NHK = JLPT Power… Most of the Time…

So I mentioned in my last post that I recently started paying for TV Japan, and it’s basically the best purchase I’ve ever made in my whole life, ever. Except for maybe like… a health club membership, but most of those are wildly overpriced anyway.

But onto the issue at hand: TV Japan. For those of you who don’t already know what that is, its an educational TV channel for Japanese living here in the states, and it’s basically just a rebroadcasting of NHK programs.  Sometimes the shows are live (like Japanese evening news airs every morning here, and Japanese morning news airs every evening) and sometimes the programs are pre-recorded and aired at more appropriate times, like Sunday night dramas, daytime television or documentaries. There’s virtually no commercials, except for one really annoying one where this little boy is singing the name of some food product over and over and over again in a super irritating voice… but they pretty much only air that commercial at night. There’s also one commercial for a Japanese moving company that will take all your stuff back to Japan for you if your company sends you home. In the grand scheme of things, two commercials ain’t bad, right?

So what does NHK stand for? 日本放送協会 (Nippon Housou Kyoukai), or Japan Broadcasting Corporation. It does NOT however, stand for 日本ひきこもり協会 (Nihon Hikikomori Kyoukai), or Japan recluse society, as the Anime “Welcome to the NHK” would have you believe.  Side note: that Anime is great, so if you like obscure Anime with a really good story, check it out.  It’s also a novel and manga by Tatsuhiko Takimoto. Anyway, NHK is just a broadcasting company. It’s not a conspiracy to turn Japanese youth into Hikikomori (recluses).  Not like you really care about that right now anyway.

So, that’s NHK, a Japanese national broadcasting company. I could go into detail about the history of NHK, but you don’t really care about that right now, right? And I don’t really feel like researching. This post is supposed to be about the language learning benefits of watching NHK for foreigners, so why waste any more time than I already have on nonsense.

When I first started paying for NHK, let’s just say it was hard to understand. They speak fast. They talk about stuff that I don’t understand. And worst of all, they talk about stuff I don’t care about. For instance… how to milk a goat. Or how to harvest saffron. Or what rain looks like in slow motion. Or how all those rooftop gardens work in Tokyo. Bored yet? So am I. In fact, whenever I want to take a nap, I usually just turn on NHK and lay down and I’m asleep in minutes. But now I understand all these topics, I know how to talk about them and I even know how to read about them. Why, you ask? It’s all thanks to something awesome that happens on Japanese TV that doesn’t happen on American TV: they subtitle their own language, in their own language.

They probably do this for a few reasons, but the number one reason is literacy (kanji practice in other words). Most of you who read my blog probably already know that Japanese has somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 regularly used kanji that appear in newspapers, textbooks and official publications of that nature. For us, it sucks to learn them, but Japanese are surrounded by these kanji every day and they’re constantly bombarded by them.

When do we get to experience kanji? When we study, and that’s it. So what’s the benefit of NHK when it comes to learning kanji? We watch TV and while the people on screen talk, we can read subtitles and become familiar with all the kanji being used. It’s a weak second when compared to the experience of actually living in Japan, but it’s better than nothing. Also, since we are not Japanese (those of us who are not —  you could be Japanese, how would I know?) we don’t actually know all of the words being said on Japanese TV. Well, this poses a problem. We see the kanji, but we don’t know it, and we don’t know the word it’s being used with.  Well, that’s a roadblock, but it’s not the end of the road. Just watching NHK by itself will not make you magically good at Japanese, but it will fantastically augment your regular studies. So keep studying. When you learn a new word, you’ll hear it on NHK (assuming you’re studying from a worthwhile list) and you’ll make an association. It might take a second of lag time, but you’ll have one of those moments that feels so good: “aha! I know that word! I learned it yesterday! and OMG, there’s the KANJI for it at the bottom of the screen!! WOW, now I’ll NEVER forget it!” And you most likely won’t ever forget it, assuming you’re as excited as I would be. If you want, go look up the words you hear that you don’t know, although that makes this all take a very long time. To be honest, I think it’s better for your language skills to just skip over the words you don’t know so you can spend more time listening and picking up words you do know.

What shows in particular are good for this kind of practice? Pretty much all of them, but depending on your skill level it could vary. If you’re not that advanced, child oriented TV shows are best (Monday mid-day to afternoon).  If you’re a little better than that, then youth oriented news shows and game shows (Kids News or Wiz Kids TV) are probably good. If you’re a little more advanced than that but not quite top-notch (and honestly, I’m not top-notch so don’t go calling me arrogant) you should watch adult oriented daytime TV like “AsaIchi” (“Morning Market”) or other documentaries. They speak a little bit slower, and they talk about advanced topics in depth, but they use normal spoken Japanese. News shows are a different story. That’s all business vocabulary and keigo. Don’t avoid it, but don’t expect to understand it unless you’re N1 / N2 level.

Here’s the best part about NHK for learners of Japanese as a second language though: you can turn it on at any time of day, sit down and watch for 30 minutes, and you will definitely learn something. You might learn something you don’t care about or wish you never learned, but you learned. Isn’t that all that matters?

