Is it Shinbun or Shimbun?

Is it Shinbun or Shimbun?

It’s both. And it’s neither.

Beginner students often ask whether “shinbun” or “shimbun” (the word for “newspaper” in Japanese) is correct.

You’ll see both spellings...and books about the Japanese language don’t seem to be able to agree either.

If you look at the two most popular Japanese beginner textbooks, Genki has “shinbun”, whereas Japanese for Busy People has “shimbun” and also “kombanwa”.

But why?

Read More

What’s the difference between sensei and kyōshi?

What’s the difference between sensei and kyōshi?

The word "sensei" is pretty well-known even among people who don't speak Japanese, but did you know that you shouldn't use sensei about yourself?

Here's what the textbook has to say:

"Use 'kyōshi' for yourself and the respectful 'sensei' for another person."

That's a pretty good starting point. But there's a bit more to it than that.

Read More

Three Ways You Should Be Using The Japanese Honorific お (Part 1)

Three Ways You Should Be Using The Japanese Honorific お (Part 1)

Fairly early on in your Japanese-learning journey, you'll learn some set phrases like:

o-genki desu ka? (How are you?)

o-shigoto wa nan desu ka? (What's your job?)

Usually I teach that the “o” in o-genki desu ka makes the question more polite. This is true, but it’s not the whole story.

Read More

Japanese Does Have Plurals Really


After the excitement of our first school Summer Barbecue, I spent last Sunday in bed watching one of my favourite films in Japanese.

It's not a Japanese film though. I watched Hot Fuzz (or to give its Japanese title ホット・ファズ -俺たちスーパーポリスメン! "Hot Fuzz: We Are The Super-Policemen!")

Watching dubbed British comedies might not be the "purest" way to practise Japanese. But if you enjoy it, it's definitely worth doing. Dubbed films are easy to watch, too, assuming you've seen the film before and know the plot already.

Anyway, there's a little scene in the Hotto Fazzu dub that's a nice example of Japanese plurals in action, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Angel and Danny are in the corner shop, and the shopkeeper asks them:

殺人犯たち捕まらないの?
satsujinhan tachi tsukamaranai no?

"No luck catching them killers then?"

"Killers" is translated as 殺人犯たち satsujinhan-tachi.

You take the word 殺人犯 satsujinhan (murderer) and add the suffix たち tachi - which makes it plural.

See? Japanese does have plurals! ...when it needs them.


Danny doesn't notice the shopkeeper's slip-up (she knows more than she's letting on), and replies:

人しかいないんだけど。
hitori shika inai n da kedo.

"It's just the one killer actually."



PC Angel, of course, mulls over the shopkeeper's words, and realises their significance: there's more than one killer on the loose.

It's the turning point of the movie, and it rests on a plural. Yay!

You can use たち like this when you need to indicate plurality:

私たち watashi-tachi we, us (plural)
あなたたち anata-tachi you (plural)
ジョンたち jon-tachi John and his mates

It's not common, but it does exist. Keep an eye out for it! You never know, you might just solve a murder case.


What's the Difference Between Mina and Minna (And Why Does It Matter Anyway?)


皆さん、こんにちは。

Hello everybody!

If you watch Japanese tv or anime (or are paying attention in class) you've probably come across the Japanese word 皆さん (mina-san) meaning "all" or "everybody".

But what's the difference between みな and みんな? What's みなさま all about? And ... does it actually matter?

皆さん Mina-san


Mina means "everybody", and it's commonly used with "-san" on the end (the same suffix you put on people's names to be polite).

みなさん is often used when addressing a group of people, especially when they don't know either other too well or the situation calls for a slightly more formal greeting.

I find myself using みなさん a bunch at the beginning of term when welcoming students back and/or trying to get you all to listen to me.

As you might expect, YouTubers say みなさんこんにちは a lot too ("HI EVERYONE").

Check out the first five seconds of this video from Ari Keita:

↓ はい、みなさんこんにちはありけいたです!



These example sentences from jisho.org should give you a good idea of the kinds of situation when みなさん is used:


みんな Minna


Also common is みんな which is just a spoken form of みな. Some people will tell you minna is more casual than mina and technically they're right.

Examples from jisho seem to show us that people also use minna when they talk about everyone:



みんなさん Minna-san


You can't mix them up and use みんなさん though. That's technically incorrect.

Probably no one will mind or notice in a casual situation, but if you're trying to be polite, stick with みなさん.

Or you can even go more polite with...

皆様 Mina-sama


In more formal situations, the -san suffix is switched up to the more polite/formal -sama.

Mina-sama functions a lot like "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN", and is used in writing, and in announcements:


Why does this matter? Well really, which word you use is going to depend on the situation.

Mina-sama is super formal and it would sound weird if you use it with your friends. Likewise, minna is pretty casual and might not be appropriate in a business setting.

A lot of gaining fluency in a language is about choosing the right word for the right situation.

Mina-san, if you'd like to learn more Japanese with me, click here to check out my new Japanese language courses in Brighton!

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?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -