nihonshock language and stuff Thu, 03 Oct 2013 03:05:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Japanese Cheat Sheet Pack Re-release! Thu, 03 Oct 2013 03:04:50 +0000 Hello all!

Many of you have probably noticed that I’m behind on updating my site, but I haven’t forgotten about it or stopped working behind-the-scenes.

It’s been more than a year since I first released Nihonshock’s Japanese cheat sheet pack, and in that time it became clear to me that I needed to take the product just a little bit further.

Therefore, I am now re-releasing it. The regular price will increase from $25 to $27, but in exchange you’ll get one additional printed sheet (Onomatopoeia), and a sturdier lamination than before.

However, since I’m doing a pre-order sale right now, you can buy them for $20 USD! The pre-order price ends on October 17 and they ship on October 18, so get on board now (you know I don’t do many sales)!

Check out the cheat sheet site and this post in particular for more details.

Thanks everyone for supporting Nihonshock and helping to make this possible!

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The Bases of Japanese Verbs Thu, 05 Sep 2013 11:33:10 +0000 Japanese has very long verb phrases. Things attach to verbs in various ways to produce phrases like 急がなければならない. Just to think, it can be way longer than this. This chain can easily go past six things in succession.

How is this all possible? Japanese is called an agglutinative language (膠着語 こうちゃくご). Agglutination is the concept of things attaching in chains. These chains have bases and endings interwoven like strands of DNA.

Many advanced students often complain about the terms “Ru Verbs” and “U Verbs”. However, they’re more correct than other names like “Class 1” and “Class 2”, which are arbitrary and contradictory to the traditional Japanese names.

From a traditional standpoint, there are 5 main classes of verbs in Modern Standard Japanese (標準語 =ひょうじゅんご).

  • 上一段活用動詞 (見る, 用いる, Etc.) Kami-ichidan Verbs       (roots end in i-)
  • 下一段活用動詞 (食べる, 求める, Etc.) Shimo-ichidan Verbs       (roots end in e-)
  • 五段活用動詞  (買う, 待つ, Etc.) Godan Verbs           (roots end in consonants)
  • サ変活用動詞 (する)   S-row Irregular Verbs           (root is s-)
  • カ変活用動詞    (来る)  K-row Irregular Verbs          (root is k-)

一段 verbs are collectively widely known as “Ru Verbs”. The prefixes 上- and 下- mean “upper” and “lower” respectively, and they refer to the vowels that end the roots of the verbs in their classes. So, the only difference between the roots of 見る and 食べる is that the former’s root ends in i- whereas the latter’s root ends in e-.

There are only two irregular verbs in Japanese now, but there used to be more. However, する is still not alone. In fact, ~ます, which makes sentences polite, conjugates the same way as it.

Despite there being minor differences in regards to the names of the classes, the main differences come from explaining how things happen after the root.

The view used at NihonShock involves a simplified 7 base system.

  • ~A: 動か、食べ、し(する)、こ(来る)
  • ~I: 動き、食べ、し、き
  • ~U: 動く、食べる、する、来る
  • ~E: 動け、食べれ、すれ、くれ
  • ~OU: 動こう、食べよう、しよう、来よう
  • ~TE: 動いて、食べて、して、きて
  • ~TA: 動いた、食べた、した、きた

This sufficiently accounts for most beginners’ needs in understanding how Japanese conjugates. However, for those hungry for minute details of grammar, you will eventually run into roadblocks with this method.

The Traditional Verb Forms

It’s now time to introduce the traditional base terminology used in Japanese grammar studies. Below are the Japanese names of them along with standard English translations of those names. If you don’t know some of the English words, don’t worry, this post will go over each of them in turn.

  • 未然形 みぜんけい Irrealis Form
  • 連用形 れんようけい Continuative Form
  • 終止形 しゅうしけい Predicative Form
  • 連体形 れんたいけい Attributive Form
  • 已然形 いぜんけい Realis Form
  • 命令形 めいれいけい Imperative Form

未然形: Negation and volitional action have something in common. They both represent things that haven’t occurred yet. You may or may not have the will to do something, but regardless, you still haven’t done it yet. Thus, the endings we associate those concepts in Japanese follow the 未然形.

So, in actuality, the endings ない, ぬ, ず, う, and よう follow the 未然形. This means that the “A” and “OU” bases are versions of the same thing. The “OU” base simply notes a sound change that occurred when the A ending base, Mizenkei, was paired with う.

行く → 行か- + -う → 行かう → 行こう

What about しよう and 来よう? They take ~よう. But, remember, they’re irregular. So, their bases look different. Other than that, they are like any other verb.

Note: The “OU Base” name in the simplified system could be more accurately described as the “O Base” given that the endings for the volitional are ~う and ~よう.

That’s not all. You also use the 未然形 to make passives and causatives. So, then, why is する not しれる or しせる respectively? The answer is that it has more than one 未然形. It actually has three. し → さ for these endings. So, you get される and させる. With old endings like ぬ and ず, you use せ. Thus, せず (=しない).

連用形: The 連用形 is the “I” base. It is the base for tense, conjunctive, and politeness items. This means you use it with ~た, ~て, ~ます, compound verb endings, and a whole lot more!

聞く + て → 聞いて  食べる + ます → 食べます.

Now, what about the “TE” and “TA” Bases? If 五段/U Verbs are have roots that end in consonants, why don’t you say 聞きて instead of 聞いて? Actually, the latter is a sound change of the former. The “k” is just dropped.

持ちてきたるか。 (Middle Japanese for: 持ってきたか)

None of the sound changes in 五段 verbs involve a different base. However, it is important to isolate the different sound changes. Thus, to make traditional grammar and the simplified base system more systematic, the “TE” and “TA” bases should be called sound changes rather than bases.

終止形・連体形: The “U” base corresponds to both the 終止形 and 連体形. However, from a grammatical standpoint, the two cannot be confused with each other. Very important structural properties of Japanese sentence structure are intertwined with them which this article won’t delve into. Nor will we get into how this is all done in English, as it is arguably even more complicated in English. The same goes for English in its own way.

