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!

Learn Hiragana – The Foundation for a fruitful Japanese language experience

There’s good news and bad news with learning Japanese. The bad news is there’s three alphabets, two with about 50 characters, and a third, Kanji, with 2-3,000. The good news is the first alphabet you learn, Hiragana, has sounds that are repeated for the rest of the alphabets. So once you’ve mastered Hiragana, you should be able to pronounce all Japanese sounds going forward. Not only pronunciation, but Hiragana is also an alphabet that any Japanese word can be written in. So to summarize, once you’ve learned Hiragana, you can speak, write, and read Japanese!

Well, not exactly, to add a disclaimer all Japanese periodicals, tv shows, road signs, etc. are written in all three alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. In order to become fluent a Japanese language learner will have to learn all three of these alphabets, in the order: Hiragana, Katakana, and then Kanji. (Or, Kanji characters can be learned along with Katakana, but Hiragana must be mastered first) However, once someone who’s learning Japanese has learned Hiragana, they can write full sentences and even paragraphs to a Japanese speaker and he or she would completely understand. They can also read articles or any Japanese periodical, but it would have to be translated all into Hiragana. For example, some early children’s books for K-1st graders are written all in Hiragana.

Hiragana comes in bunches of 5 characters. Each character in Japanese has a vowel sound attached to it, as you’ll recognize by looking at the below sample sounds. It actually makes for really great rap music: it’s probably one of the easiest languages to rhyme in. The sounds also repeat, once you learn perfectly how the first bunch of 5 characters sound, then the remaining 9 bunches of 5 characters are just variations off the initial sounds.

In today’s article we’ll focus on the very first 5 characters, again as mentioned earlier the pronunciation of these characters is key: once learned every sound after it will just be a variation on these sounds (note: with a few exceptions). The first five characters with pronunciations added are below:


The rhyme describes what every college graduate without a job goes through. He or she might want to live away from home, but they can’t afford food! Katrina Needs Food Hates Home (this is of course not an official rhyme and if you think of something more catchy please let me know!) The vowel in each word reflects each sound of the first bunch of 5 characters. Katrina actually has three vowel sounds, but the first and last a are the “a” sound for the Japanese character: あ.

Equally important along with the pronounciation is the stroke order for each Hiragana character. When writing each character, it is important to not take your pencil off the paper until each stroke is completed. With the first character あ, for the circle make sure to start and then curve around with your pencil, without stopping and taking it off the paper. いand うare self explanatory. For え、the directions on the second stroke are as follows: left to right, right corner to left corner, then trace back up a little bit and curve the tail. For お and the second stroke, it goes top to bottom, then curve around for the final touch.

Now you’ve hopefully learned the beginning 5 bunch of Hiragana. This article will continue to explain in detail the following 9 bunches of Hiragana, but it’s important to master both the concepts and the reading, writing, and pronunciation of the first 5 bunch before moving forward. Pat yourself on the back, learning Hiragana is the first step to learning this wonderful and fascinating language of Japanese.

Why Learn Japanese?

This is a certainly a question that is asked of both myself, and of Hills Learning. Japanese in the 80’s was what Chinese is today, a language that is learned for business, political, and most importantly future expectations. If a language is perceived to become more prominent, people will try to learn it. Chinese is seen as a language that might even take over English in prominence, so people are desperate to learn it. Potential students for Japanese these days, so people tell me, are manga and anime fans.

While manga and anime fans certainly have an interest in Japanese culture, I would say still today schools, businesses, and individuals are still legitimately interested in learning Japanese. The majority of our own students are not manga and anime fans, but professionals, business owners, private schools, and other entities that see Japanese as very much a part of their lives and their children’s lives. I’ll also argue that Japanese is still very prominent, and learning Japanese can help both beginners and advanced speakers alike in today’s environment. Here’s why:

Strengthen or create your niche in the job market by learning Japanese When asked in an interview, “So recently what have you been doing?” I can’t think of a better response than “learning Japanese.” This instantly shows commitment and an openness to try new things, both characteristics that employers are looking for. But on a broader scale it creates a unique marketable skill, a skill that is instantly recognizable (obviously to any potential Japanese institutions or employers) but also to American, International, or European ones. Remember that ancient question, “what are your skills?” Language is something that’s instantly recognizable and respected; just don’t boast about your Japanese skills. Believe me, I’ve failed multiple interviews because the perception of my Japanese skills was much higher than what they actually were, so just be careful to articulate your skills accurately.

Japanese culture is ubiquitous throughout New York City There are multiple things Japanese in New York City, so much that I’d argue it has almost all the Japanese amenities that Tokyo has. There are multiple book and video stores that are dedicated solely to selling Japanese books and Japanese videos. There’s the typical argument of “sushi”, I know it’s everywhere, but beyond that New York City has a wide variety of Japanese restaurants: Japanese Korean BBQ, Ramen shops, Izakaya (Japanese Pubs), fast food Japanese, and noodle restaurants. There are also Japanese holidays in New York: Japan Day (50,000 attend annually), Cherry Blossom Festival, Anime Festivals, etc.

Japanese Companies Are Ubiquitous in New York City If you still don’t believe me, try walking into an electronics store that doesn’t have 50% Japanese products. Or purchasing a car and not thinking about Honda or Toyota. How about the Nintendo store near Rockefeller plaza? How many Japanese companies advertise in Times Square? Japanese company names are household names in America, but I can also attest to 300 or so Japanese East Coast (or American) headquarters being either in, or near, New York City. That gives you a wide variety of potential employers and ex-pat Japanese populations living in New York City.

These are just some of the reasons why New Yorkers, when thinking of which culture and language they’d love to learn about next, should consider learning Japanese. If you have any further reasons please list them, or if you disagree your comments are welcomed.