How to Use 3 Prong Plugs in Japan? Here’s an Easy Solution!

In order to use your 3 prong plugs with Japan’s 2 prong outlets, you simply need to purchase a 2 Prong to 3 prong outlet adapter, which you will plug all of your devices into directly, which you will then plug directly into the 2 prong outlet. While the slightly lower voltage may slightly affect charging times and device performance in a very minor way, I have personally never noticed a difference noticeable enough to bother me in any significant way. This is a really simple fix, and I will show you exactly what you need to do, and what you need to buy to use these kinds of devices in Japan.

Which 3 prong to 2 prong adaptor should you purchase?

While there are many 2 to 3 prong adapter power strips and power banks, I personally have never taken the adaptor off any of my devices in my 7 years of living in Japan. A lot of that is because…well… I live here! For portability and convenience sake, I would suggest buying individual adapters, and just leaving them on your 3 prong plugs for as long as you are in Japan.

Cable Matters 3-Pack UL Listed 2 Prong to 3 Prong Adapter (3 Prong to 2 Prong Adapter)

I linked the product I am personally using below, so you can purchase the adapter that has worked for me for the last 7 years at this Amazon link!

*This site is an Amazon affiliate, and receives a small percentage of sales. However, I will NEVER recommend products I haven’t personally used and found to be genuine quality.

I have done it now for 7 years, so you should have absolutely no issues. Trust me…you really don’t want to face the situation below.

Avoid this situation

There’s nothing worse than getting off the plane, riding out to your hotel, jet-lagged and exhausted beyond measure you fumble your way through checking into your Tokyo hotel, take the elevator up to your room, and you finally get to your oh-so refreshing washiki traditional Japanese futon set-up. You sit down, ready to unwind and look into your itinerary for the next few days. You pull out your laptop, go to plug it in, look at the 3 prong plug and Japan’s 2 prong outlets, die inside a little bit, and then shout to the heavens in rage.

“Why!? Why have you forsaken me!? Sweet gods of juice and tech!”

Then the hotel staff will probably come to your room, passive-aggressively beg for you to please consider the feelings and situation of those around you who are currently getting the full inside-scoop on your little tantrum, and then cry yourself to sleep…on a very comfortable futon.

Hey, just because you’re wrapped in silk sheets doesn’t mean you can’t go through some serious 1st-world trauma for the ages. But…wait…could I even use my devices in Japan, even if I could somehow connect them? Is it safe to use electronics manufactured outside of Japan with Japan’s 2 prong outlets? This…was something that bothered me as well, so I thought I would provide you with some cold, hard facts regarding Japan’s power outlet voltage, and how you can adapt your devices for use w

Is voltage the same in Japan as it is in the US? Is it safe to use US devices in Japan?

The voltage in Japan is 100V, which is the lowest in the world and different from the United States (110-120V). Put simply, it is completely safe to products manufactured for the US in Japan, although there are rare instances where you may run into problems in the opposite situation. Using some products that are manufactured in Japan with US outlets can cause issues in some cases. The difference in voltage is mostly negligible, but the the safest way to use Japanese products in the US is to use a step-down transformer to convert 120-volt electric to the 100-volt electricity needed by the appliance. However, if you are reading this article, you’re probably more concerned with using American products in Japan, so let’s go over how you can do that.

In conclusion

If you are looking into this issue, chances are you are heading to Japan soon? If you are heading to Tokyo for a trip, I have laid out my recommendation for a first night’s itinerary full of awesome activities, that I have chosen based on my own personal experiences showing friends around Japan over the years. If you are interested in exploring Japan (with your new fancy 2 to 3 prong adaptor!), and exploring some cool locations and experiences relatively off the beaten-path, you should check out the article I have linked below!

Is it Okay to Use Manga to Study Japanese? My Experience

The most dangerous situation for a new Japanese learner.
Aaand I just made it worse.

While I don’t read manga as much anyone after having lived in Japan going on 7 years now (now i’m living the manga?), I have used manga regularly in my Japanese study routines. In my 8 years of studying Japanese, I found that manga can be used to study Japanese in a pretty specific way. Let me guide you through how I studied Japanese, and how I used manga to study Japanese over the years.

About my experience studying Japanese while living in Japan, and how you can use manga to supplement your Japanese studies.

I think that through understanding how I personally used manga in my Japanese study routine, you can understand the role I believe manga can play in assisting your Japanese studies. So, when did I start learning Japanese, and when did I come to Japan? While I learned Japanese in the US for a little over a year beginning in 2013, I would eventually move to Japan. After having studied Japanese in my Japanese university, and somehow making tons of international friends, I decided to take the plunge; If I was going to pursue studying Japanese and dabble in living abroad…it was going to be all in.

In 2014 after 1 year I decided to leave my university in the US, and in early 2015 I moved to my fresh new accommodation in Osaka, Japan. I was now studying at a Japanese language school? So…did I use manga to study Japanese at this point? Not quite yet. Actually, at this point I wasn’t that interested in manga, while this would change as over the months as I would settle more into life in Japan, and would search for new ways to immerse myself in the Japanese language at all hours of the day.

How manga can be used to help you learn Japanese; How and when to use manga as a proper Japanese study tool

Me and my Japanese language school class, 2015

My first year in Japan, and for a many years after, my ultimate Japanese-learning-goal was to achieve total immersion. Essentially, I wanted to be able to have a fulfilling life completely and entirely using only the Japanese language, if need be. That doesn’t mean that I never used English of course, but what it does mean is that I was ON a lot of the time. On the train I would be studying signs and billboards. At the restaurant I would be looking up new kanji on the menu I didn’t know. In the Don Quijote (a store in Japan famous for having some of the most amazingly strange things on sale) I would be learning from the male model underwear gag kit packaging. It didn’t matter. If there was Japanese on it, I would read it, internalize it, memorize it, and forget it if I accidentally learned something horrifying that I wanted out of my brain. I go more into this experience learning from my surroundings a bit more in my article How to Teach Yourself Japanese; My Experience.

How I used manga to study Japanese

So, why am I telling you this? Well, manga was the perfect tool that allowed me to achieve the endurance necessary to maintain this lifestyle for as many hours of the day as possible. By studying my onigiri off during the day, and reading some manga, or maybe playing some games at night, it allowed me to continue to expose myself to the language for longer periods of time without getting tired. Put simply, reading manga is a great way to continue exposing yourself to the Japanese language, even if you are too tired to properly study. Just…be careful not to use it as a crutch.

Manga is a great tool to use to practice Japanese, but there are much more efficient ways to LEARN

I would say this is a general rule I followed: If I was trying to learn something new in Japanese, I would almost NEVER use manga. This is because stylistically, manga often plays with the rules of the Japanese language to land some joke, or to create a certain tone, and more often than not, the kind of Japanese that you see in manga is just not very practical. With some exceptions (I do often recommend Death Note to people who want to read a manga with relatively normal Japanese), the majority of the Japanese you see in manga will almost always be overdramatic, period-sensitive, or just generally rude in a lot of cases.

I have never heard somebody say temei~ in real life. I don’t think that is a thing that actually happens to real people.

How to choose a good manga for studying Japanese

…you want to looking for a manga that is set in mondern-day Japan. Generally, the more mundane the setting, the better. You should focus on finding a manga-equivalent to an interesting character study that is full of context-sensitive content, and is dialogue-centric rather than action-centric. Think Death Note vs. Demon Slayer. Death note is a good manga to use to practice Japanese as a series ‘battle of the wits’ stories that is full of modern dialogue-heavy scenes, while Demon slayer is trying to achieve a certain ancient aesthetic, and is pretty much just an endless series of things that will distract you from reading Japanese…let’s be honest…and I like Demon Slayer! That being said, it definitely isn’t a good resource for you to practice Japanese.

So…you can’t use manga to learn new Japanese?

I wouldn’t say that is entirely the case. One thing manga is great for is studying how to read different kanji. Why? Because manga are written so that children can also read them, which means that most manga as have the furigana written beside all but the most basic kanji in the book. What is furigana? Check the picture below! Furigana are small hiragana or katakana characters that are written beside a kanji, that explain to the reader how the character is pronounced. One of the most difficult things about learning Japanese are the multiple ways to read kanji characters, and reading manga can be great practice to help you learn the multiple readings of Japanese kanji.

The top black characters are furigana

The first and most important step to starting to learn Japanese; Choosing the right textbook. My personal recommendation!

I always recommend to my readers the book I personally started with: GENKI I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese (English and Japanese Edition)

There are many many reasons why I like this textbook, but my main reason would be this: Genki 1 teaches you how the essentials, while also giving you the essential skills you need to teach yourself Japanese. After using Genki 1 and absorbing all of it’s juicy contents, you should have no problem reading a considerable amount of Japanese characters, understanding basic conversations, the most essential grammar points, and you will understand a LOT more about the way Japanese is actually used in everyday life in Japan. So many textbooks I have seen dole out information in a treadmill-like fashion, giving you tons of useful vocabulary you will only see in textbooks. Studying Japanese through Genki 1 was really efficient, and the book is also really corny in a fun, Japanese kind of way. Definitely check it out. It’s a bit pricey, but I think you will actually save money in the long run by purchasing this book, because it really does give you everything you need to get you through your first year or so of Japanese study. It’s totally worth it.

If you are studying Japanese but are lost on what to do, check out the other articles below!

Anime Recommendations From a Guy in Japan Who Isn’t Really Into Anime. Which Anime Should You Start With?

If you are a looking for a few options, here you go! In this article I go into why I recommend each anime, as well as my experience discovering anime in my late teens and early 20’s.

Here are a few anime you should start with

In my opinion the first anime you should start with is Spirited Away by Death Note, Attack on Titan, or anything by Studio Ghibli. From Studio Ghibli, I would recommend Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, or my personal favorite The Wind Rises.

So…i’m a guy who lives in Japan…and doesn’t watch (much) anime. THAT…is a little rare!

Hi, my name is Evan, and I’ve lived in Japan since early 2015. I started studying Japanese because some videos of foreign expats studying abroad in Japan somehow popped up in my recommended feed of one of my YouTube videos, back in around 2010 or 2011. I really don’t know how that happened. I don’t watch anime, and I really never had any real interest in Japan, or other languages or cultures growing up. At least, not in a direct way. Over the next few years I would dabble in the cultural differences between the US and Japan as a mild hobby, which I would eventually pursue as the main focus of my higher education and career as the years went on.

The moment I realized I was alone…oh, so alone and the moment I admitted it…:”I’ve never watched anime!”

I remember sitting in my first day of Japanese class in late August of 2013. The teacher looked around at all of the new students, and enthusiastically asked the class one question; “I want you all to tell me, why are you interested in studying Japanese?” It must have become routine from her. “How many people here are studying Japanese because they’re interested in anime?”

The hands shoot up

And I kid you not, I looked around the room, and of the around 30 students, i’m pretty sure I was the only one who didn’t raise their hand.

