A Japanese Language Proficiency Test Story

I took level three of the JLPT in 1999. I passed easily (well, after studying hardly). I spent all of 2000 preparing for level two. Again I passed, but not as easily. Well, the test wasn’t bad, but taking the test was. That is, well… let me explain.


Yumi drove me to Kyoto to take the test. We were living in Fukui-ken and the drive took a few hours. We got to the university where the test was held safely and in two pieces—(one piece being me and the other her). I saw a man I had met the year before and we chatted while waiting for the first section of the test to begin.

The first section of the test began and I started out with confidence. The JLPT is all multiple choice where you have to pencil in the correct answer among four or five choices.


Then… horrors befell young Clay. Suddenly, I realized the past ten answers I answered were circled on the wrong line. I had somehow filled in question 5 on line 6 and thereafter all answers were marked on the next question’s line. I had to keep pace with the ongoing onslaught of questions whilest—and at the same time—going back to correct my mistakes.

I somehow managed to get it straight, but I had no confidence at all. That section of the test ended soon after, but as I stumbled out of my chair I realized I had a serious stress headache. I’ve never had a headache that bad before. I found Yumi and told her I needed to lie down. We found a nurse’s station and a bed. For a while I didn’t think I could continue with the test.


Five minutes before the next section I pulled myself together and headed out to find the classroom for the next section. My head was hurting bad, but I was determined to finish the test. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be in Japan December 2001 (I wasn’t) and knew this would be my last chance to take the once-a-year test in Japan for a while. Added to all this was Yumi tempting me to forsake all hope and take a rest in the car! No pressure at all.

The worst thing is the next section was… listening. With a head about to explode and Yumi saying I looked like I was about to pass out, I boldly entered the classroom.

I guess I could write about what happened, but I would be making it up then. I don’t really remember much after that.

I got the results a few months later and despite expecting the worst, I somehow passed! I did pretty poor on the listening, but my kanji and grammar was good enough to carry me through to victory.

I’d like to hear other people’s stories. If you have taken the test, please share your experiences! If you have a long enough story and would like it posted here (with a link to your site of course), please email me at clay AT thejapanshop.com.

Japanese Language Proficiency Test

The JLPT is this Sunday. Thousands of people will be traveling to take the test. I won’t be among them, but I do plan to take 1 kyuu one day. I passed 2 kyuu in 2000 and since being back in the States, I have had neither the desire to study as hard as I did while in Japan nor the desire to drive 8 hours to the nearest test city. (mostly the latter)


The Japanese Language Proficiency Test tests your proficiency in the Japanese Language. (Wow! Now that was an original definition 🙂 ) It is held once a year on the first Sunday in December. It is given throughout Japan and in some 40 other countries. For better or worse, the JLPT has become the standard for measuring Japanese ability for getting into Japanese universities, applying for Japanese related jobs and for general bragging rights.

You do not need to know how to write kanji—only read and know the pronunciations. (Unless this has changed since 2000!) The main sections include:

  • Kanji & Vocabulary
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Grammar

Currently there are four levels; four being the easiest and one being the hardest (I know it seems backward). Level Four can be passed fairly easily with basic Japanese grammar and kanji. Level One requires advanced grammar and all 1945 Joyo kanji.

The following number of kanji and vocabulary requirements is based on the Wikipedia’s article. I will double check tomorrow with my JLPT Specifications Book.

Test content and requirements summary
















I hear they may add a pre-1 level in the next few years. The English proficiency test is set up that way.

For more on the JLPT and to read my ‘testimony,’ see the JLPT page on TJP.
For more ‘official’ information see the Japan Foundation’s JLPT page.

Nintendo DS: 250万人の漢検

Nintendo DS imageWell, I finally got around to removing the shrink wrap on the 250万人の漢検 DS software. This was no easy task. Usually Japanese shrink wrapped items have a little pull string to help the poor guy who bought the item. But we are not so lucky today.

Before we start, if you don’t have a Nintendo DS, consider picking one up at Amazon. It is a great little toy that can be very educational too! It has been too educational for me; I really should buy a game for it…
Anyway, when you start 250万人の漢検 you are presented with five pages in order to set up your new account.

  1. Right handed or a lefty?
  2. Whether to auto submit a few seconds after writing Japanese or not. I would recommend setting this as 「なし」 meaning to not have it auto submit. You can change it later, but especially for non natives, having it submit before you are finished writing is a pain.
  3. Next you write your name
  4. Give your gender—Nintendo will know if you lie!
  5. Lastly you choose if you want to play using the ‘story’ or not. You can change this later. I haven’t tried the story mode yet since I wanted to get right to studying!

The game actually includes two dictionaries! But before you get too excited, they aren’t extremely useful. The Kanji dictionary is easy to use; you can look up kanji by their on and kun readings, by their stroke number or by the level they appear on the 漢検 test. However, no meaning or example jukugo are given. It lists the readings, what test it falls on, number of strokes and the radical. It does give an example sentence. (You have to click on 「れいぶん」) This is nice, but probably not incredibly useful for the non-native learner of Japanese.

The other dictionary is the 四字熟語 yojijukugo (four character compounds). Again no meaning is given, but there is an example sentence.

Of course you wouldn’t buy this software for the dictionaries.

