HabitRPG: The Adventure Continues

Several of us here on Kawaii Japanese have begun to use HabitRPG as a time management tool, as Cure Dolly has discussed here.  Time management can be a big stumbling block to being able to continue one’s studies, i.e., “I would love to learn Japanese, but I really do not have the time.”

Really all of us have the same amount of time….there are 24 hours in the day for all of us!  It is really a matter of what we decide to do with our time.  I am not sure about anyone else, but left to my own devices, I will wander around all day feeling like I have been busy, without any sense of accomplishment, and having no idea what it is I was actually busy doing.  I absolutely *need* some sort of time management tool.

I have been looking for the perfect time management tool for decades.  I still miss my old Palm Pilot, which was very nicely laid out for how I like to work.  I have spent these same decades learning and practicing about every procrastination avoidance/time management system under Ohisama.  HabitRPG is not quite perfect, but it is pretty close, I think!  Cure Dolly has given a very good description of the basics of the game/tool in her previous article, so I will concentrate on the things that I have learned that are relevant to us here on Kawaii Japanese.

Approach to the “game”

One of the things that I have noticed as a difficulty for my party members is a reluctance to give themselves “credit” for their tasks and habits.  I think that here on Kawaii Japanese, many of us are studying Japanese because we feel much more at home in the cultural assumptions of the East.  One of these assumptions is that modesty is proper, and self-aggrandizement is not.  I think that one of the ways to get past this is to really understand what the purpose of the “game” is.

The purpose of the “game” is to help us all manage our time better, and to get things done.  For us, this is important so we can manage our study time and manage our other tasks and chores, so that we DO have study time.  The game itself is very well designed, so that actually the “tricks” to playing the “game” are mostly good time-management and task-management habits.

For example, dailies, todos, and habits change colors depending on how well we are doing with them.  They all start off as yellow, and turn green, then blue, and then bright blue, if we are doing well with them.  If we are doing poorly with them or letting them sit in our “todo” list, they turn orange, then red, and then deep red.  The redder the task or habit is the more damage it can do to us, but by the same token, we get more rewards for actually doing it!

Generally, tasks that turn red are tasks we REALLY don’t want to do and are putting off.  Getting more points for them helps to turn these tasks into our friends!  Heee…and doesn’t that seem like a very Japanese way to look at things!

HabitRPG current

Social aspects

The social aspects of HabitRPG are really wonderful.  I am now working with a party, and that has been really nice.   My party consists of close friends (who are also study partners).  We are all geographically far apart, but HabitRPG is helping to give us the sense that we are all working together.  We can actually see avatars of each other on our personal pages, so for me, it gives the feeling of my party being with me while doing my daily chores and tasks.

We already done about 3 “Quests” together.  The quests we have done are Boss quests, which means that we are battling a Monster.  When we do tasks and dailies, they do damage to the Boss, and missed Dailies of any one of us mean that the Boss does damage to the party.

Because we are all close friends, no one wants to do damage to the party, so we all work extra hard to do our Dailies.  Yet, also because we are all friends, we can support and comfort each other when we don’t do as well as we would like.  Below is a typical exchange in our Party chat.

ごめんなさい。(Gomen nasai. “I am very sorry”…for causing the party damage)

大丈夫ですよ。今日はがんばりましょうね!(Daijoubu desu yo. Kyou wa ganbarimashou ne!
“It is ok.  Today, let’s do our best together!”)

I think that it has very much helped our group’s bond to grow and develop!

It is also nice, that so far, all of the Quests are written in a way that is very much in line with our philosophy.  The “Bosses” are often tamed, rather than “killed”, and it is quite easy to see in these stories the traditional story themes we know and love from our favorite Anime.  We can imagine the Bosses as being taken over by Evil Spirits to be cleansed, or that they are our own False Selves.

