Before I moved to Japan, I had already started learning Japanese for a few months. So when I got to Japan, I thought I would have enough Japanese language knowledge to have conversations and go through day-to-day interactions without any issue. Little did I know that theory wasn’t enough. I needed practice, but until then, I had to get around with what I call “survival Japanese”.
As Japanese is the main language in Japan, most Japanese people are not fluent in speaking or understanding English. Whether you’re just traveling to Japan or moving there, you have to find your way around ordering food at restaurants where no waiter speaks English, or checking out an order at a supermarket with no English guidance.
In this article, I personally came up with 3 tips on how to master the “survival Japanese” so as to boost your Japanese language skills as well as have lesser interruptions to your travels.
1. The magical “sumimasen”
The first one is the magical word “sumimasen” (すみません), which is one of the most useful Japanese phrases you ought to know. Sumimasen doesn’t really have a direct translation per se— it depends on how it’s used. Depending on the context, sumimasen can be anything from a sorry to a thank you, which is pretty bizarre — but the closest translation to help you understand its most common usages is “excuse me”.
One way to use it is to get someone’s attention — like passing through a crowd or calling the waiter over.
Another way of using it is when you want to apologise. You might think it’s gomennasai (ごめんなさい), which is correct, but some would say that sumimasen is the more formal version of gomennasai — others would disagree and say it’s the casual version.
Anyway, regardless of which usage, I think it’s crucial to know this word as it’ll definitely help you out during your Japan trip! If you want to know more about this phrase, check out our Nihongo Master Podcast, Season 1 Episode 1 where we elaborate more on this phrase and three other useful Japanese phrases.
2. Learn the basics
On top of that, if you haven’t already started learning, you might also want to consider learning the basics of Japanese. When going to any foreign country, it’s no guarantee that everyone can speak English. In Japan, the first language is Japanese. And while the people here learn English in school, not everyone can speak it. To make your trip go more smoothly and just for the sake of convenience, learn basic Japanese. Or what I would call, survival Japanese.
Pick up a cheap Japanese learning book and learn how to introduce yourself, how to order, how to ask questions, and how to ask for directions. It’s okay if you can’t put a sentence together quickly. Just the basics like migi (右) and hidari (左), to mean right and left, or de ii desu ka? Which is a question to ask if something is okay, can go a long way. Our Season 4 Episode 11 discusses how to ask questions, even simple ones, in Japanese.
Or alternatively, you should subscribe to Nihongo Master right now. We have the best of the best materials to help you learn Japanese! Plus, we have a free one-week trial!
3. If using English, speak slow
But hey, if you insist on using English, or you don’t have time to brush up on your basic Japanese, try your very best to speak slowly and use basic words. I recommend adding gestures while you speak. Visual cues and basic words are a good combination to get your message across when there’s a language barrier.
Of course, it definitely helps if you know basic Japanese words as well. Like if you want to ask “is the toilet on the left?”, you can switch out some words to Japanese like “is the トイレ at 左??” Baby steps to mastering your Japanese, am I right?
Master Survival Japanese!
Learning a new language is tough, but what’s tougher is putting it into practice when you’re in the environment. Believe me, I personally went through that. And that’s okay. We’re all at our own pace, but in the meantime, while you’re getting there, you can use these three tips to get the ball rolling for you. Good luck!
Japan is one of the most popular destinations for travel. There’s no doubt about that one bit. Most dream about going on wild adventures in the land of anime and sushi. It’s on a lot of our travel bucket lists!
After you’ve purchased your flight tickets and blocked out the dates in your calendar, there’s still lots to do even before getting on your flight. In fact, the planning is the most crucial part of it all. Your research can determine how amazing your trip can be.
But even researching can be exhausting because you have to filter out tons of information online. So don’t worry, we’ve got you. We’re going to give you a few tips on how to prepare for your trip and the top places to visit! This is your one-stop guide to the best way to travel Japan!
Preparing Your Trip
So how does one prepare for a trip to Japan? It’s simple really, with our guide especially. Japan is full of spectacular sights and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. You don’t want to miss out on any just because you didn’t do your research, do you? Here are some of the ways to get ahead with preparing for your Japan trip!
1. Plan, Plan, Plan!
I know some of us are good at winging it, but it’s always great to plan. For Japan, it’s good to look into what each city has to offer and schedule your days accordingly.
Transport is a crucial point to take note of. Going to other cities and around generally via public transportation can be a bump in the road if you don’t plan. Timings can be off and you might find yourself stranded in the countryside with no way to get home!
2. Have Extra Cash in Hand
Japan isn’t as credit card-friendly as you might think. Bigger stores might accept them but good ol’ traditional shops by the streets won’t. So because of that, bring extra cash. Whether it’s your home currency or exchanged into yen, just make sure you have them.
If you’re bringing extra cash from your home country, think of the exchange rates. Depending on which country you’re coming from, it might be better to do that in your home country than in Japan. You might be able to save a few bucks.
You can also consider taking money out in ATMs in Japan. Konbini ones accept international credit cards for withdrawal. However, the exchange rates might not be pleasant… But hey, at least you have cash!
3. Get A Pocket WiFi or Travel SIM
Plan to get a pocket WiFi or travel SIM card. WiFi may not be available all throughout the country. If you’re planning to go to various cities, especially countryside ones, you might have a tough time going around without one.
In cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, you probably can get around with just WiFi. Some restaurants and shopping malls also offer them for free but they are super slow.
Cities can get surprisingly massive and you might find yourself constantly lost. Google Maps will be your best friend during your trip. It’s also greatly accurate for planning transport routes!
Must-Visit Stops in Japan
Planning includes where you want to go. Japan is a huge country, so you’ve got to decide which cities you should stop by. There are so many to choose from, but we’ve shortlisted the top three to start you off, especially if it’s your first time in Japan!
Who hasn’t heard of Tokyo? The capital city is one of the most famous cities in the whole world! Movies feature it and the neon lights are strangers to no one. They say that a month’s worth of travel wouldn’t be able to cover a third of what this city has to offer.
But we’ve got to start somewhere. The Shibuya Scramble Square is one of the top stops on the list for sure. It’s super busy but the best place to get everything you ever need! Food, drinks, shopping – you name it!
Don’t miss out on visiting the Tokyo Tower and its area. Not only will you be able to see the city from a high point view but you’ll be able to stroll leisurely on the streets full of cafes and gardens.
This city is just about an hour’s train ride from central Tokyo. Kamakura isn’t as busy as Tokyo even though it’s close. That makes it the perfect day trip to escape the bustles. The peace and serenity will be the first few things that hit you as soon as you arrive here. Locals and foreigners alike travel down to Kamakura for a change of pace.
The big Buddha statue known as the Kamakura Daibutsu is the highlight of the city. This can be found in the Buddhist temple, Kotoku-in.
An area you have to visit is the one near the Hasedera temple. Its streets are extremely vibrant. Tons of cafes and restaurants are brimming with energy. This is also the perfect place for souvenir shopping!
What’s a trip to Japan without a stop by the ancient capital city of Japan? Kyoto strips back down to the roots and tradition of Japanese culture. Every street screams history and culture, and you’ll be able to see geishas casually wandering around!
Arashiyama is a spot you have to see for yourself. The highlight here is the bamboo forest sheltering a few local temples. You might even see some monkeys for yourself!
Walk down the infinite gates of the Shinto shrine, Fushimi Inari Taisha. The gates run for 4 kilometers long! You don’t have to go all the way up, but if you do, set aside about two hours for a leisurely climb up. There are great sunset viewing spots up there!
Get ready for Japan!
Are you ready to explore Japan? There’s so much more to explore in Japan, but if we list them all, we’ll be here the whole day. Use our tips and planning guide to help you plan your next Japan trip!
If you’re interested in learning the Japanese language, or have already started studying it, you probably have heard about the JLPT. It’s the best way to measure one’s level of Japanese proficiency. Most languages have this type of standardized test. Japanese is no different.
While it may not be compulsory for one to take the JLPT test, it’s something most Japanese language learners should consider. Before you stress yourself out about it, you’ve come to the right place to know all you need to about this test. Everything from advantages and disadvantages to what the test contains is all just a scroll down away!
What is the JLPT?
Of course, the first question is: what is the JLPT? This stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test. It’s organised by the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES), which is a semi governmental organisation.
In the test, your reading and listening skills are tested, focusing on grammar and vocabulary. There are MCQ questions as well as listening comprehension. Depending on your level, the test gets harder. In total, there are 5 levels: JLPT N1 to N5. N5 is the lowest proficiency level of them all, with N1 being the highest. Japanese language learners start off by taking the JLPT N5 test.
A lot of Japanese language learners use these tests to gauge their level of proficiency and figure out their weak points. In N5 and N4, the most common and conversational grammar and vocabulary are tested, but as you get to N2, almost all the grammar points are tested.
Levels of the JLPT
As we mentioned earlier, there are 5 levels of JLPT. Let’s take a look at what you need to know for each level.
In JLPT N5, which is the easiest level, this proficiency level is a good first step. There are 600 vocabulary words covered, 100 kanji (漢字) characters and 100 grammar points. At this level, you should also be able to read hiragana (ひらがな) and katakana (カタカナ). Grammar points include particles, which is the basics of any Japanese sentence.
This level of JLPT is a great level to show your achievement and interest in the language. While you can definitely put this on your resume, it probably won’t score you any big jobs. Lots of language learners study for the test but never actually take it. They do so just to know their level and also save a few bucks.
I personally skipped to the JLPT N4 and didn’t take the JLPT N5 test. This level covers most of the grammar that you need to speak conversational Japanese. Once you cover all of JLPT N4 and N5 material, you can get around Japan without many problems.
In JLPT N4, you’re looking at 2,000 vocabulary words and 300 kanji characters. While it won’t get you reading newspapers without issue, you can understand the gist of the text enough.
JLPT N4 is a good level to stop at if you don’t plan on working in Japan or your job doesn’t require Japanese for work. This is because this level gives you good enough comprehension skills and grammar to survive most conversations.
From this level onwards, you’re going to want to be more focused. There’s a slightly big jump from N4 to N3 as you need to speed up reading and comprehending. At JLPT N3, you’re required to learn 5,000 vocabulary words and 600 kanji characters.