已然形: The 已然形 is weird. Ever wondered why you get things like 見れば, 食べれば, and 泳げれば? Note that the latter is the ば-form for 泳げる, not 泳ぐ! If you’ve caught on that 見れ, 食べれ, and 泳げれ are 已然形, you’re ahead of the game. This base is rare and only used for a handful of endings. “Realis” means “realized”, which is why it’s used with endings like ~ど. However, ~ば makes a hypothetical. This is relatively new in Japanese. So, some Japanese grammarians call it the 仮定形 (the hypothetical form).

見れど (Although…see)   書けば (If…will write)

命令形: The 命令形 is neglected in the 7 simplified bases. This base is typically avoided because teachers don’t want students to make highly charged, rude commands to Japanese people. What it looks like is completely dependent on the class of the verb.

In summarizing this traditional approach to bases, the following chart shows the bases.

Class 未然形 連用形 終止形 連体形 已然形 命令形
上一段 い~ い~ いる いる~ いれ~ いろ・えよ
下一段 え~ え~ える える~ えれ~ えろ・えよ
五段 あ~・お~ い~ う~
サ変(する) し・さ・せ~ し~ する する~ すれ~ しろ・せよ・せい
カ変(くる) こ~ き~ くる くる~ くれ~ こい

Endings for 未然形: ~ない, ~ぬ, ~ん, ~ず, ~う, ~よう.
Endings for 連用形: ~た, ~て, ~ます, ~たら Etc.
Endings for 終止形: ~と, ~なら, ~べきだ, Final Particles like よ, ね, Etc.
Endings for 連体形: None. Precedes noun phrases.
Endings for 已然形: ~ば, ~ど
Endings for 命令形: All ancient.

Note: Remember the 未然形options for する and what they go to!

しれる・せれる → される・せられる
しず・さず → せず

To relate the 7 simplified bases to this system, consider the following chart.

Traditional vs. simplified japanese bases chart

The hardest part about this is naturally putting bases and endings together correctly on the spot. But regardless of what methodology you use, you’re still learning Japanese.

One key advantage to learning the traditional base system is that it is not limited to verbs. It applies to adjectives and auxiliaries. To learn more, check out:

This post was guest-authored by Seth Coonrod, a 19-year-old sophomore (at the time this article was written) at the University of Texas at Austin. He has been making ever since he was in 10th grade.

Over these years, his site has become immensely filled with lessons and data on 日本語. Though his work may still be relatively unknown online, you definitely need to check it out.

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Japan’s city that’s hot as hell Thu, 29 Aug 2013 17:25:33 +0000 Beppu souvenir cookie packageThe expression ‘hell on earth’ conjures up images of something very unpleasant, so it is unlikely that the expression would be used to draw tourists. However, in Beppu city the expression ‘hell on earth’ is probably the best way to describe what you’ll get. Blistering pools of boiling thermal water, clouds of sulfuric gas, geysers squirting water from deep under the earth’s crust and bubbling hollows of mud are just some of the sites you will see in Beppu.

Should you forget you are in Japan’s very own ‘hell on earth’ the tourist staff will be happy to remind you with their uniforms which read “毎日が地獄です。 – “Everyday is hell.”

Beppu t-shirtBeppu city is located in Oita prefecture on the island of Kyushu. It is an area of high geothermal activity with eight geothermic hotspots, referred to as ‘the Eight Hells of Beppu’.

If you visit Beppu the Eight Hells are a must see. They are all except for two located in the same area and are within walking distance of one another. You can pay 500 yen to enter each individually but the best way to see all eight hells is to buy a day ticket for 2,000 yen. Each hell is different and has its own unique features.

Shiro Jigoku

shiro jigoku, the white hell

The first hell you will likely come to is called Shiro Jigoku or ‘the white hell’. It is one of the more serene geothermic pools featured at Beppu with light blue water and a peaceful Japanese garden.

Umi Jigoku

umi jigoku

The second hell is called Umi Jigoku, it is a pond of strikingly blue water, as the word Umi means ocean or sea. The cobalt blue water is offset nicely by the red gate of the inari (good luck) shrine next to it.

Oniishibozu Jigoku

oniishibozu jigoku

Oniishibozu Jigoku is the third hell, it features a series of boiling mud pools, each a different shade of grey. The popping bubbles are said to resemble the bald heads of demons. Hence the name oniishibozu.

Kamado Jigoku

kamado jigoku

The fourth hell is known as Kamado Jigoku. As you enter the first thing you will see is a bright read demon standing atop of a giant cooking pot. The more tamable geothermal springs around here were used by people for cooking and also for medicinal reasons. Visitors are recommended to thrust their face into the steam to relieve blocked noses, sore throats or eye allergies.

Oniyama Jigoku

oniyama jigoku

Oniyama Jigoku is the fifth hell. This area is half a zoo, half a geothermal hot spring. You can look at the bubbling pools of geothermal water on your right then turn your head to see crocodiles and hippos in cages on your left.

Tatsumaki Jigoku

tatsumaki jigoku

The sixth hell called Tatsumaki Jigoku is a geyser that erupts every 15 minutes or so. Both Tatsumaki Jigoku and Chinoike Jigoku are situated some distance from the other hells and it will require a short 10 minute bus ride to get to them.

Chinoike Jigoku

chinoike jigoku

The seventh hell Chinoike Jigoku translates to ‘The bloody pond’. Looking at the photo below it is easy to see how it got its name.

Kinryu Jigoku

Kinryu Jigoku, the Golden Dragon hell was closed for maintenance during my visit. However, should you enter you will be treated by a giant dragon spewing boiling steam from its mouth.

So, no matter what you preference there’s a hell for you in Beppu. To get there you can take the bullet train from Tokyo or Osaka and ride it down to Fukuoka city then transfer to a local train that will take you to Beppu. Another method is to fly straight into Beppu or if you want to take your time a third option could be to take an overnight cruise ship from Osaka and arrive in Beppu recharge and ready to go first thing in the morning. However you choose to go, Beppu City is a must see in Japan.

Map of Beppu’s Hells

Here is a (Japanese-language) map showing visitors how Beppu’s “Hells” are situated:


LyndenThis post was guest-authored by Lynden, a university teacher and artist living in Osaka.

