Category Archives: Japanese

What’s Up With Japanese Buddhist Texts?

Hello,

Recently, I saw a discussion online regarding the shindoku which is a Nichiren-Buddhist term of reciting sutras1 in the original liturgical language. However, this practice is pretty universal to all Buddhist sects in Japan.

For example, here’s a photo of a copy of the Heart Sutra I own:

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Here you can see a line after line of Chinese characters. If you were to show this to a typical Japanese person, they could not ready very much. Why is that? Why are all Japanese Buddhist sutras and texts written like this?

Because it is not Japanese-language. They are preserved in the original language of Classical Chinese.

When Buddhism was first brought to China via the Silk Road, monks from India, Central Asia (Kushan, Sogdian, Parthian, etc) were employed by the Chinese imperial court to translate Buddhist texts from disparate languages into something readable at the time.

Buddhist texts weren’t preserved in one language either, like Sanskrit. In India and Central Asia, they were preserved in a wide variety of Indic languages called prakrits. Some prakrits relied heavily on Sanskrit, the holy language in India, but others didn’t. By the time these texts and sutras arrived in China, it was a mess, and there was no way Chinese Buddhist monks could read and understand so many languages, so it made sense to simply translate them all into Chinese. Thus the Chinese characters you see are not modern Chinese, and they’re not Japanese either. They’re translated from Indic languages into the Chinese language of the time.

But what about Japan? Why not simply do the same?

At the time that Japan imported Buddhism from China and Korea, it was importing Chinese culture wholesale: art, poetry, Confucian ethics, city planning, style of governance, etc.

The educated elite of Japan at the time could actually read the Chinese characters just fine as part of their upbringing and professional training. They pronounced the characters somewhat different, but it was possible in those days to read Chinese. But they didn’t just read stuff: letters, books and official documents in Japan were similarly composed using Chinese (again with a Japanese pronunciation). If you think about it, this is similar to how Latin was used in medieval Europe for communication and literature. Europe had so many different countries and cultures, it was actually more practical to use a common (even if mostly dead) language like Latin to express ideas. Japan did the same when corresponding with China or with the various Korean kingdoms.

However, as you might expect, times have changed. Chinese-style literature in Japan, or kanbun (漢文), still exists, but only well-educated people can read and write it. Vernacular Japanese has gradually taken over and supplanted the more Chinese-style literature.

In spite of this, Buddhist texts are still preserved in the original, Classical Chinese. There are plenty of Buddhist books in Japan that help explain and provide commentaries to popular sutras such as the Heart Sutra or Lotus Sutra, but for liturgical purposes, people still recite in the original, preserved language. If you look carefully at the photo above, you’ll see little letters besides each Chinese character; those are the furigana pronunciation guides that tell Japanese people how to pronounce the characters.

Why bother?

Because there are advantages to chanting a liturgical language versus vernacular:

  • The text is preserved with alteration across the centuries.
  • The recitation is the same wherever you go.

The second one is particularly important as Buddhism spreads across the world. Even though few people can understand the words, everyone can chant them the same way, and then study them in their own native language. A person might complain “I never know what I am chanting”, but studying of sutras is a different act than reciting them. In other words, liturgy and reciting is one thing, studying a text is another thing entirely.

Also, when reciting in a Buddhist service, everyone recites together, which is a nice sense of community. On the other hand, studying the meaning in one’s own language is a valuable investment of your time too. There’s nothing wrong with doing both.

1 More specifically, specific chapters, or specific sections of chapters in the Lotus Sutra.

The Trouble with Anime

 

People, both Japanese and Westerners, are often surprised when I tell them I am not interested in anime. Usually when I bring up Japan to other Westerners, the first thing they want to talk about is anime (“Oh man, I love watching anime!”). Also, Japanese people assume that all foreigners are anime-fans.