Phrases and grammar points in this level are more advanced than N4 and N5. This level bridges the gap between N4 and N2 – N4 looks at common grammar, whereas N2 looks at less common ones.
At this level, you can use this for a job, maybe outside of Japan, to reply to non real-time comprehension like email.
If you’re planning to work in Japan, the JLPT N2 is what you should aim for. This gives you the most grammar and vocabulary you would need to understand most of written and spoken Japanese. You’re required to learn 10,000 vocabulary words and 1,000 kanji characters.
When you pass N2, you can land yourself a lot of jobs in Japan as it proves your comprehension of the language.
Last but not least, we have the JLPT N1. This is the highest level of all and proves your utmost fluency in the language. When you have this level, you’re qualified for any job in Japan. It’s pretty close to native fluency at this point.
During the test, you’re going to have to take down notes ast and can skim and read fast, too. These are skills that are important for working. With this proficiency level, you might even qualify for special visas that have more perks than the permanent residency.
Some say it takes the same amount of time to go from N2 to N1 as it does to go from 0 to N2.
Benefits of the JLPT
There are a lot of benefits to taking the JLPT tests, regardless of level. Even though it’s fairly easy to get an English teaching job in Japan, you can’t really do much without some sort of Japanese language comprehension.
So you’re definitely increasing your chances of getting other employment opportunities. Although, a lot of jobs require at least an N3 or N2 proficiency level, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from taking N5 and N4.
With a better understanding of the Japanese language, you might even be able to get a pay raise at your job. Especially if you can negotiate for it in Japanese.
Disadvantages of the JLPT
I think the biggest downside of the JLPT tests is that it doesn’t test speaking ability. The tests focus a lot on reading and listening, but there isn’t a section for speaking.
While this can easily be practiced when you immerse yourself in the country and its people, you can get away much more with grammar when talking to people casually. A lot of Japanese language learners are still constantly improving their grammar when speaking because the JLPT test doesn’t have a section to correct speech.
What level of the JLPT do I need?
Now, this depends on what you want to use Japanese for. If it’s to gauge your understanding of the language, N4 and N5 can do that.
N3 can get you a couple of job positions. I have tons of friends who are at N3 level and have landed jobs in Japan with it.
To be fully certain you can get more job opportunities, N2 is the way to go.
N1 is only needed for more advanced positions.
Which JLPT test are you going to take?
So, which level are you going to take? Remember that you should always take your time and go at your own pace when learning Japanese. You are on your own path and no one else’s! Good luck!
Congratulations! You’ve decided that you want to learn Japanese. Fantastic! The Japanese language is one of the richest languages in the world. One word can hold various meanings, and a phrase won’t have the exact translation for it.
Of course, with any language, it takes time to learn. The question is, are there any ways to cut down the time it takes to learn it? The answer is yes! In this article, we’ll highlight some of the ways and things you can do to do just that. But remember, at the end of the day, effort is key. So if you combine your efforts with our tips, you’ll be able to reach your desired time goal with no problems!
Understand your native language better first
First and foremost, you have to understand your native language first. If you’re learning Japanese in English, make sure you understand your own language’s sentence structures and grammar. It’s harder to learn another language when you haven’t mastered the backbone of your own.
There’s no shame in that, though. Our native language is one where we learn by ear most of the time. But it’s never too late to build the base and foundation for it. You’ll develop more understanding of how languages work and overtime, learning new languages gets easier. After that, getting into Japanese grammar can be easier. Or at least manageable.
Learn actively, not passively
Some people believe that you can learn a new language the way you learn your first language. That’s not true. You can’t just immerse yourself in the language and expect to naturally pick it up over time. There needs to be effort put into learning. There has to be hard work.
When you’re a kid, it’s easier to learn new languages. You also get more attention from your parents when it comes to the language. When you’re an adult, you have to put in the same amount of attention for yourself, by yourself.
Reach out to people for help. Go to classes. Practice speaking, listening and writing every day. There are no shortcuts to learning. Immersion can be powerful, but useless when on its own. I know people who’ve been in Japan for years but still don’t know any Japanese.
Practice more, study less
This might contradict my previous point, but always practice. It can be easy to forget that language is a skill, not a collection of knowledge. What’s the point of knowing a language if you can’t use it? The textbook will always be there, but use it as a reference rather than a foundation. You can’t always be walking around with a textbook.
Not being in Japan is not an excuse to not practice your Japanese language. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people to get help. The internet is full of resources for you to find people to practice Japanese with. From apps to websites, there’s no reason for you to not have access to what you need.
Of course, you would want to have your basic Japanese skills down first. Don’t just throw away the textbook. Make sure you know your foundation. Your language exchange partner is not your teacher.
Don’t be a perfectionist
I can understand the need to be perfect. I’m a perfectionist too. The thing is, if you want to learn a language fast, you can’t afford to be one. You can’t know everything in a short period of time. You may only reach a passable level of communication.
You should get over your fear of making mistakes, because it’s inevitable. You’re going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. You actually learn more when you make them. When you make mistakes, you put in effort to fix your wrong, and you learn from them better. So actually, in this context, mistakes are good!
Set your priorities
When it comes to learning a new language, the amount of information can be quite overwhelming. Be sure to prioritise properly. Grammar is key. Once you have a solid foundation of vocabulary, you can use grammar points to explain the words you don’t know yet. From there, you’ll be able to learn new words as well.
