Russ learns Japanese

My learning log

Back to Basics, Haiku 4

Yesterday, I opened my Anki app for the first time in about…3 months!!! Strangely enough, this is the same amount of time since I took my new job (which is very different from my new-new job!) so it’s no surprise that I let it fall to the way side.  Now I’m about 3 weeks into a job I actually enjoy and have been finding more time to spend on my favorite hobbies.  So I fired up Anki and you know what the first thing I did was?


Yep.  Over the last week as I’ve slowly gotten back into trying to read and write and understand Japanese, and I’ve realized that my reading is far slower than it ever has been. So I went and downloaded a new Anki deck to refresh my Hiragana and Katakana fluency.  And part of that means I should start writing it more as well, so without further ado, I present a photo from this weekends hike to Kennesaw Mountain, and a hiragana only haiku!


Kennesaw Mountain Leaves, Nov 2013

Kennesaw Mountain Leaves, Nov 2013


Dragon*Con, Haiku 3

Since my first ever visit to Dragaon*Con last year, I have realized one simple fact about life:

There is almost nothing better than drinking with 1000’s of nerds!

This year was my first time attending all 3 days, and I hope next year to attend again but to also obtain a hotel room. I managed to stay out past nearly midnight each night, but had to curtail the drinking early in order to be able to make the trek home. As is seen via the photo below however, Monday night I let someone else drive me home :). Now, for my 3rd Haiku attempt!




Dragon Con 2013, Night 3!

Dragon Con, Night 3!


Tiger of Fire, Haiku 2

A few weeks ago I finally got fed up with my job, put in my 8hr notice, and booked a flight to Portland to visit my good 友達 Balls (Not really sure what prompted the nickname, but it apparently originated from the Navy, so…. yeah). We had a blast gorging ourselves on delicious food, beer, and window shopping.   This post though is my retaliation for him making us look like tourist every time we found a strange hat/mask/etc. 😛


"Hey take my picture!" This is what you get Balls!

“Hey take my picture!” This is what you get Balls!

Red Sky, Haiku 1

So I thought I’d try my hand at writing a few haikus.  I haven’t been studying much at all lately, due to buying a house, getting a new job and a number of other ‘life’ things (aka excuses).  But here it goes.  I used a lot of dictionary searching to try and write this against a photo I took while on a date night with my wife at The Sundial in Atlanta a few weeks ago.


View from The Sundial, Atlanta Ga

View from The Sundial, Atlanta Ga

Breaking into Japanese Literature and Anki


This evening I finally got a chance to crack open Breaking into Japanese Literature.  If you haven’t heard of it yet, it’s a series of Japanese short stories that have each word and kanji defined as well as a full translation.  It starts off with shorter stories, that have easier to digest sentences, and then moves on to harder, more descriptive sentences.

So many new words to learn!!

So many new words to learn!!

Right off the bat, as long as you can read hiragana you can read the first page!  Each time you get to a word or kanji you don’t know, just refer to the bottom half of the page for a definition and kanji reading.  And if you’re as bad as I am, that will be for pretty much every word… in fact, the only kanji I knew was 女(おんな)  and to be honest I thought it was read as かのじょ…

But I refuse to be deterred!  After about 20 minutes of struggling, going back and forth with the text and not remembering anything, I decided to take the bottom half of the page and make an Anki deck out of it!  Thus began my first Kanji focused Anki deck.  It took about 30 minutes to build the deck and another 30 minutes to run through the first 25 cards, but when I was done, I was able to blow through the first 2-3 sentences like a champ!  It was actually so much fun that I insisted my wife let me read it out loud to her, which of course required translating, it was a blast!!!

So give it a try, you can do it for free actually since Amazon has scanned in the first part of the story and I’m sharing my Anki deck here.


Why Language Exchange is Awesome


I’ve mentioned a few times about my ‘study buddy’ あさこさん, she lives in Tokyo and we generally chat for about an hour each morning before I head off to work. I’ve been recently reading a lot about language exchange and surprisingly there are a lot of negative articles about it. According to most of what I’ve read, the issues include:

-Only for advanced speakers
-Tend to ‘devolve’ into just english/your native language conversation
-not useful

While there are several valid points here, I think the general consensus is that it is a waste of time unless you have 3 years experience and bring an agenda to keep the topics on track. This is ridiculous. I’ve been practicing pretty seriously for the past 2 months, and am anything but advanced. And yes, we spend a lot of time speaking in english. BUT, that is because I cannot speak in Japanese yet… duh! What do first year Japanese classes sound like? Probably mostly japanese sounds surrounded by English conversation. But the key is, whenever there is a moment that I can speak in Japanese, I take it! We may be talking about how tattoo’s are viewed in Japan, and if a revelation makes me want to say “really?” I take that opportunity to practice my ‘ほんとに‘s and when I want to ask “what is that’ I don’t waste that moment in English.

