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.

Learning Japanese…in New York?! What’s the best way to do this?

We’ve had numerous students interested in learning Japanese in New York City and wondering what should be the first step in learning the language. While there are a multitude of websites and other resources for learning Japanese online, one of the key recommendations for learning a foreign language is learn from a native speaker of that language.

Why is this so? You would think with developments such as Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, Japanese Pod 101 and a plethora of other language sites and software that the ancient old tie between teacher and student for learning Japanese is losing its importance. Computers can replace people for many things, such as computations, household chores and even driving, so shouldn’t they be more efficient at teaching Japanese than human beings?

And also, what about old fashioned studying on your own? We have video games, books, websites, personal speaking dictionaries, and voice recognition software. If for example a student were to say “Ketsu” instead of “Kutsu” in Japanese, the computer would know right away that the student said “someone’s behind” instead of “someone’s shoes” and would correct them in pronunciation.

While we don’t hesitate to recognize development and advancement in learning Japanese where it is due, namely in voice recognition software, overall nothing will ever replace a well trained, experienced, and talented Japanese language teacher. A Japanese language teacher brings so much more to the table than any language learning “aid” could ever bring. (We like to think of software, cd-roms, video games as “language learning aids”) Here’s what a Japanese language teacher brings:

1 – a natural language partner – A computer can never be programmed to react with emotion to conversations. Since a language such as Japanese is absorbed and processed in the brain through conversation, a computer will never teach a student how to naturally speak the Japanese language.

2 – an irreplaceable source for writing – When you learned cursive as a child, was it through computers? No, it was through your teacher in the classroom. He or she looked over your shoulder, checked your stroke order, and corrected you when they couldn’t read your writing. Only a live breathing Japanese teacher can offer this.

3 – a teacher provides a relationship – This is perhaps the most overlooked part of the learning Japanese experience, in a place outside of Japan such as New York. When you live in Japan, you’re forced to use the language through multiple daily interactions that call for it, but in New York City no one cares if you speak Japanese, right?

Wrong, your teacher does. She checks up on your Japanese homework, gets excited when you remember and use a new vocabulary word, gets disappointed when you say you cannot make Japanese class, and comments on all her various cultural experiences growing up in Japan and how different it is in New York. From both a cultural and linguistic standpoint, a Japanese teacher is irreplaceable when it comes to effectively learning Japanese in New York City.

If we still haven’t convinced you enough in regards to learning Japanese in New York City, even after you’ve seen our list of Japanese Language Teachers, I’ll share a quick encounter I had with someone who had been learning Japanese with “language software.” We all know which one it is.

So I was at an Education-expo, walking around to different tables, and I managed to meet a guy who was working in a local school and was learning with language learning software at home. He said he enjoyed the software and approach, and I said great, “hajimemashite”, and he looked at me with a blank stare. I said, that’s “nice to meet you” in Japanese.

I then asked him, what do you know in Japanese? He said, “otoko no hito”, which means “guy.” I said, how about anything else? And he said another word, of which I don’t recall but it wasn’t a Japanese term that I’ve learned in my past 10 years of instruction in the Japanese language.

This guy could’ve been igai, or an exception, but the point is that in a beginner’s class of Japanese you learn the basics of speaking to people, such as “hajimemashite.” Any student that doesn’t at least learn that phrase in the first couple classes of private lessons isn’t learning Japanese.

So what are you waiting for? Come learn Japanese with Hills Learning’s Japanese Classes in New York, or any other language school. Remember, we focus on the quality of the teacher, and try our best to build the student – teacher relationship, which is key to any language learner’s process. Thanks for reading and good luck learning Japanese!

Learning Japanese – The Writing System

If you’re interested in learning Japanese, a lot of students in New York are daunted by the fact they have to speak a language that’s different grammatically, and also have to learn how to write the Japanese language. Our article (Learn Japanese NYC) teaches a bit about the differences between the three alphabets, Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. It goes onto say that it’s really not that difficult to Learn Japanese, even when living in New York City. Please check out our article today to learn more about writing this wonderful language!

Learn Japanese NYC… for $10!

Are you one of those students that has always wanted to learn Japanese, but just not ready to pay the high prices to take Japanese language classes at a college in New York? Hills Learning for a limited time offers a $10 Japanese Trial Class.  This coming Friday, instead of going out to the movies or spending money at a club or bar, why not spend the earlier part of your night learning Japanese, one of the most fascinating languages in New York City?

Hills Learning is conveniently located next to Grand Central Station. Why is this good for learning Japanese? Well, after you’ve finished with the $10 trial Japanese lesson, you can attend some of the Japanese related businesses nearby, such as ramen shops and Japanese grocery stores, and of course the king of all things Japanese in New York: Kinokuniya Bookstores, located right next to Bryant Park.

So what are you waiting for? Come enjoy your Friday night with Hills Learning and learn Japanese today!

A Great Sushi Restaurant Next to St Marks Place

I went to a very good sushi restaurant the other day. I found it off the beaten path, at St. Mark’s Place, the unofficial Japan Town of New York. The restaurant was quaint, affordable (a sushi dollar menu with a wide variety of sushi!), and also had pitchers of Kirin for around $17. Definitely a good break from the typical New York overly expensive and not so delicious sushi experience.

The sushi restaurant was called “NORI”, if you google “nori sushi nyc” this restaurant will come up. The website is http://www.norinyc.com/

Japanese Proficiency Test – What’s Changed and How to Handle It

Whether you’re a new student for the Japanese Proficiency Exam or have taken it in the past, the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) in 2010 has changed. Consequently, how to study and handle the exam has also changed.  This article will discuss the history of the exam and why changes were brought about, what’s new about the Japanese Proficiency Test for 2010, and how to best study to pass the JLPT.

The reason why the test was changed in 2010 was test takers and school administrators were complaining that the exam wasn’t adequate. What kind of exam, they wondered, measures language ability without any spoken component to it? Although there is still no speaking contained in the Japanese Proficiency Exam, it was rumoured that the exam’s setup was getting oboselete and predictable. The Japanese authorities responded with a new test.

The main changes in the exam are as follows:

2009 – there were 4 levels of the Japanese Proficiency Exam: 1-kyu, 2-kyu, 3-kyu, and 4-kyu. 1-kyu represents the highest level, “fluency” in the Japanese language. 1-kyu consists of obscure Japanese grammar patterns, insanely hard reading passages, and listening sections that sometimes make you wonder if the language you heard was actually Japanese. 4-kyu is the entry level part of the exam, “beginner.”

2010 – 5 levels 1-kyu, 2-kyu, 3-kyu, 4-kyu, 5-kyu. Here’s what happened with each level of the JLPT:

1-kyu got harder. This is because a lot of university students, embassy applicants, translators, etc. were mastering the exam at a faster rate. The Japanese government responded by making the content of 1-kyu harder.

2-kyu stays the same. This is actually very good for potential job seekers and ambitious employees who want to work in a Japanese company. 2-kyu represents “business fluency” and while studying to pass the 2-kyu level, students actually learn quite a lot of useful Japanese in the process.

3-kyu – a new level. The jump between the old 2-kyu and 3-kyu was too great, so there is now a new level of the Japanese proficiency exam. “intemediate”

4-kyu is the old 3-kyu level. Sorry 3-kyu holders, your level of Japanese has just been brought down a level.

5-kyu is the old 4-kyu level. Sorry 4-kyu holders, “.

The scoring system has changed. Gone are the days where test takers can get 100 on reading and vocabulary, a 50 on listening, and still pass the test with flying colors. Now every section needs a passing score to get a passing grade on the exam.

So for each level:

1-kyu you’ll need to get a 70% on the Vocabulary Section, Listening Section, and Reading / Grammar Sections. If you score below a 70 on any of these sections, you fail the exam.

2-kyu, 3-kyu, 4-kyu, and 5-kyu you’ll need to get a 60% “.

With each drop in difficulty, the length of the test shrinks. The vocabulary, reading, and listening sections also get easier.

What this means When studying for the Japanese Proficiency Test going forward, all test takers must be more cognizant of developing all their language skills. If a test taker fails to do the Reading, Listening, or vocab recognition sections properly, they fail the test overall.

Therefore when studying, please purchase a listening book, as well as a reading book and a grammar book. Look for the publishers Japan Times or ALC, both companies have great reputations in Japan, and write quite useful series. Any specific questions please feel free to ask on this article.

PS – If you haven’t started studying, please start now! Create a regiment, prepare to study at least 2 hours a week, and aim for on average 3 to 4 hours per week. The Japanese Proficiency Exam in New York City (and the rest of the U.S.) will happen less than 6 months from now, in December.

Japan Town in New York? Why, it’s St. Marks Place

A lot of our readers and students of the Japanese language have all been to “Japan Town” in New York City. However, if you look on a map or read a guidebook, there’s no official listing of Japan Town in New York. There’s definitely a Chinatown and Koreatown (Koreatown is actually written on 32nd street) so where’s the Japan Town? And why has it been called that?

The “where” is easy to explain. St. Marks Place is actually another term for East 8th Street. The “Japan Town” location is centered between 2nd ave and 3rd ave, if you’re going to take the subway, take the 6 to Astor Place or the R or W to 8th Ave NYU. Then walk east along East 8th Street or St. Marks Place and you’ll come across a street loaded with Japanese goodness.

Although not nearly as conspicuous as Chinatown or Koreatown, Japan Town does have it’s own charm and feel. Every sign might not be in Japanese, but there are plenty of good yakitori, izakaya, sushi, ramen, and other Japanese restaurants to lure in the passerby.  Before you get to 2nd avenue on the north side of the street don’t forget to stop and take a look inside the JAS Mart, a small little convenience store that sells foods and other articles that are uniquely Japanese.

