So, in one of my junior high school classes we wrote stories. We each wrote a line, and then passed the sheet of paper along to the next person who added a line. It was a good reading/writing exercise.

Thing is, the results were hilarious.

My question is – would it be wrong to post the stories on the internet?

How wrong?


1000 Fails

My 30 days of Japanese project isn’t going too well. It got rudely interrupted by a 2-day hangover last weekend. I have come to the conclusion that I am old and that my days of drinking mystery cocktails in alleyways are numbered. I wasn’t even that drunk. At no point did I lose my inhibitions. I remember everything. But I was in a state of serious disrepair for a good 36 hours after I was technically sober.

Anyway, I’ve kept up remarkably well with the kanji, iKnow and listening. I’ve added at least 10 new kanji a day (excluding hangover days) for a while  now – I’m up to 279. My excel spreadsheet (I’m a closet spreadsheet evangelist) tells me that if I want to finish by December 31 I have to do 8.859 new kanji a day.

I’m chugging along with the iKnow. I’ve nearly finished the first 200 words in the Japanese Core 2000 set. I’m unconvinced as to how useful this multiple choice thing really is, but when I finish the first stage of the set I’ll re-evaluate. Right now the words seem to be sliding out of my brain as soon as I shut the program.

Where I’ve really fallen down has been doing the textbook work (Minna no Nihongo 1). I always seem to leave it til too late at night and by then I just couldn’t be bothered.

The one thing that’s made the most difference is definitely the kanji. It’s so satisfying to look at things I see every day and have the meaning leap out at me. Product packaging, billboards, road signs, menus – I can now pick out almost 10% of the words! It might not seem like much, but considering that I was totally illiterate a few months ago, I feel good. I feel like a bloody genius when I can understand my students’ writing. They often write notes to each other right in front of me thinking I can’t understand. Fools! It was something about a boy!  And liking! And a dog!

Last week I was playing Monopoly with some Junior High School girls. They’d never played before so I had to explain everything. One girl drew a card that said “Your stocks mature, bank pays you $50”. Last week I would have been stumped. The kiddie dictionaries do not include the word “stocks”. It would have been a load of stick cartoons, miming and blank faces (I’ve played this game before). This time, I was able to write the kanji for stocks. I felt like a freaking queen.

The process of kanji learning seems so slow. I have failed literally thousands of SRS flashcards over the past ten months – Anki, iKnow, kanji.koohii. This is my second attempt to tackle the Heisig method. I can wholeheartedly say though, that it works. With iKnow and other methods I feel like I’m only holding the kanji in my short-term memory for the duration of the repetition set. With Heisig, I can recognise kanji I see out on the street and recall the meaning after having only written it once, sometimes twice. My stroke order is almost perfect. I’m not saying this to brag. It’s the method, not my all-round awesomeness that has caused this.

So, 1000 fails isn’t a bad thing. I’m looking forward to racking up thousands and thousands more fails on this journey.

How To Cook Japanese Rice (In A Pot)


Most Japanese people use a rice cooker. I have one, but honestly, it’s a pain in the bum. It’s an ancient thing that came with the apartment. It demands that you actually have to programme the timer for how long you want the rice to cook. WTF?


It also came without instructions, or a scoop for measuring the rice and water, so figuring it out how to use it has been a process of trial and error. 15 minutes? Raw. 20? Raw with a slight coat of mush. 25? Still crunchy in the middle. Rage sets in. 40! Total mush. 


You’re not supposed to open the cooker at any point during the cooking process. Something about steam… I don’t know. So checking on the rice is a definite don’t. What you have to do is cook 117 batches of rice, increasing the time by 30 second increments, recording the results on an excel spreadsheet with formulae and pivot tables and multi-coloured charts. 


Screw that. 


So, I fecked my rice cooker onto a shelf in the bedroom (god knows you can’t throw anything out in this country) and now I cook my rice in a pot on the stove. Like it’s 1921. It seems like more hassle, but really, it’s just easier. Some day I’ll suck it up and go buy a new rice cooker, but for now, I use a pot.


So – how to cook Japanese rice in a pot.


Ingredients – 

Japanese rice – either thoroughly washed normal rice, or no-wash rice

A pot with a lid – ideally a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid




Rice spatula/spoon



1. Wash or rinse rice. If you’re not using no-wash rice then you’ll have to wash the rice. Washing rice correctly is essential if you are looking for perfect rice like you get at a good Japanese restaurant. Even though white rice has had the outer germ/bran removed (so it’s not brown rice any more) it still has a bit of a coating on it that will make the rice taste funny and stick together in big clumps if you cook it straight from the bag.

So, measure out your rice and stick it in a bowl (or into your cooing pot)  in the sink. Run cold water into the bowl til it almost fills up, swirl the rice around with your hand and then quickly dump it out. The water will probably be white. Add fresh water and do this a couple more times.