And this part is funny

The teacher, Nagase Sensei, wanted to know why I was there. I think I answered something like how I was interested in things like honne and tatemae (An important concept in Japanese society. I would summarize it as the difference between your ‘phone voice’ , and how you talk with your friends, only even more pronounced.) “Oh, and i’ve actually never really watched anime before.”

I swear I’m not making this up. I actually heard an audible gasp from somewhere in the room. Like, you know the kinds of gasps that are the only thing that can interrupt the kind of canned laughter you would find your average sitcom? That kind of gasp. And to be honest, people were kind of weird towards me from there on out. Once I passed their initiation and watched a few episodes of Death Note, One Piece, etc, then I was accepted a bit more into the weebdom that was that class.

So, I had never seen an anime until I was 18 years old and I’ve now been living in Japan for over 6 years.

Okay, that isn’t entirely true.

I was pretty obsessed with the Pokémon anime when I was 8.

does Pokémon even count as an anime?

Of course it does! I don’t care what you say! That being said, the English localizers went through some serious effort to strip that show of most of its cultural roots. Perhaps the most infamous example being when they spent what seemed like whole seasons walking around talking about… eating donuts? What they were actually eating was a Japanese rice ball (onigiri). But oh no…we Americans were much-too chunky to comprehend this ancient and foreign tradition known as a “rice ball”. DONUTS!… DONUTS! If it doesn’t have donuts, we ain’t having it. At least, that’s what whoever localized Pokémon in the late 90’s early 2000’s assumed. I remember also seeing the English dub for Dragon Ball when I was a kid…and I just couldn’t ever get into it. As much as it might make people angry, even when I was 8 years old, I just found the whole thing to be…weird…if I’m being completely honest. And now I live in Japan! It’s pretty rare to have never watched anime until you were an adult, and also be a foreigner that happens to live in Japan. Wow, look at me, so special!

Which anime should I start with? Anime is… weird right?

I thought this way. In fact, I still do to an extent (cue angry emoji meme). I will say that if you watch a few series, you do get used to the timing of anime. There are a few things that you will likely notice when you first start watching anime. First: the length and amount of monologues. Character monologues where they go through every move, every intention, what they had for breakfast…what they will have for breakfast…taking a potato chip out of a bag AND EATING IT (this is a pretty famous one if you don’t know), these are all things you will actually hear in anime. Another thing you will notice, kind of similar to the first point, is the amount of emoting and ‘gasp’ sound effects.

“He decided to eat some apple cobbler for breakfast. Adorned in fresh apples and decadent caramel sauce, he decided not to each it with a knife and fork. He was going to use his hands! He picked up the cobbler with his bare hands!” *GASP*.

There’s a Growkaru original, just for you. Did you like it? So, why is this the case? Why is anime chock-full of stuff like this?

Here are my 2 anime recommendations to start with if you have never watched anime before

1. Death Note

This is the one I started with, and I think it’s a great one to help ease you into many of the common anime tropes. The setting is relatively grounded and close to real-world Japan, and there have been a number of live-action adaptations. It’s just a great story, that tapers off a bit in quality towards the end of the series, but is definitely worth watching. I think that this anime is perfectly okay to study Japanese from, as well, since the setting is so grounded (although I wouldn’t copy anyone’s Japanese pronunciation in the series.)

What is the story in Death Note about?

Light is one of the brightest students in all of Japan! He’s also clearly a massive narcists because of it. One day, a mysterious notebook falls from the sky. It comes with instructions too (that’s convenient!) ;Any persons name you write in this notebook will die, in the manner you describe, at the specific time you describe (or something like this). The thing that makes this story so good, is that the main character considers almost every thing you are possibly thinking about how this might work, and how he should use it. Should he use the notebook to kill criminals or dictators? Can you use the notebook to decide your own death? Etc, etc. These rules get really convoluted, and interesting! The thing that makes the story phenomenal is the rivalry between the main character, Light, and the private investigator who begins tracking him down, codenamed “L”. Light is a traditional genius, while L is eccentric and thinks outside the box. The majority of the story is a battle of wits between Light and “L”, where Light tries to use the notebook, while also hiding his method of murder, and “L” uses mind games to track Light down. It’s great stuff. The first season in particular is oh-so-good. I…think I’m going to go re-watch it now!

2. Attack on Titan

If you’re looking for something that’s a little less dialogue-heavy, than this is a great choice. While I wouldn’t recommend you use this to study Japanese, this is one example of an anime that I think is actually much better than the manga. This is because of the amount of action, and because of the fact that…let’s be honest, Hajime Isayama is a MUCH BETTER writer than visual artist. Some of the art is the first few manga’s is just…yeah… But the story, characters, and action are great!

What is the story in Attack on Titan about?

I think this is one that is better to go into relatively blind. I’ll just say this; dual-katana wielding militia arm equip themselves with grappling-hook-like launchers that allow them to fight against giant man-eating…giants, that can only be killed by a slash to the neck. Oh, and everybody lives inside of a giant 3-wall layered city system, complete with all of the politics of who gets to live in center wall farthest away from the outside monsters, etc. It’s good action, propped out by good world-building. I will say, the animation quality takes a big dive after the first season. I’m not really sure what happened there. Nevertheless, it’s a good option to ease yourself into watching anime if you want a compelling story, world, and threat, but with less dialogue than Death Note. Plus, with the final season recently releasing, you can now watch the whole thing all the way through to the end!

Where can I watch it Attack on Titan?

Unfortunately, Attack on Titan is no longer available on Netflix outside of Japan, Thailand, and a few other countries. I do think that the first season is good enough to warrant purchasing, so I have included the link for the Attack on Titan Season 1 Blu Ray here.

*I am an Amazon affiliate, and receive a small percentage of profits it you purchase via the link above. I ONLY recommend products I generally like, and it’s a great way to support what I do and this site.*

Is the Attack on Titan movie worth watching?

No. (lol)

Why there are so many monologues in anime?

Anime is full of these tropes, because almost all anime is adapted from manga. I’m willing to bet that you can probably read faster than what would typically be normal for a conversation, right? This is especially the case with manga, since it is a mix between a visual and written medium. Manga are designed to be flipped through FAST. This means that most readers go through conversations far faster than what would be possible to translate to proper voice acting, etc. Manga are designed to convey the ‘feeling’ of a scene. They thrive on doling out very specific details and character traits through the kinds of motion possible in a drawn-medium. This is why the infamous Death Note scene where the main character dramatically eats a potato chip…a maybe a little hammy in the manga, but is absolutely hilarious in the anime. A 2 minute-long montage about a potato-chip-eating-experience is much, much more to take-in than a few pages in a manga. Manga have a lot more freedom when it comes to the pacing of the story, however, every episode of an anime has to conform to a specific runtime, and needs to include a cliff-hanger or some kind of reason for the viewer to tune-in to the next episode. A lot of the time, these cliff-hangers or natural stopping points just don’t exist in the manga, so a lot of storylines in anime get dragged out. So, for this reason I prefer manga not only for the faster pace, but also because I find it to be a better Japanese practice tool, in my personal experience.

If you are thinking of studying Japanese

If you are ready to take the plunge and begin your Japanese-studying journey, you should do this with means other than watching anime! Anime is a good practice tool, but it’s a terrible study tool. So, if you are serious about learning Japanese, but you’re a bit lost on where to start, please check out some of the other articles I have written below.

My Experience; What is the Best Way to Learn Japanese Outside of Japan?

An all-too-common scenario…

I’ve personally wasted a lot of time on inefficient Japanese study habits over the years, in particular before I moved to Japan. I believe that the best way to learn Japanese effectively outside of Japan, in my experience, is to provide yourself with an environment of ‘active immersion.’ So, how can you do this?

In this article I will go over some of my own personal experiences studying Japanese in the US for over a year before I moved to Japan, as well as things I learned through my own personal experiences after moving to Japan. I have gathered a ton of experience in studying the Japanese language after living here for nearly 7 years, and would love to help save you time and frustration by sharing some of my experiences.

How can you avoid this situation? How to avoid bad habits while studying Japanese outside of Japan.

The biggest mistake people make when studying Japanese outside of Japan, is that they neglect the ‘active’ aspects of language learning. This becomes an issue, because reading and listening to Japanese uses different areas of your brain than actively producing Japanese does. I’m not a scientist, but when you reach a certain level of Japanese, you can actually feel this cognitive switch to a certain degree. I know I can, and I have heard many other people say this. Whereas as passive language comprehension is an exercise in processing information , active learning requires not only creativity, but a larger amount of cultural context and awareness of various situations in the Japanese society. A good example of this may be, you may have perfect reading comprehension, but that doesn’t make you a good writer. Essentially, you need to re-learn all of these essential skills from scratch to be able to perform at a similar level in Japanese. Most people who aren’t forced into a situation where they will need to communicate in a target language focus almost entirely on passive language learning, and as a result can barely speak when they get to Japan. You can include me in this group.

So, where should you start?

So, if you are going to study Japanese outside of Japan, it is really important to put yourself in an environment that allows for active language learning. But how do you do that? Well, before you can start creating your own sentences, and participating in conversations in an active way, first you will need to create a base level of language comprehension through passive learning. Passive learning is just as important, if not more important than active learning. The key is to have more balance between the two styles. So, how can you start building Japanese language comprehension through passive learning.

The first and most important step to starting to learn Japanese; Choosing the right textbook. My personal recommendation!

I always recommend to my readers the book I personally started with: GENKI I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese (English and Japanese Edition)

There are many many reasons why I like this textbook, but my main reason would be this: Genki 1 teaches you how the essentials, while also giving you the essential skills you need to teach yourself Japanese. After using Genki 1 and absorbing all of it’s juicy contents, you should have no problem reading a considerable amount of Japanese characters, understanding basic conversations, the most essential grammar points, and you will understand a LOT more about the way Japanese is actually used in everyday life in Japan. So many textbooks I have seen dole out information in a treadmill-like fashion, giving you tons of useful vocabulary you will only see in textbooks. Studying Japanese through Genki 1 was really efficient, and the book is also really corny in a fun, Japanese kind of way. Definitely check it out. It’s a bit pricey, but I think you will actually save money in the long run by purchasing this book, because it really does give you everything you need to get you through your first year or so of Japanese study. It’s totally worth it.

Japanese characters look really complicated? How is a textbook going to help me learn that?

I actually went over how to begin learning the Japanese alphabets in this article here (I also explain which alphabet you should learn first) if you want to get the most out of the Genki 1 textbook.

The first step towards studying Japanese in an active way; Shadowing

What is shadowing?