Check out his art-related homepage here:

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Japanese Onomatopoeia Sun, 28 Apr 2013 00:08:54 +0000 Onomatopoeia. That’s a big scary term with a much less daunting meaning: any word that mimics a sound. In English, onomatopoeia consists of words like “boom”, “pop”, and “cock-a-doodle-do”.

Of course, Japanese also has onomatopoeia (which they call 擬態語 : ぎたいご). They have LOTS of it, and not just silly comic book sounds either. If you’ve been studying Japanese for more than a couple weeks, you probably already know a couple: ちょっと (a little) is an onomatopoeia, and so is ちゃんと (correctly, obediently) and ゆっくり (slowly). Sometimes we don’t even think of those words as onomatopoeia, but they are.

Even a certain lightning-wielding, yellow mouse character’s name turns out to be a simple fusion of sounds which means “sparkle-squeak” (actually, I think I like the English name better…). Anyway, my point is there’s so much onomatopoeia in Japanese that it will make your head spin (the sound for dizziness would be くらくら, by the way).

In fact, Japanese has so much onomatopoeia that they use them to describe all sorts of things, many of which (like dizziness) don’t actually make a sound. Maybe that seems strange, but we have some very similar words in English too, for example “dilly-dally” or “wishy-washy”. Just try to imagine if there were literally hundreds of words like that, and that on a given day you’d probably hear, read or use at least 50 of them.

Yet despite how common onomatopoeia are and how important they are for things such as casual conversation or reading fiction, they seem to be regarded as irrelevant by a lot of teachers and teaching materials. Common ones are taught as adverbs and that’s about it. The common perception among native Japanese speakers is that these words are “easy” because all they do is convey a sound. No kanji = easy.

Well I’ve got news for the native speakers: these words are NOT easy and they DO require special attention. It’s exactly because these words are not tied to kanji that they take on multiple, sometimes unrelated meanings and develop their own peculiar nuances and usage quirks (I seem to remember Japanese speakers complaining about this aspect of English vocabulary, no?). No kanji = less restrictions on usage = more vagueness and confusion.

In this article, I’m going to attempt to give readers a framework for understanding and using onomatopoeia.

Onomatopoeia Forms

The first thing that you need to know is that there are three basic forms an onomatopoeia can take.

Onomatopoeia forms

Not all words can take all the forms (the three examples above are actually more flexible than most). Also, sometimes different forms of the same onomatopoeia will have somewhat different meanings, though they are usually either the same or strongly related. The important thing is just to be aware that onomatopoeia in Japanese (when used in a sentence) appear in one of these forms.

The second thing to know is that the particle you should associate with onomatopoeia is と. One of と’s primary functions is to mark quoted speech, such as in:

彼は“こんにちわ”と言った 。
kare wa “konnichiwa” to itta.
He said “hello”.

But と also describes sounds in exactly the same way:

彼はごくごくと飲んだ 。
kare wa gokugoku to nonda.
He drank making a gulping sound.

In fact, the と in the TO-ending words above (にこっと、にやっと、こそっと) is the particle と. The particle is actually built into the form (therefore, don’t add any other particle when you use them).

The Double and RI forms of onomatopoeia are trickier, as each word has its own usage nuances. Some words will almost always come with a と, some will always omit their と. As I’ll explain later, some words are even treated similar to nouns and can be used with particles like の and に, but the basic rule of thumb is: the particle to use with an onomatopoeia is と (even though it is often omitted).


One of the things that complicates the issue of learning onomatopoeia is that in addition to words like ちょっと and ゆっくり, which are so common that we don’t really think of them as onomatopoeia, there are also words that sound like and which may even be used like onomatopoeia, but aren’t.

You probably know a couple of these already too: いろいろ is an example. For all intents and purposes, you could consider this word an onomatopoeia, but its meaning is derived from the kanji (色々) rather than the “sound” of the word. Other examples of this kind of pseudo-onomatopoeia are 段々(だんだん) and 次々(つぎつぎ).

Since these words aren’t really onomatopoeia, you have to be much more careful about which particle you select (if any). The above-mentioned three can all optionally take と, but others such as まだまだ(未だ未だ), 別々(べつべつ), and 元々(もともと) can never take と. Still others such as 堂々(どうどう)、延々(えんえん)、and 朗々(ろうろう) will always appear with と. Don’t worry about remembering all the specifics, just understand that not all words which sound like an onomatopoeia are.

And Japanese has one other another kind of fake onomatopoeia which is made by doubling adjective or verb stems (~I form). The meaning of the resulting word is dependent on the stem, so usually these aren’t too hard to figure out. For example, 熱い (あつい – hot) becomes 熱々(あつあつ) and 浮く(うく – to float/be cheerful) becomes うきうき (in high spirits). These doubled-stem words are kind of a middle-ground between “true” onomatopoeia and the “pseudo-” ones which I mentioned above. Their usage is fundamentally the same as true onomatopoeia, except that you’ll never find them in RI or -TO form.*

*: there is one exception that I know of: のびのび (伸びる) → のんびり

Using Onomatopoeia

Okay, so now that you kind of have an idea what exactly an onomatopoeia is in Japanese, it’s time to look at how to use them.

There’s four basic usage patterns that you will find onomatopoeia in:

onomatopoeia usages

The reason onomatopoeia exist and the reason we use them is to describe. But essentially there are two and only two things which onomatopoeia can describe: either an action/process or a condition/state of being.

Which kind of description you are making affects the grammar you will need, hence I have distinguished between “adverb” (describing an action/process) and “adjective” (describing the state/condition of something) functions.

Individual onomatopoeia can be tightly restricted to one certain usage, or they can have multiple meanings each with a different usage, or they can have one core meaning that can be applied both ways. This can be a headache for learners, but only if you take it too seriously. Onomatopoeia are supposed to make sentences more colorful, to add emotion and spice. They’re fun! Without onomatopoeia, Japanese might as well be just one boring newspaper article about stock prices and exchange rates. But anyway, back to the topic…

The ADVERB usage (describing an action) is the default function of an onomatopoeia and also the simplest. It’s simple because you just stick it in front of the verb you’re describing, and decide whether or not to use と. Some words will require it, but in most cases it’s optional.

In cases where it’s optional, adding the と helps bring out the aural aspect of the word, so it’s less common in everyday speech and more common in creative writing. Including と also helps prevent word-order confusion if there’s something between your onomatopoeia and your verb.