My mistake was focusing on vocabulary, but you won’t be able to use them if you don’t know how to string a sentence together to express your thoughts. Set your priorities!
Make time, not find time
Last but not least, since we’re on the topic of priorities, make Japanese learning a priority. You shouldn’t slide the learning session in between free slots in your schedule, but rather open up your schedule for learning. Having a consistent learning journey is one of the most significant aspects of language learning. If you’re serious about learning Japanese, you’ll turn your coffee break into a quick, rapid Japanese learning sesh!
If you stick by these tips, you’ll be able to cut down some time off your Japanese language learning. Whether a whole chunk of time or just a little, it’s still some time saved! So grab your books and your language partner, and get studying!
Some of us dream of working in Japan. It’s like an unachievable fantasy. What if I told you that working in Japan is not that far-fetched of a dream at all? In fact, it’s totally possible! There are more and more job openings for foreigners in Japan as we speak. Some of these jobs won’t even require you to have fluent Japanese!
Of course, if you do have a higher level of Japanese, you have more job opportunities. But don’t let that bring your hopes down. You still have options. Let’s take a look at the top 19 most popular jobs for foreigners working in Japan.
1. English Teacher
The easiest job to land in Japan for a foreigner is teaching. More specifically, teaching English. I think most of the foreigners I’ve met in Japan have been there, done that – including me. There are so many positions available throughout the country, and job postings pop up all year round.
For this job position, you don’t need to know Japanese at all. Because you’re teaching English, your lessons are going to be fully in English. All you need is to have at least a bachelor’s degree. It would definitely help if you know a bit of Japanese, as well as prior teaching experience, but it’s not a requirement.
The downside to this is that it’s not the best-paying job. But hey, you’ll get a working visa and live in the country of your dreams.
If you’re bilingual, you’ll find that it’s easy to get a translation job in Japan, especially if one of the languages you speak is Japanese. There’s a huge demand in the interpretation and translation industry. The gaming industry in Japan is huge, as we all know from our hours of playing video games and watching animation. Game companies require their works to be translated into other languages when they release it internationally.
While there’s opportunities for full-time employment, you can also find part-time positions and contract work. This can include assisting businessmen when they travel for work and also translating written works.
3. IT Professional
After English-teaching, the IT professional job is the most common job in Japan. Positions like software developers and programmers are always in demand. The talent pool among Japanese locals for programmers is rather small. Companies are looking to international talents to fill these roles.
You can most definitely find positions that require minimal to zero Japanese language ability. However, your options are multiplied when you can speak a bit of Japanese.
4. Military Personnel
If you’re American, you’re in luck. One of the most common ways to work in Japan is to be stationed at one of the US military bases in the country. Japan has the largest number of military personnel based here than in any other foreign country. Cities that have large bases like Okinawa have a large international population. Because of that, the area might be more English-friendly than other parts of the country.
Engineering is significant in Japan, and engineer job positions are as common as IT professional job positions. Japan is known for its advanced engineering, from automobile to computer. If you’re skilled in any aspect of engineering, your chances of landing a job as an engineer in Japan is high.
Japanese companies are looking to foreign talent for their expansion of their engineering industry. A lot of these job positions require no Japanese. In fact, you’ll be dealing with more foreign clients than local ones most of the time.
6. Tourism Roles
The boom in tourism in Japan calls for demand in tourism related roles. It’s increasing so rapidly that the locals can’t keep up with it. Travel agencies and tourism-related businesses need foreigners to fill in some roles, especially when those roles involve dealing with non-Japanese clients. A common job is a tour guide.
For these kinds of roles, you’d be required to know at least conversational Japanese so you can communicate fairly well with your company and clients. How much you can earn depends on your skills and experience, too. But the best part about tourism related roles is that you get to travel while on the job!
7. Investment Banking
Large investment banking companies are relocating their workers and also hiring foreign workers. Japan is an ideal place for these banks to locate. Because of this progression, you wouldn’t need Japanese language skills for this job. The banking industry also supports other jobs like IT professionals, too.
8. Service Staff
An easy job to land if you have adequate Japanese language skills is service staff. If you’re on a Working Holiday visa or other valid visa like a spousal visa, this is an ideal opportunity. Look at the tourism industry – for example, hotels, resorts and restaurants in tourist destinations are more willing to hire foreign staff since bilinguality can be an asset to their business.
9. Sales staff
Similar to service staff, the sales staff job is also an easy job to land if you’re bilingual with Japanese. However, it’s not limited to that. Some local companies are trying to reach the international market, especially those in the automobile and banking industries. Because of that, they are opening up positions for foreign workers to assist in that reach.
You might not think this is a possible job for most of the world, but in Japan, it’s rather easy. Modelling is more often taken as a part time or freelance job because of its instability, but it’s a job that’s extremely common and popular. Japanese companies are using non-Japanese models more and more to promote their business, so it’s in high demand right now.
The pay depends on the job, and it also depends on the frequency of jobs you get a month. Modelling agencies might provide you with a valid working visa if you’re working as a model full-time. Tokyo, especially, has a lot of modelling agencies that are foreigner-friendly.
Which job is for you?