Shadowing is the process of mimicking the intonation, timing, and pronunciation of a native speaker. The key to doing this effectively is repetition. Literally replay a recording of a native speaker saying something and repeat it back over and over, say 10 times a day. How does this work? Well, it will seem redundant in the moment, but what will happen over time is that you pick up on not only the subtleties of native speech, but also the thought process. If you purchased Genki 1, the textbook also comes with a CD of recorded conversations that correspond with each section of the book. This CD is perfect for practicing shadowing, since these conversations are short, concise, and (mostly) practical. Really though, it will work with any native spoken Japanese. Just be sure to avoid practicing with anime until you reach a certain level, since the way people speak in anime is almost always overly-dramatized, and uses different setting-appropriate vocabulary, etc.

What about learning how to write in Japanese?

Repetition is king, and shadowing for writing works in a similar way. By rewriting sentences from a range of texts written by native speakers, you will be able to subconsciously internalize the exact nuance of how different words form together. I also recommend this process for learning kanji, since this is very close to the way Japanese kids learn how to write in Japanese. Repetition in the pursuit of mastery is an essential aspect of not only Japanese language learning, but also Japanese society in general, and it is especially important when studying Japanese outside of Japan, since you will be lacking some of that natural exposure. You can see an example of this in the image below, which I used in another article I wrote: How to Teach Yourself Japanese; My Experience, where I outline some of techniques I use in my everyday life in Japan to study Japanese.

Example: How to actively memorize Kanji through writing exercises

Writing the same character over and over again, and providing yourself context for it’s actual use with an example sentence is a great way to remind yourself why you are studying each character in the first place. This will not only motivate you, but will also internalize the exact nuance of how each word should be used.

To truly get good at speaking Japanese, you need to practice speaking with Japanese people. Here are some different options for practicing with native speakers:

1. Hello Talk

Hello talk is a language exchange app that pairs you with speakers of your target language, who are also learning your native language. There are a lot of native Japanese speakers using this app, so I ithink this is a great resource you can use to actively learn Japanese while living outside of Japan.

The app also has a really useful correction function (you can see the mistake is crossed out above) that makes it really easy to offer quick corrections to other people.

Talking to people on the app is a great exercise in and of itself, but the thing I find myself using most often in-app is the timeline feature. Essentially, you can post any language question you may be thinking in your timeline, and you will almost always get an answer relatively quickly. Plus, as you gain more followers in-app, your posts will show up for other people more often. It’s a good positive feedback loop where you find yourself getting really efficient and helpful advice, and then return the favor, making it really easy to make friends. You also have the option to make free calls to other users in-app if you’re feeling brave (You should definitely do this! Take advantage of the internet!) Hello Talk is free, so there’s no reason not to check it out.

2. Study Japanese through Discord communities

There are many Japanese-English language exchange servers that you coin join that often have live-chat and language study support systems. This is another great way to encourage yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. When I was studying in university in Japan, I would jump into Splatoon 2 and servers at it’s peak popularity speak in (usually) all Japanese chat rooms. I offer this with a hint of hesitation for a few different reasons, however. First, many of the Japanese-English servers are very English-centric. They’re full of teenagers dabbling in learning Japanese because they’re into anime, etc. Basically, the conversations would often be very English-centric, and it could sometimes be a struggle to find a good environment to actually study in. As far as entering all-Japanese servers (like the Splatoon 2 server I joined), it can be very, very intimidating. Often times, you will be the only foreigner who has ever joined these servers, and the difficult ceiling can be really difficult since these servers are often chock-full of inside jokes, internet slang, memes, etc. It’s an amazing opportunity, but it’s the proverbial equivalent of launching yourself out of a cannon into the deep end. If you’re up for the challenge, search for some servers in Japanese and give it a shot! Just don’t let yourself get discouraged if you find it too hard. It’s not an easy environment to get into.

Here are the discord servers I used to study Japanese

This is an old post, and some of the information may be outdated, but here is a master list of language learning servers I found on reddit. Check it out! They have multiple servers listed for learning Japanese.

In conclusion; What is the best way to learn Japanese outside of Japan?

The best way to learn a language is through total immersion. However, it isn’t enough to only expose yourself to Japanese through media, or by watching movies. You need to place yourself in situations that demand you actively express yourself and interact with other people through the use of the Japanese language. With more tools available online that ever before (even more than just the 7 years since I moved to Japan) , there is no reason why you cannot be some kind of language-learning hermit, spend all day talking to Japanese people online, and emerge from your room fully fluent, competent, and comfortable in the Japanese language. Now, the kinds of real-life interactions, experiences, and memories you will form while actually living your life in Japan are invaluable. I don’t think you can ever reach your full potential in the Japanese language while living outside of Japan, because so much of the Japanese language is culturally based. Understand the minute-to-minute social cues of everyday life is essential, and knowing how to act versus having real-life experience are two very different things. That being said, you can get to a very high level nowadays. I have met some people who only study online who have blown me away with how well they can speak. So, by utilizing the techniques I have laid out in this article, as well as other techniques from articles I will attach below, I believe you can progress very far on your own, while still living in your own country!

If you are planning on seriously studying Japanese.

Also, if you haven’t already, you really should consider picking up Genki 1. It will save you a ton of time. Time spent searching for free resources or YouTube videos is time you could have spent actually studying. If you’re taking this seriously, consider investing in your own future and take a dive down the Genki rabbit-hole. You won’t regret it!

You will learn a LOT from Genki 1…

If you are looking for other articles on how to teach yourself Japanese, check out the related articles below.

Why Are There Still Arcades in Japan? My Experience

Japan’s living conditions being what they are, small homes and paper-thin walls are not uncommon. Because of how Japan’s infrastructure gradually shifted to accommodate a more population-dense society, many facets of Japanese life are designed to be enjoyed primarily outside of the home. This includes arcades!

The reason why there are still arcades in Japan? My experience

Let me tell you a story! For new readers who may not know, I went to university in Japan. My apartment complex had an affiliation to my University, which put my apartment complex in some weird middle-ground situation of not being a dorm, but only having tenants who attended my university. My point being; everyone who lived in my apartment complex was in their early-to-mid twenties. Everyone knows that when surrounding yourself with people in their early-to-mid 20’s, you’re almost sure to find somebody who is into SMASH. By “SMASH”, I mean “Super Smash Bros.”, as in, the Nintendo game! I was able to experience a clear demonstration of the paper-like quality of Japanese apartment sound insulation when I would go to bed almost every night to the serenade of Kirby, Link, and Captain Falcon.

Nap time? No, no , no, it’s Falcon punch time!!!

This is because the person next to me loved hosting Super Smash Bros. house parties, and apparently my neighbor also happened to love Kirby. I would wake up at 2 am to a vacuum-like sound effect. This love for Kirby was fierce, and it didn’t matter what time it was. 2AM? 3AM? It doesn’t matter; Kirby is ready, Kirby is willing, and Kirby is about to disrupt your sleep schedule. His hunger will never be satiated…

So…all Japanese apartments are like this?

Japanese apartments have some really bad sound insulation… which provides a demand for public entertainment spaces like arcades in Japan

Well, it depends. Most apartments in Japan have a very low noise tolerance, meaning most apartments in Japan don’t have the sound insulation to keep the sound effects of a rogue 2AM Kirby or Captain Falcon at bay. In general, it’s more fun to play communal games like Smash at Japan’s many game bars or arcades, because most of the time spent with your friends in a Japanese apartment will be worrying about sound pollution and disturbing your neighbors. Apartments are smaller on average (apartments here are measured by the number of tatami mats you can fit on the floor. Imagine if apartments in the West were measured in ‘Tiles’ instead of square meters or feet… This can put some things in perspective, because in Japan, most people live in apartments. Japan’s living conditions create a situation where most people would rather enjoy typical activities someone in a Western country would enjoy in their home, while they are out-and-about. This makes arcades a very integral part of the social ecosystem for many people, leading to arcades still remaining popular in Japan to this day. Not just arcades, but the entire public entertainment industry as a whole plays an important, and unique role in Japanese society. The urge to ‘belt it’, when you can never ‘belt it’ in your own home makes people want to leave. Get out.

Escape…

Nothing helps snuff out any feelings of claustrophobia more than shoving yourself inside a karaoke box, and screaming at the top of your lungs, right? Maybe Street Fighter II Turbo?

It must have been revenge for a minute or two of sweet, sweet jamming!

How Japan’s taste in games leads to the popularity of arcades in Japan

Japan has a long-standing history of valuing precision over immersion. If I were to sum-up the core principles and values of the Western gaming industry, I think it is safe to say that most Western gamers value a game that provides immersion over punishing difficulty. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but there is a Stark contrast to the kinds of games people in Japan gravitate to and the most popular game series in Japan such as Monster Hunter, or Japan’s endless sea of rhythm games.

If I were to pick on type of game that encompasses the tastes of the typical Japanese gamer, I would probably point to Japan’s gargantuan rhythm game industry. So why are rhythm games so popular in Japan? It’s a bit of a ‘chicken vs. the egg’ situation, where arcades continue to be popular in Japan, and rhythm games are popular because arcades are popular. So, why? There may be a cultural basis for why precision-focused games are more popular In Japan than in the west. In Japan, there is the concept of ‘a craftsman spirit’, or ‘shokunin kishitsu’ (職人気質). Seen in all aspects of Japanese life, there is an emphasis placed on this kind of ‘craftsman spirit’, where one repeats a strict practice regiment day-to-day to continuously work towards the perfection of one specific craft. This can be seen in Japan’s sushi chefs and various artisans, where a daily routine of hard-work and discipline is seen as a value in-and-of-itself, independent of any desired outcome. This is one of the ways Japan’s values and perspective differs from most Western countries. In Japan, a hard work ethic and continuous effort in the face of diversity is the most important value that people strive for on a daily basis. I believe that rhythm games appeal to this kind of ‘craftsman spirit’ that is such an integral component to Japanese culture.

Of course, Mario is popular on the whole of planet Earth.

What are Japanese arcades like?

Japanese arcades are typically very different than the ‘bar-cades’ you can find in the West. Western arcades hit a breaking-point around the early 2000’s where home consoles began to overcome the hardware specs of the average arcade cabinet. To adapt to this, Western arcades began creating more of a community-driven experience. The Japanese arcade experience is still very single-player-driven, by comparison. You will see entire floors of single player rhythm games, single player Gundam pods, and fighting game cabinets like Tekken and Street Fighter. Notable in Japan’s proclivity for lining streets with countless pachinko parlors, from kid-friendly crane games to adult-catered UFO droppers, slot machines, and whole areas devoted to keiba (digital horse races), the layout of the arcades in Japan are indicative of the Japanese culture surrounding them.

Let’s take a look at some pictures

I walked through my neighborhood Sega arcade and took some pictures. While this is far from the biggest arcade I have been to in Japan, I thought it was a pretty good representation of the average neighborhood arcade you can find in Japan.

Japanese kids play arcade games next to 50 year old men!

