Category Archives: EDUCATION

Kanji Cheat Sheet: Using a Japanese Rice Cooker

Source: Gaijin Pot
GaijinPot Daily Study

Coming from another Asian country, I can confidently say that Japanese rice is completely different from the rice I grew up eating in the Philippines. From its shape to its texture, Japanese rice feels much more dense and sticky.

As delicious and filling as Japanese rice may be, if you aren’t familiar with how to use the buttons on a Japanese rice cooker, you can miss out on making some Japanese dishes like おかゆ, or rice porridge.

Japanese rice cooker controls

To start off, let’s get acquainted with some of the controls on the メニュー (menu). While the positioning may be different on your particular model of rice cooker, generally these are the buttons you should watch out for.

If you’re in a rush and can’t wait, the (炊(すい)飯(はん)), or “fast cook,” button comes in handy. This will have your rice ready in around 30 minutes or less.

Would you like to schedule your rice to cook automatically? You can do so by clicking on the 予(よ)約(やく) (reservation) button then selecting the number of hours until the rice cooker will do its job. For example, if you leave home in the morning and want your rice piping hot when you get home, simply calculate the amount of hours you’ll be gone and time it to start an hour from when you’re about to arrive. Rest assured, if you do this properly you can expect to come home to a freshly cooked bowl of rice after a long day of work.

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How Difficult is the JLPT N1 for Japanese People?

Source: Gaijin Pot
How Difficult is the JLPT N1 for Japanese People?

When I first came to Japan, I heard the rumors about how infamously difficult the N1 exam was. A common story going around the foreign community at the time was that the N1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), the highest level, was so difficult that even Japanese speakers would struggle with the questions and perhaps fail to get the 50 percent score needed to pass.

Would Japanese speakers struggle with the questions?

Surely that couldn’t be right, could it?

I didn’t really believe it until one day, trying to explain a grammar point to one of my younger students, I used the infamous (に)だに (even) grammar point from my N1 grammar cheat sheet to explain. At first, I got that look that Japanese people give when they are convinced that the speaker has made some fundamental error.

“Are you sure that’s Japanese?” she ventured.

I showed her example questions and she laughed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this,” she explained. “We’d use something like にも instead.” She’s actually right, I would later discover, as (に)だに is only really used in certain types of literature and にも is far more commonly used. However, it got me interested in seeing how Japanese people would actually do on the N1.

The test

The guinea pigs for my experiment were a range of Japanese people. On separate days, using questions from the official materials for taking the exam, I interviewed businesswomen from a reputable firm who have a 短(たん)大(だい)or 4-year degree, students at a 専(せん)門(もん)学(がっ)校(こう) (specialist school), and some junior high school kids to keep things interesting.

Initially, the hypothesis that the test would be difficult for native speakers was blown out of the water as the first questions, which test kanji …continue reading


Who am I?

This week, my students are trying to write their names in Katakana. As I was helping one student write his name, I asked him “have you thought about your name – how it sounds before?” He laughed as he had never thought about it. What Japanese native speakers hear is very different from what non-native speakers hear.

Take my name for example (例えば). My name is Eriko. Simple to pronounce (発音する). BUT… unintentionally, I was given a new name by friendly strangers. When I meet a stranger, I introduce myself, “my name is Eriko.” The stranger usually says “Oh, Erika.” I said “It’s Eriko. E-R-I-K-O. With O.” “Oh, OK. Erika.” After about 2nd try, I usually give up (あきらめる).

This happens all the time in Japan, too. I was stunned to hear a Japanese news anchor say, “Kurt Coburn of Nirvana.” What? She meant “Kurt Cobain?” The anchor was not the only one. Everyone on TV, except for those who host music programs, says Kurt Coburn. Where did the R sound come from? koʊbərn vs kəʊˈbeɪn.

Image by Eriko Yatabe Waldock

I had a theory on this. There was a popular actor named James Coburn in the 70s. So maybe somebody who remembered the actor unintentionally (無意識に) called Kurt Cobain as Coburn as the names looked like each other and the name Coburn was more familiar.

There is also the opposite of the Kurt Cobain case. Uma Thurman, an American actress, is called Yuma in Japan. Her name, Uma, came from dbu ma chen po, a Tibetian Buddhism idea according to Wiki, and her name is pronounced as /umə/. Why is she called Yuma only in Japan?

Again, I have a theory on …continue reading


Intercultural Presence of a Refrigerator 冷蔵庫の異文化間存在

I have been in charge of homestay programs for Japanese university partners in the ESL section of a U.S. university. Japanese universities want their students to immerse themselves in English and learn the local culture by staying with local families. The most important thing that I tell students at an online pre-departure orientation is “please open the refrigerator (冷蔵庫 れいぞうこ) if your host family tells you to help yourself (遠慮しないで), and take out what you want to drink (飲む) or eat (食べる).” In general ( 一般に), it is very difficult for the Japanese to open a refrigerator or a kitchen pantry at someone else’s home.

I tell homestay students “I understand that you feel awkward ( 気まずい) opening someone else’s fridge. But if you wait for the host family to bring something for you, they may think that they have to take care of (世話をする) you.” And I tell host families “the reason why your student may not want to open the fridge to get something to drink is that the student is simply feeling awkward to do so. It is not that the student wants you to cater him/her.” Host families usually laugh to find out what an intercultural problem t a fridge can pose!

