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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Lake Chuzenjiko and Nikko

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06/20/2015

One of my most memorable “hitori tabi” (lone travel) during the last few weeks of my year-long internship at LEX was when I decided to take a long-anticipated trip to Lake Chuzenji and Nikko in the Tochigi Prefecture.

Let me just say, it is definitely a trip worth taking, if you’re ever in the Tokyo-area and want a close-enough trip off the beaten path. 10/10 TRUE GORGEOUSNESS.

Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine is the infamous mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that lasted for over 250 years in Japan. It was definitely a lavish sort of shrine; highly detailed in design, colorful, and really covered a lot of ground. I did quite a bit of walking around there, and I have a feeling that I still didn’t explore everything the shrine had to offer 100%.

Mainly because Danielle wanted to check out a different part of the Toshigi Prefecture.

Predictably, Danielle thought the popular Toshogu Shrine was beautiful, and the trip to Nikko was definitely well worth it. But she thought the less-populated Chuzenjiko was prettier. :>

I love a harbor town, and the smells and sounds of water. Had fun relaxing and watching the sunset at the lake. Though you can’t really see the sunset in Japan, what with the mountains and buildings blocking the sky (not as open as it is back at home in the USA). But I felt right at home at Chuzenji.

I heard that Nikko even has a fireworks event for the summertime, which, I’ll bet, is absolutely gorgeous. Again, if you’re in the area, check it, but that’s a trip I have yet to take. BUCKETLIST.

SunBretta Bakery: A Recommendation

One of the most dangerous places in Japan: The Bakery. D8 *Dun dun DUUUN*

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Seriously, the transportation lifestyle out here can be a lot to get used to. Taking the train, taxi, bus, and WALKING. To me, walking means window shopping, which means walking past bakeries, or in my case, it means walking INTO bakeries. Which is incredibly dangerous for my wallet.

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My local host mama introduced me to a bakery in Yachiyo, Chiba called “SunBretta”, and it’s cool because they also serve you free coffee or tea if you buy their bread. When I have time on my hands and have a hankering to go buy some bread at a cute local shop, I walk from my home to SunBretta to get those cravings satisfied. 🙂

In case you can’t tell, I love bread. And I love trying new things. For this blog post, I thought I’d show you my latest baked favorites.

Creme Pan (Pan = bread)

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Anpan (Anko = red bean paste)

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Chocopan (as close to a pain au chocolat I can get out here)

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Pizza (though it tastes nothing like the deep-dish wonders back in Chicago)

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and Melon Pan

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Before coming to Japan, I’d only seen this at a handful of Asian supermarkets out by Chicago. Back then, I never actually tried melon pan before; I’d always went for the fruit pastries, personally. But I had to give it a shot. And that was a bad move, because I’m now hooked. It’s sooo good.

God, I miss the walking.

Because I was curious, I looked up how it was made. For your viewing pleasure: https://cookpad.com/recipe/

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By the way, Cookpad occasionally has a lot of pretty decent recipes. I’ve tried a recipe for dango and dashi before, and they both turned out well (which may say a lot). Although I did guesstimate a bit with some of the measuring units like liters, grams, oosaji (large spoon), and kosaji (small spoon).

But now I say “occasionally” with purpose. The only downsides to Cookpad means that ANYONE can post to it. Meaning, that you can get a TON of recipes for mug-brownies, but only A FEW of them actually work out. Which means depending on the time you allot to recipe-finding online, you may need to do a lot of sifting. I’m told there is a subscription available for getting those good, monthly recipes, but I don’t actually know a willing individual who has utilized this service as of yet.

Fatal Frame III: A Cultural Journey

Well, here it is. I hereby dedicate this blog post to my favorite pass time: video games. And three cool things I didn’t know about traditional Japanese culture until I played Fatal Frame in Japan.

Let me tell you a story (and I’ll try to redeem myself in the process).

So shortly after coming to Japan, I bought me the Japanese version of one of my all-time favorite horror video games, Fatal Frame III (or Zero Shisei no Koe in Japanese). Found a copy for about 2500en at a Bookoff in Akihabara. I might dedicate another blog post to game shopping in Japan, but at a later date.

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Monday, February 16, 2015

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I soon learned that buying a Japanese PS2 would be a lot less accommodating on my wallet. Unlike the States, where you can find a cheap PS2 for about $20 or less at a pawn shop, typically, the older the console, the more rare – and thus, expensive – it seems to become here in Japan. Which is a major bugger.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #1: HIIRAGI

There’s a festival that passed in February called Setsubun. On the 3rd of February, there is a decoration that some people use called hiiragi iwashi (holly leaves and sardine heads) on their doorways, so that bad spirits won’t enter. The bad spirits are said to dislike the smell of sardines, and also fear getting their eyes poked by the sharp points of the holly leaves. Essentially, holly in Japan is like a good luck charm and means protection.

On one important room in this game (perhaps some of you remember the room where you first meet the Woman Brushing?), there are three special holly patterns on the doorframe that could mean that they don’t want bad luck in (or in this game’s case, they didn’t want any unwanted people to enter). Excellent little touch for a room that’s warning you about the boss battle to come.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #2: IRORI

The entire map you travel around in this game is traditional Japanese-esque (tatami rooms, shouji, futon rooms, and that sort of thing), but in one room in particular, we have the hearth room (irori).

As we all know, the hearth has many uses, such as cooking, heating water, lighting and heating the room, drying clothes, etc. But the traditional Japanese irori always has a hollow bamboo pole hanging from the ceiling that has a metal rod or chain with a hook at the end, as well as a lever that lets you regulate the height of the hook and how close your pot is to the fire.

Interesting thing about the lever, though, is that it’s almost always in the form of a fish. Why is that? The fish, a water creature, means protection against fire, accidents, or house fires. Fish also have no eyelids and are thought to never sleep, thus giving you around-the-clock protection. In Fatal Frame, though, the around-the-clock protection didn’t help to stop one particular victim’s fate they met in that room.

Cultural Fact Learned in Japanese Fatal Frame #3: KOBUN – OLD (OBSOLETE) JAPANESE TEXT

Occasionally, during your travels, your character can find notes or journals from times long ago. And those journals are all written in old-time Japanese, which obviously you don’t see in the English version of the game.

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For instance,

This: 起こしてしま is read like this: 起こしてしま
This: 見てると is read like this: 見てると
This: 帰てこない is read like this: 帰てこない
And this: 伝はつる is read like this: 伝わっている

I’m told that Japanese grade schoolers, high schoolers, and even some college students don’t know how to read these correctly. I’ve watched some Japanese gamers on Youtube pass up the text sometimes, saying they can’t read it. Even the kanji varied back then. It would be a dream come true to be able to translate Japanese language of this caliber.

As I try to come up with a good conclusion to this post (I suck at it, in case you haven’t noticed), I will say that after writing this, I’ve really come to realize how much I miss Fatal Frame III. I should visit the Manor of Sleep again sometime soon. And for all those looking for an insanely good Japanese horror adventure, I hope to see you there.