Life in Japan 日本語

4 Ways To Learn Japanese In Japan (That Actually Work)

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After my post about relearning Japanese with my little Kaiju, I got many comments about my Japanese language abilities.

This week, I share my experiences on learning the language. Next week, I’ll dive into how I plan to improve my language skills before my girl is in in first grade.

Today I’m starting with 4 ways to learn Japanese in Japan that actually work, all tried and tested by me.

When you live in Japan, it’s practically a guarantee that you’ll pick up the language right away… right? But plenty of expats know this isn’t the case. Life, after all happens, and just because you live here doesn’t mean you’ll instantly pick up the language.

There’s always getting a Japanese love interest or going to language school, or doing a language exchange… but what if you’re done all that and still feel like you aren’t seeing results you want? Here’s what to do:

1. Work in the Service Industry

Before I became a blogger/writer, and way before I began a my career in early childhood education, I worked full-time in fashion retail.

Among the shopping malls I worked in was the iconic Shibuya 109 (this was in the heyday of gyaru fashion). I had a functional grasp of conversational Japanese that immediately evolved as I interacted with Japanese customers daily.

As my language skills improved, I became responsible for writing daily sales reports which were handwritten and faxed to headquarters once our shop closed for the day. I even trained teenage Japanese staff on how to use Japanese honorifics!

When you have a side job, you’re not just learning Japanese. You’ll also have extra cash in your pocket and may even get perks like shopping discounts or free/reduced meals. I miss my staff discounts, which is probably why I’m so obsessed with earning points when I shop!

2. Watch Owarai

One of my first Japanese boyfriends got me hooked on Japanese comedy shows. At first, it was a struggle to train my ears to keep up with the Kansai dialect typical of comedians as well as the rough masculine forms of speech. The three shows that I can depend on for laughs are:

Subernai Hanashi

すべらない話

Comedians sit around a table and tell humorous stories ranging from LPT (life point tips) to extremely NSFW TIFU (today I f**** up) tales.

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I haven’t been able to find a video clip but apparently audio clips of this show are very, very popular! Hosshan’s “Gasuyo” (ガス代) is probably one of my favorite (starts at 15:50).

Hakase to jyoushu komakasugite tsutawaranai monomane senshu-ken

細かすぎて伝わらないモノマネ選手権

Hosted by the comedic duo Tunnels and judged by a guest panel, amatuer comedians come on stage and do their best impersonations, the more obscure the better:

You’ll have to brush up on Japanese pop culture and sports to get 90% of the jokes, so watch this clip to get the gist: a worker at gasoline stand manages to make “Irasshaimase“ (Welcome!) sound like “Rush Hour 3:”

Moya Moya Summers 2

モヤモヤさまぁ〜ず2

Summers, yet another comedic duo, team up with a female announcer (Oe Mariko- the O.G.; Kanno Eri-second generation; Fukuda Noriko-current), and the three visit various cities of Japan and even across the globe.

The “moya moya” in the title stems from the cast’s uncertainty as to who or what they will encounter as they venture into a new place. But ot doesn’t feel like a travel show. Each episode of Moya Moya Summers is like traveling with your BFF and joking about what’s on the menu or a shopkeeper’s attitude.

The Hawaii episodes are a fan-favorite (mine too!) and the group has made plenty of visits for the show:

TIP: If you’re ever in Hawaii and don’t know what souvenirs to bring back for Japanese friends/coworkers, get something with the (literal) Moya Moya Summers seal of approval.

3. Use Japanese Subtitles

I first arrived in Japan in 2004, right at the first peak of han-ryuu, or Korean wave. I couldn’t understand why nearly everyone was obsessed over some guy in glasses, oversized pastel sweaters, and a penchant for scarves. The original Bae, Yon-sama, seemed to be everywhere in Japan.

For years, I refused to ride the Korean wave, but when the second wave hit with K-pop, I made my first visit to Seoul, and I was hooked. Japanese subtitles help me understand what was going on as I certainly do not have the necessary Korean language skills.

I don’t watch K-dramas as much as I did before, but nowadays I watch plenty of foreign language movies and tv shows thanks to my Fire Stick.

When my girl is sleeping, I sneak out of the futon and head to the living room. There, I turn down the volume super low and turn on the Japanese subtitles to enjoy some “mommy me time.”

Some domestic variety and comedy programs have subtitles to emphasize certain comedic or dramatic moments. I find that is a great way to train your ears and to learn the readings for kanji. You can also learn how to use certain phrases or words in a conversation to make your Japanese sound more natural.

4. Get a Hobby


I took up scuba diving a few years ago on a whim- partly because I was amused to find a scuba school in the middle of Shinjuku and partly because they were having a winter campaign for new students.

(Despite having worked extensively in retail, I really can’t help myself when the words “campaign” and “For a limited time!” are involved.)

While I could speak Japanese, I had to put in extra work to understand scuba-related vocabulary for tests and for communicating with instructors and fellow students.

(I also mentally kicked myself for zoning out in high school physics classes after telling myself that I’ll never use Boyle’s law in my adult life. Never say never!)

In 2017, I decided to get my driver’s license. Again, in addition to studying the rules of the road, I had to put in extra work memorizing specific Japanese terms and understanding the tricky grammar of the written tests which are designed to deliberately trick test takers.  

I’ve also taken Korean cooking classes at a local restaurant for 2 years, and I took up archery at the community sports center after seeing an ad for beginners in the local newspaper.

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Last year, I learned how to host my on blog, and this year I’m studying for an exam for the Japan Cosmetics Licensing Association. I hope to not only expand my vocabulary but also to learn more about cosmetics and skincare.

I hope these methods will help you achieve the desired results in your Japanese language study. Have any suggestions or other methods to share?

4 Ways To Learn Japanese In Japan (That Actually Work)

Teni

Tokyo-based beautyholic and content creator. Mom to a monster and a furbaby. Driven by intense wanderlust and powered by limited edition snacks and drinks from Japan.

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