As you can see, there’s quite a range of job opportunities in Japan for foreigners. Everything from technical to artistic, there’s a position for you. You can browse your opportunities on job-hunting websites like Gaijinpot and Jobs in Japan, but a simple Google search does the trick, too. So what are you waiting for – get searching and applying!
For those looking to explore as much of Japan as possible, the country’s efficient and extensive rail network can’t be beat. Traveling around Japan by train is the perfect way for visitors to quickly and comfortably see the different sides of the country. However, the cost of lots of train travel really starts to add up in a country like Japan.
The good news is that there is a way to take as many trains as you like while in Japan without blowing up your budget. Rather than purchase tickets for each and every journey, a Japan Rail Pass allows passengers to travel as much as they like within the duration of their pass.
Introducing the Japan Rail Pass
With 7-day, 14-day and 21-day passes available to tourists, JR Passes can not only save people money but also give them the freedom to take train trips whenever the mood strikes. This one pass gives passengers access to train services all over Japan, ranging from local and regional trains to the country’s iconic shinkansen.
The Japan Rail Pass can be the key to unlocking everything Japan has to offer for tourists and may well be the second-best decision you make, after deciding to come in the first place.
What Does the Japan Rail Pass Include?
To really appreciate the value of traveling with the Japan Rail Pass, it’s important that you understand what it covers. The last thing you want, now or later, is confusion about what is included by the pass.
It’s crucial straight away to make it clear that the JR Pass does not cover all train travel in Japan. Instead, the pass allows passengers unlimited travel on most high-speed, limited express, express, rapid, and local train services operated by the Japan Railways (JR) Group. This means that for the duration of your rail pass, you can travel as much as you want on eligible train services around Japan, including Japan’s famous bullet trains known as shinkansen.
Unfortunately, there are a few rare exceptions to the rail pass that are worth being aware of. The most important are the Nozomi and Mizuho shinkansen services, which run on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu shinkansen lines. While this may seem inconvenient, there are other shinkansen services on these routes that are covered under the JR Pass, so it shouldn’t really affect your travels.
Because the Japan Rail Pass is such a useful and convenient option for traveling by train, it comes with quite strict restrictions on who can use it. The rail pass was designed to be mainly used by international tourists and the eligibility requirements reflect that. Only non-Japanese nationals on short tourism visits or Japanese nationals who meet specific conditions are able to purchase and use this rail pass.
While you can read up on the detailed eligibility requirements, the main one for tourists is that they enter the country on a single-entry temporary sightseeing visitor visa of 15 or 90 days duration.
Planning Your Rail Pass Trip
Now that you understand what the Japan Rail Pass covers and whether you can use it, it’s time to see whether it’s right for your trip. Every trip to Japan is different, so you need to check whether the rail pass makes sense for what you have planned.
One essential tool for deciding to get a rail pass is the JR Pass Fare Calculator. This invaluable resource allows you to input your travel plans, see whether a rail pass would work out cheaper than buying individual tickets and if so how much it could save you. We’re not talking about small savings potentially either; the cost of a round trip ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto is only marginally cheaper than a 7-day Japan Rail Pass.
Another vital resource you’ll want to consult when considering a rail pass is the JR Pass Map. This fantastic interactive map lets you see the entire JR railway network across the country, allowing you to visually see where the JR Pass can take you. But the map doesn’t just highlight JR lines and the shinkansen routes, it also helps you identify networks like private railways, trams and ropeways that won’t be covered.
How to Order a JR Pass
Since a Japan Rail Pass works differently to regular train tickets, the process for getting it is slightly different. In fact, it’s best if it actually begins before you even leave for Japan. While it is possible to buy a JR Pass in Japan, it’s actually cheaper if you buy it through an authorised vendor before you leave.
Once your pass is purchased, you will receive a slip of paper in the mail called an “Exchange Order”. Keep this order somewhere safe, as you will need to bring it with you to Japan to get your pass. Upon arriving in Japan, visit an Exchange Office found at major airports or in large cities, with your Exchange Order and passport. Following some paperwork at the office you will receive your official Japan Rail Pass with its activation day declared on it. The activation day is the day that you tell the office you would like to begin using your pass. From that day onwards, you’ll be able to travel on the pass, showing it to attendants at the turnstiles within stations bearing the JR symbol.
Traveling in Japan with a Japan Rail Pass can be an excellent move if it lines up with your travel plans. Rail passes can not only save you money, but also provide you with the chance to freely explore this wonderful destination to your heart’s content.
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You’ve mastered hiragana (ひらがな). It took you a while to learn katana (カタカナ), but at the end, you did it. Now, for the next step in learning Japanese. There are three writing systems in the Japanese language. The third one is kanji (漢字). This writing system is made up of Chinese characters. If you’re familiar with the Chinese language, memorizing the characters won’t be hard for you at all. Because you already know them.
Not all of us are as lucky. We’ve got to learn kanji from scratch. And let me tell you, from personal experience, it’s extremely difficult. Even some of my Japanese friends find kanji hard!
But hard doesn’t mean impossible. With a couple of tips, you can learn kanji easier. In this article, we list 6 ways to help you master the kanji writing system!
