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:


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.


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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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.


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.

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.

Shiroi Koibito Park in Sapporo

If you’ve been keeping up with me on Twitter you may have noticed that I’ve bene living in Sapporo for the past few months. Well, we had some friends in town so we decided to visit Shiroi Koibito Park, a theme park built around the famous Shiroi Koibito biscuits that are Sapporo’s most well-known souvenir.

Shiroi Koibito Park was much more interesting than I expected. Then again, my expectations were pretty low because I tend not to like commercial theme parks…

For my friends and family, which included a six-year old and a three-year old, the highlights were…

Making your own Shiroi Koibito Cookies!
You can sign up to make your own Shiroi Koibito snack! You get to wear a bakers cap and work with the staff to make a cookie. At the end you even get to package your cookie in the real Shiroi Koibito packaging. Pretty cool!

Factory Peeping
You can also view the Shiroi Koibito factory in action from above. This is probably the most interesting thing for adults at the park.

白い恋人 factory

A video posted by Jnewbie (@japannewbie) on

Candy Labo Candy Maker Peeping
You can also watch the candy makers at Candy Labo do their thing. The candy-making process is pretty showy so our kids had a great time.


A video posted by Jnewbie (@japannewbie) on

Making candy at Sapporo 白い恋人パーク

A video posted by Jnewbie (@japannewbie) on

Otherwise the Park is okay. A visit will probably take about three hours if you participate in the Shiroi Koibito making activities. There were a lot of foreign tourists there when we visited on a Saturday in January, so I expect that most of the staff are probably English ready. If you’re in Sapporo with a some extra time on a wet day you might consider a visit to Shiroi Koibito Park!

They also have Clione. Why.


More Information:

Earth Celebration on Sado Island 2013

This summer I went to the Earth Celebration on Sado Island, a three-day festival centered around the amazing taiko-drumming of Kodo.

Sado Island (佐渡島 sadogashima) is the home of Kodo (鼓童), the most well-known taiko drumming group in Japan, and probably in the world. I had seen Kodo perform indoor concerts, once in Kobe and once somewhere else, but this was my first time going to Sado for the festival.

The festival was excellent. Foreigners frequently attend this festival so it’s easy to gather information and figure out how to get there. The English festival website is well done, check it out.

Before I get into babbling about the festival, let me introduce you to Kodo.


You can see many more Kodo videos on this YouTube channel here.

Imagine what these drums sound like live. It’s like precise and rhythmic thunder. Truly amazing and totally mesmerizing. Also notable are the physiques of the players themselves. Those guys are ripped. Anyway…

The festival itself is an extremely family friendly environment. Many people brought their children and even babies to the event. Our group included my family, which included a 1-year old and my wife, another couple and their 3-year old and 1-year old, another adult, and mother with a 5-month old and a 3-year old. I also saw a dude walking around with a ferret, and regular teenagers and seniors as well.

There are also classes and workshops available each day where you can learn to dance or to beat a taiko drum. Most of the workshops require reservations and fill up months in advance of the festival, so if you want to participate in one be sure to plan ahead. We did not take part in any of the workshops this time.

There was a main stage on the festival grounds that had schedules performances throughout the day. There wer also countless food stalls and shops selling the usual “hippie” fare. If you’ve been to a flea market or outdoor crafts festival in Japan you will be familiar with the bags, hats, drums, and other trinkets that are for sale.

The Kodo performance, which is the main event each day, starts at around 6:30 PM and ends at about 9:00 PM. Most participants purchase their dinner on the festival grounds and bring them to the concert area to eat while waiting for the show to start. No photography is allowed during the Kodo performance, so I don’t have any to show. The other photographs and videos here are from the other not Kodo performances during the festival. There are plenty of Kodo photos and videos around the web if you want to see the performers in action!

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for… I shall share tips for concert survival!

  • Bring a towel, it’s hot during the summer and you’re going to sweat.
  • Bring a large towel or something to claim your space and sit on during the main event — everyone does.
  • If you’re trying to save money, bring your own water. Water is for sale at about 100 yen a bottle at the festival site, but you know, every yen counts.
  • Bring a hat. It’s hot.
  • Sandals are nice to have, but if it rains the grounds get very soggy so prepare to have muddy feet.
  • Plan EARLY! Lodging options and event reservations fill up months before the festival, so plan ahead.

If you’re already convinced, in 2014, Earth Celebration will be held August 22 (Fri) through 24 (Sun). Start making plans! Many people who attend this festival go year after year, so go as soon as possible so that you can go again if you want!

Here are some photos that I took during Earth Celebration 2013. Enjoy! Hope you get a chance to attend the festival!

Full gallery here.

Related Links:
Earth Celebration 2013 English Link

Japanese Olympic Vocabulary


Now that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been announced it’s time to beef up your Olympic vocabulary!

Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
国際オリンピック委員会 こくさいオリンピックいいんかい kokusai orinpikku iinkai Tokyo Olympic Committee
開催地 かいさいち kaisaichi place where an event will be held
五輪 ごりん gorin Olympics (lit. 5 rings)
夏季五輪 かきごりん kaki gorin summer olympics
安定した財政 あんていしたざいせい anteishita zaisei stable financial affairs
開催能力 かいさいのうりょく kaisai nouryoku the ability to conduct the event
招致委員会 しょうちいいんかい shouchiiinkai bid committee
立候補 りっこうほ rikkouho announced as candidate
招致演説 しょうちせんぜつ shouchiennzetsu bid speech
電子投票 でんしとうひょう dennshitouhyou electronic voting
汚染水 おせんすい osennsui polluted water

The Olympic Moment

It should also be noted that in the hit Anime flick AKIRA, the Olympics were set to be held in 2020 Neo Tokyo. Coincidence? I think not.


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