Beginner and Intermediate Resource for Reading and Listening

Here are 2 very short stories written in Japanese (about 20-50 sentences). Click on the story titles for the links.

A little reading each day can improve all aspects of Japanese. Readers can quickly develop a feel for how Japanese is used.

I recommend listening along to the native audio while you read.

Please leave a comment if you find them useful.

あれが何? ARE WA NANI? (What is that?)

The おもしろい (OMOSHIROI/interesting) adentures of 2 cats. The heroine is いもうと(younger sister). She is supported by her おにいさん(ONIISAN/respectful term for older brother). A family of とり(TORI/birds) also play a part.

ちょっと CHOTTO (A little)

The romantic adventures at だいがく (DAIGAKU/Univeristy) of a 21 year old woman called Marina. Her day is full of different uses of the word ちょっと CHOTTO (A little). Her あさごはん (ASAGOHAN/breakfast) starts with しお(SHIO/salt). Then she is invited out for dates: ぼくとごはんたべませんか (BOKU TO GOHAN TABEMASEN KA?/Won’t you have dinner with me?)

(UPPER BEGINNER) 柴犬ディナちゃん、秋の京都へ行く SHIBAINU DINA-CHAN, AKI NO KYOUTO E IKU (A Shiba dog called Dina heads to Kyoto in Autumn)

A virtual tour of Kyoto in autumn through the eyes and ears of a shiba dog from Russia. Dina visits her 旅館 RYOKAN (traditional Japanese inn) after a long flight. In a busy day exploring the best of autum Kyoto, she sees a 舞妓 MAIKO (apprentice geisha), and visits one of the most famous sights in Kyoto, 清水寺 KIYOMIZU-DERA (Kiyomizu temple). 

(INTERMEDIATE) 吉四六さんの話 KICCHOMU-SAN NO HANASHI (The tale of Kicchomu)

Kicchomu was a joker who lived in the early 17th century in what is now Oita prefecture in eastern Kyushu. This story is when about when he is working on a river-crossing 船 FUNE (boat). A travelling 侍 SAMURAI appears armed with a 刀 KATANA (sword). There is a dispute over the crossing fee of 8文 HACHI-MON (8 Mon coins/aprroximately 200 yen). The story finishes with a funny twist.

10 Japan Quiz Questions

10 questions on Japan.

A mix of challenging and relatively easy questions. If you don’t know, have a guess.

If you get 5 or more, you are doing very well.

The answers are at the bottom.

  1. Which Studio Ghibli film is based on Han’s Christian Andersen’s fantasy The Little Mermaid?
  2. What colour is the GO sign on Japanese traffic lights?
  3. What are the 3 sacred items of the Imperial Family?
  4. What are the 5 colours of traditional Japanese food?
  5. In Japan, what bird is the voice of authority?
  6. Put this haiku by Buson in the correct order: Desperately bushes to an cloudburst cling sparrows evening trembling
  7. According to the proverb, what small Japanese bird never forgets to dance?
  8. The Cloud Surpassing Pavilion was built in Tokyo in 1890 under the supervision of a British engineer. It contained Japan’s first what?
  9. Early June in the old Japanese calendar is known as the KAMAKIRI birth season. The KAMAKIRI is a green insect that will eat it’s own mate. What is it called in English?
  10. Why do sumo wrestlers stamp on the ground inside the ring?

Answers

  1. Ponyo
  2. Green (the bluest allowed shade of green)
  3. Sword, jewel and a mirror
  4. Red, yellow, green, black and white
  5. The crane
  6. An evening cloudburst / sparrows cling desperately / to trembling bushes
  7. The sparrow 雀百まで踊り忘れず
  8. Elevator (it broke after 6 months)
  9. Praying mantis
  10. To expel evil

The questions were used in the Brighton Japan Club online quiz last Saturday.

Join the group online to find out more about our online and face to face events

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Quiz: General Knowledge + Japan

This is a mini quiz of 10 questions on General Knowledge and Japan. There should be a mix of challenging and relatively easy questions. You should be able to guess for most of them as well.

I think if you get 5 or more you are doing very well.

I have made it as a warm up for the Brighton Japan Club online quiz this Saturday. The answers are at the bottom.

