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Must Try Kansai Foods

Have you ever wondered where in Japan is the best place for a foodie? If you’re going to Japan to eat, first you should know that there’s no easy answer to that. Every region in Japan is famous for at least one kind of food (like edamame in Gifu). But if I had to pick a good hotspot, I would say Kansai is up there.

 

Kansai is a fairly well-known region in Japan, including large cities like Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe. It’s famous for its kind of wild dialect (なんでやねん!) and pretty unique dishes. Having lived in Kansai for some time, I’m totally biased. But it’s a super fun place with a ton of people, so it follows that you can get some really good food.

 

This isn’t going to be an exhaustive list of Kansai cuisine, but rather some that I would highly recommend if you’re going to be in the area.

 

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)

If I’m going to talk about Kansai food, I’m going to tell you about my absolute favorite food in the world. Okonomiyaki is a Kansai staple, and literally everyone there has their own way to prepare it. If you can read any kanji, you can look at that Japanese and see that the ingredients for okonomiyaki are basically “anything you like.”

 

Basic okonomiyaki is actually pretty easy. You make some pancake mix, but put a ton of chopped cabbage in it. More than you think you should. So much cabbage. You also add other ingredients that suit your fancy (anything from carrots to cheese to seafood), and you cook it. It’s topped with a specific okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed, and bonito flakes.

 

The general okonomiyaki consensus is to serve it with thinly sliced pork belly on one side, but you can always make a seafood okonomiyaki if you prefer that.

 

If you get this in Hiroshima, they layer up all the ingredients instead of mixing them, which I’ve heard is very good. So give that a go if you’re in Hiroshima.

 

Okonomiyaki is very difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t understand it. I try calling it a “cabbage pancake,” which is a pretty literal interpretation of the dish. I’ve also heard it called “Japanese pizza” due to the fact that you can really make it with whatever ingredients you want. It may sound a little weird, but don’t knock it ‘til you try it.

 

The most fun part about okonomiyaki is that they sometimes let you make it. Restaurants that sell okonomiyaki often have grills built into the table. The chef will give you the mix, and then you get to cook it yourself. This is a really unique experience that kind of makes you feel like a chef at one of those teppanyaki places. Getting so involved in cooking a dish can make the experience so much more fun and interesting.

 

Takoyaki (たこ焼き)

Moving onto another staple of Kansai cuisine brings us to takoyaki. No, this has nothing to do with the popular “Mexican” tacos Americans love and adore. The tako (蛸) in this dish is the Japanese word, meaning “octopus.”

 

If you just shied away, you should come back. Takoyaki is one of the nicest introductions to eating octopus a person can find. Takoyaki has become so popular in Japan, it’s seen as a staple matsuri food. Seriously, how many anime have you seen where the characters eat takoyaki at a festival? It’s more than one.

 

Takoyaki is basically a savory pancake puff with a tiny piece of octopus in the middle. They are round and adorable and best eaten when they are the temperature of molten lava. Just like okonomiyaki, they are topped with the unique takoyaki sauce (which is different from okonomiyaki sauce, even though it looks the same), mayonnaise, seaweed, and bonito flakes. When you buy them as street food, you often get a little skewer to eat them with, as they are bite-sized balls of fire and deliciousness.

 

As you might expect, there are also variations with this dish. My favorite version of takoyaki is called Akashiyaki, which is served with a broth on the side to dip each one in. It is, as you might be able to assume from the name, popular in Akashi, which is between Kobe and Himeji and is a super famous town because of literature like the Tale of Genji. This variation is a fun thing to try if you’re looking for something a bit less typical to eat that is still unique to Kansai.

Mochi (もち)

Okay. I know what you’re thinking. Mochi isn’t exclusive to Kansai. But hear me out on this.

 

When I was in Kyoto, the absolute greatest thing I ate there was the mochi. Kyoto, being the tourist trap it is, has a lot of food available that is supposed to be very Japanese, and mochi is no exception. But they usually make it a little different so it is unique to Kyoto.

 

The mochi I saw everywhere in Kyoto was thin, cut into squares, and wrapped around bean paste. The texture was a lot different from normal mochi, which can get pretty sticky and almost gummy. So give this one a try if you happen to visit Kyoto.

Green Tea (抹茶)

And of course, you can’t talk about Kyoto without talking about green tea. The green tea in Kyoto is said to be the best in the world, and it certainly won’t be difficult for you to find it. Basically, every restaurant there advertises its tea, whether in normal tea form, mochi, ice cream, or anything else you can possibly imagine being green tea flavored.

