I'm in heaven.  Today I stopped by at Don Quixote on Kaheka Street and discovered that Book Off used bookstore has opened inside the supermarket.  I bought a set of Karuta from them.

Karuta is a child's game for learning the Japanese alphabet.  Players race to find the right card as the leader (who has a separate set of reading cards corresponding to the alphabet) reads a passage containing the letter the kids are looking for.  It's a great game concept I've adopted for other learning tasks too, like for teaching the kids multiplication.

Book Off sells used books and other media such as videos, CDs, and video games.  A little more than half of their stock is Japanese.  Book Off has been in business for some time at Shirokiya.  However,  with the new renovation they opted to move to both the Don Quixote store and Ward Warehouse (next to Hakubundo),  

My great news is that I scored a practically new karuta set for me and the kids for just $5.  I'll have to read and understand the cards before using them, and that will help my Japanese studies.  The kids will learn from the game itself, where they will race for the right card.

Book Off is not the only source of great printed material for learning Japanese.  Hawaii Kai Library has a used bookstore in their basement   It is run by the Friends of Hawaii Kai Library and it has a plethora of material, mostly in English but with a handful of Japanese books as well.  Of the Japanese books, a good number of them are children's books written primarily in hiragana and katakana.  Kanji is usually accompanied by alphabet script known as furigana, essentially clues for the reader.  Amazingly, these books usually cost no more than a dollar, with some as inexpensive as 25 cents.

Another great source of printed material is NHK's "easy news" website.  This site contains a lot of Kanji, but it's all accompanied by furigana.  Additionally, it's also a transcript of audio which you can play while reading along.  For adults like me, it's a good way to learn relevant material you might actually get a chance to use.  As much as I like reading children's books from the Hawaii Kai Library bookstore, I doubt I'll ever have to discuss talking dogs, cats, and mice with other adults.  This site takes me a bit longer to translate because the vocabulary is mostly unfamiliar to me.  In any case, it's completely free and there are usually 3-4 current event pieces for every weekday.  

(For translation, I like Jisho.org.  I just cut and paste the Kanji from NHK to find what I need to know.  A word of caution on Japanese translation, Google Translate isn't a very good source and I would never use it to directly translate from English to Japanese and send it out.  For individual words, Google will work in a pinch, but I still prefer Jisho.org.)



In order to type Japanese characters on an English keyboard, you'll need to install language packs.  The link below will guide you through the steps for either a Macintosh (Apple Computer) or Windows PC.

 Japanese Typing Practice for Beginners (Windows and Mac installation instructions included)

for those who use Linux, you can use the following instruction set to install fonts, then use the keyboarding guidelines for Windows.

Adding Japanese Fonts and Typing on Linux


The first link will also take you to a practice site where you can test your ability to type in Japanese.  I'm excerpting the important shortcuts you'll need to know here.  These are tips I wish I had taken the time to learn earlier.

1.  If you need to create a small character such as the っ in あさって, hit "x" or "l" before the letter that you would like to make small.  You can also do double letters, such as asatte, if that's easier for you. 

2.  To toggle between modes for Hiragana, Katakana and English, on a Windows PC you can use:

  • Alt-Caps Lock for カタカナ (Katakana)
  • Ctrl-Caps Lock for ひらがな (Hiragana)
  • Either Shift-Caps Lock or Alt-[tilde] toggles AlphaNumeric English and Hiragana
  • Alt-Shift will toggle between language packs, e.g. Japanese Microsoft IME and English

On an Apple PC you can use:

  • CTRL+SHIFT+j switch to hiragana input
  • CTRL+SHIFT+k switch to katakana input
  • CTRL+SHIFT+; switch to romaji (standard English) input 
  • APPLE + SPACE switch between English/hiragana/katakana

3.  If you hit the space bar, the computer will suggest a series of different Kanji for your typing.  To avoid using Kanji (I'm at the stage where if I use it, I have to look it up to make sure it hasn't changed into something else), don't use the space bar.  Use [enter] instead. Or, you can hit F6 to accept the typing entirely in hiragana or F7 to accept the typing entirely in katakana. F8 will also toggle between Kanji choices.

4.  “Reconverting” is essentially calling back the kanji selection list for a word that has already been entered. Select the word you want to change, right click and choose “Reconversion.” On a Mac you can use two fingers on the touchpad to simulate a right click.

4.  If you make a mistake, don't worry.  In Windows you can still use Ctrl-Z to undo your work.  On the Mac, use Command-Z.

Genki I workbook for Kaiser HS students 2015-2016 

Impressively, Kaiser High School set aside resources to give students their own Genki I workbook.  It's the one that looks like this. The book also comes with a CD and MP3 files. The Genki book is well received and used in many university settings.   At Sacramento State,  Professor Masuyama and Andrea Shea developed a very good website around the curriculum.  On their Usagi-Chan's Genki Resource Page, you'll find both a hiragana and katakana drag and drop game as well as kanji stroke order for the vocabulary.  They also detail how to set up your computer for Japanese character typing.

