NewFractals Posts

Disclaimer: I like Yamasa, and (based on these few days I’ve been here) I will come back if I have the chance. Still, this website wouldn’t be useful if it didn’t talk also about the few bad things I encounter here. Here is one of them, and I’m not writing this post to complain, but because I was looking for posts like this while choosing my electives and couldn’t find anything.

Read books you are interested in at your own pace. Let’s give it a try after listening to the advice of those in class who have already read the book. Students will be reading easy-to-understand books without using the dictionary. After reading the book, you will then give a review to your fellow classmates and exchange opinions. New grammar is not taught in this class.

This is the description of the “Reading and Listening” elective that Yamasa gave me… I interpreted it as something much more fun than it actually was. I thought it was some kind of book club, and that we would have been given books to read from week to week and then made some little presentation of what we read, or told the other students if we enjoyed the book and why.

Reality was quite different: in this elective you just quietly read one of the book Yamasa gives you for about an hour, then write how many pages did you read (and any comment you have) in a table (which I think you just keep as a personal record). Then the book goes back to the library (I suppose, I didn’t check).

I like the fact that Yamasa encourages extensive reading, but I prefer to buy a book and read it at home than reading it at school one hour a week… especially if in that hour I could be doing something that uses more interaction with a teacher.

So, unless you are looking just for some quite time, I think you should be careful while choosing this elective (I’ll give this same feedback to Yamasa once I’m gone, and maybe one day they’ll change how this elective is made… so if you’re really interested just be sure to ask them exactly how this elective works).

I’ve asked to change elective and take “Pronunciation” instead of “Reading and Listening”, and Yamasa was very quick to answer me: I’ll be able to take the Pronunciation elective starting a few weeks from now (max number of students is 10, so I have to wait for one of them to leave). They handled this really well and I haven’t any complaint… I just wish I knew more about this in advance, since I could probably have gotten into the “Pronunciation” class from the beginning.

This September I’ll tell you how the pronunciation class is!


I’ve been met with a look of amazement by one of my classmates because I was actually using kanji writing the answers to some exercises: “Do you know kanji? How did you study them? How many do you know?”. The fact is, I don’t know a lot of kanji, not at all!

I can recognize many of them if the context is clear, and I can quickly copy those that use radicals I know. I’m still not confident enough to write most of them without looking at them. Being put in a class at the beginning of Minna no Nihongo 2 after some experience with Heisig (which I didn’t finish) and lately with Wanikani (just got to ninth level) probably means I do have more kanji knowledge than my classmates, but it doesn’t mean I know a lot about kanji.

Still, this made me start to think about kanji and how they are taught, and I think I’m starting to realize what the hard thing about kanji is: nobody actually teaches them! “Nobody” is a strong word, let’s just say that most of the Japanese teachers won’t try to teach you kanji… that means most of the students share this problem.

When I started to study Chinese I had no choice: Hanzi or die. In the beginning, we got a lot of pinyin with the characters, but it was expected from us to learn a good amount of characters from the first week of lesson. Guess what? People could do that just fine!

With Japanese, at best they will give you some list of kanji to learn, kanji that you’ll always encounter with furigana in your textbook. Opening one of the last pages of Minna no Nihongo 2 I see furigana for 先生, 国, and 日曜日. I understand people prefer to be cautious, that we all learn at a different pace, and that it’s hard to draw the line between “easy” and “difficult”. But a line has to be drawn!

You cannot just treat all kanji words as “difficult”, otherwise when you finally have to take out the furigana for a lot of people it will be too late: they’ll get hit by an enormous amount of words they cannot read without crutches.

The only way to get and retain any ability is to use it. Kanji are difficult enough even with practice… but if you don’t practice, learning them it’s just impossible.


Okazaki - Hanabi

Saturday I went with my host’s son, which has approximately my age, to see the fireworks in what I suppose is the city center. You could see some of them even from our house, but getting closer obviously meant getting a much more spectacular view. We took the train from Okazaki Station to Naka-Okazaki Station, and walked from there to one of the two areas where the fireworks were: Okazaki Castle!
Actually, I didn’t realize we were going there until I saw it.

CastleThe area was completely packed of people, but you could still move from one place to another by just following the flow of the crowd. The show had already started long time ago we arrived (I doubt they waited twilight to start), but that was not a problem, since it continued for hours after we got there. Getting close to the area with the sky filled with fireworks was by itself worth it: from the train we could see fireworks both left and right, from the two different areas.

It was my first time at the castle and, despite the crowd, the fireworks were giving it an eerie feel (either that, or of a Japanese, more realistic version of Disneyland). My picture on the left cannot perfectly capture the moment, but tell me if it doesn’t seem photoshopped!

[BTW, isn’t it strange that saying “it’s so good that it seem CGI” is getting more and more natural?]

A boat on the river, with red fireworks.We walk more and got to a river near the castle. The riverbanks were filled of people who paid to get a seat, thousands of them. We had to remain in the main road… still, I think we’ve seen a better show than them: moving around was a lot more interesting that how sitting down must have been.

