2014-10-20

Walking Away From JLPT

“Have you ever taken the JLPT?” or “What level are you?” These are common questions when Japanese learners meet for the first time. The JLPT is a convenient way to judge a learner's ability, but how reliable is it? Can a multiple choice test without a speaking component effectively measure someone’s grasp of nihongo?

Despite taking a year to prep specifically for the N1, I felt my Japanese ability deteriorate during these efforts. How ironic is that? I was learning grammar, words, and expressions in my N1 textbooks that I'd never seen nor heard in native Japanese. Not surprisingly, when using these new expressions from textbooks around Japanese people, they often looked confused, saying “We usually don’t say that.” That’s not something you want to hear after you’ve reviewed an awkward expression hundreds of times on Anki.

I thought long and hard about the necessity of an N1 credential. I talked with several friends and coworkers about it. Everyone gave me similar versions of the same advice, “You don’t need it,” or “Don’t bother.” My mind was made up before I asked, but this made me feel better about my decision. I decided to walk away from the JLPT.

Have I given up on Japanese? Not at all. I’m enjoying Japanese literature, movies, TV shows, and video games natively … full of motivation to continue learning. I make a note of the words and expressions I don’t know. Once a week, I add them to an Anki deck. I review the deck in five to ten minute blocks (timeboxing) at least once a day. I feel a huge weight lifted off my shoulders not having to think about the JLPT anymore. Will I take the JLPT N1 again in the future? Probably not.

2014-08-20

Woodworking

I've always enjoyed making things with wood. When I was a kid, I used to make swords and shields in my grandfather's basement. He often scolded me because he didn't like me playing with his power tools as a kinder—understandably. Now, I'm going on 31 and building basic furniture like shelves and tables.


I restarted woodworking a few years ago because I wanted customized furniture. It can be quite difficult finding the right piece to fit into a narrow Japanese apartment, not to mention finding something aesthetically suitable within a reasonable price range. I've also noticed the woodworking process to be quite therapeutic. It's relaxing and slows down your mind. I've been increasing my basic tool collection over the last few years. My first major purchase was a Ryobi power drill. My most recent inspiring yet inexpensive addition was a Kreg Jig Mini. So far I've used it for raised garden beds, reinforcing sliding drawers, joining boards together (flat and 90º angles), etc.


My next project will be more technical and require a few more tools. I'm going to make a simple farmhouse table, so I'll need an orbit sander to even and smooth the surfaces. I'm going to keep the wood's natural color and finish it with polyurethane. I'm thinking of making something like this.


There's something appealing to me about using your own handmade furniture in a home. Even if your plan is the same as another, your piece will always look original and have its own character. This adds to the atmosphere of your interior, and your pieces are great conversation topics when you have company.

2014-07-14

Japanese JLPT N1 Revisited

2013 First Try

I took the JLPT N1 for the first time in the summer of 2013. I hadn't prepared much for it. A few weeks before the test I bought an N1 prep textbook … I started using it a few days before the test. Though I studied vocabulary with Anki and read Japanese material regularly, I often struggled with newspaper articles or longer specific materials.

On the practice test included with the prep guide, I scored poorly on the general knowledge and reading parts (under 50%), but quite high on the listening part (over 90%). N1 grammar was really hard for me. Despite reading in Japanese every day, watching a lot of Japanese TV, and interacting with a variety of Japanese people on daily basis—there were  so many grammatical forms I had never seen before. Ironically, asking Japanese people for help with these structures was often fruitless. Some Japanese people had trouble with these structures. Luckily, I felt the listening part was too easy. It didn't match the difficulty of the rest of the test. I wasn't expecting to pass the real test, but I wanted to test the waters.

I was assigned to take N1 at Seijoh University in Aichi, a university at the top of a mountain with no place to buy food or snacks in sight, so bring something light to snack on or something to drink for halftime. I was in a room with about 60 heads. Fifty of those heads looked and sounded Han Chinese. The rest was a mix of Middle Eastern women, South East Asian, and one British-looking guy.

