New iPhone App – 101 Japanese Idioms

Our friends over at have released a new iPhone/iPod Touch application.

This application contains 101 Japanese Idioms and costs $1.99 on the iTunes store.
101 idioms
In case you didn’t pay attention in English class, idioms are expressions like, “shake a leg.” A phrase that means something other than what it literally means. (no worries, I think I learned the meaning of “idiom” in Japanese class… no joke.)

Though there are some pretty obscure Japanese idioms, the ones included in this application are the type that every Japanese person will know and likely use from time to time. For example, one common Japanese idiom taught in many schools is goma wo suru ごまをする which literally means to “grind sesame”, but means “to kiss up” to someone. Strange explaining an idiom with another idiom isn’t it…

Any how…

The best part about the application (in my opinion anyway) is that every phrase is spoken, and it also includes sample sentences using the idiom in a natural way (the sample sentences are also spoken!) The voice is done by a native Japanese speaker so the voice quality is excellent.

Learning idioms is a lot of fun because usually even beginners will be familiar with all of the vocabulary used in the idiom, and simply have to learn the meaning and how its used. It’s always fun to learn new ways to use the words you already know! Even though I’ve been studying Japanese forever, I still did not know all 101 of the idioms in this application. This is really useful stuff!

The application also includes a flash card and quiz mode, so you can study the idioms in a variety of ways.

This video is worth 1,000 words.

Also, right now as a promotion is giving away $5.00 coupons valid for anything at the online store with your purchase of this $1.99 application for your iPhone or iPod Touch. You might want to take a look at their $5.00 digital downloads, like this beginners vocabulary flash download. Or just go to their site and search for “Instant Download” and you can find a lot of other options as well.

In case you missed’s first iPhone application, check it out in this earlier post.

Have fun!

– Harvey

Monster Hunter G CM with Kansai-ben speaking animals

Fabulous commercial for Monster Hunter G for the Wii.

Why is it fabulous? Because a cat and a pig are speaking Kansai-ben.

I love Kansai-ben.

I would translate and transcribe it, but I’m really busy at the moment! Maybe I’ll do that for the next post if someone doesn’t preempt me first.

(via JapanProbe)

– Harvey

[UPDATE] If you’re interested in Kansai-ben, check our our Kansai-ben iPhone Application! Japanese 101: Kansai Dialect

Lightning, The Wife of the Rice Plant

In Japanese kaminari 雷 is “thunder”, and inazuma 稲妻 is “lightning”. For a long while I think I was referring to both of them as kaminari… Anyway, I recently realized that inazuma is in fact the correct way to refer to lightning.

Then, like any good language geek, I checked it out in my dictionary.

The cool thing about kanji is that they usually make sense. I tell people, “It’s hard at first, but once you know hundreds of them they become very helpful, because you can guess at the meaning of words even if you have never seen them before.” Then they usually nod while thinking I’m crazy. Hundreds huh. I make an aside that it’s similar to knowing Latin roots for Romance languages (though I know nothing about this). I realize I’m digging a deeper hole.

For example, just glancing at the front page of Nikkei now, I see 売却. Not a word I use everyday, but the first character means “sell”, and the second means something like, to dispose of, to get rid of, to dump… It’s the same character that appears in 却下 which means “to reject”. So hrm… put the two together, maybe its like, “sell and get rid of” or something? “sell off” maybe? In the business sense?

Why yes indeed. That’s exactly what it means. See? Kanji are nice.

So, when I saw that the characters for inazuma, “lightning”, were 稲妻, I broke my brain.

The character 稲 means “rice plant”. And the character 妻 means “wife”.

So “wife of the rice plant” means lightning.

Oh I see. Moving on now – No, hold on a second. That makes no sense at all. There has to be a reason for this. And there is!

Follow me down the kanji and Japanese culture rabbit hole…

First of all, back in the day, the kanji 夫 otto, which means “husband”, used to be read tsuma as well.

It turns out that in ancient times there seemed to always be a lot of lightning during the period when the rice plants were ready to be harvested. Therefore they believed that the flashes of lightning are what made the rice plants mature. So, they called the lightning inazuma meaning, 稲の夫, “FATHER OF THE RICE”.

Now the characters 夫 otto and 妻 tsuma have come to be pronounced differently, so the 妻 character is used instead.

A lot of other lightning related words use the “rice plant” 稲 character as well. For example…

稲光 inabikari is “a flash of lightning.

稲鬼 inadama is the god that is believed to live in the rice fields.

稲交 inatsurubi is apparently another word for inazuma. Check that if you can and let me know. This is Greek to me.

I got most of this explanation from

I also used to solve the mystery of 笑い上戸 a while ago. Useful site!

If you read all this, I bet you’ll never forget get the kanji for “lightning” again!

– Harvey

Quickie: JapanShop Sale till Friday Morning (EST)

Quickie sale alert for your Japanese-studying needs.

