Life after JLPT N1

A few weeks ago I anx­ious­ly logged onto the JLPT web­site to check my N1 result. I passed! Great! Now what? The long jour­ney towards flu­en­cy is now over, right? Not even close. I still come across new words and phras­es on a dai­ly basis. I spend more time study­ing (or rather, being exposed to) Japan­ese than ever before. The jour­ney has only but begun!

Recent­ly I have been invest­ing a lot of time into read­ing native mate­r­i­al. Read­ing Japan­ese (print) books has always been a pain for me. Look­ing up unknown words/kanji can be dif­fi­cult if you are not sure how to write them. You can quick­ly lose moti­va­tion if you stum­ble into a string of new words. Is there a bet­ter way?

Enter the Kin­dle app (I’m read­ing on a Nexus 7). If you long-press over any word a pop­up will appear with the read­ing and def­i­n­i­tion (in Japan­ese). If that is not enough, you can also eas­i­ly copy words/phrases into any oth­er app of your choos­ing (e.g. oth­er dic­tio­nar­ies, Anki, etc.). High­light­ing words will cre­ate a book­mark allow­ing you to view them again in con­text lat­er. I usu­al­ly do this for all new words and phras­es. The Kin­dle app makes read­ing Japan­ese a much more pleas­ant expe­ri­ence!

Ama­zon Japan has a large selec­tion of both dig­i­tal­ized nov­els and man­ga. I enjoyed read­ing 雨の日も、晴れ男 (a nov­el) and 日本人の知らない日本語 (man­ga). I have been try­ing to read for about 1 hour every­day before bed — a mod­est tar­get that hope­ful­ly ensures I won’t burn out. I think eBooks are great for non-native speak­ers — give it a try!

Category: Japanese, JLSP | Tags: , , ,

Going offline with Nihongo no Mori

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I wrote about the Nihon­go no Mori group (日本語の森) before in a pre­vi­ous blog post — they are a Wase­da stu­dent group who pro­duce YouTube videos teach­ing Japan­ese gram­mar, vocab­u­lary, spe­cial lan­guage top­ics (e.g. region­al accents), etc. Their videos were extreme­ly help­ful in my N1 study and I strong­ly rec­om­mend them to any­one look­ing for alter­na­tive study mate­ri­als. Their non-JLPT videos are also pret­ty enter­tain­ing to watch and give a glimpse into var­i­ous Japan­ese cul­tur­al top­ics (who doesn’t want to learn about Samu­rai?).

Last week they held an ‘オフ会’ (offline meeting/party) in Shibuya and I decid­ed to attend to meet the stu­dents (teach­ers!) and thank them in per­son. I invit­ed my friend Aysel who hap­pens to be a Wase­da (exchange) stu­dent and who became an imme­di­ate fan of 日本語の森 after I linked it to her. We knew the event would be record­ed (and made into a YouTube video) so we were a bit ner­vous, but it turned out to be very fun and we were able to meet some inter­est­ing peo­ple here in Tokyo!

They rent­ed a large room and had chairs arranged in rows, with a desk for the teach­ers at the front. Hon­est­ly, the set­up looked a bit like a press con­fer­ence at the UN rather than a YouTube par­ty! They gave us a goody bag as we entered the room and we took some seats. The event start­ed a bit lat­er than expect­ed so we had a chance to talk to the oth­er peo­ple in the room. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, they were all non-Japan­ese (from many dif­fer­ent coun­tries!) study­ing for JLPT. I even found some­one from Viet­nam! But decid­ed against try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate to them in my poor Viet­namese — at this point, my Japan­ese is def­i­nite­ly a lot stronger!

There wasn’t real­ly an oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk with the teach­ers direct­ly — instead we spent most of the time play­ing three games. The first was a vari­ant of Rock Paper Scis­sors / Janken (たたいて・かぶって・ジャンケンポン), with the added rule that the win­ner has to grab the (inflat­able) ham­mer and hit the los­er on the head, while the los­er has to grab the hel­met and wear it to pro­tect him­self. The teach­ers gave us a demon­stra­tion and then we joined in after­wards. If we won against a teacher of our choice, we got to take a pic­ture with them — I chose and won a pic­ture with Yuha-sen­sei! It felt like we were tak­ing pic­tures with pop idols rather than ‘ordi­nary’ uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents, but I didn’t let that thought ruin the fun… I await the day some­body takes part in a con­vo­lut­ed game of Rock Paper Scis­sors just to win a pho­to oppor­tu­ni­ty with ME!

Winning!

Win­ning!

Aysel was not so lucky...

Aysel was not so lucky…

The sec­ond game was the ‘Wasabi Chal­lenge’. They put large amounts of wasabi inside a sin­gle piece of sushi (out of many), and the teach­ers each took a piece in turn and ate it. The job of the rest of us was to guess who had ate the wasabi-filled piece, from the facial expressions/reactions of those eat­ing. We also played a reverse ver­sion of the same game — all except one had large amounts of wasabi while the sin­gle piece had none. They were pret­ty good at act­ing so I couldn’t real­ly tell who it was — as expect­ed for a YouTube group! Aysel took part in the stu­dent ver­sion of the game, fool­ing almost every­one with her class act­ing skills.

Aysel taking a mouthful of wasabi... Or is she??

Aysel tak­ing a mouth­ful of wasabi… Or is she??

For the final game, one of the teach­ers placed mys­tery items in a box and the oth­ers took turns to guess what was inside by touch­ing it with their hands. The audi­ence could see what was inside (gen­er­al­ly ordi­nary stuff like soft toys, pen­cil sharp­en­er) but we gave our best (over)reaction to put off the per­son guess­ing. At one point there was a piece of raw chick­en in the box, whose tex­ture would have sure­ly freaked any­one else out, but Mis­ato-sen­sei was sur­pris­ing­ly unfazed and stayed extreme­ly calm — 余裕!

I don't like touching raw chicken even when I know what it is...

I don’t like touch­ing raw chick­en even when I know what it is…

After the games we took more pic­tures togeth­er and filmed a short clip with every­one danc­ing. They said they would be using that clip at the end of every(!) Nihon­go no Mori video to encour­age peo­ple to sub­scribe. I am very hap­py to have par­tic­i­pat­ed in this event, even if there are some embar­rass­ing moments cap­tured on video. I think study­ing Japan­ese is incred­i­bly impor­tant for any­one who wants to be here for the medi­um-long term and I sup­port any ini­tia­tives bring­ing for­eign­ers one step clos­er to flu­en­cy!

Tokyo Android Meetup Talk

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I’m a mem­ber of the Tokyo Android Meet­up group — we meet about once a month and dis­cuss var­i­ous Android devel­op­ment top­ics. It is a fair­ly casu­al and friend­ly affair, and I rec­om­mend it to any­one in Tokyo even vague­ly inter­est­ed in Android devel­op­ment. We most­ly speak in Eng­lish, but Japan­ese speak­ers are also very wel­come!

Last week I gave a pre­sen­ta­tion on the Android Sup­port Library. When research­ing for this talk, I was sur­prised at how use­ful the sup­port libraries are even for projects tar­get­ing Android 4.0 and above. It was also inter­est­ing to see how some of the fea­tures have their roots in open-source, com­mu­ni­ty projects which have exist­ed for a long time before appear­ing in the sup­port library.

I have made the slides avail­able on Slid­eDeck:

I also made some small code sam­ples for each of the top­ics I talked about, avail­able on GitHub.

The expe­ri­ence was very reward­ing — I had to first orga­nize the con­tent in a coher­ent way in my own mind before being able to explain it to oth­ers. Teach­ing, it seems, is a very good way to learn! I hope to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to present anoth­er top­ic in the future.

Studying for JLPT N1

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I’ve reg­is­tered to take the JLPT N1 exam this July — I hope to, once and for all, bring a suc­cess­ful end to my JLPT jour­ney! For the sake of any­one plan­ning to take the exam, and indeed for my own sake (intro­spec­tion is always good!), I want to give a quick overview on some of things I feel are con­tribut­ing to my progress. I will also men­tion some things that I have found use­ful for increas­ing gen­er­al Japan­ese abil­i­ty (but per­haps not so much for the exam).

- Japan­ese Tutor
Many peo­ple swear by self-study, but I find it dif­fi­cult to stay focused for an extend­ed peri­od of time with­out exter­nal feed­back and check­point­ing. Dur­ing uni­ver­si­ty, I often skipped lec­tures and class­es under the pre­tence that I could, in the­o­ry, study more effi­cient­ly by myself dur­ing the same peri­od of time. While I don’t dis­pute that claim even today, what often hap­pened in prac­tice was that I would get dis­tract­ed, pro­cras­ti­na­tion would take over, and I would end up doing less pro­duc­tive activ­i­ties.

