Saturday, February 28, 2009

日本の音楽 Week 6: Coaltar of the Deepers

Coaltar of the Deepers is a truly unique band that doesn't particularly fit in any one genre of music. While certainly covering the bases of shoegaze, alternative and indie stylings, CotD has been known to delve into electronic and even extreme metal at times, making for an unpredictable and always exciting band to listen to.
Can't say I'm a huge fan of the lead singer's voice, but his death metal gutturals sure are awesome!

Coaltar of the Deepers - C/O/T/D

Coaltar of the Deepers - Dead by Dawn

Coaltar of the Deepers - Unlimber

Recommended albums:
  • Yukari Telepath
  • Newave
  • Come Over to the Deepend

Friday, February 27, 2009

Back in action - very, very slowly

After a few days away from Anki, RTK and all of that, I'm back into the habit of reviewing regularly. I needed the break badly, and it shouldn't take all that long to catch back up. Even so, I've not really added fresh material in weeks, and I feel like I'm mostly preserving and reinforcing what I already know rather than actually learning and acquiring new things. Can't say I'm particularly frustrated at this stagnation, as I'm quite pleased with how far I've come over the past several months and quite frankly, Japanese is having to take a back seat to more important priorities right now.

With that having been said, I'd really like to return to a 30~ new sentence a day pace as soon as I can. I'm actually strongly considering giving iKnow another chance, despite my criticism at its boring sentences and key words - I can always filter out what bores me to tears, of course! The progress I made with iKnow previously was incredible, so that'll likely be my next course of action.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

日本の音楽 Week 5: Envy

Screamo? In my ファッキング日本語? It 's more likely than you think.

Make no mistake about it, though - Envy is far from your run-of-the-mill "I just got dumped by my girlfriend of two weeks and want to kill myself" scene or image conscious, attention-whoring pop-punk "emo" facade; no sir, Envy represents something far more cerebral, personal, real. It's no wonder, then, that despite the language barrier, they've become renowned worldwide as one of the finest screamo bands on Earth.

Oh, and worth noting is that (despite their album names and song titles being in English) the vast majority of Envy's music is, in fact, in Japanese. Very poetic Japanese that you could learn a thing or two from, at that.

Envy is an emotional rollercoaster, transitioning between a gentle whisper and soft melody to an explosion of sound and screaming, often several times within one song. Credit must be given to Envy's talented singer, whose voice is incredibly versatile and well suited for any dynamic.
Once again, Envy certainly isn't a band for everyone, but don't let the "screamo" tag scare you off for one second - you may be surprised by how excellent this band is.

Envy - Scene

Recommended Albums:
  • Insomniac Doze
  • A Dead Sinking Story
  • All the Footprints You've Ever Left and the Fear Expecting Ahead

Sloooooooow week

...and another pesky backlog of cards to get around. I find that I have major trouble focusing on my SRS when I'm especially stressed, and this week has been proof of such. When I'm failing cards that would otherwise be relatively easy, and taking twice as long to review as normal, and absolutely hating the whole process, it's time to set the damn thing aside and do something else. It doesn't help that I've not added much material in several weeks, but I plan to tackle that problem in the near future.

Yeah, I'm discouraged and frustrated. On the other hand, backlog be damned, I'm still putting in the time every day to review at least 50-75 cards. Besides, Japanese really isn't my top priority right now, so I guess things could be worse.

Maybe a few days of none of this SRS bullshit would help clear my head.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mono, revisited

I wasn't aware of this PV from their latest album until now. Short and sweet, beautiful in its simplicity.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

日本の音楽 Week 4: Sigh

All right, enough of the mellow stuff. This week, I present to you one of Japan's most creative, most innovative metal bands ever - Sigh. A name which can express a wide range of emotions, from relief, to disappointment, to anxiety, to ecstasy, and so on.

Sigh began as a straight-up black metal band in the early 90s, heavily inspired by the likes of Venom and Celtic Frost, and other first generation black metal bands of olde. Sigh's first album, Scorn Defeat, was released in 1993 and garnered a great deal of international attention from the black metal underground, thanks in no small part to brilliant frontman Mirai Kawashima's exceptional talent, and experimentation with keyboards - something which had never really been done in black metal, at least not in the virtuosic manner in which Mirai introduced it. In fact, the band was signed to Deathlike Silence Productions, notorious Norwegian band Mayhem's record label, shortly before and after the murder of founder and Mayhem guitarist Euronymous.

Sigh has evolved their sound over time, progressing from traditional black metal to a more avant-garde, experimental approach, with each album sounding quite different from one another (though perhaps not on a scale similar to that of Boris), but always extreme black metal in essence. The band's latest album, titled Hangman's Hymn - Musikalische Exequien, is something of a return to the band's roots, a decidedly diabolically themed album following the power hungry temptation and subsequent damnation of a poor soul, featuring the band's most bombastic, intense, dynamic sound yet along with a powerful backing orchestra and choir (in fact, most of which were courtesy of volunteers from the band's forum).

Again, it should be noted that you'll learn little Japanese from Sigh - Mirai himself is fluent in English, and as such, 99% of the band's songs are in English (he claims that Japanese just doesn't sound right in metal). Certainly not a band for everyone's tastes (nor for the faint of heart), but those with an appreciation for the extreme and the avant-garde may find Sigh to be one of the most sexy, exciting bands in Japanese music today. You can check out a huge chunk of their work on their Myspace page, because Sigh is baller like that.

Unfortunately, the following videos aren't very indicative of Sigh's more intense side (both PVs from their more chilled Gallows Gallery), but that's what their Myspace is for.

Sigh - Midnight Sun

Sigh - Messiahplan

Recommended Albums:
  • Hangman's Hymn
  • Imaginary Sonicscape
  • Scorn Defeat
  • Gallows Gallery

Friday, February 13, 2009


Like something of an old, run down pickup truck, I may not be making a whole lot of ground right now, but I'm making the most of it and what time I do have.

I must say, I'm a bit skeptical of whether all that passive listening of 我輩は猫である did me any real good. By my estimates, I've probably listened to a cumulative 30+ hours of this audio book so far, and I haven't really felt much benefit in doing so - in fact, the narrator began seriously grating on me a few days ago, which is probably a good sign that it's time to listen to something else. Make no mistake, I'd love to read/listen to more Natsume Souseki works, but moments after switching to KeyHoleTV I'd find myself reacting to words, phrases, even whole sentences on a very frequent basis, even through passive listening. Gee, maybe TV really has rotted out my brain after all.

Regardless, passive listening certain't can't hurt, and I'm going to keep up my listening of both Souseki and other material - variety is key, this much I can say for certain. Between classic literature (admittedly a relatively high level for what I am now), television (I tend to watch news a lot, as well as dramas), manga (aforementioned よつばと!ジョジョの奇妙な冒険Berserk - respectively very easy, easy and difficult levels), anime (空の境界カイバ), movies (I adore old Japanese movies) and various websites (,, blogs and so forth), I'm covering a pretty damn wide variety of material and subjects, all using dramatically different types of language. (Oh, and music as well, of course, but I really don't get a whole lot out of music language-wise - again, a topic for another day)

I'm keeping up the dictation sentences. Again, it's rough, slow going... but what I get out of it makes it so incredibly worthwhile. I haven't yet noticed that I pick up or retain vocabulary any easier, but the benefit to my kanji knowledge (which, again, is a little rusty) alone has made this method worthwhile. It's still fun, too!
I am beginning to streamline it a bit to make the process faster, though. If I know a word and its kanji really well, there's little need to jot those down, obviously (though I'll make an exception if it has radically different okurigana from what I'm used to); instead, I'll focus on each word I can't reproduce with kanji... which tends to be quite a few. Once I seriously start adding more cards again, I'll try and focus on just one key word per sentence instead.

Oh, and I finally saw Mind Game the other day at the recommendation of several RevTK folks. I was a big fan of Kemonozume back in 2006 (also directed by Masaaki Yuasa), a highly bizarre and experimental anime series on WOWOW, so I had some idea of what I was getting into with Mind Game, but I wasn't expecting it to be that good. Highly recommended. Incredibly artsy, experimental, sometimes even psychedelic without crossing the border into pretentiousness, all the while forming a cohesive, entertaining story that leaves plenty up to the viewer's imagination, with a simple, yet powerful underlying message of making the most of one's life and the many possibilities we may encounter.
Unable to sate my appetite with just Mind Game, I've begun watching Kaiba, another Masaaki Yuasa directed series which looks pretty wild so far, in a good way.