Oof…could have chosen my words more carefully… In Japan, children are generally given a lot of more freedom in public than what I ever saw in the US. One reason for this is the incredibly low crime rate in Japan in-general, while there is also much less emphasis placed in Japanese society on shielding young minds from adult concepts. Of course, children aren’t allowed to gamble, but it’s not uncommon to see a little kid playing the newest Yokai watch or Yugioh machine, with a 50 year old man smoking cigarettes and running slots 3 feet away from them. This dynamic can be seen in a lot of different aspects of Japanese society. I would often see kids that couldn’t have been older than 3 or 4 riding the train by themselves. On the other hand, parents often sleep in the same bed with their kids at this age. The social standard on what is acceptable for children what, and where, leads to a ton of ‘Japan only’ exclusive games, cabinets, etc, which is one of the reasons why it might be interesting to visit an arcade in Japan, even if you’re not really into gaming. Of course, the fact that people of all ages have something catered towards their age bracket is probably another factor why arcades are still so popular in Japan.

Are you interested in learning more about the gaming scene in Japan?

I want to recommend “Arcade Mania: The Turbo-charged World of Japan’s Game Centers” by Brian Ashcraft. He goes into the background of the kinds of games you will find in Japanese games centers, how they were made, their history, and is full of interviews with game creators, etc! It’s a fun read, and can prep you for any arcade-hopping you plan on doing in Japan!

*I am an Amazon affiliate and will receive a small percentage of sales on the above link. However, I will ONLY recommend products that I have used, genuinely enjoyed, and found useful / fun.

In conclusion

Japan’s small living quarters have created a higher demand for spaces that allow people to let loose in public. This is the reason why not only Japanese arcade are popular, but also other Japanese night life staples like Karaoke. Also, Japanese arcades have some pretty unique and cool games that you couldn’t play at home.

If you’re interested in reading more about what people in Japan do for fun, here’s another article below where I go over the Japanese concept of ‘nijikai’, and explain the timing of hanging out in Japan. Check it out!

Why Does Japan Use So Much Packaging? My Experience With Japan’s Food Sharing Culture

There are many factors for why Japan uses so much packaging. A cultural tendency to want to easily share snacks one of these reasons, along with Japan’s views on hygiene and common eating practices. Throughout this article I will go over my own experiences living in Japan, and some things I have I noticed.

The moment I realized just how much packaging Japan uses

One common thing you’ll see at a Japanese supermarket snack isle is snacks, within wrappers, within wrappers, within packaging…within bigger packaging…you get the idea. This was one of the small culture shocks I had when I first moved to Japan. I remember one of the first days I got here I bought some groceries, and decided to try a box of cookies. I remember getting home and being pretty frustrated, because every single individual cookie (these were not American sized cookies) was wrapped in it’s own plastic wrapper. As I enjoyed one tiny cookie…2 quarter-sized cookies…3! THREE WHOLE COOKIES…I realized that I had eaten what would have been the equivalent of 1/3 the size of the cookies you can buy in the US, and that I now had a small mountain of plastic wrappers beginning to form at a frightening rate.

Why…oh why would they do this? Isn’t Japan a relatively eco-friendly nation? Plus, Japanese people are so waste-conscious! What’s with this?

In Japan, I have to sort my trash into 10 different categories just to take it out, but the wrapping form this cookie box is creating a short layer of cushion that is currently padding out my 15 x 15 1LDK apartment. How can this be. How…is this logical? WHY JAPANESE PEOPLE!? Why!? Well…so why does this happen?

Why does Japan use so much packaging?

Wondering this myself after my little cookie incident, I’ve asked some Japanese friends over the years their thoughts on this. It’s a bit difficult to answer questions like this, when this is the country you have spent your whole life living in. It is difficult for people to realize how extreme the packaging in Japan can get, if they have only ever lived in Japan. That being said, this is the answer I have gotten the most often.

Japanese companies use more packaging with snacks, because Japanese people like to hand out snacks to their friends, family, and colleagues. This is also a part of the Japanese sense of hygiene, as people are generally adverse to touching their foods. One example of this sense of hygiene is how Japanese people will always hold sandwiches and hamburger with an external wrapper.

In fact, most Japanese restaurants that serve burgers or other finger foods will provide this wrapper. What about fries? Some people eat fries with chopsticks, and some people use their fingers. It depends on personal preference (and often the level of grease.)

How Japanese people share food, and it’s effect on packaging. One of my experiences with food packaging in Japan

It’s the little things that stick out to you when you come to Japan. I remember it was somewhat of an eye-opening experience for me, how something so small can explain so much with so few actions. And…this is funny, but sharing a bag of chips with some Japanese friends was a real ‘aha’ moment for me.

Why?

Because it explained so much about the way Japanese people view food culture, how they view cleanliness, and how they view food packaging, all in one small action.

So…what was it? It’s a pretty big deal…

As a symptom of Japan’s collectivist mindset, bags are often opened completely down the middle, while making effort to spread out bag’s contents over a wider area so people’s hands don’t touch. I prepared some pictures so that you can better visualize what I mean by this.

A perfectly good bag of chips…
In Japan people will open bags down the center like this…
and then shake it a bit to spread out the contents. Now you have a communal plate where you can share the chips without running the risk of bumping into someone else’s filthy hands. Hooray! No human contact guaranteed!

So, i’ts not like people don’t pour out chips to share them in Western countries, but I have seen this done in these exact 3 steps so many times here. Every single time I’ve seen a Japanese person eat something that came in a bag (snacks, chips, cookies, etc.), people have done this as a formality, almost as if to communicate indirectly with those around them ‘feel free to help yourself!’

So if people share chips like this in Japan, why do they individually wrap other kinds of snacks?

I think the simple answer is that chips are seen more of a food to be indulged in, while cookies and other small desserts are typically eaten in much smaller portions. I think we even has this small unspoken rule in the West as well. It would be weird if somebody opened up a bag of chips, eat one single chip from the bag, and put the rest away for later right? Like…you just wanted to eat one chip? On the other hand, it would be more normal to eat a single cookie, and put the rest away for later right? Why is that?…I honestly can’t really answer, but the point is that the emphasis placed on individual packaging in Japan serves the purpose of making it easier to share foods that are more often eaten in smaller portions. Rather than shoving 20 oreos into a tray like they would in the US, they instead may individually package one cookie at a time. This is partly influenced by Japans constant need to assing a ‘proper’ way of doing basic tasks such as eating, and also Japan’s health-conscious society that places much more importance on balance within portions compared to most places in the world.

And especially to the US! Oh boy

So yeah…there definitely wouldn’t be an individually wrapped…cheeto or something like that in Japan. HA! Nope…would never happen.

WAIT!

These are called umaibo. They’re basically single-wrapped corn puffs that come in some pretty interesting flavors. My favorite is the corn soup! For some reason, Japan really likes corn soup flavored things?

I think the reason why umaibo are individually wrapped is because they are more about the experience of trying different flavors with your friends. So you might buy 10 and share them all together for just around $1 USD, for example.

A look at Japan’s marketing campaigns; The concept of 派 and how Japan’s marketing campaigns lead to excessive packaging

There is another reason why Japan’s food industry incorporates (and other industries, for that matter), use so much packaging; There is a culture of companies constructing exclusivity within their own brands. By creating two rival versions of the same product, companies hope that people will talk within their friend circle about which ‘team’ they belong to. A classic example of this would be with the original Pokémon red and blue release.

Blue’s better. Just saying…

In order to catch every Pokémon in the game, you had to own both copies of the game, or trade with somebody who owned the version of the game you didn’t. Japanese companies love creating this discussion around ‘teams’ (Ha, or 派) in Japanese. I think the most prevalent example in the food industry would be Meiji’s rival chocolate mountain-plant-based-snacks, kinoko no yama (lit. mountain mushroom) and takenoko no ri (lit. bamboo village). You can see them both below. Put simply, having so many versions of the same product means that the exterior designs must be updated in tandem, resulting in tons of exclusive paired-products and often complete redesigns of store shelves.

Me personally, I’m definitely a mushroom man myself, and anyone who isn’t doesn’t even deserve the breath it will take to spout their stupid opinion. They’re wrong. UGH. I’ll think I’ll go start a twitter poll.

And that’s how it goes…

Japan and America’s food culture and the concept of hospitality. Also, how this is connected to the expectations of packaging.

The things people often fixate on in Japan can be pretty unique… Click the image to read about Japan’s obsession with being clean shaven, and that cultural rabbit-hole!

Actually, it’s more like people take this act so that they don’t have to say ‘please help yourself’. I say this because there is a famous Japanese socio-linguist, Doi Takeo, who devoted the first chapter of his book The Anatomy of Dependence to one of the biggest cultural differences he noticed between, in particular, America and Japan. These kinds of indirect means of communication are an integral part of Japan’s ideal image of hospitality, where a guests needs are met without needing to directly communicate their wishes to host. This is very different to the American ideology, where emphasis is placed on creating a setting where the guest can feel ‘at home’ to speak. In Japan, the idea of feeling ‘at home’ in someone else’s domain is reserved strictly for the closest relationships.

A packaging of hospitality; host hospitality and food culture in Japan and America

There is a display of intentionality that can be seen as common ground between the relationship of both the typical American and Japanese host-guest hospitality, although there is an emphasis placed on demonstrating an ability to ‘read the air’ much more in this situation in Japan. A common trope seen in this setting in Japan (although this is becoming more rare) is that a Japanese person will receive an offer for food or drink 3 times before accepting. It is their job to show their proclivity to enryo (遠慮) by exercising restraint, and it is the host’s responsibility to show their strong desire to provide a hospitable environment by offering multiple times. This is a topic I would like to write further on in the future. For now, I can say that the increased importance placed on this dynamic in Japan is one of the primary factors that affects how people share food in Japan. This dynamic has a direct impact on the way packaging (and food portions in general) are designed for the domestic Japanese market.

In conclusion

Japanese companies use so much packaging to satisfy the cultural expectation that aligns with Japan’s collectivist tendencies. People want to share food, but share food in a way that is seen as more removed and hygienic than what is typically normal in the west. On top of that, Japan’s history of marketing campaigns that encourage the design of multiple competing version of the same product make Japan a country that tends to use a much higher amount of packaging than other countries.

If you want to try Japanese snacks

If you want to try to Japanese snacks, and want to support this site, please consider purchasing a Japanese snack bundle through the Amazon link I have placed below. I receive a small percentage of the sale in commissions, and you get to eat delicious Japanese snacks wrapped in layers of plastic! I also made sure to find a bundle with a fair price and good snack choices (There are a lot of ‘wacky Japanese foods’ that nobody here ever eats. Not in this bundle! I made sure to check!) This package also contains the individually wrapped umaibo cheeto-like corn puffs I talked about in the article earlier! Check it out.

Click here to check out the Japanese snack bundle on Amazon.

For more information on Japan’s unique food culture, and how Japanese culture affects small things like this in everyday life, why not check out the article I wrote below about Japan’s coffee culture, and the reason why people drink coffee so often in Japan? It’s a great read! Unbiased opinion! I have learned humility since moving to Japan, I swear!!!

Is Tokyo a City / State / or Prefecture? Let’s Take a Look!

