March 31, 2012: Big Apple Word Search V. 1.0 Is Complete
Today, I completed Big Apple Word Search V. 1.0 (the version that will be released to the public). I also acquired Puchikon mkII, which allowed me to finally back Big Apple Word Search up on my PC (thank goodness, I had really been worrying about something happening to my Nintendo 3DS and losing the whole program). It is 551 lines of code and 31,846 bytes. For detailed information and five new screenshots of the final version, click here:

March 30, 2012: The Week of 2012/3/25 in Review
Well, it's early Friday morning, and here are three pictures of notable events from this week:
I finally StreetPassed 1,000 times on my Nintendo 3DS.I cooked teriyaki chicken for the first time. The ingredients to make it are surprisingly cheap (I made the sauce from scratch using ingredients which are all common and cheap: soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and sake).I finished coding Version 0.99 (Beta) of Big Apple Word Search: new in this version: all 366 calendar words for the year 2012! Please note that I needed to use five "filler words" at the end since the array must be a multiple of seven, and there are not 371 words on the calendar, but only 366. That's why the last five entries say "BIG APPLE! 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5" because there need to be filler words on the array, or else it will crash. So now, the tedious process of feeding in all 366 calendar words for 2012 is complete. Whether I choose to implement other features or not, I'm not sure yet.
At this point in time, I am still debating whether or not to push for JLPT N3 this July. I could do it. I'm pretty sure I could, anyway. The trouble is, it would consume nearly all my study time for the next three months, so I'm not sure if it's worth it yet. Let me make a diagram showing pros and cons:

Pros and Cons of Devoting Most of My Study Time to Passing the JLPT N3 in July

  • The Japanese immigration office will introduce five-year visas starting in July. Some newspaper articles I've read claim that the issuance of a five-year visa, unlike the one- and three-year ones that exist right now, will be based on Japanese language proficiency, meaning that my JLPT scores could help me score a five-year visa extension. However, these are just rumors, and no criteria have been announced officially, yet, and given my recent experience at immigration in which JLPT N4 and Kanji Kentei Level 5 failed to get me even a three-year visa, I am highly skeptical of that.
  • It will light a fire under my ass to study Japanese more. And my Japanese, although improving, is still far from where it needs to be.
  • If I am racing to pass JLPT N3, I may be placing undue stress on myself for a test score that won't actually achieve anything at the immigration office — they already shot down one application for a longer-term visa extension, even with JLPT scores and KanKen scores — who's to say they won't shoot down another?
  • If I am not preparing for an imminent JLPT, I can focus on the areas of Japanese in which I actually need work, not just things that will be covered on the JLPT N3. To be honest, my slang, dialect comprehension, grammar, and listening comprehension need more work. None of these things will be particularly emphasized on the JLPT N3, which is primarily written with a listening section that doesn't even come close to the difficulty of "real" spoken Japanese.
  • If I forego the JLPT N3 in July and instead take it in December (giving me more than twice as much time to prepare for it), I will have more time to study other things: World Religions, programming, etc. These things are important to me, too. In fact, this year, I would like to get into programming to the extent that I actually create an app that I can sell. I know I probably won't make too much money off the first one, but I really want to get an app out there this year.

So, to be honest, the Cons list is looking stronger than the Pros list. I haven't made up my mind yet on whether to push for the JLPT N3 at the expense of other things, but I am leaning towards not taking it in July. I mean, I pass it in July, and then what? Try to pass the N2 in December? Do I really want to spend that much of my study time studying only Japanese?

This comes back to an issue I have had for some years now — not studying what I need to study because some obstacle (either artificial or real) gets in the way. Back when I was doing my BSL at Excelsior College, I didn't have time to study subjects that weren't eligible for college credit — I just needed to get the damn degree as fast as possible. And back before that, I was going to Yonsei University KLI and wasn't studying the subjects I wanted/needed to study (programming, for example) because I was so wrapped up in difficult Korean classes.

Last year, I arrived in Japan, and I busted my ass on Japanese. However, my situation in Japan has stabilized. I'm now financially solvent (in fact, I have several thousand dollars under my command, a balance of $0.00 on each of my credit cards, and a fully repaid Stafford Loan). I speak, read, and write better Japanese now than I have in any previous year. I have an extra TEFL certificate (the CTEYL) and have a year of experience working in Japan and a valid work visa good for the next 13 months. I'm quite stable now, as gaijin go.

So maybe it's time that I study what I need to study. Here are some things I have constantly put off for the past five or six years:

  1. Programming for a commercially viable platform. I have continually programmed for non-commercially viable platforms like TI-BASIC, C++ (normally a lucrative PL, but I wrote apps for the Win32 console that can't be sold), and the latest is Puchikon. It's time that I learned a programming language that generates apps that I can actually sell, not these toy languages.
  2. World Religions — I would not classify myself as a religious man, but I want to have a good understanding of all the major religions. Because one of them might just be right. Who knows.
  3. My "inner demon" subjects — physics, chemistry, calculus, and other subjects that I have often seriously doubted that I could pass. I would like to silence those "inner demons" once and for all and get a B or better in physics, chemistry, and calculus.
  4. Fitness — I have never been fit. I want to try being fit. This isn't an academic subject, per se, but I would like to learn the keys to fitness and become fit.
So, with all those things I want to study and learn and do, I don't really see the point in pushing JLPT N3 just yet. It just seems like throwing all my energy into JLPT N3 at this point would just be hampering my development in other areas for a modest, paper-only increase in my Japanese skills. However, I have not come to a final decision yet as to whether or not I'll take the N3.