My feeling after the real test was the same after the practice test. "I think I did poorly on the general knowledge and reading, but I'm pretty sure I aced the listening." I was confident about all of my answers except for one on the listening. I didn't think my high listening score expectations would compensate for my poorly done first half though. A pass would be possible, but I was expecting a fail.

The results, however, were the opposite of what I expected. I did reasonably better than I expected on the first half, and much worse than I expected on the second half. What's up with that? Did I fill in the answers in the wrong place? Most likely no, because I'm OCD careful, especially with things like this. Still to this present day, I wonder what happened. I failed the test but didn't even flinch after my results of failure. I was ready to try again.

2014 Second Try

I started prepping for my second try not long after my first try. I felt my biggest weekest was N1 grammar so I started looking for help online. My most used resource was Nihongonomori.com. I put all of their N1 grammar video points into an Anki grammar deck. I reviewed this until I mastered it. My next step was to buy an N1 vocabulary book and to add all of its content into an Anki vocabulary deck. In addition, I also read a lot of online material and saved all of the words I didn't understand into my vocabulary deck. I tried to review this deck as much as possible. It will be a forever ongoing process. Though I continued to read a lot in Japanese as usual, I decided to get a reading comprehension textbook, specifically for the JLPT N1. I used this to get used to the format of the reading section. After about one year of prep, this time I felt a lot more prepared for the test.

Like before, I was assigned to take the test at Seijoh University. I was happy I wouldn't have to worry about finding an unfamiliar location, but disappointed because it's troublesome to get there and there are no local amenities. The journey was worth it though. I took the N1 in a room filled with girls that could have all been models. The majority were from China and South Korea, but there were also beauties from India, the Middle East, and South East Asia as well. Before the test began, I couldn't help but look around. I had never been in a room with such a high ratio of beautiful women. Maybe they were in Japan on a modeling visa? On to the test….

The JLPT organization has been upgrading its security procedures recently. Not only are we told not to bring food or drinks to the test site, but this time, examinees were required to roll up their sleeves and show their arms. Were you expecting us to write 5,000 vocabulary entries onto our forearms? And if there's a clock in the room, why do you cover it up with a sheet of paper? The examinees who didn't bring a watch had to ask the examiners directly if they wanted to know the time. Don't cover up the clock! I understand trying to prevent cheating, but is this really going to help? Also, we had to put our mobile phones in an envelope then put that on the desk. If it rings or vibrates during the test, you get a red card and you're out!

My biggest problem this time was not the actual test though. I was fighting a different battle. The day before the test (and the day of), I had considerably less calories than usual. Not for any reason in particular, but just due to circumstance. The morning of the test, I had a regular breakfast, i.e., bacon and eggs with leafy vegetables on the side. For lunch though, at the test site with no amenities, I decided just to wing it and not eat anything. I was performing normally for the first half, but when I got to the end of the second half, I lost my ability to concentrate. The last two listening questions were noise to me. I didn't want to hear the dialogs. I found myself thinking about why the wedding reception I attended last night didn't have much food. I was planning to pig out, but these mini dishes of pastas and salads were not what I wanted. Ding! Select the correct answer a), b), c), or d). I didn't even hear the question! Let this be a lesson to you. Make sure you have some brain food with you for halftime. Don't bring anything too heavy though. You don't want your body putting all its energy into digestion when you're trying to take a listening test.

2014 Final Thoughts

Despite very little of the grammar I studied so hard was not on the test, nor were the thousands of Anki vocabulary cards I reviewed, the general knowledge part went well. I'm thinking I got at least 50% but no more than 70%. The reading part caused me a little trouble because I didn't manage my time well. For one of the longer passages, I just chose the four answers I thought fitted best, without actually reading the passage. The last two questions (about a credit card application?), I just chose the answers without even looking at the questions. The examiners told us to stop as I just started reading this part. However, I was focused and felt confident about the rest of the reading section. I predict (hope for) a 50–70% on the reading part. The listening part felt easy for me, except for the last part due to my loss of concentration. I've always felt in comparison to the general knowledge and especially the reading, that the listening part is generously easy. A few other people have told me the same. I'm expecting at least 70% for the listening. Though who knows what'll happen. Last time my predictions were terribly off. We'll see at the end of August. I'm happy that I can just read, enjoy, and learn Japanese naturally now without having to think of the JLPT.

