2006 Was US Year of Study Abroad??

Posted on September 28, 2006 | evankirby

2006: Year of Study Abroad
Unbeknownst to us over here in Japan, it turns out 2006 was designated by Congress in the US as the Year of Study Abroad! This was done to "recognize the important role that study abroad plays in shaping American education and global leadership", and "encourage all U.S. citizens, higher education institutions, secondary schools, businesses & government programs to promote and expand study abroad opportunities". (Quotes from above-linked site.) Well, 2006 is 3/4 of the way over, and there are still approximately 295 million Americans who haven't found their way to GenkiJACS, so apply now, while you still have time! Who knows what 2007 might be designated as. At least one website already has it down as the Year of the Antichrist, so I'd get my study abroad in now, if I were you...

Other news from the same sources: just over 1% of US undergraduates (191,321 students) study or intern abroad every year, although over 50% are interested. The aim is to increase this to one million students per year by 2017. And less than 7% of those students (about 13,392 people) go to Asia! Two-thirds of study-abroad participants are female.

GenkiJACS prices to rise soon!

Posted on September 25, 2006 | evankirby

For those of you who are still on the fence about whether to commit to studying at GenkiJACS or not, a little bird told us that there's a good chance that prices for long-term study may rise in the near future. So, it's in your best interests to apply soon, and often! Note that we will honor any estimates sent out before prices go up, so if you are interested in coming, we recommend you request an estimate soon, just in case! Don't worry, there's absolutely no obligation to buy when you request an estimate, and we've never been very good at the hard sell, so you won't be getting late night phonecalls from us asking if you've made your mind up yet!

Calling people in Japan by their titles, not names

Posted on September 24, 2006 | evankirby

Continuing the theme of social standing, another interesting facet of Japanese society is how people are called only by their title even when away from work or even after quitting their job!
For example, each office in a company generally has one 課長 (kachou, section chief). When subordinate staff talk to or about him, they will call him 課長, instead of his name. This is generally true even if they meet for drinks after work, or some other relaxed setting. And a 校長先生 (kouchou sensei, school principal) will always be called 校長先生, long after he quits the job to tend to his flowers.

Foreigners working as English teachers in Japan experience this sometimes, when people who they’ve never taught refer to them directly as 先生 (sensei, teacher). Women who are obviously married (whether because of wedding ring, or just attitude) will often be called 奥さん (okusan, literally "wife"), almost the Japanese equivalent of “madam”, by shop staff and salesmen. Other people in a store will be called お客様 (okyakusama, customer) to their faces, as in 「お客様、こちらの窓口でお願いします。」 (“Okyakusama, kochira no madoguchi de onegai shimasu”, “Sir/Madam, I’ll help you at this window").

It can often seem somewhat cold to a native English speaker to call a person by their job title rather than name, especially after you’ve become friends with them. But in Japan, it’s what’s expected of you. The good thing is, it means you don’t have to remember everybody’s name, as long as you can remember their title!

Benefits of Direct Translation Between Japanese and English

Posted on September 23, 2006 | evankirby

It’s very hard to understand Japanese in the beginning because the structure of sentences is so completely different from English. So, unlike learning French, Spanish, or other languages with quite similar grammar to English, you can’t just plug foreign words into a sentence pattern you’re already accustomed to. Instead, you have to remember both new words AND new word order at the same time, which can be too much for some people.

That’s why we think there is some benefit to beginners of direct word-for-word translation of Japanese sentences into English, that is, translating the words of a sentence into equivalent English, but leaving them in exactly the same place. A simple example, just to make it clear what we mean:
I’s mother’s name (topic) Patricia is.

Doing this frees your brain from having to think about all the new vocabulary, and lets you focus just on the sentence structure. Thus you can internalize the format of Japanese sentences, and get used to putting the verb at the end, for example, by getting used to thinking like that in English first.

And it can actually be kind of fun to try to translate Japanese sentences into Japanese-structured English sentences! Thinking in English but with a new grammatical paradigm is like a brain twister.
Of course, we don’t recommend doing it for ever, as at some point you’ll obviously want to start combining Japanese grammar and Japanese words to make real Japanese sentences. However, it’s a good technique in the beginning of your study, to smooth you into the process of thinking in a new layout.

What the heck does 'Pacman' mean, anyway?

Posted on September 22, 2006 | evankirby

Pacman hats
Just a short post today, but a golden piece of trivia: Did you know that the name Pacman comes from Japanese? In Japanese the 擬音語 (giongo, onomatopoeia) パクパク (paku paku) means to eat in big bites, or to eat quickly. So パクマン (pakuman) is someone who eats fast without chewing much!

