New classes!

NEW! Small group classes:
1-2 lessons per week, face to face at your office, a cafe, your home, or by Skype! 5,500 yen/hour for two students (as opposed to 3,800 yen/hour for one student). Highly recommended for couples studying together!

Starting this year, I’ll be offering special classes geared for businesses in Japan with foreign workers. The courses are custom-made, so the content can be adjusted to your organization’s needs. Examples of possible subjects might include the lack of distinction between L and R in Japanese, how consonants and vowels in Japanese are different from those in English, why translation software like Google Translate sometimes just doesn’t work correctly between English and Japanese, and more. This is a chance to help employees unfamiliar with Japanese to learn more about Japanese in a more conceptual way and to help minimize cross-language communication errors. Of course, I also provide more traditional Japanese classes that cover vocabulary, grammar, and kanji. I think you will find that, whatever your needs, I can help. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, I would be happy to discuss this with you to find a custom curriculum and pricing that works for you and your organization.


Japanese phrases at stores

Long time no see! Hisashiburi!

One of the most difficult parts of Japanese is is keigo (polite Japanese). It’s representative of Japanese culture (or East Asian culture), where hierarchy and the relationship between employers and employees play an important role. I strongly feel that culture and its language play off each other in this respect.

As you know, Japanese people are taught to use keigo when speaking to those older than themselves, their superiors, customers, or strangers, so Japanese store staff can’t stop speaking that way even to children or non-Japanese people who don’t know keigo. That’s why you can’t figure out what they are saying and experience difficulties. If they spoke normally, you would understand them better.

Let’s have a look at some phrases store staff often use in the chart below. Normal sentences are written in the left column and polite sentences that store staff use are in the right column. Red text indicates keigo into which blue words transform.

Normal sentences
Polite sentences (keigo)
Chumon onegai shimas.
Can I take your order?
   Gochumon onegai shimas.
Koko de tabemas ka?
Will you be eating here?
  Kochira de omeshiagari des ka?
I understand.
M size de ii des ka?
Would you like M size?
   M size de yoroshii des ka?
480 en des.
Your total will be 480 yen.
   480 en ni narimas.
500 en azukarimas.
I’ve received 500 yen from you./That's out of 500 yen.
⑥  500 en oazukari shimas.
20 en kaeshimas.
Your change is 20 yen.
   20 en no okaeshi des.
Shohin wa counter de dashimas.
We’ll give you the item at the counter.
   Shohin wa counter de odashi shimas.
Sorry to have kept you waiting.
   Omatase shimashita.
Card o motteimas ka?
Do you have a membership card?
  Card o omochi des ka?
Hukuro o tsukaimas ka?
Do you have your own bag?
   Hukuro o goriyo des ka?
I’m sorry./I apologize.
   Moshiwake gozaimasen.
Chotto matte kudasai.
Please wait a second.
   Shosho omachi kudasai.

In sentences 1, 6, 7, 8, and 9, the changes are minor. Only the honorific markers “go” and “o” are placed in front of words and verb endings are slightly changed, so if you know the normal sentences, it’s still easy to guess the meaning of the polite ones.
In sentences 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, and 13, the red and blue have the same meanings, but different words are used or else most of the sentences have changed. Thus, if you don’t already know the keigo words, you can’t guess what they mean.
“Tabemas ka?” becomes “omeshiagari des ka?” and “Sumimasen” becomes “moshiwake gozaimasen.”
They are completely different. You probably wonder why, but just need to accept that that’s how it is and learn the keigo words and phrases. You’ll get used to them if you live in Japan and hear them every day.

I’d especially like to explain sentence 5, “480 en ni narimas.” First of all, can “narimas/naru (become)” be treated as keigo? This is not a particularly polite word. However, when someone says “anata no kaimono no gokei kingaku wa 480 en ni narimas” (The total amount of your purchase will be/has become 480 yen), he or she is trying to avoid being too assertive. It gives a softer, nicer impression than saying “480 en des” (It’s 480 yen) does. The store staff is informing the customer of the amount in a reserved manner. Stores requiring a polite attitude towards customers without exception is representative of Japanese culture.

So, how should customers speak politely to store staff? Well, they don’t need to be super polite or rude. Just use normal Japanese. For example,
Coffee hitotsu to cheesecake hitotsu kudasai/onegai shimas. (Can I have one coffee and one cheesecake, please?)
M size/mochikaeri onegai shimas. (I’d like M size/take out.)
Hukuro wa kekko des. (I don’t need a bag, thanks.)
         And so on.