There is also a Tavern, where just like any role playing game, one can go to hear rumors and get information!  The Tavern chat is very well moderated and is polite and pleasant, for the most part.  For many of us, part of the reason we are studying Japanese is that we are attracted to the more gentle and polite culture of Japan, so many English speaking social places on the Internet can be jarring and poisonous.  On HabitRPG, I have found the Tavern quite pleasant.  One of the really nice things is that swearing is not allowed at all, and posts with swear words are promptly removed!

Aesthetics

This is Kawaii Japanese, so, of course, aesthetics are quite important to us.  The basic game itself is quite kirei.  On the other hand, at the Tavern, I learned a way to make the game even prettier!  There is an add-on which works for Firefox, known as Stylish.  It also works on other browsers, I think, but of course we recommend Firefox here because of the availability of the Rikaichan and Procon Latte addons.

With the Stylish add-on, one can customize the interface of the program.  A link to this add-on is here.  The default theme is quite nice, and is the one that I use.  You can see it in the image above.  This add-on also has an option to hide the game aspects, which might be important if one is using HabitRPG at work.  There is also the option to create your own custom theme, but really the default one itself is quite nice, ne.

Oh dear, I had a lot more to say, but this article has already gotten quite long.  Maybe I will need to write a sequel later!

行かなければ行きません。

またね。

頑張りましょうね!

P.S.  I just received 76 experience, about 9 Gold pieces, and replenished 2.6 Mana Points by writing this post!  (this was a very red Todo)

Localization: Why Anime Translations are so Wrong (even when they don’t mean to be)

Most of us here at Kawaii Japanese prefer to play games and watch anime in the original Japanese if we can. Even if no changes have intentionally been made the English translations usually have a  very different atmosphere from the Japanese.

Some of this is connected with the practice of “localization”, but a lot simply stems from the fact that Japanese just isn’t directly translatable into English. It says things in different ways to the extent that in many cases it is actually saying different things. The English translation is not so much a translation as something like what the original was saying.

Extreme “localization” means essentially pretending the Japanese characters are American and making them talk and think as if they were. You have probably seen examples of this. However, the problem is that the line between localization and translation is much thinner than many people realize. To a large extent one has to localize while one translates because what the Japanese characters are actually saying either doesn’t exist in English or can only be said by using very wordy and unnatural English to translate a one-word Japanese concept.

Even the textbooks and dictionaries are full of “localization”. The world oishii, for example, is routinely translated as “delicious” however, as we show elsewhere, that is only a rough and sometimes misleading approximation of its real meaning. I am not blaming the sources in question. A real explanation of oishii takes a small essay (which I wrote), but that is hardly practicable for a vocabulary list or a dictionary.

Generally speaking, where the source material is quite gentle, the English translation has to come over as “rougher” and more casual, because modern English just works that way. In fact once one tries to translate these things one begins to realize how far modern English forces one into certain attitudes and cultural “boxes”.

Which in my case, at least, is one reason for learning Japanese.

Just for fun, let’s take a very brief humorous caption to a picture (I love Japanese caption contests but please note that this is strictly for academic purposes and not just because Cure Dolly wants to post a kawaii picture of a tanuki holding a kitten).

I tried to translate the caption, and although it is only a few words long I found that I ran into various small problems. None of them were really serious, but multiply this by several thousand words and you can imagine how, with no conscious attempt of localization at all (which is rare in fan translations and pretty much non-existent in professional translations), the whole tone of a work is completely changed.

why-anime-translations-are-wrong
Tiny as this caption is, there are several nuances that are just about impossible to render in English. The English version is still fun and cute, I think, but it loses quite a bit.

Here is my English translation:

“Hey, Mama, can we keep her?”

ねぇ ne is endered in my translation as “hey” because I don’t know a closer English equivalent. It is an attention-calling word, like “hey” but its shading is a little different. Both are a bit insistent, but “hey” assumes a kind of egalitarian attention-calling, while ねぇ has a more from-below flavor to it, like a little sister pulling on one’s sleeve. It is decidedly cuter.

Actually even the first question mark (after ママ mama) represents a particular tone of ねぇ-sentence  which some of you will be familiar with. It  calls attention quite strongly before proceeding to the point. If I tried to get that across in English it would feel kind of bratty, which isn’t how it sounds in Japanese (it can, when, say, Dokin-chan does it, but mostly it doesn’t, and even with Dokin-chan it is still cute).