Japan Okazaki

Yesterday we discovered that even with my best intention, washing plates after dinner in Japan isn’t really a great idea for me. After we had dinner, I asked the okasan to let me help with dishes… it started normally, but after a few minutes my back began to ache and soon after that I noticed the problem: I’m too tall for a Japanese kitchen!
I didn’t say anything, but the okasan clearly noticed the problem at about the same time, and urged me to stop helping her… I finished anyway, since there were just two or three bowls left… I suppose I’ll need to find another way to help, since washing dishes on my knees really isn’t an option either.

It’s not like I’m taller than any Japanese… in any big crowd, I can usually spot 2-3 boys who are 2-3 cm taller than me. All this time I thought being tall in Japan would be a problem just for men (and really tall women), and that (except for shopping), my height was ok… I clearly was wrong. From my 176 cm I’m already too tall for a common appliance like a kitchen sink!


So, here I am at Yamasa! On the first day I was met at the station by Greg-san, holding a signboard with both “YAMASA” and my name written on it. He is a former student who recently got hired at the Costumer Service Office… I like this! During “Orientation” (which seems to be the last time we will hear English spoken) it was reassuring to know that everything was said by someone who was in our same position a year ago.

I’m staying in a homestay, and it’s really a paradise. The house is great, my room is very comfortable, half of what we eat at dinner is homegrown (both rice and vegetables), I got a life-saving thermos to fill with ice and green tea in the morning and we’re at walking distance from the school. I mean, for me it’s walking distance (half an hour by foot, the main problem is the heat), but if you don’t like to walk cycling from here to school should be really nice.
The first day (the day after I arrived in Okazaki) we did a placement test, then a quick orientation tour. Then we got the afternoon off, which I used to try to recover from my jet-lag… no point reviewing after the test and before knowing in which class I will be!

The test didn’t go really well. I don’t know about the written part, but I did the interview so bad that they rightfully placed me back at the beginning of Minna no Nihongo 2. At the beginning I was quite ashamed, but we are covering it at such a fast pace that I don’t think in the end I should worry about Minna no Nihongo 2 booksthis too much.

Friday we did a whole chapter (Lesson 27, which is the second chapter of the book). For me everything is just a review, I know the grammar, but I surely need more practice speaking… Going at this speed, it’s probably good for me to be able to concentrate only on speaking while knowing already most of the grammar. Thanks to some differences in the order of subjects in Minna no Nihongo and Shin Nihongo no Kiso (the book I was using in Italy) I should get to some new materials in 3 weeks… Which I think is fine, I’ll be studying here for 7 full weeks, so it surely won’t be just a review of old material.

I have all the weekend for myself, so I think I’ll review both the 26th and the 27th lessons. They didn’t ask us to do that, but the homework we got wasn’t enough for two days. Since I’ve bought the books, I might as well review also the first chapter!


Since I’ll report here about Yamasa and my progress there, here is a brief summary of my Japanese studies so far. This is really a hard post to write, because I really don’t know that much Japanese and I’m quite ashamed of that… but I suppose that a few months from now it will feel good to go back here and see how much I’ve learned.

Japanese course and some extras

I followed two years of a Japanese course: first year was three hours/week, second year four hours/week. One of this hours was dedicated to culture, not language. We covered the following cultural topics:

First year Second year
Kanji history Edo period
Fist contacts with China Ukiyo-e
Buddhism, Shintoism Noh, Kyougen, Bunraku, Kabuki

The cultural lessons were realy well-made, and I think I got a lot from them (still, they say nothing about my proficiency in Japanese, except for giving me a framework for some vocabulary).

Grammar was a bit more lacking, not because the course wasn’t good, but for the small amount of hours (two hours/week both years… the extra hour we got in the second year was for conversation with a native Japanese speaker).

Since we didn’t have a lot of hours/week to study, the course was quite slow-paced: in two years we only got to the second half of Shin Nihongo No Kiso II (which shouldn’t be too different from Minna no Nihongo II). It’s not a great book… anyway, I wanted to finish it before getting at Yamasa, but I won’t have enough time.

In these two years I didn’t rely on the course only: I’ve been using Anki to improve my vocabulary (I’ve finished Core 2k and I’ll continue with Core 6k), I tried the Heisig method to learn Kanji (got somewhere around 1100+ kanji, then life happened and had to stop) and I’m now freshly enrolled in Wanikani (which I still don’t know if was or not a wise choice… I suppose I’ll write a review a few months from now).

Even if I didn’t finish Remembering The Kanji, I feel it has given me a big help with recognizing kanji (even those I didn’t learn from the book): my stroke order still needs a lot of work, but if I need to learn a new kanji I can do it quickly.

 So, where am I now?

My proficiency in Japanese, right now, is such that I get some “Wow!” moments now and then when I notice I can actually understand something written in real (but simple) Japanese. I don’t know enough to use a J-J dictionary, and I still miss some basic grammar structures. However, last year I was already able to ask some basic questions to native speakers if needed.

