Evernote

So how does the money factor in? My roommate has selected a shelf in our place that displays my sacrificial $20 in cash that can easily become hers each Sunday if I don’t make my goal. I log each activity in and show her the summary at the end of the week. So far, I’ve been doing well, but last week this lit a fire under my ass after I had missed a study day early on. At first, going back to studying consistently was such a chore and I dragged, but now it has become a welcome part of my daily routine. As soon as I turn on my J-Pop playlist, my body knows what to do and gladly opens my Genki II textbook.

As I usually only set aside an hour or two 5 days a week, I’m not seeing a dramatic improvement but I feel improvement none the less. I struggle less when speaking to my iTalki tutors and that’s a blessing. I do plan on putting more time in to studying, especially since my trip date is nearing. ¬†To my lazy brothers and sisters out there, if you’ve got to do something this extreme to get yourself to study, I say do it.

„Āĺ„Āü„Ā≠ÔľĀ

L

Posted in Japanese Study | Leave a comment

Month-long Kanji Challenge Update: Anki Re-visited

ankilogo

So about 3 months ago I made a post after panicking over my dependence on furigana and declared that I would challenge myself to use kanji learning program, WaniKani, everyday for a month as my primary study method.

So here‚Äôs the challenge ‚Äď

  • Daily focus on WaniKani reviews for the rest of June ‚Äď At least 1¬†hour during lulls in the work day, and 1¬†hour at home
  • Textbook time limited to 30 minutes of my¬†lunch break¬†(I‚Äôm sorry, I can‚Äôt give it up completely)

I started off solid. It took a few days to get the 300 or so reviews in my queue down to 0 and from then on, I’d get anywhere from 50-150 each day and would knock them out in¬†10-30 minutes and get started on learning new material. I had a routine where I would set a timer and play my J-Pop playlist for the hour in order to get a little more listening time in. I was golden for about 2 weeks.

Unfortunately, this got old fast, and I think it had more to do with WaniKani itself than my laziness (although my laziness was indeed a factor). The way the system works, as you continue to work through the material, you amass more and more reviews to the point where they become overwhelming if you decide to skip a day here or there. My reviews would pile up and I’d get the phone notifications every 15-20 minutes (there has to be a way to make these less frequent!) This in itself would not be as huge of a deterrent if there was a way to remove vocabulary that I already knew. I spent a good chunk of my study time drilling in words that I could recall instantly and if I made a typo? Forget it, I lost some progress and was farther from burning the word from my list.

Another gripe of mine would be learning kanji and vocabulary that were not relevant to me and were likely to never be. For example, the words “Śúüśėü” (Saturn) and “śĶ∑Áéčśėü” (Neptune) were introduced at level 7. I understand there is a method to the madness and admit these words helped me review the readings, but I had no desire to learn words such as these at this stage. I got no closer to being able to read simple texts than I had at the beginning of the month. I saw a little progress,¬†but not what I would have hoped for all the time I put in.

Anki Take 2

Through the monthly challenge, I realized how important it is to learn vocabulary that is relevant to each individual learner, whether it be a hobby you’re into or a topic that interests you. I decided to give Anki another try as it is a program that is completely customizable. I did not download any pre-made decks and instead have been slowly collecting vocabulary from NHK Easy News articles, tv shows and emails from my Japanese tutor. I majored in political science, so words like “political party” and “refugee” would not be in any beginner lists I could find, but they are relevant to my interests so I added them.¬†I’ve also learned the words for “long-lasting product” because of my interest in makeup.¬†My vocabulary decks are individualized for topics I actually like to discuss and words I will certainly be using.

So far I only have 100 words or so added, so the reviews are not at all painful to do at this stage. If I forget to do a day or two, it’s¬†not overwhelming. This could obviously change once I have 500+ words, but I like that you have the option of telling the program exactly how familiar you are with the word which changes the frequency with which it’s¬†shown.