But there are other HUGE benifits that come from a language exchange partner that I have found invaluable to just starting out:

Accountable to another person

Your language partner probably (like you) doesn’t have much opportunity to speak their target language. Thus they look forward to getting to practice and refine their skills as well. All that time they are explaining the appropriate time to use ’へんだね’ in English is going to be as helpful in refining their english skills a it is to your Japanese.

‘Pop Quizes’ and making it a habit

This is the biggest thing for me. When your language partner switches temporarily to Japanese, it really gives you a chance to test what you’ve learned. And as you talk more, you both get a feel for each others level of mastery. So after a discussion with あさこさん over the use of がんばて, a few days later I received an email using that word as, coupled with other familiar words, and was over joyed that I was able to understand what she was trying to convey. So even though I may have had those thoughts of putting it off, or even worse, quitting, I was instead rejuvenated and ready to continue my studies because I had just made a very tiny bit of measurable progress!

And finally, it’s FUN!

I just have fun talking to people about Japan. I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my morning meetings and have started to reach out to other would be pen-pals via email. So if you’re on the fence, and you’ve seen all these people moan-and-groan about language exchange, just ignore them and try it now! is a great place to start. I’ve also finally ponied up the 7$ for a month at where you can email other non premium members and I’ve met a few new friends this week already.

Studying on the Go

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not to purchase the Anki mobile application.  If you’re not familiar with Anki, it’s a memorization software that allows you to study flash cards containing plain text, audio, video, and even HTML code.  It is really versatile and even syncs between many devices and has a slew of pre-made  or ‘shared’ decks for you to start studying right away.

Anyway, the desktop apps and web versions are completely free and I’ve been using them for a few weeks now (I’ve even verified that you can use the web version on your iPad).  But the iPad/iPhone version cost a whopping $24 USD!  Now considering that you get so much for free, this isn’t that bad, but still, I’ve never paid that much for an iPhone app!  (Thus the reason for so much time to decide on the purchase) Well, this past payday I decided to pony up the cash.  And I have to say I am not disappointed!

After buying on my iPhone, I immediately checked to see if it included on the iPad app as well and luckily it did.  So the $24 includes both the iPhone and iPad versions.

As for use, I’ve been using it almost exclusively.  Several times I find myself wanting to study, but not in the mood to go fire up the laptop, and realize that I just have to grab my phone.  So far though, I’ve only studied plain text and audio flash cards, but they work great.  I’ve yet to test the video feature, but that’s because I don’t have any video flash cards.

The only issue/bug I’ve found thus far is that sometimes the audio won’t replay if you wait too long to listen to it again.  So if you hear a word, then get distracted for a few minutes, coming back and replaying may or may not work.  But that has happened only a few times at this point.

While it was a hefty price, I am very, very satisfied with the result.  No internet connection is required (except for syncing results), so I get to practice in the elevator, walking around at lunch, or just before going to bed.  If you’re thinking about buying it, but you’re on the fence, I would first make sure that you’re going to keep up with studying by using the free desktop (Mac and PC) apps.  After you’re sure you won’t give up tomorrow, get it.  And study everywhere!

Taking a Break for Some DIY

Attn Redditors: HOLY COW FRONT PAGE!  Thanks for all the great feedback!  Hope you enjoy.

So today I woke up to an all to common occurrence: my damn night stand had gotten cluttered and somehow moved about a foot away from the actual bed!  Frustrated, I decided to finally solve the problem!  Along with learning 日本語, I’ve also made a strong push to minimize things in my daily life.  After successfully keeping my home office desk clutter free for 1 month, I was having a much harder time with my night stand (or bed side table).  But, one key thing I wanted to keep in mind was that I don’t want my quest for minimalism to cost money.  So this entire thing needed to be built with spare materials!  Luckily, I had some scrap wood that was mostly cut to shape already.  I used a jig saw and drill as my primary tools.  Once I got 4 pieces lined up the way I wanted, I realized I wanted a special port for my iPhone.  The photos start with the creation of the iPhone ‘dock.’  はじめます!