My goal staying at Yamasa is to get to the point were I can actually enjoy some native material… that would mean having an easier time exposing myself to the language and to naturally improve my reading and listening skills. I’m a fan of extensive reading (which means reading a lot while trying not to use a dictionary (skipping what you cannot undestand). I don’t know if this is a sensible goal, but let’s see were I can get!


Yamasa, as allways, was very quick to answer to my e-mail.

The ACCP Course does have a maximum class number of 10, but please note that this is a maximum number and currently our classes have much less than this.

So, nothing to worry about. They also said they’ll consider editing their website to make it more clear.

Edit: I probably wasn’t the only one inquiring about the changes they seemingly made to the courses. A few days after receving my answer I noticed Yamasa added the following notice near the header of their new website:
NOTE: This is our new website. There are no major changes in rices, accommodation, courses etc. Therefore if you have already applied for a course, there is no action required on your part.


I just noticed the new Yamasa website has finally arrived! I say “finally”, because while the old version had much more information, some of it became inaccurate with time and they clearly had some trouble keeping it updated.

Yamasa II buildingFor example, the old website stated that the search for an homestay accomodation would start as soon as the tuition fee was paid (and so you could pay the accomodation fee after the accomodation was found), while you actually had to pay the full accomodation fee in advance so that they could start the research. That slower down the search for my accomodation just by a few days, but still…

Also, I see now that in my course (ACCP)  reports a class size of 10, instead of the old “maximum 8”.  The number itself could actually be a typo (they also put a misleading timetable in the same page, I guess they copied part of the content from another course). The things that troubles me is the lack of the word “maximum”.

People who went to Yamasa reported a number of students per class quite below the stated “maximum 8” (expecially in September), so I don’t think it would be a problem if this became a “maximum 10” students. The problem is if they decided to now aim at “10 students” as the mean number of students in a class. I’m not sure if I should ask about this or not. I really don’t want to worry about this now, a month before the course starts, but I suppose I’ll write them an e-mail anyway.

Edit: done, and I’ve already got a reply. It really is “maximum 10” students, which is fine for me!

That said, after a quick tour in their new website, I think there is probably 1/50 of the information the old one had. You could spend weeks reading that. It would have been great if they managed to keep all that content updated, but I undestand the problems they had and why they choose to make a smaller website.

They added a lot of photos, expecially in the Accomodation page, but they shortened most of the description, expecially in the Homestay section.


I’m getting back to Japan, this time to study Japanese… so I thought keeping a blog about it could be useful both to those who know me and want to check if I’m surviving an intensive course in Japan and to those who want to know more about Yamasa (or Japan! or Japanese!) and will be able to read here how it was for me.

The first time I went to Japan I blogged about in Italian… now I want to try something different and go for English instead.

[I could translate my old posts in English in the future, but I’m not putting a deadline for that right now.]

Before going, I’ll try to post something about Yamasa, why I choose it, and Okazaki (the city in which is located).

Japan Japanese

Translating isn’t an easy job.

The work of translators is often overlooked (and usually underpaid), but it requires at least the same care a writer puts in the words he uses, otherwise the efforts of the author are made useless. If an author uses silly or inappropriate terms, forgets to put verbs or subjects in some sentences and by accident scrambles entire paragraphs while making some copy-paste, and all those errors end in the printed book, would you read that book?

Well, at least the last two things would be probably corrected before going to print, but it seems this doesn’t really happen in Italy, at least judging from most science fiction and fantasy books (i.e. most books from the “Wheel of Time” saga, by Robert Jordan… they’re nearly unreadable [1]).

This happens both to books and to videogames: I remember seeing “chainmail” translated “posta a catena” (“chain correspondence”, which is a weird name for an armor), instead of the correct “giaco di maglia” in one of the games of the Baldur’s Gate series.  And that is the kind of things you can expect to find in any fantasy book you see translated in Italian.

This is mainly because translators are underpaid young men and women which are just trying to temporarily make a living out of their knowledge of English. They don’t have time to google “chainmail” and find what a chainmail is. Nor they are specialized on the genre they translate. Why should they care about the fact that “chain correspondence” is a weird name for an armor? They have several hundreds thousands words to translate, and they have to pay the bill with their work.

The problem is that most book publishers don’t actually think science fiction and fantasy are important enough: books from these genres will be read by youngsters detached by reality, people who probably barely knows how to read and weirdos. At least, this is what I suppose they think, since they’re behaving in this way.

I think the only way we can get better Italian translations is to let the authors know how their work is being treated. Complaints by costumers can be ignored, but if you’re making money from the work of some well-known writer you could have a more difficult time ignoring him or her (at least I hope).

Here some collections of errors (for now actually just a single collection):

Sandkings, by George R. R. Martin

[1] I would provide some examples taken from these books, but I didn’t take notes about this when I read them, and it would take a long time to check all the saga. Maybe someday…

Translation Horrors