The ADJECTIVE usage (describing an object/condition) is actually a specialized application of an adverb. Grammatically speaking, the onomatopoeia wants to be an adverb, so we need to do some linguistic acrobatics to make it modify a noun.

How do we turn an adverb into an adjective? We “format” it with either とした or している. Don’t concern yourself with the meaning of とした/している here because there really isn’t one, we’re just using the formless verb する as an intermediary between our onomatopoeia and our noun.

とした is kind of the “correct” way to make an adjective usage, and している (usually abbreviated to してる) is the “casual” way, but they’re both doing the same thing: taking a sound and “formatting” it so that it can modify a noun.

Because constantly “formatting” onomatopoeia is kind of inconvenient, a lot Adjective-natured onomatopoeia have developed a different usage. An Onomatopoeia with a N-ADJECTIVE usage can be used similarly to a noun. “N” is the perfect letter to represent these words, not only because they have some similarities to nouns, but because by happy coincidence they are mostly used with the particles の and に (and sometimes even な, like a NA-Adjective).

Note that although these words have some grammatical similarities to nouns, it usually doesn’t make any sense to use them as objects (を). And if you find them with で , it’s probably actually the TE-form of だ/です, not the particle で.

The SURU usage is very handy. You simply pair the onomatopoeia with the “formless” verb する, and the resulting verb means “to act/feel/occur/be” in whatever way is described by the onomatopoeia. So for example, くらくら which I mentioned at the beginning of the article describes dizziness and is used with する. The typical usage of this is:

atama ga kurakura shiteru.
My head is spinning.

One important thing to note about the SURU usage of onomatopoeia is it usually only makes intransitive verbs (verbs which don’t take objects). To make these verbs transitive, you need to use the causative form: させる. Therefore:

Tom no atama o kurakura saseta.
I made Tom’s head spin.

Sure, you could consider these to be adverbs. But if an adverb (such as どきどき) is used almost exclusively to describe one particular verb (する), and that verb is basically meaningless, wouldn’t it be more helpful just to think of it as a verb unit?

Common Double-form Onomatopoeia

Usage      Meaning
いらいら SURU to be edgy/testy, ticked off
うろうろ SURU to wander about aimlessly, loiter
きらきら (various) shining/sparkling/glitter
くすくす ADV laughing/chuckling (quietly/bashfully)
ぐずぐず SURU To act lazy, slow, procrastinate
くるくる (various) spinning/turning – curly (hair)
こそこそ ADV/SURU (speaking) secretively, quietly
ぬるぬる ADJ wet and slippery, slimy
ねばねば ADJ sticky
じろじろ ADV staring fixatedly
じわじわ ADV steadily, without haste
すらすら ADV unimpeded, continuous, sleek
ぞくぞく SURU feeling a thrill/adrenaline rush
もじもじ SURU acting antsy/squirmy
ばたばた ADV/SURU busy, hurried, rushing from place to place
びくびく SURU to twitch, spasm
ふらふら ADV/SURU woozy/unstable, swaying from side to side
ぼろぼろ N-ADJ ripped up (clothing), worn out, beat up
わくわく SURU to get nervous/anxious with anticipation

Common RI- and TO-form Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia    Usage      Meaning
がっかり SURU to be disappointed/let down
しっかり (various) firm/steadfast
たっぷり (various) more than enough/required
はっきり ADV/SURU clearly, plainly
ゆっくり ADV slowly
きっと ADV surely, without a doubt
じっと ADV/SURU without moving/motionless
ちゃんと ADV properly, correctly, obediently
ちょっと ADV a little bit, somewhat
ぼーっと ADV/SURU to space out, be distracted
もっと ADV more

Onomatopoeia Cheat Sheet

If you are interested in improving your onomatopoeia, check out Nihonshock’s digital “Onomatopoeia” cheat sheet. It contains 340 onomatopoeia and pseudo-onomatopoeia, complete with usage notes, alternate forms, synonyms, and more.

Get it for $2.50, about the price of a cup of coffee.

Onomatopoeia Cheat Sheet (PDF)

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6 Sites All Japanese Learners Should Bookmark Mon, 14 Jan 2013 22:04:35 +0000 Hello and Happy New Year to everyone! Did you see Mt. Fuji, a hawk and an eggplant in your first dream of the year? …yeah, neither did I. Let’s hope for a good year anyway, ね?

Today I’m going to share a collection of websites that I think are absolutely amazing resources which everyone learning Japanese should know about. A few of them I don’t use (because I’m already fluent in Japanese), but they’re all sites that I either have used, currently use, or wish I had known about when I was still at the beginner-intermediate level.

This is my first link-roundup article, and in general I dislike link-roundup articles, so you know that I wouldn’t write it unless I thought it was truly a worthwhile collection.

I hope that at least one of these links is helpful to you.

1. Furigana Webglasses

I’ve had this link in this site’s sidebar for a long, long time. Hopefully some of you have discovered it already.

Furigana Webglasses ( is a site which can add furigana (you know, the little hiragana pronunciation guides over the top of kanji) to any website you want. It’s not perfect (especially when it comes to personal names), but it’s damn good and a real lifesaver for learners. And it’s free.

Of course, it can’t add furigana to text embedded inside images, but that’s to be expected.


( This site is an advanced learner’s/translator’s best friend. Different from a dictionary, it searches an index of short translations. It always seems to give you plenty of useful results, often including some context that helps you better understand the meaning and usage. You can even search things like proverbs and multi-word expressions.

The site itself is in Japanese, but you can search both English or Japanese and get great results.


( Looking for free lessons on any topic, offering awesome detail and tons of examples? I found this site a few months ago, and it’s impossible not to be impressed at the sheer volume of what’s available here. I’ve seen a lot of sites that offer free Japanese lessons, but nothing that compares to this.

It’s designed as an ordered course that will take you from absolute beginner to Japanese nerd-master (seriously, the lessons even get into classical Japanese eventually). If you’re familiar with the content or have a little patience, you can also locate some specific topic or lesson you’re interested in.

The guy who made and maintains the site (a prodigy/student from the University of Texas) is really helpful too, so you might want to sign up for the forums.


