Monday, February 1, 2010


Blogger, things just ain't gonna work out between us. Besides that, I've... well, I've been thinking, I'd sort of like to see other blog platforms, you know? Well, to tell you the truth, I've sorta been... um, there's no easy way to say this, but... I've sorta been messing around with WordPress. Yeah, I don't know how it ever came to this, myself, but... I'm sorry, Blogger. It just can't work out, you know? Between your heinous HTML auto-formatting and the asinine way you handle images, I can hardly stand even looking at you anymore, frankly. WordPress is prettier than you, smarter than you, suits all of my needs and then some - my needs, you know?

Yada yada yada, Blogger can smoke a tailpipe, join me at my new blog!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

3rd grade memories

昔々, many many years ago, in a time long forgotten, in an age of bronze tools and battling ferocious scaled beasts for the rights to one's breakfast... okay, so it wasn't really all that long ago, now that I think about it. I'm not even sure why this memory resurfaced recently, but it struck me as a little funny, so I thought I'd share it. Brace yourselves.

When I was a young lad, I attended private Catholic school from K until 3rd grade. I've heard many a horror story from those who grew up in a Catholic upbringing, but honestly, those early years in school bring back only a flood of good memories. Though today I'm as far from Catholicism as one can get, those four years are something I'm really grateful for.

At any rate, I believe it was in the 3rd grade - perhaps 2nd, it's hard to be certain - when a Japanese girl named Aki joined the class mid-semester. Unsurprisingly, at the age of (probably) 8 or 9, I was pretty ignorant as to the variety of races and languages on this planet, as were most of my peers, who took a fascination to this new student instantly. Honestly, it was hard to blame them - a Japanese student at a private Catholic school? That just wasn't something you'd see every day.
I recall that she was frequently asked if she knew karate - yeah, I know... oy. This was also at a time when The Karate Kid was still fresh in the wild, creative minds of every child, so you can thank Hollywood once again for helping perpetuate stupid stereotypes. Thanks a lot, Hollywood.

There were two memories vivid memories that seem to stand out above all the rest, though.

The first was during recess. Try as I might, I can't recall what the heck was going on at the time, but it was almost time to return to class and I was talking with her near this big, metal fire escape thing on the side of the building. Suddenly, she got a burst of aggression, gave me a good shove and giggled as the bell rang and I went flying backwards - good timing! Yeah, I guess I tend to have that effect on women. Rawr.
As for me, the back of my head made contact with said big, metal fire escape thing, drawing a decent amount of blood and causing me to think, "What the hell is wrong with this broad?!"
Perhaps it was at that very moment that the seeds of the future were planted, the dreaded cooties entering my bloodstream through the scratch on my scalp and taking root and... okay, scratch that, I'd have taken an interest in Japanese and Japan in general thanks to all the video games I played, anyway, with or without the aid of a sadistic school girl. I'm not sure if the same could be claimed for my sadistic school girl fetish, however.
Luckily, the wound was quite minor and it had stopped bleeding long before I got back to the classroom. I remember having the teacher examine my head, in fact, and she couldn't even find the wound, or any blood for that matter. This must have been near the end of the school year at this point, because I can't recall interacting with psycho sadist girl much from this point on. Ahh well.

The second memory I recall vividly was on the very last day of class, when students were going around getting their yearbooks signed, as per school tradition. I remember seeing a line stretching back for what was probably a hundred or more students, leading up to a table with a single student signing yearbooks, like the author of a popular series of novels doing book signings - a certain sadist with a heart of stone and a really cool kanji name. If only they knew...
Even back then, I was too cool and non-conformist to join the line, and perhaps I still even held a grudge for that incident earlier in the year - or a deep, lingering fear.

So what does it all mean? How does it all add up? I uh... really don't know. But here I am, many moons later, doing a pretty damn good job of learning Japanese despite the odds - even those crazy Chinese symbols that all those kids wanted written in their yearbooks!
I wish I could say the same for my luck with the crazy Japanese ladies, but let's take things one step at a time, shall we?

