We'll Answer Your Questions

Program supervisors Fujinaga Kaoru and Isomura Kazuhiro respond to listeners' inquiries about the Japanese language.

Q1 I love Japan and its culture. By watching anime, I've come to understand some basic Japanese. I would like to teach myself the language. I think 'Easy Japanese' will be very useful for me, but I’m not sure how to study effectively.

It's great that you learned some Japanese by watching anime! By watching various scenes, you were exposed to words and phrases relevant to those situations. In learning a language, it’s important to watch and listen to a scene, find out the meaning of words and their usage, identify phrases that will be most useful to you, then to actually use them.

'Easy Japanese' is a program for people who want to teach themselves. By following the program along with the text, little by little, you should be able to understand and learn how to speak basic Japanese.

First, listen to the short skits in each lesson. Some of the words and expressions may be new to you, but there’s no need to be concerned about tiny details just yet. If you can grasp the overall story by reading the subtitles and explanatory commentaries, that's enough for now.

Next, read or listen to the explanation given in the 'Key Phrase' segment. Each key phrase is the essence of what's being taught in the lesson.

Then, the 'Use It' segment allows you to practice the key phrase in scenes or situations you're likely encounter in Japan.
Pay attention to your pronunciation and repeat the phrases out loud a number of times.

The 'Try It Out!' segment gives you the chance to apply the key phrase. Whether you're listening to the program or working with the website, you can check the answers in text and audio. So, you're able to practice by yourself.

The lessons include the 'Bonus Phrase' segment, which gives you expressions you can use just as they are and additional information about Japan relating to each skit.

You can listen to the audio clips on the website as many time as you like. So, you can study at your own pace, little by little, step by step.

Q2 What is the difference between Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji? Which should I learn first?

Hiragana and Katakana are both phonetic characters that represent sounds. For example, to express the sound "a", we use the "" in Hiragana, or "" in Katakana.

On the other hand, Kanji characters convey meanings. Just like a smiley face emoji, a Kanji character expresses a meaning.
For example, "kimasu" could mean 'to come' or 'to wear' in Japanese. Written in Hiragana, they are both the same, but when you write them in Kanji, "来ます" "着ます", we can easily tell them apart.

Basically we write Japanese in Kanji and Hiragana. We use Kanji for parts that express meanings, such as nouns and verbs. Hiragana takes care of the rest. However, when we write words that originated from another language, we use Katakana. Words like "コーヒー koohii" or coffee, or names such as "タム Tamu" Tam for people who come from abroad. Also, names of other countries, like "ベトナム Betonamu" or Vietnam are written in Katakana.

When you’re trying to memorize characters, starting from Hiragana and Katakana is probably the right approach. Then move on to Kanji. That's because you'll be able to write simple Japanese in Hiragana and Katakana. I think it's best to learn Kanji little by little, as they come along.

Q3 How do you type Kanji on computer keyboards and smartphones?

When typing Japanese on a keyboard, most people use the Romaji input mode, making use of the alphabet.

For example, when you want to type "kawa" -meaning river - in Kanji, you first type 'k' 'a' 'w' 'a.' The software converts those letters to "kawa" in Hiragana,"かわ.” Then it will show a list of possible Kanji, such as "" meaning leather, or "" meaning river. You choose the one that's correct, in this case for river,"."

On a smartphone, you can use the Romaji input mode, or you can use the flick input. Flick input lets you directly type Hiragana by sliding your finger on the touch screen. Options of Kanji to convert the Hiragana will pop up just as with the keyboard.

Q4 In Lesson 6, I learned numbers in Japanese. But they were pronounced slightly differently to the way I learned them through Budo martial arts. The number '4' was pronounced "shi" instead of "yon." The number '7' was pronounced "shichi" instead of "nana." What is the difference?

In Japanese, we have two ways to count. "Hitotsu・futatsu・mittsu・yottsu・itsutsu・muttsu・nanatsu・yattsu…" is how the Japanese have counted since olden times. "Ichi・ni・san・shi・go・roku・shichi・hachi…" is the pronunciation of numbers originally from China.

In 'Easy Japanese' we introduced "ichi・ni・san・yon・go・roku・nana・hachi…." 4 is pronounced "yon," not "shi." And 7 is pronounced "nana," not "shichi." "Yon" comes from "yottsu" in the older Japanese counting method, and "nana" comes from "nanatsu."

That's what you usually say when you're using a number by itself or saying how many things there are.

However in situations such as martial arts, in which moves and other things are consecutively counted: "ichi・ni・san・shi・go・roku・shichi・hachi…."

The distinctions are basically decided. So, you just have to memorize them as you encounter them. For example, for ¥400, you must use "yon" and say "yon-hyaku-en." For ¥4,000, say "yon-sen-en." And for April, use "shi" and say "shi-gatsu." "Nana" is used for ¥700, "nana-hyaku-en." ¥7,000 is "nana-sen-en." However, July is pronounced "shichi-gatsu."

Q5 'Minute' is usually pronounced "ふん fun," but with certain numbers it’s "ぷんpun." It’s confusing. Is there some kind of a rule to follow?

Basically, 'minute' is read as "ふん fun," but in some cases the f-sound of "ふん fun" changes to a p-sound and becomes "ぷん pun." This is based on an old tradition by which "ha hi fu he ho" used to be pronounced "pa pi pu pe po."

Anyway, we can just memorize when to use "ぷんpun." Minutes are pronounced "ぷん pun" when the number that comes before is 1・3・6・8, or 10. So, "ippun," "sanpun," "roppun," "happun," and "juppun."

However, some people do pronounce '4 minutes' as "yonpun" and '8 minutes' as "hachifun."

Generally speaking, though, the number that comes before the counter determines the sound. The same applies to other counters like "hon," which is used to count long objects like umbrellas and pencils.
This may sound troublesome and complicated, but you can learn what's right bit by bit as you go along.

Q6 When you want to ask how many children someone has, which is correct: "Kodomo wa nan-nin arimasu ka" or "Kodomo wa nan-nin imasu ka" ? Please explain the difference between "arimasu" and "imasu."

We use "imasu" for living things that 'move,' such as people and animals. "Arimasu" is used for objects.

For instance, in Lesson 21, we learned the phrase "Tokeedai no naka ni imasu" meaning, 'I’m in the clock tower.' Lesson 11 had the phrase "Omamori wa arimasu ka": 'Do you have any lucky charms?' So, when asking 'How many children do you have?' use "imasu" and say, "Kodomo wa nan-nin imasu ka."

It’s true that in the past, "arimasu" was sometimes used to refer to family members and others. You may still come across it in sample sentences for those situations in old textbooks. Today, however, "imasu" is standard.

Let’s take another simple example: 'There are fish in the pond.' You say, "Ike ni sakana ga imasu." You use "imasu" because fish are alive and moving. On the other hand, if you want to say, 'There are fish in the refrigerator,' "Reezooko ni sakana ga arimasu," the right word is "arimasu" because the fish are no longer moving.