Example sentence: 昼休みは30分しかないけん、みんな毎日パクパクと食べる。
Hiru yasumi wa san juppun shika nai ken, minna mainichi paku paku to taberu.
We only have a half hour for lunch, so everybody gulps their food down.
昼休み: hiru yasumi, lunch time. Literally, “midday rest”
30分しかない: san juppun shika nai. Literally, “there is only 30 minutes”
けん: ken. A hakata-ben (link to hakata-ben intro) word meaning “so”, an informal replacement for “ので” (node)
みんな(は): minna (wa), everybody. As this is an informal spoken sentence, the particle は (wa) can be omitted.
毎日: mainichi, every day
パクパクと食べる: paku paku to taberu, gulp one’s food down. As with a lot of 擬音語, it’s connected to a verb by the particle と (to). In this way, it functions basically the same as an adverb in English. So, a direct translation would be something like “to eat hastily”.

パクパク can also often be seen in manga, as the written sound effect for a person chewing hungrily.
So now you know, it's not just a goofy name for a little yellow ball, it's actually the Japanese equivalent of calling him ‘Gobbleman’!
Still doesn't explain why Ms. Pacman wasn't just called Pacwoman, though...

And for those of you who are wondering, the pic above is plundered shamelessly from National Console Support Inc., proud retailers of the Naruto v2.0 plushy, among many other fine products...

Social standing and language in Japan

Posted on September 21, 2006 | evankirby

In Japan, it’s very important to know a person’s social standing, as it affects the language you use when you talk to that person. This is why Japanese people often ask how old someone is when they first meet, especially if the two people are quite close in age – until they know who is older and who is younger, they don’t know what form of Keigo they should use, so it’s hard to carry on a conversation!

This social structure is extremely rigid, and begat the very formalized 先輩 (senpai, senior) and 後輩 (kouhai, junior) relationships. Senpai-kouhai relationships can perhaps be seen best in sports. In high school baseball teams, for instance, the 1st-year students must do everything for the 3rd-year students, including getting them drinks and snacks, cleaning up after games or practice, and washing uniforms. This is done regardless of baseball ability. When the 1st years themselves become 3rd years, they of course expect the same thing of the new 1st years. This relationship is perhaps not so rare, as it is also seen in British public schools, among other places. However, in Japan this relationship will continue as long as the two people know each other. Even long after high school graduation, the former 1st year will always be considered kouhai by his senior/senpai. And he will defer to his senpai accordingly, often even calling the person “Senpai” in daily life.

Why do I need to memorize hiragana and katakana before I start my study with you?

Posted on September 20, 2006 | evankirby

We received the above good question by email the other day, that we thought we should probably explain better, so we'll be adding this information to our FAQ shortly, but we also wanted to take the time to explain here.

‘Why do I need to memorize hiragana and katakana before I start my study with you?’

We understand that it seems a little strange to ask people who can't speak Japanese at all to learn how to read it before we teach you anything. However, the reason we have this requirement is this: the best textbook for beginner learners, Genki: An Integrated Approach to Japanese, uses only hiragana and katakana, not romaji (English letters) to display Japanese words in some parts.
In addition, as the Japanese alphabet is almost 100% phonetic (i.e., each letter represents a single sound), if you can read all the letters, you can sound out any word written in that alphabet, even if you don't know what it means. Therefore knowing the alphabet is a vital first step to enable you to start increasing your vocabulary. It's the equivalent of requiring people to be able to recognize the English alphabet before going to a school to study English.
Finally, there are a total of 46 unique hiragana characters. While this is a lot more than English's 26 (actually, about 45 if you include both capital and small letters), it is still possible to memorize these in 2 days or less (as some of our students have in the past) without a teacher, by using flash cards or software. Spending a weekend to memorize them in advance allows you to spend your time in Japan focusing on the communicative study that requires a good teacher. Spending half of your first week here memorizing hiragana and katakana just so that you can get round to beginning your actual studies would be a waste of your time, and if there's one thing we hate with a vengeance at GenkiJACS, it's wasting your time!
So, that's why we ask you to memorize the basic characters before you get here. So, what are you waiting for? Get cracking!