( This site is the ultimate learner’s Q&A forum. Need a question about Japanese answered? I’ve not found a better platform for getting a quick and satisfactory response than this site. You don’t even need to register in order to use it.

Of course, you’re often in the dark about the qualifications of whoever answered your question, but from what I’ve seen on the site the information is generally very accurate.

5. Google Japan Image Search

( Google Japan image search can be extremely helpful for words (or phrases, even) that you’re having trouble understanding.

For example: 殺風景 (sappuukei). The dictionary defines it as “tasteless, dreary”, but it’s hard to get a real grasp of the meaning until you actually see some images which are described as being 殺風景 (click here to see the results). Think of it as the world’s biggest picture dictionary.

6. Wikipedia

Yeah, I know. You’ve already got this one bookmarked. Why even mention it? Well, whenever I need to know the correct Japanese rendering of words like “Los Angeles”, “Mila Jovovich” or “The Emancipation Proclamation”, I first look it up on English Wikipedia, then switch to the corresponding Japanese page (the language links are in the sidebar on the left).

So I use it as a dictionary of proper nouns, or of words that aren’t in the dictionary, if that makes any sense. Remember this trick the next time you need to know the title of  “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows” in Japanese.

Final word

I didn’t include Nihonshock on this list, since quite honestly my site isn’t a massive resource in the same way as the others are. And I know you have me bookmarked already anyway, right? ;-)

Do you have any sites you’d add to this list? Please leave a comment and let me know!


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36 Cool and Obscure Words (WOTD Roundup) Fri, 07 Dec 2012 18:48:26 +0000 Hello, all. If you follow me on twitter, you know that for the last month or so, (almost) every day, I’ve been posting a #Japanese #WOTD.

Since information on twitter is quickly buried, I’ll leave a record here for the sake of data permanence (and also for the sake of anyone who doesn’t use twitter).

In no particular order…

  • 逆ギレ – (gyakugire) – getting angry in response to someone else’s anger
  • 方向音痴 – (houkou onchi) – “directionally tonedeaf” = having a terrible sense of direction
  • 死亡フラグ – (shibou furagu) – “death flag” a statement/action that hints at or frequently precedes a character’s death (in fiction)
  • 鵜呑み (にする) – (unomi ni suru) – to accept someone’s idea/opinion without thinking. Literally: to swallow (whole) like a cormorant.
  • ダメ元(で) – (damemoto de) – attempting something even though one expects it to be unsuccessful.
  • 悪乗り – (warunori) – getting carried away and saying/doing more than one should (also written: 悪ノリ)
  • 文字化け (mojibake) – when digital text is turned into incomprehensible gibberish due to an error (eg. 縺ォ繧医▲縺ヲ縲∬。ィ遉コ蜿)
  • (otsu) – “thanks” (internet slang, derived from お疲れ様/otsukaresama)
  • 鉢合わせ (hachiawase) – an unexpected meeting/encounter, running/bumping into someone
  • 思い出し笑い (omoidashi warai) – Laughing when recalling something funny.
  • ググる (guguru) – to search on Google (RU-Verb)
  • 絶対領域 (zettai ryouiki) – the area of a woman’s thigh which is exposed between her over-knee socks and short pants/skirt
  • 金輪際 (konrinzai) – definitely (not) / never / under no circumstances (adverb, used to make a strong refusal or denial)
  • 腹癒せ (haraise) – something done in order to vent one’s anger or get revenge (eg. punching a wall after an argument)
  • 腹ごなし (haragonashi) – light excercise such as taking a walk, done after a meal in order to help digest food
  • 腹ごしらえ (haragoshirae) – having a meal in advance of some activity (ie. before going somewhere, working, shopping, etc.)
  • 似た者同士 (nita mono doushi) – two people with similar personalities/traits, “birds of a feather”
  • 八重歯 (yaeba) – maligned teeth, especially when the top canines appear to be pushed/crowded outward
  • 験担ぎ (genkatsugi) – a personal superstition or good-luck ritual (eg. a sports player eating a certain food before a game)
  • 念力 (nenriki) – telekenesis. Also: 念動力 (nendouryoku)
  • 十八番 (ohako) – one’s regularly-used trick/technique, their “specialty”, (someone up to their) old tricks
  • 打開策 (dakaisaku) – a plan for overcoming a difficult situation
  • 天才肌 (tensaihada) – not necessarily a genius, but showing genius-like eccentricity (lit. “genius skin”)
  • 手持ち無沙汰 (temochibusata) – fidgety/antsy because one has nothing to do
  • 踏ん反り返る (funzorikaeru) – to lean back comfortably with one’s legs sticking out in front
  • 当たり屋 (atariya) – a person who intentionally gets hit by a car, scheming to get money from the driver. Also: a big hitter (baseball), or someone who often wins at lotteries, raffles and so on.
  • ガリ勉 (gariben) – a person so focused on studying as to preclude social activities. Typically this word criticizes someone for having no social life.
  • 野次馬 (yajiuma) – onlookers (unrelated people watching the scene of an accident/crime/fire)
  • 送り狼 (okuriookami) – a man who accompanies a woman to their home, seeking an opportunity to assault them.
  • 芋蔓式 (imozurushiki) – related things/people becoming apparent in succession, “like a vine of sweet potatoes”
  • 狸寝入り – (tanukineiri) – pretending to be asleep
  • デコピン – (dekopin) – flicking one’s finger on someone’s forehead (a “playful” form of punishment)
  • 土下座 – (dogeza) – bowing/begging on your hands and knees and with your forehead to the ground
  • とんぼ返り – (tonbogaeri) – “a dragonfly spin”, going somewhere for a short time, then coming back promptly and directly
  • チャラ – (chara) – when two opposing things cancel each other out, such as person A paying for gas, person B paying a similar amount for dinner.
  • ドン引き – (donbiki) having the atmosphere/mood ruined by someone’s unreasonable or out-of-place comment or action

I’m still preparing the next round of #WOTD words, which won’t be as obscure as these. I’ll be focusing on more useful words, which are often under-used by learners. So make sure you follow me on twitter if you haven’t already! :-)

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Reading Practice: the Dead Parrot Sketch in Japanese Fri, 30 Nov 2012 22:12:15 +0000 Month Python’s dead parrot sketch. It’s deservingly one of the most famous sketches in all comedy, in which John Cleese (Mr. Praline) attempts to return a dead parrot to a stubborn pet shop owner. I hope we’ve all had the opportunity to watch it and have laughed until our eyes watered and our stomachs hurt (if you haven’t, watch it now!).