2013-11-01

Guys Learning Japanese Podcast

Nick and I started working together about six months ago. Soon after meeting, we both noticed one of the ways we relate is our devotion and commitment to learning Japanese. Since we’re both students of the language and often talk about our study experience, we thought it may be useful to make a podcast of our guided conversations. The Guys Learning Japanese podcast is available via RSSiTunes, and YouTube. Search results should appear directly in your iOS Podcast app if you search GLJ.


We’re planning to do at least ten episodes on various topics. So far we’ve talked about study tools, motivation, leveling up, kanji, frustration, etc. In the future we hope to be doing Q&A, i.e., answering the questions that listeners send to us here, and answering them on the show.

This podcast may be useful for you if you’re a beginner, but it’ll probably be more entertaining if you’re intermediate or advanced. We will not be teaching you how to introduce yourself in Japanese, nor how to order in a restaurant. This podcast is literally two guys talking about learning Japanese. If you’re learning Japanese, think of it as a conversation that you may benefit from overhearing. Listen to the podcast while you’re folding your laundry, commuting, or doing something that permits multitasking. The same episodes are also available on YouTube, so you can play them as background noise while you’re browsing the web.

Subscribe, like, rate, and share. Email us your questions at gljpodcast@gmail.com.

2013-07-30

Mismanagement

Disclaimer: Written off the top of my head. No sources, nor direction, nor objectivity. Sounds like good journalism!

NOVA

Long ago, I was an instructor at the biggest eikaiwa school in Japan. My branch, as well as many other branches, were full of students. The students paid a hefty tuition. The teachers were underpaid. The Japanese staff were overworked and especially underpaid. Yet, this seemingly lucrative company went bankrupt. I could never understand this.

Square

During my grade school years, Square, also know as Squaresoft, was like the dream team of video game companies. Just about any game published by Square in the 90s was guaranteed to be a hit. Square put out a lot of story driven and life changing games. I was not alone in feeling this way. Friends in my neighborhood, friends that were born and raised in Japan, Taiwan, the USA, and Australia have all felt this way.
In 2003 Square merged with Enix. At this time, possibly a bit earlier (Final Fantasy Spirits Within…), the production of this newly merged company seemed greatly inferior to its past productions (e.g. Final Fanstasy X-2, Final Fantasy XI) SE showed some financial success with remakes of their previous games, but I think they did very little in terms of making new games. One thing that a lot of people complained about was,
Why no remake Final Fantasy VII?
Despite many fans begging for this, SE basically answered, "It would use up too much of our resources to remake a game like FF7…" Yet SE has been investing resources in developing new games, spinoffs, and remakes of other games (from Square's past). However, if there were a FF7 remake, it would definitely get the sales, not only from retro gamers, but also from newer gamers that never touched the older systems. I feel the Final Fantasy franchise has been tarnished since the merger. In my opinion, Final Fantasy XII was their only decent game made after the merger.

Atlus

This is the company that made the Persona series, the game with a cult-like following. Atlus was bought out by another company, then (its parent company) declares bankruptcy. Yes, maybe their games were maybe a little too niche, and it's been said that the parent company was suspected of improper accounting. How unfortunate. Game developers taking the hit for their management's shady practices.

Olympus

Here is story of financial fraud. When a newly hired foreign CEO was following up on what seemed like financial losses, the trail led him to being sacked. You see, the CEO was just a facade. According to several sources, he was appointed to the position because he could be easily controlled. The real power was in the company's corporate governance. The board of members fired the new CEO because he discovered the company's losses were being hidden by the investors in a tobashi scheme. The Olympus share prices have dropped greatly since the scandal.

