December 23, 2011: Christmas Party 2011 Plans

This is the prototype snowman ornament that I made. Tomorrow, we will make roughly 40 of these.
Here are my plans for the Christmas party tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will wake up bright and early (around 10:30 AM, which is early for me, and arrive at Big Apple around 11:00 AM, help Kaori set up and come up with more detailed plans for the Christmas party, and don the Santa suit that she has on hand...

The two most worrisome things (the arts and crafts activity and the game) are now squared away. The game will be a relay race in which two teams run across the room, bringing one part of a snowman on each pass. After 11 passes, a team will have enough snowman parts to build a snowman that is between one and two meters tall (mostly consisting of white plastic bags filled with wadded up paper, with arms that are fallen branches, a top hat, etc.).

The arts and crafts activity is pictured at the left. Although I have made the prototype, a task for tomorrow will be to prepare all the supplies and get the arts and crafts activity ready to go (we will need more supplies, and I will need to buy these at the 100 yen shop).

Another thing I need to do is find the story that I will read to them. We already have a Christmas book and a Christmas story print-out from a previous teacher, but I'd like to find something better, if possible. So I guess I'll go hunting for that, now.

December 22, 2011: Kanji Kentei Go-kyuu Registration Complete, and My Plans for AJATT Starting in January 2012
Back in October, I passed the KanKen Nana-kyuu, certifying me for 640 kanji. But I don't feel that properly certifies my ability in kanji (I estimate I know more like ~1,000+). Therefore, today (the last day to do so), I registered for the Kanji Kentei Go-kyuu, which will certify me for 1,006 kanji if I pass it. Here is the receipt that arrived in my e-mail inbox:

This test will probably be much harder than the previous one I took, beyond just having an extra 366 kanji. The last one certifies a fourth grade graduate kanji literacy level; this one certifies enough kanji to enter middle school in Japan. It won't be easy considering I have been here less than a year. But I got 92.5% on the nana-kyuu, and I hope I can repeat a strong performance again on this test.

Once I pass this (hopefully), I intend to de-emphasize kanji and mainly focus on oral Japanese instead of just written. My literacy level is already FAR beyond my oral communication level.

Recently, I have been thinking about going "AJATT" (a system known as "All Japanese, All The Time"). AJATT is a specific immersion-based language learning method that I have been learning about which is essentially to surround oneself in Japanese and only Japanese as much as possible, at all times. And I think I need this. My apartment has essentially become a one-man American ethnic enclave — I spend most non-work hours there and watch American TV shows, chat on English-language BBs, and use, honestly, very little Japanese at all.

Over the past year or so, I have begun to radically reevaluate my language learning techniques. In the past, especially for Korean and the first stage of Japanese, I used a very scientific method — SRS (Spaced Repetition System) programs on the computer for large amounts of time per day, JLPT list-based vocabulary acquisition, etc. But you know what? I have met lots of people who are fluent in a foreign language and didn't have any fancy-schmancy methods whatsoever. I've met tons of Mormon missionaries, marriage immigrant housewives, etc. who speak Japanese/Chinese/etc. fluently or near-fluently, and they usually don't have very sophisticated methods, and often don't even study very hard. My English student with the best English (Yuu-chan, basically fluent in English) almost never even takes notes on new words in class! It almost seems as if these scientific methods have virtually zero effect, because all the people who are actually fluent aren't using them...

I think that starting in 2012, I just need to tone down the "scientific" language-learning methods (that work well for kanji and spelling, but little else) and do some good old-fashioned immersion, AJATT-style. Of course I won't be able to completely eliminate English from my daily routine (since I am, after all, an English teacher), and there will be times when it is just better to use English, but I am still thinking that if I plan my immediate environment properly, I might be able to average 70 hours of exposure per week (3,640 hours per year).

In other words, I think it's time to de-emphasize the fancy computer programs like Anki, the word lists, the textbooks, the emphasis on kanji learning, etc. and just go for full-on immersion starting in January around the time the KanKen is over.