Recently, I came across a translation of the dead parrot sketch in Japanese, and was so pleased with it that I decided to try to make it available and accessible to Japanese learners. The translation is very smooth and natural, so consider this a fun exercise in understanding “real” Japanese and translations that, although accurate, are often far from literal. I hope you’ll also find it a refreshing departure from your textbook dialogues.

I’ve added a large number of tool tips to the sketch below, so if you don’t understand something, try hovering over it with your mouse. :-) If you’ve got a question on something not explained in a tooltip, please comment and let me know. I’ll try to either answer directly or add tooltips where necessary.

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Options: Add Pronunciation GuidesShow/Hide English
* furigana (pronunciation guide) is added by Furigana Webglasses‘s free web service.
It’s automatically generatred so it might not be 100% correct.
Also, adding pronunciation guides screws up the site layout somewhat.

- – - – -

Mr. Praline: 失礼、ちょっと言いたいことがあるんだが…。ちょっと、お嬢さん。
Hello, I wish to register a complaint. Hello, Miss?

Shopkeeper: お嬢さんって、どういう意味どういう意味: what is meant BY something. Many learners would say 何の意味, but that would be asking the literal meaning of the word お嬢さん
What’cha mean, “miss”?

P: ああ、失敬literally: ”(I was) rude.” But without です or しました following it, we get the feeling the apology is slightly superficial.風邪をひいてしまってねThis TE form isn't a command. It's the continuous form, so grammatically speaking the sentence is incomplete. The logical completion of the sentence has already been said: 失敬。私は苦情を言いに来たんだ。
I’m sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint.

S: すみませんが、昼休みなもんで[Noun + なもんで: ”because it's...”] - The shopkeeper has omitted ”please come back another time”. Also note that な here is a form of だ/です
Sorry, we’re closing for lunch.

P: 気にするな。まだ30分もたっていないと思うが、さきほど貴店きてん : 貴 is an honorary prefix/kanji. The speaker could have said この店 or あなたの店, but the keigo term 貴店 helps convey the speaker’s sarcasm.からオウムを購入した。そのオウムのことでひとこと言いたい。
Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this parrot that I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.

S: ああ、ノルウェイジャン・ブルーね。何か、まずいまずい is an adjective you might not find in your textbook. It can mean ”bad” (of either food or a turn of events), ”awkward” or ”poor quality” ことでも?The speaker has omitted the verb ある from this sentence.
Oh yes, the Norwegian blue. What’s wrong with it?

P:まずいことがあったから、こうして言いに来てるんだ”I'll tell you what's...” doesn't work when translated literally, so the sentence is changed to something like ”(of course) there's a problem, that's why I came to say it.”オウムオウム means parrot. The kanji is 鸚鵡, in case you want to impress someone.が死んでる。これが、その「まずいこと」だ。
I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. It’s dead. That’s what’s wrong with it.

S: 何を言うんですか、休んでるんですよ。
No, no. It’s resting. Look.

P: いいかねThis expression is like saying ”look here” or ”got it”, with a very authoritative tone.。このオウムが死んでいることは、見れば分かる。今だって”even now”. Note that this だって is similar in meaning to でも.ご覧の通り”exactly as you see”だ。
Look my lad, I know a dead parrot when I see one and I’m looking at one right now.

S: だから違いますって。死んでません。休んでるんです。
No, no. He’s not dead. He’s resting.

P: 休んでる?

S: そうですともとも at the end of a sentence indicates a rather polite-sounding affirmation, intended to show the speaker’s unequivocalness. It is used when replying to a confirmation or clarification question.。ノルウェイジャン・ブルーは珍しい鳥でしてね。この羽根羽根 (はね): ”feathers”. 羽 by itself is also read はね, but people tend to interpret just 羽 to mean ”wing”. It’s merely a tendency, though. Both 羽根 and 羽 can mean either feathers or wing. 翼 (つばさ) can only mean ”wing”.の美しいことと言ったら…と言ったら(ない) is an advanced (JLPT N2-N1) exclamation, used for emphasis. ”There’s no words to express the beauty of the plumage.”
Yeah. Remarkable bird, the Norwegian blue. Beautiful plumage, idn’t it?

P: 羽根のことを言ってるんじゃない。このオウムは、完全に死んでいる。
The plumage don’t enter into it. It’s stone dead.

S: いいえ、眠っているだけです。
No, no. It’s resting.

P: そうか。眠っているなら、起こそうじゃないか。オハヨー、オウムちゃん。お目々を覚ましたら、おいしいイカイカ is squid. The (rarely-used) kanji is 烏賊, in case you were interested.をあげますよ~。オウムのポリーちゃん~。
Alright then. If it’s resting, I’ll wake it up. Hello Polly! I got a nice cup of fish for you when you wake up, Polly Parrot.

S: ほら、動いた。
There, it moved.

P: オウムじゃない。あんたあんた is a slightly condescending term for ”you”. We can clearly see that Mr. Praline is upset with the shopkeeper now.が鳥かごを押したんじゃないか。
No he didn’t, that was you pushing the cage.

S:押してません押さなかった or 押しませんでした would not work here. The simple past tense implies that some conditions were in place and ~ had a possibility of occurring. 押していません is a flat-out denial, much better suited to responding to accusations. Note also that this TE-いる is different from the progressive (~ing) form. Literally: ”(I am) not in the state which results from pushing.”
I did not.

P: いいや、押した。オハヨ~、ポリーちゃん~。オウムのポリーちゃん~、起っきしましょうねぇ。ポリーちゃん~。これを死んだオウムと言わずして、何と呼ぶI really like this expression. ”What would you call it if not...”. It’s kind of a set phrase.
Yes you did. Hello, Polly! Poooollyyyy! Polly parrot, wake up! Poooolly! Now that’s what I call a dead parrot.

S: いいえ、気絶”きぜつ: knocked out/unconscious”したんですよ。
No, no. It’s stunned.