Okay, that's the last time I write up an anecdote on this blog. I promise.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Project: RPG-o-thon


It feels like I've been away from this blog forever, and for the most part, I have. However, that doesn't mean I've been away from my studies - nooo, sir. As of the past few weeks, I've been working harder than ever toward my ultimate goal, and things could hardly be going much better (at least, given the 24 hour day cycle I'm sorta forced to deal with...).

Most of my little updates, thoughts and so forth have been reported via Twitter, a tool I once loathed but now embrace, albeit after a lot of kicking and screaming - but that's the way we do things around here.
My urge to scribble like a mentally impaired chimpanzee with a box of crayons write tends to overlap with my SRS time, a very delicate few hours time of the day where I'm feeling my sharpest and most creative, which can present a bit of a problem if I get too distracted. Whereas spending an hour or more writing a long, semi-coherent (at best) blog post branching from one of my random thoughts/insights/rants could easily (and often does) knock my study momentum off course, a few short messages on Twitter takes hardly any time at all. Whether or not those messages actually contain anything of value, well, that's up to debate...

Anyhow, things are going swell, and tonight I'd like to talk about my latest "project".

I've recently acquired a PSP, which I promptly put to good use by hacking the heck out of, slapping in an 8GB memory stick pro duo, and going nuts with. It's now my portable study station of choice, with the ability to play any drama or anime I encode and throw on it, the ability to read PDFs and comics, to play any PSP or PSX RPG (and most other games from emulatable systems)... and this all comes at an opportune time when my motivation is incredibly high and I'm really wanting to dig into Japanese media. Bangin'.

So where does this "project" come into play? Pretty simple - I plan to complete one full RPG in Japanese every month.
Perhaps a little too simple? 30 days gives me more than enough time to get through all but the longest, most drawn out RPGs around. On the other hand, it's a goal I can easily obtain with nary a second thought, and can easily adjust once I get into a groove. I'm guessing that I'll eventually push that quota up to two RPGs a month, or one RPG every two weeks, but I'll worry about the boring logistics later. For now, it's friggin' RPG time.

My first play through will be Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star on PSP, the second remake of one of my favorite RPGs of all time, Lunar: The Silver Star. Being a game I'm quite familiar with, it's already been quite easy to get into, and now that my Japanese skill is at a good enough level to understand the "gist" of most everything in the game, I can see just how cleverly and skillfully Working Designs translated the original games. It's quite a treat for an old fan of the series such as myself.
I'm only a few hours in, so far... and even having completed the previous two Lunar: The Silver Star games multiple times, I've already managed to get lost. I can't even blame it on my lousy Japanese, either - this is just the kind of oldskool RPG where puzzles can and will screw you and make you lose an hour bumbling around and battling respawned monsters the entire time. I love these oldskool RPGs.

Yes, there are far better native materials to dive into than video games, that I'm aware of. But when it comes to things that draw me in for hours at a time, nothing beats RPGs. While I have trouble sticking with manga or dramas or anime consistently (and tend to get frustrated too easily yet to stick with a novel), RPGs are an almost instantaneous addiction. Consistency is key to success, and playing an RPG from start to finish is something I rarely have trouble being consistent with (unless that game is Final Fantasy 10, oh god). This is an addiction I'll gladly give into it when I get so much out of it.

I needs my fix, man.

Turning a weakness into something I can exploit to my benefit? You bet I'm gonna take advantage of that! To be fair, I've been playing very few games these past few months, and really haven't felt the desire to do so very much short of a few short sessions here and there. ...
And that's why it's time to awaken the dormant beast once again and get my game on! Can I get a hell yeah.

Of course, that won't be the only thing I focus on this year. I continue to partake in all the drama, anime and manga I can get my grubby mitts on, not to mention the blogs I read regularly, and the hour or two of SRSing I do each day. As time goes on, I also find myself naturally increasing my immersion as I'm able to understand and enjoy more and more, with Japanese slowly but surely beginning to overtake English as the dominant language. Such a feisty one, that Japanese.

