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

The Inevitable


I really try. I read books. I read the news online. I watch movies. I talk to whoever I can. 


And yet, I am forgetting my English. A few months ago I couldn’t remember the word kneecap. Then I was talking to the boy and I mentioned that I needed to get “a… you know… what do you call it… when you get some of your paycheck in advance of payday?” “Ummm… an advance?


But then, the other day, I committed the unforgivable. 


I said… “holded”. 


I’ve never heard someone say “holded”. It was like my poor starving brain couldn’t remember the right word and just applied its own internal grammar to the problem, like a little kid saying “eated” or “runned”. 


The worst part is that I wasn’t even fumbling for the word, it came out in the middle of a pretty normally-delivered sentence. I didn’t even notice for a couple of seconds.


I’m afraid.

Learning Japanese Part Three – New Stuff


Since writing the previous two posts about learning Japanese (click for parts one and two) I’ve changed tack a little. 


I’ve continued with Heisig’s Remembering The Kanji, but sheeeeeeeeeet, the going is slow. It’s tough. I can still see that it’s an excellent method, but it can get very frustrating. Honestly though, I haven’t really been plugging in the hours necessary. I went home for three weeks at Christmas and it all went to crap then. I haven’t quite managed to get back on the wagon yet. Now and then I go to a practice website Kanji Koohii (kanji coffee) and watch my progress melt away. 


If you’re using the RTK system, the kanji koohi site is bloody brilliant. In an earlier post I mentioned that I was using anki. Don’t bother. You have to manually insert all 2042 kanji and their meanings. Sooooooo tedious and boring. The koohi site is already set up for the RTK system with all the kanji already put in, and crucially, in Heisig’s order. Really good. 


I also said to switch on the tv if you’re in Japan or download buy stuff from amazon.jp if you’re not. I don’t have a tv. I have no intention of getting one. Instead, I use livestation. You can watch live tv online from a program on your desktop. It’s kind of crappy, but I mostly watch the shopping channels. You can see that they’re talking about clothes or flowers or cookware or whatever, but mostly you just get the sentence patterns over and over again along with a load of oohing and aahing. I keep it on in the background. 


I only have two Japanese dvds, The Incredibles and Mean Girls. I’ve watched them in Japanese about a hundred times. Actually, I don’t watch them exactly. As in, I don’t look at the screen. I just have them on in the background. 


The other source I use is JapanesePod101.com. The actual site is really freaking annoying with constant popup ads trying to get you to sign up so I avoid it at all costs. I use google reader to read blogs so I just signed up to their RSS feeds. They have a whole bunch of different lesson plans (newbie, beginner, intermediate, advanced) which are pretty badly organised on the site so the best way to do it (and the way I do it) is to stick it in the reader (click here for the link to the right page) and then run a search within the reader for “newbie” or whatever. (If this is confusing, send me an email.)


The last thing I use is software called iKnow. This goes against the AJATT method (as does JapanesePod1o1) but I live here and I need to be able to speak to/understand the kids so screw it. It’s really damn good. The 3 courses I’ve signed up to are hiragana, katakana and Core 2000 (2000 most important Japanese words). It has pictures and audio all wrapped up in a damn sleek package. This is something I’d definitely recommend. To sign up go to smart.fm. It takes a bit of clicking around to cop on to what’s going on but once you get used to the layout it’s really good. 


So far, my Japanese is improving but still shoddy. I still can’t read a menu or a website. I still often get stumped by basic questions. I’m slowly getting better though. Baby steps. 


Good luck!

Long Time No Blog

Things have sort of gone a bit… different around here. 


That is to say, things are almost exactly the same, but my mindset has changed. Or something. 


If I was to lay the blame on something, it would be buying the car. (Yes, the car is now parked outside. It’s sweet.)  Having a car (while awesome) has changed me into (bear with me) a real person. Not just a blow-in. I actually live here. I’m not on holiday. I have a job, with growing responsibility. I have a real car and not a rusty bike with a squashed basket. I plan meals. I’m just one step away from a pension and investing in real estate! 


Not really, but things seem more settled somehow. Which is comforting and terrifying in equal parts. I’m still non-functional in Japanese. I’m still illiterate. I still have no idea how to throw out the bedframe and sofa that have been rotting in my garden outside area for the last seven months. But I have satnav. It’s weird. 


Since I arrived my boss has been laying the pressure on for me to stay. I can see it from her point of view – I’m white, I’m “blonde” and I’m already trained. I’m all over the goddamn posters for the school. It’s less hassle for her to just sponsor me for a real work visa when my one year working holiday visa runs out than to import a new foreign teacher.  I thought long and hard about it. The economy in my home country has tanked. The jobs market has faded to zero. I can save a lot of money here. I have a job, an apartment and a car (did I mention the satnav?)


Oh, and I kind of met someone. 


So yeah. One more year.

Getting A Re-Entry Permit

Today I took the day off work and went to get my re-entry permit (sai nyukoku kyoka) You need this if you want to leave Japan and then re-enter during the period of your work or study visa. As I’m going home for Christmas, I need it so as not to be turned away at the airport when I get back. 

You need – 
1. Your gaijin card
2. Your actual passport (not a photocopy, they stick the permit in your passport). 
3. 3000 yen for a single re-entry permit or 6000 yen for a multiple re-entry permit. 
4. A book. It might be a long wait.

I got mine at the Immigration Bureau (nyukoku kanri kyoku) in the nearby Big City. I had to get two trains and then a taxi because I wasn’t quite sure where it was. I was pretty sure that if a foreigner got into a taxi and asked for the Immigration Bureau, they’d know where to go. 
The taxi headed off immediately, and when we were a few streets away from the train station the driver asked if it was in a certain area. Having checked the address, I confirmed. When we got there, it was deserted. Clean rectangle on the side of the wall where the sign had been. 
Taxi driver hummed to himself for a while (meter running all the time) and then took off across town. Eventually we arrived at another building. I’m pretty sure I got screwed. 
Anyway, I arrived during lunch so I filled out my form (you can download and print the form here and bring it with you) and watched some tv. Learned about cleaning products. Saw the bento lunch that was served to world leaders at the G8 summit in Hokkaido this year. 84,000 yen. That’s $840 dollars for a small box of fish, rice and veg. Nice. 
At 1pm exactly the curtains opened. I was elbowed out of the way by a middle-aged Japanese man (what he was doing at the Immigration Bureau I have no idea) but made it to second in the queue. I was told to go to another floor where I had to pay 6000 yen and was given some stamps. I returned, waited a bit for the lady I had been dealing with to be free, handed her my form, my gaijin card (Certificate of Alien Registration) and my passport. She stuck the stamps to the form. I sat down. Watched a little more tv. My name was called and I got my passport and gaijin card back. Walked out of the building. Time? 1.21pm. 
All hail Japanese efficiency. I had brought my ipod and a book to pass the time, but it wasn’t necessary. Obviously, I think it would be a different story in Tokyo or Osaka, but in a less-populated city it was a breeze. 
I walked back into the city centre. I wandered round some shops and marvelled that it’s almost Christmas (it seems to have passed my little town by). I had a coffee from St*rbucks. I got the train home.