Once I new where I wanted my phone, I used the biggest drill bit and the smallest jig saw blade to cut it out.

Once I new where I wanted my phone, I used the biggest drill bit and the smallest jig saw blade to cut it out.

Once you have the hole in the center, just cut from the hole to your markings. We'll sand out the rough spots later.

Once you have the hole in the center, just cut from the hole to your markings. We’ll sand out the rough spots later.

”げええええ" says the board!  Gotta clean up those edges.

”げええええ” says the board! Gotta clean up those edges.

Much better!

Much better!

It took me 1じかん to finally realize that the best way, is most often the simplest.  By splitting out two staple gun staples and hammering them in I get a lot of room for the cable to come in and out.

It took me 1じかん to finally realize that the best way, is most often the simplest. By splitting out two staple gun staples and hammering them in I get a lot of room for the cable to come in and out.



Now to glue them all together.  You'll noticed that I scrapped up the glued sides to get plenty of traction.

Now to glue them all together. You’ll noticed that I scrapped up the glued sides to get plenty of traction.

Clamp to dry.

Clamp to dry.

Adding screws from the bottom to secure the recently glued pieces.

Adding screws from the bottom to secure the recently glued pieces.

2013-02-02 17.19.28

Took a break to go get some food. いただきます!

Now I missed some photo’s below, but basically I spent an hour or so sanding.  Can’t really make that exciting right?

Glued and nailed a board to the back that is then secured to the rear side of the head board for the bed.

Glued and nailed a board to the back that is then secured to the rear side of the head board for the bed.



2013-02-02 19.00.00


Don’t worry, that wire drove me so crazy that I moved it behind the bed all together.

Questions Resulting from Anki

So a few weeks ago, I built an Anki deck out of the the top 25 verbs from  And finally this week, I took the time to learn how to reverse them! (In other words flip the front and back so that I have to say the Japanese version of the English word).  Anyway, generally while studying Anki I find my self questioning a number of things that I’m just not sure about.  So this post will server as my question log for today.

りかいする = To Understand.

This is strange to me.  I’m very familiar with わかる (to understand) and use it often in practicing for example: わかりません or わかりました to explain that “I understand” or “Now I understand (implying that I didn’t before)”  But I don’t believe I’ve ever heard りかいする used in speech before.

よぶ = To call (not phone)

What does that even mean!?  I actually came across this in another pre-made anki deck that said it meant ‘to call, name’ but I’m not 100% on how I would use this verb.  I assume that you could that you could call/name a pet, so maybe something like “ぼくはいぬのJavaよびました.”  I think that would be “I called/named my dog Java.”  But that’s the best I can think of for this verb.

ほしい = To want

I actually discussed this verb with あさこさん a while back and her feedback was that ほしい was a rather childish way to express wanting something.  Maybe I need more clarification on this…

Well, hopefully I’ll come back to this and update with answers soon 🙂


Spam Musubi and Anki

WARNING: Don’t watch this whole video… seriously.  I couldn’t even watch the whole thing.  This is literarily me cooking musubi from beginning to end!!! ALMOST 40 MINUTES!  Go watch a movie instead, you’ll have much more fun! haha. Seriously, after 30 minutes I got tired of editing and just quit… so you should do the same, but now 🙂

Day three of my learning log experiment!  Today my study partner 阿沙子さん (あさこさん)was stuck working late, so I decided to study some Anki.  But, I also had planned to make some SPAM musubi to share with my coworkers today so I thought it might be interesting to record me doing both!  Talk about multitasking.

A few things missing in the video:


Here you can find the Anki list I’m using in the video.  Currently I’m about 30-40 words in and I am using a number of different decks that I’ve created myself that I may share if anyone’s interested.


I made the rice the same morning I recorded the video, but it should be noted that I washed it the night before and let it dry out over night.  In retrospect this may be the reason I had so much trouble, I usually only let my rice sit for about 1-3 hours after washing it.


Incase it was two fast in the video, my sauce mixture recipe (for 8 pieces of spam) is as follows:

  • 1oz of Soy Sauce
  • 1/2oz butter
  • 1/2oz of sugar

Throw it all into a cup and microwave until it’s all liquified.