General Knowledge

  1. What did Britain return to China in 1997?
  2. What’s the world’s deepest lake?
  3. What does the HB on a pencil stand for?
  4. What’s the most common blood type?
  5. What’s the capital of Spain?

Japan

  1. What does the Japanese word “heaven’s river” refer to? 
  2. Shikoku, Honshu and Kyushu are 3 of the 4 main Japanese islands. What’s the other one called?
  3. What sound does “fshhhhhhh” indicate in the translation of the manga One Piece?
  4. In the town of Ibusuki in southern Japan, what do tourists famously bathe in?
  5. Which city became the capital of Japan in 794?
BONUS QUESTION: What creature is this?

Answers

General Knowledge

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Lake Baikal
  3. Hard Black
  4. O
  5. Madrid

Japan

  1. The Milky Way
  2. Hokkaido
  3. Rain
  4. Sand
  5. Kyoto

Bonus Question Answer:

Tanuki (Japanese racoon dog)

What’s your favourite Japanese word?

Words are magic. They grow up from thin air to form a thick web of meaning and memory.

20 years ago I didn’t know a word of Japanese. Sitting in the middle of conversations was like being blown around in a storm. Words give me rails to hang onto.

There are so many great Japanese words as well.

ゆっくり YUKKURI (slowly/at ease) has to be one of my favourite. The very word itself seems to slow life down. Even just that gentle pause held before the K sound triggers an endorphin-rush.

爽やか SAWAYAKA (refreshing/pleasant) this both looks and sounds like a beautiful word. I associate it with a refreshing breeze or a fine day and feeling, as well as with cheerful people who seem magically generate good feeling.

そうですか SOU DESU KA (oh, is that right?) Perhaps this isn’t a beautiful word, but it’s an invaluable expression in conversation. It’s the stick that keeps me upright in the storm. If you don’t understand what somebody has said, or you forgot to listen, or have long since lost interest in listening, a SOU DESU KA is the safest thing to say.

無茶 MUCHA (absurd) The 無 MU represents no, the 茶 CHA represents tea. No tea. You are right, it’s an absurd suggestion. But a brilliant word.

気配りKIKUBARI (care/attentiveness) 気 here represents attention, and 配り KUBARI means to give out. The word encompasses the many small, but significant and often silent and unnoticed actions that many Japanese (and non-Japanese) take to assist other people.

A way to write the nightmare kanji: 鬱

I have been trying to remember kanji for 20 years. Seeing Japanese natives struggle with them is kind of reassuring.

New ways of learning them are constantly emerging such as the pooh teacher, Unko Sensei who has been inspiring young children to learn 1,000 kanji before they have left primary school.

The Japanese comedian turned kanji-teacher, Shinomiya Akira has come up with a new 覚え方 OBOEKATA (way of remembering) kanji.

He recommends remembering each kanji component as sounds, then stringing them together to make a rhythmical sound.

To remember 鬱, the kanji in this post just remember:

KIKANKI WA KYOU WACHA WACHA WACHA WACHA HI MI!

UTSU (Depression)

The 鬱 kanji can be seperated into these components 木缶木ワ凶ヒミ。

The top section is 木(KI)、缶(KAN)and 木(KI).

SHINOMIYA’s youtube video on remembering UTSU. The rhythmic sound to remember is at the end of the video.

The middle line is the katakana ワ (WA). Below that is the character 凶 (KYOU).

The WACHA WACHA WACHA WACHA are the dots surrounding the centre of the 凶 character.

Below and beside 凶 (KYOU), are the katakana characters ヒ (HI) ミ(MI)

Put the sounds together to make: KIKANKI WA KYOU WACHA WACHA WACHA WACHA HI MI!

I recommend you watch the video to hear Shinmiya explain it.

Of course, it’s utter nonsense and not much use if you have not already separately learnt the characters that make these sounds.

But hopefully it gives an insight though to how kanji can be studied and enjoyed in different ways.

One of the original reasons, Shinomiya wanted to improve his kanji is to get on one of the kanji quiz TV programs. Kanji quizes can be very popular in Japan.

We watch Love Island and Eastenders. Can you imagine a popular spelling program on TV in the UK?

Joining words: Who put the g in Shimaguni?

You may have learnt the word for country, 国 KUNI. You may also know the word for island, 島 SHIMA.