 

Because it’s Kyoto, you can even hit up some fun and historical tea houses and enjoy some picturesque gardens as you sip your tea.

 

So if you’re going to be hanging around Kansai and you don’t know what to eat, hopefully, this gave you some ideas. If you aren’t going to Japan, but want to see what Kansai food is like, look up an okonomiyaki recipe. It’s actually pretty easy to make. And make sure to learn some Kansai-ben while you’re at it! It’s めっちゃおもろい!

 

If you’d like to learn more about traveling in Japan, check out our article “Travel Guide to Lodging in Japan.” And, to help you with your language skills, make sure you check out our daily podcast.

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Take a Bow

Why do Japanese people bow so much?

This is an interesting point of Japanese culture that can sometimes be a bit difficult for foreigners to understand. But knowing when and how to bow can really help you improve your interactions with native Japanese speakers. You may think of bowing as strictly cultural, but the truth is, you need to know bowing etiquette to properly speak Japanese. Bowing is so integrated into the Japanese language, there’s even a way to sign a bow when you are using Japanese sign language. Let’s start with how to bow, then we’ll get to different situations where bowing is necessary.

 

How to Bow

The main part of bowing is how far you are supposed to bow. Sometimes we may think that you should always give deep bows from the waist. That’s actually pretty formal. If you want to give a casual bow, sometimes just a head nod is enough. If someone holds the door for you or your friend says hi to you, you don’t need to go full bow. You’ll get so used to bowing like this, you may start doing it while people are talking to you or even on the phone. This is by far, the most common way to bow. When you get into more formal situations, such as business meetings or meeting people you should probably show respect to, it’s better to give a deeper bow. This doesn’t mean 90 degrees (we’ll get to that). This is just a normal, hands at your side, bending forward a bit to show respect sort of bow. This kind of seems like the most stereotypical way of bowing in Japan, at least from a foreigner’s perspective.

When you get into a bow any deeper than those two, it usually means you either really respect someone, or you have done something very wrong. A bow at 90 degrees is generally reserved for a very formal apology. Anything more than that (like a kowtow) is definitely excessive. Don’t do that. Now let’s talk about some basic bowing situations. This is probably the easiest one to remember. When you greet someone, you should bow. Typically when you say hello to people you know, the typical nod-style bow is plenty. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, and they are a higher social rank than you, the more formal bow is totally fine.

 

Business Bowing

You will generally provide the person you are greeting with a business card. It’s important to bow as you present it. This might be the situation a lot of foreigners think of when they think of bowing. While the depth of a bow given with an apology does directly correlate to the action being apologized for, chances are you won’t need to bow a full 90 degrees. The only time I’ve seen Japanese people bow like this is during very formal (usually televised) apologies from the head of a company who has done something very bad. Generally, if you bow during an apology you can determine how low to bow by understanding how what you did affect the other person. Reading the air is an important part of the entire Japanese language, and that includes bowing

 

Bowing is also a good way to show gratitude

If you know a Japanese person, chances are they don’t really show a lot of physical affection. When an American receives a present, a hug can definitely happen. But if you try to hug your native Japanese friend, they may feel very awkward. Japanese culture tends not to express love in the same ways as many other countries. A bow is a nice way to acknowledge that you appreciate what has been done. Again, the depth of the bow is significant. When someone holds a door for you, the normal nod is plenty. But if someone has really gone out of their way to do something for you, a more formal bow is a great way to show your gratitude (again, you don’t need to do that 90-degree bow or kowtow. Please don’t kowtow).

 

Why does it matter?

We may not think much of bowing. Or we may think it’s just a novel little bit of Japanese culture. But if you know anything about Japanese culture, you’ll know the importance of showing respect to the people around you. There’s a lot of little things Japanese people do to show respect, even simple things like being quiet on the train to not disturb other passengers.

Respect is built into the very language. Bowing is a way to outwardly show respect to whoever you are talking to. It’s also a major way you can show your native Japanese friends that you understand their culture and help them be comfortable around you. Bowing shows humility, and the Japanese language is big on humility. So make sure you loosen up and get those bows in as you talk to people. Before you know it, you’ll be nodding your head no matter who talks to you.

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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. 

 

Verbs

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!

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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! 