Also, store staff often ask the following questions.
Hot to ice, dochira ga yoroshii des ka? (Which would you like, a hot one or cold one?)
Kami no cup to tennaiyo no mug cup, dochira ga yoroshii des ka? (Which would you prefer, a paper cup or a mug?)
(Tabemono o) atatamemas ka? (Shall I warm up this food?)
Ijo de yoroshii des ka? (Is that everything?)
Please ask me about other expressions you always come across and can’t figure out in the comment section. 
Recently two of my students told me that "reshito (receipt) kekko des." was the most useful expression I'd ever taught them. I think I've taught them more important things, but apparently they need practical phrases!

Japan is famous worldwide for its high quality of service. I totally agree with this. I experience good service everywhere, but they often lack flexibility when something unexpected occurs. At supermarkets outside of Japan, I see store staff chatting with customers in a relaxed manner, but some staff don’t smile and look unsatisfied with their work. I think they are always honest.


Belated Happy New Year!!

Akemashite omedeto !
I'm going to do a lot of Japanese lessons and try hard to help my students with their Japanese in 2018. I also intend to present useful information to you through this blog. Many people start something new in January. To those who have decided to study Japanese, here are our available classes!

  • Regular lessons in Tokyo: 1-2 lessons per week, face to face at an office or cafe. Students request the content of the classes and the teacher designs the lessons accordingly.
  • Skype lessons: 1-2 lessons per week. Students request the content of the classes and the teacher designs the lessons accordingly.
  • Visitor lessons in Tokyo: Tourists can learn practical Japanese and improve their language skill while staying in Tokyo.
  • Intensive course: 2-3 weeks. Students request the content of the classes and the teacher designs the lessons accordingly.
  • JLPT course: The teacher creates a plan for achieving a target level with the student.
* A one-hour lesson costs 3,800 yen. Please ask me about the details.


wakaranai v.s. shiranai

Merry Christmas everybody!
Thank you very much for reading my blog this year. I wanted to write this post, but was very busy for the last one month. I'm glad that I made it right before my winter break. I'm leaving for Shanghai tomorrow! What are you doing during this Christmas break?

Many readers of this blog may be thinking, “She’s finally writing about this!”
Soon after you began studying Japanese, you learned that “wakarimasen” means “I don’t understand.” However, it’s also used as “I don’t know,” right? So which one is correct…?
I’m sure you’ve wondered about this. My apologies for this late explanation.

Let’s begin from an easy point. I think you can interpret “understand” like this:
I understand. wakaru (rikai shiteiru)
I don't understand. wakaranai (rikai shiteinai)
You can use either “wakaru” or “shitteiru” for “I know” and also use either “wakaranai” or “shiranai” for “I don’t know.” It’s this complication that’s confusing.

First of all, “shiru” means “to get information” and “shitteiru” indicates the state of having information. When you say, “I know him” or “I know this restaurant”, it refers to having information about him or the restaurant.
(watashi wa) kare o shitteiru.
(watashi wa) kono restaurant o shitteiru.
I think it’s okay to use “shitteiru” when you’ve seen, heard, or read about a certain topic. It indicates that you have at least superficial information about it.

On the other hand, when you say “I know what you mean” or “I know how you feel,” it has the nuance of relating to the speaker because you’ve experienced the same thing. It expresses a deeper understanding and not just superficial information, and “wakaru” is best used in this case.
(watashi wa anata no) iitai koto ga wakaru. (I know what you mean.)
(watashi wa anata no) kimochi ga wakaru. (I know how you feel.)
Let’s compare these examples.
Do you know where he lives? → No, I don't know. 
Do you know what you are doing? → Yes, I do.
kare ga doko ni sundeiru ka, shitteiru?  uun, shiranai.
jibun ga nani o shiteiru ka, wakatteiru no?  un, wakatteiru.
① is about whether you possess superficial information, and has more depth to it. Wouldn’t you agree?