Did you know that Tokyo technically isn`t a city? Technically, Tokyo is a prefecture, made up of 23 smaller mini city pocket special wards. However, Tokyo prefecture is only a small fraction of The Greater Tokyo Area…so how big is Tokyo, and how do we even begin to define it as an area?

It’s…pretty complicated. Let’s first go over the facts.

How is the area of Tokyo defined officially? Is Tokyo a city, a prefecture, a state, or an area? The confusion continues…

Tokyo is technically one of the 47 prefectures that make up the country. However, unlike most other prefectures, the Tokyo prefecture does not contain a capital. Whereas the capital of Osaka prefecture is Osaka city, the Tokyo prefecture is instead comprised of 23 special smaller ‘wards’, which are essentially smaller government jurisdiction pockets that make up the prefecture of Tokyo.

So Tokyo isn’t a city? A bit of history

Not currently. However, there did originally exist a Tokyo city (which was historically renamed to Tokyo from Edo when it became the capital of Japan in 1868 ), however, Tokyo city was abolished in 1943 and would merge with Tokyo Prefecture to form the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. This would allow the areas in and around Tokyo city to be governed from the then central government, with the governor of Tokyo reporting directly to prime minister, who would then report to the emperor and so-on. This direct control would continue until 1947 when the current structure of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government was introduced. In the process of decentralizing power from the central government, the areas that comprised Tokyo city would be split up into 23 independent wards which make up the areas of the Tokyo prefecture. This is the current system that is still in place today. So, currently, Tokyo is not a city. Tokyo is a prefecture.

A quick summary; What all of these definitions means

So, to summarize, Tokyo isn’t a city, but is instead a prefecture made of 23 mini-city areas known as special wards. You can think of a prefecture as being similar to what a state would be in the United States. That being said, Tokyo is conceptually thought of as a city in Japan. While technically defined as a prefecture, the lifestyle of the average Japanese person make it very difficult to define where the boundaries of Tokyo begin and end. Put simply, it’s very difficult to define what exactly Tokyo means.

Oh, but believe me…people sure have tried! They really. REALLY tried *cries and crumbles under the pressure of research materials gathered to write this article.

Based on my research, there are dozens of different ways the various municipalities around Tokyo choose to define the city.

Have you ever played any of the Civilization games, where you can view filters on different areas of your land that allow you to see different trade routes, religious spread, population, etc? It`s kind of like that.

The different ways the boundaries of Tokyo have been defined. Tokyo isn’t a city, but is it a prefecture or greater area?

There are dozens of different definitions of what Tokyo even means, and which area’s are considered Tokyo in an official capacity, and which areas are colloquially referred to as a part of Tokyo, but are actually a part of a separate prefecture. One example of how politicians have defined the area of Tokyo as a concept is the idea of `One Metropolis, Three Prefectures` (一都三県, Itto Sanken), which states that the `area of Tokyo` consists of the Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba prefectures. However, this leaves out many of the smaller neighborhoods that many people would commonly refer to as Tokyo.

As with most of my articles, please allow me to provide you with added context. Wow, what a hero I am!

So, why is it so difficult to define the area of Tokyo?

Japan is a ‘commuting nation’. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, about 86 percent of Japanese companies pay their employees’ tsukin teate, or “commuting allowance.” Japan’s dense population and excellent public transportations system, along with the fact that most companies pay 100% of their employees transportation to work means that it is extremely common for people to commute from Tokyo’s neighboring prefecture’s on a daily basis. In fact, when looking at the data, 34.8% of the working population of surrounding prefecture Saitama (埼玉) commutes to Tokyo daily. 32.1% of the working population of Chiba (千葉) commutes to Tokyo daily, and so on. (source: Statistics Bureau of Japan)

So an extremely high number of workers commute into Tokyo daily, but there’s another factor to consider

Japan’s group-mentality means that more often than not, people will choose to meet up in the most centralized location. Due to the geography of the area, somebody who lives in Saitama (north-west of Tokyo), and somebody who lives in Chiba (far-west of Tokyo) can meet in the middle at some of Tokyo’s most centralized stations. Tokyo’s central location makes it a hub of-sorts for all surrounding prefectures.

With the choice between Saitama, Chiba, and Tokyo, most people will always choose to go out in Tokyo.

This is a fact.

Nightlife in Japanese cities center around the last train

In Japan, people’s social life tend to revolve around easily-accessible train stations. “Let’s meet in Shinjuku”, usually means ‘Let’s meet at JR Shinjuku station’. It’s really just an unspoken pattern of life, which leads to more people meeting at these centralized train stations across Tokyo. This makes the timing of the last train extremely relevant in urban Japan. People talk about it constantly. ‘Shuden wa?’ (When is the last train?), ‘Shuden daijyoubu?’ (You aren’t going to catch the last train?) are two sentences you will hear if you stay out late in virtually any city in Japan. The ‘last train’ is the…last train of the night! Pretty self-explanatory, right? Every morning around from 6am-9am people pour into Tokyo from surrounding prefectures, and will often stay until shuden (the last train), which usually leaves somewhere around 12:30 am.

Do people say that they live in…Tokyo?

So…say you hypothetically commute in from neighboring Saitama, but you work in downtown Tokyo, often meeting up with friends and running errands until late at night, and sometimes until the last train. You only go home to sleep, do laundry, etc. Would you tell people that you live in Saitama? I think what often happens is people say they live in Tokyo, but that their home is in Saitama. Generally speaking, the closer one is to a major Tokyo station, the more likely they are to say that they live in Tokyo, even if their home is technically outside of the prefectural limits.

The Kanto Major Metropolitan Area; A definition of Tokyo based on commuter data

So Tokyo technically isn’t a city, and is instead a prefecture separated into 23 wards. We not know that this definition may not be practical enough in a modern sense, however. Throughout my experience combing through the many different definitions of the area that makes up Tokyo, one definition for the area of Tokyo that seems like a proper balance between the concept of Tokyo as a city, and Tokyo as a prefecture / Greater Area is the concept of the Kantō Major Metropolitan Area (関東大都市圏, Kantō Dai-toshi-ken).

The Kanto Major Metropolitan Area; The How most people who say they `live in Tokyo` would define the central Tokyo area.

This definition is especially practical because the areas designated are based on the commuting data from the surrounding region. Essentially, areas that have a high percentage of commuters riding to Tokyo on a regular basis are designated as a part of Kantō Major Metropolitan Area. To qualify to be a part of this region and be considered as a part of this more general Tokyo area areas must have 1.5% of their population aged 15 and above commuting to a designated city (Yokohama, Kawasaki, Sagamihara, Chiba, and Saitama) or the 23 special wards of Tokyo.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Kantō through Pokémon? It is based on this region.

I think this is my favorite definition of the Tokyo area, because it acknowledges the practical reality of the region. That being aid, there is a designation for the Tokyo area that is used more often. That is the designation of the Greater Tokyo Area.

What about the Greater Tokyo Area?

The Greater Tokyo Area is referred to by various terms in Japanese, with the most common of them being the shutoken (首都圏). The Greater Tokyo Area contains the entirety of the prefectures surrounding Tokyo’s 23 special wards including the neighboring prefectures; Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma) as well as the prefecture of Yamanashi. This designation includes a lot more rural areas, including areas that are practically quite distant from Tokyo. This is why I personally prefer the Kanto Major Metropolitan Area, because somebody living in West Yamanashi is over 2 hours away by train from central Tokyo…which seems just a little bit too removed in my opinion to be considered a part of the Greater Tokyo area. This has become somewhat of an inside joke with Japanese people as well, because Yamanashi and central Tokyo are about as polar opposite locations imaginable. So…is Yamanashi is a…part of Tokyo?

Yamanashi…Yamanashi a part of Tokyo? A look into the scope of the Greater Tokyo Area

About Yamanashi

Even if you`ve never heard of Yamanashi, you`ve probably seen pictures that were taken in the area. Yamanashi is famous for being right next to Mount Fuji, and is very photogenic. However, most people who visit Mount Fuji typically go through the Shizuoka prefecture, because it follows the coast and is a much shorter trip from Tokyo. This is because Yamanashi is located right in the center of a mountainous canyon range. Despite only being a 90 minute train ride from Shinjuku, Tokyo, which is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, Yamanashi has a population of less than a million (817,192 as of 2019), and is one of the more isolated prefectures in Japan.

Because of these difficulties in reaching Yamanashi from Tokyo, I was curious what the Japanese perception on Yamanashi being included in Greater Tokyo Area was. So…I went down a bit of a google-search rabbit hole. From reading some local`s experiences moving to Yamanashi from other areas of Japan, I came across some common insights. Generally, the underlying theme I saw in all of these blog posts, forums, and YouTube videos was that Yamanashi is a beautiful place that exudes some kind of air of `exclusivity` through most facets of life there. The people, most of them having lived there their entire lives, have a very unique Japanese dialect, unique traditions, and a strong sense of community that is difficult to penetrate. Being very out-of-the-way, much of the economy is insular, and the former downtown areas of the capital city, Kofu, have been reduced year by year to an ever-barren sea of empty storefronts and chain restaurants. It’s a strange dichotomy of being so close to the largest metropolitan area in the world, yet being in the center of an isolated basic next to one of the world’s most famous icons, Mt. Fuji.

Do Japanese people think Yamanashi is part of the Tokyo identity? Is Yamanashi really a part of the Greater Tokyo Area?

In the hopes of obtaining righteous knowledge, I decided to throw a post up on Hello Talk (A language exchange app I can recommend using to supplement your Japanese studies). I asked Japanese natives what they thought about Yamanashi being included in the definition of Greater Tokyo Area.

Behold, my incredible scientific means of gathering data. I truly am a model analyst! I may as well be!

The first responder said “It depends on the specific context, but I think that the Greater Tokyo Area should include Tokyo’s 23 wards, Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama.” The second responder said “I didn’t know! I had no idea Yamanashi was a part of the Greater Tokyo Area.” The third responder liked the post. The fourth responder said “There are a lot of people who commute to Tokyo to work from Yamanashi, so I think including Yamanashi in this definition is good.” In response to the fourth person, I would acknowledge that many people who live close to the center of Kofu, which is the capital of Yamanashi, do in fact commute to Tokyo. That being said, according to the study I had referenced early, less than 5% of Yamanashi workers to commuting outside of Yamanashi for Tokyo on a regular basis. When compared to the 34.8% of Saitama residents, and considering Yamanashi’s much smaller population, this is still a relatively low number.

In my opinion, Yamanashi continues to be considered a part of the Greater Tokyo Area in an effort to encourage Tokyo residents to move to Yamanashi, which is a good example of a rural area that is facing a crises in population decline, while the neighboring Tokyo prefecture still continues to increase in population year by year. Yamanashi’s nearby Mt. Fuji as an incredibly iconic image of Japan may be another possible reason why Yamanashi continues to be included in this definition.