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The Only Three Sentences You Need to Learn Japanese

The Only Three Sentences You Need to Learn Japanese

By John Dinkel

How to 'Hack' Japanese 

 

As host of Learn Japanese w/ Manga Sensei podcast, I often get asked about how to ‘hack’ Japanese. People want to learn a language faster and without the pain that comes along with learning a new language. Ya know, the tough stuff that makes you want to roll into a ball and ask yourself why you even started learning it in the first place. 

 

While I do believe that people should work as hard as they can to learn a language, I have found a couple of key sentences that have helped me orient myself in this space. 

 

”How would you say it [as a native speaker]”

どうやって「」をネイティブスピーカーとしていうんですか?

 

Native speakers of Japanese or any language for that matter, are one of the greatest resources for learning the target tongue. However, most people are not professional language learners or teachers. Which often leads them to say things ‘improperly’ or ‘wrong.’ This prescriptive type of language learning has its place. No much of a place, but a place. I believe that people should try to articulate themselves as closely as they can to how a native speaker would. Hence a wonderful question is indeed “How would you say that?” I find this most useful when I say something ‘correctly’, or at least how I understand it should be said and I’m not immediately understood. If they appear confused, I quickly clarify and then ask them how they would have said it. After hearing it and repeating it to myself I often type a quick note into my phone so I can make sure I can speak more like they do. 

“I’m sorry, would you mind writing that down for me? ”申し訳ないけど、ちょっと書いてもらえませんか?

 

When I first lived in Japan and could hardly speak the language, I was told to quickly learn this phrase. I was working with a fellow foreigner who had wonderful Japanese but was too focused on what we were doing to teach me every little word I didn't know. He also didn’t want his work slowed down by someone who was always asking questions like I was. Instead of pestering him or one of our native co-workers all the time, and if I was given something to do but didn’t quite understand, I quickly learned to asked people to write it down for me. 

 

While them may seem more annoying than having them explain it to me in simpler Japanese, I found this actually took LESS time and I was able to literally see the grammar. This helped a ton and I was able to have a physical reminder of some key expressions/thing they wanted me to do. This helped me a lot, particularly when I was working in Japan.  

“Could I ask you a question?すみません、ちょっといいですか? 

 

“Could I ask you a question?すみません、ちょっといいですか? The fear of making mistakes is real. I used to be so caught up on having perfect Japanese that I would often cry during my language study. I was so stupidly focused one saying things properly, that was too shy to actually try the grammar that I had been learning when I had the chance. I figured, if I didn’t say anything at all I couldn’t make any mistakes. How right I was. So right in fact, that I retarded my Japanese speaking ability until I learned a simple truth. 

 

No one was going to remember me anyway. While this may sound harsh, this was a great comfort to me. I realized that if I spoke to somebody on the train and they didn’t understand me or felt pestered by, would inevitably forget me as soon as they stepped off the train. I thought of how many times people had asked me in broken or non-native English for me to take a picture for them or where the [insert word here] was and I couldn’t recall a single face. I was so caught up that I forgot how forgettable and forgiving people really are. With that, I decided to try and talk with random people on the train, on the bus, in line at the store, and even standing on the street corner. I literally talked to everyone I came across. Now I should mention that I was awkward and had a horrid accent. I didn’t know how to start up a conversation out of thin air and had little to no idea what to talk about. (This is not permission to be a creep or say things in inappropriate circumstances)

 

However, just like when you buy a PT cruiser and suddenly you see PT cruisers everywhere, I saw people making short and friendly conversation all the time once I started. I listened to how normal native people started casual, friendly, and easy to understand conversations. I found that just by asking if I could ask them a question, I could also learn tons of new words (and amazing places to eat.) I asked where things were, I asked how to get there, I asked what was the best [insert favorite thing here] was. I even made friends this way. I found great places to buy clothes and after the first 3 months or so it became like second nature. I also got to see Japan from a new perspective. The perspective of the Salaryman, the Mother-in-law, and the High School Student. I got to see people having a conversation and where they liked to hang out. I found nice Cafes and quiet little parks. But more importantly, I learned how to overcome fear and feel natural in conversation. I learned that if I screwed up in Japanese it is 100% ok. Yeah, there are some bad apples who will be rude, but they are the exception, NOT the rule. You can find bad eggs anywhere. 

 

Basically, I learned that to 'hack' Japanese you need to hack away at your insecurities and fears. The only shortcut to learning Japanese is how much of your fears you are willing to cut into. Japanese is a wonderful and lovely language that has changed my life, which is why I teach it on my podcast every single day, 365 days a year. If you love Japanese or any language, I recommend you try and speak, even if it is only these three sentences.  

 

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