June 30, 2012: Thayne Went Back to America, JLPT N3 Is Tomorrow
After staying at my place for slightly over a week, Thayne went back to the USA. Overall, it was cool to see him again. He got six credit hours for his study abroad in Osaka, acquired various games and anime goods, stayed with a host family, and saw Osaka-jō, so overall, I think he did a fair amount here. We went to Tokyo and stayed at a capsule hotel in Kinshichō, as mentioned in the previous post, as well as going to Akihabara. Here are some pics from the last part of his visit to Japan:

Thayne and I at Minami-Hinaga Station, Yokkaichi (just as a random Japanese woman was taking the picture, the train started pulling in, so this was taken hastily):

We went out to eat last night, going to downtown Yokkaichi near Kintetsu Yokkaichi Station. We had intended to get Tex-Mex at Uncle Steve's. Unfortunately, we couldn't find Uncle Steve's. So we ate at a Taiwanese restaurant. This was my dish — s chuān niru. It was delicious. There were two waitresses. The middle-aged one in the white shirt was nice and polite. The one in the red shirt, who was probably at least in her fifties or maybe even her sixties, less so.

A Snail I Found Crawling on the Road Shortly After Thayne Left for Kansai Kokusai Kūkō

Last night, my Nintendo 3DS pedometer finally hit 3,500,000 steps. At the time of this writing, it is at 3,510,140 steps.

Now that Thayne's back on his way to America (in what will be a ~26-hour journey, by his estimate), I need to focus on the JLPT. Unfortunately, I won't be able to accomplish all the things on my aforementioned 80-hour study plan, because quite frankly, most of the things on the plan ended up taking much more time than I budgeted for them. Here is a run down of each section and my preparedness for each section:

  • Language Knowledge (Characters and Vocabulary): This will be the easiest to prepare for. I have about 240 review rounds left on Anki, and then I'll consider myself "ready" for this part of the test. Since my Anki decks contain 1,006 kanji and ~3,222 words for the JLPT N5, N4, and N3, I am pretty sure that will give me an acceptable level of vocabulary/kanji for the test. Estimated Time Remaining: [COMPLETE]
  • Lanuguage Knowledge (Grammar) and Reading: I think I can meet all my preparation goals for this section, as well (thanks in large part to Kaori's very generous checking of my 192 sentences). I need to read the remainder of the book N3 Bunpō Speed Master (estimated time: one hour), do a re-read of the grammar notes that I've meticulously compiled plus all the sentences that I wrote and Kaori corrected (estimated time: two hours), and take the three grammar practice exams (estimated time: 1.5 hours). Estimated Time Remaining: 4.5 hours
  • Listening Comprehension: There's no way I can do a transcription of all the stuff on the CDs. The best I can do is accomplish all my listening goals in terms of TV/radio up until Thayne came and re-listen to the CD at least twice. And re-read all my transcripts at least once. I have gotten ~71% on both practice exams. Oh, and keep in mind, on the real test, no matter how bad it seems, just hang in there. Because I felt awful after both of the N3 Chōkai Speed Master practice tests, yet got ~71% on both (pass). Oh, and listen to Japanese radio the whole way from my house to JR Yokkaichi Station, just so I can get my ear in tune for that day... Estimated Time Remaining: 1 hour

    Current Estimates on My JLPT N3 Scores:

  • Language Knowledge (Characters and Vocabulary): 60% (based on a quick practice quiz taken at the local bookstore, admittedly a small and flawed sample)
  • Language Knowledge (Grammar) and Reading: 85% (based on Dai 1-Wa and Dai 2-Wa practice quizzes)
  • Listening Comprehension: 71% (based on two practice tests)

    Overall estimated score at this point if my test turns out the same way as my various practice tests/quizzes: 72% (barely passing)

    June 25, 2012: Trip to Tokyo (Capsule Hotel, Akihabara)
    I just got back from Tokyo. I went up there with Thayne Bohman, my buddy from let's see...I've known him since we were in the same first/second grade combo class at Oak View Elementary School. He just finished his study abroad thing in Osaka and we hung out and went to Tokyo. And stayed in a capsule hotel (in Kinshichō). It's 2,500 yen per person and each capsule looks like this:

    Here are some other pics:

    Inside each capsule, which is just large enough to lie down and sleep (with a curtain at the entrance for privacy), there is a small TV which only gets regular broadcast channels and not cable) and a radio and a clock... It's pretty spartan, but for 2,500 yen ($31.07) a night in Tokyo, the price is right.

    A View Out of the Capsule

    Thayne and I went to Akihabara. Supposedly on Sunday, the street is blocked off and cosplayers are "everywhere," but we didn't really see very many... However, we did go to some interesting video game shops.

    This particular video game shop sells many old used games, like Final Fantasy I, II, III, IV, V, etc. for the Famicom and Super Famicom, respectively. It also has Mother for the Famicom.

    ...and a working Famicom 2!

    Since Akihabara is known as "Electric Town," there are also places that sell electronic components.

    I went ahead and returned because I have to work. Thayne is still in Tokyo, and will probably come back here relatively soon. So yeah, basically these were the milestones for this weekend, at least apart from studying:

    1. Met up with Thayne.
    2. Went to Tokyo and checked into a capsule hotel, making this the first time I've actually stayed at one.
    3. Went to Akihabara. Though I have technically been there before, my first time there was ruined by someone who was not having a good day... This time, it was much better and I got to see a lot more.
    4. I bought a PSP. Because my PS Vita sucks. Seriously. Over six months since launch and despite many (broken) promises from Sony claiming it will eventually be able to do so, it still can't play PSOne Classics, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, or Ape Escape Portable. So when I saw an original PSP that can do all those things right now (not at some vague, not-to-be-relied-upon future date), I decided to snap it up at the bargain price of 3,980 yen (i.e. about 1/8th the price of my PS Vita which can't do all the things I just mentioned).
    Now I'm back at home. Guess I'd better prepare for tomorrow, my first day back on the job after this Tokyo trip. And also, I need to prepare for the JLPT N3 on Sunday... Yikes...