But for some reason, I just never really liked it. There were specific series that I watched and enjoyed in my youth. Akira comes to mind. for example. Yet, by the time I was a college student, I remember meeting other Japanophiles, and all they could talk about was their favorite anime. I even watched a few, but I was bored to death. The stories were flat and predictable, and the characters were mostly just the same tropes over and over. Even now, with my kids, when they talk about their favorite comics and anime, things haven’t changed at all.

So, it puts me in an awkward category sometimes.

I even tried a couple years ago, before Little Guy was born, to watch more anime to improve my Japanese listening. I found some that were pretty good such as Natsume no Yujincho,1 but others such as Attack on Titan were just bizarre and weird. I could only watch 4-5 episodes of that before I finally deleted it from my video queue. Even the ones I liked weren’t that great. They were fun, but I couldn’t really say I was a fan.

And yes, I’ve watched Studio Ghibli too. The films are lovely, and I like Totoro in particular, but I just never really understood what the hype was about. I have only seen two movies total (Totoro and Spirited Away), and I liked them, but I also enjoy movies from the Marvel Comic Universe, 5 out of 6 of the original Star Trek movies, as well as various other random films. Studio Ghibli films are fun, but I guess I’m just not interested in Japanese fantasy things like yōkai (ghosts and monsters) very much.2

On the other hand, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy any Japanese media.3 I have always liked the Final Fantasy series of games a lot, especially Final Fantasy VII and XIII, but I like the stories because they’re deep and meaningful, but also told with excellent Japanese aesthetics. A character like Cloud Strife or Lightning Farron just wouldn’t look the same in an American medium, and the topics regarding religion, mythology and such would be harder to express in politically/religiously charged environment like the US.

I’m sure there’s anime series that are of similar topic and quality, but frankly I don’t care. I don’t have the time or interest to take up another series.

In short, I just never really liked anime as a whole, and I refuse to stereotyped as a fan either.

I guess I am kind of ranting, but I wanted to get this off my chest.:)

Since I am going to Japan shortly, people might assume I will go hang out in Akihabara, but truth is, I’ve never been there. I like contemporary Japanese culture in a lot of ways, both the good and the ugly,4 and of course I like visiting Buddhist temples. Hopefully I’ll have some time to do both. We’ll see.

P.S. Double-post today.

1 I liked this one because it wasn’t overly violent, and usually had a happy, though sometimes bittersweet ending.

2 It’s not just Westerners that are interested in yokai; they’re hugely popular among Japanese kids too.

3 Don’t get me started on Japanese pop music though. sigh Kyary pyamu-pyamu is definitely, definitely not my thing.

4 Truth is, I’ve been to Japan so many times over the years, it doesn’t really excite me the way it used to. It’s just sort of become part of my life, and so the exoticness is just gone. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it, but rather it’s become familiar like a well-worn shoe. You’re glad it’s there, but you don’t really think about it much. When my wife and I were younger, we seriously thought about moving to Japan, but we’ve become happy and settled with our life here that we’ve decided to stay instead, especially now that we have two kids.

Listening and Immersion Really Work

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Hello Dear Readers,

I started this personal project almost two months ago to improve my Japanese language listening skills before I go to Japan in July.  Listening has always been my biggest challenge in Japanese language learning, and it’s something I really wanted to tackle this year.

So, following advice from Khatzumoto, I decided to really go all-in this time.  I subscribed to a great podcast channel called ネッポン放送 (Japan Broadcasting), downloaded a ton of podcasts and just let them run in the background while I do other things.

At work, bus, doing dishes, etc., I try to keep podcasts running in the background whenever I have free time. When my iPhone earbuds broke I had to start using my big, bulkier old headphones.

Anyhow, to my surprise, I have stuck with it so far. I figured I would get tired and stop listening after 3 days: the proverbial “3-day monk” (三日坊主). But the podcasts are interesting enough, and relevant enough, that I’ve stuck with it for 7+ weeks. Now I know some of the main hosts, and feel more “plugged in” to the shows than when I first got started.