Here is how I set up my cards –

  • Front – Japanese word or phrase (kanji only)
  • Back – Hiragana + Example Sentence

I’ve noticed that I’ve had a much easier time of recalling vocabulary in writing and conversation from sticking to the SRS method and of course learning words that¬†are relevant to my discussion topics.

The drawback of using this method is less focus on learning individual kanji and radicals,¬†which does make it difficult to recognize kanji in the wild. I notice that I remember certain kanji due to process of elimination and knowing what’s in my deck, which may not be the best way to recall them.

As I’m currently satisfied with the progress I’m making in the realms of writing and speaking, I am going to stick to this method for the next few months or so and see where it takes me. If you’re an Anki guru and have any tips for me, please share in the comments!

„Āĺ„Āü„Ā≠ÔľĀ

L

 

 

Posted in Japanese Study | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Anime Review: Fullmetal Alchemist

banner_186

I’m back again with another review for an iconic anime that everyone but me has watched. As someone who has watched very few animes in this genre¬†(and few in general), I thought I could bring in a fresh perspective. As always with my reviews, I try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible.

Genre: Shounen, Action, Fantasy

Year: 2003

Plot: Two young brothers are training to become alchemists. Grief-stricken after the death of their mother, they are willing to try anything to get her back. But alchemy has one law that must always be obeyed Рthe law of equivalent exchange. The brothers embark on a long journey to get back what was lost during the exchange.

Note: Fullmetal Alchemist was created and released before the manga it was based on was completed. Therefore, this show starts off nearly identical to it and then veers off on its own plot. I finished this series along with the movie “Conqueror of Shamballa”, but I have not yet¬†gotten to the second series “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”, which was done post-manga. So,¬†I will not be comparing the two. I plan to watch the second series very soon! I will say… there are some very big shoes to fill.

fullmetal_alchemist1

Review: This anime was off to a slow start for about the first 10 or so episodes due to a lot of backstory, and if I made the mistake of dropping it there, I would have missed out on an epic anime. The shounen fantasy genre¬†doesn’t usually appeal to me (I’m more of a josei/slice of life type of girl) but there were elements in this show that I felt were universally appealing. What was¬†undeniable was¬†the strong bond between the lead characters. Despite having opposite personalities, the two worked together so well and¬†the purpose for their journey kept me invested throughout the several story arcs, regardless of what the writers threw at me. Character development for most of the cast was strong. Allies were likeable while also being flawed and having fleshed out back stories. Perhaps most notably for me, most of the¬†enemies were also fleshed out and were given stories and strong motives for acting the way they did. If there’s a trope in movies, dramas or animes that gets under my skin, it’s the one-dimensional villain. There was some of it here, but for the most part they got it right.

Another aspect of the anime I truly appreciated were the parallels to our real world. Sure, there were plenty of fantastical elements, yet at the core, the world of the fullmetal alchemist was similar to ours. The anime tackles tough subjects such as war, religion, corruption and human rights violations. There are tough decisions that have to be made which often end in tragedy, just as in reality. I love how the anime challenges the viewer to face these strong subjects and possibly start a dialogue about how it relates to our world today.

Capture

As for my complaints, I wasn’t such a fan of the slow build at the beginning, but I’m guessing that was the trade off to having such well-rounded characters. Also, as the plot progresses, there are a lot of mindf*** moments to the point where it gets excessive. At one point, I remember questioning everything and just being suspended in disbelief at every new development. This was at times enjoyable, and at other times ¬†grating and I can’t really give an example without revealing anything. It had me strangely longing for the simple shounen journey it started off as.

Despite some of its downfalls, this is an anime I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend and I think it was very well-done. I’m looking forward to watching the second series, but I am doubtful it can top this one. We shall see!

Rating ‚Äď 8/10

L

P.S. Without question, check out the movie “Conqueror of Shamballa” for a more satisfying resolution and especially if you are into the tie ins to real-life political situations.