I owe a lot of my cur­rent JLPT suc­cess to the steady pace and rhythm pro­vid­ed by my tutor. You can find Japan­ese tutors using Labochi. I have pri­vate class­es 4 times per week (before work), gen­er­al­ly work­ing my way through JLPT text­books (described lat­er) and any real-world arti­cles, doc­u­ments, emails, etc. that I am hav­ing trou­ble under­stand­ing.

- Text­books
新完全マスター文法N1 — This is a sta­ple for most N1 stu­dents and I don’t have any par­tic­u­lar com­plaints about it. The entire book is in Japan­ese with no Eng­lish, and so it may be help­ful to have a native speak­er around. I’ve worked my way through it from start to end, and although have yet to com­mit all of the gram­mar points to mem­o­ry, feel like it has enough breadth and depth to serve as my sole gram­mar text­book. If you have pre­vi­ous­ly used the N2 edi­tion of this book, the N1 edi­tion should make you feel right at home.

新完全マスター読解N1 — This book should help build out your read­ing com­pre­hen­sion. I am about 70% of the way through, and it remains very chal­leng­ing (this is a good thing!). A lot of the mate­r­i­al in this book is stuff that I would not like­ly come across in my nor­mal life (nov­els, essays, etc.) and would have no chance to prac­tice oth­er­wise. I enjoy learn­ing new vocab­u­lary via this book — there is always lot of con­text ensur­ing a good chance of remem­ber­ing the mean­ing and usage.

日本語パワードリル N1 文字・語彙 — I am not a fan of typ­i­cal vocab­u­lary text­books (i.e. ones that most­ly con­sist of a long list of words), so I decid­ed instead to study vocabulary/kanji with exam-style ques­tions. This book is sim­ply pages and pages of prac­tice ques­tions. Some of the ques­tions offer answers with very sim­i­lar mean­ings so I often find myself ask­ing a native speak­er to explain the nuances. Any new words I come across I put into Anki.

日本語能力試験 20日で合格 N1文字・語彙・文法 — This is sim­i­lar to the pre­vi­ous book, but also cov­ers gram­mar. The Kanzen Mas­ter series doesn’t offer a lot in the way of prac­tice, so I turn to oth­er sources. A sin­gle ‘day’ (of which there are 20) in this book takes me about 1.5/2 hours to com­plete. A lot of stuff is cov­ered in a sin­gle chap­ter — great for gram­mar revi­sion!

- Anki
Anki is a free spaced-rep­e­ti­tion appli­ca­tion for PC and mobile. I pre­fer it over iKnow! for when I am cre­at­ing my own con­tent since it gives me a lot more con­trol over the for­mat and lay­out. I most­ly use it for review­ing vocab­u­lary that I have come across in the above-men­tioned text­books or in real-life. On each card, I write the Japan­ese word/phrase, read­ing in kana, mean­ing in Eng­lish, and mean­ing in Japan­ese (tak­en from a Japan­ese dic­tio­nary). Anki has a pret­ty good Android app so I can review wher­ev­er and when­ev­er. There are some pre-made decks for N1 but I find it a lot eas­i­er to remem­ber cards that I have cre­at­ed cards myself.

- Japan­ese Dic­tio­nar­ies
At N1 lev­el, Japan­ese-Japan­ese dic­tio­nar­ies start mak­ing a whole lot of sense. I main­ly use the one found on the Yahoo! Japan site (it is actu­al­ly a meta-dic­tio­nary, aggre­gat­ing results from oth­er dic­tio­nar­ies). Not only do you get to under­stand the mean­ing of the word you are look­ing up, you can get some bonus mem­o­ry hits in the def­i­n­i­tion itself. A Japan­ese-Eng­lish dic­tio­nary entry usu­al­ly just con­tains syn­onyms of the word in Eng­lish with­out much expla­na­tion. On the oth­er hand, a Japan­ese-Japan­ese dic­tio­nary entry describes the mean­ing using short sen­tences offer­ing a lot more con­text.

I also use Google Trans­late, Rikaikun and JED for my occa­sion­al Japan­ese-Eng­lish needs.

- Nihon­go No Mori (YouTube)
There is a good JLPT N1 gram­mar series on YouTube by Nihon­go No Mori. The teacher (who seems to be a cur­rent uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent) reads out some sen­tences and explains gram­mar prin­ci­ples with­in them. They recent­ly remade the gram­mar videos and added sub­ti­tles and ‘spe­cial effects’. The tone is very casu­al and I find it very use­ful in con­junc­tion with the Kanzen Mas­ter gram­mar book. It doesn’t take long to watch all of the videos — do it sev­er­al times! There are also vocab and gram­mar videos for oth­er Japan­ese lev­els, as well as videos on spe­cial­ist top­ics (like Kan­sai accent).

