How to Use Anki to Not Forget Vocabulary

How to Use Anki to Not Forget Vocabulary

Lots of you probably use flashcards already. Why not use really, really clever ones?

Imagine you're studying Japanese vocabulary with a set of flashcards. You go through the cards one by one, putting them into a "pass" pile if you remembered them, and a "fail" pile if you didn't.

When you finish, you work through the "fail" pile again. You get about half of them right.

The next day, you go through all the cards again. It takes ages, and it's boring - you did all these yesterday.

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Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 2) - Mitsuru Nagata


Mitsuru Nagata was born in Kyoto, and works extensively in Spain. His work combines elements of calligraphy with sumi-e (Japanese ink painting) techniques.

He performs at "live-painting" events, where he produces huge calligraphy paintings in front of a live audience.

These large-scale performances are often at festivals:


I love the simplicity of Nagata's work, like this stunning commission, with the traditional thatched roof home in the background:
おかえりなさい (o kaeri nasai) "Welcome home"
(Calligraphy is a good opportunity to get your eyes used to vertical writing, too!)

A post shared by Mitsuru Nagata (@nagatayakyoto) on

If hiragana's not your thing, there's plenty of complex kanji to get your teeth into too.

Like this new year's post, with a pug for the year of the dog (2018):
謹賀新年 (kinga shinnen) "Happy New Year"


I love the movement in these videos, and the combination of precision brushwork and watery ink.

This one's a promo for one of Nagata's live performances in Spain - a beckoning cat saying おいでね! (oide ne!) "Please come!"


Follow Mitsuru Nagata (@nagatayakyoto) on Instagram, or find out more on his website.


Read more in this series: Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 1) - @yogai888emi

Calligraphers of Instagram (bonus pun!) - @yogai888emi again


I can't believe I wrote an entire blog post about calligrapher @yogai888emi and forgot to include this amazing pun.

タイ料理が食べタイ

tai ryouri ga tabe-tai

"I want to eat Thai food."

What's the Japanese word for "Thai?" it's タイ tai.

And how do you say "want to eat" in Japanese? You stick -tai on the end of the verb.

It's funny, right?

Cute, too ♡

Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 1) - @yogai888emi


I absolutely love kanji - Chinese characters that are also used in Japanese writing.

But calligraphy is not my strong point. My writing is good, but not particularly beautiful.

I have, however, recently become slightly obsessed with instagrammers who post Japanese calligraphy photos.

So I thought it might be fun to share some with you!

I first discovered @yogai888emi via this adorable story about falling asleep on the train.

↓ Look at those lovely clean lines. I immediately had serious handwriting envy.

A post shared by 恵美・曄涯 (@yogai888emi) on

Can you read this one?
↓ 掃除 (souji) "cleaning"


If kanji's not your thing, you can find beautiful hiragana and katakana on her page too.

↓ ハナゲ (hanage) "nose hair"



There are videos, too, if you like watching calligraphy. I do - I find it strangely relaxing.

↓ 煮える (nieru) to boil, to be cooked. This one's from the height of summer!



You can find heaps more of her work at @yogai888emi's instagram page. I hope you enjoy exploring it as much as I do.

Just looking at calligraphy won't make your handwriting more beautiful though - unfortunately!

"How did you learn Japanese?"


When I tell people I'm a Japanese teacher they quite often ask: how did you learn Japanese? And I don't find this question particularly easy to answer in an honest way.

Sometimes I give a quick answer which is that I used to live there.

But you can live in Japan for years and not learn Japanese.

I've met lots of people like this (and there's nothing wrong with that, unless learning Japanese is the reason you moved to Japan).

The long and more honest answer to "how come you speak Japanese?" is that I studied a bit in university, then studied a LOT in my free time, got slightly obsessed with kanji, spent a lot of time with Japanese-speaking friends, avoided English-only situations and people who wanted to learn English from me for free, took all the JLPTs, went to Japanese language school full-time for a bit, read books and manga and newspapers (even when I couldn't read them yet), and watched a lot of Japanese TV.


You don't need to be in Japan to do any of those things. You can do all these things right here:

- listen to Japanese audio all day
- learn kanji on the bus (with Anki. Use anki. I'm going to write a blogpost about that too soon)
- find friends who speak Japanese
- watch Japanese stuff on netflix (seriously, there's loads)

Being in Japan was great motivation to learn Japanese for me because I hate not understanding things and find it incredibly frustrating. If you're in Japan and you want to know what's in your lunch or what that sign over there says or what the person next to you on the train is saying, you need to understand Japanese. That was a big push for me.


But you definitely don't need to live in Japan to get motivated.

I also started off working in English conversation school which was a good opportunity to listen to the kind of Japanese that five-year-olds speak. And one of the many good things about conversation school is you have the mornings off so I would get up and STUDY. Every day. Forever.

But I also probably have more free time now than I did in Japan.

You don't need to live in Japan to learn Japanese. There are people all over the world who learn languages without living in the country the language comes from. I've met lots of people like this and had the pleasure of teaching some of them.

(The other thing I tell people when they ask how I learned Japanese is that I didn't learn it. I'm still learning.)

Why Does The Japanese Language Have So Many Alphabets?

Why Does Japanese Have So Many "Alphabets"? - Step Up Japanese

My students ask a lot of good questions. And one that sent us off on a bit of a tangent a few weeks ago was:

“How old is Japanese writing?”

That'd make a good blog post, I thought (after we talked about it a bit).

So, let’s take a whistle-stop tour of Japanese history with a very brief introduction to Japanese writing systems!


Until the 1st or 2nd century, Japan had no writing system. Then, sometime before 500AD, kanji - Chinese characters - made its way to Japan from China (probably via Korea).

These characters were originally used for their meaning only - they weren't used to write native Japanese words.

↓ And at that time, Japanese writing looked like this. Look, it looks like Chinese!


But it was inconvenient not being able to write native Japanese words down, and so people began to use kanji to represent the phonetic sounds of Japanese words, not only the meaning. This is called manyougana and is the oldest native Japanese writing system.

For example, in manyougana the word asa (morning) was written 安佐 (that's a kanji for the a sound - 安 - and another for the sa sound - 佐). In modern Japanese we'd use 朝, the kanji that means "morning" for asa.

Problem was, manyougana used multiple kanji for each phonetic sound - over 900 characters for the 90 phonetic sounds in Japanese - so it was inefficient and time-consuming.

Gradually, people began to simplify kanji characters into simpler characters - that's where hiragana and katakana came from.

Katakana means "broken kana" or "fragmented characters". It was developed by monks in the 9th century who were annotating Chinese texts so that Japanese people could read them. So katakana was really an early form of shorthand.

Each katakana character comes from part of a kanji: for example, the top half of 呂 became katakana ロ (ro), the left side of 加 became katakana カ (ka).

↓ Each katakana comes from part of a kanji.


Women in Japan, on the other hand, wrote in cursive script, which was gradually simplified into hiragana. That's why hiragana looks all loopy and squiggly. Like katakana, hiragana characters don't have meaning - they just indicate sound.

↓ How kanji (top) evolved into manyougana (middle in red), and then hiragana (bottom).


Because it was simpler than kanji, hiragana was accessible for women who didn't have the same education level as men. The 11th-century classic The Tale of Genji was written almost entirely in hiragana, because it was written by a female author for a female audience.

What would 12th-century people in Japan think of my students, 800 years later, learning hiragana as they take their first steps into the Japanese language?

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