blog indefinite hiatus

If you’ve been coming here a while (congratulations for being one of the very few?), you’ve observed the scarcity of recent posts – either I’ve run out of insights, or realized that what I thought were insights really weren’t, or whatever – but mostly every time I think about writing a proper blog post I think of the hour or two hours it’ll take and consider the relative value of spending that time reading Japanese or watching a Japanese movie or doing some Skritter or whatever and the actual doing always wins out over the talking about it. Readers have been extremely few anyway (often less than 10 even for new posts), so I’m sure whatever those of you who wander in here are looking for is taken care of elsewhere.

Perhaps once I’ve mastered this language learning lark I’ll explain here how I did it but it looks like that’ll take some considerable while.

The resources that are here including the blog archive will of course stay online; I won’t just let it fizzle until it really does stop getting traffic entirely.

I’ll still post the occasional new word or expression or brief thought over on my tumblr, so follow that if you’d like.

I do sincerely thank all of you for your kindness in reading for these nearly four years now. All the best with your own mysterious journey and may the cookie crumbs never lead you astray.

japanese classic audiobooks free download – and an app to play them

Khatz had an excellent post today on learning through the spoken word, which inspired me to start looking for some audiobooks, and also to find a way to play them properly on my iPhone.

I’ve been half-heartedly collecting podcasts* but seldom actually listen to them, because I have little idea whether they’ll actually be talking about anything I’m interested in for one thing, and there’s usually also no transcripts so if you want to follow along you can’t. Not a problem of course for natives or more advanced learners but for an intermediate whose reading is much stronger than listening it removes a significant potential advantage.

So then I thought, well yes let’s get audiobooks; they’re a known quantity, they have text, they’re pretty long, there’s no real downside here.

A problem I ran into right away though is that every audiobook player app wants to lock you into its own store or market or at least file source. It seems like most will not allow you to import your own mp3 or other audio files, or if they do the description at least says nothing about it. I did eventually find one that does, and looks like it should be easy to use and work well; namely Bookmobile. It does also handle podcasts to some extent with a built-in RSS capability, but I imagine dedicated apps like Downcast will be better for that.

Then the books themselves. The #ajatt IRC channel has had a link in the header for a long time to some that user Decoface converted to MP3 and shared – those are here. From there I also found a link back to the original list of files on the RTK wiki, which I’m not sure why I’d forgotten about; that’s here.

If you import them into iTunes and it doesn’t recognize them as being audiobooks, which is quite likely, select all the files, Get Info (⌘I will do it), go to Options tab and in the media type list pick Audiobook. Also make sure all the files for a book are in a single album.

Should be set for a good long while now.


* surely I’m not the only one who always types “podcats” first? and then conjures up a little mental image of podcats?

Japanese-to-English Translation Basics

Contemporary Japanese Literature

Old Books

Once upon a time, when I was an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to take a translation seminar with one of the finest translators of Japanese literature into English. The course texts she selected for the seminar presented all manner of interesting translation challenges, and she brought in a number of fantastic speakers from the Kyoto-based Society of Writers, Editors, and Translators to discuss these challenges with our class. Unfortunately, I was not able to take full advantage of this seminar; it was as if these professional translators were teaching us translation calculus, and I still didn’t grasp basic translation algebra.

I just finished a tertiary round of edits for two major translation projects, and I’ve noticed a number of patterns in the areas I’ve repeatedly needed to adjust. Once I became aware of the currents my editing was following, I started to imagine that I was getting at some…

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Fluent Czech: On Going From PolyNot to PolyGlot

I don’t pay much attention to how-to-learn-languages material generally, figuring that my time is better spent actually doing Japanese; and on top of that I don’t like videos because it takes a lot less time to read the same information and it also sticks better, for me at any rate.

This nearly hour-long video, I have now watched three times.

If like me you’d prefer just to read it, just for you, I took notes (they’re fairly raw though, fair warning). Click through to read.

Continue reading

Remembering the Kanji vol.1 with Japanese Keywords

Having looked for a while for a thorough list of Japanese keywords for Remembering the Kanji volume 1, I eventually gave up and made my own. The list put together by wrightak is well known, but its downfall (not a terribly serious one admittedly) is that he attempted to stick as close to the original English keyword as possible, and partly as a consequence the list is missing quite a few characters, as well as having some pretty strained keywords (not that the English list doesn’t have its share of those as well).

I made the list on Skritter and you can get at it from the shared list page, but if you don’t use Skritter (but really you should) here are plain files of it:

Tab-delimited text

Numbers spreadsheet

And the description from the list page:

RTK 1 with Japanese keywords. Mostly kun-yomi, with many exceptions where the kun-yomi is excessively rare, or non-existent. (That said, there are quite a few words included that are rarely written in kanji, just because I found them interesting.) Meanings may or may not coincide with Heisig keywords.

This list introduces many kanji out of order as they feature in compounds of kanji in the Heisig order. It is not recommended to learn this list instead of the normal RTK 1 with English keywords; rather, finish RTK 1 with English keywords first, give it some time for the mnemonics you used for that to fade, then go through this list.

There may be some duplication which I’ll try to weed out as I review through the list.

track your tadoku between rounds with IFTTT

If you’ve wished that there were a way to keep track of your extensive reading in between tadoku rounds as easily as with the tadokubot, there is a very simple way to do just that. All you need is a Google account and an IFTTT (If This Then That) account, both free. IFTTT is a very useful free web service that allows you to automate a wide variety of things. In this case, we send it a text message tagged with the reading medium you wish to track, and the service adds a row to a spreadsheet in your Google Drive. Then all that’s left is to put a couple of simple formulas in the spreadsheet to total things up.