このこ(この子) kono ko means literally “this child” but it is not restricted in meaning to the extent that English “child” is. Maybe “this little one” would be better, but that starts to get much wordier than the original, thus losing its brevity and immediateness, and is also not a regular expression in current English as この子 is in Japanese.

飼って katte is rendered as “keep” in English and I don’t think that loses much, but 飼って very specifically means “keep and look after as a pet”. There isn’t an equivalent English word.

Taken together the English translation necessarily loses something of the flavor of the original. More interestingly though, this shows how even a very small and very simple sentence can only be rather roughly translated, even with extreme good will on the part of the translator and no desire to “localize” in the sense of virtually turning the speakers into Americans (as many Anime translations do).

This caption was not selected to demonstrate translation problems. Rather the reverse. It is a very straightforwardly translatable sentence compared to many. What it shows is how even a non-problematic sentence can’t really be exactly rendered. When you multiply this by hundreds and add in some real cultural/linguistic problems (which leave the translator with the choice of long footnotes or just re-writing the sentiments into American ones), you can imagine how far from the original even a conscientious translation will fall.

Which is one reason it is important to watch anime in the original if one can.

HabitRPG Japanese Deep Cave Adventurers’ Guild: Beginner’s Immersion Challenge

始めまして。優しくです。Pink Dragon

よろしくお願いします。

In August, the HabitRPG Japanese Deep Cave Adventurers’ Guild will be sponsoring its first Challenge, which will be a Beginner’s Immersion Challenge.   This Challenge is designed to assist Beginning Japanese students (and more advanced students) to start to use Japanese, rather than merely to practice Japanese.  One of the steps towards going beyond practicing Japanese to communicating in Japanese is to encounter it in the wild…in its natural habitat, as it were, rather than safely in textbooks, vocabulary lists, and learning sites.

As Japanese learners, we are very fortunate to have a wide range of media readily available in the form of Anime and manga in order to assist us encountering the language in its natural habitat.  Cure Dolly has written a wonderful article describing how to learn Japanese through Anime, which you can find here.  I use this method myself, with a few tweaks for my own learning style and temperament.  When I first started working with Anime, it took me about 6 to 10 hours to work my way through a 24 minute episode (I started VERY early in my studies).  Now I can manage most 24 minute episodes in an hour or two, depending on the complexity.

So, this brings us to the first part of the challenge, which is a Todo of watching 1 episode of Anime with Japanese subtitles during the month, slowly, looking up new words and grammar points, and entering them into your Anki (or other learning tool).  For this Beginner’s Challenge, getting through one episode in the month is sufficient.  For true beginner’s, it might take a week or two (or more) to get through one episode.  That is fine.  You can do more if you wish, and count it in your own HabitRPG list; however, only one will count towards this particular challenge.

The second part of the challenge is a Daily of listening to spoken Japanese.  There is a lovely learning site, Effortless Japanese, in which Tomoe-sensei reads stories aloud in Japanese and asks questions about the stories in Japanese.  There is also another website which has stories that you can read along with while you listen.  An example of one of the stories can be found here.  Still another option for this Daily is listening to Anime.  To get the most out of this Daily, it is best to study the material that you will be listening to ahead of time, and put new vocabulary into your Anki.  Unlike the first leg of this challenge, it is perfectly acceptable to do this Daily while engaged in other tasks, such as housework or exercise.   The minimum requirement for this Daily is one story or episode, which range from 15 – 30 minutes long.

The third leg of this challenge is designed to start one actually using Japanese.  This leg is a positive habit of writing your habits, dailies, and todos on HabitRPG in Japanese.  This will help you to work out how to express what you actually do in Japanese.  It is also helpful in learning to use collocations, or words that go naturally together.