- JapanesePod101
Although per­haps not as help­ful for N1, this site has been a very good source of Japan­ese learn­ing mate­r­i­al. This is a paid site requir­ing a month­ly sub­scrip­tion (total­ly worth it, IMO). Each pod­cast episode has a short dia­logue in Japan­ese, fol­lowed by analy­sis of the dia­logue and intro­duc­tion of relat­ed vocab/grammar in Japan­ese and Eng­lish. The gram­mar expla­na­tions are easy to remem­ber and serve as good revi­sion. The tone is usu­al­ly light-heart­ed and fun, mak­ing it very easy to lis­ten to.

- Oth­er pod­casts / radio
There are a lot of Japan­ese pod­casts on iTunes, but I have yet to find one that I par­tic­u­lar­ly like. If any­one has any sug­ges­tions please let me know! Instead, I often lis­ten to Japan­ese Radio via Radiko. There are sev­er­al sta­tions, and they usu­al­ly talk about cur­rent affairs and inter­view peo­ple. The Japan­ese here is the real deal and it is not always easy to under­stand, but is good for build­ing gen­er­al lis­ten­ing com­pre­hen­sion and expo­sure to Japan­ese cul­ture. I don’t own a TV so this is the next best thing!

- Work­ing in Japan
Since join­ing Origa­mi last year, I’ve picked up a lot of stan­dard busi­ness phras­es as well as tech­ni­cal (pro­gram­ming) vocab­u­lary. Busi­ness emails in the N1 read­ing sec­tion now seem pret­ty famil­iar despite the extreme lev­els of polite­ness. Per­haps the most use­ful thing is sim­ply being exposed to native speak­ers on a reg­u­lar basis, lis­ten­ing to con­ver­sa­tions and read­ing emails between each oth­er. Peo­ple rarely both­er to cor­rect me unless I ask them to, so it is often more pro­duc­tive to copy phras­es used by oth­ers rather than going cre­ative. I don’t come across a lot of N1 gram­mar dur­ing work, but it is pret­ty use­ful for con­sol­i­dat­ing vocab­u­lary.

I also try to read arti­cles from Japan­ese web­sites that peo­ple share. These are usu­al­ly high­ly-relat­ed to my work and so make for mem­o­rable read­ing prac­tice. I often look at arti­cles about var­i­ous star­tups from TechCrunch Japan and The Bridge. Rikaikun is pret­ty use­ful to quick­ly look-up unknown words when view­ing a web­site.

- Talk­ing to friends / Lan­guage exchange
I have quite a few friends who I talk to exclu­sive­ly in Japan­ese. This is great for both lis­ten­ing and speak­ing prac­tice, but I find that I don’t learn a lot of new mate­r­i­al, par­tic­u­lar things relat­ed to N1. For gen­er­al sur­vival in Japan how­ev­er, devel­op­ing your speak­ing skills is of course cru­cial. When speak­ing to a Japan­ese per­son, they some­times slow down their speech or use dif­fer­ent words com­pared to speak­ing to anoth­er native speak­er. I find speak­ing to Japan­ese in a group (of native speak­ers) the most chal­leng­ing.

I have also done some lan­guage exchanges (with peo­ple who are oth­er­wise strangers), but the con­ver­sa­tion rarely gets past a self-intro­duc­tion. Once you have prac­ticed answer­ing basic ques­tions about your­self a few dozen times, it is more fruit­ful to talk to peo­ple with whom you have a deep­er rela­tion­ship (you can talk about more var­ied sub­jects).

Reg­is­tra­tion for JLPT N1 (and all oth­er lev­els) is cur­rent­ly open; I wish the best of luck to all those who will join me in tak­ing it!

Photo Hack Day Japan

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I took part in a hackathon last week­end — the very first Pho­to Hack Day Japan! I heard about it via the Tokyo Android Meet­up group and thought it would be fun to try and build some­thing new and meet some more devel­op­ers, par­tic­u­lar­ly Japan­ese-speak­ing ones.

The event was spread over Sat­ur­day and Sun­day (with a pre-par­ty on Fri­day), cul­mi­nat­ing in presentations/demos and a prize cer­e­mo­ny. It was held at the Mixi HQ in Shibuya. The gen­er­al idea was to make some­thing inter­est­ing using the APIs of the com­pa­nies spon­sor­ing the event. We had about 24 hours.