Posted in Anime, Reviews | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

My First Trip to Japan is Booked!

pic-cat-index01

I wrote my first post on this blog about 6 years ago, and ever since then it has been a dream and future goal of mine to travel to Japan. Well, next March I am finally making it a reality! I’ve been so excited to start blogging about my researching process and plans, but I decided to wait until everything was officially booked. With the way prices for everything were looking for the dates I chose, I decided to book way in advance for my own peace of mind.

The plan so far is a 9 day trip that will begin with 2 days in Tokyo, a night in Hakone at a¬†ryokan¬†(traditional Japanese inn), 5 days in Kyoto with a day trip to Hiroshima and 1 night in Osaka to experience the nightlife in Dotonbori. Yes, it’s a bit packed, but I wanted to make sure I could fit in a wide variety of experiences because I don’t know when I’ll be back! I’ve done about 5 months of research and was planning on taking on all the booking duties myself, but in the end I decided to go with a travel agency to handle booking accommodations and domestic travel during my stay due to all of the anxiety it was giving me.¬†The service also provides foolproof instructions¬†for every step of the way and a free hotline to call in case anything happens, so it was personally worth it for me, but booking your own stuff is very doable.

There are TONS of resources on the Internet on just about every aspect of your trip. My first problem was the sheer volume of information actually! Of course, quality is not the same across the board, so I will share some of the most invaluable resources during my researching stage in case you are looking into booking your own first trip in the future.

Japan Guide – If you’re only going to check out one of my suggestions, this is the one. This site has everything you need to plan a trip and¬†get acquainted with Japanese culture. It is comprehensive, easy to navigate and has detailed explanations that are easily understood by anyone from newbies to seasoned travelers. If you’re new to all things Japan travel, as I was, I would suggest starting here¬†for the basics before working your way over to the destinations pages to search for places to go. I showed their food and drink page to a curious friend with no knowledge of Japanese food and she said the pictures and descriptions were very helpful. When you ARE ready to check out their suggested itineraries and top-rated spots, it is a great place to start basing your research around which prefectures you want to visit.

r/JapanTravel – This sub-reddit is pretty overwhelming as a newbie, but it ended up being a great help when refining my itinerary before taking it to the travel agency. I would suggest not visiting before having a very basic idea of where you want to go as it is an information overload and the community is very much staunch against hand holding. It is Reddit, which means¬†people can be very militant about their opinions, but as long as you take information with a grain of salt, there can be lots of helpful tips. If you plan on posting an itinerary, be sure to do so¬†once your trip is mostly put together and they will give feedback. For other questions, do a search to make sure it hasn’t been asked before or be ready to be downvoted into oblivion.

YouTube – This one seems obvious, but I seriously underestimated how many travel vlogs there are.¬†When deciding whether my mom would be able to sit through a geisha performance at Kyoto’s Gion Corner, I found a full-length video of the entire performance. When wondering if it was worth attending a show at the infamous Robot Restaurant in Tokyo, I found another¬†video featuring a full-length¬†performance. It’s amazing how specific it can get. Sometimes it’s nice to just be surprised upon arrival, but if you’re like me and have trouble narrowing down your choices, a visual can help. (Of course, if you’re like me, these visual aids then lead to more choices rather than helping you narrow anything down…)

And that’s all I have for now! If there’s any final tip I have for the planning stage that I’ve learned along the way is that you can’t really go wrong in terms of choosing where to visit. I’ve learned about so many areas of Japan, not just Kansai, and it seems like anywhere you go has something unique and worth visiting. I’m limiting myself to the most touristy areas, but you don’t have to!¬†I could have also done an entire trip in any one of the prefectures listed above and had plenty to do and see. Keep your options open ūüôā

My trip is still so far away, but I’m happy to answer any questions that I can! I might be posting more as the date nears and of course will be back with tons after the trip. If you’ve been to Japan, let me know if you have any tips for me in the comments.