March 24, 2012: Teaching American History Classes and Other Things
This week, for Big Apple's Special Lessons, I taught a four-part series on American history. On Tuesday, I taught history from prehistory to 1600 (Native Americans, Columbus, and early attempts at colonization like Roanoke in 1585). On Wednesday, I taught history from 1600 - 1799 (the Colonial era, the French and Indian War, and the Revolutionary War, basically). On Thursday, I taught the 1800s (the War of 1812, the Civil War, various inventions and things that became common in the 1800s such as the light bulb and the train, along with the whole Industrial Revolution in general). On Friday, I taught US history from 1900 to 2012 (including World War II, yikes, now there was a potential minefield that I fortunately managed to navigate through). World War II took special tact; I could not simply omit it (because WWII was extremely important in American history). On the other hand, I refused to be an apologist (I do not disagree with the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for I believe that was a necessary evil to avoid far more casualties later on). And I managed not to piss anyone off, so hooray! Here is an e-mail sent to me right after the last class from a 15-year-old student:

Here is one of the several visuals that I created for the course, a map of the 13 colonies at the time of independence from England:

As for other news, today, I got a mysterious package in the mail from Thailand...

So I opened it. What could it possibly be?

Ah, sure enough, my CTEYL certificate has arrived:

I had taken the CTEYL course (online) to brush up my teaching skills with children. And now I have the piece of paper, so hooray!

My Specialist in Humanities/International Services Extension (with all the details blacked out) — Good Until May 6, 2012 or Until I Renew It Again
March 19, 2012: I Only Got a One-Year Extension, Dammit
I just walked to the immigration office and got my visa extension. It was only for one year. I was a bit disappointed because I had worked really hard on passing the JLPT N4 and Kanji Kentei Go-kyuu, and in the end, these certificates of my Japanese language ability did not help me get a better extension. So that was a bummer.

I asked the immigration officer "How can I get a three-year extension?" and he replied that if I continued to work at the same workplace continuously, I could get a three-year extension, and that language skills don't matter "because I'm an eikaiwa teacher" (in other words, I spend 38 hours per week in an environment that is supposed to be English-only therefore the other 130 hours per week which I spend in Japanese-speaking Japan where Japanese is a useful skill apparently don't matter, therefore language skills don't count for a better visa extension, yeah right). Leave it to the immigration office in an Asian country to determine visa issuance on arbitrary criteria that aren't tied to criteria that actually mean something. Exclude relevant criteria like language ability, and make the whole thing ride on fairly irrelevant criteria like how many one-year contracts the person has finished at who-knows-where eikaiwa...

The truth of the matter is, though, that each immigration office makes its own rules and I'm sure that some immigration offices do grant three-year visas more readily, and do take language ability into account. Just not this one. Some teachers start off on three-year visas without ever having worked a day in Japan; they arrive in Japan on three-year visas (which of course goes to show that what the immigration officer told me about working for a long time continuously in Japan is B.S. — many teachers receive a three-year visa without having done that).

Overall, this isn't the end of the world. It just means I need to apply for an extension a year from now instead of three years from now. I suppose that next time I file for the extension, I should hire an immigration lawyer to do it and maybe make the application at a different immigration office (both Kaori and the previous teacher at Big Apple have told me that this immigration office is stingy with three-year extensions and usually only gives one-year extensions).

However, there is a silver lining to all this:

  1. In July of this year, a five-year extension option will be introduced all across Japan, which is supposedly going to be based on proficiency in Japanese (I read about it in multiple newspapers). Having to apply for an extension sooner means I have a chance at receiving a five-year extension sooner.
  2. Since I will be gunning for that five-year extension when I apply next year, I ought to get my Japanese up to JLPT N2. So only getting a one-year extension means the fire under my ass to learn Japanese continues to burn, and my Japanese will get better as a result...
Overall, this is not a huge disaster. I can still stay in Japan as long as I like (bar a few horrible disasters) as long as I keep renewing. It's just that only getting a one-year extension puts more pressure on me. I wish that Japan (and Asia in general) was more transparent with its immigration procedures; it seems like all these decisions are made behind closed doors using sets of criteria known only to each individual immigration office.

March 18, 2012: Saint Patrick's Day 2012 and My Renewal
Over the past 48 hours, there have been several notable events. The two most notable ones were the Saint Patrick's Day celebration in Nagoya sponsored by Irish embassy and the INJ, and my visa renewal, the notification of which I received yesterday.

I decided to attend the Nagoya Saint Patrick's Day celebration sponsored by the Irish embassy and the INJ. These events have been held in Japan for 20 years. Here is a picture I took from this year's event at the Nagoya Manekineko, or "beckoning cat" statue. The event was held from about 12:15 PM.

