7 Apps That’ll Most Definitely Help You Out with Japanese (They’ve Saved My Hide, Anyway)

1. JED for Android
JED is my first go-to as a Japanese/English dictionary, and honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without it. While it barely takes up any space on my phone (about 5MB), it is also offline, meaning it doesn’t need any internet access for use (other than updates) and its lookup speed is super quick. Which already makes it top Weblio in my book.

Another feature that really makes this app stand out, in my opinion, is its ever-convenient tag feature, which lets me create decks of vocabulary words that I save and look up for later reference. I’ve got decks for JLPT, for questions I plan on asking my fiance when he’s awake (US/Japan time difference is a bi*ch), and for the words I’d like to review and make into flashcards for word memorization.

Unfortunately for you Apple people, I haven’t been able to find this app for Apple devices, but I’m sure you Apple people will be able to find something similar. Or maybe it’s already released a separate version by now, I’m not sure.

2. Weblio
Weblio is more popular for Japanese-speakers looking up English, I notice, but one thing Weblio does better than JED is its ability to look up phrases like slang, idioms, or proverbs that aren’t typically found in a traditional Japanese/English dictionary. It does require internet access for use (or at least, I haven’t found a roundabout way for this), so if you’re looking for a word mid-conversation, there may be a bit of awkward waiting for that word to load for you.

3. Google Translate
I can’t deny the power of Google Translate. My most common uses for this app are probably three-fold:

For taking pictures of kanji I don’t know.
For getting the furigana and romanji of kanji I don’t know.
For writing in the kanji I don’t know.

…Yeeeeeah, I don’t know a lot of kanji.

First of all, it has this pretty great Camera Mode that lets the user take pictures of Japanese text and then translates it on the spot. Naturally, this can be a bit buggy, but if you’ve got a whole block of text from a page of a book in front of you that you just don’t feel like translating yourself, this feature can give you a great start.

Second, a quick tip I learned is that if you translate into the Japanese language (say, even Japanese to Japanese), then not only does it show the native, written language itself, but it also shows you the romanji, so that you can easily read and look up those words you stumbled over.

Third, it’s Writing Mode, predictably, is great for hand-writing unknown kanji to look up. When it comes to unknown kanji (depending on how many there are), this Writing feature is usually my go-to, since all I need to do is just write in in Google then copy-paste that sucker into JED to figure out what it means.

4. Kanji Study
So like most Japanese studyers, kanji is a major weakness of mine, and has cost me many retakes of the JLPT, admittedly. I just started using this app the last time I was in Osaka, because I really wanted to level up my kanji reading skills. I will say that the full version of this app is $10, but I would say that – for those serious about kanji, and for those who are disciplined enough to utilize it to its full potential – it is a price worth paying.

I love how this app is organized by school grade, meaning that we work in the official, standardized Japanese system, and that we work from easy to harder. For each grade, there is a flashcard study, a multiple choice quiz, and writing challenges for the masochistic. Outside the school-grade decks, however, there is a lot of customization that can be done, too, with the paid version; such as making your own decks for those pesky kanji you always seems to get wrong but you just want to move onto the next grade so it sticks around and you can keep practicing it untilyoueventuallymasterthehelloutofitorforgetaboutitamonthlater (inhale). We all have those kanji, I’m sure.

5. NHK Easy Japanese News
I was almost hesitant to write about this app, because for whatever reason, lately my luck with getting this app to load has been not-so-successful. Some days it just crashes, some days it takes a while to load, but on the days it works fine, it works FINE.

This is really a great resource, as you can imagine for a number of reasons. One, because the stuff you’re reading here is really beneficial if you want some legit reading practice. Especially for that next JLPT or to get your feet wet practicing reading actual Japanese newspaper-leveled material (bless you). Since I’m not quite at the newspaper level yet, I like going through this app, picking out articles that I’m not very familiar with that’s filled with a bunch of new technical terms for me to learn.

It’s an excellent source, but if you have trouble getting the mobile app working, I would still recommend the official NHK Easy Japanese News website.