I've been thinking of something like this:
168 hours in the week:
-56 hours spent sleeping
-35 hours spent using English at work as a basic job requirement
-7 hours of time per week that I absolutely must use English (communicating with family members, carrying out highly sensitive business where error is not an option, etc.)
=70 hours that I can theoretically immerse myself in Japanese, AJATT-style, per week

I think I will need to structure my apartment to be conducive to this. Keep all my English books, movies, games, etc. locked up in one room and forbid myself from accessing them except during those seven special English hours per week. Then I'll have no choice but to use Japanese.

The computer will be the most problematic thing. I can't simply lock it away, because there are so many important things I must do on the Internet (including Japanese resources like Anki and the Kanji Kentei lists). However, I'll have to find a solution to using the computer mostly in Japanese, and a way to discipline myself to only do English things like English CNN or Hotmail when they are absolutely necessary. Not sure exactly how I'll do this yet. Maybe I can set up some kind of firewall or net nanny system that only allows access to a few select sites without inputting a password? Not sure yet.

December 17, 2011: PlayStation Vita Released Today, and I Picked One Up
Today was the release date (in Japan) of the PlayStation Vita, the (portable) successor to the PlayStation Portable (PSP). This system will not be released in North America or Europe or Australia until February of next year, so for nearly the next three months, I can enjoy a system that is currently available only in Asia.

Here is the sign that was out front of the Geo Amusement Developer store where I bought it. The sign says that they have 17 3G-enabled PSVs in stock, and only six non-enabled ones in stock. I chose to go with a 3G-enabled one, even at the hefty price tag of 29,880 yen (almost $400), because I want to get a regular cell phone plan next year, and the 3G on this PSV will allow me to avoid having to buy another cell phone.

And here are some other images from the unboxing and test run process:

I haven't used it much (and don't own any games yet), but I will say that the screen is incredibly clear. Anyways, enjoy the pictures...

December 16, 2011: Re-entry Permit Quest
I went to the Yokkaichi branch of the Nagoya immigration office today to get my reentry permit. It cost 3,000 yen. Although it's a pain in the ass to have to get a reentry permit, I guess it'll make a good souvenir, because starting next year, Japan will abolish reentry permits and no longer issue or require them. So I guess that in 20 or 30 years, when I'm sitting around having beers with my other gaijin friends, I can pull out my old passport and say "Hey, look, I was here back in the day when we still needed reentry permits to leave and reenter the country!

The immigration office is located on a small island connected to Yokkaichi by a bridge (because it is the immigration office for Yokkaichi Port). While I was crossing the bridge, there was an incredible rainbow:

And here is a wonderful trash can I saw inside McDonald's last night...

December 10, 2011: UPDATE 2: Big Consumer Purchase Decisions
This month is going to be a very, very expensive month. Here are some things I am either definitely planning to buy, or may buy, this month:

So yeah, it's going to be a really expensive month. I have already decided I'm definitely going to buy the PlayStation Vita, and I'll definitely spend money on my pants (whether I go the mending route or the new pants route). The new CD-RW/DVD combo drive is certain, too, since right now I have no ability to use optical discs (yikes). The two big things I'm debating with myself are the treadmill and the digital TV, though.

