Beef up your JLPT vocab with PlaySay

JapanNewbie here, introducing you to a new Japanese study product – PlaySay.

PlaySay is a labor of love by a fellow Japan-head. To put it simply, the PlaySay team has put the vocabulary that you need to know for each of the JLPT exam levels into MP3 format, and added text and audio tricks to make it beneficial for use in self-study.

I could try to explain it in detail, but you can hear and see a demo of exactly how the mp3 files will behave when installed on your mp3 player right here. Click on the “click speaker for audio” image, and watch the graphic of the (now old school) iPod as the text scrolls by.

Heard it?

Pretty self explanatory huh? One speaker (no pun intended) in English, the other Japanese. The text in English and Japanese scrolls across the screen. Get it in your head and do better on the JLPT exams.

You can purchase the files online as a complete set of JLPT 1-4 files, or you can purchase just the exam sets that you need. The full JLPT 1-4 file set is a 42% discount on what it would cost to buy them individually, so hey… if you think you’ll be doing Japanese for a while…

So I’ve got the files loaded and I’m listening to them… now what?

As far as how to use PlaySay effectively, I would recommend that you focus on active listening…

It’s important not to zone out and let the Japanese-English rotation become “background noise” in your head while you’re thinking about something else. This is easier said than done… The mp3 files are just reading off vocabulary after all. Not exactly the most enthralling stuff. If you need to, write the words as you hear them (the Kanji appears on the display of your MP3 player), or repeat them yourself a few times before the next words come up. Just don’t zone out.

Also, have a dictionary handy. There are no example sentences with this product, so whenever you hear a word that you don’t know, be sure to look it up in a dictionary so you can see how it is used.

You can also try taking the English headphone out of your ear, and only listening to the Japanese side to see if you can recall the English meaning, and vice-versa.

Also, remember that though vocabulary is a huge part of the JLPT exam, there’s more to it than that. Be sure to balance your study with other study methods as well!

Anyway, enjoy. This is good stuff, and since JLPT is in December, you’ve got a good six months to prepare! I passed JLPT 1 back in 2003 (barely), but I think I’ll take it again this year to see if I can raise my score, and as incentive to keep my Japanese skills sharp!.


– Harvey

Trip to Kawagoe

Lots of posts on Kawagoe!

This was one of my last trips before I left Japan back in May.

This time I’m posting some pictures of the traditional architecture there known as Kurazukuri.

In the background of this picture you can see the famous Tokino Kane (Bell Tower). It is believed to have been built by Sakai Tadakatsu (1587-1662), who was the third lord of Kawagoe Castle. Like many old structures in Japan, this is a reconstruction. The original tower burned down in 1893. The bell still rings four times a day. Most of this information I am getting from the tourist pamphlet that was handed out near the station!

The picture above is an example of the Kurazukuri. Kurazukuri refers to homes that are built in the same style as traditional fire-resistant storehouses. The lower level was used as a shop, and the shop owners lived upstairs. There are also some Western style buildings in the town as well, you can see one that is on picture above this one on the left side. Sorry for the cut off shot, wasn’t really aiming for those!

The weather was great. Love that blue sky!

If you want to know more about things to do and eat in this day-trip-from-Tokyo getaway, check out the following blog entries:

The recent Unagi feast in Kawagoe

The unique 500 Statues of Rakan

And from last year, Kawagoe Matsuri.


– Harvey

Learn with Real Japanese

Read Real Japanese

Have you ever felt that no matter how many example sentences you read from your Japanese textbook, that when you try to read Japanese websites, newspapers, or magazines, it seems like they’re using a completely different language?

Well, this is a problem that most people who study Japanese will run into at some point, and it can only really be resolved by including some “real” Japanese material into your study plan in addition to textbooks.

For those people looking to make the leap but need a little more guidance than just accessing the editorial section of Yomiuri Shimbun and diving right in, there is the Read Real Japanese series of textbooks.

These textbooks use real Japanese short stories from famous authors such as Murakami Haruki and Yoshimoto Banana, and supplement them with tons of notes explaining what is going on.

This stuff is for intermediate students who have a good grasp on basic Japanese sentence structure. To be sure that this series is the right thing for you, click on the cover image on The Japan Shop title page to see some scanned images of the inside of the textbook. I would recommend this series to people who have studied Japanese for at least a couple of years and are willing to slog through some real reading with dictionary at hand!


Read Real Japanese

– Harvey

Japanese Podcasts

As part of my quest to not let my Japanese die while I spend the next few years in the states, I started hunting for some Japanese podcasts.

I found some fun stuff put out by TBS Radio 954.

If you’re coming straight through the iTunes Store, search for “TBS RADIO 954kHz”.

So far I’m liking the various JUNK comedy series.

Bakusho Mondai

Check it out!

– Harvey

Free Japanese and other Asian Movies in D.C.

Anyone in Washington D.C. at the moment might be interested in the free Asian films showing at he 300 seat Meyer Auditorium, located in the Freer Gallery.

For example, tomorrow, HARA KIRI by Masaki Kobayashi is showing.

A short synopsis from the Freer Gallery’s website is below.


Sunday, June 15, 2008, 2:00 pm, Meyer Auditorium
In this classic film by Masaki Kobayashi, a masterless samurai (“played with something like demonic self-possession by Nakadai,” according to film critic Vernon Young) stops at an Edo mansion and asks for a haven where he can commit ritual suicide. While he waits for the arrival of three more samurai to serve as his seconds, the house’s owner passes the time by telling of the horrific outcome of a similar request. As each of the seconds calls in “sick,” the masterless samurai begins his own story.
1962 / 135 min. / B&W

Call me a geek, but I’m excited.

There are movies scheduled from Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, China, etc, all through August!

Or… Am I just desperately clinging to the Japanese culture that I am now missing back here in the States?! — Naw, I’m not desperate… I’m just fine being in America, really. By the way, I hear Sushi Taro is the best place to get Japanese food in D.C.!


– Harvey

Unagi in Kawagoe

One of my last fancy meals in Japan was scrumptious eel (a dish called unagi-jyuu, eel and rice, and eel, and more rice) in Kawagoe.

I absolutely love this stuff.

Love it.

There is something about these unagi-don type dishes that is irresistable once you get past the fact that it’s, well, eel.

The pickeled vaiety side dish (tsukemono).


If you’re wandering around Kawagoe, just look for this shop curtain (noren). The shop is called “Unagi Ichinoya“.

Unagi. One of the rare Japanese foods that often tastes better outside of Osaka… But only sometimes. And in Osaka it’s cheaper.

– Harvey

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