all tags: japanese[44] kanji[21] education[19] travel[18] MYJ15[13] programming[9] website[7] linux[7] hardware[6] NII17[5] research[5] libertine[5] food[4] misc[4] time[2] games[2] movies[2] parkour[2] rant[2] self-reflection[2] manga[1] speedcubing[1] anime[1] books[1] translation[1] lego[1]


Month four — one thrid left; review:

Anki ok. Sport insufficient. Here's the interesting stuff:

  • general
    • 餃子 and stuff from オリジン found their way into my food routine
    • helped a crying little boy out in the street find his mum
    • witnessed the following manifestation of cuteness:
      3 small kids, two of them in bear costumes, waiting for the train with their mum
      announcement for the next train to come in a few minutes: 「...。この電車は10両です。」
      kids: 「10秒?10!9!8!...」
      but there was no train when they reached 0. :'D
    • was stopped by police for riding my bike at night without a light (mount is loose, I support it w/ rubber bands, that day the bands ripped on my way to work so I put they light in my bag); they were extremely nice — had a good chat
    • got the Dogen approved verification that my Japanese it about as good as that of a native first grader — was asked 「長いんですか?日本は」 by abovementioned policemen and the next day when getting my hair cut :3
    • saw a performance of the 東京都立青梅総合高等学校 和太鼓部 which was awesome
    • spent almost a week in Kyōto and two nights in Nagoya
    • the local sentō had a "chocolate bath" (cacao butter mixed into the water) around valentine's day which was geat ^_^
    • saw a few people from Matsuyama again while they were in Tōkyō
    • a bug I found* in Pokemon GO got some coverage by blogs/YouTube channels
      following how the story spread from a dedicated subreddit to more and more general sites was quite interesting — especially low effort "news posts" that got things wrong were amusing
      (*to be precise I found something that works on some devices and a fellow redditor found a variation that works on all devices)
  • at the institute
    • the conceptual stuff I mentioned last time is finally done and got some good feedback
    • was able to integrate learning a few neat new Flask related things into my work
    • stumbled upon a PhD thesis titled The Presentation of Self on a Decentralised Web — can I please take a week off from life and explore this?
    • got into and am getting back out of eating dinner somewhere close to work to then head back and work some more
    • the elevators say 「おはようございます」 at 8:26 a.m. — so maybe the interval is from 8 to 9?

Good times. More.

On to the next month!


Month three — halfway through; another review:

Anki wasn't that great (stats) but at least still better than in the first month — and I finally got around doing some badly needed maintenance on my deck. Apart from Japanese study, slow but steady progress across the board. Nothing to complain. :)

Again, an attempt to convince myself that I'm actually making good use of my time here:

  • general
    • was at a sentō on christmas eve; on the way back I heard a girl's voice from a near high-rise building 「サンタ様ー!来てくださーい!」 :3
    • was shocked to learn that Japan introduced compulsory wearing of seat belts for rear passangers in 2008 and there's no penalty for non expressway roads °_°
    • rode my bycicle to work, passed a ママチャリ and thought I heard a 「ウゥウゥウイッ!地震です!」 — but there was a kid on the back of the ママチャリ gaming away on some handheld console so I could've misheard some game sounds. Stopped anyway to see what happens — nothing happened so I concluded it was some game. Turned out it actually was an earthquake alarm.
    • saw the last Jedi
    • was in Niigata
    • had a very Japanese New Year with 紅白, 年越しそば, 雑煮, 初詣 and 駅伝 — sneaked in a German tradition with Dinner for One
    • watched the entire かるた名人・クイーン戦 live on ニコ動
    • visited the Tokyo Saitama flood prevention underground thingy
    • I'm finally getting back into sports after a 5 month break due to an injury
  • at the institute
    • had a bit of fun with face recognition and line detection (OCR)
    • doing a lot of very conceptual work at the moment
    • the elevetors sometimes say 「お待たせしました」 and 「どうぞお乗りください」

All in all, satisfactory. Oh and the constant feeling that I could/should do more is gone. (:

On to the next month!


Month two of only six this time; another review:

I did better with Anki this month (stats); even managed to stoll through 神保町, grab a second hand book (日本語雑記帳) and read from time to time. Still ... my deck needs some maintenance, I want to add more new vocab, read more, etc. I took part in events, explored new places and worked a bit on personal projects. Still ... I feel I could do more. Maybe being aware that there's soo much going on around me constantly, resutls in a fear of missing out on great chances. But it's not just that. Regardless of the specifics of what's going on around me, I'd like to do more — more than I currently can do with the limited amount of productive time per day. On the bright side, that's a least better than not knowing what to do with myself.

Again, a collection of noteworthy and/or random things:

  • general
    • the 漢字ミュージアム in Kyōto is nice — you can do mini 漢検 samples
      (I seem to be able to pass 6級 and 5級, but 4級 and 3級 were so so)
    • ゲームマーケット2017秋 had a real life Catan trading and in general was super fun
    • Agricola seems to be popular among board game enthusiasts here
      (a local meetup I attended was almost exclusively Agricola, played one round)
    • at ポタフェス2017 I was able to experience the Sennheiser HE 1
      (kind of ... didn't have the time to really choose music, was in a noisy environment, etc.)
    • Open Space 2017 at the NTT ICC was good fun
    • CJK Unicode shenanigans
  • at the institute
    • wrote a small flask web application that is now used in production, hosted by the NII
    • the elevators don't say 「本日はご苦労様でした」 when you get out way after 5 p.m.
    • the elevators say 「おはようございます」 at 8:50 a.m. — need further data to estimate a time frame for that
    • attended NTCIR 13 sporadically; chatted with some Yahoo! guys

All in all, a lot of good stuff. But MOAR WANT. TOO MUCH WANT.

On to the next month!