There was live music from about 12:15 to 2:00 PM. I don't know whether I should call them "Irish" bands seeing as how they were composed of Japanese people playing Irish music. Note that the event was used to promote tourism to Ireland (people came and handed out tourism brochures straight from the Irish embassy).

Several people brought their Irish wolfhounds, which, I must say, are giant dogs! Here is a picture of me petting one of them (please excuse the blurriness).

There's a green alien in the parade. And on the right, taking a picture, is Heather and the man with her is her husband, Blake. They seemed like nice people. I hope to keep in touch with them. It was good to meet people at the Nagoya Saint Patrick's Day celebration. After the opening ceremony and the parade, we went with this guy named Brian to Shooter's and had Guiness (after getting greased up on whiskey at the parade by a gentleman who was giving it out for free).

A Leprechaun in the Parade

Guiness was officially represented and promoted at the parade. This is a walking glass of Guiness, but there was also the Guiness foam man (who wore a white body suit and a foamy hat).

A Slightly Better Picture of Irish Wolfhounds

Another Shot of the Parade

As for other newsworthy events this weekend:

So overall, it was an eventful weekend. I didn't spend it shut in, but rather, actually got out and did things — no fewer than TWO outside-of-work social events (my target for this year is 20). I hope these pictures helped to illustrate exactly what I did.

So what's the game plan for Monday morning? I plan to wake up at 10:00 AM, go to the Yokkaichi Immigration Office, get my visa renewal (pray for me, I really want a three-year renewal), then come back in time to go to work around 12:30 PM. Then work until 9:00 PM.

March 11, 2012: How can I maintain my Korean? Or is it even worth the effort to maintain?
I have this dilemma. I have been out of Korea for nearly three years, and my Korean has degraded to some degree. Don't get me wrong — I am still perfectly capable of having a normal conversation. However, my high-level (i.e. infrequently-used) vocabulary has begun to decrease, and my ear is out-of-tune. I would also imagine that my accent and grammar/ability to generate natural-sounding expressions aren't as good as they used to be.

For two years after I left Korea, I managed to maintain my Korean. In Taiwan, I spent the first six months or so cramming 1,000 Korean hanja via Mabeop Cheonjamun DS to better facilitate learning Chinese down the road. I sought out every opportunity to practice my Korean with Korean tourists on Cijin Island, Korean restaurant owners like Jeong-ok in Fongshan, etc. Heck, I even taught part-time at Kaohsiung Korean School.

Then, as my Chinese started to get slightly better (note that my Chinese never got very good, only "somewhat tolerable in ordinary situations"), I started to use Korean less. I'd still eat at the Korean restaurants in Fongshan a lot, and at that point had a part-time job doing translations/proofreading through Gate Tong. So my Korean persisted. When I moved to Japan, I dated Bona for a while, and kept up my Korean that way.

However, there are two problems, now:

  1. My boss has asked me to teach a Korean class, which will have at least three students.
  2. My Korean has degraded somewhat. I no longer date Bona, I no longer do part-time work for Gate Tong, and the Korean restaurant is several miles away, so I seldom go there. My Japanese is good enough now that I can function autonomously in Japanese without needing to rely on Zainichi Koreans. For the first time since I started learning Korean, my Korean has fallen into total, utter disuse over the last couple of months.

So...I'm a bit worried. I think I could handle teaching the class regardless (it's only basic-level Korean that they want to learn, after all, and I will never forget that), but this upcoming class really has reminded me — if I do absolutely nothing to keep my Korean up, my Korean will become progressively rustier and rustier.

Do I want that?

Is it worth the upkeep to be able to speak advanced Korean at the drop of a hat? My Japanese is getting good, and I live here now — is advanced Korean really a necessary skill to have anymore?

I have been debating this issue in my head. It's a tough thing to figure out. However, regardless of whether I decide to keep my Korean up in the long-term, in the short-term, I owe it to the three students in that class to have sharp Korean.

The problem is, I only have so much time in the week. I have to work. I have to study Japanese, which is quite frankly, far more important than Korean considering where I am living. Any tiny sliver of study time I have left over from Japanese (the inarguable #1 priority) should be spent on the far more important fields of computer programming and the study of world religions.

So how do I "re-activate" my Korean without using up any of my limited study time? How do I expose myself to Korean effortlessly, in my free time, so none of my studies or my work suffers? I have been brainstorming, and here are some ideas:

  1. I like to eat out. From now on, I should eat out at Tōgarashi, the Korean restaurant, where I can practice Korean with Ong-nyeo and the cook/staff on both Saturdays and Sundays. Since I already eat out anyway, this will be no extra effort.
  2. Play lots of Korean games. I still haven't finished the PC version of Lunar: Silver Star Story in Korean. I just became aware today that Mabeop Cheonjamun DS, one of my favorite games of all time, has a sequel, Mabeop Cheonjamun DS II! The only issue will be figuring out a way to order it, since foreigners are locked out of virtually all Korean Web sites.
  3. I could rent Korean dramas/movies from the Geo Amusement Developer store and run them for an hour or two a day as background noise.
  4. I could take a vacation to Jeju-do or elsewhere in Korea during the April vacation from 4/10 to 4/15; that would put me in constant contact with Korean for six days right before the Big Apple Korean course starts. Heck, I could even take surfing lessons there.
So...none of these things require hard study — they're all fun activities that I could pursue in my leisure time. The goal here isn't to improve my Korean — it's to re-activate the Korean I already learned from 2005 - 2009 when I was enrolled in Korean classes. Maybe once re-activated, I'll feel more comfortable about teaching that course, and I can figure out better whether Korean is a skill that is worth maintaining or not.