Let me talk about the digital TV first. Yikes, so many options. Essentially, I have four basic options:
1seg Digital TV
  • Cheap (I can get a standalone 1seg TV set for only 10,800 yen or an adapter to watch 1seg TV on a mobile device for about half that price)
  • Access to 1seg programming, a TV standard with no known successor (unlike full seg HDTV standards that will likely be superseded by 3D TV in a few years, 1seg TV is probably here to stay for many years without being replaced for a while)
  • Portable
  • No access to standard full seg channels: I'm not sure how much the programming differs between 1seg and full seg.
  • Poor framerate and image quality
  • Full Seg Digital TV via an Adapter with My Analog TV
  • Cheap (less than 6,000 yen for a converter box)
  • Reasonably portable (not mobile, but at least it would be easy to take a small converter box with me if I move to a new location)
  • Allows full access to full seg (standard) channels.
  • Next year when the PlayStation 4 and/or WiiU are released, their games will likely be virtually unplayable on my analog TV (the text will be unreadable), which may force me to buy an HDTV at that point, meaning the ~6,000 yen for the converter box will be a waste of money.
  • Image quality will be low (I won't get to enjoy the advantages of HDTV programming like easier-to-read text and sexy racing models in bikinis that are so detailed, it's like they're in the room)
  • Not as portable as the aforementioned 1seg route
  • Full Seg TV via an HDTV
  • Good image quality that will allow me to enjoy sexy racing models in bikinis and also PS4 and WiiU games at full resolution.
  • Not as expensive as the next option.
  • Portable enough so as to be possible to bring it with me if/when I move.
  • Full access to full seg (standard) TV programming
  • More expensive than the aforementioned two options (probably 20,000 ~ 30,000 yen depending on which model I choose).
  • It's already obsolete, since 3D TVs are already on the market.
  • It's harder to transport than the aforementioned two options due to being bulkier.
  • A 3D TV
  • Best image quality
  • Ability to display 3D images
  • Will be state-of-the-art for years to come
  • Full access to full seg (standard programming)
  • Likely to cost over 1,000 US Dollars at minimum.
  • Not portable — if and when I move, I'll probably need to get a moving service to move it for me.
  • A liability: having a $1,000+ dollar piece of equipment in my house is a huge liability. It could be stolen, or somebody could unintentionally break it, etc.
  • Then there's the treadmill dilemma. Fortunately, this dilemma is a simple binary choice, not a multi-faceted choice a la the digital TV dilemma. It is simply "To buy, or not to buy, that is the question."

    Sports Authority has a treadmill for just under 20,000 yen (a little over $200). If I buy it, it will have the following benefits:

  • I can exercise in my apartment, heating up my apartment and reducing my gas and electric bill.
  • I can set it at 5 kilometers per hour and get over 10,000 steps per hour (I tested it at the store this way, and got 867 steps in five minutes, so do the math). This is incredibly efficient (far more so than going out on the road, not being correctly paced, and dodging cars/waiting at traffic lights) and will likely save me 20 or 30 minutes per day.
  • It has a six-month warranty, so I know it will either last, or Sports Authority will have it repaired for me.

    The only disadvantage to buying the treadmill is the cost. 20,000 yen is not an amount of money I would spend lightly. To buy, or not to buy?

    December 10, 2011: Saturation
    I have a number of pictures that I took on tropical or sub-tropical beaches, particularly in Taiwan and Kyuushuu (these are all old photos taken between 2007 and 2010). The pictures had always looked somewhat washed out. Earlier this year, I discovered that the way to have postcard-quality beach photos is to adjust the saturation. I have found that adjusting the saturation to 300% works wonders for pictures like this, and intend to do this with almost all my beach pictures in the future. This works on most cameras (the photos below were taken on two different cameras, a Sunpix and a Kodak):

    So yeah. Saturation is a lot of fun to play around with, whether it's with autumn leaves pictures or beach pictures. I also have some other photos, this week, by the way.

    This is the new menu item at McDonald's, which started in November. It's called the "Gurakoro." It is a fried croquette filled with hot gratin. Delicious.

    I was really worried about kids sticking their fingers into the electrical outlet and getting electrocuted. My boss happened to have this plastic sheet hanging around, which I secured over the electrical outlet with thumb tacks.

    Even in Yokkaichi, Japan, some people deck their houses out with Christmas lights.

    December 4, 2011: Oversaturated Momiji (Autumn Leaves) Pictures from Gozaisho, Mie Prefecture
    I went to Gozaisho (a mountain near Yunoyama Onsen Station) last weekend. I didn't make it to the peak (too little daylight, and not even enough time to make it to the ropeway), but I did manage to take some pictures of the momiji (autumn leaves) there, as well as some other stuff. According to my boss, the Gozaisho Matsuri was held on November 23, so this was right around the time of that matsuri (festival). Note that I have played with the saturation on these pictures to make them appear vibrant instead of washed-out.

    A Building and View Near Yunoyama Onsen-Eki

    Gun hunting is prohibited in this area. Contrary to popular belief, guns are LEGAL to possess in Japan. However, the requirements on getting one are very strict, and they can only be of the variety used for hunting. Declarations must be made to the government on amount of ammunition and either the ammunition or the gun must be stored in a government locker between uses. One of my students, Tomoe, has a father (still alive) who owns a hunting rifle. Japan, much like America, has problems with too many deer, and like America, there are hunters who can alleviate this problem. :-)

    The mountain in the distance is Gozaisho.