Photo Hack Day Japan!

Pho­to Hack Day Japan!

I teamed up with Ben Watan­abe, a design­er and entre­pre­neur who I had met once before via the meet­up group. He had recent­ly found­ed his own com­pa­ny, Ten­Ten, and was some­what expe­ri­enced with hackathons. We cre­at­ed an app called ‘Before The Fil­ter’ — an app to teach users about the fun­da­men­tals of pho­tog­ra­phy. It explained sev­er­al prin­ci­ples in pho­tog­ra­phy (includ­ing Rule of Thirds, Van­ish­ing Point) using text and images, as well as an over­lay over the cam­era view to help users line up their tar­get cor­rect­ly with respect to the par­tic­u­lar prin­ci­ple.

It was great to work with such a tal­ent­ed design­er. As a devel­op­er, I find the pro­gram­ming-side of build­ing a mobile app straight­for­ward. If you have solved a sim­i­lar prob­lem before (which nat­u­ral­ly becomes increas­ing­ly com­mon), you are large­ly con­strained only by how fast you can type. It is often easy to come up with a mea­sur­able way of eval­u­at­ing your sys­tem, and you can con­tin­ue to ham­mer away until those con­di­tions are met. On the oth­er hand, decid­ing what to build, what kind of user expe­ri­ence the app should have, those are the kinds of things that are, to me, much more chal­leng­ing to deal with.

The hackathon was pretty much this. For a whole weekend.

The hackathon was pret­ty much this. For a whole week­end.

With the demos sched­uled for 1.30pm on Sun­day, we sub­mit­ted the app to Google Play at 11.30am and hoped it would go live on time (it did!). Ben gave a very strong pre­sen­ta­tion and we received many com­ments after­wards from peo­ple who were sur­prised at how ‘com­plete’ the app was. We took the prize for the best use of the Aviary API (the only API we inte­grat­ed with!), as well as the prize for the sec­ond best over­all hack. This totalled ¥300,000 in prize mon­ey! Our sto­ry made it onto The Bridge.

Picture of us taking a Frontback picture.

Pic­ture of us tak­ing a Front­back pic­ture.

Before The Fil­ter can be down­loaded from Google Play here. Ben and I are plan­ning on con­tin­u­ing devel­op­ment of the app in the future — watch this space for more to come!

Spaced repetition with iKnow!

I’ve recent­ly renewed my iKnow! sub­scrip­tion, with the aim of fin­ish­ing the Japan­ese Core 6000 series (the 6000 most com­mon­ly appear­ing Japan­ese words) once and for all. I’ve tried many dif­fer­ent meth­ods for vocab­u­lary build­ing and I’ve found iKnow! to be one of the most reli­able to date (if you put in the time!). After learn­ing some words in iKnow!, I seem to notice them ran­dom­ly when watch­ing TV shows, read­ing arti­cles, etc. which fur­ther rein­forces the words in my mem­o­ry. In con­junc­tion with gen­er­ous help­ings of nat­ur­al sources of Japan­ese, I am hop­ing iKnow! will help push me towards flu­en­cy in 2014.

iKnow! is an online, paid, learn­ing ser­vice based on spaced rep­e­ti­tion that can help you learn and remem­ber words. There are pre-built cours­es with exam­ple sen­tences, images and sounds, and your progress is saved online. iOS and Android apps are also avail­able (full dis­clo­sure: I used to work on the iKnow! Android app).

iKnow! welcome screen.

iKnow! wel­come screen.

Spaced rep­e­ti­tion is a learn­ing tech­nique where­by you increase the amount of time between sub­se­quent reviews to max­i­mize learn­ing effi­cien­cy. Intu­itive­ly, review­ing items too ear­ly (when you still remem­ber it) is wast­ed effort, and so to min­i­mize the amount of time study­ing you should only review just as you are about to for­get it. There are algo­rithms that exist to try to cal­cu­late this opti­mal time inter­val, one of which is imple­ment­ed by the iKnow! ser­vice. iKnow! also intro­duces the con­cept of ‘mas­ter­ing’, which is basi­cal­ly a thresh­old at which reten­tion is deemed suf­fi­cient­ly high.

