The Holidays in New York City

There are family traditions, holiday traditions, and religious traditions and then there are New York City traditions.  The holiday season in the city is truly unique because of that.  Being such a diverse place, the people see countless decorations and celebrations bringing light to cultures and traditions.  I lived in New York City all my life and there are some things I look forward to seeing once the holiday season begins.  Here are certain things that occur in the city only when this time of year comes around…

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

Christmas has always been a big deal here in the city.  Every year they bring it to life with people walking around in Santa Claus’ suit, covering everything with yellow lights, and department stores playing holiday songs on repeat.  One of the most beautiful things to witness is the Christmas tree located in Rockefeller Center.  Every year I try to pass by it at least once to gasp at its height, over 65 feet, and amazing decorations and lighting.  It is truly one of those traditions for New Yorkers that tells them Christmas is coming.  Rockefeller Center holds a special ceremony for the lighting of the Christmas tree where they have live artists and ice performances.  It stands until January 7th, so bring a loved one or your whole family to see the famous Christmas tradition.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Yes, Santa Claus and the Rockettes are coming to town.  Another popular New York City tradition, starting in 1933, is going to see the beautiful female dancers and singers, known as the Rockettes in Radio City Music Hall.  The show is only available during the holiday season, November 9th–December 30th, and is a really well made production.  I went to the 75th anniversary of the show and it was a really fun experience.  It made me believe in Santa Clause again because of the stage design, the holiday spirit, the sparkly costumes and amazing dance precision performed by the Rockettes.  If you have family, especially with small children, I do recommend taking them to see this show because it will make everyone excited for Christmas and really appreciate the spirit and purpose of the holiday season which is being together.

Ice Skating

Come cold weather comes outdoor ice rinks in the city.  My friends always want to go because now it is the best time for it.  The ice rinks are filled with little kids, young couples, and friends enjoying themselves in this cold weather.  The best ice skating rinks in the city are Citi Pond in Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center Ice-Skating Rink, and Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink in Central Park.  You will have to pay for admission for all the rinks except Citi Pond because it is free if you have your own skates.  Personally, I think the winter season is one of the best times in the city because so many events are happening to celebrate the holidays.  Why not take advantage and enjoy it.

The Holiday Markets

A popular holiday bazaar located in Union Square, Bryant Park, and Columbus Circle.  It’s a bunch of little stores packed together that sells numerous things from crepes, to jewelry, puppets, handmade scarves and ornaments.  These stores bring out the best things New York City has to offer because local artisans sell their products in these markets.  If you are stuck finding a gift for your loved one, friend, neighbor, whoever the person may be stop by one of these holiday markets.  The things you will find are completely unique, original, and well-made which makes the perfect gift for anyone or even yourself.

Happy Holidays~

NYC Japanese Restaurants

To start off, if you are ever hungry and craving for some Japanese cuisine go to St.Marks.  The ramen/sushi restaurants are delicious, cheap, friendly, and completely authentic.   They are satisfying to the taste buds of any person wanting Japan’s well-known dishes.  With St.Marks already being popular for their clothing stores and tattoo/piercing parlors; Japanese food is another reason for that.


30 St Marks PL (between Cooper Sq & Astor Pl) New York, NY 10003


The Japanese restaurants are more or less the same in St.Marks but Japadog is worth highlighting because it is not your typical Japanese food in New York City.  Instead of ramen, udon, or sushi they serve hot dogs. Yes, hot dogs.  What makes it so special and oh so mouth watering is that they top it off with yakisoba, teriyaki sauce, kimchi, or have edamame inside the hot dog.  They have various combinations on their menu that will make you want to try each one.  Along with it you can order fries as well but then, once again, you will have to make a difficult decision of what flavor you want.  Butter & shoyu flavored fries are amazing but they also have more “daring” flavors like shichimi and garlic, curry, or wasabi.  And if you are in the mood for something sweet after the meal you can order the “Ice Age” which is a deep fried bun filled with ice cream with many different flavors.   Your stomach should be growling by now so go and head to Japadog.