Consider this next example from the viewpoint of having or not having information.
kono news o shittieru?  un, shitteiru. (having information) / uun, shiranai. (having no information)
Simple, isn’t it? How about this sentence:
kono hen ni eki ga arimasu ka?  hai, arimasu. (knowing that there is a station nearby) /iie, arimasen. (knowing that there is not any station nearby)
Whether the answer is yes or no, both indicate that you have information about the station. Furthermore, you could say “wakarimasen” here too. This wouldn’t mean “I don’t understand your question,” but instead means "I don't know if there is a station nearby." However, if this is so, the question of why you can't say "shirimasen" arises.
kono he ni eki ga arimasu ka?  sa, shirimasen ne.
This answer isn't necessarily wrong, but I think Japanese people usually answer “sa, wakarimasen ne.” Why is that? Well, if you use “shirimasen,” this would give a cold impression, kind of like curtly saying, “I don’t have that information” or even "How should I know?" Contrary to this, “wakarimasen” carries the nuance of a softer “no,” as if to say, “There might indeed be a station around here, but I haven’t checked into it (or, I’m not familiar with this neighborhood), so I’m afraid I can’t answer…” This expression may be similar to gentle negation, such as “sakana wa suki desu ka?” (Do you like fish?) and “sakana wa chotto…” (Fish is kind of...), or “ashita nomi ni ikanai?” (Why don’t we have a drink tomorrow?) and “ashita wa chotto muzukashii na” (Tomorrow is a bit difficult for me).

Next, let’s think about the different impressions these sentences convey.

(anata wa) konshumatsu nani o suru no? (What are you doing this weekend?)  shiranai. (This gives the impression of indifference.)
(anata wa) konshumatsu nani o suru no?  wakaranai. (This person can’t answer because they don’t have plans yet.)
Lastly, I’d like to share a simple tip for choosing correctly between “wakaranai” and “shiranai.” When you’re unsure how to express “I don’t know” in Japanese, pay attention to the form of the question.
1. When the question ends in “shitteiru?” (), answer “shiranai.”
2. When the question ends in “wakaru/wakatteiru?” (), answer “wakaranai.”
3. When the question doesn’t include “Do you know…” (, , and ), answer “wakaranai.”
It’s always important to listen to the question and answer it appropriately.

OK, this is it! minasan, yoi otoshi o!! ("Happy new year" used by the end of December 31.)


Japanese verbs 1: active and non-active

The last post was about wakaruand I said there that “wakaru is not an active verb.” This time, I’ll focus on this point. As you know, Japanese verbs are divided various ways into groups. Grouping for conjugation looks complicated, but there is a system to it. (Group 1: iku, nomu, kau, etc. Group 2: taberu, neru, miru, etc. Group 3: suru and kuru.) There are a few exceptions too, but you just need to remember them.
Another method of grouping is related to the meaning of verbs. Therefore, you need to recognize the concepts of action, state and change as related to verbs.

First of all, let’s divide verbs into two groups.
  1. active verbs
  2. non-active verbs
The active verbs are easy to figure out. Examples include taberu, nomu, suru, miru, iku and so on. Easy examples of non-active verbs are aru and iru. They are not actions, but instead indicate the existence of something or someone.
Sundeiru is the same concept. Some people think of this as an action, but it’s not a momentary action. It indicates a continuous state of living.
―――― sundeiru (I have been living)―――――→ (time)
Other verbs indicating states are tsukareteiru (have been tired), futotteiru (have been fat), kondeiru (have been crowded) and so on.
What do their dictionary forms mean then? Tsukareru, futoru and komu are the dictionary forms and they indicate changes.
Being in good shape ――→ get tired (tsukareru)
Being thin ――→ get fat (futoru)
Of course, naru indicates change as well.
Additionally, potential forms are also non-active verbs.
Watashi wa nihongo ga hanaseru. (I can speak Japanese.)
Hanasu is an action. On the other hand, hanaseru is the state of having the ability to speak. The same concept applies to oyogeru (can swim), yomeru (can read), surfing ga dekiru (can surf) and so on. Each one means someone has the talent or skill to do something.

What about mieru and kikoeru? They are non-active verbs, too. They are often translated as “I can see” and “I can hear”. However, it’s not one’s ability that these verbs refer to, but instead to situations happening naturally. Thus, they are not the potential forms of active verbs. Please keep in mind that these are different from verbs like hanaseru or oyogeru.
Fujisan ga mieru. (Mt. Fuji is visible.) 
It’s visible just because it’s there. It doesn’t include an action with any intention. Ultimately, mieru and kikoeru refer to states of being visible and audible, respectively. You can interpret wakaru in the same way. I wrote this in the previous post too, but please have a look at this again.
(watashi wa) nihongo ga wakaru. (Japanese is understandable (to me).)
Wakaru isn’t an active verb, but a state verb. Benkyo suru (to study) and narau (to learn) are actions, but wakaru refers to the state of knowing or understanding as a result of studying. That result is a state.