6. Study Droid
I add this one to my list with a heavy heart. My main squeeze for flashcards and route memory learning is kind of majorly an abandoned app, and it’s no longer offered on Google Play. I will start by saying it has a couple of awkward bugs about it (if you still decide to try it out), like after you’ve deleted a card, it still shows up on the Search screen… I’ve emailed them about it before, but never got a response or update… Sad days.

However! Sentiments aside, I know that a lot of schools and teachers recommend Quizlet (which I also do, but for different reasons), but let me list thy ways in which a more simple, searchable flashcard app like this can work better.

First, no internet needed. It’s completely offline, which means no data/wifi being used, no battery life being drained, and no slow-moving search time. This app has been my best friend when I’m sitting/standing on the train and need some brainless repetition to keep my Japanese fresh.

Second, have I mentioned the Search option? IT HAS. A SEARCH OPTION. I’m not sure why Quizlet hasn’t thought of this yet, but to be able to search through decks of 1,000+ flashcards for a word that’s on the tip of your tongue or you KNOW you’ve learned before, but just can’t remember what it is… Well, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to reunite with it again.

7. Quizlet
Ladies and Gents, you knew this was coming. This one is good for those words that you don’t necessarily need on-hand, but still want to get some study time in for that next test coming up, for example. There are a few other things that Quizlet really does well, such as…

Number One. Detecting dupes of cards. Reeeeeally nice if you’ve got a deck for JLPT N2 that has 1,000+ cards.

Number Two. Its online compatibility. Because editing massive decks on mobile is very time-consuming and frustrating, all I need to do is just get on my Mozilla Firefox on my PC and start editing away,

Number Three. Its ability to be shared and viewed by other people, too. For group studying, this is nice. Or again, wanting to get some extra study time in on a different device without the pesky, distracting cell phone.

These have been my seven suggestions that hopefully can help you out, too. Good luck with your language acquisition and happy learning!

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Negative Google Maps Reviews in Japan that Forget to Faction in Culture

I try not to be too depend on Google Maps reviews, just like I try not to be too depend on Amazon reviews. However, I will admit that they generally can influence the restaurants I choose to go to. Or the hotels I choose to stay at. Or the sightseeing I plan to do with a limited amount of travel time.

…Okay, so I guess I rely more heavily on Google Maps than I thought.

This morning, I had a breakfast date with an old friend in Umeda, Osaka. In general, I noticed that breakfast restaurants or pancake houses are more rare in Japan than out in the States, and I honestly had never gone out for breakfast in the Umeda area. Meaning, it’s Google Maps time.

I pull out that sucker and start looking for places to eat. Although I’m typically open to window shopping for restaurants, this time, I was limited on time and wanted to find a decent place for the two of us, and as a rule of thumb, I generally go for places with around four stars and up on Google.

Which is where I noticed a bunch of very good, reputable restaurants with some not-so-great reviews. I wondered what justified these reviews, so I started scrolling.

And this is where I started thinking a bit more education on Japanese culture might help people to think twice about posting ignorant reviews.

Now, to state the obvious, I won’t be analyzing any high-horse whiners, who post shitty things like, “they cut my sushi too thick, i like it thin” or “this shopping mall is a maze like constructed building, prepare to get lost” or “its too narrow!1! too crowded!” or “the staff didn’t speak english”. As we know, these don’t have anything to do with the restaurants, food, or service whatsoever, just the salty griping of a self-centered creep that probably shouldn’t have access to technology at all without proper respect. As a wise woman once said, “You can’t fix stupid.”

Anyway, disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to analyzing and interpreting.

TOO SMOKEY (at a shopping venue)
I understand this reviewers frustration, but it may not be the shopping mall’s fault, since smoking tobacco cigarettes are still a thing in Japan. When I ask around, though, I find that the times have been changing, and you’ll find less and less smokers as time goes on. In general, tobacco is now developing a bad image. Although you’ll still might be greeted in a restaurant with a, “Smoking or non-smoking?”, I also know that the amount of smoking sections out in public is dwindling. Also, honestly, I’m not sure what the vaping or electronic cigarette scene looks like out in Japan (can’t say I’ve looked), but I’m willing to bet that it may rise with the fall of tobacco, but mere conjecture on my part. I mean, cigarettes still make bank out here (you can buy these things in vending machines, for Chrissakes), so who can say.

