After keeping it on the back burner for way too long, I felt I should finally make this project public, no matter how unpolished: is a website geared towards people studying Japanese kanji (and, I guess, to a lesser extent, Chinese… but it probably needs some tuning for that). It provides a simple yet powerful interface for people to write kanji mnemonics in the form of a simple story.

The best way to see what I mean is to go register (10 seconds, one click), read a few stories and finally: take a stab at writing your own. Allowing users to contribute stories is at least 90% of the point of this website at this stage, so please do not just go, check out the dozen sample stories and call it a day without trying the editor.

The current version of the website, although quite spiffy code-wise, needs a huge amount of work to be called a proper beta. And then, there are two million cool features just waiting to be added. However, given my very limited time resources, I figured I would first check to see how much interest (and active participation) in the project I can raise, before committing any more time working on it.

Do not hesitate to post your comments and suggestions below, but keep in mind that this is all very early-stage development and that many new features will come, once (if) this ever takes off the ground as a community project.

As an aside, if you are a reasonably experienced PHP dev with an interest in contributing to this project: get in touch (use the address: “zedrdave” at Google’s mail).

If you want to be kept informed of future KanjiStory-related news, easiest way for now is to sign-up as a fan on the facebook page (until I set up a proper forum and RSS feed on the website).

KanjiBox for iPhone Taking a small break from my break to introduce:

KanjiBox for iPhone

By far the best way to spend your Summer while improving your Japanese (whether at the beach or on a crowded Tokyo subway, wedged between two sweaty salarymen). This application works on all iPhone and iPod Touch models (provided they run iPhone OS 3.0 or later) and is entirely offline (doesn’t use any internet connection at all).

More info and screenshots on KanjiBox’s website

And of course, for our ipod-deprived brethren, there is always KanjiBox for Facebook: free and full of fun multiplayer goodness!

Maybe I’m the last Japanese student on earth to discover that, but learning the Japanese etymology of the English word “tycoon” today felt like a mini-epiphany.

It was both rather unexpected and yet blindingly obvious in retrospect: 大君 [‘taikun’] was the title used by the Shogun in his relations with foreign dignitaries.

As a funny sidenote: 「君」[‘kun’], which I believe used to be a term of honour (“Master” etc.) is nowadays mostly used in Japanese to address young schoolboys (come to think of it, exactly as the English word ‘master’). Which would make the literal meaning of 大君 to be “Big boy”… Not quite the most imposing title you could find.

Furthering the spirit of language studies through movie-watching, what I have learnt so far on proper spoken kansai-ben:

1. Replace every ‘ない‘ by ‘へん‘.

2. Don’t say ‘とても‘, ‘ほんとう‘ or ‘だめ‘, but: ‘めっちゃ‘, ‘ほんま‘ and ‘あかん‘…

3. Throw in loud ‘ほら‘ (with a throaty roll of the ‘r’) at random intervals in your conversation.

I’m totally ready for my move to the countryside.

That's right, beeatch: I made this. This year, I purchased and brought back a couple Muji 「 クリスマスへクセンハウス」 (no idea what “へクセン” might be, but I’m sure it’s delicious*) for everybody to enjoy… As it turns out, my dear little brothers out there in Canada had a hard time reading cooking instructions (sure: they’re written in Japanese. so what). Here is therefore the detailed recount of my own attempt at building a biscuit house, for their sake and yours.

Should you attempt to follow, it will help if you have the same awesome Muji kit handy, but an inventive and resourceful person could do without (none of the ingredients are that hard to find, and the schematics can probably be figured out from scratch with limited engineering skills). Also, this is not a completely faithful translation of the original instructions: I have added a couple personal touches as well as skipped the more obvious advices (be careful with the knife, do not stick your tongue in the oven etc.).

Anyway, off we go:

One little-known feature of the Japanese Input tools on OS X is the ability to easily access a whole lot of unicode symbols without having to go dig through the Character Palette each and every time. If you enable Japanese Input (also known as Kotoeri) on your mac, hitting a keyboard shortcut (apple-space by default, I think) will toggle kana input on and off, whereby you can type japanese words in kanas and press the spacebar to pick a matching kanji (followed by ‘enter’ to validate the transliteration).
The nifty bit comes from the availability of UTF-8 characters that are not kanji, but nonetheless useful in a lot of situations. Just as any other kanji, typing a kana sequence (usually the name of the symbol in Japanese), followed by a press of the spacebar, will automatically let you insert the desired symbol.
Note: Apparently, most of these work equally well on Windows Japanese Input system, but I haven’t tested it.

For example, any Japanese girl knows all too well how to obtain the following cutesy icons:
おんぷ[onpu] → ♬♩♪♫
ほし[hoshi] → ☆★

On a more pragmatic note, you can also choose from a very complete set of arrows:
やじるし[yajirushi] → ↑↓☝⇔ etc.

And one of my personal favourite: european currency symbols that would otherwise take half an hour to find on a standard US keyboard:
ゆーろ[yuro] → €
ぽんど[pondo] → £

Another very cool set for your scientific paper-writing needs:
すうがく[suugaku]/えんざん[enzan] → √∃∀≠±∇

Not to mention the entire greek alphabet:
あるふぁ[arufa] α
べーた[be-ta] β
がんま[ganma] γ
でるた[deruta] δ
しぐま[siguma] σ

etc. etc.

You will find even more of these in this large (albeit probably not exhaustive) list of special character shortcuts.

So you have decided to learn Japanese? Perhaps you have even signed up for this year’s JLPT and parted with their robber baron’s fees in some foolish hope that it will motivate you for the month-and-a-half revision time that is left until then (oh wait, that’s me. never mind).

Now, there are many ways you could go about harvesting the Web’s boundless resources to help you in that quest.

You could for example do aerobics while watching awkward multicultural multilingual 80’s lesbian action:

Or you could sign into your Facebook account and add my latest online realization.

Kanji Box will fulfill your most secret kanji fantasies: it does absolutely everything, short of showing up for the test for you (gory details here). To top it all, it will let you compete against your friends: nothing like a bit of competition to get you worked up on the kanji skills (cue uplifting karate training montage).

[for all Facebook-haters out there: I feel you. I am not myself overly smitten with the concept. But I must admit Facebook sucks marginally less than its competitors, and its 3rd party API took most of the drag out of developing Kanji Box’ multi-user features… so do not expect a standalone version too soon, sorry]

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I just got a brand new handheld Japanese dictionary. It’s very complete, using one of the best database out there, smaller than a few credit cards stacked together and I paid 20,000 yens for it.

Oh, it also plays mp3s.

And movies.

In fact, it does a whole lot of things, pretty much anything I want it to do, provided I have time to write a program for it.

It’s an iPod Nano, running µClinux, thanks to the brilliant work of the iPod Linux team.

To file under: News that you should only care about if you are my mom

I was just communicated by my Man in Japan, the results of the JLPT test Level 3 (yea, not feeling that ambitious at the time)… The one I took back in December of last year

And it would appear I do indeed speak some Japanese. At least just enough to fool the government officials who passed me.

And to quote some hopelessly optimistic piece of j-pop fluff:


I soooo 0wN0rz N1h0|\|Gø!!!11!1