    June 19, 2012: Sixth Anniversary Back in Asia
    It has been six years since I arrived in Seoul, South Korea on June 19, 2006. Counting the five years I spent in Asia growing up, that makes a total of 11 years. Pretty good for a "western" guy. And I'm still going strong here in the Far East. I've watched almost every other westerner I've known leave. But I'm still here. And plan to be for the foreseeable future. So to celebrate this, I got a couple of bentō boxes from the Hotto Motto place and a couple of Oni Koroshi drink boxes...

    Oh, and here's a quick board diagram I doodled up to explain to Ryoji why he needs to learn how to pronounce "sixteen" and "sixty" correctly...

    JLPT N3 Exam Pass
    June 14, 2012: JLPT N3 Exam Pass Arrived in the Mail Today
    I got my exam pass in the mail today. I'm taking this thing in early July. It's definite now. Fortunately, my studies for the exam are going fairly well. I am super busy, but overall, am managing my time much better than I have for most past exams. The test location will be the same as the previous JLPT and both Kanji Kentei exams — Meijō Daigaku. This is a good omen.

    June 11, 2012: About to Watch "Marco Polo - Adventures in China"
    I've worked really hard this weekend. And to reward myself, I'm going to spend ~1.5 hours watching the 1982 film "Marco Polo - Adventures in China." When finished, I'll get back on here and write what I thought of it. And I will watch it with some pizza toast (because Marco Polo was Italian, after all) and 300 mL of sake.

    ...well, that was certainly interesting. I only watched 45 minutes of this part (I'm trying to get to bed by 2:00 AM), but these are the key plot points:

  • Marco Polo was born to an ailing mother; his father, Niccolo Polo, had left on a voyage before Marco Polo was born. His mother eventually died, and he was left with his aunt, who did not seem to like Marco Polo very much and seemed to consider him a burden. Eventually, during a dispute with his aunt, Marco Polo finally walked out.
  • Marco liked to talk to sailors who had traveled to distant lands. In that day, sailing to Persia was considered one of the longest, greatest journeys a sailor could make. One sailor claimed that he had seen Marco Polo's father tied to a stake and executed with Mongol arrows (this was in the 1200s, when the Mongol hordes were raging; Marco had been born in 1254).
  • Marco was working on building a boat. One of his favorite hangouts was the local boathouse.
  • Marco Polo and his girlfriend (who he later learned was the daughter of a prostitute in Venice) eloped for two days and one night on the boat Marco Polo had built, with the intention of going on a great voyage. However, at that time, Marco Polo was an inexperienced sailor, and the sails tore in a storm and the boat almost sank. Upon returning, Marco Polo found a surprise waiting for him: HIS FATHER!
  • His father had been presumed dead, but was actually still alive, as was his uncle. His father and uncle had been on a journey that few in Venice even believed — they had reached China, amassing great riches and meeting the Khan, Kublai Khan. Unfortunately, on the way back, Niccolo Polo (Marco's father) had been robbed (ironically, he had gotten through Mongol territory with carrying his large, solid golden visa granted to him by Kublai Khan, no problem — it was once he was back in Europe that he was robbed and most of his treasure stolen).
  • Niccolo Polo and Marco's uncle both planned to return to the Far East and bring back more treasure, hopefully getting luckier this time. Marco wanted to go with them, and they refused.
  • However, that night, the father of Marco's girlfriend paid a very angry visit to the Polo's residence and threatened to bring legal action against Marco unless Marco married his daughter. Niccolo and his uncle intervened and said that without a dowry, Marco had no obligation (nor would it be prudent) for Marco to marry his girlfriend. Marco's girlfriend's father was furious and made a number of threats. It was right after this that Niccolo Polo said that it would be okay for Marco to come along with them. He said that given a few months to cool off, everything would "blow over." Niccolo's plan was to bring Marco as far as Dalmatia (one of the westernmost Mongol territories) and then send Marco back to Venice. Obviously, the latter is not what ended up actually happening, however...
  • It should be noted that right before this, Niccolo and Marco's uncle had gone before a council in Venice and told the council of an overture of peace from Kublai Khan. The Polos said that Kublai Khan was a religiously-tolerant and peace-loving man, not nearly as bloodthirsty as Genghis Khan, his grandfather, and that Kublai Khan was more interested in establishing trade links than in expanding his empire militarily. He was very interested in various religions, and had researched both Buddhism and Islam. He was curious about Christianity and requested missionaries from Venice to teach him.
  • Unfortunately, most of the men in the council were extremely closed-minded. They not only told Niccolo not to return to China, but also told Niccolo that they believed he had associated with heathens and should be worried about his own soul. They even said there was a possibility of mounting an attack of crusaders against Kublai Khan. Niccolo stated that this was ludicrous — Kublai Khan's massive, advanced empire was ten times the size of that of Alexander the Great's, and if provoked, he could easily mobilize literally millions of troops.
  • However, one of the leaders of Venice (not a church leader, but a secular leader) told Niccolo, in secret, that he should return to the Khan. In fact, he ordered him to do so! This man appeared to approve of the idea of Venice having a trade route with Kublai Khan, and did not want to wait until a new pope was selected for them to embark (deliberations for the new pope had taken three years already at that point, as people couldn't decide whether to appoint a French pope or an Italian pope).
  • This section details Marco's journey to China... They start off by setting out for the Holy Land. Marco Polo visits Jerusalem and Acre. At this point in time, the Crusades have allowed Christians and Jews access to Jerusalem, but they must wear blue turbans while in the Holy Land. While near Jerusalem/Acre, Marco Polo witnesses a massacre of a peaceful Bedouin village by crusaders.
  • Eventually the group reaches Acre. The cardinal there gives them a note for Kublai Khan and they also obtain oil from the sepulcher outside of Jesus' tomb by bribery. They begin their journey, but are recalled to Acre by the cardinal — he has become Pope! He gives them a new letter of peace to send to Kublai Khan, and they are off on their way. Marco speaks "out of turn" and vents to the Pope about the atrocities he saw crusaders commit against Bedouins; the Pope (Gregory), instead of being angry at Marco, responds "The church has much to answer for."
  • Marco and his father, uncle, and some monks set out for China. They are, at one point, captured by Muslims, but the commanding officer of the Muslims decides to set them free (he was formerly an Italian who converted to Islam after being sold into slavery in Muslim territory after a shipwreck).
  • They attempt to board a ship in Hormuz, but are unable to do so because the black plague has struck the city (they enter the city during a Muslim funeral, very eery, and see a ship being burned). They realize they will have to continue their journey on foot.
  • They pass through West/Central Asia including the Pamir Range. They are nearly killed by an avalanche, but Buddhist monks take them in and rehabilitate them just in the nick of time.
  • Eventually, they enter Mongol territory in western China. They are immediately surrounded by Mongol horsemen, but Niccolo shows them the golden visa conferred upon him by the Khan and he and his party are welcomed with open arms! Bektor Khan throws a banquet in their honor; they drink fermented mare's milk, watch the Mongol equivalent to a rodeo, etc. Marco even wrestles with one of the Mongol warriors (he loses, but puts up a good fight).
  • Eventually, they meet Kublai Khan himself. He is interested in Christianity. One of his wives, Chabi, is intensely interested in Christianity; she states that there are already Christian priests in China, but they are not connected with the pope.
  • He has met with the Kublai Khan. His traveling companions have warned him not to get too friendly with the Khan; "heads have rolled."
  • Marco Polo witnesses a man who is related to the Khan having an epileptic seizure. Europeans knew what to do about epileptic seizures, and called it the "falling disease" — restrain the person and put a belt in the person's mouth. A previous Khan had ordered that all that witnessed this relative's epileptic seizure be put to death; Marco Polo's servant was put to death, but he avoided being killed himself when he described to Kublai Khan how this disease was a common trait among great men such as Alexander the Great.
  • The Khan had Marco Polo sent on a tour of the Great Wall, constructed a millennium previously to protect against barbarians from the desert (the very Mongols who ended up ruling in the Yuan Dynasty).
  • The forces of Kublai Khan (who came after Genghis Khan) had advanced archery and horseback riding. Marco Polo was initially unable to draw a Mongol bow until his Han Chinese servant told him how to do so.
  • At that point in time, the Han Chinese were subservient to the ruling Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty. The Yuan Dynasty was not yet allowing Han Chinese to fill top positions of power, but it was their hope to do this one day (the Kublai Khan stated that he wanted the Mongols to be thought of as "brothers of the same mother" and not conquerors).
  • Marco Polo was impressed by inventions such as the printing press and the clock that had not yet made their way into Europe.
  • It's the late 1200s. Kublai Khan has been fighting a war against a Chinese general in southern China. He has finally won. Kublai Khan rules over a China united under the Yuan Dynasty from the capital, Khanbalic (which is really just another name for Beijing and its Forbidden City) which he inhabits.
  • Eventually, the south of China fell to Kublai Khan. At around that time, Kublai Khan issued an ultimatum to the Japanese (known as "Japan-guo" by the Khan): surrender or be destroyed. The envoys sent to Japan to issue this ultimatum were beheaded!
  • Initially, the Khan was unsure of whether or not to invade Japan. However, when the envoys were beheaded, he was enraged. He ignored the advice of most of his advisers, Marco Polo, and the astrologer(s) and decided to continue with the invasion of Kyūshū.
  • At this point, two of the Khan's advisers who normally disagreed on various things agreed on this one: send Marco Polo to southern China to come up with a system of taxation with his traveling companion, Achmet. It seems as if Marco Polo was a pawn and when his presence was not wanted by certain advisers of the Khan who felt him a threat, they were able to get him reassigned...
  • The part of the drama about Marco Polo's assignment in southern China (the newly-conquered region) was called "Adventures in China." En route to southern China, the party consisting of Marco and Niccolo Polo and Marco's uncle (as well as some others) was ambushed by an assassin. Southern China had just been completely defeated by the Khan's army, and there was growing unrest and talk of rebellion.
  • Part of the reason for the growing unrest was the tax system. In theory, the tax system was very lenient. In theory, it allowed Chinese farmers to be tax-exempt for up to three years if there were famines or hail storms or other reasons for bad harvests. However, in reality, the local tax officials were highly corrupt, and took taxes as they saw fit (much of the tax money never even reaching Kublai Khan's khanate). When the villagers did not or could not pay, the tax officials would have raids in which they killed, burned, looted, and took the daughters of the southern Chinese villagers.
  • Marco protested this. There was an enormous amount of tension between Marco's party and the tax officials.
  • It was in southern China that the Polos became more familiar with the Chinese. Marco Polo believed that by befriending the Chinese and not treating them as a conquered people, the Khan could receive their cooperation. Marco also fell in love with a European-Chinese woman while in southern China (she was probably originally from Italy or at least born to Italian parents overseas, but had been shipwrecked as a small child and taken in by a Chinese family and raised as Chinese).
  • There was also a very, very bizarre part of the mini-series in which the Polos visited a Taoist master's cave. The Taoist master was eating a only berries, tree bark, etc. in the self-mummification process that takes place over several years (I am not sure what it is called in Chinese, but the Japanese word for the same thing is sokushinbutsu).
  • Eventually there was another raid by the tax officials. Marco Polo's girlfriend's sister (well, not technically her sister since they were not blood-related, but sister for all intents and purposes) was kidnapped and brought to Khanbalic (Mongolian name for Beijing).
  • Marco and his party returned to Khanbalic. Things were tense there. First of all, the generals who had been dispatched to Japan-guo to conquer it returned defeated — Kublai Khan was furious and had them executed. There was growing unrest around Khanbalic, as well. Both Nayan Khan and Kaidu Khan (the khan Marco Polo met when he first entered China, who threw him a banquet) were plotting rebellion. Meanwhile, Achmet took the kidnapped sister of Marco's girlfriend as his wife. However, Achmet was assassinated by rebels and his new "wife" hung herself.
  • At this point, due to the constant unrest and rebellions, Kublai Khan was not in a good mood. He ordered most of the conspirators against him either executed or exiled. Initially, Marco Polo's girlfriend, who had been part of the rebellion, was scheduled to be executed, but Phags-pa Lama, formerly not a fan of Marco Polo, and who had turned to not being Marco's opponent anymore, did Marco a favor — he got Marco's girlfriend's sentence reduced to life in exile instead of execution. Marco was allowed to see her one last time, but not talk to her.
  • Further adding to Kublai's stress, his son (the epileptic) died. Marco was also very sad, as he had been a good friend to Marco.
  • In "Last Days in China," there were battles between Kublai Khan and Kaidu Khan (Kublai Khan's victory) and also Kublai Khan and Nayan Khan. Both of these khans had been conspiring to take power, and Kublai Khan dealt with them mercilessly. Nayan Khan was actually a Nestorian Christian, which was one reason why Kublai Khan did not convert to Christianity (he did not want to show submission to Nayan Khan's faith).
  • When Kublai Khan found Nayan still alive, he said that Nayan must die the death of a Mongol khan, without his blood hitting the ground. So Kublai Khan put Nayan on the ground between blankets (to keep the blood from hitting the ground) and had Nayan trampled to death with warriors on horseback.
  • At the end of Marco's expedition in China, Phags-pa Lama had warmed up to Marco Polo. Niccolo Polo (Marco's father) was getting old and homesick; he wanted to see Venice again before he died. Phags-pa was able to arrange the Polos to leave China to help someone navigate to Persia. The Polos acquired a compass that aided them in this purpose. Before setting out, the Great Khan shook Marco Polo's hand and said that he was passing some of his spirit to Marco; he asked Marco to return to China/Mongol-held territory, and said that Marco's kind was welcome in China. However, he knew that he was growing old and weak and could no longer mount a horse without assistance, and would soon die (before Marco could come back).
  • Well, Marco sailed for Venice with his father and uncle. They arrived and Marco was eventually imprisoned. His cell mate wrote down the accounts of Marco as Marco dictated them. The church and the Venetian government were furious because of all the things in the book that went against church doctrine. Many customs, like Mongol men approving of their wives sleeping with foreign men as a "courtesy," the idea of a different set of constellations in the sky over China, etc. rattled the Venetian elders. However, several other sources corroborated parts of Polo's account, and eventually, the tribunal decided to allow Marco to go free (though they requested that he revise his book).
  • Marco Polo and his father and uncle became rich. Marco was a relative unknown when he first got out of prison, and most did not believe his accounts. However, eventually, the accounts got out and he became famous. He died in 1324, unfortunately never returning to Mongol-held China.