Honestly though, I still don’t buy it. I would love to visit Yamanashi. In fact, it’s one of the areas I am the most interested in, as it would be the perfect escape from the amazing concrete jungle that is Tokyo. I just… I just can’t consider it a part of Tokyo though. That’s my opinion. The mountainous characteristics of the region make Yamanashi simply too difficult to reach from Tokyo to consider it a part of a cohesive area with everything else.

The reason I became interested in this question

 Before moving to Tokyo, I lived in the Kansai region of Japan for over 5 years. I spent the majority of those 4 years as a university student (you can read about my experience in Japanese university here), and my last year of university looking for work. In Japan, it is the expectation that university students spend their entire 4th year going through Japan`s new graduate job hunting funnel.

It`s not a fun funnel. It`s more like a funnel of rejection and all-consuming depression.

This job-hunting void typically ends up in Tokyo, because most students are expected to travel to Tokyo for the final round of job interviews for probably around 80% of the companies in Japan. As a final year university student in Japan, your eyes really become focused on Tokyo. Having had lived in Japan for around 5 years at this point, but having spent collectively around a week in Tokyo, I started doing a little bit more research on the best place to stay, which area had cheap hotels and Air BNB’s, where to go for a little bit of fun after my apocalyptic final interview was finished, etc. etc. Basically, this time I went down a Wikipedia rabbit hole.

And I found out that the logic of how Tokyo is laid out is pretty…different

What I thought was Tokyo was always Tokyo, but a lot of the time what I assumed isn’t Tokyo was ‘kind of’ Tokyo, and that’s when I realized that this whole system must be pretty crazy. Looks like I was right.

If you’re thinking of visiting Tokyo in the near future and are wondering how to spend your night, I laid out my ideal plan for you in the article below. It gives you recommendations on initial transportation, sight-seeing spots, where to eat your first dinner, where to go for drinks / fun afterwards, and what to do on the way back. I think you’ll enjoy the trip, even if just vicariously through my writing, so please feel free to check out the article below.

How Long Does it Take To Learn Japanese? My Experience

Me and two university friends, taken in Kyoto, 2017

A large chunk of my experience first studying Japanese was while I was living in Japan, so my situation may be different than yours. That being said, I would say that I would consider myself to be comfortably fluent after 2 or 3 years of rigorous Japanese study. That standard, however, keeps getting higher.

How long it took me to learn Japanese

Me with my Japanese language school class, 2015

If you’re wondering how long it takes to learn Japanese, I’m assuming what you actually mean in “How long before I can say anything I want in Japanese”, and it’s also likely that you came face to face with how difficult studying the language is, and wanted to know if this was something that is even possible. Well, I can say that based on my own experiences, it absolutely is possible for a native English speaker to become fluent. As for how long it takes to Learn Japanese…I think around 3 years of intense study (I’m talking over 3 hours a day of language exposure) is a safe estimate to become reasonably comfortable.

Don’t believe me? Well, I know this from my own personal experience. I started studying Japanese at 18 years old in late 2013. By early 2016 I had graduated from my Japanese language school and was scraping by in university courses… at a Japanese University. I went from knowing absolutely nothing, to taking (nearly failing) university level courses in Japanese in under 3 years.

If you work really hard and come to Japan, you TOO can have a Tokyo restaurant owner draw an anime portrait of you while you’re eating! Ganbarou–

That being said, I studied Japanese HARD for especially my first year in Japan. This is why when asking how long it takes to learn Japanese, there is a MASSIVE margin for variability. Your surroundings, and more importantly, the level of effort you put in is the biggest factor that will determine the answer to how long it takes to learn Japanese. Perhaps a better question would be; How many hours does it take to learn Japanese? …To be honest, it’s a bit difficult for me to personally answer that question, because the line of what constitutes ‘studying’ and what constitutes living your everyday life in Japan can get a bit blurred.

If you are just getting started; How I recommend getting started learning Japanese

Which textbook to use?

If you’re even considering studying Japanese you should first pick up the Japanese textbook that I used; Genki 1. There are a lot of reasons why I recommend this textbook. It introduces new grammar, vocabulary, and even new alphabets (yep, new alphabets). There are 3 alphabet’s in Japanese, and the book does a great job of slowly throwing them into example texts often enough to challenge new learners, but not be discouraging. The book is also very ‘memeable‘ and hilariously Japanese in it’s examples. (I remember there was one sentence about why boys shouldn’t cry when they’re sad. CULTURE!!! )

The front of the Genk 1 textbook has easy-to-reference charts that teach you both the Hiragana and Katakana alphabets. There is also a really helpful section for learning Kanji at the back of the book.

It’s a well known fact, known by all of my viewers, avid readers, and friends and family. I…am in love with a textbook. Genki 1 is love, Genki 1 is life! Really though, using Genki 1 should save you a lot of time when you first start studying Japanese, because it introduces what is important, but doesn’t shove (too much) useless information down your throat. It’s a great option.

You will learn a LOT from genki 1…

I put a link to Genki 1’s US Amazon page below.

Link to Genki 1 Amazon page

Do I need to take Japanese classes?

From early 2015 to 2016 I entered a Japanese language school, which was a fantastic environment to immerse myself in to learn Japanese. That being said, while the courses were quite intensive, what studying at the language school did for me more than anything else, is to give me a real-world view at the urgency required to learn a language. Learning a language is a bit like a survival game. As you pick up more and more tools, expand your vocabulary, learn new grammar, and become more comfortable speaking and writing, your chances of encountering any situations you can’t handle decreases. Studying at a language school and living everyday life in Japan gave me a view into the experience of what it is like to NOT be able to communicate effectively in another language. This is what drove me to learn Japanese faster. It takes less time to learn Japanese, and is easier to stay motivated when you feel like there is a practical application for using the language. If you want to read more about my experience studying in a Japanese language school, I wrote a separate article about that which I have linked below.

How long will it take me to learn Japanese by myself

In my experience, I don’t think a classroom setting is an optimal way to learn a language. As I had written above, it may take less time to learn Japanese in a classroom setting, because using the language in front of of your peers and being placed in a high-pressure environment raises the sense of urgency attached to learning the material. Basically, a classroom’s greatest benefit is as a motivation tool.

If you can dig deep, and find a way to motivate yourself to making Japanese study a part of your daily lifestyle, to the point where you don’t even think about it anymore, I don’t think it would take you much longer to learn Japanese on your own. In fact, I have developed my own study system over the years for self-teaching Japanese, as well as techniques I have used to teach myself how to write Japanese kanji characters. I think reading through both of these articles will help you learn Japanese faster, and save you time on things that might otherwise trip you up. I know from experience, because these techniques are all based on mistakes I made! I have linked both articles below, so feel free to check them out if you are trying to cut down on the amount of time it takes to learn Japanese.

Why Don’t Japanese Men Have Beards? All About ‘Seiketsukan’ Culture

Exaggeration you say?… hmm debatable.

Japanese men usually don’t have beards because they don’t match Japan’s obsession with the concept of seiketsukan, which can roughly be translated as a ‘sharp-dressed’ look into English. This concept of seiketsukan is a very important factor of Japanese society. Let’s take a deeper look.

The simple answer to why men in Japan don’t have beards

Men in Japan don’t have beards because facial hair is thought to be somewhat unsanitary or ‘not proper’. Having a beard in Japan can give people a bad first impression of you because you will appear to lack the proper drive to properly groom yourself by the standards of Japanese society.

This standard is…pretty complicated. Throughout this article I would like to explain some key concepts to understanding this stigma against facial hair such as seiketsukan (清潔感), and also the Japanese concepts of enryo (restraint), shikkari suru (to act in a ‘proper’ manner), and recount some of my experiences dealing with these concepts in Japan’s new graduate hiring system.

The history of beards in Japan, and why samurai had beards but modern Japanese men don’t

It’s true, and somewhat ironic. Historically speaking the samurai of Japan’s Edo period had facial hair. It was seen as a sense of power and masculinity, and many samurai who were unable to grow beards would use fake beards.

Very, very ironic!

In fact, one of the most prominent figures of Japanese history , Hideyoshi Toyotomi, famous for unifying Japan in the 16th century, famously used a fake beard.

He used a fake beard as a metaphorical beard to hide the fact that he couldn’t grow a beard. Now THAT’S some irony, and pretty hilarious.

You’re not fooling anyone, Hideyoshi…

As the Tokugawa shogunate of the Edo period maintained more stable control, the government would become a “civilian government”, known as bunchi-seiji (文治政治), where public morals would become a higher priority. As samurai were the ruling class, lower classes were expected to distance themselves in appearance by shaving off all facial hair. From the middle of the 17th century, the central government would issue a ban on all facial hair for samurai as well, with the goal of upholding a more consistent public moral value, as well as maintaining more control over the samurai ruling class. Many ronin (A samurai without a ruling lord) had begun to resort to bandit behavior and piracy, and the central shogunate attempted to instill a new moral standard to hurt the image of the traditional ‘rebel’ samurai by banning facial hair.

All the girls like those bad rebel samurai. Oh, with their rebellious face-rags. OOH! So improper!

This moral value really took, apparently, because people still feel the same way regarding facial hair in Japan several centuries later.

To further understand why this a ‘moral value’ in Japan, let’s look at the Japanese concept of seiketsukan.

What ‘seiketsukan’ means, and why Japanese men don’t have beards.

Seiketsukan is one of those words that justifies itself in Japanese. Japanese men don’t have beards because of the importance of the concept of seiketsukan. Seiketsukan is important because…seiketsukan is important! It’s classic circular logic. Japanese men don’t have beards, because not having a beard satisfies this desire to conform to seiketsukan culture…and a really big part of this idea of seiketsukan is that men don’t have beards! Get it?

Stop thinking! Stop it!

Okay, okay… so what does seiketsukan really mean? And how does it relate to beard culture in Japan?

As I had written above, ‘seiketsukan’ is probably best translated into English as something like the feeling someone projects from being sharp-dressed. However, this doesn’t fully capture the exact nuance of seiketsukan, and why Japanese men choosing to not grow beards is a good example for how this word is used. I have talked before about the importance of demonstrating intention in Japanese society. In the very first article I ever wrote for this site, I talked about the importance of not only exercising restraint (Enryo (遠慮) in Japanese),

Demonstrating one’s intention to perservere and restrain themselves from the ‘easy path’ is a key component of Japanese society.

but also the importance of demonstrating your intention to exercise restraint. In Japan, the most important factors which people are judged by in society are their ability to persevere and show effort, understand their surroundings, and demonstrate proper intentions. It isn’t enough to be polite. It is essential to demonstrate your intention to be polite as well.At least, in my experience this has certainly been the case. One reason why Japanese men don’t have beards in Japan, is because it demonstrates an intention to show great effort in maintaining their sense of seiketsukan for those around them. This may sound very academic, but I truly believe this social dynamic is engrained not only into the language and the way people speak, but also in the overall subconscious of the population. In the west, many people would describe this as conformity, but I don’t think people in Japan see it this way. It is more about demonstrating one’s willingness to meet a societal standard, than feeling the need to stifle one’s own individuality.