THE LINES WERE TOO LONG, HAD TO WAIT (at a museum)
I see this every once and a while. Trust me, I feel cramped and tired of waiting. We all do. But in Japan, this is a cultural difference where we just need to put up and shut up. There are a lot of people in Japan, and we all are expected to wait patiently for our turn. You can see this type of line-forming very prominently when you line up to get on the trains, for example.

OPENING TIME (at a grocery store)
I saw a review once that complained about the late opening time of a grocery store that opened at 9:00AM. News flash, most places in Japan open around 9:00AM. Or 10:00AM. Or 11:00AM. Or if it’s a mom-and-pop shop, they can open and close and have regular holidays whenever they feel like it. And that’s okay.

I think in America we’re so used to having everything open 24-7, that when a place is closed, it’s a “major inconvenience” to us. Rather than feeling inconvenienced, just feel grateful that the hard-working grocery store employees can get the rest they deserve and come in to work at a decent time. Surely, we can wait.

THEY MADE ME HIDE MY TATTOO (at a public bath)
Part of me thanks this reviewer for their warning, but I’m not sure this onsen really deserves such a strongly-worded, negative review. At many public baths, you’ll find signs that say, “No Tattoos”. The meaning behind this is because, traditionally, having a tattoo meant you were involved with dangerous people, like yazuka. Understandably, they didn’t want to serve customers that potentially worked for the mafia, and also probably feared having them inside.

Of course, now times are changing, and more and more foreign people are starting to come to Japan to enjoy their hot springs. Meaning that – I sincerely hope around 2020 Tokyo Olympics – Japan will become more globalized enough to understand that tattoos are a fashion fairly common among foreigners, and cut us some slack. It depends on location, of course, but this is a changing phenomenon in Japan. Instead of whining about it, or getting mad that “they just don’t understand me”, please understand where they’re coming from, and just do as your told. “When in Rome…”

How to Search for a Japanese Drama on the Vast World Wide Web

So I just got done watching a pretty decent mystery drama today on WOWOW called 伝説の監察医 オニグマの事件簿2 (Densetsu no Kaisatui, ONIGUMA no Jikenbo 2). It was super enticing, had a lot of great plot-twists (that my Agatha Christie junkie sister probably could’ve spotted way earlier than me), and a few of the actors were overall really good at their jobs, I thought. I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you’re interested in some entertaining detective suspense, I recommend giving it a shot.

But here’s where you’re like, “Runa, getoutta of tooown! This show is being aired right now in Japan! If it’s not on my Netflix or Youtube (or Piratebay), then how am I supposed to find it on the vast world wide web?!!”

Let me introduce you to the keywords for your Google search engines:
動画まとめ (douga matome)

Simply insert the name of the “in-Japan-only” show you wanna watch, in this case:
“伝説の監察医 オニグマの事件簿2”
Then add:
“動画まとめ”
=
“伝説の監察医 オニグマの事件簿2 動画まとめ”

If you’re not comfortable with typing it out, remember; copy/paste is your friend. Do not be ashamed to use the copy/paste.

Here, I’ll just take a few quick screenshots to help you get started. I start off on Google. Which has an awesome Winter Paralympics animation going on right now, btw.

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And here’s where the monotony begins. Just like those familiar with googling something like, “Walking Dead Season 1 watch online” (for those still following Walking Dead, that is), you’ll probably know and love this tedious step of going through website after website (hopefully with Deep Freeze on your computer to avoid viruses and other internet nasties) until you find a mirror that works. The internet is vast. Tread carefully.

This time, I got extremely lucky and found a vid on my second try:

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And fellow Japanese study-ers, break out that dictionary, flashcards, notebooks, and whatever else you use to build vocabulary, because yes, it’s movie time!

In general, I have a lot of luck using this website: http://youtubeowaraitv.blog32.fc2.com/

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It’s mainly sorted by date when the TV show was aired, which I’m sure is great if you use a schedule (I don’t), but if not, there’s also a handy-dandy search engine for you to use, too.

I hope this helps, you fellow drama watchers, you! Happy and safe googling out there!