多少 vs. More or Less

Posted on September 18, 2006 | evankirby

On the surface, the English phrase “more or less“ looks like it should be the equivalent of the Japanese word 多少 (“tashou“, made up of the kanji for “many“ and the kanji for “few“).
“More or less“, for some reason, means “mostly“. However, 多少 means “a little“, i.e. the almost direct opposite of the English phrase. Funny, eh? Yeah, alright, maybe not that funny.

Massive Typhoon Sweeps Fukuoka - GenkiJACS Undamaged but Exhilarated

Posted on September 17, 2006 | evankirby

Typhoon news report
This weekend saw one of the biggest typhoons in recent years pass directly over Fukuoka, and it is currently sweeping up the rest of Western Japan. There have been 9 confirmed deaths from the typhoon so far, and over a 100 reported injuries. The photo above is, as it says, from 福岡市中央区大宮 (Fukuokashi Chuuouku Oomiya), and shows the sign for a parking lot that was blown down by the wind. What you don't see in the photo is the roof of the parking lot, that just blew off and smacked the houses across the street... Alright, let's see if we can give you a picture that shows it better. Sorry for the quality, it's basically a photo of the TV...

Typhoon news

Notice the sparks from the roof hitting the ground at the bottom right. What you unfortunately can't see in this picture is the person standing just to the right! Thankfully he/she seems to have been alright.

The news report told us that the 最大瞬間風力 (saidai shunkan fuuryoku, fastest momentary wind speed) was 49 meters per second, which is the second fastest wind ever recorded in Fukuoka! For those of you who can't be bothered calculating it, 49 m/sec is about 176 kilometers per hour, or 110 miles per hour! That's fast wind. And here's hoping we don't have too many more storms like this this year...

Memorizing Japanese vocabulary

Posted on September 14, 2006 | evankirby

The latest version of the 日本国語大辞典 (Nihon Kokugo Daijiten, Shogakukan's Japanese Dictionary, and the largest of all the Japanese-Japanese dictionaries) has over 500,000 words listed. How are students of Japanese supposed to memorize them all? The easy answer is, you can’t. The better answer is, you don’t have to, as a working vocabulary in Japanese is far far smaller than this. However, it’s still a daily struggle for students to memorize vocabulary. Here are a few tips to help you in this struggle:

1. Always always carry a notebook/input device with you.
Make sure that you keep a list of the vocabulary you have (ostensibly) learned on hand, so that when you can’t quite remember that word, you have somewhere to easily refer to. The simplest method is just to write new words in a small (tiny is great!) notebook. This has the added benefit of practicing writing at the same time.

2. Buy a Palm or Pocket PC device, and Supermemo.
A used PDA can be picked up for next to nothing, and Supermemo is less than $20, but this combination can be the best memorization tool you will ever buy. Supermemo is simple flashcard memorization software. Input the words you want to memorize, and Supermemo will test you on them tomorrow. If you get a word right, it’ll test you in a few days again, with the interval increasing each time. If you get it wrong, it’ll test you again tomorrow. You can use it to study vocabulary in downtime on the train, on the bus, walking to school – anytime you have a few minutes to spare. Using this software for 15 minutes a day, one of our students was able to memorize 10 new words each day for a year, or a grand total of about 3,650 new words! This would have been an almost unthinkable struggle without Supermemo.

3. Buy a Palm and install Dokusha.
This incredible entirely free software is a big install (something like 8MB with full dictionaries), but when used in conjunction with the (also freeware) Dokusha Converter, allows you to copy any Japanese text from your PC to your Palm. When opened in Dokusha, any word or kanji in the file can be clicked on for English meaning, and registered as a flashcard for later memorization. You can also search for kanji by constituent parts, which really helps when trying to read printed Japanese, for example on menus, etc. And it acts as a simple Japanese-English dictionary – when you hear a new word, you can easily search for the meaning in Dokusha, then flag that word for later memorization.
Please note that Dokusha is not being developed any more. Luckily, it's perfect as is, so that shouldn't be a problem!

New Photos Uploaded!

Posted on September 13, 2006 | evankirby

The end of the summer rush has given us time to finally catch up with some of the work we've been putting off for months, and first on our list was to update the Gallery section of our website. Over the last couple of days we've added almost 300 photos from events this year and last, and had a great time going through all the happy memories from a year of brilliant students and fun activities.
In particular, here are some of our favorite albums and pictures:

genkistudents Our huge summer class!
Vladimir in kimono Vladimir sets the teachers' hearts a-flutter in his dashing kimono
Tea ceremony Gaby perfects the art of tea ceremony, under the watchful gaze of her teacher.
Students hiding under tables Students practising earthquake drills at the Disaster Prevention Center.
Fire extinguishers And letting off fire extinguishers.
Mount Aso Weird sulfurous landscapes on Mt. Aso.
Toby takes on 4 Toby takes on 3 teachers and 1 student at beach sumo ...
Toby winsand wins!