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

It is not a joke ( 冗談), really. A few years ago, a homestay student talked to me while I was speaking to the group. “Meals(食事)are terrible. Because I am Japanese, she serves rice all the time. But that is it. I am starving (お腹がペコペコだ、餓死する).” To make a long story short, her host mom bought so many special foods for the student as she had allergies and stored them in the fridge and in the pantry, telling her to help herself. …continue reading


How should you respond when a Japanese person gives you a compliment?

You may have heard there’s only one proper phrase to use, but that’s not true. According to the common logic of Japanese etiquette, when someone pays you a compliment the best response is to say “Sonna koto arimasen.” If you’ve ever read even the first page of a Japanese phrase book, though, you’ll notice that […]

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The number of doctorate students in Japan is now almost half of what it was 17 years ago

Japan’s booming science industries might need workplace reform if they want to continue hiring qualified workers. If you want to get ahead in the world, everyone says you should go to college and get a bachelor’s degree. That’s true in Japan, where it’s generally a requirement for getting any decent salaried position. But though there’s […]

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Kanji Cheat Sheet: For Taking the Shinkansen

Source: Gaijin Pot
GaijinPot Transport Study

Riding the bullet train (新(しん)幹(かん)線(せん)) is something most travelers look forward to when coming to Japan. It’s fast, punctual, and a cultural experience all rolled into one. The sheer convenience of traveling at lightning speed from one prefecture to another, all while eating a cutely decked out bento box, sets it apart from all the other kinds of trains in Japan.

For most first-timers, the bullet train ticketing system might feel a bit complicated. Sometimes require you to use two tickets instead of one and vice versa. The reservation and payment system might also be confusing if you didn’t avail of the JR Pass ahead of time. Not to mention, the tickets you’ll be purchasing don’t come with line by line English translations.

Shinkansen tickets

Photo: Yann
Ticket to ride.

As previously mentioned, there may be times where you’ll need to keep two types of tickets on you. Losing both will cost you an arm and a leg, so keep them close.

To tell the difference between the basic fare ticket and the actual bullet train ticket, look for the corresponding characters on the uppermost portion: The first ticket is called the basic fare ticket (乗(じょう)車(しゃ)けん)) and the second ticket is called the Super (Limited) Express (新(しん)幹(かん)線(せん)特(とっ)急(きゅう)券(けん)).

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5 Best Websites for Finding Japanese Tutors Online

Source: Gaijin Pot
5 Best Websites for Finding Japanese Tutors Online

If you’re going to live and work in Japan, you’ll eventually want to know the language. Self-study is essential, but the right language school or tutor can put you on the fast track to success. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has caused many language schools around the country to temporarily close or make students rightfully concerned with assembling in crowded classrooms.

Moreover, not everyone has the time to enroll in a school or meet with a private tutor. When my schedule permitted it, I always took lessons with private tutors at cafes found online. Unfortunately, I have been hunkered down at home waiting out 2020. While I’ve had plenty of time for self-study, I’ve had few opportunities to speak Japanese.

When life goes back to normal, I don’t want to be worse off than I was, so I decided to find an online tutor. As it turns out, there are many websites out there, but which one has the right tutor for you? I took trial lessons with five different websites, taking into account the teacher’s price, schedule, tools, and experience.

Here are five sites for finding online Japanese tutors.

1. JapaTalk

JapaTalk is great for finding conversational Japanese tutors.

I had heard about JapaTalk when NHK aired a segment about a Japanese housewife teaching Japanese from home. The website promises that students can learn Japanese that is actually used by Japanese people, which I am lacking. Although learning formal or textbook Japanese is essential, in my experience, it can sometimes sound awkward in social situations. More importantly, JapaTalk is a dream come true for students on a budget. Classes start from just ¥390.

The system is point-based. For example, you can purchase 1,000 points for ¥1,000 (or more). Or you can sign up …continue reading


I am not really OK with “daijoubu” (だいじょうぶ)

As a former student of sociolinguistics, I am naturally drawn to anything related to (〜関係する) language and society (社会). Recently, I read a tweet from Salam Namaste, a Napali –Indian restaurant in Japan.

だいじょうぶ は ネパールじんにぜんぜんだいじょうぶじゃない


— 本格ネパール・インド料理サラムナマステ?? (@salamnamaste01) July 25, 2020


Napali “Can you eat another nan?”

Japanese “Daijobu”

Does the “daijobu” mean Yes or No?

First of all, “daijobu” (だいじょうぶ、大丈夫) can be translated as “I am good” or “I am OK.” These are also ambiguous (あいまい、曖昧) in English.

Sakam Namaste Restaurant asked on Twitter. Then 19% of Japanese said “Yes (I can eat another nan)” while 63% said “No (I cannot eat another nan).” I believe it heavily depends on (〜による) how “daijobu” is uttered. I am sure some sort of hand/body gestures were involved. But just reading the conversation (かいわ) alone, my instinct (ちょっかん、直感) was to reply, “Yes.” But while I was writing this in English, I started to think this “daijobu” could mean “No.”

Let’s picture the scene. If the Japanese says “daijobu” while looking at the person who asked the question, then it means “yes, I can have another.” If the Japanese says “daijobu” while waving his/her hand with the palm ( 手のひら) showing to the person who asked the question, that means “no, I cannot have another.”

Let’s see 2).

Napali: Can you eat hot (spicy) (辛い) curry?

Japanese: Daijobu.

Is this daijobu yes or no?

Eighty-six percent (パーセント) of Japanese who responded said that this meant “Yes, I can eat spicy curry,” while 9% interpreted this as “No, I cannot eat spicy curry.”

How about 3)?

Photo by Marvin Ozz from …continue reading