Here are some examples that I learned my own discipline of using Japanese for my own tasklists:

ベッドを直りなさい (なおりなさい)。Make the bed, in English, but is literally “fix the bed.”  (It is my own personal preference to put my tasks in the なさい form, because then I feel like my tasklist is telling me what to do, but plain form is also perfectly fine on one’s own list)

アイロンを掛けなさい (かけなさい)。 Do the ironing, in English, but is literally, “hang the iron.”

Now you have two tasks in Japanese for free!

For this habit, you can give yourself a + for each new Todo, Daily, or Habit that you write, so long as you write that habit in Japanese.  As this is a Beginner’s Challenge, this is a positive Habit only, so you will not get any penalty for writing in English.  While you should strive to write your task in correct Japanese, if you do your best, and write it in mistaken Japanese, that is ok too.  It is your own list that only you can see!  In my own experience, when I discover I have written a task incorrectly by later learning the correct way to say that task, I tend to really remember the correct phrase!  It is all part of the fun, I think!

In the Japanese Deep Cave Adventurers’ Guild chat area, English is strictly kinshi.  For this reason, the Challenge itself will be written in Japanese.  For beginner’s, this is what it will look like:

初心者の集中訓練の挑戦

ToDo

日本語の字幕でアニメを一話見なさい (“Watch one episode of Anime, using Japanese subtitles”)

Daily

日本語を聞きなさい (“Listen to Japanese”)

Habit

+  日本語で新しいハベトRPGの用事を書く (“Write new HabitRPG task using Japanese”)

The winner(s) of this challenge shall receive one Gem.

Good luck!

がんばってください!

Denpa Ningen no RPG Free – Review

If you have a Japanese 3DS you really should download Denpa Ningen no RPG Free. As the name suggests, it is muryou, tada, roha – or as we say in English, free. And what’s more it is good. A great deal better than many games that cost thousands of times as much. Oh wait, that’s still nothing isn’t it? A great deal better than many games that cost lots and lots of yen.

And it really is excellent Japanese practice apart from being a ton of fun and a banshee of tanoshii.

denpa-ningen-RPG-freeIf you’ve never played a Denpa Ningen game before, you may not realize that the eponymous beings are little folk who inhabit the electrical waves. There are actually a lot of them in your house. Maybe not exactly in your house because I think it might be a parallel dimension or something. But co-existing spatially with your house. Don’t look now, but there is quite possibly one floating above the chryselephantine statue of Chancandre the First in the corner of your room right now – just beside the Bechstein Grand piano, floating and giggling even as you read these words.

Actually you can look now if you like because you can’t see them. You need an interdimensional viewing device to do that. Fortunately though, you have one. Or you nearly do. With a few little adjustments (which the software will make for you) your 3DS can be converted into just such a device. The kinematic below demonstrates how it works.

Once you have captured a few denpa ningen you can start your adventure. Denpa Ningen has always been a dungeon crawler, but this new version adds Doubutsu no Mori-like elements. You buy an island, and build your own house, and then expand and furnish it. You fish. But mostly you crawl dungeons because that is the way you make the money to do the other things.

Also you run into situations such as the forest being infested with bakemono that prevent the builders from getting wood. So if you want them to build for you you need to go make the forest safe by clearing out the monsters.

And some of the monsters are very interesting for example, when did you last fight a giant cake boss?

怪物のケーキ
I’ve seen some crazy monsters but this one takes the…

What about the Japanese-learning side of the game? Well, as you see from the screenshot above, the game has furigana which is one of the things I always look for in a game. Of course you wouldn’t need them on this particular screen, but there are many where they make life much easier.

denpa ningen party

There is a lot of text in the game. While you will be spending time dungeon-crawling your kawaii party meets with various dungeon denizens (other than monsters) quite frequently and the in-game dialog density, while not up to visual novel standards is on a par with many RPGs.

