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Reader Response
September-October, 2003

Learn kanji with manga and karaoke

You said in your article on pleasure reading, "read extensively on topics of interest to you." I try to read only things that are interesting to me in Japanese. Like you I'm not very interested by Ultraman or other children's stories. So I studied first with manga (I don't recommend Dragon Ball, because everybody speaks with a strange accent, and there are a lot of katakana). My favorite is One Piece. (To be precise about my level I should say that I have only the 3-Kyuu on the JLPT, and I am working for the 2-Kyuu, but I’m not very confident for this year, so Kuwabata novels seem a bit far away for me).

Then I learned (and am still learning) Kanji with karaoke. Once you have the CD (or the MP3 File), and a printed version of the lyrics (check out www.utamap.com, for example), you have the pronunciation and the words. I recommend changing artists because an artist almost always use the same words. (I recommend Southern All Stars, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra and Utada Hikaru). Don’t forget also the Saturday-night enka program on TV, where there are all the subtitles, and where the rhythm is quite slow.

Now I'm beginning a video game in Japanese, and I spend A LOT of time looking at all the words, but I’m a bit worried that the only words I will learn are : spell, kill, opponent, and so on. Anyway, we will see...

I have no real manual for how to learn kanji (I did bought some Kanji books, kanji cards, but my level did not increase). I find the Heisig a bit disappointing, because there are no readings of the kanji, and I really think that shattering a Kanji into pieces is useful for learning to write but not to read. For the readings I used homemade Kanji cards, but for the writing I think there are no easy solutions. The only way is practicing each new Kanji, writing it many times, and making a test each week. But it is a bit tough.

Alix Fachin
A fortunate mistake: Taking the Kanji Kentei

I first took the Kanji Kentei in 1996 by mistake. I had been in Japan for about a year, and I knew that my Japanese was not going to improve unless I found some short term goal, like an exam, and prepared for it. One of my Japanese students offered to help, and gave me an application form and a textbook for the Kanji Kentei. As I was not aware of the fact that the Nihongo Nouryoku Shiken was the exam that non-native speakers of Japanese should take, I started to prepare for level 10 of the Kanji Kentei. (Somehow, levels 10 and 9 have disappeared from the ads and the home page, but they still seem to exist).

I only had about 6 weeks, and the passing grade was 80%. My spoken Japanese was close to zero but I could read and write hiragana, katakana and a few kanji. I really did not think I could cope with the amount of words and dictionary work I was facing on top of mastering the stroke order for 80 kanji in such a short time. I would have been doomed to failure if I had not been supported by a young Australian lady, who first helped me as a “walking dictionary” so as to save time, and then she taught me how to use the electronic dictionary to look up kanji that I did not know how to read. She was my saviour! I had learnt how to help myself! That was the most valuable thing that she or any other teacher could have taught me.

However, when I got to test site, I had a serious problem. Everything was written in Japanese, and I could not read where I was supposed to go. As older children can read, and the younger ones are always accompanied by their parents, there was no need for using hiragana or katakana. When I got to the classroom, I realized that most of my fellow test-takers were 4, 5 or 6 years old, and I was the only foreigner.

Even after I became aware of the nature of both tests, the Nihongou Noryoku Shiken and the Kanji Kentei, I kept taking these tests for several reasons. (I have passed levels 10-7.) The Kanji Kentei

--can be taken 3 times a year (June, October, Feruary);
--is not expensive (level 8 costs 1,500 yen, levels 7-pre 2 cost 2,000 yen);
--is good for checking progress if you are preparing for the Nouryoku Shiken;
--takes only one hour;
--test-takers get the answer key immediately after the test;
--up to level 7, only kanji for that level is tested;
--test results also contain a written evaluation.

There are some other, less obvious benefits as well. As I believe in extensive reading as the best way to enlarge vocabulary and consolidate grammar, I had been frustrated by the fact that it is impossible just to pick up any book and read it in Japanese because of the kanji. Although there are no other books but textbooks published for foreigners, there are many books published for Japanese children using mainly hiragana and a limited number of kanji, according to their school year. So, now I can go to the library or a bookshop and read books for my “school age."

Basically, each level --starting with 10 -- checks the knowledge of the kanji children are supposed to learn in one school year. So, level 10 tests your knowledge of the kanji a first year elementary school student is supposed to learn by the end of the year. If you can pass level 5, you know as much as a Japanese student who has finished primary school.