    Here are some persimmons growing wild on a persimmon tree in the Yunoyama Onsen/Gozaisho area. The Japanese word for "persimmon" is kaki. Persimmons can be made more palatable by putting them in the refrigerator for a while, where they become softer, gooier, and sweeter — a technique I learned in Korea called dan-gam.

    This spider (after some careful Internet research) is called Nephila clavata.

    November 25, 2011: Kanji Kentei 7-Kyuu Goukaku Shousho
    Today, I received a certificate in the mail for passing the Kanji Kentei 7-Kyuu exam. Here it is (and might I comment, it is much cooler looking than my JLPT certificate...

    November 24, 2011: Happy Thanksgiving '11
    Thanksgiving was rather un-outstanding, but not bad. The main events were the classroom games/activities centered around it and my trip to Uncle Steven's. Here are some photos:

    For Thanksgiving dinner, I ate at Uncle Steven's, the only American restaurant in Yokkaichi that I am aware of besides the fast food places. There were zero Americans eating there, and they didn't have turkey (I guess this is because Yokkaichi has so few Americans). Yokkaichi has lots of Brazilians, Koreans, and Chinese, but fairly few Americans. The food was tasty, though.

    The Fish and Chips I Ordered Since There Was No Turkey (I figured it had an Atlantic/Anglosphere quality to it that made it Thanksgiving dinner-worthy)

    This week, I showed my students Thanksgiving and we played this Thanksgiving game which I made with my own hands.

    Hand Turkeys Made By My Students on 11/22 and 11/24

    November 19, 2011: I Got My Kanji Kentei Nana-Kyuu Results, and...
    I realized today that although the results will be mailed out on 11/22 (three days from now), I could go ahead and view whether I passed or failed online (though apparently not my specific score). So I checked, and...

    “Nana-kyuu gōkaku omedetō gozaimasu.”

    That means "Congratulations, you have passed the [Kanji Kentei] Level 7." Meaning that I'm now certified for 640 kanji (equivalent to a rising fifth grader in terms of kanji ability). Hooray!

    In reality, I know I know more than 1,000 kanji, but I had purposely taken a lower-level test to get a feel for the test and how it works. I intend to take the Kanji Kentei Go-kyuu test in January (1/29), which will certify me for 1,006 kanji, which will be much more of a challenge. However, this is still an accomplishment and I will put it on my résumé ASAP, because: 1) it is the highest number of Chinese characters/kanji for which I have ever been officially certified, and 2) it is the first standardized test I have ever taken that was not intended for native English speakers/foreigners. I have passed JLPT and KLPT standardized tests in Japanese and Korean respectively, but those were exams specifically tailored for foreigners studying those languages, not native speakers like the KanKen that I just passed. Therefore, this is a major milestone — I took a certification exam intended for Japanese people, and passed. That feels pretty good and hopefully it will not be the last time I do this.

    November 12, 2011: I Beat Super Mario 3D Land
    I beat it. Hooray!

    November 11, 2011: Super Pocky Day
    Today is the most special Pocky day, ever. For the uninitiated, "Pocky Day" is the official holiday of the Pocky chocolate sticks. It is celebrated on 11/11 because of the chocolate sticks' resemblance to the number 1. Today is an especially special ("Super") Pocky Day because today is 11/11/11. See the photo below, both of a box of Pocky sticks I bought today, and of the receipt showing the 11/11/11 purchase date:

    Pocky Day is yet another source of tension between Korea and Japan (similar to Takeshima/Dokdo or the soccer team rivalries, but less extreme), as well. Korea has a knockoff of Pocky called "Pepero.," made by Lotte. And before some Korean Internet troll sends me an angry e-mail, you need to do your research, because Pocky was first sold in 1966 and Pepero was first sold in 1983 (see Wikipedia). Anyways, Koreans claim to have invented "Pepero Day" before Japan invented Pocky Day. And who one believes invented Pocky/Pepero Day really depends on whether one is Korean or Japanese. In my case, I'm neither, but since Japan has treated me better, by far, as a foreigner residing in its borders than Korea did, I'm inclined to side with Japan (which is the same policy I have with most Korea-Japan issues — take the side of the country that has treated me decently instead of beating me up and denying me visas).