There is also quite a bit of voice acting which makes for some listening practice. The voices are kind of – well you know how little critters tend to talk. But then since we are all learning Japanese to make the acquaintance of cute little critters anyway, we’d better get used to it, ne?

denpa ningen RPG free

The game makes full use of the 3DS’s power. By which I don’t mean anything boring and technical. I mean it transports you into a pretty, charming 3D world-in-a-box. That is what the 3DS is for. If you wanted zombies and poorly-shaven shocktroops in photo-real (but flat) worlds you really bought the wrong toy. 3DS is a Magic Box that is bigger inside than outside and is just made to contain love and charm and cuteness.

And it talks to you in Japanese, because it loves you. And it gives you games like Denpa Ningen no RPG Free – free. And you are happy.

____
Note: You need to have a Japanese NNID in order to download this free game. Don’t worry – this article tells you all about how to do that.

Habit RPG for Japanese Learners – and the Kawaii Japanese Adventurers’ Guild

Habit RPG literally makes a game out of time management. This can be important for Japanese learners who have a problem managing their time and getting Japanese-related tasks done, as well as co-ordinating them with other tasks.

I have tried various ways to manage my time with very little success, but Habit RPG has really revolutionized the way I use my time and its effectiveness in working on Japanese. Partly that is because I understand games better than I understand practicalities. But also it is because with Habit RPG I am can be part of a group with Japanese Adventurer friends.

Kawaii Japanese has its own Guild (Japanese Deep Cave Adventurers) on Habit RPG. Everyone is welcome to join it and (optionally) take part in our Guild Challenges and talk about Japanese learning in Japanese. Don’t worry if your level is low. If you just want to pop in and say こんにちは you are more than welcome.

A thing one notices about the Internet is that it is full of Japanese learners blathering endlessly about Japanese in English. Now some things do need to be explained in English, but actually using Japanese, even at a low level, is crucial. Studying Japanese textbooks and even watching anime/playing games is of limited value if the minute you stop doing that you go straight back to “the real language” – English – for actually communicating and receiving communication. Japanese has to become the real language, at least for part of your life.

It is important to begin using – not just learning or practicing – Japanese as early as possible in your Japanese adventure.

This is the key to how we at Kawaii Japanese (and our guild on the game itself) use Habit RPG. The guild communicates only in Japanese (it is mostly quite simple and you can and should use Rikaichan as much as you need) and we encourage using the time management system to increase Japanese activity. Some of us actually have 不要な英語 – unnecessary English – as a bad habit that loses hit points.

So, let’s look at Habit RPG itself:

Habit RPG - making a game out of life
Habit RPG – making a game out of life

I am told by a friend who has considerable experience of task-managers that Habit RPG is one of the better ones even aside from the game aspect. It divides “tasks” into three kinds:

・Dailies (things you should do every day and lose hit-points if you don’t).

・Habits – things you should be trying to do, or not do, or do one way rather than another.

・To dos – a simple to do list.

You can also filter these – for example I have filters (tags) for articles and posts, mails and letters I should be writing etc. I am not well-organized and my system is pretty rudimentary as yet, but it does help even me to find things.

At the top you see your own avatar and those of your party. You earn gold and experience for completing tasks and lose hit points for not completing or for doing bad “habits” (unnecessary English, for example, or flipping peas across the dinner table).

There is much more to the game than this, and more and more gets unlocked as you level up. You can use your gold to buy equipment, pets and mounts become available, eggs hatch. There is a real sense of playing a game, especially with a party or Guild or both.

Here is a look at the Kawaii Japanese guild:

Habit-RPG-kawaii-Japanese-guild
We are an open guild, so please join the fun!

The Guild issues challenges and is a place for chat, interaction, discussion and recommendations. Among other things it is a good place to practice using a little Japanese and a source of support and encouragement on your Japanese adventure.

If you sign up for Habit RPG you should then go to Social > Guilds and type in “kawaii” (or 日本語)and find us. Please don’t be shy or worried about your Japanese. We are all learning, and making mistakes is how one progresses. Using Japanese from an early stage is of great importance. It is a very different thing from just practicing Japanese. Actually communicating things (however small) that you actually want to communicate and learning things you want to learn. And it is good to have a friendly environment to try it in – as well as one that uses reasonably simple Japanese and is friendly and gentle.