What does any of this have to do with N2 or N1? Well, if you’ve taken those tests, you know that the material is obscure to say the least. But if they throw a listening question in there about milking goats (and if you’ve taken the test you’ll agree with me, it isn’t impossible) I’ll understand, and I’ll get that answer right. How would I have ever thought to go study about goats in Japanese? Simple answer, I wouldn’t. But NHK told me to, and I did. So there you have it. NHK forces obscure knowledge into our brains, and it’s the same obscure BS that the JLPT asks us to know and understand. So use NHK. Buy it if you don’t have it, watch it if you do. NHK is pretty much the best tool you can ask for in preparing for the JLPT listening section. It’s on 24 / 7, its Japanese, its educational. What else could you want?

Oh, what’s that? You mean that random show that was on the other night where AKB48 played rock paper scissors with Ultraman for an hour while wearing skimpy outfits?


No, I didn’t learn anything from that. But I liked it.


Gundams are Good for the Environment?

I just read an article in the Japan Times about a brand new Tokyo Landmark … a lifesize Gundam.  It weighs an astounding 35 tons, and it’s so big its supposed to be a visible addition to the Tokyo skyline.  It’ll be placed in Shiokaze Park, Shinagawa, with an anticipated 1.5 million visitors for the grand unveiling.

gundam, daytime

gundam, night time

Amazing huh?

This is non-profit (according to the article I read).  A significant portion of the ticket and merchendise sales will go to Green Tokyo Fundraising Campeign, which I believe is self explanatory (it probably has something to do with the environment, if you care about that sort of thing).

So, giant robots are now good for the environment huh? I wonder what resources they had to use to make this thing….

This Gundam Project is also apparently an attempt to gain support for Tokyo’s 2016 Olympic bid, and I hope it works.  I’d rather the Olympics NOT be in chicago anyway.

So, here’s a couple websites for your enjoyment:’s-olympic-bid

will the real Otaku please stand up?

It’s Saturday, June 20.  I’m going downtown on the Metra train with Ai to see Michigan avenue and walk around, maybe do some window shopping. Sounds like fun, right? Well, you have no idea just how fun this was going to get. Why? Well, today was no ordinary day in the city of Chicago…

We got downtown and I began to feel uneasy… why are the streets so empty?  Where is everyone? Its 80 degrees outside, sunny, we’re in downtown Chicago, and theres no one here.  You could hear your own footsteps on the sidewalk, that’s not supposed to happen in the city.  We start to notice a lot of people congregating near Millenium park as we headed farther east.

“Should we go check it out?” I said.

“Sure, I want to see the bean anyway” She said. I like the bean. We went to see the bean.  For those of you “non-Chicagoans”, if you exist and are actually reading my semi-entertaining blog, the bean is exactly what its called: a bean.  A big metal one.  Why is this attractive? It reflects the skyline nicely.  Is that cool? sort of.

Anyway, we got to the bean, and what do we find? Literally, hundreds of people dressed up as anime characters.  Full costumes.  Adults.  Dressed up as Anime characters… little more needs to be said than I felt like I was in Akihabara.  There were even girls dressed up as Maids like from “Maid Cafe’s” (places where somewhat lonely guys or guys with an otherwhise apparent “Lolita Complex” get served by girls with high pitched voices dressed up as… maids).  Thats not even Anime, its just something creepy that happens in Akihabara (Tokyo’s electronics district).

I began to wonder, as any normal person would, “what’s going on here?” So I asked someone, a girl, dressed up as Cloud from FFVII (I’m not an Otaku just because I know the character… its a famous character).  She said to me “tsk, sighhhhhhh…. it’s an ANIME conVENTION” as if it was absurd that I wouldn’t know that.  And come to think of it, it kind of is.  So, being the idiot that I am, I asked her “what convention?” as if it made a difference or as if I would recognize it by its name anyway.  She answered me, and I didn’t listen, naturally.

It was at that moment that the world ended.  Five Naruto’s walked by, followed by one Sasuke and an Ichigo.  I wont lie, I recognize these characters, not because I’m an Otaku (hey, I’m not the one dressing up), but because I DO read this stuff in my free time.  Even if you say you don’t, you probably do if your reading my blog anyway.

I took a picture of this phenominon, so for your viewing pleasure, here you go:

Grow, Grow, Fight the Power

Believe it!!

Oh, and I saw a Pikachu too.

How is that costume not rediculously hot?

How is that costume not rediculously hot?

I heard Pikachu talking, not just saying its name, so needless to say I was disappointed.  She dashed all my hopes and dreams that there could be a real Pikachu.

So, what’s my opinion on all this? However much I’m making fun of these people, and I won’t hide it, I am, to a certain extent I’m also proud of them.  Why? Because these people are truly… Happy. Happy with CAPITAL “H”. They actually care so little about what people think of them, that they’re willing to go outside in the morning, dressed in a full body Pikachu Jumpsuit, or wearing a rediculous Maid costume, get on the train like that, talk to regular people doing business (selling tickets, selling food, what have you) and then spend the entire day in public dressed like that.  I’m impressed.  It’s incredible, and I’m jealous.  How many people in the world love something SO MUCH that they will go to those extents to participate? They face riducule and humiliation with a smile. They like what they’re doing and no one can stop them.  Otaku’s are in their own world, they have each other, and they’re fine like that.

So, what’s my conclusion here? All the power to them.  Go OTAKU’s.  I’m not one of you (please don’t ask me to be) and even though I make fun of you (because you ARE funny, just admit it) , but I respect you.  To quote an Anime: “GROW GROW, FIGHT THE POWER!” (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann)…

Jeez… am I an Otaku?

(PS, for all of you who are interested in finding out exactly what an Otaku is, go to and watch the Japanese Drama: “Densha Otoko”)