    So yeah... That was the miniseries. It was great. I highly recommend it, and learned a lot.

    May 27, 2012: Detailed JLPT N3 Study Plan for the T-Minus Five Week Mark
    Today, 35 days remain until I take the JLPT N3. That's five weeks. I figure that for four of those weeks, I'll have 17.5 hours per week available to study for the JLPT N3. On the final week, though, Thayne will be here, so I doubt I'll be able to study much besides just Anki reps (maintenance) and a ten-hour burst at the very end after he goes back to America (eight hours on Saturday, two hours on Sunday, just before the test). All in all, that comes out to 80 hours. Below is my plan to use these 80 hours as effectively as possible.

    • 22 hours: Anki reps (one hour per day for this week, 45 minutes per day in Weeks 2 and 3, and 30 minutes per day in Week 4 and 5)
    • 31 hours: Grammar (155 patterns left to cover in the book N3 Bunpō Speed Master); count on covering five per hour, which should be possible if I type them instead of writing them out by hand)
    • 20 hours: dictating everything and reading everything in N3 Chōkai Speed Master
    • 3 hours: final review
    • 2 hours: a practice test (this should be enough time for one of them — approximately a week from the actual test, when I have done most of my preparation; it will help me benefit from "knowing what I don't know" in the last week)
    • 2 hours: tidying up stuff like my Anki deck and my notes and getting them into order
    This continues the study I started doing last week (see last week's plan). Last week, I listened to Japanese for one hour a day; this week, I will up that to 3.5 hours a day when awake and 3.5 hours a day when asleep, including when Thayne is here, the goal being to get 245 hours of passive Japanese listening practice. Note that it will just be background noise while I do something else, most of the time.

    For the next 35 days, I intend to immerse myself fully in Japanese except when doing tasks that must be done in English. I'm going AJATT-style from now until the test, I suppose. I have even reformatted my computer to remove any unnecessary E-word (English) and set up a plugin on my browser to restrict access to non-Japanese sites. I'm going hardcore on this. I don't intend to "have fun" in English more than three hours a week until the test, except when Thayne is here. With all that immersion, plus my study regimen, I think I can lick this test:

    1. Lanuage Knowledge (Characters/Vocabulary): I'm probably already ready. It's just a matter of maintaining what I know using Anki. I have already memorized the 3,222 words that are estimated to be tested on the test, as well as 1,006 kanji from when I passed the KanKen Level 5 (well beyond what the test tests).
    2. Language Knowledge (Grammar)/Reading: This is why I'm doing N3 Bunpō Speed Master. Besides that, during my immersion, I will encounter a great deal of reading, which will help improve my reading without formal study.
    3. Listening: Hopefully the 252 total hours of pre-test listening immersion, plus N3 Chōkai Master will raise my listening to the necessary level.
    It's okay if I do poorly on one section as long as I meet the minimum pass mark for that section (which is set very low). However, over all, I need to do well on this test. I'm not sure how well because the scoring is a mystery (see below), but well.

    May 24, 2012: JLPT Scoring System Blues
    A couple years ago (or maybe a few), the JLPT scoring system changed. The new system is not at all transparent, and makes it very difficult to predict in advance whether the examinee will pass the test or not.

