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My kanji study   

Hi everyone! Today I thought I'd tell you a little bit about how I'm studying Japanese. I've been learning Japanese for quite a long time now - about eight years - and I have reached the point where I can use my Japanese in daily situations with no problems, and read manga and most Japanese novels without a dictionary. However, there has been one part of Japanese that has always eluded me. You can probably guess what I'm talking about, and it's the same reason that Japanese is known as one of the hardest languages to learn. Yes, I'm talking about writing the kanji.

Now, Japanese schoolchildren generally learn the kanji over many years, starting in the first year of elementary school with a few basic glyphs and gradually learning more every year as they get older. The process never really finishes, but somewhere around high school or university most students can read and write almost all characters that appear in an average Japanese newspaper. That's somewhere around 12 or 15 years of study. This is a long time to spend learning an alphabet! Compare this to British schoolchildren who finish lessons on the alphabet in the first or second year of primary school.

So how is a learner of Japanese as a second language supposed to remember all these characters? Most students try to study the kanji the same way that Japanese schoolchildren learn them: by writing them hundreds and hundreds of times. Drilling with flashcards is also popular. The vast majority of these students give up after a few hundred characters. They find that they get confused between characters that look very similar, and that they forget parts of some characters when they write them (or add in extra ones). Japanese students don't get these things confused because they have so much time and so much experience that they get to know these subtle differences very well. They have time to get used to each kanji and compare and contrast it with any new kanji that they learn. Learners of Japanese as a second language rarely have this much time.

I have found a different way of doing things. Well, first I should say that it's not actually my way, but the way of a man called James Heisig, a retired professor from Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya. Heisig came to Japan from America back in the 70's, and at first was a full-time student of Japanese. All of his fellow students told him that the kanji were certainly the hardest thing to learn in Japanese, and that he should start studying them straight away. Back then there were not very many good dictionaries or textbooks for learners like Heisig, so he set out studying by himself. He came back to his teachers after two months, and they were amazed. In just two months, Heisig had learned how to write all 2000 kanji from memory, and it was very rare for him to make a mistake. After being urged by his fellow students, Heisig made a book of his method, which became "Remembering the Kanji: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters". Heisig finished this book only three months after having starting to learn Japanese.

The secret of Heisig's method is in mnemonics. You make a story for each character that you learn. Somewhere in your story will be the different parts of the kanji, and also the meaning of the kanji. For example, the character "消" means "extinguish". The three strokes on the left of the character mean "drops of water", and the shape on the right-hand-side "肖" means "sparks". (Of course, the original meaning of "肖" is more like "resemblance", but "sparks" is a lot easier to remember.) Now the story goes like this: there are sparks shooting out of a candle, and you need to extinguish them. In this story you have super powers, so you deal with the sparks the most efficient way - by shooting one drop of water at each spark and extinguishing them in mid-air. Of course, you could just pour water on the candle, but that wouldn't be so easy to remember.

Let's look at another example, this time the kanji "潮", meaning "tide". There's no need to separate this kanji into "drops of water","十", "日", "十", and "月". You can just separate it into "drops of water" and "朝". The story might be this: you go to the beach early in the morning to get the best sunbathing spot. You are still tired, so you lie down and close your eyes for a little while. Before you know it, you are woken up suddenly by feeling some drops of water on your arm. You open your eyes and you see the tide has already come in - you're almost in the sea and all your bags are wet!

So, you can see that the stories are very interesting, and because they are interesting they are easy to remember. I try and put as many interesting things in my stories as I can - characters from movies, games, and TV, places that I remember very well, and strange, funny or disgusting events. Using this I've already remembered more than 1000 characters, and I'm not stopping yet.

Another secret of Heisig's method is the order that you learn the kanji in. You never learn a kanji until you've learned all the different parts of that kanji. This is very efficient, and it stops you from learning a very complicated kanji only to find that it could have been a lot easier if you had learned the individual parts first. For example, "二" is kanji number 2, "小" is number 105, "示" is number 1086, "祭" is number 1102, "察" is number 1103, and "擦" is number 1104. Learning "擦" first would be a big waste of energy. Also, this system means that you often learn kanji that look similar at the same time. For example, here are characters 198-210: "桂", "柏", "枠", "梢", "棚", "杏", "桐", "植", "枯", "朴", "村", "相", and "机". This does mean that you don't learn some common characters until very late on - "馬" is kanji number 1978 - but the time it saves you with memorizing is more than worth it, I think.