Japanese men don’t have beards because they are trying to show their willingness to strive towards the standard of seiketsukan

In short, Japanese men don’t have beards, because choosing to shave one’s beard well is demonstrating their intention to to strive for a higher sense of seiketsukan, which can be somewhat crudely translated as a sense of being sharp dressed, or a ‘feeling of personal hygiene’. In fact, when asked why they don’t like beards in this video by YouTuber That Japanese Man Yuta, many…many Japanese women simply answered “because there’s no feeling of seiketsukan“.

It doesn’t get much easier than that to find material for these articles, folks!

Try listening for the word ‘seiketsukan’

The concept of ‘shikkari shiteiru’, and my experience encountering this ‘seiketsukan’ standard while job hunting in Japan

I encountered this concept of seiketsukan while I was going through the Japanese new-university-graduate job hunting system in Japan as well. This new graduate hiring system (known as shukatsu 就活) in Japanese, takes all of the extreme elements of Japanese culture, and expands them to even more monumental proportions. There is a standard of human that is uniform and well-established, and student in the country is trying to fill the shoes of this imagined impossible ideal. Going through this system as a foreigner is a pretty strange experience, and is something that I can’t recommend approaching from the same angle as other Japanese students. The reason for this being that the entire job hunting system is designed with the Japanese ideal in mind. However, in order to fully understand what I’m getting at, first you need to understand the common Japanese phrase that is shikkari suru (しっかりする).

The concept of shikkari suru, and how it relates to seiketsukan and beard culture in Japan

If you live in Japan and have conversations in Japanese, something you will often hear is the phrase shikkari suru, which can (maybe?) be translated into English as “To do things properly and with the utmost effort”. This means to imply that there is a set standard, seeing as there is perceived existence of a ‘proper’ means of carrying out any action. This idea exists everywhere in Japan, which is a deal-breaker and reason why many expats eventually leave the country, I think. There seems to be a set rule for how to everything. How to walk, how to wait in line, what to wear on any given month of the year, what food to eat when and with who…etc etc, and yes, a rule that states that Japanese men (any especially young men in Japan) should not grow facial hair. The list could go on and on. Like most things in Japan, this ends up being a double-edged sword. The extreme perfectionism that permeates every inch of Japan’s culture results in a country full of incredibly competent, respectful, and humble people. The flip side of this is that people obviously live under a high amount of social pressure from those around them on a day-to-day basis. I don’t think there is any denying that. This is the reality of life in Japan. So how does this relate to the reasons why Japanese men don’t grow beards?

Well, when job hunting in Japan, every single movement, every action is made with the intent of showing your intention to shikkari suru, meaning to attend to each possible matter in a proper manner. This is most apparent in the standard people have on applicant’s appearance. I went through this system as a male, so I’m going to be writing from a man’s perspective, although the standards for women are just as strict (if not more strict.)

I was dying inside, but there’s not a single hair on that face. You can tell from this high quality image.

When going through job hunting, to be clean shaven is a measure of one’s own effort towards their appearance. To have a slim-fitting suit is a measure of one’s own effort to find a proper tailor and live a healthy lifestyle. To have straight black hair is a measure of one’s own effort to groom themselves properly before an interview. To have proper posture throughout an interview is a measure of one’s own willingness to persevere through pain and discomfort (also known as to gaman, another core concept to understanding the way people think in Japan), to memorize the 50 different set-movements one must perform to be able to properly enter a room, introduce themselves, and begin an interview in the first place…is a measure of whether or not someone is shikkari shiteiru or not, and whether or not they carry with them not only the sense of proper seiketsukan, but also an awareness for those around them. So, being clean shaven is just one piece of this puzzle. In Japan, men don’t have beards, because beards give other people the image that they might not be willing to go through the trouble of properly (shikkari suru) grooming themselves.

If Takeshi-sans not willing to properly groom himself, how can I ever trust Takeshi-san with my wife!?

So that’s what I need to succeed in Japan? Just follow all of these steps? Oh, and don’t have a beard in Japan too, right?

So, you have to demonstrate your drive and passion towards the company and those around you, right? And you need to learn how to persevere through hardship…oh and and you need to have a small intellectual frame, straight black hair, and the appearance of an all-around ideal Japanese male stereotype to succeed? Got it!

Hey! That sounds just like me! *phew* That…was a close one… At least I don’t have facial hair, right?

In conclusion; The reason why Japanese men typically don’t have beards or other kinds of facial hair

In japan there are a number of societal standards that are adhered to in order to demonstrate one’s willingness to achieve harmony with those around them. One of these standards is of seiketsukan, which is difficult to fully translate into English, but means something similar to the ‘feeling someone projects from being sharp-dressed’, or a ‘feeling of cleanliness’. When being interviewed, Japanese women overwhelmingly responded that they don’t like men who have beards because these men don’t project a good sense of seiketsukan. Put simply, it’s very difficult to ‘look sharp’ by a Japanese standard with facial hair, which is why most Japanese men choose to not grow a beard. By choosing to take on the attitude of properly maintaining, or shikkari shiteiru towards their own appearance, Japanese men are attempting to show a higher-than-average willingness to fit in harmoniously with their surroundings.

In Japan, effort to restrain one’s immediate desires (enryo 遠慮) for the good of both yourself and the immediate group is an obvious component to day-to-day life, which can result in a tendency to resort to circular logic in terms of social standard. For example, seiketsukan is good, because a person with proper seiketsukan is somebody who properly grooms themselves, whereas somebody who properly grooms themselves is somebody who has a strong seiketsukan. This logic can also be applied to why Japanese men avoid facial hair. It’s circular logic, with the goal of maintaining a certain sense of communal cohesion. This effort to maintain harmonious cohesion within the society has resulted in a higher frequency of occurrences of these kinds of ‘circular’ societal standards, which are often justified in and of themselves.

A proper Japanese man has a good sense of seiketsukan. A proper sense of seiketsukan is not compatible with having a beard.

How Long Does it Take to Learn Kanji? My Experience

In my time living in Japan I have heard many people say that you need to memorize around 2000 Kanji characters to be able to fluently learn Japanese. Based on my experience, I know that it took me personally 3 or 4 years of rigorous study, most of that studying taking place in Japan, to get that level.

While I will delve extensively into my own personal experience studying Japanese in Japan at both a Japanese language school and Japanese university, as well as my estimate to how many hours I have spent studying Japanese, first I would like to offer you some advice on things I have learned over the years through trial and error that have made my habits studying and memorizing kanji much more efficient, and much easier.

Tip for studying kanji #1: Respect the stroke order

Every kanji in Japanese has a set stroke order that native speakers have drilled into their brains from the time they begin primary school. It is important to memorize this stroke order if you hope to gain a certain level of authenticity in your penmanship comparable to a native Japanese speaker.


What is stroke order? How does it help you write kanji? 

The kanji’s ‘stroke order’ is the exact order in which each individual stroke that makes up each overall kanji character is written. You can think of a kanji stroke order like a map that lays out the exact directions in order that it takes to construct each character with a proper visual aesthetic and balance.

Here’s a real-life example

Have you ever assembled Ikea furniture? You know those instruction booklets that shows you visually the exact order for assembly with each individual piece included in the box? This is comparable example to the way stroke order works in kanji. If you suddenly jump from step number 2 to step number 4, you might still be able to assemble the furniture, but things might be a few millimeters off, and you may have to start shoving pieces in where they may not fit properly.

An example of proper kanji stroke order

I better explain the above example visually I have created a visualization of the stroke order for the Japanese character 見, which means to see or visualize.

How appropriate! I’m a genius.

You can drag through the pictures below to see the whole progression of the stroke order for this particular kanji.


Why is it important to memorize a kanji’s stroke order? 


Stroke order actually does affect the design of kanji in a subtle way. Its important to remember that the base shapes from which kanji characters are built were originally drawn with a brush. This is a subtle principle of calligraphy. If you look very closely the ‘flow’ of kanji characters also add a distinct flavor in their design. When you’re using a brush to draw these characters, the drag of the bristles is very apparent in the subtleties that make much up each character’s aesthetic. It’s pretty easy to tell when somebody has written a character in the wrong stroke order, because certain lines will be too thick, or it will be obviously that what is supposed to be one stroke was written as two individual strokes, etc. For example, let’s look at the character below.

The above kanji indicates direction, and i’ll be talking about the direction of individual strokes in kanji design.

Wow, look at me being a genius again!

If you look at the center square, you can see that there are corners jutting out, right? This is because the left-most stroke of the inner circle is one downward stroke. Leaving this little bump hanging out at the bottom demonstrates the flow of the brush.

You can then see the stroke on the top of that inner circle as well as the right side of the circle. This right angle is one motion, which is why there is a larger bump above the top-right side of the inner circle. This bump is left-over from the brush turning this right corner. You can confirm this with the image below.

The ‘brush flick’ is important

You may have noticed this little ‘flick’ on the bottom right of this character. You can also see this on the end of the 見 kanji I used to demonstrate kanji stroke order above, although it’s a bit more subtle than what you say here. This ‘flick’ is meant to mimic the look of a brush lifting off the page, and is one more example of how the design of kanji emphasis the flow of how they are written. When you get fast enough at writing each character, you will start to internalize this ‘flow’ or rhythm’. On some fonts this ending ‘flick’ is omitted, but most written Japanese will include these flourishes to an extent. While this is by no means a priority when learning kanji, if this ending flick is in the wrong spot, you can know that your stroke order is probably wrong. The character will also just look a bit…off

Tip for studying kanji #2: Write as much as you can, and invest in a fine-tip pen or pencil with well-distributed weight

The biggest, absolute biggest piece of advice I can give somebody when learning kanji, and I cannot stress this point enough, is that in order to memorize kanji, you will need to write kanji! Write until your hand is cramped. Go to the store, buy a notebook, and fill it out. Just find characters you want to memorize and write them over, and over, and over…this really is the best way to do it.

To make this process a little bit more personal and fun, I highly investing a bit of money into a pen or mechanical pencil with a nice, balanced weight, and a design that you like. As a language learner, a nice pen or pencil is something you will use more than a dictionary, and more than a textbook. If you’re doing things right, that is.

Doing things…write…ha…haha..ha (I’m sorry, I’ll stop)

My personal recommendation for a pen and pencil to use to study kanji

I have both a pen, and a mechanical pencil that I bought 4 years ago which I am still using today! I purchased these both when I was going through university in Japan. At the time, between taking notes during class and practicing writing Japanese, I would fill actually fill up a 100 page notebook every 3 or 4 weeks. As I became more and more of a perfectionist in terms of improving my penmanship in Japanese (and English) I decided to invest in a nicer pen and pencil. I have linked them below!