How far will this RPG-mania take my Japanese skills? Who knows, but I know that I'll be enjoying every minute of it and getting a heck of a lot of needed exposure. Besides, how awesome is it to SRS words such as 経験値 and 幻獣? Eh, eh?!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Walking through the fog

After you have practiced for a while, you will realize that it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress. Even though you try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little. It is not like going out in a shower in which you know when you get wet. In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet. But as you keep walking, you get wet little by little. If your mind has ideas of progress, you may say, "Oh, this pace is terrible!" But actually, it is not. When you get wet in a fog, it is very difficult to dry yourself. So there is no need to worry about progress. It is like studying a foreign language. You cannot do it all of a sudden, but by repeating it over and over, you will master it.

-Shunryu Suzuki

Thursday, August 6, 2009

[Anime] 蟲師 / Mushishi

Ever been passively interested in something for a few years before you finally bite the bullet and actually experience it? Since 2006, I recall seeing images and art (on anonymous imageboards I've long since outgrown - praise be to the 神々) of a particularly intriguing anime, a few whispers here and there about a series I had barely heard of. Intrigued as I was, I suppose I had "better" things to do and watch, so I sort of ignored and buried the intrigue somewhere in the back of my mind. In my experience, this practice is rarely a good idea as it will eventually resurface with a vengeance like a bamboo forest reaching for the glowing ball of fire in the sky.

The same feeling overcame me recently with モノノ怪 / Mononoke, an anime series I thoroughly enjoyed that captured my imagination and took it places I never even knew existed. An enigmatic and unusual (yet entertaining) protagonist who wanders the land in Edo-period Nippon with his box of medicine and tools on back, ultimately acting as both detective and exorcist to the many characters in the series with some serious skeletons in their closet. It was a recipe for success for me, and one short series such as モノノ怪 just couldn't quite sate my insatiable thirst; I craved more.

Conveniently, the image of a mysterious, white haired man with a large box of tools on his back (not unlike the Medicine Seller of モノノ怪) that I had seen some years ago resurfaced in my mind. Even if this series was only marginally similar to what I had just seen, I just knew I'd be satisfied. Wouldn't I?
Unfortunately, I had completely forgotten the title of the series in which this character starred, so it would be a few more days until (by happenstance of a friend mentioning it, actually), once again, it would resurface and I'd finally begin watching it. Even when I forgot such simple things as its title, it just wouldn't go away - apparently I was destined to see this thing.

Well, thank you, destiny, because 蟲師 / Mushishi turned out to be one of the finest anime series I've ever seen, and I've seen a good plenty in my lifetime.

蟲師 is actually one of the most difficult anime to describe I've ever come across. In a way, it shares similarities with モノノ怪 in that it stars a wandering, enigmatic merchant (of sorts) in old Japan who exorcises spirits, but the similarities, for the most part, end there.

The story follows Ginko, a white haired wandering peddler with (surprise, surprise) a mysterious past and an expansive knowledge of the strange creatures of this world known as 蟲 (mushi). Mushi, as the word suggests, are insect-like spiritual beings that inhabit any place with life: people, plants or animals. Their nature is never really explained in great detail; they simply are what they are, whether anyone realizes their existence or not. Very few are even able to see them at all, and those who are able often become the centerpiece of the mushi's involvement, often to their plight.
I think it's important to note that the mushi aren't necessarily inherently good, nor evil. They're barely even sentient at all; they simply part of the neverending circle of nature, using humans as a means of survival, even if doing so means feeding off of humankind's weaknesses and temptations.