We haven't finished yet - there are still at least another 1,200 photos to look through and pick out the best from! So we'll keep adding more to the site over the next few days. And if you have any of your own from your study at GenkiJACS that you want to add, feel free to send them to us, or even upload them yourself!

Epayments take off in Japan

Posted on September 12, 2006 | evankirby

Using Edy
Virtually all of the new cell phones in Japan these days have some kind of electronic wallet function built into them. These ewallets allow you to charge your phone at special “reverse ATMs”, and at locations such as convenience stores. Hand them your money, say 「チャージして下さい」(“Chaaji shite kudasai”, “Charge it, please”), and put your phone on the terminal beside the cash register, and they’ll top up your ewallet with no transaction fees.

Using the ewallet is also simple: First find a store that supports epayments (mostly Edy, which runs the FeLiCa system created by Sony). When you make your purchase, say 「エディでお願いします」(“Edy de onegai shimasu”, “With Edy, please”) and put your phone on the terminal, and a pleasing “ka-ching” sound will tell you that your money’s been debited.

The adjective "onaji"

Posted on September 07, 2006 | evankirby

Japanese adjectives have very strict rules. There are only two kinds of adjective:
1. “い” adjectives (adjectives ending in the character “i”)
おいしい (oishii, delicious)
青い (aoi, blue)
鋭い (surudoi, sharp)
These adjectives can be placed directly before a noun, for example おいしいリンゴ (oishii ringo, delicious apple), or used by themselves, for example “おいしい!”

2. “な” adjectives (adjectives that have “na” added)
貧乏な (binbou na, poor)
きれいな (kirei na, beautiful)
豪華な (gouka na, extravagant)
These adjectives must have “na” added when they’re used before a noun, for example きれいな人 (kirei na hito, a beautiful person). However, they can be used without “na” by themselves, for example “きれい!” They can end in the character “い”, but are generally made from the 音読み (onyomi, or Chinese reading) of two kanji put together.

All adjectives fit into one of these two groups, except for one common but strange word: 同じ (onaji, the same). This is perhaps the only exception to the above rules, since it doesn’t end in the character “い”, but it can be placed directly before a noun, without “な”, for example 同じ奴 (onaji yatsu, the same guy). As it’s such a common word, most students learn it without even noticing that it doesn’t fit the rules, but it’s a strange little reminder that language is not a fixed set of patterns, but an ever-evolving tool.

Now that we've finished writing this article, it doesn't seem half as interesting as it did before we started. Ah well, such is life...

Japanese words you can't say on TV

Posted on September 06, 2006 | evankirby

For some reason, lots of the students at GenkiJACS seem really interested in learning Japanese swear words. So, in the interests of a well-rounded education on vernacular Japanese, as it's spoken on the street, here's a short intro to swearing in Japanese. Our lawyers have asked us to suggest that the faint-of-heart skip to the next blog entry, which we promise has nothing but sweetness and light.
First of all, it's important to note that swearing in Japanese is very different from swearing in English, in many ways. The biggest difference is that there are almost no exclamatory expletives (in English, for example, ‘fuck!’) that you can't say in polite company. It's not rare to hear くそ! (kuso, literally ‘shit’) on TV, or even ruder forms such くそばば (kusobaba, shit-hag). There aren't really equivalents for the massive range of undirected swearing that people from Britain, for example, are capable of. (We're thinking of the opening scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral here. If anyone knows what the Japanese subtitles were for this scene, leave us a comment!)
Other words quite commonly heard on TV include 死ね! (shine, die), which is one of the worst things you can say to someone if serious, but which is often heard in a jokey context . Another is the well-known ばか (baka, idiot), which some talk show hosts such as Shimada Shinsuke use regularly on their guests. Most sex-related words such as おっぱい (oppai, boobs) are completely fine.

New Japanese words from English

Posted on September 05, 2006 | evankirby

One of the most fun ‘features’ of the Japanese language is how foreign words are mangled to fit the limited Japanese sound-set. For example, McDonalds becomes マクドナルド (Makudonarudo, 6 syllables), and Scotland スコットランド (Sukottorando, 7 syllables!). However, these new words are not just nouns - sometimes new verbs are created from English words, made to fit Japanese grammar. Here are some examples. See if you can guess the original English word they're from!