The main study options are:

  • 漢字力チェック Kanji Power Check – Do this after studying and learning how to write kanji
  • 書く学習 Practice Writing – excellent and makes this software worth ten times the price (ok, maybe not…). After choosing which level you want to practice (10 is the easiest!), start with 反復練習 Repetition Practice. This allows you to practice writing kanji over and over with the answer shown in the bottom left. This way you can try to remember how to write a kanji but peak in the corner if you get stumped. Once you practice a group well, you can then go to the ‘real’ quiz to test yourself. See a screen shot below showing what the practice section does. The red line next to the katakana is the target word you need to write the kanji. The answer is shown in the bottom left box. If the word is a jukugo, the box will alternate quickly between the two kanji. That is a neat new addition to this version.
  • 読む学習 Reading Study – practices the readings for the kanji.
  • Practices counting the stroke number, stroke order and other parts of kanji

I took a video but at the risk of waking Makoto (He just went to sleep!), I won’t record my voice over until the morning. That means the video won’t debut until then!

Overall, this is something highly recommended for the language learner. The older 200万人の漢検 was awesome, but they’ve managed to improve on it with better stats, record keeping and a few other additions. It also has those two dictionaries, but I don’t see either as being too terribly useful for non native speakers. Nintendo DS at Amazon

Nintendo DS to Learn Japanese

Three New Nintendo DS Kanji Learning Games

Three new Nintendo DS Games pictures

I got in three new Nintendo DS Games yesterday from Japan. I haven’t had a chance to even open them, but I will try to get to at least the 250万人の漢検* since it will replace the popular 200万人の漢検 and other posters have mentioned it.

The new games are:

  • 必殺カンフー漢字ドラゴン hissatsu kanfu- kanji doragon – Deadly Kung fu Kanji Dragon (sounds very beginner friendly, huh?)
  • 漢検DS2+常用漢字辞典 kanken DS 2 + jouyou kanji jiten – Kanji Test DS 2 + Joyo Kanji Dictionary
  • 250万人の漢検+常用漢字辞典+四字熟語辞典 2,500,000 People’s Kanji Test + Joyo Kanji Dictionary + 4 kanji compound Dictionary (has to one up the 漢検DS2 I guess)

I’ll post a video and first thoughts on the 250万人の漢検 as soon as possible.

* Man, even after writing about the 200万人の漢検 game a lot, my IME this morning gave 官憲 as the first choice for ‘kan ken’. 漢検 was fifth down the line. I must have reset my IME history or something…

Josei Jishin Magazines Almost Gone!

Josei Jishin Magazines Almost Gone!This morning I awoke to a large order that nearly wiped us out of our Josei Jishin magazines. (Thank you!) A few years ago I got the desire to import Japanese magazines to sell at our store. The problem is, to make the shipping charges (which are expensive) worth it, I have to buy a lot and thus sell a lot. Buy a lot I did; sell a lot… not so much. So I still have a ton of magazine back issues even though I stopped buying them a year ago.

Josei Jishin (女性自身) is, as the name implies, a magazine for the ladies. I think it targets young women in their 20s and 30s. I had a customer in Hawaii request it for her mother. I thought it was a good idea, and bought a bunch of them. I am happy to say after this morning’s order, I only have eight left.

I had put them on sale a few months back but then forgot to un-sale them. The remaining eight issues are still at $2.80. That is of course less than I paid for them, but I would be happy to unload the bookshelf space! (hint hint)

The Last Eight Josei Jishin are Here.

If you are looking for inexpensive Japanese magazines for ladies, here you go.

Half Baked in Japanese and the Theme’s Progress

Chuutohan…  A Bit Indecisive

Well, as you can see I am making some progress with the new theme, but it is still half baked. Ok, so as to not totally waste web space and bandwidth with this post, how do you say ‘half baked’ in Japanese?

This is one of my favorite words and can be very useful for the indecisive:


中途 chuu to halfway; mid-course
半端 han pa fragment; incomplete

There is something about 中途半端, that makes it fun to say. 中途半端、中途半端、中途半端… Ok, I will stop. It was fun while it lasted.

Here is an example sentence taken from the Kenkyusha 新和英大辞典:


Whatever he takes up, our son always quits halfway through.


  • うちの子 could just as easily refer to a daughter (or a dog for that matter)
  • 何をしても whatever (he) does
  • ~てしまう shows completion and usually a tinge of regret.

Interestingly if you take 中途 and reverse the kanji you get:

途中 to chuu on the way, midway

Usually this is used literally as midway from point A to point B like:


On the way home, the Abominable Snowman appeared. (This example is NOT from the Kenkyusha dictionary, BTW)

But it can also mean halfway in any other sense.


I hate watching movies from the middle. (this example is from the Kenkyusha dictionary)

Both 中途半端 and 途中 are very useful and do not depend on any proof of existence of the Abominable Snowman.

A New Half-Baked Design is in the Works–Obviously

I had every intention to sit down and totally revamp the blog’s theme this morning.  It so happened that life happened and my new theme didn’t fully happen.

Under Construction GraphicI will try to finish it tomorrow but in the meantime please close your eyes as you read; I don’t want to disappoint.

This reminds me of the annoying ‘under construction’ animated and not so animated gifs that littered the internet in the early days.  I remember a professor of computer art (Photoshop version 1 or there abouts) in the 90s telling me how absurd sticking ‘under construction’ images on a website were.  Websites are always under construction.  If they weren’t, no one would come back.

So just in case you also would like to annoy your readers, here is a site full of free Under Construction graphics.  There are even a few blinking ones with bright colors.

I am sorry for the blog’s appearance.  This is equivalent to a lady going to the supermarket in her curlers.

恥ずかしい hazukashii – I’m ashamed. (can also mean shy or embarrassed)