    Previously (i.e. prior to 2009 or 2010), it had been very simple. Just add up the number of right answers (and maybe multiply them by 2 or something for certain sections, I don't remember) and get your score. Simple. This meant that any guy could take an old test as a practice exam at home, and calculate his/her score. If the score was over 70% (or 80% for the higher levels), pass. If the score was under 70% or 80%, fail. Simple. This made it very easy for people to self-study for the JLPT — they could know with reasonable certainty whether they were likely to pass or not.

    Fast-forward to 2012. The JLPT now uses a new scoring system based on IRT (Item Response Theory). I have done a fair amount of research on it, and basically, these are the basics of it:

    1. Each question, upon the completion of the test, will be assigned a weight depending on how many people got it right or wrong. For example, a really easy question might be worth only 1 point and a really hard question might be worth 3 points (this is determined AFTER the test, when people's answers are analyzed).
    2. The result is a total score between -3 and 3, such as -0.066, which is turned into a more visually-appealing score (for example, 99/120 or 44/60). How this process works is a mystery.
    3. Since no practice exams available state how many points each question is worth, the best I can go on is the total percentage.
    4. For example, I got 14/21 on the vocabulary practice exam. 66.67%, right? Wrong. Because It's possible that the ones I got correct were all only worth 1 point, and the ones I got wrong were all worth 3 points. If that were the case, I would end up with a score of 14/35 (40%). Much lower than 66.67%.
    5. This means it is virtually impossible to take a mock exam and self-assess. Because I have no idea which ones are the high-point questions and which ones are the low-point questions.
    6. Therefore, I have no idea what my 10/16 on the listening practice exam and my 14/21 on the vocabulary exam mean. In an optimistic scenario (all the ones I got right were tough ones worth 3 points each and all the ones I got wrong worth only 1 point), I would get 30/36 on the listening exam and 42/49 on the vocab exam. But in a worst case scenario (all the ones I got right worth 1 point, all the ones I got wrong worth 3 points), I would end up with 10/28 and 14/35, respectively. So the reader can see that there is a VAST difference between the two.
    7. Therefore, I have no reliable way of predicting what my JLPT N3 results will be like.
    8. I guess the best I can do at this point is to calculate my scores as a percentage like the old JLPT. If it's over 70%, I can be fairly confident I'll pass, otherwise, I should be worried. But this is extremely rough, and as mentioned above, my actual IRT scaled scores may vary by several dozen percentage points. Essentially, I'm shooting in the dark here.
    Personally, I preferred the old JLPT format, like the one I took back in 2008. It was very simple to self-calculate scores and come up with a reasonable idea beforehand on whether passing was likely or unlikely. I realize that the JLPT Foundation is doing this in an effort to punish "lucky guessers" and reward people with very strong language skills, as well as keep scores more consistent from test to test, but it also leads to some anxiety for me. I like to know before I go and take an exam whether or not I'll pass it.

    Well, I guess that for now, I'll just make extremely rough estimates using simple scoring (e.g. "I got 15 out of 20 right, that's 75%, not bad"). And I'll go in in July and see how I do. I don't intend to take a JLPT in December, but if I fail in July, I guess I can always retake it in December.

    I just wish there were more transparency. This is a trend in Japan. People (the JLPT Foundation on the JLPT, the Immigration Office for one- or three-year visa extensions) are evaluating me — but their methods for evaluating me are a closely-guarded secret. If I could just know how I was being evaluated, it would help me do a lot better on the evaluations. But that would be too simple, wouldn't it.

    Hey, since the above post was so boring, I might as well tack another boring post onto it, right? I'm going to make a list here of the things I need to back up from my computer onto my new, 980 yen, 16 GB USB flash drive before I wipe the whole computer clean and re-install a fresh install of Windows Vista:

    1. My Anki decks. This is bar-none the most important thing. I should back them up just before reformatting the hard drive to make sure they aren't out-of-date, and should even e-mail myself a copy as well, just in case the backup screws up. They're that important.
    2. Virtually everything from the desktop. This is a no-brainer.
    3. My bookmarks from Google Chrome.
    4. The Big Apple FTP settings. We went through hell to get them from the server company, and I'd hate to have to do that again.
    5. Everything from the 1_Charles directory on C:.
    6. All the stuff from the "DOS" directory on C:. This includes my TC save, my attempt at writing a TI-81 RPG, etc. Important stuff that I can't afford to lose, LOL.
    This list is to be continued... No doubt, I will add some stuff to this list later, and probably even discover (after having reformatted my computer) that there was something I really ought to have backed up... I hate it when that happens, but it can't be helped... Can't let my computer be super slow and seriously compromise my productivity just for one or two files...

    May 21, 2012: Setting Up a Computer for an AJATT-Like Immersion Experience
    I have decided to postpone my full immersion in Japanese until next week. The problem is the computer.

    The computer interferes with my ability to immerse myself, because when on the Internet, there is so much temptation to visit sites in English. I keep thinking "Just this once!" and before I know it, several hours have gone by with virtually no Japanese contact time. I knew this beforehand, and decided to simply limit my computer use per day.

    Unfortunately, that doesn't work either. Because the computer is an absolutely incredible tool for language learning:

    1. It's how I'm able to do Anki and SRS (Spaced Repetition System) reps to maintain my 3,000+ word Japanese vocabulary and my 1,006+ kanji vocabulary.
    2. There are several Internet sites which are actually quite helpful for my Japanese that I'm cutting myself off from if I ban myself from using the computer. For example, on Japan Cupid, I can practice messaging in Japanese with Japanese ladies. Definitely helpful for language acquisition. On jisho.org, there is an incredible dictionary that blows both my paper dictionaries out of the water. Lang-8.com is a great way to get one's Japanese writing proofread for free.
    3. I have work tasks that I am required to do on the computer. This time, I had to do some stuff for Kaori (updating the Big Apple Web site).
    4. I use my computer as a backup alarm clock in case my cell phone doesn't go off. Over a year on the job, not a single missed/late day of work, so the system works.
    So...the computer is invaluable both to my normal everyday functioning and to my Japanese language acquisition. However, whenever I use it, I have the temptation to surf to various non-Japanese sites, or use non-Japanese programs. How do I remedy this problem? How do I set up my computer environment so it will immerse me in Japanese?