March 10, 2012: Big Apple Word Search Version 0.95 Beta
<- See, it really runs on a Nintendo 3DS!
Changes in This Version:
- I added a bunch of words to the word database. Before it had 35 words (five weeks' worth). Now it has 182 (26 weeks' worth) and spans all the calendar words from January 1, 2012 to June 30, 2012.
- I added instructions on the bottom screen of the Nintendo DSi/3DS. Before, the bottom screen was just blue. Now it actually serves a purpose.
- Over 500 lines of code

Hopefully, before the end of the month, I will release Version 1.0 (the public release version that we put on the Big Apple fliers). Here are some features I hope to implement in Version 1.0:
- Definite: all 365 calendar words for the year 2012
- Possibly a database of 365 Japanese translations of those words in katakana so that students can actually study the definitions with their Nintendo DSi/3DS handhelds.
- Possibly a quick & dirty "weekly quiz simulator" where they can take a practice quiz that is virtually the same as the quizzes we do in class.
- Possibly a warning if the player is about to press START (with an incomplete word search).
- Possibly a loop in which, when a game is completed, it returns to the title screen rather than quitting.

March 8, 2012: UPDATE 2: Back from the Immigration Office
Overall, I think it went well. I handed in all my documents and the immigration officer had me fill out a postcard which will be sent to me when my extension is granted, so I know to come into the immigration office and pick up my updated gaijin card.

I wanted to maximize the chances of getting a three-year visa. I wanted to cross every 't' and dot every 'i.' I succeeded in arriving there in the morning, having all my documentation, and wearing a suit and dress shoes (when I realized what a procedure it would be to polish them, I decided not to do that, though, but they just looked a bit dull and scuffed, that was all).

I got to the immigration office, and it was my intent to simply ask where the nearest convenience store was so I could go there and buy revenue stamps and make copies, but was caught off guard by the immigration officer who said (in Japanese), "This is a map you can use with the post office (for revenue stamps) and the convenience store on it (for the copier). Here, I'll take a look at your documents first so you know you have everything together." Well, that caught me off guard — I hadn't put them all into a file yet, and they were somewhat disorganized, and the application form had a bunch of stuff whited out on it. Well, I did as he requested and showed him the forms, my certificates, etc. He seemed impressed with the JLPT and Kanji Kentei certificates — I don't remember if he gave me a thumbs-up of if he said "sugoi" or what, but he was pleased with the Japanese language certificates, so that was good.

Well, at that point, he had seen all my documents, so I figured I might as well just hand them all in as-is. Why trouble the guy this much just to disappear and reappear 20 minutes later? So I handed in the somewhat disorganized sheaf of papers including the application form in its white-out strewn glory (he claimed it didn't matter, so I'm going to take his word on that).

On the plus side, I spoke lots of Japanese with the immigration officer over a period of about 15 minutes. Had I had all my papers together and in a neat little file, he wouldn't have been able to hear much of my Japanese. So I guess this all boils down to the following question:
Do Japanese immigration officers prefer a foreigner with good Japanese skills who is slightly disorganized, or a foreigner with uncertain Japanese skills who is well-organized? I'm not really sure which. I guess it depends on the immigration officer.

Anyways, in a few weeks, I'll know whether I got the one-year or three-year extension. I hope it's the latter.

March 8, 2012: Going in for My First Extension (Specialist in Humanities/International Services)
Kaori and I have re-signed for another year. So I have a contract that says I'll be employed until 2013. With this (and some other documents), I can go to the immigration office and apply for an extension. My current residence status is good for almost two more months (until May 6), but I figure it's good to get this done ahead of time, in case there are any problems (there shouldn't be, this is normally a very simple process).

However, in my case, I have decided to dress up, go myself and speak Japanese with the immigration staff, attach my Kanji Kentei Level 5 and JLPT certificates, and even write a cover letter for my application! Why would I go to these lengths for a simple extension?

Well, the answer is this: if I'm skillful and lucky, they will give me a three-year extension instead of a one-year extension. A three-year extension is clearly preferable since it means I won't have to extend my status of residence again until 2015, and can do virtually whatever I want until then. It gives me plenty of time to pass the JLPT N1, plenty of time to beef up my resume with extra degrees/certificates/work experience, etc. before the next renewal.

What if I only get a one-year extension? That would be fine, too, just not as awesome. I'm making my future plans assuming a one-year extension, but who knows, I might get lucky. If I get a one-year extension, I'll be under more pressure to beef up my resume in a shorter period of time, as I'll have to get another renewal in 2013 instead of 2015.