Aaaand back to Anki.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Masochism, part 428914

YOWCH. I'm basically having to relearn most of my sentence cards, now that I've switched up to dictaction. It's funny how I'm able to quickly recognize and read so many kanji just by a quick glance, but when it comes time to produce that sucker, my mind strains to do so and usually fails. Even some of my more mature sentences are getting the "Again" button, but I don't see this particularly as a bad thing. The way I see it, I'm reinforcing my weaker points considerably this way, and truly learning the ins and outs of these words and compounds. It's tough going, but something I feel is necessary, and I'm enjoying it so far. My brain is actually feeling stimulated again as far as Japanese study goes.

One suggestion I got on Twitter was to highlight one key word in a sentence and focus only on that in my dictation - very good advice, I think. I'm currently writing out the entire damn thing each time, which is really good practice and all, but incredibly time consuming and tiring. I've already highlighted specific words in previous sentences, so applying this practice would be quite simple.

At any rate, back to this wonderful pain I'm inflicting upon myself.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Experimentation, part 32694

Yeah... I'm at it again.

Lately, I've been frustrated by how it takes me a lot of trial and error to memorize words. Repetition works absolute wonders, of course - I thought I'd never remember 間違い, but yesterday when I woke up, the word was going through my head like crazy, along with the accompanying iKnow dictation (which has also been nothing short of invaluable). Of course, that's no isolated incident and one I've experienced dozens of times. Yet, I still have my fair share of trouble words, and find that it takes a heck of a lot of repetition to memorize vocabulary.
At the same time, I'm finding that the more vocab one learns, the easier it is to pick up new words, absolutely. (Just consider how we learn new words in English, after all) 
There was a time when every other word would look, sound identical to the last word, in my mind (no thanks to the sound-poor nature of the language). Now, I find it significantly easier to differentiate between words, even similar ones, and a phenomenon where I pick up on the word's "rhythm" - how it sounds, how it "feels", its syllables, its tones. This is most definitely a big step forward in my progress, especially when I'm able to read simple material. But at the same time, frustrating when vocabulary is my biggest weakness and it's still so tricky to pick up.

So what I decided to try today, while going through my daily reps, is something I've been considering giving a shot for a while - switching the question side to the hiragana reading, and reproducing the sentence with kanji
Well, 120~ reps and a good hour and a half and 68% correct later, I can certainly say that it's considerably more time consuming and difficult. On the other hand, it feels novel, fresh and fun, and it's so rewarding when you get it right! Being able to recognize a sentence at a glance is great and all, but I was surprised that I had trouble reproducing all the kanji accurately for even some of the more simple sentences. The benefit of this method is strengthening one's kanji greatly, and hopefully strengthening vocabulary retention as well.

So here's the deal - for the next 7 days (that is, until next Monday), I'm going to only review using this production method. Not only that, but I'm going to listen to very little music, instead passively taking in Japanese via audiobooks, podcasts, streaming news and TV, etc., whenever I possibly can. I feel strongly that my listening comprehension needs a heck of a lot of work, so more listening (both passive and active) should be just the ticket - plus, as recent scientific studies have finally discovered, passive listening has been shown to reinforce one's knowledge of the language even if the listener understands little to none of the material. Perhaps more listening is what I need most in my studying diet right now. We'll find out shortly!

If I were a guinea pig, I'd be the most masochistic guinea pig that ever lived.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

日本の音楽 Week 3: Mono

This week's band is a bit special, in that it really wouldn't matter which country they came from. For you see, Mono is a band of few words, focusing instead entirely on instrumental and stage presence to captivate listeners from all across the globe.

Personally, I often have a hard time getting into instrumental bands. Unless they offer something absolutely astounding, I find myself getting bored and losing interest. It's become something of a trend in the past decade for so-called post-rock bands to follow a path of vocal-less, completely instrumental composition, and the collective result has left somewhat of a bitter taste in my mouth. Vocals make up perhaps the most important aspect of a band, in my mind, and the complete omission of vocals simply makes most instrumental bands feel bland and unexciting to me. An exceptional singer, after all, can easily turn a boring band into something special and noteworthy. Even putting lyrics aside, the human voice as an instrument in itself is an element I often wish was present in many of these aforementioned instrumental post-rock bands.

Mono, on the other hand, truly has no need for vocals. None. Such is the beauty and power of their compositions, I find myself spellbound and entranced within minutes from their waves of melody alone.
It should be noted that their new album, titled Hymn to the Immortal Wind, is pending release, and from what I've heard of it so far... WOW. Mono's powerful instrumentals, plus a backing orchestra and some of the band's finest composition ever makes for some hair raising listening. (It should also be noted that said album has leaked ahead of release, so...)
You can hear "Ashes in the Snow", the phenomenal, nearly 12 minute intro track on the band's Myspace page.