    I have done some research and thinking on this. Here are some solutions:

    1. Use Tools -> Internet Options in Internet Explorer to install a .RAT file and limit Internet Explorer to sites that are either in Japanese, or that teach Japanese, or sites necessary for work. This will only work on Internet explorer, so in order to pull this off, I'll have to uninstall the other browsers on my computer to remove the temptation to open them and visit non-permitted sites. I will also need to choose a very, very long password (maybe 50 characters or so) so I'm not tempted to override the block every time I feel like surfing on over to Dave's ESL Cafe.
    2. I should reformat my computer and remove all programs that are non-essential, except for Japanese ones. Uninstall all non-Japanese games or other fun programs.
    3. In order to do #2, I will need to back up my computer first.
    So I guess my goal for this week is to back up the important files on my computer, then completely wipe the hard drive and re-install Windows. Then, once that's done, make a list of 20 or so Japanese-friendly Web sites and use a .RAT file and Tools -> Internet Options to limit Internet Explorer to those sites only. Hopefully, if I do all these steps, I can create a Japanese immersion-friendly computer environment that will cut out the non-Japanese distractions whilst allowing all the Japanese-learning-friendly Web sites.

    May 19, 2012: THE BANISHMENT
    In an effort to improve my Japanese, I have just removed all English, Korean, and Chinese language materials from my living room, my kitchen, and my bathroom area (or at least 99% of them — I can't guarantee that there isn't material lingering somewhere). These areas are now devoid of any non-Japanese material, except material related to work, things that came with the apartment, or essential items that would have a negligible detrimental effect on my immersion (e.g. my toothpaste tube, which is in English). Oh, and things about Japan that are in English are okay, such a travel guide or a Japanese textbook.

    Starting at 0:00, 5/20, I plan to do the following:

    1. Outside of work, be immersed in Japanese virtually 24/7.
    2. Listen to 3.5 hours per day of Japanese while awake (via the TV or the radio) and 3.5 hours while sleeping for a grand total of 7 hours per day.
    3. Only use English outside of work for seven hours this week. Use this mostly for essential tasks like corresponding with friends and family or other must-be-in-English activities.
    4. The computer is problematic because on the Internet, there is always the temptation to go to English language Web sites. Therefore, for now, my plan is to buy a used Japanese computer and NOT connect it to the Internet; only install Japanese or Japanese learning programs on it (like Anki). Later on, I plan to come up with a more detailed set of regulations so that will allow me to use the Internet fairly frequently but keep it in Japanese, but for now, any time I spend on my English language laptop will be counted as part of the seven hours.
    And so, with six weeks left until the JLPT N3, the immersion starts. It's not quite AJATT, but it's based on it.

    I have been playing this game like an addict since I downloaded it from the Nintendo eShop for 400 yen on April 8 (although I first played it in elementary school, or at least watched it being played, on an Apple IIc, and not much later, on my Game Boy in 1996). I got the third-tier ending on April 10, but today, for the first time in my life, I achieved the best ending. Here is proof of my feat, 209,371 points (for the uninitiated, a player needs 100,000 points to win with the small rocket, 150,000 points to get the medium-sized rocket, and 200,000 points to get the largest rocket).

    But it came at a cost! I just checked my Activity Log and I've been playing this game for 50 hours and 47 minutes. And considering I downloaded it on 4/8, that means I've been averaging nearly two hours per day. Yikes!

    Well, the good news is that now that I've won, clearing the best ending, there is really little incentive to keep playing. I guess I can return to productivity again.

    This calls for celebration. I'm going to go out and treat myself to some Sukiya gyūdon, exempt from this week's food budget.

    May 6, 2012: Quite a Night, or Rather, Morning, in Downtown Yokkaichi
    I've made it one of my goals for my second year in Japan to attend more social events... Last night (okay, it was after midnight, so technically this morning), I went to the British pub in downtown Yokkaichi, then went some other places, too, and met some people...

    ...like Lady Gaga:

    ...Yuki Hirayama, whose friends call her Himalaya Mountains because Hirayama is an anagram for "Himaraya," the Japanese word for "Himalaya." And the guy on the right in the back is Mashi.


    ...oh, and this weekend, my pedometer finally reached 3,000,000+ steps (it took slightly under one year).

    May 5, 2012: Restructuring My Japanese Self-Study System to Be Based Around the J-Test, Listening Comprehension
    In my time in Japan, I have upgraded my Japanese level to JLPT N4 and Kanji Kentei Level 5. These are respectable enough for my first year, but my listening comprehension still sucks. I want to analyze why, and then come up with a plan to improve listening comprehension.

    The Old System

    • Based on the JLPT and Kanji Kentei tests, both of which are heavily reading- and writing-focused. The JLPT, although supposedly testing listening comprehension, only tests a very, very low level of listening comprehension (the ability to understand a narrator who is speaking very slowly and very clearly).
    • In order to pass those tests, I spent the vast majority of my Japanese learning time on reading and writing kanji/words, which is what those tests emphasize.
    • A typical study day would involve ~1 hour of Anki reps for review (entirely writing, mostly in kanji and hiragana with a bit of katakana).
    • New material was primarily words in kanji/hiragana/katakana with furigana from a JLPT word list.
    • Typically, as the test drew closer, I would use a textbook to study up on JLPT-related grammar patterns and expressions and do a bit of listening practice (some random TV watching/radio listening and a few CDs [mostly dictation] when crunch time was coming right up). Then I would promptly cease most of this listening-focused stuff as soon as the test was done.
    • Results:
      - Acceptable writing
      - Pretty good kanji (1,006 kanji the equivalent of a sixth grader)
      - Ability to read most things that are written in literal Japanese (i.e. very few special expressions or idioms), sometimes relying on a dictionary to some extent
      - Very poor listening comprehension, only one-on-one conversations are really possible (it is nearly impossible to understand two Japanese people talking to each other), and even in one-on-one conversations, the person cannot speak at full speed and/or use a full breadth of vocabulary

