How to learn Hiragana in Three Weeks

You can learn to read and write Japanese hiragana in just three weeks if you study effectively and set your mind to it.

Three Weeks?!

Don’t take it from me though…
I asked the the Japanese learners who follow me on Twitter how long they spent learning hiragana in school, and this is what they said:

@MonsterMYV @JapanNewbie We’re nearly through with hiragana and this is the second week of learning, having japanese lessons thrice a week~

@lordsilent @JapanNewbie about a month at LSU

@Jonesyweeks @JapanNewbie I believe it took us about a week to two weeks to learn the hiragana. about the same for katakana.

There you have it. Just 2-3 weeks to hiragana mastery. LSU seems to be taking it easy. But hey, nothing wrong with that. According to a Japanese proverb, if you rush you’ll just spin in circles anyway.

Students at schools around the world learn hiragana in just 2-3 weeks every fall semester in their first year Japanese classes. The only advantage students have over those of you tackling Japanese on your own are the teachers, the structure, the homework, and the tests. All of these things are really just external motivators that you can recreate on your own with some good old-fashioned discipline.

Here’s another point to reinforce how important and feasible it is to learn Hiragana quickly and get off of romaji. Genki, which one of the most popular textbooks, drops romaji completely after the the third chapter. I recently contacted my Japanese teacher from high school with this very question, and she reports that she spends about 4 weeks on hiragana before getting rid of romaji and moving on to katakana. So as you can see, not only is it possible to learn hiragana quickly, but in most structured Japanese education programs it’s expected.

So, how do we go about learning Hiragana in just three weeks?

There are 46 hiragana characters. This may seem like a lot, but it’s really not that bad.

Here they are.

Don’t be discouraged.

One good thing about Hiragana (and Katakana) is that the pronunciations don’t change (much). In English sometimes “i” is pronounced like “eye” and sometimes as in “in,” but Japanese is more straight forward.

This makes “spelling” in Japanese easy. “Kimono” is き(ki)も(mo)の(no). No matter where you see a き it will always be pronounced “ki”, no matter what. For the most part this holds true in all cases with only a few exceptions, (for example the particles, は and へ, but we’ll get into that later).

Let’s Get Started Learning the Hiragana in 3 Weeks

To do this you’ll need to set aside one hour to study Japanese three days a week, for three weeks. Try to space the days out. I recommend Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or something like that. It’s only one hour. You can do it!

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

The progression will look something like this:

[INSERT CHART OF HIRAGANA WITH LINES ON IT SHOWING WHICH DAY FOR WHICH HIRAGANA]

Week 1 – Day 1, an Introduction:
Learn to Write and Pronounce one Row of Hiragana.

There are only five main vowel sounds in Japanese. These first five hiragana embody those sounds. Here they all are with their pronunciations.

Hiragana "a"
Hiragana "a"

Hiragana "i"
Hiragana "i"

Hiragana "u"
Hiragana "u"

Hiragana "e"
Hiragana "e"

Hiragana "o"
Hiragana "o"

A few important things to remember while learning these hiragana characters for the first time.

1. Actually write the hiragana on paper yourself taking care to use the correct stroke order. Say the pronunciation of the character reach time you write it.

2. Get the stroke order right the first time.

3. Listen to a native speaker pronounce each hiragana.

4. Write the character while saying it out loud.

5. Quiz yourself.

6. Look for hiragana you recognize in the wild.

You can do it!

Making Japanese Music

Music varies across cultures. I have been taking classical guitar lessons in Japan, and as I learn the basics of music my guitar teacher has been sharing some tidbits about what makes traditional Japanese music special. I don’t know anything about music so this is all news to me.

There are particular Japanese scales that do not include the same notes as the traditional western scale. There are techncial terms for all of this, but I am a total music newbie and do not know them.

The scale used in traditional Okinawan music uses Do Re Mi So Ra Do (Fa and Shi are removed). This scale is also called ヨナ抜き(四七抜き)音階 because Fa and Shi are the 4th and 7th note respectively and they have been removed.

Here is a YouTube video showing the western do to do scale, and then showing the Okinawa-style scale removing Fa and Shi.

This video includes a variety of Japanese scales.

NARUHODO.

Otaru Beer in Otaru Hokkaido

Near Sapporo and want Beer? Try the Otaru Beer restaurant in the city of Otaru.

I think the Otaru Beer spot in Otaru is a better deal than the Sapporo Beer Factory or Sapporo Beer Garden in Sapporo. Otaru beer is more unique and tasty, and the environment is just as good if not better in Otaru. The Otaru Beer shop also has some quality souvenir mugs, glasses, and mini kegs for sale. If you like beer and find yourself in Otaru you should check it out. The food is nothing to write home about, but they go with a German theme so have pretzels and sausages as good as any that you’ll find in Hokkaido.

ProTip: Winter 2016 the Otaru Beer restaurant had a hot honey beer and a hot cherry beer available. The hot honey beer was not good. Repeat, not good. Skip it! The hot cheery beer was passable, but still not great. Stick with the Otaru Beer staples. I personally like their Weizen, also known as their “banana beer.”