236 E 9th St (between 2nd Ave & Stuyvesant St) New York, NY 10003


It looks like a typical Japanese storefront.  Everyone has to eat outside because of it’s small size.  They are most popular for their takoyaki.  It’s freshly made all day long and is an absolute treat when I stop by.  They are perfectly chewy and savory and for all I know Otafuku makes the best takoyaki in the city.  Not to mention that the food is cheap so you can buy a lot of takoyaki and drink some Ramune as well.

Sushi Park

121 E 2nd Ave (between 7th St & St Marks Pl) New York, NY 10003

212. 533.8448

50% off sushi.  Yes, this restaurant is a favorite for me and my friends because we don’t have to pay a lot but we still get quality sushi.  Their sushi selection is huge, so do expect discovering new flavors that will make you come back for more.  I always tend to order Godzilla sushi roll because it’s fried and have a bunch of things rolled in to it.  Everything is delicious and I recommend it if you ever stop by.  Plus during lunch time they have $1 appetizers which I always take advantage.  For example, I get edamame or dumplings.  Right next to the restaurant, there is also a good spot for 50% ramen.  It just depends what you’re in the mood for.  Both restaurants will not disappoint any Japanese cuisine lover.

NYC Anime Stores

Anime Castle

35-32 Union Street Flushing, NY 11354‎


A Korean area in Queens is home to a little hole in the wall called Anime Castle.  However, looks are deceiving.  The moment you step inside you will see the store’s huge collection of anime, manga, figurines, and anything else otaku.  Any anime fanatic will go crazy for the store’s variety of products. You can spend hours looking and finding things you can’t find anywhere else in New York City. So it is definitely worth the trip to Flushing.


Forbidden Planet

832 Broadway, New York, NY 10003


All types of geeks know Forbidden Planet located near Union Square.  You will mostly find graphic novels and merchandise of DC Comics and Marvel.  Even though their store is mostly for people in the comic book fandom, they have a nice supply of Japanese/anime products.  In the store you will find a table cluttered with different figurines.   Every time I visit there are new ones to check out.  The store keeps up to date with the latest manga and it’s one of my favorite places considering the quality, the people, and the history.


Image Anime

242 West 30th Street New York, NY 10001


This is another huge store dedicated to the otaku of New York.  They have the body pillows, wall scrolls, jewelry, and key chains from popular anime so we can represent our love.  They have a lot of different blind box figures which I go for because they are inexpensive, detailed, and small.  The store has unexpected replicas too.  For example, they have an authentic alchemist pocket watch from the anime Full Metal Alchemist.  In the back there are a lot of model kits and even begun to sell Necomimi, the cat ears that move and react according to brain waves.  This store is definitely another hot spot for anime lovers living in New York City.


Elizabeth Center

15 Elizabeth St (between Bayard St & Canal St) New York, NY 10013


If you’re looking for random key chains, plushies, model kits, etc. for a very low price then Elizabeth Center is the place to go.  It’s in Chinatown so you can get bubble tea and then go inside to the lower level of the “mall” where all the anime, arts, crafts, and fashion accessories and apparel are.   You can get various things from here since there are a bunch of small stores packed together.  One store sells mainly anime DVDs while another will sell bread and ramen key chains and phone charms.  You can find a lot of “kawaii” items and it is a favorite spot for presents because they have so many soft plushies and jewelry to get engravings on.


Toy Tokyo

91 Second Avenue (between E. 5th & E. 6th St) New York, NY 10003


Toy Tokyo is one of those stores you can just enjoy going inside with a friend or by yourself because it’s fun to look at their unique merchandise like their designer toys, different versions of Godzilla, and blind boxes from Kidrobot and Japan.   In the back of the store they have a display case with a mix of different characters from Disney, Studio Ghibli, and iconic television shows and anime.  The store just has a very interesting mix of toys and definitely a place to check out especially when it’s close to Saint Marks where all the good ramen shops are.

JLPT New York – The Japanese Language Proficiency Test Details

It’s great that you’re interested in taking the JLPT exam. For first timers of taking the JLPT and you’re curious as to which level might fit you best, please visit the attached link for JLPT placement. For students that have more or less decided on which level and want to know more details about taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in New York, then look no further!


1. If you’re serious about taking the JLPT and you’re reading this article, start studying now.

2 . Please note the Japanese Language Proficiency Test has changed in the past couple years. Now each level is referred to as N2, or N3. So when looking to purchase a good textbook (which is highly recommended), please choose an up-to-date version and make sure it has an “N label” for the level.

3. The textbooks are helpful, but be prepared (especially in higher N1 and N2 levels) to have a test that is more difficult than the textbooks. Take the level of the textbooks you’re studying with and bring it up a notch or two, that is how difficult the actual test is.

4. If you can, naturally we’d recommend either group or private lessons for JLPT study. Group is helpful because you have potential study buddies to learn from both in and outside class. Also when you get a professional teacher involved, they’ll be able to set goals for you and hold you to it.


The application for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test becomes available towards the middle or end of August. The application period is only one month, the month of September. If you can, postmark your application the first of the month of September. Yes, we said postmark. Last year the Japan Foundation of Los Angeles (they run the JLPT) required all applicants to mail applications, online was not accepted.

OFFICIAL TEST DATE – Sunday December 2, 2012

LOCATION – Lehman College in New York

250 Bedford Park Boulevard West – Bronx, NY 10468

Phone: 718-960-8000

Only 500 Seats Maximum


New York City is America’s most populous city, with a very diverse background of inhabitants. Naturally the demand for the Japanese Language is high. The test center itself only has a maximum of 500 students accepted. The applications for the JLPT start getting accepted by September 1st, and New York is the first center to sell out every year, usually by the third week of September. Submit your applications asap.

The JLPT is a rigorous and challenging test. Take a class or at least consult with someone who has taken the test previously before studying. The JLPT N1 is used to place foreign students into universities in Japan, and the Japanese take the test and its administration very seriously.

This article is limited in scope but please don’t hesitate to ask questions or comments about the JLPT in New York. Good luck with your studies!

Japanese Courses in New York this Summer

Hi New Yorkers! It’s almost time for another sweltering famous New York summer, and what better time to find an excuse to go inside in air conditioning and learn Japanese?

If you’re interested in learning Japanese, you probably have your reasons. Maybe you’re looking to travel to Japan either this summer or sometime in the near future. Maybe there’s a part of Japanese culture you like, whether it’s anime or manga or maybe even shodo. Maybe you have a business reason to learn Japanese.

Whatever your reasons are, please think about it while you’re considering which course to take this summer. There are numerous courses being offered out there in New York from a variety of institutions, but you want to make sure that both your interests and goals are being met when deciding on a course.

First of all, we would recommend researching your institution of learning. The atmosphere or friendliness of the person on the other line should all play into whether you’d like to take lessons there or not. Is this a place I want to spend the next 6 to 8 weeks to 1 to 5 years learning at? Always ask that question with every interaction.

Next, is your reason for learning language. If it’s a business reason, you might want to consider taking private lessons. Yes private lessons are more expensive, but they are also more bang for your buck. You’ll get personal attention for a Japanese teacher who will fix all the little nuances you’re getting wrong in the language, and they’ll do it right away, in the comfort of your own time. They’ll also teach to your strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly though, private lessons are customized, so you can make the right impression when going into that Japanese trading company or hedge fund.

However, if you fall into the casual cultural interest category for learning Japanese, it really depends your learning style. If you feel that you’ll get the most from private lessons (for example you’re very self driven, or don’t like group learning environments) then please consider the private lessons. Also learning long term is usually more effective with private lessons, although that’s not to say students don’t stay in group classes for a long time if they do find the right learning environment.

Which brings us to our last category, group classes. Group classes are great for a variety of reasons, namely you’re not alone in your language learning process. You get to learn with other students, see how they learn and what tools they’ve uncovered outside of class, but you also get potential study buddies and friends who can encourage and challenge you to learn.

For group classes, also consider the age. For example, Hills Learning has a Japanese through Manga Class for highschoolers looking to learn Japanese. So if you’re a teenager and you learn Japanese Manga or Anime, this is really a win-win class and opportunity. Language House and other schools in NYC also offer high school courses.

If you’re an adult, please consider the class size and quality of the curriculum before choosing. Always ask the schools what’s the maximum amount of students they allow into their classes, if it’s 15 to 20 please keep in mind you won’t get the attention as a 4 to 8 person class provides.

Also, and why we’re writing this for the upcoming summer, is that summer classes (for those of us that aren’t working) means more time to learn. Inquire about intensive courses at the institutions you’re looking into, most will either have a group intensive course or possibly discounts if you decide to take private courses for Japanese intensively.

Ultimately, Japanese is a great language to learn and there are many options in New York. Please consider the atmosphere and culture of the institution, class size, course goals,  and your goals. You’ll then come up with the best place for you to learn Japanese in New York! Please feel free to ask any questions onto this post, and happy learning!

Japanese Teaching Position Available – NYC – New York

Hills Learning, a language school in New York City, is looking for a Japanese teacher to join their team. We’re looking for native speakers of their languages, with a passion to share their culture and a record of success to teach Japanese to all ages.

Some specifics on the Japanese teaching job are:

– at least 3 years of teaching experience
– proven track record of success with classes and students
– a passion to share your culture and language with fellow new yorkers
– native speaker of Japanese preferred

– weekly update form
– ability to create own materials
– work with director to design lesson plans
– hours differ per student and job

For applying please visit our website:

Please note, if you’re interested in teaching Japanese to a New York audience but might not meet these requirements there are also internships available. Please visit our website for further information on this job opening.

JLPT 2011 New York – How to sign up and not miss it

Dear New York Japanese Learners!

The season is approaching for the JLPT or Japanese Language Proficiency Test. The test will be held on December 4th of this year, at Lehman College. As noted below, the test will be 500 people maximum, and we do mean maximum. Usually the test sells about halfway through September in New York City, and New York is always the first center to sell out and fill up. Your other options if you miss New York are Boston or DC, we recommend all potential test takers to sign up early.

Another very important part of signing up for the JLPT this year is there are NO ONLINE APPLICATIONS. MAIL ONLY. Why is this significant? Well, last year it was quite easy to secure a seat, you just had to go online, fill out the appropriate information and hit “submit.” Now, you’ll have to plan ahead, making sure all your documentation is in order, and plan to have it shipped to LA with enough time to allow for any mistakes, etc. to be rectified.

In other words, plan ahead. Don’t wait until mid-September to fill out your application form for the JLPT. New York City is the most popular and fastest selling out location for the JLPT in the U.S., so use your time wisely. The paper application form will become available on the Japan Foundation LA website in mid-August,, so be on the lookout for the application and fill it out quickly and accurately.

Oh yes, and while you’re at it, start studying now. If you haven’t started studying for the JLPT and haven’t taken the test before, you’ll need to take at least one or two practice tests, and review all grammar, vocabulary, and listening and reading exercises that will be on your exam. Good luck with your studies, in our other article on this website we discuss how to best study for the Japanese Proficiency test. Please take a look!

JLPT Test – Which Level is Right for You?

Any serious learner of Japanese has considered taking the JLPT, or the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. The test can be taken all over the world, of course the country with the most test centers and frequency of administration is Japan, but in America as well there are multiple centers available to students looking to take the Japanese Proficiency test. In New York City, it is administered at Lehman College.

But what level is right for you? It depends on a few factors:

1 Frequency of study of Japanese up till now

2 – Goals you have for taking the exam

3 – How much you think you can study

1 – The Japanese Proficiency test is designed to be administered in five levels, N1 – N5. N5 is beginning level, and N1 is the highest or fluency level.

To get a sense of how each level differs, please try the sample problems found on this website:

To get to take N5, we would recommend about 2 years of Japanese language study, or the Hills Learning equivalent of six semesters of our 2 month classes. Students taking N5 know some basic Japanese grammar, about 100 Kanji or so, and know the other alphabets Hiragana and Katakana.

To contrast this, N2 (the second highest level of the exam) requires knowledge of 1,000 Kanji, and about 6,000 vocabulary words. To give you a sense of the grammar you have to learn, there are 181 grammar patterns (not including basic grammar patterns that have been learned previously for N3 and N4 levels), and your listening skills have to be developed to listen to everyday conversations, office meetings, and general lectures and be able to pick out and understand what’s being said.

For students that are serious about learning Japanese and have been for sometime, maybe want to move to Japan or get into a Japanese company, we feel that N2 is the natural choice to take. Please see our JLPT Classes for more information about our group course on this class.

2 – Which leads us to the second factor, what is your goal for taking the JLPT test? There are various reasons why people take the Proficiency Test, from trying to get a job to entering university. If it’s a specific goal such as entering a Japanese university as a foreign national, or applying for a translation job (for example the State Department has requirements of N1 for various positions), then you already know you have to pass the N1 level of the test.

N1 is naturally the hardest level of the exam, and just within the past couple years has become even harder. Students that don’t use the language on a daily basis at work, didn’t grow up speaking it, or do not have the time to immerse themselves should seriously consider not taking this level. It’s the fluency level for a reason, grammar and vocabulary studied for the test are usually not used in regular conversation.

As mentioned earlier, the N2 level is a great level to take if you’re interested in working in a Japanese company, or just looking to improve overall conversational and reading fluency. The grammar patterns for the test are used in everyday conversation, the vocabulary and kanji are frequented in newspapers, and you can claim you’re “business fluent” on a resume.

N3 is the newest addition to the JLPT level catalog, and it’s not quite clear to this author how the level will be used both on a practical basis and in the job market.

N4 has historically been the level that states you’re “not a beginner of Japanese.” Basically, N4 is where students are introduced to Keigo, the formidable polite language that has no direct equivalent in English. Add around 500 Kanji to the equation and it is proven by passing this level students are no longer considered beginners of Japanese.

3 – Which leads us to our third point, how much time do you have study for the Japanese Proficiency Test? Here’s the quick answer, if you do not use Japanese on a daily basis, you will need to study for the test. Whether it’s N5 or N1, students need to develop a regiment and study quite a bit. As with all tests, the first step is to understand the structure of the test and take some sample problems. Then afterwards for any level, students should be ready to study at least 3 to 4 hours  per week. N2 and N1 require more intensive regiments.

Thanks for reading about the JLPT test and we welcome your comments and questions. Good luck with your studies!

Japan Day – A great opportunity to learn Japanese in New York

Thanks for coming to our website and your interest in learning Japanese! This past weekend was Japan Day, an event that celebrates Japanese language and culture in New York. We’d like to talk more about this, and think it’s one of the best opportunities to experience Japanese culture and language in New York City. The event numbers around 50,000 people. Please mark “Japan Day” on your calendar for next year!

Japan Day used to be just about Japanese culture and Japanese performances, such as cultural icons of Calligraphy and Hello-Kitty. Only recently though  Japan Day decided to offer a Japanese language tent along with their cultural exhibitions and demonstrations.

Each year, the Japan Day staff, along with Hills Learning and other involved language schools, come up with a list of key vocabulary phrases for Japan Day. This year was no different, our theme was Ganbare Japan, or “Japan, You can do it!” We taught language through a traditional Japanese card game called “Karuta.”

Many of the participants not only loved learning the language for a bit, but also really liked the cultural exposure. You can stop in and get tattoos, pictures with Hello Kitty, calligraphy cranes, and of course watch the performers. The performers range from cultural icons such as Karate clubs, to famous Jazz Singers and musical groups.

For reference, here is the Japan Day vocabulary we learned this year:

がんばれ – ganbare – You can do it!

