Speed Bento on the Bus

Just a simple post about a bus bento that I had heading into Hiroshima City from Hiroshima Airport, like… last year… I was spring cleaning my blog and noticed that I had drafted this one but never posted it!

Bento on the Bus

Boxed lunches (bento) are a big deal in Japan. Parents make them for their children to bring to school, and office workers can buy them in the connivence store at lunch time. They also have bento specially for bullet trains called “ekiben” (駅弁), where “eki” means train station, and “ben” is the first part of Bento.

Did you know that they also have bento for airplanes as well? They call them “soraben” 空弁。If I remember correctly I purchased this bento back in a Tokyo airport and carried it on the plane, but it was an early flight so I saved it for the bus ride to town.

I don’t think there is a special name for bento that you eat on a bus though… Oh well.


Good eating. These fancy ekiben can usually be purcahsed for anywhere between 500 and 1,000 yen (5 to 10 U.S. dollars). I forgot, but I think this one was about 800 yen.


– Harvey

The Difficulty of Grasping Japanese Numbers

I came across this blog entry from a fellow Japanese learner in my Twitter adventures a while back, and am finally getting around to blogging it now. Better late than never.

In this “The Numbers Racket” post, Seahorse-ily relates how numbers, especially big numbers, seem to be much harder to get a handle on than other aspects of Japanese.

When talking about groking big numbers, Seahorse-ily explains…

In English, we group our numbers in thousands once they start to get big. I’m sure you’re familiar with this:

Ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions, billions.

We even reflect that in how we write our numbers: 1,000,000.

In Japan, numbers are grouped in ten thousands. It looks like this:

Ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, ten thousand, tens of ten thousands, hundreds of ten thousands, thousands of ten thousands, billions.

Faced with this unaccustomed grouping system, I have to sit there in a meeting and convert 234,410 to “Uh, Two hundred ten thousands, um, sorry, drop a zero… twenty three ten thousands, forty-four, sorry (again), four thousand, four hundred and, uh, ten?”. I’m ashamed to say that yes, I sometimes count off zeros on my fingers.

So, I try to shoot for projects involving smaller numbers to avoid embarrassment. For example, “How many of you would like coffee?”.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced times like this. I have studied Japanese for more than… yikes… I’m old… let’s just say more than 10 years, and I can tell you that I still have to stop and think when I need to convert a number bigger than 1,000,000 back into English.

I couldn’t really find many YouTube videos teaching how to count large numbers in Japanese, everything seems to stop at 10 or 20 or so and call it a day… Which is unfortunate because in Japan when you’re dealing with numbers they’ll almost always at least be in the hundreds… You can’t buy much for less than 100 yen! You’ll most frequently encounter numbers when buying things in Japan and dealing with money.

Here’s one video that gets at the methodology behind the numbers so that you can work in the 10,000s.

Maybe in theory it’s quite easy… but when faced with something like…

ichi man go sen sanbyaku yon juu hachi yen!

[Audio is from our Japanese 101: Numbers iPhone iPhone App]

Many people will have to think twice. It gets even more difficult when numbers are in the 100 thousands, or millions. Practice and lots of exposure is the only way!

Our Japanese 101: Numbers App attempts to get people used to hearing and recognizing big numbers through repetition. If you can relate to this post maybe our app can help you get used to hearing big numbers. The entire Japanese 101: Numbers App is built around the context of money, because if you go to Japan most of the time you will hear numbers in the context of yen. Check it out if you want to sharpen up your Numbers listening comprehension skills!

Anyway, happy number crunching!

If you have any tips on how people can get used to big numbers in Japanese faster, please let us know in the comments! Or, if you just want to complain about how annoying numbers are in Japanese… you can do that too.

Until next time!

– Harvey

Japanese Podcast Recommendations – Part 5

No Longer Human

This podcast is an audio reading of a famous piece of Japanese literature called Ningen Shikkaku, by Dazai Osamu. The text of Ningen Shikkaku is available for free on Aozora Bunko, so you can listen to the audio while reading through the text. Perfect study tool!

