Real Life Application

Japanese Reading Practice with Children's Books

On using children's books for Japanese reading practice, with a healthy dose of otaku shopping thrown in for good measure.

The Anime Music on Melodica Project

My latest otaku learning project - playing video game and anime theme songs on the melodica.

Fun Time Planning, Minamiーke Style

One of the anime shows that I've been watching this winter is Minami-ke Tadaima. It's a slice of life comedy about the adventures of the Minami sisters and their friends. There is responsible eldest sister Haruka, lazy middle sister Kana and study bug Chiaki. Once in a while, Kana comes up with a brilliant idea. In Episode 5, Kana and her friends make a pie chart with various summer fun activities. Kana posted the chart on the wall and throws a dart at it to choose the activity of the day. In Episode 6 (the obligatory pool episode), Chiaki adds studying, seeing as Kana never studies.

I digress. I decided to take Kana's idea and made my own fun time planner filled with fun activities. It's in Japanese to test my vocabulary:

Minami-ke pie chart

Would you look at that? First up is: きっさてん へ いきます。 じゃあ また ね!

Practicing Conversational Japanese

Japanese Textbook As with learning any language, if you want to learn how to speak it, you actually have to practice speaking it, ne? Below are a few groups you could join to practice speaking Japanese:

  1. University clubs: Check to see if you have a "Japanese Conversation and Culture Club" on campus.
  2. Form a study group with your classmates. You can meet up in person, or try a "virtual" study group via Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, etc.
  3. Meetup.com: Check out "Japanese Language and Culture Meetup Groups"
  4. Become involved with your local Japanese community association. The Calgary Japanese Community Association is pretty active and many of the older members are helpful when you try to speak Japanese.
  5. Youths can check out the Japanese Youth Association of Calgary.

Although many of the links are Calgary-specific, you can check online to see if there is a similar group in your area.

My Kotatsu Table Project

It seems like there is a kotatsu table in every household featured in the anime shows I watch. A kotatsu is a heated Japanese table. The special kotatsu heater sits on the underside of the table. They are generally fairly low, with a futon placed on top to keep the heat in. The first time I saw it, I thought, "Man, I really need one of those!" Who would have thought that making Japanese furniture would be so easy?

Japanese homes don't have central heating, so having one of these in your home is a must once winter hits. If the Internet is an indicator, it's catching on here in North America too. Great for those of us without a fireplace or those who are looking for ways to keep heating bills down.

Last winter, I decided to make a kotatsu table. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be.

I found this set of instructions on How to Build and American-style Kotatsu.Then, it was off to Ebay to order my kotatsu heater from 4kokuq. It has to be a kotatsu heater. An ordinary space heater would be a fire hazard. Kotatsu heaters have low voltage, so they can handle being in an enclosed space.

The cost for the kotatsu heating unit, including shipping and the exchange rate, was just under $100 CAD. It came within two weeks, as promised:

Japanese table, small table, heated table

Next, I went to IKEA to pick up a LACK table (under $20) and a comforter from Wal-Mart for approximately $25. I picked up four fluffy accent pillows to use as seating cushions. I think they were between $7 - 12 each. Thankfully, Canada uses the same voltage as Japan, so I did not need to purchase an adapter.

My dog, Maestro, inspects the kotatsu heater, the IKEA LACK table and comforter. Photo by R-M Arca.

It didn't take long to assemble the LACK table. The next step was to install the heater. At the time, I was only in Level 1 of Japanese language classes, so I couldn't read any of the kanji in the instructions. However, I did learn that it asked me to "Insert kotatsu heater in wooden frame underneath table. Insert screws into holes of said frame and screw into the heater."

"Insert heater into wooden frame under table" Nani? What frame? Photo by R-M Arca.

Perhaps you see my challenge. I don't have a bona fide kotatsu table, so there is no frame. This required a quick trip to Home Depot. The solution? Corner Braces.

By using corner braces, I was able to create a "frame" to hang the heating unit from. Photo by R-M Arca.

I marked in pencil where I should position the heating unit and screwed in the braces at each corner:

After marking in pencil where I would place the kotatsu heating unit, I screwed in the brackets. Photo by R-M Arca.

Then it was time to screw the heating unit in:

Once screwing in the kotatsu heater into it's "frame", i flipped the table over. Photo by R-M Arca.

Since the LACK table lacks space inside the table leg to thread the power cord through, another adjustment had to be made to keep the cord in place. This time, a picture hook came to my rescue:

I used a picture hook to hang the kotatsu unit's power cord from. Photo by R-M Arca.

Last two steps were pretty easy - put the comforter on top and then what was originally the shelving unit for the LACK table on top of the comforter:

My North American-style Japanese table is nearly complete at this point. Photo by R-M Arca.

These are some of the uses that my kotatsu has served:

I normally do my studying and light computer work at my kotatsu table. Photo by R-M Arca.

Even Maestro enjoys the kotatsu on a cold, winter's day:

Maestro likes the kotatsu, especially when it's -20 degrees Celsius! Photo by R-M Arca.

It's a great place for a nap. A really great place for a nap.

Kotatsu tables are best enjoyed with family and friends:

A fantastic round by one of my Japanese language classmates. He is truly the king of Dominion in our group. Photo by R-M Arca.

This clip shows some other uses for this versatile Japanese table:

December 12, 2013 update: If you don't want to make your own, one of my fave otaku stores, J-List makes them. A steal of a deal for $100 USD. Click for J-List Kotatsu!