蟲師 is presented episodically, so that each episode stands on its own with very few recurring characters and themes, as Ginko wanders the land and encounters the simple, hard working, country dwelling people who have (usually unwittingly) become involved with mushi - often to their danger and detriment. It's Ginko the rescue!
Only, as knowledgeable and wise as he may be, he's far from the omnipotent demigod that the Medicine Seller is, and quite human at his core. While Ginko does his best to lessen the damage of the mushi, conclusions are rarely happy and cheerful - the damage is done, compromises have been made and life and nature have taken their toll, usually with bittersweet results. Perhaps the nature of life itself is what the entire series boils down to - but I won't discuss it further, as I think it best to experience the stories of 蟲師 on one's own. Lemme just say that it's incredibly rare for an anime to moisten my eyes, and only two come to mind - Grave of the Fireflies, and this one.

Speaking of emotional impact, the animation and music are quite impeccable - at the same time simple and profound, not unlike the series itself. Landscapes, villages and the people that inhabit them take on a life of their own as they're beautifully drawn and animated. Likewise, the music of 蟲師 lends much to the mood and atmosphere, ranging from the singer-songwriter opening theme, "The Sore Feet Song" by Ally Kerr to the many different somber credits themes by Toshio Masuda. Everything blends together to create one of the most enchanting pieces of animation in recent memory.

If I had but one complaint about the series, it would be the character design - not that there's anything wrong with Ginko, or the other one or two "major" recurring characters, but a good many of the towns folk look strikingly similar, causing me to blink and scratch my head a few times and ponder, "Didn't I just see them in the last episode? Is this is the same character?"
That the series is episodic renders this gripe a very minor one, however. Besides, when everyone wears a kimono and wears their hair in the same (small handful) of styles, there isn't that much room for fashion individuality, is there?

To say I simply "enjoyed" this series would be a disgusting understatement punishable by death, as it went above and beyond my expectations and has become one of the only 26 episode anime series I've begun watching again less than a week after finishing. That should tell you a little something about how much I love 蟲師.

However, I'd also completely understand if someone else was completely bored to tears by it, and couldn't force themselves to sit through it in its entirety. I honestly wouldn't consider 蟲師 a "slow" series, as plenty happens in the span of each 20~ minute story. Much of that is dialogue, and the series contains little to no action to speak of. To me, this isn't a big deal. To others, it may very well be.
Additionally, 蟲師 is wrought with the philosophy and tackles some particularly difficult (and potentially painful) subject matter which I seldom see in anime or manga. This may be a turnoff to some; it's challenging and fascinating to myself. I think it takes a certain type to appreciate this series to its fullest, and I don't mean that in an egotistical sort of way. Watch and judge for yourself.

Even having completed the series, I still feel as though there's a lot I haven't properly taken in yet, thus my second viewing and eventual reading of the manga.
All in all, however, I think it's safe to say that 蟲師 will go down as one of my favorite anime series of all time. For those looking for something thought-provoking, challenging and far out of the ordinary where anime is concerned, I couldn't recommend 蟲師 more.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Slow and steady wins the race

Progress hasn't been stellar the past few months, but I no longer worry about nor really think about my progress at all, honestly. In nearly one full year of study, not one day has gone by that I haven't done something substantial in Japanese, even if I've neglected things such as my SRS a little too frequently for comfort. The result is that I've very rarely gotten burned out in my 日本語 studies, pacing myself as I run this long, long marathon, having trekked through the winding, confusing roads of this journey and covered a significant amount of ground. Of course, this marathon ain't anywhere near over yet, but I'm showing no signs of tiring any time soon...

It's always interesting to pick up something I had struggled on previously, only to discover a few months later that - lo and behold - I can now understand and enjoy this thing! There was a time when I had some naive notion that, by the time I could read and enjoy Berserk, I'd probably be at a pretty damn decent level of Japanese and all would be swell and I'd never need to study Japanese another day in my life again. Imagine my surprise the other day when I flipped through several pages of Berserk with a surprisingly decent level of comprehension...
Whereas in the past I had to rely on katakana words in order to vaguely navigate my way through RPGs while ignoring most of the story, I can now understand the vast majority of plotlines and very rarely get lost since I can follow the directions of the NPCs with few problems.
And the list goes on and continues to go on - it's a really nice feeling, and sure beats worrying about where I should be or could be with my Japanese level.