    And without further ado, four other pictures from the last two weeks:

    I got Super Mario 3D Land on its release date last Thursday. This is a picture of the box and my Nintendo 3DS sitting on a table at Lotteria, just minutes after picking it up on 11/3.

    Sanshi Supermarket Has a New Bum

    A Children's Book at the Bookstore: Unko!

    Dangerous Oven, a Classroom Prop I Made for the Special Lessons

    November 5, 2011: Plans for 2011/11/13 to 2011/12/17
    In the week that starts tomorrow, I will be extremely busy with two things: working hard at my job to make sure that the potential new students sign on, and finishing Super Mario 3D Land before it comes out in English. With those two things, I will be extremely busy and will not be able to do much else, besides my daily Anki quizzing and keeping myself and my house basically clean.

    And from December 17 onward, the PS Vita will come out, and I will be busy with that, not to mention Christmas holiday-oriented things. So really, there is only a 34-day time window between those two dates during which I can accomplish some work/study goals for this year, before the year ends. And that's what this post will be about.

    Let's assume that I can study three hours per day on top of my job. And I have 34 days. Well, that comes out to 102 hours, but let's truncate that 2 and make it a square 100. How will I allot 100 hours?

    1. 30 hours: Anki-based review of Japanese words, kanji, and misc. subjects
    2. 34 hours: Finishing my CTEYL certification course (Certificate in Teaching English to Young Learners)
    3. 19 hours: creating a word search program that incorporates the calendar words and generates random word searches that the students can run on their Nintendo DSi/3DS handhelds to practice class vocabulary, and demoing it to Kaori
    4. 15 hours: Doing some final study for the DSST World Religions exam, and taking the exam (I have been studying various religions for over a year now, so I feel like I might soon be ready to take and pass that exam)
    5. 2 hours: Learning 10 Japanese slang terms, 10 Kansai-ben terms, and 10 Shougaku 5-nensei Kanji (I know this is an extremely small amount of Japanese study, but other things are just more urgent than studying Japanese for the moment, unfortunately)

    And while I'm at it with this post, I will provide an update on Super Mario 3D Land. I am on World 5-2 (out of eight worlds). I have collected EVERY SINGLE STAR COIN up to this point in the game. Here are some screen shots:

    November 4, 2011: Day 2 of Super Mario 3D Land
    Today was a solid day. To start, my boss informed me that four (!) kids are considering joining our classes! This is good for my job security, and they're kids I look forward to having in the classes. One is Hikaru, a five-year-old who attended an English kindergarten and therefore can speak English quite well (at least for a five-year-old). Apparently Hikaru got a kick out of the cardboard and aluminum "oven" that I made as a classroom gimmick (complete with a sign that had the nuclear symbol, the toxic chemical symbol, and the words "WARNING: Top Secret Oven Imported from Underground America: DO NOT USE!"). Then there are Areum and Rae-un, the two Zainichi Korean kids. Their mom is strongly thinking of enrolling them, and I'm convinced that me talking with her in Korean for ten or twenty minutes one time on a break played no small part in that! And to make matters even better, Yuto and Rena have said that they might consider not quitting if we can switch their time to a different day! So that's lots of good news on the job front.

    Super Mario 3D land, which I obtained just over one day ago, is going well, as well. I think it is an excellent game and especially loved World 3-2, the tropical/water stage. I have been networking with a college instructor (who, like me, teaches English here in Japan) who lives in Tokyo who is also playing through the game, as well (he also pre-ordered it). There is an extensive thread going on about this. Here are some more screenshots I have taken of the game:

    November 3, 2011: Super Mario 3D Land Acquired, Currently on World 2-2 with 104 Lives and All Stars Up to This Point Collected
    It was released in Japan today. This is just the second time in my life that I have owned a Japanese game on the release date (the first time was Final Fantasy XIII in '09, on December 17). It seems good so far. Here are some screen shots:

    The Whiteboard Just Before My Third Halloween Party (I've been organizing English school Halloween parties since 2009)
    Note the jack-o'-lantern, ghost, and black widow spider board magnets that I made. One of our activities at the party was to make refrigerator magnets.
    October 29, 2011: The Week with the Two Eikaiwa Halloween Parties and The Pre-Ordering of Super Mario 3D Land
    This week, I planned and threw two Halloween parties at Big Apple Eikaiwa School. I also pre-ordered Super Mario 3D Land, which is coming out here in Japan next Thursday.

