Friday, January 31, 2014

Ways to Learn Japanese

Why do you want to learn Japanese?

Is it because you're about to travel to Japan? Is it because of any business reasons? Or you're just a fan of Japanese films or manga comics? Whatever the reasons are, your goal should be to learn to read, speak, and understand modern Japanese.

One method that you can use to learn Japanese is through "picture learning" software. In this method you visualize certain Japanese characters with the pronunciation together with its meaning. Some computer software use this approach to build vocabulary in the context of understanding, speaking, reading, and writing Japanese. This system makes the whole process more fun and can have the student mastering hundreds of words in a matter of days. Some software utilize a "game" type approach to reduce boredom, stimulate interest and improve speed of results.

Aside from computer software, you can also use flashcards. They are also considered to be a great way of learning Japanese. If you can't find flashcards at any bookshops or online, you can make them on your own just by cutting some cardboard and writing an English word on one side, then a Japanese translation on the other side. Easy, isn't it?

Japanese is one of the world's major languages, right up there with Mandarin, English, Spanish and French. In fact, businessmen with exporting and importing businesses employ people that know how to speak Japanese to gain more business partners.

What's the best way to learn Japanese?

Learning Japanese in Japan is the best and quickest way to learn the language as you would learn how to speak Japanese just as a native speaks it. Understanding the culture behind the language is a very important part of learning to speak and write Japanese. It is a very difficult language to learn how to write, but if you learn it in Japan you will give yourself a much better chance of learning it properly than if you went to some day or night class in your home city.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Manga - A Brief History

If you look back at American and Western culture, comic books have been around for a long time, but only started to become popular (even mainstream) around the 1950's. The same is true of Eastern Culture including Japan and China. In Japan comics and cartoons are loosely termed Manga, which literally translates as "whimsical pictures".

Manga is often mistaken for Anime, which is similar but different. Anime is short for Animation and is a sort of subset of Manga which relates more to film. Though certainly the two forms have influenced and fed off of each other.

Just as comic strips have many applications in Western culture, Manga has a variety of uses in Eastern culture and regularly touches on sports, romance, history, science fiction, the business world, horror and politics and can be found in just about any aspect of Japanese life.

In recent years Manga has become huge in America and online. In 2006, Wikipedia reports that the U.S. market for manga was taking in around $200 million. Whereas during the 70's Japan only had a small influence on American cartoons (Speed Racer, etc), now many of the mainstream cartoons show a direct influence (Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon, etc).

As Manga expands and becomes more and more popular and cross-cultural hundreds of new styles and subsets come into existence. You may have heard of Chibis, which are stylized Manga characters, or Q-version, a Chinese style where real life images are rendered in cartoon charictures. As the popularity of these styles increases the influences become more diluted and the boundaries between Eastern and Western animation and art styles will fade further and further.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Naruto - Not Just Another Comic Story

Naruto is one of the most popular manga and anime series around. It features a young boy, Naruto, whose body actually contains the spirit of a fearsome nine-tailed fox that had been terrorizing his village some twelve years earlier. At that time, this nasty fox was captured and its spirit was sealed in the body of a baby boy (our Naruto).

Jump ahead twelve years and you've got the star of the story, now a mischievous and hyperactive young ninja with great aspirations. Both Naruto anime (animated television shows) and manga (the comic book series) go through episodes of high-flung adventures battling monsters, other ninjas and, last but not least, doing ninja exams.

Both the manga and anime series have spawned numerous fan sites and forums, with all manner of products available online (screen savers, online games, etc.) and for sale (apparel, DVDs, and more). But what lies behind this popular series is an interesting fact: the story of Naruto is based solidly on traditional Japanese culture.

Author and artist Masashi Kishimoto was born in Japan in 1974 and it is an area very rich in history. Kishimoto won Shonen Jump magazine's Hop Step Award for new manga artists with his manga Karakuri, but he didn't stop there. His first Naruto version was a story of fox spirits and the story grew. It fast became a most popular ninja manga, in fact one of the most popular in Japan.

