Onwards to Joyo Literacy

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

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

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

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

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

No JLPT1 For Me This Year

I just found out that all of the seats for the level 1 have been taken at my testing site (Columbia University in NYC), so even if I was 100% sure I wanted to take the test, I wouldn’t have the opportunity anyway. Of course, this doesn’t keep me from actually studying, and it might be better that I don’t try to take it this year.

I advise that if you’re interested in taking any JLPT and haven’t signed up to do so as soon as possible so that you do not have the same fate befall you.

You’re Looking at a Man with BUSINESS – LEVEL Japanese


Test results for the JLPT came in yesterday.

I passed, barely.

But I still passed!

What this says to me is that I did just the right amount of hard work, not so much that it took away from other activities, but not so little that I couldn’t make it. In a way, I’m lucky, but I also know that those months of reading little kanji cards on the train and studying with friends was validated.

And I thank you all for letting me talk about my trials and tribulations of learning Japanese, and not asking me to just talk more about anime.

I guess for now the jlpt category will lay dormant, unless I am insane enough to go for the level 1.

Maybe I am. Who knows?

Oshii Mamoru… and a Play About Tetsujin 28???

Below is an article from the Mainichi Daily News’ website, translated for your convenience.

Actually it’s for my convenience as it lets me practice my Japanese, but we’ll leave that aside.

Tetsujin 28: A 500kg Iron Man Stands Tall! Minami Kaho Claims the Robot “Has a Life of Its Own” at Public Dress Rehearsal.

The robot manga Tetsujin 28 [Originally brought to America as Gigantor] by Yokoyama Mitsuteru (deceased) has been transformed into a play by Oshii Mamoru of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence fame. During the public dress rehearsal on the 9th, viewers witnessed the roughly six-meter-tall [approx. 19.7 ft], 500 kg [approx. 1102.3 lbs.] Tetsujin. They also showed the climax where main character Kaneda Shoutarou (played by Minami Kaho) rides in Tetsujin’s hand as the robot itself stands up.

For the theater edition of Tetsujin 28, Oshii Mamoru helped with both the script and production. Originally known as “Prototype 28,” the giant robot emerged towards the end of the Pacific War as a decisive weapon of the Japanese Army and is later revived in 1964 around the time of the Tokyo Olympics. The story tells of boy detective Kaneda Shoutarou, who takes control of the Prototype 28 in order to fight against a terrorist organization. After the dress rehearsal ended, Minami Kaho remarked that to her surprise she was able to sense life in the robot, claiming, “It feels as if it has a life of its own.”

The performance will be open to the public in Tokyo at the Galaxy Theater  from January 10 – 25. In Osaka, the performance will be at Umeda  Arts Theater’s “Drama City” from February 5 – 8. S-rank seats go for ¥11,000 [$121 US] while A-rank seats go for ¥8000 [$88 US].

Writer: Kawamura Naruhiro (I don’t actually know how you’re supposed to pronounce this name. If anyone could help that’d be great)

There’s Something “Different” About These Voice Actors…

Back when the Soul Eater anime began airing, one of the big topics going around was Maka Albarn’s voice actor. Maka was Omigawa Chiaki’s first role in anime and it showed. Some called her voice work terrible or amateurish, I referred to it as a very natural-sounding voice. For those who haven’t heard it, when Maka speaks it sounds more like a young, soft-spoken narrator than it does a character in a show. However you judge it though, no one can deny that Maka’s voice was different from the usual.

At some point I decided to listen to the Soul Eater Web Radio Show (Maka Side), half curious, half wanting to practice listening comprehension for the JLPT2, and I was surprised to find out that Chiaki’s Maka voice is quite different from her everyday speaking voice. This meant that as natural and realistic-sounding as Maka’s voice is, it’s not just Chiaki speaking normally. I was impressed, but then I thought about how I wasn’t the best judge of Japanese voice acting, and a lot of the Maka voice’s detractors were Japanese people posting on 2ch and what-not. I’ve made progress over the years, but to really tell who’s good and who’s bad, I can’t do so with complete confidence still.

It was a few weeks after that when Anime World Order posted its review of Bubblegum Crisis. I had seen the show long ago, back when I barely knew anything about anime and my older brother knew guys in his high school who were willing to copy tapes for him, but it had been so long I barely remembered anything. I decided to re-watch the original Bubblegum Crisis, all of it, knowing that there was some bias for BGC among the AWO crew and not wanting to be too influenced by it.

Throughout the OVA series one voice really stood out among the rest: that of main character and most prominent Knight Saber Priss Asagiri. There was something about the way she intoned words, it almost reminded me of Jack King from Shin Getter Robo vs Neo Getter Robo. It sounded, felt different from the other voices which were all clearly talented but sort of blended together in the area known as “good,” like how Henri Cartier-Bresson may be one of the most talented photographers ever but his photographs were all good in the same exact way. It could be awkward at times, but Priss’s voice would always jump out. Then I looked up her voice actor, Oomori Kinuko and listened to the AWO episode (Part A) and found out that it was her one and only voice role, Kinuko being primarily a singer. “Oh,” I thought. And then I remembered Maka.