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Access:
You can get to Otaru from Sapporo by train in about 30-40 minutes.

The Sapporo Beer restaurant is located right on the main drag near the canal so it’s easy to find. In this age of Google I’ll leave the mapping to you. You can’t miss it!

Sugoi! Where is that word from anyway?

One of the first words any student of Japanese will learn after encountering an actual Japanese person is ‘sugoi.’ すごい. Yes, Sugoi. One of the most overused words in the entire Japanese language. Probably.

“Sugoi” as used by modern Japanese means: Awesome! Cool! Amazing! That’s great! Fabulous! Incredible! Wonderful!

When using Kanji sugoi is written as 凄い but it’s often written only in Hiragana. The Kanji carries the real meaning of the word. So, what other words use this 凄 character?

凄まじい すさまじい susamajii | terrific; fierce; terrible; tremendous; dreadful; awful; amazing; absurd; cutthroat; intense;

凄惨な せいさんな seisanna | ghastly; gruesome; appalling; lurid

So you can see that this word has the connotation of something so sugoi that it’s terrifying. I’m not sure when Japanese started using sugoi as often as they do now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the original use wasn’t in a positive context at all.

Anyone else know?

Modern fancy Japanese also occasionally write sugoi using some katakana… スゴい!

Check the online ALC dictionary for even more examples of this character 凄.

Mingus Coffee in Sapporo

Fancy hipster jazz coffee shop in Sapporo!

Mingus Coffee has excellent and strong coffee, yummy cakes, and traditional jazz playing on vinyl to keep spirits up. It’s also located in the center of the city close to Sapporo TV Tower so you can stop by after doing some sightseeing.

Mingus Coffee is a smoker-friendly environment, so there’s that. When we were there on a Monday morning there were no other customers, so we didn’t have an issue with smoke. At other times you may be enjoying some second-hand smoke with your coffee, but hey, that’s usual in Japan.

The shop has a nice rustic look with old cameras, jazz record jackets, and coffee equipment filling out the scene. There are window seats though they don’t offer much of a view. The coffee menu is straight forward, but has the nice touch of having the strong coffee options clearly labeled “strong” (though in Japanese only). So if you like your coffee with a kick you can be sure to find something you like.

Recommended!

Google Maps will get you there. Here’s the address.

Mingus Coffee
1 Minami 1-jo Nishi, Chuo-ku
Osawa Bldg. 7F, Sapporo 060-0061

住所:北海道札幌市中央区南1条西1 大沢ビル 7F
最寄駅:地下鉄「大通」駅32番出口より 徒歩1分
営業時間:09:00~24:00 (Open from 9-midnight)
定休日:不定休 (No regular holidays)
公式HP:なし (No official website)

Mingus Coffee around the web:
This site claims that Mingus Coffee is one of the best coffee shops in Sapporo as ranked by locals. http://hokkaido-labo.com/sapporo-coffee-1936

http://hokkaido-map.com/area/sapporo/mingus-coffee-sapporo-cafe/

This site seems to suggest that Mingus Coffee has terrace seating. I can’t verify as I was there in the dead of winter and sitting outside was the last thing on my mind.

I store all my photos on Smugmug.

Off to Yokohama

On December 16th, 1941, just about one week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, this American song was recorded.

“Good bye Mama I’m Off To Yokohama”

Goodbye mama I’m off to Yokohama For the red, white, and blue My country and you. Goodbye mama I’m off to Yokohama Just to teach all those Japs The Yanks are no saps A million fightin’ sons-of-Uncle Sam, if you please Will soon have all those Japs right down on their Japa-knees So goodbye mama I’m off to Yokohama For my country, my flag, and you. Say Goodbye to mama. You’re off to Yokohama. So be brave and be strong, You won’t be gone long. Say bye-bye mama, The land of Yama-Yama, Until April, I guess, Will be your address. On Christmas Eve when dad and I are trimming the tree, You’ll do your share of trimming out on land and on sea. Say goodbye to mama, You’re off to Yokohama, For your country, your flag and me. Goodbye mama, I’m off to Yokohama For the red, white, and blue, My country and you. Goodbye mama, I’m off to Yokohama Just to teach all those Japs The Yanks are no saps. A million fightin’ sons-of-Uncle Sam, if you please Will soon have all those Japs right down on their Japa-knees. Goodbye mama, I’m off to Yokohama, For my country, my flag, and you.

Here is an image of the actual record. More info on this site.

record

History!

Hokkaido Shrine in Winter

It’s -3°C here in Sapporo! The locals tell me it’s usually colder.

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  • stock; tree; winter; snow;
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It’s not even “real” winter yet here in Hokkaido. Whenever I get into a cab the driver inevitably tells me that last year there was three times as much snow on the ground this time of year. Regardless, it’s cold, and there’s a lot of snow. Pretty though right?

Most of the people around Hokkaido Shrine this month are either Japanese going for their New Year visit, or tourists from Asia.

If you find yourself in Sapporo, Hokkaido Shrine is definitely worth the visit. It’s the biggest Shrine in Hokkaido and very beautiful. Here are some photos from today! Notice the icicles hanging off of everything and how thick the snow is piled up. Brrr!

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