So basically:

So right now, it's not even 6:50 AM yet. I woke up early today (somehow managing to get to bed several hours earlier than my norm and sleep eight hours, wow). Here is my "game plan:"

  1. 7:00 AM: Type up the cover letter.
  2. 7:15 AM: Work on making my shoes look all nice with shoe polish and getting the dust off my suit with the roller.
  3. 7:20 AM: Get a shower.
  4. 7:40 AM: Check to make sure I have all the correct documents, including JLPT and KanKen certificates and CELTA.
  5. 8:00 AM: Eat breakfast and tie up any other loose ends.
  6. 8:30 AM: Set out for the immigration office. I will need to make some prints/copies at the Lawson. Then walk a few miles to the immigration office and cross a bridge to get there (it's on an island). Buy some revenue stamps at the post office, as well.
  7. 9:30 AM: Arrive at the immigration office. This is a strategic time to go, since they'll be in a relatively good mood, hopefully (they get crotchety when they're trying to get to lunch, I've heard). My business also shouldn't take too long if I go then.
  8. 10:00 AM: Start heading back home.
  9. 11:00 AM: Arrive back home. Do some Anki reps on my computer.
  10. 12:00 PM: Add 10 more words on Anki.
  11. 12:45 PM: Take a 30+-minute break before getting ready for work.
Then I'll just wait a matter of weeks for my extension to be granted, keeping my fingers crossed. Man, three years would be sweet.

March 7, 2012: One-Year Anniversary of Moving to Japan
At 11:55 AM on March 7, 2011, I arrived in Japan. This was the official start date of my residency here (it says it on my gaijin card). Wow. A year!

And what a year it has been. There were lots of "doom merchants," especially assholes on Dave's ESL Cafe and other internet fora, who predicted a crash and burn, but guess what? You guys were wrong. I was right. I have flourished here. Paid off all my student loans within less than a year of finishing my degree, then proceeded to save up several thousand American dollars. Raised my Japanese to JLPT N4/Kanji Kentei Level 5. Held down a job and just signed a contract for another year. Gotten another teaching certification. Seriously, when compared with pretty much every previous year, this year has rocked. So, naysayers, especially on Dave's and Y!A, you were wrong. You can suck my left nut.

To be continued...

March 6, 2012: Today I Received a Bottle of Sand...

Today, my student, Tomiko (62 years old) presented me with this bottle of red sand.



Well, it is sand that she scooped up herself...from the Sahara Desert in Morocco! She just returned from there last week. She went to Morocco, and was there until February 29, seeing various cities such as Fez, and various ruins and mosques, including Roman ruins (yes, there are Roman ruins in Morocco). Today she brought her photos from the trip, including some of her riding a camel through the desert. Pretty cool.

Today was a good day for two other reasons as well:

  1. I became TITC CTEYL certified today. This is a 50-hour certificate in teaching young learners that I completed by distance. This is a minor good accomplishment for this year — nothing spectacular, but better to have it than not have it, I suppose.
  2. Today, Kaori and I signed the new contract for the 2012 - 2013 school year! I will go to the immigration office on Thursday with the forms she provided me and apply for a three-year visa. She is even willing to check a cover letter for me requesting a three-year visa! Cool! Thanks! :-)
So all in all, a red letter day. Oh, and yet another important milestone: tomorrow is my one-year anniversary of moving to Japan from Taiwan! At this time one year ago, I was frantically scrambling around trying to pack my bags for Japan, with the biggest "OH, SHIT!!!" feeling ever as I realized there was no way I could fit everything into my bags.

March 1, 2012: I Got My Official Kanji Kentei Level 5 Certificate and Score Report

Here is my certificate. I am seriously thinking about getting this thing framed. It took me countless hours to learn the 1,006 kanji necessary to pass this thing...

This is how they rank me in terms of kanji ability. The bottom of the steps is an Elementary School first grader. The top of the steps is an elite kanji master, such as a university professor. I fall smack dab in the middle according to the diagram, but personally, I figure I'm a bit closer to the former than the latter. :-)

Here is my score report. Note that I was one of the 72.4% who passed. The other 27.6% FAILED! Since almost all the examinees were Japanese people, it is a serious ego boost to have been in that 72.4%.

My score was 169/200 (84.5%, with the pass mark at 70%). So that was a decent score.

I have already been to the bookstore to look at materials for Level 4 (remember, the levels go in reverse order, so Level 4 is actually harder than Level 5 and requires 1,322 kanji to pass), and it looks like I already know a sizable number of the Level 4 kanji, as well. However, I plan to hold off on taking that one until I have passed JLPT N3.

February 26, 2012: The Nintendo 3DS' First Birthday
Today, the Nintendo 3DS turned one year old! There's a thread on in which we can brag about our Top 10 Accomplishments on the Nintendo 3DS for the last year. So here were mine:

February 23, 2012: Big Apple Word Search V. 0.9 for Nintendo 3DS/DSi Complete
This is a huge achievement! I have completed the beta version (version 0.9) of Big Apple Word Search. It is a word search game for the Nintendo 3DS/DSi, written in the Puchikon programming language, that allows our students to practice their weekly calendar words with fun, randomly-generated word searches. I intend (after showing it to Kaori approximately 30 minutes from now) to distribute it to our students with a Nintendo 3DS or DSi, free of charge; it will get the kids to study the calendar words, let them have fun while doing so, and serve as advertising for our English conversation school (I bet the local competitors, Seiha and Yamaha don't have an official Nintendo DS game). This took over 400 lines of code and many hours of work to create, and here are some screen shots:

This is the main word search screen. The user can control a cursor with the Nintendo 3DS/DSi D-pad and use the A button to either select or de-select letters. Once finished finding all the words in the word bank (or after giving up), the player can press START and the Nintendo 3DS/DSi will report to the user whether or not he or she found all the words, for example:

Selecting which week of Big Apple Calendar Words to Use

Currently, this game is a beta version (V. 0.9). What that means is:

This is a huge accomplishment for me for several reasons. First of all, it is my first finished game (edutainment title, anyway) for a video game console. Within one year of the Nintendo 3DS' release in Japan, I have already created a game that runs on it. Secondly, the programming really got my neurons firing and gave me some more programming experience. Making a word search that places words horizontally, vertically, diagonally (up and down), and also can show words backwards or forwards, and allows the user to highlight the words and checks whether the user has completed the word search is no small programming feat!

So I will demo this thing to Kaori in ~30 minutes and see what she says. I expect her reaction to be positive (she owns a Nintendo DS Lite herself and has an English edutainment program on there, so she ought to be open to this sort of thing).

Today, they made the results public via the Internet (my certificate will arrive around the beginning of March). And here's the screen that I got:

"Congratulations on passing Go-Kyuu (Level 5)." is what it says in the table.

February 14, 2012: Valentine's Day 2K12
Today is Valentine's Day. I don't really like this holiday very much. However, I got lots of chocolate both from the students and the boss (none of which was amorous, but that's good because otherwise it'd be creepy). Here are some pictures. In Japan, on Valentine's Day, women buy chocolates for men. But don't worry, western feminists — you don't have to start another crusade against the "oppressive patriarchy" of East Asia. Because when White Day (March 14) rolls around, men spend far more money on chocolates and other gifts for women than women ever spent on the men on Valentine's Day. Anyways, here were some nice gifts from the students and my boss.

This is our game for this week. Students shoot "cupid's arrow" at a target to determine movement on the game board. They have liked it so far. Gee, eight-year-old boys don't like to shoot darts from crossbows, do they?

The Majority of the Candy and Other Sweets I Received on Valentine's Day

Chocolate from the Boss — Thanks, Kaori!

February 8, 2012: Looking Back on Sunday's Experiment
On Sunday, I did absolutely nothing constructive. This was intentional. I had finished all my urgent stuff on Saturday and worked very hard until close to midnight on Saturday to make sure Sunday would be a day completely devoid of obligations. And you know what? Sunday was all right, but it was kind of boring. I mostly just sat around and played fairly minute amounts of Final Fantasy III and a few hours of Heracles no Eikou: Ugokidashita Kamigami and so forth. And watched a bit of Japanese TV. And went grocery shopping. But overall, I realized that when I have a large chunk of free time (which is seldom), I often don't even know what to do with it!

So this post is dedicated to brainstorming ideas that I can do this coming Sunday, when I'm totally free, beyond just playing lots of video games:

Of course all these things are just speculation about what I might do. I'm not sure what I'll actually do with a free day.

February 4, 2012: As of 11:59 PM, I Am Now Relaxing
That's right. I did a ton of productive stuff today. And you know what? As of 11:59 PM Saturday night, I will do NOTHING productive for the next 24 hours unless there is an emergency. I will play video games and have fun for the next 24 hours. I accomplished all of my weekly objectives. Here are some cool things I did today:

So after such a productive day, I have decided to take it easy for 24 hours and catch up on my video gaming and other fun stuff. I will even skip my Anki reps. The only Japanese study I will do is watching TV, playing games, and reading — no formal study today! I have earned this!

February 3, 2012: Snowy Scenes and Good Kanji Kentei News
There was a fair amount of snow yesterday. This morning, I took some pictures of snow-covered Yokkaichi.

Left: Hinaga Shinto Shrine, Right: Some Snow-Covered Berries

Yesterday, it was really coming down. The snow peaked in the early hours of the morning today, and then the sun came out and melted some of it.

Here is a tōrō, or stone lantern, at Hinaga Shinto Shrine. I have no idea why the trash bag dumping site is always out front of the local Shinto shrine. They do this at the Banko Shrine downtown, too. Really messes with pictures and the general beauty of the site...

The Front of Shirohige Jinja in Winter

Another Tōrō

I take lots of pictures of tōrō, which results in lots of practice entering the special character 'ō' on my computer...

Yet Another Pic from the Shirohige Jinja

Shirohige Jinja's Main Building

Shirohige Jinja actually has two torii. This is the one that is located at a higher elevation, atop some stairs.

And as for the good Kanji Kentei news, I got the answer sheet in the mail today and self-scored my answers (that I had remembered from the Sunday test) and got 86%. Which supports my strong theory that I passed.

January 29, 2012: Took the Kanji Kentei Go-Kyuu, and...
I took the Kanji Kentei Go-kyuu today. If I pass this test, I will officially be certified for 1,006 kanji, the largest number of Sino-Japanese characters for which I have ever been certified in my life! Yahoo!