Maka and Priss’s voices are similar in many ways. Both are very noticeable when placed among their fellow cast members, and both have this style that really takes over a scene, for better or worse. When they talk, you notice. As such, both have this strange voiceover feel to them, where it sounds like they’re speaking directly to the audience rather than to other characters in their shows. Is this merely a product of lack of experience in voice acting? Did anime fans in 80s Japan have a field day with Kinuko’s voice work the way they do with Chiaki’s now? If more seiyuu sounded like Priss or Maka, would their lack of experience and/or talent stand out even more?

JLPT2 Damage Report

A day late, but what’s over is over and I can take as long as I want to reflect.

Keep in mind that I’m not allowed to talk about the actual content of the test or else my score is invalidated, and it wouldn’t be that hard for someone to find this blog and go “Hmmmmm…” especially because I have that “jlpt” category. I’ll have to respect the Japan Society’s wishes.

I don’t actually know how well I performed, but I was able to finish each section with time to spare and that’s certainly a leg up from the practice test I took a few weeks back. Taking the practice test (which is just the exam from 2007) helped a lot, as it showed me where I needed to manage my time better and what I needed to study more.

I feel pretty good about it, but I can’t make any guarantees, and we won’t find out our scores until March.

For those of you who took the JLPT with me, I hope you all did your best. Regardless of whatever score you’ll achieve, I’m sure you all managed to learn a lot.

As an aside, looking at the JLPT1 Success rates on Wikipedia is kind of frightening. Because you look at the number of people who passed and it’s “33%.”

Then you realize that it’s 33% pass rate for people… IN JAPAN.

Yeaaahhh I don’t think I’m aiming for that any time soon.

Just Looks Pretty Tough, me

Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 2 in a few hours.

Total test time is 2 and a half hours, with breaks it comes out to more like 3 or 4.

It seems to be as much a test of endurance as it is knowledge.

I know I’m not the only one taking the JLPT at its various levels, so let’s do this thing.

Unless your Time Zone is way ahead of mine and you’ve already done this thing.

Ah so

In my quest to finds clips online that aren’t anime to help with my listening comprehension, I found out that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso aka Rozen Aso has his own Nico Nico Douga channel. What better way to practice than with the man, the legend?

So I say, but actually the most I got out of this was learning a new phrase: マスゴミ (masugomi)

マスコミ (Mass Communication, masukomi) + ゴミ (Garbage, gomi) = マスゴミ (Mass Garbage) or something along the lines of useless politics, etc. talk.

It’s a useful phrase.

The Final Week Before Destruction

Language Destruction that is.

As a reminder once again, December 7th is the day of the JLPT for everyone around the world for all levels. This is also the final year that the JLPT will have only 4 levels. Much like how I went to the final Comic Revolution, I find myself inadvertently a part of history: Japanese-related dork history.

I feel much more confident about my kanji than ever. Studying piece by piece every day, even small 20-minute run-throughs on the train and then refreshing my memory over the past two or three weeks seems to have helped a lot. Improving my kanji has also of course improved my reading comprehenshion, and that’s the section that worries me the most for the JLPT2 because it’s simply worth the most points. You can live or die by the reading comprehension. Still not completely confident in it yet, but I didn’t expect to be. I’m getting more out of those wine explanations in between chapters of La Sommelière though.

Listening can still be tricky just because the listening section intentionally tries to deceive you. Listening to anime? Insufficient. Listening to Japanese news programs? Too difficult. Listening to radio shows by voice actors talking about stuff? A compromise of sorts.

Grammar is better, still not great. Finally have a good handle on Wa and Ga particles.

Here we go. One week left for just one chance.

The Japanese Language..and beyond?

I’ve sometimes thought about becoming a true polyglot, speaking languages the world over. But then I think about what is probably my main barrier in gaining the ability to be multilingual, which is opportunities to use the language, and the problem with opportunity lies with my personality.

In Japan I could have used Japanese a lot more, but I didn’t go out with friends often. When I think about my friends who socialized with their classmates a lot more, I wonder how much better my Japanese could have improved. Even now, with a lack of practice partners, I find my speaking skills rusting, and if I really had the drive I would be going out of my way to find native speakers. I learned Spanish in junior high and high school but that’s withered away to just rolling my r’s whenever I feel like it.

Once the JLPT 2 is over though, I’ll probably try to reinforce the Cantonese that’s supposed to be my second language. After that, who knows.

And yes, I know that I already technically qualify as a polyglot, but it doesn’t seem appropriate when I only have true command of one language.