It is also a place to discuss recommendations for Japanese games, books, anime and other “immersion materials” – i.e. the culture of our Japanese life.

There are only  a few things I would say have actually changed my life and Habit RPG is one of those few – largely because I am very poor at managing my time and have never gotten on at all well with “serious” time management software. I am definitely more productive both in Japanese and other areas as a result of Habit RPG. This is a lot to do with its game aspect and also its social aspect. It has allowed me to make my work into a game I share with Japanese-using, like-minded friends.

Cons: The two main cons about Habit RPG are:

• It does not handle monthly tasks well (it is fine with weeklies). That doesn’t affect me but is a drawback for some folks.

• It is not available in Japanese. There are several languages available and at the time of writing a Japanese translation is said to be 65% complete. We encourage people to enter tasks, tags etc in Japanese only, though of course that is up to you. If you do that and join the Guild you will be working in a largely-Japanese environment.

Neither of these is a major drawback (unless monthlies are super-important to you), and Habit RPG is well worth a try.

Wa vs Ga Particles: Japanese Mysteries Explained

Don't be shut out by confusing particles / All you have to do is read our articles!
Don’t be shut out by confusing particles  All you have to do is read our articles!

Knowing the full difference between wa and ga particles is tricky. The basics you can grasp in one lesson, but the subtleties take longer. In some ways they are equivalent to English “a” and “the”.

Nothing complicated about “a” and “the” you may say. You’d be surprised.

Even very advanced Japanese speakers of English sometimes say “a” when they should say “the” and vice versa. I have spent time trying to explain to Japanese speakers why they should be using one rather than the other on particular occasions – and when you actually try to codify the usages rather than just doing them by instinct you realize how extremely subtle and intricate they are.

The wa and ga particles are in some respects very similar to “a” and “the” and perform parallel functions in many cases.

Let’s look at a very simple song (which happens to be one of my favorites) and see how the wa and ga particles are used:

The song begins with two simple statements.

アンパンにはアンコは入ってる
Anpan ni wa anko wa haitte(i)ru
There is anko in anpan

メロンパンにはメロンが入ってない
Melonpan ni wa melon ga haitte(i)nai.
There is no melon in melonpan.

The first question that might be asked is, why do we begin designating the two breads with wa?  It is often said that wa, being like “the”, should only be used for something that has already been introduced. As in:

昔々小さい女の子いました。
Mukashi mukashi, chiisai onnanoko ga imashita.
Once upon a time there was a little girl.
女の子心優しいでした。
Onnanoko wa kokoro-yasashii deshita.
The little girl was kind hearted.

In the first sentence the ga particle is used because the little girl is being introduced (equivalent to a girl) and in the second the wa particle is used because we already know who she is (equivalent to the girl).

So why are anpan and melonpan introduced with the wa particle?

Aside from the fact that the subject is what is in the breads (and you can’t use ni ga), more importantly for our purposes anpan and melonpan are things we already know about. They are not particulars but generalities.

If I say “the pencil is on the desk”  (equivalent to enpitsu wa tsukue no ue ni arimasu) completely out of context you will rightly say “what pencil?” If you don’t know any pencil I should have said “a pencil is on the desk” (equivalent to enpitsu ga tsukue no ue ni arimasu) – or more idiomatically “there is a pencil on the desk”. After this we can refer to the pencil with wa as it is a known pencil: “the pencil”.

However, if I say “pencils are useful” I am not referring to a particular pencil that you don’t know anything about. I am referring to pencils in general, which you do know about. In English we do not use either “a” or “the” for such things. We drop the article completely (often a point of confusion for Japanese people who frequently try to use “the” here).

In Japanese, the general is treated the same as the familiar so long as the general is familiar. So we can use wa with something that wasn’t introduced if we can assume the hearer knows about it.

This is what is happening here. Melonpan and anpan are general, known things, like pencils. They can take wa without an introduction.

Now there is a second wa-ga particle usage in this couplet:

アンパンにはアンコは入ってる
Anpan ni wa anko wa haite[i]ru
There is anko in anpan

メロンパンにはメロンが入ってない
Melonpan ni wa melon ga haitte[i]nai.
There is no melon in melonpan.