You only downside is that you won't learn a word of Japanese listening to Mono. Even their track titles are in English. But uh... that's only a small drawback, right? [I've concluded that music is one of the least effective ways to acquire Japanese, but that's a post for another day]
One must witness their commanding stage presense in order to fully appreciate the band, so by all means, check out these videos.

Mono - Yearning (plus interview)

Mono - The Flames Beyond the Cold Mountain

Recommended Albums:
  • Hymn to the Immortal Wind
  • You Are There
  • Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain [with World's End Girlfriend]

Friday, February 6, 2009

Recovery, plus loads of manga

Today was the first day almost all week that I've felt well enough to plunge back into the 日本語 groove. I was getting quite frustrated, failing half a dozen cards in a row, many of which I know I would have remembered had my brain not been half dead like it has been. In cases such as those, I simply take it easy and do however much I can handle. At the very least, I don't have a huge backlog of cards in the slightest and should be all caught up by tomorrow.

I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a treasure trove (of legally questionable material) today, in (thanks, Igor!) -megabytes upon gigabytes of glorious, raw manga. And translated stuff too, I guess. But the important thing is the heaps of raw manga just begging for a lawsuit to be devoured, and devour I shall.
I was pleased to discover that my favorite manga of all time, ジョジョの奇妙な冒険, is almost fully furiganized which should make for some ridiculously manly reading in the coming weeks and months. I had previously read the first three parts in English, finishing with the (amazingly awesome) Stardust Crusaders arc, and then skipping the horrendously poorly translated fourth part and scratching the surface of part five before losing interest. I think I'll read as much as I can beginning from the first volume and see if I can finally read through four (which has gotten a pretty bad rap and certainly sounds a little lame to me, but hey).
よつばと!can't really be beat as far as easy Japanese reading goes, though, so I definitely plan on sticking to it as well. Dialogue is generally easy to follow, so sticking to manga to soak up a little more vocab and colloquialisms seems like a good idea.

I've also been playing some Final Fantasy 9 on the side, but lack of furigana hurts at times. Regardless, I'm surprised by how much I'm able to understand.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Less Anki, more reading?

Sick and busy doesn't exactly make for the most productive 日本語 learning. I'm making the most of things, though - lots of passive listening, keeping up on my SRS reviews and reading whenever I have the time.

Did I mention that it feels absolutely awesome being able to read and understand the vast majority of a manga? Sure, よつばと!doesn't exactly use the most complicated language, but that hardly matters - it's real Japanese, and dagnabbit, I'm reading it.
Unfortunately, it'll be a while until I can read through something more complex and manly like Berserk, but I'll get there in due time. 
Manga with furigana seems like the way to go for the time being, but aside from Yotsuba&!, I'm having difficulty finding manga I'm interested in. Any suggestions would be great, I'm not too picky (see: the contrast between an energetic, curious 5 year old girl and grim, crushing humanism and gore).

Inputting new Anki material has really taken a backseat to reading and listening, I must confess. However, I don't see this as a bad thing at all. The SRS is an invaluable tool for memory, certainly, but simply reading and listening to truckloads of material has been and always will be the most effective way to acquire a language. The handful of phrases I've inputted have been directly from Yotsuba&, and rather than type a "translation" or paste definitions, I'm simply typing up a brief, contextual explanation of the situation in which the sentence arises. Works beautifully so far.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

日本の音楽 Week 2: Cruyff In The Bedroom

Now for something a little more mellow. 

Cruyff In The Bedroom would best be described as "shoegaze", an alternative rock band characterized by thick walls of guitar, tons of effects pedals (especially feedback and distortion) and lyrical subject matter that is most often sentimental, reflective and/or nostalgic in nature. 

CitB has become one of Japan's best known modern shoegazers, but that's not exactly saying much, considering shoegaze met its prime in the early 90s UK underground and never made much of a mainstream impact outside of My Bloody Valentine and a handful of other innovators. With that having been said, the influence of shoegaze rears its head quite frequently in underground rock, and a number of Japanese bands such as CitB have taken the proverbial torch and run with it.

Cruyff In The Bedroom - Clear Light, White Cloud

Recommended albums:
  • Saudargia
  • Hikarihimawari
  • Perfect Silence