> On to the ... oh wait. :(

I'm back to Japan. First month passed. Assembling the bits and pieces of a functioning everyday life. :)
Register as a resident, set up a bank account, get a bicycle, find a supermarket to frequent, get a feeling for monthly costs and how much you can spend on what, connect with new people, ... I have the feeling I'm almost set up. One of the few things I have yet to manage is get into a stable Anki routine. I've been powering through over 300 cards today to finally get back to 0 after a meager 14/30 days studied since I arrived.

A collection of noteworthy and/or random things:

  • general
  • at the institute
    • the day after my arrival I got my scholarship for several months in cash. Having the equivalent of about 4.5k € in cash lying around made me kind of paranoid and sped up the process of me getting a bank account.
    • Mac and Windows users are required to install Sophos Anti Virus. Linux users are left in peace :3
    • overhearing other grad students talk about and plan their "first time in Japan" adventures is entertaining
    • the elevators say 「本日はご苦労様でした」 when you get out on the first floor after 5 p.m.
    • cafeteria lunch is tasty

All in all, I'm quite satisfied. The only thing that kind of bothers me is the lack of any easily quantifiable progress with my Japanese. I pick up and write down new words and phrases, but constantly being behind with my Anki studies prevented me from integrating them into my deck. Oh and also ... my Kindle app won't let me log into my German account so I can't access the Japanese book I was reading back in Germany. -.-

Anyway, the few things to complain about are mostly harmless, soo ...

On to the next month!

Six months at the 国立情報学研究所

About a year ago I came back to Germany after spending one year in Japan. Now I'm going again — for six months. :)

Last time I went as an exchange student. This time I got into an internship program for Ph.D. and Master students at the National Institute of Informatics. — i.e. this time I'm actually doing something related to my studies (my exchange university last time had no computer science courses).

Another major difference is that this time I had to organize accommodation by myself. Find a place to live in Tokyo — what a nice ex ante adventure, yay ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ. What I knew from the beginning is that I would search for a room in a share house. I had previously made good experiences with share houses in Japan, knew that it would be cheaper, save me the hassle of having to buy a gazillion every day life items for just half a year and get rid of them afterwards, and knowing that I might end up speaking primarily English at work, a share house with Japanese people would up my chances of having extended conversations in Japanese on a daily basis.
So, I started searching on roomshare.jp and roommate.jp, took a brief glimpse at non-shared flats on グッドマンスリー only to be scared away by the prices, and finally found something at ひつじ不動産. Given what I wanted — something not too far from work, not too expensive, where I could let someone stay at my place for a night or two, where thery're okay with someone who's guaranteed to leave after 6 months and on top of all that where a foreigner is able to sign a contract without a Japanese guarantor — I'm super happy with the place I found. :)
Additionally the countless mails back and forth until I found the place, the deal was sealed and all the details were discussed were quite the 敬語 boot camp. orz

Anyway, preparations are as good as done. Journey starts Oct 17th. Updates will be tagged #NII17. :)

漢字 — 2000+

99 kanji, 575 words, 489 days; Anki stats, kanji so far.

Whew... Haven't done one of these in a loong time. Who would've tought I'd actually reach 2000 ... In my first kanji progress post, 100+, I wrote “there will — hopefully — be a total of 21 of these in the end” — I'm really not sure I'll ever get to 2100. Since realizing at 1800+ that new kanji as a main focus isn't worth it anymore, it took me 115 days to get the first 100 on top of that and now 489 days for the second. If factor of increase in time stayed the same I'd reach 2100 in August 2022. ^_^
Quite the deviation from my extrapolations at 1000+, where I took a closer look at what I had leared so far. Here's the same thing for the present situation:

Additional data:   [values from 1000+]


  • Grade 1: 80 of 80 (100.0%)   [100.0%]
  • Grade 2: 160 of 160 (100.0%)   [100.0%]
  • Grade 3: 200 of 200 (100.0%)   [88.0%]
  • Grade 4: 200 of 200 (100.0%)   [64.0%]
  • Grade 5: 185 of 185 (100.0%)   [55.1%]
  • Grade 6: 178 of 181 (98.3%)   [51.4%]
  • JuniorHS: 775 of 934 (83.0%)   [21.6%]


  • 2000 total unique kanji   [1002]
  • Jōyō: 1910 of 2136 (89.4%)   [45.7%]
  • Jinmeiyō (regular): 66 of 641 (10.3%)   [3.1%]
  • Jinmeiyō (variant): 1 of 145 (0.7%)   [0%]
  • 23 non-jōyō kanji   [5]


Translating manga

Ever since I came back from Japan I've been on the lookout for fun projects in which I could utilize my Japanese. Recently I stumbled upon Ubunchu!, a manga about Ubuntu. Created by Hiroshi Seo and published in Ubuntu Magazine Japan, there seem to be 14 chapters of which only the first 8 have been translated so far. Given publishing stopped in 2013 and the Google Group dedicated to translating the manga has seen no activity in 6 months it seemed like a worthwhile project to pick up.

Since the illustrator's website offers source files (at least for chapters 1-11) there's almost no cleaning or redrawing necessary. To make up for the lack of challenge, chapter 9 — which I started with — included a bunch of BL lingo which was "great fun" to research and "translate" as well as Revolutionary Girl Utena references I probably missed most of.

I'm not yet sure whether I'll just create one blog post per chapter or add something to the projects section. In case of the latter I'll add some note to this post. Regardless of that there's also a Git repository. And here's the first chapter:

Ubunchu! chapter 9: Revolutionary IME Kaname

/edit[2017-09-26]: Whoops. So ... I didn't touch this for about a year or so. But in the last 3 days I did chapter 10! ;)

Ubunchu! chapter 10: Outbreak of an interface war!?

