Week Seven

007: Family Ties

Family is an important and often tricky thing. While at first it may appear as simple as Mom, Dad, Brother, and Sister, there are a few other perspectives that we forget when we assume family is that simple. Today’s lesson is about 1. Perspective, and 2. Respect. We will be breaking down the basic Japanese family unit and all it’s special intricacies. 


Mom. While this may be some people’s first word, there are numerous ways to say mom in English. Mom, Ma, Mother, Mommy, Mama, etc. However in Japanese there is considerably less variation. However, the word you use for you family members tends to be different than the words that you would use for another person’s family members. Therefore I will make two lists explaining the words used for each.


In the lists below you will notice that though you may refer to a person in one way, you may call them another. This is because when you speak to other people you are working to make the other person, the listener, feel comfortable. Hence, you will try to use more humble versions of the words. Your family always fall under your area of information.


If you would like to learn more about area of information check back on chapter two of the comic where we break down “Yo” and “Ne” which also use this very important concept. 

Listener’s Family

  1. Family 
  2. Mom
  3. Dad
  4. Husband 
  5. Wife
  6. Son
  7. Daughter
  8. Older Sister
  9. Older Brother
  10. Younger Sister
  11. Younger Brother
  12. Children
  13. Parents 
  14. Grandma
  15. Grandpa 
  16. Couple
  17. Siblings 


  1. ごかぞく
  2. おかあさん
  3. おとおさん
  4. ごしゅじん
  5. おくさん
  6. おむすこさん
  7. おじょうさん
  8. おねえさん
  9. おにいさん
  10. おいもうとさん
  11. おおとうとさん
  12. おこさん
  13. ごりょうしん 
  14. おばあさん
  15. おじいさん 
  16. ごふふ 
  17. ごきょうだい 

Speaker’s Family

  1. Family
  2. Mom
  3. Dad
  4. Husband
  5. Wife
  6. Son
  7. Daughter
  8. Older Sister
  9. Older Brother 
  10. Younger Sister
  11. Younger Brother
  12. Children
  13. Parents 
  14. Grandma
  15. Grandpa 
  16. Couple
  17. Siblings 


  1. かぞく
  2. はは*
  3. ちち*
  4. しゅじん・おっと**
  5. かない・つま**
  6. むすこ
  7. むすめ
  8. あね
  9. あに*
  10. いもうと
  11. おとうと
  12. こ・こども***
  13. おや
  14. そふ
  15. そば*
  16. ふふ*
  17. きょうだい 

*This is the term when referring to this member of your family, however you call them the title in the “listener’s” Column. 

** The first word is considered somewhat traditional and is being slowly fazed out. The second term is considered more politically correct.

*** The second implies that there are more than one. (Plural)

****You can be even more polite and replace “San” with “Sama”





あんた – You

こと – Thing (intangible object)

する – to verb

とか – “Things Like”


信じられない (しんじられない) – Cannot Believe

 *Sometimes Japanese people write things in Katakana to add emphasis.


2人(ふたり) – 2 people

とも – Both

自分(じぶん) – individual

の – Connecting Particle

部屋(へや) – Room

に – Directional Particle

行き(いき いく) – To Go

な – Reflective Particle

お母さん(おかあさん) – Mom

に – Directional Particle

ストレス – Stress

を – Object Particle

かける – This verb has tons of meanings but in this case it means to add

んじゃない – Aren’t you

よ – !

今日(きょう) – Today

また – Again

別(べつ) – Separate 

の – Connecting Particle

予定(よてい) – Appointment

が – Subject Marker

ある – To exist

んだから  – Because



不可 (ふか) – Fail

 今夜(こんや) – Tonight

家(いえ) – House/Home

で – Location of Action Particle

ちゃんと – Like you should

勉強する(べんきょうする) – Study

ように – So That

クラス – Class

の – Connective Particle

後に(あとに) – After

一人(ひとり) – One Person

だけ – Only

に – Directional Particle

また – Again

教える(おしえる) – Teach

のは – Indicating an Explanation

もう – Already

御免(ごめん) – Sorry

なん – Something

だ – Predicate

よ – !

Blog Posts

Stop Learning Kanji

Stop Learning Kanji

By John Dinkel

The #1 Problem Beginning Learners Have 


The #1 problem that I tend to come across with beginners that are learning Japanese, is the overzealous and premature attempt to learn Kanji. Working in Japan as a Mormon missionary, as well as a Teaching Assistant and eventually a Professional Language teacher, I have run into this problem time and time again. 