The next time, only add a little water. Then, get your hands into the rice and rough it up a little. Put the rice between your hands like it’s soap and you’re washing your hands with it. Smush it down with the heel of your hand. Really put your back into it. Let the rice settle, pour the water off, repeat.

You’re supposed to keep doing this til the water runs clear, but man, it takes forever. Ever wonder why Japanese women live to be 110? They’ve been busting a gut washing rice at 5am every day for 95 years. Great exercise I tell you. 

Some people say that you should be gentle with the rice and use the word “polish”. Others say you should “togu”, which kind of means scrub. I start out polishing, then I get impatient and start scrubbing. I’m not kidding when I say that this takes forever.
2. Drain the rice. Pour out your crystal clear (ha!) water and let the rice sit for about half an hour. It’ll absorb some of the surface water and plump up a bit. 

3. Put rice and cold water into a pot. The ratio should be 2 cups rice (pre-washing) to 2.5 cups water. If you’re just one lonely person eating alone, halve this. Do not add salt!

4. Make a little well in the rice. I have no idea why you do this. I was just told to do it. The best explanation anyone has given me is a “Eeeeeeeeeeeh…. delicious”. 

5. Let the rice soak. The amount of time this takes depends on how old your rice is. No less than 30 minutes, no more than 4 hours in summer, 8 hours in winter. I just do 30 minutes (if even).

6. Turn on fire. Let the water come to the boil without the lid on. Watch it like a hawk. If it’s boiling away for minutes on end your rice will turn out badly and tiny Japanese grannies will swoop ninja-style into your kitchen to scold you thoroughly.

7. Put the lid on, turn down the heat. Turn it down almost as low as it’ll go. Set your timer/phone/computer for 15 minutes. Don’t take the lid off to peek inside. Don’t stir. Just let it do it’s thing. 

8. Let it sit. When your timer goes off turn off the heat. Don’t take the lid off. Leave it to continue cooking under it’s own heat for 10 whole minutes

9. Break it up. Use a rice spatula (or in my case, a spoon) to break up the brick of rice. The grains will separate out (slightly) and stop it coagulating into a big starchy mess. It should be kind of sticky and fluffy.

10. Eat. Even though I like rice, I can’t eat it plain. I buy packets of sprinkly stuff in the supermarket/kombini and mix it through the rice. Current favourite is sour Japanese plum with black sesame seeds.

Pre-Washed Japanese Rice


musenmai blog

Back in the days of yore, every morning at 5am, housewives all over Japan could be found washing rice for the family’s meals.


These days, some of them get to sleep in til 5.15 because they don’t have to wash rice, they can pour it straight from the bag into the rice cooker. 


People  use pre-washed rice for two reasons. First, washing rice (correctly) is a long process, which seems even longer in winter when the cold water is about 1 degree above freezing and your hands are numb. Second, it’s bad for the environment. It uses gallons of water and the water that comes off the rice is full of nutrients which contributes to algae overgrowth in lakes. Or something. Around 120 million* people eat rice three times a day in Japan so you can imagine that all this water usage/algae could be a bit of a problem.


Anyway, these days lots of people buy pre-washed rice. Although actually, most of it isn’t really washed, exactly. Or not in water anyway. It’s washed in itself. It’s put in a machine and shaken around so that the outer skins of the grains stick to each other. The skins are left in the machine and the clean grains come out. 


So really, it’s not actually pre-washed rice, it’s no-wash rice. 

Usually it’s the same price as regular rice, or maybe a teeny bit more expensive. 


In the supermarket just ask for “musenmai”. Do what I do and say “aaahhhh…. gohan….. musenmai?” 


Or if you want to avoid having to talk to anyone just look for the kanji above.


Even though most restaurants and hotels use no-wash rice, only about 20% of Japanese people use it at home, mostly people in cities. The washers think that musenmai is unhygienic, or that it doesn’t taste/smell the same. Obviously, if you’re trying to cook perfect Japanese rice, you should probably buy the regular kind and wash it. If you just want food in belly fast, try the musenmai. I do quickly rinse it off a couple of times before cooking, and this gaijin can’t taste the difference.


*figure plucked from imaginarystats.com

30 Days of Japanese Update – FAIL


The subheading for this post should be “Little Kids Are Gross – Part Two”. I’ve already had a rant about this here, but I need to re-rant. Apologies for repetition.


I was doing pretty well on my 30 days of Japanese, but then I got sick. One of the many downsides of working with children is that their standards of personal hygiene are low. I’m continually swatting little hands away from noses and ears, removing hands from underwear (their own and others’), instructing kids to cover their mouths when they cough, returning kids to the bathroom to wash their hands and generally being the hygiene police. 