Have fun reading. ;)



One year in Japan; a last review:

My last month in Japan began during a trip to Tokyo. I couchsurfed again and had 3 awesome hosts over 8 days. I went to Ueno park several times because of the ridiculous Pokemon Go situtaion, climed Mt. Fuji (great view from the top, also a gym at station 9), hung around with two Taiwanese friends, went to Enoshima and attended Comiket.
The last 3 weeks I lived in a share house, did some translation/localization work as an alternative to paying rent and continued the series of farewell events and meetups. I also finally got my JLPT N2 result. Passed with a score of 140/180. :)

Looking back at the year as a whole: very much worth it. Set out to improve my Japanese, did just that and made a bunch of good memories. As for Japan, the pros (respectful people, safe, fascinating contemporary and ancient culture, no tipping, ...) outweigh the cons (vacuous positivity, non-existent insulation of buildings, overdone collectivism, pricy, ...) for me. I'll definitely go again some time.

On to the ... oh wait. :(



Eleven months in Japan; another review:

After a packed month 9 and a calm month 10 it's back to busy again — in a good way though. :)

The semester ended with Japanese exams I took, German exams I helped out with and a lot of farewell events. This was accompanied by preparations for and the start of my trip to Tokyo and ... lo and behold ... the release of Pokémon Go in Japan.
Up until one and a half weeks ago my smartphone setup consisted of a Samsung I9000 without SIM card running CyanogenMod 11. With some Linux trickery I managed to get the app to start but it was super unstable and unplayably slow. As a consequence I bought a new phone (Asus T00P), caught Pokémon within Matsuyama's extensive areas of public Wifi for some time and now got a data SIM card for the last month.

As of the 8th I'm actually in the midst of my side trip to Mt. Fuji, but I'll put the Tokyo trip as a whole into the next review.

On to the last month!



Ten months in Japan; another review:

I don't have the feeling a whole lot happened. Neither does it feel like it's been a month.

Maybe my brain just melted.

In any case; the end of the semester is coming closer, and with it deadlines for reports, projects and the like. That kept me busy. I also took my first JLPT — N2, went okay, results in early September. Preparations for my last month are also going smoothly. I'll be travelling for about a week (Mt. Fuji, Tokyo, Comiket) and have a work for accommodation arrangement for the remaining time after that.

All in all, everything progressing nicely. Nothing really to complain.

On to the next month!



Nine months in Japan; another review:

Looking back at what happened since the last review I wondered ... did I forget to post once?
Apparently I didn't. During the last 31 days:

  • A friend from Germany got hospitalized during his visit to Matsuyama, which led to me being Japanese/German interpreter for about a week. I spent a night in the intensive care unit, got to see all kinds of fancy medical machinery at work — interesting stuff.
  • I got to know new people working with guest houses in Matsuyama and participated in a pilgrimage event (#52+53) organized by the aforementioned.
  • Spent some quality time with friends and went out more that usual.
  • Formed a nice group with people from the game development seminar I take part in. Since I'm "the guy with the programming experience" I introduced the rest of the group to Git, Lua and LÖVE (the framework we agreed on using). Experiencing how Japanese approach group work and especially decision making is quite fascinating.
  • Established new connections to a few exchange students. (I used to focus on spending time with Japanese.)
  • Established new connections to a few Japanese (potential tandem language learning parnter, people interested in intercultural exchange, etc.).
  • Did some indoor bouldering which I hadn't done in ... maybe a year or so.
  • Gave a presentation about Germany at a local elementary school.
  • Went to see fireflies on a whim one night.
  • Started preparations for my last month in Japan (during which I won't stay in the university's dorm) which meant getting a working permission, establishing some connections for potential daywork etc.

All alongside the usual university stuff. Well ... no signs of overload yet. And therefore:

On to the next month!



Eight months in Japan; another review:

The new semester started. This time I take 4 Japanese classes (reading, discussion, practical appilcation, business) as well as one grad school class on intercultural communication and an undergrad seminar on game development. While the latter is targeted at total beginners and therefore not that interesting for me content wise, it is Japanese targeted at Japanese and therefore super useful listening practice.

Apart from lectures there's a steady flow of events, activities, occurrences that keeps me busy and happy. I participated in Ludum Dare 35, did some English language instruciton/training at a local NGO, started speed cubing again — at least for a day ^^ —, helped flying a kite at a kite flying festival, etc. etc.

Side note: the two JK energetically playing a huge taiko was the best thing ever (see title image, also taken at the kite festival).

Good stuff.

On to the next month!



Seven months in Japan; another review:

As I predicted in my previous post I enjoyed an extensive downtime to recharge. :) No traveling, no big events, just lazy day-to-day life. Coming monday lectures will start again; leaving me with less free time, but more externally enforced structure.

In any case, the trip I was in the midst of last post ended without any trouble and was definitely worth it. Good experiences, nice memories and I was able to tick off some new prefectures in the projects section (never underestimate the motivational power of lists ^_^').

In the time after the trip occupied myself with geocaching, parkour training, meeting friends and making new acquaintances. I also felt the desire to do something techy again. After about 4 months of “abstinence“ I tinkered a bit with my anilist client, peaked into the realm of polyglots, — and also aside from tech I invested some time in areas of interest where it seemed long overdue. I guess I kind of dialed down the feeling guilty whenever I sink time into stuff that isn't in any way helping with my Japanese. Good thing.

On to the next month!


Six months in Japan; another review:

More or less a month ago I had my last exams for the winter semester; and the summer semester won't start until early April. What this means is that I have a lot of free time. :)

I've started to watch a lot of ドラマ and am currently in the midst of previously mentioned train trip along Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo, Kyoto. For accommodation I decided to give couchsurfing a try (except for one night in a capsule hotel). So far it's been great — but I get the feeling that a 10 day trip with 5 different hosts is on the edge between 'fun to meet new people' and 'kind of exhausting'. :D

After the trip I'm expecting to have some extensive downtime to recharge. ^_^'

On to the next month!



Five months in Japan; another review:

Can to kindle be used intransitively? If not there's some creativity required to interpret this month's subtitle.

