Thursday, February 28, 2008

Learning Kanji

When tackling Japanese language, people have a lot of different ways to study. A popular way is to study vocab and grammar seperately from the Kanji. Vocab makes sense to study the simple stuff first. Although 月 (moon) isn't the most useful word, the Kanji 月 is used to make about 200 other Kanji, like 胃 (stomach) and 有 (posses). So we often learn Kanji from simple writing to hard writing, and vocab from useful to obscure.

So we learn a lot of simple Kanji, then we find out how to combine these into more complex ones. An effective way to remember which pieces make which Kanji is to create stories. But the human brain works in strange ways. It really really helps to have complex, absurd stories. 厚 (thick) can be made of the elements for cliff, 日(day), and 子 (child). You could make up something simple like, "A child sitting each day on a thick cliff", but that won't get stored very well in the long term. Instead, go with something like "Remember the Spartans? They totally threw their children off a cliff. Then they waited a day and came back. If the kid was alive, then he had a thick skull and would grow up to be a powerful warrior." Yes, this means creating about 2000 off the wall stories for all the general use Kanji, but it's what you gotta do.

James Heisig has a book called Remember the Kanji. It uses this format. You can study from there, and then quiz yourself using the website Reviewing the Kanji. It uses a good flashcard style protocol where things you memorize get tested less and less over time. Study a new lesson, quiz yourself on it, and repeat until you have about 20 words on your failed list. Then study those 20 words for the day. Repeat this process over and over, you'll be surprised how fast you pick it up.

I often write down Kanji that I forget in a notebook. I can study on the train or at Starbucks or while watching hosts pick up girls in Shinjuku station. I also include the stories I think of in my little notebook. The other day, a nice older lady wanted to see what I was studying. I didn't think, and handed it over to her. Then, oh shit, I need that back.

Was her English good enough to read my stories? Stories of which I have one that is something like "The mom wanted to get her nipples pierced, so she made sure to spend the money and go to a reputable piercer" and "The stoner was hanging out with his nitrous head junkie girlfriend. He sparked his pipe, and she huffed her balloon."

Maybe I should stick with bible stories like Heisig does in his book.

Some Japanese related language learning links:
  • All Japanese All the Time. Good system, and Khatzumoto is a good motivational writer.
  • Jim Breen's WWWJDIC. The best in web based translation. Won't give you a straight up translation of your text, but it will pull out whats important. If you try and use babelfish or something like that, you will most likely get garbage.
  • Slime Forest. A video game that teaches kana and kanji.
  • Knuckles in China Land. Another video game. This one is considered superior, with customizable dictionaries and what not. Both games kinda suck from a "fun" perspective. It's all about mindless repetition here.
  • Japanese Pod 101. An interesting podcast (limited free content). The host is a bit genki and can get on your nerves.
  • And of course, schult'z terrible kanji help page. At least read the intro, he does a good job explaining things. I like his system a little better than what I'm doing now, cause he uses the actual Japanese pronunciations of words incorporated into his stories.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Shodo Ramen, #17 in Japan


13-2 Kubochuo, Kawagoe City, Saitama
It's near the road entrance to Kitain Temple. It's not hard to find Kitain from anywhere in Kawagoe.

Shodo Ramen, in my "home town" of Kawagoe. I'd never been there before, actually, my culinary expertise of Kawagoe was limited to only a couple spots.

  • There was the Jamaican Okonomiyaki place near my apartment. This place was out in the cuts, and you are guaranteed to be meeting some locals there. The master has dreads down his back, and about 300 reggae discs.
  • A spicy Indian place called Pao's that opened not long before I left.
  • A smoky, loud yakitori place that I went to almost every Saturday night after work. The つくね was the best I've had. Plenty of hearts, livers, and cartilage to satisfy the Japanese people in your group.
  • Countless lunch spots too, but those are mostly chosen because of the availability of caffeine. The Italian chain restaurants that played country western pop hits had shitty food, but you could have as many mochas as you wanted. Caffeine + Kids + Kanchos = a great way to start the afternoon.

Shodo earns it's #17 rank. You'll see the walls covered with magazine articles and TV spots touting it as a spot to go. The owner speaks English and his dream is to open a sister shop in Manhattan by 2015. The menu is kind of complicated, but thats cause it is just extra wordy. There are explanations of the broth, meats, toppings, and of course the noodles. I had the standard ぶたそば, pork ramen. The noodles for this one are thin with a lot of bite. Also on the menu is つけそば, with big thick noodles to dip in the broth. If you're hungry, get extra pork, it was hit with an extra roasting before being served to give it some flavor.

Kawagoe, the tour. Step one, make sure you know where the station is to get your train back into Tokyo.

いちばんがい is the main historic street in Kawagoe. Unfortunately, it's a major thoroughfare. One street over is a road closed to traffic... with nothing on it. If they had left ichiban gai for feet only, it would have been a good thing. Oh well. Enjoy almost getting hit by diesel trucks on your leisurely stroll.