P:あのなあのな is very similar to いいかね above, taking an authoritative ”look here, now” tone. It's possible to say あのな or あのね non-authoritatively, but you have to be extremely careful about context and your intonation.、死んでることは今ので”with/from (what happened) just now” (今、ここで見せたことで)、じゅうぶん分かっただろ。このオウムは明らかに死亡してるの。私がさっき買いに来たとき、オウムが動かないのは、喋り続けてクタクタに疲れてるからだってThis だって is different from the one above (the one similar in meaning to でも). This is the verb だ, plus the quoting marker って (= と).、保証したじゃないか。
Look my lad, I’ve had just about enough of this. That parrot is definitely deceased. And when I bought it not half an hour ago, you assured me that its lack of movement was due to it being tired and shagged out after a long squall.

S: フィヨルドが恋しい~が恋しい: to miss/long for ~のかも。
He’s probably pining for the fjords.

P: フィヨルドが恋しいだと?何だそりゃ。だったら、家に着いたとたん~TA+途端(とたん): just when/after ~、オウムが仰向けあおむけ: laying flat and facing upward.になって床に落ちたのは、どう説明してくれるHow will you explain this to me?
Pining for the fjords? What kind of talk is that? Look, why did it fall flat on its back the moment I got it home?

S: ノルウェイジャン・ブルーは仰向けで寝るのが好きなんですよ。きれいな鳥でしょ。それに見事な羽根。
The Norwegian blue prefers keeping on its back. It’s a beautiful bird, lovely plumage…

P: 失礼を承知で”while knowing that it was discourteous (to you)”, this is how ”took the liberty to...” got translated.調べさせて貰ったがね、どうしてオウムが最初にいた止まり木perchにずっと立っていられたのか、分かったよ。理由は一つ、オウムが止まり木に釘付けされてた釘付け is treated as a noun here, so the されてた is a conjugation of する, not of 付ける. The speaker could also have said 釘付けられた, which would be using 釘付ける (a verb).からだ。
Look, I took the liberty of examining that parrot, and I discovered that the only reason it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been nailed there.

S: そんなの、当たり前じゃないですか。そうでもしなけりゃ、柵をこじ開けてこじあける: to wrench open、ブーンと飛んでっちまう。
Well of course he was nailed there otherwise he’d have muscled up through those bars and voom!

P: いいかね、このオウムに4000ボルトの電気をかけたってThis usage of ~TAって appears only in spoken Japanese, and is equivalent to ~TEも. (かけても)、飛ぶわけがない。これは、完ぺきにご臨終なの。
Look matey, this parrot wouldn’t “voom” if I put 4000 volts through it. It’s bleeding demised.

S: いやいや、恋しいんです。
It’s not. It’s, it’s pining.

P: ホームシックなんかじゃない~なんかじゃない: it’s not anything like ~ (used for a sweeping negation)お亡くなりになったお亡くなりになる: an honorific way of saying ”to die”んだ。このオウムは、この世を去ったhas left this worldの。事切れてことぎれる: ”things have cut off/ended”, this word isn't any dictionary I could find, but the meaning is clear from context.しまった。息を引き取りhas taken back his breath神の御許God's (神の) honorable (御) underneath (許), but ”underneath” is not meant literally. 神の御許 is ”a place near God”逝かれた逝く (いく): it’s the verb 行く, but 逝 is used when the destination is the afterlife.。これは「こ : a prefix used before names of people to indicate that the person is deceased.オウム」。死体A corpse/cadaver/dead body。命尽きて尽きる (つきる): to be used up, all gone永遠の眠りについてる”has fallen into eternal sleep.” I personally would have gone with 安らかに眠っている since it's a translation of ”rests in peace”。釘付けされてなきゃ、今頃はひな菊ひなぎく : daisyいっぱいのお墓おはか: graveの下でおねんねねんね is a ”cute” word for sleeping. Maybe a little like ”Nappy time”. Putting お before it is unusual and helps show that the speaker is using the word sarcastically.してたはずなんだ。オウムはその生涯に幕を閉じhas closed the curtains on life. その is not necessary here, but using it portrays the parrot and the parrot’s life as two separate entities.昇天しょうてん: ascended to heavenなされたなさる is an honorific equivalent to する, again the speaker is using keigo to convey sarcasm. Using the passive ~Aれる is also a keigo form, and grammatically speaking you’re not supposed to put it on a word that’s already keigo in nature, but many Japanese still do.の。これは「もと: ”ex-” prefix, as in ex-girlfriend/boyfriend.オウム」。
It’s not pining, it’s passed on. This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It’s a stiff. Berift of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn’t nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies. It’s flung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This! is an ex-parrot.

S: 分かりましたよ、お取り替えしましょ。
Well, I’d better replace it, then.

P: この国で何か買おうと思ったら、性根尽き果てるまでしょうねつきはてるまで: until your perseverance has reached it’s limit文句を言うはめになる~はめになる: an advanced expression (JLPT N2-N1), indicating some result that the speaker is dissatisfied with.
If you want to get anything done in this country, you’ve got to complain until you’re blue in the mouth.

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Okay, I’ll stop there. Hope you enjoyed that and please do comment with any questions you have! :-)

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Numbers and Time Cheat Sheet (PDF) Fri, 19 Oct 2012 19:41:08 +0000 For those of you who missed it because you aren’t connected with Nihonshock on either Twitter or Facebook (shame on you!), I just released a digital version of one of the most popular sheets in the full Cheat Sheet Pack!

Interested in things like counters, time expressions and grammar, and time-related vocabulary? Head on over to the Cheat Sheet Pack site and check it out. The digital version of this cheat sheet is only $2.50 USD by Paypal, and you get instant delivery. Enjoy! :-)

Regarding future digital releases

I may eventually release two or three more sheets from the full pack, depending on how successful this first PDF release is. How ever, I will not be releasing the full set digitally.

I do plan to release at least one more completely new digital cheat sheet, sometime in November. The tentative title is “Cool Japanese” so stay tuned!

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Basic Japanese Cheat Sheet: Digital Version! Sun, 14 Oct 2012 17:37:58 +0000 Today I am releasing a version of the Basic Japanese cheat sheet which has been fully optimized for use on a computer (or computer-like device).