2013-06-19

Updates

I got a PS3. I'm looking forward to replaying some classic PlayStation games made by Square. I've already bought and started FF6. MGS4 is on my list of actual PS3 games to play. Any other suggestions?

I started surfing. A student that became my friend invited me and lent me a board and a wetsuit. I managed to ride some really tough waves on my first day at it. I want to get my own board and go at least once a week during this summer—I won't be neglecting skateboarding either.

I got the details for my JLPT N1 exam. I'll be taking it at Seijoh University, which is in Tōkai City (about one hour from Nagoya). I've barely studied since my previous post. I'm not expecting a high grade, maybe not even a pass. Work has been busier than ever, so it's hard to focus on studying recently.

After wanting a power drill for a few years, I've finally decided to splurge and buy a proper one. I'll be using it to make shelves, tables, cabinets, etc. I'm also planning to buy a power saw within the next few weeks. I should probably get it after the N1 exam.

2013-04-23

JLPT N1

I've decided to take the Japanese N1 exam this summer—ready or not. I have three friends that passed N1. In chronological order they are a Chinese guy, a fluent in English German guy, and a Taiwanese-American girl. They've all told me, "You'll be fine," and "It'll be easy for you." I hope that's not tatemae.

Recently I put my Anki RtK1 study (jōyō kanji) on hold, and I started a new Anki deck for N1 vocabulary. So far the studying has been going really well and quite quickly, much more enjoyable than RtK1. The only time consuming part is adding the data to the decks. I'm really glad for Anki's Japanese Support. I also added show furigana on rollover, so I won't be able to see the reading of the kanji unless I put my cursor on them. This should force me to remember the compounds, rather than use furigana as a crutch.

After I become proficient in my N1 vocabulary, I'll take a mock test. I bought a few mock tests in late winter 2012, but I haven't looked at them since… The last thing I plan to study is grammar. I may skip it if I do well on the mock tests.

2013-03-26

Retrospective Virtual Gaming

I just recently got a Wii. My wife and I had originally bought it for her mother to exercise and increase her range of motion with Wii Fit and Wii Resort. Unfortunately she never used it.

She had the Wii for about three years. She used it no more than five times. I suggested to my wife, "If your mother's not using it, we might as well take it. I'd like to try some Wii games." My wife agreed, and her mother was happy to give it to us. I guess she didn't like her birthday present…

My wife and I have been playing it for a few months now. We currently own Wii Resort and Wii Fit (bought for her mother) and New Super Mario Bros. Wii which I bought last month for my wife (she loves Mario). She's playing it more than I am.

One thing that just recently caught my attention is the Wii's Virtual Console. I never knew we could purchase older games for NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, and Nintendo 64. This greatly increased the Wii's value! When I finish FF4 on DS, I'd really like to replay these NES classics:
  • River City Ransom
  • Final Fantasy
  • Final Fantasy II
  • Final Fantasy III
  • Megaman 2
  • Ninja Gaiden
  • Double Dragon II
  • Bionic Commando
  • Metroid
The SNES list will come at a later time. 

I've loved video games since the late 80's, but I only really got into gaming on the original PlayStation, especially during Square's golden era of RPGs. For this reason, I'm planning to buy a PlayStation 3. Because just like Wii's Virtual Console, PlayStation 3 has a PlayStation Network with a library of all the original PlayStation games. There are so many games I would like to replay—especially in Japanese. It'll be a new experience. I'm really looking forward to playing Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy VI.

2013-01-20

My Supplementation Saga

Intro

I used to be a supplement junkie. I used to have nearly all letters of the alphabet and all minerals of the periodic table in my supplement box. I also used to take protein, creatine, and occasionally glutamine, too. I took this combo for increasing athletic performance and increasing speed of recovery.

I never took all my supplements at the same time, and I never took them all every day, but my main reason for having so many was for self-experimentation. I won't go into the details of it, but after years of self-experimentation, I've come to a conclusion:

The majority of supplements are unnecessary; some supplementation could even be harmful. Minor tweeks to your diet and lifestyle will give you much better results.   
But, in my case, there are some supplements I think are worth taking. These are the ones that I am currently taking:

Vitamin D

This is the only one I take regularly. I take 1000–3000 IUs a day in winter. Ideally I would like to get all of it from the sun, but in winter I don't have many chances to get outside when the sun is at peak hours. When I'm not supplementing with vitamin D in winter, I get sick more often and I feel depressed. SAD? I think so. I feel worse in every possible way without vitamin D. I get plenty of vitamin D from the sun in the sunny months, so no supplementation is necessary for me in summer.

Here is an amazing presentation, “Vitamin D and Prevention of Chronic Diseases.” It's a captivating and occasionally hilarious 60 min. video—seriously.

Fish Oil

If you're living in an industrialized nation you should probably worry about your omega 3/6 ratio. A 1:1 ratio is said to dramatically reduce markers of inflammation. Unfortunately Omega 6s are everywhere. They're in vegetable oils, food at restaurants, soy, and grain fed livestock. Being exposed to these are going to throw off your natural omega 3/6 ratio. I eat fish, rich in omega 3s, at least three times a week, but this is still not enough for me to get near a 1:1 ratio. Ideally I'd like to remove the inflammatory omega 6s, but it's quite hard. So to balance the scale I have to supplement.

When I was younger and skateboarding, I put lots of pressure and impact on my joints. I used to always have trouble with inflammation. I was sore for days after a session. Now, much older, I can skateboard for longer and not feel any pain from inflammation the next day. Is this thanks to fish oil supplementation and trying to avoid omega 6s? Perhaps.

Another reason I take fish oil is because I believe it helps with cognition. Maybe it's a placebo effect, but when I'm supplementing with it, I do feel an increase in my concentration ability. It also has many other benefits. See here.

Creatine

It gets you jacked, it gives you explosive athletic performance, and it has almost no negative side-effects. I've been taking it intermittently since high school. I've always felt better and stronger when I have creatine in me.

Protein Powder

For building muscle mass and speeding up recovery. I bought a 3 kg bag about a year ago. I stopped taking it regularly because I don't like the bloated feeling from getting calories in liquid form. Also, I'd rather get my protein from natural food, rich in vitamins and minerals, too. I'll take it only on physically strenuous days I'm desperate for time, protein, and calories.

Conclusion

If you're following a Paleo template or Primal diet, you probably won't have to supplement. However, vitamin D supplementation is recommended if you work indoors during the day and/or live far away from the equator. You should be able to get 10 minutes of sun a day, during the sunny months, right?

Eat well, supplement less.

2013-01-02

Fav 5 Podcasts


This is without a doubt my favorite. Robb and Greg give you a perfect blend of health and humor. They are both pretty detailed, clear, and occasionally snarky with their explanations of optimizing health and fitness. I started listening to it only a few months ago. I've already caught up to episode 103. Yes, I like it.


I started listening to this one about two years ago. I have probably listened to over a few hundred of its episodes. Josh and Chuck are not experts in the subjects they present. They research and write articles for howstuffworks.com. They podcast on the articles written by howstuffworks.com's researchers.


I started listening to this one over two years ago. This was one of the first podcasts I began listening to regularly. Some of the episodes hit me deeply. Some of my favorite episodes were Lucy, Sleep, and Words. I could easily list many more.

This is a science heavy podcast about optimizing health and nutrition. It may not be for everyone, but if you're a health and nutrition geek, or into Paleo, you'll like it. I've only been listening to it for a few months, but I'm enjoying it.


This is another notable mention. It's easily digestible by all kinds of people. You won't be overwhelmed by it being too science heavy, it has smooth transitions, and it has clips from all kinds of different people. The host, Angelo, likes to think about health and nutrition issues from many different angles. He's quite objective and logical.