Learn About Japan

Want to learn more about Japan? Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Meet People
  • Befriend Japanese (or other) international students, many of whom have never been invited inside a North American home.
  • Talk to the waiters and/or chef in the Japanese restaurant you go to.
  • Join a local ESL Talk Time for international students. These informal conversation opportunities are hosted by schools, churches, and other groups such as International Students Inc. (ISI). Check their website for more information.

Seek Out Ministries to Japanese People
Get involved with Japanese people by contacting a local representative of one of these ministries. Well, OMF Japan probably won't be too local for you... unless you live near us. :)

Eat Japanese Food
  • Eat Japanese food at a local restaurant. Talk to the waiters and/or chef if you can. I suggest En in Vancouver. (Any other suggestions?)
  • Learn to cook Japanese food yourself. There's some good resources on the internet. My favorites are Just Hungry and Just Bento--both are excellent websites written in English by a Japanese ex-pat who carefully explains all the details for the benefit of westerners. Food is really important to Japanese--one of our teachers at language school told us that appreciation for Japanese food was key to being a good missionary.

Learn the Language
Here are some resources we have found to be helpful.

  • Yookoso!: a book for the hardcore self learner. This is a textbook that introduces you to basic grammar, vocabulary, and Kanji all at once, and is a good reference.
  • Minna no Nihongo: a textbook mostly in Japanese. You will need both the textbook itself and the translation and grammar notes book. It forces you to think in Japanese, but you will probably need a Japanese speaker to check your pronunciation and grammar and practice conversation with you. (This is always a good idea!) The OMF Japanese Language Center, where we studied, uses this textbook.
  • Remembering the Kana and Remembering the Kanji: If you want to learn Japanese writing, we cannot speak highly enough of James' Heisig's books. The reader learns to use imaginative memory to remember each character. "Kana" are the two basic syllabic writing systems (hiragana and katakana) and "Kanji" are the characters borrowed from Chinese. Remembering the Kanji organizes the kanji by their component parts and goes through the basic 2,000 kanji which students learn by the time they finish high school.
  • Anki: a great free flashcard program that contains hundreds of Japanese flashcard sets (as well as many others). It has downloadable kanji sets, basic to advance Japanese sentences, and even Japanese listening flashcards.
  • Reviewing the Kanji: This is a website which is intended to be a companion to James Heisig's Remembering the Kanji book. On this site you can drill yourself on new kanji, and review them at set intervals.
  • Japanese through Anime and Manga: a surprisingly well thought out and formal website that uses an online interactive manga to teach vocab, grammar, and cultural points. You can change between kanji, hiragana, and romaji. Particularly helpful is the "Character Line-up" that compares 8 styles of Japanese from formal old samurai language to present day child language. Warning: the stories are intentionally cliche.

Watch Anime and Read Manga
Watching anime and reading manga (Japanese comics) can by helpful in learning how Japanese young people see the world and what influences them. 

Very big disclaimer: all of the recommended anime in this section have violence and adult themes, especially Death Note. Don't watch them with your kids, or preview them first. (And for heaven's sake, don't spend all your time watching anime. Go out and meet some real people.) But do watch these shows with a mind open to learn about Japanese worldview. And you will probably enjoy them on some level, since they all have very interesting stories. 

Thought Provoking:
  • Welcome to the NHK: This is a good introduction to some of the challenges and dangers Japanese youth face, especially hikikomori tendencies, internet suicide pacts, and otaku behaviours.
  • Eden of the East: What if someone gave you ten billion dollars and told you to save Japan? What would you do? How would you be Japan's "Messiah"?
  • Samurai Champloo: A "road trip" story... which I might describe as a trip through Japan's important historical moments. A significant part of the story deals with the aftermath of the Jesuit missionary activity in the late 16th and early 17th centuries... but there's also an episode in which the heroes play baseball with American sailors from the "black ships" (mid-19th century). It's weird and funny and anachronistic... and it definitely sparked our interest to learn our history. Wow, this description sounds boring... but it's awesome!
  • Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood: This is probably Celia's favourite anime ever... There's a lot of great discussion-worthy themes in this anime: self-sacrifice, the sanctity of human life, and the horrors of war. Towards the end, "god" makes an appearance--the later episodes would be an excellent starting point for contrasting the impersonal, distant god portrayed in the anime with the loving God we worship. 
  • Death Note: This one is rated R. No doubt about it. However, it is thought provoking and discussion-worthy. The protagonist (?) gains a means of instantly killing anyone he wants to kill. And, you guessed it, despite his initial good intentions, he starts down a path to absolute depravity. This show explores the meaning of justice--and the danger of humans playing god.
  • Naruto: Yes, really. It started as a kiddie show, but the show (and presumably its audience) have matured. Recently Naruto has dealt with such themes as pain, death, war, and justice.
Fluffy and Fun (but also worth watching):
  • Dragonball Kai: Keith watched this one as a kid (well, it was called Dragonball Z then)... and so did all the Japanese people our age. Kids all over the world know the characters by name. I'm putting this one in not so much because it's a "great show" but because it is wildly popular. Well, we like it.
  • Arakawa Under the Bridge: This one is just plain hilarious. We can't get enough of it. It's the story of a young man whose motto is "never be in debt to anyone" who must learn to rely on--and thus become indebted to--a group of weirdos who live under a bridge. There are plenty of poignant moments mixed in with the humour too.
Bible Manga and Spiritual Bridges:
  • Need an easy way in to Japanese culture with a familiar story? Try Manga Messiah--you can enjoy reading the Gospels in manga format, with the added benefit that some of the characters have purple hair. There are now a number of Bible manga volumes and even evangelistic tracts from the same artist and publisher (NEXT).
  • Check out the blog, Worship and the Arts. I'm sure there are many blogs by this name... but this one is specifically about Japan. There are a number of posts about anime, manga, and building spiritual bridges through arts and media, including a few posts I've linked above.

Suggestions? Comments? What's been helpful for you? Send us an email.