Repeated reviewed items follow a different curve

Repeat­ed reviewed items fol­low a dif­fer­ent curve

There are sev­er­al free spaced rep­e­ti­tion apps avail­able too (e.g. Anki), but I’m choos­ing to use iKnow! for the pre-pack­aged con­tent, var­ied quiz types, tar­get setting/progress sys­tem, and reli­able sync­ing across dif­fer­ent apps/platforms. iKnow! repeats con­tent a lot more often dur­ing a ses­sion mak­ing reviews take a bit longer com­pared to Anki, but read­ing the exam­ple sen­tences again and again seems to help me with reten­tion.

Core 6000 is split up into 6 dif­fer­ent series (Core 1000 — Core 6000), each hav­ing 1000 words. In turn, each series has 10 cours­es, con­tain­ing 100 words each. The ini­tial cours­es have plen­ty of images and exam­ple sen­tences, but this degrades some­what as you progress (from around Core 3000 you only get one exam­ple sen­tence per word, and no images).

iKnow! study screen.

iKnow! study screen.

I start­ed on Core 1000 Step 1, and my most recent­ly mas­tered course was Core 4000 Step 5. Hav­ing cur­rent­ly put in 208 hours in total, the aver­age time for me to fin­ish a course is 6 hours. With some extrap­o­la­tion, and a study tar­get of 7 hours per week, it will me 150 hours (21.4 weeks) to fin­ish the remain­ing 25 cours­es. Main­tain­ing 1 hour per day may seem straight­for­ward, but with­out some basic plan­ning it is easy to slip up. This time round, I’m going to try to split up my ses­sions through­out the day to get through it a bit eas­i­er. Feel free to ask me about my iKnow! progress in 2014!

Current progress in iKnow!

Cur­rent progress in iKnow!

JLPT… We meet again!

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On Sun­day, I took the JLPT exam (Japan­ese Lan­guage Pro­fi­cien­cy Test) here in Tokyo. The JLPT has sev­er­al lev­els rang­ing from N5 (the least dif­fi­cult) to N1 (the most dif­fi­cult). Hav­ing recent­ly passed N3 in July, I decid­ed to give N2 a try this time round! N2 is gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered the min­i­mum lev­el required to live and work in a Japan­ese envi­ron­ment with­out major prob­lems. Improv­ing my Japan­ese will help me in all aspects of my life (as long as I remain in Japan) and so it only make sense to spend the time to study prop­er­ly. I think I sat this a bit pre­ma­ture­ly, but it gave me a con­crete tar­get to aim for and has helped to guide my study in the past few months. Pass or fail, I am hap­py some progress was made!

In Japan, you can take the exam up to twice a year. You apply for a par­tic­u­lar lev­el a few months in advance, pay­ing a nom­i­nal fee (5500 yen). The test loca­tion seems to be decid­ed based on your address — I was assigned to Tokyo City Uni­ver­si­ty — Seta­gaya cam­pus. The test site was 15 min­utes walk from the near­est train sta­tion. I was wor­ried the place might be hard to find, but there were many, many oth­er peo­ple (1000s?) also sit­ting the exam, and we formed a long line from the sta­tion all the way up to the test site. The oth­er can­di­dates seemed to be pre­dom­i­nate­ly Asian (Chi­nese, Viet­namese), but there were also peo­ple from many oth­er coun­tries too. Every­one seemed to be in their ear­ly 20s, and judg­ing from a few over­heard con­ver­sa­tions, most­ly uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents.

There were sev­er­al exam rooms across sev­er­al build­ings, with each room hav­ing about 100 stu­dents. They were extreme­ly strict on what was allowed and not allowed on your desk — in par­tic­u­lar, sev­er­al peo­ple were told off for hav­ing erasers still inside their cas­es. All of the instruc­tions from the exam­in­ers were in Japan­ese, but they gen­er­al­ly stuck to set phras­es and used sim­ple lan­guage. It was inter­est­ing to see how well (and not well) my fel­low stu­dents could under­stand the oral instruc­tions!

The N2 exam is bro­ken into two sec­tions, ‘Lan­guage Knowl­edge’ (vocab­u­lary, gram­mar, read­ing) and lis­ten­ing. The first sec­tion, includ­ing prep time, was about 2 hours, while the sec­ond last­ed about 1 hour. There was a gen­er­ous break (about 30 min­utes) in-between. Time man­age­ment was a bit of a prob­lem on the lan­guage knowl­edge sec­tion, but I man­aged to make it to half-way through the last ques­tion before time ran out. There were quite a few words I didn’t rec­og­nize in the vocab sec­tion, and it took me more than a while to read the long pas­sages in the read­ing sec­tion, but gram­mar went rea­son­ably well. I was feel­ing men­tal­ly drained going into the lis­ten­ing sec­tion, but had no choice but to keep as focused as I could through­out. Most ques­tions and key points are only men­tioned once, and so a brief slip in con­cen­tra­tion could spell dis­as­ter. I made many notes whilst lis­ten­ing, but still missed a few things when it came to answer­ing the ques­tions. If the audio was played twice, this would be be the eas­i­est sec­tion of the exam by far. But the extreme lev­el of con­cen­tra­tion required (along with being gen­er­al­ly tired after the lan­guage knowl­edge sec­tion) keeps this some­what chal­leng­ing.