We were allowed to take the test sheet home (sans the answer sheet) and I re-took the test on the train as close to the actual testing as I could. I scored it myself using Japanese people, Ren-juku Kanji Shougaku 6-Nensei (DSiWare), and some other resources, and got 89%. However, I will subtract five percent to correct for errors in my scoring, so I'm going to estimate that I got roughly 84% on the test, which is just fine because 70% is the pass line.

The only thing that can sink me, I believe, is for there to be/have been a major error or screw up (like the association losing my answer sheet, or me having filled in the wrong rectangles or something). I am 95% sure that I passed this exam, and can now look forward to de-emphasizing reading and writing and focus on my listening/speaking instead, which lag much farther behind.

By the way, this time, I was not the only adult taking the test. There were at least two or three others (JAPANESE adults). So...if I can pass this thing with less than a year in country, that'll really say something about me, and something about those adults that I saw taking the same test in the test room (bless their hearts).

January 28, 2012: The Night Before the KanKen Go-kyuu
Tomorrow, I will take the Kanji Kentei Go-kyuu exam (1,006 Sino-Japanese characters). At this point, I think there is a reasonable chance that I will pass it since I got a 70% (bare pass) on the practice exam I took roughly two weeks ago, and have done a great deal of study since then. In a couple of hours, I will take the OFFICIAL practice exam (the previous exam, available on their Web site) and then update the readers on how that went. The real test is tomorrow from 13:40 - 14:40 in Nagoya, at Meijou University.

Well, I just took the previous Kanji Kentei Go-kyuu (available for free from the Kanji Kentei Web site), and it's looking all right. I got 79% (70% is passing). I aced several sections (including the writing section at the end, much to my surprise — I guess my studying of kanji combinations has paid off). Out of the 11 total sections, I got at least 60% of the answers right on nine of them. Sections 7 and 10 were where I really, really hemorrhaged points (both were below 60%). Those two sections were Ruigigo/Taigigo (quasi-synonyms and antonyms) and the absolutely God-forsaken homophones section (Section 10).

My schedule is as follows:

January 17, 2012: Nengajō

Above is a nengajō, or traditional Japanese New Year's card, given to me by Tomiko, my student. She wrote the whole thing in Japanese calligraphy with a brush! Cool!

January 15 2012: I Passed the Kanji Kentei Go-Kyuu Practice Test, But...
I just bought a Kanji Kentei Level 5 (Go-kyuu) preparation book from the bookstore. I am scheduled to take the Kanji Kentei (test of Chinese characters in Japanese) in two weeks. I opened up that book and took its practice exam, timed (one hour), and...

...140/200. 70%. I passed the practice exam by the absolute skin of my teeth, since 70% is the pass mark...

So what did I learn from the experience? Indeed, taking this practice exam was rich in relevant information that will help me pass the real thing in two weeks, hopefully by a wider margin than this one...

  1. YES, I am capable of passing this test. It is not over my head — it may stretch my current Japanese to its absolute limit, but it is not impossible for me to pass this test this year. Whether I pass it in January is uncertain, but certainly by the end of the year, with several hundred more hours of study, it should be an easily-attainable goal.
  2. The low-hanging fruit (the stuff that is easiest to study in a short amount of time): kanji radical names and the radicals for the Level 5 kanji. This is a fairly small number of things to memorize, and the payoff is pretty big (I did decently on the kanji radical section of the practice exam, even though I missed two points on it, but since it was mostly just lucky guesses, it doesn't mean I'm strong in this area).
  3. As with all the other practice tests and the real KanKen test that I have taken before, combinations (two or more characters combined to form a Japanese word) were the biggest source of lost points. Therefore, I should study hundreds of combinations over the next two weeks.
  4. I need to make absolutely sure to write Japanese-style kanji and not carelessly write a kanji in the (simplified or traditional) Chinese style or the Korean style. I need to learn the official way of writing some of the characters like "ayama" in "ayama-ru" and "shou" in "shourai," because I wrote these the way I had learned back when I lived in Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong, and while they were certainly correct, they varied slightly in terms of minor stylistic elements from what the book had. I gave myself the benefit of the doubt when scoring these questions, but an official scorer may or may not be so lenient.
  5. Most of the practice test, I felt like I was failing. Actually, I was just barely passing. In other words, just because things don't seem to be going well during the real KanKen on 1/29 doesn't mean I should storm out of the testing room, not to return — things may not be going as badly as they seem.

I learned a new word: mogi shiken. "Practice test." And I probably learned some other words, too. Overall, I'm glad I took that practice test, but I'll really need to buckle down over the next two weeks if I want to make absolutely sure that I pass this thing.

My Kanji Kentei Rokkyuu Practice Test: Score: 76.5%
January 14, 2012: Busy Week and Kanji Kentei Level 6 Practice Test
This has been a very busy week. I had Monday and Tuesday off, but the work I have had to do on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and today, Saturday Special Lessons (plus three Gate Tong projects this week) have made it a roughly standard workweek despite not starting until Wednesday...

Yesterday, I took the practice exam for the Kanji Kentei Level 6 (Rokkyuu). This is one level below the one I intend to take on 1/29. My score was 76.5%. As predicted, I was great on all the things that just require simple kanji memorization (stroke orders, total number of strokes, simple readings, radicals, etc.) but absolutely terrible on writing the proper kanji for a Japanese word given by the test. I wonder why? Could it be that Japanese kids taking this test know thousands and thousands of Japanese words that I don't know? Yeah. Definitely. All of the sections of the test in which I got less than 80% were sections that, had I had a larger vocabulary and studied kanji combinations more, I would have gotten 80% or more on them. So the moral of this story: cram tons of kanji words/combinations over the next 15 days.