When these words come together, the KUNI changes to GUNI. If you are wondering why, please read on.

This word-sound changing phenomenon is called RENDAKU.

Rendaku is when the first consonant of the second word changes from unvoiced to voiced.

The unvoiced consonants that change to voiced consonants are K, S, T and H.

Voiced consonants include G, Z, D and B. They are called voiced because if you make these sounds outloud, you will feel your vocal cords vibrating.

K > Z. S > Z. T > D. H > B.

Example 1: add ORI (fold) to KAMI (paper).

Put them together and you have: ORIGAMI

Example 2: add NEKO (cat) to SUKI (like/love).

Put them together and you have: NEKOZUKI (cat-lover).

Example 3: add INAKA (countryside) to SAMURAI (samurai)

Put them together and you get: INAKAZAMURAI (rural samurai)

Is this starting to make sense?

But before you start rendaku-ing your entire Japanese vocabulary, please note there are many occasions when the sounds do not change.

I will outline the main rendaku rules here with some common examples. (Note there are many exceptions)

For example, Chinese origin words rarely rendaku.

Other foreign origin words almost never rendaku.

Japanese origin words do rendaku, but there are many exceptions.

For example, if the 2nd word already has a voiced sound such as KAZE (wind) or KAJI (fire) there is no rendaku.

NATSU(summer) + KAZE(wind)= NATSUKAZE (summer wind).

YAMA (mountain) + KAJI (fire)= YAMAKAJI (mountain fire)

Also, if the words are pairs with parallel meanings such as SUKIKIRAI (like and dislikes), YAMAKAWA (mountains and rivers), OYAKO (parents and children), they do not RENDAKU.

So, why rendaku in the first place? Two strong theories seem to be firstly that it makes the word easier to pronounce.

Secondly, voicing the start of 2nd word makes it easier to understand when one word starts and the other finishes.

Here is a short quiz:

See if you can answer these 5 examples. The answers at the bottom.

  1. Add DAI (platfrom) to TOKORO (place)
  2. Add AO (blue) to SORA (sky)
  3. Add IRI (entry) to KUCHI (opening)
  4. Add INU (dog) to KIRAI (dislike)

Answers

  1. DAIDOKORO (kitchen)
  2. AOZORA (blue sky)
  3. INUGIRAI (dog-hater)
  4. IRIGUCHI (entrance)

Before I leave to you wander off rendaku-ing, I should mention the P sound.

H can change to the half-voiced P sound when the last sound of the 1st word is TSU or N.

For example SHUTSU (go out) + HATSU (start)=SHUPPATSU

EN (lead) + HITSU (writing brush) = ENPITSU

And SAN (3) + FUN (minute)=SANPUN (3 minutes).

Under the big chestnut tree

I live by a tree. It is a big tree with grey ridged bark. Green leaves are poking through outside my window and brightening my daytime view.

Unfortunately I have no idea what the tree is. This really annoys me. Let’s call it a cherry blossom.

On Monday morning, I opened the curtains to see a bird playing on its branches.It was the first time I had seen a bird there. It is the closest creature to come near me for quite a while.

Unfortunately I have no idea what kind of bird it was. This really annoys me. Let’s say it was a peregrine falcon.

Anyway, I feel lucky to have this time to look at trees and imagine all the fantasy creatures that live there. The parks and gardens are full of flowers and blossoming trees right now.

What is this tree?

A big chestnut tree?

A confused cherry blossom?

Answers on a disinfected postcard.

Hang on, where is this going? Am I in the wrong blog? How am I going to connect this to Japan?

Oh yes, the title of this post is ‘under the big chestnut tree’. It is the name of a beautiful Japanese children’s song 大きな栗の木の下で. After introducing the song in a class the other day, I caught myself cherrily singing its’ rhythmic lyrics 4 hours after the class. That’s potent proof of the power of music to lift spirits.

Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuKsuxnWS5I Go on, give it a try.

Tora-san, the uncompromising company president.

Also on the tree theme, the blossoming trees were the focus of our first cross-time zone event. We held an online cherry blossom party, teaming up with Brighton Japan Club’s Hiroko-san in Tokyo with her group https://www.meetup.com/Tokyo-International-Meetup-Friends/.