I still find listening to be difficult, though, and generally find reading pure kana quite tricky as well. Perhaps I've grown a little too acquianted with the contextual power of kanji (and o, how powerful it is), and no thanks to the massive amount of homophones in Japanese (indeed, 日本語 puts the "homo" in "homophone"...), but I often find myself returning a blank stare to these tricky things. I think this is also due to having not yet "internalized" a lot of the vocabulary I've learned. Exposure is really the only solution, and exposure I'm getting - I try to average 2 hours of watching unsubbed (or Japanese subbed in the rare situations when these are actually available) drama/anime/movies/TV a day, and as much passive listening via podcasts (again, I love TBS Life) as I can cram in.

Another thing that keeps me motivated is the concept that, while there may be a heck of a lot of kanji, there is a finite amount of them. I'm constantly learning the readings of more and more kanji, and eventually there just won't be many left to learn, save for the obscure ones (which I particularly enjoy learning). When you think about it in that way, fluency doesn't seem too far fetched at all, does it?

Slow and steady wins the race, this much I'm sure of.

At any rate, I hope to be bloggin' a little more frequently in the near future. I have plenty of interesting music, drama, anime and movies to discuss and share, and really, aren't these things part of the reason why we're learning the language in the first place? Exactly.

Friday, July 3, 2009


It's certainly been a while, hasn't it? I've been neglecting my lil ol' blog here for quite some time, but not because I'm necessarily slacking in my 日本語 studies. I have been quite busy the past month or two (and am in the long, excruciating process of moving), but I've made significant progress since my last post. Most of my miscellaneous updates have been confined to the endlessly banal, barren wasteland known as Twitter (a banal wasteland I've come to enjoy, thank you very much), but one can only cram so much information into a 140 character message. It's now come time for me to report on my progress in a proper manner.

Well, where am I currently, in my journey... It's difficult to say, exactly. I estimate that I'm probably somewhere around 3,000 cards in my SRS, not counting either of my kanji decks (oldskool keyword-to-kanji Heisig, and new Japanese word-to-kanji deck).

My old deck of 900~ cards was deleted with prejudice, never to be missed again, and mostly consisted of various tidbits from, 2001KO and dictionaries. I simply couldn't bear going through that thing again - the boredom and drudgery drove me nuts, so I did the most sensible thing that came to mind. DELETED!
My newer, vocabulary and onyomi-centered deck (with sentences almost exclusively from topped out at exactly 1,000. While I can generally force myself to plow through its reviews, it's getting more and more monotonous as time goes on, and I can't really foresee myself adding very many new cards to it (for reasons I'll get into later). This will probably mark its demise in the near future, though I'll keep it around for the time being as it's served me quite well.
The rest of my decks are miscellaneous bits and pieces such as grammar points and so forth.

For the most part, I feel like I've been pretty lazy when it comes to actually adding material. Well, strike that - I know I've been lazy. On my hot streaks, I can add 50 or more cards per day for a week straight. But more typically, I hover between 20-30 and take a heck of a lot of days off.
Actually, I haven't added one new card in at least three weeks, and my reviewing has taken a sharp decline as well. This is thanks in no small part to a very busy June, but I also hit a massive wall of SRS burnout somewhere around my 1,000th card in the aforementioned vocabulary deck. Life happened, I had suddenly come to a screeching halt, and it took me over a week to get back to my studies... which didn't include very much SRSing. Try as I might, I just couldn't justify the frustration and tedium when I had hours upon hours of drama, anime, games, books and various listening material to indulge in. Of course, this wasn't necessarily a problem inherent in SRS itself and more to do with my dull sentence material, but I'll get to that part yet...

At this point, my hard drive was pretty much full with anime and drama. I have a 500GB drive, which isn't enormous by today's standards, but considering how conservative I tend to be with space, for me to fill the poor thing takes some serious downloadage. Before I knew it, I was up to my neck in roughly a dozen anime series and a handful of dramas, as well as about a half dozen movies and a few good gigabytes of audiobooks, podcasts and radiocasts. よしっ!I was ready to rock.