    October 28, 2011: Isometric Graphics 101

    This is a demonstration of my isometric 3D engine drawing blocks at various x, y, and z positions. It is simple and rudimentary, but is just a demo.

    Today I forayed into isometric graphics programming using the Puchikon programming language on my Nintendo 3DS. I have never made a program before that uses isometric 3D graphics, but would like to try. I have figured out a lot of the math related to isometric 3D graphics, as well, and soon, I think I will be able to draw a 5x5x5 scene pretty well.

    My idea for a game that uses this isometric 3D engine is as follows:

    1. The game should be around 600 lines of code.
    2. Each area of the game will be a "room" that is 5x5x5. Each "room" will be stored in a 125-byte string.
    3. The player character will be able to move not only north, south, east, and west, but also up and down. Movement up will be allowed if the adjacent square is only one z-level higher. Movement down (jumping off a ledge) will allow the player to fall as far as from z-level 5 to z-level 1.
    4. Each scene will likely take a significant amount of time to redraw from z-level 1 to z-level 5 (perhaps up to a few seconds). Therefore, the engine will probably have be to a turn-based one and not real-time.
    October 24, 2011: Happy Birthday to Me (25th Birthday)
    Today is my 25th birthday. 25 years ago, I was born in Den Haag in the Netherlands. Just before I was born, there had been the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, which was similar to the Fukushima meltdown, but more severe, and a radioactive cloud was passing over Europe. My mom had to stay indoors during that time to avoid birth defects!

    Anyways, I'm in the latter half of my 20s now. I've come a long way. Most recently, I put myself through university and paid off all my student loans and landed a job in my dream country, Japan. It was a rocky road, but I have made it this far. I hope that my second 25 years is as prosperous as things currently are right now.

    October 23, 2011: Probable Pass on the Kanji Kentei Nana-Kyuu Exam

    The Building at Meijou University Where I Took the Kanji Kentei Nana-kyuu Today (picture taken by me)

    Today, I went and took the Kanji Kentei Nana-Kyuu (the Level 7 test). The Kanji Kentei is a Sino-Japanese characters test designed for native speakers. And indeed, I saw NOT ONE white (or black) person taking the test besides me when I went there today.

    It was kind of funny, actually, and a tad embarrassing. I showed up to Meijou University in Nagoya to take the test, which will hopefully certify me for 640 kanji, if I pass. However, keep in mind, the Japanese education system spends a ton of time teaching these kanji, so the average rising fifth grader should be able to pass the Nana-Kyuu that I just took, and not surprisingly, most of the people in the room were, well, kids. Some of them really young. I think I was not only the only foreigner in the room, but also the oldest guy in the room.

    I'll give those kids credit, though. They were quite well-behaved. They didn't point and laugh at me or say "foreigner" the way kids often did in Taiwan (and to a lesser extent, Korea). When I first entered the room and sat down, several kids glanced at me for more than just a moment, but that was it. Despite the young average age of the test-takers, there were no major disruptions during the test. Some kid behind me was making strange noises (perhaps crying a bit), but given the pressure and the difficulty of the test for these kids, it's surprising that they were so calm and collected. The pass rate is 84.3%, meaning that 15.7% of the kids in that room were likely failing; in spite of that, they kept their acts together.

    So how did I do? GREAT. At least I'm pretty sure I did. I took the test paper home (this is allowed) and re-took it, filling in all the same answers I had filled in earlier, and then re-checked it. 185/200 (92.5%). I'd say that I'm 96% likely to pass (the 4% chance that I may not pass covers a 1% probability that they lose my answer sheet or screw up, and a 3% probability that I somehow filled in the answers the wrong way or screwed up in some other unbeknownst way that caused my test results to be invalidated).