L

Posted in Culture | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Beginner Resource Masterlist

So the other day I was asked by a friend of a friend for some free and cheap resources that I used on my Japanese language learning journey. I meant to just send over a few links, but one thing led to another and this masterlist was created, where I’ve even included things like travel and meetups. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I thought it’d be fun to share here for beginners to learn about new sites they haven’t tried and for more seasoned learners to compare against their own lists. Near the end, I’ve also included tips from mistakes I’ve made along the way. Enjoy! -L

All resources are free unless otherwise stated
 
Hiragana/Katakana
  • Kantan Kana Series – Video tutorials showing stroke order for both katakana & hiragana (First Video) –¬†https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zfBMDNkJuI)
  • Flashcard Game – I don’t have any specific resource, because back when I learned kana I used smart.fm, which is now¬†iknow, a paid service. Anything that will test your knowledge and speed in a fun way will do the trick!
Vocabulary
Admittedly, not a strong suit of mine. I pick up a lot of my vocabulary in context when working with other resources like podcasts, textbooks and shows.
  • Jisho.org– Awesome online dictionary –¬†http://jisho.org/
  • Anki – See Kanji Section for more info.
  • Textbooks – This is mainly how I’ve learned vocab. Textbooks provide lists of vocab that need to be learned to advance to the next chapter. See textbook recommendations in the Grammar section.
Grammar
Kanji
  • [NOT FREE] WaniKani – This is a site/app that costs $10/mo, but the first 3 levels are free. Try it and see if you like it. https://www.wanikani.com/
  • Anki – Flashcard program. There are pre-made decks with Japanese vocabulary, but most would recommend making¬†your own from words that you collect from books, shows etc. I don’t currently use this, but many swear by it.¬†http://ankisrs.net/
  • Read the Kanji – N5 Kanji levels are free¬†https://www.readthekanji.com/
  • Genki/J4BP – If you decide to purchase one of the 2 textbooks I cited above, learn Kanji as they are introduced in the books. For Genki, make sure to do the reading sections in the back and write out the kanji while doing your assignments. This is my current learning method. Not the fastest, but it works.
Podcasts
As a beginner, you may not get all of the benefits from native podcasts, but it’s good for listening practice and getting used to the sound of the language.
 
Tips/Blogs/Misc
Travel
  • Japan Guide – Whether you’re planning a trip in the future, or just want to learn more about Japan, this is a great user-friendly and comprehensive site¬†http://www.japan-guide.com/
  • Japan Travel – Sub-reddit. I wouldn’t check this out unless you’re planning on traveling in the following year.¬†https://www.reddit.com/r/JapanTravel/
  • Tabelog – The Japanese Yelp. Find great restaurants¬†http://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/
  • Inside Japan Tours – Including this tour company bc I’m actually using them. Great if you’re feeling overwhelmed with information and just want the best possible trip planned, they do tours and solo trips. Can get pricey.¬†https://www.insidejapantours.com/
Meetup
All meetups I’ve attended have been through meetup.com, but there are several depending on which area you’re from.
 
Tutors (Obviously not free)
I’m including this section because of how much progress I’ve made as a result of working with tutors. It’s not even that they can explain grammar better (they’re natives, they usually can’t unless they’re trained teachers), but the speaking practice is invaluable. They also hold you accountable for completing assignments, which was useful for me.
  • iTalki – I’ve tried in-person tutors, and this option was much more affordable. All the tutors are on Skype, and are of varying quality with prices all across the board. Here’s my referral code ($10 for me and you if you sign up). You can even go the free route and find language buddies to pair up with on this site, but you’d sacrifice some of your time to talk in English with them.¬†https://www.italki.com/i/BdbdGe¬≠

Edit: Found a really awesome post with tips on how to select a tutor and get the most out of your lessons. I’ve had quite a few tutors already, but this was still helpful.