Over the course of the past month two particular types of activities made me come to a pleasant realization. I made a few new acquaintances — people with whom I met and had prolonged conversations; and I was on the lookout for a Japanese online forum/​message board with decent activity as well as conversations on topics I'm interested in. The realization I arrived at is, that I am at a point where using Japanese finally starts not being a pain in the ass anymore.
I had passable conversations in Japanese that were way more pleasant and functional than chore-like and apparently necessary for practice's sake. And after leaving 2ちゃんねる aside for the moment and trying out 知恵袋 I found an online platform that turns out to be easy to contribute to.
When I leaned English, being able to take part in written discussions online was an important tipping point. Once possible without too much hassle (i.e. as soon as it was more about the content of the discussions than about the language they were held in) my active use of the language and with that my proficiency skyrocketed. I could image I just hit that tipping point with Japanese, kindling a small flame that may, in the foreseeable future, turn into a raging wildfire.

On to the next month!



Four months in Japan; another review:

Turned out I hit the breaks early enough — no overload in terms of events. :)
Lectures just started again after a short break around New Year, a friend visited for two weeks, and all in all things are good. :) I attend regular club meetings (部会), get to know new people from time to time, make new experiences ... oh and after living here for 4 months I just found out that at the public university (right next to the private one I actually go to — but I take lectures at the public one too) the canteen is opened on Saturdays. I missed out on 17 easy lunches since September just because it did not occur to me to check their canteen schedule.

In other news: the semester break is getting close. Not yet sure what I'll do in February. March is most likely to be spent travelling with JR's 青春18きっぷ (unless I find an even more cost efficient way). In any case:

On to the next month!



Three months in Japan; another review:

Japan: Join ALL the events!
Tarek: No!
I think I did well in building upon my solid base during the last month. As events recently had the tendency to lead to invitations to even more events, I had to start — and have to continue — to refrain from trying to grab every opportunity that is comfortably laid out in front of me. Doing new and exciting and challenging stuff is awesome, but in my case those things tend to require preparation and engery. Agree to participating in too much stuff and you'll end up exhausted, not meeing the expectations of yourself and others and having a stressful time. I think I've realized that just early enough to not end up super stressed — we'll see what I have to report in early January (which just falls short of the time up to which things I've agreed to participate in extend to as of now).

A few highlights: gave a presentation in front of middle school students, went on my first self-organized trip (2 days Hiroshima) and am on the brink of finally starting regular club activities (部活).

On to the next month!



Two months in Japan; another review:

I feel like I've reached a solid base on which to build upon in a lot of aspects. After selling my DSLR prior to coming to Japan in order to switch to a more portable system I finally bought a new camera. I've received my first scholarship money resulting in me financially operating from my Japanese bank account instead of my German credit card. A larger project which is part of my master's course at the University of Freiburg is finally finished leaving me with more free time. I've kind of sort of developed a food routine or rotation of different foods for mornings and evenings. And probably most important of all: social connections start to feel real. The 体操部 (gymnastics club) people are happy each time I join their training, the boardgames meeting I've attended once so far looks promising and tandem language learning is fun as always. :)

A few random highlights: I ate whale meat, managed to corrupt my Ubuntu system and had to set up a new one, had fun at Halloween, am getting into Geocaching and competed at a settlers of catan tournament. All in all, a bunch of positive developments.

On to the next month!



One month since I've arrived in Japan; short review:

Fun with power plug adapters
AC plugs and sockets used in Germany are IEC types F (“Schuko“) and C (“Europlug“), Japan uses types A and B — but actually almost excusively A. Now, if you own a device with a type F plug (let's say, a laptop) and want to get an adapter for type A sockets, don't even bother looking. F→B and C→A adapters are readily available, and because A plugs also work with B sockets, C→B is unnecessary. But since F plugs are earthed and A plugs are not ... no F→A adapters. And for the same reason you also can not find F→C adapters to build a funny F→C→A adapter parade.
The only option you're left with (to my best knowledge) for plugging in a laptop from Germany to a power socket in Japan, is to find a C→A adapter with unnecessarily large pin holes (type C plugs have 4 mm pins whereas type F plugs have 4.8 mm pins), remove anything put into place to stop people from forcing F plugs into the adapter and then do exactly that. Here's my take, on the unavailability of F→A and F→C adapters.

- Classes are interesting. I take 4 Japanese classes (essay writing[1], reading skills[2][3][4], mixed[5][6], oral communication) as well as 3 grad school classes (linguistics[7], sociolinguistics[8], intercultural communication: the Japanese experience[9][10][11][12][13][14][15]).
- The dorm is nice. Rooms are spacious, everything you'd need in terms of appliances and so on is present, people are nice — I'm the only European; actually I'm the only one that is not from either China, Taiwan or South Korea. :D
- I'm also happy with the canteen. Food tastes good and thus far a meal cost me ¥ 465 (3.45 €) on average.
- Staff and people in general are super helpful and friendly.
- Clubs (部活) are still kind of on my todo list. Visited two, but was too busy until now to look at more and/or join in on regular activities.
A difference to my previous experience with German universities, and actually a thing I'm not super happy with (though that's just a matter of taste), is the fact that the intended way of getting something done that may not be everyday business seems to be to go to a person in charge of that thing and ask them to take care of it. What I'm used to is informing myself and doing stuff on my own. Where I'm used to finding a guide for how to do something on a university's website I'm now finding a telephone number or description to which office I need to go. Same goes for information I would have expected to be readily available online (like e-mail addresses of professors). I'm curious whether or not I will, over time, get used to this default way of doing things. Or if I just misjudge the situation right now and all the university related exchange student setup procedures just were really out of the ordinary requiring an unusual amount of “office hopping“.