What may have escaped some western Naruto fans is the interesting story of the fox. Fox myths abound in Japanese culture, dating back as far as the fifth century B.C. Stories portray foxes as intelligent beings possessing magical abilities which increase as they age and gain wisdom. One of their tricks is their ability to shape-shift and sometimes they take on the form of a human. Some tales have them tricking others by changing into human form while others describe them as friends or guardians or even wives.

A kitsune (the Japanese word for fox) can have up to nine tails, as did the evil fox in Naruto's past. And from the older stories, it seems that the more tails he has, the more powerful he is. Most folk tales state that a fox will grow more tails only after it's lived for one thousand years.

Interestingly, Japanese folklore originally portrayed the fox as having only good attributes, and their evil and mischievous traits came in with Chinese and Korean folk tales. Some consider the kitsune as a deity and they will make offerings to them. There are quite a few tales about kitsune, both good and evil, with foxes shape-shifting into human form (a skill they only acquire after the age of 100) and then covertly living as part of a family until finally being discovered (they often seem to have trouble hiding their tails when assuming human form!).

A common belief is that foxes will impersonate beautiful women. Early in Japan's history, it was thought that any woman alone, particularly at night, could actually be a fox. Other stories tell of fox spirits inhabiting humans: there is even a word, Kitsunetsuki, which means "the state of being possessed by a fox." It's been said that humans possessed by fox spirits tend to go mad and run naked through the streets, among other things.

However, our Naruto isn't evil or nasty. It's easy to see, though, how he gets away with so much mischief. A popular and adventurous story, it will be that way for generations to come.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Hedgehog Character Named Sonic

Sonic the hedgehog was called for, to combat the popularity of Mario by Nintendo. The launch was successful as it was recognized in Metreons, Walk of Game. Segas official mascot Alex Kidd was diminishing in popularity and thus the trio of Naoto Oshima, Hirokazu Yasuhara and Yuji Naka, got together to create the legendary Sonic the Hedgehog.

A team of fifteen masterminds contributed much to the creation of the character and Sonic the hedgehog was thus a culmination of styles inspired from American stalwarts. The color had to be blue for its association with the brand, and subsequently the metamorphosis of a plain-Jane hedgehog to a swanky and tough Sonic, transcended. Sonic the hedgehog is a fifteen year old humanoid whose special abilities are primarily that it can run faster than the speed of sound and that it can coil up into a ball to dupe its enemies. While this superstar was being made it went by the pseudonym of Mr. Needlehouse.

The character has its attributes borrowed from other superstars. Its shoes are very similar to Michael Jacksons boots and the red color on them is homage to Santa Claus. However, in animation it is not enough to conceive a character in its digital form. Sonic the hedgehog got its heartwarming personality from Bill Clinton who was noticed for his alertness to situations and his ability to respond to all contingencies. The ultramarine spikes and a grumpy expression set it apart as an animation character that the world had been waiting for. Unfortunately, Sonic could not swim because its creators thought that hedgehogs could not; however, that never in the way of its miraculous feats.

Once its inception was done, Sega invested a lot in promoting its baby. The wonder three tours saw Sega sponsoring it and they maximized the opportunity by distributing sonic pamphlets and also offered free broadcasts of the game. In due course of time, sonic was reworked on, to meet its popularity. In the Mega 2 drive, it was elongated and the overall proportions also changed. In 1998 again, Sonic developed longer quills, a more oblong body and a tinge of green in the iris along with buckles for the shoes. Tinted changes continued till most of the Sonic the Hedgehog series.

The Blue Blur also made its way into the print media and several comic books like Stay Sonic, Sonic the Comic, Manga etc. Sonic has also made notable appearances in short story compilations, and comic series. The otherwise even tempered blue hedgehog that rises up to defend the good from the bad surely took the comic world by storm by virtue of its supernatural speed and its incredible spin. The result is that, to this day it is a character that Sega would swear by.