I recommend saving the HTML page from Aozora Bunko to your computer, and then loading that into Stanza for the iPhone or iPod Touch. This way you can have the story read to you as you read along on the go! Very handy. Some day I will put together a blog post introducing tricks you can use to make your iPhone or iPod Touch the ultimate tool for studying Japanese, and when I do, this will be in the list for sure.

If you don’t want to subscribe the podcast itself, here is a link to all the Ningen Shikkaku MP3s.

You can also get a copy of an English translation of Ningen Shikkaku (No Longer Human) on Amazon. If you get book, and also take advantage of the links I have introduced, you’ll have the full Japanese text, an English translation, AND the audio of the Japanese text. What more could you ask for? Well… maybe a vocabulary list… but use your dictionary. You’ll be fine!

You can read more about Osamu Dazai on Wikipedia if you’re interested.

So now you’ve got the audio, the Japanese text, and an English translation. All the tools you need!

Enjoy! If anyone has any other Japanese-language podcast recommendations, do tell!

– Harvey

Other Japanese Podcast Recommendations:
Nikkei Trendy
Ueda’s working person Profile!
Oeda Mariko – Nikkei Moyamoya Talk

Film Binge: Charisma by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

I just watched Charisma by Kiyoshi Kurosawa on cue from my copy of A Hundred Years of Japanese Film by Donald Richie. This is a film I can recommend. It’s nuts. You’ll also notice that the main actor is Koji Yakusho, the famous Japanese actor of Shall We Dance fame.

Without giving anything away, this is one of those films that will keep your brain stimulated the entire way through. It’s twisted. Funny. Strange. Totally bizarre. However, it does have a fairly obvious message that keeps you engaged in an attempt to fully understand what the director wants to get across. It worked pretty well for me on first viewing, except for the end… That was a bit confusing… The DVD itself has some worthwhile extras on it: An interview with the director, and a “the making of” where you can watch the actors working and goofing off in the forest where the film was shot. Of course it’s all in Japanese, so its good times.

Anyway, good stuff! I recommend you give this one a look if you like quirky Japanese films. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s other films look like they have great reviews as well, so I’ll be checking them out sooner than later!

Related Links:
Read about Charisma on Wikipedia.
My post about Yukinogo Henge, another film I found via the Richie book.

Film Binge: Yukinojo Henge

I recently got a copy of A Hundred Years of Japanese Film by Donald Richie, so I have been looking up the titles mentioned in the book and checking out my university library to see what I can get.

The library is awesome. They have so many of the films listed… I’m sure I’m going to be busy for a while watching Japanese flicks. Richie’s book is great because it mentions films that go back, well, 100 years, all the way up to modern movies including Nobody Knows, and even includes Animation such as Princess Mononoke.

The other night I saw Revenge of a Kabuki Actor, the Japanese title is「雪之丞変化」(yukinojyo henge).

I’ll admit, I need to watch this again. Maybe it’s cause it’s super hot these days, maybe it’s cause I was out all day playing tour guide with my parents, or maybe I can blame jetlag from just returning from China… but I fell asleep a few times while watching this movie. It’s shameful I know.

Yukinojyo Hengei

So, to get a good feel for the quality of this movie, please read the reviews of 雪之丞変化 on Amazon.com. They’re raving. I’ll be revisiting this movie again later.

I think next I’ll be checking out Avalon by Mamoru Oshii of Ghost in the Shell fame. Animation. Actoin. Sci-fi. This should be more suitable for my slightly tired mind at the moment.

The best thing about this Donald Riche book is that it has given me instant access to a quality list of Japanese movies, many of which I didn’t know existed. If you need some tips on how to break out of your usual anime, Miyazaki Hayao, and Kurosawa Akira media loop, be sure to check it out.

Happy viewing!

– Harvey