Also, I made a point to forgive myself when I have busy days and can’t listen much. The goal wasn’t to listen to Japanese for X hours a day, the goal is to listen whenever I have free time.

My listening skills aren’t great; some podcasts, especially politics and business, are pretty hard to follow along. Sometimes I can naturally follow along a conversation, and sometimes I have almost no idea what’s going on. But slowly, gradually the “gaps” where I can’t understand the conversation are getting smaller while the parts I can follow along are getting bigger. It’s very gradual, but it’s very rewarding to see it’s working.

There’s no secret here: just create an environment for learning and being patient, forgiving to yourself, flexible and having a clear goal (Japan trip in this case).

Building Japanese Listening Comprehension, Again

Dear Readers,

As mentioned recently, I am heading to Japan with the family for a few weeks in the summer. This has inspired me to take up efforts to improve my Japanese again, particularly my listening comprehension. I have gotten comfortable enough with reading Japanese that I read books and newspapers sometimes, but my communication is still pretty rough around the edges. Listening is the hardest part because there’s really nothing to study for. You just have to gradually tune your ear for it.

Khatzumoto from AJATT wrote a really brilliant post about how (and why) you need to develop your listening comprehension in Japanese, or any language. I particularly like this part:

Remember that silence thing? Silence has left the building. Every moment of your life needs to be soaked in the sweet water of Japanese listening. I had Japanese playing even when I went out into the mountains behind Momoko’s house to watch the sunset. And in the toilet (pants down, headphones on, bombs away…No? TMI?). And in the shower. And in bed. This is serious business, dude — I am not messing around and neither should you. We’re talking about learning a language here, not cleaning the sock lint from between your toes. So be prepared to show the heck up, day in, night in, day out.

So, I’ve been adopting this approach for the last couple of weeks. In a related article, Khatzumoto makes the point that the key is to be as prolific as possible. You may not get it right most of the time, but if you’re prolific long enough, you’ll just naturally make progress. So, when I am on the bus or at work, I am not necessarily paying attention to the Japanese podcasts playing on my headphones, but the sheer amount of exposure helps.

I don’t have enough Japanese-language copies of my favorites movies1 at home, and it is difficult to purchase them outside of Japan even through online resources, so until I get to Japan, I am relying mostly on podcasts. Fortunately, podcast apps have come a long way since I last used them. Here’s my humble iPhone’s podcast app. I know that ニッポン放送 (Nippon Hōsō) is still around, and in my opinion that’s still one of the best podcast channels in Japanese because of the quality of programming and volume of episodes.

Using the regular podcast app that comes with my iPhone1 I searched for ニッポン放送:

I subscribe to this podcast channel, and have downloaded weeks worth of episodes, which I try to listen to throughout the day unless I am with the family or talking to someone at work of course.

On the other hand, what if I am interested in a specific topic? You can search for that too in Japanese. For me, I like learning about Korea and Korean Language in Japanese so I searched for 韓国 (kankoku):

You can subscribe to one of these channels as well and mix your podcast list from ニッポン放送 with podcasts from these channels. Or maybe Buddhism (仏教)?

Not surprisingly Buddhism has fewer options. Religion isn’t the most popular topic on the Intertubes. However I do like the podcast 仏教で人生はもっと面白い!? so far. It’s a good quality Buddhist podcast with up to date content.   Under “Podcasts” above it is the third from the left. 

It’s ok to try different podcasts and discard ones you don’t like. The focus is on being prolofic. Also as Khatzumoto explains, dont worry if the podcast doesnt always use everyday Japanese because a fluent speaker will have a much broader vocabulary and familiarity than what is used daily. Again, it’s just important to tune one’s ear and there are no shortcuts. 

Anyhow, as alluded to in the title, this is not my first time building listening comprehension, but I didnt stay consistent long enough and I havent doing much in the last few years. But with the trip to Japan approaching, I hope to really make progress amidst work and family life. 

P.S. I hope to post an episode on Korean podcasts as well for Korean-language students. 

