Surprising views

Pink by nifwlseirff
Pink, a photo by nifwlseirff on Flickr.

Most of the schools in Japan have cherry blossoms somewhere around their boundaries. Or rather, at least all of the schools I’m familiar with.

It makes for a fantastic sight, especially during the first few weeks of the new school year.

In Australia, I don’t think these would be allowed on the grounds – too easy to climb!

I’m surprised at the number of views this photo has received in the past week on Flickr – all with an unknown source. Is it a stats bug, or has this photo been used on a popular website? Not sure!


Learning Japanese with apps

Kanji dream, Japanese language learning app

What are your favourite apps for learning Japanese?

I am what most would call an early adopter. I love playing with new technology and new apps, but get quickly annoyed with crashes – I uninstall buggy and unstable programs and most likely don’t return.

I started learning Japanese by myself, many years ago, with a couple of textbooks and a medium-sized dictionary.

Physical flash cards were not cutting it for me – I always unintentionally left them at home, or forgot I had them with me. So finding a solution that used my phone was brilliant, especially for long waits in queues or doctors’ waiting rooms.

It has been fun, albeit sometimes a little frustrating, to try out a range of Japanese language learning apps as they were developed and released. It was much more necessary for me when I moved to Japan for work – with my teaching materials to carry, I couldn’t add heavy Japanese-English and kanji dictionaries to my bag!

I have had access to both Apple and Android devices, and although there are some increasingly good apps on Android, I still prefer the more mature and feature-rich iOS apps. I am leery of dropping money on newly released apps, preferring to test the free offerings first, then move to establish apps with glowing reviews (or enthusiastic suggestions from my friends).

Some apps that I had high hopes for, such as those released by, were unfortunately disappointing, lacking in functionality and usefulness. Some apps were a little ‘too easy’, presenting only very basic vocabulary and kana (no kanji), or only using romaji! Others were focused too heavily on only one type of vocabulary – typically travel.

In time, I’ve found a bunch of fantastic apps which have stood the test of time (and my patience).

iOS Android
  • Japanese Flip and Kanji Flip – Great spaced-repetition flip-card apps for vocab and kanji. I use this one today, even though they are still using the old JLPT system (I’d love to see some updates for the new JLPT system).
  • Japanese (dictonary) – my favourite Japanese-English dictionary, replacing the one I previously used – Imiwa.
  • Kanji Dream – I have terrible trouble memorising the pronunciation of kanji, and this app forces me to learn it, but in a very cute environment.
  • Obenkyou – arguably the best kanji and flash card app on Android. One cool feature is that you can draw kana with your fingers to answer quiz questions.
  • JED – Japanese-English dictionary – a huge word-bank based on EDict, and best of all – free!

I have tested a number of Japanese vocabulary apps for Android and iOS over the years, but the ones above are the most oft used on my devices.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been testing any newer Japanese language apps in the last couple of years, as I moved to Germany, and had to focus on learning German quickly (of course with apps to help!) This means I’m a little out of touch with the current selection.

Do you have a favourite Japanese language app that you think I should try?

Visiting Kakunodate

Samurai armor in Kakunodate, JapanEver wondered what a samurai village in Japan was like?

What type of houses they lived in?

What they wore when they weren’t wearing samurai armor?

Kakunodate, in north-central Honshu, Japan, is a gorgeous samurai town, established in the Warring States period, before Tokugawa Ieyasu became Shogun in 1600.

With many original samurai houses and villas, cherry tree carving and craft workshops, art and literature galleries, plus a good share of Edo-period warehouses and merchant lodgings, it’s a great place to spend a day or two.

If you go in spring, you are treated to a 2km stretch of the amazing cherry blossomed lined Hinokinai river, and the weeping sakura (cherry blossom) around the samurai quarter is absolutely stunning! No wonder this town is known as Little Kyoto.

In autumn, the surround hills are a patchwork of colours, and the waterfall and onsen (hot springs) in the nearby Dakigaeri valley are certainly worth a visit.

In winter, the town is transformed into a snow-covered wonderland (as you can see in my photo). In summer, it’s cooled by the breezes from the rivers running next to the town.

Kakunodate, samurai quarter, in winter

Kakunodate, samurai quarter, in winter

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