You've probably noticed that this method doesn't deal at all with the readings of the kanji. That's because it's complicated enough trying to remember the meaning and the writing of each kanji. Both Heisig and I think that it's much better to learn the readings separately - but that's a topic for a different blog post. I've written enough for today, and I think it's time I got back to my kanji study. At the rate I'm going at now, I should reach 2000 characters by the middle of August. Wish me luck!


by chitchatcafe | 2010-07-27 16:14 | カフェ 英会話 札幌

Trip to the East Hokkaido   

Thanks for the Day of the Sea (海の日) on 19 July (Monday), I got a long weekend and travelled to east Hokkaido with friends. We drove to many places like Erimo Misaki, Akanko, Kushiro, Shiredoko and Abashiri etc.

I was so interested about Shiredoko! From guidebook, it is claimed to be the “last land not yet polluted” and it is certified as World Heritage. This is the place that I must go once in my life! Also, was so eager to see a wild bear from the mountain! Of course, only when I’m in the car, not walking in the mountain and be the bear’s meal :P

I took a 3-hour cruise trip, costing me YEN 8000! Although it is quite expensive, the wonderful natural beauty really worth it. Also, I did see a wild bear very far away from the cruise! However, it was such a little black spot that you may say it’s just a little dog. Moreover, some people saw a cage next to the bear with their professional camera lens. So, we guess someone was feeding the bear so that it stayed there to attract tourists.

Apart from black bear, I also saw a lot of cute deer. However, it was quite dangerous when they suddenly jumped out to our road, and we needed to stop our car right away! I tasted my deer meat in the trip too. But I promise, I will never eat deer meat again as they are really too cute for me.

For the deer that I ate, please forgive me, ok? As I ate too much during the trip (whole crab, Katedon, Robata Yaki etc), I already got my “punishment”. I need to go on diet and avoid meat for long time now. Please stop me when you see me eating any candy at Chit-Chat Café, thanks!


by chitchatcafe | 2010-07-24 14:30 | 札幌 英会話 サークル

First blog   

hi folks
how are you ? hopefully you have or about to enjoy the Odori Beer Garden soon. I have been there the last two nights and enjoyed it immensely.

Tonight is fireworks night... Wow only one night these days.. What a shame. When I last lived here there were fireworks 3 weeks in a row .We could see them from the classroom in my apartment which was great.

Well last Wednesday was a special day in my life. My Mum turned 70 in Nz. She has 6 kids ( I am the oldest ) but unfortunately none of us were there in Auckland with her on the day. Luckily i had a nice project up my sleeve which I had been looking forward to doing for a few years.

About 60 or so friends from around the world ( about 15 different countries ) sent her either birthday cards or postcards... so of course she was very very happy.

Some of you reading this sent her too..so a big big thanks again for your kindness.

Overall it was a wonderful experience and am so grateful to have so many kinds friends but also I was surprised that some friends claimed to be too busy to do such a thing. For me this was a great spiritual lesson in Letting Go.. but one of my best best friends said he didn`t have time.. I was ( and still am ) so disappointed... but again a good lesson for me re acceptance

Ok.. would like to write on the World Cup as it was an amazing time..
so may do so next time
Til then
Make sure you study English at least ten minutes a day
Stay genki and smile at someone everyday..


by chitchatcafe | 2010-07-23 14:32 | 英会話 プライベート レッスン


This time I would like to share with you my very fresh experience about the climbing the "Hakkenzan" last Sunday.

I was very lucky to meet Noriko-san in Chit Chat Cafe, who has the same hobby as me - hiking! She took me with her friends to a wonderful place,which is very close to Sapporo - on the way to Jouzankei. The mountain we climbed is called "Hakkenzan" in Japanese, which means in English "The mountain of 8 swords". With a little fantasy its rocks really reminds about the swords, and I guess there are really eight of them!