1 Lately, I’ve been enjoying the Marvel Comic Universe (MCU) movies quite a bit, particularly Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers series. Ironically, the first time I saw the 2012 Avengers movie was on a flight from Japan in Japanese. I only understood a bit of the movie but I really liked the post-credit clip and became a fan.

2 If you don’t have an iPhone, you can use iTunes instead on your computer. There is a podcast feature there, which works exactly the same.

Do, Or Do Not

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While writing an earlier post, I found an old blog post of mine, which had a really great quote by the late Ven. Yin-Shun, the highly influential Chinese Buddhist monk.  Late in his book The Way to Buddhahood, he takes up the topic of “sudden” vs. “gradual” enlightenment, and writes:

Those who study Buddhism therefore ought not to go on about “sudden” or “gradual” enlightenment, for this is all empty talk!  It is better to examine one’s own state of preparedness!  Modern Chinese Buddhist thinking is very eccentric: it gives no consideration to people’s particular blessings or causes and conditions.  What are their capacities?  How are they provisioned in terms of blessings and wisdom?  After making the resolution to study Buddhism, they want to be enlightened suddenly and want to become buddhas immediately.  Without examining themselves and their own resolve, they think that such and such teaching is the great teaching that will enable them to become a buddha easily.  This can be compared to wanting to become a leader and deciding to run for president without first pausing to examine one’s academic record. (pg 346)

Speaking from experience, I’ve often sought “that one teaching” that will make it all somehow fit together, but never quite found it.  Ven. Yin-Shun continues:

Some people are even more ludicrous.  They admit that they are of dull capacities and face strong karmic barriers and shallow wisdom, but they think that they can practice and easy doctrine and become a buddha.  Such thoughts do not accord with the true Dharma. Those who truly resolve to study Buddhism should practice diligently.  One should accumulate spiritual provisions, build sharp capacities, and have a firm mind.  Without asking about sudden or gradual enlightenment or about when one will become a buddha, one should just keep cultivating….(pg. 346-347)

This second quotation really strikes me every time I read it.  I think a lot of people incline toward “easy paths” in Buddhism because they lack confidence, or think only of the distant goal and obsess over what is required (or conversely, not enough, then wonder why they’re not enlightened).  Sometimes, I think the argument for Dharma Decline while in Buddhist scripture,¹ can get abused as a kind of crutch or excuse.

In a way, it’s a lot like losing weight.  There are plenty of diet fads, exercise machines, low-fat meals, special “routines”, etc.  But none of these are really sustainable in the long-run.  The key to losing weight really is just lifestyle changes: eating a balanced diet and getting more exercise, and then doing it for the rest of your life.  It’s a lifestyle change, not a special “technique” or “project”.

I for one need to get down to at least 220 pounds or less, and I still have about 15 to go.  I accomplished this once in my life before my second child was born, then gained it all back.  The problem was that I was treating it as a “project”, and when I had no more time for that project, I neglected my weight again.  Since I suffer from some weightrelated ailments, I realized that losing weight alone isn’t enough, I really do need to change my lifestyle for good.  They’re not huge changes, but if I don’t change my lifestyle, the problems will just return.  The target weight isn’t important so anymore because I need to just take it one day at a time, and just eat better and be more active.  It’s the only real viable long-term solution.

Or it is like learning a language.  Suppose you want to learn Japanese or Korean, or some other language.  Right now, you’re probably terrible at it.  You’ll find websites promising to learn language X faster, or become a fluent speaker in 60 days or something, but if you ever travel to that part of the world, you’ll discover very quickly that such techniques do not prepare you for the messier, chaotic life in that country.  Instead, you have to do things the old-school way: build up the basics slowly but surely, and just take it one day at a time for 10,000 hours if need be.

Speaking of one day at a time, or ichi nichi ichi zen (一日一善) in Japanese, my wife once scolded me about obsessing over the goal of Buddhism, and what technique or sect of Buddhism “works”.  Don’t think about it, she said.  Just take it one day at a time, and try to be a better person.  Don’t worry if you’re making progress or not (would you even recognize if you did?).  Looking back, that was really good advice, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it until now.