ありがとう – arigato – Thank you!

おはよう – ohayo – good morning

こんにちは – konnichiwa – hello

大丈夫 – daijyobu – It’s okay

せんばづる – senbazuru – 1,000 origami cranes

友達 – tomodachi – friend

愛 – ai – love

希望 – kibo – hope

おうえん – o-en – support

すごい – sugoi – wonderful, great

元気 – genki – healthy, how are you?

Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you next year learning Japanese at Japan Day!

Speaking Japanese – Weather – Conversation Starters

Imagine for a moment that you’re suddenly in Japan… you’re in Tokyo in Ueno park just enjoying some people watching, and then you see her (or him). Your Japanese idol. Maybe it’s a famous fashion designer or game developer, or perhaps your favorite author, poet, musician or artist, or perhaps it’s someone strikingly attractive. You want to break the ice. You want to make small talk and start a conversation… but how?!

Then you remember reading this article and say:


“そうですね,” she says.

“明日、雨ですよ” You comment. You heard the weather report that morning.

“明日?ありがとう!” She says, thanking you, “I speak some English, too. Where are you from?”

And there you go! Breaking the ice and starting that conversation. Well, maybe it wouldn’t really go that well, but we can dream, can’t we?

This article is all about conversation starters and starting off with a good neutral topic – weather. Talking about the weather is an amazing way of breaking the ice and moving on to where someone’s from or what they do or what their hobbies are. By the end of this lesson, you’ll know a few phrases and some words that will let you approach anyone and start a conversation! And you’ll have done it in Japanese!

Talking about the weather is a great way to make chit chat and start a casual conversation. First I’m going to introduce you to some nouns and adjectives to allow you to combine them and create a staggering amount of basic statements. Let’s with start with some basic nouns:

天気 tenki – weather

ame – rain

kumo – cloud

yuki – snow

kaze – wind

kaminari – lightning/thunder

kasa – umbrella

季節 kisetsu – season

haru – Spring

natsu – Summer

aki – Fall

fuyu – Winter

niji – rainbow

giri – fog

sora – sky

koori – ice

arashi – storm

梅雨 tsuyu – rainy season

今日 kyo – today

明日 ashita – tomorrow

来週 raishu – next week

最近 saikin – recently, these days

Now for some adjectives:

暑い atsui – hot

寒い samui – cold

蒸し暑い mushiatsui – humid

晴れの hare no – fine (clear [skies])

涼しい suzushii – cool

暖かい atatakai – warm

いい ii – good, nice

嫌な iya na – bad, poor

So here’s the formula: _time-adjective_ , _adjective_ _noun_ desu (ne/yo).

The “desu” basically means “is,” a grammatical equal sign. Also, you can add “ne” (ね) at the end to prompt a response from the listener. It would somewhat equate to saying “y’know” or “don’t you think.” If you want to add a little more umph to your statement, you can add “yo” (よ). OR, just to give you more options, you could add “ka” (か) to make the statement a question. Whoa, isn’t that cool? See how easy Japanese can be!? Let’s see some examples:

ashita, arashi desu ka – Is there going to be a storm tomorrow?

iya na fuyu desu yo – It’s been an awful winter!!

saikin, samui desu ne – It’s been cold lately, don’t you think?

ii niji desu – It’s a nice rainbow

kyo, hare no sora desu ne – The sky is so nice today

mushiatsui natsu desu yo – It’s such a muggy humid summer!

Looking at all these examples, you’ll notice I don’t rigidly stick to the formula all the time. Sometimes there’s no time-adjective, or no noun, or no adjective. All of these are OK. The point is to give you tools and words and a flexible sentence structure you can use to say a whole bunch of things. You want to communicate, and we want to make that happen… And I want you to go out and make friends and have fun! J

Want to discuss the finer points of meteorology in Japanese? Or, want to apply to be the next weather forecaster on NHK? Schedule some lessons at Hills Learning! We’ll make clear weather the forecast for your Japanese language learning future.