Learn the Radicals
Radicals are a big part of how kanji characters are set up. Radicals are a piece of kanji that gets tacked onto a bigger kanji. There are a total of 214 radicals in Japanese. If you learn all of them, you’ll cover the base characters. From there, you can build up towards your kanji characters. Radicals are also handy for using kanji dictionaries, like the one on Nihongo Master.
When you combine two or more radicals together, even without knowing the big kanji character, you can basically guess what it means. However, radicals change shape when you combine them with another kanji. For example, 水 (mizu, water) changes to 氵 when you see it in the word 海 (umi, ocean).
When you start learning radicals and the ways they change, soon you’ll be able to recognise bigger kanji characters. Over time, you’ll build your kanji vocabulary, just from learning the radicals!
Learn Jouyou Kanji
There are over 50,000 kanji in the Japanese language! That’s a lot, even for a Japanese person. So, how do you know which kanji to learn and which not to?
The answer is simple: learn Jouyou kanji (常用漢字). This refers to the commonly used Chinese characters. Younger Japanese kids start off by learning this type of kanji first. If you can memorize Jouyou kanji, you’ll be able to read at least 80% of the Japanese language already!
You can’t beat the age-old technique of repetition and drilling. This is also known as the traditional way to learn kanji. It uses a lot of paper with square boxes and pen ink. But at the end of the day, you’re going to have those kanji characters locked in your brain.
Take one kanji character that you really want to learn. Then, look at how the strokes are. A lot of people say it’s important to learn the strokes in order. It’s true, because it really helps to memorise the character. Follow the strokes of the characters on paper for yourself.
Copy the stroke order until you’ve locked it in your brain for the day. Then the next day, try recalling it without referring to anything. Do it every day until you can remember it. Then, when you stop drilling that kanji character, wait a few weeks before testing yourself again. If you pass your own test, you’ve mastered that kanji character.
Do that practice for all the kanji characters you want to learn. Learning to draw kanji will help you remember as well as make your Japanese writing more fluent looking!
Use Flash Cards
Accompany the previous method with this one: flashcards. Not everyone can learn from constantly repeating the same strokes over and over again. Some are more visual learners than others. This means that they need to see a visual reference to learn better.
I learn better with writing things down, but I know some people prefer visual aids. The flash cards can be of the stroke orders or a picture of what the kanji character looks like. Whichever works best for you, opt for those flashcards.
They’re great for learning on-the-go, as well. Flashcards are small and can be carried around with you. They barely take up any space! Whether you’re commuting or waiting for your dish at a cafe, pop them out and learn!
Take Up Reading
I know not everyone is a fan of reading. If you’re not, you might want to reconsider. Reading can really help you learn kanji characters. That’s because reading solidifies the kanji characters that you already know. When you are faced with the characters you’re familiar with a lot of times, it’s going to stay permanent in your head.
This method is great when you already know a lot of kanji characters. It shows you the kanji you know in action, reinforcing them, but also showing you new kanji and different usage of the ones you know. Keep a kanji dictionary handy and highlight or take note of what you don’t understand. You’ll be learning new words and kanji in no time!
On top of that, you get to read a new story and see the kanji characters you learn in context!
Build Your Vocab
Last but not least, a great way to learn kanji is by building your vocabulary. I used to do this a lot when I was starting out with learning kanji. If you learn the vocabulary word, you’ll naturally learn the kanji characters used for it.
For example, you’re definitely going to learn the word “to eat” (食べる, taberu). Another essential Japanese word is “dining room” (食堂, shokudou). You’ll realize that the kanji 食 can be pronounced as “ta” or “shoku”. You’ll learn more vocabulary and be exposed to more words that use the same kanji character. After a while, you’ll be able to guess the readings and grasp the meaning just from context.
This method is more useful the more words you learn. It definitely gets easier as well. Not only are you building your kanji character book but also your Japanese vocabulary!
Different people study differently. These 6 methods have different approaches for various types of learners. There’s definitely one that’ll be great for your way of learning. Kanji is important in the Japanese language. Try all the ways out and you’ll be a master at it!
Figuring out how to stay motivated learning Japanese isn’t an easy thing to do. Language learning is hard, it can be super frustrating, and there will always be a million things you could be doing instead of studying. Of course if you’re in high school or college taking a language class means if you don’t study, you don’t pass. But self-learners have a whole other problem. How do you stay motivated when you’re the only one making yourself study? How do you stay motivated when your friends are going to the beach or to see a movie? How do you stay motivated when you just got a new video game you’re dying to play?
These are all great questions, and with summer just around the corner we thought we would a handy guide to help you stay on top of your studies this summer, and the whole rest of the year as well!
Use It or Lose It!
One of the strongest motivators to keep you learning should be the fear of forgetting what you already learned! Taking a break and coming back only to realize you have to review SO MUCH that you already learned should be a powerful reason to keep at it every single day.
Everyone Has 15 Minutes a Day
Should you study for more than 15 minutes a day if you really want to get better? Of course. But if 15 minutes is all you have, it can definitely make a difference. On Nihongo Master this might mean just coming in to do some drills and keep things fresh!