The results will be announced in ear­ly Feb­ru­ary 2014(!), so I have quite a while to go before I find out how well I did. I will keep study­ing in the mean­time — hope­ful­ly 1 year from now I will be in a posi­tion to con­fi­dent­ly sit JLPT N1! Time to ramp up my study for 2014!

Category: Japanese | Tags: , , ,

Origami Android gets featured!

So I have been work­ing at Origa­mi since mid-July 2013. Origa­mi is a mobile com­merce plat­form that allows users to effec­tive­ly cre­ate their own per­son­al­ized shop by fol­low­ing only the brands/merchants that they are inter­est­ed in. Every brand/merchant on Origa­mi also have phys­i­cal shops, and so online-to-offline con­ver­sions (encour­ag­ing users of the app to go into the phys­i­cal shops) are also a big theme. The com­pa­ny was found­ed last year and is cur­rent­ly focused on the Japan­ese mar­ket. [This is not an offi­cial post by Origa­mi, so any­thing men­tioned here only reflects my own opin­ion and under­stand­ing.]

I was tasked with build­ing an Android app coun­ter­part (from scratch) to their exist­ing iOS app, which was released ear­li­er this year. I had com­plete free­dom to decide the tech­ni­cal archi­tec­ture of the Android app, which has made for a very inter­est­ing and edu­ca­tion­al expe­ri­ence. The app start­ed out as Ant/E­clipse-based, with a short tran­si­tion to a Maven/Intellij base, before final­ly set­tling on Gradle/Android Stu­dio. The var­i­ous libraries used also evolved in a sim­i­lar fash­ion.

The iOS app has been rel­a­tive­ly well received (also becom­ing fea­tured on the App Store), and so the Android app had a lot to live up to. After three months of hard work, the Origa­mi Android app was final­ly released on 21st Octo­ber 2013.

The app soon caught the atten­tion of var­i­ous peo­ple at Google, and much to my delight, it was decid­ed that the app would be fea­tured on Google Play!

Google Play Apps Home.

Google Play Apps Home.

Detail page.

Detail page.

From 2013/11/08 until 2013/11/15, if you opened the ‘Apps’ home page on the Google Play app (while in Japan), you would be greet­ed with a rather large Origa­mi ban­ner. Click­ing on the ban­ner led to a small detail page with a descrip­tion of Origa­mi, which then sub­se­quent­ly led to the app download/info page. In terms of app pro­mo­tion on Google Play, this is about as good as it gets!

Although the ban­ner is no longer shown, Origa­mi can also cur­rent­ly be found in the ‘今週のおすすめ’ (‘This week’s rec­om­mend­ed apps’) and the ‘まずはこれから始めよう’ (‘First­ly, let’s start from here’ / ‘Essen­tials’) sec­tions. It also holds a strong rank­ing in the ‘Shop­ping’ cat­e­go­ry (cur­rent­ly #10 Top Free). This pub­lic­i­ty is pro­vid­ing a great boost to our down­loads and hope­ful­ly the ini­tial suc­cess will only con­tin­ue. I am very excit­ed at the buzz cur­rent­ly sur­round­ing Origa­mi, and feel inspired to deliv­er an even bet­ter Android expe­ri­ence from here!

Category: Android

Site revival

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ひさしぶり!Somehow it has become Novem­ber 2013, three years and one domain trans­fer since I last post­ed an update! My pre­vi­ous post was about going to an Octo­ber­fest in Yoko­hama in 2010. That day is now one I vivid­ly remem­ber — not because it was a par­tic­u­lar­ly spe­cial day, but because, for some rea­son or anoth­er, it was the day I stopped blog­ging. It has occurred to me many times since then that a) blog­ging was real­ly, real­ly enjoy­able and b) I can’t have my life sto­ry (accord­ing to the Inter­net) end at a Ger­man beer fes­ti­val in Japan (as much fun as it was!).