    The New System

    • The "capstone" is the J-Test, not the JLPT. I may still take the JLPT, but the J-Test is the test that I need to put more emphasis on. Here are the reasons:
      - The J-Test tests a much higher level of Japanese than the JLPT. With the JLPT, when a person hits N1, he's finished. That's all there is. N1 is the highest measured level, even though it still isn't very high. An educated Japanese native speaker who had lived in Japan for 50 years and a reasonably conscientious American college kid who had majored in Japanese in college and studied abroad for a matter of months would both get N1. However, with the J-Test, there is the possibility of measuring much more diverse abilities. On the J-Test, the educated Japanese native speaker might get Special A Grade, and the American college kid would only get a C or so, because a JLPT N1 is more or less equivalent to a grade of 'C' on that test.
      - The J-Test (after the low levels E and F, anyway) is just one test that gives a single composite score. There is one test that can be taken from intermediate-low to fluent, making the scores between testings comparable. Unlike the JLPT (for which it is impossible to compare, say, an N4 and an N3 listening score), it is very possible to compare J-Test scores from testing to testing, since they are all the same test.
      - The J-Test is offered four times a year. This is as opposed to the JLPT, which is only offered twice a year.
      - What this means is that I could take the J-Test four times a year and constantly monitor my listening score (the listening section would never change significantly in difficulty, so I could always compare my scores from one testing to the next, to see how much I had improved in objective terms).
    • The second part of the new study method would be to cut out kanji altogether (except on reviews of old words), and when doing SRSing (Spaced Repetition System-ing), make sure to only write out the hiragana and/or katakana (saves loads of time since kanji take a long time to write). However, one possibility might be still having the kanji on the card so I can at least recognize it (just don't write it). Doing this, I could easily add 20 words to my deck per day instead of 10 and it would take less time. In fact, I might not even have to write the SRS answers down — I could just say them out loud. 100 words that used to take me ~30 minutes could now be completed in ~15 minutes.
    • Stop studying JLPT lists and grammar books. Instead, work on authentic materials that are A) interesting to me and B) usable by children (to avoid jargon and overly technical, low-frequency words with little real-life application). I think it would be good to start with Crayon Shin-Chan movies since they have Japanese subs, and I can read the transcription of what the people in the movie said in case I can't catch it. I should keep a list of sentences and read over them at regular intervals; the goal is to translate 10,000 sentences. For each sentence, I should annotate using a special set of nomenclature whether I had trouble with vocabulary, grammar, a cultural reference, etc. Every 100 sentences, come up with statistics. These statistics, taken every 100 sentences, should show an improving trend over time and provide extra encouragement in between J-Tests.
    • Work on the 10,000 hour system. According to AJATT, 10,000 hours is a good guideline for listening comprehension; spend 10,000 hours listening to Japanese (including while sleeping), and one will become a fluent listener. Not sure if this is true or not. If I want to become fluent in Japanese in the next four years, this would entail listening to Japanese about ~7 hours a day (though half of that could easily be while sleeping).
    • When I am not SRSing or doing casual listening, work on listening comprehension CDs. I will start with the Minna no Nihongo CDs since I already have them on hand. Whereas before I based a "study unit" on which JLPT word list entries I memorized, a new unit could consist of how many minutes of CD audio I had transcribed.
    • Have a log on casual listening comprehension and dictation. Both count for hours towards the 10,000. I will need to set a minimum threshold for dictation, though, since that isn't as fun as casual listening hours.
    • Get a language exchange partner to ask questions about the authentic material. Have all my questions ready by the meeting so I can use the time well.
    • Do not bother to study slang and colloquialisms from slang books. These are often very obscure things that the author thought were "interesting," but rarely pop up in conversation. For example, one of the words I learned from a slang book was "atogama" (literally "later kettle," slang for a successor or a new wife after a divorce) — and I've never actually heard anyone say it.
    • Take the J-Test every three months. Don't pay attention to any of the scores except the listening score. If the listening score keeps going up, that's a very good thing. If it's not, then something in this method needs to change. Please note that I will not buy test prep books for the J-Test. That would manipulate the objectiveness of the results and skew my listening scores artificially high, giving me an unrealistic picture of my Japanese skills.
    • Every so often, have "review days" in which I re-read x number of old sentences and re-listen to x number of CDs from the dictation portion, while following along on my transcripts.
    • Go for an AJATT-esque system (All Japanese All The Time) by which at all times, I'm either immersed in Japanese or studying it. Designate a number of hours per week (outside of work) that I can use English, and do not use English outside those hours.
    • In fact, for the AJATT-inspired system, perhaps set it up this way: five days of AJATT, one day of AKATT (All Korean All The Time to boost/maintain my Korean), and ACATT (All Chinese All The Time to boost/maintain my Chinese). Note that there are certain exceptional activities that must be carried out in English (for example, when talking with a doctor about a medical procedure, or when talking with a lawyer about a very important legal issue).
    Schedule to Implement the New System
    1. Now until May 19: cram all the JLPT N3 words. Just worry about cramming all the JLPT N3 words, nothing else.
    2. May 20: I will have precisely six weeks to get ready for the JLPT. During this time, I should pilot-test my listening comprehension-focused system, making sure to set aside ~0.5 hour a day for grammar study, as well.
    3. July 1: Take the JLPT N3.
    4. July 2 onward: With the JLPT N3 out of the way, transition into using my new listening comprehension/J-Test-focused system full-time.
    May 1, 2012: I Just Registered for the JLPT N3
    Registration is much, much easier this year (thankfully, since tomorrow is the registration deadline). Rather than going to the bookstore and paying for an application form and going through a very laborious process to apply, it is now possible to register online. I registered from the comfort of my living room. I will take the test in a bit over 61 days.