If you’re wondering why I have explained this, it’s because it’s easier for you to understand Japanese grammar if you can distinguish between active verbs and non-active verbs.
Basically, non-active verbs are not used with (wo). I previously wrote that “nihongo wakaru” is incorrect. Similarly, “kuruma aru”, “surfing dekiru”, “Fujisan mieru” aren’t correct either. You should use , not . However, を can be used with potential forms such as “nihongo hanaseru” and “kanji yomeru”. 

Also, there is one more important difference, too.

  1. 1. Active verbs include the speaker’s intention.
  2. Non-active verbs don’t and instead express a state, change, ability or result. 

For example, compare tame ni and you ni.
Byouki wo naosu tame ni, kusuri wo nomu. (I take medicine in order to cure my illness.)
Byouki ga naoru you ni, kusuri wo nomu.  (I take medicine so that I’ll get better.)
Next, compare tara and ba.
Ano mise ni ittara, cake wo tabeyou. (Let’s eat cake if/when we go to that shop.)
Ano mise ni ikeba, oishii cake ga aru. (If we go to that shop, there are good cakes.)
Tame ni and tara are paired with active verbs, and you ni and ba are paired with non-active verbs. (Tara and ba have different usages as well.)

There are many cases in Japanese grammar where you can choose whether to use verbs with intention or not. If you can distinguish between the two verb types, it gets easier to use Japanese grammar correctly.
Remembering the meaning of words is not enough. Try to think about whether it’s an action, state or change at the same time! 



It’s been a long time! Many of you will take the JLPT soon. Are you studying every day?

Here’s a question for you: Do you consider “wakaru” to be an active verb like “taberu”, “nomu”, or “suru”?
The truth is that “wakaru” is not an active verb. Likewise, “aru”, “iru” or “tsukareru” are not active verbs either. Can you tell these verbs are all the same type of verb? If you can, it should be easier for you to understand Japanese grammar. If you can’t, please accept that’s just the way it is.
The following sentences are very basic examples with active verbs:
Watashi wa   soba o   taberu. (I eat soba.)
Watashi wa   ocha o   nomu. (I drink tea.)
Watashi wa   tennis o   suru. (I play tennis.)
However, unlike the verbs in those examples, “wakaru” is not an active verb, so we don’t say “watshi wa nihongo o wakaru.”
Nihongo ga   wakaru.
This is a grammatically orrect sentence. When you speak casually, you might say, “Nihongo wakaru?” “wakaru yo.” Or you may say, “kore wakatta?” “wakaranai.” The particles "o” and “ga” are not spoken so you can’t tell which one is omitted. It’s actually “ga” that is hidden there.

Mr. Jay Rubin, who has translated many of Haruki Murakami’s works, explains “wakaru” like this in his book Making Sense of Japanese:
People don't wakaru things; things themselves do wakaru: they "are clear" or they "are understandable." 
According to his explanation, “Nihongo ga wakaru” literally means “Japanese is clear/understandable.” When you think about it this way, it helps clarify why “nihongo o wakaru” is incorrect.

Based on that, you might ask, “How do you interpret the watashi wa in ‘watashi wa nihongo ga wakaru’?”
Watashi wa/niwa  nihongo ga  wakaru. As for me/To me, Japanese is understandable.
Mr. Rubin also explains it this way.

Also, “wakaru” has many usages. While writing up until this point, I almost used “wakaru” many times, but I deliberately chose other verbs each time. It’s possible to replace the verbs marked in pink above with “wakaru”. 

Let’s have a look at the definition of “wakaru” in a Japanese dictionary.
1) to understand    
example) Wake ga wakaranai. (It doesn't make sense.)  
example) Anata no iitai koto wa yoku wakaru. (What you mean is understandable.) 
2) to prove a fact 
example) Hannin no mimoto ga wakaru (find out the criminal's identity.)
example) Mondai no kotae ga wakaru (discover the answer to the question.)
It’s clear that “wakaru” doesn’t mean only “understandable” or “understand”. In addition to the examples above, it can also sometimes be “learn” or “realize”.

Lastly, since “wakaru” is not an active verb, it doesn’t have a potential form. "Wakareru” doesn’t exist. When you want to say “I can understand”, use “rikai dekiru” instead. “Rikai” means understanding. (However, "wakaru" itself sometimes means "I can understand".)

Wakaru no tsukaikata ga wakarimashita ka? (Did you figure out how to use “wakaru”?)

Minasan, JLPT gambatte kudasai !!



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