    My Test Paper After the Exam (we were allowed to take them home, sans the answer sheets)

    The preparation I had done before the test really, really helped. I had only gotten 81% on the practice exam, so I managed to lift my proficiency in Level 7 kanji by more than 11% from the practice test to the real thing, if my estimates are correct. I attribute this to continuing to use Anki for spaced repetition kanji recall, and in particular, for kanji combinations, to the dull/boring-but-useful Renjuku Kanji Shougaku 1, 2, and 4 Nensei edutainment titles for Nintendo DSi/3DS, all of which I finished prior to the exam.

    So when I get the results back in a month or so, what should I do? Should I be proud? On one hand, I was the oldest guy in the room. On the other hand, I was presumably the only non-native speaker of Japanese in the room, and I've spent less than eight months living in Japan, at that. So is that something about which I should be proud, or something about which to be ashamed? There is no "right" answer to that question, I suppose. I know that if I pass this, my kanji will be better than the majority of the other white guys in Japan — but that's like being proud because I'm a snail who can crawl faster than the other snails.

    I plan to take the Go-kyuu (the Level 5) of the same test on January 29. That will test 1,006 kanji and will be more respectable.

    I have a couple of questions about that test, though. First of all, I noticed that never, even once, was I asked for ID. I know that IDs are required for the higher levels (the ones that actually matter), but with these lower-level tests, what's to prevent me from lying about my name? I'm strongly tempted to take the test next time registering under the name of a famous male porn star, or maybe "The Cookie Monster," just to see if anyone notices. Since they don't ask for my ID, who's going to stop me?

    Another thing I noticed was that the test covered the 200 Level 7 kanji (and not the 440 kanji from the preceding levels) almost exclusively. This seemed strange. Most people learn the kanji in at least somewhat of a sequential manner so this shouldn't matter usually, but in theory, does this mean that I could skip a bunch of levels, not cover the kanji in between, and still pass? I'm not sure.

    So what's my study plan for the Go-kyuu? Well, here's a rough idea:

    I don't want to get too bogged down in kanji, though. Starting now, I need to start focusing more on conversational Japanese and less on kanji/literacy. My literate Japanese is FAR ahead of my conversational ability. If I pass this test, I will be considered to have the equivalent kanji ability to a rising fifth grader. IF ONLY my conversational ability were that good... I need to buckle down and work on listening comprehension, and to a (much) lesser extent, speaking.


    That's right, today, October 18, 2011, I have succeeded in paying off ALL of my debt (student loans and credit cards). From here on out (short of some kind of crisis), my bank account will grow and grow. This is a huge weight off my shoulders.

    Not only that, but I paid my way through college. I paid 100% of my tuition and expenses for college. No scholarships. No subsidized-interest loans. No grants. No money for tuition from parents or relatives (it was offered, but I declined because I wanted to lead my own life and not have some financial umbilical cord connecting me to them). And you know what? I did it. I put myself all the way through college, IN ASIA, without any significant handouts from anybody. And not only did I manage that, I became debt-free within less than one year of finishing my degree.

    Now that I have a bachelor's degree and absolutely no debts (a very rare situation for a 24-year-old American college grad), the sky is pretty much the limit. I can start savings massive stockpiles of money from my paycheck; I can keep large bank accounts in US dollars, Japanese yen, Chinese Renminbi, etc.; I can invest in land; I can save for graduate school or further baccalaureate-level education; I can do pretty much any realistic goal, financially-speaking, with a bit of financial discipline and smart use of my money. This is a great feeling. That is all. Over and out.

    October 16, 2011: Seven Days Until the Kanji Kentei Exam

    Kanji Kentei Nana-Kyuu Practice Test
    Last week, I finished adding all 640 Kanji Kentei Level 7 - 10 kanji to my Anki study deck. I took the Kanji Kentei practice test (Level 7) at home today (the official practice test from the official Kanji Kentei Web site). I made sure to replicate the real exam environment by taking it timed (one hour). I got 165/204 (~81%), which was good, because 70% is required to pass, and I exceeded that mark by a little more than 10%. However, it is important to note that I was writing down answers until literally the last minute of the allotted time.

    My biggest issue on the test is definitely time. Although I got 81%, if I had had five fewer minutes (for example, due to a proctor taking too long to explain the exam test format, or some other unforeseen interruption), I might not have passed. I have reason to believe that I'll have slightly more time on the actual test since I now understand the directions (no need to spend five minutes re-reading some Japanese directions and trying to figure out what exactly they're asking me to do).