    So how's my progress in terms of readiness to take the JLPT N3? Well, I am nearly finished learning the 3,000+ words necessary to pass the JLPT N3. I estimate I have less than 300 to go (which I estimate I will finish by 4/25), so in other words I'm more than 90% of the way there, vocabulary-wise. In terms of kanji, I already achieved a JLPT N3 level of kanji long, long ago. This exam is extremely light on kanji compared to other exams; it only tests for 600 and I know 1,006 according to my KanKen exam/certificate, which I did in January. Therefore, the "Language Knowledge (Vocabulary)" section should pose no threat whatsoever.

    The Language Knowledge (Grammar) and Reading section will be a bit tougher. My grammar has progressed little since I studied for and passed JLPT N4. Same thing with my listening. Therefore, here is the plan:

    1. Spend the next 25 days cramming the last of the vocabulary words (this will actually be fairly easy, and I don't expect it to take more than 1.5 hours per day for both Anki reviews and adding new words combined; I have already been moving at this pace for close to three months now).
    2. On April 25, change attack patterns. For vocabulary, simply review what I have already learned using Anki. This should take an hour a day at first, but will quickly go down to 45 or even just 30 minutes a day of reviews. With the extra time that has been freed up, start cramming grammar from N3 Bunpō Speed Master (193 patterns in all), some of which I already know/have studied. And have the TV on pretty much 24/7 to get my listening up to spec, and try to do as much listening practice via CDs and dictation as possible.
    So yeah, basically it's a two-part attack plan. Stick to the hardcore, 10+ new words-a-day vocabulary regimen until the 25th of this month, then go cold turkey on adding new vocabulary and instead start adding new grammar and gets lots of listening practice. I think I will pass this test if I try reasonably hard. I started studying for the JLPT N3 over a year ago, before I even took the JLPT N4.

    April 18, 2012: Part III and IV of my Photo Essay on Jeju Island Now Available: It's Finished
    Well, I got writing, and did a summary with photos of Day 4, the busiest day. Then I realized that I was just a stone's throw away from finishing the entire photo essay, so I gritted my teeth and did the whole thing, including the Day 5 submarine ride and the trip back to Japan. The photo essay is finished. It has 53 pictures of Jeju-do, 5,132 words of text (over 20 pages typed, double-spaced), and took hours and hours to make. I hope my readers enjoy it...

    April 16, 2012: Part II of My Photo Essay on Jeju Island Now Available
    I wrote a photo essay about the first three days on the island. I will cover Day 4 tomorrow, and Day 5 on Wednesday. Click on the following link to access the photo essay in progress:

  • April 15, 2012: Just Came Back from Jeju-do, and Here's a Preview of My Photo Essay

    My Trip to Jeju Island (April, 2012)

    What a trip! Today, I returned from Jeju-do, an island off the coast of South Korea... It was an adventure! No, not an adventure — an odyssey... No! It was... A LEGEND! While on the island, I...

    ...trekked 19.2 kilometers to the peak of the volcano, Mt. Halla, and back, earning the nickname "Bongdari" from the locals!

    ...made some new friends from Gyeongsang Province and elsewhere!

    ...discovered the secret of the dol-hareubang, or "stone grandfathers" that stand mysteriously all over the island, the last remnants of the ancient kingdom of Tamna and its Gija cult!

    ...traveled 1 kilometer into the bowls of the earth at Manjanggul Lava Cave...

    ...climbed Seongsando Ilchulbong and then debated politics with Kim Yeong Hwa, the CEO of of the ARUMNURIiT Corporation during a very awkward car ride!

    ...and descended to the bottom of the sea on a submarine called the VOYAGER, the captain believing the whole time that I was a Russian!

    Stay tuned for the rest of this photo essay! Tomorrow is Part I: The First Three Days.

    April 10, 2012: After Nearly 16 Years of Playing It, I Have Finally Beaten the Game Boy Version of Tetris (Barely)

    On the left is the ending (small rocket — I got just over 100,000 points [the minimum threshold to get a "good ending"] and got the small rocket launch). On the right is my high score. In case you are wondering what "APONZE" is, it's short for APRIL ONE ZERO (April 10). I had most of the high scores entries in date form (Game Boy Tetris doesn't allow numbers) so I could see trends over time in my high scores. Which of course begs the question, since Game Boy Tetris can't save these scores when the power is turned off, why bother? And the answer is "Because I was playing the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console Game Boy Tetris, and was able to save states."

    Tomorrow, I will travel to Jeju-do. I'd better do some packing and make some hostel reservations.

    April 3, 2012: Good News on the JLPT N3 Front
    I just discovered that the vocabulary list for the JLPT N3 only has ~3,222 words on it, not 3,750 as I had thought. So I am much closer to my goal of passing the JLPT N3 than I had previously thought! Hooray!!! Oh but wait...

    ...something's not right...

    ...the 528 words that I don't have to learn for the JLPT N3, have been pushed onto the N2 list. In other words, passing the N3 just became a cinch, but passing the N2 just became more difficult. So should I rejoice, or not?

    I am estimating that those 528 words would have taken ~27 hours hours to learn, and would have kept popping up on my reviews, so figure ~23 hours there (I save 15 minutes a day in May and 30 minutes a day in June if I just learn the 3,222-word list by April 30 instead of the 3,750 word list). That's 50 hours. Wow. That's the better part of an hour a day saved until I take the test. However, the catch is that if I do that, I'll have only five months (July to the beginning of December) to study the 1,813 JLPT N2 words. So really, in the long run, nothing has changed. I am no closer to passing the N2 than before I made this discovery; the path to the N2 is exactly the same length as I had previously thought. However, the N3 "rest stop" is sooner along the path than I had anticipated, meaning that I can "rest easy" sooner when I get to that "rest stop," but then it'll be a longer journey before getting to the N2 "rest stop."