As well as their filthy habits, kids come from 11 or 12 different schools, from different classes and all crowd together into one big germ-happy cloud. These horrid little clouds of skank want to hold my hand and touch my face. I just have to rein in the old gag reflex and be nice. Bleurgh.


I wash my hands all the time. I keep my own little mini towel in my bag so I don’t have to use the kids’ one (sounds weird, but a lot of Japanese have their own little towels). I even use hand sanitizer. But still. It’s gross. 


Anyway, the point is that I got some kind of stomach problem. So I haven’t been keeping up with all the tasks. Just keeping up with the SRS reps is tough enough, adding new kanji is too much. 


Yesterday I got back on track and did all my things. Since I’m trying to do 30 days in a row, what should be Day 10 or so is now Day 2. 


Wish me luck.


PS – I don’t actually hate children. I just wish their parents would show them how to use a nail brush.

How To Learn Japanese In 30 Days


Even though I’ve been living here for nearly ten months, doing bits and pieces of Japanese study, lately I feel like I’ve hit a wall of sorts. I’m just not making as much progress as I was at the start. I usually pick up one new word a day, mostly from my students. That sounds good, but 365 words per year? That’s pathetic.


I’ve been making all sorts of excuses – Japanese is too hard, I’m too old, I’m not smart enough, Japanese babies are special… etc. etc. But really, I’m just lazy. There’s no magic cure for illiteracy. I just need to do some freaking work. 


So, I’ve decided to go all US military on this goddamn language and beat it into submission using every weapon I’ve got. Shock and awe! Attack! Blitzkreig! (Not US, but whatever, it fits.)


I’m going to execute a 30-day invasion on Japanese. Every day for 30 days I’m going to do some serious work. Apparently 30 days is long enough to establish a good habit, while short enough not to be too scary. Every day for a year? Yikes. Every day for a month? Still kind of eeep but manageable. 


The Challenge

30 days of Japanese (language)-thrashing.


The Method

  • Learn at least 10 new kanji per day. 
  • Do all required SRS repetitions for kanji.
  • Max out SRS repetitions for the kana.
  • Do one chapter per day of a vocab/grammar textbook.
  • Listen with concentration to at least 30 minutes of adult spoken Japanese per day.


The Weapons

  • Kana – embarrassing as it is, my kana recall is far from perfect. I use iKnow.
  • Vocab/grammar – I’m using the book Minna no Nihongo. This book is entirely in Japanese. There is no English whatsoever. There is a translation/grammatical notes book available, which I have. I’m not endorsing this book, I have no idea if it’s any better or worse than others out there, but I got this one for free. Free! That’s why I use it. 
  • Spoken Japanese – I listen to children speaking Japanese for five hours a day. Even though I’m actively trying to figure out what they’re saying, they’re speaking kiddie Japanese. This isn’t really good enough. I also listen to adult Japanese while I’m driving around or doing household chores – the radio, online tv, stuff from youtube. I’m not really concentrating though, it filters in and out. 

Listening with concentration is different, I’m really trying to figure out what they’re saying, hunting for words I recognise. Right now I’m watching a Japanese TV show called Kimi wa Petto. It’s based on a really popular manga comic and was made in 2003. I’ve already watched the series (10 1-hour episodes) on youtube with the subtitles on, so I know what’s going on. I don’t have a copy of this without the subtitles, so I put the subtitled version on, and then minimize the screen. I tend to watch the same 10-minute clip 2 or 3 times in a row. Each time I pick up more words and figure out more patterns. I also watch whatever movies I can get my hands on. Previous favorites have included The Incredibles and Mean Girls. I must have listened to The Incredibles 50 times (mostly while doing other things).


The Support

  • I read at least one “motivational” blog post per day. Mostly I read Steve Pavlina. This guy is one of the most popular personal development blog writers in the world. I think he’s great. Some of his posts veer into new-agey spirituality, but I just ignore those bits and stick to motivation/time management/productivity. It really helps.


I’m posting all this stuff here partly to help other people and partly as a public declaration. I’m going to do this. If I don’t do it, I’ll… well… be ashamed. 


Wish me luck!



Oh, did I say learn Japanese in 30 days? Sorry, I meant FOR 30 days.

Stupid Kids


It happens every day.


I explain what we’re going to do. I have the kids give the explanation back to me to make sure they understand. Then I ask who wants to go first. Hands shoot up into the air. I pick a kid. A look of shock and horror crosses their face. They refuse to do it. Ok, who else wants to do it? Hands up again – MEMEMEMEMEMEME!!!!! I pick again. Shock and horror. Refusal. 


I explain over and over again that if you raise your hand, I will call on you. If you don’t want to do the particular task/game/whatever, DON’T RAISE YOUR FREAKING HAND!!


I know Japan’s all about the group identity, but sheesh.