A main character so remarkably badass, he can make pointed ears, makeup and nail polish look cool. (モノノ怪 (eng))

Of course, all of these things have one thing in common as far as studying goes - they're all listening material. At this point (roughly one month ago), I felt like my reading comprehension and vocabulary had "leveled up" significantly, but my listening really left something to be desired. Even if I knew all the words in a spoken sentence, it'd still take my brain a few extra seconds to actually process it all into something I understood, unless said sentence was a phrase very familiar to me. Clearly, this was a problem stemming from my lack of input on the listening side - something I knew I've been neglecting, but... well, you know me and neglect, don't you?

For about a week straight, my studying involved little else but watching drama and anime, and listening to podcasts - very little SRS review, and just enough reading to keep me sharp. Though I'd have periods of several seconds where I didn't understand diddlysquat, I began to notice my listening comprehension improve steadily with each hour I invested in my active listening. After some time, I was able to follow the story pretty reliably, at least getting "the gist" of things, even if I missed a lot of the details otherwise.
I've been trying to get in at least an hour of active listening material each day, ideally two if time permits. Gradually, my listening is definitely improving.

Meanwhile, I've kicked up my reading, as well. I've found a goldmine in 16-bit RPG classics, which are packed with text and generally pretty easy on vocabulary while still introducing plenty of interesting new words. I can quite easily play through and understand the majority of dialogue, understanding the details of storyline and rarely getting into a "wait, where am I supposed to go, again?" situation.

Sadly, the chocobo kinda got screwed when it comes to screen time.

I sorta got bored with FF6 (knowing the game inside and out kinda does that eventually...) so I picked up FF5, a game I've actually never beaten and had a massive craving to play through. Though lighter on story than FF6 (and arguably, FF4), FF5's dialogue is also surprisingly easier. Whereas FF6 is packed with dialect and (comparatively) complicated vocabulary, FF5 is really a piece of cake. I stop and look up words frequently, but mostly for completion's sake; if there's one word in a sentence I don't understand and I haven't looked one up in a while, well hey, why not? Otherwise, I tend to either work things out through context, ignore unknown words for the time being or look up only the repeating vocabulary I come across (I figured it was probably important to look up 流砂 after having been warned by several NPCs...).
I figure I probably understand about 70% of the game, which is more than enough to understand what's going on at any given time, though I miss out on nuances and quite a few of the hiragana words (kanji has seriously spoiled me - never thought I'd see the day).
As with my listening, all of this reading via RPGs has done a heck of a lot in the past month to improve my comprehension, speed and (to a lesser extent) vocabulary and grammar. I absolutely intend on playing through more of these puppies once I complete 5!

Ahh, and tonight I had planned to start a fresh, brand new SRS deck - the next step in my SRSing cycle of life. I keep a list of all of the words I look up while playing RPGs, and nearly all of them are awesome words I'd like to memorize, so SRSing them in sentences seems like a logical step.
Then more SRS rage kicked in. This time, because Anki decided it was a great time to tard out on me, bugging up whenever I tried to modify the deck properties of a new deck. This is sort of a show stopper, since I really need to customize fields to get a deck to my liking - not to mention, I won't trust any SRS deck with my data if I suspect it's gonna toss its cookies at any moment.

Arrrrgh. We'll see if I can't get this bug sorted out soon, but my "screw it all" side might just opt to keep up the reading and listening, SRS be damned. SRS is absolutely the most efficient way of retaining knowledge, but boy, can it be a headache.

When I seriously get back into the swing of things, I'll be adding things at a much slower, more limited pace of only the little goodies I really want to remember. I finally feel as though I'm now at the point where I can cherry pick, without stumbling around barefoot in a dark room full of mousetraps, now that my language abilities are at a far more sustainable level. Now I can really watch and listen to and play things and understand enough to actually enjoy them, something I struggled with in the past. キリスト神神様、it's taken me long enough.