Schedule Your Learning Time and Stick to It
Telling yourself “I’m gonna study later” is great if you actually do it, but making loose, unspecified plans is a great way to break them. When planning your studies for the week be sure to set aside specific tasks for specific times. “From 6-6:30 I’m going to do Nihongo Master drills.” “From 6:30-7 I’m going to do my WaniKani.” Most people who are self-studying use multiple tools and websites so building out your study plan at the beginning of the weeks means you know exactly what to do and when each and every day. When you have that time set aside, you can be sure not to have anything else scheduled and you will be much more likely to complete your tasks!
Feeling Frustrated? Take a Japanese break!
Learning Japanese is HARD with confusing grammar and thousands of kanji and sometimes you just wanna give up! If you start feeling like that, then take a break to do some FUN Japanese stuff. Watch your favorite anime or J-drama. Leave the subtitles on so you’re not working so hard. Dance around to your favorite J-Pop band. Whatever reason you love Japan and Japanese culture, it can help you stay motivated. Working too hard and getting burnt out is a surefire way to give up.
If you’re not into Japanese culture and are just learning for work or for family then remind yourself why those things are important to you! Go spend some time with the person you are learning Japanese for. Or make a list of reasons why this new Japanese job is the best thing ever! Everyone has a different reason for learning Japanese and sometimes you just need a little reminder!
Get a Skype or Email Buddy
Having a set date (weekly is best, but every other week works too) to speak or write Japanese can keep you on track even if the rest of your study time is falling by the wayside. Letting your studies slip is a great way to feel like “Well, it’s too late now, may as well give up!” But it doesn’t have to be that way! Just having your weekly Skype date with a Japanese friend, or another learner, means your brain will be using all the Japanese you’ve already learned. Like we said before, use it or lose it!
Get a Study Buddy
Find someone else to join up with and set times you will both be on the site. You can chat together while you’re learning and you won’t want to let your teammate down!
If you don’t have a study buddy on the site, then at the very least you should tell other people about your plan. Tell your best friend, tell your mom. Write it on your calendar and post it on Facebook! The more people you tell your study goals to, the stronger the will to keep up with them will be.
Record Yourself Speaking Japanese Every Week
Whether it’s just a few sentences or a 10 minute YouTube video, recording yourself is the best way to practice your pronunciation AND track your improvement. You don’t have to post it anywhere or share it with the world, but HEARING your own progress each week is a great source of motivation. It can be both validating (when you hear how much you’ve improved) or inspiring (when you realize you need to practice more to get better)! If you have a Japanese friend, send it to them and have them grade your pronunciation.
If you are old maybe you have one of these cassette recorders…but the microphone on your computer should also work just fine 🙂
Make an Inspiration Board
OK, so this one might seem a little girly, but whatever. Boys can make cool inspiration boards too! Put up pictures of your favorite anime, the places you want to visit in Japan, anything!! Add fun or inspiring quotes (maybe in Japanese AND English) and put it somewhere you’ll actually see it. Every. Single. Day. Being reminded of the WHY behind your choice to learn Japanese is the best way to keep your motivation levels high. Obviously, if you forget why you’re learning Japanese, it won’t matter much to you if you give it up.
Here are some good motivational quotes to get you started:
“It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb
Don’t Get Frustrated!
Frustration, feeling inadequate, and feeling like Japanese is too hard is something EVERY learner goes through. Japanese is tough! But if you’re coming up on some grammar you just don’t get, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, just go back a little bit in your learning. Maybe read a kid’s manga children’s book that is easy to understand. Try practicing with a beginner learner so you can help them while feeling better about yourself! Reminding yourself of how far you’ve already come can jump start your motivation to keep going forward.
Create Rewards for Your Achievements
Rewarding good behavior is called positive reinforcement and it’s a technique that almost all teachers and parents use to help encourage good behavior. But there’s no reason you can’t use this technique on yourself! Set specific goals each week and month and build in small rewards for accomplishing them. This could be things like studying for an hour a day for 6 days means you earned a night out at the movies with your friends. Or if you get above a 95% on your next quiz, you can get that pair of shoes you’ve been saving up for. Whatever prizes will help you stay on track, it’s totally up to you! The trick is to be strict with yourself and never reward yourself if you didn’t really complete the challenge! Self-studying requires a level of honesty and self-discipline and no one is there to hold you accountable except yourself!
Figuring out how to stay motivated learning Japanese is going to be different for everyone. What works great for your friend might not work as well for you. The key is trying as many tactics as po
Fair enough, unlike some other languages, the Japanese language is not the most difficult language to pronounce. It also depends on your native language as well — most of it can be quite easy. You can easily make the most accurate sounds just like a native Japanese speaker.
However, there are a few sounds that aren’t quite that easy. A lot of the time, people can’t seem to get it right. That’s because some of the pronunciations in the Japanese language don’t seem to exist anywhere else outside of the language itself!
While it’s possible to spend hours and hours talking about Japanese pronunciation and trying to master it, I’ve compiled a general rundown of the Japanese pronunciations that will do just as well — if not better. Let’s take a look at everything there is to know about the Japanese pronunciations and how to fix yourself if need be.
The Japanese sounds aren’t all that difficult. In fact, the Japanese pronunciations are consistent, repeatable and predictable! If you compare it to the English language, the Japanese pronunciation rules are the easiest in the world!
The English language consists of vowels and consonants that make up syllables. If you sit down and actually calculate the number of syllables we have in the English language, you can be here all day! A consonant and a vowel combined can have multiple ways of pronunciation.