    Anyways, I am reasonably certain that when I take this test (1:40 PM - 2:40 PM next Sunday), I will pass. However, I think the following three things are the most important to do in the mean time:

    1. Learn lots of kanji combinations. The last section (Section 11, the part where I had to write the missing kanji in a combination) really caused me to lose many points.
    2. Make sure I know where the testing center is. Like my other recent exams, the biggest barrier to passing this one may well be simply failing to find the test location on time! I should try to show up at least an hour early.
    3. Make sure that I understand the format and directions so I do not get bogged down in these things during the test and lose valuable time. I eventually understood all the directions before the end of the hour on the practice exam, but they cost me a great deal of time.

    October 12, 2011: Got My Kanji Kentei Level 7 Exam Pass in the Mail
    I just got it. The exam pass to take the Kanji Kentei on October 23, that is.

    What exactly is the Kanji Kentei?
    The Kentei is an exam targeted at native Japanese speakers, not foreigners. However, registration is open to foreigners who believe themselves able to pass it, as well. Basically, it is a test of Sino-Japanese characters. It has ten levels (not counting the between-level preparatory levels). They are in descending order, meaning that Level 10 is extraordinarily easy (only 80 characters appear on that test, and a first grader ought to be able to pass it), and Level 1 is extraordinarily hard (fewer than 900 people per year, in all of Japan, pass Level 1, as it requires extremely comprehensive knowledge of ~6,000 kanji, including extremely obscure ones not used in everyday Japanese). Japanese people take the Kanji Kentei for various reasons, like employment, university admissions, or just as a hobby. One of the mothers of my students has taken the Level 2 test, which tests ~2,000 characters. Kanji is her hobby. Some of my students have taken it, as well.

    So what level am I attempting? Well, just Level 7. That's 640 characters (nothing to brag about, unless one has been in Japan less than a year, which is the case with me). I am quite confident that I can pass it since I estimate my actual kanji vocabulary is over 1,000 characters (I memorized 1,000 hanja, which are very similar to the kanji, by the end of 2009 with the help of Mabeop Cheonjamun DS). I am taking it at a lower level for the experience, and if I pass, I intend to take it at a higher level later.

    So what is the significance of taking the Kanji Kentei for me? The following bullet points explain why I want to take this test:

  • My Japanese is probably not good enough yet to take the JLPT N3, yet I feel that my Japanese cannot be accurately described by my current JLPT N4 rank (the JLPT N4 was extremely easy for me). Therefore, the Kanji Kentei is, at least in terms of reading/writing, an intermediate step between the 300 Kanji of JLPT N4 and the 750 kanji of JLPT N3.
  • It will make my resume look better. I will definitely put the pass on the resume right underneath my JLPT score, or maybe even above it. It will replace the current "~300 kanji" that is written on my resume.
  • It will serve as a motivator for me to improve my Japanese reading. If my Japanese reading improves enough, I might be able to start reading magazines/books like Famitsu Wave more or less fluently, and if I develop a habit of doing this, I could start really packing on more vocabulary.
  • It may have immigration benefits. Immigration officers decide whether to give foreign workers a one-year visa renewal or a three-year renewal. Obviously I would rather have the latter. Perhaps if I enclose my Kanji Kentei scores, and they are good, it will impress the immigration officer with the amount of Japanese I have been able to pick up in just one year, and he will grant me the three-year visa rather than the one-year visa. Worth a shot, and nothing to lose.

    So how will I study for this exam? The answer is to use special Nintendo DSiWare software called "Kanjuku." I have already completed the Kanjuku program for the first 80 characters, but still need to work on the remaining 560. HOWEVER, I have an Anki deck with 610 out of the 640 characters, currently, and know the vast majority of the characters, so I'm very well set for now on that front.

    Anyways, I can't wait to take the Kanji Kentei test on October 23. There are many western foreigners in Japan with good verbal Japanese skills, but very few with acceptable kanji knowledge. I aim to be one of the few who has acceptable kanji skills. Who knows, if I pass this test, I might take the Level 5 (all 1,006 "Kyouiku Kanji") in January, which would make me basically literate enough for everyday reading material.