ググる (guguru) - to search the Internet for something. From ‘Google’, of course.
あのCMの音楽の名前、ググっても分からなかった。 (ano shi emu no ongaku no namae, gugutte mo wakaranakatta, I tried googling for the name of the music in that ad, but I couldn't find it)

ダブる (daburu) - to overlap, usually in a negative way, for example to have two appointments at the same time. From ‘double’.
言うことがずっとダブってしまった! (iu koto ga zutto dabutte shimatta, We kept saying the same thing as each other)

ネゴる (negoru) - to discuss something with intent to come to an agreement. From ‘negotiate’.
北斗の拳の中古DVDがほしいけど、値段がちょっと高い。。。 (Hokuto no Ken no chuuko DVD ga hoshii kedo, nedan ga chotto takai, I really want that Hokuto no Ken used DVD, but it's kind of expensive)
じゃ、ネゴってみてどう? (ja, negotte mite dou, why don't you try negotiating with them?)

Speaking Japanese is easy!

Posted on September 04, 2006 | evankirby

We at GenkiJACS think Japanese is an easy language to learn to speak. (Reading and writing are a different matter, though!) Here are the reasons why. (I’ts long! I’d bring coffee, if you have some.)

1. Simple sounds
2. Standard rhythm
3. Few tones
4. Phonetic alphabet
5. Standard word roots
6. Little pronunciation difference between dialects
7. Many homophones
8. No plurals, and countable/uncountable nouns
9. No articles
10. Only two irregular verbs!
11. One-word sentences
12. Japanese people are happy to help!

Details for each topic are after the jump...

Inaugural Student Blog: Paul Isaac

Posted on September 02, 2006 | evankirby

We're all for freedom of information at GenkiJACS. We want you to have a good idea about what studying with us is really like before you take the plunge to sign up. Expecting something different from what actually exists is a sure path to disappointment, and the last thing we want to do is disappoint our students.
So, we have started a small program of student blogs, where we provide longer-term students (those studying for 6 or more weeks) with their own blog space to write about their experience at GenkiJACS, in Fukuoka, and anything else they want to discuss. We have a written policy of not editing comments in any way as long as they adhere to our (somewhat vague) published guidelines.
Our inaugural blogger, Paul Isaac, has been at it for a couple of weeks now, on his blog space here. It's also linked from the bottom right of this page, but not big enough for most people to notice, unfortunately. We're still working on the layout...
Over the next few weeks, we'll slowly add a few more bloggers who will hopefully give you a rounded view of what study with us entails. And if you're signed up to study with us and would be interested in getting your own blog, feel free to send us an email, and we'll work something out. We may even be able to throw in a tuition discount for you somewhere!

Addiction or Poisoning?

Posted on September 01, 2006 | evankirby

It's often frustrating for learners of the Japanese language when they can't express themselves clearly because they don't know a specific word. However, it can be even more frustrating when the language doesn't clearly contain the concept they're trying to get over. Case in point: the distinction between an addiction and a poison.
In Japanese, both addictions and poisonings are referred to as 中毒 (chuudoku), with the word before that used to define the type. So for example, here are some common phrases:

- アルコール中毒 (arukooru chuudoku) - alcohol addiction. Note: often shortened to アル中 (aruchuu), presumably because it's so common...
- 仕事中毒 (shigoto chuudoku) - work addiction, which although it sounds like it should be common too, is not usually shortened to "shichuu"
- インターネット中毒 (intaanetto chuudoku) - Internet addiction
- たばこ中毒 (tabako chuudoku) - nicotine addiction

- 食中毒 (shoku chuudoku) - food poisoning
- キノコ中毒 (kinoko chuudoku) - mushroom poisoning
- 鉛中毒 (namari chuudoku) - lead poisoning

Because no clear distinction is made between these two concepts, the dictionary often lists both for any specific word. So, for example, "チョコレート中毒" (chokoreeto chuudoku) is shown as both chocolate addiction and chocolate poisoning. To the native English speaker, of course, these two are very different! If the news reported a rash of chocolate poisoning, that would be far more scary to most people than a spate of chocolate addiction, for example.
However, as a great example of Orwell's idea that language defines thinking, many Japanese people don't seem to see a clear distinction between the two concepts. That is, they (at least, the people who were asked before writing this) feel that something that you are addicted to is automatically a poison, inasmuch as the two are inseparable.