There are a lot of old blackened warehouses here. Most of them sell traditional gifts. This is THE place to go for your "from Japan" souvenirs. Lots of cafes and snacks and tourists.

かしやよこちょ, Candy Alley, is cute. Only on a weekend or holiday though. Any other time and it's empty. 30 or so little mom and pop candy shops.

I think there is some sort of loop bus that goes to all these sights, called the Koedo Loop Bus, but I've never been on it. It's all walking distance. Besides, you've been eating too much ramen lately, so get some exercise ya bum.

Bean shops. There is an abundance of bean shops in this city. I used to pass by at least four on my ride to work. Bring your old Japanese friends some beans from Kawagoe and they will be happy. Old people like things like that. Old people don't like robots.

ときのかね... the Clock Tower of Time. Everything "Kawagoe" has this thing on it. Bags for your souvenirs? They've got the tower. Sweet Potato beer? It's got the tower on the label. Sewer grates? You bet.

きたいん is the big temple area in town. Theres a couple things to see here, like the 500 Rakan statues. If it's your first time here, you can tour the facilities, see the traditional garden, and get up close to the statues. I'm cheap so I'll settle for looking through the gate.

If you are visiting Kawagoe, why not enter some sort of video competition? Don't ask me, cause I have no clue what is going on here. 1st prize is $5000 I think. Damn, time to be like this little girl and start taking some cell phone videos. I need to get paid!

There's more info about Kawagoe here.

The 2008 Tokyo Marathon

No, I didn't run. Just took photos.

Thats my favorite photo of the day. Little sisters not caring at all, just playing DS and picking their noses.




This wasn't rare, saw lots of people running and talking on their cell phones.

Tokyo Tower.

Friday, February 22, 2008

にゃにゃにゃーNya Nya Nya

Today is 2/22, which can be read as nya nya nya. Cat's in Japan don't say "meow", they say "nya nya". Cat day? Guess I'll post some cat pictures.

Normal cat.

Another normie. Damn conformist cats, show some originality.

Some girl walked by when I was taking photos and thought I was photographing a dead cat.

It's GiGi!

Can't forget Kitty-chan. This one was a robot that could talk to you. Did you know how to tell a fake Hello Kitty? Look at the nose, if it isn't yellow, it's a fake.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

World Heritage Vacation (sorta)

This guy totally wants to visit some of the world's greatest heritage sites. C'mon you Jerry Garcia looking son of a bitch, lets jet set!

First stop, Gokayama traditional houses in Japan.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.

I should know this, but I don''t.

Changdeogung in Korea. South Korea that is.

Some white cathedral of sorts. Someone help me out here.

The enigmatic Sphinx of Ginza. Hey, it's like that Jumper movie.

The Temple of Hephaestus maybe? Correct me if I'm wrong. Maybe its the Acropolis.

Gaudi's Sagrada Família. Completely absurd and amazing.

Miyajima in Hiroshima. Hey! I went there!

Just a short flight south of Hiroshima is Shuri Castle in Okinawa.

The ever faithful Big Ben of London.

Brasilia in... Brazil.

The Colosseum of Roma. Throw the tiny lego Christians to the tiny lego lions.

This was all part of the Pieces of Peace exhibit. Have you been to any of these places in real life? I've been to Miyajima and Rome, saw Pisa from a train back in 2001.

Wow, some sort of art exhibit where photography is allowed in Japan. 3 fucking cheers for that. I have no idea why I can't take photos of the Warhols I was staring at the other day. Or is Technicolor Marylin Monroe camera shy. I know this is Japan, and if photography was allowed you'd be deafened by the thousand shutters of a thousand camera otaku trying to take as many shots of artsy boobs as their 2 gig memory cards could hold. But still, there's gotta be some sort of compromise.

On a random photography note, the Picasa program is the shit. The benefits are big time!
  • Organize your photos on your PC. Great interface. Connects with my camera. Has all sorts of slide show type things. Really clean.
  • Easily upload to Picasa web albums. Push a button and it's done. Really fast as well. I used to use photobucket, and that would take forever to select the shots I wanted to upload, and they would go up at about 20k. Picasa goes at almost 200k. I used to go cook dinner while my photos were uploaded.
  • Integrated with Blogger. This only applies to me and those who use Blogger, but it's a bonus.
  • E-Mail photos. Sends out small shots through Gmail. Choose shots, click email, its done.
  • Star favorite shots. Now when people are over and they want to see my favorite shots, I can just hit the slide show, and they wont have to sit through fifty shots of decaying ikebana arrangements... just one.
Now I need to figure out how to integrate this with flickr, since my friend Aaron hooked me up with a pro account. Soon soon soon. Anyone have any tips? Or should I just spend a couple hours with the flickr uploader tool.