The ambiance of  St. Marks Place though is not really reflective of Japan. Although Japanese are lured to the area due to Izakaya’s, Yakitori Places, and of course the ever famous and popular Setagaya Ramen, the area’s main demographics seem to have more of an NYU feel. Lots of young close to graduation college students mix with asians of all backgrounds to make you feel like you’re more in Roppongi than Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Despite the contradictions, anyone interested in Japanese language or culture in New York should visit Japan Town at least once. The food might not be Tokyo quality, and the karaoke (the popular Sing-Sing) might not be the best price around, but it does feel like a New York version of Japan. And who knows, 日本語で話しかけたら誰か答えてもらうかもしれない!

WIT Life #93: サンフランシスコの日本町

WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.

My interpreting travels bring me to San Francisco this time, and I couldn’t leave without paying a visit to Japantown.  I hadn’t been there in a couple of years, but I clearly remembered  the array of restaurants, souvenir shops and an onsen-like spa I once had a soak in.  I went with a friend who was craving something sweet and wanted a recommendation, so I suggested we get 白玉汁粉 (shiratama shiruko), one of my favorite Japanese desserts following ぜんざい (zenzai).  We went to Kissako Tea where we were served by Hiro and Koji, pretending to be a charming couple. .

Kissako also had a nice selection of mochi  (pictured left), including strawberry, orange and lima bean, but I wasn’t blown away so didn’t sample any.  I had heard of Benkyodo, a mochi specialty shop where it is handmade and there is more variety, but they are not open on Sundays.  Something to be tried on another trip…

After we satisfied our sweet tooth with the shiratama shiruko washed down by green tea, we took a walk around the mall which is a mix of places with yukatas and other Japanese clothing, a fairly large Kinokuniya, purikura booths, and stores selling Sanrio products.

Speaking of Sanrio, there was an interesting article in the NYT the other day called “In Search of Adorable,” regarding the company’s strategy in finding a character to replace the legendary Hello Kitty who has dwindled in popularity at age 36.  The article cites that “Hello Kitty lost her long-held spot as Japan’s top-grossing character in 2002 and has never recovered,” something surprising considering how you see her plastered everywhere both here and at home (she is beaten out by Anpanman!).  However, the article discusses that part of her problem might have been this very overexposure.

Somehow replacement candidates such as the pink dalmation Spottie Dottie and the baby panda Pandapple have not been able to capture the same kind of merchandising magic as Hello Kitty, so it is back to the drawing board for Sanrio.  Who will be their next character to take the world by storm?

The JLPT in 2010

So it’s about that time of year where students are thinking about and preparing for the JLPT (The Japanese Proficiency Exam). Preparing for the exam this year will be different than last year, there have been a lot of changes to the exam. This article explores the Japanese proficiency exam with personal accounts of past failures and successes, and how this relates to the JLPT 2010.

For those readers who are not sure what I’m talking about by the “1-kyu” in the title of this article, there are 5 levels of the Japanese proficiency exam in 2010. 5-kyu is the beginner level, where as 1-kyu is the highest level.

Last year’s 1-kyu exam was quite difficult. It’s actually rumored that the Japanese proficiency exam is harder every “odd year”, and easier on the even years. The listening section in particular on the 1-kyu exam was much more difficult than the practice listening sections in textbooks, even though they tried to make it funny and interesting by adding an anime scene at the end of the test. The grammar section was also more difficult than it needed to be, having a variety of grammar structures included from the 2-kyu, and probably even 3-kyu structures.

The point of talking about the 1-kyu 2009 before moving to the JLPT and 1-kyu 2010 is don’t be textbook focused in your studies. The 1-kyu exam has a wide variety of 2-kyu grammar, insanely hard listening sections, and readings that fit much better in with a newspaper than a typical “1-kyu readings book.” When studying textbooks, you should use them to memorize grammar patterns and how the listening questions are structured. Then for real hard preparation for 1-kyu immerse yourself in Japanese by reading newspapers and novels, listening to Japanese podcasts and music, and of course watching movies and dramas.

Now for the rest of the Japanese test takers (5-kyu to 2-kyu) textbook focused studying is probably your best bet. Also if you’re really serious find a Japanese teacher who can teach you, check your progress, and also have enough English background to translate properly for you. Understanding the grammar patterns, especially with their English applications, makes it easier to memorize what you need to know and do well on the exam.

So in short, for 1-kyu studiers please don’t forget your real world language resources for studying Japanese. This might also be a good lesson for the other levels as well, although probably less so. For 2-kyu and below, focusing on the textbooks for the JLPT and having a teacher / Japanese class you’re attending should be a recipe for success.

PS – PLEASE BE AWARE if you’re reading this article now and you haven’t started studying for the JLPT, you must start studying asap. Build a regiment, study every weekend or at least 2-3 times a week, and don’t forget to include in your studies reading, vocab, and listening.