A link to the IFTTT recipe is here.  Adapt as needed to add media. Use an additional space between three pipes (||| |||) to place the update in the correct column. The ||| is the cell divider, so ||| ||| places an empty cell. If you want the data for a certain hashtag in the fourth column, for example, your action would look like:

{{ReceivedAt}} ||| ||| ||| {{MessageNoHashtag}}

In my case, text messages to the US cost me extra, so if you’re in the same situation I recommend you use textPlus or a similar free texting service. You can even use that from an iPod Touch. It’s possible to use Google Talk chat messages as a trigger, but I’ve never seen the IFTTT bot actually online, so it’s best to stick with text messages.

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tadoku wrap up: tune your brain (plus, awards)

Try this experiment: I assume most of you have your pipe organ and your grand piano in the same room. Play a chord on the organ and hold if for a while – then let go, and listen to the piano. You didn’t touch the piano, yet there’s the same chord sounding. That sympathetic resonance is what extensive reading feels like. The more you read, the more Japanese-tuned strings in your head start to ring, the more you understand – not because you studied, but because you resonated.

This affects your brain in many wonderful ways, but the effect I noticed the most this go round was the jump in my listening skills. That’s right; listening – and that even though I spent far less time per day on active listening than usual. Most of my time listening this month was music, and that mostly background. But the hours a day of reading left enough of an imprint after only two weeks that I was hearing new words and phrases again and again in songs I’d listened to dozens of times.

Try it, you’ll like it!

This tadoku contest was almost all about manga for me. If you’re going to spend a hundred or more hours at something you’d best be very sure you pick something you enjoy, and as someone who is both very visually oriented (as a once and future photographer) and loves a good story, manga is perfect for me. Also helpful is that a volume of manga doesn’t take that long to get through, so you feel like you’re making swift progress. The final tally put me at just over 2600 equivalent pages, so around 13000 pages of manga – good enough for my first top ten result, and well over double my previous score.


Herewith some awards:

The Rembrandt Award for Best Art: 黄昏乙女xアムネジア

Not picking on the old Dutchman randomly here – めいびい’s art has powerful chiaroscuro effects that reminded me strongly of the Dutch masters. Backgrounds and scenes are moody and detailed, perspectives draw you into the page, and on top of all that, he is the absolute master of facial expressions. I’d recommend this manga even if you couldn’t read a word of Japanese. It came close to getting best story too, but among some strong albeit very different competition was:

Best Story Award: こばと

CLAMP are very good at setting up your heartstrings for maximum tweakability and this is a wonderful example. Truly one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read in years, in any language. Leaves you misty-eyed and smiling and hopelessly in love with the deeply real and human characters (even the ones that actually aren’t human, which is, well, the majority of them).

Rossi Award for Most Epic Single Volume: 神のみぞ知るセカイ volume 19,

the last in the long arc that starts around volume 9. Honestly, the pacing and tempo is excellent throughout the arc, but volume 19 turns up the intensity to nearly unbearable levels and keeps it there without missing a single beat right to the finish line. Like a good race, it hurtles along with utter inevitability and yet you aren’t sure right till the end exactly how it will turn out.

びっくり Award: この彼女はフィクションです。

I got this four-volume manga expecting nothing more than substance-less entertainment; and certain it is that there is rather a lot in here specifically designed to amuse middle school boys. Amazingly, though, somewhere under the dross and in the midst of the trainwreck is a really good story with surprising depth. What does a high school boy do when the ideal girl whose character he’s been writing for ten years appears in front of him? What if he’s already fallen for someone else? Can she change and grow now that she’s in the real world and not only his notebooks? The characters are certainly in a bizarre situation, and in the hands of a lesser storyteller would have been mere laughable paper cutouts, but you end up really feeling for these people – if that indeed is what they are. Even all the rubbish around the main storyline has the disconcerting yet fascinating effect of the reader never quite knowing at any moment whether the story is completely going off the rails, or working as intended as it lurches and crashes to its conclusion. Which leads me to –

がっかり Award: この彼女はフィクションです。

Same manga. Now, yes I just called it a really good story with surprising depth, but the absurdities and annoying irrelevancies are still there in abundance. This series would benefit immensely from a ruthless editor. Two volumes would have been sufficient. Alternatively, more back story and more exposition could have been added. Either way, this author is not to be trusted with his own pen. More importantly, the story comes so close to raising and dealing with some really very deep and interesting questions – significant among them that of “to what degree is a character a person?” – and yet every time it nearly gets there it veers off on some trivial tangent or some development seemingly designed to break your suspension of disbelief. I am neither recommending this manga nor saying to avoid it, just saying that as bad as it is it’s really quite excellent, and that as good as it is it’s still a trainwreck. Oh, it must be said, the art is very good, actually among the best I read this month. Characters are highly expressive, and very individual despite there being rather a lot of them.

Strawberry Cheesecake Award: ひよ恋

If you want cloyingly sweet fluff, this story of the highly improbable (yet absolutely inevitable, because this is shoujo after all) love between the tallest boy and the shortest girl in the school will satisfy the most romantic thirteen-year-old girl part of your heart. And yet as eye-rolling as it potentially could be, the writing is good enough and the characters are lovable enough that you get all the happy and none of the faintly ill feeling. As a bonus, the language is very easy. If you’ve just finished よつばと and feel like you’d like some romance, I do recommend this. Just make sure to have some espresso with it to counteract all that sweetness. Oh, I also like that each chapter has a column of hand-written commentary from the author. Her writing is quite neat and makes good practice for reading handwriting. She also seems like a really sweet person (surprise!).


The tadoku contest is designed to help you establish the practice of extensive reading as a regular habit. There is always a danger of going a bit overboard during the month and burning out, thus reaching the opposite effect. I was a little concerned that this might happen, but in the end I just want to keep reading. The world is full of wonderful stories, and the correct number to have read is always just one more.