Practice tests and all necessary information can be accessed from the home page of Kanji Kentei (http://www.kanken.or.jp/).

Monika Szirmai
He's in heaven with KanjiNirvana

I found a GREAT new way to learn Japanese and the kanji.

Some days ago I bought an Sharp Zaurus SL-C700 (a tiny portable computer) and installed an application called KanjiNirvana on it. It is a kanji dictionary. You can search by readings, codes, handwriting recognition, etc.


The best thing is that you can manually save notes to the dictionary. For example Heisig keywords. Afterwards you can do a quiz, and change the settings so that only the Heisig keyword is shown. You can write the kanji on the screen and later compare.

This way I always have 2000+ flashcards with me, saved into a tiny 200 grams pc !!

Arne Schmidt
Tuebingen, Germany
mail@ arne-schmidt.de
Can children learn kanji using component analysis?

Just a quick note to let you know I really enjoyed your article in the Japan Times regarding the various online kanji-learning support sites. As a former student (but are we ever really finished?) of Japanese Language and current employee of a Japanese company the links you provided will be of great use.

One note regarding the link for James Heisig's book, after navigating through the site's list of publications and finally finding the book under "Other Books and Collections", I was surprised to find out that you can download the introduction and the first twelve lessons of book one to check the method for yourself.

Regarding Heisig's approach to learning the characters' meanings, I will try it myself and I will also show it to my three children, aged between four and nine, to compare it with other ways they have tried to learn the characters. They have been to Japan numerous times when they were smaller, but only on a recent trip over this past Summer have they shown any interest in learning more about the written language. I suppose this coincides with their learning written English here. They picked up a little, but my Japanese friends and I did not set up any formal instruction method, rather just told them about shapes and meanings, then word formation.

At any rate, I'll let you know how things progress.

Keep up the good work. It is appreciated.

Jeffrey Bowers
Chicago, Illinois
Amused by kanji tattoos Down Under

Regarding the use of Kanji tattoos. I have not studied Kanji, but Chinese characters instead, which of course have many similar meanings. I find it very amusing when people have bizarre things tattooed on their bodies. Having stumbled upon a tattoo parlour one day, a friend and I flicked through the Chinese characters and decided to formulate the silliest sentence one could formulate from the available characters, imagining the complete lack of comprehension on the faces of Chinese people. The current winner is 'Evil Vegetarian Demon' though I am still on the look for more...

Keith Duncan
Tiger Joe's kanji nickname is 虎城

My nickname is Tiger Joe, or simply "Tiger". When I travel to Japan, I like the way my name translates, which becomes "Tora-Jo" which means "Tiger-Castle". Pretty cool. Now if only I could be able to write that out in Kanji (which I cannot) so I write it out in Katakana.

I avoid using my last name (Sallmen) because the Japanese would prounce that as Saru-men, and of course saru means Monkey. I prefer tigers :-)

Tiger Joe
Tetsuko Kuroyanagi can write 鼠 "because she's Japanese"


While we are on the subject of animal/insect kanji, I have always thought it odd that the Japanese don't differentiate linguistically between "rat" and "mouse" or between "bee", "bumblebee", "wasp": and "hornet." I wonder if the Chinese have differing kanji for these.

Gary Harper

Note: To read a review of Kuroyanagi's book, 窓ぎわのトットちゃん (Totto-chan, The Little Girl at the Window), go to reviews of pleasure reading books.
Another unforgettable Japanese surname

Enjoyed your column on the history of Japanese family names. While teaching on the JET programme, I came across the best family name yet:

鮫島 Samejima- Mr. Shark Island!

Many thanks,

Aaron Dods
Fuchu, Tokyo
"Zipangu" publishes bilingual books

I'm just writing to say that I learned something new--in addition to kanji--on your site yet again. In Kanji Clinic #42 (The Japan Times, August 28, 2003) you mention the origin of the word Zipangu. When I read that, something clicked, and I understod the origin of a group in NYC that goes by that name. They are an eclectic bunch of (mostly Japanese) writers,
scholars, artists, etc that do a fair amount of publishing and activist-type activities together. Of particular interest to me was a bilingual book called (as I recall)"Representations of Japan in the American Media." It always amazes me what an incredible amount of spin things take on in the media as they move between countries and cultures!

So, thanks yet again for your valuable work, and Happy Zipangu-ing,
Idris Magette
Iwamizawa, Hokkaido
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