That’s not the case at all in the Japanese language — there are no consonants at all, just vowels and a fixed number of syllables that are always pronounced the exact same way. So if you have learned the hiragana, you basically have mastered 95% of the entire Japanese pronunciations.
It’s just the 5% that I’m going to help you tackle.
The Japanese vowels are much like English vowels. There are 5 of them: あ, え, い, お and う
あ is not pronounced as “eh” like how we pronounce the letter A, but as “ah” like when we say “ah, that’s right”.
え is also not pronounced like “ee” when we pronounce the letter E — it’s pronounced as “eh”; you might say it’s similar to the letter A but there’s a bit of a difference.
い is so far from the letter I where it’s pronounced “ai”, and is more like “ee” — kind of like the letter E.
お is the simples; it’s pronounced just like the letter O.
う is similar to the letter U, but it’s just “oo” instead of “you”.
As mentioned before, the Japanese language has a fixed set of syllables. Instead of having consonants, they have individual sounds instead. So there’s no hiragana that represents consonants but only vowels and then skip to the syllables instead.
For example, か is described as the combination of “k” consonant and “a” vowel, but in the Japanese language, it’s just “ka”.
There are also special characters like ち where it’s a combination of two consonants “c” and “h” with the vowel “i” to make one Japanese syllable “chi”.
Basically, there’s no separation between consonants and vowels in the Japanese language. Japanese uses syllables to make the same sounds but using fewer symbols instead of breaking it down to its smallest forms. You might think it’s a bit unusual but it keeps the varying pronunciations to a minimum.
The Difficult Sounds in Japanese
We’ve covered the easy bit of Japanese pronunciations, which is practically all of them — except for a few exceptions. There are two Japanese syllables that are harder to pronounce than others, but I’ll give you a few tips on how to master them.
1. Tsu (つ)
The first one is つ. This one can get quite difficult. The romaji (ロマ字) form is “tsu” as in from the word “tsunami”. Only, when we say “tsunami”, the “t” consonant is silent in English. In Japanese, every romaji symbol is pronounced: the “t”, the “s” and the “u”.
The hard part is pronouncing the “t” aspect of the Japanese syllable. The trick is to sneak a short “t” sound right before saying the “s”. It should be as long as the “t” in “psst”. Try saying “psst” backward and you’ll probably get the “ts” pronunciation part down.
2. N (ん)
This lone ranger is a unique one. It’s actually the only consonant in the Japanese language. ん looks like the letter N — good news, it sounds exactly like N, too!
Well, most of the time. There are very unique situations where the character is pronounced as the letter M instead of N. For example, the word “senpai” is spelled as せんぱい in Japanese hiragana. However, it’s pronounced as “sempai” instead, especially when people talk really fast and it’s easier to just say it as an M instead of N — but everyone will know it’s still spelled with the ん character.
Tips To Sound Natural When Speaking Japanese
If you’ve reached this far, you’re basically at 99% when it comes to proper Japanese pronunciation! But, of course, I won’t be done until you’re at 100%. Here are some tips to sound even more natural when speaking Japanese — you’ll sound like a native in no time!
Pausing and dragging appropriately
In the Japanese language, there are times where you get the small tsu (っ). That’s your queue to pause for a bit. For example, in the word “kitto” (きっと, which means certainly) you ought to pronounce it as “kit-toh” with a slight pause in between the two syllables. If you say it as “kito”, it’ll mean a totally different thing — きと means plan or project in Japanese.
There’s also the opposite, which is dragging the pronunciation out. This happens when there are two of the same vowels together: ああ, ええ, いい, うう, and even similar combination ones like おう.
An example is りょうこう to mean good or fine and りょこう to mean travel. If the first word is not pronounced as “ryouh-kouh” but instead “ryo-kouh” then you’re mentioning “travel” instead of “good”.
Get rid of the U
Level up your Japanese by cutting out your “u” pronunciations at the end of a word whenever necessary. The easiest examples are です and ます. Instead of “des-u”, try saying it as “dess” and instead of “mas-u” try saying it as “mas”.
R to L
Even though there are some Japanese syllables that are pronounced as R like ら, れ, り, ろ and る, change the pronunciation of the R to L.
It’s actually not even that simple. The correct pronunciation is an in-between of R and L. You have to barely touch the tip of your tongue against the gums behind your front teeth and not push your tongue against the back of your front teeth.
Confusing, I know. But with practice, you’ll master it.
Fu to Hu
There’s this unique Japanese syllable that is ふ, and while the romaji is “fu”, it’s not pronounced with the F letter. The “f” pronunciation doesn’t exist in Japanese, just like how the “r” doesn’t.
Rather than saying “fu” when pronouncing the syllable, switch to pronouncing “h”. Your lower lip and teeth shouldn’t meet but ever so slightly touching each other like they’re teasing.
Similar to the previous one, you just have to practice it till you make it!
That’s as brief as I can make a rundown of Japanese pronunciations to be, and it did cover all of them without elaborating too much till I bore you to death. Now that you know what to look out for — like the つ and ん — and what to change — like R to L and Fu to Hu — you’re on your way to sounding like a native. So step up your game and use this as a guide to getting your 95% to 100%!
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