I think maybe many of you konw the place, and have already reached the peak! If not, let's try it! It is not a high mountain, so it takes just about one hour to reach the top. Your effort will be rewarded there with the great view! If you will happen to be there in the right season, then after getting back you can enjoy picking up cherries or barbecue in the farms, which are around the gateway to the mountain.

In our case, we were very lucky, because we happen to be there, when the farmers held the small "cherry festival".


by chitchatcafe | 2010-07-21 13:10 | マンツーマン 英会話 札幌

Bye-bye chit-chat   

Hello everybody,

Unfortunately, this will be my last blog. I'm leaving Sapporo on the 1st of August, after 9 months spent in this lovely city. I really enjoyed my time here. I feel like I arrived yesterday… but as we say in France, the best things are the ones ending first.

Some of you know about it, I've challenged myself: going back to Europe without using the plane. So, here is my plan: first, I'll go from Sapporo to Shiretoko by bike. After this, I'll go to Tokyo by bus and boat, visit Kyoto and Osaka, then go to the South of Japan in order to join Korea by boat. After visiting Korea, I'll go to Russia by boat, cross Siberia with the transsiberian, stopping in Irkutsk, Novosibirsk and maybe Ekaterinburg. Once I'll be in Moscow, I'll see how I'll join France. I didn't prepare anything yet, but that's how I like it! Leaving a place for surprises is the most exciting part in a trip. I'm looking forward to it so much! Especially crossing Hokkaido by bike, I can't wait to see Hokkaido's natural landscapes!

I would like to thank you all for the lovely moments we spent in chit-chat café. I really enjoyed this place and chatting with all the people I met. It's there that I got most of my knowledge about Japanese life, thanks to all of you! As we say in Ireland, "Thanks a million"! And my apologizes for the ones I bored with my ecological topics ;)

I hope we'll meet again, somewhere, sometimes. Life is a surprise!

I wish all of you the best for the future.

Enjoy life every day!


by chitchatcafe | 2010-07-20 15:37 | 英会話 スクール 札幌

odds and ends   

Hi Blog readers!

This is my first entry for a blog EVER!! Yeah never got into the blog thing but I am giving it a go today. So first topic is: book. Recently read a book called Dune by Frank Herbert. A science fiction book that I really enjoyed. I love science fiction and this book although it may be a bit hard to understand, is a great book and a great challenge for anyone interested in gaining more English vocabulary.

I was also looking at flights to Korea for my summer vacation but they are way to expensive unfortunately. My brother lives in Korea and it would have been nice to see him but not this time I guess. On the other hand, I am going to Vietnam in December with my father and my brother. I am going for about one week to Ho Chi Min (Saigon) and probably a place called Mui Ne. Mui Ne is a beach town not far from Ho Chi Min. Although I have been to Vietnam before I am looking forward to it because I know how great the place is. Everything is cheap, food is good and beaches are nice.

Also I am looking forward to the beer garden in Odori! Everybody keeps raving about it and I can't wait to go and relax with friends with a beer in my hand in Odori.

That's it, hope you enjoy!


David (the canadian guy)

by chitchatcafe | 2010-07-15 14:20 | 札幌 英会話 国際

Summer Vacation in Czech Republic   

This time I would like to share with you a little about the Czech summer vacation, which has already started.

Summer vacation starts at the 1st of July and lasts until 31st of August. Maybe you wander, what the kids do so long time at home. Well, usually they spent few weeks with their grandparents or join some summer camp, which lasts one or two weeks. Their parents have usually 10 days of paid holiday, so in most cases they go with all family to the seaside to Croatia, Italy, or any other usually European country, those who choose domestic tourism, they definitely go to some lake or dam, where one can swim, do barbecue and camping.

When I was a kid I felt always very excited about the long long 2 months holidays, because it seemed to me as an “eternal free time”. I guess it does not really matter how long the holidays are, the point is that children can enjoy it in a very special way:-)


by chitchatcafe | 2010-07-07 17:27 | 英会話 個人 レッスン 札幌