 
Random Tips (Including Lessons learned from my Past mistakes)
  • Study/Practice Japanese nearly every day. Sure, the longer the better, but consistency is more important. You only have 10-15 min at lunch? Do it. Need a break? Watch some anime or J-drama instead of studying that day, but don’t spend a day without Japanese if you can help it!
  • Start learning kanji right away. Don’t put it off. Focus more on grammar, but don’t leave kanji out.
  • Work on your kana reading speed once you’ve mastered it. I practiced this by reading passages from my textbooks over and over and over, an assignment given by one of my past tutors. It really helps and will make everything else easier once you can read faster.
  • Do language shadowing!!! It will do WONDERS for your pronunciation. My conversation skills aren’t amazing, but the comment I ALWAYS get from native Japanese speakers since doing this is that my pronunciation is good.¬†Do this by playing Japanese audio and repeating after them. The best way is using textbook cds and playing the passages over and over and over while repeating them as closely to the native speed as possible. Pay special attention to intonation. This matters so much in Japanese.
Posted in Japanese Study, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Month-long Kanji Challenge!

tumblr_n1soglvyhc1rcvimbo1_500

As much as I like to think that I’m learning kanji while I go through Japanese textbooks, the reality is that I’ve been learning them at a snail’s pace. It’s been made glaringly obvious to me whenever I try to read just about anything in Japanese and can only reach about mid-sentence. Furigana is great, but it truly has become a crutch for me. One of my current iTalki tutors had me read through a furigana-less passage last week and it took 3 times as long due to having to stop at almost every kanji for her to give me the reading. Something’s gotta give.

I never really worried too much about kanji during my first Japanese learning attempt. I used to do WaniKani reviews daily and found it enjoyable at first. Grammar was my true weakness and I tried to do almost anything else to avoid actually sitting down and working with a textbook. This second time around, textbooks like Genki and Japanese for Busy People have given¬†me my fresh start and although working through them can be a chore, I mostly enjoy them. My grammar has improved immensely after working through them week by week. I’ve also used the textbook dialogues¬†for language shadowing (intonation/pronunciation practice) and kana reading practice and I’ve improved in those areas as well. Kanji? I left it on the back-burner. Surely I was picking up kanji in context? That would be the case had I not been relying on furigana to the extent that I am.

I keep getting signs from the universe about getting back to kanji. Ok, Tofugu and AJATT are certainly not the universe, but a few posts really inspired me to take action.

Ouch.

Also –

Your Japanese Weak Point – Figure it Out and Fix it Already

I couldn’t find the AJATT post that suggests getting kanji out of the way before moving on to anything¬†else, but you can just imagine. Khatzumoto suggests that this will make all other Japanese language learning much easier. That ship has certainly sailed for me, but there’s no reason I can’t go back and try to fix this problem!

I mentioned WaniKani as being my go-to kanji app when I first attempted to learn Japanese a few years ago (Old review HERE). Since then, I’ve tried going back to it a few times (bless that “forever” beta-tester pricing) but the sheer number of reviews turned me off of it. I also hated getting something right and then completely forgetting it the next day or even a few hours after I last reviewed! Honestly, I don’t think I was motivated enough and I want to give it another try as a seasoned student of the Japanese language.

So here’s the challenge –

  • Daily focus on WaniKani reviews for the rest of June – At least 1¬†hour during lulls in the work day, and 1¬†hour at home
  • Textbook time limited to 30 minutes of my¬†lunch break¬†(I’m sorry, I can’t give it up completely)

And that’s basically it. I have no specific goal of learning a certain number of kanji or being able to read native text, but I would like to know more about the learning method itself. I want to know how far I can get in WaniKani during this time and if it is still just as frustrating when I’m actually doing it consistently. It would be great to move up a level or two within the app itself, but I’m making this as low pressure as possible. (FYI – I’m at Level 6, but I’m afraid I may have forgotten at least half of what I knew). All I want to do is force myself to focus on this app before I write it off like I had before. It sounds simple, but working on my ultimate Japanese weakness is like pulling teeth.