And so I shall con­tin­ue.

As a quick sum­ma­ry, I have spent about half of the past three years in Lon­don, and about half in Tokyo, work­ing as an Soft­ware Engi­neer devel­op­ing Android apps. Most of the posts from now on will be about Android/programming or Japan­ese language/culture. If you are inter­est­ed in those two things, please check again soon!

Yokohama Octoberfest 2013 - we've come full circle!

Yoko­hama Octo­ber­fest 2013 — we’ve come full cir­cle!

Category: Meta

Rose-tinted glasses

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Upon hear­ing rumours of the Ger­man Beer Fes­ti­val, Okto­ber­fest, being cel­e­brat­ed in Yoko­hama, we decid­ed to take a day trip out and see how the Japan­ese have inter­pret­ed this small piece of Euro­pean cul­ture [and drink beer!]. Yoko­hama is Japan’s sec­ond largest city and so we were very much expect­ing anoth­er Tokyo-style metrop­o­lis. How­ev­er, it seemed much more laid back and the walk along the mari­na had a par­tic­u­lar­ly relaxed feel [not a phrase ever used to describe Tokyo!]. As with most towns in Japan, soft, ambi­ent music is played in the street through loud­speak­ers. The effect is extreme­ly sub­tle and for some rea­son, I can’t help but smile as I walk past. If such a sys­tem were to be deployed in Lon­don, I would prob­a­bly be vehe­ment­ly opposed on the grounds of encour­ag­ing an over­bear­ing, Big Broth­er gov­ern­ment. Per­haps I’m still look­ing at Japan through rose-tint­ed glass­es, but it, and oth­er quirky, ‘nev­er-in-the-west’ ele­ments, just seems to ‘work’ here. This is a feel­ing I sus­pect will change as I tran­si­tion from a tourist to a long-term res­i­dent…

The bay area in Yoko­hama.

Yoko­hama is home to a Chi­na Town and so we paid it a quick vis­it before enter­ing the beer fes­ti­val. It is some­what larg­er than the one in Lon­don and it was inter­est­ing to see how they have adopt­ed some of the Japan­ese cus­toms [shout­ing ‘irasshaimase’ every 5 sec­onds at you walk past their store], yet man­age to retain the unique Chi­nese cul­tur­al feel. I had a small ‘char siu bao’ type thing and was extreme­ly dis­ap­point­ed to see that the bun was most­ly emp­ty! A great shame, since this was all I would have to eat for the next 6 hours…

Gate at entrance to Chi­na Town in Yoko­hama.

The entrance fee to the fes­ti­val was 200 JPY, and I had naive­ly thought that this would cov­er
all of the beer you could drink — how wrong I was! It turns out that every drink was about 1000 JPY (about £7.50) and you also required a 1000 JPY deposit for the glass. This is about 4x more expen­sive than usu­al (but the beer is of course, of the spe­cial Ger­man vari­ety) so I decid­ed to only indulge in a sin­gle drink, and sip it very, very slow­ly. I talked to some of Tom’s friends who were there, who had been work­ing in an IT com­pa­ny in Tokyo for sev­er­al years. Their kind advice? ‘DON’T WORK IN JAPAN!’ [too much pres­sure and expec­ta­tion, lit­tle reward, inane cus­toms and tra­di­tions] Duly not­ed.

Okto­ber­fest!

We got hun­gry towards 7.30PM and so some of us head­ed back to Chi­na Town for a suit­able place to eat. There were a few ‘all-you-can-eat’ places for around 2,500 JPY (about £19.00) but we set­tled for a small place on a side street after being heav­i­ly mar­ket­ed to by the pro­pri­etor. It was inter­est­ing that the own­er kept look­ing at me whilst speak­ing [on account of the fact that I look most like­ly to under­stand Japan­ese]; I sim­ply nod­ded at seem­ing­ly appro­pri­ate times and threw in a few ‘soo desu’ for good mea­sure. They squeezed us on to a table in the mid­dle of the restau­rant and we had a set meal of about 5–6 dif­fer­ent dish­es. The dish­es cho­sen for the set meal were quite unusu­al, includ­ing one with stir-fried veg­eta­bles and chick­en skins. I thought I knew what to expect from the set menu in a Chi­nese restau­rant, but appar­ent­ly even the Chi­nese food in Japan is dif­fer­ent! There was talk of karaoke after the meal, but the long jour­ney home sucked the life out of us and so head­ed our sep­a­rate ways and off to bed.

Category: JLSP | Tags: , , ,