If you just love missing your bus because you waited in the wrong place, overpaying for things because you can't remember the exchange rate, or wandering around for hours looking for a wi-fi spot in vain - stop reading now, because this one's not for you.
I'd like to share with you five super-useful apps to download before you travel to Japan!
Whatever you've got planned in Japan, these apps should get you well-prepared.
In my second year of university, when I should have been revising for my Japanese exam, I borrowed the Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke (もののけ姫 Mononoke-hime)from a friend and watched that instead.
It was way too fast for me, and I didn’t understand anything. I think I literally caught about two words. It definitely didn’t help with my exam. If anything it just left me feeling a bit discouraged.
I should have watched Mononoke with subtitles. Or, probably, I should have watched something easier.
I gave up on watching Japanese films for a while after that. But later on, I discovered Japanese TV, and found it a fun and interesting way to develop my listening skills. As one of my monthly challenges this year, I decided to watch Japanese TV every day for a month.
I thought this would be easy – I already watch quite a lot of Japanese TV. But just like my exam “revision”, it didn’t exactly go to plan…
Did you know that Japan has its own numbering system for the years? As well as the Gregorian calendar (the same calendar used in the west, the one that says it's 2019 now), Japan uses another system which names years after the reign of the emperor.
(The western calendar is commonly used too - and the two systems can be used interchangeably.)
Many people believe you need to live abroad to get speaking practice in a foreign language, but this isn’t true.
Similarly, people often assume that if you in Japan, like I did, you’ll pick up the language easily. But that’s not necessarily true either.
If you speak English, it’s possible - indeed easy - to live in another country for years and not become fluent in the language.
I didn't make any year-long New Years’ Resolutions this year. Instead, I decided to set myself some monthly language-related challenges. I’ll decide them as the year goes on, and I’ll probably do one every other month.
In January, I decided to speak Japanese every day for a month.
I’m not a particularly loud person, but some parts of my Japanese classes are quite loud. We sing and dance, talk and play games. We’ve even been asked to keep the noise down before by a group in the next room who were having a meeting (sorry about that!)
But in summer 2018, I ran a very quiet course. Students worked alone, in a comfortable silence.
And I was the teacher, but I mostly sat reading a hand-stapled book, looking up only to check that students were happily entertaining themselves.
This was Tadoku - a reading class with a difference.
Near Kumadani-ji, temple number 8, we had stopped in front of some glorious cherry blossom, and I got chatting to two older gentlemen who were walking the trail. One told me he had never spoken to a gaijin-san, foreigner, before.
(The cynic in me wonders if that’s really true, or if by “foreigner” he meant “white person”…)
We took some pictures in front of the cherry blossom, and walked up the hill together.
Further up the road, a lady came out of her house and gave us some hard-boiled sweets ...