Young beginning learners trying to ‘hack’ Japanese by plunging head-first into learning Kanji before creating a stable foundation in the language. Young learners seem to latch onto learning the Joyo Kanji characters as if it will help them learn the language faster. When in reality, learning Kanji too early will hinder your learning. The Danger of ‘Decoding’


The first problem this causes is something called ‘decoding’ where learners attempt to translate words by their kanji composition, as opposed to the word’s actual meaning. This is a major problem for Chinese and Cantonese learners particularly. Because they can grasp each of the symbols but don’t have enough of a grasp of the grammar or vocabulary, they are left finding meanings that were never implied or intended. 

Here are a few examples of words that are commonly decoded incorrectly. 


To Confess – 告白 (Symbols for Inform and White)

Son – Musuko 息子 (Symbols for Breath and Child)

Baby – Akachan 赤ちゃん (Symbol for Red)

Perhaps – Tabun多分 (Symbols for Many and Part)  

Moreover, each of these above words are written in Kanji that have little-to-nothing to do with their original meanings. Which means that by learning Kanji prematurely they will incorrectly identify, or not by able to identify any of these words properly. 



Intransitive and Transitive verbs are already a major hurdle for learning Japanese as it is. However, the hurdle is compounded in difficultly for people who emphasize the learning of Chinese characters above grammar. The words below use the same Kanji but have very different meanings. 

To Enter – 入る

To Insert – 入れる 

The key to understanding these difficult verb types is in the study of particles. As for where Kanji-centered linguists will often misunderstand, and not be able to identify or parse these words as they, unfortunately, learn that 入 only has X meaning. Which is not correct. 


Kanji’s Many Meanings.

This carries me to my next point. Kanji is an adopted syllabary (alphabet) from the Chinese tradition. When the Japanese adopted this writing system they attached their native words to Chinese characters. Which means that when there was no kanji that fit a particular word in their native tongue, they simply attached it to an (often arbitrary) kanji. See the example below. 


To Heal (a wound) – 治る (なおる)

To Rule (a kingdom) – 治める (おさめる) 


While the above Kanji use the same symbol, what exactly is the connection between Osameru and Naoru? Studiers who base their study exclusively on Kanji often focus on only one meaning as to simplify their study. This leads to many many problems, which is yet another reason why learners should wait until they have a solid foundation until they learn Kanji. 

Common readings  


With two different reading to memorize for each Kanji, learners of Japanese often will often memorize the most common reading initially and learn the rest with time. This is effective and can help the learner expedite their learning process. However, without a solid foundation, how do they know which reading is the most common? Hence, take the Kanji below as an example

Kun: うえ、 -うえ、 うわ-、 かみ、 あ.げる、 -あ.げる、 あ.がる、 -あ.がる、 あ.がり、 -あ.がり、 のぼ.る、 のぼ.り、 のぼ.せる、 のぼ.す、 たてまつ.る

On: ジョウ、 ショウ、 シャン 


Lack of Feedback


Kanji is a super fun and interesting writing system. Heck, half of the reason some people learn this amazing language is because they like the complex and intricately creative symbols. However, just like with everything, you need to learn how to walk before you run. I hate seeing beginners glut their brains with Kanji, only to give up due to the shear amount there is to learn. Getting stuck and dis-heartened with Japanese at an early stage is often because the new learner doesn’t get any immediate positive feedback from their study. They need to see results right away, or their fire for the world’s best language will go out. Yet how are they supposed to get positive feedback if all they know are Kanji? 


People who study mostly Kanji in the beginning, often find themselves not being able to read, speak, write, or listen. All they get are a couple hundred interesting but otherwise useless symbols. Moreover, while this whole time these amazing young Padawans are thinking they are diligently studying Japanese, but in reality, all they are doing is learning a poor party trick. Because without a solid and sufficient background they WILL founder. This is why there is no Kanji in our 30 Day Challenge 

How to actually Study Kanji 


One bite at a time. Kanji can be a great toll for explaining concepts, expanding vocabulary and crucial to reading and writing. The knowledge of how Kanji works can even effect speaking and communication if implemented correctly into their study. The key is HOW. 


The best advice I can give to make sure they are using Kanji as a tool to elevate language study, as opposed to dominating it. Learn the kanji for the word, and not the word for the kanji. Add Kanji into your study to expand understanding of concepts, like verb stems and conjugation, but not exclusively. A truly effective method, that helps people speak, read, write and listen requires a holistic and balanced approach that moves the learner to communication. Communication that makes the listener feel comfortable. 


Final Thoughts

I love Kanji. I have kanji that are important to me on my wall in my living room. I have Kanji on the background of my desktop, phone and even as my company logo. I think Kanji in the Japanese world is a quintessential part of Japanese. So much so I feel it captures powerful intrinsic meaning and information, with in part influences my opinion that Japanese is indeed the world’s best language. Just make sure you take it a step at a time.  

Learn Japanese Kanji with Our Youtube Channel Show: Kanji Stories!


Week Six

006: Meetings

Today we are going to talk about KANJI. We will be getting back to particles and verb tenses starting again next week, that and this week is going to be a little bit of an odd lesson as there isn’t much talking going on this week in the story. Japanese uses three main writing systems, as you might already be aware. If you are reading this comic that means you are at least somewhat familiar with Hiragana and Katakana. Which is awesome. The last ‘alphabet’ if you will, is the hardest and most difficult of the three systems.


Kanji are difficult to master, and are something that even advanced learners struggle with. There always seem to be another reading, another meaning, or another combination that you just don’t know. Which can make kanji somewhat frustrating. However, never fear, We have started a series on Youtube to teach Japanese Kanji to you, one day and symbol at a time. There are tons or other useful tools out there too. 


The one thing we do want to tell beginning learners, and even some high beginner/intermediate learners is: 

1 It is completely OK to take your time on Kanji

2 Make sure learn the readings and the meaning not just one or the other. 


Find out how to read Kanji and the two different kinds of readings. 

For today’s lesson check out our new Youtube Channel below. 


  • ほら ー Here (As in “here it is)
  • よ ー ! 



助かった(たける past tense =たすかった) ー To Help

本当に (ほんとうに)ー Very

上手く( うまく) ー Well/Skilled

やってくれた ー To do (for me)

よ ー ! 



ねえ ー Hey 




ねえ ー Hey

今日(きょう) ー Today

は ー Topic Marker

ごめん ー Sorry

気まずかった (きまずい past tense)ー Awkward 

またー Again

明日(あした)ー Tomorrow

会える(あえる)ー Can you meet?



あれ ー What?

変(へん) ー Strange/Odd

なの ー isn’t it 

Blog Posts

Japanese: A High Context Language

Japanese: A High Context Language

By Jessica Hutchison

Are The Subtitles Screwed Up? 


Have you ever watched something in Japanese and the subtitles don’t quite match up? Well, today I’m going to explain why. Pretty much every Japanese learner has had this experience. A great way to solidify language learning is to watch things in that language. When you do this, it gives you a chance to hear vocabulary and grammar structures in context. It’s not quite as good as a full immersive experience, but sometimes that just isn’t available.  


Watching movies, dramas, and anime isn’t going to teach you Japanese, but it can at least give you some good listening practice (plus, there’s some really great shows out there). If you do, you’re probably going to have subtitles on just because a lot of shows have very specific vocabulary that you might not understand from learning normal conversational Japanese. Even after studying Japanese for over six years, I prefer subtitles for this exact reason.  As you learn more Japanese and reach more intermediate and advanced levels, you might start to notice that the subtitles and the Japanese don’t quite match up. At first, you might be a bit annoyed by this. Or maybe you don’t care. I was annoyed by it. Some of it comes from whoever translated it, but a big part of it is that Japanese and English grammar are very different. 


One key difference 

is this fancy grammatical thing called context. If we take English as our comparison, it’s pretty easy to see why context is important in Japanese. English is what is known as a Low Context Language. That means you generally won’t need much background knowledge when talking to someone. If we talk about ourselves, we generally will say “I” or “me” or something like that in the sentence. The subject and object of the sentence are sometimes replaced, but usually not omitted.  

You can see an example of this in a sentence like “Sarah ate pie.” Sarah can be replaced by “she” and pie can be replaced by “it” without changing the meaning. But if you shorten the sentence to “Sarah ate,” it changes the meaning. All the words are necessary in this sentence for it to stay the same.  Now let’s take a look at the same sentence in Japanese. 


If we directly translate this sentence, we would end up with something like: 

“Sara ga pai wo tabeta” (サラがパイを食べた). 


There’s nothing wrong with this sentence, but there are definitely a few grammar things we can talk about here. Japanese, unlike English, is a High Context Language. This means that when you speak with someone, they expect you to have some background knowledge of what they are talking about. This can make language a bit more confusing for a learner, but it also makes it a lot more efficient.  If you are talking to someone, and you are already talking about Sarah, there is no reason for you to say her name again, unless for emphasis. So this sentence could become “Pai wo tabeta,” and it would mean the exact same thing. If you are already talking about the delicious pie your friend made, and someone asks you who ate it, you could reply with “Sara ga tabeta.” And if you have been talking about Sarah and pie the whole time, you could just say “Tabeta,” and it would still mean “Sarah ate pie.” You can do all this because of context. Sure, you can use the whole “Sara ga pai wo tabeta” sentence, but it sounds like a little much in most circumstances. 

