Saturday, March 21, 2009

An obversation? A wish... ?

I noticed something when I was watching anime earlier today - the sounds were much clearer than before. By that I mean that if you told me to write down (in kana) everything I heard, I would feel very confident doing so about 95-98% of the time.

At first I figured it was because I just had better sound quality - I was watching the DVDs on a laptop that's less than 2 months old. But just now I went on youtube on my usual computer (which is a few years old) and started listening to J-pop, and the effect was the same. Obviously music doesn't have the same rhythm as regular spoken language, but even so...

There's a part of me that won't believe this; I'm half-convinced that I'm imagining this or something. As I write this, I am 104 hours into the experiment. That might sound like a lot, but remember how I said that babies/toddlers take 8-11 thousand hours to pick up their first language? Even if we assume that I (at the age of 18) am "smarter" than a newborn baby, it still strikes me as being too early into the experiment for visible results. If I had had to guess how long it would've taken for something like this to happen, I would've guesstimated a thousand hours.

Either my imagination has rum amok, or I've really underestimated my own ability to pick up/get used to foreign languages.

わたしたちの教科書 (Our Textbook)

This is a recommendation/review of a drama. I wouldn't normally do this; most of the stuff I watch is well-known enough anyway, and is usually aimed at a specific demographic. But I'm doing this for わたしたちの教科書 (Our Textbook); allow me to explain why.

Title: わたしたちの教科書 (Our Textbook)
Starring: 菅野 美穂(かんの みほ), 伊藤淳史(いとう あつし), 風吹ジュン (ふぶき ジュン), 志田 未来 (しだ みらい)
Genre: school, mystery, law
Maya's Rating (Scale of 0-10): 9.5

I'll be honest: I haven't really seen that many Asian dramas to date. In fact, this one is only the 3rd drama that I've watched from start to finish. But even if you look aside the fact that this one was infinitely better than the other's I've watched, you're still left with the fact that わたしたちの教科書 was, just one its own, phenomenal.

The story is about a young woman, Tamako Tsumiki (積木 珠子), who is a lawyer and works in her fiancé's firm; she is good-looking, intelligent, and has a promising future. But (this is going to sound cheesy, but hang on) her life changes when she starts to get involved in a case about a middle-school student who fell out of a window. Getting information out of a new teacher at the school (Kouhei Kaji - 加地 耕平) and getting involved in the some of the school's private matters, her life, and life of those at the school, are drastically changed.

Sounds cheesy, right? At best, it might sound mediocre - that was I thought, until I actually started watching this drama. Where do I even begin? ... OK, the show had its cheesy moments. But overall, it was an emotional roller coaster. At least half of the episodes (=guesstimate pulled out of the air) had dramatic plot twists that were quite unexpected. The acting was amazing, and pulled the viewer right in - it felt like I was literally a part of the show, somehow.

I stopped watching TV when I was in 6th grade; it wasn't because I was too busy (what could a 12 year old kid be busy with?). It was because, frankly, most of the stuff on TV, in any country, is crap. The animes/dramas I watch nowadays are fine, IMO, otherwise I wouldn't watch them; but they're nothing special. I wouldn't watch half of them if they were in English. わたしたちの教科書 is one of those rare exceptions - I watched 4 episodes of it in a single day because I couldn't stand NOT to know what was going to happen next.

Another thing about this drama that sets it apart from other anime/dramas is that it's not aimed at any one particular demographic. Except for toddlers perhaps, I think almost anyone could watch this show and enjoy it. It didn't strike me as explicitly feminine or explicitly masculine or whatever. It was just explicitly human.

I'm not sure to what extent this drama was popular in Japan, but I can say one thing about its popularity: it is massively, massively, MASSIVELY underrated. I see absolutely no reason why mediocre dramas like 1リットルの涙 (1 Litre of Tears) should be famous all across Asia, while amazing and emotionally profound dramas like this one should do so-so on the market. I suppose it's a matter of marketing, of course, but... it's not really fair.

If you're learning Japanese (and even if you're not!), I highly recommend this drama. A subtitled version is available on; just type in "our textbook" in the search engine. You won't regret it =)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Back Horn (ザ・バックホーン)

This is my second post with a music recommendation (scroll down for the first one).

The Back Horn is a rock/indie band from Tokyo. They've been around since 1998, but their major stuff has only been from 2001 onwards. There's not much else I can say about this band, other than the fact that I think they're under-rated.

A few of their songs that I like are:

Namida Ga Koboretara - One of their "heavier", more energetic sounds.

Mafuyu no Hikari - Youtube doesn't have the official music video for this song, but anyway...


Yaiba - Another one of their more energetic songs, albeit with less screaming then the 1st one :)

Cobalt Blue - yes, this is the actual music video for the song.



So, I remember promising to recommend music ("post up links to songs") in a previous post... and I do intend to keep my promise. So here's my first fulfilment of that promise :)

One Japanese singer that I like is YUI. Only 21 years old, she was raised fatherless and wanted to be a singer from a young age. After a mental breakdown in high school due to stress, she decided to drop out of high school for good to persue a career in music. She writes her own songs/lyrics, and her songs tend to be pop-rockish.

More information:

Now for some actual song recommendations... she's written quite a lot of stuff, actually. These are just a few of my favourites. Click on the song titles to be redirected to the corresponding youtube videos.

Summer Song - about summertime (duh). It has a light-hearted feel to it that I like.