So what happens if I fail? I refuse to fail in doing my part! Then what happens if I don’t learn anything? Well… on to the next method! I will post an update next month!

So, what’s your ultimate Japanese weakness?

L

Posted in Japanese Study | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Anime Review: Death Note

deathnote

Yes, this was¬†my first time watching Death Note. I’m more of a casual anime watcher and have seen about 20¬†shows¬†in the past 5 years, so I don’t watch too often. I’m also more of a shoujo/josei fan, so aside from being slightly tempted by the¬†hype train at one time, this was never really on my radar. I am watching at¬†the insistence of my brother, who is also a casual anime fan that¬†sings its praises anytime the subject comes up. As usual, I like to keep my anime/drama reviews as spoiler-free as possible, but I have added a special section at the end of the post for those who have seen the show. I couldn’t resist!

Genre: Shounen, Mystery, Thriller

Year: 2006

Plot: An average high school senior, Light Yagami, finds a mysterious notebook. He soon discovers that writing full names on the pages causes people to die. He takes it upon himself to bring serious criminals to justice, but the police view him as a murderer. Whose idea of justice will prevail?

light-and-ryuk-light-yagami-1514315-500-281

Review: I will admit that this show is a challenge to review without giving away spoilers because of how the plot builds as information is revealed during each subsequent episode. There are several story arcs, each of which I felt a bit differently about. The first third of the anime is very fast-moving as it introduces a very interesting and¬†exciting premise. The show slowed down at several points for me, but the majority of it was gripping and there were enough twists to keep me guessing. I’d like to mention that I’m definitely not one to binge watch, but I finished this show in under a week, which I’ve never done before. I personally was quite satisfied by the ending, although I was holding a few grudges over major plot developments that got in the way of some of my enjoyment.

200_s

There is some substance worth discussing, but most of the characters weren’t as well-rounded as I would have liked and there were definitely inconsistencies throughout. I loved to hate quite a few of the humans in the Death Note world. The Shinigami (Gods of Death) on the other hand, were quite fascinating and deserved more screen time, although I will say I thought there was a good balance between the real and fantastical worlds. As new characters were introduced, we got little to no backstory, which is probably more a failure of the anime adaptation as I’ve read there is extensive coverage in the manga. I did appreciate a glimpse into the effects that the Death Note was making on the rest of the world, and would have liked to see that explored thoroughly as well. I would have easily traded screen time from some of the insufferable characters for more backstory of interesting characters as well as the post-Death Note world. This would actually make a decent novel. I’m a huge bookworm and not much of a manga reader, so I’d appreciate a full-text version that explores everything in this world in depth. Am I alone here?¬†lol

As for the other elements, like animation and music… I’m not the best judge, but nothing really stood out to me as exceptional. I had no issues with any of it, but there wasn’t anything unique that set it apart, aside from the Shinigami character design. It doesn’t knock off any points though and everything seemed fine enough to me.

My verdict is… watch! It’s hyped to hell and back, so you might as well jump on the¬†bandwagon as it’s only 37 episodes long (as compared to the hyped sagas like “Naruto”). It’s fun, suspenseful, not gory and somewhat thought provoking. Infuriating characters, yes, but overall worth the watch!

Rating – 6/10

L

____________________________________________

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS! NEW VIEWERS DO NOT SCROLL PAST THIS POINT. STOP READING. CLICK THAT BACK BUTTON. NOW. I AM ANTI-SPOILER AND WILL NOT ALLOW IT.

Continue reading

Posted in Anime, Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

My First Japanese Concert: Babymetal

babymetal

This past Friday, I was lucky enough to attend the Chicago stop on Babymetal’s 2016 US Tour. If you haven’t at least heard the name of the idol group whose J-Pop/Metal fusion has been gaining traction in the States, then you are probably living off the grid. As someone who never listens to metal, I’ve been amazed at how much press the girls have managed to get recently. Metalheads are either scoffing or falling hard, and people like me who have had little or no exposure to the metal culture, are attending shows where moshing is the norm. It’s confusing and quite fun.

