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March 2018

A Tale of two Idols

Ever since I started learning Japanese, I’ve made it a personal goal to try to understand idol culture, because I feel that in doing so maybe I can understand a little more about what makes the larger Japanese culture tick. I want to discuss two idols:  Kusumi Koharu and Minegishi Minami.  Because in looking at their individual cases, I think it becomes a little clearer what it’s all about. In 2013, Minegishi-san was caught spending the night with a man.  She faced expulsion from the group she was an idol… Read More »A Tale of two Idols

Should Japanese Change?

When learning a new language, one of the first things that almost everyone does is one of two things: Compare it to your native language Suggest improvements Now is Japanese a very efficient language?  Not really.  The kanji are elegant, but obviously it is a steep barrier to entry.  And I think it’s obvious that if one were starting over with a new language, Japanese is probably one of the last languages that one would come up with intentionally. But it’s what we have.  And while there’s nothing wrong with suggesting… Read More »Should Japanese Change?

Parallels Between Language and Computer Science

Ogawa Makoto is a former Morning Musume idol, who took a couple of years off of performing to go to New Zealand to learn English.  She recounted her experience in words similar to this (and I’m paraphrasing because I don’t remember them entirely): I went to New Zealand to learn English, but in doing so, I found that I didn’t understand Japanese.  So I had to learn Japanese first. As I’ve been thinking about how best for me to learn Japanese, I’ve been thinking deeply about the underpinnings of language,… Read More »Parallels Between Language and Computer Science

Bootstrapping a language

In computer science, there is a concept called bootstrapping.  It applies primarily at two points:  The first is when you start a computer up, and the second is when you write a new language.  It refers to “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps”. When you begin writing another language, you have to write it in another language.  The earliest were written in machine code, meaning hexadecimal values that the processor interprets into instructions.  But as the craft advanced, the languages became even more abstract, until you have today’s monstrosities… Read More »Bootstrapping a language


Perhaps one of the most challenging things about learning Japanese is that it does not have an alphabet – but it appears to have an alphabet.  So we, as English speakers, try to overlay what we know about alphabets onto Japanese, and then it simply doesn’t work. Japanese, instead, has syllabaries – which are very different animals.  They are more like a grid than anything else.  There is no set order – in fact, any order that we put them into when we learn Japanese is based upon the romaji order – a… Read More »Alphabet

Learning Japanese

I’ve tried several different approaches to learning Japanese.  Some work better than others. The first thing I looked at was duolingo.  I then trashed that very quickly, as I didn’t think it would do well at teaching me what I wanted to know. I looked at Rosetta Stone and tried it out.  As I mentioned, I have very mixed feelings about it.  It teaches a lot of vocabulary very quickly, which is a plus.  What it does not do is give any kind of background to the vocabulary – so you… Read More »Learning Japanese

Gaijin Learning Japanese

Who am I? I am a 40-mumble-mumble year old computer engineer from Texas.  I am single and have a cat.  My hobbies include annoying said cat, playing piano, and studying philosophy and theology (I’m a stand-up philosopher!)  Politically, my views are generally none of your business, but I’ll promise you that whatever it is you believe, I probably have some quibble with it. Why am I learning Japanese? This is a hard question and requires some background. I have always been a little bit interested in Japanese culture, but not… Read More »Gaijin Learning Japanese