LIFE - I believe this was the opening theme of an anime, but I can't remember which one off the top of my head. I like the beat.

Umbrella - I have no idea what this song is about (I'm not ashamed to admit it - my Japanese sucks), but I do like this song. It flows well.

Rolling Star - One of her more energetic songs.


Daydreamer - I couldn't find the official music video for this, so I'm putting this up instead. Sorry about that. It's still the same music, though.

Like I said before, YUI has tons of songs, so this list is by no means exhaustive :)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Progress Report 28-02-09, & Some Links

Finally, some updates:

  • I've watched all of "14才の母"

  • I've watched half of each of DN Angel and Fruits Basket

  • I've watched ~22 episodes of Ranma 1/2

  • I've watched several episodes each of Claymore, Chobits, MKR, and Fushigi Yuugi

Now for some of those links I promised:

This is a TV Tokyo clip on "different" street styles.

This is a TV clip about a half-Japanese, half-American (white) girl who lives in Yokohama.

Last but not least, this is the first video in what appears to be a movie/documentary about Buddhism. I haven't watched/listened to the other parts yet, but it looks interesting.

Total number of hours spent under the Yellow Experiment thus far (including youtube videos and such): 63.75

Friday, February 27, 2009

No, I'm not dead... (& some updates)

I have to start off by apologizing for my somewhat long absence. Things have been a little crazy lately, but no, I'm not dead, nor have I given up on this experiment. I'm pretty serious about learning Japanese.

That said, I've slightly "updated" how I want to conduct the experiment from this point on. It's based on the article I posted/quote in my previous post. Basically, the more you listen to a language = the more you get used to the sounds = the easier it is to pick up new words, right?

For those who kind of know how the school system works here, you'll know that semester 2 started recently, which is the main reason why I've been away for a while. It's also the reason why lately, I just don't have the time to watch 2-4 hours of anime/drama every day... I'm still watching some, obviously; it's the essence of my experiment and anyway, I enjoy it (even if I don't understand much). But since I rarely have the time to watch more than an hour a day, and since there are many parts of my day that are basically wasted (especially at school), I've decided to kind of borrow an idea from AJATT.

To make a long story short, I'm going to find tons of Japanese audio (songs, anime/drama scenes ripped from DVDs, random youtube vids) and put them on my mp3 player, and then listen to them during moments that would otherwise be wasted. Seeing as I can also listen to them while doing other things, I can easily add several hours of listening to Japanese into each day.

The cool part of this, from the point of view of you guys reading this, is that I'm sometimes going to be posting youtube vids and links to songs on this blog... I know a number of the people following this blog are learning Japanese themselves, so I'm hoping that these links will be of some help to you guys as well.

Last but not least, I'm hoping to eventually write some reviews of animes/dramas that I watch... not all of them, but at least those that I really like. Obviously everyone's tastes are different, but hopefully it'll at least be helpful to some people.

Thoughts? Questions? I'd love to get input/other opinions on this, so leave a comment if you have something to say :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wanna learn a language? Just listen to it

This is a bit later than I had originally promised, but anyway, here it is at last:

Dr Sulzberger has found that the best way to learn a language is through frequent exposure to its sound patterns—even if you haven't a clue what it all means.

"However crazy it might sound, just listening to the language, even though you don't understand it, is critical. A lot of language teachers may not accept that," he says.

"Our ability to learn new words is directly related to how often we have been exposed to the particular combinations of the sounds which make up the words. If you want to learn Spanish, for example, frequently listening to a Spanish language radio station on the internet will dramatically boost your ability to pick up the language and learn new words."

Dr Sulzberger's research challenges existing language learning theory. His main hypothesis is that simply listening to a new language sets up the structures in the brain required to learn the words.

"Neural tissue required to learn and understand a new language will develop automatically from simple exposure to the language—which is how babies learn their first language," Dr Sulzberger says.

He was prompted to undertake the research after spending seven years teaching Russian to New Zealand students and observing drop-out patterns.

"I was very conscious of the huge difficulties students have when they tackle another language, especially at the beginning. Many drop out because they feel they are not making progress."

Dr Sulzberger says he was interested in what makes it so difficult to learn foreign words when we are constantly learning new ones in our native language. He found the answer in the way the brain develops neural structures when hearing new combinations of sounds.

"When we are trying to learn new foreign words we are faced with sounds for which we may have absolutely no neural representation. A student trying to learn a foreign language may have few pre-existing neural structures to build on in order to remember the words."

Dr Sulzberger looked for ways people could develop these structures to make the learning process easier. His finding was simple: extensive exposure to the language, something made easier by globalisation and new technology.

"It is easier to learn languages these days because they are so accessible now. You can go home and watch the news in French on the internet."

He says people trying to learn a foreign language in their home country are at a disadvantage compared to those who travel to another country and immerse themselves in its sounds and culture. For the same reason, he says, we need to rethink the way languages are taught.

"Teachers should recognise the importance of extensive aural exposure to a language. One hour a day of studying French text in a classroom is not enough—but an extra hour listening to it on the iPod would make a huge difference," Dr Sulzberger says.

"Language is a skill, it's not like learning a fact. If you want to be a weight lifter, you've got to develop the muscle - you can't learn weightlifting from a book. To learn a language you have to grow the appropriate brain tissue, and you do this by lots of listening—songs and movies are great!"