The mechanical pencil I use to study kanji

Kaweco Special Mechanical Pencil

The really like this mechanical pencil because of it’s perfect weight distribution and simple design. I’m kind of a minimalist, and don’t really like ostentatious colors, etc. Even more important than the design, this mechanical pencil uses 0.5 mm thin lead, which is a little bit rare in nicer mechanical pencils. I wanted the smallest lead possible for reasons I will explain below.

The pen I use to study kanji

Kaweco Al Sport Fountain Pen Black

I choose this pen for two reasons; Similarly to the mechanical pencil I listed above, I just liked the weight. It’s well distributed, a bit heavily, and helps you write with the natural flow that will help you mimic a brush. Second, I choose a fountain pen because I wanted the thinnest pen tip possible. It’s also a pretty good entry-level fountain pen at $80. You get quality, but I personally could care less about expensive materials or craftsmanship. You get a good weight, great writing experience, and nice minimal design.

Why a thin pen tip is important, and how I choose the above pen and mechanical pencil

Using a pen tip that is too thick will make it very difficult to confirm the accuracy of your own penmanship in Japanese when you start learning more complicated kanji. For example, imagine writing this kanji; 無意識. When you first start practicing, you will want to use the most thin pen tip possible to practice maintaining the perfect balance between strokes.

I choose the above mechanical pencil and pen by going to the nearest high-end pen store in downtown Osaka (in this case, Kaweco, which is a German maker, not Japanese. How could I, right?) , and trying several different models until I found these two. I liked their weight, simple design, and as I stated above, I was looking for a thin pen tip, and a mechanical pencil that used thin lead. There is definitely personal preference in these choices, but they have served me well for around 4 years so-far, and are still going strong. My only complaint is that I have noticed the coating coming off slightly on the mechanical pencil. I suppose it’s natural ware-and-tear. You can see what I mean in the pictures below.

 
Tip for studying kanji #3: Learn techniques to teach yourself Japanese so you can learn in any environment

If you’re interested in immersing yourself in the kinds of conversations you can only have in the Japanese language, I upload videos to my YouTube channel where I have conversations with Japanese people about things people would only know in Japan. You can find my channel in the top menu of the site.

How to study kanji without a textbook

I have used many many textbooks over the years, but I spent the vast majority of my time studying kanji by learning from my surroundings in Japan. That being said, you don’t need to live in Japan to memorize kanji. The key is to place yourself in an immersive environment!

For example, I developed somewhat of a routine to memorize Japanese vocabulary, grammar, and even unique culture points through a study method I designed for learning kanji. This is my method below, which I also touched on a bit in my article below.

This method would become a nightly routine for me

Basically, my method for memorizing Japanese and kanji characters works like this; First, whenever you encounter a new kanji character, the first thing I would do is to decipher what the specific way of reading the kanji in that particular context is. For example: in the above image I included the word enryo (遠慮) which is a bit difficult to translate into English, but means something close to the English word “restraint”. However, the first kanji in enryo, 遠, can be pronounced (depending on the context) as too, on, en , o , oni ,do, and doo. Yeah… and honestly, this is one of the easy ones.

Memorizing every single reading for a kanji individually won’t do you much good. At least, that is definitely not the way I approached learning. I have always taken an approach of learning what I actually came across in Japanese, and then reinforcing what I deem to be more practical into my brain with such intensity as to never forget it.

So, back to the method. Once you decipher the specific way to read the kanji for each word, write it in parenthesis next to the word in hiragana.

Why you should check the reading in hiragana (and not in English)

Often, the way Japanese words are written in Japanese hiragana, and the way they are written in English…just doesn’t quite translate. The correct reading literally gets lost in Translations. A great example of this is actually in Tokyo! But not…Tokyo…in Japanese Tokyo is written (and pronounced) as Toukyou. In English, we rarely incorporate any words that contain this ‘ou’ sound that often exists in Japanese. For this reason, many characters that are difficult to pronounce in English are often omitted.

Still, after nearly 8 years of studying Japanese, the most difficult word for me to pronounce is still ryokyou (旅行), which means travel. Ryoko is a common name in Japan, so there have been a few times where I have said 旅行が好きです, which means “I love to travel”, but the person I was talking to thought I said “I love Ryoko”, and wondered why I was confessing my love for this Ryoko that they had never met. In particular, I have a hard to with the ‘ryo’ sound.

So, now what you’ve recorded the reading in hiragana, I then would write the kanji at least 4 or 5 times. The best way to memorize a language, or a complicated writing system like Japanese kanji, is to write, write, and write some more. I repeat this like a broken record because I don’t believe in short cuts. You have to train your mind to enjoy this process, or you might as well give up on learning Japanese. That’s my honest opinion.

The final step in using this method to memorize kanji

Finally, what I would typically do is to try to punch a sentence using the new word into google. Just try and write anything. You’ll probably get some suggested searches, and by following through with these searches and seeing the exact manner in which Japanese people have used the word, you can get a better idea for the exact nuance of each vocabulary word. The key here is to confirm not just the meaning of the kanji, but to confirm the exact nuance of the kanji, and then confirm the nuance of words that kanji appears in so you can use it in your own sentences. This is a technique designed to make you a self-sufficient Japanese learner.

Why confirming the nuance of words will save you time

Once you get to a certain point in your Japanese-studies, you will eventually reach a point where you will no longer be able to reliably use Japanese-to-English dictionaries. This is because English has a limit to how much it can capture the specific differences between Japanese words. Eventually, you will reach a situation where 3, 4 , or even 5 Japanese words you are studying will all have similar English definitions.

How do you say “thank you” in Japanese? you wonder…you punch it into your dictionary.. “Oh, it much be either どうも、お疲れ様です、いただきます、ありがとう、申し訳ございません、だんだん(I’ve never heard this one),etc etc. What do you do when you encounter this situation, but you don’t understand the exact nuance between words? Here’s what you do; Change the way you’re studying 😉

This is why it is very important to learn Japanese…through Japanese. The only way to discover where the holes in your knowledge exist is to use the language, and learn the context of this distance through your proficiency with other vocabulary. Essentially, you are learning the specific nuances of words, which will give you key insight into how words differ from each other and the amount of distance that exists between similar concepts.

Put simply, you are learning how to identify context through studying the exact way native speakers use each vocabulary word, and by extension, each kanji. This process will give you insight into not only how Japanese people think in Japanese, but to how you can think in Japanese, so that you may teach yourself in Japanese. It sounds esoteric, but it will make sense once you reach a certain point. Trust me.

What is it like to read in Japanese?

Reading Japanese is a game of simultaneously using 3 alphabets (hiragana, katakana, and kanji). There are many reasons both in terms of historical background and practicality for why Japanese uses 3 alphabets, but (put very simply) you can think of the way Japanese is read through these 3 alphabets in terms of the principles below;

Hiragana is the core of Japanese. It is the glue that holds the entirety of a sentence together and qualifies the words around it.

Katakana is primarily used to place emphasis on words, or to create distance between the reader and the novelty of a concept. Perhaps appropriately, foreign concepts and loan words are primarily written in katakana.

Kanji is an imported writing system from China that has diverged massively from their original readings. Every kanji character can be read in many different ways as they are logographic, while hiragana and katakana characters are always pronounced the same way.

This is known as a “sharp” sign, a “pound” sign, or a “hashtag”. This one one character that has several different meaning and pronunciations but has a distinct meaning attached to it’s shape making it “logographic.”

If you are interested in learning more about the different nuances of these 3 alphabet’s, I went deep into this subject in the article linked below where I studied various Japanese marketing campaigns and the specific ways they used different alphabets to achieve a specific nuance. You can click the link below to read more about that.

How I studied Japanese and learned the essential 2000 kanji characters, and how long it took me to learn kanji; My story

I started studying Japanese in 2013 at university in the US. Classes were only a few hours a week, but I took the initiative to self-study quite a lot. I would say I was probably putting in 2 to 3 hours a day of Japanese study (in general, not just studying Kanji). In early 2015 I moved to Osaka, Japan enter a language school. This is where the total number of hours I devoted to studying can get a bit more ambiguous.

This is because I wasn’t just studying Japanese anymore; I was living my life in Japanese.

OH! Oh…when was this picture taken?Um… I studied and worked very hard!At Japanese…and at karate!Nope…that’s not rum you see…nothing to see here….

I would study in a more academic way through my language school courses, and would then supplement (and test) everything I had just learned by venturing out into into the world around me. Studying doesn’t get any easier when you move abroad, which is an idea contrary to what most people assume. Living in another country does give you more opportunities to expose yourself to another language, but setting itself won’t do the work for you. What this setting does grant is newfound and heightened sense of urgency; The sense for how your biggest wins, and your biggest losses, can genuinely influence your life and the world around you.

Put simply, seizing the opportunities of life abroad in Japan (or any other country) will allow you begin to feel a genuine connection between your actions and any direct consequences.

Once you begin to feel your results, they are no longer just theoretical. You can now see with your own eyes, hear with you own ears, and feel with your own emotions need avenues for connection and conversation with those around you. This is when things start to get fun.

One of my favorite things to do after my language school classes was to test out any new crazy saying or phrases I had learned out on some locals. I would go talk to people at a bar or café and try to naturally slip some new thing I had learned into the conversation, and then look at their reaction. Often times, I would find out that nobody actually uses that word, only grandma’s say it like that, or that I had just totally butchered the grammar or pronunciation. Getting this kind of immediate feedback is something I would really recommend. It gets you thinking in smaller steps, which will help you stop worrying about your overall progress in terms of hours or JLPT rankings. If you choose to take the leap and are serious about moving to Japan, or even just learning Japanese, this process of language learning needs to become a part of your overall lifestyle. It needs to become a part of your day so engrained in your subconscious that you approach it in the same way you would brushing your teeth or drinking water. How many hours have I spent learning Japanese? I… really don’t have any idea. I enrolled in university in Japan after I graduated from my Japanese language school, and then went on to move to Tokyo for work in 2020, so I am still continuing to live my life everyday in Japanese. I spend more time just living my day to day life, and less time with a textbook as the years go on. That being said, if I were to pick a number, I would guess it’s somewhere in the range of of 7,000 and 10,000 hours at this point, assuming I have spent 3-4 hours actively learning things a day over a span of 7 hours?

Yeah, honestly it doesn’t work like that. The line between studying and practicing, improving vs. using your language skills just becomes too vague over the years. This perception is something that is difficult to control, and it can be all too tempting to allow it to consume your time and energy. In my experience, the focus should be on consistent and steady progression.

If you are focusing on learning kanji characters, you are much better off memorizing one or two new kanji a day than cramming flash cards into your head once a week.

By focusing on creating a new lifestyle around studying Japanese that fits your specific goals and situations, you will be able to continue progressing at a pace that is sustainable, which is more important than anything else.

In conclusion

I hope you found this guide and recounting of my experiences to be helpful.

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If you are interested in learning Japanese or studying abroad in Japan

…and would like to know more about my experience enrolling in Japanese language school and university, please check out the articles below!