This concert was not so much a concert, but a completely brand-new experience. I’m convinced that I’ll never experience anything quite like it again. I’m primarily a K-Pop fan, so I’m used to the idol culture and scene, but there truly is no comparison to hearing a live metal band accompany an idol group. What most attracted me to the group was the pure irony of their existence in a male-dominated musical genre and culture. A cute group of 16 year old Japanese girls performing a crucifixion on stage to a crowd of adult male metalheads? An absolute mindf***. I was drawn to this paradoxical concept.

As¬†I lined up at the Chicago House of Blues on that rainy Friday evening, I was amazed at just how diverse a crowd the girls could pull. Most of the crowd appeared to be fans of metal from the looks of their attire, but there were people of all ages and races. K-Pop concert-goers are diverse enough, but there are certainly a lot more teenagers and college-aged young adults than not. Young professionals like myself can feel a smidge uncomfortable in that environment. I didn’t feel out of place age-wise with the Babymetal crowd. There were plenty of people my age and older.

Once in the venue, it became clear that I truly was a fish out of water. My friend and I had pit tickets, but I told him I felt more comfortable a little farther out. I’d previously watched one of their Japan concert DVDs, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect from an American metal crowd. As the band who accompanies Babymetal, the Kami band, made their way on stage, the crowd began getting rowdier. The woman in front of me began losing autonomy¬†of her limbs¬†as her hand formed the “Kitsune” sign and her arm¬†began pumping wildly to the music. I expected that Kitsune would make contact with my face at some point during the show (and I wasn’t wrong).

20160513_210326

One of my blurry photos that at least shows you where I was standing in relation to the stage.

The first half of the set were mostly songs off of their new album, Metal Resistance. I had just listened to the album for the first time on the ride there, so I wasn’t too familiar with the tracks, but the girls got me pumped up either way. They were very energetic performers and when thinking of idols I’ve seen live, I could only compare that level of dedication to their craft to the TVXQ solo concert I saw in 2013. The lead singer, Sumetal, was passionately singing live. The other two members, Moametal and Yuimetal, were just as hype as I had seen on their live DVD and I was impressed. They performed demanding choreography and were all over the stage non-stop. The Kami band members were just as into it, and from what my casual ear could tell, were highly skilled musicians. I found myself really enjoying their solos and banging my head along to the music.

The latter half of the concert included their most well-known songs and was the most enjoyable part of the concert for me. Their song The One, was very special as it was¬†completely in English and a way of connecting to their international audience.¬†Road of Resistance had a more classic sound and fan interaction was encouraged at the end of the track when everyone chanted along. Their signature song “Megitsune” and their latest single “Karate” were the most fun as a good chunk of the crowd sang along to the Japanese lyrics (including myself) and the mosh pit became one collective dancing mass at certain parts. After the girls performed the last song, I felt a bit empty inside as the concert seemed much shorter than expected. I loved how the girls had really seemed to appreciate their audience and tried to break through the language barrier as best they could. I could see why their fans were so dedicated.

Verdict? Some of the most fun I’ve had at a concert. Of course, this concert was my first “metal” con. As a non-metal fan, I’ll leave the “real metal” argument to the pros, but I totally enjoyed myself and may see them again, depending on the venue. This concert had me wanting to attend metal concerts for other bands, because I loved the energy. With the energy of metal music and culture seems to come an unwritten rule that personal space is non-existent, which I was was not a fan of. So if the opportunity comes around again for a different band and I have my own seat and boundaries set, I am ready to give it another go. Either way, Babymetal has inspired my pop and hip-hop loving self to check out other metal bands. The growth of the genre from the new exposure may be an unintended consequence, but a potentially great one. Hopefully metalheads aren’t too salty about that.

So, have you gotten the chance to see the girls live? What do you think of them?

L

Posted in Music | Tagged , | Leave a comment