Little by little, I believe progress is possible, even for middle-aged lay people raising children.  Instead of looking for an escape route or shortcut, or worrying about one’s own progress or lack thereof, just take it one day at a time.

¹ A number of sutras allude to the gradual decline and fading of the Buddhist institution (not the underlying Dharma), but the main sutra quoted is the Sutra of the Great Assembly because it divides the periods of decline in neat 500 or 1000 year blocks.  Thus, many Buddhists use the chronology of this particular sutra to argue that the Dharma is beyond the point where anyone can put it into practice.  This is not unique to any one school.

However, having thought about it lately, it’s better to take those numbers with a big grain of salt.  I’ve never read that sutra (and I don’t think an English translation exists anyway), but somehow I feel it sounds a bit too formulaic to be authentic.  We all know that the “84,000 doors of the Dharma” was never intended to literally be 84,000 for example. It’s obviously a metaphor.  Similarly, it’s easy to forget sometimes that the Mahayana sutras were composed by mortal men and have to be weighed against the older sutras which are the closest thing we have to the genuine words of the Buddha.

Chinese Characters in Korean Cuisine

Hi guys,

Since my second child was born, my Korean language studies have all but completely stalled.  However, my wife really loves Korean food and likes to cook it often, while I enjoy reading the packaging.  This is a package of ramen noodles, or ramyeon (라면),1 that we bought recently.

If you look carefully there’s a mix of Korean letters (hangeul) and Chinese characters. Although Korean culture doesn’t really use Chinese characters much anymore, they still often appear in advertising and other such things. The Chinese characters, which I happen to be able to read thanks to study of Japanese language (which does use them), are 中華麺 which just means “Chinese-style noodles”. To the right of that, in smaller letters is the Korean chung-hwa myron (충화면) which just says the same thing.

Also on the upper-right in green is the Chinese character 生 which in this context probably means “fresh”.

Anyhow, just something interesting I wanted to share.  :)

1 These are not the cheap dried noddles either. These are genuine ramen/ramyeon egg noodles. You can make a pretty close approximation by boiling regular spaghetti noodles in water and a little baking soda. I wouldn’t recommend doing that too often, but it does actually come out pretty tasty.

Bilingual Kids Part 4: the Second Child

Hi Everyone,

It’s been a long time since I posted updates about my two kids: Princess (age 9) and Little Guy (age 2), but I wanted to talk a bit about Little Guy, and his experiences learning two languages. In my last post on the subject in 2013, I talked about how my daughter had heavy exposure to Japanese language when she was a toddler, but by the time she was in elementary school, her English caught up.

Now that she is 9 years old, her English is quite strong and I think it is her preferred language. She likes reading Harry Potter books, and books about Star Wars. Fortunately, she still gets a lot of Japanese exposure through books, Japanese TV, and her weekly after-school Japanese class so her skills are still very good. We finally cancelled our subscription to the distance-learning Japanese course with Benesse though. She had been doing since she was a toddler, but the course is getting more and more time-consuming, plus she is busy with her schoolwork here in the US. Also, she was definitely getting frustrated with the workload.1

But what about Little Guy? Little Guy loves his big sister very much, and they frequently play together, and she has a big influence on him. This means he learns a lot of language from her, but since she speaks English mostly now, he is learning a lot of English too. We take him to a local Japanese pre-school once a week, and later this year we hope to enroll him in the same Japanese school my daughter attended. Further, he is taking the same distance-learning course now, but doesn’t seem very interested yet. Instead, he is obsessed with the movie Cars. Previously, it was Toy Story 2, but now he only wants to watch Cars. Every day. Every. Single. Day.2