Why is the wa particle used here? The usual, neutral usage is the one used in the second line. Melon is in a state of not having entered. It normally takes ga, as it does here. So why the wa particle in the first line?

If you read the two lines in English you will notice a slight awkwardness. You would expect the second line to say something like: “But there is no melon in melonpan”.  In other words to make some indication of the distinction between the situation with anpan vs melonpan, not simply to treat them as two completely unrelated sentences.

Well, that is what the first wa particle is doing. It is the wa of distinction. Often it would imply “Anko (as opposed to other things) is in it”. Here it means “Anko is (as opposed to other cases) in it. This may be a slightly loose use of the grammar – the song is quite childlike – but the meaning is clear enough.

Having established what is (or isn’t) in what bread, the singer tells us:

私が一番好きなのはメロンパン
watashi ga ichiban suki na no wa melonpan [da/desu]
My favorite (bread) [is] melonpan

Now we have all learned to say watashi wa ocha ga suki desu. Tea is in the state of being liked. It takes ga. I am the liker so I take wa. Literally “In relation to me, tea is likeable”. Saying Arisu-san wa suki desu (for I like Alice) is a mistake as it will lead the hearer to wonder “what does Alice like?”

So why is it the other way around here?

Let’s look at how the sentence is structured. The wa-marked topic of this sentence is actually の no. It is used in the sense of “one” as in this rather textbooky interchange:

Dono enpitsu ga hoshii desuka?
“Which pencil do you want?”

Akai no ga hoshii desu.
“I want the red one“.

In the song the girl is referring to “my favorite one”, in this case meaning “favorite bread” or “favorite thing to eat”. This is the wa-marked topic of the sentence and everything that goes  before it qualifies that pronoun.

So ichiban suki na qualifies no and watashi ga qualifies ichiban suki na no. Then the entire noun-phrase, watashi ga ichiban suki na no, takes the wa-particle to mark it as the topic.

The sentence is actually of the very simple type everyone learned in her first lesson: A wa B [da/desu] –  as in watashi wa Amerikajin (desu) etc.

no is A and everything before it simply qualifies の and is therefore part of A.

B is “melonpan” with the da/desu left off.

You can never use wa in a noun-qualifying phrase. This is natural, since what is essentially only part of a noun (or noun-phrase) cannot be the topic. So anything that would normally be marked with the wa particle will be marked with the ga particle when it is in a subordinate clause like this.

The whole clause (including suki, which is here used adjectivally) adds up to a noun-phrase which is the topic of the sentence, so we use the wa particle and then say what it is equivalent to (in this case, melonpan), just as we did right at the beginning of learning Japanese.

In fact, we will usually find that even the most complicated sentences in Japanese can be boiled down to the three or four basic sentence-patterns we learned right at the beginning.

Like “a” and “the” for Japnese people, the wa and ga particles take time fully to understand, but I hope this gives you a clearer idea on some of the ways they work.

Do you need to write kanji?

is-it-necessary-to-write-kanjiIs it necessary to be able to write kanji? I mean, actually write it with one of those marky-sticks on the flat white stuff?

The conventional wisdom is that you have to write out each kanji by hand hundreds of times in order to actually learn them. Some people claim that with the proliferation of digital devices this is no longer necessary, while others say that without writing them you will never learn them. Which is true?

Let me start by saying that there is no way around knowing the kanji. If you don’t know them, you can neither read nor write them, even with digital devices. Actually reading them is more possible with things like Rikaichan, but your reading will be very slow and painful. Rikaichan is a good aid when needed, but it is no substitute for learning the kanji.

Writing will be next to impossible since while any decent digital device will automatically make the kanji for you, you have to know which kanji you mean. You can type K+I to get き, but did you mean 木 ,気 or 器?

The question is, can you know them without the physical act of writing them? There are arguments on both sides but let’s sum up the situation.