The cheat sheet PDFs I have released in the past were designed to be printed. They were split into two pages (a front and a back), and were sized just like a sheet of paper. Unfortunately, there’s a couple shortcomings with that. First of all, the cheat sheets contain very small Japanese text, very light and delicate colors, and almost no margin around the edge. That’s asking a lot for your run-of-the-mill home printer.

Also, there’s the fact that some people just prefer a digital document, even if they could get a print copy. I personally believe the cheat sheets are more helpful if you have an actual printed copy, but I understand everyone’s got a different way of things.

Changes from the previous (print) version:

  • Single-page, wide layout (just like your computer screen)
  • Text is now selectable
  • Colors have been adjusted to look better on a computer screen
  • Only vector and text data, so you can zoom forever without loss of quality (this also reduced the file size to just 225KB)

I also fixed some formatting inconsistencies that were present in the printed version, basically just some of the color-coding in the example sentences.

But this is the internet, where links and files speak louder than words, so go and download your copy now! I hope you like it! :-)

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5 Traits of a Successful Japanese Learner Mon, 01 Oct 2012 17:02:21 +0000 Let’s be honest, learning a language is tough. While some learners go on to be highly proficient speakers, living and working in their second language, a large number (probably a majority) either give up half way or struggle to progress beyond the intermediate level.

Fortunately, whether or not a person will become an advanced-level bilingual doesn’t seem to have any relation to their IQ or age (although those factors probably do speed things up). The traits that I have noticed over the years which advanced-level learners have in common are entirely subjective and with some effort are controllable.

I’ve made this list of successful traits based on my personal experience and my observations of other learners at various levels. I believe that a person’s state of mind is both their greatest asset and their greatest liability when learning a language. So, I hope this article will offer some insight for those of you just getting started with Japanese, or anyone struggling to make progress.

You might be a promising Japanese learner if…

1. You carry around a vocabulary notepad

Ok, so it doesn’t have to be a notepad; it could be a notebook or a sheet of paper or even a memo on your smartphone. The point is to have some kind of portable, easily accessible storage tool for language data. Of course you have to actually use it too.

But the functional aspect is only half of the story. The other half is the state of mind behind the notepad. It shows a constant determination to acquire new language information and review old information, whenever and wherever you happen to be. In other words, you are always in study mode.

2. Your hobbies and your study overlap

A lot of people learning Japanese enjoy anime, manga, Japanese literature, Japanese video games or other (even non-linguistic) things that have to do with Japan like martial arts or food. It can be anything, really.

It seems obvious that advanced Japanese learners would have an interest in Japanese stuff, but I’m including it in the list because I want to make a more philosophical point. That is, if our brain thinks “Japan = Japanese = fun”, then it learns better and you don’t tire as quickly.

It’s kind of like how whatever Republicans say invariably makes no sense to Democrats, and vice versa. Your brain is very talented at deciphering new information if it wants to. But if your brain sees learning Japanese as a chore, it’s going to fight you the whole way.

3. You’re not afraid of Kanji

I think just heard screams in the distance. Yes, I know even a whisper of the word “kanji” strikes fear into the hearts of many of you, but trust me: the sooner you embrace kanji, the better off you will be.

Kanji are not only a great way to identify and learn new words, they’re the self-reinforcing backbone of the language. They’re like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The more you learn, the easier they get and the more everything else starts to come together.

And I probably don’t need to remind you that not knowing kanji precludes access to 99% of real-world Japanese, so avoiding kanji is basically like saying you don’t want to be able to read Japanese. It’s like someone trying to major in computer programming without learning how to type.

Unfortunately, kanji just take effort. I had to learn about 500 kanji before I stopped hating them. After that, I actually enjoyed the next 1000 kanji, but then got kind of tired and indifferent for the last 500.

4. You’re stubborn and hate to lose

I think people see TV commercials or Google ads telling them they can learn Japanese in 5 minutes a day or whatever, and they get this expectation that learning a language is like making a pot of coffee. Of course, sooner or later they realize it’s unfathomably bigger and more difficult than that.

To overcome the inevitable frustration that comes with learning a language, it helps to be a downright stubborn son-of-a-b@#$%. Like a compulsive gambler, you need to keep doubling-down instead of admitting defeat. When I was frustrated and tired, it helped me to think of all the time I spent so far that would be wasted if I decided to give up.

Some might call this not knowing when to quit, but instead it’s the opposite. You know exactly when to quit: never.

A short personal aside: when I started university, I tried to skip first year Japanese and test into the 2nd year classes (I had studied a good deal on my own already). Well, my writing skill was a little rough on the edges, so the teacher wouldn’t allow it. I was devastated, humiliated and intensely furious. But that defeat was a huge turning point for me, it was the moment when I went super-saiyan with my studies. By the time I graduated I was so far ahead of the class that studying for the tests would have been a waste of time. Yes, it’s emotionally stressful to be a stubborn learner, but the tradeoff is that you can actually turn your hardships to your benefit.

5. You’re never satisfied

Perhaps this last trait is more for moving even beyond the advanced level, but it’s still great for speeding up progress through beginner and intermediate.

When it comes to learning a language, satisfaction is a bad thing. If you’re satisfied with your Japanese, you’re not setting your sights high enough. It’s like settling for a McDonalds burger when you could have an 8-ounce-Kobe-beef-bacon-double-cheddar-cheese-deluxe.

In addition, satisfaction can be a death blow to your will to practice and review. Not forgetting what you’ve learned is half the battle, so you can never let your guard down.

Always demanding more from yourself keeps you receptive to new information, and helps you pay more attention to details. Not to mention it keeps you humble too. (If you think your Japanese is good, chances are you’re probably just not aware of most of your mistakes)

Final word

I’d say that most advanced learners I’ve met have 3 or 4 of the traits/habits I listed above. Remember though, on Nihonshock I promote a notion of learning where the assumed goal is enough proficiency to read a novel, survive a job interview or keep up with native speakers’ izakaya conversations, but not everyone needs to or even wants to take it that far. So no offense to more casual learners, but when I say “advanced” or “successful” I’m talking about JLPT N1 and above.

Shameless plug

You know what else is really great for becoming a successful Japanese learner?’s Japanese Cheat Sheet Pack, of course! :-D Do you have yours yet? If not, check it out.

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