In the first weeks I've been exploring the city on my “mamachari“ quite a bit. Initially I was focussing on traditional stuff like shrines, temples and onsen. At the moment I'm more likely to look for either something recreational like public parks and sports facilities or utility oriented places like supermarkets.
What I've yet to find is a few cheap and healthy “base foods“ for the evening and especially morning. In Germany that used to be muesli, bananas, whole-grain bread with cheese ... most of which is pretty much non-existent here.
I'm okay with rice+ふりかけ and a small side dish, but cooking rice takes time. I've tried working with tofu, but haven't found an easy and quick way to make it tasty yet. What I'm pretty happy with are instant noodles. :D But I'd prefer something healthier.

All in all, I'm happy with my current situation. :) As mentioned in my previous post I was curious how much different it would be ... never having lived more than 100 km away from where I grew up, suddenly living over 9,000 (not even intended, it's 9,358) km away ... turns out if you're used to living in a student dorm in a city in Germany and move to a student dorm in a city in Japan, it's really no big difference. (I guess if I'm honest with myself I wish it were a bit more different. ^^)

In any case, I'm in a position where I can experience a foreign country by as little as stepping outside the front door and I've got plenty of opportunity to use and improve my Japanese. That's awesome! On to the next month!

 [1] 大学・大学院留学生の日本語(4)論文作成編 (アルク)
 [2] 中・上級者のための速読の日本語 (The Japan Times)
 [3] 大学・大学院留学生の日本語(1)読解編 (アルク)
 [4] 中上級学習者のための日本語読解ワークブック (アルク)
 [5] 読む力 中級 (くろしお出版)
 [6] 留学生のためのここが大切文章表現のルール (スリーエーネットワーク)
 [7] An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics (Routledge)
 [8] An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (Longman)
 [9] The Japanese Mind (Tuttle Publishing)
[10] With Respect to the Japanese: Going to Work in Japan (Intercultural Press)
[11] Japanese Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity (Routledge)
[12] The Other Japan: Voices Beyond the Mainstream (Fulcrum Publishing)
[13] Diversity in Japanese Culture and Language (Routledge)
[14] Multi-Ethnic Japan (Harvard University Press)
[15] Japanese Culture and Communication: Critical Cultural Analysis (University Press of America)

A year at 松山大学

Three to four years ago I gradually developed an interest in Japanese culture. Two and a half years ago I started learning Japanese. One year ago I got in touch with the University of Freiburg regarding the possibility of studying abroad in Japan. Now, after two semesters in Freiburg, I'm about to start a year at 松山大学 as an exchange student.

I've never lived or studied outside of Baden-Württemberg, so I'm really excited about how such an amount of change will affect me. I'm also super hyped that I will finally be able to invest pretty much ALL MY TIME into improving my language skills. So far I always had to fit language learning somewhere inbetween while my bachelor's or master's degree were the quasi obligatory main thing.

Preparations are as good as done. Journey starts Sep 8th. Updates will be tagged #MYJ15. :)


漢字 — 1900+

100 kanji, 420 words, 115 days; Anki stats, kanji so far.

Final spurt? Not really. Apart from the last two weeks — where I actively searched for new kanji to get from 1880 to 1900 — considerations of previous checkpoint were put into practice. I got most of my newly acquired vocab from ドラマ, manga and interaction with Japanese people.

If I kept my current kanji pace I'd reach full Jōyō somewhere in the second quarter of next year. :D We'll see ... kanji isn't the main focus of active progression anymore.


漢字 — 1800+

101 kanji, 231 words, 36 days; Anki stats, kanji so far.

Less than 45 days was doable. :)

I'm considering to stop seaching for new kanji/vocab each day and repurpose that time for focussed reading practice, collecting new kanji/vocab on the way. This would, I expect, slow down my kanji progress significantly. But I feel that I've reached a point where the hassle of blindly seaching for new words to learn, solely for the purpose of getting those damn 常用漢字 done isn't really worth it anymore.

When reading Japanese it isn't the kanji that hold me back, it's grammar, phrases, compounds, etc. I presume simply reading a lot while looking up the stuff I don't understand will benefit my reading comprehension way better than continuing what I've done up until now. Everything new I come across this way will have the huge benefit of being learned with a context — which is kind of taking my 'learn kanji in the context of words' approach one step further: 'learn vocab and grammar in the context of continuous text'.


漢字 — 1700+

100 kanji, 261 words, 45 days; Anki stats, kanji so far.

As I predicted, exams caused a noticable slowdown. Which would've even been more severe had I not tweaked my learning routine a bit.

To save time I decided to stop writing out readings for recognition cards while continuing to write kanji + furigana for recall cards. Curious side effect: I have the feeling this helps me paying more attention to the correct pronunciation of words, since I have to verbalize the word in my head precisely in order to be able to compare my answer to the written solution in Anki. I guess coming up with an answer in a "verbalizing context" is somehow different to writing it down.

As for recall cards I started trying to always think of the pronunciation of a word first instead of the kanji. Reason: in conversations I need the pronunciation of a word immediately. When writing it is no problem to halt for a few seconds.

Two more weeks of exams to go. Won't manage to get to 1800 in 30 days I guess, but less than 45 should be doable. :)


Radical overhead

Pun intended. Semi interesting kanji related observation:

I learn kanji by breaking them down into their parts and building mnemonics out of those. Since not all kanji are either simple — in which case it's reasonable to remember the single strokes — or composed only of other kanji, I necessarily have to carry some additional baggage along the way.

I wondered how this turned out for me up until now and created a plot. For learning my first 800 kanji I memorized 97 additional non-kanji characters (12% overhead). For the next 800 it was only 13 (1.6% overhead, 6.8% overall).


漢字 — 1600+

99 kanji, 232 words, 35 days; Anki stats, kanji so far.

A minor slowdown. And exams are coming up, so I guess the next 100 will take a bit longer again.

It appears to be getting harder to find kanji that seem definitively rewarding to learn (i.e. are part of a lot of useful/frequently used words), but I've had such phases a few times before and my feeling always turned out to be incorrect. Given that there are sill 500+ 常用漢字 ahead I really hope there's still a bunch of non-obscure ones awaiting me.