But the Cars DVD that we owned was English only. We realized that if we wanted Little Guy to speak more Japanese, we had to show him Japanese-language versions of his favorite movies. So, after ordering online, we now show him the same movie, but in Japanese. Amazingly, he doesn’t seem to mind, and now he quotes the movie in Japanese too!1 😉

Since then, Little Guy is speaking in Japanese more often. For example, he’s learned to use the ending particle “yo”, which tends to sound assertive, with almost every sentence:

  • terebi minai yo! (I don’t want to watch TV)
  • yamete yo! (stop it!)
  • kowai yo! (it’s scary)

Things like that. He is also just starting to learn the kana syllabary, which is phonetically easier to pick up than English, I’ve noticed. Compared to his sister, he is right on track. :)

Additionally, we are still sticking to the same, basic approach we used with our daughter: Mommy speaks in Japanese to our kids, and I speak in English. It helps them learn to separate the two languages more cleanly, and learn them both natively. So, at nighttime, I read him his favorite books (usually about Cars) in English, but my wife will read Japanese books. Truth is though, sometimes I get lazy and start speaking Japanese too because I hear my wife use it all the time, but I have to discipline myself to speak only English to the kids. It’s a better approach in the long-run and worked well of Princess: she’s a native speaker of both languages.

The point though, is that for kids to be bilingual, environment and having a consistent plan really matter. With Princess, it was a lot easier to control the environment so she could learn Japanese like a native-speaker, but Little Guy’s situation was more complicated because his older sister speaks English, and we already had a bunch of English-language DVDs from relatives and friends. However, with a few simple changes, we’re already noticing that his Japanese is improving, and since each parent speaks a different language, he is getting more adept at using both.

1 She will also be enrolled in school in Japan when she visits during the summers. That’s probably the best way to learn anyway. It worked well last year.

2 In English, the opening line said by Lightning McQueen is “Speed, I am speed.” But my son will say, “Speed, boku wa hayai” which is the Japanese translation. He tries to whisper it in a cool voice, just like the movie. :)

JLPT N1: Failure

 

Well, I got my test results back from the JLPT N1 exam today:

  • Vocabulary 18 / 60
  • Reading: 0 / 60
  • Listening: 22 / 60

I passed only listening (barely), which is ironic because I thought that was my worst section. 

But how did I get 0 points in reading essays? I thought that was the easiest, and statistically I should’ve made a few correct choices. It was a multiple choice exam. My wife suspects my answers were off-by-one on the bubble-sheet which is plausible, not to mention very careless. Or, I am really that terrible. 

Certainly disapponting, though not surprising. I took a big risk in doing the exam without preparation, and relying only on reading and watching TV. 

So, part of me wants to try again, but this time I need to invest in preparation, practice and time, which is hard when you are raising two kids. Plus, I am less motivated these days since I have no aspirations to live in Japan anymore. 

Or, do I just cut my losses and be content with an N2?  That makes my life easier, but then I have to live life knowing I quit something without at least trying again. The pride in me would not sit well with that. 

Decisions, decisions…

Done with the JLPT N1

Hi all,

It’s been a long time since I last posted an update about the JLPT exam. I debated about whether I should take the N1 or not. Finally, I decided to try the N1 exam, but not to spend a lot of time studying for it. Instead, as an experiment, I wanted to try to pass the N1 without spending hours with workbooks and mock tests; I wanted to pass by doing what I should be doing anyway: reading Japanese books, listening to Japanese, etc.

So, since January, I did just that: I spent time reading Japanese comics, but also Japanese-language novels, etc. It was pretty hard at first, but over time I’ve gotten more comfortable reading long, complex texts.

Further, my son “Little Guy” is obsessed with Buzz Lightyear, and loves to watch the movie Toy Story 2.1 He calls the movie “Buzz!” and wants to watch it almost daily. We let him watch it in Japanese, so he gets exposure like his big sister did, and often watch it with him. Every time I watch Toy Story 2 in Japanese, I learn something new. But also we watch the “morning dramas” on NHK through cable TV. The current drama Asa Ga Kita is a lot of fun to watch, for example.