I must say that the curriculum at Kaiser is rigorous.  Students are expected to know their kana (hiragana and katakana) from the start.  They also begin to learn kanji early on.  (These are the three writing systems, excluding the use of English letters, a system called romaji) So, as a tip to parents concerned with their child's Japanese grade at Kaiser, make sure they know at least their hiragana and katakana before the first day.  Teachers continue to use romaji on handouts, but really, romaji is often considered a crutch and the sooner it's discarded of, the better.  For more on that, read [here] and [here] for starters. Japanesepod101.com is more circumspect about Romaji, they write, "Although some would argue that it is only a crutch and should be avoided, rōmaji does have its place in your repertoire – namely being the primary method of Japanese input for word processors and computers." This too, is true.  Romaji is one of the main ways to type Japanese into your computer or smartphone.

As far as grades go, Japanese is the hardest class my son has.  He tells me that most of the kids with the same teacher are failing; I might even believe him.  To his teacher's credit, she does let the kids do makeup tests and if they're on the borderline for grades, projects that can help push the grade to the next level.  I can empathize with her however.  Despite being a difficult class, it's still something of an ineffective class.  Tests rely on short-term memorization, and language depends on long-term memorization.  By the way, at the beginning level, there is no logic, just memorization.  Students have to reach a certain level before foreign words become logical.  I think looking back, this is where I failed to understand the uneven learning curve language takes.

I remember fondly, being excessively proud when my son wanted to be a cookerman (chef), or when he wanted to help with the brooming (sweeping). What that really meant is that he had found logic in language.  Ultimately, he had to memorize the words cook and broom, but then he could try putting them together into cohesive sentences.  But, that is a long topic for another post. . .

For those curious about Niu Valley Middle School's Japanese classes, they were less rigorous, but equally hard.  There are no textbooks, just handouts and worksheets.  I will say this though, if you get that fairly demanding Japanese teacher who learned Japanese as an adult, take advantage of all the wisdom she has to offer.  I thought quite highly of her.

I could very possibly be the worst advocate of an educational foreign language requirement.  That would apply to any level of education, be it junior high, high school or college.

For me, the issue is context and need.  As the internet has proven to us, you can learn anything, anywhere, and pretty much free.  The question is whether what you learn is valuable.

When my son was five, he was frustrated because his teacher sent him home with a fresh new coloring page as homework.  Apparently, his initial effort was too messy for her taste, and his assignment was to do a better job of it.  He wanted to know WHY he needed coloring skills.  Today, I could probably give him a better answer than I did then -- perhaps he might lose out on an important internship when they found out he couldn't color in the lines?

Again, my son has faced me with the WHY of foreign language learning.  For me, I took French in high school. Since then, I have never used French in any meaningful way, and I have not had to look for the French library either. (Où est la bibliothèque?).

With regard to Japanese however, I must say that living in Hawaii my son does have context; additionally we've added context by scheduling a trip to Japan in the near future.

It is for me, the upcoming trip that fuels my desire to learn conversational Japanese.  That, and perhaps one of those middle-aged -- if only I had tried harder moments.  In any case, if there is one thing I have learned about motherhood, it is that when your children are suffering in their classwork, you are too.  It's better for me to stay at least a few steps ahead so I can be a little useful.

With that, we embark on this foreign language journey in the new era of technology.

A distinguishing characteristic of public education in Hawaii Kai is the availablity of an International Baccalaureate program from kindergarten through high school. Hahaione Elementary, Niu Valley Middle School and Kaiser High School are three of five such public school programs available statewide.

An International Baccalaureate (IB) certification is a recognition that the school meets additional standards set by a nonprofit educational foundation founded in 1968 in Geneva, Switzerland. "Headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, IB programs reach more than 1 million students in 144 countries. IB aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect." 

One of the hallmarks of an IB education is the world language requirement.  At Kaiser High School, the offered languages are Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese.  There is a catch however.  At Niu Valley Middle School which feeds into Kaiser, only Japanese and Mandarin Chinese are offered.  Students moving from Niu Valley to Kaiser can only take the language that they were studying in middle school.

For my child, who intends to go to college on the mainland, this meant that he could not study Spanish; Spanish would have been ideal because of its prevalence throughout most of the Continental United States.

You may be wondering who then, can take Spanish at Kaiser.  The answer is that the student must fall into one of two categories. (1) a new student transferring into the school who did not attend Niu Valley Middle School; or (2) a student whose native language is the one they were studying at Niu Valley.

In any case, this means that my child now needs to work doubly hard to study Japanese.  Having lived on the mainland, none of the language is familiar to him: not the sounds nor the commonly borrowed words we use here in Hawaii.

In any case, this setback seemed the perfect opportunity for me to try and learn Japanese "for real" this time.  As a child, like many Hawaii kids, I attended after-school language class and I studied Japanese in high school.  Still, I'm far from a conversational level of comfort.

As I discover new resources, I'll post them here.  Perhaps it will be useful to others as well.