漢字 — 1500+

99 kanji, 240 words, 33 days; Anki stats[1], kanji so far.

Exactly hit the 3 kanji/day average this time. In other words: almost keeping pace. :)

Tandem is still great. Furthermore I have to say that socializing with the local community of Japanese and Japanese learners turned out to be super beneficial on several occasions — apart from the obvious benefit of getting to know interesting people and having a good time. Networking is the buzzword to apply here I guess.

[1] From the 24th, prior to adding new cards ... forgot to save a screenshot yesterday. :/


漢字 — 1400+

99 kanji, 256 words, 36 days; Anki stats, kanji so far.

Almost keeping pace during lectures and stuff seems to work out so far.

Apart from vocabulary and more interesting at that: living in a larger city now, I'm surrounded with plenty of opportunity for tandem language learning and socializing with Japanese people in general. At the moment I go with two weekly tandem sessions — each of which with a Japanese exchange student.
Given that I hardly spoke any Japanese for about a year and only had very simple conversations in class before that I struggle a lot. On the other hand, since I have quite a large vocabulary to draw on it's mostly constructing sentences spontaneously which holds me back and I'm making recognizable progress in that regard. Pronunciation causes no problems, nontrivial grammar slowly finds its way into my sentence patterns, listening comprehension is still tough. In any case it's really fun to be able to apply what I've learned so far in real conversations with natives. And getting more and more comfortable with verbally expressing thoughts in a new language is awesome. :3


漢字 — 1300+

101 kanji, 286 words, 34 days; Anki stats, kanji so far.

Keeping the pace for now. Moving and stuff was not really time consuming. Lectures will start next week, we'll see how that'll influence my progress.


漢字 — 1200+

98 kanji, 301 words, 34 days; Anki stats, kanji so far.

Close to 100/30 and a nice word/kanji ratio — I'm fine with that. Maybe I'll get to 1300 before Oct 13th, which is when my master's starts. In any case I'll have to deal with moving and stuff before that. Hopefully that won't slow me down a lot. We'll see. :)


漢字 — 1100+

100 kanji, 285 words, 41 days. Finally gaining some speed again.

As always: Anki stats and kanji so far.

Correct answers on mature cards sub 90% today, which happens from time to time lately — 集中、集中!

/edit: okay, if I really focus ... (the single one I got wrong was mixing up the meanings of 予定 and 仮定)


漢字 — 1000+

100 kanji, 284 words — almost keeping pace with the last 100. 52 days this time. Which means I'll most likely be at 11xx when finishing my thesis. Unless I'm super busy because of moving after that I'll aim for 30 days per 100 again.

The usual stuff: Anki stats and kanji so far.

Additional data:


  • Grade 1: 80 of 80 (100.0%)
  • Grade 2: 160 of 160 (100.0%)
  • Grade 3: 176 of 200 (88.0%)
  • Grade 4: 128 of 200 (64.0%)
  • Grade 5: 102 of 185 (55.1%)
  • Grade 6: 93 of 181 (51.4%)
  • JuniorHS: 202 of 934 (21.6%)


  • 1002 total unique kanji
  • Jōyō: 977 of 2136 (45.7%)
  • Jinmeiyō (regular): 20 of 641 (3.1%)
  • 5 non-Jōyō kanji

Extrapolating these numbers: when I reach the point of knowing all 2136 Jōyō kanji I'll presumably know 2191 in total, 44 of which will be Jinmeiyō, leaving 11 for non-Jōyō. And if I keep my kanji to vocab ratio at a constant level I'll be at 5671 words.
Ignoring the fact that I had a really slow start, I'll reach full Jōyō by the end of October 2015. Counting 100 per month beginning in September this year, starting at 11xx, I'd reach 2191 in July 2015. So ... I guess full Jōyō between July and October 2015 is a good guess.

Since my kanji are distributed between grades/levels to a fair degree, their count is no good indicator for JLPT level. I could imagine taking the N3 in December this year. But I think I'd have to work on a few grammar points for that and I'd definitely have to increase my reading speed. — well, time will tell how I decide. In the end I learn for being able to communicate with Japanese people and read/write, not for a piece of paper. Yet, an official confirmation of "proficiency" has something to it.


漢字 — 900+

100 kanji, 253 words — which took 50 days, meh. But I built a new interactive graph for the projects page.
Aaand I got a "Kenkyūsha's New English-Japanese Dictionary" (5th edition)! — awesome parents be awesome. :3

Anki stats.

Kanji so far.


漢字 — 800+

100 kanji, 283 words — writing thesis, Anki on the train while commuting to and from work, not much time in the evening to add new vocab, a bit of reading and writing on LINE but no time for grammar, Lang-8, etc.

Anki stats.

Kanji so far.


漢字 — 700+

100 kanji and 270 words, again in one month and one day — we'll see how that develops once I start writing my thesis in March. :D

Anyway: Anki stats for the last 30 days, imabi_stroll is still going although I got a bit lazy and missed a lot of days.

A new thing I gave shot is reading manga collaboratively (taking turns) in hangouts. It's really fun but the events are at 4 AM for me (GMT+1), which is pretty awful. D: But I will try to continue attending from time to time.

As always, for the sake of documentation, these are the kanji I know so far.


漢字 — 600+

Aaand again it's been one month and one day — during which I somehow pumped 98 kanji and 317 words into my brain.

Here's a screenshot of my Anki stats for the last 30 days.

Grammar: "re rush" is completed and helped a lot, now I try to focus on free writing of continuous text instead of single example sentences and only take a look at new grammar topics every 4th day. Since I'm through Tae Kim's Grammar Guide completely I pick interesting topics on IMABI. Schedule: "imabi_stroll".

Misc: had a Skype conversation in Japanese in December which was a nice experience. But I definitely should speak more Japanese.

As always, for the sake of documentation, these are the kanji I know so far.


漢字 — 500+

On and on it goes ... 97 kanji and 253 words since the last post.

I was quite surprised that I missed the '100 kanji per month' mark by just one day (and just one kanji, acutally — I was at 499 yesterday). Anyway, everything good, no changes as for how I learn and here are my Anki stats.

Gammar! After I finished my "grammar rush" I stated a "re rush". Turned out to be a good strategy so far. No idea what I will do after that though. Maybe start with writing full texts instead of single sentences. Maybe focus on speaking and reduce the time I spent on writing for a while ... we'll see.

Oh and the guys from Lang-8 (where I'll write my 100th entry today) are super nice! I found a vulnerability on their site, reported it and they gave me one year premium for my account. :3

As always, for the sake of documentation, these are the kanji I know so far.


漢字 — 400+

Soo ... 37 days, 104 kanji and 291 words later:

Not much to say about kanji learning itself. One thing would be, that due to an Anki update that changed the handling of sibling cards my second daily Anki session now includes a bit more cards than before and the first session a bit less. Not much of a change.
I still try to keep the number of reviews due on one day between 80 and 100 but ... as my Anki stats reveal, not always manage to do that.

Since there's nothing more to say about kanji learning, a quick note on grammar:
As opposed to vocab, grammar isn't super easily quantified. No numbers, no charts ... Because of that I had a little bit of a problem to continue practicing and learning new grammar for a while.
To deal with that I stated a "grammar rush" (inspired by this YesJapan video). Instead of really just flipping through a workbook and taking notes I read one chapter of Tae Kim's Grammar Guide a day and post some example sentences using the new grammar on Lang-8. So far this works really well for me.

As always, for the sake of documentation, these are the kanji I know so far.


漢字 — 300+

God mode activated. :)
Exactly one month ago I wrote 「漢字 — 200+」 and since then addded 280 new words using 100 new kanji to my Anki deck. That means I learned more than nine words per day — which is pretty awesome compared to what I did before.
Looking at my Anki stats: I learned every day and added new vocab on 25 of 30 days. On average I review 115 cards in 52 minutes. I require additional time to find new kanji, create mnemonics, find useful new vocab using those kanji, etc. So I guess it's reasonable to assume that I spend about 1.5 hours a day on Japanese vocab. Doesn't sound like an awful lot of time and yet the benefit is quite awesome. :)

The most important thing to note is, that I really made it a habit to go through all due Anki cards in the morning/early afternoon, add new kanji in the evening and go through these a bit later. If you're used to it, it's no burden.
Further changes in my learning approach: I use Tagaini Jisho a lot more than before. And I more often use word frequency lists to find new useful vocab. Apart from that ... I sometimes find it useful to not sit in from of my computer with all its distractions when learning, so I use AnkiWeb on my Kindle which works fine.

As always, for the sake of documentation, these are the kanji I know so far.


Japanese books for your Kindle

Strange thing about Amazon: Japanese books (offered on amazon.com and amazon.de) are not available for the standard Kindle although it's perfectly capable of displaying Japanese content. This applies to all books in Japanese. Which sucks. So contacted support concerning that matter ...

Fortunately there are alternatives: 青空文庫 (Aozora Bunko) offers Japanese books for free and with 青空キンドル (Aozora Kindle) you can easily convert them to beautiful PDFs. :)
To do that, take a book from 青空文庫 (for example this), scroll down to the ファイルのダウンロード section and copy the URL to the zip file. In our example that's: http://www.aozora.gr.jp/cards/000311/files/2762_ruby_8768.zip. Head to 青空キンドル, paste the URL, change settings if you want (I recommend setting the 文字 to 大), hit PDF化, copy the PDF file to your Kindle and you're done. :)
Beautiful Japanese on your Kindle. What you may want to avoid, however, is using Japanese file names. They won't be displayed as expected, which I presume it's due to the FAT 32 file system.


漢字 — 200+

Whew ... at last. Turns out a lot of free time doesn't seem to be the best thing for my learning efforts. I tend to approach other time consuming stuff that wouldn't be possible alongside lectures and end up having a hard time keeping up with making progress with my Japanese. D:

Looking at my Anki stats for the last month: the mostly hidden larger gap responsible for that first huge bar was a 5 day trip to Munic for a parkour jam, next gap was a spontaneous programming project iirc (something that doesn't show up in my Google calendar at least) and the third gap was Ludum Dare 27, a video game development competition.

Anyway: what I'm experimenting with right now is different methods for choosing which kanji to learn next. For some time I sticked with the JLPT kanji listed here, but it seems to take me longer and longer to find good candidates. I consider switching to going through easy reading material online and adding stuff I don't know yet. Another option would be using some frequency list.

Apart from that everything's going well. Creating mnemonics is still fun. :) Oh and when learning with Anki I now write out readings in katakana instead of hiragana from time to time — helps preventing that I forget those bastards. :D

Again, for the sake of documentation, these are the kanji I know so far.


漢字 — 100+

So, a mere 5% of Jōyō kanji made their way into my head — and it's been fun so far, A LOT actually! :O

I can't really say why exactly, but I guess first off because as I continue learning kanji I'm able to read more and more Japanese stuff and also because I can play around with mnemonics. :3
When I wrote about taking Japanese courses in my last post I was totally hyped. But in no way was I ready to get into kanji. I did a lot of preparation because the task seemed (and still seems) huge and I wanted to approach it in the best way possible.
I thought about learning the 214 radicals before looking at a single kanji, I looked at guides like TextFugu and WaniKani and started hoarding useful resources like Jim Breen's Multi-Radical Selection ...

... after about a month I knew how I would do it: TextFugu and the like present a great method for learning kanji effectively, but there are two problems. Frist they focus on kanji only and don't present them in context, as compounds (afaik). Second and most imporantly, they use given mnemonics. No way in hell does it make sense to use other people's associations to remember stuff. If 肉 for me consists of a large gripper and two people which reminds me of Soylent Green and makes it super easy to remember then why should I try to remember it any other way?
The thing with the official radicals is that sometimes they don't make sense to me, and for a lot of graphemes of given kanji there are no radicals. I cannot remember 刂 as a mere variation of 刀 — they need very distinct mnemonic names/meanings or I'll mix them up.

So ... learning kanji for me works like this: I search for kanji made up of parts I already introduced to my mnemonic system that I'll use in sentences a lot. If I find no good candidates, I search for new graphemes/parts that will "enable" useful new kanji. As a new useful kanji is found I try to find at least two ways to use it in sentences — one where a kun reading is used and one where an on reading is used. Super easy example: I know 田 and 力, now I find 男, super easy to remember and with 男の子 and 男子 I already have two readings involved. 男 with it's readings, meanings and a mnemonic wind up in a json file from which I generate a web page displaying all my kanji with memonics and their parts/graphemes linked for ease of use. 男の子 and 男子 are fresh input for my kanji deck in Anki. In the following days I then try to use 男の子 and 男子 in homework for my Japanese courses and in journals on Lang-8. And that's how it goes. :) Works really well so far and is a lot of fun. Coming up with good memonics and the populating of previously mentioned json file can be a bit tedious though. ^^

For the sake of documentation, these are the kanji I know so far.

And here are my current Anki stats (deck created 2013-05-21).

I plan to do this kind of review every 100 kanji, so there will — hopefully — be a total of 21 of these in the end. Beginning with the second one they'll very likely be notably shorter. ^^

And that's it. Learning kanji is now part of my [ladder to the sun][triceratops with a cap cleaning his mouth with a napkin] life. :3


日本語 — at last some serious progress :3

I started taking beginner level Japanese courses at uni. The general path to learning the language and regular practice it provides seems to be exactly what was necessary to get me going. My learning efforts — til then not more than learning kana, remembering overused phrases from anime and then stagnating for like ... a year? I don't even know — suddenly skyrocketed and I now have to almost force myself to invest time into all the other stuff I have to do. You know ... my actual field of study and all that. ;P
Anyway, Japanese, besides being listed as one of my interests, is now also a project. And btw.: Lang-8 is awesome!

tags: japanese


CLI Love, Speedcubing, Half-Life, etc.

Got some stuff that I could have mentioned ... so: combo post!

CLI Love

I took some time to test some alternatives to the software I use on a daily basis. I dropped the window manager awesome for spectrwm — a lot less crappy configuration, even more minimalistic and quite another approach to multi screen handling (still have to fully get used to it, but seems usable).
Furthermore I switched from PCManFM to ranger ♥ and finally moved on from VLC media player to mpd + ncmpc for music and SMPlayer for video matters.


I attended a speedcubing competition ... just for fun. Now I have this fancy page with official results at the World Cube Association. I'm pretty happy with the results as my times really are that inconsistent and I got rather nervous when it got official. I can do sub 30s, but that's only lucky exceptions.


I wondered how long it would take me to play through Half-Life, so I gave it a shot:
and recorded the hole thing

.XCompose kana input

I extended my .XCompose file to now also support katakana instead of hiragana only and added some punctuation that was still missing.

Poral chibi portrait

Alisa created this awesome Portal themed chibi portrait of me that's now accompanying this blog post. :3 Here's her website — read the "very soon" in a vaporware-ish "when it's done" kind of way. :D


Making use of caps lock. ... No, seriously.

It is true. No longer will caps lock be the key that you accidentally hit an then hate for what it's doing.

So what is this about? A while ago I read about that fantastic idea of making the caps lock key behave like escape on Wolfgang's blog. Which is really an awesome thing, especially for vim users.
But we don't want to eliminate caps lock. We want to make use of it. So: I recently switched from a German keyboard layout to a standard US one. Quite soon I realized, that I woudn't mind writing umlauts (äöü) as ae, oe, ue but I'd really miss the s z ligature ‌ß
It then occured to me (i.e. after wining about it on irc someone reminded me) that I could use compose. Which I, till then, only used for my beloved dash (—).

But something was bothering me: while the origins of the ß are a bit complicated (the story includes the long s (ſ), a character that isn't used anymore, and there were different versions of the ligature using either the z or the s) and German speaking countries that don't use the ß, like Swizerlad, use ss instead, it's present name Eszett (naming the letters s and z) and things like the HTML entity being ß (s z ligature) make the ß — for me at least — more a ligature of s and z than of s and s. Yet, the default compose sequence for ß is ss. I had to change that.

While creating my own .XCompose file I had the idea to create compose sequences for hiragana (the reason why that's useful to me is a whole other story). But what would I use? <Multi_key> <a> for あ, <Multi_key> <n> <o> for の, etc.? Would be quite annoying to be forced to hit the compose key (mapped to the menu key in my case) for each and every hiragana. There had to be a better solution.
I looked into different input methods for Japanese, but aside from the fact, that they'd clearly be more sophisticated than what I'd come up with (due to me only having really basic knowledge of Japanese), they weren't really what I wanted to have.
I then thought about a separate .XCompose file for hiragana that simply woud map a to あ, n followed by o to の etc. and which I could load using some key combination. Turns out you can't change your .XCompose file on the fly. You have to restart X. :/ (At least I found no way to do it.)

After a while of thinking and testing I had the idea to use a modifier for my hiragana compose sequences. More specifically: a modifier that can be toggled on and of: CAPSLOCK!
What this means is, that for example a gets "composed" to あ, but only when the modifier is active. The cool thing about that is, that you even have an LED indicator for which "input mode" your in. LED off = romaji, LED on = hiragana. This of course can be used for anything. Instead of a hiragana mode you could have a writing upside down mode, a Greek mode, etc.

If you want to try it out, here's my current .Xmodmap (swaps escape and caps lock and set's compose to the menu key) and here's my .XCompose file.