Many contributors made cherry blossom backgrounds for their screen image, or sent a photo of a blossom near their house the event page photo collection. It was great to able to link up online with now non-Brighton residents.

Thank you to all those who came.

We can now build a strong online community. We have regular online language exchange, オン飲み(online drinks), French, Japanese and English classes.

We are at the end now. Well done for getting this far.

I hope I haven’t left the impression that I have completely lost the plot.

Take care and I hope you are well.

Tora-san and I are off for a walk now.

Spring somewhere in Brighton

We are in strange times. Toilet roll and pasta are suddenly the most desirable commodities in the land.

Each news broadcast brings a wave of strange new expressions such as herd immunity, self-isolation, social distancing.

So, where is all this going?

I don’t think anybody knows, but judging from how things are developing in Spain, France and Italy it is clear life in Brighton is likely to get more difficult for a while.

It is spring though. The cherry blossoms are blooming. We have to be positive.

A change in lifestyle can bring about new ideas and positive long-term changes.

If you are stuck at home, this could be a great time to catch up on study, reading or film watching. I watched Tokyo Story last night. (Watch it free here)

Do you have any Japanese film or book recommendations?

I am planning new events at Japan Club including an online exchange event, a seaside walk and a farm visit.

Please let me know if you have any ideas or requests for events or blog posts. Or if you would like to write a blog post yourself.

And please don’t hestitate to get in touch if you have any questions or concerns about anything.

Take care.

What status is your seat?

Sitting on the floor is a form of torture for visiting tourists. In 9 years of living in Japan, I never learnt to sit properly.

I just recall pain, embarrasment and frustration. I usually ended up in a clumsy compromise that was neither the formal Japanese 正座 seiza (sitting on the soles of your feet), or the informal 胡座 agura (sitting with legs crossed).

Sitting on a chair wasn’t much easier either. Sitting on a chair involves choosing a chair. Surely the nearest one I thought. I followed this rule for 5 years.

Then one day, reading a manga aimed at teenage boys, I encountered the concept of seat status. Yes, seats have status. Not the seat itself, but the location of the seat.

Generally, the 下座 geza (the lowest status seat) is nearest the door. Presumably as it’s the most vulnerable seat to an attack by ninjas. And also it’s the most useful for passing on orders to the staff.

The furthest seat from the door,the 上座 kamiza is the highest status seat.

There are exceptions and variations for riding in taxis, or on bullet trains etc. Website posts like the one below draw attention to the difference in a taxi or a company car. The highest status in a company car is the passenger seat. In a taxi, it’s behind the driver.

https://www.bellagio.jp/manor_no2/ A business manner website in Japanese which states the ettiquette of seating can help you be courteous and cool on a date, or even going out with friends.

Of course, seat status is not just limited to business. The next time I went with a Japanese friend to a coffee shop, I noticed they were discreetly giving way so I could have the KAMIZA.

I’d never noticed this before. Not for the first time, I realised I had been blundering around like an ignorant oaf for many years.

I began to see the consciousness of seat status everywhere. It can be a beautiful – and entertaining. I love watching the musical chairs when diners enter a restaurant. Only when the music feels right does everybody sit down.

Spirited Away: 17 Years Later

What was your first anime? Now, that’s a great first date question.

Mine was Spirited Away. I rented the DVD from the local videostore in Nagoya anxious to see what all the fuss was about.

And I wanted to test out my progress in Japanese after a year of learning.

All I can really remember of the film is disappointment. Nobody was saying KONNICHI WA or OHAYOU GOZAIMASU. I was well out of my depth.

Watching it again 17 years later, I can understand a lot more Japanese, but the plot remained in a foreign language.

In the film, coal soot has a soul. Paper aeroplanes have will power. Even the street lantern has manners. Am I missing something on my trips to Japan?

And where are all the good guys in cowboy hats?

Actually, the anime is about a good girl – called Chihiro. And she is a very good girl, blessed with a natural sense of right and wrong. A child fighting battles the greedy adults can’t see – an animated Greta Thunberg.

We need more children like her.

A normal film could not be as pretty as this. Real life is too ugly, too many backgrounds already spoiled.

Maybe that’s what makes anime so appealing, all the crap of everyday life can be excluded.

It has certainly inspired me to watch more. Any suggestions?