But did it work?

Today I took the JLPT N1 exam at last. It was very familiar in a way, since I had taken the N2 and N3 in the past. However, it was also different, since I had taken a big risk in preparing for this exam. I noticed during the exam that I was considerably older than most of the other test takers: mostly high-school or college-aged kids. I had the benefit of experience, but on the other hand, I less free time to study.

In any case, the test was quite a challenge. The written portion of the exam was quite long, and there was still some vocabulary I didn’t know. Further, the essays were numerous and long, and I started to run out of time toward the end, so I had to rush a bit. However, I was surprised how much of the essays I could understand. In the past, I often had to do some guessing, but this time, I felt pretty comfortable reading them, and even learned some interesting facts and topics.2

So, by the end of the written exam, I felt pretty good.

Then came the listening part. The listening part was much harder than I expected. The conversations were long, and had many twists and turns, so even if I think I understood the answer, the topic would change at the last minute. I realized that although I had watched Japanese shows and such, they were either too short or too focused on children. I didn’t watch enough adult media.

So, after the listening section, I felt pretty disheartened. I felt that I had come so close, but failed in the last section.

On the other hand, I looked at the scoring system for the JLPT, and even if I score relatively low in one section, I can still pass if the overall score is good. I can’t score too low, but I know I got at least some questions right in the listening section.

But was it enough to pass? I won’t be able to find out until the end of February when they send out the scores. 😦

I’m not sure why the JLPT takes so long to reply back, but I guess it’s because they have to wait for all the completed tests across the world to arrive first, grade them at the same time, then send out the results. That’s just a theory though.

Anyhow, for not having studied at all, I actually did better than expected. At the same time, I am reminded that my biggest weakness is listening. I know my listening skills are weak when talking with my wife and her friends, but still the test reminded me how weak it really is.

The point though, is that you can pass the JLPT without spending lots of money on textbooks and classes. Just do what you should be doing anyway: getting as much exposure and experience with native Japanese as you can. :)

1 He has Buzz Lightyear t-shirts, Buzz Lightyear pajamas, toys and dolls. :)

2 I wish I could tell you what they were, but obviously I can’t. Anyhow, the JLPT had a diverse set of essay topics, and so there was probably something for everyone. That is, if you could read them. 😉

Final Fantasy XIII-2: the novel

Hi guys,

Final Fantasy novel cover

As fans might recall, I am a big fan of the game Final Fantasy XIII1, and lately I’ve been playing the sequels XIII-2 and Lightning Returns. I’ve enjoyed these games, and the story, so much that decided to purchase the novel. Actually there are a few novels available, but all of them are in Japanese-language only:

I bought all three, but only the last two are in stock,2 so I’ve begun reading Fragments Before.

Final Fantasy novel

The reading-level is a stretch, for me, but not nearly as difficult as trying to read Dune in Japanese. That was much harder. Already, I’ve enjoyed the book quite a bit and have finished one of the ministories. I don’t read fast, but I can read at a decent pace. Also, I sometimes have to go back a few pages and re-read because I understand the words, but have trouble grasping the overall meaning the first time. This happens with manga too sometimes, but novels are harder than manga. It doesn’t really bother me though, because I really want to know what goes on, and want to know the details of the characters and the world they live in, so I don’t re-read because I have to, but because want to.

It turns out that if you want to read in a foreign-language, you have to find something you’re genuinely interested in. I have English-language novels that I don’t finish because they’re not very interesting, and this is even more true in Japanese. I just can’t finish books that don’t interest me. Or if I finish them, I don’t remember much. So, now that I found something I really like and want to finish, suddenly I find it takes less effort to read. 😉

A good tip for language students out there: find something in your target language you really like and just focus on that. The rest will fall into place.

1 Actually I love the Final Fantasy series in general, but the XIII trilogy is one of my favorites.

2 Once Episode 0 is in stock, they’ll ship it out, of course. I can wait. I can’t read that fast. 😉