As for my study plan, the problem is that Gate Tong has been dumping a ton of work on me lately (three projects this week alone), and even though I told them that I'm quitting, I won't be totally off the hook with them until January 25. I guess I'll just have to do my best to cram as many combinations as possible using the Nintendo DSiWare called "Kan-juku Kanji." And focus very little on Level 6 kanji combos, and mostly focus on Level 5 kanji combos. Type out all the combos in a file and re-read them over and over and over again until I remember most of them.

Maybe next week, I can do all of this and at the end of the week, take the Level 5 practice test to see how I do. My guess is that I can pass it if I try really hard, but it will be close since I'm lacking thousands of words that the other test-takers (who will likely all be Japanese) know like the backs of their hands.

January 11, 2012: Back to Big Apple After the Holidays, and My First Digital/HD TV
In a few minutes, I'm going to work. Here's an update on my new TV. I have been TV-less since July when the Japanese government forced a switchover to digital TV only (see the earlier blog article for screenshots of the public service message on the last day of analog broadcasts in 2011), and I was worrying about it affecting my Japanese listening ability, so I bought one yesterday for between 19,000 and 20,000 yen (somewhat over $200). It was a floor model. However, it was a good price considering what I got: a 23-inch LG HDTV that can double as a computer monitor without any TV-out card! Now I can watch cheesy dramas like 1983's "Tsuma no Himitsu:"

I get the following channels:

So yeah, a pretty good selection considering I don't have to pay a cent for the channels (all broadcast, no satellite or cable). That's nine channels not counting the repeated channel (031). I'm happy with my new purchase so far.

January 10, 2012: Happy New Year 2012, and the Events of the Past 48 Hours
First of all: HAPPY NEW YEAR! Second of all, I have had some amazing adventures over the past 48 hours:
I took a bus to Osaka, then the train to Wakayama City, Wakayama Prefecture, to meet Andrea, my second cousin, who is studying abroad in Japan. We had a good time. We walked around Wakayama City and went and did karaoke. Then we stopped by the CoCo restaurant so I could get some bacon and talked about several subjects both related and unrelated to Japan/Asia (such as my extended family out in Indiana and Ohio). Then Andrea had to call it a night between 11:00 PM and 11:30 PM because her study abroad group was planning to get up around 7:30 AM to go and hike on Kōya-san.This is an enormous kabocha (squash/pumpkin) that I photographed sitting on the cement floor of a multi-story building in Wakayama City. Note my hand and the fire extinguisher for reference. The thing was huge.

Not only was it cool to see Andrea in Japan (and neither of us had come to Japan with the specific purpose of visiting relatives — we were both here for our own reasons, which made hanging out all the more cool), but I also discovered a "shortcut" to Osaka. When looking up train fares to Wakayama, they were looking absolutely outrageous — often around 5,000 yen each way! So I did some research and realized that if I could just get myself to Osaka, there would be a 1210 yen train to Wakayama. So how was I supposed to get myself to Osaka cheaply?

I went to the Yokkaichi bus station and inquired, and it turns out they have an ultra-cheap 4,000 yen round trip deal to Osaka (the front of East Umeda Station, within walking distance of Osaka Station). So I was able to get in and out of Osaka for a mere 4,000 yen (much cheaper than past trips to/from Osaka) and with the Wakayama leg of the trip added, transportation costs added up to a mere 6,420 yen. Although not cheap, it ended up being much cheaper than I had originally thought it would be, and the trip yielded a new economy way to get to Osaka and back.

And on the 8th, just less than 48 hours ago, I finally mastered all the Kyōiku Kanji. The Kyōiku Kanji are the 1,006 kanji outlined by the Ministry of Education that all elementary school graduates should know prior to entering junior high school. So in other words, at least in theory, I know all the kun'yomi, on'yomi, and kanji (including how to write them) that a rising junior high school student ought to know. This is a minor breakthrough, but if I can pass the Kanji Kentei Go-kyū test on 1/29 (for which I registered last month), it will be an even bigger breakthrough (the first time in my life I have been certified for over 1,000 Chinese characters). Once I do that, I need to de-emphasize kanji and work on my oral Japanese skills. I must not fall into the trap of learning endless relatively obscure kanji of diminishing importance.

Another interesting event of the past 48 hours was finishing the series Stargate: Universe. I would have only given the series 3.5/5, but the last four or five episodes were just so darn good, I upgraded it to 4/5 stars. The ending of the series leaves so many questions unanswered — will the crew of the Destiny ever return home? Will they discover the source of the mysteriously well-ordered subspace radiation from before the Big Bang took place? Will the crew members with ALS/blindness be cured? Will Eli find a way to survive the next two weeks as the crew is in stasis? The answers to these questions were not forthcoming. I hope they will continue the series or make a movie to answer these questions, but since the series was cancelled, I'm somewhat doubting it. We can always hope...