Writing kanji is not a magical key to knowing them. Some people complain about writing out kanji hundreds of times and still forgetting them quite quickly.

The old way of learning them, practised by Japanese schools and, following them, most Western teachers of Japanese, is simply to write them without analyzing them – pure rote- and muscle-memory. In my mind there is no doubt that this is a very bad way to learn kanji.

Also while Japanese children may not explicitly learn the parts of kanji and how they fit together, they are aware of radicals (you can’t use a kanji dictionary without being) and I cannot imagine that they are actually blind to the beauty, logic and poetry that goes into the structure of kanji.

Whether you are writing kanji by hand or not, you really must learn to identify their component radicals. Not doing so is like trying to learn the shapes of words without noticing their component letters (actually we do read both romaji words and kanji like this when we are very familiar with them, but whenever there is any uncertainty – and all the time during the learning process – we need to be able to identify the parts or we are making the job far more difficult than it needs to be).

One problem of not learning to write kanji is that you may never be fully aware of their exact structure. Confession time. Even kanji I know very well I could not, in most cases reproduce exactly. Not just because I haven’t practised writing them, but because I don’t know exactly how they look. I know them when I see them.

How bad is that? In practical terms, not very bad. Because the only time I need to know them is when I see them. I either see them in reading, or I see them on a list of possible kanji when I am typing them.

One objection to this is as follows: “Some kanji are very similar. If you only know them on a ‘facial recognition’ basis, you won’t be able to tell them apart”.

This is very true, and it is a serious objection if you are going to be taking Japanese language exams, where you will often be presented with out-of-context similar kanji side by side and asked which is which.

In real life, however, that does not happen. In real life you are either reading or writing. You have context. Even if you can’t tell the two kanji apart when you see them side by side, you actually know that “I kissed my ___” is more likely to be “mother” than “Andromeda galaxy” (no, those two things don’t actually have similar kanji. Just funnin’).

In cases where similar-looking kanji do mean similar or confusable things, the non-writing learner has to look at them together and clarify in her mind what distinguishes them. But she does not need to know the exact formation of every kanji she is familiar with – or even the confusable minority. She just needs to know enough to tell them apart in practice.

“But – you won’t be able to write. With a pen.” No, you won’t. How far is that a problem?

It depends how much you actually do write. Personally, I would say I write – actually by hand – in English maybe 200 words in a year. Truthfully I can’t even see how it would amount to 200, but I am being cautious. Other people write a lot more of course. So that depends on you.

“What about writing your name and things”. Silly. Of course you will be able to write your name. I am not suggesting anyone should not be able to write kana (though I confess I use them so little I am a bit hesitant). You will write your name in katakana usually. If you do by some chance have kanji for your name, of course you will learn to write those kanji. If you have a Japanese address you will very likely want to learn to write the kanji for that. This is not some “never write a kanji under any circumstances” game.

Some people are “tactile learners” and writing may really be the right way for them. However I suspect a lot of the people who say “you can’t know them without learning to write them by hand” are somewhat (and understandably) protective of the countless hours they themselves have invested in doing it.

If you are taking written exams you have to learn to write kanji.  If you are taking exams with tricky kanji-recognition elements, the best way of learning kanji that exactly may well be to learn to write them with the correct stroke-order. If you are a tactile learner, writing may be the right path for you.

If your main use of kanji is real-life usage (whether running a company or reading manga), you probably don’t need to write them. You do need to know them.

I find that knowing and making friends with kanji is vital to seeing how Japanese words fit together and why they mean what they mean. I love kanji. I gaze at them in admiration. I love the fact that the kanji of 枯れる (kareru, to wilt or wither) is “tree” plus “old”. I adore fun things like the fact that 望遠鏡 (telescope) means hope+distant+mirror – actually the mirror can, I think, be a speculum or seer’s crystal which makes it all the more mysterious and lovely.

But even with regular words I am very often thinking of them in terms of their kanji. “あぁ, 審査 ー 審判の審、調査の査ですね。”

But I blush to say I don’t write them. I only blush a little though. I don’t write English either.