Less Sometimes is More 


The way you phrase things can really affect how they are emphasized in Japanese, so it’s important to be aware of context in your conversations. This all translates back into those subtitles I was talking about. Sometimes in Japanese TV shows and movies, a character will just say something like “Tabeta.” The problem for translating that into English is that “ate” isn’t a sentence. This is why the subtitles don’t always match the dialogue. If you’ve ever watched one of those old dubbed over Godzilla movies, you can see it there too. The English voices will be either hilariously short or long compared to how long the Japanese actors move their mouths. We sometimes make fun of that, but it really shows that translating between Japanese and English can be quite challenging. 


 As you keep learning Japanese, the idea of high context is good to remember. It makes conversations go a lot smoother when you know what you can assume the listener knows. It can also help you sound more fluent when you speak with natives. But another thing to note is that it’s okay to ask when you don’t understand the context. Because Japanese is such a high context language, it’s pretty common for a speaker to assume the listener knows something they actually don’t. So if someone says “Tabeta,” to you, and you don’t know who ate what, feel free to ask. Japanese people are super nice and really appreciative of any effort you make to learn their language. 


So with that, keep on working on your Japanese! Use subtitles from shows and movies to help you learn more about context. It’s easy to see where things are omitted in Japanese when you compare subtitles to dialogue. 

 If you are looking to continue to improve your Japanese, be sure to check out our daily podcast! 


Week Five

005: A Wrong Turn

Things go south…


Let’s continue talking about this formality and hierarchy stuff.



Out of these four levels it is important to be able to identify/distinguish oneself in Japanese. What this means is, the word “I” and “you” change depending on who you are addressing, and how you would address them.


Let’s start with the word “I” 


  1. Honorific / Humble わたくし
  2. Formal わたし
  3. Informal ぼく あたし
  4. Familiar おれ あっし


Each one of these words gives off a particular image of the person speaking. Watakushi is extremely polite. While women and girls tend to use Watashi just like a boy or man would use Boku, even in informal situations. In fact men tend to use Boku much more than women as it is seen as more masculine; that goes for Ore as well. Overall women tend to use Watashi all the time, and Men use Watashi when being polite and Boku the rest of the time.


Moreover, There are informal and other ways for one to refer to themselves. Words like Sessha 拙者 and Wagahai 我輩 were used by the old samurai. Women and some men also use the word Uchi 内 to refer to themselves but it is seen as slightly old fashioned or and even slightly odd for men. Another way to refer to yourself is simply speaking in the 3rd person, this is how most children speak. There are many different ways to refer to yourself. I recommend staying away from the lower levels (3 & 4 for women, and 4 for men) when speaking to anyone who might be higher on the food-chain than yourself. 



The next step is to make sure you are referring to the person to whom you are speaking correctly. When addressing another person you would normally use their name plus a suffix. We have covered suffixes briefly in a previous chapter so we won’t go too much into depth aside from showing you where they might fit on this hierarchy.


  1. Honorific / Humble Name+さま (If a teacher: Name+せんせい)
  2. Formal Name+さん
  3. Informal Name+くん・ちゃん
  4. Familiar Name Name+たん


Now there are a couple of words that simply mean “you.” However, these are generally seen as somewhat rude. In fact, Most Japanese people will use familiar terms like little brother/older sister/grandpa etc. to address another person if they must call upon them and don’t know their name (and sometimes even if they do.) I will list them here from most ‘formal’ to least just so you hear them. Also if you must use any of them, stick with Anata. Just in case.


  1. あなた 
  2. きみ 
  3. あんた
  4. おまえ

ここ – Here

で – Location of Action Marker

何 (なに) – What

してる – Doing

か – ?

って – Tell me

あんた – You

こそ – 

何 (なに)

してる – Doing

のよ -?!






俺 おれ – I

行かない (いかない)

と – Quotative Particle

 え – EEh

待って (まって) (Comes From まつ ) – Wait!

一体 (いったい) – “…in the world”

どこ- Where

に- Direction Marker

行く (いく) – To Go

んだろう – I Wonder

の – Connective Particle

ばか – Idiot



Check out our new Kanji Series on Youtube. Where every Single day John Sensei teaches you a new Kanji.