The Japan Shop is having a 10% off sale on everything in the store until Friday morning (EST).

That includes this nice collection of their popular $5 downloads on CD, which is on sale for $24.95 (retail $29.95). Take an additional 10% off that and get 12 of their $5 downloads (total value of $60) on one CD (shipping is free too)!

Japanese CD

All of their $5 downloads are included on this CD. If you bought everything on the CD separately through the The Japan Shop, it would cost $60, so this is a good deal.

The official description of what the CD includes…

READERS – Short story e-books for beginners to intermediates
– Ikkyuu-san – A wise priest and a tiger BEGINNER+
– Inch-high Samurai – A tiny warrior with a brave heart BEGINNER+
– Mouse Bride – Parents hunt for a husband for their daughter BEGINNER+
– The Cut-Tongue Sparrow – A kind man, mean wife, and a bird BEGINNER+
– The Restaurant with Many Orders – Miyazawa Kenji INTERMEDIATES+
– The Tortoise and the Hare – The famous story in Japanese BEGINNER+

VOCABULARY – Lessons focusing on vocabulary building
– Beginners Vocabulary – 500+ words and phrases BEGINNER+
– JLPT 4 Vocabulary A – Half of the vocabulary needed for level 4 BEGINNER+
– JLPT 4 Vocabulary B – The other half for level 4 BEGINNER+

– Hiragana & Katakana lessons – Learn hiragana quickly BEGINNER+
– Using the phone with Japanese – UPPER BEGINNER+
– Japanese proverbs – 25 useful kotowaza UPPER BEGINNER+

BONUS – Contains various lessons, readers, and flash files

That’s a hearty helping of Japanese.

I’m an advanced learner (passed the JLPT level 1), but I still enjoy using the Japanese proverbs application, and all of the readers are fun, especially Miyazawa Kenji’s “The Restaurant with Many Orders” (you can read the original version on Aozorabunko here). The audio quality is top notch, so it’s great to load the mp3s into your iPod (or any other mp3 player), if you’re the kinda person who likes to hear Japanese on-the-go.

If you have already bought four or more of these $5 downloads, you may be eligible for a further discount off the CD. Check The Japan Shop website for details!


– Harvey

Twitter for your Japanese – Daily Waka

I’ve been looking for Twitter folk who tweet about interesting things in Japanese, but haven’t found many yet.

One that I will be sticking with though is ‘dailywaka‘. dailywaka tweets bilingual Japanese waka poetry… “daily”. They’ve got a great spring theme going on now.

Here the latest tweet.

ほのぼのと春こそ空に来にけらし天の香具山霞たなびく dimly, spring has come to the skies above / the mist trails along heavenly mt. kagu

Good stuff.

Let me know if you have found any cool people who tweet in Japanese!

– Harvey

Pizzicato Five – It’s a Beautiful Day

I listened to Pizzicato Five CDs over, and over again while sitting at home in Iowa back in the mid 90s. I just put some on now, which gave me the idea to check YouTube to see what I could see. This was my first time seeing this video!


This particular song is on their Happy End of You album pictured above.

Back in the mid 90s I was taking Japanese in high school while also working a part time job at the local big blue and yellow media warehouse/store. I still remember the first day I came across a Pizzicato Five CD while stocking the shelves. At the time (I still am?) I was desperate to find anything Japanese to learn Japanese from so I took a long hard look. I was already into Anime, but I didn’t really have any Japanese music other than Anime soundtracks. So I tried one Pizzicato Five album, and I was hooked. I think I own like 7 or 8 Pizzicato Five albums now.

Old school. Upbeat. Quirky. Gotta love em.

The lead singer Nomiya Maki is still active in Japan and has a blog as well. I actually saw Nomiya Maki perform once live in Kyoto – I think in 2006, maybe 2007. It wasn’t Pizzicato Five at the time, she was with a new band, I forget the name… It was really cool actually seeing her. It made me feel like my “Japan journey” had come full circle.

Here’s some Baby Portable Rock for ya down below.

Fun stuff!

– Harvey

Getting Emotional with the Kanji

喜怒哀楽 (kidoairaku)

This Japanese four-character phrase (四字熟語) roughly means, “the range of human emotions.” Individually the characters mean…

喜 – happiness
怒 – anger
哀 – sorrow/pity (Love this kanji, it’s used in 哀れ. Very Japanese.)
楽 – pleasure

Together, these characters express the entire range of feelings that a person might have.

I can’t remember where I came across this phrase, it must have been in some Japanese literature though. This phrase is common enough that most native Japanese speakers will recognize it immediately.

One example sentence using this expression is, 顔に喜怒哀楽を表さない (kao ni kidoairaku wo arawasanai), which means, “to not show emotion (on one’s face).

Demonstrating your knowledge of these expressions is one way to convince Japanese people that you really do know some Japanese. Memorize them!

– Harvey