Skip to content

October 2019

Japanese is Not a Straightforward Language

Every now and then I’ll hear someone say that Japanese is pretty straightforward.  I’ve said that a couple of times, and in limited contexts, it’s true.  The rules are pretty clear, and most of the time if you follow them you’ll do okay. See the catch in that sentence?  “Most of the time.” Let me enumerate the ways in which Japanese is NOT straightforward. Rendaku.  It’s so complicated that a guy made Lyman made a law about it.  That only mostly applies. Yomikata.  Kanji readings are for the most part… Read More »Japanese is Not a Straightforward Language


Learning any language, particularly Japanese, for most people is a major commitment.  There are some people who seem to be able to pick up languages very quickly, and don’t hesitate to make sure you know that, but their tricks don’t work for everyone, and I’m pretty sure their knowledge is broad but shallow. But I think sometimes someone goes into a language thinking “I’m going to learn this language”, and then give themselves a goal.  “I’m going to study for six months”, or “I’m going to study for a year”… … Read More »Commitment


One thing that many people don’t know about me is that I’m fairly competent on the piano.  As with Japanese, I am only now learning exactly how much I don’t know in that discipline, but I can hold my own.  If I really want to learn a piece, even if it’s difficult, I usually can. But the reason I chose the piano was precisely because it is a different instrument.  I also became relatively proficient with the clarinet, and while in some ways it is a far more expressive instrument, and… Read More »Complexity

Hagibis and “Black Companies”

As I have said previously, there are many things to admire about Japanese culture, and quite a few things not to admire as well.  I have always strove, in this blog and elsewhere, to look at Japan with an unflinching lack of bias – acknowledging the good, acknowledging the cultural differences that are legitimately morally relative, and also calling out the unquestionably dark sides of Japanese culture that sometimes rear their heads. Honestly, though I hear it’s recently changing, the biggest thing about Japanese culture that actually deters me from… Read More »Hagibis and “Black Companies”

The Japanese Devil is in the Details

One of the most fascinating and frustrating things about Japanese is that it is a very precise language.  For example, the word for “husband” and the word for “prisoner” only varies by the length of one vowel.  It is a metered language, it does not have stresses like in English.  The hard part about Japanese is not the vocabulary, though that is hard.  It’s not the grammar, though that is hard.  The hard part is training yourself to pronounce the words correctly. I have found, anecdotally, that Japanese people are… Read More »The Japanese Devil is in the Details

My Thoughts on Japanese Culture

Ever since I began learning about Japan and its culture, I’ve been of decidedly mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, they are particularly imaginative when it comes to existing means of artistic expression – they come up with things that we in the west would never even dream of, and the world is (most of the time) better off for it.  On the other hand, they have some significant challenges that they are trying to wind their way through, and failing.  I keep having the most unpleasant feeling… Read More »My Thoughts on Japanese Culture

Steps Toward Fluency

One of the things I continually harp on this blog is the fact that you can’t rush Japanese.  It’s too big.  No matter how much you memorize, or how much you cram down your mind and then forget, you’re not going to get much closer to fluency with the language.  I think there are two reasons for that. The first reason is that there are actually two different vocabularies in Japanese.  This isn’t something that’s played down per se, but I don’t think it’s emphasized.  There’s the native Japanese words, and… Read More »Steps Toward Fluency